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Park City Resident Set To Compete In 3,000 Mile Dakar Rally


An annual 3,000-mile motor race pushing the limits of man and machine through the earth’s deserts is starting on January 6th. The Dakar Rally will be comprised of competitors from across the globe including a Park City resident.

The Dakar Rally got its start in 1978 as competitors raced from Paris to the Senegal capitol of Dakar. The race grew over the following two decades before concerns of terror attacks moved the rally to South America in 2008, though the event kept the name. Ski Utah CEO Nathan Rafferty will be competing for the first time this year. He says the 2019 route will travel through the sand dunes of Peru.

“It’s 10 stages over 11 days so there are five stages and then a rest day, and then five more. It’s different every year but we start in Lima this year, and head south go all the way down to Arequipa and then turn around and come back. It’s motorcycles, cars, trucks and they go off once every minute or so. Then you have a set amount of kilometers you need to cover that day and then a little tent city. It’s kind of like the Tour de France if you’ve ever watched that, where they have a set route every day. They’re saying it’s 70-percent sand and Peru has some of the largest sand dunes in the world. The trail is not marked you’re following turn by turn directions that are on your bike. There’s no trail to follow, you just got to follow these directions on your bike. I love riding in the sand, it’s like powder skiing. It’s super fun but more technical. Every mile in the sand is like five-miles on a flat dirt road. While it’s a little bit shorter it’s definitely more technical and more taxing on the body and brain.”

During the stages Rafferty will be on his own with a small amount of food and water and some essential tools.

“The bikes are specialized, and they carry about nine gallons of fuel each. There’s one fuel station right in the middle. So, if you’re riding for let’s say eight or 10 hours a day in the middle of the day there is a fuel truck in the middle of the stage. You get about 15 minutes to get something in your belly, put water in your camelback, refuel the bike, and then away you go.”

Rafferty rented the motorbike he’ll use on the trip and will have a professional team from Europe maintaining his bike at stops.

“I rent it through this company. It’s a super specialized bike that’s just built just for this race, in fact you can’t even get them here. I haven’t seen it, I haven’t touched it but I’m going to have 3,000 miles to get used to it. The team takes care of it and that’s part of having a really good team is making sure that everything is sorted and hopefully you don’t have any problems while you’re out there, because it’s hard to carry all the gear you might need or if you wreck to fix your bike and then you’re just out of luck if that’s the case.”

He says the hardest part is preparing for the race and the small amount of anxiety from other, bigger racers.

“Big cars and trucks that come racing past you on the second half of the day. They leave after you but they’re faster. These huge trucks are electronically limited at 120 mph they fly through the desert and if you wreck behind a dune somewhere you don’t want to get run over by a truck. So that’s a little disconcerting sometimes. I feel like the easiest part of the race is being on the bike. The hardest part is all of the organization and all the mental stress that goes along with getting in and getting sorted for the next day. Once I get on the bike, I have one job to do and focus and ride. I can’t wait to get there.”

Rafferty is one of 150 motorcycle racers.

“There are probably 30 or 40 guys in this race who ride their motorcycle for a living. I’m not one of those guys so a finish is a win for me. If I was in the top 50, I’d be thrilled.”

Rafferty is also using the race as an opportunity to raise funds for the High Fives Foundation.

“The High Fives Foundation. They are a group that really helps put people’s lives back together after they’ve had life-altering injuries like spine or head injuries. Mostly action sports athletes. If you get hurt doing something active outside, they’re going to help you out. A lot of what they do is bridge the gap between where your insurance ends and the rest of the equipment that you’re going to need, potentially for the rest of your life. They also create this incredible community for athletes and avid outdoors people who have had these injuries that help them get back to leading a normal life. I had a good friend who had an accident and has since made a 99.9 percent recovery and it was just amazing to see him go through that.”

You can find the fundraiser online here. You can follow the race on Dakar.com and you can follow Rafferty's journey on his Instagram page @NathanJR.

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