A week of hell.

Trip Start Jul 22, 2009
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of United States  , California
Friday, May 21, 2010

I was positive I was going to die!

Training over, students/customers had the option of signing up for the 2 day off-road experience to a desert camp or the inaugural run of the 5 day expedition to Death Valley. I signed up for the 5 days.

Monday morning 20, or so, beginner & intermediate students, instructors and support staff headed into the desert for Base Camp Alpha. It was time to get the motorcycles out of first gear.

This would be a light riding day as all the gear was packed on the support trucks. We hit the Interstate in the fog. Rode about 30 kms before turning off onto some other highway. A few more miles there before we pull off onto a gravel road. This gravel road follows the aqueduct that brings water to Los Angeles. The top of the aqueduct is about 12 feet wide, flat concrete. An option to ride on instead of the loose gravel.

I get up to 4th gear and about 45 mph. The majority of the group is long gone. Behind me is one lone beginner and a couple instructors. The sand and loose gravel make for some hairy riding. I keep on trying to remember all that was taught during the course. A few times I'm positive I'm going to crash. We make it to the town of Mojave. I haven't fallen. Yeah!

We ride on the highway for a while then turn off for some serious trail riding. Sand, loose gravel, rocks, hills and descents. We ride through it all. We make our way to the Burro Schmidt Tunnel, an exercise in perseverance, or maybe stupidity (the tunnel building, not the ride to it) (starting to sound like my life). Check out the link for the complete tunnel digging story. http://www.burroschmidttunnel.org/

Here we wait for the intermediate class to catch up. They had gone off on some more outrageous trails. The boss/owner, Jim, comes back with the engine skid plate barely holding on. Must have taken the top of a hill off.

We leave Burro Schmidt and continue down the trail. Up ahead is a dip in the trail and a sand wash. The guy in front of me falls. I try to go around but his legs are flailing around and my only option is to take the gully on the left, either that, or risk running over his legs. I "park" the motorcycle on the side of the gully in some bushes.

That episode over, we continue on our way and make it back to the highway. No actual falls. Yeah!

We ride on the highway to Red Wall Canyon where we meet the support truck for lunch. Then it's highway all the way to Base Camp Alpha. Here RawHyde has set up a shipping container and army tent as the destination for the 2 day Base Camp Alpha trip. The support trucks have arrived and the chefs have supper prepared. We set up our tents. After supper we get a first aid session from the EMT along for the ride. Should always be prepared before heading off on a Journey.

Tuesday morning and those on the 2 day session pack up and head back to RawHyde. Two of the intermediate riders aren't coming on the 5 day Expedition but stick around for the day of riding. Jim indicates that we'll take a break on this day due to the intensity of the past 3 days. We start off with a class on using a GPS and making "tracks". Then it's off for a ride to the Minetta Mines. It's mostly highway then we turn off on what might be described as a gravel road. Rocks, boulders, sand, craters and just about everything else that can make riding a 600 lb motorcycle a handful.

I make it to the Mine without dropping the bike...almost. We stop as Jim figures out the last bit to get to the cabin. He goes one way, turns around and goes another. I back up about 30 feet and go in that direction. Uphill and big rocks everywhere and the bike falls. I get a big bruise on the back of my right leg as it hits the rear foot peg. Nothing broken on the bike, but the mirrors are in odd positions.

On the way back to Base Camp we stop at Ballarat, a virtual ghost town, with the exception of one outpost. There we meet the 90 year old innkeeper. We get a few cold ones and listen to a few tall tales.

Back at base camp, supper and some Corona Bombs, also known as Sobee Bombs. And what may you ask is a Corona Bomb? I had experienced the Sobee Bombs a few weeks back in the desert while dirt biking. Seems like no one here this evening knew what a Corona Bomb was. First off, take an empty glass bottle, fill with gasoline, re-cap with a tiny hole in cap, put in the middle of a roaring fire, then see what happens when the gasoline starts boiling and vaporizing. Now you know why they're called bombs. The instigator of all this excitement was a volunteer fireman.

Wednesday morning and off towards Death Valley and the C.V. Expedition part of the experience. A short jaunt down the highway where we pull off and take this winding gravel trail down towards the valley floor. Riders one and two drop their motorcycles. I state I'm not planning on joining that fraternity. We stop at a historical site. On the valley floor are these rock circles about 2 feet high. They were made by the Chinese laborers who built the original road as shelter from the desert winds.

After a brief stop back in Ballarat, we follow the curvature at the base of the mountain on a mostly sand road towards the entrance to Golar Wash, the trailhead towards Mengel Pass, our route through the mountains to Death Valley.

Riding at between 50 & 80 km/hr I'm quite sure I'm going to lose control of my bike and crash in the deep sand. The rider I'm following is another newby and the rear tire of his motorcycle ends up at angles that I'm sure should cause him to crash. He doesn't. Neither do I.

We turn into this narrow mountain pass and start ascending. We've reached  the Golar Wash and stop. Our first major obstacle. A 50 foot, or so, ascent with the final 10 feet over large boulders. A few of the experienced riders make a go for it. Some make it all the way. Others get stuck on the final, wet, boulder. They get pulled up with the help of the others. One of the instructors goes for it and the result was close to catastrophic. He ends up hitting the rock wall and falling towards the downside of the ascent. He's OK as is his motorcycle.

All the motorcycles and the support truck (with a lot of work) through, we continue on. We stop for lunch at an abandoned mine. There we meet 2 riders coming from the opposite direction on dirt bikes. They're surprised to see the bikes we're on.

More sand and gravel as we continue on. We arrive at a rock garden. One after another the bikers, beginners, intermediate and experts, fall. It's now my turn. I had scoped out most of the path to take when I was waiting for one of the fallen to move on. I get past the point I had scoped out when I finally succumb to the innumerable rocks. Falling to one side one of my panniers gets ripped off. The instructors come over and ask if I'm OK, using the lines from the first aid training to see if I have a concussion. In a delirious tone I fake an injury and ask where I am and what am I doing. Jim is taking photos and I fake being passed out. Then one of the instructors indicates that I was the one to make it the furthest. Yes, I might have crashed, but I did it with style and got the furthest.

We arrive at Mengel Pass and it's all downhill from here. Before we stop for the night we have one steep descent through a rock garden. With a little help from the others we all make it down safely. I stall the engine and coast down the last bit. Getting the truck through was a little more difficult.

We set up camp and rest our weary bones from the tough journey.

Thursday. Up with the sun. Pack up camp and another day of loose rocks and sandy roads. Make a stop at an abandoned mine and desert spring. The flowers, trees, and refreshing stream make for a stark contrast of the past 2 days. Unfortunately the swimming pool was empty.

On we go. We stop as we crest a hill overlooking Death Valley. Yeah, we made it...almost. One of the riders has a flat tire. He hit a rock a little too hard and bent the front rim. It's over 90 degrees F. Two of the instructors stay to help fix the flat as the others continue on to Bad Water to try and find some shade. It's all highway from here.

I'm at the back of the pack and the others are all long gone. I started keeping up until I realized that we only had 20lbs of pressure in knobby tires. With the heat and normal pressure being over 30, I wasn't about to take any chances. Plus I was tired. I catch up to the others at Bad Water, the lowest point in the USA. There's no shade there so we continue on to Death Valley and the Furnace Creek Resort where we are staying the night.

We hit the bar for some refreshments once all the riders arrive and then jump into the pool to cool off while we wait to check into our rooms. More rounds of drinks and supper in the evening.

Friday. Back to RawHyde. All highway...almost. On the west side of Death Valley is an overlook about 10 miles from the highway  from which you can see the whole valley. The guys are all motoring. I'm keeping up but am missing out on seeing the beautiful scenery around us as we twist and turn on the mountain road. We stop as we turn off to the overlook. I tell Jim that I'm going to continue on alone on the highway and enjoy the scenery. He tells me to meet them in Trona at the gas station we had filled up when we were at Base Camp Alpha.

Off I go. Taking it easy and enjoying the scenery. I stop numerous times to take some photos. I realize what I'm missing by traveling in a group. Some of us are in a hurry to get somewhere, while others prefer the journey. A little of both is probably the best option.

I arrive at the gas station in Trona and wait. An hour passes before the others arrive. We decide to eat lunch there. Pizza and burgers are served. In the interim the wind has picked up to gale force strength. We get back on our bikes and are getting pushed around like rag dolls. I slow down and the others pull away. I'm left alone riding with the instructor pulling up the rear.

I'm exhausted from fighting the wind trying to keep the bike on the road. We stop about 20 miles from the town of Mojave. I adjust the shocks on the motorcycle. The other problem is the visor on my helmet. The helmet is designed more for off-road use and not high speeds. The wind is blowing my head all over the place. Off towards Mojave. The bike is slightly more stable, but my neck seems like it's off a bobble head doll. We cross over an overpass as we arrive in Mojave and then I'm positive....

I"M GOING TO DIE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

The wind is coming from every direction and the motorcycle is getting pushed around like it's on ice. All I can do is hold on and breath. (Note to Mom. Yes, I had been speaking with my angels all week to get me through all this)

Finally in Mojave we meet up with the rest of the group. I remove the visor.

More highway with a lot of wind and then we hit the Interstate. I've never ever been so happy to be on the Interstate and it's 70mph speed limit. Heading south, the winds were no longer a factor. We arrive back at RawHyde.

The tail end. I survived. I've improved 100% in my off-road riding capabilities and my on-road abilities have increased at least 25%. I accomplished stuff I never realized I could do. In 1 week I went from scared shitless of riding on sand and gravel to having ridden on stuff these bikes were designed to be ridden on but very few people ever do.

The lesson learned. We can all accomplish anything we want to. I wasn't afraid of damaging my motorcycle. It came back with a few scratches and dents but overall very minor. My motorcycle is an older model that weighs about 60 lbs more then the ones everyone else was riding plus the fuel tank is higher and has a larger capacity. As one of the instructors who owns one stated, "It's a PIG!" Well, I passed the test and kept up with the others on this "PIG". If I could do what I did with the motorcycle that I own, imagine if I had a newer model?

Thanks to all the guys on the Expedition for an amazing week. Add one more to my list of accomplishments on my to-do list.

Think It! Feel It! Live It!

RawHyde Rocks!!!!!!

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