Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Gimme Shelton

After the Vantage ride a week or so ago, I had come to the conclusion that while I enjoy the challenges of enduro competition, I am much more suited to riding just for fun. Last Sunday, May 24th, I was fortunate enough to be invited to join a small group of riders for a "scouting ride" that started and ended near the Sanderson Airport in Shelton, WA.

There were 10 riders total and as I was getting my gear on, some introductions were made.

Here is the "cast of characters" as I saw it from my point of view:

Lan: Organizer and ride leader (very cool KTM LC4)
Sylvia: Lan's "better half" and co-leader (Yamaha XT 350, "old school" kick start version)
Bill: Veteran trail rider and one of the few people who actually knew where the hell we were (KLR 650 "couch")
Marty: The strong, silent type (DR 650 blue)
Cheryl: The fun one (DR 650 yeller)
Chuck: Possible undercover spy (DRZ 400... looked shiny and relatively new)
Jim: Chuck's brother and resident videographer (possibly a spy also... by association) (XT 250)
John: Possible MacGyver (DRZ400 with good-looking, homemade parts and a carb off of a Kawasaki)
Dan: aka: Dr Dan. The laid-back, just enjoyin' the scenery type. (DRZ 400 low-rider)
Me: The group newbie

Let me start off by saying that everyone who was there was, by far, the nicest people I'd met in a long time. It was a great group of folks who just wanted to have a good time. No egos, no BS, just a bunch of great people to be around

As we were getting ready, I started to sense that this wasn't going to be the kind of trail ride I thought it was going to be. For some reason, I thought we were going to be riding more single track and wooded trails, and consequently, didn't really prepare for riding on the street much (ie: no mirrors or warm clothing). I even heard someone mention the possibility of snow preventing us from making it over the hill. (snow!!! wtf??) I decided that I'd just have to tough it out and not be a weanie. I did bring a sweatshirt so I put it on underneath my jersey and hoped it'd be enough.

We headed out on hwy 101 and made a quick stop for fuel. Within' a few minutes we were on a gravel road and kicking up some dust. (Actually, LOTS of dust. In fact, that's what I had for lunch.) The pace was pleasant and we made a few stops on occasion to make sure everyone was keeping up.

After about 20 miles or so, we found ourselves on a high steel bridge. I'm just guessing but I'll bet it was 500-600 feet to the river below. We stopped and took a few pictures and just shot the breeze. The view was stunning.

The view from the bridge

We jumped back on the bikes and headed on down the road. There was a brief section of pavement and then we were headed up the hill on a gravel, Forest Service road. We took a break at around 2500' MSL (Mean Sea Level) and had another opportunity to take in the view. It was very relaxing to me to just stand on the edge of the road and look out over the valley below. The valley stretched out for miles.

Looking out over the valley

The plan was then to keep heading up the road and over the other side and make our way to Lake Wynoochee. As we climbed higher though, we started seeing patches of snow on the ground. I really didn't think much of it, I thought that it'd be unlikely that there would be enough snow to keep us from making it over. As is often the case, I was wrong. We rounded a corner and were faced with the entire road covered in snow that was roughly a foot deep. It wouldn't have been too bad had it not been for the fact that it was the consistency of a carnival snow cone. It felt like trying to ride through wet cement. Needless to say, we turned around and headed back down the hill. Lan knew of an alternate route that would take us along most of the planned course but allow us to bypass the snowy part.

The snow field

I apparently felt the need to go check it out. (Photo by Lan)

On the way back down the hill, I decided to shut the bike off and just coast down the hill. Sure, you lose the ability to use the engine compression to help slow you down, but it was so peaceful just to glide down the hill with no noise. During the descent, out of the corner of my eye, I saw something that made no sense to me. I stopped and turned around and, (after starting the bike up), headed back uphill to confirm what I saw. Sure enough, there were a pair of crutches lying on the side of the road. I can't think of any reason why they would be there. Maybe somebody was planning on one of us needing them? I don't know, but I thought it was strange.

I did not move the crutches, that's how I found them

Once we got on the alternate route, we were doing pretty well. There were a few small trees that had fallen across the road and we had to ride over them. I thought it was fun. Then we came upon a tree that couldn't be moved or ridden over. After looking at the situation for a minute or so, the only option was to head back down again and try another way.

The tree blockade

It was starting to get fairly late and we decided to not try to make it to Lake Wynoochee since it would just take too long at this point. Had we not had to back-track so much, it would've been fine. So we headed down the hill again and found our way out on to some pavement that would lead us to Matlock and ultimately back to Shelton. My fuel reserve light came on in Matlock so I decided to put the extra gallon I had with me in the tank. I could've made it the last 16 miles without it but I figured why not err on the side of caution.
We made it back to Shelton around 6:30. We all loaded up and after enjoying a few cold ones, we all headed home.
I enjoyed the 105 mile ride immensely. The people in the group made it fun. There was no sense of being hurried or having to prove anything to anyone. We all just rode and had fun. I'm hoping I get invited to the next ride.
One of the many rocky roads we traveled. (Photo by Lan)

One of our rest stops.

This is Marty and Chuck wrestling a tree. I think the tree won.

Dr. Dan and Bill... it appears they shopped at the same riding gear store.

"ok, so we're here... and we want to go here".

Toward the end of our day's journey. (Photo by Lan)

Our fearless leader, Lan

The group on the steel bridge

Some graffitti... damn griptwister punks :)

One of the challenges we had to face

Loaded up and re-hashing the ride. (Photo by Lan)

Monday, May 18, 2009

Add Vantage...

...to the list of places I've ridden.

The other day my friend Dan, (that's Dr. Dan to you), asked me if I wanted to go over to Vantage, WA to ride the "Green Dot" trails with him and his friend James. I hadn't been on the bike since the 2009 Sparkplug so I thought it was a great idea and said, "sure".

The day before the ride, I pulled the WR out to do a little repair work on it since it had a few dings from the Sparkplug event. My Dad just happened to be in town visiting so together we straightened a few things, (foot peg, shifter, etc...), and re-atached the handguards that had somehow come loose. We got it all up to snuff and loaded it on the trailer so it'd be ready for the early morning drive.

4am sunday: I drag my butt out of bed and am on the road by 4:45. I get to Dan's place a little after 6am and we are quickly back on the road after loading his bike and gear.

We made it to Vantage by about 9am or so and meet up with James and his brother, Tim. James and Tim had camped in Vantage the previous night because they had attended the Allman Brothers, Doobie Brothers ,(they may not be related but they do be brothers), and Grateful Dead concert the night before at the Gorge Amphitheater in George, WA. (Seems like an awful lot of brothers to me).

We make our way to the staging area and start unloading all our stuff. The discussion turned to our planned ride of 120 miles. James, (who is a guide for motorcycle tours in Baja, Mexico), and Tim, (who is an extremely good rider), both balked a little at riding the full 120 miles. (You may wonder why two riders of their caliber were not excited about riding that far. Remember, they were at the "Dead" concert until nearly 1am... need I say more?) I was secretly relieved at this decision as I wasn't sure if I was feeling up to a full 120 miles. I was more interested in riding at a relaxed pace to be able to enjoy the scenery, etc... We ultimately decided that we'd just ride until we were ready to stop and how ever far that was would be good.

Unloading at the staging area

We got going and I immediately felt a bit tentative on the bike. The ass-end of the bike was squishing around all over the place and it felt a little like riding on a marshmallow, (at least I think that's what it felt like). I remembered to pump the tires back up to a "normal" pressure so it wasn't that. I guess I just had to get used to it.

If I had to assign an animal to represent the ride, I would use a squirrel named Lee... because the ride was very "Squirrelly". And when it wasn't "squirrelly", it was rocky.

(Yes, I know that was a stretch, but sometimes obscure references are fun)

"And now, here's something we hope you'll really like. "

We rode for a few miles and when we stopped we talked a bit. I asked the more seasoned desert riders James and Tim if it was normal for the bike to sashay all over the place like that. They said 'yep'. They also added that it'll settle down once you get used to it and can anticipate the terrain ahead better. It did... and I was happy.

There were many nice views during the ride above the Columbia

After about 35 miles or so, we took a lunch break down by the river. It was nice to splash some of the cold river water on our heads since the temperature was nearing 90.

James enjoying the refreshing river water on his melon.

We had been riding at a fairly brisk pace, but not too crazy. I made a concious effort to take it easy through some of the really rocky areas because those rocks can jump out and bite you in a hurry. I was fortunate to be able to navigate my way through the rough patches without dumping it. A crash on those rocks at the speeds we were traveling could be very painful.

I wonder if it wouldn't have been so windy if they had turned these fans off?

We started to get into more of an alpine area where it was less desert and more trees, etc... It was really enjoyable. It reminded me a lot of riding as a kid up in the Cascade foothills with my brother and friends.

Tim had the worst luck of the 4 of us considering the mud pit incident and the bee sting. The picture below is Tim trying to show the bee sting on his forehead.

Just before we got into the alpine area, however, there was a relatively small mud patch. It looked harmless enough and actually seemed really out of place. There hadn't been a patch of water or mud anywhere during the ride other than the river bank. So to see this mud patch in the middle of this desert trail was kind of weird. Tim, the most aggressive rider of our group, thought it would be fun to blast through it. He somehow didn't see a fairly good sized rock just before the mud and managed to clip it with his front tire. This small piece of bad luck sent him flying over the handlebars and directly into the middle of the mud patch. If my Dad were to explain the action, he would probably use the phrase "Ass over tea-kettle".

Here is the first picture I could get of Tim's mud pit incident. The rock that helped create this scene is partially pictured below in the lower left-hand corner.

Another shot of Tim's landing spot

James returns to see what happened

Dan and I offer up a very respectful "golf-clap" for Tim

James was riding in front so he didn't see his brother's maneuver. Tim was second in line and Dan was right behind him. I pulled up just after the incident and noticed that Tim looked ok and Dan was already off his bike to offer assistance. I decided that the only thing I could do to 'help' would be to document the event with a few photos. I grabbed the camera quickly and snapped a few shots. I was too late to get a photo of Tim actually lying in the mud but I managed to get off a few shots before they got the bike out. James quickly realized no-one was following him so he turned around to see what happened. We all had a good laugh since Tim wasn't hurt and nothing major on the bike was broken.

We made our way down the hill and passed by a few cabins along the way. There were a few odd looking folk sitting on the porch at one place and I'm pretty sure I heard a banjo playing as I went by.

Enjoying a cool one after the ride.

By the time we got back to the trucks, we had traveled a shade under 70 miles. It wasn't a gruelling journey like the 120 miles might have been, but that's what made it even more fun, at least for me. I really enjoyed riding along at a reasonable pace and enjoying the sights and sounds of the area. James, Tim and Dan are all excellent riders and it was a bit of a challenge to keep up with them at times, but overall we had a great ride and I'm looking forward to the next ride in the desert.