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.


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.

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