Thursday, July 5, 2007

Nine Days & 2111 Miles - A Western States Adventure Ride


From the midst of the adventure ... the report started from a laptop.

Little did I know what the next few days had in store...

Day 1

Day 2

Day 3

Day 4

Day 5

Day 6

Day 7

Day 8

Day 9

It begins...
If there's one constant in adventure touring, it would probably be to expect the unexpected. This most recent excursion was an object lesson in this. Routes were planned, flights were scheduled, bikes were trailered...

... and then we pretty much undid everything & started from scratch each day. That's what puts the adventure in adventure touring I suppose...

I got a call from the east coast contingent that a small group would be trailering some bikes out west for a week or so worth of riding. The KTM Rally was happening in Mammoth around the same time, so that was a perfect place to meet up. The group (SST, Smoothy, & Daniel) would start out from Santa Barbera area & I would leave from Orange County & ride up. Originally planning on using stock Scorpions for the trip, I had a brand-new set of TKC's and a wheel balancer sitting in the garage … decided to throw the knobbies on – it was a good decision

Mammoth is only around 400 miles from my place which allowed plenty of time to check out a few spots along the way.

First off was Vasquez Rocks just outside of LA. An extremely convenient way to get somewhat off the beaten path, if only for a moment:

From there I continued along the desolate 14 freeway through Mojave & out to the 395. Interesting architecture is still scattered along the highway ... a testament to unfulfilled ambition perhaps...?

The Owens River Valley is an amazing place. Barreling down the highway at freeway speeds with the radiator fan still desperately trying to cool the engine, signs reading “Death Valley” poking out of the parched ground, then as you approach Lone Pine the valley turns green and Diaz Lake Recreation area appears on the horizon… Part of what makes rides like this so enjoyable is the sheer contrast you can pass through in the space of only a few hours.

From there the only other stop was Manzanar. I’d passed by here a few times, but never drove through. Very sobering to think this place was just closed in 1945.

Origami, coins, and other remembrances are throuout the Manzanar graveyard.

Signs note where the various buildings once stood. Many foundations, rock gardens, and other evidence of the camp still exists.

Rolling past the gate and on to the pavement of the 395, you’re not only leaving behind the dusty roads of Manzanar, but hopefully leaving an ugly chapter of history in the past.

For the moment, I just really needed to get moving ‘cuz there’s a speed limit in the park & the 950 was getting pretty warm…

Speaking of warm, stopping in Bishop for a quick lunch, the bike decided to start spraying fuel out of several different hoses … a pinched vent tube I would later discover… Wasn’t a huge issue at the time as I was headed for higher, cooler elevations…

Next up … a group ride gone awry…

It was truly a beautiful place … to lose a group of riders in the mountains.

Work constraints prevented me from arriving at the KTM event in Mammoth until Friday night – nonetheless I was able to join up for a group ride on Saturday … or at least what started out as a group ride ...

Here’s the group when it first rolled out (count the riders & make a mental note of that number for later):

It was quite a diverse group, everything from knobbies to street tires, dirt gear to full leathers, but all large-displacement dualsport bikes.

Mike Lafferty was “leading” :) this group & we briefly stopped at the start of the dirt portion to ask if everyone was comfortable with continuing on. We’d only been riding pavement up to that point, so the consensus was “sure thing!” Mike said he had just completed a special test here a few days prior and it got “a little sandy” in parts.

So off into the dirt we dove … detailed directions, such as they were, taped to the leader’s bike:

I stopped at the beginning of the trail to let the group go by & see how everyone fared at the start of the trail. Right off, it was apparent this would be an interesting day

It was a bit dusty:

If you’re gonna practice getting pitched in sand, might as well do it within a stone’s throw of the pavement

A 950 skiing:

A short distance from where the above photo was taken the group stopped for the first time. Seemed about 1/2 of the 950s were spouting fuel from pinched vent lies, sheer heat, or a combination of both by this time.

There was a 30-minute-plus gap between riders which got us a bit concerned (Lost? Crashed?) Sure enough, most of the group soldiered through the sandy roads & washes to this point. I don’t recall everyone at that point, but I burned up ahead a bit to get some photos of the group going by.

Didn’t realize this would be the last time the group would be a group for the day.

Just after the break point, we continued on over a valley just a short distance away. Beautiful meadow with picturesque mountain vistas surrounding it.

Perfect spot to park up & get a few photos…

Just beyond this spot was a loose hillclimb. Coming around the corner at the bottom revealed two bikes down at various points heading up the hill. Both were turning around to head down for another go, so I went to the top and waited for them on the next attempt.

Sure enough, a few minutes later up came the first rider. After a mid-hill stall, they managed to get the 950 to the top, on street tires no less! As they were going to wait for the next rider, I continued on. Sure enough, these hills became more loose/technical as the ride went on. I would later meet up with a guy in a jeep that said the previous hill was a “2” and the subsequent ones were rated “3” in whatever guidebook he had – but I’m getting ahead of myself, jeep-guy will come up as a very important part of the story later on.

Back to the trail … after heading up the trail for another 1/2 mile or so I came across two other riders – one was waiting as another was 1/2 way up this next hill, buried in pretty good. We hung around & chatted at the base for a while until it became apparent that the rider up ahead was going nowhere fast. I rode up to check out the scene & indeed, the 950 was dug in pretty good, on a steep/loose hill, on a 90-degree mid-hill turn. I’ve still got stock pipes on my 950 & this stuck bike had a pretty cool set of something on there so I “got” to try it out by riding it up the hill the rest of the way

So I run down to fetch my bike, next rider comes up, & we’re off… for a little while at least.

Less than two miles ahead I come across SST looking like he’d just crashed! Turns out he was just taking a nap as the gap was getting pretty long due to the stuck bikes on the hills. We decided to hang around & wait for the other riders to catch up & sent the two riders I was with on to meet up with the rest of the group.

I got in a decent nap as well and we still had enough time to work on solving the problems of man, but didn’t have a notepad so the effort was in vain . Finally we started assuming something was amiss so SST decided to ride back & see what the group was up to – I’d stay at this corner just in case someone returned.

So I parked …

And waited …

Eventually SST returned & he didn’t see anybody! After some discussion about where he’d ridden to, turns out he didn’t go quite far enough to the last spot I had seen the other riders … so now it was my turn to go back … mind you, this meant riding down & back up all those hills I’d already done (in some cases) twice…

Heading back reveals only a rocky, sandy, and quite empty, trail.

Fortunately, just before reaching the last major hill (previous photo with the fencepost), I encountered the aforementioned Jeeper. Turns out he’d seen the group.

Inte: ”You see some guys back there on bikes like this?”
Jeep guy: ”About 5 or 6 of them?”
Inte: ”Yep, that sounds about right.
Jeep guy: ”They all turned around.”

Relief of knowing that the group was headed back quickly faded as concern over weather or not they knew how to get back set in…

In any case, nothing left to do but head back & let SST know what was happening. Just about the time I roll back to the spot where he was waiting, the rider in front, came rolling back to see what had happened. Everyone being accounted for (sort of), we three continued on. Shortly up ahead here comes Mike Lafferty heading back to … you guessed it … see what was happening.

Funny thing is we all happened to meet up right near a group of guys who at first were stoked to see I was using “Mechanix” gloves from an auto parts store as riding gloves (one of the guys was a distributor for them or something like that …), then they were even more stoked/surprised when they realized that was indeed Mike Lafferty who’d ridden back to check on us.

We chatted for a while, were offered some pretty questionable “chocolate” chip cookies/brownies (this day was already loopy enough … we declined). Then continued on, with a couple guys on singles following us up the road … wearing shorts & t-shirts.

At the junction Mike pointed & asked me the way to hwy 120:

From that point on, the ride was as smooth as could be. Stopped for gas before heading back.

So this portion of the report is an object lesson that a 35-mile trailride can turn a group like this:

Into this:

Next up … the MX track, and the group continues to shrink…

The fray of the KTM Rally was winding down, the morning after the official event was over several legends encompassing a wide range of 2-wheel motorsports headed over to the Mammoth MX track for a private session – this was not to be missed.

From the event proper …

To the brisk morning at the track where those in attendance included:

Fabio Fasola:

A rallypanam bike:

Ridden by none other than Dakar finisher Casey McCoy:

Chris Blais:

Scot Harden, Mike Lafferty, and Barry Higgins:

Rick Johnson:

In keeping with the adventure-rider theme … it was pretty cool seeing a rally bike on the MX track:

The MX stuff was over pretty early, so the 3-person east coast group & myself headed out to do a local loop before the departure tomorrow. First stopped off to check out the earthquake fault – just a huge crack in the ground running all the way under the highway! This area is very seismically active.

Then it was off for a local loop through the pine forests of Mammoth:

Following lunch, Smoothy & Daniel took a different way back, leaving SST & myself to ride part of a route I had done back in September. Fun trail as it completely bypasses the highway & Mammoth, taking you through a tunnel under the 395 and dropping you off just a few miles from the resort.

The next morning it was time to leave Mammoth & on to stranger territory…

So the next morning, the band of four gathered in front of the giant Mammoth for a final photo …

Then a quick jaunt up the hill to check out the viewpoint…

Then it was time to leave the picturesque country side of Mammoth…

To head over the Tioga pass into the Yosemite Valley:

Seriously, this wasn’t planned…

Smoothy was equal parts adventure rider / storm trooper.

You’d think this would be a fitting spot for an adventure bike…

…and to be sure, it probably is. BUT our quick jaunt through the valley proved to be some of the most dangerous riding of the trip. Granted, no guns in anybody’s faces (more on that later), and no crashes (more on that later as well…), but both SST & I had close calls that had us ready to get to more remote country.

Not 1 mile after I entered the valley and white Tracker was crusing along a couple car lengths in front of me – maybe 30 mph or so – not really sure what happened, but they decided to slam on their brakes. There was a cyclist up the road a ways, so I can only figure they were looking around at the scenery and then noticed the cyclist but failed to judge the (huge) distance between them & the bike, so they stopped. In the middle of the road. I went into a full-lock skid … one-handed because I was holding the camera with the other hand (not wise I know but whaddyagonnado…). Ended up coming to a stop less than a foot from their bumper. I saw the brakelights click off & the little truck pull away, having stopped for nothing more than a shadow in the road, completely oblivious to the chaos behind. I was happy enough that the vehicles behind me also stopped prior to shortening my swingarm. Our little group had been warned of this sort of thing just before entering the park … like I said, adventure is often defined by revisiting the unexpected.

The road at the scene:

Not 30 minutes later it was SST’s turn. Something about a guy eating a sandwich trying to wedge him into a parked car, but I’ll let him chime in on that… it was right near this spot:

Not 30 minutes later it was SST’s turn. Something about a guy eating a sandwich trying to wedge him into a parked car, but I’ll let him chime in on that… it was right near this spot:

Not a moment too soon, it was time for us to make our escape …

Take a few last looks around …

Then grab the throttle & hang on!

Fortunately, even when riding from some of the most tourist-rich areas out here, there’s always a light at the end of the tunnel…

…& fortunately for us we weren’t moving toward this light from a hospital bed…

Self portrait during the escape from paradise:

BUT … there was one more serious, potentially expensive obstacle before we would fully escape the park…

"Bright lights & inverted bikes."

Prior to making out escape from the VORD (“Valley of Random Driving”), we fueled up among the evergreens…

Daniel was raring to go…

…and in short order was out of sight.

But not for long.

This guy has got skills however. Scratch that, skillz. Mad skillz, mind you. He gets off with a warning & some horror stories about nutty drivers-meet-bikers from earlier in the week. Good thing he knows how to handle himself, this will become very important in a day or so…

After the encounter we’re off, albeit at a somewhat reduced pace.

Note the rock climbers in the distance:

We continued on beautiful country roads like this for a while.

The 2-tracks abounded in every direction, eventually the pull was too great & we simply hopped the curb & headed off into the hills:

Turns out this particular road didn’t go much of anyplace & we ended up back on the pavement to Bridgeport, a short distance away.

The pool beckoned Smoothy & Daniel, while SST & myself opted to head out for a bit more riding in the waning daylight. Turns out the decisions of both groups were less than perfect. While backstroking across the smallish but refreshing hotel pool, Smoothy happened to open his eyes just in time to see a squadron of mosquitos shadowing him, waiting to plunge like a bunch of mildly poisonous Stuka dive bombers. Meanwhile, SST & I headed over to check out Bodie in the evening light, but upon entering the park, noticed the sign that said it would close in less than 30 minutes. We stopped to discuss options, decided to keep going and started heading down the road. About a mile or so up the road something occurred to me so I looked back to see where SST was & then pulled over to mention something … or tried to pull over at least. The “shoulder” of the road wasn’t much of a shoulder at all. Looked like hard pack gravel, narrow but solid enough. Not so. I pull off the road & start immediately to slide & sink. Not a huge deal, but as it was on the edge of a very steep drop down to the river, potentially very consequential. Swerved around a bit & came to a complete stop, and put the sidestand down just in time to have the front wheel sink in & slide down the hill with the exact amount of force to tip the bike to the (very) wrong side. It’s amazing how far a bike, event with zero forward momentum, can throw you when it highsides. The fact that I was on the edge of a minor cliff didn’t help either. I was tossed into the trees below, while the bike proceed to flip completely upside down and slide (upside down mind you) down the hill about four feet or so.

SST apparently saw the whole thing & later confessed his 1st thought was ”We’re never going to get that thing out of there.” The footing was incredibly loose and any time we tried to move the bike it would slide further down the hill toward the creek! Quickly shutting off all the fuel petcocks we discussed options & eventually decided to simply drag it up the slope. I’m still blown away we were able to do this – the thing was just topped off seven miles ago! We would drag, brace, drag brace, etc… until a fortuitous tree root offered some sort of footing – then the two of us flipped the bike over to the other side. From having the top of the seat point directly down – 180 degrees to having the thing upright! It was still on the mini-cliff face so once upright the bars just leaned into the hill & it stood on its own. From there we did the same drag, brace, drag, brace routing until it was on level ground.

Unbelievable. Nothing broken, not even that many new scratches! No fluids leaked out, push the button & it fired right up! Apparently these things do pretty well inverted.

The whole process took about 20 minutes & we were back on the road. In the back of my mind I was thinking that would probably be the most dramatic event for the trip.

Could NOT have been more wrong…

"Bodie or bust."

Now SST had been on a pretty serious Bodie quest since this trip started. It had already been thwarted twice so far, but this day we were sure to make it …

Right after leaving the hotel something came up with the GPSs however & we realized some route modifications would have to be made … par for the course with adventure touring, the world is your office …

Gas station route planning:

And then, just a mere 15 miles away or so … Bodie.

The route planning never stops … in the midst of all this history, the topo map showing the area was yet another planning tool guiding us through the adventure:

The shopkeeper was a route planning assistant as well…

In addition to looking for roads, the search for fuel was paramount…

Leaving Bodie we followed a route recommended the shopkeeper – great ride! Deep canyons, river valleys, later opened up into fast wide dirt roads … fantastic portion of countryside.

An oasis in the desert:

Some of the roads were quite dusty … not that Daniel was bothered by that at all.

An intersection means more route planning.

All too soon the dirt gave way to pavement & we were heading towards (we hoped) fuel.

I shot a few photos of the riders on the road – as I was accelerating the camera 1st caught this:

Probably for the best, but the camera strap obscured the next few shots … I’ve got a 16T CS sprocket on the 950 … does just fine at freeway speeds…

Next up … the most beautiful & fun trail I never want to go near again.

"No injuns, just cowboys..."

As we started the climb up into the hills towards Tahoe, the plan was to run some backcountry roads that SST knew (sort of). The south lake fire was causing some serious visibility issues in the valley below.

Continuing along the trail the scenery & topography changed dramatically from the valley. The population changed as well, from Carson City traffic, to wild horses in the hills!

The trail beckoned.

We would periodically stop to regroup along the way to recheck out route & taken in the scenery.

Note the road in the valley (upper-left) where we’re headed:

Now here’s where things got really sketchy … keep this photo in mind for later:

We had been tooling along these trails for hours – SST & I were commenting over & over how pristine this landscape was – the trail was great as well. Signs of use, but obviously seldom ridden – quite off the beaten path.

Hours from the nearest anything we found out why.

There was a clear go-around, but still we were a bit concerned about the private property, keep out, and danger signs. So we stopped to figure out what could be done.

The GPS is great, but it sure doesn’t tell you which little black lines are private property & which aren’t. We’d apparently stumbled into this area & by the time it was realized this was private land there was no “good” way to go. Every direction was private! We didn’t have enough fuel or daylight to retrace the route backward. Options were limited & it seemed the only choice was to continue on.

As SST & I waited the gap got a little long & we started to get a bit concerned. Sure enough, along comes Smoothy…

”Daniel got held up.”

We’re thinking delayed.


Held up, as in gunpoint. By cowboys on horseback no less!

This is truly the wild west.

Soon enough he rolled in & recounted the story to us:

"Talk your way out of a ticket … talk your way out of getting shot …"

So remember that photo?

That was the last “leapfrog” spot I’d stopped to grab a photo before the nuttiness happened.

Oh … and almost forgot the “death by SuperEnduro” event that nearly took place when SST came back on the trail to hit a jump again … two LC8s heading toward each other, a blind crest, and 3” of clearance … good times.

Any rate, that’s Smoothy coming up the hill, he would stop at the corner where I was taking the photo from & wait for Daniel. Apparently the delay getting to that corner was a bit long as while Daniel was crossing the valley in the distance … two guys on horseback came out of nowhere & in a single motion, one of them was in front of Daniel, off his horse, with rifle in hand, aimed. The other rider was behind, positioned in like manner.

I’ll let Daniel chime in on this as he was there, but after being asked what the f*** we were doing on private land, and explaining we were simply lost & trying to get back to a road, the jist of the conversation went something like this:

”We could just leave your body here and no one would ever find it.”

We also learned that if you’re well connected enough, apparently murder investigations don’t go anywhere. Apparently one of the two guys was a hothead while the other was a bit more collected, that contrast was just what Daniel needed to successfully diffuse the situation & ride on – I’ll let him fill in the details.

Now the terrain on this portion of the ride was pretty tough to begin with – very rocky, some steep grades. Combine that with staring down a rifle barrel leaves one’s nerves pretty rattled – thus the crashes. Apparenetly Daniel took off to catch up with us after the encounter & in one of the nastier sections of trail, went clear over the bars. The fact that the Hepco-Becker crashbars were relocated about 3” back from their original mounting points & had an entirely new bend to them evidenced that something had been hit pretty hard.

In the end the whole group was reunited, and we continued on – turns out we were only about 10-15 miles from the exit of the private land and near a paved road.

Stopping for gas we met a couple locals while filling up. They were interested in the bikes and we got to talking while filling up. The encounter was described and these two knew the area. While surprised by the whole gunpoint thing, they had some far more serious concurs about the area we were in.

That area was once used for military storage/disposal.

There’s unexploded C4 all over the place that’s tough to differentiate from rocks.

All in a day’s ride.

After all the guns, explosives, and crashing was done, it was a nice ride up to lake Tahoe.

The next morning we all met up for a late start at a coffee shop in King’s Beach. Daniel was pretty rattled from yesterday’s craziness and decided to cut his trip short at this point & head back to Santa Barbera. Moreover, I happened to notice his brake lever was bent down & locked on! Amazing they didn’t boil over the previous day!

It was time to figure out how to bend the thing back!


And then there were three…

The rest of that day proved to be pretty mellow – Smoothy, SST, & I rode down to Reno to check out the BMW & KTM shops, grab lunch & head back.

The next day we took pavement from Tahoe up through Truckee and would again get back on the dirt just afterward.

This would prove to be some of the most scenic terrain of the trip IMO…

SST point out the trail of the Donner party, visible from the road:

Some fantastic fishing spots back in here…

Very active logging area – merits caution as these trucks are MOVING along the narrow unpaved mountain paths. Smoothy found this out

We stopped in Nevada City for lunch.

Then proceeded to Auburn where we would stay that night. No GPS necessary, Auburn is easy to get around:

At the KTM Rally a few days back we had met a rider who lives in Auburn – great guy who knew the area extremely well. Being an ex-pro motocrosser meant he could serious ride as well. There was no hesitation when he offered to show us around the area!

This is gold mining country – massive pits remain where giant water cannons carved away at the hillsides to get at the ore beneath. The land falling away is evidenced in some of the unusual root structures on the trees.

Some very intriguing towns are tucked away in the hills of the area. Only access to many of these places are 1-lane unpaved mountain roads.

This photo is from the Malakoff Diggings – millions in gold were removed from this area! Some of the water cannons are still in use – purely for educational/demonstration purposes. Area school kids will take field trips out here to learn the history of the area.

This valley was created by water cannon!

Not this one …

This marked the end of the ride proper … SST & Smoothy had flights to catch in San Francisco, and with many hours of daylight left, it made more sense for me to start heading south as I still had a long way to get home.

We snapped a quick photo of the final 3:

Then hit the superslab:

I had several hundred miles of pavement to make it back, so off came the helmet peak (Smoothy in the background):

I grabbed a hotel in Salinas that night & the editing of the photos began:

Next morning I had breakfast in San Luis Obispo at a combination coffee shop/bike shop – good food, interesting vehicles:

Back on the 101, the drive remained nice & scenic until reaching the fray of LA traffic.

Then, nine days and 2111.3 miles later, I rolled back to where I’d started from.

Stay tuned ... next adventure is already in the planning stages ...