972 New Best Friends — the whole story

touratech adventure rally

Touratech USA Adventure Rally

You might have seen my teaser post about the largest adventure motorcycle rally in North America, 972 New Best Friends, first published in Canadian Biker magazine, August 2017.

Well, here’s the whole story of field repair magic, endless summer riding, and a guy named Jimmy Lewis. You might have heard of him.

Winter’s over. Let’s ride!

Winter 2017 stubbornly relented in British Columbia sometime around late May, so the last weekend of June marked my first camping trip of the season.

With the heat blooming and the snow finally melting from the high elevations, it was time to explore the peaks of the Pacific Northwest — just me, my Husqvarna TE610 and 972 friends.

husqvarna te610 touratech rally

No, I’m not that popular. But the folks at Touratech USA have no problem assembling an enthusiastic crowd at their annual Touratech Adventure Rally. They’ve hosted this event for seven years in the northwest – the last four in Plain, Washington – staging seminars, demonstrations, lighthearted competition and serious instruction over the three-day event.

Held on the final weekend of June each year, this edition of North America’s largest adventure rally drew riders from as far away as Florida, Montana, Texas and Alberta; there was a tight-knit bunch of transplanted Argentinians, living in Los Angeles, and hankering for an adventure. (Apparently, Argentinians want to ride here, while we want to ride there. I think that’s the irony they call “life”….)

Riders trickled into the event site throughout Thursday afternoon on their GS Adventures, their KTMs, Africa Twins, trusty KLRs and V-Stroms and DR650s. It was a marque-agnostic gathering of men and women, veterans and neophytes, all united in their love for motorcycles, adventure, and the top-drawer quality of people who are drawn to both.

new friends

Rally participants set up tents and pull up RVs in a valley dividing the snow-capped peaks of the eastern reaches of the Coast Mountains from the more subtle contours of the interior plateau. Plain is the perfect convergence of rain shadow, accessible terrain and grand panoramas: the off-road riding opportunities are dry, scenic and virtually unlimited.

There’s plenty of space at the rally site’s grassy field for participants’ and vendors’ tents, and fuel, groceries and a restaurant are situated right across the street. Accommodating local landowners and proprietors open their arms to the legions of two-wheeled weekend warriors, providing service with a smile to the outsized waves of customers rarely seen in this tiny hamlet.

Oh, and there’s riding. Almost 1,100 kilometres of riding.

In preparation for the rally each year, a team of volunteer pathfinders, riders and GPS wranglers, coordinated by Touratech staffer Iain Glynn, start scouting the area as the snow melts. They devote more than a month to verifying road conditions, uncovering new trails, collecting GPS data and designing safe, enjoyable routes

This year’s menu offered up 11 rides, ranging from 45 to 185 kilometres in length, blending over 1,000 kilometres of pavement, logging roads and sections of single-track. That’s a pretty impressive number – but over the last seven years, staff and volunteers have recorded an astounding 80,000 kilometres of GPS tracks in the area! It’s a titanic effort, requiring coordination with the changing priorities of local forest service managers and navigation of a winter’s worth of erosion, mud and downed trees.

adventure ride leader

 

adventure motorcycle rider infinity loop
Infinity Loop

Rally participants have the option of navigating the resulting GPS tracks on their own, or of signing up for some of the dozens of organized group rides. The two I joined were seamlessly shepherded by Glynn’s well-prepared ride leaders and sweeps, allowing rally participants to focus on the trail, meet new friends, and leave the planning and safety management to the expert volunteers.

ridge runner trail
Ridge Runner

Tracks like “Ridge Runner” and “Dry Creek” ascended the crests of rolling mountains, topping out at over 1,800 metres, high enough that the snow had only recently cleared the extensive network of logging roads. “Infinity” challenged riders to negotiate kilometres of snaking single-track – and at least one rider on the somewhat ponderous V-Strom 1000 was up to the challenge! Easier options abounded, as well, tracing local pavement and graded dirt tracks through Wenatchee National Forest, following roads with improbable names like “Chumstick” and “Chiwawa.”

dry creek adventure ride
Dry Creek

Tired…and absurdly dusty

Back at the rally, tired and absurdly dusty, riders parked their KTM Adventures next to WR250s before braving the cold-water showers and raising a complimentary pint of some of Washington’s finest craft breweries.

Touratech USA’s Marketing and Events Director, Matt Lewis, is responsible for orchestrating most of what happens back at the event site. With the growth in the adventure riding segment, the rally has expanded yearly, so Matt now finds himself beginning work each September on the next June’s event. In fact, most of Touratech’s staff is involved in some fashion, and there are about 100 volunteers who play a critical role as well.

adventure rally vendors tents

It takes a team that large to put on thousands of kilometres of organized rides, and then to stage more than 30 seminars and presentations from Thursday evening to Saturday night.

In his “Emergency and Field Repair Clinic,” Alex Guth, owner and master mechanic at AlyxMoto, confirmed my conviction that cable ties, duct tape and baling wire are magical. Louise Powers, A Girl On A Motorbike off-road coach, shared the tale of how an engagement ring led to her planned departure for a ride to Patagonia this coming August. The Backcountry Iron Chef Competition inspired questionable genius, and plenty of audience laughter, in the form of sautéed shallots…with Cocoa Puffs.

field repair clinic
Alex Guth

There were seminars on motorcycle recovery using mechanical-advantage systems; cultivating a deeper perspective on life through riding; converting your cable clutch to an hydraulic set-up; and adventure stories set in Alaska, South America and Nevada – and most places in between.

In between seminars and rides and trips to the burger stand, riders rekindled friendships and made new acquaintances, discussing adventure bikes and the great people you meet when you’re riding.

Honda and KTM are some of the more keen corporate observers of this adventure bike community, and they served up a full roster of bikes for demo rides. The Africa Twin DCT and KTM’s off-road focussed 1090 Adventure R, not surprisingly, drew riders like teenagers to an all-you-can-eat buffet. Honda’s bikes were yours for an independent half-hour romp; KTM followed the same route through the surrounding hills – but you had to follow their ride leader and stay in the group.

ktm demo ride
KTM guided demo ride
africa twin demo ride
Africa Twin demo ride

(Read my Africa Twin ride review, Riding the Time Machine.)

Level up with Jimmy Lewis

For those looking to level up their riding skills to make better use of that new KTM – or to shake bad habits consolidated over decades of riding an old dirt bike – training courses were offered from Wednesday to Saturday. Jimmy Lewis Off-Road Riding School, Dirt First Off-Road Training and PSSOR ADV Training each offered professional instruction in the techniques every dirty rider should know.

Then, each evening, Jimmy Lewis – Dakar podium finisher, multi-ISDE gold medalist, Baja 1000 overall winner – put everything in perspective with his riding demonstrations and instruction. The only thing more remarkable than Jimmy’s bike control is his humble attitude and down-to-earth delivery…as he effortlessly pilots a giant adventure motorcycle over a pyramid of logs.

jimmy lewis riding skills demonstration
Jimmy Lewis, in his office.
watching jimmy lewis
Watching Jimmy.

Nursing a beer and a newfound excitement for adventure riding, rally participants dispersed after Jimmy’s demonstrations and wandered through more than 30 vendor tents. Protective gear, suspension tuners, off-road motorcycle trailers, aftermarket saddles, luggage  – there were farkles aplenty to peruse.

If your credit card was already showing dangerous signs of fatigue, there were the friendly but tough Skills Challenge and Slow Race events to participate in, or simply observe. Lots of well-deserved trophies found a home in overstuffed panniers.

Tickets and event information

Touratech USA’s Adventure Rally West will return to Plain, WA on June 21-24, 2018. Check www.touratechrally.com for ticket and event information. Early bird tickets for 2017 were the bargain of the year at $100! Training courses are extra, and begin prior to the rally dates.

972 New Best Friends

touratech-adventure-rally

Feature article in Canadian Biker Magazine (August 2017)

Naw: I’m not that popular….

But this summer I attended the Touratech USA Adventure Rally West — along with 971 other dirty riders.

North America’s largest annual rally for adventure motorcyclists serves up three days of seminars, vendors and demonstrations in the friendly little hamlet of Plain, Washington.

It also serves up some complimentary regional craft beer. But I’m getting distracted…

Oh: there’s riding. Nearly 1,100 kilometres of it. Epic views; sweet trails; blazing-fast forestry roads.

My report on the rally is featured in the August edition of Canadian Biker magazine. If you like what you read, join us next summer.

I can be your 972nd new best friend.

Riding the Time Machine

honda-africa-twin

Going back to Africa. Twin.

Here’s a trivia question for you. Who makes…

Electric crotch-rockets that’ll rip the arms off wannabe boy-racers.

honda-electric-motorcycle

Run-of-the-mill lawnmowers (or should I say, “garden variety”?)

lawnmower

A robot dude.

humanoid-robot

Totally awesome private passenger jets.

honda-jet

Did you guess “Honda”? I bet you did.

But, who creates all that…plus a time machine?

Yep: Honda again.

They call it the 2017 CRF1000L Africa Twin.

2017-honda-africa-twin

Set the dial to 1986…

In 1986, Honda developed the NXR750 Africa Twin and kicked ASS in the Paris-Dakar for four years. Then they pumped out thousands of units of two successive production models between 1988 and 2003. And Soichiro Honda nodded, and proclaimed it good.

1988-honda-africa-twin
1988 RD03 – Source: Bennetts
1990 RD04 – Source: Bennetts

But production halted, and then the people did lament. In response, Honda produced the XR650L…and then the people did lament. To be honest, they lamented pretty loudly.

Enter the XR650R, multiple Baja champion. Joy returned to the people, but Honda forgot the electric start and the street registration. Still the people were joyful. But Honda inexplicably halted production in 2008.

honda-xr650r
2006 XR650R – Source: MotoUSA.com

It was a crisis of Biblical proportions…so Honda built a time machine: the CRF1000L Africa Twin.

And they’ve been preaching to the adventure crowd for a couple years already, proclaiming this bike the second coming of the legendary twin-cylinder competitor from last century. Honda has high hopes for this bike: it’s the iconic, “halo” product for their underwhelming adventure range. (Oops…did I say “underwhelming” out loud?)

So I rode one.

honda-africa-twin-dcct
We match. Must mean I need one.

The DCT version I saddled up boasts a pair of electronically-controlled clutches. That means it can shift gears automatically – but it’s not actually an automatic. It just doesn’t need any help from your clutch hand or your left foot.

One clutch operates 1, 3rd and 5th gears; the other manages 2nd, 4th and 6th. When first gear is spinning your wheel, second is actually spinning as well – but its clutch is disengaged. When you let the bike shift – or when you choose the Manual option and flick the finger paddle on the left handlebar pod – the second clutch engages, clicking the bike into second gear in a fraction of the time you could do the same. It also spins up third gear, ready to go for the next upshift. It’s pretty slick. And pretty darn smooth.

The redundant clutch lever on the left handlebar now serves as a parking brake – wisely set too far forward for your instinctive clutch-grab. The left foot peg is lonely: there’s nothing there for your toe to do – although mine kept spontaneously twitching every time a gear shift was in order. Surprisingly, my left hand made no errant grasping motions, although I thought it well-trained to do so with every gear change.

In the “automatic” Drive mode, a Sport switch toggles three settings, which simply change the RPMs at which a shift will be triggered. The most aggressive setting delayed shifts until the litre-displacement twin was into a pretty meaty band of power. In any setting, however, Manual, Drive, Sport 1, 2 or 3, the engine is linear and smooth. Power delivery was predictable and controllable — a critical attribute for a 94 horsepower motorcycle on a loose surface.

But since, you know…computers, you can also fire up the Traction Control. Similar to the Sport toggle, TC has three levels. With the babysitter on duty, the blocky Continental TCK80 out back refused to spin at all, even on the dry hard-pack and loose gravel of the fire road I was riding. A stuttering engine note, precisely like that of a rev limiter on a manual transmission car, alerts the rider to what’s happening back there.

africa-twin-dcct
Traction control and manual gear shift triggers.

Of course, “the rider” would rather have control of what’s happening back there, so I switched TC off. Ahh, that’s more like it! With the engine’s silky twin character, breaking the rear loose under throttle was easy and controllable, sending the pleasantly agile chassis into a power slide and a composed corner exit.

There’s also a vaguely-defined button on the dash, labelled “G” for “gravel.” It apparently shifts with less slippage and offers a more cohesive “feeling.” Yeah: I just stayed away from that button….

honda-africa-twin-abs
ABS shutoff…and “G” button. G?

ABS is pretty much standard on everything these days except a Chinese knock-off of a Japanese copy of a Vespa. Thankfully, whoever decided to kill the XR650R wasn’t in charge of the Africa Twin design brief, so you can at least shut off the rear ABS – though the front cannot be disengaged. This electronic nanny was less intrusive, and more welcome, than the Traction Control.

Power is ample – seriously, nobody really needs 100 horsepower from what is ostensibly a dirt-oriented adventure bike. Ironically, it doesn’t feel fast, since the computer-controlled systems are so drama-free. That is, until you look down at the instruments and discover that you’re schlepping along at about twice the speed you thought you were. I guess that’s both good and bad….

Although the elaborate DCT drive system and  associated computerized gee-gaws receive the most attention, the chassis is actually where this liter-sized dirt bike shines. Although it weighs a somewhat portly 242 kg (534 pounds) with about 18 litres of fuel onboard, it doesn’t feel like it. (The standard, non-DCT model sheds about 23 pounds.)

The red, white and black “Rally” model I tested carried its weight low and centrally; narrowed significantly at the waist; and dipped low enough at the adjustable seat (33.5 to 34.3 inches) that even a first-time pilot feels quickly confident. Subjectively, braking and suspension perform well; the fork and shock travel don’t quite reach 9 inches, but effectively soaked up most of the ruts and holes I aimed at.

africa-twin-continental-tkc80-tire

I did, however, dial it up on a rougher section of forest road, and was sadly disappointed for my efforts. Taking some big hits at speeds I normally ride my Husqvarna TE610 resulted in some pretty harsh bottoming of the shock; the fork too, actually, if I failed to torque up the front end with the throttle and a pull on the handlebars.

The suspension is adjustable for spring preload, as well as compression and rebound damping at both ends, but I wasn’t invited to meddle with these settings, so I’m not sure whether I could have found a sweeter-spot for aggressive riding. I’ve heard rumblings that the price a knowledgeable suspension tuner would charge to hand you a real off-road performer would amount to a significant percentage of the bike’s purchase price. I suspect suspension limitations will prove the biggest challenge to Honda’s time machine.

But it’s all relative. If you’ve been riding an uber Adventure bike like the BMW R 1200 GS Adventure (at 263 kg, or 580 pounds, fuelled up, 2017 model), I think you’re going to feel like the Africa Twin is a flickable dirt bike. Coming from a TE610 that weighs in at 141 kg (310 pounds), I found the Africa Twin a bit ponderous, and a bit out of its element under hard throttle in rough conditions.

It’s all a compromise, too, in the world of adventure motorcycles. And the time machine bets its success on occupying a discernible gap in the existing ADV offerings: it’s a bit lighter than most big ADV bikes; a good bit more at ease on the slab than most dual-sports; and a more competent performer off-road than many bikes in either segment.

It’s good. Then again, the original Africa Twin might have been great….

Get your daily tech quotient here.

Or see what ADV Pulse says about their test of the CRF1000L.

2017 CRF1000L Africa Twin DCT Rally: $16,199 MSRP (CDN)

Can I really do this?

Okay, you know what a rhetorical question is, right? Oh, actually, that’s one there: it’s me asking you a question when I already know the answer.

Now, don’t worry if you’ve already got this stuff wired: I’m not being condescending. I’m being pedantic.

Anyways, I mention the whole “rhetorical question” factoid for two reasons.

First, I’m an English teacher, so I dig that kind of stuff. Second, I mention it because the title of this post is a rhetorical question.

You see, I already know you can do this off-road expedition thing.

I’ve been out there. A lot.

When I was a private wilderness guide and Outward Bound instructor, I guided adults and teenagers tackling challenging month-long canoe trips, dog-sledding treks in temperatures as low as -47o C, rock climbing, white water kayaking, hiking, camping, sea kayaking, backcountry skiing, snowshoeing….

 

snowshoeing-guide
Guiding a snowshoeing group

A real diversity of trips, with an even greater diversity of participants.

But virtually all the people I’ve guided in the wilderness – and there have been hundreds – had two things in common:

1. They didn’t think they could overcome the challenges they encountered.

2. They overcame the challenges they encountered.

It’s one of the reasons I loved my job: I got to see people overcome their fears and limitations. Every day.

I witnessed the transformation when my clients and students realized their limitations were mostly self-imposed. Given the motivation to challenge those limitations, they were able to accomplish more than they ever dreamed.

I take my hat off to all of them.

And I take my hat off to you.

Because, if you’re reading this, you have the motivation to get on your bike and leave the pavement far behind.

You just need someone with experience to get you started

That’s where I come in. My profession and my passion have given me decades of experience in outdoor travel and survival. Plus, massive miles accumulated off-road on motorcycles. And – you’ll recall that I’m a proudly self-confessed pedant — I have a life-long habit of making lists.

So, seriously, who better to lay out all the details of this adventure thing?

Whoa! Is that another rhetorical question? I didn’t even do that on purpose.

 Ride farther. Stay out longer.

I know you know how to ride

You already know how to ride a motorcycle. On the road, maybe on the track – but especially in the dirty stuff.

And you’ve got this whole Internet thing wired, too: if you need information about braking points, picking lines, weighting the outside peg, you know where to find Professor Google’s office.

So I think we can all agree you don’t need my advice about riding your bike.

But then I still have a question for you. Why don’t you ride more?

I’m not perfect

I suspect it’s not really imperfect riding technique that limits your time in the saddle. True, neither of us is Jonny Walker – unless you are Jonny Walker…in which case, Mr. Walker, could you please teach me how to ride a dirt bike? Please?

 

jonny-walker-hard-enduro
Jonny Walker doing a magic trick (source: redbull.com)

Where was I…? Oh, yeah: assuming we’re not enduro prodigies, we still ride and do our learning while we’re missing the apex or forgetting to unload the suspension before rolling over that rock. Okay, so we mess up sometimes (Speak for yourself!). But that kind of learning is part of the excitement of riding a motorcycle off road.

But.

But I bet you aren’t satisfied.

If you’re like me, you’re riding to Starbucks, or commuting to work.

Doing an annual holiday trip on the slab.

Or getting out on the occasional weekend dirt ride to orbit the same few trails over and over, locked into the gravity well of your bike trailer or the nearby gas station.

But I’m willing to bet you want to ride more. Ride farther. Get off the blacktop.

And I know you want it enough that you can convince your boss, significant other or Toy Poodle to give you some time off work or from the To-Do list stuck on the fridge door.

So why aren’t you out there riding the Great Basin desert?

And I know you aren’t, because I was there, and I didn’t see anybody….

 

great-basin-desert
Great Basin Desert, Nevada

The non-riding stuff may be the biggest obstacle on the trail

If it’s not recent surgery holding you back, or your kid’s Grade 4 class performance of “Silent Night” that you just can’t miss, I gotta figure it’s because you’re uncertain about the non-riding stuff.

Stuff like…

  • What if I break down, crash or get lost?

  • How do I get all that gear into those bags? (It’s never going to fit, you say, unless you can figure out the secret to that thing where the clowns multiply like rabbits inside a Volkswagen….)

  • Where can I camp, and what equipment is essential?

  • Does GPS actually stand for “Gadgety Piece of Shit”? Because I cannot get this thing to work!

It’s not about the riding

Let me show you the tested techniques and systems I’ve developed in almost 75,000 kilometres of off-road adventure. You’ll learn all the stuff the riding schools don’t teach you.

In fact, this isn’t about riding skills at all. Don’t forget that part where I was being painfully honest: I can’t ride like Jonny Walker.

Heck, I might not even be able to ride as well as you.

But I don’t need to. Because even a moderately skilled off-road motorcyclist can…

  • Ride confidently into the desert, forest or mountains for days at a time

  • Enjoy fantastic routes through places you just can’t reach in a single day

  • Rely on light, tested equipment

  • Camp comfortably in beautiful, remote locations

 And so can you!

Don’t forget to share this adventure with your riding buddies!

Ride farther. Stay out longer.

Riding the Owyhee Desert

This story first appeared in Canadian Biker magazine (March 2016, #319).

Into the Great Alone

On a July morning, as the rising sun promised relentless heat, I topped up the fuel tank of my Kawasaki KLR 650 in Elko, Nevada. Apprehensively, I filled my water bladders in the gas station restroom: crammed with camping equipment, tools, spare parts and food for three days, my panniers could fit only seven litres of water….

Then I wheeled onto a crumbling ribbon of asphalt winding through arid hills towards the 19th century mining settlement of Mountain City, and rode into the blazing emptiness of a desert dawn.

I was at the midpoint of my annual trek, exploring the deserts of the American Southwest. Loaded with topographic maps, my GPS was the key to navigating multi-day off-road routes plotted between towns. The previous night, with my tent pitched below Secret Peak, near Elko, I had charted a route through the Owyhee Desert to McDermitt, a fading mining town straddling the Nevada-Oregon border.

My route would be simple – at first – until I arrived at a dogleg where State Route 226 intersected a feeble stream meandering east from the Owyhee River. Its trickle would be my first objective after quitting the graded gravel of SR 226. From there, my planned route twisted through a braided tracing of lines on my GPS, marking trails and tracks and unused roads. In the Santa Rosa Mountains, the highest elevation of this ride at 2,400 metres, I would briefly parallel the Trans America Trail before searching out Canyon Creek Road and following it to the pavement of Highway 95, south of McDermitt.

Squinting into the heat haze fifty kilometres north of Elko, I turned west onto the 226. The rays of the rising sun settled on my back, and I steeled myself for temperatures threatening to eclipse yesterday’s high of 40 degrees Celsius. The wind blowing through my perforated riding jacket provided some meagre cooling, so I opened the throttle further, more concerned with generating a breeze than risking a speeding ticket in this desolate corner of a sparsely-populated state.

Sweat trickling down the inside of my armour, I muttered to myself, “All the gear, all the time.” Even summer time. Even in the desert….

It was almost 11:00 am. I bypassed State Route 789, which trailed off between low hills towards the declining old town of Tuscarora.

Enjoying the sinuous bends of the gravel road, spellbound in that moment of euphoria familiar to motorcyclists, I was pushing hard when my GPS displayed the waypoint marking a left turn. The KLR’s front wheel ploughed deeply in the loose, dry gravel as I braked to a stop.

Gasping in the sudden heat that clamped down on me, I kicked down the stand and dragged my right leg over the saddle, the top case, tent and Ortlieb panniers making any kind of gracefulness impossible. I folded my mirrors to keep them intact in the inevitable crashes to come, aired the tires down to 13 and 15 psi, and took a sip from my meagre supply of water.

Alone into the shimmering heat of the desert

This was it; this was where I would leave the maintained route and ride, alone, into the shimmering heat of the desert.

Soon I was idling along beside a rare sight in these arid plateaus: vivid green lining the banks of a twisting stream. The water was only a hand-span wide, but it traced a line through strata of mud and sediment marking past accumulations of melting winter snows, heavy sometimes at this altitude of nearly 2,000 metres.

I continued westward, concentrating on the silty paths threading between gnarled bushes of sage, marvelling that these indistinct trails were depicted on the Lowrance GPS. I suspect Nevada’s rich mining history – gold, silver, copper, gypsum – explains the extent and quality of the maps available for the “Silver State.”

The KLR’s fan hummed steadily; I had wired it to a switch on the dash, concerned that the intense heat of these desert rides would quickly result in disaster if the temperature sensor ever failed to activate the fan.

A sharp right turn led to a wider trail, likely made by the trucks of the cattlemen who sometimes traverse these high plains, rather than the hooves of the cattle that had created the narrow tracks I just departed. The terrain was relatively flat, the leeward sides of low ridges sloping gently into drifts of wind-borne sand and silt.

As I rode, morning drifted into noon, into afternoon, early evening. I don’t really pay attention to time in the desert. I camp when I find a spot that appeals to me, go to bed when I’ve counted all the stars I can, dawdle over breakfast before packing to move on. And then I ride.

I increased the pace, standing on the pegs, the KLR clambering confidently over terrain I had repeatedly been informed was beyond the capability of the overweight, under-suspended Kawasaki. Eyes up, sweeping the track ahead, I spotted something: small dark forms on the trail….

Heavy metal monsters

I had never before seen Mormon Crickets, though I had heard improbable stories. Some summers they descend on northern Nevada in swarms numbering in the millions, voracious, flightless red insects measuring five centimetres in length; the size of their swarms can be measured in kilometres. Elko County has been known to use snow plows to clear them from the roads and lays tonnes of poison bait in a desperate bid to reduce their numbers. The residents of the pocket-sized town of Tuscarora have kept the shield-backed katydids – as they are more properly known – at bay with a phalanx of speakers stacked in the streets blasting heavy metal music from dawn to dusk. I kid you not.

As I rolled up and swung clumsily off the bike, these diminutive monsters raced towards me, captivated, I presume, by the possibility that I might be edible. They crawled into the shade cast by the KLR, scuttled up my riding pants. Recalling accounts of the noxious smell they emit if crushed, I flicked them carefully from my legs and decided a swift retreat was in order; it was a very good day to be riding a bike that didn’t require time consuming kick-starting.

The sun was slipping west. I rode a few more kilometres before setting up camp on a grassy ridge where the sandy soil was sculpted into miniature crests and the cricket armies were AWOL.

Space is at a premium when packing for two and three-day off-road crossings between small towns in the desert, and water is always the first priority. That means food isn’t, and my meals reflect that fact: unappetizing pre-packaged pasta invariably forms the entire menu.

But then comes the best part of the day. As the sun sets, the desert relinquishes heat from rock and sand, and the air begins to swirl in a dance of warm breezes. Although equipment for a month-long trip must be ruthlessly cut down, there’s always room for one luxury: the camp chair that lets me lean back and relish the unfolding desert night.

On the second day, my GPS route followed trails that seemed to wilfully fade and re-emerge. I halted frequently to re-assess the map, re-trace my route…re-examine my irrational obsession with solo desert travel. I did have an emergency plan, though: somewhere up ahead, the primitive Lye Creek campsite was said to have a drinking water supply and, possibly, the chance of meeting someone willing to siphon some fuel into the bike. Large as it is, even a KLR’s tank has a limit, and I was worried I would exceed it. I had already travelled almost 300 kilometres. And, to tell the truth, I didn’t actually know where that campsite was located….

I forced my concentration back to the trail as I passed a charred hillside. Lightning strikes occur frequently on this arid plain, and wildfires are the predictable result. Recurring gusts of wind whirled the scorched soil and vegetation into short-lived dust devils that nudged me across the trail, filling my mouth and nose with grit. I continued westward, sipping water each time I stopped to ponder the map or select a branch in the faint, diverging trails.

And I switched the bike to reserve.

As evening approached, I found the Nevada Forestry road that would be my route through the Santa Rosa Mountains. Setting up camp in the lee of a bluff near Hinkey Summit, I found myself lingering, gazing at the sun setting over the distant ridges and plains revealed beyond the height of the range.

Santa Rosa mountain morning

When sunrise woke me, I packed quickly – not my usual lazy morning routine – but I was visualizing a dry gas tank and a long walk during the hottest part of the day. I rode east, accelerating gingerly to conserve fuel, as the forestry road curved back north and then west. Cresting a rise, I saw laid out below me the amphitheatre of Canyon Creek and, with it, my reprieve from hiking in the desert sun: the forestry road descended steeply toward the highway – still hidden below the western horizon – in a series of switchbacks cut deeply into the canyon’s brow.

The left-side laydown

I cut the engine and coasted down the dusty bends of the road, warily entering corners without the stability normally created by a revving engine and the assistance of compression braking. The profound silence of the desert descended, but the cooling breeze of my forward momentum continued. It was a novel sensation that made the penultimate section of this ride especially memorable.

Reaching the flat bottom of the canyon, I restarted the KLR.

The KLR promptly stalled.

Dismounting, I laid the bike down on its left side, urging fuel from the right section of the tank to trickle toward the petcock – I was so close to the pavement! Upright again, the engine reluctantly coughed into life, and I crept onwards.

I had to resort to the “left-side laydown” one more time before rolling up to the Sinclair gas station in McDermitt, my odometer reading more than 420 kilometres. It was the farthest the KLR had ever travelled on a tank of fuel – and I didn’t need to walk after all…except across the street, to the “Say When” Casino, to celebrate with a cold pint.

 

Motorcycle riding schools don’t teach you this stuff

I like riding alone. Especially when I’m in expedition mode: way off the pavement, picking a route through the back country towards some lake or ghost town.

And I like riding with friends even more.

But most of the time, I’m by myself out there….

Be honest: do I smell?

I think more riders would hit the trail with me if either, (a), I showered more frequently, or, (b), they had the skills necessary to take their dual-sport and adventure bikes on long off-road trips: equipment selection, bike preparation, route planning, navigating, camping — you get the picture.

I want to change that. I want more riders to feel confident tackling multi-day trips in the dirt. So I’m sharing my own practical, proven techniques and systems for adventure riders.

This isn’t about teaching you how to ride your bike off-road; there are already lots of schools that do a great job of that. In fact, I’ve created a list of dirt and adventure riding schools. Those guys are the pros. Attending one of their programs is certain to teach you something valuable.

Adventure Ride Guide will teach you something else: the techniques you need to put those riding skills to good use, way off the blacktop.

These are techniques I’ve learned through experience out there, off road, through trial and error and hours in the saddle in the middle of big blank spaces on the map.

Your bike belongs in the dirt. And so do you.

I’ve talked to many riders who want to enjoy epic trips like mine.

But they say they don’t have the knowledge or confidence to get off the beaten path.

Skilled riders, some of them more capable than I am, tell me:

  • I don’t have camping or wilderness experience.

  • I don’t know how to start planning a motorcycle camping trip.

  • Specialized equipment is just too expensive.

  • Once I get my gear on the bike, it’s too heavy to manage off road.

  • I’m not a good enough rider.

That list is probably why I meet those riders, on their GS1200s or their V-Stroms or KLRs, on the pavement.

“I could never do what you do”

I’ll be rolling onto the pavement somewhere in…let’s say, Idaho…dirty and grinning. A guy riding past on a sweet Triumph Tiger waves and pulls over to ask where the gravel road goes. He’s a great guy, friendly and genuine, like most riders.

After I tell him I’ve been out in the mountains for a few days, the conversation usually goes something like this:

“I’m an okay rider. But I could never do what you do.”

“Really? Why not?”

“Well, I’ve never done that much camping and, like, wilderness stuff.”

“You know,” I say, “that’s easier than you think. You just need someone with experience to get you started.”

“Well, I’ve read lots of stuff on the forums…but it’s kind of overwhelming. There’s so much information, and I’m not really sure what to focus on.”

I nod my head. “Yeah, I get that.”

“Then when I pack up my gear for a road trip, it looks like I’m ready to go around the world, and my bike handles like I’m doubling a sumo wrestler. I’ll probably just stick to the pavement. Maybe take the occasional gravel road….”

It kills me

‘Cause he’s a great guy, and he’s got a bike that could take him almost anywhere he wants to go. I’d happily ride with him for a couple days, and I know I could learn lots from him, too.

But then he waves again, and turns back onto the pavement.

While I turn up the old logging road to Fourth of July Lake….

lake-sawtooths-adventure-motorcycle
Fourth of July Lake, Sawtooth Range, Idaho

Let’s change that.

Ride farther. Stay out longer.

Don't keep it to yourself. Share the adventure!