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The Dakar Rally is now a multi-million dollar tournament for motorsport royalty. For others, it remains a soul-destroying obsession

Matt Tisdall had watched the Dakar on TV and was fascinated by the scale of the event. He was amazed to learn that anyone could enter, providing what he called an opportunity to “look deep into yourself and see if you’re the real deal or a pretender.” Thoughts any aspirational bloke in his early 40s might entertain.

Shortly after, Matt and his wife Sally decided to take their two young boys on a family holiday, the highlight of which was to cross the Andes Mountains into Argentina to witness the Dakar Rally firsthand. Sometime later his father-in-law suggested a boys-only get together. Drive out into the wilderness, build a campfire, drink some beer, sleep in the desert and – at Matt’s suggestion – maybe watch the Finke Desert Race.

Tisdall got thinking. Finke seemed a long way to go just to drink beer so why not enter the race? He couldn’t ride a bike but had grown up on a trike, so the purchase of a Suzuki LT-R450 seemed to make sense.

“I stuck a big clock on the handlebars and took any number of risks to get to Finke and back on time,” recalls Tisdall.

Still without any motorcycling skills, Matt took on the popular supported Cape York ride and, as soon as he returned to civilisation, purchased a Honda CRF450. This proved a little too much for his limited skills, though within the year Tisdall had finished another Finke Desert Race and his first navigation rally, the Condo 750. And this led to the completion of three Sunraysia Safaris; a total of 15 days deciphering a road book.

Now all Tisdall needed to do was suss out the logistics of competing in a rally overseas.

Tisdall completed two successive Moroccan Desert Challenges as well as the 14-day Africa Eco Race at the expense of a single collarbone.

Even after satisfying himself he could survive successive 900km days in the wastelands of Mauritania, Matt remained hesitant about talking up his plans for Dakar.

Check out the full story on Matt’s Dakar journey in the Adventure issue.