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Old 07-07-2014, 08:36 PM   #1
BeemerBOI OP
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Location: Boise, ID
Oddometer: 35
The Alvord or Bust

An account of a two day loop from Boise to Fields, Oregon and return, solo on a 2013 BMW R1200 GSA by a novice to riding off the pavement.

I have read that it’s not an adventure unless something goes wrong. As I crawled out of the barrow pit off the side of Crowley Road in southeast Oregon, I was thinking that this was not a very auspicious start to a trip, and it was rapidly turning into an adventure. Little did I know that while the trip would eventually get better, I was far from being done with the problems.
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Old 07-07-2014, 08:43 PM   #2
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Introduction

This is my first Ride Report. I’ve enjoyed reading everyone else’s ride reports for a couple of years, and I want to thank everyone who took the time to post their journeys. I also probably should point out that you have given me ideas for trips, and along with it a new excitement for traveling that I'm pretty sure is going to get me in more trouble than I know what to do with.

After returning home from this little fiasco a couple of friends whom I am pretty sure had been drinking, started telling me I ought to post this account as a warning to other wannabe adventure riders. Since you are reading this, I apparently had been drinking enough to agree with them.

The original plan was a tour of the best and closest blank spots on a roadmap of Oregon and Nevada, comprising of just over 800 miles in 3 days over roads that I hoped were suitable for a novice off pavement rider on a 2013 R1200 GSA.

The end result was substantially different although according to my friends, not entirely unexpected.

I’m a 57 year old that started riding in the mid-70’s, was without a bike for 15 years, and have not done much riding on dirt on anything bigger than a Honda 90. When I got back on a bike 7 years ago, it was on a 1979 BMW R100RT, my third Beemer. I can only handle one toy at a time, so the ’79 had to go to make room for a new bike suitable for long distance, no headaches two-up touring. Off pavement was not the initial reason I picked a GSA. I picked up the GSA a year ago, and after 6 months decided that the “new” had worn off and it was time to take the bike off road. I spent way too much time reading about traveling off the beaten path, and got hooked.

Farkling commenced in October with a Russell seat. ROX risers were installed the day after Christmas, and the stock Conti Attack tires were changed to Hideneau K60’s in April.

Much to my wife’s consternation and my “friends” amusement, after several long day trips over portions of gravel county and forest service roads, both two up and solo, I decided it was time to up the ante a bit. After a marathon of reading ADV ride reports, staring at Google Maps and several hours of alcohol fueled delusions of grandeur, I came up with something that looked entertaining, looked like it could be done in a long weekend, and didn’t look that difficult with a lightly loaded supertanker. They were mostly county roads. What could go wrong?

The original proposed route went from Boise Idaho across southeastern Oregon to the Alvord desert, then south across northern Nevada to the Black Rock desert, returning to Boise by way of Winnemucca and a jog across some other blank spot on the map to Owyhee Nevada, and Bruneau Idaho. Why? Not a clue. I just wanted to see the Alvord and Black Rock deserts.



There was no way I was going to ask my wife to tag along on this fiasco. If I screwed up and she got hurt, I did not want to hear about it for the next 25 years, or lose my favorite pillion riding partner. I was also hesitant about posting a “Wanted. Rider(s) to do some hare brained loop of indeterminate difficulty with novice dirt rider on huge bike.” I thought about adding something about “Will provide limited amount of beer”, but figured I had enough problems with a 700 pound bike, let alone strapping on a case of anything anybody else would drink, and bouncing it around on a dirt road for several hours with no ice. So it looked like I was also going solo.

I’ve done longer distances solo with a backpack, in much more remote and rugged country. Not a problem.

And actually, if it was not for 40 years and selective memory about what happened on that particular trip, that thought in itself should have been my first warning sign that this might be a bad idea.

I had pre-loaded the GPS with some tracks I created in Basecamp to help get me through the area, and so I could get used to the way a new piece of tech will perform. I had used it enough this spring to know that there was still lots of room for user error, so the backup maps were safely tucked away in the boxes. A SPOT was mounted so my fan club (OK, my wife, a couple of retirees with nothing else to do and maybe a couple of office jockeys that would rather have been doing anything other than working) could watch my progress.

When I picked a date for this trip, I was thinking that the end of June was almost too late to wind up in the deserts of Oregon or Nevada. However the closer the time came to leave, the predicted highs were only in the mid 80’s. The intent was to camp out, so most of the camp stuff was in the boxes, along with a gallon of water. It was going to be hot, dry and dusty.
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Old 07-07-2014, 08:55 PM   #3
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Day 1 - The Fun Starts



I’m usually up early. Not because I want to, but SOP in my household means that at about 6:30AM one of the critters has to go outside. I haven’t set an alarm in years. Friday morning was no different, except that now I was going to “work” at something I really wanted to do. Alarm set for 5:00 AM and I’m outta here.

And here was where the finely tuned plan started to unravel.

At about 7:00 I started to wake up, but mostly I was trying to figure out why I was waking up. No dog. No cat. No alarm. Through the open window, I could hear the harmony of a rain on the roof. Crap. I’m late. The alarm which I have not used in years didn’t work, and it’s raining. Even the dog didn’t want to go out in it. A more thorough inspection out the window revealed a passing shower, and dark broken overcast.

OK. I seem to remember that this was the “slight chance of showers early in the AM” that some well-paid TV professional had briefly glossed over the day before, assuring us that the weather was steadily improving, and it was going to be a fantastic day. So I’m not letting this brief shower stop me.

The bike had been packed the evening before, so at 7:30 I made a quick exit, still hoping to be in front of the majority of the westbound traffic on I-84. I had considered some other options to get to Vale Oregon but I wanted to be on route early in the day. Now I was just settling for “earlier” in the day. I had no idea how much actual effort or time this was going to take. Other inmates talk about fun rides in the southeastern Oregon area taking all day for a couple of hundred miles. They were sightseeing. By God, I’m on a mission.

Almost immediately I would start to realize how naïve this whole scheme was.

So the rain showers (mostly) stopped and while it didn’t look like it would be clearing anytime soon, it also didn’t look like it was going to keep raining.




The fields in the valleys were a stark contrast to the sage hillsides surrounding them. The smell of mint was thick in several areas. I didn’t think about it at the time, but usually I don’t smell mint unless it’s really wet.


After a quick stop in Vale to top off the fuel tank, I was back on the road headed for my first waypoint at the turn-off south of Harper Oregon. Crowley Road.





The Crowley to Riverside road can be accessed in a couple of different ways. It can be started from either Harper or from Juntura, which is about another 33 miles west of Harper on Hwy. 20/26. I had chosen the Harper end mainly because an inmate wrote something about it being a boring dirt road out in the middle of nowhere, and I couldn’t find much information on the road. It sounded perfect for a wannabe adventure rider. It’s about 81 miles from Harper to Highway 78, so my time estimation was about 3 hours, with some time built in for a few photos.


I was thinking though, in a brief flash of caution that I should only go out a few miles to check out the road surface. You don’t go out in the desert when it’s wet. The soils in the southwest are full of clays that make forward progress almost impossible when wet. What I had not planned on was it can go from “dry” to “wet” in less time than it takes a TV dinner to come out of a microwave. But at 9:30, as I left the pavement behind, I could see Hwy. 20/26 fading off into the distance. Crowley road was not real dusty, but was not wet, either. Overhead, things were looking about the same. But those clouds aren’t giving me warm fuzzy feelings of confidence.





Almost immediately I started to see antelope. Both close to the road and off in the distance, their white butts were a flag against the hills. The biggest problem was that by the time I stopped, got the camera out and got a photo, I usually got a butt shot. A butt shot that was a long way off.



The road surface was in pretty good condition as I wandered among the hills.


But the clouds in the distance gave a hint of urgency to the moment.


I was trying to stop regularly to take photos, mostly of the vast distances. The camera really does not do a good job of showing the vast spaces between almost anything out here.

I cannot imagine crawling across this area at 2 miles per hour in a wagon pulled by oxen.













Occasionally you find a sign. It seems that in most of the southwest, and some of the northwest, the term “sign” and “target” are used pretty much interchangeably. Most are full of holes.


My first big milestone was the intersection of the road south out of Juntura. It was also my first sighting of a vehicle since I left the pavement. A local was hauling livestock around, and stopped to chat for a few minutes. I learned at least two things here.
First was that the road from Juntura to this point was apparently better than the road I had just been over.

Second was that the road I was headed on was “a little slippery in spots”, but would probably be dry by the time I got there. Great. That makes me feel so very much better.








Further on, a creek led off to a canyon in the distance.



Way, way off in the distance I see a dust cloud. Shortly thereafter a pickup comes by, the driver waving in greeting but not stopping. I had pulled over, waiting till the dust settled a bit before going on. Rounding a corner, I see an area where the road has been repaired by the liberal use of cobblestone and dust. I had backed off the throttle, looking for a route that looked more solid but the end result was not what I expected.
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Old 07-07-2014, 09:09 PM   #4
BeemerBOI OP
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And the fun continues . . .

Previously I said that as I crawled out of the barrow pit off the side of Crowley Road in southeast Oregon, I was thinking that this was not a very auspicious start to a trip. My biggest concern was if anything was broken. Not me, but the bike. So, as an adventure rider wannabe, the first thing I did was to take out my camera and get a picture of the carnage. Yeah! This goes on the trophy wall!



Then the big challenge came. I had never picked up the GSA before, let alone loaded and by myself.
The only time I have dumped the bike prior to this was with my wife on the back. We wound up in, and half propped up with a very big sagebrush. So, it was not like I had to lift it very far. The hardest part was getting off the bike while wedged in a sagebrush. This was different. I was by myself.

Although the bike was not completely horizontal, the now slightly dented box made a pretty good pivot. Sitting on the rear wheel at least lifted the passenger’s chicken bars high enough that I could lift, push and eventually get the damn thing standing upright, although it was kind of touch and go for a moment as to whether it would topple over on the other side taking me with it.

A quick check and I was amazed that other than a small dent in the left box, and a broken ring mount for the auxiliary light, everything else was intact. Even the mascot was still in place. About 20 minutes and three zip ties later, we were back in motion.





At about 42 miles the road quality seemed to rapidly deteriorate from here. There was less

rock in the road, and the road around the Crowley ranch had been recently bladed. And it had started to rain, a light drizzle that just kept getting worse. I could tell the road was quickly turning to snot, so started to come to a stop when the bike slid out from under me and dropped. Again.

Hideneau K60’s might be a good tire for 50/50 riding, but they don't do very well in clay.

The stripe I was leaving in the road before the bike went down made me wish for something else.




Lifting a 600 pound bike when you can barely keep your feet under you is somewhat harder. But it still stood up. And I waited. 15 minutes later, the sun came out. The zip ties holding the auxiliary light broke, so I took the light off and threw it in the box. 45 minutes later, the road was no longer sticking to my boots as I paced up and down the road, waiting for the breeze and sunshine to help me out. I briefly though about pitching my tent, but I still had hours of daylight, and sunshine in the distance.








The road started to climb up away from the ranch and had somewhat more gravel on the surface. About 3 miles down the road, I came around a corner where the road dipped slightly, which for added entertainment had collected water.

Bang. Down again.

The last time I went down on mud I was almost standing still. This time I had more speed, and went ass over teakettle into a sagebrush. Crap. This is getting old.

So about 15 minutes later (timing is everything) well after I already had Porky back on her tires, the rancher whose place I had just skirted came by. I got a 45 minute history lesson about the local area while the road dried out again. He eventually left, and I tried to leave. Except it was like driving a bulldozer. I had no steering. The front wheel was locked with all of the mud packed in the fender. So, after tearing apart a sagebrush (that I had already bounced off of. Revenge is sweet!) for a stick, and eventually prying the now mostly hardened clay out of the front fender, I was back in motion.




The Ranchers assessment of the road getting better was spot on. There was still mud, but there was also a lot more rock in the road, and it had been drying off quickly. There was only the one gate on the road.






And shortly thereafter, a welcome sign for Hwy 78.




And another rain squall incoming, with about 27 miles to go.










The road surface steadily improved. About the time it started pouring rain, I pulled over to put a rain layer on, and spotted a critter laying in the dry lake bottom. It never moved.




Where’s Waldo?



About the time I got the rain gear on and started moving again, the rain stopped. But I came around a corner to an oasis on the edge of the desert.





And a well preserved structure that probably has a lot of stories to tell. I believe this was the remains of a part of Crowley, Oregon.

















A few miles later, a herd of Antelope actually posed briefly for a photo op, instead of running off.






It was about here that the road actually turned into a good road. And off in the distance, I could see cars. And pavement.





Highway 78. Crowley Road was in the bag. 4:15 PM. So instead of the 3 hours I figured it would take, I’m now just shy of 7 hours. I took a brief pause to ditch the rain gear, and marvel at all of the stockpiled gravel that ODOT should have placed on a certain couple of sections of Crowley Road, instead of a nice pile 200 feet from a paved highway.






The junction of Highway 78 and the Fields to Denio Road was about .6 miles northeast of Crowley Road. It started out as pavement, and after about 11 miles turned into gravel, which at this point was still looking better than clay.








The road along the east side of Steen’s mountain was good. I stopped several times for photos, and started to realize that at some point during one of my “rest stops”, I had apparently banged up my throttle arm.





While it’s dry down below, there’s still snow in the shadows of the mountain tops.






And off in the distance, I spotted goal number 1. The Alvord playa.



Along with the snow a couple of thousand feet above.


I had briefly stopped at the Alvord Hot Springs to see if there was a camp spot. A soak sounded pretty good after the earlier gymnastics, but all I found was a rocky covered parking lot, where for $20 I could listen to the melodious hum of all of the RV generators. Not a chance. Moving on.

But down the road, I did find an access to the playa. So I rode out a ways to get the obligatory photo. This was actually a high point. 6PM. I had officially arrived a one of my primary goals for the trip. Alive.



I thought about setting up camp in the middle of the playa, but it occurred to me that what would be a chances that some alcohol fueled dragster driving a car/truck/ATV/bike would go blazing across the playa in the middle of the night? I was already starting to feel like I’d been run over. Scratch that idea.

At this point I pretty much forgot about the camera for the day. Fields was only a few miles south.
I pulled into Fields Station to find the fuel pumps open, even though I was pretty much convinced when I started out that they would have closed for the day about 3 hours ago. As I asked about local camping, the owner said they had rooms available. I had spent enough time laying on the ground today. When she asked if I wanted a beer, the deal was sealed.

I spent part of the evening sitting in front of the store sipping the local replacement for the Advil that was still sitting on a shelf at home, and talking to two Triumph Tiger riders who had left Gerlach that morning. I never got their names, but I think that both were from the Chico area. One was headed home. The other was headed for Glacier, and seemed very interested in going to the Boise area over Crowley Road. I gave him a fairly good route description, but he probably did not really need it. All he had to do was follow my divots.

So this is where my hare brained scheme pretty much collapsed.

From the information that the two riders provided, at the rate I was going, I would make Winnemucca in two days, which would put me there Sunday afternoon. Just in time for a marathon run back to Boise mostly after dark, to be back to work Monday. It appeared that the route I dreamed up was not really possible for me to do in three days. And I was starting to get gun shy about riding alone. I was starting to think that at this point in my budding off-pavement career, I was one lucky SOB. Three drops in a day and I’m still walking?
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Old 07-07-2014, 09:16 PM   #5
BeemerBOI OP
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Day 2 - The Fun Ends

I guess about 2-something in the morning I was jarred awake, twice by what sounded like the entire Oregon Air Force. At breakfast the next morning, all the locals were speculating on why Life Flight had come in. The current theory was that someone had crashed on the playa in the wee hours. I suddenly felt a lot better about the choice to not camp in the middle of the damn thing.

When I finally dragged myself out of bed at 9:00, (love that time zone change!) I still felt like I had been beaten like a rented mule. At that point, I decided to take the easy way back. As I had never been on the east side of Steen’s Mountain, I had also never been over the Catlow Valley road (Hwy 205) to Burns on the west side of Steen’s. So after a breakfast consisting mostly of a milk shake, it was time to head off the scenic, easy way home.
The camera was mostly ignored today.




From the loose gravel on some of the corners closer to Fields, it looked like several miles of the highway had been relatively recently seal coated, so it was not exactly a relaxing cruise down a scenic road. But it was scenic. And not very busy.








A quick side trip down to the information kiosk at Krumbo Reservoir, which is a part of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.







As I was standing near the kiosk, I happened to look up.



There was a vulture. Slowly circling a long way overhead, sizing me up. Waiting. Waiting. I flashed back to rolling down the rocks on Crowley road and decided it was time to get the hell out of here.


With a final stop at The Narrows, for something cold, I hit the road in earnest.



I tried to stop and get a group shot of a bunch of pelicans at the Malheur Reservoir, but again got nothing more than a blurry butt shot. I’m starting to re-think whether I want a Go-Pro. You're going to have to settle for a shot of my mascot, who led me across the not so barren desert to ice cream.



So after a two day trip that covered just short of 550 miles I got home relatively unscathed. Only about 122 miles was on dirt and gravel. The only thing besides my arm that really took a beating was my pride.


So what did I learn from this little excursion?


Off pavement is addictive.

I don’t bounce as well as I used to.

Chicks may dig scars, but they apparently draw the line at bruises.

I probably won’t go by myself on trips like this. At least for a while.

I can pick up a loaded GSA, more than once by myself. And I don’t have to go to the chiropractor afterward.

I will start listening to the little voice of reason in my head, and will try to mostly ignore the loud voice of testosterone that is still screaming "GO FOR IT !"

And all that yada, yada yada about Fields having the just about best milkshakes in Oregon is absolutely, positively true.

Eventually, I’ll finish this route. But in the meantime, I’m going to start scheming and plotting a different trip to get in trouble on. It's too darn hot in the desert at the moment. And it’s time to get an ADV decal to cover up some of the scratches.

The bike earned it.
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Old 07-08-2014, 08:53 AM   #6
roll_it_on
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BeemerBOI,

Very nicely done especially for a first time ride report!! Great photos too. Being new to the area I have been enjoying learning about the great adventures to be had out in our neck of the woods. It is cool to see your report and get some ideas as to places to visit. Thanks again for the report and I will keep my eyes open for a GSA with a strategically placed ADV sticker on the left side box
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Old 07-08-2014, 10:18 AM   #7
ZappBranigan
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Great report. I spent some time in that part of the world in 2009, but I was on 4 wheels, not 2.

If you're ever near Fields again, you can camp at Willow Creek Hot Springs maybe 30 miles to the SE on a well graded dirt road. Willow Creek has a great open space for camping and two small pools (one hot, one just warm) for soaking the old bones. This is on BLM land and it doesn't cost anything to park or camp there.
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Old 07-08-2014, 10:22 AM   #8
TwilightZone
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>"Then the big challenge came. I had never picked up the GSA before, let alone loaded and by myself... I probably won’t go by myself on trips like this. At least for a while."

Loaded GSA = Tough pick. If you got slightly hurt, you probably couldn't pick it up either. KTM690 is a good bike for what you are doing.

IMHO: If you're going alone... buy a SPOT or DeLorme tracker.

If you're concious and able, you can post a help or 911 call... also if alone you can post your tracks and have a friend or a wife watch the spots.
About the only way you can travel 'safely' in the back country.

Otherwise... you take your chances... which is ok I guess.
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Old 07-08-2014, 10:40 AM   #9
vaara
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Great report! Southeastern Oregon is one of my favorite places to ride. I may head there next month -- I really want to ride to the top of Steens again.
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Old 07-08-2014, 12:10 PM   #10
BeemerBOI OP
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Quote:
Originally Posted by roll_it_on View Post
BeemerBOI, Very nicely done especially for a first time ride report!! Great photos too.

. . .I will keep my eyes open for a GSA with a strategically placed ADV sticker on the left side box.
Thanks roll_it_on ! We have no lack end of places to go here. The duck may be a bigger beacon.


Quote:
Originally Posted by ZappBranigan View Post
Great report. . . . . you can camp at Willow Creek Hot Springs
Thanks for the tip on Willow Creek, Zapp. I will definitely be out there again. Next time though, I'll know to have a more flexible schedule so I can spend more time exploring smaller areas.



Quote:
Originally Posted by TwilightZone View Post
KTM690 is a good bike for what you are doing., IMHO: If you're going alone... buy a SPOT or DeLorme tracker.
Thanks TwilightZone. I did have a SPOT (shows up in several photos), and I had at least a couple of people wondering why it spent so much time in one area.
If I could have more than one bike at this point, the KTM would be in the running. Ditto if most of my riding was solo, but about 70 percent of my riding is two up and loaded. And while the KTM might work OK as a two up bike for smaller people, not so much for us.


Quote:
Originally Posted by vaara View Post
Great report! -- I really want to ride to the top of Steens again.
vaara; Enjoy your trip. If you have any comments about the road to the top, feel free to weigh in on it. I never really considered whether I could get the GSA to the top. Hmmm. I think this is how I got into trouble last time.
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Old 07-08-2014, 12:46 PM   #11
vaara
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Quote:
Originally Posted by BeemerBOI View Post
vaara; Enjoy your trip. If you have any comments about the road to the top, feel free to weigh in on it. I never really considered whether I could get the GSA to the top. Hmmm. I think this is how I got into trouble last time.
Well, the last time I did it, I was on some little bitty dirtbike that a friend lent me. As I recall, the road was in pretty good shape, less a bit of washboarding here and there. But that was 22 years ago...
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Old 07-08-2014, 04:55 PM   #12
bigbadandugly
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As you realized, your planned solo route through remote regions is dangerous for not only noob riders like yourself, but also experienced riders as well. Nobody plans for accidents and accidents do happen, particularly in conditions like you are riding. It's easy to snap a collarbone or an ankle, and either of those injuries would have prevented you from lifting your bike (although I must admit, you must have pretty good technique to raise a loaded GSA!)

Another thing - many people place their Spot in their jackets to it is accessible in the event they are thrown from their bikes and can't get to it. Something you might want to consider.

Congratulations on your first ride and don't stop. there's lots of terrain to explore!
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Old 07-08-2014, 08:10 PM   #13
Bruce H
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Nice ride report, a favorite place for me to ride however I have picked my GSA up one time too many. I stay on good rock, dry dirt or pavement. I do camp on the plya of the Alvord, stay near the edges and you'll be fine.
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Old 07-08-2014, 09:26 PM   #14
Rob.G
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Great report! I like your writing style.

I want to get down to that area sometime. I also want to get back down to see High Rock Canyon in Nevada again. I rode that on ATVs about ten years ago... wouldn't mind doing it again. I'll be riding partner if you ever want one and I have the time... but I'm not one of the cool kids... I don't ride a BMW. :)

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Old 07-09-2014, 05:56 AM   #15
MasterMarine
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Nice report.

Thanks for sharing.
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