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    • Lima, Peru’s capital, is a beautiful city – but its traffic is notoriously crazy. As I swerved, weaved and elbowed my way into the city, I wasn’t sure what would happen next. I needed to find Magdalena Beach where the Dakar bivouac was already being built, but then?..

      In the two weeks before the Dakar, I’d reached out to Lithuanian racing teams: Team Pitlane with Benediktas Vanagas behind the wheel of their Toyota truck, Arunas Gelazninkas, a Lithuanian Dakar rookie motorcyclist, and Balys Bardauskas, a malle moto rider. I offered to help with whatever they might have needed – since I was already in Peru, I figured I could be useful somehow. All of the racers responded: some needed a hand with hotel and AirBnB reservations, some asked to figure out Peruvian SIM cards so they could have an internet connection. As I ran errands and reported back, all three teams offered to help me with bivouac access for a few stages. This was awesome news – official media accreditation from the ASO is over $3,500, which is easily my four-month budget on the road.

      But when I got to the Dakar bivouac in Lima, it was still being built, I didn’t have anybody’s phone number, and, unsure what to do, I stood in the parking lot melting in my riding suit from the humid, sticky heat and pawing at my GPS trying to locate my AirBnB for the night. Suddenly, a rally rider appeared and stopped right next to me.

      “Labas!”, -a cheerful face said. Hello. I couldn’t believe I was hearing Lithuanian in Lima – it was Balys Bardauskas who’d spotted me from the other side of the fence and came over to say hi.

      “Here’s your bivouac pass for today, and we’ll figure out the rest as we go along. Come join us for dinner later?”, - he said, and tore off on his KTM.

      I was tired and hot, but I couldn’t just ride away without seeing the bivouac first. Rolling up to the competitors entrance, I was greeted by two Spanish – speaking security guys.

      -Holla, caballero!, - one of them said. Hello, sir.

      -No soy caballero, - I said, removing my helmet.

      -Oh, um, apologies! Hi!, - the security guy suddenly went a little pink.

      After a friendly fist bump, I was motioned inside the gates.

    • I felt a little ridiculous riding around the bivouac with my heavily laden bike, wearing full riding suit in the stifling heat, but it seemed the Dakar people found the sight amusing as I got smiles and thumbs up bumbling around the camp.

      The bivouac looked like a little town with its own streets and quarters: trucks and cars at the back, then quads and side by sides, then, finally, bikes. Most pilots weren’t around yet; mechanics and support teams worked on the vehicles, staff wandered around with their walkie talkies, and the camp was still being set up.

      I headed straight for the malle moto camp to find Balys and thank him.

      The contrast between the team and privateer riders and the malle moto Spartans was stark. While most competitors had large tents and motorhomes and entire support teams looking after them 24/7, the Original by Motul class looked bare. All a malle moto rider gets is a mat and a toolbox.

    • Since the malle riders were the only ones around, going over their bikes and doing some final checks, I started chatting to them. Most were surprised to see me there on my own bike, but everyone was friendly and ready to share the excitement.

      "I don't expect to place high or to win the class, all I want is to finish the Dakar. That's my goal. I'm not a fast rider, but I just keep on going, and I hope it will get me through. I don't think I'd be going any faster even if I had a support team", - Edwin Straver, a Dutch rider, told me.

      I hurried to say hi to Sara Garcia - one of only two women in the malle moto class. Anastasiya Nifontova, the other malle moto female, was away.

      Sara was full of energy and positivity, saying she couldn't quite believe she really was racing in the Dakar just yet.

      "It just feels so incredible to be here, you know? The road to Dakar has been so long... and now I'm here!!", - she smiled as she signed my tank.

      She was hoping to finish the Dakar malle moto class together with her boyfriend, Javier Vega. "We'll support each other through this", - Sara told me.

    • Although I really needed to go and dump all my luggage and gear somewhere, I just couldn't peel myself off the malle moto camp. I kept pestering riders about their expectations, asking what's in their toolboxes, and was just utterly fascinated how cool they were. Not in a snobby, Do You Know Who I Am kind of way, but on the contrary, they all seemed like the warmest, friendliest people imaginable.

      I was also stunned how many of them had regular day jobs. Somehow, I thought all the Dakar riders would be these super professional motorcycle racers who would have nothing in common with a lowly ADV civilian like me. Or, they would be these very wealthy people who could afford the most expensive sandbox game in the world...but here, at the malle moto camp, they were mechanics, teachers, fitness trainers.

      Just ordinary people with an extraordinary dream.

    • So you had a worthy experience that challenged what you were expecting!? I couldn't have expected anything better, what you describe as profound surprise that change how we see the facts and people of this event, it is real life learning, forgetting any hardships due to fascination of being captivated and passionate, living in the moment. I'm all ears so to speak, looking forward to read and see what comes next. By the way, pictures are excellent quality too!