Thursday, February 22, 2007

"This seems like a good road..."

The "Harry Wade Exit Route" is basically an unpaved freeway. Major thoroughfare. Countless trails heading off the sides of it. Some can be a bit confusing as there are signs on the Wade road to the effect of "driving permitted on roads only" - but no specification of which roads are permitted.

I came to what seemed like the correct turn - the first part of it was a little sketchy ... just a 2-track, but it then turned into a well-established path.

The path to destruction is paved with good intentions...





The the trail just stopped. Not faded ... stopped.

It sort of opened up into a wash area for a bit & I followed what seemed to be really old 2-tracks. Some seemed to start heading somewhere, others just turned out to be just the natural grain of the desert mountains - in any case, my track log started to look like a toddler's etch-a-sketch drawing...

"Jon to base, ?!?**?!! - over"




Continuing on I encountered remnants of these two-track paths & it seemed they were all chunks of what was once a road that went all the way through. Cool. This must be the way.

Or ... not.




Alright. Someone probably doesn't want me here. I can take a hint.

Lessse, I've got a cellphone with hires camera in it, digital camera, a couple notebooks, printed maps from the computer, and a GPS. Pretty much covered all the offenses listed I think. Next time I'll bring an easel & do some oil paintings.

Like I said ... I can take a hint ... but I'll take it later.

I'm sooooo close to the intended route, fuel is potentially an issue at this point, and I have little more than a vague idea where I am because I realize at this point my GPS is freaking out. Never seen it do anything like this. Regardless of what I set the map resolution & zoom to, the "local roads" won't display (!?) In fact, I notice nothing is displaying other than the 15 and airport names. Major cities, nothing. The "local roads" & placenames will appear for a split second when I zoom in & out, but then disappear & I'm left with a blank screen showing my tracklog & that's it.

The way points are still there & I'm only a couple miles from the next waypoint which should put me on "Irvine Road" or something like that. This is just a sign & didn't indicate in what direction the restricted area lay - I had to get out of there somehow & figured if there was SERIOUS danger there would be something more significant that words stuck to a post in the ground.

Sure enough ... there was something more...






This was killing me (no pun intended) - at this point I was just over a mile from the next waypoint & there was an easy go around on a bank to the the left of the barbed wire...


Let's think about this ...




I walked around the area for about 15 minutes debating the options & trying in vain to pull something useful off the GPS... I finally realized that sans, GPS I was essentially flying blind & even though I could get around this obstacle, I have no idea what lay ahead. Plus the signs all indicated there was live, unexploded ordinance all over the place...

Having never actually been blown up before, I don't have much insight as to the dangers of these places. I think the tipping point of the decision to turn around was a message I got from a friend yesterday who actually works as a specialist on a military bombing range ... some funny/scary stuff ...

Here's what he had to say...


So ... I turn around, & backtrack to the shoe tree instead...


A desert shoe tree:




Even though the intended route didn't work out - there was still plenty of opportunity for dirt riding ... just roll off the freeway & pick a direction...




Eventually I hit Baker & my GPS was still acting funny - frustrating as I didn't want to go exploring dirt roads in the waining light with no GPS...I've heard the powerline road connects Baker to just before Barstow but hadn't been on it before - given how the "exploring" of this area had gone so far I wasn't really confident to use the remaining daylight up hitting dead ends or fences ... reluctantly, I jumped on the 15 south...


But that didn't last long.

This is stupid. In the middle of the desert & I'm sitting in traffic? I could see powerlines in the distance ... lots of them. Anywhere with that many powerlines HAS to have a service road of some sort ... Unfortunately the 15 has barbed wire lining nearly the entire length between Baker & Barstow it seems & cutting it would be an offense of some sort I'm sure. BUT it doesn't line the entire length! There are breaks! The first break I came to become an offramp & headed across the desert toward powerlines & freedom.


All was not lost.





Eventually this road ended here - SUPER easy to find - it just deposits you right here a few miles from Barstow.

You can see the powerline (& road underneath them) heading over the hills in the distance.




Back on the freeway for the slab ride home. Being on the bike was the ONLY way to travel for this last leg ... something big happened on the northbound 15 & they had to land a helicopter on the freeway & park a fleet of emergency vehicles. The line of headlights from spectator slowing & backed up traffic could probably be seen from space...

...then things started to get interesting...

Left the "China Ranch" & continued on to Shoshone to fuel up. The pavement, while nice wasn't as appealing as the offroad scene out here...

Even the paved roads are nice...



But getting offroad is far better & there's plenty of opportunity to do that out here!







Now here is where things stated to get a little weird. After fueling up, the plan was to leave Shoshone & check out a route from there to Barstow. It would be possible to connect dirt nearly the entire distance by heading back out past Tecopa & hooking up with one of the washes that heads over to Dumont, but fuel was a concern as I didn't know how the route to Barstow would work out ... decided to simply shortcourse, by burning the first 15-20 miles of pavement over to Dumont before hooking up with the route.

Turns out this was the wise course of action...





The majestic Dumont Dunes in the distance...





Pulling off the highway is easy. Wide turn, there's even a stop sign & marker there. Can't miss it - just down the road from "Little Dumont". Pretty cool knowing this route saved a guy's family ... this crew was truly into hardcore trail exploration:



A short distance down this road is where things got weird...

Eventually...

This trail dead-ended into a paved backroad.






The road continued on & climbed up over some mountains with a ton of mining activity going on.


Lunch stop on a Tuesday afternoon.




Just follow the powerlines to civilization...









...and then the pavement stopped...

... but not quite where I expected.

The first turn off the pavement was fairly clear - relatively major intersection it seemed & a well-graded dirt road. The next turn however was a different story. The dirt road made a sharp right & the GPS indicated you should continue straight. Two deep wheel ruts when off in that direction, so I figured it must be the way. There were traces of a long-since abandoned road, but a road nonetheless. Eventually I saw a ranch in the distance & figured this much have been the old access road to the place.



After passing the ranch the road turned into a rocky/sandy path that showed signs of much use. The scenery just got better & better...

















The scars of old mining activity are all over this landscape:

The ride started out good & went to amazing...

The sunny & clear conditions outside the hotel were like a red cape to a bull ... just begging one to charge at the mountains beyond the city. Looking out from a high-rise makes the distant trails seem just that much closer. In short order, the 950 was loaded up & on the road. For this trip the only dirt planned was all west of the 15. However riding from Vegas toward Jean I stayed off the 15 & took the frontage road instead - there's a LOT of opportunity for trail riding out there!!! Next time, for sure.

At Jean the road cuts under the freeway & heads west toward Sandy Vally - again all paved, but nice pavement in any case. Dirt options do exist, but I had one day to complete this ride & the unknown up ahead let me to stick to the pavement for this portion of the ride ... found out later it was a good call...

Looking down toward Sandy Valley:




















Just pick your trail & pull off the road:



















...or pull off into the MX park:

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Update to the "bomb" post... this one from an expert.

I ... um, got a message.

It's from a friend of mine who is a specialist at a military bombing range.

He happened to see the photo of the "bombjumping" in the post below ("a new link is coming").

I may think twice before riding over these things again.

Here are his thoughts:

"Just because it didn't blow up when it hit the ground, doesn't mean it's not still loaded with explosives! I don't touch anything out here unless I know for certain it is not live. I watched a guy take his knife and pry a .50 calibur bullet from the unexpended case, and dump the gunpowder on the ground. Then went home and tapped the shell to set off the primer, and hurt one of his fingers in the process! And the bullet was 50 years old! Lethal radius for a bomb like that is around 100 ft. Anyone closer than that could likely die if it decided to blow!... Consider yourself fortunate!.. ;-) "



















I'll have to share this info with my buddy Dave ... he was on the heavy bike that day :)




















I mentioned I thought they were filled with concrete...

"Concrete is the usual filler material. You are right, probably safe, but you never know for sure unless you work with it all the time. Someone on one of our ranges needed to dispose of a couple hundred artillery rounds. He couldn't get permission to transport them, so he buried them with concrete. Made a patio outside his office by a fish pond. Everyone thought it was pretty cool. One day, something happened with the fish pond, and they needed to dig the patio up to fix the problem. Once the hoe operator saw there was ordinance buried there, he wouldn't work on it anymore. They had to excavate the area extra carefully, and found several live rounds buried with the dummies. "

Much improved...

Rain was gone today - replaced by a hyper-sunny day. Sunny, but cold. Desert cold. The main reason for coming here on this particular date was that software presentation. 300 miles one way for a 3-hour meeting.



















I'd been experiencing a bit of an oil leak on the bike. Nothing serious - the tank cap/dipstick thing was weeping. The rubber o-ring was still there, but perhaps worn from 17000+ miles of use. Following the conference I took some time to get a few errands done, one of which was finding a new rubber o-ring.

The guy at "Checkers" auto parts was awesome - showed up & explained what I was looking for. He brought out a large assortment of packaged o-rings - I carried in the dipstick on the bike for comparison & found one that fit perfectly. He gave it to me - no charge. Nice!

After replacing the thing in the parking lot, I took the bike for a quick spin to make sure the oil leak was indeed fixed & there wasn't anything else I might want to address before tomorrow's ride.







































No more oil leak. Looks like everything is set for the great unknown tomorrow.

RAIN ... is gone :)

The weather has improved dramatically. Today will be spent in meetings & working on the computer for the most part - maybe some local urban exploration as time allows. Planning on an early start tomorrow to scout the originally intended route. I'll be interesting to see what the weather did to the terrain.

Awoke to a view of the hills in the distance...


















Beyond the bustle of the city, the trails await...




































950 serving as commuter today ... trailblazer tomorrow...

Monday, February 19, 2007

RAIN!!

Clouds may have silver linings, but deserts have ... something else.

Having a (very) short software meeting in Henderson, NV afforded me to scout a trail I've been meaning to check for sometime. Ironic traveling well over 600 miles for a 3-hour meeting, but if it serves a purpose why not? However ... if (at least) the first half of that ride is in blinding rain, that may provide a reason to ... not. The weather report said it was going to be raining on Monday, but living in southern California causes one to be generally skeptical about such predictions. "Dangerous driving conditions" read: overcast - that sort of thing. Sure enough, loading the bike up in the dark of the pre-dawn seemed to validate that theory - not a star out (cloudy) and very windy, but no rain. To be safe, I wrapped everything up in plastic bags before packing (laptop, clothes, notebooks...), but wasn't expecting much weather.

Bike warming up & ready to go:





















The first 20 minutes of the ride were pretty nice ... until I reached the freeway. Then the rain started. "Every cloud has a silver lining" ... well maybe. But silver or not, the lining on these clouds was made of water. The Red Bull enduro-type jacket is NOT a rain jacket. I wasn't 30 minutes from home when the rain was coming down is sheets. Thick sheets. More like blocks. Visibility got to near zero, traffic was relatively light at that hour but slowed to a crawl. When I could feel the drops penetrating through my jacket, sweatshirt, riding jersey, t-shirt, and tanktop, I figured it was time to pull over & do something. Not a moment too soon, traffic was moving extremely slow at that point & another 50 yards up I could see why ... there was a small (but dedicated based on the amount of debris) group playing bumpercars on the 91 just up ahead.

After pulling off, I pulled out the rain gear from the backpack. Most effective raingear I've ever purchased - 55-gallon trash bags. Completely water/windproof, highly customizable fit, extremely easy to pack, and very inexpensive. I carved one up into a jersey & placed it under all the wet gear & over the dryest...ish layer I had on. Back on the road. Scratch that, back into the river. The whole time I had been pulled off the rain just came down harder & harder ... cloudburst. Pulling onto the freeway (diving into the freeway?) forced you to make quick assessments of weather or not the water in the slow lane would go over the hubs or not...

Raingear prep station:




















Back on the road the visibility was really gnarly for a while, then improved noticeably. Still raining, but just rain. By the time Barstow came around however, I was a rolling sponge. Good time to find a truck stop, grab some breakfast & return a few calls while clothes & gloves spent some time in a dryer. Heck, I was tempted to crawl in the thing.

The JBM Barstow Field office:




















The title mentioned cloud/desert linings ... despite the rain, after getting everything dried out, once back on the road it was really nice for a while. Still raining, but not very cold - downright nice with dry clothes again - and the desert really lets you know you're in the desert when it gets like this - 300 miles of intensely dramatic cloud cover over a vast open landscape perfumed with desert sage - think of riding to Mordor minus the Nazgul & with potpourri instead of burning sulfur...

The intended route took a detour here ... the original plan was to hit the dirt in the high desert & follow trails over to the destination in Nevada. The rain being what it was, I opted to avoid tackling the flash-floods on my own. Water could be seen flowing just off the freeway in spots! Just in case I pulled off the freeway to check the intended route & there was two clear paths set before me ... to the left was a black, streaked, foreboding sky with a strip of mud leading to a solo flight through an unknown path over the rain-soaked mountains ... and to the right, a rainy freeway.

Call it what you will ... I went right.

But hey ... I learned something new because of it. Crows know how to write in Nevada. They even tag gas station-rest stops.





















The last 50-70 miles was great - black sky, but little rain. It eased up to the point that the outer jacket layer dried out a bit, & offered some wind protection for the inner layers once dry ... funny that you can actually feel things warming up in spite of the fact you're just riding longer. Finding the place was a snap - and they even had covered motorcycle parking! Pulled the bike in, and just after I snapped this pic, the sky opened up again...






















The weather out here isn't showing any signs of letting up just yet, but the report shows sunny for tomorrow & partly cloudy for Wednesday. Given the schedule of the meetings, I'll probably give the trail a shot, in reverse, on Wednesday & hopefully have some brighter photos...