FOR DAKAR RALLY CHAMPION TOBY PRICE THERE’S NO THRILL WITHOUT FEAR. USE HIS LESSONS TO REDEFINE YOUR LIMITS
Toby Price tosses a pair of crutches on the ground as he lowers himself onto the seat of a picnic table at a café in inner Sydney. He’s recovering from a broken leg suffered in this year’s Dakar Rally. Injuries are for Price what crowded commutes or electricity bills are for you and me: a fact of life. He’s got a fixed nail and five screws in his leg to go along with the eight screws and three bits of rod in his vertebrae. “I can literally say I’ve got my head screwed on,” he jokes. Does he though? You have to wonder about a bloke who’s 30 years old and had 29 broken bones. Price doesn’t know a lot about the accident that led to this latest injury. It was day 4 of this year’s Dakar and Price was pushing hard to make up the seven minutes he’d been told he was trailing by. “I thought seven minutes is a little too much to be giving away in one day so I started riding at the 95 per cent mark,” he says. He remembers gunning down into a dried-up riverbed, feeling a hard, dull thud and then sailing through the air. And that’s it. He woke up the next day in hospital. “I had a very good head knock, good concussion, broken femur and some good pain medication,” says Price, as if he’s reeling off last night’s lotto numbers.
It’s not the first time Price has woken up in hospital. You hope it’ll be the last but you never know. None of us do if we’re honest. “There’s a risk involved in anything you do,” says Price. “Driving to work everyday is risky.”
But that doesn’t stop you from pulling out of your garage each morning and fear won’t stop Price from riding at 95 or even 100 per
cent next time he feels the need. “The most enjoyable things are always on the other side of fear,” he says. “We only have a short life. You’ve got to make it count.”
That doesn’t mean you throw caution to the wind. But there are probably areas in your life where you can be bolder, braver and maybe even a little crazier. Because the truth is, if you don’t, life and risk-takers like Price are likely to pass you by.
JUMP INTO THE UNKNOWN
Price can’t remember his first chequered flag. He’s been riding so long he was simply too young to recall it. For the record it was in the NSW town of Condobolin and he was four years old. “Dad said I almost lapped the field,” he says. After that he went to a race in Albury with the best young riders in the state. “Apparently I smashed it there as well,” he laughs.
Growing up on a farm at Hillston, a town of a thousand people, eight hours west of Sydney, Price first rode a dirt bike at two years of age and was driving cars by six.
His first bike was a Suzuki JR50. That lasted a couple of months before he’d busted the wheels on it. Price’s old man traded it in for a QR50 with steel wheels, confident it would stand up to whatever punishment his son could mete out. Price promptly broke the frame. That led to a Peewee 50, supposedly stronger again. He snapped that too. “In the end dad just welded a whole new frame for it and it never broke again,” Price laughs.
Weekend dirt-bike meets on tracks scattered across rural NSW are the goldenhewed memories of Price’s childhood. “As a kid all you want to do is have a ride on the bike then a meat pie after to warm yourself up,” he says.
But getting to the races took money, something the Prices didn’t have a whole lot of. Both his parents took on multiple jobs to allow Price and his brother to race and when that wasn’t enough the family took to hunting and selling goats. “We’d take out the quad bikes and get as many goats as we could in a day,” Price recalls. “You could sell those for $15-20 a billy-goat. We were kind of living off the land to fund my racing.”
If it sounds like an idyllic way to grow up, it was also a rather hair-raising one. At the heart of it all was Price’s insatiable drive to jump over things. And by things he means everything from barbed-wire fences to batshit crazy friends. “You’d get on your dirt bike and get your mates to lie down and see how >
THE MOST ENJOYABLE THINGS ARE ALWAYS ON THE OTHER SIDE OF FEAR
many of them you could clear,” he laughs.
So elemental and enduring was that desire to jump it’s become a metaphor Price extends to life as a whole. “You’re always trying to challenge yourself to go that bit further or bit higher,” he explains. “You set a goal that’s just ahead of you, then when you reach that you set another goal that’s further again. It makes you think nothing is impossible. Everything that seems out of reach can be grasped.”
There’s a catch, of course, because unless you’re a complete ice-veined sociopath, there’s a point when you’ve got half a dozen cowering kids or a yawning chasm of baked-hard dirt to clear, that fear enters the equation.
“You sit there and look at a jump that’s 30m long and know that if you don’t execute it perfectly you could get seriously hurt,” Price concedes. “But that’s what fuels me, that feeling of consequences. If you get it right that buzz sends tingles through your body. That feeling never goes away and it never gets old.”
There is an obvious flipside to this devil-may-care, full-throttle approach to life that Price has a tendency to gloss over. You probably would too if your livelihood depended on keeping your fears tamped tight in a bottle. Price can’t afford to open the door to doubt, even just a crack. But the fact is, one day all of us will try to jump one too many kids or we’ll hit one of life’s hairpin bends just that little bit too fast. As Price was to find, it’s after one of those that you really discover what you’re made of.
COME BACK BETTER
When Price woke up in a hospital bed in California in 2013 after breaking his neck in the Hare and Hound National Championship there was a moment of panic when he feared the worst. Fortunately, when he opened his eyes, he had feeling. “I could still move everything,” he says. “I got extremely close to being a paraplegic but luckily I didn’t get dealt that card. It was very tough and very testing on the mind.”
For most of us such a close call would at least temper our instincts. You vow to learn from your mistakes but in doing so you perhaps lose the edge that makes you who you are. It’s natural. It’s human. It’s not Price. “I set myself the goal that the injury was not going to beat me, no matter what it threw at me, even on the darkest days, I just said, it’s not going to beat me.” He pauses, looking down at his injured leg. “I love to come back from a decent injury bigger and stronger. That’s what I’ve done since I was four years old. I just don’t slow down and I always want to be better when I return.”
You could call it indominatable will. Some might call it sheer bloody stupidity. It’s your call. But Price doesn’t stop there. The thing about a lifetime spent striving to surpass your limits is that it means you become equally adept at refashioning calamities into mere setbacks, finding positives in blood-soaked earth and perhaps most importantly, distilling your focus down to a singular purpose. “Sometimes injuries are a good thing because they show you the other side of the table,” says Price. “They make you realise what you’ve got and what you want to chase.”
For Price that was victory in the Holy Grail of motorsports, the Dakar Rally. After switching from motocross to the longer form Enduro racing in 2009, Price shocked many by how easily he adapted, quickly becoming one of the top five racers on the circuit.
The truth is he was made for it. Price’s childhood was basically an Enduro training camp. “I think because of that country boy lifestyle where I rode through the bush to get to motocross tracks I was ready for it,” he says. “It was kind of inbuilt.”
At first he missed the endless jumping of motocross but pursuing sheer speed in treacherous terrain, he says, just about makes up for it. “Anything over 145km/h is where I come alive.”
Price won the Australian Off-road Championship in his first year in 2009. Dakar though was another beast entirely. A 13-day odyssey, which since 2009 has tracked various routes the length of South America, competitors cover up to a thousand kilometres a day in conditions that can vary from 50° in the desert to minus 10 with thin, low oxygenated-air at the top of the Andes. “We ride through some of the driest deserts in the world,” Price says. “You cross into Bolivia and into the salt flats there. It corrodes the bike’s parts like nothing else.”
If the physical conditions aren’t daunting enough, it’s up to riders to navigate their way through the terrain with a road book that’s in French. “There’s no GPS, no Siri telling you which way to go. It’s all up to you,” Price says.
EVERYTHING THAT SEEMS OUT OF REACH CAN BE GRASPED
“When you leave your crew each morning you’ve got to become a mechanic, electrician, motorcycle rider, endurance athlete and navigator all rolled into one.”
In previous Dakars Price lost 9kg over 13 days. He’s learned to go into the race carrying an extra 10kg just to compensate. Factor in the concentration required to ride at speed for 10 hours a day and you have one of the sternest physical and mental tests in all of sports. “Anytime you lose focus you’ll either end up getting lost or making a mistake and getting seriously hurt.”
Perhaps that’s why when going into the last day of the event in 2016 with a 26-minute lead, Price couldn’t relax right until the final kilometre. “Literally anything can pop up at Dakar and destroy your whole race in the blink of an eye,” he says. “We’re dealing with cars on the road, public everywhere. I knew when I was about a kay out that if anything serious went wrong with the bike I could at least push it to the line in those 26 minutes.”
If you wanted a gauge of exactly how tough, how brave and how crazy Price is, consider this: his rise to the pinnacle of motorsport came less than three years after the crash that nearly ended his career. He did as he promised. He came back better.
The victory was sweet. It meant everything for a while. But just as he never got bogged down in the despair of injury, he didn’t bask in the glory of victory too long either. Because in Price’s mind the next jump, the next obstacle and the next challenge is always looming, just ahead of your front wheel. It’s up to you to squeeze the throttle and meet it.
Raising the bar: each time Price gets hurt he comes back stronger.
Enter Sandman: Price carves up the dunes in Morocco.