The Long Road to Ouarzazate: A Dakar Story with Jonah Street

Posted on 11/17/10

When we interviewed Jonah Street for the premiere issue of Outrider Journal, the last thing we asked him for was a memorable story from the Dakar. After a few moments, he gave us this. We didn’t have room to work it into the print story, so here it is in Q&A format.

On another note, we spoke to Jonah on the phone this morning. He’s extremely busy getting everything ready for the Dakar, and is very appreciative of all the support he’s received over the past few months. If you’d like to become a member of the Riff Raff squad and support Jonah’s Dakar effort, go to www.rallypanam.com/riffraff.html

Outrider Journal: What’s your best Dakar story?
Jonah Street: Probably the coolest story from Dakar is when the bike broke in 2007. I had to get out of Africa by myself and it was pretty crazy. An Australian guy decided to stop his race right where my bike broke, and there was all kinds of comedy that went on. We had our bikes sitting behind this bush and behind the bush we had our beer stash.

ORJ: Your what?
JS: Our beer stash! You see, the cars in the rally, they have beer. As soon as they hit the liaison, they start drinking.

ORJ: Is this ok to print?
JS:  Sure, it’s ok to print. I’m not a car guy! So the cars would come by and ask if we were OK, and then we’d ask them if they had any water or beer. A lot had beer. We ended up with a six-pack between the two of us. Then it started to get a little chilly, so we decided to have a fire. We had ten gallons of gas [on the bikes], and we lit a huge bush on fire about the size of this shop. It was hilarious. The Australian guy almost burned his bike up.

ORJ: Did you sleep at all?
JS: We had a pretty good system going. It was cold and we had about six campfires lit, all of our riding gear on and every hour one of us would get up and stoke the fire. We only had brush, not a real tree to burn or anything.

We finally got picked up by the sweep truck, and just over the next dune we come across this French dude who is hypothermic, shivering real bad. Me and the Australian are peering out of the window and the French guy is shivering and looks cold as hell. I’m looking at him, and twenty yards above him is a big tree! I thought, ‘Oh man, that tree wouldn’t have made it through the night with us!’ So the French guy gets on the truck, and we look at him and ask, ‘Why didn’t you light the tree on fire?” This look came over his face, like, ‘I’m an idiot. Why didn’t I light that tree on fire?’

Eventually a helicopter picked us up and took us to the bivouac location from the previous night, but it had been a marathon stage so there was no one there. It was just a little landing strip with a Moroccan tent, and they said someone would come and pick us up and take us to Ouarzazate. We had gotten to the bivouac around noon, and by two o’clock no one had shown up. I didn’t really know where we were; it’s not like we were on the edge of a town, so we figured it would be best to get out of there before dark. After dark it would be impossible to find someone to give us a ride.

So we told the warlord dude that was making sure everything was cleaned up at the bivouac that we needed to get to Ouarzazate, and he said he’d get somebody for us. Twenty minutes later this young kid shows up in a Land Rover. This was our taxi driver.

There were five of us. The Australian guy, the French dude and there’s a Spanish dude in there too. We get in this Land Rover and the kid is going to charge 200 euros to get to Ouarzazate. So we leave the bivouac and drive through this little village about four miles away where the kid is from, then as we leave the valley floor and start up this grade he never shifts down. We go from 60 mph to zero, and of course the car dies. We’re thinking, ‘What the hell?’ He pushes the clutch in, sets the brake, puts it in first gear and takes off again. He shifts up, and as it gets steeper he keeps the thing wound out until it dies again. We’re dumbfounded at this point, and then realize he doesn’t know how to downshift!

After doing this over and over we finally get to an intersection and the sign says Ouarzazate one direction and something else another direction. The kid pulls up to the sign and he looks back at us and shrugs, like, “Where do I go?” Turns out the whole time we’d been driving he had no clue where we were going or how to get to Ouarzazate, and he couldn’t read.

We finally get to Ouarzazate after dark. He drives us to the airport and it’s closed, so we head back into town to get a hotel room. As we go to get out of the car he asks for the 200 euros. Well, we thought it was 200 euro’s a piece, but realize he only wants 200 euros for all of us. We’re doing the math, looking at each other, thinking he doesn’t know how to figure this out because he’s going to use up over 200 euros in gas driving us there and back. We ended up giving the poor kid more money because he had no clue what he was getting himself into.

ORJ: So now you’re in Ouarzazate, but how much money did you have left?
JS: Well, the French dude, Italian dude and Spanish dude all end up going their own way. The Australian and I are stuck together and I have my passport and 190 dollars. We go across the street to get some clothes and a hotel room, and they keep your passport at the hotel’s front desk, which ended up not being a good thing.

We have a normal night and get up early in the morning so we can get on the first plane, except there is no one in the hotel lobby, so I can’t get my passport. At this point we don’t have a choice, so we break into the hotel lobby and get our passports. But it’s really dark and as we’re leaving we trip over something. It’s the the hotel clerk, who is sleeping on the floor in the hallway! I’m thinking, ‘This guy could have woken up while we were breaking into the office!’

We flew out of Ouarzazate to Casablanca. I made two phone calls—one to Charlie (Rauseo, TRPA Manager), one to my wife. By that time I was out of money, so the Australian guy paid my plane ticket and fed me. He also put me up in a hotel in Paris. But when I got to Paris they wouldn’t let me exchange my ticket so I had to get a hold of my wife and she bought another ticket for me, which took forever. The French are so helpful, it’s awesome (sarcastically).

It was a long, comical trip getting home. There are lots of stories from Dakar, but that was probably my most memorable.