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..

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