Embarking upon his first Dakar, American Ned Suesse, Rider #81, from Colorado was gracious enough to carve out some time to speak with RallyRaidReview from Buenos Aires late last week to answer a few question and give some valuable perspective on what it is like to grab a dream and make it reality.
RRR: I really appreciate you taking the time, I am sure you have a lot on your plate down there. I really appreciate you taking the time to talk to me.
NS: Yeah, absolutely and…and to be honest, once we learned the container was delayed, we’re pretty much in recreation mode so no worries”.
RRR: Yes, I saw your post about getting more sleep than you have in quite some time so that is good, you’ll be well rested”. There is so much to the back story that we all enjoy especially on ADVrider, the behind the scenes stuff, we see a lot of people having a good time or struggling with the drama and I think we all take a little bit of enjoyment in seeing what really goes on to put this kind of effort in place, so that is what I hope to convey in my writing.
To start it off, do you want to give a quick little bio for anybody that may not follow closely on ADVrider or may not be familiar with who you are?
NS: Yeah, absolutely. My name is Ned Suesse and I guess I turned into a Dakar addict maybe about 1998 or so. I was in college and I’d never ridden a motorcycle at the time but I was in a friend’s dorm room and I saw these motorcycles going across the dunes in the Sahara at that point and I thought, that is the coolest thing I have ever seen. I was just riveted. I sat down and watched the whole rest of the program and I thought that was cool but I thought it was cool in a way that I could never ever do. Not anything that I would ever take part in and just cool like something that was totally unattainable. I guess over time…what I liked about it was that…it wasn’t abstract, I think.
So there is a lot of racing that is going around in a circle or going around some man-made jump. Supercross is probably the worst example of it where they are going around this track and the obstacles that they are encountering are nothing that you would ever see in any sort of realistic situation and they aren’t going anywhere. I totally respect the skill that those guys have in their ability to control the bike and I don’t mean in any way to diminish that but I think what really grabbed me about the Dakar from that first moment in the dorm room all the way until now is, there is nothing abstract. It is a race that goes from here all the way to there and in this case it is the Atlantic to the Pacific, it is 9000 kilometers and whatever you encounter between here and there whether It is road, pavement, boring which there will be a bunch of, all the way to the hardest sand dunes or rivers or jungles or mountains or whatever it is, It is not something that somebody made up. It is something that actually lies between point A and point B and I think that is something that interests me. It is the same thing that interests me about the Isle of Man…is more interesting to me than say a road race on a course, on a closed circuit course. I think the distinction between those two is the same thing that I feel about the Dakar versus anything else that I have ever done.
That wasn’t a very good biography I sort of got distracted so…
RRR: No, That is perfect. That is exactly the type of content I am hoping to hear and I am sure the readers will really enjoy it.
You are in Buenos Aires now. Are you beginning to grasp the enormity of what you are about to embark upon, or have you already come upon that realization?
NS: You know, at some level I think it comes and goes a bit. Obviously the Dakar is something that I’ve studied for a long time but honestly as it relates to this year, I looked at enough to know what I feel like I need to do to prepare but whatever it is, I’m going to do. More information doesn’t necessarily help me make better decisions or help me make different decisions. I guess I feel like, yes I have a very deep feeling of the enormity of what I am trying to do but also at the same time, no, I am just thinking of it in my mind as just like I am going to get to go on a really long dirt bike ride. I’m going to get to do something I really like to do and do a bunch of it. I try to sort of frame it in my mind that the happiest I can be is in the seat of the dirt bike making miles. I don’t want to be in the bivouac, I don’t want to be in scrutineering, I don’t want to be in any of the administrative parts of it…I want to be sitting behind the handlebars of my dirt bike, holding the throttle open, and going from wherever it is to wherever it is because if that is what I have in my mind as my goal, it will work out. That is how I feel.
RRR: So you are ready to ride down that ramp into the crowd?
NS Yeah although I’m pretty sure that will be an intense experience that I can’t even imagine right now.
RRR: What is it that you are most looking forward to?
NS: I think It is…this is an odd answer to that question, but I think…I’ve imagined for many years, I’ve gone on rides and thought, I wonder if that was like a Dakar stage or I wonder if that was hard or like what it would be or so on. I imagine a lot of people do that. I certainly have and so I think what I am looking forward to is testing myself against some of those challenges and the feeling of like, “hey alright, it turns out that what I thought was hard actually is hard”, or “holy shit, these guys are off the hook, I need to totally reset my…reset my bar”. I don’t know the answer to that but that is what I am looking forward to is kind of testing myself against this thing that is, I would say is the deep end of the pool.
RRR: Now the opposite of that, is there anything that you dreading the most, any one thing that you are really nervous of or not looking forward to or anxious about?
NS: I think what I am dreading, what I am anxious about is the administration leading up to the race. The container that was supposed to be received…we were supposed to get it in on the 12th in Buenos Aires and then it was supposed to clear customs and be available for us and we were actually going to unload it on the 20th, but, that was ok, suddenly the boat is not going to be in port until the 23rd. The port is closed the 24th, 25th, and 26th, so we don’t get into the customs process until the 27th and we likely won’t have any access until the 28th. So I’m sort of dreading that now all of the sudden, my scrutineering time is at 11 o’clock on the morning of the 29th and That is about 5 hours from the port, 6 hours from the port, something like that. So we kind of went from this plan where we had plenty of time, everything was organized in a way that let us finish the things we need to do to the bike, feel like we were organized and prepared going into scrutineering, and now all of the sudden It is, hopefully get our stuff out of the port, drive all night, try to get everything prepped, and the get down to scrutineering. It feels…the thing I am dreading is going through all that administration feeling like I am on my back foot. Feeling like, “well, I just have to hope this goes ok because I don’t really have time to do it any other way.
RRR: So in other words, according to what we’ve read through the years, a normal Dakar so far.
NS: Exactly. What is it, “no plan survives contact with the enemy”? I think we are entering that realm.
RRR: Or like Charlie Rauseo always says, “What could possibly go wrong”?
NS: Right, nothing as far as I can tell. The flip side of that, I’m very much in the glass is half full type…my thinking is that way and so the flip side of that is like Chris and I don’t have shit to do. We thought we were going to be unloading the bike and going out to where it was going to be, outside the port and dealing with getting the graphics on and dealing with, there was sort of a last minute change in some of the equipment required for the rally that we heard about, the first news was November 4th and caught everyone off guard so I said the heck with this, I’ll deal with this and then prepare whatever I need to prepare on the rally moto kit. Because Chris is going to be making these kits to sell we had exactly the same setup on his bike as we did on the rally bike that we shipped down so I thought, hey, no worries, we’ll just ship the bike how it is and then on his bike, on the rally moto kit setup, we’ll go ahead and figure out how to deal with the IriTrack and so on.
Anyway, long story short, we are going to get through all that stuff. I have total faith that we will get to scrutineering, we’ll get it out of the port and get it in the race. This isn’t going to be the hill that we die on but It is not how I want to be entering the race.
RRR: Health wise, I know you broke your foot back in the summer, is that all healed up at this point? Are you 100% physically?
NS: Yeah, honestly, within a month that was 80 or 90% and It is been 100% since probably six weeks after I broke it, 8 weeks after I broke it, something like that, so, I feel 100%. Jimmy Lewis just started a thread in the racing forum. He wanted to do kind of a long term camp because he feels like how you do in Dakar is the sum of your habits over years not the height of the training you achieve in the weekend or in a week. I feel like, I’ve been riding for years and I have no idea how that will translate but my hope is the habits that I have formed and the health and the fitness I have formed over at least five years leading into this are what are going to sustain me through the rally. I feel like there is not any excuse that I have. There is nothing that is different than how I wish it were so if it doesn’t work, it is on me and that is it.
RRR: You hail from Colorado Springs at about a mile above sea level. Do you think that will give you a bit of an edge be acclimatized to the altitude as you climb into some of the higher elevations where a lot of people tend to struggle?
NS: It will leave me an advantage. I am used to riding the bike at much less than full power. The bike will make about 70%…most of our riding areas where I ride all summer certainly is really 7000ft or even 8000ft and higher. So the bike makes 60 to 70% of the power it makes at sea level and I’m totally used to that and I’m used to jetting for it, I’m used to how to deal with that situation. I feel that from an equipment standpoint, I am a little more dialed in than I would be if I lived at sea level. From a health standpoint….we did a couple of weeks…in Buenos Aires relaxing eating steak and drinking wine which seems to be the program I’ve been on so I’m not sure I’ll have a big health advantage by the time we get to high elevation but let’s go with it. At least my bike will be jetted right. I’m ok with that.
RRR: You mentioned dreading scrutineering or at least the time crunch in getting up to that. Up until this point, getting prepped for the rally, documents, border controls, everything like that, has the ASO been a big help navigating through the initial registration?
NS: Honestly, I would say no. The process leading up to the race, so far I’ve dealt only with the ASO. The bike coming in is through the ASO shipper and the shipping agency selected by the ASO and the woman our contact is completely nonresponsive and as far as I can tell, next to useless. The ASO itself didn’t issue decisions on who would be in the race until July, 15th and then has been almost willfully disorganized and difficult to find out what the requirements are point by point leading up to the race. I wouldn’t say that they have been a big assistance. I don’t mean to throw them under the bus. I think that the even that they run is first class, It is just centered around Europeans. All of the shipping time, all of the technical announcements, everything is geared toward a European team doing this for the 5th or 6th time. If you are an American doing it for the first time you can’t wait for the ASO to (audio cuts out)…there is fundraising. You can’t start to prepare for the race in August if you have to ship in October. I wouldn’t say It is been an assistance but I also wouldn’t say that It is been anything other than what I expected. The people there are quite friendly and they help wherever they can so I don’t mean to be negative I just wouldn’t feel it fair to be positive either.
RRR: Speaking of the Europeans, obviously there is Marc Coma, Cyril Despres who will be right up there for the top spot with Chaleco, Helder Rodrigues, Jonah, Quinn Cody, Pal Anders, and everyone like that …any thoughts on who will be taking it to them this year? Same crew we normally see toward the top end?
NS: I don’t have any more information than anyone else on ADVrider does has about that. I haven’t ridden with those guys yet, I have seen anything that they do and probably never will. I’ll probably be eating their several hour old dust for the majority f the rally if everything goes well. My sense is as an avid rally fan that Coma is probably the pick of the litter although I’m personally a fan of Despres who I think has a lot of heart and I identify with more than I do Coma but those two I think are a gear up on anybody else. I think Quinn and Jonah are going to be real threats this year. Jonah is on a bike that he likes a lot better than last year. Quinn has been through the game. He is totally familiar with navigation and he is going to be really strong…(audio cuts out)…Baja 1000 wins and he has got, what, three of them in the last few years. Clearly Quinn has the pace and now he knows the Dakar game as well so it is hard to vote against Quinn.
My sense is there are sort of four or five tiers. The top tier is Marc Coma and Cyril Despres. The second tier has a few other Europeans, Helder for sure, Ruben Faria, Jonah, Quinn and so on. Maybe Jonah and Quinn will take the leap to that top tier this year, I don’t know. There are questions around their equipment that we had last year that we don’t have this year but It is too early to tell. There is another tier of riders that are clearly strong but are not in that top level. That is kind of the third tier for me. Those are the guys finishing maybe tenth through thirtieth so It is a fairly big pool of riders but It is a fairly finite number of people that finish in those positions. The fourth and fifth tiers…the fourth tier is where I hope I am which is people that are competent and people that are more not slow than they are fast. The fifth tier is people that don’t have the experience or the time in to really be competitive in the rally. There are always some of those. Maybe I’ll be in that tier also, who knows, I haven’t done this yet.
RRR: Of the rookies, probably this year more than the past few years there is quite a depth of rookies attempting it for the first time, yourself, guys like Darryl Curtis and Chris Birch from the Roof of the World fame and Erzberg Rodeo and Romaniacs and all…
NS: and you can’t leave out Johnny Aubert, the E2 world champion.
RRR: Yes. Any of them you think might really be, not necessarily a surprise to those in the know but may be up there sort of along the lines of how Quinn was last year? Sort came in as a rookie and held out at the top there for quite a good result?
NS: I don’t have a good sense. For sure those guys are really fast on a bike, there is no question. To me, world Enduro is the highest level of competition for off road speed, but It is not desert racing and It is a whole different thing to hold the bike on in fifth gear than it is to hold the bike on in second. So it would be totally wrong to discount Chris and Johnny and so on, they’re going to be competitive, they’re going to be fast, they’re going to be strong, they’re going to make good decisions. I don’t have any doubt of that but I think for anyone that is a rookie in Dakar, there is so much to learn and so much to understand in the game. The physical or the riding aspect of the game is not…I don’t know whether It is 50% or whether It is 80%, I can’t answer that question but It is not 100%.
I think those guys might have all the riding skill of anyone else in the rally but they won’t have the game as dialed in as some of those top guys like Cyril and Marc who for years have dominated this event and know exactly how to prepare for each day, what are the things that I need to do to be where I need to be at the end of the rally not just moment by moment today. That is a game that the only way to learn is over time and they’ve put the time in. I don’t care how fast you are as a rider, if you haven’t put that time in you won’t know the game all the way.
RRR: Scott Whitney looks to be the guy, for routes, road book knowledge, Death Valley Rally, I know you took part in this year’s Death Valley Rally. Are you comfortable are you with the road book, the symbols, and the nomenclature? Have you been brushing up on your French?
NS: I’ve been trying to, I actually recently started dating a girl who is French. She grew up on Paris, so she gives me a very hard time about my lack of French. With regard to navigation, I think Scott’s routes are fantastic and I think all of us in America that are going to Dakar or aspire to Dakar owe a real debt of gratitude to both Scott and to Charlie Rauseo in particular. Those two guys I sort of lovingly refer to as the Godfathers because I think without them, none of us would really have a chance to do as well as we do. Quinn (Cody) has trained on the routes a lot. Jonah (Street) trains on the routes. All of the individuals who have gone to Dakar in probably the last five years are using or have trained on routes that Charlie and Scott have put together. Usually Scott puts the routes together and Charlie does more of the organization. I have a real debt of gratitude and also a lot of camaraderie, they’re really fun guys to hang out with and I am really grateful to count them as friends. You can’t ignore their contributions.
RRR: I think ‘Godfathers’ for both of them is a well deserved title. They’ve don a lot for the US and North American competitors as a whole. They’ve really furthered along the discipline.
NS: I think the other reason I like that term…both of them are…Charlie with Rally Management Services and Scott ask for a pittance for what it costs to put a road book together. We pay Scott a few dollars for the road books he puts together for the training that he does but really both of them do this out of their heart. Both of them have actual paying careers but they do this because they love rally. They don’t do this because they have a profit motive so to mention money around them is completely wrong. They do it because they want Americans to do well in something they think is really cool. I think they are right, I think it is really cool. I am really glad that they have done what they have for Americans in rally and so on.
To get back to answer your original question, sorry I keep going off on tangents, how I feel about my navigation, I guess ‘remains to be seen’ would be my analysis. In the Amitié Rally that I did in April, it was laid out by the same people who used to do the Dakar road book in Africa. I found that Scott’s routes were more demanding and more difficult to follow than those were so I feel some degree of optimism as a result of that but on the flipside, those road books, like Scott’s road books in America really do very little to call out the dangers…to note where dangers are on the course or places where you might need to slow down. They are navigationally oriented not pace oriented. Never having ridden a Dakar road book, I am going to reserve judgment until I do and it won’t be very long until I can answer that question.
RRR: As you are riding along in any one of the stages, is there any one rider above all else that you hope to hop on the heels of and learn a few tricks, whether Coma or Cyril or even Jonah or Quinn who I’m sure you’ve ridden with before…anybody that you would like to see up ahead and hope to pace along with for a while?
NS: No, probably not. I think that most races are a competitive endeavor. They are something where…you know if I go to an enduro, I am not going to win but I am going to try to win. I am going to pin it the best I know how and I am going to ride as fast as I can and wherever that leaves me it leaves me but always in the desert, my whole career, and certainly in this race, I have found these races to be rather than a competitive endeavor, to be more of a personal one. It is something, I love the challenge, I love the space, I love the speed, I like the riding, I like the organization, I like the whole process that leads to it, but it is not for me, something where there is a person that I want to beat, or a time that I want to beat, or a position I want to attain.
I want to finish the race. If I finish in dead last place, I am going to be really glad to follow the second to last place guy in. Over and over in my mind leading up to this race, I’ve really tried to examine my goals because I feel like there is a chance that I might not do as badly as I think I should and I don’t want to let myself get in a trap where I think, ‘Oh, I had a good result yesterday, I should try to push today’. I feel that is a really good way to not finish the race. It is a really good way to get in over my head, to get into danger, to do the things that I don’t want to do. If realistically I look at it and think, in some dream world that doesn’t really exist, the best case scenario is that I might finish 30th or something. I don’t think that is possible. That would be like everything went my way and not anyone else’s way and some other cases that I finish last and those are probably about 100, those are equally satisfying results to me. There is not another person that I am in this for. I am really in it just for me.
RRR: We really appreciate it, the readers and everybody on ADVrider will really appreciate the time and the insight you have given. I encourage everyone to visit neduro.com and sign on, I am assuming it is still available for us procrastinators and those waiting for Christmas gifts from loved ones and hope to benefit you as well?
NS: Yeah, sure. Absolutely. Let me know where you put it up and I will put it on the Neduro to Dakar Facebook, which I hope everyone can like and mention it in the thread. I feel that for a lot of us, I’ve been in that camp until this year that the more web links there were to follow the happier I was so I’ll do my best to give people that happiness.
RRR: Listen Ned, I cannot thank you enough. I really appreciate the time; I know you have a lot on your plate. I hope all works out well with the container and that you get everything in time and you know we will all be living vicariously through you for the next few weeks. Know that back at home you have a ton of supporters rooting you along every step of the way. We will be refreshing every step of the way just to see where you are.
NS: Okay, well thank you Team F5, I really appreciate it!