Monday, June 2, 2014

El Mirage Dry Lake, Angeles National Forest Ride

The Southern California Timing Associations (SCTA)  Land Speed Racing starts the season at El Mirage Dry Lake in Southern California. This event is something that is not advertised heavily so unless you know about it, you'll miss it. This was our second time going, the last was two years ago when we stayed for both days with great weather.

This year didn't go as planned but we had an amazing time anyway. The weather guessers indicated there could be high winds nearby but not in the immediate vicinity of El Mirage Dry Lake so we decided to chance it. We rode our street bikes this trip as we needed to cover 180 miles of interstate 15 in a short amount of time, not something our small dualsports do comfortably.

We left Saturday around 9am and arrived at noon. The lake was busy and dusty as usual, riding the sandy road unto the lake is always fun but once on the dry hard packed lake surface riding the heavy street bikes are no problem. There is no speed limit once on the lake, and there are all sorts of vehicles at all speeds moving about. Land sailing, ultralights and gyrocopter (in the air), dirt bikes, dune buggies, you name it, they are all here. Lots of car and other commercials are filmed here.

The land speed track area is coned off and patrolled by the great volunteers who make up the SCTA. We pick a spot near the timing gate and relax in the shade of you bikes. We see only one other street bike out here today.

The wind wasn't too strong when we arrived but started gusting to 25-30 knots within a couple hours shutting down the land speed racing for the day.

We had planned on camping on the edge of the lake but the winds continued to increase so we decided to head for the San Gabriel Mountains 30 miles South. Since the day was still young and the roads and views along the Angeles Crest Highway are awesome, we keep going until we need to find a campground. As luck would have we find a nice quiet spot at the Table Mountain Campground where we enjoy a nice night of fresh vegetable soup, a nice warm fire, and clear star filled skies. The campground is well kept, and the camp host very friendly and accomodating, bringing us fire wood as it got dark.

The following morning we head down into Wrightwood for a great breakfast at the Grizzly Cafe, good eats, good service, and decent prices. Then we head home the long way via the 138, Idylwild, Warner Springs, Julian, and home. We stopped for break at the Glider Port in Warner Springs, had a  small lunch and snack, watched the fellow riders go by, and got back on the road.

Despite missing the El Mirage Dry Lake Land Speed Racing, the road trip was a total success, and a much needed diversion from our work and school grinds to help recharge.

This trip we decided to not take any prepared food, and brought a large potato, carrots, small amount of olive oil, balsamic vinegar,  and other vegetables and spices so we could cook some fresh food for a change. This worked very well. With just the bare minimum of ingredients we made a delicious and filling soup/stew while warming by the fire. Since this took long to cook gas or fuel cans are out, twigs and small branches are in. Our simple folding stove works well for this.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Our AZBDR Ride - Long Version

Day 1, Saturday 4/12, 272 miles, San Diego to Painted Rock (near Gila Bend)
We had the bikes ready to depart last night but I had unfinished work so we got a late start at noon. Riding out hwy 94 then the I-8 we made good time, not stopping until El Centro where we got a quick burger, gas, and decided to shoot for the Painted Rock Petroglyph Site west of Gila Bend to camp for the night.
The Adventure Gods were smiling upon us this day giving us a strong tail wind the entire day, minimal wind noise and 65+mpg. Also missing from I-8 was traffic, we only got passed by a few semi’s in the 170 miles between El Centro and Painted Rock. The temps were perfect, not too hot, not too cold.
Both bikes were fitted with SweetCheeks and they were performing as advertised. Our upper bodies were done well before our rears, these simple devices are amazing, and really work, thanks to Ray for going out of his way to get ours to us on short notice.

As usual we arrive at our first nights destination after dark, we seem to do this alot. But once again the Adventure Gods smile upon us with a full moon making camp setup easy. We cooked some food and were visited by a very tame desert fox who walked right up to us, very cute little fellow. The long day made for a good sleep. Only two other campers spread out in the large 60 campsite park made for a quiet night. The last time I saw a Saguaro cactus was when we car camped in the KOFA park years ago, it was nice to see so many again. Years of watching Wile e Coyote/Road Runner cartoons must have made a permanent mark on my brain.

Prior and up to this point my biggest worry is my DR350 and whether it will have any issues. It is after all nearly 20 years old. Prior to this ride I put about 4000 problem free miles on it, checked it in and out, bearings, valves etc. But I was still worried.

Day 2, 188 miles
We aim for Globe, maybe a little further north today. We take our time getting started, hit the road around 8am. We have 100 miles of I-8, then 30 or so on I-10 where it is much busier than I-8 and once again we have a nice tail wind and easy temps. Before the I-10 got too scary we were off it and having DQ sundaes relieved the interstate riding was over for a few days at least. We make it to Mammoth and hop on the trail, we are moving slower now and make it just north of Winkelman where we find a nice campsite on the Gila River. This campsite was marked on the Butler AZBDR map. There were a few camping areas along this section of the 77. It was early but we decided to call it a day anyway as the next campsite would have us finding it in the dark. We got a early sleep and planned on an early start the next day. There was no one but us camped in this section, some RV’s were in the section 1/2 miles south of us. We saw some inner tubers go by on the river. It is a nice shaded campsite with a fire ring and vault toilets a short walk away. Perfect. Except for the bear proof garbage cans, we’ve never camped near these before :). Bears in the desert, seriously?

Day 3, 158 miles
We get up before sunrise and get moving, on the road as the sun peeks over the hills. We head up the 77 and through Pioneer Pass to globe, it gets colder and I start to worry if my mesh jacket and layers will be enough. Alexandra is warm. We are still wearing our summer gloves but are thinking we will need to switch to the warmer gloves but the temps come up as the day warms. We stop and eat at Jerry’s Restaurants in Globe, we both go for the biggest breakfast they have (all you can eat pancakes+3 egss+5 bacon or sausage) as we are both starving. We hit the road recharged, heading north again.  I second guess the Cherry Creek turn off missing it by a few miles so we decide to stay on the 288 which turns to dirt/gravel and has some nice views. We make it to Young in good time and food/gas are not needed so we keep going. As soon as we hit pavement on the 260 heading towards the turnoff for the Mogollon Rim the KLX starts having real trouble. Symptoms suggest rejetting is in order so we head to the nearest town, Payson 30 or so miles away. We limp into Star Valley just east of Payson, the KLX can hold 55 but just barely, luckily the speed limit most of the way is 55. It is late when we check into the first Motel we see, not knowing it is just a block from Rim Country Powersports, again the Adventure Gods....

Day 4, 0 miles
The KLX will not start, it turns over but doesn’t fire up so we check fuel lines, replace the spark plug and do everything we can do to diagnose or fix it before calling Rim Country Powersports who agree it likely needs rejetting and they can have it done by tomorrow noon so we walk it over and hope for the best. 

Day 5, UHaul 480 miles
The nice folks at Rim call to give us the bad news in the morning, the KLX has only 30 psi of compression, rejetting wasn’t the issue. And all this time I’ve been worried about the DR. Oh well it could have been a more interesting adventure had we kept going and got stranded somewhere more remote. We contemplate leaving the KLX for Rim to fix and store the DR and rent a car home to come back later but my work schedule would likely make the next chance months away so we decide to UHaul the bikes home. Riding these small bore bikes long distances is just as fun as I imagined it would be, being cooped up in the UHaul for hours on the way back was awful, I don’t remember any of it. And driving the I-10 for hours with semi’s plain sucks, I will remember to avoid this stretch if I ever ride a big or small bike this way.

Our AZBDR Ride - Short Version

The plan was working great until the Mogollon Rim where Alexandra's KLX started to lose power so we side tracked to Star Valley a few miles east of Payson to figure out if it needed rejetting for the higher altitude or something worse. It was near dark when we checked into the Star Valley Motel, less than a block from Rim Country Powersports who did a compression check after rejetting failed to find the KLX was down to 30 psi, bad news. Good news was we decided to abort the ride in a perfect place vs getting stuck somewhere remote. I did have a tow strap but really didn’t want to use it. After debating all the possibilities we decided to call it a day. Another block away was a friendly U Haul vendor, we were loaded up and headed home in a couple hours.

Yesterday we found and the problem, the left intake valve clearance was zero, brought it into spec and it runs better than when we bought it. But, something may have caused the valve to deteriorate so we will run the moto around the local trails for a while and check the compression and valve clearance regularly for any movement before the next big ride which may be to finish the AZBDR then take on the south section of the UTBDR!

AZBDR Preparations

AZBDR = Arizone Backroad Discovery Route

UTBDR, COBDR, Continental Divide, Trans American Trail, Mex2Can, the list goes on. These are the rides I've always dreampt of doing but didn't know how to plan, execute, and complete. Now I do, and hopefully I have the time to do them all. My first ride through Utah and Arizona was fast and on-road only. As I looked off the pavement in the distance I knew I was missing some spectacular back country, I vowed to return one day. Fast forward to today. After reading a few AZBDR ride reports like ElleDubs, and drooling over dave6523’s Grand Canyon Backcountry Adventure Ride report I realized I’m not getting any younger and needed to get working on the many rides it will take to cover all the places I want to see on two wheels in AZ and UT alone. I had a week of leave left to burn so planned on a early May departure but my Daughter asked to ride along so I moved it up to her spring break hoping not to hit snow at the higher altitude destinations. Alexandra would ride her 09 KLX250S, I on my 96 DR350 (the achilles heel for this trip, or so I thought).

One of the biggest obstacles to doing a big off-road ride is mapping it out. Thanks to the folks who produced the AZBDR and its supporting resources (Butler Maps, Touratech, GPS Tracks)  all this is already done for us to a great degree.Food, camping, fuel, etc are all highlighted in the great AZBDR Map and waypoints included in the GPS files.

The Plan
Slab it (ie ride on the road) to Mammoth AZ where we would hop on the AZBDR and ride it until Marble Canyon where we would hop off and head to Gunsight Pt along the North East rim of the Grand Canyon. Then slab it home on the more scenic roads through Sedona, Prescott, staying off the interstates as much as possible. The 9 days would be tight, no room for deviations. We would camp entire trip, boondocking as much as possible. There is something satisfying about being able to camp without paying a toll.

Planning a trip like this and looking for remote camping sites has taught me that if you want to find the cool places to camp, you won't find them easily, they aren't advertised. In fact you will likely be led away from them by all the developed areas, fee areas, private camps etc. To find the free places which there are many will take some research.

Some helpful boondocking resources:

We took an old model Garmin GPS we got off eBay as a primary device for staying on the route, but we also setup our Android phones with the MyTrails app which is a far better GPS except for not being able to see the display in direct sunlight. Tools, paper Map, light camping gear, minimal clothes all meant we were travelling relatively light. We took a simple folding stove with sterno fuel cans so we could also use wood fuel when available.

Prep Bike
Fresh oil/filter changes, Air filter clean, maintenance checks that would come up during the ride, grease, and other items were done to ensure the bikes should make the 2000 mile journey without needing any major maintenance. Basic spares like tire tubes and spark plugs were packed, other potential items like cluctch cables, oil filters, air filters, were labelled and located so my wife could FedEx them to us if we needed them.

A funny name it is but what a difference it made. Sometimes the simplest solution is the best one. 5-10 hours of riding on a dual sport seat is nothing less than torture. Sweetcheeks changed this completely, making our upper body endurance the limiting factor rather than a painful bottom. The Sweetcheeks also ended up being our water storage, we filled them daily and never worried about running out of water. These along with a sheepskin pad made for very comfortable seating.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Ozark Trail 2 Person Tent - 2 Year Gear Review

Do I need a really expensive tent for minimalist touring? After two years of using this little tent I can say that I do not. I spent about $30 on this tent over two years ago. It's been with me across a few states, camped on mountains, lakes, deserts, and never let me down. It may be big enough for two small people but not two average sized humans however, it fits my large size just fine. And they still make the same model with some improvements.

It meets my minimalist criteria:
  • I can sit up without touching the roof with my head
  • I can lie down without touching the ends or sides
  • keeps me dry in the rain
  • Is large enough to fit me and my gear with room to spare
  • Goes up in 10 minutes, comes down in the same
  • Is Free Standing
  • Is light
  • I can replace it easily and cheaply on the road if needed (most Walmarts carry the new version)

I had a Kelty two person tent prior to this one, I liked it a lot but after many years of use it finally started to fall apart. It was larger than this tent, a true two person tent, so I always had plenty of empty floor space. It was larger and heavier so I wanted something with just the space I needed, no more. I bought two of these for our Laguna Seca MotoGP trip in 2012 where my daughter and I camped on Fox Hill within the Laguna Seca Race track, something reserved for only motorcycle riders during the race. The tents worked great, kept out the rain, heat, sun, dense fog, moisture etc. We also camped on the beach in Pt Mugu, and various other places we visited during the two weeks we spent going to and from the race track. One night at Lake Diaz near Lone Pine we got hit by a big storm, high winds, rain, thunder, and we kept dry and comfortable in these little tents all night. Two years later and 50-60 nights of camping with these and they are still in good shape, no rips, tears, holes, destitching, etc. So I expect they will at least last us another two years.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

define: minimalist motorcycle touring

Google that and you'll get a lot different opinions, some very passionate ones. For me it is all about having only what I really need to tour comfortably on a motorcycle, starting with the motorcycle itself. So before I get into it, let me start by defining what sort of touring I'm doing. I plan on touring entirely off the the interstate, highways if I must, with my preferred roads being the backroads. I've done a few cross country/interstate rides, and they were fun but I feel I missed a lot. Starting with my back yard (San Diego County) I plan on seeing the places I never knew existed on road and off, and if I have time will venture further away to Arizona and beyond as I get more accustomed to this way of travel.

Why on earth you may ask? Well, a large part of the 'why' for me stems from being able to be comfortable with my motorcycle fully loaded off the beaten path. I need to be able to pick it up by myself, and if I do have a spill need to have the least amount of motorcycle landing on top of me should it come to that. There isn't a way to achieve this with a machine that will cruise at interstate speeds, so an interstate capable bike is off the menu. So far my 1996 Suzuki DR350 works for me, does just what I need it to and no more, no less.

I thought of doing this solo but either my wife and/or daughter are always eager to go with, so unfortunately for them they get to partake of my crazy minimalist experiment. We have car camped and motorcycle camped before, but never with such small motorcycles or such limited gear. To date we have done 10 or so nights of minimalist motocycle camping and have gotten the gear, food, maintenance thing down pretty good. We have 11 liter saddle bags and a dry bag strapped to a rear rack to carry everything we use; tent, sleeping bag/pad, tools, spares, and food. This isn't much room at all trust me, but if you can stand wearing the same clothes for a couple of days it is doable.

Since any touring like this involves getting gas, we plan on sourcing food, water, supplies, laundry/clean clothes, and other things as we travel rather than carry extra stuff. We haven't done a multi-day ride yet so we shall see how this works out.

Boulder Creek Rd and Sloan Canyon San Diego

Today I revisited Boulder Creek Rd and Sloan Canyon Rd with my wife on her XT225. We rode out from Chula Vista early in the morning via Proctor Valley Rd then kept to the backroads of Jamul, Rancho San Diego, Harbison Canyon, Dehesa, and Viejas, to the Viejas Grade. Then onto Boulder Creek Rd, turning towards Lake Cuyamaca at Engineers Rd. We rode back down the 79 enjoying the twisties on our dual-sports and rode Sloan Canyon on the way home. We had a small lunch there, enjoying the cool shaded area at the closed-gate at the end.

Staying off the the highways entirely today was bliss, the highest speed limit was 50 mph in a few areas and even there the traffic was moving slow so it was a no hurry day.

Boulder Creek Rd is in great condition, no problem areas at all. I did encounter a crazy deer that paralled me for a bit then decided to cross the road ahead of me.

The views and temperature were great, we couldn't ask for better riding conditions!

Sloan Canyon Rd was in great shape, appeared to have been graded after the most recent rains. I will have a short video on the ride up here shortly. We ran into a couple of wild turkeys (not the drinking kind) going in and out, they seemed very tame and were probably enjoying the 'No Hunting' signs in the area.

Sloan Canyon Rd is only about 5 miles in and dead ends at a closed gate. Hiking and bycicle riding is permitted beyond. There is a small bridge about 50 ft from the dead end that usually has a running river under it but it was dry today. I believe it is the overflow from the Loveland Reservoir upriver a mile or so. It's nice getaway if you don't have much time to spare.