Rawhyde Adventure (Graduation test)

It was 10pm on Sunday night as I zipped up my rain gear. To the northwest, a storm grew and lightning struck in the distance.

Sunday's Storm
(For many reasons, I don’t have pictures of the stormy ride home, so these are shots I took from Rawhyde’s Colorado base.)

It had been an exhausting weekend, but with the knowledge I learned and the thought of sleeping in my own bed with my wife, gave me the energy to ride the 3 hours home.

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Raindrops hit my visor and windscreen and I started my bike and turned off the ABS. I had become a pro at turning it off, and skilled at riding off-road. Even today we took a fun ride through the slickest mud I’ve seen since my first epic fall in the mud trying to complete the southern Colorado section of the Great Divide Trail.

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If you peruse my past ride reports here (at least those on two wheels), you will see the recurring theme is of me falling, or trying not to fall, and for quite a few years now I’ve been lamenting not being able to take a class that would teach me how to ride my GS off-road.

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Sure I’ve known of the Rawhyde classes, but I wasn’t going to travel all the way to California to enroll. I simply didn’t have that kind of time or cash. But when they opened up shop here in Colorado I had no excuse but to save my pennies. I even thought of the class as a way to save money from not buying all the parts I might break on my bike in the myriad of falls I take (this is still only a hypothesis, so don’t quote me on that!) Plus, I want to upgrade to the 800 GS soon, so getting some skills and confidence are high on my list of “upgrades” I’d like with a new bike.

I kicked my 650 into first gear, revving the engine and slipping the clutch. Since I spent the entire weekend without loaded down panniers, the bike responded sluggishly and I had to add more throttle. I crunched out over gravel, rode through the gate and into the darkness.

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Naturally the rain started right up. Big drops indicated towering cumulus clouds above. I switched between high and low beams, wishing I had an auxiliary light. But I kept the speed slow and my upper body loose as I stood on the pegs, taking the turns back to the main county road.

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When I got to Country Road 53, the rain came down steadily and since I stood, it ran down into my gloves. I flipped on my heated grips and kept riding. What else could you do? The smartest thing would’ve been to stay the night.

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Lightning flashed in the distance, briefly illuminating the landscape and reminding me of the storm scene in All the Pretty Horses. A rabbit, caught in the side beam of my headlight raced toward my front tire only to veer away at the last moment. Way too quick do one of the panic stops we learned that day.

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I kept riding. More lightning, more rain in my gloves, and more miles passed below me. The road varied between washboard gravel, hard packed mud and just slick sections with puddles, but my training served me well. Every once in a mile there was a wobble and a slight meandering of the bike, but I stayed upright and didn’t worry, even smiling at some of the small challenges that cropped up.

Once I hit the highway, I turned the ABS back on, and lit out for home. The rain had stopped and eventually the roads would dry out. I crawled into bed after midnight and even now as I write this, I am looking forward to my next off-road adventure. Maybe the road to Moffat Tunnel. Now I just have to find the time.

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It had been a short but packed weekend, but that final ride in the rain felt like my graduation test. And I feel I passed with flying colors.

Riding the Monitor and Merrimac Trail. Moab, Part 2

We ended up just off of US-191 on the north side of town, easily marked by all the other trucks and trailers parked on the side of the road. The dogs were still exhausted, so Michael and Rachel decided to stay in their Landcruiser and follow along behind (Sadly they had to turn back since the bouncing shook the exhausted dogs too much).
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We off-loaded the bikes and two ATVs and headed up a maintained dirt road that took us to a nice overlook and then into the back country of the Mill Canyon area. The women who checked us out at the rental shop told us that there are dinosaur fossils and a natural arch (Tusher Tunnel) that we could ride to and I was quite interested to see these things.
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The OHV trail quickly took us to slick rock and sandy areas, giving me the opportunity to take the comfort I gained in the morning and apply it with the skills I remembered from my class. Soon enough I was dipping up and over bare rock, rock outcroppings, and bits of sand and silt.

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Deana also gained confidence with her ATV and started to learn her way around and over the bumps and dips in the road.
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I have to say it was nice having the ATVs with us since they had luggage racks and we could store what we need on them, leaving the dirt bikes light and unencumbered—which would turn out beneficial once we hit the deep sand.
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When we made it to the top of the plateau, the rocks went away and the sand became the larger part of the track. Deana loved this since it gave her a smoother ride, but it is also where I had to slow down.

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Fortunately, Alex and Deana waited patiently while Dezso and I conferred about how to tackle the sand. Training had taught me (and it was hard to do at times) to stand on the pegs (lower center of gravity) , knees hugging the gas tank, and bend over the bars so that you’re neither tugging on them or leaning all of your upper body on them.

And if Deana and I felt more comfortable on our machines, Dezso zipped up and down and back and forth, always in the lead and soon enough reporting back when there was a sand trap up ahead.
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I think he enjoyed the high sand berms and we occasionally caught sight of him with a rooster tail of sand kicking out behind his bike. (And now that we’re back home, he’s sent me some photos and links of dirt bikes for sale. Pure evil, I tell ya! Pure evil.)
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And it was about this time that I took a spill. Of course I had to do it right in front of my wife but hey, that’s what humility is all about, right?
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We came up to a large section of sand. Dezso had stopped and warned me about it and we talked about how to approach it. The trick is that you need to allow the bike to go its own way through the sand. But the problem that arose for me is that my bike continually wanted to creep off the trail and into the sage brush.

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Like a horse trying to brush off its rider, my bike and I scraped sage before sinking back into the track. The rear tire would swing out and then up the slight berm I would go, scraping brush again. I wove over to the other side and repeated this process before finding a deeper section of sand and dumping over.

The bike lay half buried in the sand, making it hard to get a grip and prop it upright. Alex came over and together we got it up. I do know that if I had been on my GS and loaded down with camping gear, I would’ve just put a for sale sign on the bike right there.
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Of course, having said that, I am also interested to come out here, set up camp, and then remove the mirrors and Jesse bags (they really don’t need to see any more damage) and go to one of these sand tracks and try to ride. I think what I need to do is practice until I know what the bike is going to do and what I need to do in order to remain upright. I can’t imagine how those people racing in the Dakar can do it at the speeds they’re traveling at. I can’t even get out of second gear!
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We had a few more miles of sand. Some of it deep, some shallow, and some back to dirt and rocks. It really started to wear me out!
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We made it to the turn off for the natural arch. It lay an undetermined length ahead of us and the trail looked like nothing but sand.
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Dezso was getting knackered, but the rest of us still wanted to see it, so we had Deana ride up to the top of the hill (nothing but sand on that hill) and report back using our headsets. She said it looked fine. Once the ATVs made it up, Dezso took his turn, staying on the right track.
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The sand looked deeper on that side and he kicked up quite the screen of sand as the bike dug in. Just at the top he went over. As he and Alex pushed his bike upright, I took the left track where it looked a little easier and my gamble paid off.
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But as we looked over the hill at the rest of the track we saw nothing but sand. It was late. We were hot and tired and decided to turn back. We’ll save Tusher Tunnel for our next trip out. There are lots of trails and side trails to explore in this area and since we all had a great time, we’re already planning a trip in the Fall once things cool down again.

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A different approach to off-road in Moab Pt. 1

Onion Creek Road on smaller bikes.

It’s already March and both Dezso and I have been champing at the bit to get out on some rides. It has been a long winter with very little riding, not even when I could take the Ural out in the snow. Work and everything else seems to have blown up in my face and kept me out of my garage and neglecting my bikes.
So when Dezso proposed a trip to Moab to rent dirt bikes, I was all for it. I had taken a dirt bike class, using Honda 230s in a vain attempt to help me ride my GS through dirt, sand, and gravel. Sadly, only dirt had been present at my class, but I did get a better feel for riding a small bike off-road.
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We invited some friends, Dezso’s brother, Alex, and my wife, Deana, who were interested in renting ATVs, and struck out for the weekend, camping along Highway 128 and eating at Fiesta Mexicana like we usually do. In the morning, after a breakfast of habanero bacon, eggs, and coffee, we headed to High Point to rent a slew of machines.
The crew at High Point Hummer and ATV were friendly and charming, but as they went over the machines with us, noting every scratch, ding, and dent, we all became worried that we’d have to account for everything that touched the bikes and ATVs, including our butts. But that wasn’t the case, as they took our machines back with smiles. (Not that we tore the living shit out of those machines, but I’m sure it’s every rental agency’s worry that they won’t see their cash flow return, and it’s the customer’s worry that they’ll find something that only can be seen with the aid of a microscope)
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Photo Courtesy of Rachel

Since only one dirt bike (A new Honda 250) was street legal, we had to rent a trailer as well ( Which actually comes free with the rental as do coolers and a gas can). I rode the Honda 250 up to Onion Creek/ Fischer’s Tower and Dezso towed the rest with his truck. Dezso and I had ridden this road last year as part of the Utah Backcountry Discovery Route and I had wished I had been able to take photos, but also wished I could’ve shown the area to Deana. Now I finally got the chance.
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I had tried to sync our three helmets (Deana, Dezso and me), but couldn’t quite figure it out. Plus we were all ready to hit the trails, so talking to Deana trumps Dezso in this situation.
It wouldn’t have mattered; we unloaded the machines and Dezso immediately took off only to be spotted when he returned to see where we were.
Michael and Rachel brought up the rear as they had their two dogs with them, but the poor dogs lasted about 3 stream crossings before tiring out and they had to return to the car to let the dogs sleep it off. I stuck with Deana as she got the feel for her ATV and I got the feel for my Honda 230.
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This improved road follows Onion Creek and crosses it many times. For once I had on waterproof boots and had no qualms about splashing through each time. On such a small bike, I had no problem bouncing over hidden rocks in the stream bed, or going a little faster around turns, using the techniques I had learned in my class.

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The red canyon walls crept closer and taller as we wound our way through. There were other ATVs, dirk bikes, and cars on the road. Vehicles had parked all along and off the roadway, enjoying an overcast and slightly chilly day. The road dipped and turned, giving Deana the opportunity to practice shifting as well as turning while using the thumb accelerator on her ATV.
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Gradually the road led up a few switchbacks and put us (sort of) on top of things. We had the option of continuing on, or returning to the truck and trying another off-road trail. It was a unanimous consensus and we turned around. There was more to see out there.
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On the way down, we met up with Michael and Rachel who had dumped the dogs in the car to rest and sped along to catch up with us. We told them our plan and they were fine with it. By now we rarely saw Dezso who zipped along like a Labrador Retriever chasing balls.
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We made it back to the trailer and opened our coolers for meats and cheeses and crackers before trailering over to the next area.