When Rally Dakar moved out of Africa, the traditional Paris-Dakar route was left abandoned. Unsurprisingly, a new rally – the Africa Eco Race – soon cropped up in its place, but it’s not the only event that attempts to recreate the legendary adventure. Intercontinental Rally, also known as The Real Way to Dakar, is a race that may just tick all the boxes: the original Paris-Dakar route, plenty of adventure, and six thousand kilometers across the Sahara Desert.
The Intercontinental Rally started out in 2009, and ever since, it’s been going strong each year. The rally’s organization emphasizes they’re all about the spirit of Thierry Sabine and the 1970’s Paris-Dakar, and all riders are welcome here: whether you’re a seasoned pro or an amateur rider, Intercontinental is open to anyone.
Adventure Class at the Intercontinental Rally
The rally is structured in a way where riders can choose the competitive class or join the Adventure category, where they aren’t timed, and where sometimes, you can avoid the tougher sections by choosing an easier route. According to the ORGA, riders in the Adventure class can expect:
- “The experience of the full race, but without the clock ticking. You can instead use the time you need to challenge yourself in the heavy sand or through the more technical terrain.
- A dedicated go-to person that will give you loads of advice on the routes, the terrain, and the navigation
- A dedicated adventure briefing every night following the official race briefing .
- Breakfast, dinner and supplementary coffee/tea with the rest of the rally family every day.
- An opportunity to participate with vehicles suited for rallies and long distance off road adventures but that may not be suitable for participation in the race category.
- The opportunity to skip some of the extreme days of the route and on those days take the service route instead”.
Solitude in the Sahara
To find out what it’s like to do the Intercontinental Rally on an adventure bike, we spoke to Dave Ouwehand, an adventurer who’s probably done more rallies than any other amateur rider in Europe. Dave is passionate about rally racing, but he’s all about the adventure, the challenge, and the scenery rather than racing, and for him, the Intercontinental Rally was an experience that offered exactly that.
“I did it on my BWM GS1200, so I picked the Adventure category. The route is the same for everyone, though, except you’re not timed which takes the pressure off. In addition, you can always opt out of the really gnarly sections and take the service route or utilize local gravel roads if you can find them. Mauritania, for example, is really tough – the dunes and sand there are so soft it’s really hard to manage on a big bike, so sometimes, I’d pick easier routes. But that’s the beauty of the Intercontinental Rally: instead of a roadbook, you’re given a GPS with waypoints, and you need to hit them in a certain order. However, there are no tracks to follow, no roadbook, no clear route, so essentially, you’re designing your own tracks. For example, you may have a thirty-kilometer distance between two waypoints, but how you’re going to ride it is up to you. You can take the dry riverbed, the mountain, the dune… You decide how you ride, and that’s really cool. You do need to be quite confident, though, because since you’re choosing your own tracks, you end up riding alone most of the time. I had days where I literally saw no one – no other riders, cars, or trucks, no tracks whatsoever, just the big, vast expanse of sand… In a way, it can be intimidating, but for me, that’s the ultimate adventure. You’re covering these huge swaths of nothingness alone, choosing your own route and speed, and it’s just a “wow” kind of feeling”, Dave shared.
He says the Intercontinental Rally may not be for complete beginners, as the daily distances average around 400 km, refueling options are few and far between, and you need to be able to ride hard terrain for hours and fix your own bike if issues arise. “The organization will only come and help you if there is a serious problem, but if it’s something like a flat tire, you’ll have to deal with it yourself. So you need to be quite confident in your riding and in your ability to fix basic bike problems”, Dave explained.
In addition, a certain amount of resilience and creativity are needed. “Intercontinental Rally is very different from other rally races: you really need to rely on yourself most of the time. Nobody is telling you what to do, there are no tracks, and there is no roadbook. This means that you need to push yourself, but also know your limits: as you can’t rely on the roadbook to warn you of dangers or tricky sections ahead, you’ve got to pace yourself and always look ahead – if it seems sketchy, slow down. If it’s getting too tough, ease up and use a gravel road for a little; since the Adventure class isn’t timed, it doesn’t really matter if you skip a waypoint or two. As long as you make it to the next bivouac, you’re fine. But this means you’ve got to have your own strategy, ride at your own pace, and keep a cool head. For me, though, this was the very essence of adventure – you’re let loose in this vast, empty desert, and you’ve got to figure out a way to get to camp before nightfall. It doesn’t get better than this”, Dave said.
According to him, the solitude out there in the desert is an extraordinary experience, and while there are plenty of safety measures in place, the ORGA may not always come and get you in time if you’re stuck. “I remember one guy on an Africa Twin was stuck in the dunes in the dark, and the ORGA told him to wait till the morning as they weren’t able to get to him in the night. So you need to be prepared for stuff like this – a lot like in the old days of Paris-Dakar. If you’re riding a big bike, be prepared to suffer: it’s two weeks of hard riding across thousands of kilometers of desert. When I got to the finish line, I’d lost five kilos of weight, and I was really done. It’s no walk in the park, to be sure. But when I finally crossed that finish line at Lac Rose… I just can’t describe that feeling. I almost had tears in my eyes – holy hell, I’m here, I made it to Dakar!”.
Intercontinental Rally 2023
If Dave’s experience has got your adrenaline pumping, registration to the Intercontinental Rally 2023 s already open. Just go to their website, hit the registration button, and reserve your spot. The good news is, compared to other North African rally races, the Real Way to Dakar is one of the most affordable ones:
|2023 PRICES||MAR 31 2023||AUG 31 2023||OCT 31 2023|
|FULL RACE CATEGORY||€2.800||€3.200||€3.600|
|LITE 1 OR 2|
Ready for the Real Way to Dakar? Let us know in the comments below if you choose to participate!
Images: Intercontinental Rally, Dave Ouwehand