Joey Evans: Rally Advice from a Dakar Hero

Joey Evans: Rally Advice from a Dakar Hero // Cross Country ADV

Joey Evans, a South African rider, has always been into racing motorcycles at motocross, enduro, and rally events. But when a bad crash during a local race left him badly injured – Joey had broken his back – and paralyzed from the chest down, he was told he would never walk again, let alone get back on a bike.

Joey’s body was so badly broken he couldn’t feel anything from the chest down, had smashed most of his teeth, and had a myriad of other issues. Despite some very dark moments and pessimistic prognosis from the doctors, Joey decided he wasn’t just going to survive: he was going to live.

Dakar Heroes. Joey Evans: Riding Through the Night // Fuel ADV
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When he felt a slight flicker in his toe, Joey made a decision. Not only he would get out of the wheelchair and back on the bike, but he would race Rally Dakar, the world’s toughest rally race. What was a crazy dream at the time became reality within ten years. Little by little, Joey recovered, began walking again, and eventually, got back on a motorcycle. In 2017, despite incredible odds including his rally bike being completely destroyed by a car that drove over it, Joey rode across the Rally Dakar finish line and later finished another insane rally, the Africa Eco Race.

Dakar Heroes. Joey Evans: Riding Through the Night // Fuel ADV

Now an author and motivational speaker, Joey’s got a simple message: “you haven’t come this far to only to come this far”. So if you’re dreaming big but just need a little nudge forward, here’s Joey’s advice to all of the riders out there who dream of the Dakar:

Joey, how did you set this crazy goal for yourself, and what would you say to riders who are dreaming of the Dakar?

The goal to race the Dakar Rally was something I wanted to do for years prior to breaking my back; it wasn’t that I just came up with the idea after my accident. I’d done some rally races before, I’d done the Roof of Africa, and the rally format has always appealed to me. The Dakar is a dream for many of adventure and enduro riders, and I was one of them, but just like so many others out there, I always assumed it was unattainable for me. The sheer cost to race the Dakar, doubts about my skills, whether I was a good enough rider for that… I kept saying to myself, “maybe one day”.

And then I was paralyzed.

My body was broken, I had a wife and four young children, my business suffered because I couldn’t work, and I went broke.  Now I truly was the least likely candidate to ever set foot on that Dakar start line. And I thought, if ever there was a cool comeback story, me racing the Dakar after going through this horrible accident was it. Of course, at the time, it was just a dream. I thought over and over again about how amazing it would be, but I knew that it was impossible. I was in a wheelchair. For now, just making it through the day would be amazing. To walk again would be amazing, to have bowel control again would be amazing. Just simple, everyday things we all take for granted would have meant a world to me back then. So I knew that thinking of the Dakar while still unable to get out of the wheelchair was completely insane.

Dakar Heroes. Joey Evans: Riding Through the Night // Fuel ADV

But as the days and weeks ticked away, I felt a slight flicker in my toe, and I started thinking, what if?.. Then I slowly began recovering, and finally, walking again. Two and a half years later, I was back on a bike. I only rode it around the field, but when I got off, my mind just kept going, “what if?”. And from there, every little victory, every little win just added to it, and little by little, it became a goal. I didn’t tell anybody at the time, because I’m sure people would have thought I was on too much medication or something. It still was an impossible goal. But in my mind, the seed was sown, and it grew. I began riding with my friends, going up and down mountains, and eventually, I did my first race after the accident. It was ugly and terrible, I sucked so bad, I kept dropping the bike… but I got through it. And every step like that was a step towards the Dakar.

It took me ten years to actually get to that Dakar start line in Paraguay. That’s a crazy long time. And it wasn’t leaps and bounds, it wasn’t one big, heroic, swooping motion that got me there; it was tiny steps, little bits of progress, small pushes and wins, but my belief that I could do it grew with every one of them.

So if you have that dream, whether it’s the Dakar, riding around the world, or something else, just start working towards it, even you can’t see the finish line yet. Even a year before the Dakar, I still had no idea how to pay for it all, I struggled to even pay the bond on my house. But that’s the thing: you take the first step, however small, you start working on it, you tick the tasks off one by one, and you’re on your way. As soon as you start walking, the path emerges.

How do you remain motivated and disciplined enough to stay in that long game?

I think a lot of it comes down to your big “why”. Your “why” has to be bigger than fear and procrastination, bigger than the defeats and setbacks you’ll inevitably experience, bigger than your comfort zone, and you can’t lose sight of it, otherwise, everything falls apart. For me, seeing myself finishing the Dakar, that mental image I had, that’s what kept me going. Visualize that dream coming true and stick to that vision.

Dakar Heroes. Joey Evans: Riding Through the Night // Fuel ADV

A lot of the guys want the Dakar finish for the publicity or the cred, but that’s just fluff, that’s not the right “why”. If you’re doing it for the fanfare, for the crowds asking for a photo with you, for the Dakar fame, these are all the wrong reasons. If you think like that, you’re not going get to that finish line. That’s not what it’s all about. When you’re riding through the night in the desert, when you’re aching, injured, and sleep-deprived, I promise you, you couldn’t care less how many people want selfies with you. You need to know what is your “why”, and for me, my big “why” was getting out of that wheelchair, back on the bike, and into the rally.

I’ve done several rallies before the Dakar where some of the stuff I’d gone through probably trumps some of the Dakar moments. Being out there in the wilderness, riding your bike, linking up again with your mates, having these wins out there in the middle of nowhere where no one sees you – learn to love the rally itself, along with all the suffering and all the private victories that come with it. Don’t focus on the medals and the media. Focus on the essence of the rally.

And the end of the day, you’ve got to embrace the suck, you’ve got to give it your all, and you have to be in the right headspace for that. It all comes down to loving the journey. Your crazy goal might be inspiring and create the momentum, but you’ve got to love the process, too. I love the outdoors, the riding, the bivouac atmosphere, the difficulty, and the challenge, so for me, the road to Dakar was also just a lot of fun and a lot of new experiences. You’ve got to have the goal and work hard, but you need to enjoy the journey, too. For example, I hate going to the gym, I’d much rather ride a mountain bike or my motorcycle; but I had to do gym work, so I’d just put supercross videos on and power through. So yeah, you’ve got to push through some crappy stuff, but make it fun and love every part of it. Even the stress of not having the money, you’ve got to embrace it all. If you only love the podium part, it’s probably not going to work.

How do you work out a plan for the Dakar?

Something like the Dakar goal is pretty easy to break up into measurable pieces: you just need to work out exactly what you need to do to get there. Where do you need to be with your fitness, your riding skills, your financial situation, your qualifying races, and so on – all of this is quantifiable. The challenge is that there will also be a lot of variables, and a lot of crazy and unexpected things will happen. Let’s say you’ve set a goal to race the Dakar in the next 3 years, and you know you’ll need to do a lot of riding and racing in that time to get your skill level up; but chances are, you’ll crash and get injured, or you’ll experience some other setback, some other unseen obstacle, and you’ll need to be flexible, adapt, and change that plan in all sorts of ways that you can’t even see yet.

Still, you’ve got to start now. Work out how much riding you need to do, plan some smaller rallies, local races, a budget, and a plan to achieve it all; build up that plan, and get to work.

You don’t need to announce your Dakar plan to anyone just yet, either, because chances are, people will think you’re nuts. Instead, say, “my goal is to race a local enduro”, or set your sights on an international rally where maybe you can race in the amateur class, and focus on that. Then, do a bigger rally next year, and build on it this way; before you know it, you’re registering for the Merzouga Rally or the Abu Dhabi Desert Challenge, and at that point, guess what: your Dakar dream isn’t so ridiculous anymore.

Don’t start with creating a Facebook page “Joey Goes to Dakar” and expecting companies to sponsor your journey right off the bat; start with the work, walk the talk, and then, little by little, when people see that you’re committed, they’ll start pitching in and helping you. I didn’t announce my Dakar goal until about five years into the journey, and at that point, I’d already put in the miles and the sweat, and it became something that was still crazy – but it looked like I had a chance to pull it off.

As long as you put in the work, people will start getting on board, and if you offer value, companies might be interested to help you. At the same time, you will get a lot of naysayers, but use that to fuel your obsession rather than give in to negativity. Surround yourself with people who believe in you and support you. Be with people who push their own edge, who do all kinds of cool stuff, and who believe in chasing the impossible.

Sometimes, when people look at you, they think you’re such an extraordinary person to have achieved so much, and they feel like maybe they can’t do something like that because they’re just regular people. What would you say to them?

That just drives me nuts! I’m certainly not exceptional, I’m very average – I bet my mates would tell you I’m well below average, actually. I mean, I get it; I used to look at Lyndon Poskitt, for example, and think, wow, he’s so lucky that he can do this. But it’s not luck at all, it’s just hard work. I’m not extraordinary in any way, I just put in the miles and refused to quit. It’s not about being inherently gifted, talented, or exceptional; it’s about having the guts to follow your crazy dreams and putting in the work to back it up. If you’re looking for excuses, there’s plenty of those around, just take your pick. But if doing the Dakar is your goal, there’s nothing that you can’t overcome to get there. Just look at Nicola Dutto who’s racing while paralyzed. Or you may think, but I don’t have the money… yet there are so many riders who came from humble beginnings and didn’t have the cash, either. That Dakar bivouac is full of ordinary people who had an insane dream and gave their all to chase it.

How do you mentally prepare for something as huge as the Dakar?

The fact is, stuff will go wrong in a rally race. It’s not an “if” or a “maybe”. I promise you, things will go wrong in all sorts of unforeseen ways, but you will figure it out and push through them. I’ve had rear tire and mousse completely destroyed, brakes failed, chains broken, car totaling my bike by running over it, I’ve hit a camel… I’ve had so many things go wrong that I just couldn’t have planned for, but if you’re obsessed enough, you’ll find a way to keep going.

A lot of it is experience and time in the saddle, too. If a car had run over my bike during my first rally, there’s no way I would have finished. But when it happened during the Dakar, I had already put thousands of miles behind me, I’ve ridden across mountain passes in the night, I’ve fixed broken bikes on a number of other rallies, I’ve dealt with mechanical failures, accidents, and crashes, I’ve ridden with broken handlebars and with no roadbook, and all of those experiences accumulate over time and give you a fighting chance. So when I found myself in the desert of South America with a broken bike, I got busy trying to fixing it and making it work instead of hitting that red button and quitting the race.

You may not be ready for the Dakar right now, but you’re probably ready for a smaller local race, and after that, you’ll be ready for a longer international rally, and then eventually, you’ll find yourself on that Dakar finish line. But you need to go through some tough stuff to get there, you need all the insane miles, all the failed brakes and broken bars, all the crazy temperatures, exhaustion, riding in the dark, horrible weather, being stuck somewhere in the middle of nowhere because that’s what going to get you across that finish line – this cumulative effect of all sorts of different experiences, different riding, and different challenges that you overcome. I think Lyndon Poskitt is a great example – when he was just starting out, he was nowhere near his current riding level or mechanical knowledge, but he kept at it and he built it all along the way.

During the Dakar, I think it was Day 9 when I finished the stage at 9.50 PM and I was exhausted. I was done; it was an 850-kilometer day, but then, the race marshal told me there’d been a landslide, and I needed to do another 350 kilometers along a dirt trail through the mountains. It took me till 3.30 am in the morning to get to the bivouac. So it wasn’t like they added 20 kilometers or 10 extra minutes – I was already physically destroyed after the day’s stage, and then, at night, I’m told I need to put in another 350 km on some obscure dirt track… If ever there was a reason to give up, that could have been it.

But instead of freaking out, I looked at the marshal and said, OK, let’s get it done, and I kind of roboted it through. You go into a solution mode during the rally; when you blow a tire, you don’t just stand there waiting for help, you don’t bitch about roadbook changes, you don’t just quit, you go: “OK.Tire. How do I fix this?”, and you find a way. This is a rally, and no matter how much you crash and how badly you’re broken, you stand up and you get back on the bike. What can give me another kilometer? What can give me another ten miles? And you keep at it until it’s done.

What is the one message you want to give people who are chasing the impossible?

The first thing is the balance. It doesn’t help me if I doo cool adventures but I’m a crappy dad or a crappy husband; that’s not a win for me. I want to ride around the world, hang out with all these crazy people, and do all sorts of cool stuff, but it’s not everything – I want to be a good husband and I want my kids to be successful, too. Bikes aren’t everything, so find a balance in your life.

And the second thing is this: ride through the night. There will be bad moments and horrible setbacks, it’ll be tough and difficult, and it’ll be dark – but you need to ride through the night, and as you keep going, you’ll find your way.

Feeling inspired? Check out Joey’s book, Para to Dakar, for more of his stories, or visit Joey Evans.co.za 

Images: Joey Evans

Interview: ADV to Rally

2 thoughts on “Joey Evans: Rally Advice from a Dakar Hero

  1. Lynne says:

    Honour to know and love you JoeyMeredith and your oh so brave daughters with Jenna following in your footsteps with courage and incredible willpower through her Dakar

  2. Pingback: Tree Surgeon to Rally Racer: Willem Avenant // Cross Country ADV

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