Spending five days in the blistering heat of the Abu Dhabi desert on a motorbike at 180km/* for seven hours a day is not for the faint-hearted.
But for Hout Bay’s David Thomas, 40, the determination to compete in and hopefully finish the 2017 Dakar Rally paid off.
David not only earned an overall 10th position in one of the world’s most gruelling races, the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge, but also walked away with the rally’s rookie award.
The Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge, which took place from Friday April 1 to Thursday April 7, was a qualifier race for the Dakar Rally and gave him entry to the race in 2017.
But this was not an easy task. David started BMX cycling at the age of eight and by the time he was 10 years old, he had his first motorbike, a Honda CR80.
He started racing motocross at the age of 13 and has to date owned more than a hundred motorbikes.
“My mother was a nervous wreck when I was young and she still doesn’t like motorbikes,” he said, laughing.
The Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge takes place in the Liwa Desert over a period of five days and is one of the world’s most prestigious international cross country rallies.
The starting point of the rally is the Yas Marina Circuit in Abu Dhabi.
With titles like the South African downhill champion and having completed several rallies such as the Roof for Africa, an off-road endurance rally in the mountains of Lesotho four times, representing South Africa twice at the World Mountain bike championship in France and Canada, completing the Cape Town Cycle Tour seven times, as well as the Cape Epic in 2009 and walking away with the title of Western Province Enduro Champion nine times, endurance is nothing new for this adventurer.
But having a navigation system that he was not used to combined with racing at a high speed, proved to be challenging.
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“Navigation was my biggest challenge. In South African rallies, the course is marked with stickers but during the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge I had to make use of a navigation system on my bike and I got lost several times.
Also driving at a speed of 180km/* in a desert was not easy but the faster you go the easier it is to move on the terrain,” he said.
David explains that upper body strength is essential as his bike weighed 220kg and combined with his body weight of 90kg, he had to keep 310kg upright during the race.
He spent the nippy desert nights on his blow-up mattress in a little tent soaking his aching hands in buckets of ice water just to be up at the crack of dawn for the next day on the terrain.
He had to carry all food and water with him and had to do all repairs to his bike, a Husqvarna rally replica, himself.
Preparing for the race was hard work. He followed a special eating plan and trained three times a week with a personal trainer in Claremont and rode between four to five hours per day over weekends.
“It is a special training facility that specialises in training people who ride motorcycles,” he said.
It was his first international rally and he participated in the race with about 100 world-class riders who ride for a living and surprised himself when he won the rookie award at the end of the race.
But the biggest surprise was achieving an overall 10th position in the race.
In May, David will take part in the Moroccan Desert Challenge, another Dakar qualifying race in memory of his brother, Justin, who died in a car accident on his 30th birthday in 2003.
“My brother and I were very close and best friends. We often spoke about doing the Dakar Rally together. He was my biggest supporter,” David said.
And although participating in the various rallies is a costly affair with the cost of the Dakar Rally being about 80 000 Euros, David further dreams of racing for a good cause. He often visits the burn unit at the Red Cross Children’s Hospital to make donations. His plan is to organise sponsorships for every 1 000 kilometres he completes during the Dakar Rally in support of the hospital.
“It is something that I would really like to arrange. It is a great opportunity for businesses to get involved as the Dakar is televised and the progress of each participant can be tracked online,” he said.
For more information about David’s journey, visit his Facebook page on Facebook.com/Journeytodakar