My Husqvarna runs really hot

I’ve got a few simple bike preparation tips for you this week.

You vibrate

As you may have noticed, there are a wide variety of appliances that vibrate (…wait for it…) and one of them is an off-road motorcycle.

Your bike’s wiring is susceptible to wear because of this vibration. Bends in wires, or routing that runs wires over other components, can result in insulation wearing through in just a few hours of riding in rough terrain. The resulting shorts and electrical failures will leave you stranded and wondering why you didn’t try the simple solution I use.

Get some silicone hose, slice it lengthwise and use cable ties to protect vulnerable wiring. Picture. Words. 1,000.

If you’re really obsessive — and let’s face it, you’re reading this, aren’t you? — use colour-coded cable ties, so when you’re working on your ride, you can distinguish different electrical circuits that aren’t as easy to trace out on a muddy trail as they were back in your garage. Make sure you write down your colouring system somewhere.

You’re hot

Your bike might be hot, too. From personal experience, I can tell you Husqvarnas run hot. And, conveniently, their (initially Swedish, then Italian, subsequently German, and now Austrian) engineers situated the coolant hoses right in behind the exhaust headers, where it’s easy to see them when they melt. You could make some popcorn on the exhaust can, sit back and watch the show.

Solution? Yep, we got that. Find the locations where your coolant hoses are at risk of overheating. Then cut a length of spare hose long enough to cover that location; a slightly larger diameter of hose makes this fix easier and more effective. Split the spare hose just as you did the silicone ones described above. Wrap the coolant hose with your spare and then wrap it all in aluminum foil tape. Cool! (hose)

And you never forget our anniversary

While you’re working on your bike, you might have to disassemble some this, remove some that…and you may worry that you’ll forget steps in reassembly. Or forget flowers on your anniversary. But I say, fear not!

I just mark each spot that requires my attention with a bit of coloured tape. Once I tighten the bolt or attach the whatchamalit, I remove the tape. Never forget again.

I’m not gonna forget to bend that little flange that holds the end of the clutch cable in place. Because yellow tape.

Selective courage

I have selective courage.

You know, like selective hearing:

“Honey, can you fix that loose cupboard door?”


“I don’t know if you can hear me over that death-metal, but I’ve got this bottle of single malt, and I was wondering if you — ”             

Yes! Yes, I would. Thank you. Yes.

Yeah, kind of like that.

Except I think my selective-courage calibration is out of whack. Picture this.

A guy – who might or might not be me – collects a few litres of tepid water from a gas station restroom and then rides a motorcycle 300 kilometres into the desert: no idea where the next water source is; no certainty that the trail continues through the sage and dust, and doesn’t simply fade out or dead-end at some insurmountable crag of rock. The temperature, just as Hollywood would specify, hovers around 45 degrees Celsius; that’s 113 Fahrenheit to my American neighbours.

Along the way to this doubtful destiny, he – who might be I – attempts to acquire adequate speed to launch 250 kilograms of motorcycle and monkey over a blind hilltop. There’s some solace, he later supposes, in the fact that the silty soil which impeded his speed, causing the crash, also provides a soft landing. Though that does nothing to cushion the impact of motorcycle on frail human flesh. Or on frail human ribs, the doctor later tells him.

So now I – willing at last to acknowledge my own stupidity – upend the motorcycle, conduct repairs to the machine and ignore those needed to my body, continue on my way for a few more days, find some water, discover dozens of scorpions encircling my tent (apparently the small ones are the most lethal – who knew?), get lost, backtrack up the steep shelving boulders of a canyon floor, lose control of the bike and puncture the gas tank on a rock, discover both my GPS units have failed, watch my right leg balloon into purple edema after tearing a ligament in my knee, disassemble the valve train on the motorcycle after it perishes mid-desert – yada yada yada….

But here’s the real drama in this story: it isn’t. Dramatic, I mean.

It, the whole thing, it’s not a drama; it’s not an epic, perilous grappling with mortality. It’s fun. I’d do it again – and I have, many times, as soon as possible.

But then friends allude to my bravery – or madness or naiveté or something – and I feel unease knotting my stomach.

Because, honestly, I’m fake news.

Don’t get me wrong: this story isn’t fake, although it is a compilation of a couple trips. And I know the risks in riding solo through thousands of kilometres of desert are real enough: last year, an adventure motorcyclist fell victim to incapacitating heat near Death Valley, around the same time I traversed the final road he would ever ride. He died; I was more fortunate.

But still. And yet. Even so.

I don’t feel the hammering of the heart, the deep breath before the dive, the churning dread in the bowels. Leaving roads and people and comfort behind for multi-day expeditions requires about the same resolve that I need to muster up when a pint of IPA urgently needs my attention. I feel engaged when I venture into the untracked, the unbuilt; I feel competent and keen: excited, a sharp edge. Grateful.

That doesn’t take courage.

And here’s the thing that really baffles me – more accurately, here’s the thing that frightens me. Parties. Employment. (Did I say, “thing,” singular?) Children under the age of 12. Loneliness. Extroverts. Invisibility. Snakes. Purposelessness. Money. Failure. Intimacy. Lack of money. Indecision…

Is my courage calibration out of whack? I fear loneliness, but seek solitude. I feel euphoric when I step into the fiery sweep of a desert fastness, and weak in the knees when faced with a room full of unfamiliar faces at a cocktail party. (Do people still say that, “cocktail parties”?)

Is courage a product of perspective? I don’t believe bravery can be merely a trait, a currency that we carry – some people more, some less. That would mean we could reach into our pockets anytime we wanted and pull out the coin purse. Man purse? Whatever. In any case, not all of us can do that all of the time. Bravery seems to me to be elusive: I’m flush with it one moment, broke the next, uncertain and paralyzed.

I’m confounded by the seeming illogic of what little, selective courage I possess….

And that’s why I ride solo across dangerously inhospitable deserts.

Because, however illogical it may be, it’s there that I feel brave – precisely because I don’t feel I need to be.

Perfection: Drycomp Summit Sack

That’s my orange and grey Summit Sack in the picture up there.

Okay, let’s not quibble about details or colour preferences: it’s perfect enough. As you soon shall see.

That rack-top spot behind your bike’s seat can create an unholy temptation. I mean, Eve and the apple kind of temptation. As in, if you succumb to that pernicious asp, you just might doom humanity to eternal suffering. (The Christian part of humanity, I suppose. Hold on…Adam and Eve are in the Koran, too, aren’t they? And the Torah? So…why exactly are we building walls?)

Anyway. I’m only dealing with one specific consequence of temptation here: the dangerous, tail-happy handling of an overloaded, top-heavy motorcycle. Same thing, really, in my mind: lousy handling…eternal suffering.

So why is this an issue of Biblical / Koranic / Torah-nish proportions? Because of the proportions of that flat patch of real estate behind your seat. It’s pretty big. There are lots of potential places to fasten and secure your yard-sale of gear. And that, it appears, is just what many riders do.

Image credit: Mike Werner

You like that? If you don’t need a pizza oven on your bike, how about the Leaning Tower of Pisa?

You could try something like this one. I see the paddle, but where’s the creek? Is that red thing the boat?! OMG.

Need I go on? I think not.

Look, I’m not trying to insult anybody here. If that’s your bike I found pictured on the Internet when I searched for “overloaded,” I’ll happily remove the pic and tender my sincere apologies. I’ll even admit that I may have at times packed my own bike with everything but the espresso-making cooktop, too.

In fact, on one of my early adventure rides, my old KLR was so heavy it literally fractured the ground.

Okay, that’s actually just the Alvord Desert in Oregon.

But the point is, over time I’ve learned the evils of temptation. Putting lots of weight out behind your seat is the work of Beelzebub because it…

  • Upsets the handling of your bike: high, heavy and hangin’ out the back is the off-road version of original sin
  • Could bend, crack or even snap your subframe, which is often made of brittle aluminum, and sometimes even plastic
  • Impedes your ability to pick up your bike after a fall
  • Obstructs your efforts to swing into the saddle
  • Adds more weight than is necessary

In addition, if your personal version of behind-the-seat sin is hard cases, you’ve got another potential problem. They can deform in crashes, refuse to close tightly, and let dust and water into your espresso maker. The typical solution is to cram your gear into stuff sacks, slip those inside a liner bag, and tip the whole thing into a box. I have one word for you: purgatory.


But, I say unto you, salvation is at hand: the Outdoor Research Drycomp Summit Sack.

This bag is the Holy Grail for which I quested many a year, like a knight errant on a Suzuki.

This seraphic chalice holds my tent, sleeping bag, sleeping pad, pillow, synthetic-fill jacket, all my clothing and a pair of sandals — with room to spare (fully expanded, it holds 27 Litres).

Summit Sack, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways:

  1. Light: just over 300 g / 11 oz
  2. Waterproof and dustproof. Not resistant; proof.
  3. Durable: mine has been up close and personal with desert sandpaper dozens of times; endured heat and blazing sun for months — and it has never torn and shows little abrasion.
  4. Compressible: it’s a compression sack, so you can shrink your pile of stuff even more. Now, that’s my personal version of paradise.
  5. Cheap like gravel! $85 (USD) from the manufacturer. Okay, maybe that’s actually my version of paradise.
  6. It’s a backpack! You don’t need to carry an empty backpack somewhere on the bike so you can gear up for day hikes or a stroll through town. This sack is also part of my emergency planning: when I have to walk out of the wilds, I need a way to carry water, first aid supplies, maps, shelter — and this is it.

I mean, this is IT! Get one. Now. (No, I’m not making a commission; I’m just excited.)

That final point there, number 6, is where Giant Loop’s otherwise excellent Coyote and Great Basin bags fail: they can’t double as a backpack. To be fair, Giant Loop’s luggage solutions combine the tail bag and panniers, so I’m sort of comparing apples to fig leaves…but we’ll talk about that later, in a post about panniers. Lots to chew on in that post.

Giant Loop Coyote saddle bag

We do have a set of the Coyote bags, and we do like them: they’re strong and secure on the bike, though somewhat difficult to access due to their shape, and not entirely water and dust proof due to the large zipper. Waterproofing is achieved with an extra set of roll-top bags used inside the exterior bag. When I ride with a partner, we use the Coyote for her bike and still have the convenience of a backpack, because I stick to the Summit Sack.

Oh, speaking of sticking: I secure the bag to the bike with Rok Straps. If you don’t already have some, add them to your shopping list. If bungee straps are bologna, Rok Straps are caviar; if bungee straps are a rusty old bicycle, Rok Straps are whatever Elon Musk is dreaming up while he sits in traffic on his way to his empire — er, I mean, on his way to work. Except Rok Straps are cheap. Elon Musk’s lovely contraptions are not cheap.


And, because you like options, here’s an option: if you want to carry a bit more stuff, the Drycomp Ridge Sack is 4 Litres larger, a bit more beefy and has an external pocket for a water bladder. It costs about 75% more…meaning it’s a princely $151 bucks (USD). Very tempting!

…or you could just stay home and be a couch potato.


Motorcycle (mis)adventure

My newest (mis)adventure motorcycling story, “Fire on the Mountain,” was just published in the January/February issue of Canadian Biker magazine.

“…in this issue [our] first trip is more misadventure touring rather than adventure touring. A trip through the beautiful arid hills of south central Washington state turns challenging for one Vancouver rider as get-offs, leaking fluids, nasty hornet stings, forest fires and long walks out lead to …”

…well, you’ll just have to go buy a copy to find out what it leads to, won’t you?

If a trip to the magazine stand is more adventure than you can handle on a Monday, keep reading the Ride Guide for more stories and expedition planning.

Living in Denio

“Keep the rubber side down.”

If you’ve ridden a motorcycle, you’ve heard it: a well-meaning wish for your safety out there on the mean streets among the prowling menace of the “cagers.” (You’ve heard that one, too: cars = cages, and therefore drivers are cagers. Of course.)

Thing is, there was not a street, mean or otherwise, in sight.

I was alone on a rock-strewn track in the Pueblo Mountains of south west Oregon, pondering my heavily-loaded Kawasaki KLR650. And the rubber side was, in fact, currently the most upward elevation on the topography of the bike.

I’d never seen this kind of inversion before, and it was an oddly reflective moment – though the smell of leaking gas and sour foreboding speedily overtook my reverie. I was a long way from the pavement that now seemed inviting, rather than mean, and I was nearly certain that jaunty twist in the handlebars – rhapsodic though it may have rendered a hipster sculpting his moustache – was well outside the design tolerances intended by Kawasaki’s engineers.

At the time, I was pretty new to this adventure riding thing, and I clearly had not consulted those engineers’ plans when I loaded everything I owned on the KLR and pointed it up a rocky trail.

Grunting, I levered the bike upright, rubber side down, and the damage was clear: handlebars bent (awkward, not serious); mirror broken (okay, didn’t like it anyway); clutch lever snapped off at its mounting point (annoying, insignificant).

Insignificant, that is, unless said clutch lever is your spare, installed after the unintended sacrifice of the original lever a few days earlier, victim of a treacherous rock. In such a case, one simply purchases a new spare lever, and all is well.

Or one procrastinates, and all is seriously bungled.

Wait — is that my spare clutch lever? Oh oh…

Never fear: unlike the aforementioned cages, motorcycles are equipped with sequential transmissions, meaning the gears are actually quite easy to shift without using the clutch. Unless, naturally, you are attempting to launch from a standstill.

An overloaded KLR mired in a rocky stream bed pretty much defines standstill.

But that is not the point of this story.

This is the point: after a night spent trail side, the ruined lever’s fragments lashed together, beads of JB Weld metal epoxy fusing the seams, I met Deborah, Mike and Donald.

My improvised repair held up as, in the early morning heat of the desert, I retraced my path of yesterday. I reached Oregon Route 205 and turned south, hoping the town of Denio, Nevada, some 30 kilometres away, would possess a repair shop or even a motorcycle dealer.

I can tell you now that Denio, Nevada is a census-designated place – according to the federal government, it doesn’t deserve the appellation of “town” – with a population somewhat less than 50, and a built-up area of precisely 38 houses – although I may have included a few barns, outbuildings, shacks and sheds in the count. And precisely zero repair shops or motorcycle dealers.

In fact, the only sign of life I could see was a triangle of lawn chairs set in the shade of a tree whose branches arched over the roof of a double-wide mobile home. Occupying those chairs, a woman and two men were occupied in adding to the substantial pile of empty Bud Light beer cans amassing at their feet.

It was just after 9:00 am.

Image credit: Tad Hetu

I was reluctant to intrude. Or scared. Maybe kind of scared…

Denio lies at the junction of Oregon’s Harney county and Nevada’s Humboldt – the kind of places where guns and opinions are big and dangerous and worn on the hip. Ammon Bundy and his band of anti-government militants staged an armed takeover of a wildlife sanctuary 170 kilometres north of Denio in 2016; the borders of the American Redoubt are drawn nearby, an ad-hoc refuge for libertarian-leaning survivalists who revere the Second Amendment and are looking for a place to fortify when the economy and things in general go all to hell. Both Harney and Humboldt counties registered over 70% support for the Republican candidate in a recent presidential election you may have heard about.

And now you see what this story is really about….

Deborah, Mike and Donald – none of whom were actually named that, by the way – were tracking me with their eyes long before I hit the kill switch in their dusty driveway. I thought I could get the KLR rolling again (even though my temporary repair to the clutch lever had now failed) as long as I stopped somewhere with a loose surface and a clear runway.

I pulled off my helmet and warily began to relate my tale. Deborah looked at me dubiously; there was something she didn’t like about my story — specifically, it turns out, the fact that I was telling it without a beer in my hand and a chair in the shade. With those concerns rectified, she listened as intently as the men sitting to either side of her. Mike and Donald were heading out for a few days of fishing, and had detoured along the way to visit their old friend, Deb, whom they hadn’t seen in about a year.

As I finished explaining my situation, Donald said softly, “Closest bike shop’s in Winnemucca. Hundred miles south.” He registered the anxiety on my face and continued, “Here’s what ya gotta do…”

Don was a UPS driver, and knew every byway and track that would keep me – and my inoperable clutch – off the pavement and away from stop signs and street lights as I approached Winnemucca. He patiently repeated his directions twice as I committed them to memory.

“And if you get lost or broke down along the way, you just knock on anybody’s door.” Mike and Deb nodded while Don went on, saying, “And if’n nobody’s home, you just go right in.”

Now I was the dubious one, and he could see it.

“Out here, you break down, you run out o’ water, you could die. It’s gonna be over a hunderd-and-five this afternoon. Folks know it. Nobody ever locks their door. You just go right in and do what you need to – use the phone, get some water, food. You could leave a note or somethin’, I suppose.”

Deb handed me another beer before sharing her story. “I just got back from Hawaii. Had some friends there I was staying with. I was gone over a year. Left my door unlocked, and I think somebody musta used the place: when I got back, there was more cans in the pantry than when I left.”

We sat for a couple hours, a few beers, talked about America and politics and Canada and bullfrog fishing (yes, you use a regular fishing pole!). We laughed at Deb’s practiced joke that she was, “Living in Denio.” And my fear evolved into surprise and finally admiration – making a quick stop along the way for some shame about my stereotypes. Finally, I think we all settled on just feeling human.

And that’s the point of this story. Don and Mike and Deb are the point: they are the people – the millions of people – in the USA who care for their friends, trust their neighbours, and help strangers in need.

I know you’re still out there; I need you out there…

Because you give me hope.

Allen Keys? Boat Anchors? Coconut-powered Radio?

You might know these as Allen wrenches, hex keys, hexagon wrenches or Zeta keys. You might even call them Unbrako — but probably not coconut-driven radios. They’re those six-sided metal rods that fit into a matching hole or socket on the end of a bolt.

You already knew that.

Even if you’re throwing a leg over some exotic foreigner — I mean like a Ural; keep your head in the game here: we’re talking about motorcycles — you need Allen keys. If you’re riding orange or Husqvarna, like me, you need some extra-large Allen keys: 8, 10 and even 12 mm.

But I’ll tell you, put those in your kit and you can confidently respond when your captain hollers for the boat anchor. The 12 mm I needed to remove the front wheel of my Husqvarna TE510 was huge! I’m telling you, it was uuuge! Ahem. Sorry…

Allen Key? Anchor? Even the Professor doesn’t really know….

And then you still need to take the rest of your Allen key set, usually 2.5, 4, 5, 6 and 8 mm (depending on your bike; you’re going to figure that out by working on it at home, before you tackle the TAT).

Or you can use your sockets as Allen key adapters

You’ve seen these, right?

It seems obvious once you think about it (which you are about to do), that these contraptions are just an Allen key pressed permanently into a socket. But did you know it’s easy to make your own? And use both the socket and the Allen key? Two in one. Fun.

Plus, your home-made keys are much shorter and lighter than the originals, reducing weight and bulk without sacrificing leverage. Three in one. Triple fun. Menage a key.

Ginger, Mary Ann? Someone hand me a scalpel!

That 12 mm boat anchor weighed 139 grams; after surgery, it was 21 g. I just reduced the weight of my tool kit 118 grams — more than a quarter of a pound!

Allen in the recovery room.

It’s not rocket science: it’s brain surgery — if, you know, the patient was named Allen. The procedure goes like this:

  • Cut off a straight section of your Allen key, using an angle grinder or other metal cut-off wheel. Allen keys are hardened steel, so you won’t want to try this with a hack saw.
  • Your cut-off sections should be about 2 centimetres (one inch, plus) longer than your equivalent-sized socket.
  • To use your new, lighter Allen keys, just insert the hex section into a socket. For example, slip your 10 mm key into your 10 mm socket.Your drive ratchet now works for fastening your Allen bolts, and you can also use your 1/4″ drive extensions to create Allen keys with a longer reach. Bonus: your stubby little Allen keys can be used with wrenches as well, either open or closed-end. This option expands your ability to work in difficult-to-reach areas.

If the Allen key wants to slip out of your socket or wrench, wrap it with a bit of the duct tape you have in your tool kit.

For the truly obsessive, you can find adapters that slip over a smaller hex key to step up to the next size — skip the weight of a solid key, plus you benefit from a smaller stored size. I use one of these to adapt my 6 mm to 8 mm. Check bicycle tool suppliers for these doodads.

If you have tiny hands…

For your smallest Allen keys — 2.5, 4, maybe 5 and even 6 — you need a different strategy, since there’s not likely any reason to carry sockets in those sizes. I’ve only needed 5, 6 or 7 mm for some hose clamps, and you can use a screwdriver for those. Don’t take a socket if you already have a way to manipulate your hose. Clamps.

I have used 6 and 7 mm open-end wrenches for the spoke nipples on my wheels — but there again, a socket won’t help.

Instead, get a set of Allen bits and a matching adapter that fits the hex-shaped bits and slips onto your 1/4″ ratchet. Most tool stores should be able to set you up.


Careful there, Gilligan!

  • Use only 6-point sockets, not those nut-rounding 12-points.
  • This adapted tool allows you to generate greater torque when securing fasteners, so tighten slowly, being careful not to over-tighten and deform the socket in the head of the bolt.
  • Ball-end Allen keys help you remove or fasten bolts in awkward locations, by allowing an angled line of approach to the bolt. However, they don’t provide the straight-line contact of a regular Allen key. As a result, deforming the socket in the bolt heads is surprisingly easy. I don’t use ball-ends for any high-torque bolts – either to fasten or remove.

Now you’ve got efficient Allen keys: no more anchors in sight. So feel free to get going on that three-hour cruise, Captain. Does anybody even recognize these references anymore?

Pack the Runt — or, Tool Kits for Adventure Motorcycling

I just watched a YouTube video. That’s me: always right there at the bleeding edge….

This video was pretty slick. It was produced by an American motorcycle accessory retailer, a respected company that focuses on the off-road segment. They sell some good gear.

So. They were detailing what you should pack in your tool kit for adventure motorcycling.

A lithium-iron battery booster pack. Pliers. Needle nose pliers. Needle nose Vice Grips. Etc. Plus etc. And then, with all that extra space you have in your luggage, add some etc., would you?


Yes, their tool kit recommendations were comprehensive…and about four times the size you really need.

No wonder riders are uncertain what to take!

The runt of the litter

With my runt-of-the-litter tool kit, I’ve done field repairs on…

  • Damaged valve-train components

  • Faulty electrics

  • Bent handle bars

  • Cracked gas tanks

  • Flat tires

  • Broken luggage racks

  • Suspension adjustments

  • Snapped clutch and brake levers

  • Broken shifter and brake pedals

  • Mangled oil coolers

 But, before you pack your runt…

First off, whatever tool kit you assemble, you need to use it in your garage before any trip.

Figure out what sizes of wrenches, sockets, screwdrivers, extensions and Allen keys you need for your specific bike. Assemble the other stuff you think you’ll require, like spare fasteners, inner-tube patch kit, etc.

Then work on your bike.

Changing your oil? Use only the tools in your developing kit. Spooning on fresh rubber? Same. Checking fasteners are tightened snugly in preparation for dirty-road vibrations? Yep: only use the tools in your kit.

Test it out; determine what type and size of tools you need, and which ones can stay on the bench when you leave for your trip. This should be an ongoing process, one you revisit after every trip.

Okay, you’ve done that – probably did it long ago, in fact.

Now you reduce the number of tools, and make them smaller and lighter.

You can’t take it with you – and you don’t need to

The lithium-iron battery booster pack isn’t necessary. I’ve had no problem push-starting fuel-injected bikes. And some bikes still start with a strong right leg. Besides, you’ll likely be riding with a friend, and she’s got a built-in booster on her bike: it’s called a battery.

Ok, I’m being snide. Bad habit.

But the thing is, I’ve researched tool kits more than any well-adjusted man should do. And I’ve concluded that many (many) of the items I see in those kits are not necessary. Alternative conclusion: I’m not a well-adjusted man. Umm…I guess we shouldn’t take that one off the table just yet….

Sure, lots of the items I see recommended for your tool kit might be nice to have — but they actually contribute to a problem, instead of solving it. Look at it this way: adventure riders cite weight and maneuverability as significant challenges when riding off-road. Obvious, right?

So if you have a kitchen-sink tool kit, and it’s adding unnecessary weight and bulk, it’s more likely you won’t leave the pavement in the first place. Problem. Or that you will leave the pavement and have a discouraging experience of piloting a once-svelte bike that now feels like a warthog or a certain Monty Python sketch character…. And then you stay on the pavement after that. Problem, squared.

“But, sir, it’s only a tiny, little thin one: a wafer thin mint!”

Yeah, I know: one extra pair of needle-nose pliers won’t leave legions of would-be adventure riders riding the couch instead.

But what if those pliers are packed alongside the electric air compressor you’ve never actually used on a trip? And an inefficient cooking system, that second pair of jeans, and…?

Pounds are made of ounces, my friend. And kilograms of grams.

So you’re going to take only what you need; I’ve got more posts coming to give you specific details. Once you’ve got that sorted, you’re going to search the YouTube for Monty Python wafer thin mint to see what happens when you pack in too much stuff. I apologize in advance.

And then we’re gonna tap into another strategy: the dual-purpose mindset. It’s kind of like reincarnation, only with two lives happening at the same time, instead of consecutively.

I have just invented concurrent reincarnation. Another Monday well spent.

Dual-purpose isn’t just a DR650

The central idea to a tool kit – and, in fact, to most adventure motorcycling preparation – is to design your systems for multiple uses.

Your tools should be as dual-purpose as your bike. I think I’ve figured out some good stuff I want to show you:

  • Use a ratchet extension to make screwdrivers

  • Remember combination-size open end wrenches?

  • Get a wrench / ratchet gizmo with a hex adapter

  • Install a new inner tube and cure Monkey Butt (yes, it’s a thing, skeptics)

  • Use your spark plug socket to increase the leverage of your efficient little ¼” ratchet

  • But wait: there’s more! (channeling my inner Vince Offer)

Details to follow. I’m trying to keep this bite-sized here, after all. Nobody needs that wafer aftermath….

Allen keys are a great example. Next post!

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….


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 Graham Jarvis – unless you are Graham Jarvis…in which case, Mr. Jarvis, could you please teach me how to ride a dirt bike? Please?

Jonny Walker doing a magic trick (source:

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 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, 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 Graham Jarvis.

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.


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