In case you’ve been hiding under a log somewhere let me fill you in. Jason Adams of Poughkeepsie NY just ran the Sonora Rally on a Rooney framed special he built himself. And, he nailed it, in a special way, taking out the Ramsey’s Sportsmanship Award.. But don’t take my word for it…read Jason’s own account of his amazing adventure below..
“Been sitting at PHX airport for 7 hours waiting for a flight home.. Had a little time to write up a thing about the rally. It’s long, sorry.
Ok so where to start.
I had this romantic idea of building an old BmW, from scratch like the ones that used to rally in Dakar. Know it inside and out so not only could it be fixed, (by me, importantly) but it’s emotions whims and secret language and could be read and I could tell and it could tell me what was happening to it as we went. Enter the Rooney special.
Well long story short too late we smashed it all together with the guidance and help of Paul Rooney, the bikes paternal grandfather in engineering, and a bunch of others who shall be held responsible, later 😀 and off to the desert to test our mettle and metal.
I know Bill conger wanted to go, but he was on the fence and it might have been my readiness that pushed him off it onto the side of Let Go Race. I mentioned on Facebook that we needed a crew chief and up stepped Tumu Rock. A better choice we could not have found. He would be our driver, support, babysitter, comic relief, and mechanical assistant.
The Sonora rally is a special event. Not only is the organization extremely passionate in a low key way, but they are gracious enough to allow me the opportunity to take my home built machine and put it into their competition. For that I could not be more grateful.
I was extremely nervous and anxious to say the least as the race drew near. Having had never enough time to sort it completely, there were still bugs to work out and it wasn’t as sorted as if promised myself my next bike would be, having had a year and a half off due to knee surgery. I hoped and hoped I had thought of everything and prepared for all contingencies but really though, who can say? Mexico and the Sonora is a beautiful brutal crucible.
The bike and I survived the sandblast rally in early March, so off it went in bills truck to points west.
Ok, so to the hard parts:
Tech inspection and registration day is spent entirely doing preventative maintenance that wasn’t able to be done after Sandblast: torque the head studs (which needed to be done on this fresh motor with only 400 miles on it, very nerve wracking as I didn’t want to pull the threads in the engine case) then adjust the valves.. Then figure out where on the dipstick 2.5 quarts of oil landed, as this bike has a non-standard sump. That requires draining and carefully refilling. Switch a bunch of electrics around to accommodate the rally required transmitters, and add my auxiliary fuel supply to the newly added saddlebags. This ended up taking all day among other things. Finally done and no disasters.
Day one: Penasco to Liberdad. Two stages of mostly a mix of rocky piste and sandy piste. I learn the bike and it learns me. The stuttering carb issue I never figured out, but I figured out how to work around it. I pass some, and I get passed some. I can hardly recall day one now.. I know I opened two waypoints. One in the 1st special and one in the second, and took the ten minute penalty each one came with, rather than waste any more time than that searching for them. All I remember is about 40Ks from the finish, the front brake lever goes totally soft. I check the line and the master cylinder looking for leaks, but nothing. Squeezing the handle brings the pressure back up so off I go. I’m not nearly hydrated enough so I find my arms are cramping all day. Shortly after I hear the front brake grinding when I squeeze the lever and curious, I look closer to discover one of the front brake pads has fallen out due to the loss of the locating pin. That’s why the loss of pressure, and return. The brake pistons pushed the remaining pad up against the disc and the disc up against the caliper. So… No front brake. Ok, just limp it in, then.. I can not remember if I packed front brake pads or not.
About 3Ks from the finish, I see Bill again. I always hate to see Bill stopped and standing next to his bike.. It’s not the first time. He asks for a quick tow to pull start him and I do.. To no avail, so I just tow him 13Ks back to the bivouac. An inglorious end to da one. I am happy to be able to help, though.
Dave Peckham and Rally Managment Services rescue me by giving me KTM brake pads which miraculously fit, because indeed, I FORGOT YHE STUPID BRAKE PADS and we fabricate another locating pin. Thank the gods it works. I also discover while on my back underneath the bike that the pushrods tube seals have split and are leaking engine oil. A quick clean and some RTV sealant and my fears of massive oil loss are allayed for the time being.
Bills bike requires a bit more loving, and the unknowns are debilitating. Much mucking about And it sort of fires up reliably, if I may combine “sort of” and “reliably” so we have no choice but to attempt day 2.
Liberdad to Penasco:
More sandy piste.. Everything is so soft.. Even the ground that is covered in vegetation which is supposed to be firm is somehow hollow underneath, and tires sink when you think it shouldn’t. So, lots of throttle and revving for little headway.. A strange experience. A short 6K dune run and begun to think I’m in trouble.. I don’t believe the bike likes soft soft sand so much and I get a little more wiped out than I prefer. But I end up making good time to the finish.. I recall now some power line roads and rocky double tracks. The thought of the big dunes makes me ver anxious.. Although I remember that the Great erg is a different kind of sand, so I am hopeful. I don’t have to open any waypoints on this day, And it ends up being a good one. It’s a bit unsettling to see Bill at the gas stop midday with the seat off, and him limping. I ask if there’s anything I can do, but there isn’t and he says get moving so I do, Although I am sadly disappointed to see bills bike in the truck when I reach the finish at the bivouac. The bike has quit, lousy bastard, and additionally, a bad landing from a 70mph launch has probably broken his ankle.
After two days it’s time to change the rear tire and mousse. The front is decided to be fine so is left un touched. Tumu and Bill help to do that while I do something that escapes me now. Funny how so little time has passed and so much has happened. I know I was busy as hell but I can’t recall at all what it was.
Day 3, Penasco to San Luis Colorado. Long 200K transit to first start in the am. I fill up before the transit and after. It’s a freezing ride up the highway in between the sea of Cortez on my left and the Altair desert on my right. Another 40K’s from the second fuel to the start of the special, I am concerned about fuel, and do t think I’ll make it through with what I have. My crew is supposed to meet me but they had to leave after me, and were stopped for half an hour at the military checkpoint while I was waved through, so they weren’t there. But lo and behold, the one and only Johnny Campbell hears my prayers said aloud and loans me the extra gallon and a half I needed, which saves my morning. Makes me feel special to have someone with that reputation be so generous to me. I start the special with a full tank, which is nice because I hit the first reserve before I made the 90 mile fuel stop. The first half of the stage is crappy choppy hard speed bumps saved to close to be any fun at all. great erg dunes are indeed much better sand. In fact, the flow is just amazing when it starts flowing. Smoothest ride ever, and all the throttle you can give it.
I realize there are some dunes I just cannot hit the very top of though, and begin to look for ways around. There is always a way around, if you can manage to keep track of the tracks of the leaders. It eats up some time, and extra kilometers, but maybe not as much as if I tried to attack them head on over and over.
I relearn the technique of wringing the bikes neck at high rpm to and sitting over the rear wheel to get to the top, then right before cresting, turn about 45 deg and go over it level, rather than launching like a moon rocket. This works amazing well when it works, as there are three things that can happen. Number one, not quite enough juice and you fail to reach the top. Chop throttle too soon, and my the front wheel goes over, but not the rest, which sucks because you have to dismount and drag the front wheel back over the top the way you came and try again. Very tiring. Second option, give too much throttle and launch. Landing nose first on the far side with your face in the roadbook and your ass over your head. Additionally, gas spills out the overflows while the bike is upended. Several times I fall over the high side and eat a face full of sand, eyes wide open. Since this always means the handlebars are downhill, you have to drag the tires around till they are on the downhill side (don’t try to drag anything uphill, it’s a worthless fruitless battle) and then go back uphill of the bike and stand it up. Very tiring.
Third option is; it actually works which is still pretty tiring but is much faster and looses a heck of a lot less gasoline. I score about a 50-60% success rate.
Shocked and pleased that I have very little to do to the bike after day 3, other than try to get all the sand out if my eyes. And ears.
I do realize that I’m chewing through fuel much more quickly than I prefer. But what can I do? Take all I can carry and hope for the best.
Last day.. San Luis Colorado Loop.
We’re almost home. I take these things in small bites. 180km day? Well, I say, at 18kms, I’m fully 1/10 of the way through! Only have to do what I just did 9 more times! 60ks? 1/3 done! Only 2 more of those to go!
Today is a 200K run with nothing but the biggest mind blowing dunes you’ve ever seen. I fill up at the optional fuel stop at 30kms into it and the 160k epic until next fuel begins.
Scott has a habit of putting waypoints at the very tippy top of massive sand dunes. Ten ks after the fuel stop I’m aiming for at the top of this enormous thing. Crazy story.. But Andrew and I crest one dune and fall over the other side, in the way we do, (option 2) Not 30 seconds later a four wheeler launches over the dune where we are and lands on Andrews bike, crunching is and nearly crushing Andrew. I wish i hadn’t lost Tumu’s GoPro in a subsequent face plant because I’m sure the video would be eye opening.
Anyway, due to soft sand and soft tires. All that’s really off is some tweaked forks which we banged back straight. He sets off.
I tried to hit that stupid waypoint about ten times. I finally got it, but the poor bike was so overheated it would barely run, much less move forward. I got about 100yards and it went PUAHHHHH quit.
Is that clutch I smell? Oh no. I think I might have fried it. I pour a little camelback fluid on it and it sizzles and spits like a proper frying pan. I think I have just smoked the clutch. Stripping my gear off, I walk up to a dune crest to find cell service, and text Scott Whitney back in LA that I think I am done for. It a minute later, Luke, on an air cooled Honda no less stops dead in his tracks just on the other side of this huge bowl between massive dunes. What’s up, I ask. Blown head gasket he says. Oh shit. Well, we’ve got water and a space blanket, let’s get comfy, we’re going to be here a while. I dilly dally for nearly an hour just not knowing what to do. Finally he says, do you think you’ll try to continue? That’s probably not smart, I say.. But what the hell, let’s see what it does. Starts up fine. Ok, let’s take it around the bowl. Hmm. Seems to work as well as it did before.
Damn it, I might just try it and see how far I get. Are you really done?, I ask.
Yeah he says.
Can I have your gas? I ask, sheepishly. Sure! So we transfer nearly four quarts from his to mine, that’s how much I ate run in up and down that dumb hill! and I somehow keep going.
Luke blew my mind the day before with his epic fix.. His clutch had burned (for real) so the RMS guys fixed it in camp with a leather shoe strap on day one or two. When that failed, he himself fixed it by jamming some barbed wire in there and that was still holding! (My kind of fix!)
So, I ask him to check my mental process: answer me this, I says: if I don’t slip the clutch. I’m not abusing it, right? If I just use it to start and don’t touch it, it should be fine right? It’s only used when I pull the lever in? Yes he says.
So I begin to think that maybe, I might have simply overheated my poor little girl, not smoked the clutch after all. I decide to try and push on, and use the clutch as little as possible. I’ve never burned on a clutch out on a BMW, they are quite robust normally and I’m not much of a clutch slipper anyway- get it in gear and use the throttle is my usual philosophy, so it was actually Luke that made up my mind to press on. Thank you, Luke.
Although, I decide, I will be more smart about which waypoints I decide to chase. I’m here to finish this thing, not be more stupid than just being here doing this would suggest.
At 40Ks I have a nearly full tank and a heart full of optimism, and it’s not even ten am yet, I don’t think. In hind sight I should have taken on a little bit more, as well as the quart oil bottle we were using to transfer from his to mine.
I’m all alone for the rest of the day because everyone has passed us. I follow my gut and the roadbook and the tracks laid out in the sand by my forebears. When I see a dune that looks stupidly tall, I look for a way around, and find my way to far side by looking at the shadows I make on the ground, and the shapes of the dune crests, and find the tracks on the far side.
75 ks later and about 230pm, I know I’m getting low on gas again. But I am so close to the end of the big long HP run.. I begin just barely using throttle, I am almost always in second gear because third is too fast and I was punched in the face by the handlebars once too often, and kicked in the butt by the bucking rear end even more. Third gear for the same speed would be lower tons but in addition to it probably a wash between the mileage I would get nailing the throttle and going straight vs going easy and finding my way around, the bikes handling is much much better when the back wheel is under engine load. 3:pm I hit reserve. 3:30pm I hit second reserve.
I know I’m only 5-10Ks from the waypoint where there is a truck.. Not the real fuel stop but I might be able to distract the guys while I steal some 😀 or something.. I’m getting desperate.
4pm, in a giant bowl, I run out for good.
It’s very, very quiet.
So. This is what a DNF is like. I now done 25 rallies, and never DNF’d. Even after all this I still feel like a total neophyte. Every one brings a new experience.
I strip down to my underwear and hat and I climb to the peak of the nearest dune, and text Scott, after hitting rally comp “mechanical issue, need pickup” Out of gas counts as mechanical, and I definitely need to get picked up in some way.
I text Scott back in LA that all I need is gas and with half a tank I’ll get myself home, don’t burn assets on me otherwise. He says Darren is on his way.
It’s so quiet and huge and immense out there. No wind. When there’s so little sound, the mind invents noise. I keep hearing what I think are voices in the distance, or engine sounds.
I notice thousands of caterpillars crawling up te dune, making tracks. These little guys are two inches long and the dunes are hundreds of feet high. The are unbelievably tenacious. They are literally unflagging in their effort to climb the dune. Am I like them I wonder? I hope so. I sort of hope so, and sort of not. The must have something in mind but is it just instinct for both of us? Where are they going and why? Some of them make the top and I can imagine I feel their exultation. But when they make the top and crest, they just keep going albeit twice as fast 😀 I end up falling asleep watching them in their tirelessness.
I wake up to a car horn beeping and there is Darren.
Like the rally god that he is, he fills my tank like manna from heaven
It’s now 630pm and the sun is on the horizon and I have 50ks to go.
It gets dark within twenty minutes and I am slamming for home. My roadbook leads me to a deserted bivouac, and then, to a deserted finish in San Luis.
I am sitting I the middle of a dusty border town with no idea where to go..I’ve reached the end of the book and there’s nothing left.
Suddenly, the rally comp lights up with the message “go four kilometers north and turn left”
Another rally God to the rescue. Thank you Scott.
I do this.
But my attitude is now poor.. I think I’ve missed the award show, I obviously missed the Finish, probably dinner.. And I Dnf’d after all this damnable hard work. I’m in the center of a unknown barrio I don’t know and I’m tired and hungry and depressed and pissed.
Then the bike runs out of gas again.
ARGH!! I look down to see the bike pouring fuel on me. Shit! I reach down to stuff the fuel line back onto the carb, and when I glance up I have a split second to realize I’m about to hit the curb on the right side of the road
BAM down and tumbling I go. Shoot shot shit that hurt like hell, there is grass in my teeth and my shoulder doesn’t feel right at all. FUCK
Now all the above plus scared and in pain I go another 1/2 k and hit of all things, a toll booth.
Are you kidding me. I actually pay the stupid toll, and ask the guy where the hell is the goddamn San Angel hotel? Oh! That’s back about 2ks the way you just came from. Oh, and you’re leaking gas everywhere. I look down and no shit I’m leaking gas.
Very nearly in tears I turn around in the toll booth and gun it. I just want to collapse at this point. I’ve only been at it for 12 hours or 120 or so, but I feel like I might just finally be really to throw in the towel on this one.
I find the hotel, walk in and am greeted by a greeting that changes my whole attitude almost instantly. Everyone is so nice to me. Dinner isn’t over.. Awards aren’t done yet.. There are still some folks happy to see me, although I can’t imagine they’re as happy as I am to see them.
In a stunning reversal my attitude does almost a total 180. It’s great to see mark Samuels win the trophy I made, and he appears happy with it, although obviously winning the Dakar challenge is far more of a big thing! As it should be.
Then, the indescribable happens. I won’t even try to describe it, therefore, but I have been chosen to receive the Ramsey Elwardini sportsmanship award. I no longer care about the DNF or my shoulder or the somewhat ignominious defeat.
It’s really hard to describe my feelings about this. I really did try my very best and I really desperately wanted to finish, and I gave it very nearly everything I could give it and it very closely resembles not actually succeeding at all, But I feel like I won the event. It’s not really the kind of finish I was hoping for but it’s quite possibly better. And even though I officially Did Not Finish, I still managed to finish every stage. Does the universe love irony or what?
I really love the Sonora rally.. It’s pretty brutally challenging, and Darren and Scott and Erin and everyone including the volunteers and especially the competitors are incredibly passionate and dedicated and love the sport and the challenge and the desert… I’m very proud to have played my part in it. I hope my role in its development means something like what its role has played in mine.”
Jason came 8th overall in the bikes. An amazing effort by any account.
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Jason Adams is my hero! Good on ya J!