05 August 2014

RMAR Rendezvous 2014--Meeker, CO Part 2

Saturday was a whole new day. Going to bed the night before, I didn't think I would ride much, except maybe over to the county fair. When I woke up Saturday morning, however, I had of course changed my mind. I was ready to get back on the bike. We headed for Cuppa Joe again, then everyone was meeting up at Elk Moutain Inn (one of two hotels--The Blue Spruce Inn being the other--that not only hosted riders who wanted a hotel room, but offered inexpensive showers for those of us camping) to figure out what rides were happening where and when.

Meeker locals.

Thursday evening after arriving in town, I introduced myself to a guy named Marty. His wife Laurie was there, also riding a Yamaha XT225. He had mentioned that it might be nice if we could ride together, and I was all for it. We found that one of the riders, Mark, was planning on taking her to Trappers Lake, then showing her out towards Ripple Creek, and pointing out the good ways back to camp. We decided Trappers Lake would be a great ride after having been told by a local not to miss it, and joined up with them. Two young guys on KLRs, RJ and Bobby, said they wanted to join us also, so six of us headed out highway 8 up to Trappers Lake.

A view of our 6 bikes as we came back down the trail from the lake.

The first 30 miles of highway 8 is paved. It's kind of a bummer, but the road was a little twisty and the scenery was gorgeous. When the pavement ended, the road was a wide open, hard-packed dirt road with light gravel. Super easy conditions, and since it was the second day of riding, Josh led at an easy pace of 40-45 mph. Eventually we turned right to head ten more miles up the mountain to Trappers Lake. We encountered a couple of herds of cows right on the side of the road, and three SUVs full of people who, like complete assholes, had parked their vehicles right in the middle of the road and gotten out to wander around. Seriously, what is wrong with people? At least the cows are courteous enough to pull over to the sides.

L-R: Mark, RJ, Josh, Laurie, and Bobby. You can't see my bike, it's hidden behind RJs huge KLR.

Once we reached the end of the road to the lake, there was a short hike up the mountain to actually get to it. About ten years ago, a fire raged through the area, but there is already tons of new growth, and the dead trees have been bleached white by the sun and stand as ghostly reminders of the event. The lake, nestled amongst the Flat Tops, is quite beautiful.

Josh and Mark at Trappers Lake.
Just above Trappers Lake, in the middle of the burn area.

The road to the lake is an up-and-back, so we would all be headed back down to 8 and Mark suggested we all head to the overlook to see the Flat Tops from a higher angle. As we came around a long sweeping bend in the road, a baby cow decided he wanted to race us around the curve. It was a little nerve racking, wondering if he was going to bolt INTO the road, but he just wanted to run alongside. Mama had started running for a bit also, but she quickly decided running wasn't fun. We made it up to the overlook, took pics, had snacks, and read and questioned some historical markers at the top.

Looking across the meadow at the Flat Tops. This ride was part of the Wagon Wheel Trail System.

From that point Josh, RJ, and Bobby headed back down 8 to find a couple of Blue-rated trails and play in the mud, and Mark, Laurie, and I continued up 8 to where it dead ended into county road 29. Here, Mark showed us on a map the route to get back home with the options of either dirt or asphalt for the last chunk of the ride. He went the other direction, and headed up to Walden for the Moose Run Rally. Unsure of what the total mileage would be, Laurie made the decision that once we reached Hamilton, we should slab it up to Craig in order for her to fill her gas tank. Because I have the Clark tank on my bike, the mileage would be no problem for me, but she was still running the stock tank which is kind of wee.

At the gas stop in Craig, Laurie wanted a break for her rear end, and I wanted a break to eat. We stood in the parking lot as a large group of Harley riders pulled in. Many other Harley riders rode by on the highways, and I realized we were the only dirt bikes up that way. We seemed to be the only group that was just women also--two dusty, dirty, women on their little dirt bikes, hauling ass through town just trying to find the next dirt road! That was a great feeling. While relaxing and watching, we realized dirt bikes aren't the only ones which wind up with problems starting. It was funny watching three guys push a Harley to bump start. My observation was that I thought it would have been a lot easier if the chick had gotten OFF the back of the bike before they did it.

With Laurie and our (almost) identical bikes. Although they don't look the same, they are both Yamaha XT225s. It was fun to get out and ride with just another woman--I had never done that before!

We rode back through Hamilton, and about three miles on, we chose to get off the highway and onto Yellow Jacket Pass. Another easy, wide open dirt road through stunning scenery, and apparently a short cut. When we got back to the Elk Mountain Lodge, our friends from Canada, saw us and said we must have been hauling ass. They had seen us at the gas station in Craig as they left and slabbed it back on the highway, and had only beaten us by a few minutes. We weren't riding that fast, but I do think it was a more direct route. In fact, we even had to stop once. We rode through a couple of miles of what appeared to be a grasshopper convention. No really, I think all the grasshoppers in the world were there on that road. The road exploded with them constantly, and I could feel them bouncing off my torso, arms, legs, neck, and face shield. Laurie pulled over very quickly at one point, and as I stopped to ask if she was okay, she yanked her face shield off and pulled a grasshopper off her face. Ewwwwwww! While we were back in the parking lot of the hotel, I bumped the bottom edge of my jacket and a grasshopper flew out. He had apparently caught a ride down the mountain into town with me.

Back in the parking lot, Laurie let me take her bike for a spin. As I rode the day before I started making a mental list of some of the mods I needed to make on Taz if I'm going to keep her and continue to ride her off road. Laurie had done a number of them to her bike, and I was eager to see if they would work well for me. She had much larger, more aggressive foot pegs, Rox risers on the handlebars, Dunlop 606 tires, and a pad on the seat to help improve the "sitting on a two-by-four" feeling. What a difference all those things made! I now have a better idea of how to make my riding more comfortable and efficient. And although I believe good riding is on the rider, a comfortable, well-equipped bike can make a big difference in learning and growing.

After riding Laurie's bike, I went back to camp to say hello to the group gathered there. I sat for a few minutes, then realized how filthy and stinky I was, grabbed some things and headed right back to the hotel for a shower. It was so satisfying! By the time I got back to base camp, I felt like a human being again, and I was ready for a beer and some conversation. It was an easy day of riding, with stunning scenery and good people, I was clean and smelled good, and two beers in, and we all wandered over to the pavilion to meet for raffle prizes, stories, and a small auction.

Chris photo bombing Brian, Abbi, and me.

As I watched people walk up to claim prizes, I commented on how many people were limping their way up and back. Apparently, I was not the only person who had some rough times on his or her bike. Though I didn't win any raffle prizes, I had the highest bid on a certificate for Billet Racing Product hand guards. Mark Odette took a picture with me holding the prize--they wanted to send it to the owner of the shop, showing him that a woman had claimed it.

Mark Odette, Louise, Mark Ferguson--can't say thanks enough, you guys!

I chatted with the Marks--Mark Odette and Mark Ferguson--and thanked them for a great weekend. Some really nice planning had gone into it. Swag bags with DVDs, stickers (!), piston key rings, and a whole bunch of other stuff were handed out along with our Rendezvous t-shirts. In the bags, beautiful maps of the Wagon Wheel Trail System had been given to each of us. They were very detailed, and all trails were rated in a similar fashion to ski runs--greens, blues, and black diamonds. It gave people a great idea of where to head and what to ride, based on each person's skill level, experience, and desire for difficulty. Lots of time communicating with the town itself and researching trails and areas to ride had also been put into planning the weekend, and that effort made it easy to have a great time.

I was not really in need of a piston key ring, but I took two and turned them into earrings. Crap, I'm really becoming that girl....

The Italian restaurant two blocks away from the park was overrun that night with riders who wanted dinner after the festivities were over. Ma Famiglia had great food, and it was fun to see tables and tables of riders supporting the local community. After dinner, a number of us headed back to a bonfire and we sat around and told a continuing campfire story which included Sasquatch, natives beating drums, Esperanza the nun, and a 13 year old Brazilian girl. There was also the main character, the White Ghost, who may or may not have been modeled after one of our riders....

It took a while to get the mud off, it had dried and hardened into concrete!
The Grunge Brush is the BEST way to clean a chain!
Taz has no center stand, so this is how I spin my wheel to clean and lube the chain. Pull the bike over on the kickstand, and spin the wheel with my foot. It isn't terribly efficient, but it works. And I'm only a little worried I'll pull the bike over onto me....

That was pretty well the end. My heart was sad the next morning as I watched everyone load up, and as we all said goodbye. After 220 miles of I-70, I was home, cleaning mud off my bike, de-gunking my encrusted chain, and collapsing into a comfy chair. It was such a great weekend, and despite my injuries and all that needs to be done to that bike, I am ready for another one.


RMAR Rendezvous 2014--Meeker, CO Part 1

Gettin' dirty again.


I have been looking forward to the RMAR Rendezvous for two years, since the last one I did in 2012. That was my introduction to off-road riding, and the event that made me love it! This year, although it was originally scheduled to be in Silverton again, it was moved to Meeker that weekend because 400+ jeeps would be arriving in Silverton for a huge rally. That wasn't going to be fun for anyone on motorbikes, so a new location was chosen. And it was chosen well!

Having ridden Rollins Pass the previous weekend, I decided I would take Taz, my XT225. Some quick thought and preparation had to go into that decision, including a windscreen and dealing with the luggage rack. When I bought the bike, the seller threw in a rack and soft bags for an extra $100. Monday night as I installed it all, I realized it had never been used. It all worked out perfectly, but I kept repeating to myself, "It's motorbiking--make it up as you go." Everything I needed fit easily in the soft panniers, and the sleeping bag, sleeping pad, pillow, and Dog went into the dry bag where they belonged.

Had to remove the handles and turn signals, then retire the turn signals to fit on the luggage rack.
Sequoia luggage rack with Nelson-Riggs luggage. Worked out perfectly, except for the missing hardware to secure the turn signals. Boo!

Getting there on Thursday was not exactly easy. Riding out of Denver, there was rain. It was slow going through the tunnels and into Silverthorn. It cleared up for about two minutes, then began pouring again. Somewhere around Copper, I think I actually yelled "OUCH!" in my helmet as I was briefly pelted with hail. Right around Avon, the skies began to clear. I stood for the entire ride through Glenwood Canyon which, due to construction was down to one lane and moving slowly. At that point, my rear end was already so sore from the XTs awful seat.

Because of the rain and crappy conditions, I decided to ride all the way to Rifle before stopping. About five miles before getting there, I had to switch to reserve on my tank. We stopped in the town of Rifle for gas, and that's when I began having reservations about taking my little bike. After getting all gassed up, the bike wouldn't start. This happened once on Rollins Pass the previous Sunday, but the time I had to start it after that, the starter seemed to work. Something about the bike being warm was affecting the starter--this also happened with my old little Honda, but that bike had a kick starter so it was never really an issue. After bump starting the bike at the gas station, and again, half an hour later after eating, I had a sinking feeling in my stomach. I did not want to be on a trail and have to bump start that stupid bike.

We continued on, and 40 miles later Meeker came into view. As I pulled into the park where base camp would be, I immediately recognized the first person I saw. I couldn't place him immediately, but I knew I had pictures with him in them. When I got off the bike and talked to him, he said his name is Garet and we had ridden together on Big John's Big Bike Easy Ride two years before. That started the weekend off right--meeting old friends again and new ones to keep for next time!

At base camp. The first group in all rode red bikes. Red is faster, right? Everyone camped on the grass, and we woke the next morning to a herd of cattle right behind us.

We got the bikes unloaded, tent up, beer purchased, and returned to camp to start meeting people from all over. In the first half hour, I met people from Wisconsin, Illinois, Canada, Georgia, Oklahoma, and Aspen. We were greeted by Mark Fergusson and met the whole group around 7:00 in the pavilion, to talk about the course of events for the weekend, and hear people from the area give us some great info. Meeker's mayor was there to welcome us, as were representatives from the Chamber of Commerce, the county, the Forest Service, and the BLM. The whole group was welcoming and encouraging, and it was great to listen to their enthusiasm for the town and the sharing of roads for everyone. That evening we had dinner with Brian and Abbi--father and daughter from Aspen--and Mark and Gaylene--husband and wife from Oklahoma--at the local Mexican restaurant. The decision had been made that we were all going to do Norm's Dinosaur National Monument ride the next day, and we all went back to our respective "rooms" for the night.

Everyone getting together for Norm's ride to Dinosaur NM.
With the luggage rack on, I had to remove my Moose Racing tail bag. The stuff sack for my GoLite jacket worked in a pinch to carry granola bars and the GoPro when it wasn't on my head.

The next morning, after finding Cuppa Joe cafe to get morning coffee and breakfast, a group of about 14 of us met up at 9:00 to head out on our ride. Two people from Big John's BBER in 2012 were on the ride--Garet who I had met again the day before, and Clare, who I was happy to ride with again! The ride was going to be long that day, but it was big bike friendly and there was a diverse group of bikes and riders. Most bikes were 400s or bigger, but Abbi and I, the only women in the group, were on a 250 and 225 respectively. This is where I need to mention that Abbi at the age of 19, could ride the hell out of her little bike. This girl has been riding since she was 5, and was a total inspiration.

Abbi and Brian from Aspen. Mark and Rick are in the back paying no attention to the camera.

The route was a ton of fun, but these guys knew the area well, and rode at top speed. Being the third back in the pack forced me to push myself and keep up. In one instance, this meant we got far enough ahead of the pack, that as we turned up our first narrow, slightly more technical part of a trail, we left the rest of the group behind. Once the road got up the hill and straightened out, it became mud. Slick, greasy, nasty mud. I rode on, slipping and sliding, but managing to stay upright. At the top of a hill, Norm pulled off the road into a field. Garet and I pulled off with him, and Rick came up alongside. The decision was made to turn around and not take the group over that stuff--who knew how long it would go on for.

That was some good mud! Slicker than snot, but sticks to everything and dries into concrete. Pretty sure that's what they used in the past to make homes out of.

I was a little relieved, until I realized I was going to have to go back down through that nasty crap. We all got turned around and Norm and Rick headed down. I went down next, and did fairly well, until one particularly deep section. My front wheel turned sharply right, and I ate it in the mud. I tried once to get the bike up and realized I needed to take a breath first. On my second try I got it halfway up, and as I was slipping and sliding in the mud, Garet came running up and helped me the rest of the way. He headed back to his bike and I noticed that I had a custom, newly bent front brake lever. I did a pretty good job on it, not gonna lie. I also noticed my tires were packed with the super sticky, yet slick mud. They were so packed, there was no tread, and they were perfectly smooth. I looked back and saw Garet attempting to kick the mud out of his tread with little result. We were riding mud on mud.

Then I went to start it and thought, "Shit!" What if it didn't start? How the hell was I gonna bump start it in those conditions? Apparently, I actually said that out loud, because Garet asked if the bike would start. I told him I didn't know, mentally crossed my fingers, and hit the start button.

It started right up.

In fact, I will just say this here: It has started perfectly ever since. Apparently my starter needed an attitude adjustment, and taking a header into the mud provided it! On the other hand, after Rick had a get-off on his KLR that day, his bike refused to start, and he had to bump it each time. I feel a little terrible about that, like he got my luck.

Garet passed me as I got myself together, yelling, "Don't get stuck in a rut!" and I made it the rest of the way down without incident. When I got down the road, there was the entire group. I found out they had never even started up, and though I kind of wished I hadn't either, I was also strangely satisfied to have done it and come out of it relatively unscathed.

We continued on and headed to Maybel, where we stopped for gas and a quick break, then took off again. I kept to the front of the pack, and pushed myself to ride fast. The roads were good and really easy, well taken care of dirt and gravel. Now and then we got into some tighter stuff with washed-out, rocky areas, but they were easily negotiable.

Until that one time. Where that one thing happened.

Heading down a rocky switchback, I slowed a bit and downshifted. But, as I did, my throttle started to stick and it shot me forward. What I should have done was ride out the switchback, get to the straight, and figure it out. What I did instead, was get on my front brake. So I had my front wheel braking and my rear wheel spinning at a high speed. That back wheel washed right out from under me, flinging me to the ground, and continuing to spin, spinning the bike around. I crawled back to the bike and hit the kill switch as quickly as I could and stood up wondering what the hell had just happened. Brian pulled up and helped pick my bike up, asking what had happened. Four different guys got out tools and went to work on my right handle bar. I'm not sure how much was accomplished, but the problem didn't happen again, and my front brake lever was no longer touching my bark buster, so I was grateful.

Off we went again, and though my knee was hurting--and would look ever so pretty for the unforseeable future--my confidence was still high as we turned off the pavement again at Elk Springs. I had no idea what I was about to hit.

Sand. Oh god, I hate sand. And I didn't even know it. It takes technique to ride in sand, and I don't have it. I've never done it before, and when I came into it at speed and my front wheel began to shimmy, I controlled the bike well enough until it got more than a foot deep. Then I ate it. Thankfully, it doesn't hurt when you have a get off in sand. Well, it didn't hurt anything more than my pride. And I did it in the deepest stuff, which means when I started up again, I rode right out of the other side.

I did this one other time on the ride, in the other bit of deep sand. I would like to say, in my defense, that the first bit of sand was red. When I came flying around the curve at 35-40 miles and hour and hit the second bit of sand, it was the same pale brown/yellow as the road I was riding. I didn't realize it was going to be sand until my wheels sunk in. I threw a little tantrum the second time I ate it in the sand because I was so close to being out of it when I came off. I have watched the GoPro footage and I was about 30 seconds into riding through the sand, and it would have been about 4 more to get out. It zapped some of my confidence.

I think I made one of the riders nervous when I went and sat on the edge of a sheer drop off, several hundred feet down. I liked the view.

Everything was super easy from that bit on out though. We made several stops: Overlooking the river and canyon, Whispering Cave, and Steamboat Rock, near where the Yampah and Green Rivers meet. We had one more section of dirt to ride to get out of the monument, and though it was rutted, washboard-y, and rocky, it wasn't bad. I did stop and wait while an SUV turned around in front of me, and headed back up the road after deciding it didn't want to go any further. I was glad I hung back as I watched its rear wheels kick up tons of rock and dust. The last thing I needed that day was to have things thrown at me.

I like Brian's transformer backpack!
Whispering Cave--over 90 degrees outside, no more than 60 degrees under that lip.
Steamboat Rock

Out of the monument, we rode to Dinosaur, gassed up, ate, and slabbed it back the last 85 miles to Meeker. I was exhausted and sore. It was close to 6:00 when we pulled back in, and all I wanted was Tylenol, water, beer, and real food. We were supposed to be meeting at the pavilion at 7:00, but I had to eat. My neck and shoulders were sore and a headache was coming on at full speed. I had also noticed as I changed clothes that besides the huge hematoma I knew was below my right knee, I had another on my left shin, and two on my left thigh. No more shorts for me for a while--it looks like someone took a baseball bat to my lower half.

Oh god--so tired!

The ride was physically exhausting--a lot of miles and one tough and painful get-off. But for me, the ride was also mentally exhausting. It was clear that I was the least experienced and least skilled rider. For most of the ride I felt like I was most likely holding people up. That weighed on me heavily the whole ride. On my walk back to the tent that night, and as I crawled into my sleeping bag, wincing each time my knee touched anything and my head screaming, I decided I probably wouldn't ride the next day.

I fell asleep before it was dark.

They've been getting more colorful each day. I'm not even gonna show you my upper legs. Oh well, chicks dig scars, right?


04 August 2014

Gettin' Dirty on Rollins Pass

Getting ready to roll.

This year the RMAR is having two Rendezvous--the usual in Silverton and a second one in Meeker. My friend, and sometimes housemate, Doug Sager, was taking a short break from his rock 'n roll lifestyle of touring with Rod Stewart, and was hoping to make it to one of those weekends. Unfortunately, with work starting off this season for me the way it has, I couldn't make the first one, and he had to go back on tour before the second. I told him if he wanted, when he came in for this visit, we would go out and have our own off-road fun. He would leave his Honda Shadow behind and ride Thumper, while I rode Taz, my little Tasmanian Dirt Devil. This was the first real riding I did on Taz, using it for the purpose for which I actually bought it.

Ready to go--I think Doug might invest in some off-road gear next time, but for that day's ride, cruiser chaps worked fine.
Smartwool snowboarding socks are great as motorbiking socks!

Sunday morning, after a little instruction for first timer Doug--stand up, throttle out of trouble, you break it you buy it--Josh, Doug, and I got the bikes out and stripped down of luggage, checked tire pressures and headed for the hills. We rode Golden Gate Canyon to the Peak to Peak highway, and took that into Rollinsville. We turned left off the highway onto a dirt road with a sign that said "Rollins Pass". This is a nice wide, well cared for dirt road which goes under, over, and beside railroad tracks for seven miles to the start of Rollins Pass. About six miles into the road, I started chatting with Doug, asking how he was doing. It was strange for me to see someone else riding my motorbike!

I did take the top box off the GS so Doug could ride without worrying about it. We wore Camelbacks so we didn't even have to worry about tank bags getting in our crotches while riding.


Doug said he was doing well, but that the bike felt a little squirrely on the dirt. I told him the moment he stood up, that feeling would go away. It took me a little while to figure that out when I first started riding dirt, but that's how it works. I watched as he stood up and tested out the theory, and we eventually reached the end of the road, where a sharp right turn would take us to the trail. We stopped there for a few minutes to air down the tires, then got going.

Not knowing what the terrain was going to be, we each aired down just a few pounds. Traction was great and there was no worry about pinch flats.

**Oh, and I have to say, Ian McLeod--I now know why you come up and jiggle my brake light assembly every time we ride together. It bounces around a lot!

This is the start of Rollins Pass. Lots of 4x4s, mountain bikers, runners (ok, those people are just crazy) and motorbikes.

Not 100 yards into the trail, I watched as the left side mirror on the GS flew off and hit the ground. What the...? I pulled up to it, got off my bike and picked it up. Doug, unsure of what had just happened, stopped and came back to where I was, looking puzzled. As I laughed and put the mirror--the brand new one it had bought to replace the one the bear had destroyed (see the "WTF!?!" Blog)--in the little case on the back of Taz, Doug looked at me and said, "That wasn't me!" I told him no, no it wasn't him. It was just my bad mirror luck!

That was the most difficult part of the day. We had a great ride up. It's pretty easy dirt with a little rutting here and there, and a few areas with more technical riding. We stopped about a mile and a half from the summit to take in the views of the lake and surrounding mountains. There we recognized a guy named Paul from the Sedalia meadow ride last autumn. He was with a group of ten or so guys, and we followed them up to the top.

The top of the pass is blocked off, but you can hike to Needle Eye Tunnel. The views are really lovely up there.
Speaking of lovely views--a view from a "bathroom" doesn't get any better than this!

Pictures were taken of both groups, goodbyes were said, and they headed back down while we had snacks. When we were done, we headed back down and the combination of gravity and boosted confidence had us down the trail in a flash. Also adding to our quick descent were the black clouds rolling in. As we came down to the lake again and rounded a curve, a blinding flash of lightning struck down, creating long rolling thunder. It was time to get the hell out!

I could tell Doug was having a good time of it on the GS, and I had a blast on my little bike. That day of riding convinced me the XT was going to Meeker the following weekend.


We got a few drops here and there, but managed to make it off the mountain before weather got too severe.