Mason Klein was doing about 100 mph on his bike when he hit the river. He thought he could pass right through or even right over the flowing water at that speed. But he hit it and flew off his motorcycle, his airbag vest inflated, and he doesn’t really remember any of it.
The Agua Dulce 21-year-old recently returned to America from the Dakar Rally — a 16-day race through the desert that required riders to navigate without GPS over 5,200 miles of dunes and rocky terrain — which took place between Dec. 31 and Jan. 15 in Saudi Arabia. In a December story in The Signal, Klein said he wanted to be the youngest rider to win Dakar. That crash in the river and another one almost immediately afterward would make such an outcome almost impossible.
“My arm was blue all the way up. My hand was big, but it wasn’t broken and I was able to ride. In the beginning, I was saying, ‘Yeah, it’s got to be broken, right?’ Just looking at it, even now,” Klein told The Signal on Tuesday, “it’s not looking so great. But then, everyone’s like, ‘OK, but if you can ride, then it’s probably not broken.’”
Following the first crash, Klein was said to have jumped back on his bike and taken off “all crazy.” He didn’t go far before crashing again, this time into another rider. Klein wasn’t recalling these events from his own memory. The last thing he recollects was being thrust into the air during that first crash. The rest of the story he heard from others.
Klein’s memory would return soon after that second crash. He was looking at his blue arm and swollen hand, evaluating whether to continue the race, and when he believed he could still ride, he said he jumped back on his bike and got back to racing.
Klein had already completed eight days (or stages) of racing. He was in the ninth stage when he crashed. He’d finish the day, and would reassess his situation in the morning.
“The next day,” Klein said, “I was like, ‘I don’t know if it’s a good idea, but, you know, I rode yesterday and it was no problem.’ I also didn’t even really remember how the riding was. But I told my dad, ‘You know, I’m here, let’s keep going.’”
That day — day 10 — was one of the more difficult stages in the race for Klein, he said. It was the stage with dunes, which, he admitted, is not his forte. Nevertheless, of about 100 riders, Klein placed 7th for the day.
“I got 7th with brain damage,” he said with a chuckle.
But Klein was in pain. He said his neck hurt, his head hurt, and he likened much of the pain to the worst whiplash ever, which he continued to feel to a certain degree on Tuesday.
According to Klein, on day 11, he placed 27th. And the day after that, he placed 47th.
“When people started seeing my results,” Klein said, “they started talking to me like, ‘Maybe you should not be riding.’ The worst thing is, there was only about 200 miles of racing left.”
Klein would take the advice he received and he exited the race. He saw a doctor out near the race site, and would learn he’d broken no bones.
“But then we also came home and did some hospital X-rays here because,” Klein said, “the other American there, he broke his neck on one of the first days, and they said he was OK there. But when he came home, they said, ‘Yeah, you’ve got two broken bones in your neck.’ When I heard that, I was like, ‘You know, we better just get it checked out for real.’”
MRI scans of his brain, and X-rays of his neck, his arm and his back came back clean, though Klein would learn he suffered two concussions. He was advised to keep his lifting to a minimum and to avoid bright settings.
As for the blue arm and sore neck, Klein said, “I just have to let it go away, I guess.”
Klein’s dreams of winning the Dakar Rally were cut short. But before he crashed, he seemed to be doing quite well.
“The whole race, I was fighting to win,” he said. “I was top three for the entire race. At stage eight, I was 13 seconds behind first overall, tied with another rider for second and third. I’ve never done any better. I won a stage — stage 2 — which not many Americans have ever done. And another thing, I’m the youngest person to ever win a stage in the motorcycle class.”
According to Bart van der Velden, team manager of BAS World KTM Racing Team and Klein’s manager for the past two years, Klein showed the makings of a true talent.
“He is really clever in his navigation,” he said on Wednesday during a call from Holland in the Netherlands. “His navigation skills, in my opinion, are above a lot of the older guys.”
Klein was among the youngest in the race, competing with riders in their 30s up to their 70s.
“He made some incredible big steps,” van der Velden continued. “What happened in stage eight or nine — I don’t have it in my head — but it can happen. Half of the top 10 riders are crashing out. It’s almost impossible to have 14 days of racing on this level without any problem.”
It might be that all riders going into races like these have goals of winning it all. Klein said people in his camp encouraged him similarly for this race, but maybe really wondered if such an outcome was likely or even possible for someone so young. After this race, however, Klein said he feels he can rest assured.
“I don’t think, lining up next year, I will be wondering if I have a chance to win,” Klein said. “I think now I know I have a chance to win.”