Saturday evening was beautiful and clear. I hung out around the campfire with the guys camped next to me and had a nice evening swapping riding stories and drinking a couple of beers. I probably should have gotten to bed a little sooner to rest up for the next day but still managed to get a decent night’s sleep. Sunday morning I woke up early around dawn. I could tell it was early by the complete lack of noise from any other camp sites around me. As I lied there half awake in my tent I had the thought to grab my phone and check the weather. Forecast didn’t look good but neither had the Saturday forecast and it had actually turned out to be a very nice day. I then switched over to the radar screen and could see that rain was most certainly heading my way. By my guess it was about 30 minutes away or less. Since I really hate packing a wet tent I decided to get up and start packing. Sure enough just as I was finishing folding up the tent the rain started to hit. I got the coffee pot out and decided to shoot another quick diary video:
Without the tent it was a little more of a challenge trying to get my gear on while trying to stay dry. I had a lot of my stuff in the truck and I was trying to get dressed in there. This really is starting to get me think a little more seriously about getting an enclosed trailer. I could keep my gear organized and dry and could even set up a cot in there and not even bother with a tent.
Since I head heard the Sunday route was a lot easier than the Saturday route I wasn’t in as much of a rush to get going early. I got my knee braces and boots on before the riders meeting but left the rest of my gear until afterwards. There was a little bit of hunting for various items before I got going because I really didn’t do a good job of organizing when I packed the tent up. A lot of stuff was just shoved into the truck. It was a little frustrating but is probably a good lesson for me to do a better job of organization.
I think it was around 9:30 before I got rolling. The rain was light but steady and I knew it was going to be a wet day. There was a little extra challenge in navigating the route on this day. The way you navigate on a ride like this is they give you a “route sheet” which is printed on paper the width of a typical receipt you would have from a cach register. This goes on a route sheet holder you mount to your handlebars which has a knob you turn to scroll through the ride. It will give instructions and distances. Normally they also have arrows along the route which they attache to trees or telephone poles to help out so navigation isn’t too difficult even if you are not paying close attention to your odometer. Today’s ride however would be a little different. Since this goes through some more populated areas they have had issues in the past with people either removing or changing the arrows. So, they just use some ribbons to help mark the course. The problem is the ribbons are very difficult to see (at least to my eyes). So navigation is almost entirely using the route sheet and odometer. This is actually very good practice for me since that is how you navigate in the Dakar and I actually enjoy the navigational challenge. I did miss a couple of turns during the day but was always able to get back on track. There were a couple of times I was able to help get a few other riders back on track as well.
No, the important thing about navigation like this is you must make sure you reset the odometer at the right location. Evidently I misinterpreted the very first reset as I was almost immediatly confused and had to double back. The route sheet simply wasn’t making sense. Luckly there were several other riders around so I followed for a while until the road turned down a trail. This was an obvious landmark and this allowed me to get on track.
By this point it was raining a little harder now and the sky was very deep black. The trail went through some very dense trees making it even darker. Add to that the fact that I wear glasses (which were fogging up) and goggles (even more fog) and I was nearly blind. The goggles had to come off almost immediatly. Still visibility was very poor and the trail was slick and greasy. This was much more difficult than I expected. I was hitting just about everything on the trail since I couldn’t see it. I could see enough to know which way to go but that was about it. My first drop was about 2 miles in. This was looking to be a very long day. The trail turned to muddy single-track, areas were getting backed up from riders waiting for a clear path through the difficult bits and others just like me were having a lot of trouble seeing. At mile 3 I had almost given up, I felt fine but I just could not see and I didn’t feel safe riding like that.
I figured it was a good time to stop for a bit and shoot a little video:
Somehow after this my camera battery went dead and I wasn’t able to shoot any more video or take any still pictures for the rest of the day.
I decided it was still very early and I would just be very cautious and move forward. The plan would be that every time I hit a paved road I would ask myself if I wanted to continue or just ride back to the start and call it a day.
The paved road sections were almost more trecharous. Moving slowly down the trails I am ok riding without the goggles but going down the road the rain drops would smack into my face with a lot more force. The problem is if I put on my goggles the fog made it impossible to see. I ended up finding that if I would just hold the goggles in front of my face with my left hand I could get enough air flow to prevent fogging but it would protect my face well enough. I of course rode fairly slowly and carefully when doing this. Luckily there wasn’t a lot of road section and there was almost no car traffic so it wasn’t too much of an issue.
The first few trail miles were all narrow and dark single track but thankfully after a while it opened up into more unmaintained roads. These were roads where I was able to carry some more speed and since they were wider the trees were not blocking the limited light nearly as badly. I think the sky also started to lighten as the day went on and the sun got higher. This unfortunately did not mean an end to the rain however. But since I was moving a little faster that got rid of some of the fog on the glasses and since I was making better time the thought of finishing the full 115 miles started to seem believable.
On of the most fun parts of the ride were through Bear Brook State Park. Normally these trails are closed to any motor vehicles but for the charity ride they are open. We were told to be aware that there might be mountain bikes and horses on these trails and to be certain to give them the right of way however the weather worked to our advantage in this respect. I never saw anyone other than other motorcycles on any of the trails.
It was in Bear Brook where I had one of those amazing and inspiring moments. A large group of bikes had caught up to me so I pulled over to let them through. I followed them for a while and I was just barely able to keep up with the last rider in the group. Luckilly I wasn’t able to keep up too closely because he wiped out going around a corner (if I had been closer I might have hit him!). I asked if he was ok which he said he was. I then noticed he was having a little trouble getting up and I said “you sure?”. As he got up I realized why he was having trouble getting up. He had only one leg! He got up, grabed the handlebar and lifted the bike (something I have trouble doing with 2 legs) hopped on and rode off. Nice to see he doesn’t let this prevent him from doing what he loves. I will think about this the next time I think my knee makes it difficult for me to ride.
After Bear Brook we went along some power lines and I managed to get the bike stuck for the first time in the 2-day ride. It was a little uphill bit and I was following a fairly deep rut from other bikes. This is something I know not to do but I didn’t see how deep it was until too late. I hit the gas to try to power out of it but of course just dug in a little deeper. This is an area where my physical fitness work really pays off, digging a heavy bike out of deep mud takes a lot of energy but even so I was getting a little winded pulling on the bike. I was trying to pull it straight back but even that was very difficult. After a lot of heavy breathing I managed to get it back a few feet to where it was a little more solid. I decided to give it one more go powering through. I moved all my weight back to the rear for good tracking and hit the gas. The bike flew out of the rut…. but I didn’t! I really am amazed at how thiks bike can take a beating. It landed on the rocks pretty hard but no obvious damage. It was still a little muddy where it landed so picking it up was a little difficult but not as bad as digging it out had been. I needed to sit and catch my breath for a few minutes.
I finally reached the lunch stop around 1:00. They had a very good lunch for us this day. I wish I could recall who supplied it because lunch on both days was donated by locan companies to help out with the charity. If I can find the company I will be sure to give them credit here. They had some very good BBQ chicken breast sandwitches, bananas, chips, and some very good chocolate chip cookies. When I am riding like this I don’t worry too much about diet food. I am most certainly burning more calories than I could possibly eat on a day like this.
At lunch I ran into one of the guys who was camped next to me. He said he had passed me several times through the day and it looked like I was “plugging along pretty well”. I said “oh yeah, you were the guy on the orange bike” which is a joke because 2/3rds of the bikes on a ride like this are orange KTMs. My Suzuki with the oversized gas tank however is pretty unique and stands out much better. He was riding with a larger group which always means stopping and waiting for one or more riders who had an issue, he also said he had a flat he needed to fix. So, even though he was riding at a much faster pace than I the fact that I don’t tend to take many breaks meant we were making about the same overall speed. Later on in the day I ran into him again (however I didn’t know it at the time, like I said, lots of KTMs out there that all look alike) he and his buddies had gotten turned around and I helped them get un-lost.
At this point the roadbook listed 2 possibilities. There was a shortcut that cut off about 30 miles or so to allow people to get back sooner if needed or the normal route. I of course took the full normal route.
The “normal” route of the road book said something like “mile 6.5, right onto dirt road – obscure”. The “obscure” ones are always fun to find. Somehow I managed to miss this on the first try and had to double back to find it. Luciklly the next bit was “follow arrows through Jay’s 2 MX tracks”. The arrows helped me confirm I was on the right “obsure” dirt road. I was looking forward to the motocross track bit as I have never ridding motocorss and wanted to see what it was like. What the roadbook didn’t mention was that there were several miles (seemed like forever) of narrow and difficult single track trail leading up to the MX tracks. OK, perhaps it wasn’t several miles, and perhaps they were not that difficult but it was once again raining very hard and I was having difficulty seeing again. If it hadn’t been for the arrows (very glad they did decide to put arrows on this section) I would have thought I was lost as there was no MX track in sight. I finally reached the first of the 2 MX tracks. I didn’t get too crazy with jumps and such and it was a fairly tame track but still the 1 lap was kind of fun. Then it was back into the trees and more singletrack.
The lack of visibility made the riding very difficult. This of course made me ride even slower which meant I didn’t have momentum to get through some of the more difficult bits. I am sure with a little momentum it would not have been an issue but as it was I managed to drop the bike a few times. Climbing up one hill I dropped the bike hard on the left side. As I picked it up I noticed the left hand guard had gotten bent a bit and was interfering with the clutch lever. It wasn’t really ridable like that (the clutch is important!) so I needed to find a solution. It looked like all I needed was a hammer to bang it back into shape. Of course that isn’t in my little tool kit I bring with me. I stared at it for a while and really hoped I wasn’t done for the day. That’s when I realized this is New Hampshire and picked up “nature’s hammer” (a rock) and pounded the hand guard back into shape.
The rain really was coming down hard now. I was releived to come out of the trees at the second MX track. I was going to be wet either way, at least out here I could see better. This track was more difficult than the first and there were some steep climbs on it. Steep enough that with the rain I was having a lot of trouble with traction. The DRZ is by no means an MX bike. I came down one steep hill which then made a quick 90 deg turn to the right back up the same hill. Once again the lack of momentum bit me and the rear slid out and down I went. This time the left side hit hard enough to break the end of my clutch lever off. It was still usable but still annoyed me a bit as I had not broken anything on the bike so far on the 2-day ride.
As I was picking up the bike the real rain started to hit. Then the lightning. Since I was out in the open I decided that down in this little valley on the track was probably the safest place to be. I didn’t want to get to the top of this hill until the danger of lightning was gone. There was no where to take shelter from the rain (not that it mattered, I couldn’t get any wetter at this point) so I just sat down on a rock and waited for the weather to clear. This was some of the heaviest rain I had ever seen. I figured as long as I was sitting here I would try my fancy new waterproof camera again to shoot some video. Nope, battery really was dead, very dissapointing. I really wanted to get a shot of this. There were streams coming down the track toward me. That’s when I realized that there really wasn’t anywhere down in this little corner for the water to go. In the 5 or 10 minutes I was there the water level got to about 6 inches where the bike was.
Eventually the rain let up and I had not heard any thunder for a few minutes so decided to push on. The problem was of course there was no way for me to get a run at this hill and tracking was even worse now. I managed to drop the bike 2 more times trying to get up this hill. In the end it was more muscle power than engine power that got me up it. I really could have used a hand getting the bike up there but I had not seen another rider in quite some time. I had heard some other guys behind me back on the single track trail but I had not heard them in quite a while. They must have been waiting out the weather back in the trees. Or, perhaps they found a shortcut out of there. Either way I was all alone here.
I had never been more relieved to see a paved road after that. I think I had spent about 1.5 hours out there and probably only went 2 or possibly 3 miles total in that time.
Next was Patuckaway State Park, another area normally closed off to motorcycles. These were some fun roads, a little more difficult than the ones at Bear Brook but still a nice relief after the nasty single track trails back by the MX tracks. I was really starting to wonder if eveyone else had gone home. There were lots of people still at the lunch spot when I left and others were still arriving there. A few riders had passed me but certainly not everyone. I think a lot of them took the shortcut back after lunch. Was I the only guy still out here? I got to a point where the trail crossed a public gravel road and there were 5 or 6 KTMs there. They said they had gotten lost and were asking where on the route sheet I was. They had already come through this trail and somehow had come back to this intersection on the road. So, they were supposed to be a couple miles ahead of me but the route wasn’t supposed to come back this way. I was able to tell that if they kept going on the road they were on they would reach the point where they were supposed to come back out of the woods. I made a mental note of this in case I ended up taking the same wrong turn they did. At the end of the day when I got back to camp I found out this was the guys camped next to me (like I said, lots of identical KTM bikes out there). They thanked me for getting them back on track and said they managed to make the rest of the day without getting lost again.
The weather started improving after that. I even saw a little blue sky after a while. That isn’t to say that the rest of the day went without incident however. The heavy rains meant that some of the puddles were considerably deeper than expected. After one of these the bike began to sputter pretty badly. This had happened once the day before however that time I was able to keep riding and it cleared up. It was obvious that wasn’t going to be the case. I needed to deal with it in order to continue. Just the other day I had been chatting with another DRZ rider and we were swapping the usual riding stories. He had mentioned getting his bike swamped in some deep water to the point where it would not run at all. The did the usual things of taking out the spark plug to clear the cylinder and tipping it up on the back wheel to drain any water out of the ehaust but still it would not fire. He then drained the carb flot bowl and it fired up instantly. I mentioned “gee, I don’t even know where the carb drain is on the DRZ” and he pointed it out to me. Good thing he did cause that was exactly what I needed. I grabbed my screwdriver, drained a tiny bit of milky looking gas out of the carb and it fired up instantly.
The next unexpected incident was a very large tree lying across the trail. This must have been a recent fall because normally they take care of anything this large ahead of time or at least make sure there was a path around it. I could not see any way around it, the only way forward was over it. This one was way too large (for me at least) to do the simple pop the front wheel over it method. I got off the bike and popped the clutch to get the front wheel over and set the skid plate on top of the tree. Then it was time to apply one of the skills I had learned at the training course up in Canada a couple weeks ago. Got on the bike, pushed back on the tree with my legs to get a few inches of runup, and let er rip! First try I was over! This alone made that training course worthwhile.
I finally reached the end at around 6:00. I was surprised to see how many people had cleared out already. I had had a few more riders pass me but certainly not all of the ones I had seen still at the lunch spot. I am curious how many people did the full course with this weather. The KTM guys camped next door were just getting the last of their gear packed up and seemed a little impressed that I finished the full course on my heavy bike at my slower pace. They said most guys would have given up. Good to see my stubbornness is good for something!
For the 2 days my odometer read around 235 miles and I think it was roughly 15 hours total (7 the first day, 8 the second). The only real damage I did to the bike was break the tip off the clutch lever (a $20 fix). I didn’t injure myself but was certainly sore for a few days. I think this was probably really good training for the P2D (only 2 weeks away!). From what I have been told there isn’t any single track trail, I would guess that the more difficult bits of the P2D are similar to the class IV road sections we did this weekend. Also, there is a lot more regular road. So, I think I should be ready.