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Old 03-05-2010, 06:08 PM   #1
ixab OP
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Death, Death, Everywhere!

DV Ride Report - Spring 2010 (with lots of pictures and words to go with them)

Follows is a rambling, overly detailed, not necessarily accurate account of the five day voyage of two manly adventure riding types, who traveled from Oakland to Death Valley and back.

Working Title:

DV Ride Report: An Early Spring Flash Flood Tour, in Five Parts, with Motorcycles

- or -

DV Spring 2010: The Locked Gate Extravaganza

- or -

Chronicles of The Dead Cow and Locked Gate Investigation Society

Featured Events (including, but not limited to):
The 20 mile Beer Loop, Dead Cows, Pink Poodles, A Plague of Locked Gates, Down Pours, Paper Towel Tents, Soggy Socks, Wet 'Dry' Lakes, Lost Germans, Dead Hookers, Sub-Zero Bravery, The Isle 22 Psychic, Where Is Your Helmet, Places to Not Honk Wheelies, Cures for BMW Altitude Sickness, Sammishes By Subway, The 'Drop a Waypoint' Planning Method, ...

But first, for those short on attention span or brain cells, we present a brief pictorial summary of the events to come.

Now, on with the adventure...
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Old 03-05-2010, 06:10 PM   #2
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Day 1

Day One:

Some of us...
run out and purchase a new bike when the whim suits them. They roll into the stealership, say "GIMME", and drive off with a really snazzy depreciating asset. Others of us buy well-loved machines that are far from the cutting edge, sending the seller a deposit sight-unseen, and have a long string of favorite words that accompany the countless trips to the parts counter. These differences do not prevent us from being fast friends. Ho no! On the contrary. Life on one side of the coin is bound to entertain (preferably over camping dinner) the intellect of the other. Thus, we found our duo equipped with the latest and not so latest that BMW has to offer. The mighty F800 brings sleek, shined up beauty. The trail tested F650 Dakar comes with a been there, done that esthetic. Which one of us lies awake at night wondering if and when the tipovers will come? Which one wonders if that flipping water pump repair will last? It matters little, for once the knobs bite terra and the twistgrip hits the stop, all that really matters is how far off the end of the trail lies.

Preparation for some required detailed arrangement of trip related items in sleek, new BMW cases, on a quest for packing optimization. This arrangement was documented in a spreadsheet, printed for quick reference. For another, making ready was a foray into the wonders of Rotax engineering. After placing some possibly extra motor bits into baby food jars for later consideration, bags were hastily filled in a less than organized way. With both bikes ready, our heros departed from their homes in Oakland, California, to commence an assault on Death Valley. The first day was planned to make an easy start, putting 4 or maybe 5 hours on the road, arriving at a SomethingOrOther Mineral Springs Campground, near Coalinga.

While traveling south on US 101, a short detour was made to acquire the (later to become life saving) 3' coiled extension cord that no electric vest user should be without. This cord allows the wearer to fly much further over the bars before yoinking the wire out of it's plug. Another brief stop was made in Hollister, for the necessary evil of eating. After a quick 'lunch' at 4:30pm, it was clear that riding would be the majority of our sustenance.

Soon we were fed, fueled, and whizzing our way down the curve laden goodness that is Hwy.25 south from Hollister. We rolled through the farm country, stopping only to switch to non-tinted face shields, and loose our earplugs by leaving them on the tank bag. Soon we progressed deep into the middle of nowhere. Darkness fell just as we transitioned from Hwy25 to Hwy 198, which headed us east over more curves and hills. It was dark and getting cold as we we arrived at our turn off the main road. This is where the 20 Mile Beer Loop was proposed. With an unanimous agreement that Beer Is Good, we rolled into Coalinga to purchase some beverages, and the appropriate accompanying snacks. Refreshments secured, we slipped back into the darkness, and soon were back at the small road that took us to our campsite. A few minutes of winding along the 1 land path, and we were well past the edge of the middle of nowhere. Tents were set up, and dinner was omitted in favor of sitting in the moonlight enjoying chips and beer.

During the festivities, a legendary tale was told. The story involves a new rider, a new BMW 1200GS, a small jump that was actually much larger than it first appeared, and an encouraging friend with a camera. While the details are rambling and too gory to repeat, suffice to say that it was an honor and a privilege to view the resulting $9,000 photograph.

With the tone of glory properly set, our travelers settled in for their first night under the open skies. Surely, the forecast for rain could be wrong? There was only a light cloud cover, and the moon illuminated the bikes as they waited for dawn. The riders pulled their sleeping bags closed against the cold night air, having no idea what cold would come to mean later in their journey.
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Old 03-05-2010, 06:11 PM   #3
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Day 2

The second day began earlish, and some exploratory hiking was in order. For some reason, if there's a hill nearby, we are possesed with the impluse to enjoy the vantage that it's top affords. Perhaps it's to see if zombies about to storm our position, perhaps it's just to be a little bit higher up than all the other suckers. Either way, we did some huffing about in our jammies, which allowed for some good photos of our camp and the surrounding hills.

After our explorations, we closed up camp and got underway. Prior to our departure, Fergus took it on himself to test some of the more advanced settings of his camera. We found out later that he stumbled across a little known 'make every picture come out looking a bit wrong' setting. National Geographic may not be knocking at our door, after all. While Ferugs mucked with his camera, I took a few passes at abusing a nearby mud puddle. We also had a small debate about breakfast, where the promise of freeze dried eggs fell to a distant second when compared to the FourBucks Coffee we had spied next to the liquor store during our beer run. It's pretty hard to argue with steamed milk and an indoor toilet for the morning's business.

Soon we were motoring again, this time taking a mostly zig route, with the occasional zag, which moved us into proximity of Bakersfield, CA. We followed 33 south east, then straight east a bit on 46, then we tried a little 43 (I think), the some of this, and a little that. We past many fields, filled with many growing things. They grow everything out there, in that massive, wind swept valley. We saw row after row of food items, dust piles, future porn stars, abandoned cars, run down trailers, and oil derricks. The flat roads led to straight flat roads, with more flat, and straight, and flat with straight. Places like Blackwell's Corner, Wasco, Palmo, and Shafter all came and went.

We put in for some fuel and a donut or two in Bakersfield proper, and then motored east on Hwy.56, looking to make Trona Pinnacles by night. The plan was to ride out Caliente Creek to Back Canyon Road, and connect some of the tiny dotted lines on the map. We were hoping make a rural route to get us over to Hwy.14 with a minimum of slab time. I'm not exactly sure what went wrong, but the 'roads' we followed had this pesky problem of being a Dead End.

Here, then, is the beginning of the Death that we had hoped would be merely a symbolic name for a scenic valley. Oh, no - the route we had chosen died a tragic death, as did the back-up route, and the back-up back-up route after that.

Perhaps there is a reality based game show in the making: "Is the Gate Locked"? Behind the unlocked gates, we found entertaining roads. These roads would eat up many miles of daylight riding, and much fun was had, but eventually they all came to the same conclusion at some point; the dreaded locked gate.

Well, all except one. That route first came to an open gate. Then it came to The Dead Cow.

Yes, it's really dead. No, we did not eat it. The flies had reservations, and the main course was well on it's way to being jerky by the time we arrived on the scene. Motor on, fellas - nothing to see here.

So, not taking the giant dead carcass as an omen that perhaps this was a road less traveled for good reason, we forged up the hill. And up it went. And narrow it got. And up, and narrow, and more up, and yes, more narrow. While trying to negotiate a bit of a squeeze between the goat path and a fallen tree, I had a bit of disagreement with gravity. In a flash, I was off the bike, and took a nice, one-bounce trip back toward where I had came from. It turned out it was good that I made some backward progress, as the bike need some some room to work on it's tryout for the 2012 gymnastics tumbling team. I'm not sure if 'ass' and 'teakettle' are on the BMW parts list, but regardless, the Dakar made a great show of putting the first over the other.

With the flopping of the Dakar over, and not wanting to be subsequently run down by a charging F800, I trotted downhill a bit, hoping to wave down my riding partner. If the fallen tree was a challenge before, it would be doubly hard with a stricken Dakar clogging the line. Fergus was making steady progress up, but on seeing me he stopped to get the news. Something about me being on foot must have tipped him off about my dismount. Not wanting to feel left out, he made the act of stopping include a quick test of his crash bars.

After some fiddling about, and huffing, and grunting, we had both bikes back on their wheels and heading down hill. It was a bit of challenge, turning around fully loaded bikes, on a 4 foot wide track, while fighting gravity, rocks, and circling buzzards. This was where we noticed that the Dakar's clutch lever was not going to continue the journey with us. We also discovered that my spare clutch lever had not bothered to come along at all.

After some discussion, it seemed Bakersfield was likely the best hope for finding a spare of some sort. With no cell signal, we opted to see if The Pony Expresso restaurant had a phone we could use. It turned out they did have a phone, as well as some darn friendly people, and some really cold beer. The man at the Cycle Gear parts store laughed when I asked about a BMW clutch lever. Then he said 'Come on down before 8pm, and we'll see if we can make something work'. Since we had plenty of time, we decided to enjoy some warm and tasty cheeseburgers before heading back. Besides, riding a twisty, one lane road , through unrestricted cattle fields, is always way better in the dark. Especially after some beers.

Riding clutch-less is best done with as little stopping as possible. The spirit of The Dead Cow made amends by giving us a clear shot to the store, with only one slightly close call, that involved backing it in on a hard left under a very very very yellow traffic light. The Cycle Gear guy was beyond helpful, and soon a short and floppy Yamazuki lever was in place, and my clutch hand was employed again. We grabbed some fuel at a gas station, and chatted a bit the locals. It's weird, but you meet the nicest and craziest people when you're gassing up a bad ass off-road bikes, while dressed like badass off-road warriors. We heard a story about a shipwreck, and another about the Baja 1000, and got lots of advice about where to hide from the giant thunder and lightning storm that was just a few hours away.

Choosing to ignore that last bit, we elected to make a dash for Red Rock Canyon. That would make up for some of the lost time, and put us in range of Death Valley the next morning. We put the bikes on Hwy.58 and gassed it. While passing through Tehachapi, we experienced Actual Cold, Part One (The Prelude). This Cold thing would soon become a recurring theme on our trip. We made camp late, but not too late for farting around the campsite. We played with some Mil-Spec MREs, of which the Sugar Cookies (now with less cookie!) were the main attraction. With the wind picking up, and the storm we had been dodging about to make it's presence known, we finally tented up and grabbed a few hours of sleep.
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Old 03-05-2010, 06:12 PM   #4
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Day 3

It was fairly early in the morning when the rain woke me up. Not the sound of rain, mind you. That had been going on a for a few hours. It was the big drip of rain that landed on my forehead. My tent was a gift (horse) from my brother, and as the rain began to soak through and drip on my gear, I found myself looking the gift tent squarely in the mouth. Sad fact was, the tent wasn't really up for camping, mostly because camping requires the tent to be setup outdoors. After moving a couple of times to avoid drips, and getting a couple more hours of sleep, I finally decided there was enough daylight to get up. Outside the tent, the sky showed that we could have the day's weather in any kind we liked, as long as it was rain.

Once we were both up for a few minutes, the rain backed off. Rather than pack up our gear, we decided to squander the break in the weather, and do another exploratory hike.

We planted our flag on the nearby peaks, then returned to camp and packed up our gear. The rain picked up again, and soon was bucketing down. We made a stop for gas in Ridgecrest, and discussed the various points of failure in our riding gear. Fergus had been convinced that his BMW suit would not fit over his boots, and thus tucked the suit into the boots before we left. Now, he had confirmation that GoreTex does a good a job at holding water inside the bottom of the boot. I was doing well, other than my XD seemed inclined to fog, and my gloves were starting to get damp. I had my gloves over the ends of my sleeves, and I think water was coming off the sleeve, and wicking into the glove via the liner. Anyway, I knew enough to not tuck my pants into my boots, so I was ahead on that score.

After a debate involving our plans for trail riding, the quality of various hotels, the proximity of movie theaters, the cost of local escort services, and the certainty of continued downpour, we decided to press on to Trona. Once you're adjusted to riding in a deluge, continuing the silliness isn't that hard to do. Three miles north of town, the rain decided to really try and impress us. Visibility dropped, the wind picked up, the temperature dropped, some hail decided to get into the mix, and I think we even heard God chuckling a bit. However, it wasn't long before we reached Trona. As we passed the trail down to Trona Pinnacles, the rain had let up a bit. However, Fergus spoke highly of the Esparza Family Restaurant in town. We decided to have lunch, dry out a bit, and make our plan from there.

Once in the restaurant, we pulled off a few layers, and made ourselves at home. Some respectably large puddles came out of Fergus' boots. We sipped hot chocolate, watched the local color come in for the lunch rush, and marveled as more rain came pounding down.

It was early afternoon when things outside lightened to a sprinkle. While not exactly dry, we were at least warm and full. After a few phone calls, we decided Stovepipe Wells was a good enough endpoint for a rainy day ride, and reserved ourselves a room there. With our welcome at the Esparza starting to wear out, we sopped up our puddles, put the layers back on, and rode off into the rain once more.

As we where heading north on Trona Wildrose road, I noticed a GPS blip named Ballarat was creeping closer. The rain had backed off to a light drizzle, and the wind was minimal. The sky looked conflicted, but not sinister. As we rode on, the blip kept coming, and I started to think about our options. There was mile after mile of desert in any direction, with single tracks and jeep roads shooting off every so often. We had come down here to ride, suffering a variety of trials on the way. Now we were here, and the weather was giving us a tiny break. Ballarat was an easy roll, just a few miles down a graded dirt track, a road so nice even an out of control Prius could make it down. I finally pulled over, to propose a plan to Fergus. We decided that, unless the Buckets From On High returned, we should *at least* scoot down to Ballarat, just for kicks.

We started on again, and soon crested the climb over the small Slate Range hills. On the other side of this bump, the road drops down into the Panamint Valley, where Ballarat lies. At the crest of that hill, things were socked in with fog. We stopped, and another quick conference confirmed that we had to press on. Maybe there was heavy fog all the way to Stovepipe, but that was where our room was, so onward we went.

Lucky for us, the 20 foot visibility only lasted for a minute or two. As the road came down off the hill, we dropped under the clouds, and the beauty of a rain soaked Panamint Valley spread out before us. The clouds were amazing, hiding the tops of the valley's peaks, barely masking a solid dusting of new snow. Scattered spots of sunlight could be seen at distant points, and the rain all but stopped. It was like the dense fog and been one final test, and now we were being given a pass for the rest of the day.

As we approached, it became clear that the dry lake that runs along the base of the Panamint Range was not exactly dry anymore. When we reached the turn off to the 'easy' road down to Ballarat, it was obvious we were going to have to cross 'Lake Ballarat' to get there. Being fearless and manly, we knew we had to attempt the crossing, or at least ride down to the edge and get stuck. The graded road was criss-crossed with gushing streams. When we reached the edge of the lake, Fergus switched on the POM (the new F800 comes with a 'Power Of Moses' option) and the seas parted before us. We crossed the lake on a puddle strewn road that was soggy, but quite ridable. At the edge of Ballarat, water ran heavily across the road, pouring down off the mountains, and filling the lake we had just crossed. While not difficult, the ride was getting exciting, perhaps only because we were once again putting the TKCs to good use.

A quick snapshot or two in Ballarat, and we off again, following Indian Ranch Road as it skirted 'Lake Ballarat'. Many small streams rushed across the road, and giant puddles filled the wheel tracks. We sogged along, and I soon discovered that there's essentially no speed that prevents water from coming over the amazingly bad front fender on an F650 Dakar.

When we reached the end of Indian Ranch Road, there was a rainbow. It was actually pretty amazing, so much that I asked a passing unicorn if I was seeing things. The unicorn gave me some choice words, and the Fergus asked who I was talking to, so I decided to the the whole thing drop.

With the day starting to end, we decided to head for Stovepipe, but to take the more interesting route that runs through Wildrose and Emigrant Canyon Road. As we passed the intersection of Wildrose and Panamint Valley Road, we noticed a couple of guys unpacking their car and spreading gear out all over the desert. One of them waved a beer bottle at us, so we decided to investigate further. They had just returned from having 6" of snow dumped on them while camping in Mahogany Flat. We traded some stories, complemented them on their beer sharing generosity, and rode on. While friendly, they were also higher than Sir Edmunds' sherpas, and we just couldn't relate.

After saying farewell, we zoomed up to Wildrose, stopping only to fix a turn signal on the F800, which had begun flopping. This was where we noticed that many key parts of Fergus' tool roll and decided to stay home. Fergus consulted The List, which was now well used and weather beaten, but to no avail. We used the Dakar's tool kit to set things right, and were on our way again.

When we finally reached Wildrose, the temperature had begun to noticeably drop. At the top of the road, we ran into an old friend of ours, The Locked Gate. Snow was easily visible, just a few hundred feet above our elevation, so it was likely Emigrant Canyon was closed for good reason. Not seeing an easy way around the gate, and having no idea what the gate at the other end looked like, we accepted the Death of another route, and turned around. We blasted back down the hill, noticed our beer drinking friends were gone, then carried on down to Panamint and Hwy190. As we rolled over Towne Pass (4956ft) the temperature dropped more, and we experienced Cold II, The Sequel (improved! now with more snow!).

On the last mile or two into to Stovepipe, we noticed some great sunset light filtering through the clouds. When we stopped to snap a photo or two, Fergus demonstrated that the side stand on an F800 is entirely optional.

We finally arrived at Stovepipe, and checked into our hotel. They were turning all sorts of people away, including mothers with crying babies, which proved our wisdom in making a reservation. Fergus offered to share our room with the couple who had the screaming baby, but for some reason they declined. Once in our room, we unpacked everything from the bikes, cranked the heat, and took showers in the scalding hot pressure washer that was installed in the bathroom. With the room approaching triple-digit temperatures, we converted any available space in the room into a spot for drying soggy gear. There was a sign on the bathroom mirror that clearly state 'NO COOKING IN ROOM'. We were quite sure that socks and boxers were an exception to this rule. This was when I noticed my Blackberry had become a casualty of the weather. Apparently, the front pockets on an Aerostich jacket are only as waterproof as the zipper will allow. If water is somehow forced through the zipper (Dear Aerostich: a good way to do this is by RIDING A MOTORCYCLE IN THE RAIN), things in the pocket get soaked. Fergus proclaimed that my phone was "Screaming for The Bullet". I ignored him, and placed it next to his boxers, hoping it would dry out.

We enjoyed dinner in the restaurant, where we decided it would be wise to avoid the fish. Fergus put it best; "Death Valley doesn't strike me as a fish kind of place". After dinner, Fergus took advantage of the refills on soda to eliminate the temptation for dessert. Once fed, we purchased a California highway map, so we could look at alternate options for getting home. We knew that tomorrow we should make at least some progress North, but we had not decided completely on a route. After some initial discussion, we turned in for the night, excited to have at least half a day more for exploring Death Valley.
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Old 03-05-2010, 06:12 PM   #5
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Day 4

We had decided to get an early start on Sunday. The idea was to put in few good hours of off-road riding, then make decent progress toward home. We had hoped to ride Titus Canyon, and then see what we had time for after that. The early morning ranger station reports did not come out until 9am, but we had plenty of work to do getting all our gear packed up again. At 7am, Fergus went to the lounge area of the hotel, looking for pastries. It was here that he blocked the view of the TV. The cranky man watching, who was multi-tasking between the T.V. and a laptop, made his displeasure clear. Considering the sun was up, and it was a stunningly beautiful day, I wondered if we should go remind the man that 'YOU ARE IN DEATH FLIPPING VALLEY, YOU DUMB BASTARD"? Fergus though we should leave well enough alone, so we were off to the Stovepipe Wells store to find breakfast snacks.

As we filled our bikes with gas, I noticed Fergus needed a stick to keep people away from the F800. The only people who didn't come over were obviously interested, but I think they were afraid the Dakar would tip over on them. While getting gas, Fergus walked to the ranger station, to get the report a bit early. Better than just the report, we ended up with a detailed account of all the options for the day. This was where I learned that, if the ranger gets out a red magic marker, it means your list of options is about to get a lot smaller. Titus was closed, as were quite a few other trails, with the term 'Locked Gate' used liberally. Thus, the plague continued, and more and more plans fell to their death. Finally, after a bit of , we settled on Chloride Cliffs as our plan. It was not far away, would allow for some fun driving, and from there we could see what remained of the day.

Chloride was a good trip. There was not much in the way of excitement, apart from a couple short climbs, where there was often the okay line, a better line, and a not so better line. I tried them all, just for the record, and the better lines were the way to go. There was a point where my heated vest tried to make an escape from my tail bag, but Fergus was on the job, so it didn't get away. As we came down out of the Funeral Mountains, into the Amargosa Valley, the road became a flat, straight jeep track. There was just enough loose rock that you couldn't pin it, but it was fun trying. There were also some good size puddles, which made for fun blasting. At one puddle, the lead up was some pretty slick mud. As I gassed it, the rear wheel went a little bit left, and I entered the puddle a bit sideways. Things stabilized by the far side of the puddle, but unfortunately I was then pointed off the side of the trail at a pretty good clip. A few seconds of damage control had me back on track, with a healthy respect for the next mud patch that came along.

We fooled around taking a few photos as we came back over Daylight Pass, then stopped to help a lost German tourist, who happened to be driving a yellow Lamborghini. The man seemed nice enough, though he was obviously nervous for some reason. He was looking for an out of the way road, preferably a Dead End, or not well traveled, where he could engage in some digging. His female passenger was nice enough to look at, but oddly silent. I first I suspected she was sleeping, but as the man roared off, I suspected she was, in fact, a dead hooker. It was 'Weekend at Bernie's" all over again. The man had obviously driven out from Vegas, to perform a small burial. Shaken, I reflected on my own sins, and decided the glass house warranted a ban on stone throwing. Fergus insisted she was quite alive, and had even smiled at him. Fergus also didn't see the unicorn, so I'm wasn't sure I trusted his observations.

Between taking our time on Chloride, helping to bury a dead hooker, and stopping for many photos, we had burned up about half the day. Not wanting our start our last day too far from home, we decided to start our trip back. After much debate, we decided the possibility of things being 'a little cold' to the north was better than another trip across the Central Valley. Sure, a massive storm and just been through, 24 hours prior. But how bad could it be? We made a quick stop for fuel in Panamint Springs. While there, a friendly Harley rider asked 'Are you electric'? I began to explain that, despite sounding a lot like a sewing machine, the F650 was, in fact, an internal combustion engine. It turns out they were asking if we had heated clothing. This was because it was REALLY COLD where we were going. Just as we were leaving Panamint Springs, some military hardware flew overhead. They were very loud, and flew very low, which made Fergus very happy.

We took Hwy-190 out of Panamint Valley, then connected Hwy-136 to Hwy-395. In the town of Independence we began to re-join the civilized world. We saw a Pink Poodle watching us from inside a monster sized S.U.V. There were hordes of people heading south, returning from their weekend of snow sports. We continued North, with the temperature dropping bit by bit. Soon we were in Bishop, and the day was coming to an end. We stopped for dinner, where Fergus confessed that spicy chicken wings have an unexplainable ability to control his mind. I helped him eat them, and soon he was feeling better. At the restaurant, we admired a KTM 690 Enduro on the back of a van. It's owner told us how he was going to spend two weeks riding in Saline and Death Valley, and we wondered why the heck we were heading home.

After dinner, we decided that it made sense to keep riding after dark, and to head to a higher altitude, where it would most certainly be colder. There were signs flashing on the highway, suggesting we carry chains, and be wary of ice, but we felt fairly certain this was just precautionary advice. Why not stay put, in the comfortable place where we already were? Well, it's because we're men, and men forge on, even when reason suggests otherwise. It was the manly thing to do.

We hit the road again, and just as we had expected, the elevation went up, and the temperature dropped. Soon we were experiencing Real Cold, the kind that made the other instances seem laughable. The drive was just long enough to have some time to contemplate cold in it's many forms. There's math to be done around driving and wind chill. I thought about freezing water, and the makeup of human tissue. On one particularly steep hill, we seemed we were pointed at the stars, trying to reach some kind of escape from the atmosphere. I was somehow reminded of The Right Stuff, with Chuck Yeager trying to break the sound barrier. The X1 hit turbulance, and Yeager had to grit his teeth, and push on through. I wondered, could we somehow break the cold barrier? Would there be a boom?

By the time we hit Mammoth Lakes, we were at 8,000 feet, and the bike thermometer read 29F (-2C). There was no boom, but it still felt like we had accomplished something. Fergus suggested we avoid the ice in the EconoLodge parking lot by driving the bikes onto the covered walkway outside our room. We made a short attempt to size up the width of the room door, but noticed the proprietor was already taking down the 'Biker's Welcome' sign. With the bikes taken care of, we settled into our room, enjoying all the wonders that late night T.V. has to offer. I learned what it takes to be a world class sniper, and drifted off wondering how the heck we would make it over the Sierra Nevada mountains the next day.
Youtube - Death, Death, Everywhere!

ixab screwed with this post 03-07-2010 at 09:28 AM
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Old 03-05-2010, 06:13 PM   #6
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Day 5

Yes, March is considered part of winter. Yes, they close those passes for a reason. No, you can't just teleport home.

The last day of our trip started with a small concern or two. First, it was cold. The sun was out, and there was the potential for it to get somewhat warmer. But when you start the day at 8000ft (2440m) and 27F (-2C), moving the needle toward 'warmer' does not mean it will be warm. It just means slightly less cold. We put on layer after layer, pretty much ever bit of clothing we had brought. I commented on feeling a bit like I was preparing for a space walk, and Fergus replied 'Yeah, but people help astronauts get dressed, and they get paid to wear the suit'.

Our next small concern was the ignition key was frozen on the F800. Remember all that rain from Day 3? And that whole freezing thing that water does? Yeah. It only took us a few seconds to figure out how to solve this first little problem.

The best part is knowing that we're probably not the first people to use a hotel room hair dryer to thaw a motorcycle lock.

With that solved, Fergus contemplated riding the bike down the three stairs that led to the snow and ice covered the parking lot. He then had a revelation about doing things solely because a camera will be involved, and we pushed our bikes backward out of the walkway, where there was a small ramp to assist us.

The next small problem was not as small. While the locks on the Dakar worked fine, the bike would not start. Since the hotel's driveway was up small hill, I tried just rolling down for bump start, but that didn't work. I wondered if perhaps the Dakar was having some kind problem related to the cold? Or, was it the altitude? I coasted over to a gas station, trying a bump start on the way, with no luck. I was thinking that, in the worst case, help with repairs would be needed. Fergus arrived an attempted to get gas, which is when we discoved our third small problem; his gas cap lock was also frozen. We probably should have thawed it while we were at the hotel, but neither of us had thought of checking all the other locks.

We figured letting the bikes warm up a little in the sun might solve both problems, so we had breakfast and came back. No luck; the gas cap was still frozen, and the Dakar would not fire. We knew that riding in absurdly cold weather would require some supplies, namely some chemical hand and foot warmers, some lock de-icer, and maybe some warmer gloves for Fergus. With Mammoth Lakes being a ski town, we figured these items would not be hard to find. An hour or so later, we returned to the bikes. I gave the Dakar a pep-talk, reminding it of how nice and warm it is in Oakland, how all the other bikes in the garage are awaiting it's return, and how much it would suck to be abandoned in Mammoth Lakes, sitting in a snow bank, with a for sale sign on it. The Dakar was unimpressed, and continued it's not starting ways. Meanwhile, the lock de-icer lived up to it's name, and Fergus was off to get gas.

Before resorting to repairs, another try at bump starting seemed in order. I removed all the luggage and pushed it up the parking lot. I also decided to take off most of the 27 layers I was wearing, leaving an impressive pile of gear in the snowy lot. Since the parking lot was slightly sloped, it was a bit of a slow push to the other end. On the way up, I started working out an algorithm for bump starting really heavy bikes in cold weather, something about temperature over weight, divided by remoteness of location, etc. Once turned around, I had a small rest, then pushed until I was at a dead run. Hoping on, my first attempt at a bump get a small sputter, but no fire. I hopped back off, got things up to speed again, and gave it another try.

I would never expect the rattling, sewing machine sound of a Dakar to make me feel joy, but when the bike popped to life, I was elated. In fact, I was so happy, I celebrated with a little victory wheelie. That was when I noticed The Sherrif was parked near by. That was also when I noticed the parking lot had a couple of stop signs along the route I had been pushing my bike down. I quickly ended the celebration, but the sherrif was already slowly rolling my direction. I was on my way back to the top of the lot, to see if the bike would re-fire on it's own. The Sheriff pulled along side me and said "Where's your helmet"? Rather than a long story about bump starting, sweaty helmets, and driving in ice cold weather, I just pointed dumbly to the pipe of gear and said "Over there". The sheriff thought for a second or two, replied "You need it", and slowly drove off.

That was right when I stalled the bike. It wouldn't refire, so enjoyed another long push to the top of the lot, this time with my helmet on. Turned out that push up the lot was strickly for exercise, because when I got to the top of the lot, the bike started without pushing. As a precaution, I left it running while I re-attached the luggage. We stuffed warmers in our boots, put our gear on, and headed North on Hwy-395. The issues with our bikes had delayed the inevitable, but now it was time to start seriously freezing our asses off.

I had hoped that the slightly warmer than freezing temperature in Mammoth Lakes was the start of a warming trend that would continue for the rest of the day. However, by the time we reached June Lake, it was clear that things were heading the opposite direction. When passed through Lee Vining, at 6781ft elevation, we were pretty frosty. From there, we rode over Conway Pass, which hit 8,143 feet. That was when things turn into Real Cold, Part IV - Judgement Day. The temperature when we hit Bridgeport (6650ft, 2026m) was a balmy 20F (-6C). We topped off with fuel, stalled the Dakar and got it fired again, and pushed on for Gardnerville. Our last challenge was Devil's Gate Pass, elevation 7,519 feet, after which we started heading down hill for a bit. As we began to thaw slightly, I wondered if riding my motorcycle in condition should qualify among the dumbest things I have ever done? My verdict was no, mostly because I knew I was likely to end up doing it again some day. It was certainly a challenge, and you have to wonder about your judgement when 47F is a welcome warming trend. But, we survived, and have proved it's an option, at least for a half a day or so.

Soon we were at Garnerville, where whe headed West on 207 and climbed our way to Stateline, and South Lake Tahoe. We made a short lunch stop, and then bid the mountains farewell, passing over Echo Summit (7377 ft, 2248 m), and rolling down Hwy-50 into the Sacramento Valley. Somewhere around El Dorado Hills, I started working on another algorithm. This one will correlate how an increase in the number of lanes the road has is related to the likelyhood that people in big pickup trucks will try to kill you.

Since we wanted to take a scenic route across the Sacramento Valley, we cut off of 50 onto Grant Line Road, and followed that down to Elk Grove and Hwy.99. We then zipped two exits down 99, and took Twin Cities road to the East, heading for the town of Locke. That was when we had one last encouter with our old friend, The Locked Gage.

Okay, it wasn't exactly a gate, and there was no lock. But the spirit was the same; your current route is DENIED. Of course, that sign didn't stop us from driving down to the actual bridge. 'Just to have a look', Fergus claimed. Once we got there, it looked, well, not exactly 'out', but definitely closed off. I mean, two guys couldn't possible budge those barriers, right? Now, if we could move them, we'd save about 30 minutes of extra driving, plus we'd get to visit Locke, which is a weird little almost ghost town on the delta. So, first we take a staged picture of Fergus pretending to move the barrier. Then, while we're lamenting our trip back, he pushed on it one more time, but like he really meant it The barrier moved about an inch, and Fergus shot me a look like 'OH MAN, DID YOU SEE THAT"? At this point I ponder what to do if: a) the cops come b) the cops are waiting on the other side c) fergus and the F800 go swimming. I ask Fergus about what the plan might be, should we see someone coming? The find decision was to put the barrier between us and them back in place, then RIDE LIKE HELL!

I won't go into the the details, because of course we didn't *really* move the barriers, or drive across a closed bridge, or go back when we were done and put all the barries back in place. That would be illegal. But man, those sure are some convincing pictures, aren't they?

After fooling about in Locke for a few minutes, we finally got back onto the task of getting home. I had already made 4 calls to the wife, each time pushing my arrival back by and hour or so. It was dark when we rolled through Concord, and I had some reflective time as we re-entered the civilized world.
I felt a little like some kind of concurring army, returning from a raid on foreign lands. Or maybe I felt like I had seen attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion? I was pretty sure felt like a serious badass, and wondered if any of those people in the soccer mom cages ever had any adventures? All too soon, we were back in Oakland, and it was time to wave good bye. It had been quite a trip, and I'm looking forward to my next chance to load up the bike, drop a waypoint or two, and get my ADV on.

Youtube - Death, Death, Everywhere!

ixab screwed with this post 03-08-2010 at 11:38 AM
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Old 03-08-2010, 07:29 AM   #7
Sherpa-ing around
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I'd rather die living than live dying.

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Old 03-08-2010, 07:54 AM   #8
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It's not often I laugh out loud these days .... thank you so much!

If you are not a writer by profession, - then you have missed your vocation .... absolutely love this report.
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Old 03-08-2010, 08:04 AM   #9
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The brief pictorial was a great tease, continue to indulge us please.
"Happiness consists not in having much,
but in being content with little."

08 DL1000
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Old 03-08-2010, 08:39 AM   #10
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Great write-up! I need to get back to DV before it gets too hot.
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Old 03-08-2010, 09:21 AM   #11
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So, no zombies? Great report and some really nice pictures.
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Old 03-08-2010, 10:05 AM   #12
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That was funny and good, thanks for the lunch's worth of entertainment.
Why THUNK? Because we think, so you don't have to.
In order of ownership:
1993 Honda CB250 (sold)--1989 Honda NX250 (sold)--1975 Honda CB360T (sold, sadly, to help pay for..)--1999 BMW F650 Classic (sold, never gelled with that bike)--2002 Ninja 250 (totaled, frame cracked on a pothole, rode it home)--2012 Yamaha XT 250
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Old 03-08-2010, 10:17 AM   #13
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True adventure & great pictures!!
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Old 03-08-2010, 11:09 AM   #14
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Jeez, better check my bike to see if I haven't left my POM switched on!

brilliant stuff, thanx!
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Old 03-08-2010, 11:43 AM   #15
ixab OP
just Aaron, really
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Thanks for the props. We had a blast. I *wish* I was a writer by vocation! Me and Fergus are tech nerds by trade. If someone knows how to switch over to that vocation, please let me know

I'm done all the updates. We're actually thinking of trucking down our dirt bikes for the Noob ride at the end of March. We'll see if the wife and the boss let that fly.
Youtube - Death, Death, Everywhere!
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