Text below, but read this PDF for the original with all the photos properly embedded.
2014 Los Angeles – Barstow – Vegas Dualsport Rally
“I feel like I just spent two days in an industrial washing machine full of rocks and sand!”
At some point this year, several particularly sadistic riding friends recommended the annual Los Angeles to Barstow to Las Vegas (LABV or LAB2V) Rally hosted by AMA District 37 on Thanksgiving weekend. Upon first glance, it seemed completely over the top to take an R1200GS there—especially with limited off-road experience. Perfect! Right? This is where adventure is born! Nevermind that I’m new to big bikes off-road or that I had very limited serious sand experience other than a few patches here and there up in Washington State. I’d seen Dust to Glory, right? Hell, I’m in good shape and I’m a pretty determined guy. I can do this! And yes, there was beer involved in these conversations. A lot of beer. Again, this is where the best plans come from…right?
Back when I taught courses for the Motorcycle Safety Foundation, I always stressed that the secret to good riding and good times is to know the capabilities and limitations of the rider, the bike, and the environment. Of course, I didn’t tell my students that the true secret of fun is to push a bit (ok, a lot) in each category! The challenge in this case was that I know myself and my bike, but didn’t know the terrain or expected difficulty. As always, when you hear, “Oh, it’s too hard!” on an internet forum, that’s an individual opinion and it’s generally impossible to gauge how seriously to take it. Difficulty is a relative measurement. I don’t need easy. I just need possible. As with many plans confronted with deluge of data (n ot information), I eventually decided that I’d just have to see for myself. After all, that’s the point of adventure, right? Overplanning sucks.
PREPARATION AND TRAVEL
A million details and major items fit here. I lost a couple of riding partners before the event due to unfortunate timing and circumstances, and the pool of willing participants is limited by the holiday and the distance (Thanksgiving and nearly 1200 miles from Seattle), to say nothing of the course itself. Meanwhile, I ramped up my social media prep and found some fellow lunatics from the GS Giants crew. For my 2005 BMW R1200GS, I changed the oil and air filter, and replaced the battery because I thought it was having problems. That’s about it. Thumbs up for Motobatt, as it performed brilliantly under extremely high demand on Day 1. More on that in the next section. I had already mounted front and back Mitas E-09 tires which were close to new, so I rolled with those. Otherwise, the bike was already well outfitted with the equipment described in the table at the bottom of this report.
Skip to Day 0 for the meet-up and the riding.
My last riding partner pulled out literally the morning before we left. Unbelievable. Within about 30 minutes, I transformed the event into a family vacation, with my wife, SunJa, and three kids (ages 11/9/7) piling into my little Nissan Frontier crew cab. Planning took all of two hours because that’s what I had to work with before heading to the office. The truck is a tight fit; a bit less than ideal for 23ish hours of driving/travel each way. Close-knit takes on a new definition in those quarters!
Departing at noon on the first day due to kids and dogs and kennels and a hundred other small complications I hadn’t considered when it was just a guys’ weekend, we drove until nearly 0200 for our first night. In the interests of time, we droned straight down I-5—which I absolutely detest. Running on proverbial fumes, we finally stopped outside Sacramento and stayed with a buddy who had just retired from the Army. Seven hours later, we started the second leg to Irvine to spend the night with another friend and Giant, Eric Hall, and pick up my gear from Motoport. The new armor had taken a bit longer than expected because I’d sent in my old stuff for upgrade, only to discover they couldn’t worked with it because it was 12 years old. To ensure I’d have it for the rally, I shipped my pants and stuff just up the road to Irvine rather than gamble on receiving it on time up north. Anyway, in terms of the drive down, the big mistake here was transiting across to the south side of Los Angeles on the day before Thanksgiving at around 1700. Traffic. Was. A. Nightmare.
As payoff though, I got to meet Eric Hall—a rider after my own heart! Marshall, an old Army buddy and fierce gentleman, lives nearby, so the three of us spent an excellent evening over cigars and beers, enjoying conversation and some excellent elk sausage from Marshall’s brother Pierce. For the record, 10 Barrel Brewing Company’s S1nistor Black Ale pairs quite well with a Nat Cicco Cuban Legends cigar and good company.
As far as preparation and research via the District 37 or LABV website, I couldn’t get my forum account activated in time. This complicated coordination a bit because I didn’t have access to a dedicated pool of like-minded fools. Again, not many people are crazy enough to journey to this event from 1200 miles away on Thanksgiving weekend! You have to be a special kind of crazy. D37 did finally get my account approved…the night before we departed. No hard feelings here, as most are volunteers and do what they can. Everyone I met from LABV and District 37 was great, and I truly enjoyed talking with them. Heck, Kieth Huff offered me a 50% active military discount! Nice! Then there’s the guys who recovered me from the desert and a gentleman named Rod who loaded my bike in his trailer and had me ride sweep with him to Vegas…but I’m getting ahead of myself.
Speaking of travel and lodging, my recommendation for before the rally is for the Holiday Inn in Palmdale. Plenty of room to wrench, braaaap, BS, and a good buffet while being away from population that could make trouble for bikes outside. Plus no one hassled us for drinking beer in the parking lot while bench racing. Next up, choose the Ramada in Barstow because it’s LABV HQ for the Day 2 launch and has a good party at the end of Day 1 (from what I hear, dammit). It’s right across from the secure Cub Scout bike storage area too. At Vegas, no question, you want the Orleans since it’s the stop point. Note, the walk to the Orleans hotel from the secured parking area is LONG. A lot of the hotels actually fill up, so keep that in mind if you still haven’t made reservations 30 days out.
Day 0 – Thanksgiving
Unless you’re local, you don’t want to travel and arrive for this event the morning of. There’ll be enough fatigue and stress, start time is 0600, and you want to be in the parking lot at 0500 to beat the lines. We got to Palmdale in the early afternoon, downloaded the bike with the help of folks in the parking lot, and got to know each other in person since James Valentine, Yut Ughh, and Landon Norman were basically Facebook personas to me (and I to them). We did the last-second coordination and agreed on hit-time for the next morning (which was ridiculously early—damn James and I with our military issue requirement to be early!). Then we drank beer and beat up the buffet at the Holiday Inn, which was a bit pricy but not half bad.
James had already coordinated with Jeff Kurtz to do a publicity “live-blog” on Where Does That Road Go? for the GS Giants group, which I’ll admit, turned out pretty darned good. There’s room for improvement too, just in terms of venue (Facebook is a very short-lived medium), but there are trade-offs in terms of simple and instant update notifications for internet spectators. Further research is definitely required for LABV 2015, because we had challenges with multiple threads getting comments, pictures getting posted in a dozen different places (riders, groups, private messages, smugmug), and simple control of an overwhelming amount of information. The importance in doing this right is the potential for sponsors and greater support and involvement from the community. I’m not just talking about Facebook followers, but possibly mechanical pit support, equipment lending, comms and navigation assistance, and central coordination–heavy duty help. From my standpoint, this resembles a company command post (CP; sorry, I go with what I know), which incorporates focus on operations, lateral coordination with outside elements, maintenance, supply, communications, movement, intel, etc. LABV is a fairly expensive undertaking, and the impact on both bike and wallet is significant—especially for big bikes. Help is welcome, and we want to continue to put the GS Giants and BMW Motorrad on the map!
Day 1 – Friday
James set the time and three of us showed up at Palmdale Supercycles (1/4 mile from Holiday Inn; closer to Motel 6) at 0330. Yes, James and I fell victim to years of military conditioning, demanding that we show up early for first formation. Neither of us can turn it off. We’re hard-wired that way now. Yut was the only smart one, sleeping in and arriving at around 0500, which was plenty early. We got through tech inspection (park the bikes immediately to the right just as you enter the parking lot) with hardly a glance when we said we were on the GS’s. Next, we queued up second in line to receive our rider packets and GPS tracks. We may have lost 1.5hrs sleep, but it was good to BS and get the last-last-second coordination done. On recommendation from James and Landon, I loaded the Real Time GPS Tracker in my phone and we exchanged usernames. This app is awesome for the Android, as it gives real-time position, speed, and status on your fellow riders…so long as the phone has data connectivity. It also makes for great spectator feed, since people could see the screen-shots that Jeff Kurtz posted. (Note, there are privacy concerns, and the status also posts your speed, which could be of greater concern. Manage it accordingly).
With our roll charts laboriously loaded (scare tactics to sell $35 roll chart holders were overblown—we had no problem fitting the tapes in ours), we fought the GPS (Nav V for James and Montana for me) to get the tracks to display properly. That was a bit irritating, as the tracks broke down into about 10 individual bits that weren’t necessarily well-named, and the bug-outs were tough to see. By this time, the sun was coming up in a clear sky, and we ditched our excess gear at the trailer. We hit the road at a fever pitch, and…promptly got separated. I didn’t see anyone from the team until the next day! No worries here, as I knew I couldn’t keep up with Landon or James, and Yut is from another damned planet (and on a KTM 500EXC). I generally prefer to ride solo anyway, as I don’t have to speed up or slow down for anyone but me, and there are plenty of people on the course early on, should you break down or have a total yardsale. Yes, I’m foreshadowing here.
For the ride itself, words cannot adequately describe the terrain for someone who hasn’t been there. Some of the horror stories are overblown, and some are true. It’s hard—sometimes almost insanely so–but the true challenge is the marathon aspect of the ride. Terrain that was simple at the outset is increasingly difficult eight plus hours later. The variety spans the spectrum from deep/soft sand on giant whoops, packed dirt, dirt/large rocks, loose large rocks, and rock/sand crap in Last Chance Canyon that is probably at the outer limits of the R1200GS’s capability. The first part (sections 1-5) consisted of a quick tarmac run to get out of Palmdale, and then turned into shallow to moderate sand and packed dirt roads that could be taken at very high speed on the big GS. Goooood times! I found my biggest challenge in identifying the whoops early in the morning shadows and seeing the roads which cross the path laterally and have little sand berms on either side. In a moment of distraction, I hit one at very high speed and had just enough time to scream in my helmet before launching the GS over an entire road, bottoming out on the far side, and continuing on my way. Cool! But not! Touratech Explorer rear shock and Twin Headlight Ernie bash plate did their job! I continued to refine my sand riding technique, confirming that the secret is neutral body position while keeping that front tire light with the throttle and allowing the bike to dance underneath me. Once you learn to relax and let the bike work, the ride gets a lot less nerve-wracking and the fatigue from your death grip on the bars is greatly reduced! Speed is the key.
Decent at 25mph. Exhilarating at 70mph. Giant pain in the ass at 5mph. And this isn’t even deep.
Pulling into the gas station at the end of section 5, I noticed some stalling issues. At first, the bike wouldn’t idle, and would instead die each time my hand came off the throttle. I had not initially noticed because I was hauling ass and the throttle never really closed. I called Eric Hall to get a question posted in the GS Giants forum for crowd-sourced diagnosis, then fiddled with a possibly bound up throttle cable. The bike settled down and started running well again, so ever the optimist, I headed off for the hard route of section 6 into Last Chance Canyon.
Last Chance Canyon started off with deep sand and quickly turned into technical stuff, shooting between, around, and over rocks the size of small (and sometimes large!) dogs. This tested the bash plate and my balance pretty extensively, and I frequently found myself trying to pick better routes, only to get stuck and backtrack. The 2005 GS clutch is dry, and the brakes are semi-linked, so a burn-out turn in tight quarters is challenging. Not surprisingly, I spent more than my allotted share of time picking the bike up, and played leapfrog with some 4×4 guys who gazed upon me multiple times in (incredulous) wonder. Really.
Still, despite the sweat and quickly mounting fatigue, I felt good to continue on. I passed a British guy walking his BSA back down after losing his clutch and thought to myself how much that sucked. Unfortunately, I soon reached a similar fate as I found the riding challenge greatly compounded with the return of the stalling—this time accompanied by surging. That’s right, the initially intermittent fault hadn’t been resolved, and it was making an already difficult ride damned near impossible by compromising my control and balance. At first I thought it was just the fatigue or my imagination, but about a mile into the canyon, I reached my limit after dropping the bike several times in the rough rocks and deep sand after stalls or surges. As I mentioned, when riding in deep sand, the biggest advantage on a heavy bike is to keep the front tire light and attempt to control the line. It’s hard to do that when the bike stalls, so the front tire sinks and you quickly end up destabilized and on the ground.
This is the good part. The easy part. Later, the trail was actually the rocks on the right.
Admitting a temporary setback, I headed back down the canyon, reasoning that I could at least ride the easy course as the bike was running fairly well under acceleration and constant throttle. This was a mistake…and yet not. Had I thrown in the towel, I’d have missed the rest of the course. As the throttle/ignition trouble worsened, I found myself in a place where the best option was to simply ride through and finish, since going back would have been just as long and difficult. I’m always a route optimist too, and figured that it wouldn’t be worse up ahead. I may have been mistaken, because the loose sand whoops exacted a serious toll, and as I got more and more fatigued from stalls and falls, I became more and more likely to do it all again. It’s a rather nasty feedback loop. I picked that bike up more times in that 8 hour period than I have picked up a bike in my entire life. No exaggeration. Five days later, my hands still feel arthritic.
Along the way, I enjoyed some absolutely amazing scenery. I hit some portions of the “easy” route which I’d classify as somewhat advanced. Highlights included loose, rocky hill climbs and washes where if you don’t hit them just right and power out, you end up stuck at the bottom in the sand and will definitely need an assist to get a big bike out. Sunset on the open valley floors paints everything in vivid colors, as if life is over-saturated. It is breath-taking…if you’re not already out of breath from wrestling the bike through the sand. Of course, the beauty of sunset comes at a price, because I was soon riding in the dark. At this point, the Cyclops LED driving lights and H7 headlight replacement paid for themselves. They were absolutely AWESOME! Big props to Daryl Van Nieuwenhuise at Cyclops for a great product that throws a ton of light and survived multiple crashes. In some instances, it was actually easier to identify the whoops because of the shadowing, but the ride demands total concentration because the sight distance is reduced and shadows could be rocks or merely little piles of sand. Think the course is hard to ride in the day? Think again, because it’s something completely new in the dark!
Funny note: at some point after gassing up at the end of section 5, I discovered that in an emergency phone replacement several days prior, I’d managed to back up all of my files…except for my music. On the sections where I wanted music, I ended up with five tracks and a handful of podcasts from Neil Degrasse Tyson on a science-oriented show called “Star Talk.” Nothing like bombing along at speed while listening to an interview with Joe Rogan! However, Avicii’s Addicted to You happened to be on there, and it was fantastically appropriate! Absolutely perfect for the moment!
I’m addicted to you,
Hooked on your love,
Like a powerful drug
I can’t get enough of,
Lost in your eyes,
Drowning in blue
Out of control,
What can I do?
I’m addicted to you.
Grabbing lunch and gas at Ridgecrest, I appeared to be running on time. Jeff Kurtz offered encouragement, though the bike was still acting up more frequently rather than intermittently. I thoroughly enjoyed the course where I could run hard or at least run constantly, and also happily chatted to a guy riding the course 2-up with his wife on a 2014 BMW R1200GSW. Turns out, that was Roger and Carla Norman—parents to my riding buddy, Landon!
The bike continued to deteriorate, stalling any time I let the revs get under 2500. Acceleration remained strong, but constant throttle resulted in surging, with gear shifts an easy way to stall. I found myself horizontal in rather spectacular fashion just below the crest of a steep, rocky hill at some point as the bike had surged and run me into a boulder, which absolutely launched both of us. My new QuadArmor from Motoport paid off, preventing what no doubt would have been a radius and ulna fracture when I landed directly on my forearm on the edge of a rock at speed. A week later, the bruise has nearly faded. Twenty minutes of sweating and cursing later, I’d dragged the bike around and pointed it downhill and narrowly avoided cartwheeling it back down.
At the bottom, I met a guy on an XR650L at the bottom who’d watched the whole debacle unfold, but was simply too tired to come help—I assume. His bike wouldn’t start…until I remarked that his fuel petcock seemed to be pointed in the wrong direction. Sure enough, two kicks later, off he rode. And there I stood, gathering my wits to bypass this ridiculous hill via cross-country movement and continue the run. On the easy course.
Difficulty aside, I semi-successfully rode the rest of the easy routes until, about 18 miles from the finish, I ran out of gas. What kind of stupid noob runs out of gas on the rally on a big bike!? The type who suddenly gets only 88 miles out of 4 gallons instead of at least 120! Wow! The fuel gauge had been giving warnings with wildly different countdown mileages, and I discounted them because the bike had been horizontal so many times that I figured the sensor strip was screwed up. I mean, going from 40mpg to 22 is a bit extreme, right? Yeah, stupid me.
California makes me stupid.
By the time I found myself running out of gas, I could find no obvious bug-outs to take. Remember the earlier GPS track difficulties? I pressed on, reasoning that anywhere closer to rescue was an improvement over where I was at. Thankfully, I’d been moving so slowly and with so many crashes in the deep-sand whoops that the sweep team caught up few minutes after I rolled to a stop and then called it in at around 2030. At that point, 4×4 sweep was an hour away, so they headed on to continue sweeping the course. No big deal, as I’m quite confident alone in the desert, and it was a clear night. Did I mention that this is the desert? And I was soaked with sweat? Yeah, it was soon a brisk 40F. Nice for an hour. OK for two hours. Meh at three. Dammit! at four! Still, I’m no stranger to hypothermia. I’ve had far worse.
As we say in my business, “If you’re gonna be stupid, you’d better be hard.”
Intermittently, the phone would beep to life, having found enough signal to receive and send text messages to the GS Giants support crew, who were absolutely great “virtual” company and hilarious at the same time. Concern for my safety was expressed, so I had to tell them not to come out for me, as I was perfectly safe for the long haul right where I was at. Much crap-talking ensued and many beers were proffered, if I could just figure out how to get to Barstow! Thanks for that Yut…jerk. You guys make me all warm inside. That could be the fires of rage though…
I considered lighting a signal fire like the unfortunate guy from On Any Sunday who ended up burning his bike. Lucky for the GS, she was out of gas, because I could hear Steve McQueen’s deadpan voice in my head describing the event! “That’s a $10,000 signal fire.” 4×4 sweep eventually arrived at around 0100 and heckled me a bit (deservedly so). Damn, I hate being “that guy.” Turns out, the driver was Jim (Hayes?), who started the LABV rally back in 1984! Rescued by a celebrity! My heroes! We dropped about 4gal in the tank, and they followed me out as I limped along in first gear. I was stiff and cold at first, so I executed a couple of warm-up falls and was soon on my way in warmer, more controlled fashion. Or the road got better. Maybe both. I fought through a couple of tough climbs into and out of a wash and was soon fighting the urge to fall asleep on the final leg of the ride. Amazing how the body can do that. I rolled in to Barstow at 0145, long after the more intelligent and less hard-headed crowd had gone to bed. I’d departed Palmdale around 0630 and arrived at Barstow nearly 20 hours later.
The town was just dead, so I was overjoyed to see live Cub Scouts who stored my bike and very kindly gave me Gatorade, orange juice, and a banana. Best $10 I’ve spent in recent memory! See, along the way, I’d screwed up my water and calorie management. I started off well-hydrated, but with the hose to my bladder in my tailbag, my drink breaks generally coincided with crashes. Duh. Same for power bars. If it’s tough to get to and you’re motivated to keep going, you’re not going to use it. I started off the day with a coffee cake at 0430. The next thing I ate was at 1330. Duh. Fatigue? Yup. Glad I only ate half a 6-inch sub at lunch, since I ended up eating the rest while sitting in the desert. I also screwed up in not topping off my water bladder at lunch. Too focused on the bike’s problems and my time, I pounded a bunch of fluids, but took off with probably around 2.5 liters. For a guy who sweats like me when working hard (and I was about to work my ass off), that’s just enough—no extra. Busted one water bottle in a crash, worked the cap off another inside my tailbag (WTF, how does that happen?), and finished the last pint in my bladder at the final waiting site when the bike quit. I wasn’t in trouble, but it would have been a miserable walk out without water. Again, duh. This is something I do professionally and I have a lot of experience with it. I know better. Adult supervision is apparently required when childlike enthusiasm is the order of the day!
My gear in the LABV truck had been secured for the night, so I trudged to my hotel across from the bike paddock with the gear I’d carried. Once checked in, I fought sleep through a quick shower, let the internet team know that I’d survived, and settled in for a couple hours of sleep. Lior the mechanic had long since gone to sleep (and who can blame him!), so I left him a message that I’d need help in the morning. Lights out.
Day 2 – Saturday
After lounging about from 0300 to 0530 (sometimes it’s the small luxuries that make life worth living), I headed back to the action, praying for a miracle. At that point, I’d have been fine with finding out I’m a dumbass and the fix was a simple switch or connection that had simply come loose. If that was the price of another day of riding, I’d gladly pay and suffer the humiliation later! Unfortunately, this was not to be. As a rundown of symptoms, the bike was stalling under 2500 rpm, surging and fading when holding the throttle constant, but accelerating fine. The 4×4 sweep guys could smell the gas while following me, and I found a coat of black soot on everything aft of the exhaust. Dan Stys, a fellow Giant, arrived and we chatted while Lior of Lior’s MotoRide pulled the coils and found multiple weak sparks—not a good sign, since I highly doubt there’d be multiple failures in one day of riding. Not surprisingly, the plugs were fouled. The GS911 returned no codes, which complicated diagnosis, while the display panel showed a fast alternating blink of the “Brake Failure” and red triangle lights. After an hour, I had to concede defeat. Lior had done what he could in a parking lot with limited spares and facilities. Reliable repair was not possible in the allotted time. Nuts. Time for Plan B. (Edited to add: final diagnosis is a failed Throttle Position Sensor (potentiometer). I have a cover plate, but I think I hit the whole thing with my knee or foot in a get-off and damaged the sensor, ironically through the extra torque created by the cover plate.)
Doing what I do best, I began schmoozing the crowd, looking for a ride to Las Vegas. I certainly didn’t want to add insult to mechanical and physiological injury by calling my wife to come rescue me from my own stupidity and stubbornness! (Not that it would have been the first time…) Thankfully, within 15 minutes, I’d met with an older gentleman named Rod who was driving one of the sweep vehicles and pulling a recovery trailer. We’d actually gabbed a bit on Friday morning when he was taking the bags for the chase trailer. I bartered a ride for the bike and myself in return for my assistance with navigation and mechanical or medical recovery if needed. As a bonus, we got to BS for hours about dual sport history, motorcycles, and every riding topic under the son. Never underestimate what you can learn from an old-timer! I had a great time!
Speaking of silver linings, I was able to post live-blog updates to the GS Giants out there following Yut, James, and Landon via social media. Check their write-ups of the first half of the route prior to Baker, but I understand the sand was a particularly evil endurance trial for guys running heavy. Animal that he is, Yut was long gone by the time I arrived in Baker. Instead, I tracked James via phone and SPOT as he moved towards Baker and I stayed in contact with Roger (Landon’s father) to see when they connected at the Rasor Road Shell station west of town. James arrived with his windshield strapped to the back of the bike—casualty of a nasty get-off. He was otherwise in good spirits, though tired, and headed out after a sandwich and drink. Landon didn’t arrive until a couple hours later. Apparently the sand which had slowed him had also claimed some other victims, whose bikes I helped to load into trucks.
With the finish line in Vegas to prepare, Rod and I headed out of Baker for the Orleans Hotel. I alternated unloading baggage and gear with posting updates and checking the status and location of our riders. The continuous comments on the GSG Facebook thread served up plenty of amusement as guys watched and commented upon progress. I honestly couldn’t believe how many folks were out there following us and wishing us well! Loss of cell signal was an occasion of particular sensation as speculation ran wild on the status of the riders and where they’d gotten to. One of the more entertaining moments arrived when it became apparent that James had likely crashed and lost his phone. The phone remained stationary while the SPOT tracker eventually continued to move. (Note, Eric Hall returned a week later and retrieved the phone at coordinates 35.5842, -116.1230! No way!)
At this point, able to step back from the immediate demands of riding, I truly saw how we needed a better method of centralizing live-blogging, commentary, photo hosting, and tracking feeds. We need a means of combining both Facebook’s ubiquitous ease of delivery and notification with some sort of online forum for longevity and ease of display for those who’d perhaps missed a few hours or wanted to read the entire thread another day. The hunt continues for a better online venue to combine all of that with planning for 2015!
The wife and kids arrived in short order, bringing the gift of beer! We tracked the progress of our crew as each approached the city, standing by for each to arrive and get a photo with the GS Giants flag, as well as the show-girls—tradition!. I hung out with John Colyer, a GS Giant passing through on his way from Calgary enroute to Tierra del Fuego, Argentina. Very cool, and I envy him the amazing trip!
There’s not much to say about the rest of the day here. We got some great pics of our friends, gabbed with riders, helped get people lined up for photos, and snapped our own photo with the showgirls before loading the bike in the truck for the night.
The banquet sort of dragged, simply because I was nearly asleep on my feet. But I didn’t sleep through hearing my raffle ticket called to win a Scott’s steering stabilizer! Wow! Guess I should find a bike to put that sucker on!
EPILOGUE – The Journey Home
After a farewell breakfast at the buffet with Landon, James, Yut, Roger, and Carla, we completely forgot to snap pictures of the team, and headed our separate ways.
Two observations bear mentioning here. First, if you’re driving back to Palmdale…don’t. At least not on Sunday and certainly not via I-15. The Google map traffic overlay showed it as a parking lot for many miles with the trip taking several hours longer than normal, while US-95 headed north was deserted. Second, I absolutely could not stay awake. Despite a decent night of sleep (after nine hours in the past three days), and more than a passing familiarity with my own ability to operate under extreme fatigue, I just couldn’t keep my eyes open for more than an hour at a time. Thankfully, my wife had managed to catch up on her rest without me, and she drove the entirety of the first day to Klamath Falls, OR. First, she indulged me in my lunacy when it was a guys’ weekend. Next, she picked up the family at the last second for this trip with hardly a plan beyond, “Let’s get to LA! Leeeroooooooy! Jenkins.” Once in LA, she drove on her own to Vegas without me, while entertaining the kids. Finally, she drove 700 miles the first day on the way home, stopping only because we ran into thick snow falling just south of Klamath Falls! Yeah, I love this woman!
GEAR AND EQUIPMENT REVIEW
Bilt Explorer helmet (high vis) – a tad heavy and fogs quickly with my windshield setup. A $25 stick-in insert works great since there’s no pin-lock. I’m happy with this, though I’d like an adjustable bill, and the bill tends to rattle at speed (I can probably adjust). It came in at $200 (Cycle Gear discounted it to $100 two weeks after I bought), and I wasn’t willing to spend big money on Arai or Shoei, but wanted a dual-sport helmet rather than my motocross helmet. Others I considered were the Icon Variant, Strength and Speed S2500, Fly Trekker, AGV F41, and a couple others, but ultimately, I couldn’t find any to try on, even at the international motorcycle show. Advantage to Cycle Gear is that they have a great return policy. Actually, they only had black, so the guy had me take a black one and ordered an “exchange” high-vis since a special order has a fee. Nice!
Scala Rider G9X Bluetooth headset – I love how this can work, but it consistently pisses me off by not connecting the way I want it to, or by not reconnecting after we get temporarily out of range, or by having a hard time with other models. Operator error, no doubt, but trying to get more than one other person connected always leaves me baffled. Still, music from the phone and voice prompts from the phone are awesome. It’s funny when I forget to turn off my phone and get a call in some remote place because I suddenly get some signal. When I told the Cardo/Scala rep at the IMS that I was having charging problems, he told me to send it in for replacement. Great customer service!
Motoport Ultra II cordura jacket (quad armor) with goretex liner (removeable) – one of the spendier manufacturers, though I bought my setup in 2002 and it’s still going. I sent in the armor for refurb and paid rather handsomely for the new quad armor. Shipping was delayed to the very last minute, which had me packing old gear just in case, but it arrived in time. I took a fall at one point that absolutely would have resulted in a bilateral radius/ulna fracture when I landed on a rock. Ended up with a bruise. Excellent. Only wish they’d come in a color other than black back in 2002. I’ve got the Aerotex waterproof liner and quilted liner.
Motoport Ultra II stretch Kevlar pants (quad armor) – same comments as jacket. It’s reasonably waterproof, so I don’t use a purpose-built liner. I did have hip and sacrum armor added.
Gaerne Balance Oiled boots – not true motocross, but a compromise to comfort because I have this expectation that some day I may have to walk out. These are stiff enough to protect, flexible enough to walk out, waterproof, and pretty sturdy. Love these boots!
Olympia 340 armored gloves – standard leather street gauntlets. Thin and comfortable for better responsiveness. Reinforced wear points and knuckle armor, balanced with supple palms.
Moto-Skiveez – I bought these on a whim at the IMS in Seattle. $66 is a lot of money for a damned pair of drawers, and I’ve worn Underarmour happily for years now. I’ll say that I didn’t suffer any monkey butt, and they seemed to filter some of the Taco Tuesday madness while stuck in the truck, but I don’t generally sit down enough while riding the hard stuff to find these necessary. Now a multi-day trip would be something else. They do make a version for cruisers, sport bikes, and dual sport, so the other versions could be great. I just didn’t test them very well. They wash and dry quick and seem comfortable for walking around.
Freeze Out balaclava – I got this with my helmet at Cycle Gear. Worked great, though I quickly heated up to where I didn’t need it. Better to just wrap the neck.
Polysorb heavy duty insoles –The soles of the Gaerne Oiled Balance boots are a compromise in flexibility, so even with wide pegs, feet start to hurt after a lot of standing and pounding. These insoles help a lot. Certainly better than stock! I’ve used these for over a decade in combat boots, and I’m happy. Would be nice to have something even stiffer though.
Polartec base layer “Ninja suit” – military issued light/thin stretchy silk-weight base layer. Love this stuff for warmth and wicking.
Fox River socks – I live on my feet. Socks are something I know. Fox River works. For my sweaty feet, they’re better than Thorlo when it’s warm, and they pad better than regular issue socks (which I consider disposable for the price).
Thor Enemy goggles – worked just fine. Couldn’t find tear-offs. Didn’t need them anyway.
Garmin Montana 650t in powered AMPS mount
– once you get done fiddling and figuring out the horror that is Garmin Basecamp, this is a great unit. Note, talk to someone savvy on this, as the old MapSource (2012) is easier to use. My complaint is that there’s something possibly wrong with the AMPS mount where it intermittently cuts power, which then drives the GPS to go into shutdown mode. Despite changing the power settings to not conserve battery, you then have 30 seconds to punch it so it’ll stay on. When I’m concentrating on riding or can’t take a hand off the bars, it turns into a 2min boot-up sequence. My other gripe is that I should have gotten a model with Bluetooth, for interface with headset and for ease of upload/download using phone.
Twin Headlight Ernie bashplate – Ernie custom makes his plates, and had done one in the past for an R1200GS with the old SWM crash bars. His was the only choice, other than the anemic OEM plate. His is excellent, and he made it the same day I asked—on a Sunday afternoon—along with a centerstand plate. Note, the Blackdog Cycle Works plate is the standard by which all other plates should be judged, just from its heft and from its mounting system, but I don’t have that choice without replacing my crash bars.
Cyclops 10W LED driving lights and H7 headlight replacement – I got the 10/20 degree combo with the dimmable Skene controller. These lights survived impacts that shattered the signals above them. They throw amazing amounts of light and greatly improved my night riding. I have them mounted to a bar running level with the bottom of my oil cooler. The Skene controller is more important for on-road use as driving lights, because I run them wide-open slaved to the high-beam off-road. I use filters more as lens protection than for focus. Also, the Darryl the owner is a great dude and will definitely take the time to figure out what you need. Highly recommend him!
No-name LED parking lamp – works fine; should never have a burned out bulb indicator again
Moose roll chart with the big metal knobs – held the roll chart without a problem. Big knobs make it easier to roll by running your finger along them rather than pinching.
Rick Mayer vinyl solo seat (no pillion). – I don’t use a plate because my Jesse Bag brackets make it easy to secure stuff. Note, I did not bring the Jesse hard bags. No way.
Slime 12V compressor set – note to self, when paring down the parts to save room, leave the alligator clip adaptor in there. Other people who break down may not have a handy SAE plug. Otherwise, this thing has worked well.
Mitas E-09 front/rear tires – these are an awesome combo of longevity and traction. I’ve not yet compared them to the de facto standard Continental TKC-80, but I probably won’t because they’re so good. I’ll never touch Heidenau again after the atrocious performance of their K60 rear in sand and mud with that stupid solid center strip. I’ve bought happily from MotoRace via their eBay store and from Durelle Racing (who advertised a Dakar front at a great price and sent the regular—irritating mistake). I see that Twisted Throttle and Revzilla now carry them too in the US. In Canada, look at MX1Canada
Rokstraps – I resisted buying these for the longest time (seems like a groupie purchase at first), but they are simply awesome for securing stuff to the bike. I use the heavy ones to strap down my assault pack, and the smaller ones in conjunction with a small bungee cargo net to put stuff on top.
SW Mototech old-school lower crashbars – These have absorbed some serious damage and held up well. You won’t find these anymore, as they’ve been re-designed and taken the lower cross-bar (under the bash plate—weird, I know) off. I can’t vouch for the new ones other than their reputation.
Touratech Explore HP rear shock – this was a night and day improvement over stock, but I’m still out-riding it, even with pre-load set all the way up. I must need a class on this. I also need to upgrade the front, but the stock has been “good enough” up until now.
Motobatt battery (200CCA) – I like that this has four terminals on it. You can run your primary leads to two and all of your accessory stuff to the other two. You also can’t accidentally end up with a battery where the terminals are backwards. This thing is AGM, was charged out of the box, and performed brilliantly for well over 100 starts as my bike stalled over and over again. It never showed signs of faltering or failing. I’m a believer.
OEM R1200GS tank bag – I’d rather burn this than run it off-road again, and the retail for this POS is $330! No matter how tight I make it, the front hook comes unhooked from time to time, and it sloshes back and forth laterally. The zipper is a pain in the ass to re-zip from on the bike once you get done fueling, it’s too big, the map pouch yellowed quickly, it’s not especially waterproof, etc. Everything about it pisses me off. Fail, fail, and more fail if you’re working the bike as hard as I do. I expected better, BMW, but this is an example of paying for a name, not a quality product.
Risers of unknown origin that go 1” up and 1” back (link is approximate) – I’d prefer the Rox, but these work and I haven’t broken them in many falls and pickups. My pickup technique is almost 100% on the bars, so that’s a lot of torque and weight. Never seen these anywhere else.
Wunderlich flip-down Lexan headlight protector – works just fine. Just have to stop occasionally and wipe it off.
OEM tall windshield – It’s a taller version of stock. I like it, I still look over it, and the price was comparatively good.
Touratech sidestand foot – works fine…except I crushed mine while bottoming out and need to pound it flat with a hammer and re-install. Not the first time.
Oil cooler guard – never caught a rock in there.
Potentiometer guard – never smashed it
Jesse Bag brackets – I think mine are the old style and the are beefy. These things are rock solid and make for great grab-rails when having to man-handle the bike either on the ground or to lean and pull it out of a hole. They’re also good for securing my Rokstraps or tie-downs. Only drawback is no lower frame, so they can’t easily be adapted for soft baggage when the hard bags come off.
SPOT 2 satellite tracker – even though the SPOT page has improved, it still sucks for mobile use. WhereAmIRiding and SpotWalla do it better. Unit itself offers tracking at a several-minute interval ($150/yr package as opposed to the base $99/yr) as well as three buttons to which you assign pre-configured messages for a personally selected group of phone numbers or emails. The emergency button summons the authorities. Be sure to press it only once, as the second time will actually deactivate it.
SPOT 3 buttons are easier with gloves, and the battery life is allegedly better, but I already had this one, so no need to upgrade. Of note, when my SPOT 2 failed (not common), SPOT replaced it under warranty very quickly and easily.
Droid Razr Maxx HD using OSMAnd+ and the contour/topo plugin – Best $10 in Google apps you can spend! Completely data independent once you download the base maps by state (or country), I love that with data enabled, I can overlay imagery maps on top of the base and topo maps and use a slider to change the transparency. This really makes the map come alive and tell you what terrain you’re going to hit. I’m going to get a RAM x-mount and use this side-by-side with the GPS because I honestly like it better. Faster, more intuitive, easier to share, tracks show up easily, etc. I also use My Tracks+
app to record on the go, as I’ve had problems with OSM’s recording of GPX.
Tools – MotionPro Beadpro irons (T6 shorties) and a MP spoon with 24mm wrench end, MP axle tool. All are well worth the price, which is somewhat steep. All appropriate wrenches, sockets, and bits. Extra hose clamps, zip ties, safety wire, and lengths of duct tape and electrical tape wrapped around a screwdriver handle. 12V tester probe and cheap digital multimeter. Some extra metric stuff for people along the way, just in case (no 12mm on a BMW for some odd reason). Pay it forward, ya know? Spare fuses, valve cores, valve stems. Silicone self-sealing tape for temp fuel and other hose fixes. Folding 15in Sven saw because I’ve been stranded by fallen trees before.
Snacks – Assorted energy bars from Clif, Marathon, Builder, and other. Clif Shot Bloks (caffeine & electrolytes), Powerbar Gu gel packs) for that point at 1400 when I turn into an 8-year old girl (it’s a circadian thing).
Military issue MOLLE II assault pack (backpack) – used as my tailbag. I could get a purpose built tailbag mounted back there but I still plan for the worst of having to walk out. This is programming I just can’t turn off. Pack is 1000d cordura with enormous zippers and PALS webbing that I can strap different pouches on.
Improved First Aid Kit (IFAK) – contains the military-grade items I’m trained on, to include tourniquet, hemorrhage control bandages (combat gauze), Israeli pressure bandage, cravat, superglue, sutures and needles, nasal airway, flexible SAM splint, kerlix, assorted bandaids and steri-strips, tiny bottle of eye-wash, shears, and OTC meds (primarily naproxen and Tylenol).
Plug/patch kit with the trucker plugs. – Forget bulky Stop & Go with the gun. I’ve had those plugs rip and fail multiple times, but rarely have I had a problem with the standard string plugs. Rasp, punch, strings, and vulcanizer, with some patches thrown in for tubes just in case. Get the t-handled tools, because these tires are tough!
STI Exteme duty 19” 4-ply (3mm) tube (good for front and back) – still haven’t used this, but it’s seriously beefy. It’ll do the front and, in a pinch (pun, get it!?), stuff into the rear to limp home. Probably better to have this in the tire and a thinner one as a spare.
Real Time GPS Tracker – excellent for real-time tracking of multiple users on Android phones, so long as data connectivity remains. Privacy concerns. James’ lost phone was recovered by Eric Hall, who went to the last good coordinates and searched a bit. Cool!
Spares – If I was going to use something like spare ignition coils or other large-ticket items, I wouldn’t’ carry them. That kind of crap shouldn’t fail in a day. Put them in the baggage, because this isn’t a RTW trip.
Nikon Coolpix AW100 – this little P&S camera has no optical zoom to speak of, but the after-market batteries are cheap on eBay, they seem to last, and it’s water/dust/shockproof. The photos are fairly good too, though I wish I could do panoramas. It also allows me to geo-tag photos, which is cool for figuring out where I took them. If I replace it, I’ll get a version with wi-fi or Bluetooth for ease of upload and sharing. Ain’t nobody got time for pulling the memory chip out and plugging it in elsewhere or playing with cables. Speaking of which, other than the mini-HDMI, the output is NOT micro-USB like everything on earth except Garmin. It’s mini-B, which I guarantee you don’t have in the house. Also, it doesn’t have a built in lens cover like the Olympus Stylus that it replaced. For riding, that means I frequently have to blow dust off the lens.
Survival stove & stuff – Remember, I pack for the worst case? I was carrying an Esbit alcohol stove (with HEET methyl fuel in it), titanium cup, titanium stand, lighter, Nalgene bottle, spoon, and backpacker food (Mountain House and Backpacker Pantry are my favorites).
AFTER ACTION REVIEW
ISSUE: We didn’t have a designated support/pit crew at the end of Day1.
DISCUSSION: Pit crew would have alleviated a mechanical challenge that extended the day’s activities for already fatigued riders, and possibly could have allowed me to get the bike up and running for Day2.
RECOMMENDATION: Get a pit crew involved if at all possible. Standard spares, GS911, good tool-set, good know-how, good shade-tree fixes. Is there a sponsorship action we could pursue?
ISSUE: Poor hydration and caloric intake.
DISCUSSION: Because my water bladder was in my tailbag, I couldn’t reach my hose. Not wanting to stop, I didn’t drink until I was thirsty. Too late. Added to fatigue. I had poor calorie management because my power bars were in the same place.
RECOMMENDATION: Dual sport “tactical” vest with bladder carrier and pouches for SPOT, camera, fat pills, etc. Best solution may be a surplus military-issue Field Load Carrier vest
DISCUSSION: The Mitas E-09 front and rear set was an excellent combo of traction and toughness for a heavy bike. I ran pressures of around 28 and 30 psi and had no issues with rim strikes or pinch flats, even with impacts at speed.
RECOMMENDATION: Sustain, but consider Sava and Continental TKC-80. Stay away from Heidenau, which have atrocious wet tarmac and sand/mud traction.
ISSUE: Difficult to understand tracks from LAB2V on GPS
DISCUSSION: For some reason, the tracks didn’t show up without having having to individually display (Nav5 and Montana). Poor understanding of GPS features/capabilities? Coupled with poor naming conventions, the problem for me was not seeing bailouts easily, which I could have used towards the end when my bike was dying.
RECOMMENDATION: Know our tech better. Or get advice from someone who does. Or bring a laptop with basecamp, a USB memory card reader, and input the tracks ourselves (slower). Also, James and I had good results getting the GPX files emailed to us, then displayed on our Android phones using OSMAnd+. Next time, I’ll have an x-mount ram holder for my phone and deducted power feed.
ISSUE: Roll chart fear mongering.
DISCUSSION: Everyone kept saying the moose chart holders were too small, urging us to buy $35 holders on the spot. BS, it was fine.
RECOMMENDATIONS: Use what we have. I like the moose with the large metal knobs because I can push the knob with my finger rather than pinch and turn. Having tape handy is good too.
ISSUE: Rider routing.
DISCUSSION: Watching one rider make a mistake was hard enough, but when the next one was tracked headed down the wrong route it would have been really cool to have some sort of communication with the riders. Social media tracking was really fun and even that was a learning experience. The information you share here is valuable to future riders of this challenge.
RECOMMENDATION: Look into a communications capability that overcomes lack of cell signal, allows support team to communicate with riders, and still preserves simplicity and fun of the event. This gets into the realm of racing rather than recreation, so it bears much further discussion. The only solution I can think of is some sort of HAM radio rig, which may be overly complex and unnecessary.