If you don’t want to read, try as video out for size. Here is my summary of the 2008 BMW GS Challenge held in Tunisia. It was a 10-day adventure event similar to a Camel Trophy or an ECO Challenge with huge dirt bikes. I was part of a 6-man US Team consisting of three journalists and three BMW owners who were selected through a series of competitions. They included, Brad Hendry, Jason Adams and Jim Stoddard. Journalists were myself, Ryan Dudek and Jon Beck.
Day 1: Arrive in Milan, Italy and try and figure out how to exchange money since I forgot to do it at the airport and the Hotel didn’t seem to want dollars.
Day 2: We have most of the day free to un-jet lag and we go and see some stuff in the center of town. Mostly complexes run by the fashion industry. Like Armani child day care center and lots of trendy cafes attached to high end stores. Then we have a quick briefing where they give us our bag, some supplies, a riding suit and the keys to our bikes.
Day 3: A quick 150km ride to Geona where we boarded the Splendid, a huge ferry to Tunisia, a 22-hour trip.
Day 4: Get up and have a briefing where we learn a little bit about that we are going to be doing. We’re going to be riding the GS800s across Tunisia, camping some of the times and then each day there could be tests or challenges where we are scored. Huh, really? The rest of the day is spent on the boat watching trash or fish float by. And then we arrive in Tunis, Tunisia, fly through customs and ride to a city someplace in the middle of nowhere. Africans like to drive at night with no lights on, pretty scary while passing on two-lane roads…
Day 5: We are finally going to get to ride in the dirt. But not before a swing through the town of Matmata, the gateway to the Sahara Desert. Or maybe more famous from the movie, and I quote, “War Stars,” where the bar scene is filmed. Yes, I ate lunch in there. We then quickly got onto some typical fast and rough dirt roads and it didn’t take long for some of the guys to learn that we weren’t on dirt bikes. One blown shock, a lot of severely bent rims and at least as many near get-offs, this could be a really trying competition. The US team rode slow, in the back and stayed out of trouble. Our camp for the evening was at a hot spring oasis Ksar Gulmamne. Just getting into the area on the soft sand was trying for some of the guys but an attempted trip just a few hundred meters, as a practice, pretty much put a lot of teams and riders in their place and shelved egos at the same time. It was a pre-cursor of what was to come and after working well into the dark to extract all the bikes, we were finally back as a group and eating some food fortified with sand. Sand that was falling out of our eyes and ears.
Day 6: We made another charge into the dunes at sun-up to achieve the fort of ruins that was just a few kilometers out there. It was another mobile, BMW-mounted disaster marked with sand plumes shooting in the air from stuck bikes and spread out over a square-kilometer. This lesson showed that there was an easy way around the soft stuff if you took the time to search for it and that spinning the wheel only digs the bike in deeper. When we finally go to the fort we started our first challenge, an orienteering task. I’ll just say Team USA was directionally challenged thanks to yours truly, my JPS (similar to a GPS but I was born with it and you can’t buy one) was operating at 180-degrees off. We figured it out and salvaged third place by doing wind sprints in 90-degree heat in the deep sand. Good thing the end of a hard-packed road marked where the fort was, the group was not ready for any more sand. And that is why we set up camp just 20 kilometers later at another dune crossing called, “Beben” or “the doors.”
Day 7: The morning desert that felt as if it had rained but no such thing happens here. At least not very often. Dew was everywhere and the sane was wet, a good thing for the challenge; to cross the dunes just in front of us. We drew the last (or worst) starting position and finished 2nd, which was pretty good considering how destroyed the track was. This day we also rode to a cafÃ© located smack-dab in the middle of nowhere but near a national park of some sort. But the roads od sand were taking a toll on a lot of the riders and we had to cut the day a little short. But not before a small race around a triangle-shaped course through the small dunes near camp. Team USA handily won this one, by at least a lap in the six-lap challenge. I found the camp, at the dase of some bigger dunes the ideal place to rave with my Ipod. The white lizard running up my leg at night was cute but the big white spider was enough. The desert comes alive at night and I wasn’t about to die here from a strange bite. Can you say scorpion?
Day 8: We awoke to a challenge that was a bit confusing. We were to carry a perfectily good working motorcycle up a sand dune then run, as a team, to the top of another. Well, we won that challenge too, it seems the taste of victory was addicting and our teamwork was really strong too. Mostly because we rode during the day within our means and the capabilities of the bike, not using up a lot of energy and not breaking stuff or hurting our bodies. The rest of the day was a ride to another region where the sand turned white, and softer. And to another oasis where we were treated to some local entertainment during dinner, and $7 beers. Everything has a price in the desert.
Day 9: Attrition was taking a toll. Most of the teams were a rider down, due just to fatigue of riding in the sand. Even VIPs who were riding in the cars who’d offered to ride some of the bikes were now injured. Team USA was intact and very strong which was proven in another challenge racing around some “monuments ” on a dry lake. We were pretty sure we won but results were being kept secret. Later we headed across more and more dry lakes to another set of “War Stars” this time the home of Luke Skywalker. We were attacked there by necklace wielding locals who forced us back into the dunes to have another race around some flags. We killed it. All six of us and as team, they didn’t have to tell us the scores. We managed to get back to civilization without running out of gas and back into a hotel for our trip back to Europe.
Day 10: We wake up to the threat of rain. It is coming but we could leave in front of it. But we wait till it douwnpours. Then we take off behind the front and chase into it for 100KM of rising in the rain. Finally we stop and let it get ahead enough se we are riding in the dry. They will find a way to make even the long pavement sections of the challenge interesting, if the Tunisian roads and drivers don’t already have that covered. The final results are still being kept secret, one more day’s ride to the ferry back to Italy.
Day 11: They saved one more stretch of sand, along the Mediterranean Ocean for the last day. It was supposed to be 50 or so KM but the soft stuff takes it toll and it gets cut down to about 15 KM. We collect at a beach someplace and have a typical caned-meat lunch and the final awards are presented. Japan brings up the rear. I’m pretty sure Italy is credited with third place, which seemed strange until it is announced that Spain and Germany tie for second. Team USA wins solidly with victories in both of the final two challenges, the Monuments and the Flags races. I get to ride a flat tire back to Tunis courtesy of a wayward hypodermic needle picked up someplace along the beach, wondering the whole time how dirt bikes are going to get blamed for making the world’s beaches such dumps. We make it through customs and onto the boat, we’re heading back champions of the first GS Challenge and it feels pretty good. At least that’s my side of the story….
Look for posts from other team members on ADV Rider. I’m pretty sure you’ll be seeing some press in Dirt Rider and Motorcyclist Magazines and likely in Cycle World from Ryan Dudek.