Paul Blezard's Libyan Desert Challenge

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Well, I survived the 5000kms of the Libya Desert Challenge with bike and body both intact. It was a hell of an experience; along with the expected sun there was also some unexpected rain and mud plus chilling winds during the day and freezing nights in the desert bivouacs. Despite all my good intentions to stay shiny side up I still managed three excursions over the handlebars, twice landing on my head, once with the bike on top of me. Thanks to all my body armour and my new Asterisk knee braces I escaped with nothing worse than an IV drip at the end of the longest day and a sunburnt back and nose. I got off lightly compared to my fellow Brit competitors; Tom Beckett crashed heavily and knackered his shoulder on the first day but just gobbled painkillers and carried on regardless to come a close second overall, ahead of all the cars. Elvis Howard crashed out half way through but came back chomping painkillers to ride the last two days. Kareem ‘squeaky clean’ Hussain was going well till his Honda XR650’s rear suspension collapsed irreparably two days from the end.

My three year old KTM450EXC ran faultlessly apart from the notoriously fickle starter button playing up, which resulted in a lot of kicking and swearing in the dunes for two days before it mysteriously cured itself. I don’t recommend alloy sprockets for the Sahara either; I got through two.

Path-finding alone through the high dunes was one of the most difficult and surreal things I’ve ever done on a bike, while surfing through the sand following other people’s tracks was one of the most enjoyable. The standard of riding and driving amongst our small band of international competitors was very high; following Andrea Mayer’s buggy was a revelation, as indeed was talking to the woman herself about her trials and tribulations in the Dakar rally (six finishes on a bike from six entries, before she switched to four wheels).

Other competitors of note included Marco Piana, a Franco-Italian in one of two 4x4 Fiat Panda prototypes who did the Dakar on a quad this year and a 6ft 3in German lady gynaecologist, Ilka Evers, who made far fewer mistakes on her KTM than I did on mine. The overall winner was 47 year old Werner Pfeuffer on a KTM525 but the fastest rider was veteran 53 year old Carlo Lumia on a near-standard DRZ400 who suffered a huge time penalty when a rock holed his crankcase but he still came back to finish third.

The Libyan people were as friendly and welcoming as promised, the petrol literally cheaper than water and the billboards of Gadaffi freshly painted (unlike everything else).

Overall, the LDC was very affordable, hugely enjoyable and highly recommended, but definitely not for beginners.

El Blez