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Wild Motorcycle Tales

Here's a great story from Joel Storm. Got your own story? Send it to me.

Rawhyde Adventure: On the Origin of the Species

Last Summer I got an e-mail about an upcoming presentation at the Cross Country dealership about riding "beyond where the pavement ends." Ok I thought, sounds interesting, what harm could come from sitting through a presentation? So that evening, my wife, Ival, and I show up.

The enthusiastic speaker showed slides of desert and mountain scenery accessible by paved roads. Then he showed slides of what you can see by riding a few miles past the end of the pavement. WOW! The idea , the speaker said , was to get the skills to ride off road , get a peer group to ride with, and go see what lurks beyond the edge of the asphalt!

Ival said, "You're going to go to that?" as she shoved my eyeballs gently into their sockets.

Now I have been off road before(yes, on purpose), mostly in Ohio where I picked up a 200cc dual sport to ride the back way to my daughter's house and to explore local roads without dread if I should run out of pavement. I even took the MSF beginner dirt course. It was mostly similar to the street course but you learn to stand while riding and counterbalance, not countersteer, to turn(you remember from the MSF u turn in the box exercise). But these guys were showing big touring bikes going where only mules had gone before!

With my survival instincts, common sense and sales resistance depleted, I signed up for the "Introduction To Adventure" and the overnight camping trip that immediately followed to "Base Camp Alpha" so I could utilize the newly learned skills in the "real world." Did I mention the event was scheduled for January? Hey - it's in sunny California, probably just need my mesh jacket!

The people at Rawhyde were very helpful and suggested I could send my riding gear out ahead by Fed EX (not UPS they insisted, but more on that later). I checked the weather online and it looked like mostly 40s through 60s with an overnight in the low 30s on Monday (the night in the desert at base camp. I thought better about the mesh gear and took a bunch of liners and my winter textile jacket, my off road boots, my off road helmet and goggles, and turtle furs and "joan of arc" balaclava.

E-mails began flying between the participants and with the help of the Rawhyde staff, we arranged to share the van ride to the camp. I arrived at LAX 3 hours later than local time since my body was still on EST. A few texts and cell calls later we are all in the van and on the way. Some like me are taking the intro course but some others are taking an even more advanced course "The Next Step" and going for a longer expedition. Everyone is excited and friendly and we persuade the driver to stop some place to get a bite to eat to hold us till dinner. We stop at a little sandwich store and get what is suggest to be the best thing they sell - a pastrami sub with mustard and salad (make that cucumbers and salsa). Hunger may be the best sauce, but I found it delicious!


A short ride later we arrive at the foot of the most intimidating driveway (and I am being very generous to call it a driveway) made of potholed, broken, non-connected, off cambered strips of asphalt interspersed with dirt , mud, gravel and who knows how deep potholes. It literally snakes up the hill with signs pointing out the "cliff" at the edge of one switchback. Perhaps the sign points to where Cliff was last sighted before going down the ravine! (It turned out UPS doesn't attempt the driveway, they chicken out at the ranger station next door, hence the admonition to use FED EX!)


We arrive at the headquarters, sign in at the "office" - a double wide trailer with a couple of bathrooms and bedrooms for two lucky employees.

I get a prime assignment in the "bunkhouse." Others get assigned to trailers and tents, or some mutant monstrous hybrid of both!


The bunkhouse has a concrete slab floor, real walls and windows but a tent for a roof.

Showers are outdoors with a great view (no not of each other, of the mountains!) Well maybe of each other but I kept my eyes front!


Pretty soon it was happy hour and time to introduce ourselves to the group and meet the instructors and staff. Dinner followed, prepared by a great chef. They easily accommodated my kosher style and low carb diet as well as someone's vegetarian preferences. (Something F troop, my Gold Wing chapter, could get their teeth into!) Then off to music around the campfire and turn in at 1 AM EST (10 PM PST).

Next morning breakfast and shmoozing. That's me with Dave from Vancouver. (He has same name as the son of one of Ival's friends from Maine. When we visited them and their two kids at their cozy place in Maine, they put us up in a horse trailer, allegedly because we are Yankee fans and they root for the Red Sox. This Dave on this trip got to sleep in the storage trailer. Talk about instant karma!)

We got assigned our rental bikes (mine was a GS1200 Adventure) and listened to the lecture/demonstration on riding and in no time they had us mount up and head down the so called driveway standing on the pegs. With no real previous experience on such a non-road and the first time on an unfamiliar bike that seemed SO HUGE, it was some kind of miracle we all made it down and paddled through a u-turn on the street, then, you guessed it, a return trip up the driveway! Oh and down and up again moving around on the bike swinging a leg over one side or the other standing on one peg.

The rest of the training exercises were all blurred in my mind - down the driveway again and then down to the dirt approach road to something for rear wheel skidding practice, walking the bike up the hill in first gear, front brake almost lockup the wheel, panic stop on dirt practice and the like. (One of us fell over and rolled around in obvious pain. Eventually the word got back that he was not seriously hurt having only "crushed his rocks" and that continued as a good natured ribbing the rest of the weekend.) Did I mention that all of us fell over more times than I can count? If you touch the front brake on a slippery surface, the wheel locks and flips you to the ground instantly. I think I had the dishonor of being the first to fall but it was of no lasting shame. At some point there was lunch and a turn on the serpentine dirt path cone weave which I thought would make a pretty good video game with all the flopping over and picking up going on. We learned to drag, twist or slide the bike to a better position for picking it up using the slope of the hill in your favor. (Don't try sliding your bike on pavement.) We learned the usual butt in the seat method and also the horse-it-up-by-the-handlebar method.

Dinner came and was superb once more. The chef did something to Brussel Sprouts which I found to be one of the best things I ever had!

We each shared the high and low points of the day, then aching and limping slightly, headed off to bed. Next day had a review of previous triumphs and tragedies, then to the wooded hill to do the off camber cone weave course both up and down hill. More dropping of the bike along the way, but seems at low speed in the dirt no one gets hurt. Up to the Whoops at the top of the hill to practice stopping on top of each earthen hummock, then under control, on to the next one. I watched the rider in front of me fall over at 0 mph while waiting his turn. How could that happen? I then repeat the stunt but smack my intake manifold into the instructor's rear wheel, dislodging the intake. The bike refuses to run at anything but wide open throttle, so we switch bikes, and as it is time for lunch, he coasts my wounded bike down a steep hillside while I ride on down to the paddock. Turned out my throttle cable under the tank got caught on something in the fall and that was why the bike wouldn't idle properly. No harm done.

Next part way down the driveway, a sharp left through the bushes and downhill into the meadow. There we have everyone's favorite exercise - figure 8 u-turns in a box and the always popular figure 8 off camber drill!

I killed a bunch of cones but no trees or instructors. Did I mention I dropped the bike a few more times? But the real treat was the big outside loop around the meadow on the dirt. That's what I call fun!

Later we learn to go up and down a hill under control and do a trail stop (to see which way the road goes left, right, or straight), then a downhill where front brake is allowed due to the shift in weight putting more pressure on the front wheel so it won't lock up. Learning to start on a hill was wild: you can pop the clutch in first to act as an emergency brake, then use the rear brake to hold you while you rev the engine and play with the clutch to get going without wheel spin.

My biggest problem was I couldn't seem to get the rear brake to work. My right foot turns out (flue foot) so I need to concentrate to make it toe-in to find the brake pedal and I think I am on it and pushing on it, but the bike doesn't hold on the hill and doesn't seem to slow enough for a stop when I am approaching a stopped rider. Rather than crash into anyone, I try the very slightest amount of front brake and ... flop over every time! Not good for my confidence - ego died a long time before!

After the exercises, its back up the hill part way and then a 179 degree right turn between the barbed wire and the edge of the road, on to a path between boulders, grazing cows and horses. Someone drops a bike ahead. The two riders ahead of me dismount to go help, and as I try to dismount on the off camber terrain, I drop the bike again.

Then back downhill and up the driveway but make a left this time up on to the cell tower road. It is severely rutted and muddy and I manage to drop it in the mud twice on the way up, the last time within sight of the cell tower, but I can't get it started on the muddy hill. The instructor rides it up the last 20 feet but I am feeling really tired and decide to call at a day at about 4:30 PM , skipping the last trail ride and the sand pit. In 20/20 hindsight, I should have continued on (more speculation later on), but I figured that I had the expedition to Base Camp ahead of me, and so far I had not gotten hurt, so I called in wisdom as the better part of valor. However, this meant going down the muddy rutted cell tower road following the instructor and one other rider who needed to head back early, coasting down engine off, most of the way, trying to follow his line. All this with my insecure rear braking ability.

Happy hour beer and hors d'ouvres and dinner came along with graduation certificate presentation. We celebrated with the House brand Rawhyde wines. Tomorrow, our adventure gets serious.

=> Read the second half of the story as we head out into the desert.

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