IT’S a long way from mustering sheep and cattle in Queensland’s outback to conquering the world’s most challenging motorbike desert race.
Longreach’s Rod Faggotter not only took part but became the highest-placed Australian rider when he finished the 2013 Dakar Rally in South America last month in 14th place.
This is the third highest placing for an Australian in the race’s history and was only Rod’s second year in the competition.
Considering he competed on a very frugal budget and support crew compared to some, this outstanding achievement has put him in the international spotlight.
Less than 20 Australians have ever finished the 8000km Dakar rally in its 34-year history.
Rod himself was one of the enforced retirees in his debut attempt last year, blowing up an engine on only the fifth stage of the event.
This year he and the other 180 motorbike contenders had to deal with flash flooding as well as the usual extremes of temperature and even altitude sickness as they crossed the Andes at heights of 6300m.
Although he has a 400km training run with some rocky outcrops and gidyea trees to dodge on his home property of Mt Victoria, 80km west of Longreach, nothing compared with the terrain he experienced riding through Peru, Argentina and Chile for 15 days in January.
“I do the Finke desert race and the Australian Safari over here, which are the best we’ve got to prepare ourselves but things like dune riding in Peru are totally different to anything that’s available in Australia,” he said.
This included a heart-stopping and ear-popping descent in altitude of one-and-a-half kilometres of sand that he just had to surf down as best he could.
On another stage a crash resulted in his Camelbak springing a leak and a bout of dehydration after riding for a few hundred kilometres without water.
“I was getting hazy and it was affecting my vision but I just tried to take it easy,” Rod said.
Coming from western Queensland prepared him for the 45 degree days on the rally but he didn’t handle the sub zero temperatures of the Andes so well.
“We crossed them twice and the wind chill was the main issue,” he said.
“It was hard to wear enough gear.”
To compete this year Rod bought his Yamaha 450 Rally Replica and an assistance package through a rental company that specialises in offering Dakar rides, a deal that saved him some drama with shipping and logistics.
He flew in with his gear bag of helmet and boots and the Yamaha France team did all the rest.
At the end of each day he was able to hand his bike over to the mechanical crew while he went for a shower and a meal at the communal facilities.
Even so, he had to sleep on the ground in a sleeping bag and manage his own recovery.
“For the average rider, you’ve got a minimum spend of between $60,000 and $100,000 to compete, but some can spend up to $200,000,” he said.
“Your entry fee is $20,000 so it all adds up pretty quickly.”
His hometown of Longreach mustered some great financial support and he always knew he had the emotional backing of wife Cherie and sons Nathan and Matthew, and his parents and brothers.
“It was pretty special to see what my achievements meant to everyone back home,” he said.
Now that Rod, 36, has proven himself on the gruelling endurance ride and managed to beat a couple of Yamaha team members in the overall standings, he’s been offered a better bike if he wants to compete again.
That will very much depend on the financial support he’s able to muster as well as having the time available to commit to the preparation and racing.
Most days began with a 3am start and consisted of 10 to 12 hours on the bike.
The biggest distance covered was 880km but some days required more technical skills and not so much fast riding.
“Rider recovery is a big part of doing well,” Rod said.
“Experience definitely comes into it too.
“I was racing against guys who had done five or 10 Dakar rallies and were a lot better at reading maps.”
Map directions are in abbreviated French and riders are given an index to learn.
Rod said he just tried to read it on the fly and adapt, but it got pretty exciting sometimes.
On day eight, in the pouring rain everyone adopted a “follow the leader” mentality and rode around in circles for some time.
“At least I wasn’t by myself,” he said.
Coming back to Longreach and work – he’s a qualified motor mechanic and owns the Centretune Motorcycles business – has almost been an anticlimax.
“I was back to work straight away, dealing with the backlog,” he said.
It’s not going to be something he forgets in a hurry though.
“The Dakar is one of those dreams you think you’ll never get to,” he said.
“Achieving something that five or 10 years ago seemed like a distant dream has been very special.”