Saturday, April 30, 2005

RawHyde Adventure Rally - Day 2

3:30 p.m.

The ride back into camp, which I had been dreading from the moment we came down from Cerro Gordo turned out to be a breeze. Standing up, weight back, heavy on the throttle, the bike sailed through the gravel with only occasional oscillations.

At the start of each new chapter in these adventures, I’m forced to confront my own lack of confidence. It’s habitual.

Last night, Anne said we needed to find Kari to ask his opinion whether the Cerro Gordo ride would be too challenging for us. Jim had billed it as an “intermediate and above” ride. So I had been leaning towards joining the “novice” group which Jim would be leading up to Aguereberry Point, for “one of the best views in the West.”

Kari’s recommendation: “do the Cerro Gordo run. You’re going to be riding this stuff where you’re going.” Perhaps to reassure me, he added that I seem to be “a natural” from what he’s seen (at “Adventure Camp”.)

***

I was up at 5:00 a.m., “having given up trying to sleep.” Anxious about the day ahead, I needed time to prepare. It always takes me longer than others to get organized I had clearly brought many things along that I didn’t need, and neglected to bring other things that would have been useful (such as a chair.)



Our Leader, Issa Eismont of "BMW of San Francisco" fame



Fellow World Traveler, Anne Girardin ("Anna Moto Diva")



Rider in training: Death Valley rally (note location of red tent)


This morning, we signed up for our rides, received maps with GPS coordinates (not much help for me), then assembled in our groups. The Cerro Gordo contingent was large, perhaps 100 riders. The helicopter was in the air, capturing photos of the crowd. (Now I wished I had spoken up!)

It was necessary to stagger departures, as the first riders off the line were kicking up clouds of dust. We were leaving camp on a dirt road that led north along Panamint Valley’s eastern edge, so for me, the test began immediately.

After some photos at the starting line, I joined a second wave, taking my time and allowing other riders to pass, and holding back for the air to clear. Within minutes, I came upon a downed rider who had found a deep sandy trough in the road. Helped him up, then we moved on. Quickly, I grew pretty comfortable riding along at 30 to 45 mph.

We emerged at the highway near Wildhorse Road. I passed a large group of bikes topping off at the Panamint Springs gas station and soon found I was on my own. Took the highway gently, as I had deflated the tire pressures to about 22 pounds front and 25 pounds rear for this off-road riding. Now I didn’t want to take a chance on rolling the tires off the rims in one of these tight curves.

Came upon a small group paused at the Saline Valley turn-off and joined them on the shoulder. (This is the same road my brother Jeff and I had taken in his VW “Beetle” one night back in 1972, or so.)

I seemed in no hurry to grapple with the unknown. Watched as small groups set out, racing north on Saline Valley Road’s broken pavement. Finally, I took off on my own, since that’s how I’ll be traveling. The first ten miles were a breeze, then, after forking onto White Mountain Talc Road, the surface was covered in loose rock, and I was taking some good jolts, but keeping up the pace.

Cresting a hill, the road then led down a steep, narrow canyon, becoming very rocky. There was simply no “best path” to choose through the debris. It was a wild ride, and out of control, as the bike was knocked all over the road. Fortunately, I wasn’t steered into the cliffside boulders. Reaching the canyon bottom, there was an open area, a stopping point, before our path turned left and began an immediate climb to Cerro Gordo peak.

The last couple miles had been harrowing. I needed to collect my wits. It had been hard work, just hanging on, and now I was ready for a “breather”. Of course, a few stopped bikes just attracted more. We compared notes on the ride thus far.

There were some crazy riders out here, “eating this stuff up!” Gary (“Timex”) started up the leg to Cerro Gordo and crashed within 50 yards. It was treacherous. The experienced riders counseled us “momentum is your friend. Give it the gas and don’t let up.”



The approach to Cerro Gordo


I noticed others taking photos and was reminded that I too had brought a camera. So I took it out and snapped some as well. But I couldn’t stall any longer. I had to face the inevitable. I suited up and took a deep breath. If I could get past this first uphill stretch, I might be okay. Building momentum in a hurry would be the challenge.

I followed others’ advice: “focus on the horizon, choose your path, and go for it! Don’t look down at the wheels or at a particular obstacle. You’ll certainly hit it.” It was a rough ride. I was continually amazed how this bike would plow ahead, driving through the worst rubble.

I got better at picking the line and avoiding some unnecessary brutality. Panting and sweating, it was necessary to stop every mile or so. The altitude was probably getting to me. Cerro Gordo Peak is 9,184 feet tall.

So concerned with staying up off the ground, I paid little attention to navigation, but just kept climbing. Finally, I reached a snow field which covered most of the road. A group had gathered to rest, and to guide others through, skirting the snow bank. A half mile further was the ridgetop rest area, where many had gathered to have lunch.



Lunch stop at Cerro Gordo


It felt great to arrive unscathed, and to shed my suit. I laid it out so the inner lining would dry in the warm sun. Ate lunch as I wandered among the assembled riders, then took out the camera and played photographer, capturing riders as they made their final run at the summit. Caught Anne as she passed my position and promised to send her a copy of the photo.



Anne ("Anna Moto Diva") arrives at the summit



Training in the Panamint Range (That's not me)



World travelers Mike Cardwell and Anne


From the ridge, we looked west across the Owens Valley to the High Sierra. The Cerro Gordo ghost town was just a short distance down the western face. We were advised not to park there unless we intended to pay a $5 “donation” for a tour of the town.



Death Valley Rally. On the west slope of Cerro Gordo looking out at the Sierra Nevada rampart.


The trail down the west side was more like a dirt highway. A relief after what we had been through. It was anticlimactic, but this was fine with me because the views were spectacular, and I was able to enjoy them. I stopped again to take photos of riders descending the mountain.

Reaching the highway at Keeler, riders gathered, comparing stories and congratulating one another. I spoke with one fellow on an R1200GS who said he was on his fourth top box. “They keep falling off! The latch spring weakens.” Great. Remind me to pack only non-valuables there.



After the descent from Cerro Gordo


Tried to re-inflate my tires, but discovered my new electric pump didn’t have the necessary accessory plug adapter to fit a BMW outlet. “Brilliant!” So, I took the highway back to Panamint Springs at a slow pace.

LATER

Back at camp, Sharon and Jeff were talking about moving their tent. “That’s funny,” I told them. “I was thinking about doing the same thing.” It had been too noisy last night.

“No, no. You stay!” Then I learned it was my snoring that was causing them to flee.

“But I didn’t even sleep last night,” I protested.

“Oh, you slept!” Sharon testified.

Sacha, who was camped on the opposite side, confirmed that I had indeed slept very soundly!

Sharon wasn't finished. She said it was like a cartoon and she had even come over and shaken my tent in an attempt to make me stop. Today, she was miserable.

“Well,” I retorted meekly “it was pay-back for keeping me awake so long with your chatter!”

Then Sharon asked “were you really thinking of moving?”

With a sudden change of tone, she said “we’ll help you!”

And so I found a patch of desert far from other tents. Everyone would be happy. Sharon and Jeff carried my erected tent while I moved luggage to the new site. Simple.



My "repositioned" tent. The neighbors didn't appreciate my snoring.


Now this is turning into my chief concern about traveling: it’s possible my snoring will upset someone so much they will murder me!

***

Though I personally was completely exhausted by the ride to Cerro Gordo, many returned from that ride only to set out again on afternoon rides. It was very impressive.

Gary (“Timex”) returned late in the afternoon after attempting to reach Charles Manson’s cabin, tucked away up a nearly inaccessible canyon. It was considered an “expert” ride, rock “steps” being among the challenges. On a big R1200GS, it proved too difficult, and he gave up after a couple falls. I admired him immensely for even trying.

He’s a gutsy rider, and it amazes me that at about 5’5” in height, he can even handle the R1200GS!

For a long time, I noticed people walking over to take showers by the water truck. I knew it would feel wonderful, but was “self-conscious”. Under cover of dusky, partly cloudy skies, I changed into shorts, t-shirt and flip-flops and walked on over. Scott had the same idea.

The jury-rigged open shower featured a plywood “floor” and hoses strapped overhead to a pipe framework; the cool water and a strong desert wind made it quite brisk and motivated us to be brief. As expected, I felt greatly refreshed afterward.



The showers


Enjoyed several beers inside the camouflaged bar tent, my purchases supporting the “Trona Veterans of Foreign Wars”. As I sat in the shade, a big rider was helped in, apparently suffering from a broken leg. He was gently lowered into the seat next to me.

Jim was assessing the situation and trying to determine the best course of action. He certainly didn’t need this kind of incident drawing negative attention to his events. The rider said he was traveling at about 80 mph in the dirt, trying to keep up with a couple riding “two up”! That’s when he “washed out”. The couple was there, and were now bantering with the ill-fated rider. I was simply amazed that they could ride together on one bike in this stuff.



Dinner on the bar-bie


Relaxing in camp gave me an opportunity to wander the sponsors’ booths. Visited with the “Touratech” and “Jesse Bag” folks, comparing panniers and helmets. All the possibilities for modifying my bike. But I wouldn’t know where to begin. I don’t yet have the experience to change anything. So, I will stick with what I have: the BMW “Vario” panniers and top box and BMW crash bar. That’s about it.

Jim rode around the camp rounding up his “alumni” for a special reception. In a corner of the camp formed by Jim’s trailers, GeGe had laid out a very nice spread of appetizers, a special treat. “This is the life!” Jim had created a large promotional banner for the “Adventure Camp”. It was stretched across the side of one of the trailers. One photo on the banner showed Jim, Anne and I out in the California Poppy Preserve. “I want a copy of that!” I told him.

Dinner tonight featured tri-tip. As usual, I was at the back of the line, just behind three riders I had met at Cerro Gordo. Joined Gary for dinner and learned more about his adventure at Charlie Manson’s place.

After dinner, Jim began what he called “a fireside chat”, and as threatened, he called the four “world travelers” to join him on the “stage” (the mobile kitchen lift gate.) Anne Girardin, Sacha Beriro, Mike Cardwell and I. Mike was on “Day 2” of his round-the-world tour.

Jim had a list of prepared questions about our planned travels. It was very informal, and with darkness concealing most of the 200 or so listeners, I had no anxiety about being in the spotlight. We handed the microphone back and forth, taking turns with our responses.

It felt like there was nothing particularly special about me and my plans. Anne, Sacha and Mike, on the other hand were clearly more colorful (and rightfully so, I thought. This is about youth and adventure, not about some old guy creeping around the Americas.)

But Jim was a good host, showing respect and concern for each person. He invited us to stay on stage and ask questions of tonight’s guest speaker, Grant Johnson – or not, if we wish. I guess none of us were that comfortable on stage. We elected to re-join the audience.. I drifted off to the outer fringes of the crowd.

In his talk, Grant emphasized the need to avoid worry. “Just get out there and do it. That’s the fun of it,” he said.

Following the fireside chat, Jim held another raffle drawing. There were many prizes to give out, primarily from event sponsors. Again, one of my numbers was called, this for a $50 gift certificate for the BMW dealer in Sparks, Nevada. And again I didn’t speak up. Just slow on the draw, by this time.

Tonight, my tent felt quite comfortable. “I can get used to this!” I had the tent oriented perfectly, and the end flaps open so the strong south wind could blow right through.

Friday, April 29, 2005

RawHyde Adventure Rally - Day 1

Up at 5:30 to finish packing for the "RawHyde Adventure Rally" at Ballarat, California (just west of Death Valley).

It’s the first time I’ve tried carrying this much on the bike, and each additional bag creates new challenges. But I was soon out of time. I had to get going by 6:45, in order to meet other riders at the rendezvous point. No coffee. By-passed the office. (I had planned on checking in.)

Riding with my new sunglasses was unbearable. These are the first prescription sunglasses I’ve ever worn. They’re fine, until I wear them under a helmet. The combination of Lexan face shield and polarized lenses results in a psychedelic array of colored effects. “Great! That’s a waste of a couple hundred dollars.”

Over to Cordelia Junction to await other riders from the Bay Area. Issa Eismont of "BMW of San Francisco" is leading the Bay Area group to Ballarat.

Watched with interest as a tanker truck driver delivered his load of fuel. After about thirty minutes, a bunch of bikes roared in, Issa leading the pack aboard a big R1150GS. I barely recognized him in all his riding gear.

No waiting around; we took off, ten riders with Issa up front. We rode in a “convoy”, and I had to pick up the “rules of the road”, the staggered formation, lane-changing practices and signals, the regular stretching exercises (while driving), the policy of pulling over should any rider stop.

Issa communicated by radio with a rider on “clean-up”. Riding in a group is much different! I’m glad I’ll be on my own. There’s so much focus on maintaining position within the group, following “rules”, watching everyone’s slightest moves. Forget watching the scenery! And forget decision-making. On my own, I would have been doing much more passing!

On U.S. 50, we stopped at Shingle Springs to refuel. But Issa’s a riding animal! He pushed ahead with only the briefest of stops. Highway 50 offers some great riding experiences, but today traffic was too heavy. There were only a few opportunities to wind the bikes out.

I was surprised though how quickly we arrived at Echo Summit, overlooking Lake Tahoe from the south. We followed a slow train of cars winding down into the Tahoe Basin, and then quickly left it behind, turning south on Highway 89.

I didn’t see much as I was too busy watching other riders. Someone had missed the turn-off, and our clean-up guy had to go chase him down. They finally caught up at a crossroads down on the Nevada side of the mountains.

We maintained 80 mph as much as possible. Going up Walker Canyon, there were a few opportunities to race with the “big dogs”. At Bridgeport, we refueled and took a lunch break. Most riders had packed a lunch. A glorious day up here; clear, mild and breezy. Got to know a couple of my fellow riders.

Anne, I learned, had a problem with her bike this morning and would be meeting us at Ballarat. For a little variety, throughout the ride we would alternate positions, sometimes up with the leader, sometimes bringing up the rear. But heading down my favorite Highway 395 grade, north of Mono Lake, I had to be right up there near the front, as a few of us made a sprint, playing in the huge, sweeping curves. I was curious just how well the Continental (“Conti”) TKC80 “knobbies” would grip on high speed curves. They were fine (at least at 80 to 90 mph.)

We were racing the sun toward Panamint Valley. Now I understood Issa’s pace earlier in the day. The Sierra rampart was awesome in the late afternoon shadows. Telescope Peak, which separates Panamint and Death Valleys, was glowing with its snow capped summit.

Turned south in Panamint Valley, toward Trona. I kept searching the eastern flanks of the valley for Ballarat, until finally I saw the glint of reflected sunlight in the distance. We came to the turn-off for Ballarat ghost town. I was surprised that it was a dirt road. Not only that, the bikes were wobbling all over in the thick dust. Ahead, I could see where seasonal rivers had washed across the road, depositing sand and gravel.

“Sharon”, riding an R1100S just ahead of me, was having trouble controlling here bike in this stuff, and my bike was drifting all over the road, as if it had a mind of its own. Suddenly, Sharon lost control about 100 feet ahead of me and went down.

Barely, handling my own bike, I pulled over to help her out. She was unhurt, but shaken and very agitated. No one had told her about this stuff, and she was even told it was fine to bring a street racing bike. Someone was going to pay! An heroic experienced dirt rider offered to ride Sharon’s bike into camp , while she was given a lift in a pick-up.

A bit shaken up by the suddenness of her fall, I proceeded with trepidation, but we soon hit hardpack. The encampment was much larger than I expected. Actually, I didn’t know what to expect. It was my first rally.

I was slow to figure everything out. But following others’ cues, I checked in. Jim Hyde seemed happy to see me. I was given a “chit” for a free beer, a RawHyde Adventure t-shirt, raffle tickets, meal tickets and I purchased two “shower tickets”. Nursed a beer (“Trona Red”?) while surveying the camp and surrounding landscape. Bikes everywhere, big RahwHyde Adventure support trailers, camouflaged army tents, a helicopter sitting idle, a water truck, vans representing various event sponsors.

Anne arrived, and I was happy to see a familiar face. Together we located the rest of “our group” who were now well on their way to establishing tent and campsites. I was still trying to figure out how to start on my tent (I had set it up once in the living room at home) when Jim called everyone together for the official welcoming and review of the weekend’s agenda.

After the address, a buffet dinner would commence, but I still needed to get back to my tent. Staked out a spot next to Sharon and Jeff. Sharon’s bike stood out front, a cloth hiding some of the damage. With some assistance, got my tent set up. (“Now, imagine doing this in wind and rain,” I told myself.) I had to think about every step. It was all new to me. And then, how to organize all my gear once it was taken of the bike. “What will I need?”

There was a long line-up for the dinner buffet. I joined in at the tail end. Mexican food. I was amazed how many people had come equipped with camp chairs. ‘How did they fit all this stuff on their bikes?” I joined a few other diners standing around Jim’s mobile kitchen van and using its lift gate as a table.

In the dark, someone asked “Tim?” I turned with a blank look. It was Scott Anderson from Sonoma. “What the…how did you hear about this? What are you riding?”

Scott had purchased an R1150GS about the same time I bought my bike. He rode down with a friend, and they planned to spend a few extra days exploring the area. I never knew he was “an off-road adventurer,” and was familiar with many of the local canyons.

As the evening went on, I was feeling a little less lost, though still uncomfortable. Jim raffled off four chances at a helicopter ride. I had a winning ticket, but was feeling so disoriented, I didn’t want to add anything else to the mix. I remained silent. Jim said we had about 225 riders here, in addition to all the support vehicles and staff.

One of the first people I had spoken to upon arrival was Grant Johnson of “Horizons Unlimited”. He and his wife had traveled around the world on motorcycle for (I believe) thirteen years! I asked his opinion about which tires were best for this.

“You’re mainly going to be on roads. You don’t need the TKC80s. They don’t last.” His “rule of thumb”: one set of tires per continent.

He added that I should spend less time in North America than I was planning. “You can do that when you’re 80. Spend as much time as you can in South America.”

Grant will be our guest speaker tomorrow night.

I was fairly comfortable in my tent, a wonderful wind blowing through the screens. But I could hear everything: people jabbering in nearby tents, and a boisterous group down the way drinking late into the night. Ear plugs didn’t help much.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Crime fighter

Startled awake this morning. I had been trying to fight off two nasty criminals using my flashlight and camera.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

As if on a stage

Arriving home tonight, went over to see Jack and offer him a sandwich. I had purchased it for Jessica, but she was not home to receive it. We chatted for a while. He asked if I would mind if they rented the apartment while I was away. I told him I was open to the idea, but after I went away and considered the proposal, it became clear that this was a sign it’s time to go. Sixteen years living off their generosity is enough. My life must go through some changes now.

***

This morning, a message went out that the former Robert Mondavi Executive Offices at 841 Latour Court in Napa would be open for us to browse before the movers arrive to transport furnishings to storage. We were welcome to take anything we wished (besides the furnishings themselves.)

The scene was reminiscent of a flea market, though a flea market late in the day. I wandered through the clutter, not so interested in finding anything of value, but to walk with a strange sense of wonder at this now silent stage where once would “strut and fret” powerful men and women.

The work of so many was now in boxes, trash cans, stacked carelessly on desktops, as if suddenly everyone realized the meaninglessness of it all. In a sense it was sad, recalling the days we were crowded into this large office space, a hive of activity. But it also reinforced my conviction that the time is right for a new adventure. “Everything dies.”

Arrived at my usual evening “hang-out”, “A’Roma Roasters” in Santa Rosa’s Railroad Square. In a vacant lot across the tracks, a fight had broken out among a group of homeless people, one fellow screaming that another had raped his “girl.”

The accused was knocked to the ground and the accuser started kicking him. He then picked up a stick and was striking the poor fellow curled up on the ground. I yelled out and started towards them. The wild man was apparently intoxicated and came towards me, shouting accusations, snot running from his nose, his forearm in a cast. He was a mess. And, not much of a threat.

But he had broken off the attack and that was all I was concerned about. I didn’t feel any fear, just a sense of injustice, not only about the violence, but that so many are abandoned by society.

Standing in line for my coffee, I wondered if I had done "the right thing". There’s so much I don’t know about the human condition.

Monday, April 11, 2005

“The Samples”

Preparations for my journey seem to be stalling. There is still a lengthy list of tasks, but I had not allowed for possible interference: the RawHyde Adventure Camp (and recovery from that camp), the body's reaction to the Yellow Fever vaccination, the on-going, dragged-out farewells of lay-offs spanning six months, and the occasional requests from “Corporate” in New York (to which I actually try to devote my full attention.)

I learned the term for the malaise I’ve been experiencing: myalgia. And, yes, the literature provided by the Health Department warns of mild adverse reactions, including myalgia, in 2 to 5% of these vaccinations. Today, the aches have subsided, though urination is still painful.

Mondavi’s “Closure Service Group”, Mark, Russ, Lisa and I met the Amorim cork team (Tony, Jack and Daryl) for lunch at Angele restaurant in Napa. Given the upheaval at Mondavi, this was merely a social gathering, a meeting of old friends. Lisa brought a bottle of 1994 Opus One from her collection, a very special wine she knows Tony loves to try whenever he’s in California.

In social settings these days, I feel numb and distracted (perhaps because I am.) As usual, Tony, the young chairman of the world’s largest wine cork manufacturing firm, impressed us with his up-to-the-minute knowledge of the wine industry, including the situation at Mondavi.

This afternoon, I read the article that was the basis for some of Tony’s insights, a Wine Spectator interview with the Sands brothers, leaders of “Constellation Brands”. In the interview, they recount with pride how they were able to manipulate the Mondavi Family, Board of Directors, Senior Leadership and shareholders.

My first impression: “Scumbags”. It is just an empire-building, ego-driven game for the vain heathens. These (virtually without exception) men act in the solemn interest of nameless “shareholders”. (After, of course, modestly providing for their own comfort.)

It is gambling on a grand, and legitimized scale, where the expectation of “something for nothing” is unquestioned. And, in these schemes, the victims are many. Consumers, including those who cannot afford to be “players”, in fact subsidize the game.

Yet most Americans (myself included) join in this capitalist game. We “invest” in stocks, bonds and mutual funds, hoping to profit from our money’s use by others. We entrust others to “grow” our wealth, magically as it were. At Mondavi, we have seen how the charade works. And as we well know, charades are unsustainable.

I’m not really bitter though. It’s just sometimes easier to watch the game from the sidelines.


***

6:30 p.m.

Sitting in my car on a Petaluma side street behind The Mystic Theater. The sounds of music reverberate off buildings as “The Samples” warm up inside for tonight’s concert. Called Jeff to let him hear the Burlington band that has come perform here in Sonoma County.

Jeff said he has 130 miles on his R1200GS now! It was 41 degrees for his ride around the Waterbury, Vermont area today. I had received a few Adventure Camp photos from Jim today, and forwarded them on to Jeff. He seems to genuinely enjoy sharing in the experience.


***

Tonight’s concert was bittersweet. The opening band, whose name I couldn’t even pronounce, was noteworthy only in that between many songs, the four members rotated instruments. Occasionally, even during a song. After the novelty wore off, it became more of an annoyance. But then they were generally annoying; loud, brash, with words obliterated by noise and distortion.

This made The Samples shine even more as a band that is mature, tight, in touch and in tune. I was ashamed by the anemic Sonoma County turnout. At maximum, there were 75 people in the audience, and certainly not all paying-customers. At $15 per ticket, it was a losing proposition. (Who would schedule a concert on a Monday night???)

But The Samples’ lead singer Sean Kelly took it in stride, acknowledging the deficit and setting us at ease with the poor showing. (The thirty feet of floor space between stage and the first row of seats was empty, except for a pair of shoes someone had - symbolically? - thrown out into the open space.) He told everyone to get up and come forward, even insisting, until finally we were all gathered close to the stage. And then The Samples played to us.

Through nearly twenty years of performing, Kelly has grown comfortable in the face of such challenges. He engaged the crowd, inviting two folks to join him on stage, giving each a tambourine to accompany the band. He tossed out bootleg CDs and asked who in the audience was available to take the band sightseeing to Muir Woods tomorrow.

Late in the show, I noticed he was singing to a particular woman, front and center, a big smile on his face. She was holding close the arm of a man (her husband or friend.) Then I noticed her cane. She was blind. Kelly motioned for Dan Blondin to join him at the front of the stage with his acoustic guitar. Together, they knelt down and invited the couple closer so she could explore the guitars with her hands while they played.

It was such a sweet gesture and drew a roar of appreciation from the crowd. The woman seemed to glow. “These guys have class,” I thought.

Learn more about The Samples at: Link

Writing lessons

Up at 10:30, after about 12 hours of rest. Again, I felt wasted. Washed the car. The sun felt good, even rejuvenating. During the car wash, to add insult to injury (or injury to insult), I threw my back out slightly. Haven’t done that in quite a while.

Tonight, I had reached sleep saturation. Lay awake, unable to sleep. The night was still, and outside I could hear animals creep about, claws sliding down the rough bark of a tree trunk, a strange cry moving through the woods. I reflected on “Adventure Camp” and how I was challenged at every step. How surprised I was with man and machine. As Whitman wrote, we “level that lift to pass and continue beyond.”

Turned the light on at 2:00 a.m. and took up 8 Around once again. “This is a terrible book,” I tell myself, but it shows what not to become on the road.

Chris Scott, in the Adventure Motorcycling Handbook, describes Helge Pedersen’s chronicle Ten Years on Two Wheels. “There’s none of the ‘next day I got up and…’ here.”

That, of course is the precise manner in which I write, a kind of logbook of day’s events. I like lists. I don’t know if I can avoid what is by now “second nature”.

Saturday, April 09, 2005

Under the weather

Finally up before 8:00, weak, aching and depressed. Realized I was reacting to the Yellow Fever vaccine. At my age, the body is less tolerant of such things. Overwhelmed thinking about the work ahead.

Washed the bike, but every muscle in my body seemed to ache. (I would later learn that “myalgia” is one possible side effect of the vaccine.) Through the cleaning process, I become a little more familiar with the motorcycle. Noticed the pannier, or saddle bag mounting bolts had worked loose and re-tightened them.

A wonderful, breezy Spring day. Unfortunately, I wasn’t in a state to appreciate it.

Hung out at “A’Roma Roasters” for a couple of hours, reading 8 Around the Americas. It’s actually a pretty lousy book! Mr. Bausenhardt has quite an attitude problem. (Look who’s talking!)

Friday, April 08, 2005

A Tradition

I designated today “Purchasing Graduation Day.” My department will soon disband, most of us being laid off. But we celebrated in a traditional way: a long, leisurely lunch at “Domaine Chandon’s" outstanding restaurant.

To accommodate a conference call that Janice needed to participate in, we would drive to Robert Mondavi Winery. While Janice was using a conference room for the call, the rest of us would enjoy sampling some of the winery’s reserve wines in the “To Kalon Room”. The staff there always takes special care of us, freely pouring whatever we wish to taste. I will miss their kindness.

There was only one wine I wished to try: the 2001 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve, a wine heralded as one of the winery’s best in many years. Joyce, Tim, Mark and I sat by the fire, savoring our wine and quietly chatting.

We moved on to "Domaine Chandon", where Stephen joined us. For lunch, Joyce brought a bottle of 1997 Chateau St. Jean “Cinq Cepages”, another very special wine, and I contributed a 1997 Mondavi Reserve Cabernet. Of course, Domaine always begins a meal by pouring their outstanding sparkling wine (“champagne”). In our experience, they never charge for this (though it may simply be a gesture for those in the industry.) So, we were well-lubricated for a warm and enjoyable afternoon.

The service was noticeably better this year. (Last year, I had some concerns.) Our server was quite animated and expert. This went a long way towards setting me at ease.

No profound speeches this year (not that I would know how to make a profound speech.) Just a simple “thank you” to a wonderful team. We had been through a tumultuous time, but throughout it all, they had never failed in setting a very high standard in our company.

As happens in a great restaurant, we immediately began passing plates around, so everyone could sample each other’s selections. I didn’t even think to bring a camera today, which I later regretted.

Another part of the tradition, rain began falling during our lunch. It wouldn’t be the same without it softening the pastoral oak-studded landscape.

I picked up the $600 tab, for the last time. But I would not consider “expensing” this. These people add so much to my life. Were it not for their knowledge, experience and effort, my job would be considerably more difficult.

Driving home this afternoon, I was incredibly tired. (No doubt the wine and stormy weather contributed.) Had to pass on a Samantha Stollenwerk concert I had hoped to attend in San Francisco tonight.

Home and went right to bed

Gasoline has reached $2.70 per gallon, ten times my earliest recollection of gas prices, in 1963 or thereabouts.

Thursday, April 07, 2005

Shots

Another busy, scattered day. Waking up to an apartment strewn with travel gear only stokes the sense of "life out of control”.

A damp morning. I had a 9:00 a.m. appointment for a Yellow Fever vaccination at the Napa Health Department. Tina, the nurse assisting me, provided a routine traveler’s consultation. She looked at the CDC website, and recommendations for the areas I would be visiting. In addition to Tetanus, Hepatitis B and Yellow Fever vaccinations, she strongly recommended Hepatitis A, Typhoid Fever and Rabies vaccinations. Today I had the Yellow Fever shot and opted for the 4-capsule oral Typhoid vaccine (which I’ll take over the coming week.)

During the consultation, she warned “don’t eat salsa.” (“Are you crazy?”) “Don’t go in streams and lakes.” (“Are you insane???”) “And when you’re at the beach, always wear foot protection.”

We Americans are truly paranoid, and our government is not helping matters. They only feed the fear.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Aches and pains

My left hand sore and shoulders aching this morning. The only residual of my training.

Reading Werner Bausenhardt’s “8 Around the Americas”, a quirky, eccentric account of his motorcycle travels. He uses the disturbing convention of referring to himself and his motorcycle as “we” (unless he’s indeed just using the Royal “We” to refer to himself!)

Still, there are useful nuggets to be found within, as he essentially mapped the route I hope to follow.

Thinking about my adventures ahead, injuries are likely. It’s just a question of how many, and how bad? Quite a change from office life, where paper cuts are the oft-cited hazard.

Monday, April 04, 2005

RawHyde Adventure Camp - Training Day 3

Awakened by the sound of rain on my tent. It was 4:00 a.m. Needed to make a pee run to the pasture. (Does this occur more frequently when camping?) Since I was up, I crept around the camp, moving others’ riding gear out of the rain.

After breakfast, we all packed up. The weather was changing, turning cold and threatening rain (or snow?) Our first test for the day was taking our fully-loaded bikes down a hillside to the road. The plan was for everyone to assemble at the nearby town of Gorman, where we could refuel before heading out to the California Poppy Preserve. Jim had suggested a few options for our final day of training. We chose the Preserve, out in Antelope Valley.

Near Gorman, a light rain began falling. At the gas station, a woman pulled in driving a well-worn car. She had a couple of kids in the back seat. A few of us riders were loitering, waiting for others to arrive, and watched her with curiosity.

She climbed out of the car and scurried about. Scantily-clad, her huge breasts and very ample behind barely contained by her stretchy clothes, she was struggling in the cold and rain to raise her front passenger-side window.

I went over to assist, wondering if the absence of any others joining me meant I was suffering some lapse of judgment. This woman, whose profession I was guessing, was a complete mess.

The window mounts were clearly broken and the window had fallen into the door. She explained how she usually “secures” the window in the upright position. I was able to fish it out of the door panel and eventually get it wedged closed, though I doubted it would remain that way. She, however, was satisfied, and I left it at that. I had done my duty. (“Just don’t ask anything else of me,” I thought as I walked away.)

Jim arrived, his truck pulling a trailer loaded with bikes. We all followed him east, out into Antelope Valley. Buffeted by a cold north wind slanting across the highway, I looked off to the left, the valley sweeping up into distant snow-dusted mountains. I imagined this must be similar to riding on the North Slope of Alaska in June. I’ll soon have a chance to confirm this notion.

Soon we reached the master grid that is the Mojave Desert Development Plan. Jim turned left onto one of the numbered “streets” (out in this barren desert landscape) and pulled to the shoulder. This would be our take-off point.

We unloaded his bike and were soon heading north to intersect the California Aqueduct. A dirt service road runs alongside the aqueduct, and this was to be our warm-up ride. We gathered around as Jim reminded us of some riding techniques we’d need out here. He warned there was one stretch of deep sand. We would know it because he would be waiting there to monitor us, and he emphatically added “don’t slow down!”



This photo, snapped by Julian Orr, was taken as we were riding along the California Aqueduct in Antelope Valley. Jim Hyde, the creator of RawHyde Adventures is the silver-haired fellow in the center. Yours truly standing to the right of him. Anne Girardin, on her yellow R650GS is to the left.


Then we were off. Gradually becoming accustomed to the road surface, I joined Gary, Daryl and Boyd who were “hot on the heels” of Jim. Standing on our pegs and traveling at 50 or 60 mph through the dirt was a kick, knees pressing against the gas tank to push the bike into turns, shifting weight to the outside peg to maintain stability and rolling on the throttle when the sand got deep and squirrelly. It was a great opportunity to put Jim’s lessons to work.

We turned south, rejoined the highway, then aimed for a butte out in the valley’s center, which marked the Preserve. We rode right out into the middle of fields carpeted with poppy, lupine and goldfields, following a barely-evident path. “Is this legal,” I wondered?



Jim Hyde took this photo of his Adventure Camp "graduates". California Poppy Preserve, Antelope Valley. I'm the one with the half-hearted gesture.



Rider training. California Poppy Preserve, Antelope Valley. (Yours truly can be recognized by the shiny crown.) This photo was taken by Julian Orr.



A photo Brian Barbata took with his cell phone!


We ate lunch standing beside out bikes, knee-deep in flowers. Posed for photos. Jim had one taken of him with “the World Travelers”, Anne and myself. After a break, he gave us an overview of the trails in the Preserve, the technicality of each and a few cautions, then set us loose to explore.

Besides the flowers and bluffs, one of the Preserve’s main features is a dry, sandy riverbed winding through the landscape. My least favorite thing, sand. I forced myself to try crossing the wash (maybe 25 or 30 yards wide at this point.) Made it across the first time, however during a second attempt, I was too timid with the throttle and sunk the bike deep in sand. (It just stood there in the sand after I climbed off.)

Up on the bank, Jim smiled broadly as he announced “Tim’s stuck!” Then rode off to check on his other charges. Soon, I had spectators commenting that it was “my turn” to play.

Those with experience in this situation advised me to push the bike over on its side, fill in the tire ruts, lift it up again, then try to drive it forward while walking beside it. The method worked, and I was able to crawl out of the sand and up the bank. The exertion destroyed any notion that riding in sand might eventually be “fun”.

Followed Kari up a small but steep hill, well-used by dirt riders. A rush of energy. Turned around to go down and stalled just over the brink, nose pointed downhill, clutching the brake.

“Now what do I do?”

Watching from below, Kari talked me down. “Put it in neutral, then let her go. Just ride it down.”

Jim sensed things were getting out-of-control. He couldn’t account for all the riders, so he called for us to regroup, darting here and there through the fields like a cavalry scout on his mount. We waited quite a while, scanning and listening before the last rider appeared. Daryl had been exploring the bluffs on his KTM “Adventure”. He is quite the adventurer. (I learned over the weekend that he’s a highly-regarded yachtsman in the Pacific.)



Jim Hyde, creator of "RawHyde Adventure" with his graduate "World Travelers", Anne Girardin and the bald guy


Returning to our take-off point, we said our farewells. Kari and Julian were hauling their bikes back to Mountain View. Anne and I joined them for the ride north.

Out on Interstate 5, I soon became aware of the downside to riding with others. You are so focused on following group protocols and monitoring the others' positions and actions, that the scenery becomes secondary. And plans must be negotiated. I proposed a stop at “Harris Ranch”, but Kari and Julian wanted to drive on through.

Of course, I had to demonstrate a couple of times how quick my bike is, especially when passing trucks on the busy interstate. We split up at the Highway 152 turn-off.

Crossed Altamont Pass around sunset and soon stopped for dinner at an “In-N-Out” restaurant. I noticed that I carried myself as “the weary traveler”. Simply an act. In the Bay Area, drivers were noticeably more aggressive. Usually, I just respond in kind, but today I was more shocked than agitated. At the Benicia Bridge toll plaza, I fumbled with cold and weary hands to extract my wallet, then pull out some currency.

Reached my home on Sonoma Mountain after 9:00 p.m., standing on my pegs as I rode up the gravel driveway. Just like a true GS rider!

(4/11/11 update: Sadly, I learned today that Kari Prager passed away last November 14th, the result of a respiratory ailment.)

Sunday, April 03, 2005

RawHyde Adventure Camp - Training Day 2

Slept pretty well last night. (Yesterday, I was concerned that my Americas Trip could turn hellish if I can’t get a good night’s sleep in a tent – and these were very comfortable tents!)

Up at 6:30. I had to go pee in the pasture with the cattle, since Jim’s septic system is overloaded. It seems that since the slide, the “pooper pumper” truck has been unable to make it into the ranch to empty the septic tank. It’s a major headache for Jim, though a minor inconvenience for his guests.

GeGe made an excellent frittata for breakfast, accompanied by platters of fresh fruit. Tired, and a bit sore from yesterday’s workout, I again felt apprehension. “What’s in store for us today?”

After breakfast, we began gently, with a “slow race” out in the corral. Lining up on one side of the compound, we raced to the opposite end, the fastest person losing. This requires the careful combination of balance, slipping the clutch and very gentle braking. I think I even won the race in my group!

We then had a series of “races” around the corral, where Jim had laid out a little course that included a number of very tight turns. During this exercise, Gary and Boyd took falls on their 1200GSs, banging up the bikes a bit. Witnessing these spills increased my own fear of a fall, but I tried to remain focused on the task at hand.

We moved into the nearby oak woodlands, where Jim had created another course, this a trail that meandered through the trees, often circling around individual trees in a hairpin-like turn. The trail was off-camber in places, again good practice on slowly maneuvering in tight spaces and shifting weight to maintain balance.

By today, an interesting transformation was taking place. The group was becoming a team. Shouts of encouragement, praise and congratulations were frequently heard. We began supporting one another, eager to see everyone succeed.

Today, I learned to get out of the "Aerostich" suit quickly when I wasn’t riding. This helped keep my body temperature down and outlook a bit fresher. But I was growing to like this suit! It was so easy to get into and out of.

Jim led us up near a microwave tower high on the property. He was going to teach us how to go down a steep hill, then how to climb it again. The hill we were going down was deeply-rutted by heavy rains. But there were narrow flat ridges on the sides which could be ridden, if you remain on them. “Don’t look at the ruts!” Otherwise, you were certain to end up in them.

I had difficulty, but never felt too out-of-control. Climbing the hill was a little different. Study the hill, pick your path, then hit the throttle and “don’t take your eyes off the summit.” Faltering on the uphill would almost certainly lead to a fall.

After each run up and down this hill, we would follow a path leading through a wooded area that provided practice in many of the techniques we had been learning. There were a few more spills, but so far I was staying up. It was even starting to be fun!

One obstacle in this area was a small hill that had a steep 6- to 8-foot bank on its backside, at a 60-degree or greater angle. I went over in my mind what would be necessary: lean back as far as possible while still gripping the handlebars (kind of like a bronco-rider). Then I took the chance, over the top and down. It was exhilarating! I’m increasingly impressed with the motorcycle. It will do amazing things.

It was a gorgeous afternoon, up in the wind and weather along this ridge.

One last exercise on top would be to ride through sand. For this, Jim had created a sand pit, perhaps fifty yards long. The technique was to approach with plenty of throttle, shifting our weight back fully while in the standing position, but holding on loosely, so that the handlebars could wander if necessary. I watched as Anne took a soft tumble in the sand ahead of me. It was spooky, but manageable. Again, the GS seemed to handle this stuff pretty well.

Returned to the house for lunch. Ravioli, garlic bread, and the best chocolate chip cookies!

Back on the mountain later, we got to play on the “bumps” once again. Though I was able to finally negotiate them, I was never comfortable. Not as tired today. I had learned to recognize my body tensing unnecessarily, wasting energy.

Late in the day, Kari asked if I wanted to try climbing another steep slope leading from the corral. Yesterday, I had seen Kari and Daryl taking on this daunting slope, but never imagined I would try it. But now I was thinking “what the hell. Fear has talked me out of so many things, I have to ignore it.” And I was growing very confident of the bike’s ability to handle this. It is more likely the rider who will falter.

It certainly helped that I had witnessed others successfully climb the hill. So I gave it the gas, leaned forward above the handlebars, and with eyes fixed on the top, held on until I cleared the slope and rolled out onto the road above. “No problem!”

Soon, a number of us were taking turns making the run. After three or four successful attacks, I convinced myself “I can do this!” That was enough for today.

Dinner this evening included an amazing pork loin. The wine, “Goats du Rhoam” (a parody of the French “Cotes du Rhone” wine appellation.) It’s a South African red wine made in the style of the more famous Rhone wines.

Jim presented us with personalized “RawHyde Adventure Camp” certificates. Each of us was given a nickname which appeared on our certificates. My nickname: “Wine Guy”. The trials now behind us had created a warm camaraderie. Around the campfire later, we shared stories. (Well, some shared stories, while others, like me, did more listening.)

Daryl was growing pretty uninhibited and boisterous. Ken was quiet, nursing his shoulder. He had taken a hard fall today. Though a real stoic, I could tell he was in pain. An outdoorsman, and former rock climber, over the years, his body has been thrashed. He retired earlier than most, and I could see him reading in his tent. I think it was The Bible.

Saturday, April 02, 2005

RawHyde Adventure Camp - Training Day 1

Gave up trying to sleep at 5:45 a.m. As I crawled out of my tent, I wondered “where is everyone?” There had been so much movement and rustling throughout the night, I expected to find everyone up and waiting for breakfast. But I was the only one.

Inside the modular, GeGe was busy preparing to serve breakfast. Coffee was ready. I poured a cup and sat surveying the rugged landscape surrounding Jim’s ranch. Apparently, the ranch has been in his family for many years. Cattled grazed the damp green slopes. In a month, the lush grass (or rather the surviving stubble) will have dried in the early summer heat.

During the night, I had experienced some anxiety. “What am I getting myself into? I’m not up to the level of these other riders.”

Took a walk out to have a closer look at the other bikes gathered under a large oak tree. One is a KTM “Adventure”, a motorcycle I’ve heard much about, but had never (that I’m aware) seen. There were a number of R1200GSs out here. Mine was just one of the crowd.

Listening to these guys last night, it’s clear the majority of them have “money to burn”, as they talked of airplanes, Ferraris, Ducatis and sail boats.

***

10:00 p.m.

Exhausted and probably suffering from dehydration.

Just finished another gourmet meal. Salmon with cous cous, accompanied by a Babcock Pinot Noir from Santa Barbara County. There was an outstanding crème brule for dessert.

Before and after dinner, videos were playing on the television: in one, young British motorcycle trials competitors performed amazing acrobatics on small motorcycles. In another video, world famous photographer and adventurer Helge Pedersen demonstrated how to change and repair tires “out in the bush” He showed how to leverage the bike’s weight using the sidestand to break the tire bead from a wheel rim. Clever.

Two beers before dinner, and wine with dinner. I was feeling pretty relaxed.

Began the day’s training with basics: how to stand on the bike. (Flat steel plates were laid on the ground underneath the bikes, allowing us to put them up on center stands and practice various techniques “at rest”.)

Jim made an adjustment to my handlebars, raising them up for easier reach while standing. He also removed the rubber inserts from the foot pegs and bent a brake pedal tab outward to give a shorter reach for applying the rear brake while standing.

On a small track inside what appeared to be an old corral, Jim divided us into two groups for a series of exercises. He went through each exercise, first with one group, then the other. The group not involved in the exercise would stand by observing.

These first exercises involved front and rear braking and shifting weight to control the bike’s motion.

For other exercises, we would need the paved highway. To reach there, he took us down a (for me) steep trail through the woods. This was done with engines off, using only our clutch and engine compression to control the descent. More experienced riders stood by to assist anyone having difficulty.

Reaching his driveway (beyond the landslide), he then had us try riding along in a standing position, then swinging one leg over the saddle so that we were essentially standing on one peg. This familiarized us with leaning the motorcycle over slightly to compensate for the center-of-gravity shift.

On the highway (which is infrequently traveled), we practiced acceleration and deceleration, again in the standing position. This taught us to lean forward while accelerating and to lean back during braking and deceleration.

It was time to return to the house for lunch. Jim asked us if we wanted to go back the way we came. I was too slow to vote, and it was decided we’d be returning via that mountainside trail. But we took it slowly, in first gear and just fast enough to keep up the momentum. For the GS, climbing this slope was not a problem.

After lunch, Jim planned to take us up to a training course he had constructed high in the hills behind his ranch. He warned us there would be some challenging areas on the road up. In particular, areas of deep ruts and loose gravel. He told us to follow the rider ahead, pick out a clear path and “don’t look at the obstacles”, a sure way to run into them.

He led us up the mountain. It was challenging. In one gravel-strewn hairpin, I couldn’t bring myself to make the turn and ended up bouncing over the shoulder, into the woods, making a wide arc before plowing through the soft shoulder again and back into the stream of riders.

On a ridge, we came to a flat area with a small undulating oval track through the brush. Here, we focused on some very slow-speed exercises to practice control of the bike when you’re barely creeping along. This involved slaloming between fluorescent orange cones he placed along the trail. Next, there were tight turns to be made going around the dirt track. The challenge was to do it slowly, while constantly maintaining control.

Then we learned how to use the rear brake to cause a skid, and later to break traction and swing the rear wheel around and reverse direction. Though daunting on a big, heavy bike, after numerous attempts, it was actually rather fun!

Each exercise seemed more challenging than the last. The effect was to create an almost constant fear and anticipation about what was to come. Just when it seemed I was getting the “hang of” something, we would move on to a new, more difficult exercise. Fear was my copilot throughout!

Not since Navy boot camp and Underwater Demolition Training (UDT) had I been physically tested in this way, my welfare entrusted to a (hopefully) skilled trainer, (and to my own survival mechanisms.)

For me, almost everything about this weekend was a test. I didn’t know if I indeed had the proper bike (for the Americas Trip), the right equipment and gear, and I certainly didn’t possess the necessary skills prior to coming here. Within this group of adventure-minded riders, there was plenty of opportunity to compare notes.

The heat challenged me as well. In the “Aerostich” suit, with afternoon temperatures around 80 degrees, I was drenched in sweat. By late afternoon, I was quite fatigued.

We finally came to an exercise called the “bumps” or “whoops”. (I guess skiers might call them moguls.) On a downhill slope, several hundred yards of trees, manzanita and brush had been cleared. Here, Jim constructed a series of steep mounds, perhaps four feet high and closely-spaced.

The exercise involved approaching the uphill side of the first mound with enough speed to roll over the top, then gain just the right forward momentum to clear the successive mounds, all the while controlling the bike’s speed. This required careful and rapid shifting of body weight forward, then backward (on the downslope), then forward again for the climb up the next mound.

This task was especially difficult for many of us. Some got the technique right away. For me, it was a frustration, as I frequently stalled on the uphill sides. (The fear was of gaining too much momentum, flying over the mounds out of control, and off into the trees, inflicting who knows what injury on bike and rider.) I was tired, anxious and lacked the confidence to take the bumps without getting stuck.

Jim assured us we would do better tomorrow. (“Oh, great! We’re coming back here!”) Within our group, there were a number of falls today. Out of intense fear, I had avoided any. I quite simply don’t want to dump my bike and damage my body! (Though I know it is inevitable in this sport.)

I was relieved as 5:00 p.m. arrived and we called it a day.

Back at “camp”, coolers held a plentiful supply of iced beers and sodas. And showers awaited us. Jim does it right!

Today I got to know the other riders a bit better. I had taken notes in order to remember names: Anne, Kim, Boyd, Julian, Kari, Daryl, Gary (a.k.a. “Timex”, the rider who “takes a lickin’ but keeps on tickin’”), Alec, Ken and Brians “#1 and #2”. Our ages ranged from 31 (Anne) to 66 (Brian from Redding).

Before dark, I asked Jim to show me his wine cellar, built into a nearby hillside. I was surprised how much Mondavi wine was contained in the small, dark cellar. We had agreed that I’d pay part of the Adventure Camp fee in wine. But seeing his supply, some of which was beyond its prime, I said I’d be happy to pay the entire amount in cash, but Jim said he was happy with the bargain we had made..