The AMA Ridgerunner 500 Dual-Sport Ride (Oct. 9-10 1993)

(writeup posted to 10/25/93)

This writeup is more newbie ramblings than fascinating exparte, so for those who just like to scan for photos, here's a handy index.

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The trouble with writing up a dual-sport event is that there's too much dirt for rec.pose^H^H^H^Hmoto, and the dirt is too tame for! I'll have to trust you all know how to use the software to ignore, kill or flame as you will.

The RR 500 is an annual dual-sport event in its third year, sponsored by the AMA and run by the Ridgerunner Motorcycle club. The intent is to ride about 250 miles each of two days, on roads and trails in the Sierra mountains of California. The ride starts and ends in Angel's Camp, CA and has an overnight stop in Carson City, NV. At some points, riders have a choice of A (harder) and B (easier) sections, though most of the ride is the same for both.

All bikes must be street-legal and pass the RR club's parody of tech inspection. This year, the entry fee was $60, and for this you get a T-shirt, a finisher's pin, sticker, lunch both days, a rollchart and route, luggage transport and a sweep support crew -- and a fantastic experience! The ride was well-organized and supported, and an excellent introduction to organized events.

So how did I, brushing away the last bits of street newbieness and still green in the dirt, get mixed up in this?

The Moab '93 crew may remember Gary Stratton, a friend of a friend of Ed Hackett's who did the White Rim Trail DP ride. Gary lives in Half Moon Bay (sort of the SF Bay Area) and called me out of the blue about two weeks before the RR 500, to offer me the loan of a Yamaha XT200 for the ride. I'd heard Doug Ruth talk about his adventures on the same ride two years earlier on his then-new BMW R100GS/PD, so I already knew about it and jumped on it.

This year, Doug had just bought an '87 XR600R and was in the process of installing a Baja Designs legalization kit. One of his best resources for advice for this was Blaine Gardner, another barely-street-legal XR600R owner whom Doug had met at the Joust and the Lolo Pass Assault ride over Labor Day. One thing led to another during email discussions, and Blaine's arm was easily twisted into driving out from Salt Lake City for the event. As we were to find out, it takes little more than a paper clip to twist Blaine's arm into things.

Preparation for the ride involved straightening my borrowed XT200's tweaked front end and re-soldering a turn signal that were casualties of a pre-RR test run at Hollister Hills. I relieved a local shop of a relatively tiny pair of dirt pants, and picked up kneeguards and goggles, staggering at the initial overhead cost of dirt riding. My street helmet and boots would have to do.

Despite the XT's marginal tires, suspension and sad brakes, my greatest concern was kick-starting it. I'd had moderate success kicking it at Hollister, but not enough that I'd dare ride alone. The next person who breezes up to me while I'm futilely kicking myself to death and says "oh, it's all technique" gets a shot in the stomach! Technique merely channels the physical effort, and my 5'1", 105 lb self doesn't have enough brute force to make up for a less than perfect technique.

And I'm taking this thing on a 500 mile ride?!

Friday night, Oct. 8

Doug and I left the Bay Area by cage immediately after work, with the XR & XT in tow. We were supposed to meet Blaine in Angel's Camp around 8pm, but hit obnoxious traffic and then had a minor, um, navigation snafu (I navigated us perfectly to the wrong town), and rolled into Angel's Camp to catch the tail end of ride pre-registration.

Tech inspection made the DMV look like the Gestapo. Inspector: "Is that Supertrapp loud?" Doug: "Er, no." Inspector: "You'll take it easy on the street?" Doug: "Of course!" (halo glows overhead) Inspector: "OK, you pass." The inspector didn't even look at the XT200. Hey, it's a real bike!

We found Blaine snoozing at the side of the road, after another participant told us "oh yeah, the guy from >>UTAH<< was just here." Over a mediocre pizza dinner, we talked to one of the organizers named Mike, who remembered Doug from two years before. "Yeah, new GS, black leathers, from Mountain View, right?!" Apparently Doug had acquired ome fame (notoriety?) for this feat, since later another person had the same admiring reaction and insisted on shaking his hand. Mike seemed relieved to hear Doug had an XR600 this year!

Mike went over the route with us, and advised me that if the first dirt road wasn't a problem, then I could probably handle the A sections later. Despite goading from Blaine, I was still mostly adament toward the B, but took Mike's advice to heart: I'd decide after seeing the first road.

Before turning in for the night, we installed enduro jugs & rollcharts. My XT was missing the tripmeter reset button, so Doug got creative and stuck the inside tube of a Bic pen to the shaft of the tripmeter, and Blaine produced some silicone putty stuff to fabricate a little grabhandle. A piece of elastic stolen from a car seat cover safety-tied the pen to the handlebars, completing this brilliant engineering feat, and it actually held all weekend.

We finally got to bed at the much too late hour of 12:30.

Saturday morning, Oct. 9

It was hard to say what the weather would be like. Carrying raingear was a must, but how hot would it get? Doug and Blaine both had Aerostich jackets. I almost left my leather jacket behind -- after all, who'd wear black street leathers on a dual-sport ride? How gauche! But at the last minute I decided to bring it and bungee it down somehow if it got too hot. As it turned out, it was cold enough that I would have been in serious trouble without it, and I never got too hot wearing it. It was overcast and could have rained at any time, and it was downright chilly!

We arrived at the startoff point in Angel's Camp, unloaded the bikes and parked the cars, these details making our already late start even later. There I met up with Gary on his Suzuki DR350 (the "couch") and his friend Robert on Gary's extra bike, a Honda XL350. Robert used to race and is a more than competent rider, but hadn't ridden for a while since some incident with a cow, and was content to take it easy. He swept for me the whole day, something I was really grateful for, especially given my uncertain kickstarting abilities.

Gary, Robert & I left first through the start point, with Doug and Blaine to follow as soon as Blaine untangled his fingers from his bootlaces :). They checked off our numbers, noted our departure time, gave us a thumbs-up and a fanny pat (not literally), and sent us off to start the adventure!

Unfortunately, Gary missed the very first right turn, not even a mile into the ride. My XT200 refused to exceed 50mph to catch him, but after about 5 miles, Gary cottoned on and we went back to find the turn. But by now, Doug and Blaine had long since turned off and were expecting to catch us in a few minutes. Instead, they got way ahead of us and we didn't meet up until lunch. Meantime, I had a great laugh knowing they'd be working hard all morning to catch us!

A short stretch on fun paved twisty roads soon took us to Camp Nine/ Spring Gap road out of Vallecito off Hwy 4, a long ungraded dirt road. At first I didn't see anything I wouldn't do on my BMW, though it wouldn't have been terribly easy (for *me* -- a competent GS rider would breeze through this). The Sierras are famous for loose, sandy and dusty soil, and lived up to this immediately. For the most part, the road was plain ungraded dirt, somewhat uneven and bumpy, occasionally rutty and rocky. Great fun!

Occasional sections of deep dust caused such a heavy kickup from riders in front that you couldn't see a THING. Thank heavens for the advice to get goggles! I'd have to wait these sections out until the dust cleared, since you literally couldn't see beyond your fender. This stuff wasn't like sand which tends to grab your front wheel; instead it's fine and easy to plow through and create your own tracks. I didn't mind these sections, once I put aside my control-freak complex, let the handlebars do what they will, sat back and paddled.

This road was a good long warmup, though in retrospect was probably dull for most of the riders. "Most" meant a whole slew of Honda XR and XL 600s. It was Honda day! There were also some XL/XR 250/350s, a decent showing of Suzuki DR350s and 650s, a smattering of KLR 650s and and Yamaha XT350s, and three or four brave BMW GSs (not a good day for Yamaha!). I was privvy to a truly rare sight: a Honda TransAlp in the DIRT. I'd never have believed it if I didn't see it -- typically those DP-style plastic-covered V-twins are strictly poser props.

I was sorry when this dirt road ended, since it meant riding the otherwise fantastic Hwy 108 (Sonora pass) -- pavement -- on the unwilling XT200. It was here that I was very, very glad for my leather jacket, especially when we saw snow. As in, coming from the air -- precipitation! The XT hated the altitude and choked and hesitated constantly.

At the end of Sonora Pass, we stopped and I put on more gear. Thank heavens I'd brought a wool sweater! These macho dirt riders weren't going to be sympathetic to whining about electric vests, so I kept my complaints to myself and dug out glove liners as well.

We were close to the A/B decision point, and by now I was in the swing of the ride. We were running late, so Gary couldn't believe it when I said, it's gonna be A, all the way. I'm not giving Blaine any more ammunition! As it turns out, Blaine and Doug had left a note at the A/B splitoff point but we didn't see it. That's OK, they were way ahead of us anyway.

Starting out on the A section (Desert Creek Road off Hwy 108, crossing into Nevada), my biggest hazard was the XT's stupid sudden power losses due to its running so poorly in altitude. The terrain was wide open, but the "road" looked like a rock path through the brush, and the only way to negotiate these was with enough momentum, something to which the XT was not committed with its wheezing.

This route was fairly long, and had some rocky technical sections, with ruts to further complicate things and narrow the options for a safe path. Thankfully many of these were downhill, since then I had no problems with losing power. The absolutely rockiest sections were pretty frightening, since sometimes the best path was one with headsized rocks to pick through, and it felt like the XT could trip over one of these at any moment. Blaine confirmed for me later: "Loose rock is tough terrain to ride, it's _supposed_ to be hard."

Yay, I made it through the rocks! Now the road straightened out and got easier and faster, with some sections on which one track of the road was two feet lower than the other! It would take a pretty strangely shaped 4-wheeled vehicle to get through that. There were whoops and a few muddy river crossings, and overall the terrain was fast, changing occasionally. Fantastic!

At the left turn onto Risue Road (now in Nevada), we found an XL250 rider stranded due to overflowing carbs, and spent some time trying to help. With some guilt, we left him behind, rationalizing that our $60 entry fee included the sweep crew services. Risue road took us easily to Eastside Road where we negotiated a herd of cattle crossing the road, then to Hwy 395 to Hwy 89 to lunch. Too lazy to backtrack 3 miles to a gas stop we'd passed, the XT choked its last about 15 miles out of Markleeville, and we had yet another stop to fill up from Gary's tanker DR350.

In Markeeville, we arrived at the lunch spot, checked in, reported the stuck XL250 rider, and sat down to a nice steak & beans lunch with pineapple upside-down cake for dessert. There we met up with Blaine and Doug, who were relieved to finally find us! Sure enough, they'd spent all morning chasing us (they thought) and didn't figure out until we arrived 20 minutes after they did that we'd been BEHIND all along!!! hah hah.

They had their own stories to tell, as expected -- one getoff apiece. Doug said he took a left-hander too fast, washed out the front end and crashed at about 30mph. One turn signal was clean gone, the pristine XR600 finally had some rite-of-passage scratches and Doug had some left-shoulder strain. Nothing that would interfere with riding, so it didn't count :-). And finally the XR's embarrassingly fastidious appearance was corrected.

Blaine entertained us with the story of a typically spectacular crash, which I'll let him describe in detail in his writeup. The rough of it was that he went into a whoop way too fast, got sideways somehow and became airborne, taking out two sagebrush in his flight descent. Somehow Blaine was off the road just enough that Doug didn't see him and abandoned him unknowningly at the crash site.

Later, when Blaine caught up, Doug said, hey, why are you riding around with brush sticking out of your helmet? It looked like he was chewing grass through the vents in his helmet! I made sure to take pictures of this, it's very funny.

Before leaving lunch, Gary & Robert performed some lean magic on the XT's carbs. It still died at altitude, but only when asking for speeds exceeding one-third of DoD nominal. I was glad to have it run better, but the leaning-out reduced my kick-start success rate to about 20%.

Gary, Robert and I took off to get a head start on Blaine and Doug. An annoying traffic-filled stint through downtown South Lake Tahoe and a right on NV 207 took us straight to a dirt trail that proved to be one of the nicest trails on the trip (the Tahoe Rim trail, which gives fantastic views of Lake Tahoe and the valley below, ending at Spooner summit on US 50).

For a real dirt rider, they wouldn't be *difficult* per se, but major fun anyway. They were sometimes single-track trails that were moistly sandy, but smooth, with many fun contours and dips, with excellent traction and mercifully little dust. There were plenty of places to safely slide, and judging from the tracks, there'd been quite a few opportunists through here! This trail was great!

As much as I like to razz Blaine, I'd never actually seen him ride until he and Doug motored by us, then Blaine hung back and about a bit for fun. I was really impressed: Blaine lopes along with no fuss, never frantic, always looking like he was in control. Gary was impressed too, and later described him as a "real steady" rider. It was fun to watch him, so I tried to follow for a while.

When he caught air on dips, I tried it too, and soon found I was riding over myself. Waitaminnit, this is the quickest path to the ground -- follow Blaine of all people and try to imitate his tricks! Visions of faceplants and endos subsided my rush of...well, testosterone (the most dangerous toxic substance known to man, and occasionally, woman).

I was crestfallen to reach the pavement -- I'd just gotten into a good rhythm! Thankfully, our rollcharts immediately directed us to King's Canyon Road, more of the same fun stuff. Blaine stopped once to point out a giant rock overlooking the trail and the hillside that was painted with the face of an elephant. This trail was also easy and very pretty, and lots of fear-free fun to ride, though with the dropoffs a mistake could be costly. It had small sections that were too narrow for a car (conveniently punctuated with mud puddles :-)), so it was strictly OHV only. These last two were the best trails of the ride, and come highly recommended for any dual-sport rider or even dirt rider, since the terrain is fun even if not terribly technically challenging.

Back on the pavement we met up with the sweep crew who informed us we were dead last, and then headed into Carson City to check in at Mike's Honda. There we got our packets which included a really cool black long-sleeved T-shirt with Ridgerunner 500 down the left side, and Dual Sport on the right sleeve.

There I had the honor to meet Ron Cash, a Ridgerunner club member and a motorcyclist with the use of only one arm. Ron introduced himself as "the rider with the paralyzed right arm," since he knows people refer to him that way. He was on the sweep crew and it turned out he is a BMW NorCal club member (a local BMW club), so he knew me from my tour reports in the club newsletters.

There was something extremely dignified about this gentleman. If someone can be elegant in dirt gear, Mr. Cash was it. I immediately respected him and soaked up every word of advice and suggestion he gave. He was gentle and spoke softly, but I had the feeling he was a really tough rider (he must have been to sweep the RR500!). I would have liked to look over how his XL600 was modified for one arm but time did not allow. His verbal back-pat to me for taking on this ride was like a trophy, somehow it meant an awful lot. He suggested that tomorrow's A section would be tougher than today's.

After replacing a burnt-out brakelight bulb on Doug's XR, we bungeed our luggage to the bikes and rode down to our motel. Before leaving, one straggler at Mike's Honda observed the pile of luggage on my XT and then had the nerve to bet $5 that I couldn't swing a leg over! Apparently the look of greed on my face for an easy five bucks, backed up with laughter from Doug and Blaine, caused him to back down before formalizing the bet. Bummer! If there's one thing I can do, it's get on and off tall bikes easily. Just don't ask me to push them off the sidestand once I'm there :-).

A late, well-deserved steak dinner put us to bed by midnight, a decent hour considering the night before.

Sunday morning, Oct. 10

The 5:30 wakeup call was NOT welcome. Go away!

We were supposed to meet Gary at 6:30 (ugh, A.M.), and actually might have made it except that the nearest breakfast place wasn't open until 6:30. Slackers! After spending no less than five minutes performing morning kickstart calisthenics (first one to start gets a prize!), we found a muffin cafe whose sole clientele at that hour was a bunch of sleepy-eyed dirt riders. Two of them were GS riders, one one of whom studied our trio for a moment, and said, "Wow, this is a tough ride to do two-up!" Heh.

I never minded assumptions like these; in fact I always enjoyed their embarrassment when we told them I was actually riding (and did the A section yesterday with no drops, nyah!). They said they'd actually seen "quite a few" other women on this ride -- 6 or 7! Out of ~300 I hardly call that "quite a few." One of them also stammered something about my size -- "not a lot of DP bikes out there for a lady that little!" It's OK, guy, I'd have made the same guess. I only saw three other women in dirt gear the whole weekend, so the two-up assumption is understandable if nothing else based on statistics.

We got to Mike's Honda, buzzing with dirt riders and chaotic with the excitement of starting the day. I had a brief talk with my buddy Ray Hutchins who I know from the BMW NorCal club and who is becoming something of a BMW dirt mentor to me. Ray was on his KLR650, the one for which halves of a plastic milk jug serve as handguards -- no one rats a bike the way Ray does. We found Gary & Robert, checked in and took off in a flurry.

The sun was just coming up as we left for the ride at about 7:15am. It was very, very cold! I regretted immediately not putting on winter gloves but didn't want to delay the ride. I hoped we'd get onto dirt soon so I'd warm up, but when we did, the dirt was graded and didn't slow us down at all.

After about 10 miles of feeling my fingers steadily freeze to uselessness, it happened that we stopped to correct a wrong turn. I chastised myself -- I'm now an Experienced rider who is allowed to stop for proper gear! Beginners will tend to put up with more suffering, fearful of annoying the experienced riders. Doug stayed back with me, volunteering as sweep since his shoulder was bothering him from yesterday's getoff, and waited patiently as I laboriously unbungeed my pack with fingers too cold to move separately. I HATE bungees! Is this the time to complain about missing the hard cases on my BMW? :-)

It turned out to be a fortunate stop -- the XT had oil all over it, and the oil drippings were a quickly forming a puddle. Great!

Doug went ahead and found Blaine waiting for us not far up, and soon Gary and Robert figured out something was wrong and came back. Gary and Robert quickly diagnosed a countershaft seal that had popped out, and they popped it back in, though it needed sealant and more oil, and even then we couldn't be sure it was rideable.

Gambling that sealant & oil would do the trick, Gary rode the 10 miles back into town to the Honda shop. He suggested to "you guys with the 600s" that they continue, but Blaine and Doug were in it for the fun and solidarity and said nah, we'll wait.

So now we had some time to kill, and as good fortune would have it, we'd stopped next to a large flat area edged with sand dunes! Clearly a sign from Yahweh that we must Obey -- to further Humiliate Ourselves. Our Chosen One for this task was, naturally, Blaine, easily chided into attempting a deep sandy hillclimb to satisfy Yahweh's demand for sacrificial entertainment.

Blaine dove right into this task obligingly.

After a few "easy" climbs (with impressive roosts and one oops kickstart session at the top), I pointed him to a route that had a slight step toward the top. This got interesting -- the steepest part caused him to lose momentum, slide backward and land in a heap under the XR in the middle of the hill. Barely controlling laughter, I liberally snapped pictures for a while then said, so need help? Um, yes -- he was trapped under the XR!!

The handlebar was dug into the sand, pinning his left leg. No pain, but a pretty humorous position anyway. Robert and Doug were watching from the top, also too busy laughing to notice Blaine's predicament until I waved them down. Doug said with empathy, "good thing that grip didn't fall about six inches higher, huh?!"

We extracted Blaine from the tangle, and then I tried to goad Doug into the same feat, but he wouldn't have any of it. Something about knowing his limitations? Curse the strong male ego! Easier to butter up, but harder to persuade. Robert wasn't interested either. Knowing Gary, a blade of grass could have pushed him into it, though.

Then Blaine said, OK, you've put me up to the hillclimb, now's your chance to test-ride the XR. Who, me? 5'1" on a bike with a 37" seat. That is a guaranteed drop! But, I couldn't back down, especially after hassling Doug for being too chicken^H^H^H^H^H^H^Hsmart to attempt the sandy hillclimbs.

Blaine held the XR as I climbed up onto it and then pushed me off. Towering on the huge motorcycle, I carefully took it around the flat area, trying to control its power and not goose it accidentally. What a monster this thing is! Instantly I could feel just how much potential a bike like this has. It reminded me of the times I've gotten on very large, very well-trained horses -- the capability of the beast is awesome, far more than my own. There is something very humbling about riding a horse that knows more than you do, and that feeling came back on the XR600. Even though I never got it out of first gear, I had fun anyway riding it around in circles, and after one minor slide and brief heart failure I pulled up next to Doug for a catch. Why couldn't I have been a bigger person? Yow!

Gary showed up in time to watch the end of the XR test-ride, and we got back to business mending the XT. After losing about an hour and a half, we left and cut off a long section that Gary says was dead straight and boring anyway. By now, it had warmed up and the sun was out, blinding us as we headed straight into it toward the highway. What a luxury yesterday's overcast sky had been!

On the way to Leviathan Mine road, we were delayed by another unscheduled stop because the XT suddenly began blowing smoke. Gary and Robert decided it was just blowby/overflow oil -- it hadn't lost any oil, so we'd just keep an eye on it. Oilwise it behaved itself for the rest of the trip, but it made us pretty paranoid about its mechanical condition.

Leviathan was great fun! Neat views, and varied terrain. The soil was loose, but moist and made for excellent traction without too many rocks or dust, though there were sections of rocks on the uphills. I pulled over once to, er, use the woods and in no time Gary, Robert and Blaine came back to check out what was wrong with the XT *this* time. Just a potty break, explained sweeper Doug, barely bothering to control laughter (thanks a lot). Aw, geez, is THAT all! And we all thought the bike had died again! Everyone had a good chuckle over this -- and they wonder why more women don't get involved in dirt riding!!

We caught the main wave of riders on Leviathan road, including one in full one-piece Dainese leathers! And I thought I was inappropriately dressed for this party. Blaine stopped once to help a KLR 250 rider who'd face-planted after running wide on a surprise curve (sympathy, you know).

Back on the pavement, we were on our way to Markleeville for a good hot lunch. First, a gas stop, at which my kickstart strugglings summoned Doug to come over and do this for me (AGAIN). Fruitless kicking effort resulted in the discovery of the kill switch OFF. "HEEYYY, you trying to make me look like a weenie?!" Doug demanded. Good idea!!! I tried to push him away so I could then start it myself, but he had none of it and fired up the XT in a single swift kick. Laughing, we left to ride the remaining five miles to lunch. Hope it's as good as yesterday's!

Sunday afternoon

Yuk -- what's this? Hot dogs and potato chips, with candy bars for dessert! A far cry from the previous day's feast. What happened to the beef, guys? Well, dirty hungry dirt bikers are hardly a choosy bunch, but not one to be toyed with when it comes to food. It would do, barely.

After lunch, a pose/photo shoot session and some bundling up, our intrepid bunch of five set out on a cold dull drone up Monitor pass. Riders on 600s had fun with this, but the XT was suffering altitude sickness again and at times refused to go above 30mph, coughing and hesitating constantly. VERY annoying! I played tag with an older Honda XL250 suffering the same affliction -- couldn't pass him for the life of me, but was riding .000001mph faster and so was right on his butt the whole way. On my BMW, that 30 miles of perfect twisties would have been a delight. Oh yeah, this is a dual-sport ride. No griping about missing my Beemer!

A short stretch of dirt took us to an inane gas station that insisted on the pay-first method, despite a long line of riders. The day before, the gas station in Dardanelle had put a cash register and two people by the pumps, resulting in a fast, streamlined method, and line moved along quickly. This time, the ladies inside at the store gave the classic catch-all excuse: "it's the way the COMPUTER works." We were in such a hurry to leave that we forgot to pick up change!

Next we were taken to a fun, extremely narrow twisty paved road, exactly the sort of pavement you want to do on a DP bike if you must do pavement at all. Though I was handicapped by the XT's miserable front drum brake, the other riders left me way behind on just skill. So much for my 40K street miles! Hey, come back, you guys -- you're not street riders! I believe heartily in the 1-for-10 Experience rule: one dirt mile is worth 10 street miles.

Finally we got to the Real dirt and at last my cold goosebumps faded. This time the "road" went through forested areas, and had many elevation changes and switchbacks. The terrain was weird -- loose soil, rocky sections, and was generally somewhat rough.

I'd figured out deep, loose dust by then: sit back, lighten the front end, stay on the gas and let the bars do what they will. And I'd figured out rocks by then: sit forward, up on the pegs if needed, and steer around the giant ones. But deep, loose dust scattered with rocks?! Now what? A mixture of strategy here. Am I supposed to sit back for the dust or lean forward for the rocks? I was at a total loss in this stuff, and had many a close call. No drops (I was told later that means I wasn't trying hard enough) but it was constant tension and effort.

We stopped at on level spot and ran across Kirk, proprietor of Santa Clara Cycle Salvage with a cracked exhaust pipe mount. During a kludgey repair for which Doug sacrificed some safety wire from his rear brake light activator (the brake light bulb had burned out again anyway, sigh), I watched other riders bulldoze their way up the hill, including two BMW GSs. OK, I see my problem now. This road is not technical, it needs b*lls! I was trying to finesse it, but the good guys just plowed their way through.

This turned into an easy dirt road for a while, and we temporarily lost Robert who stopped to help out a rider with a flat tire. One thing for sure, on this ride you were rarely at a loss for a helpful hand, either giving or getting. We all met up at a fire station and then decided to go for the A splitoff. This was the last dirt section of the ride, and the only A/B choice of the day. We'd been warned that it was "a little tougher" than the day before. Well, I'd made it the first day, I'd give this a shot.

Soon into the A splitoff there was a right turn onto a gravel road. Whoever said "gravel" was being pretty liberal -- they must have thought that meant layers of same-size rocks, with no regard to the size of the rock in the definition of "gravel." These were fist-sized sharp-edged chunks of rock! Blaine gave me several suggestions on how to handle this, and then I asked him, well what are YOU doing?". "Whatever works!" We braced ourselves, rounded the corner and found maybe 10 meters of the stuff. Oh well, but even Blaine was grateful for the anticlimax. Onward!

Soon after this, Robert and I rounded a corner to find Doug in an unnaturally diagonal position on the outside of a sharp curve, kicking over the XR. "Whatcha doing over THERE??" I called, and his quick guilty glance told the story: gone wide, went down, got the bike back up before anyone saw, but the '87 XR and its starting troubles (fixed in '88) left him there long enough for Robert and I to bust him. Nice try! Not long after that, he got the front wheel into a deep downhill rut and dropped the bike (no escaping witnesses this time!). He managed to pick it up fast before it died (not before Blaine got a photo though) -- amazing how fast one can move when there's a kickstart session to be avoided. I made a note: even on a bike as capable as an XR600, keep your front wheel out of deep ruts! (A lesson I'd already learned at the expense of my BMW's shift lever.)


Two miles later, the rollchart warned us of an upcoming difficult hillclimb. We'd been told about this section as being the hardest one on the ride, and the rollchart specifically said "Novice and two-up riders DO NOT ATTEMPT THIS!" As it turned out, both did.

I was pretty nervous about it, and let the others go ahead so as to maximize dust-free visibility. Robert was behind me when we arrived at what appeared to be an indefinitely long, rough, steep, loose, deep, dusty, rocky, completely torn up and altogether nasty hill. They weren't kidding! Gary and Doug had already gone up, and Blaine appeared to be stopped partway up, with camera ready for more blackmail material.

Robert advised me to keep speed up and go for it. I started out in second gear, but needed 1st almost right away, and the shift was enough of a pause to lose all forward momentum, initiating a backward slide and the inevitable drop on the right side. The brake lever had a fascinating new outward curl in it though, no one had ever seen a bend like that! With Robert's help to get it back up again, I rode it down to prepare for the second attempt.

Great, Blaine is right up there ready to take pictures of my second attempt. Gritting my teeth, I "gunned" (for me) the little 200, and this time my approach got me a little farther, but it still wasn't even close. I promptly careened into the brush on the left, up a slight embankment (and it was already steep). Right away the bike started to slide back and drop on its left side. Losing my balance in the melee, I set my right foot down -- on the rear wheel!

Immediately the still-spinning wheel grabbed my foot and jammed it between the the wheel and swingarm, stalling the engine. Gary, Robert and Blaine were immediately on the scene and tried to pick up the bike to free my foot. But the real emergency wasn't the foot, it was the burning exhaust pipe an inch from my thigh, and I was trapped, with no way to move away from it. Trying not to touch the exhaust pipe, I struggled to pull my boot out from the wheel, and finally Blaine had the sense to open the boot's velcro closures, giving just enough clearance to pull my foot out of the boot. Later, Blaine said he was able to see what I couldn't: the heel of the boot was torn away and flattened against the sole. To me, the most pressing problem was the exhaust pipe, but to see the situation, a foot caught in a wheel looks pretty serious.

I had no way to get out from behind the bike, and didn't dare put any weight on my now-bare foot, so Blaine said here, lean on me to get out, then ah hell, and just picked me up and carried me across the trail to a handy tree stump. After a few minutes I inspected the foot - no pain, no obvious damage to speak of, not yet anyway. Meantime, Gary and Robert had freed the boot from the wheel. It hadn't fared so well, with a torn heel and some distortion inside. Duct tape temporarily repaired the heel. (Temporary? I'm still riding with it like that!)

While recovering from this episode, we were entertained by other riders making the hillclimb. One Suzuki DR650 rider made it up about as far as I had the first time, lost momentum and got stuck. "These tires just don't do it in this shit!" he exclaimed, roosting us with an impotent wheelspin in an attempt to start again without the benefit of momentum. Tires were the least of his worries at that point! "Not a CHANCE" mouthed Blaine, and soon the guy turned around and took another running shot at it. He made it up, but it wasn't pretty.

The best show was by Gary, who took a long running start and jammed the XT200 up that hill faster than anyone! Toward the top, Gary could be heard hooping and yelling, legs flailing and generally psyching himself up to make it, which he did! He said he thought for sure he'd never make it up on the 200, but with enough speed, he made it up better than he had on his ever-capable Suz DR350.

Watching how Gary did it made me realize I hadn't been even close to getting it through there myself. I can't think that fast! I'm more comfortable carefully picking my way through things, rather than charging through. That's a BMW-in-dirt habit I'm going to have to lose. There are times momentum is your only ally, and this hillclimb was one of them.

OK, enough fun -- now we have to get up the hill and meet the others. What, walk it?! It was looong, steep and a bitch to ride, let alone walk, especially on a foot with still-unknown injury. So, get ready for this -- Blaine offered to take me on the back of the XR. The toughest section of the entire RR 500, and we're going for it two-up! I'm not sure who was daring whom, but I said, OK, let's try it!

Robert went on ahead, and told the people waiting at the top that we were about to come up, and the photographers got ready. I clambered onto the buddy-pegless XR, took a good hold of Blaine and then we took off for the ride of my LIFE!

Blaine did a fantastic job, powering us right through the nasty stuff, standing up on the pegs for some of the jumps. I couldn't see anything behind his big body and was 100% focused on just staying on, since some of it bounced me to the side. The only thing I had to hold onto was the seat with my knees, since I didn't want to restrict Blaine's movement with hands on his waist. I actually felt fairly secure, on such a huge motorcycle behind such a huge person, feeling the speed, power and control of the rider & motorcycle, while we're (necessarily) blasting up very loose and uneven terrain, jostling around but effectively straight. What a thrill! Everyone cheered Blaine when we arrived at the top, safe and sound!

While congratulating ourselves and recovering, Gary, Doug and Robert appeared from their vantage points. Doug was covered with sweat after helping push three bikes up when they got stuck partway up. He'd made it up OK, but with two drops, including one that dropped the bike hard on his right ankle, he says possibly enough to break it were it not for the sturdy dirt boots. Hearing that right after mangling my boot in my wheel, I'm sold on getting real dirt boots. One of the drops he'd stalled the bike too -- a bitch of a spot to have to kickstart! The delay waiting for us, combined with a hard drop in his ankle, and the effort exerted pushing bikes up definitely had taken their toll, and he was looking ready for a beer and a hot tub.

We watched more riders come up, including a sweep rider on a KTM who also dropped his bike. We all felt a lot better after that, especially when we were told later that his bike was one of a few special bikes KTM had built to beat BMW on a 2200 mile enduro ride across Nevada (don't know the name). That hillclimb was *tought* and the highlight of the ride. It might even have entertained the likes of Deeney & Sturdevant! (Anyone for three-up? :) ). Blaine deserves MAJOR credit for doing it two-up, with no close calls.

That one .4 mile stretch took a long, long time and set us way behind. We continued on similar terrain that was more level, but it was still very difficult for me. I needed to get madder, darn it! Quit being such a wimp! On a few sections I was able to muster enough courage and energy to channel frustration into speed, and those sections went OK. Other sections didn't, and I got stuck once and had to walk my bike out another time. The time I got stuck, Blaine showed up promptly. "Taxi?" Gary grabbed the XT and rode it through again, then made disgusted "aw, GEEZ" sounds when I took up Blaine on the lift for maybe 15 meters. Blaine, Gary and Doug went ahead, and I had Robert and the KTM sweeper behind me, on terrain that was just difficult enough to keep me on the anxiety side of the fine line between fear and fun.

Somewhere along this, I saw a sand track and thought, "Gee, that looks like something that could really grab a front wheel...." Such scrutiny inevitably leads right into it, and I demonstrated a classic front end washout. My first true fall of the ride has to happen not ten miles from the end! It tweaked the forks a little, and my kneeguards paid for themselves, but no biggie other than peeling away another layer of endurance and patience. The KTM sweep rider was probably thinking, "We SAID no novice riders on this route!" Well, in my defense, the first day's A sections were a whole lot easier than the second day's.

By now I'd learned that I tend to do better on downhills (not a preference, just a weird pattern, probably since the momentum of downhills masks uneven throttle inputs) and was relieved when the road finally turned downhill. At some point along here, Gary stopped to sightsee and set down his fanny pack while waiting for us.

Finally, at the bottom of this road -- salvation! GRAVEL! Nice, easy, predictable, tractable, graded gravel. Thank heavens! It was an island to this shipwrecked sailor. The sweep crew was waiting for us and diverted us to Hwy 4, since we were dead last again and it was getting dark. We only missed a few miles of the dirt though, and after that tough hillclimb, we'd definitely proved our point. One of that sweep crew was Ron Cash on his modified XL600. I asked him about that hillclimb -- any trouble for you? He moved his head back and forth slowly, looking at me with gravity. "Certainly not, my dear."

And off we were for the dull homestretch on CA 4 into Angel's Camp. I entertained Blaine a bit (riding behind me) by attempting various positional stunts, but my impression of a fountain statue works better on the BMW :-). [ Next time I'll get my camera right! -- Blaine ]

We arrived just as the sun was setting, exhausted but elated. What a trip! We saw Paul Garcia, another Denizen and Moab refugee, who said Alan Ralls was around somewhere too. They'd both enjoyed the ride quite a bit too.


Blaine: crashes: 1 drops: 0
Doug: crashes: 2 drops: 3
Noemi: crashes: 1 drops: 2 someone-else-ride-it-thru-please: 2
Gary: crashes: 0 drops: 0 (clean!) ride-it-thrus: 2
Robert: crashes: 0 drops: 0 (clean!)

Unfortunately, a few minutes after we arrived, suddenly Gary demanded money from Robert for gas and took off -- he'd left his fanny pack on the trail at his last sightsee stop!!!! His keys, wallet, everything was in there. Fortunately he'd left it after the hillclimb -- but he still had a lot of tough riding to do, and it would be dark by the time he got there. To make matters worse, not fifteen minutes after Gary left, a sweep rider showed up with his fanny pack....! We knew Gary was riding like blazes and he had enough of a head start that no one would catch him, so we counted on his figuring out that someone picked up the pack.

As it turned out, he thought he'd forgotten where he left it, and backtracked all the way to the hillclimb, where he finally decided "screw it." He was VERY relieved to get back and find Robert there waiting for him with the pack! They didn't get home until 1:30am.

In slow motion, we loaded the bikes and changed into human clothes. Blaine, Doug and I left to find dinner in Angel's Camp, which turned out to be an ice creame shoppe with a teenaged waiter. Inside, two older gentlemen admired our nifty RR 500 shirts and said, "Hey, where'd you have to go to get those?" I started to gently explain to these two potatoes that you don't just BUY these anywhere, but they just laughed and said, "yeah, we know -- we did it too!" Touche, got me. The average age of the riders was much higher than one would expect. Few riders looked to even be as young as in their 20s. Most of us looked a lot older after the ride, too :-).

After dinner, the Quote of the Day goes to Blaine: "I feel the need....I feel the need for chocolate!" and he downed an entire hot fudge sundae before I had the chance to steal a fingerful.

We drove back caravan-style to the Bay Area, with Blaine following Doug driving, with me in Doug's car, helpfully keeping uncharacteristically still and sleeping the whole way. Hey, cages are good for something!! One thing I don't like about dirt riding is all the caging involved, but I didn't complain about that post-ride snooze.

Blaine stayed overnight with me in Sunnyvale, and in the morning I gave him a proper escort to the highway leading out of the Bay Area traffic hell. Back on my Beemer, I expected to be struck with its size, weight and unwieldiness. Instead I revelled -- BRAKES!!!!!! Hydraulically activated, DISK BRAKES! Duals, even! Feel! Feedback! I can stop at will! I was happy to be reunited with my electric jacket, too :-). I love dual-sporting, but I'll always have a street ride, and I was very happy to be back with my daily companion.

(Now I'm hankering for a real DP bike (in addition to a BMW R80GS for "adventure touring"). The current top candidate is a Honda XL350, a reasonable weight/power compromise, not too expensive, and probably manageable in terms of height with some seat modifications. It will be nice to ride something other than someone's kid's beater.)

I was sorry to wave goodbye to Blaine and head onto the highway to work, since it signalled the end of the adventure (not for Blaine, he still had almost 12 hours of mind-numbing droning to do). But I came into work feeling happier and more vital than I had for a long time. Food tastes better! Colors look brighter! Air smells sweeter! I felt like I'd lived an entire life. Maybe because a weekend like that WAS a lifetime. It was enough fun, work, challenge, effort, concentration, growth, learning, bonding and pure enjoyment to fill at least half a lifetime. And people wonder why we ride and put ourselves at risk! To LIVE! Half of America spent that weekend trudging "safely" around a mall. How can that "safety" possibly match the high of accomplishment? Experiences like the RR 500 are what LIVING is about, and I can't wait to do it again.

For the original images, see the following:

user dod
password spooge
directory dirt/rr500.dir

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