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A Most Dangerous Race: Dakar!

“The brave man is not he who feels no fear, for that were stupid and irrational; but he, whose noble soul its fear subdues, and bravely dares what nature shrinks from.”

Are men designed and created to be dangerous? This is a question that keeps popping up time and again at the MenStylePower pow wows.

If indeed they are, then why aren’t more men living dangerous? (We don’t mean living irresponsibly mind you).

Something’s gone askew the modern mix of who a man is. We can’t help but think that somehow the modern Western man, trapped in offices, lost in technology and a slave to routine and money,  has lost his edge and is paying for it in a sense of helplessness and depression (an average 1 in every 10 men is reportedly depressed). The result is as Henry David Thoreau said … “The mass of lead lives of quiet desperation.”

It doesn’t help that society at large can’t make up its mind about men. “Having spent the last thirty years redefining masculinity into something more sensitive, safe, manageable and, well, feminine, it now berates men for not being men. … ‘Where are all the real men?’ is regular fare for talk shows and new books. (We) asked them be women. The result is a gender confusion never experienced a t such a wide level in the history of the world. How can a man know he is one when his highest aim is minding his manners,” says author John Eldredge.

They’ve forgotten their purpose … “Life needs a man to be fierce — and fiercely devoted. The wounds he will take throughout his life will cause him to lose heart if all he has been trained to be is soft.”

Simply look at the dreams and desires written in the heart of every boy: To be a hero, to be a warrior, to live a life of adventure and risk. Sadly, most men abandon those dreams and desires — under pressure to be a nice guy.

Thank God there’s one event on the world calendar that helps men face their fears and become the warrior and hero they yearn to become.

From its humble beginnings as a wayward journey by its creator, Frenchman Thierry Sabine, who got lost on his motorbike in the Libyan desert during another rally, the 16-day Dakar Rally is today arguably the world’s most prestigious, grueling and dangerous marathon off-road race, or “raid” that features 3 classes of vehicles: bike (moto) class (including the quadbikes sub-class), the car class, (which ranges from buggies to small SUVs), and the T4 truck class. Many vehicle manufacturers exploit the harsh environment the rally offers as a testing ground, and consequently to demonstrate the durability of their vehicles, although most vehicles are heavily modified or purpose built.

This year a deafening, carnival-esque roar of hundreds of cars, trucks, motorcycles and all-terrain vehicles are charging their way through Chile’s Atacama Desert, past the mountainous moonscapes and miraculous desert seas of blooming flowers.  “Seeing [this] up close is the maximum emotion,” says Gines Pulgar, who drove 3,000 km (1,864 mls) from southern Chile in one week to follow the endurance epic, which ends in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

What South Americans like Pulgar thought would be just a temporary spectacle could become a permanent, and lucrative, fixture on their continent. Until a couple years ago the Dakar, first held in 1978, had been a European-African rally raid, run from Paris to Dakar, Senegal (with vehicles ferried across the Strait of Gibraltar), and back again.

Since that first race, which saw an impressive 182 competitors start – although only 74 of those made it to the end – the Dakar Rally has been taking place every year, though not always along the same route. Thousands of wannabe-adventurers saw the rally as the perfect opportunity to get out there and see the world whilst on a controlled and planned-out path, where their progress was being recorded and their whereabouts noted.

dakar start

The race has not been without tragedy. 1986 was as a dark year in the history of the rally when its originator, Sabine was killed in a helicopter accident, and although the race still went on – this time presided over by Thierry’s father, Gilbert – many of the racers didn’t truly feel that their heart was in it when faced with such crisis.

However the Rally continued to grow in popularity over the years. In 1995, the race switched from its Paris starting point for the first time since it began to Granada in Spain. Over the years the race began to change locations more, with a commemorative millennium race ending at the base of the Gizeh Pyramids in Cairo. The following year, the rally was won by a woman for the first time. Currently, the race is being held in South America due to the political climate across Europe and Africa.

Argentina and northern Chile offer the right, challenging terrain — free of security threats and it’s a 9,618 km (5,976 mls), 13-stage odyssey that started on Jan. 1 in Buenos Aires. It headed through the sierras that separate the two countries, looping through the Atacama to Chile’s Pacific coast, finishing back in B.A. on Jan. 16.

Some of the rally’s most exciting moments have come in the Chilean desert, near the dusty mining town of Copiapó — the only city to play host to legs of the rally all three years it’s been held in South America — where the punishing sun and topography have put numerous entrants out of the running.

“South America has projected the Dakar in its popular historic dimension,” says Dakar Deputy Director Frédéric Lequien. “Argentina and Chile are most welcoming territory for the Dakar… and for them [the race] is a global showcase.”

So much so that Peru, Bolivia and Brazil have expressed interest in hosting a stretch of the Dakar themselves. That’s largely because the showcase brings cases of money. There really is no prize to be won in the Dakar; the more than 400 teams that participate do it not for cash but cachet. But many of them, with power sponsors like BMW, Mitsubishi, Volkswagen and Hummer, and famous racers like NASCAR and Indy 500 star Robby Gordon, spend millions of dollars for the souped-up vehicles, crews, equipment, transport and lodging a serious run requires. “This is a rich man’s sport,” says Roger Willis, one of a dozen members of Gordon’s Hummer crew. (Mechanical failure forced Gordon to drop out last week near the Argentina-Chile border.) Argentina paid $5 million to host the Dakar this year — and expects to see a return of $170 million. The region around Copiapó expects 15,000 visitors spending almost $10 million.

dakar route

Each stage of the Dakar is a slow weeding-out process where vehicles break down irreparably; drivers break limbs, lose their bearings and sometimes flirt with death. (In fact, 49 Dakar racers have been killed in its 32-year history.). That drama fascinates locals like Pulgar, a seaweed packer, who’s brought his son in their purple 1955 Ford to catch every turn of the Dakar in Chile. Their lips are chapped and faces burnt. But, says Pulgar, “I didn’t want to miss my chance to experience this with my son. I didn’t want to say the Dakar was here and we missed it.”

dakar fix

Pulgar is a man who understands the lure and reward of living dangerously and bravely and he passes on his wisdom to his son. We thoroughly approve.

“Camps and swords, camouflage, bandannas and six-shooters — these are the uniforms of boyhood. Little boys yearn to know they are powerful, they are dangerous, they are someone to be reckoned with. How many parents have tried in vain to prevent little Timmy from playing with guns? Give it up!”


Excerpted from

– Aaron Nelsen / Copiapó, TIME Magazine

– John Eldredge ‘Wild At Heart’, Publisher: Nelson, Thomas, Inc., 2001


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