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Fundy Adventure Rally - 2014

It's the first year for the Fundy Adventure Rally. The fine folks at CMG Online were expecting 20 or so people but managed to convince about 60 people to tackle 500+ KM's of New Brunswick wilderness near Sussex with the Adair's Wilderness Lodge serving as the base camp. Riders came from New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Quebec, Ontario, and Maryland. Adair's is a great spot in the middle of the woods but accessible by road and THE perfect spot to serve as the launch point of the rally. It's a dirt riders nirvana. Food at the lodge was great too! - Bonus!

There's several cottages nestled amongst the trees. Rough camping sites were available in the treed section near the water at the top right which was a short walk from the main lodge.

The Fundy Adventure Rally was a two day event that started on Friday afternoon with participation by a major sponsor - BMW Motorrad Canada who had brought a tractor trailer of BMW F800 GS's for demo rides and a few other bikes for show. Big thanks go out to BMW for allowing me to borrow a BMW F800GS to participate in the Rally with. BIG thanks! I came in from Halifax, following the GPS on my phone in towards the lodge. Guess the Rally organizers weren't kidding when they said there was no cell coverage at the lodge. My cellular signal actually dropped about 15 minutes from the lodge - if you know the way that is. Luckily I met another rally participant on my way in and we navigated the rest of the way together. (As it turns out I'd end up riding the entire Rally in a group of four with him amongst them - by chance really.)

My motorcycle for the Rally. A brand new BMW F800 GS - lowered. It had less than a 1000km's on the odometer when I started the Rally. The Arai VX Pro4 was unboxed for the event and worked flawlessly and proved all day comfortable. Note the GPS secured with plenty of zip ties!

It was a pretty laid back first day with most people arriving later in the day, going on a BMW test ride, setting up their tents, getting into their cottages, supper, and a riders meeting to review the Rally route. There wasn't too much partying - most people seemed to want to head to bed early to get a good night's sleep for the long day ahead still there was a lot of like minded motorcyclists around and Rob made sure they brought in at least a few good varieties of beer at the lodge. I 'might' have sampled one or two. Rally start time was 7:00 AM on Saturday for some so there was a lot to do at an early hour to be get ready for the Rally.

The map and hashtag for the event. This was the guide book we reviewed at the riders meeting on Friday after supper was served in the main hall. 

I met up with a few guys who were also riding the "A" route of the event which was for teams with less experience or riders who were solo participants. Teams with off-road experience could take on a harder "B" route. Luckily for me two of the guys I partnered up with turned out to be fantastic navigators and led our group through the entire Rally because I never did get my borrowed GPS working properly. Note to self - buy a GPS and practice using it! It's a must for participating in this event. I wouldn't have gotten past the first couple of turns if it weren't for the guys I was following. Thanks to Moto Journalist Costa Mouzouris for trying to teach me how to figure out how to use my borrowed GPS!

The BMW tent which served as the start and end point of the Rally and the starting point for the demo rides on Friday.

Each team was equipped with a Spot device who were also a sponsor of the event. It added a extra level of safety for the participants knowing that if there was an emergency that help could be brought in. Luckily there weren't any serious injuries amongst the participants.

At 5:30 AM on the morning of the Rally I woke to the sound of coyotes howling (loudly!) followed shortly thereafter with the loud BRAP-Brap-Brap of a dirt bike starting and revving up. There's one in every crowd! An interesting way to start the day, that's for sure! Didn't even need my alarm I guess.

After the wake up call I was off to the lodge for a big buffet breakfast to fuel up for the day. I had a borrowed GPS and a mount that didn't really fit so I had to break out the zip ties to make sure it was secured to my borrowed BMW F800GS. I loaded up some Gatorade and snack food into a tail bag and strapped it onto the F8 with a motorcycle bungee cord. I didn't want to have any weight on my back and the the tail bag with the extra security of the bungee cords worked fantastic. Everything was secure, didn't bounce around at all - and best of all I didn't have to lug the extra weight on my back.

We hit the road at about 7:40 AM and the place was pretty foggy and overcast. We took a right turn out of the parking lot and after a short distance a bunch of riders were stopped at the very first turn. Apparently the GPS of a few riders knew a shorter way to navigate the route! Almost foiled at the first turn. In our haste to get going again two of my teammates ended up in another pack while myself and another teammate ended up riding together. We rejoined forces later at a break in the trail. Our team of four stuck together for the rest of the race.

Stopping to fuel up the machines, water, and whatever other non-healthy snacks could be scrounged up at the gas station.

The drive through Fundy Park was pretty amazing. We had the roads (albeit paved) to ourselves and while we couldn't see any of the amazing sites the solitude of having the place to yourself and 'being very careful' to stick to the speed limits made it an entertaining section of road. The stretch of twisty pavement uncovered that something was wrong with the bike though - I didn't know exactly what. The bike was riding very squirrelly and it wobbled markedly when I got on the brakes. I thought the front wheel felt a little soft but it didn't seem too bad in the dirt so I downplayed that possibility in my mind and thought it might just be a really bent rim. The pavement made the wobble pronounced and it was so bad I mentioned to my partner. Well, when we stopped a while later and checked the tire pressure we discovered I'd been riding on 13 PSI on the front. It was set to 20 the day before for the off-road demo but somehow lost quite a bit of pressure overnight. My team mates figured the dent in my rim might have caused a flat but somebody brought an electric pump and we hooked it up the GS1200 battery and pumped it up to 35. The bike rode great after that and held air all day! The reason for the pressure drop remained a mystery.

My mind was going through the worst possible scenarios... I was going to have to wait for the sweep truck to come pick me up maybe and quit! Arrgh... There was no way I wanted to end my adventure that soon. I was just getting warmed up! Saved by the preparedness of my teammates once again!

A nasty little dent that I may have been responsible for after a close encounter with a big rock! The tire continued to hold air for the entire Rally though. Yipee!

For somebody with off-road experience the off road A route might not have been too challenging but I have pretty limited off road experience so bombing down a gravel road at up to100 km/hr standing on the pegs was pretty exciting for me. There was plenty of slower stuff, rocky uphills/downhills, loamy sand, hard pack, mud, water, blind crests, tightening radius turns, pea gravel corners, bridges, even a covered bridge, wildlife (for some), culverts, plenty of rocks, and DUST, DUST and more DUST! It was quite challenging at times seeing through my goggles. I'd try wiping them with my glove and they'd be good for a while or absolute crap and I'd feverishly try to get a little bit of space to see through. I had to stop and wipe them a few times with a cloth I had in my pocket and then ride with a little extra pace to catch my navigator.

Don't think this gear will ever come totally clean. The gore-tex boots worked fantastically well. I would've had wet feet for sure in anything that wasn't totally waterproof.

I had one close encounter with two REALLY big rocks on the center line of the trail. I was in the #3 spot in my group and trailing the guy in front of me by a good margin because of the dust. We were riding at a pretty good clip on a fairly easy dirt road mixed with some buried rock. The road was used by logging trucks and had a slightly raised center line - that seemed like the safe line. Well, I found out otherwise. I was going a bit too fast over a slight blind crest and two bigs rocks were right on my line. They were too big and wide to go around at the speed I was going - so I could only brace for it and steer for the middle to try ride between them. I grazed the right rock pretty hard. This was after I already had that big dent in the front rim! The rock kicked me off to the left but I stayed upright. Yikes! That was a pucker moment for sure. I was more careful with the blind crests and making sure I was driving within my vision after that. Lesson learned. That rim continued to hold up though!

There were eight sections of varying length during the Rally and each of them ended at a gas station. That worked really well because you could gas up, have a bathroom break, take some time to rehydrate, and get a bite to eat if you wanted. There wasn't a ton of time for leisure if you wanted to ensure you made it back on time. At each stage there was a option that if you hadn't reached the end of the section by a certain time you were supposed to take a bypass/option route that took you on a paved route to the next stop so you could make up some time. My assembled team managed to not take any of the shortcut options and did the entire A route as intended. We may have been just slightly past the cutoff time at a point or two but some of that might have come down to that sit down dinner we had at the Big Stop in Salisbury! Who can pass up a hot turkey sandwich in the middle of a 500 Km off road Rally! It was a pretty quick stop but it still killed a lot of time. In hindsight - maybe not the best choice. I had enough energy bars and snacks to last the day but the team wanted to stop so I followed suit.

Once I got that front tire sorted out the BMW proved to be very capable for the mix of off road and pavement. I had a few troubles turning off the traction control and ABS but that was my fault. I should have practiced it and got a better lesson the day BEFORE the Rally. I can tell you from personal experience that you absolutely do not want to leave the traction control on when riding off-road on the F8! It takes the smooth predictable power output and seems to zap the throttle output in pulses. It makes getting up a rutted gravel road a terrible experience, especially if you're standing on the pegs! Once it's off though it's a different experience altogether. The F8 powers its way up loose thick gravel effortlessly. I found it best to gear up a bit to dull the throttle and smooth out power delivery. With so much power on tap it's easy to just start tearing up the road and showering the guy behind you with a pile of rocks. Gearing down on the descents and making use of engine braking worked great as well. Messing around with the ABS was interesting too. ABS is great for the road but crap off road. The ABS goes a little wild when it's turned on off-road. If I had to have either ABS or traction control on while off road- the lessor of those two evils was definitely ABS. It was really tough to feel in control of the bike off-road with the traction control on. Uphill gravel conditions made it a MUST to have turned off.

I was on the factory lowered F8 - not by my choice - it's just what BMW provided. It turned out to be a pretty good fit because I was able to very comfortably flat foot with both feet. I did miss the little bit of suspension travel they take out with that factory lowering but there's also lowering via a different seat shape as I understand it. I did get both wheels airborne on the bike at least once fairly impressively to test the suspension travel! A little extra suspension, however small, may have come in handy on that one! Did I say already that I enjoyed myself! I honestly didn't want the day to end. I was grinning the entire day.

Me and the assembled team of solo riders - we made it to the finish! Awesome work navigating you guys! Nice pace too!

The evening after the Rally was a little more festive than Friday with people gathering to tell some tales and enjoy a beverage. There was also the Rider dinner, charity raffle, a little speech from Chris Duff from BMW Motorrad Canada, a slideshow presentation of pictures from the event and of course the awards ceremony.

The awards ceremony begins. Check out that trophy! You don't get to keep it actually... just hold it for a few minutes. Bragging rights and your name on the trophy is your reward!

One participant might have partied just a little too hard the night after the Rally and left a candle in his tent - luckily he lit it then left the tent... lucky for him anyway and not so much for his tent and gear. He lost EVERYTHING except the clothes on his back and the stuff he had packed on his bike. Wallet, helmet, motorcycle boots, clothing, - everything! I thought I heard someone say 'fire' in the night but I was pretty wiped out and apparently slept through it. I helped him clear up the rubble in the morning and since I drove there in a car and was passing by his place on the drive home I ended up riding his bike back to his house and he drove my car. So I got to squeeze in one last BMW demo - not the best of circumstances but it made for a nice trip back home for me.

That was one HOT fire! There was nothing left. That little thing at the top right above the yellow nylon rope is what's left of an AlpineStars motorcycle boot! All his stuff was reduced to dust and bits of plastic.

Now that the Rally is over I've taken to watching F8 videos and checking on insurance rates on the Beemer. I sure could get used to the ability to see where all those dirt roads go, and trade in my Honda VFR 800. The BMW F800 GS was a joy to drive. It was very capable on road and off. Soaking up all kinds of bumps and power to spare for anything I put it through. I even turned on the hand warner's when he mist got really heavy and my hands were wet. Now that's luxury! Factory hand warmers on a bike as capable off road as the F8! It's pretty awesome!

Hey nice shirt!

I'll see you next year!

I think everybody really enjoyed themselves, judging from the tired dirty smiles at the finish line. You'd never know it was a first year event. Apparently they spent two summers testing out trails and working out routes to be able to pull it off. I'm expecting even bigger and better things next year and they're considering adding some rider training events and an extra day to the event. They've got September 11, 12, 13 booked for next year.  Mark your calendars!

Special thanks to:

Rob and Courtney at Canada Moto Guide and Canada Moto Rallies
BMW Motorrad Canada - for the use of the BMW F800 GS
Arai Americas - for the use of the Arai VX-Pro4

Other Articles and Blog links covering the 2014 Fundy Adventure Rally:

CMG Online
Big Land Adventure Films
Mark Richardson for MSN Autos

Twitter Hash Tag #FundyADV

Chasing Rally Dreams - Part II

Words by: Mike Buehler
Photo's by: Mike Buehler

So now my bike was on Trevor’s truck and I’d yet to see it actually running, we figured the fuel pump was acting up from sitting for two years: I had confidence. Trevor was going ship it to a shop in San Marcos, California where Don Retundo would pick it up  to take to Nevada. I was flying down to Las Vegas on April 13th to meet it for Rally School starting the next day in the desert. But first I had to go back to work for a few weeks. From there I was chatting with Ronnie Lindley of Power Performance Perfection in San Marcos to see how his once over of my bike was going? Turns out it was a gummed up carburetor that was the culprit so Ronnie took it out and cleaned it up as well as doing an oil change. He was nice enough to fire it up over the phone so I could hear it. Music to my ears! My only downside on that hitch was that the phone system wouldn’t let me connect to Klim headquarters, I’d been talking to them about getting a new Adventure suit for the training and for more adventures to come, but by the time Nate did get back to my emails they were all gone to dealers and the next production run isn’t scheduled until December. Damn! I’m hoping he’s working on an alternative for me, otherwise I’m going to need to rethink new riding duds.

Work was really nice and booked me home after two and a half weeks so I had a 3 day buffer for weather to make my flight; there are plenty of foggy days offshore that prevent the helicopters from flying. My flight was booked and my boss JB DelRizzo was joining me on this training course too so I really didn’t want to get stuck out in the middle of the North Atlantic. Lucky for me I got in on time and spent a whole three days at home before we flew to Vegas. Time enough to fit in one little training ride to get a feel for my new Leatt brace. In my little tipovers in the snow and bog I didn’t even notice it, but it does take getting used to riding on the street and doing shoulder checks.

Three days goes by very quickly when you’ve been away for a couple of weeks and you have a million things to do before you leave. I was charging batteries for my GPS and camera as well as trying to remember all of the other odds and ends I was going to need. Spare gloves? Check. Helmet? Check. Jacket? Check. Riding socks? Check. And on it went, good thing I’d had the presence of mind to write down what I’d sent ahead in the box so I didn’t double up or forget something else. Turns out I forgot my second set of batteries for the GPS and the charger anyway, oh well.

JB and I met at the airport and suddenly we were off; excitement and trepidation in equal measures. Yup, I was going rally riding on my own rally bike, equals excitement. But we were meeting a bunch of unknowns who probably ride a whole lot better than us not to mention Jonah Street was going to be there; he did finish 7th overall in the Dakar this year after all. We were scared of terrain unlike anything we’d ever ridden and of holding everyone else up, equals trepidation. We still traipsed along through the airports, helmets in hand as carryon.

Las Vegas, blight upon the wallets of millions and sucking out the water from lands many miles away. It can be a bit overwhelming and it’s scary to think what the long term consequences of their water debt are going to be. My third time there and I’ve yet to gamble as much as a dime, despite there being slot machines in every place to step into.

We grabbed our rental car and went to find our hotel, then we took the shuttle to the strip to find some food and a beer.

We arrived a day early and had plenty of time to do a little shopping. JB wanted some new gear and I wanted new goggles, we were both under orders to buy something nice for our girls too. In the morning our first stop was at the RAT office there to say hi. Now that it's been sold the new logo is in effect.

On our way across town to the KTM shop JB spotted a sign advertising Ducati, Triumph and Aprillia. I pulled a U-turn to see if they had any GoPro Hero HD cameras. When we went in were we in luck for cameras but they also had some serious machinery to look at. I’ve never seen a Bimota in person and they had 2! These bikes are ultra bling handmade machines.

Gus took us for a tour around the shop and out back where we saw some more fun stuff and met “Irish Mike” the hotshot mechanic who works on most of the real exotics, like this Tesi 2D.

Other rare and wonderful stuff like this little Vertemati, and the Desmosedici RR that he started up for us. That owner was in for about $50K worth of new bodywork from a tipover! But it really needs to be heard to be believed and to appreciate what a real GP bike is made of.

Now where was I? Oh yeah, JB had his Leatt brace and I had my goggles and video camera, it was time to commit some time to the girls in our lives. Not really knowing our way around and not really knowing what we were looking for we went for the one stop shopping at the Outlet Mall where we were mostly successful in our respective quests.

Finally it was time to head west to catch up with Don at the bivouac, but enroute he called to say he was running late. No problem, we’d just go past it to Pahrump for a beer to kill some time.

It didn’t look like much of anything as far as towns are concerned but we managed to find this little gem: welcome to the Silver Saloon. The beer was cold and it was happy hour which provided local draft pints for a dollar, yes I did say ONE dollar for a full pint! It’s been a long time since I’ve had a beer that cheap. Neither of us were tempted by the lottery machines set in the bar either. I didn’t ask the barmaid, who was originally from British Columbia, to see the photo album of vintage pics but I should have, it looked like it might have been interesting.

When we stepped out the sun was starting to set so we booked it back to find Cathedral Canyon Road to the bivouac, I only missed it once due to misread directions from my navigator. The odd looking rock in the directions was easy to spot.

When we rolled up Don was already pretty much set up and our bikes were sitting out in the twilight, mine started right up so I went for a little spin close by. First impressions were really good and the ergonomics felt just fine as far as fit went too. Not hard to see why it’s called “SuperPlushSuspension” either. Of course as soon as JB hopped on for a spin it stalled and we couldn’t start it, hmmmm. Maybe no fuel? I added some gas and we put it on the charger before heading out for another little toodle around.

When the sun went down I had a look at my HID and then it was time to park the bikes and get to know Don a little better over a few beers. If you’re a fan of Obama’s and aren’t ready for a long debate don’t mention politics around Don; I started the ball rolling then bailed out to leave JB to fend for himself, like any friend would.

We headed off to bed at a reasonable hour and barely woke to hear two different vans roll in sometime in the wee hours. When we awoke, Charlie, Phil and Robb had joined the bivouac. Don was getting breakfast starting with coffee for the gang. Charlie runs the show and Robb and Phil were going to fill the roll of instructor for the weekend.

Charlie was running with 4 bikes: his old XR650 that Marcus John from Singapore was going to use, Phil’s 450, Jonah’s 690 from this year’s Dakar and a sweet new WR 450 that was just built for Neil, the South African who was flying in from Lima. Takes all kinds.

Robb had his 450 with him, and it too looked like a stellar build for this countryside

We spent most of the morning unloading bikes, setting up camp, and tinkering. I got my GPS mounted and set to show heading. I’d brought a few decals to personalize it a bit while I think about my own paint scheme and to add to the ridetherock and advrider annals. Charlie was showing off the stylie billet masts he’s got for sale for roadbook mounting to your bars too.

Did I mention that Neil’s new bike looks pretty trick? Here it is all shiny and new before he was there to start beating it up. Renazco gets good business from Charlie and was well represented. I’m now the proud owner of 2 bikes with  the Renazco treatment and I can attest to the comfort and quality.

Well it was getting past time to get out for a ride wasn’t it? We started out into the badlands where JB and I were a little out of our depth in the soft soil and JB’s bike stalled and wouldn’t restart, time to header back to camp for a few quick adjustments including raising my shifter lever so I could get my toe under it. I also gave my helmet mounted camera its first tryout.

Once we were rolling again we pointed towards some easier terrain that was flatter and only occasionally crossed with washes. Phil tipped me off to get good at lofting/unweighting the front wheel to clear washes at speed. I was pretty close to making it over a steep sided one that popped up out of nowhere when I was doing 40 or 50 km/h, the front wheel cleared and then I think I was bucked by the back wheel as the front wheel simultaneously dug into a compression. The result was the first batch of paint missing from the right side of the fairing, the first dent in the Leo Vince pipe and when I got back on to follow the crowd I realized I’d tweaked the steering pretty far to the right. I was moving along hoping they’d stop again before long so I could get them bars back on the straight and narrow. It was a bit of a bummer to put it down that early into the weekend but it also meant that the first one was out of the way too. We kept riding and I tried to practice glancing at my ICO, heading and roadbook while riding.

There had been rain the week before and as a result I’d see patches of colour from time to time. During our stops I looked around to see what I could see, there were some pretty little flowers to add to my collection of flower pics. And the inevitable sharp, pointy cacti waiting to poke holes in you if you weren’t careful; not hard to see why the instructors recommended to always wear a jacket and not just jerseys. Plenty of stuff I had no idea about.

Looking out over the landscape could fool you into believing that the land is flat–it’s definitely not. There are plenty of hidden gems scattered throughout such as washes, holes, sand, and badlands               

By the time we got back to camp there were more people around including a couple of families of Eastern Europeans who drove their RV’s down from Chicago. This crowd has apparently been coming down to train and ride with these guys twice a year for the last 3 years and it shows when they’re out on the trail. Nice bunch of guys who are planning to enter the Dakar for 2011 if I heard correctly. They were riding a couple of factory bikes that they picked up somewhere, and one of them rides a quad and could be seen roaming around with his wee children on board.

I wandered around to see what else was in camp, Dirk Kessler was the Canadian living in San Francisco who entered the Dakar in 2010 and was part of the 50% that didn’t make it through stage 3, and the brutal soft sand filled river bed; Dirk had a serious knee injury to boot. This was the bike he was riding.

Neil took his new bike out for a little spin and you could see the grin on his face right through his helmet.

Then we ate some supper prepared by Don and started to get to know each other, here are Robb, Phil and Dave. Neil, Phil, Dave and Seth are planning to ride the Dos Sertoes Rally in Brazil this August. It’s the second largest motorsports rally in size after the Dakar. I’m sporting one of their t-shirts that finally showed up. Good luck guys! JB took a shot at getting a cactus needle out of his hand, no luck this time but it came out by itself in two parts separately 3 days later, yummy.

After dark Neil was poking around with his bike with Scott and Darren looking on while Marcus and Dirk worked on the XR. Plenty of tale swapping around the fire over a couple of beers too. Don’s trailer is a sweet rig and where he used to work for them it’s totally outfitted with Snap On tools, nice! Scott Whitney was the guy who wrote all of the roadbooks. He’s done a fabulous job of putting good routes together to maximize the training value. These are high quality roadbooks with all the traits of a Dakar roadbook to aid in people learning the French directions. “TDSRP-tout droit sur route principale” for example.

Jonah Street and Mike Shirley had rolled in during the night as well as Seth which pretty much completed the contingent for this year’s session, give Jonah a call if you  need any concrete work done in Washington.

The morning brought the real start of rally school with a lesson in roadbook reading and preparation given, by Charlie. We had pre event studying to do so we were expected to know most of the symbols and the French translations for the letter codes. He explained where the numbers and symbols were on the roadbook and how you put them all together to figure out where you were and where you were going; these training ones even had map coordinates for your GPS as a cheater for when you really needed some help to figure out where the hell you went wrong.  The basics go like this: in the left column is the running mileage tracked by means of your ICO, the big numbers are running total and the little number underneath is the mileage between tulips. The center column is the tulip or symbol of what you’re looking for. It could be the track with a turn or a landmark like a building and there might be extra info like the lines of a wash or a patch of vegetation. The last column has the CAP heading or bearing in digital for direction and there may be more information in a letter code. In French G would be gauche meaning left, TDSPP would be tout droit sur piste principale, straight on main route, and a + or – before a V would be plus ou moin visible, meaning more visible or less visible. There’s a whole long lexicon of them to learn and some of them are really important to know so you don’t ride into something that could kill you at speed.

Don wasn’t impressed with the use of his RV as a white board. We all glued the sheets together to make the roll and did our own marking based on whatever we thought would work best for ourselves, there’s Mike Shirley showing his personal marking style.

Once those details were done, we’d marked our roadbooks and everyone had loaded them, all the bikes were lined up for a photo op. I think JB took the best photo of them all but here’s what I got.

Did you catch the sidecar rig? That’s Scott’s “HogWild Racing” machine, a Vrod powered offroad sidecar racing machine. He is a bit of a rocket scientist and it shows both here and on his roadbooks. I hear riding “monkey” is pretty wild and I wanted to give it a shot but I was slow in getting to the new bivouac at Dumont Dunes and missed out. Pretty crazy machinery that’s been to the Dakar to boot.

Well now it was time to get finish getting dressed and move out on our first route of training, I was paired up with Seth and Phil I think, and we went off to start route 1 of 6. I was slow off the start for sure trying to figure out the details, but Phil did a great job of adding tips along the way; then it was just Phil and me as Seth took off on his merry way. As it went Phil had a pretty large getoff and bent the crap out of his nav gear and mount so he sent me on my way where I soon caught JB who was also having trouble with his roadbook; we tagged along together to finish back at camp. Neither JB nor I were worried about time so we took a break to get some paper out of his jammed roadbook then took off to give route 2 a go. To tell how slow we were there were guys finishing route 3 already, but in our defense I think they’d ridden them before.

We didn’t have much to report from route 1 besides some slightly missed turns that only really matter if you’re trying to be efficient and not miss time. We stopped somewhere along the way and I looked at the ground to see 100’s of these bugs running around, they were about an inch long but I have no idea what they were, and I never saw any more of them.

If I’d remembered the camera that rode in my pocket more I would have taken more photo’s. As it was I was trying to shoot video from my new helmet can and had varying degrees of success with that. Besides, when we stopped it was rarely for longer than what it took to reset ICO’s and for JB to hand crank his roadbook along. We were doing just fine on route 2 too before we got a little mixed up by the directions given in the roadbook being thrown off by how many times it said to go uphill and downhill on the PP or “piste principale” and we ended up going back to the top of the ridge we’d just come over then wandered around a bit looking for the wash we were being told to go down on a bearing headed back towards camp. We saw other tracks probably from folks doing the same and bee lined it until we finally emptied out on a main track just like the roadbook said we would. I don’t know if Scott planned it that way when he wrote it but for learning it worked really well because seemingly you could always get back onto a known entity and get home. We laughed a little when we saw Robb wandering in search of us and/or the track we were on; it got funnier a little later when we went through a bit of a badlands kind of section and he went bushwacking down into a deep wash while we looked for a more sensible route down and out with mixed results.

We saw tracks below us and a reasonable slope down to them so I led off and got into the wash headed towards a bank about 2 feet high that I figured I could get up. This worked out fine but what I didn’t know was that 3 feet past it hidden by shrubbery was another 3 foot deep wash with vertical sides, at least I didn’t know until I plowed into it and went over the bars to see my bike still upright front wheel planted in the bank and missing more paint. Good thing fiberglass is flexible.  Did I mention yet how much I like this bike? It’s got to be 100 lbs lighter than my 640 and it really shows in times like this when you’re trying to wrestle it out of somewhere stupid. We were out and headed back to camp with no sign of Robb, he came rolling in sometime after we’d already cracked a beer, I guess that’s why he’s the instructor? And so we ended our first day of rally school with only 2 routes under our belts but we were satisfied with our progress on the learning curve. Tomorrow promised route 3 which was touted as being the nicest ride of the 6 loops. A little prep work, food and a couple of beers and we were headed for bed.

We started out day two riding route 3 with Jonah following behind but it also made for more self consciousness for us. The route ran from camp towards the mountains to the north and once we were above town the landscape started to get interesting.

There were two sections that I really enjoyed: the first was a long wash of deep pea gravel that we followed through a narrow rock chasm that was only big enough to get the bikes through and it was at least 20 feet deep. I totally forgot both of my cameras but I’m pretty sure JB caught it on video. Just as well mine was off as I had a little tipover just heading into it, one of many over the weekend. Once we left the wash the track led up into the mountains in a series on turns. I think I had the best groove I’ve ever had on that section getting over the front wheel with weight on the inside peg and gassing the rear end around the turns, I felt that mental “click” as I figured out another riding trick for awhile. I can’t take all the credit though, the bike is really well set up and seems to be dialed in just right for me too. We kept going up into the hills along ridgelines bordered by big cactus and on into the trees, as in real forest. In front of us at high elevation the was still snow on the ground which seemed pretty amazing considering it was over 80ºF in the lowlands.

After a couple of missed turns and failed first attempt of a steep loose climb we opted to stop and chill out for a little while in the shade and get some food and water into us to combat the 30 mile tipover trend that was evolving for both of us. I’ve been training for awhile and am in decent shape, as well as eating pretty well and drinking as much water as possible so my belief is that we were suffering fatigue from lack of saddle time this year: one hour long offroad ride for me and less for JB. I know from mountain biking how much energy the mental focus and concentration takes to ride long hours offroad. No problem, it helps for planning a training regimen for the next adventure, that’s if work allows the time.

Back on track we left Robb and Jonah sitting under a tree bonding while we headed off to finish the loop. Everything was going great and we both survived a nasty downhill chicane that seemed to sneak up on us as the mileage was a ways off on the roadbook. Down into the foothills all was peachy as we came into the fence indicated and made the left turn along it up to another left. We were looking for another left that just wasn’t appearing at the right ICO reading but other tracks kind of close were showing up, the CAP heading was off but we weren’t seeing anything else. Back to the fence and on down the road until I saw that we were definitely wrong where we turned around to try it again, most indicators seemed to read right so we went around again and tried for a second time going a little farther afield, no luck. Finally we tried for a third and last time to the same conclusion and decided to call it and head towards town then back towards camp. All I got out of that exercise was a picture of another flower.

While putting down the road we were on my rear tanks ran out of fuel so I stopped to switch to the front and of course I didn’t spend enough time kicking fuel through before running the battery down. Thanks JB for the final push that succeeded in the bump start, with both of us sweating profusely and roasted from failed efforts. We spent a bunch of miles just buzzing down the side of the highway droning back to the bivouac and at the turnoff there was a guy with a stand selling cold drinks and all kinds of jerky. Beef, Elk, Bison in all kinds of flavours. We stopped to get some drinks as we were both out of water and ate all the samples he gave us. When we were done socializing we left with packages of jerky in our packs to take home for later.

We finally came to mile 0 and there were Charlie and Jonah hanging out in the shade of his van. Robb was halfway back up route three looking for us to no avail. It got funnier as Jonah was asking JB where the hell we’d gone? “we were only 5 minutes behind you and you disappeared? We spent an hour looking for you?” Well, we were going around in circles trying to find a left turn? Upon looking back at the route Charlie was able to determine the turn we’d missed: a crucial left after the nasty chicane that would have sent us heading towards home and to the same fence but much further along. We should have backtracked further in the roadbook to find it, but our biggest mistake was thinking we were at the right section of fence; getting lost is part of how you learn to navigate.

Back at camp we regrouped, watched the boys drive around with the baby on the ATV and I was feeling a little grumpy, Neil picked up on it and asked what was wrong? I’d really wanted to do at least one more route, we’d only done 3 out of 6 in two days while pretty much everyone else had managed all six. Thanks Neil for encouraging me to go for it and Robb kindly offered to make sure there were steaks kept aside for when we got back.

JB offered to join me and we decided to go for routes 4 and 5 as pretty easy ones rather than #6 which would have meant reloading JB’s roadbook and he was a bit worried about fatigue levels, made sense to me. Marcus was also headed back out and both of the boys were suffering from pretty substantial blisters across their palms from holding the bars hour after hour; they took a stab at taping their hands for the upcoming ride.

Fine by me and we took off. Route 4 was really interesting as it took us to Cathedral Canyon, crossed the first real sand dune we’d seen yet and it made use of a massive grid of ¼ mile squares that had been laid out for a failed housing boom sometime in the past; it failed due to a lack of local water–go figure. The sand was a little anticlimactic even though JB fell over and the grid was deceptively challenging. It consisted of being on the gas then slowing for the 90º turn and going, and turning at seemingly random distances right up until we came to a paved road that certainly was not where we were supposed to be. Due to time constraints we skipped going back to find where we’d screwed up and made it back to camp for the start of route 5.

The start backtracked to camp from mile 0 and we saw Neil jump onto the track ahead of us and disappear in a cloud of dust. We saw him for a short time but then lost him. We were short finding an off piste turn and got turned around a little before picking up the power line to put us back on track and gassed it through some fast sections. When we hit the pavement the first intersection put the chicken Ranch on our left.

In some counties of Nevada , prostitution is legal, this is one of those counties and the Chicken Ranch is one of the brothels. We opted not to stop at the Leghorn bar for a beer. Sure I was curious, who wouldn’t be, but we could see the sun didn’t have long before our tinted lenses were going to be a real handicap. We left the sightseeing and booked it to the gas station shown on the route where we were surprised to see Neil at the pumps.  We figure we’d throw some fuel in for the last day to relieve Don as our fueler and got to it. The whole prepay thing at the pumps in the US can be a pain in the ass, as it asks for your zip code, no they don’t recognize Canadian postal codes. All I wanted was a bit of gas but the girl didn’t speak liters and you have to specify an amount. But how much gas does my bike hold? No idea in gallons and only a vague guess in liters right now. I gave her some cash and filled up more tanks than I needed to before we all took off in the direction of burnt meat and beer. Dusk was setting in fast so we got on the gas pretty hard once we were back on dirt. I was leading, followed by JB, then Neil cruising at about 50 mph, this was prudent to me with slightly reduced visibility and it made the difference when I hit a large wash successfully. I turned on my HID light which worked great to get back to camp, not much longer and we would have been in the total darkness. The best part of that run was the look on JB’s face when Neil showed him the video he shot handheld while right behind him offroad at speed, I’m sure he’ll post it on his "n00b goes rallying" thread on Good on ya!

We actually got back to the bivouac in time for supper which was nice-steak and salad and a few other fixings were a great way to finish the day. My cranky mood was gone and I was happy to have finished 5 out of the 6 loops up on offer. There was a 250 mile loop that a couple of the more experienced guys did on the same day too; for now I’ll just daydream a little about riding long days like that. Our third day of riding came to a close with a feeling of accomplishment at reaching another small skill level. I finished it off with a chat on the phone and a sunset shot of another little flower. It was all coming a little bit easier. Tomorrow was a new day and would mark the end of the school.

Morning came early and started with some more teaching about dune riding and navigation in the dunes. This is mostly done by cap heading alone and visually noting landmarks to be able to stay on the same heading as you pick your route through varied terrain. Everyone was interested in this, especially the folks who’d never been in sand or dunes. The other part of the morning info session included some notes and details about the 70 mile route we would be taking to the new camp setup at Dumont Dunes where we would get into the sand for the rest of the day.

The humour started early as Scott’s dog decided to lift a leg on someone’s wayward helmet left lying on the ground. He said it was only a little on the visor, but he might have been lying? Just goes to show that keeping track of your gear is very important, especially in mixed company. Harharhar.

For the first time JB and I were the first to dressed and on the road out of camp, we both wanted to get as far as we could before the faster guys caught us. Everything was going pretty well off the front with the only stop being JB’s roadbook pulling apart; using gluestick to glue the sheets it’s very important to press hard and ensure a good bond. As short as this stop was it still costs time in the overall, for errors that really have no need of happening. We overshot a turn a little very near the same stop so again lost time for no good reason.

The next section was pretty uneventful and led into the hills. The roadbook indicated downhill, EMP. short for empierre which means rocky or stony. It was fairly obvious when we got on top of it and stopped to scope it out. That’s when we heard the first bike catching up with us and sure enough there was Neil: being all gung ho for Dos Sertoes he jumped right in with us still stopped there observing. About halfway down he was down and right behind us Seth and Dirk rolled up. We all watched Neil wrestling his machine upright and JB took a little walk to find an easier line. Seth wimped out and decided to roll down left of the gully with his engine off and Dirk opted for JB’s line on the right from about a quarter the way down. After getting off to take a few more pictures of some flowers I spotted I headed right from the top and saw Dirk fall over below me that inattention immediately contributed to me rolling on top of a cactus and getting stuck. I too fell over trying to escape the little bugger. When I finally did get free it was clear sailing for the rest of the way down and we were back on track again.

From here we entered a small wash that emptied us onto a well maintained dirt road that started with a short detour to a U-turn and then clear sailing. We were cruising at over 60 mph for a good while towards the hills. I totally missed a crucial turn by failing to watch my ICO for about ¼ km and there again was lost time. Backtrack to the turn and a wee stop to reset nav gear and do a little battery fix on JB's GPS, then Marcus and Phil caught up with us. Now we were there with the final riders. I spotted a cool looking cactus and went to take a picture and I’m glad I did as I also saw a beautiful little cactus in bloom too. Who knew I’d see so many flowers in the desert? I’m counting myself lucky we got there shortly after one of their rare rainfalls.

Marcus also did the GPS taped battery trick Jonah showed me after we’d done JB’s and he hit the gas; roosting the rest of us with gravel. Phil gave us the nudge, time to get a move on.  Now we were last and headed up into the hills again and we watched the scenery unfold below us as we climbed. Just after we rounded a corner I got offline into the rocks again and had another tipover. JB commented about the 30 mile stupids so I took a minute to get a quick bite of food into me. Just around the corner we stopped at an abandoned talc mine where JB realized he had trouble shifting because of a loose shifter. It was all stop while we dug out the tools to do the fix. Nice to have a rally box to keep the basic tool kit in. I saw some more flowers and ate some more before we were getting moving again. Good thing as the white tailing piles were reflecting some serious heat at us.

We were trying to stay on the gas and keep a reasonable pace but we seemed to be a little plagued with stops. At one of the next intersections Seth was waiting for us, I really don’t know why, as our navigating was mostly fine and Phil was pulling sweep behind/with us. We jammed along behind Seth through some ups and downs and I had the pleasure of blowing by him up a loose wash, it made me feel good being faster than at least one person for at least a few minutes. Didn’t last long, he left us behind when one of us stopped for something. Another navigational error due to a little bit of confusion with the roadbook cost us some more time yet again where we went through a narrow pass but that’s how you learn yet again. Another change of terrain and we entered a long sandy roadway only to have to stop to fix the shifter a second time. Now everyone was anxious to turn it up another notch and JB led out at a good rate of speed. This was almost the last video I shot as well having forgotten to charge my camera the night before, I did remember the more important GPS batteries though. 

Back into the mountains awhile later we got onto a neat section of trail that was straight up one side and straight down the other side; attention was very important to avoid a long fall to the valley bottom below. Phil asked JB if he’d seen Dumont dunes off in the distance to which JB said he had eyes only for staying on the road, sensible, I didn’t see them either. When this emptied us out it was into a long section that had been serious mining country at one time as we were riding on old broken pavement interspersed with washouts and potholes. Weird remnants of civilization in the dry and desolate middle of nowhere. This led us into a deep pea gravel wash through a small valley that was pretty cool being hemmed in by steep rock walls that you were trying not to run into. After one particularly sketchy corner I stopped to have a look back and saw JB standing beside his bike and poking at something around the engine, Phil stopped with him and I could see that they were both fine. In my own self interest I decided to keep going and get out of the pressure cooker. I was on my own and having fun in the wash until I got caught in a moment of target fixation that had my eyes glued to a large rock coming at me; I tried to pull my eyes away with no luck and plowed right into it. Down I went for my second crash of the weekend and I distinctly remember looking at my hand and cursing as I saw the fairly large avulsion in the meat of my palm. Dammit! I picked the bike up and dug my first aid kit out of my bag all the while thinking I’d be hearing the boys come along any second. I cleaned out the dirt, did a little patchwork and packed it all away before turning my attention to getting to camp. No sign of the guys either.

I skipped a detour up the valley side that was only going to offer a slight change of scenery and kept going to the next turn up over some sand hills and saw the dunes on my left, but it was not our rendezvous. I was close and gave it the gas as soon as I was on the main road right up until I could see our fleet of vehicles parked in the lot. Yay! I’d made it through the 70 mile route in mostly one piece and quite a bit later than everyone else except our missing boys. I caught up with Charlie first and he immediately told me that Jonah and everyone else had just left for Dune School and I should go find them. Alright, off I went, alone into the sand. It wasn’t bad really, I had one close call dropping into a hole made by the wind but on these little ones it was easy to get a feel for them and the oblique approaches that let you see over them before committing to the other side. I went around the whole area twice before I caught up with them, just in time to hear one of Jonah’s last lessons. Phil came buzzing up to ask Jonah if they could use his truck to drive 8 miles back up the wash to get JB and his bike? Turns out what I had thought was shifter trouble was him punching a hole in one of the engine cases. Jonah replied that his truck wasn’t up to the task and Phil rode away. We kept going trying to follow the last navigation trick that Jonah was telling us. At our next little stop Seth and I both decided to head back when they were going over to the big dunes as we’d both run out of water and I hadn’t had a breather from the day's route yet either.

After taking a bit of break and a beer Charlie suggested I go try out the big dunes, reminding me that it was one of the key things I wanted to learn a bit about. I took the roundabout route as instructed to stay away from the crowds and permits. One place I stopped to have a gander I looked on the ground beside me and low and behold it was a field of flowers. I sized up the biggest dunes from a distance and made my way towards them. In hindsight maybe I should have paid a little more heed to my failure to negotiate the first apex? I fell over  but kept trying to get a run up the dune, after a few attempts I still had only really gotten halfway and had almost eaten it going over a steep lip that I couldn’t see in the flat light until I was already on it.

When my battery started getting weak from blowing sand out of the pipe every time I dropped it I knew it was time to head back. I pointed my bike back the way I’d come and set out for the trucks. I saw a small saddle between bigger dunes pointing the way I’d come and turned off towards it. When I crested the dune I didn’t get on the gas early enough and fell over yet again; only this time I was out of juice. Uh oh. I tried to tickle it to life without luck then tried getting rolling to bump start. This didn’t work either and it put me near the bottom and in a depression. After what was already a pretty long day I was dead tired. On this level in sand I couldn’t get in a position to effectively try kicking the bike over either. I came really close to firing it one last time too. Dammit! Again I tried pushing to get out of the depression and down the last pitch to where the track led out but I was out of gas myself. After what had been almost an hour of failure I finally gave in and phoned Charlie. No answer. I tried Scott’s number too. No answer. I waited a bit before trying Charlie again and he asked what was up? I told him and he asked if I’d tried all my options before saying he’d come get me going. While I waited in the only shade around that I created with my jacket I drank the last of my water and gave my girl a call. She was unsympathetic; her response was that it was what I signed up for. Gee thanks. I stood on top of the rise and when Charlie came around the bend it didn’t take long for him to spot me and gassed it in my direction. I felt marginally better when I watched him take awhile to get it running; he has the advantage of having legs a foot longer than mine which helps. 

It was a quick run back to see that most of the troops had pulled out to head home their separate ways. Now it was just Don packing up and waiting to load my bike, Charlie loading bikes in his rig and Neil, Seth, JB and me riding in our rental to the first bivouac to their cars. It wasn’t long before this that JB realized he’d left his camera and phone in Robb’s van. When Jonah declined his truck they drove Robb’s 4x4 van all the way up the wash to where JB had been snoozing in the shade under a rock while he waited. At least I wasn’t the only one who had to be rescued, and I was pretty close to not having to be rescued. On reflection there are things I’d do differently in the same situation, the first being to turn the bike into the hill so I could stand on the high side to kick the low side; I’m sure if I’d done that I would have been able to get back all on my own. Oh well now I know.

JB had missed the dune session so he took the 690 Jonah rode to a 7th place finish in the 2010 Dakar and went for a scoot in the small dunes. The smile on his face was unmistakable when he got back to finish stuffing the car with all of our gear. He was loving it and I was jealous; no time for me, Don was waiting for me to get the rest of my sh@t out of the trailer and finish packing the box to send with the bike. That all done we hit the road for Baker, California to pick up JB’s stuff at a restaurant where Robb had left it. Only a 50 mile detour to the Mad Greek. While we waited I looked around a little and decided pretty quickly that Baker is nowhere I’d want to live. This sign I spotted might offer hope to those living in the trailer park behind it, but I doubt it. We got gas at the General Store across the road before we turned around to get to the cars. The small dunes we were in looked absolutely miniscule as we drove by.

The cars were still there, and being stopped already and unpacking our car we decided to repack all of our gear to fly right there in the dust. It would make life easier at the hotel when we got back to Vegas. A short time later we were bound for Las Vegas where all of us were flying out from the next day. Neil to Lima, Peru, Seth to Vermont and us to Newfoundland. 

Back into the city of never ending light and excess there’s always something to look at; like this dude we saw on his trike, waiting for a miracle maybe? Neil offered to add us to the room he thought he had reserved at the Palazzo which sounded fine to us. After a long drive down the strip with all kinds of people lining the rails along the road like you were the entertainment we got to the hotel and the three of us ended up in a suite with Seth taking the pullout. The girl at the desk informed us that it was the biggest hotel in the world with 7000 rooms! This is only one hotel of many, makes no wonder there’s no water anywhere, Vegas has taken all the water from who knows how many miles away? I wonder when it’s going to run out and what’s going to happen then? My guess is that the consequences will be further reaching than anyone’s guess.

We showered then headed downstairs to the casino to find some food and ended up in Dos Caminos eating steak and drinking a few beers. We were all beat from a long day and were done and headed to bed before we fell asleep at the table.

JB and I had the earliest flight out and were checking in our rental car by 9am. Touring the duty free pretty much brought us to the end of the trip. All in all I think the Rally School was worth the money and worth the effort to get there. I know for us we learned a ton, not only about how rallies work and navigating, but also a ton in terms of riding skills. I was lucky enough to have been able to show up and ride an almost new bike that I now own and get to know that machine a whole lot better too.

And so ends my story to date, my rally dreams finally having some substance. Right then it was a bit hard to see it as I was only home for a few days before getting back on a plane and flying to Alaska to work for a month; doesn’t mean I didn't have more dreams though. What’s next? Well, I’m still on track for the Rally Mongolia like my last story said, and now that I've been out in the desert and experienced a little bit if what it's like I think I'm ready to make another dream come true; but that's another story.

And the start of that story is rapidly aproaching, it's late July now and I get on a plane on August 4th to head to my first ever International offroad Rally. We'll see how it unfolds.

Additional links of interest:

- To follow Mike's adventures in Mongolia you can keep an eye on his SPOT tracker HERE.  He wasn't sure they'd be allowed to use it but hopefully!

- SSER Org website.  Direct link to the 2010 Mongolia race section