I could hear them laughing at me. "What? You´re going to ride 200 miles on the highway and then do an 85 mile loop through the Sequoias on a 250? Ha ha ha. What about the ride home? Are you gonna bring an extra butt? Hah! Good luck!"
Some people have no sense of adventure whatsoever, and that´s their problem. I was going on my first dual sport ride, and I was excited. Dual sport bikes are four stroke dirtbikes which are fully street legal, which is handy. I got an XR250L from Honda, and had my gear going up with a neighbor who the race organizers knew in my neighborhood. Mike had left before dawn yesterday, and I had spent the morning warming the bike up with a spirited ride on the Crest.
When you´re getting ready for a dual sport ride, you should plan on each and every single kind of weather. You should also plan on getting there long before nightfall the day before the run. I of course showed up late, cold, and tired. There had been a cross wind all along route 14, and I had gotten lost. At one point, I was thirty miles up a lonely forest service road stopped to read a sign and consult my map when the engine quit and I was confronted to the two things you never get in LA: silence and a starry black night. Visions of a frozen journalist found in the woods crossed my mind.
But I found Mike, and even got to hang around by the fire with a bunch of people after pitching my tent. Everyone was glad happy to hear that I was going on my first dual sport ride, and had words of advice and warning. The major warning was that Simply Sequoia is one of the most difficult dual sport rides around.
Bright and early I showed up at the registration table and was embarrassed to hear that I was supposed to have my AMA card. I got a roll chart, a forestry service map with the ride marked out, and and words of encouragement to the effect that it wasn´t a race, and that there were numerous bailout roads I could take. No overt mention was made, but I was very aware that we were not to despoil any of the natural resources. We chatted for awhile with the rangers, who were all clearly motorcycle lovers. The weather was beautiful, although apparently the trails had been a little better a couple of days earlier after a little rain. The guys we were waiting to ride with showed up, and we were off.
The first part of the ride was the oldest, most whopped out part of the ride, and I was quickly left in the dust, trying to remember how this off-road thing is done. My limited off-road experience to date consisted of two stroke hijinks in the desert and that was a couple of years ago. I remembered that it is best to stand up, gas it, and jump as much as possible. I was starting to get the hang of it again, when I got faced buy the ugly fact that the front tire wanted to wash out on the dry soil. Slowing down was a temptation, but there is a certain optimal speed for whoops which mandates that one go for it. I was going for it when a tree came rushing out of the dust at me and I whacked it good and solid with my left hand, still on the clutch. I didn´t get hurt, but the bike hit a rock when it landed, crushing the turn signal housing. The bike got really heavy while I picked it up, and then it wouldn´t start. I kicked in vain for maybe five minutes and started feeling kinda low. "What am I doing with my life?" I wondered. "Take the next bailout road to the lunch stop" a little voice in my mind insidiously whispered. Nonesuch, I resolved.
Pretty much everyone passed me as I kicked at the bike, furiously at first, and with less enthusiasm after awhile. Someone stopped and taught me the trick I needed to know. Turn off the choke, open the throttle, and kick it over a few times to clear out the most likely flooded engine. Then, just a tad of choke and the throttle just barely cracked. It worked, and I was off. I hit another tree soon thereafter in a tight chicane through closely spaced trees, but right before I hit it I was relieved to see that someone else had already hit it today. At the next reset point for the roll chart, a bunch of guys were waiting for me. They laughed, gave me a little water, and warned me that there was a fine for hitting trees.
95% of the ride was on single tire trails which are generally optional expert routes on conventional dual sport rides. The crowd thinned rapidly, and I was surprised to see that although a hundred or so bikes had preceded me, the trail was only a foot wide for most of the way, with nary a knobby track onto the surrounding ground. At one point I came up behind some brave soul who was doing the course on a Paris-Dakar BMW. He was wedged into some rocks very solidly. Within a few minutes I and another rider were trying to help him up and out. Three other riders charged up a line around us like mountain goats, and they parked ahead to help us pull from the front. The BMW got out of the rocks, and everyone stopped for a little rest. "Don´t forget to clean up those tracks" one guy said, motioning to the line the second group had taken. Without hesitating, they proceeded to to clean up as best they could. I was impressed. There had been much talk of "tread lightly" at the start of the ride, and here it was in action. Nobody but dirtriders know how much dirtriders love Mother Earth. I wished Dianne Feinstein were here to see this.
The majority of the trails were along steep inclines paralleling the mountain. I was justifiably concerned about the possibility of dropping down the steep slope, but as I´ve said, there is a certain optimal speed required to maintain balance and control on a dirt bike. I was starting to learn how to do it, and then I realized that I was making mistake number two; tensing up. By eleven my legs felt like I had spend the morning doing supersets of squats, and my arms felt rubbery. I decided to spend more time stopping to worship the unbelievably beautiful meadows in the mountains. I was alone by now, and I had made the decision that if I were to arrive too late for lunch, then heading back to camp along a fire road was an honorable out. I didn´t realize it for awhile, but I was lost.
I came to a paved road at one point, and realized from the trail sign ahead, that I was way off course. I consulted my map, and decided to reconnoiter the road for a clearer idea of where I was. Conveniently enough, I was right near the information center. I checked the big map, and opted for the luxury of washing my face and drinking about half a gallon of water. I determined the nearest intercept route with the ride, and jammed on the gas, glad to get up past second gear for awhile. I stopped when I saw one of the other guys, checking a map. We picked up a few other stragglers along the way, and homed in on lunch. I was so hungry I had finished my potato salad before my steak had come off the grill.
To my surprise, a lot of the other riders were older guys. Older guys who had been motocross racers and enduro wild men. Family men with jobs and businesses who couldn´t take the time off to go racing. They wanted me to make sure that your, dear reader, knew that this wasn´t about racing. They were right , of course, and the truth is that most dual sport rides offer a mix of options, like ski mountains with bunny slopes and double diamond expert trails. In my lost confusion, I had inadvertently missed the infamous "rock steps" and the one rock bigger than a van that had to be charged over. I was blissfully bloating in the sun for a minute when suddenly I was overcome with a sick feeling that the ride home would be absolutely horrible. "Whatcha thinking about?" someone asked, and I confessed my concern. Within minutes, a ride to within fifty miles of home for me and my bike had been arranged with Jim an Jackie. This dual sport business involves a lot of camaraderie.
I tanked up on Gatorade ladled out of a hundred gallon cooler for awhile, and hit the trail again with Mike and his buddies. I found much to my amazement that I could keep up with them. It is said that one´s riding improves dramatically when one rides in the dirt, and I am convinced that it is true. One generally does not have the opportunity to slide tires and whack the engine guards on rocks. There is nothing like the sheer joy of charging up a steep hill while the little fairing hits you in the chest. And there is a lot to be said for seeing sights that nobody else except dedicated hikers get to see. When we reached the checkout point, I felt a little saddened that it was over. But there will be other dual sport rides.
If you´re interested in riding on a dual sport ride, call USA Dual Sport at (818) 761-7170, Team Dual Dogs at (818) 701-1913, AMA, or even your local dealer. Special thanks to Bryan Jordan, Mike Eaton, Erin& Jeff, Jim & Jackie, neighbor dude, and Jim Bates. When you go on your first dual sport ride a lot of people will help you and you´ll have lots of people to thank, too. Big wheel a-keep on rollin´.
By Paul Peczon
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since October 1, 1997
mildly updated Dec 09.