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.

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