Finke Desert Race 2012

Rocky Mountain Single Track presents: Finke Bound 2012!

Warren Healey, Parker Colorado

Follow me as I prepare for and then compete in the Tattersall’s Finke Desert Race (www.finkedesertrace.com.au). Held every year in Alice Springs Australia over the Queens Birthday Weekend. This year it is June 9-11. The Tattersall’s Finke Desert Race is an off-road, multi terrain two-day race for bikes, cars, buggies and quads through desert country from Alice Springs to the small Aputula (Finke) community. It is a “down and back” race consisting of one day for the prologue (qualifying) and two days of racing. Alice Springs to Finke then overnight in Finke. Race back to Alice the next day. Total race mileage is approx.. 450 KM’s (280 miles!). We will be using a SPOT GPS Finder to track our riding this year as we prepare for the race, as well as using it during the race to track progress. The promoter also uses a live updating system that is accessible through their website. FOLLOW US ON THE TRIP OF A LIFETIME!

I have teamed up with Rocky Mountain Single Track to be able to share our experience with anyone who is interested in the race. I would be happy to answer any questions about our trip. Here it goes!

How the hell did all this come about? Are you mad? Long story (see below) and short answer, DEBATEABLE?

It all started back in 1992 when our family moved to Alice Springs for a work relocation. We ended up staying for 5 years (until they gave us the boot!) and it was a great experience. This is where the motorcycle bug caught me, never to let go. While we lived there we were exposed to the Finke Desert Race which is held every year over the Queens Birthday weekend. It is a week long event that involves almost everyone in town. From riders, to spectators to the local business owners, it is something to see to say the least. After watching a few of the races and camping trackside to see the race up close and personal, I made a pact with myself that someday I would compete in the race. Unfortunately I was too young when we lived there to compete (and maybe too intimated). Racing and riding in The Alice really was a blast. We rode right out of our back gate and could ride in the bush until we ran out of fuel. Racing was interesting because at the time there weren’t that many competitors to hold just one series so, we ended up riding multiple disciplines over the course of the season. One weekend would be motocross, the next a desert race and then a few flat track races thrown in for good measure. It was great to hone all different types of skills while riding some of the best terrain in the world!

In 1997 we had to leave Australia after trying to extend our stay for as long as possible. We had all grown to love The Alice and were sad to leave. Then life happened.  Fast forward to 2005 and I am living in Colorado. After riding street bikes over the last few years, I decided it was time to get back into off-road riding and eventually competition once again.  We arguably have some of the best riding here in Colorado. Tight single track, open prairies and not too far south and west, desert terrain.  2005-2009 was spent riding as much of Colorado as my married life would allow. Honing my skills and having a blast! In 2010 I made the decision to start competing again, but Motocross didn’t sound appealing any longer (takes too long to heal anymore!). I sought out a series that would allow some epic riding in areas all over Colorado, Texas,  New Mexico, Utah, Arizona, Wyoming and Nebraska. The best fit based on the Enduro format that I was looking for was the Rocky Mountain Enduro Circuit (www.racermec.org). I ended up racing the entire season in 2010 and finished 2nd in the 250 C class behind a 16 year old! I was 32. After constant prodding from my friends (sand bagger and what not) I switched in 2011 to Vet B where once again I finished near the top of the class, in 3rd for the year. 2012 involves the Vet A class and a whole different breed of racer. Can’t wait to get the season started as this will all be training for the Finke. Do I have any illusions about how well I will do in Australia? Hell no. I’m going for the experience. If I finish in one piece, that will be a WIN in my book.

So where does the Finke fit in? In May of 2011 I received an email from a mate of mine that I kept in touch with back in Alice. He said that he and 3 friends were about to make an epic journey to the USA to mountain bike ride from Colorado to Canada and spend a month doing it! Of course I wanted to be involved somehow, who wouldn’t? Unfortunately I was not able to take a month off with these guys on the adventure, but I was able to help them get going at the start of their journey. When they were gathering all their gear and loading up the RV in my front yard I had an epiphany! If these guys can go half way around the world and do this epic trip, why the hell can’t I? Well that was the beginning of the end for anything other than a trip Down Under in 2012 or 2013. Being married I asked nicely if this was realistic? As this is a team event (you married guys know) and if my best friend and wife wasn’t onboard, well……. After much discussion and some life concessions to make it possible, we decided it was feasible. We put a bunch of things on hold and started planning for the trip. But how could I be such a selfish rider you ask? Well that was the easiest part to overcome. How about we vacation after the race? Hell, we are already there and it takes a lot of time and money to get there. Easy sell. The wife was super excited to be able to see some of places I have spoken about and a place I spent so much time growing up in. It was set, June 2012. That was October 2011, not much time to prepare and organize. Better get going.

I first contacted the promoter in October 2011 and asked all the stupid questions that anyone would have, except I would be flying 28 hours to attend the race. There might be a few logistical concerns for sure. Especially considering I am NOT a professional racer and don’t have a team that can help me get it all together. I asked if she could point me to a local shop that might offer a rental for the race. I was told that not many do, but to call Michael Vroom at Desert Edge in Alice Springs (www.desertedge.com.au) and he may be able to help. He sent me a very comprehensive email with all the options he could provide and told me to let him know, but don’t waste too much time as he only has two bikes set aside for rentals this year. Now it was time to weigh the options.

That brings us to problem #1 and really the biggest issue of them all. The Bike.

I saw FOUR options. Ship my bike. Borrow a bike. Buy a bike then sell it when done or rent a bike from a shop. They all have Pros and Cons. I settled on Renting a bike from the Team at Desert Edge Honda. Mainly because it will be as all inclusive as possible and there will be pit support and mechanics for the entire week. Basically, your run of the mill Fly in and Ride Factory Deal! Cons…..it is pricey. But it is the trip of a lifetime, a Bucket List item if you will. It was an easy decision to make in hindsight.

The Desert Edge Race Team (DERT) has been competing in the event for a long time and always has top finishers. The package includes a 2011 CRF450 fully race prepped forThe Finke. Including oversized tank, steering stabilizer and all the goodies needed to go fast in the desert. The biggest value add to the bike is that they will do the suspension for my weight and revalve for my riding and track conditions. This is something that is invaluable as it requires a lot of prior testing and local knowledge. Riding in Colorado I have no concerns tuning my suspension, but fly halfway around the globe and race in an event that is nothing like anything we have around here, best to have the locals handle that. No brainer for us as well. Less logistics involved. All they need from me is bar type, grip type and weight. The rest is handled. They take care of all the pit stops (6 of them), bike set up, maintenance at the halfway point (overnight) and clean up when done. They also take some extra gear and camping stuff down to Finke for the overnight. The rest is  a work in progress. Logistics, riding and racing to prepare as much as possible. Working out, more riding maybe a little more working out. I want to be as prepared as possible. If I’m spending all this time and money to do it, it will be done right. Follow me as I update the entire process all the way through our return home to Colorado and beyond!

January 16 2012 – Deposit was made on the Bike and Race prep with Michael Vroom of Desert Edge Motorcycles. He has been extremely helpful throughout the process. Answering all the little questions I have, as I have them. I can’t wait to meet him and his team and get this race going!  www.desertedge.com.au

January 22 2012 – Early morning training ride today. Went to PPIR to ride. It is in between Pueblo and Colorado Springs. Did a few hours to rub off the rust after not riding since the beginning of Nov. Not race pace, just consistent heart rate training using my monitor. Any day riding is a great day!

January 22 2012 – Approx. 1 week from the official online entry for the race. January 30th it will be open for business (Jan 29th for the USA). Signup is done online and looks to be relatively easy and well oiled. Only a few key pieces of information will be required to officially enter the race. The rest of the rider information will need to be updated over the coming weeks leading up to the race.

January 22 2012 – Flights booked! Wow, it is crazy expensive to fly to Australia! We watched flights all over the net on various sites for a weeks before we finally pulled the trigger. Cheap tickets ended up getting our business, although many sites listed the same flights for the same price. Going directly to the airlines would have been more expensive. Go figure.

January 23 2012 – AMA race clearance received and sent to the Finke Promoters showing I am a current AMA Racing Competitor and that my AMA insurance will not cover me in the event something happens while I am competing.  This release is required to compete in the Finke, otherwise I would need to apply for a racing license in Australia, but that isn’t as easy as it sounds. The AMA clearance was made easier by the race promoter. She sent me a copy of another USA racers clearance from last year. I forwarded that to the AMA and about a week later I received my very own release.  I will need to buy race coverage insurance from St. Johns Ambulance Service in Alice Springs once we arrive, this is mandatory as set forth by the promoter. We will also be buying trip insurance and coverage for all the rest of our vacation.  Just in case!

January 24 2012 – Travel visa’s applied for and approved. It was super easy using Australia’s online approval process. $20 each visa, payable via credit card. One more item down on a list that seems to never end! Only a few more days left until the official online entry opens up for the race. I hear it sells out quickly, so I will be doing it on the 29th just in case. Might be overkill, but I would hate to miss out on this especially since I already bought the plane tickets!

January 29 2012 –  Online registration opened up today for the Finke Desert Race. All I can say is WOW! I logged on to the website exactly at the time that it opened and the site was already down! It crashed from the overwhelming number of people trying to enter the race. The promoter was quick to post an update to Facebook and kept everyone up to date on the status of the site until it was finally back up and working. I finally was able to get on approx.. 2 hours after it was opened back up. I completed my registration and about that time the promoter posted to Facebook that over 300 entries had already been received! My guess is that it was sold out in one day, maybe less. Glad I didn’t wait. Now it is official, WE’RE GOING RACING!!!

January 31 – Racing numbers assigned. I drew Number 582 !

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