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Times Colonist Article – 26 August, 2007

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Cowichan man’s dreams of racing in famed Dakar Rally become reality… Just a handful of Canadians have participated in one of the world’s most gruelling competitions.
Sunday, August 26, 2007

The road from Duncan to Dakar is a lot longer than Don Hatton first anticipated.

The Cowichan Valley-raised Hatton, a 49-year-old insurance broker, always had big dreams of one day riding alongside the greats of motorsport in the Dakar Rally, a marathon nearly 6,000 kilometres long from Lisbon to Dakar, Senegal.

Lots of tire-kickers in the world have had similar dreams. That’s why Hatton has been laughed out of more local motorcycle shops than he cares to admit.

“Everywhere I go, up until recently, I get the same comments when I say, ‘I’m going in the Dakar Rally,’ ” said Hatton, who owns Van Isle Insurance. “They treat me like you would treat almost anyone who comes in and tells you they’re going to the moon.”

You don’t have to qualify for the rally by racing, although organizers try to include participants from a range of Countries, with a mix of amateurs and professionals.

Don Hatton

CREDIT: Debra Brash, Times Colonist

Insurance broker Don Hatton is fulfilling his lifelong dream of racing in the Dakar Rally, from Lisbon to Dakar, Senegal. The race takes place in January. Hatton’s wife and daughter will both be along for the ride as crew members on Team Destination Dakar.

Last month, Hatton received his acceptance letter from the Amaury Sport Organisation, the group that co-ordinates the competition.

Just a week ago, his highly customized $60,000 KTM 525 motorcycle was shipped to B.C. from California.

He has a support crew lined up, consisting of his wife, daughter, and an assistant from work, a Duncan physiotherapist and an Australian mechanic, and is trying to get a line on a supply truck.

For two weeks in January, Hatton will be one of only two Canadians — the other is from Ontario — participating in the race across northwest Africa, the first from Canada since 2005 and one of only a handful from the Great White North since the rally began in the 1970s. His team will be competing in one of the most gruelling competitions in motorsports, an off-road endurance race of motorcycles, cars, buggies and trucks that’s infamously dangerous for both amateur and professional racers alike.

“When you sign up for the Dakar, one of the things they tell you is be prepared to spend at least 36 hours alone in the desert before they rescue you,” said Hatton.

“They go into this long thing about mental breakdown in the rally, because they say there’s a fear of open spaces very similar to a fear of closed spaces that often hits Dakar competitors.”

Besides the mental anxiety, there’s also the risk of banditry that goes along with being a wealthy westerner traveling alone through extremely poor regions. The chances of getting robbed skyrocket once racers fall behind, out of the Dakar “bubble,” where they’re watched out for by the militaries of each country. Never mind the blisters and monkey-butt that each racer inevitably falls victim to; the really deadly part of Dakar is the course itself. Vehicle crashes claim the lives of Dakar racers almost every year, not to mention the non-participant local deaths caused when the big trucks and buggies come roaring through urban areas.

“The only problem I really have, and it’s kind of silly, is that I’m afraid of snakes,” Hatton said. “I don’t know what kind of snakes they have in Africa, but I know they’re not the same kind we have here.”

Hatton’s not all talk. He’s the first to admit that when he decided to go to Dakar, he was woefully unprepared, but he’s been in training for the last six months and has already lost 27 pounds. He’s also been spending a lot of time in California, learning how to ride a heavy motorcycle in deep sand dunes.

He says the Dakar Rally gets about 10,000 applications every year, but last year organizers only took 245 motorcycles, 180 cars and 85 trucks. Hatton expects that since he’s older than most riders, he has a certain wisdom they may lack and will benefit from a tortoise-and-the-hare scenario, taking it nice and slow — slow being almost 100 km/h — while everyone else tries to sprint the race. It’s not unusual for over half of the participants to drop out.

“Our goal is to finish the Dakar Rally, because finishing the Dakar Rally is a victory,” said Hatton, who predicts he’ll end up in the top 80-100.

Hatton’s group, called Team Destination Dakar, is mostly independent. This means that while they’ve paid for the organizational help and advice of Rally Pan-America, an American company that helps amateurs make it to the Dakar and other big rallies, they’re actually doing everything for themselves.

Their budget is about $250,000, counting the $85,000 sign-up fee, costs for equipment and spare parts, and plane tickets. The team started out with champagne dreams on a beer budget, Hatton said, and right about now they’re in cheap-wine-territory. Hatton has cashed in his retirement savings, with the blessing of his “pretty understanding wife,” and is selling some of his motorcycle collection in order to pay for the trip. He’s also looking for sponsorship. “I’m going, one way or another,” said Hatton.

A documentary film team is following Hatton’s adventures, right from when he got off the couch and starting losing what he called his “man-boobs” until he hits the finish line. After they finish the rally, Team Destination Dakar will pack their truck full of donated goods and distribute them in rural African communities through the Wheels 2 Africa program.

A show ‘n’ shine is being held in Duncan this afternoon in support of Team Destination Dakar. Hatton’s Dakar bike, along with many others, will be on display at Java World from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Matthew Gauk, Times Colonist

© Times Colonist (Victoria) 2007

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