The decision to participate in the Dakar had to be taken by June. Once the decision was made, there was enough time to organize and prepare, in 360 degrees and even beyond. I was back from the edition 1988 riding an official single-cylinder Honda. Honda was reigning champion, thanks to the triumph of Orioli with the twin-cylinder. The relationship between Honda and the team of Ormeni who was in charge of managing the Italian team had broken. So I received from Honda Italia the diktat not to return the bike with which I had participated in Ormeni.
When I make the decision to start the bike is still in my garage. I think it would be a great starting point to be able to count on her and I dare to ask Dr. Manicardi, president of Honda Italia, permission to bring the bike back to the African tracks. He not only agrees but tells me to also take the bikes used by Kasmakers and Everts (the dad) to be able to obtain a set of spare parts
It didn't seem true to me. Certain, the bikes and the various components had a troubled past behind them, they were all marked by participations in the Dakar, so I got very little out of it (an engine and…middle). But disassemble and reassemble pieces with the names of Orioli, De Petri, Balestrieri, Terruzzi, Everts and Kasmakers was strong. I felt a bit’ as Dr. Frankenstein from Mary Shelley's novel.
I could not fit into any team and therefore participated as a private and alone. I hired Mario Barbiero as an airborne mechanic and I prepared 3 spare parts crates that I loaded on 3 different trucks, as a precaution. The previous edition I had finished 19th on Lake Rosa with the regret of a three-hour penalty for a time control jump in France. I had the secret ambition of being able to join the ten. Honestly though, the primary objective was to get to the bottom.
The thousand preparations make the months fly by, it takes time to leave very quickly.
The race is immediately marked by a fatal accident: a Japanese pilot dies during the transfer to France hit by a drunk. Accidents and even death are elements that you undoubtedly know you have to deal with when you participate in certain events, but when they happen they hit deep to the point of undermining the desire to continue. In Tunisia I skipped a stamp, as happened the previous year in France, but I noticed it and went back, but losing a lot of time.
In the stage that arrived at Tumu (Libya) I had stopped on a sandy plateau, along with some other drivers who like me were lost. While we were trying to figure out the right direction I I realize that another pilot, French, he too without the right route, is pointing at me. And’ turned to the side, distracted in looking for the right way and does not see me. This is where my troubles begin! Luck wants no one to be hurt, but the back of my bike has bent and the rear tanks touch the wheel. We put in three on the bike to leverage to try to straighten it that many to allow me to conclude the stage. The arrival in Tumu had two characteristics: it was the evening of the 31 December, there was no airborne support. Then, while everyone celebrated New Year's Eve with a lucullian dinner and lots of fireworks’ artifice, I was forced to work to rearrange the bike with the crick borrowed from a competitor in the car.
Dirkou – Termit: Niger. Stage of pure desert with many dunes difficult to interpret. I do a good part together with Boano who was struggling a lot with his Africa Twin. Termit is a remote place in the heart of Niger, with only a ruin of the house. Africatours (The organization that deals with catering), There is no, so we find nothing to eat. They give us water bottles and survival rations. Together with some other bikers we went to a small group of locals from whom we were able to buy a chicken. If I close my eyes I still feel the taste, one of the best dishes I've ever eaten, better than any dish from a Michelin-starred restaurant. The organization also informs us that the Dirkou stage of the previous day has been cut to the point of the first stamp. At that point the classification says 14th. My secret hopes of closing among the toptens are rekindled.
Termit -Agades: From the very first km the bike is not in place and my troubles begin. Even today I did not understand what was not working: probably dirty gasoline. Anyway I was forced to stop several times to clean the carburetor. To access the carburetor, however, I had to disassemble the tank every time. At some point, during one of these stops in full Ténéré, out of nowhere came out two boys on the 15 years. I didn't pay much attention to him because I'm taken by my cleaning when suddenly they steal my helmet and water bottle in the shape of a baby carrier.. I chase them, I reach the one with the helmet, I take him back and he runs away. I finish assembling the bike and leave. I do again about ten km, after that the bike stops again. This time the problem is that the piece of brass holding the jet of the maximum fell down from the body of the carburetor. A disaster! I never understood if it broke due to the stress suffered by the material or because by force of screwing and unscrewing the jet was damaged. Anyway I'm exhausted and frustrated. I hope that a truck will arrive in the race and that I load the bike so maybe I get to Agades. Many pilots have had this luck. Night falls and I happen to notice in the distance the headlights of the vehicles, unfortunately all very distant.
In the morning a plane passes, he sees me and sends me a message: “Don't move, the broom truck will pass. You're on the track. Write your number on the sand. Courage!”
At that precise moment I was told that my (dis)adventure. In fact, the person on board the plane who saw me instead of reporting “localized” Wrote “Recovered”. Unaware of all this, I put myself with patience and confidence to wait.
In those moments you never know where the resources will come from to make it. I had read a book in which a Tuareg had survived by putting a stone in his mouth and becoming a stone himself with the sole force of his mind.. I tried to imitate him. But I was also very thirsty because the continuous operations on the bike had consumed me. The second night that no truck appears on the horizon also passes. This time, though, I can sleep and I remember having many dreams with many forms of water (Tanks, Fountains, Showers…).
In the morning I wake up with a deep sense of anguish, given by two factors: first of all the awareness of being out of the race, as the others were already divided; secondly, a doubt assails me “because those of the broom truck have not yet arrived? But they will come?”.
In this state of anguish I spend all morning and think of the two guys with whom I had that quarrel. “Certainly, if I go back I will find someone”, Thought. At this point I had to make a very important decision: go back in search of someone, with all the insecurities of really finding them, stay there and maybe no one would come anymore. however, if while I was wandering around like a fool in the desert the broom truck had arrived where I had located the’ airplane, he wouldn't find anyone and he would leave.
The head was never crowded with all these thoughts. Perhaps this was the most inwardly dramatic moment of the whole affair.. In the end I decided to leave also because I was afraid that the next day I would no longer have the strength to walk. Before you leave, I make the will with a message for Paola through which I try to transmit my love to her. I leave in the middle of the afternoon with a lot of hesitation and go back on my tracks, walk and walk. With each step I felt weaker and weaker but step by step I continued, now the body did not respond to the signs of fatigue that transmitted the head, I went on, almost by inertia, I could have died while walking. It was now night and I couldn't see any trace anymore, in a moment of lucidity I was even more anguished. Suddenly I seemed to see a light in the distance. It seemed close but to reach it on foot it took me an infinity.
It kept me aware that I was growing closer: something, over there, there was. This new hope soothed me, the closer I got, the more I calmed down. The light I had seen in the middle of the desert night was a fire around which a family of two parents and six children warmed up.. They welcome me with great care, probably realizing the state I was in. The first thing I ask is “the eau”, they instead offered me a jug of curdled milk so thick that I struggled to swallow it, despite thirst. Immediately after luckily they also offered me their legendary tea. Without a doubt the best thing I've ever drunk, only that the glasses were very small and despite continuing to give them to me, I kept getting thirsty. The “treatment” gave its first fruits, my physique had recovered.
With them it was difficult to communicate we could gesticulate and with a little’ of French that I thought they could understand. The head of the family spoke a lot but I didn't understand much. However, we have started to dialogue. I tried to make him understand what had happened to me, explaining to him that my bike had broken and that I also needed to be accompanied to the “Gudron”, i.e. a paved road. He makes me understand that it takes five days to get there by camel, and that he would be willing to take me. Then, like a stone, I fell asleep. Apart from his wife and young son, the others sleep huddled in the open air, outside the hut. I put it in my trusty sleeping bag and fall asleep. In the morning I first see them getting up, turn to Mecca and pray.
All the family's diet consisted exclusively of tea, milk they milked from sheep and a millet paste. The milk in the morning was yummy, fresh and freshly milked, as opposed to the evening. Always in the morning I see the mother who worried about the small child who was always crying. He would nod me on the baby's head. So I decide to offer him an aspirin. Aspirin ingested, I realized the lightness committed, I hadn't thought that maybe he could have allergic reactions. Fortunately, After 10 minutes of frantic screams in which I was also very bad, he calmed down and miraculously fell asleep. I guess it could have been for a child of 6 or 7 months grown up in that environment. From that moment on, My Mother began to consider me by addressing me.. I had probably entered into his graces. During the days I spent with them, despite being in the middle of the Ténéré, one of the driest deserts in the world, I was struck by how many people there were: practically every two or three hours someone passed by there, who only waved greetings, and who, for the most part, stopped to make a greeting stop.
It was like a kind of ritual and I noticed that "my Tuareg" proudly told my presence and the passage of the Dakar a few days before. It was amazing to see this man so passionate in telling, Guess, always the same story, to all these passers-by. Life was very simple: the woman crushed the millet; the man built ropes with grass and commanded his boys to keep nearby all the camels that were tied by the two front legs. He explained to me that his occupation was to raise camels., make them grow and once a year he went to sell the big ones, and bought other small ones.
Always during the period spent together I managed to be also useful. While preparing water for the trip, I see that to transport it used two large inner tubes of trucks now very old and full of holes. The holes were plugged with twine. At that point, having with me the bag to repair the punctures, I offered to repair them. As for the episode of Aspirin, even this intervention of mine put me in an excellent light in their eyes. By now our gesticulation had been refined and I was also able to explain to him that my water bottle had been stolen. This shook him, he was convinced they had robbed me when I was no longer in force. My story had completely transformed it: he was very agitated, nervous. He tied a knife to his shoulder and fastened his sword to his belt. Then he made me realize that we had to go.
I was very worried about getting into something dangerous, his attitude did not promise anything good. To take time I made him understand that I was not able to walk because I was very tired. Nothing, more and more decisive and firm, he took a camel and saddled it and pushed me over it. After two steps the rope holding the saddle broke and like a sack of potatoes I fell cutting the palm of my hand. I sank and begged him to stop. Nothing! It seemed that if he didn't take me where he wanted he would lose face., Honour. There was nothing that could have made him desist. After an hour's walk, we arrived at a group of huts (like that of my Tuareg), with at least 4 groups of families.
I was worried, did not pull a great air. The Tuareg put me aside and joined what looked like the leader.. A boy came and laid a carpet on the ground and everyone, me included, we sat in a circle at 10 meters away. Sitting opposite each other, the two characters began to argue with each other with animosity. I don't know how long this discussion lasted, to me it seemed like an eternity. At one point one of the two raised an arm and another little boy ran towards him., handing him the famous water bottle (I tried to see if I recognized the guys of the first meeting, but there were no, everything remained a mystery to me).
When the other head of the family handed the water bottle to my Tuareg, the atmosphere calmed down and suddenly calmed down. After greetings, my Tuareg came to me swollen with pride and handed me the water bottle, satisfied. Of course I thanked him and we greeted the whole group of people present there and we returned to his hut. Finally we arrived and in front of yet another tea, resumed the topic: I needed him to take me to the asphalt. So he promised me that the next morning we would leave. At this point I was able to sleep peacefully for the first time. In the morning of course I was in a hurry, but the proverbial slowness was now expressing itself to the maximum. It seemed that he did not want to leave and he made me understand it with many excuses, at least that's how I interpreted them. I also believed that he wanted to have a fee. After I insisted for quite a while, he made marks on me by bringing his finger to his ear.
Meanwhile the plane of the organization was looking for me with the checkerboard method (so I was told). After a couple of hours I also heard the sound of the plane and all excited I pulled out the rockets I had with me in safety equipment and began to use them. The plane saw me, so he approached me throwing another message along with a safety ration. The message said: “The helicopter will pick you up in an hour and a half. Courage!” and walked away. I offered the whole family the contents of the survival ration in which there were sweets, of peanuts, a fruit juice and several energy portions, of course they would have liked. Instead, they rejected it. I never understood why but I felt bad.
I decided to give him the money I promised him anyway.. But he did not know the value of the Franco French. I'm sure that when he brought the money to change he had a beautiful surprise. I explained to him that I would soon leave with the people who would pick me up., and here began a long discussion, because he insisted that he wanted to take me at all costs to the asphalt in person. Here too, a little’ for the difficulty of communication, a little’ because he insisted, I couldn't make him understand that it wasn't necessary and that I had to leave with the others.. This discussion continued until the helicopter arrived.. I was sorry because I almost had to run away because of his insistence.. I have in mind the scene in which he holds me by the clothes and I almost forcefully release myself to reach the helicopter.
I really wanted to give him a hug, thank him by giving him his hand and honoring the great man he was, greeting him so he left a bitter taste in my mouth. The helicopter left and I looked at those people greeting me, felt a little’ of sadness in leaving you. From above I also saw my bike and here too I felt a feeling of sadness. It was strange: I should have been happy, finally safe but I was almost melancholic.
We arrived in Agades, and here some members of the organization subjected me to a physical check. Then they boarded me on a plane towards Niamey, where the race was coming at the end of the stage. All my friends had me big parties and immediately I was able to make the first serious meal in a long time. I was also able to call Paola's house, reassuring her that everything was fine and that I was fine. I want to take this opportunity to thank Beppe Gualini and Andrea Balestrieri and many other pilots, because they insisted a lot explaining and insisting with the organization that they come looking for me, since I was still in the middle of the desert. If it wasn't for them surely no one would have come to pick me up. The Dakar meanwhile the next day left and from Niamey, with Bebbe Gualini, we arranged to take the first plane to Paris.
On my return I was welcomed with many parties all my friends. Personally, I would have preferred to be celebrated for a good result. I warned Honda Italia that the bike was missing in the desert and that in any case I felt compelled to recover it.. I was told that the bike was now lost and that I should not recover it., at that point I asked him to be able to do it anyway and to keep the bike. In the same stage Picard, official driver Cagiva, retired. I then contacted Azzalin, head of the racing department, to be able to do the recovery together. He gave me the phone number of Manu Daiak who had been a fraternal friend of Thierry Sabine and who was a power in Agades. He was very helpful and promised me that with the truck that was going to get the Cagiva he would also go to get mine and that I’ it would also ship to Marseille. Manu Daiak died a few years later in a mysterious plane crash. Some rumors say it was an attack, consequence of his role in the Tuareg rebellion of which he was said to be the leader.