Riding motorbikes for 2900 miles with good friends is one of the best ways I can think of spending a spring vacation. And this trip did not disappoint.
We six riders of different ages backgrounds and gender were wrangled together by Wayne Elston - a legendary employee of Southsound BMW in Fife WA. Wayne is renowned for having an infections zeal for life. He put out the invite for this ten-day ride down and back to Death Valley National Park to meet up with some passionate adventure motorcycle people and ride some amazing terrain. This was just what the doctor ordered after a long wet, northwest winter, and I hastily accepted the invite!
The Death Valley event was the fundraising work of the Backcountry Discovery organization - a non-profit group dedicated to developing cross state, off-road routes for adventure motorcycles. They have developed eleven great routes so far. This fundraising meeting was designed to update 75 like-minded fanatics on the current happenings and future plans of the BDR. And riding motorcycles in the otherworldly landscape of Death Valley was the perfect venue.
The departure day was the first time our entire six-person group had met one another. So the pressure was on Wayne who curated the group - to have chosen well, both for motorcycle safety and personality compatibility. Needless to say, the trip proved Wayne's judge of character and capability to be spot on. We all had a blast riding together and rolled our way south in perfect adventure moto formation.
We had a lot of miles to cover and limited time so we had to choose our path wisely. There was a lot of geographic knowledge in the group, yet we chose the final route as we rode - responding in real-time to weather, rider mood and interests. We were not wired with intercoms, so pit stops, and food breaks were the only times that we'd be able to share the moments of the ride. During these breaks there's always a flurry of high fives, "did you see that?", and "wasn't that amazing!" And then it's time to get back on the bike and refocus - hour after hour, day after day. It is addicting.
The long distance rider’s mindset becomes really quiet and meditative - scanning the road from left to right like watching a cue ball roll back and forth across a pool table. From behind the face shield a mental movie of imagery is being recorded. And as you become one with your bike, there are times when you feel like your tires will stick to the pavement at any lean angle, and there are times when you feel tenuous and over powered - at the edge of control. This man-machine connection occurs only after hours of second nature body responses to countless external road and machine stimuli. I so appreciated this union, made possible by generations of brilliant engineers whose passion is providing the best motorcycle experience ever. And riding this Zen edge of control is both exhausting and exhilarating and is what long distance riding is all about for me!
By the time we reached our destination, we had formed a bond with our riding partners for achieving the goal and avoiding catastrophe. The miles we had shared became our secret language that other people would never know. The first night of the rally was filled with stories of similar journeys, while feasting on piles of barbecue chicken, potato salad and cups of Nevada's best IPA.
The next few days were oriented around organized rides, taking groups of mixed abilities and different displacements of bikes out and into some of the best off road riding the valley has to offer. And of course road and weather conditions are always changing, so someone who has ridden a route previously, might be surprised at how easy or difficult it has become this second or tenth time. The BDR group delivered great after dinner presentations about their current work and future visions. It was a blast being deeply immersed in this intoxicating adventure motorcycle culture.
As all things go, the time came to break down camp, and head back north. Our group disbanded right away as plans to meet relatives in California, sign for a new house, and take the slow road home prevented any one common route. I savored every mile riding by myself - enjoying the deeper level of freedom to explore and photograph the roads and places that called my name. Again my body became one with the bike, and my meditative mindset sharpened by intermittent coffee stops took in every road detail. As I laid in my sleeping bag at night, I saw the day flow through my mind. My hands and feet twitched for the throttle, clutch and brake, until I let go of control and fell into happy slumber.
The final miles passed under my bike and the sun dipped west behind the cascades leaving me in the shadow of these great peaks. I felt mixed emotions…. grateful to have safely ridden this amazing machine all those miles, but also sad to let go of the heightened sense of freedom and the connection with my 1200cc bike. The meditation was finally broken as I turned the key to the off position and peeled my boots away from the jagged foot pegs setting them on my driveway. I was home.
You can see a rough idea of our ride route here. We modified this route as we rode.
- John Day corners and curves
- Gravel roads along the Alvord desert
- Lake Tahoe riding and hotel, summit
- Reno BMW shop - great service and coffee
- June Lake Loop just above Mammoth
- Mt Whitney vistas around Lone Pine
- Entering D.V. park for the first time and seeing the scale of the valley
- first night group ride up Black Mountain to Dante's View Point
- Every mile of the Titus Canyon ride
- Remote twisty roads up the Wildrose Canyon to the Charcoal Kilns and digeri doo players)
- Heading back to camp after a long day of riding and leaning 25 degrees into the huge windstorms