Rob posted into the forum that he wanted to do a weekend off-road riding and camping trip at the Peters Mill Run and Taskers Gap trail system in the George Washington National Forest. We've been street riding through that area a number of times and it's simply beautiful so I was imagining a peaceful and entertaining weekend of riding along wooded hilly trails maybe involving some mud since it had been raining so much.
Peters Mill Run Trail near Edinburgh,Va. It's 6 miles between points 1 and 2.
(This is an example of the GPS track support I've been for the maps system I'm working on for the site, now with waypoint markers. Soon you'll be able to create your own maps of rides. More on that later.)
The coming Trans Am Trail trip involves so many new things for me. It's a new bike, completely new gear and new equipment. I'm forcing myself to be humble and approach it all with the eyes of a beginner. It seems silly, but when you've been riding as long as I have, habits form and even minor changes in your routine can lead to mistakes you wouldn't normally make.You become distracted by the unfamiliarity of it all and nothing is smooth. For instance, over the weekend, I would forget to zip the tankbag closed half a dozen times. I never make that kind of mistake. But it's all new and your attention is dominated by this newness. You have to be humble and give yourself the time it takes to let the feeling of unfamiliarity wear off. The only way I know to do this is actually use everything. I certainly don't want to be leaving on a big trip with unproven and unfamiliar gear.
I was talking to a friend, Robert, last night about this very topic. As we get older we get more set in ways of doing things. It's not that things become harder to learn but we get more used to the expectation that we are good at something. That causes us to hold on to what we know with a tighter grip and prevents us from venturing out to something new and uncomfortable where we may not know what we are doing or worse may seem like we're an idiot. "Embrace this feeling." I suggested. "You will have to learn new things constantly so get used to this feeling of not knowing what you're doing and embrace it. Get used to it. Learn to be in this place so that when change happens you can adapt more fluidly." I am practicing what I preach because I seriously do not know what I am doing with this off-road stuff.
There's also the fact that I, as an off-road rider, am completely unproven. I'm concerned that I simply don't have the experience I need to react correctly when the surprises and Bad Things happen. If I have a nasty off somewhere Out There far away from help, it could be bad. So I know, being humble, that I need lot's of practice with everything. So when Rob suggested a weekend of camping and trail riding, I thought it'd be an excellent time to do a trial run of the big trip. I decided to pack the bike as if I were going cross country. On my beloved Blue Bike, I know where everything goes, but here, on this new bike, with it's limited space and completely different luggage system, I had no clue. I would have to come up with a new way of packing and organizing things. I also knew, going away for a weekend, that things I had overlooked would be highlighted. For instance, riding off-road, you tend to ride with the face shield up which exposes your face to the sun. I've never had sunburned lips before. Unpleasant.
So I said I was in. It's been a while since I've been camping. Rob suggested, since this was the first significant off-road ride, that we take the bikes in his truck. If we break either bike, we'd have a way of bringing them back. This made sense to me since I figured things were more likely to go wrong on our first outing. He also offered to pack a bunch of food, tools and supplies. It was very kind.
So I set about getting the last gear I thought I'd need and started the task of figuring out how to pack it all. I knew space would be more of a premium than it is on my Beloved Blue Bike, but I didn't realize how much of a premium that was.
The Beloved Blue bike has lockable hard luggage which I love. I once swore I would never travel with soft luggage again. Soft luggage sucks. You can't lock anything on the bike so when you stop someplace you have to haul it all in with you. But, when going significantly off-road, weight is a real problem. All the hard luggage systems I could find for the DR650SE were pretty heavy, not to mention very expensive. So I opted to go with a highly regarded soft luggage system made by a company called Wolfman. It's completely waterproof but ends up being nothing more than some stuff sacks you can mount to the bike. They seemed much larger than they actually are. I found getting even a subset of what I would normally take into the bags a real challenge. But I'm pretty good at packing light, so I managed. Saturday April 27th, 2013 came and lugged all the gear out to the bike. All in all it wasn't too bad.
The resulting setup seemed pretty solid although I was concerned about the amount of stress on the yellow bags. It became clear that for the big trip I would definitely need a top bag if I was going to carry clothes and food. This was also going to be the first test of my new adventure riding suit. I hadn't had a chance to replace the foam hip pads in the pants with more substantial armor but the rest had been upgraded.
So off I went on this little bike and rode the 50 some odd miles to Robs house. It was a very windy day. I've been considering using the DR as a trainer but after one significant gust hit me broad side and unsettled the bike significantly at highway speeds I'm reconsidering whether that's a good idea. On slower back roads, the bike is actually a joy to ride, but it does not like highway.
I arrived at Rob's within minutes of my projected arrival time. He already had his DR, Yang, in the truck and ready to go.
I had briefly considered suggesting that I just ride down to the campground but I talking to Rob is always enjoyable so I opted not to mention anything and we, with the help of his son Kevin, loaded my DR onto the truck. This was the first time we had done this kind of setup and there were a few small mishaps but after some futzing we got the bikes secure. Next time, I'll remove the luggage from my bike.
Marking the moment of departure, Kevin took a photo of the two of us. Note the M-BY-MC baseball cap. (You can get one off the stuff page)
In order to make it here on time, I had to get up wickedly early, by my standards. I was already pretty tired. The ride on the highway had taken it out of me. Luckily Rob had already decided a Starbucks stop was in order. We think alike in many ways.
Rob has this ridiculously comfortable huge truck with a huge amount of space to carry stuff. It worked well as a Mother Ship. We stopped in Edinburgh, Va, which is just down the mountain from the trails, to grab lunch and get the necessary permits. It's a beautiful quaint little town. There's a very nice Italian Bistro there that's quite nice.
We headed up into the hills to go look for the campground. The scenery in this area is just beautiful. Route 675 out of Edinburgh which winds it's way over the mountain to Lurray is a recommended street bike run. It's a twisty gorgeous mountain road.
We went into where we thought the campground might be but after some ways decided is was unlikely that trucks with trailers would be going this way. It turns out that we had gotten onto one of the so-called OHV, for Off-Highway-Vehicle, trails. It looked like it'd be fun to ride.
We reviewed the map and realized we were in the wrong area. The campground was on the north side of Peters Mill Run instead of being at the north side of Taskers Gap. It was about an 8 miles drive which took us down into the valley we've ridden on street bikes a number of times now, but this time I was actually able to take some pictures.
We wound our way up this twisty little mountain pass road that eventually turned to gravel and found the campground. To our surprise, the campground was not nearly as "unimproved" as we had expected. The spots were arranged as is typical of National Forest campground and the privvy was imaculate. There was no shower nor running water. I find not having a shower in the morning highly unpleasant but I also realize when we're camping in the wilds that's going to happen fairly often on the TAT trip so I better man up and get used to it. We got camp set up pretty quickly because we wanted to go ride. We had seen the entrance to the trail system nearby and were itching to get going.
The trails here were marked OHV-EASY, ATV-EASY, ATV-DIFFICULT and ATV-VERY-DIFFICULT. I wasn't really sure what this meant but I thought, quite reasonably, that we should start out on the easy trails. Again, I wasn't confident about my riding ability offroad and the bits we had seen from the truck were already starting to look a bit challenging, but clearly fun.
I had considered, for a moment, taking the bike with all the gear on it but decided, in part based on Robs suggestion, not to do that. It turned out to be a fortunate decision.
So off we went. It took all of about a quarter mile to realize I wasn't in Kansas anymore. The trail, which was just wide enough for a jeep in places, was wavy with moguls. Seemingly after each mogul there was a mud puddle.There was loose dirt in places.Some puddles were a good size, many many feet long..
There were even places where water run-off was traveling down the length of the trail removing any sense of traction. These always seemed to occur in the most inopportune places, such as next to steep dropoffs.
All this I expected and, as it turned out, was doing fine on. I was firmly within my comfort zone but I was getting tired very quickly. I had not slept much the few nights before and it was showing. It was also clear that riding in these conditions was wickedly physically demanding. Off-road you stand up on the pegs so as not to get bounced around too much. You use your legs as shock absorbers allowing the bike to move beneath you. But it's hard on the legs and I was gripping the handlebars too tightly.
After a while as I was starting to get really tired, we stopped for a break.
We joked about the relative condition of our bikes and gear. Rob had been in the lead and charged into mud puddles. His bike and suit were covered in mud.
"This is what an Irishman looks like off-road.", he joked. Then looking at me, my suit largely untouched he said, "Now that's what a German looks like. You could eat off that suit." Fortunately, for Robs state of mind, this did not last long.
Rob had been watching me ride for a bit and said, "Now I get to return the favor of the coaching tips you gave me on street riding.". It turns out that Rob has vastly more experience in this kind of off-road riding than I do. He suggested that while standing up I grip the frame of the bike with my legs. That allows you to free the stress on the handlebars and lets the bike do whatever it's going to without your interference. It was good advice. It took me a while, as I say to many people, to translate the words into the feelings one experiences on the bike. I kept trying to grab the bike with the upper part of my leg like I would on the street bike but it just wasn't working. Then I figured out that I could get some pressure on my ankle and calves. Basically, I would grab the bike with the lower part of my leg and suddenly, despite the increasingly difficult terrain, it became easier.
At one point, I caught up to Rob just as he entered a puddle and I got showered in mud. It took me two or three more time, because I'm a genius, to figure out he was doing it intentionally to even things out. So much for my clean suit.
What I was not prepared for, as the terrain became more difficult. was the rocks. These were not little rocks. Imagine a fury brought down on a granite landscape breaking it into razor sharp blocks of sizes ranging from pebbles to boulders and then leave them strewn in piles all over the path of travel . You can't ride over this stuff. I know you can't. But we did anyway.
This was hard and left to my own devices I would likely not have attempted it. At one point we came up this steep hill simply covered in loose mini-boulders and large rocks separated by ruts all conspiring to wreck my sorry self. Once around the corner and starting to head up the hill there was no stopping. I tried my best to find a way up but hit one of the rocks, my feet flying off the pegs the bike pitching violently to the left. I put a foot down pushed the bike a bit and got deflected and headed straight for the boulders on the left. I managed to recover and start careerning to the boulders on the right. Somehow I managed to keep the bike upright while the rear end did a bouncy jig all the way up this crazy hill. NUTS. How I didn't fall down I don't know.
At the top of the hill, which Rob had done with ease, he said, "I turned around and saw you weren't there and thought, 'This isn't good. I broke Yermo!'". We both laughed. It was at this point I told him, "You know, I've never done anything close to this difficult before. Not even as a kid." He was surprised. It turns out that when he thinks of off-road riding, this is what he was imagining and had thought I had done this before because I had used the word off-road. I told him I had been imagining nice little trails in the sunshine like what I did as a kid. I think he felt a bit bad at that moment realizing that this, for me, had been a complete beyond my comfort zone and possibily ability trial by fire. "You're not the kind of person to point the sled downhill and see what happens, are you?" he joked.
Nope. Even as a little kid, when I came up on an obstacle, even if I had watched someone else do it, I would get off my bike and walk it. I would plan my route. I would ponder. I would come up with places I could bail if I needed to. And then I would do it. Carefully. The idea that I raced into these blind corners, got surprised by this incredibly difficult terrain and did it successfully anyway made an impression. I wasn't terribly scared but I was feeling a bit out of my element. But I've been in this headspace before and I know what it feels like. At this moment, I felt exactly as I had at the Superbike School. I guess I've made some progress because I was able to stay out of my own head and do it all despite the fact that if I stopped and thought about it I would think it impossible.
We both agreed we must've made an error and that this must've been the Difficult Level trail. We looked at the map again and in my shock I exclaimed, "You've got to be kidding me!" It turns out we had been on the easiest level of the easiest kind of trail.
I was dumbfounded, I couldn't imagine what a "difficult" trail might look like.
Regardless, we continued to traverse this challenging terrain for a number more hours and I became more and more comfortable as this unfamiliar terrain became more familiar. I hardly noticed when we headed back down the hill that had nearly taken me out.
It was fun the way a good workout can be fun, but I was working because I was here to learn. I had not expected these lessons but they were very valuable. Rob was having a blast. If I had had a better understanding of what I was in for, which neither one of us really knew, I may have opted not to go, which would have been tragic.
There were some truly beautiful spots along the way.
I even remembered to ask Rob to take a photo of me to prove I was there.
We took a longer break. The white gallon water jug that Rob suggested I get, which you can see mounted to the bike in the photo above, turned out to be a life saver. "I don't want to ride these trails at night." Rob said. That makes sense, this terrain with all these boulders, would be terribly difficult in low visibility. It was difficult enough in daylight. So we headed back to the campsite. On the way we encountered a truck that had gotten itself stuck. We stopped and looked to see if there was anything we could do, but there was nothing. They assured us they could get help to come out so we headed back to the campsite.
Rob had brought a grill and a bunch of food which included huge steaks. He offered to cook dinner. I suggested that I should build the fire. I tried to find some wood but the woods had been picked clean. Next time we'll bring firewood. There was one small stump so I took my machete and proceeded to chop a good section off of it. It was really tough wood and it took forever. "I'm playing." I said looking up at Rob who was looking at me quizzically. He cooked dinner. I gathered more twigs and branches.
We ate a meal fit for kings.
We then tried to build a fire. This was reminiscient of camping with Ian in Idaho. Nothing would burn. Even with pretrochemicals nothing would burn for quite some time, but eventually we managed to get the fire started and began talking about the day.
We revisited the topic that I had never ridden anything like these trails before. "This is at least an order of magnitude harder than anything I've ever done on a motorcycle. I mean I hit rocks and the skidplate hit before the front wheel could reach ground on the other side. I didn't know that this could even be done and left to my own devices I don't think I would have done this." I said. He talked about the off-road riding he did. The topic moved to risks. He talked about his times as a kid taking risks, jumping off rooftops, ridnig beyond the limit and injuring himself, sometimes badly. He doesn't seem to fear pain and often said he has a very high pain tolerance. His stories also involve tales of many other people. That contrasted with mine that were mostly alone. It's interesting, when talking to Rob you get the feeling you are talking to someone who is not alone, his mind occupied with stories of so many other people. Despite the incredible differences in our backgrounds, there were dozens upon dozens of times over the weekend where we would end up thinking the exact same thing at the exact same time, but in this one areas key differences between us came to light.
I've often said, in order to see something, you have to have contrast. To know yourself is not what's important. What's important is to know how you are different from others around you and be able to articulate it. We talked a while longer. During the day Rob had often said we should invite the other guys out here. I kept replying that I couldn't recommend anyone to come out here. It's just too difficult. People would hurt themselves. This dynamic played out in our conversations quite often. Then it hit me.
"You're a tempered, 'what could possibly go wrong' kind of guy, right?" I asked. "Yea, that seems about right." he replied. "Well, I think I now see that I can be described as a 'How could this possibly go right?' kind of guy." He laughed. The more I thought about it the more it makes sense and dominates my thinking. I look at a task, like going cross country and I immediately see all the ways it could go horribly horribly wrong. I look for one path in which it has the best chance of going right. Rob on the other hand, if I were to venture a guess, sees all the ways that things can go right and if they go wrong he knows he can deal with it. It's a different perspective and leads to radically different conclusions based on the same information. Contrast. I'm not implying the Rob is wreckless. Far from it. I wouldn't travel with him if he were. He wears top gear. He's careful. He values rider education and is a constant student.
But his risk/reward calculation is different than mine. I suspect this may be part of why, when asked to describe him to a friend once, I replied, "He's what I would have been if I were successful." I see too many ways things can go wrong. This dominates my thinking and my life and I still think it holds me back. "I'm not afraid of falling." Rob said many times during the day. I am afraid of falling. I take riding as seriously as I do because I'm afraid of falling because I can't imagine falling without hurting myself irreparably. For me there is only one outcome to falling and that's being left in a wheelchair, or so I feel. This is in stark contrast to the others who I've seen fall many times. They get up, brush themselves off and go on.
So Rob when describing the weekend, focuses on everything that went right, how much fun he had, and how he would do it again immediately. I focus on how treacherous it was and how easily it could have been for it to go wrong. I mean you should have seen these rocks! Razor sharp edges on a field of pain far as the eye could see and we were riding over it on two wheeled vehicles at a good clip. Many times we wondered how the tires had not been shredded. But we rode the same ride at the same speed. And by the end of the day it's not that I was uncomfortable, it was just that I was constantly aware of how much falling down would hurt. Sitting at the campground the Fear set in as it often does when I exceed a limit. I guess you could say, Rob seeks the positive and I seek to avoid the negative. But this probably makes us good travelling companions as we offset each other.
It's interesting to see how subtle differences in a persons experience become a basis for how they form. I sometimes wonder how I would have grown up differently had I not be so sickly and weak as a kid. Maybe I would more like Rob, not fearing the fall. But I was sick and weak and when things went wrong they went wrong for days and sometimes weeks. It's why I never did drugs. I didn't want to take the risk. I was too broken as it is. This fear still dominates my thinking, but to a lesser degree. At least I don't let it stop me completely. Well, at least not when it comes to motorcycling.
We tended to the fire. The log that I had so carefully chopped refused to burn. We did everything but it would not burn. It even prevented things close to it from burning. It provided us hours of entertainment as we attempted every conceivable way to get this damned log to burn but it was to no avail. "We should patent this." I joked since clearly we were in an unburnable forest.
Rob headed to sleep and I stood by the fire contemplating my day looking skyward to see if I could see any shooting stars from the predicted meteor shower. It was a bright moonlit, clear and piercingly cold evening. I pondered my day and thought more about my relationship to risk and how, despite my best efforts, it still dominates so much of my life. Today was a good day. I did things on a motorcycle I never thought I could do. I also now have a first hand understanding of why off-road riders make the choices they do. This terrain was tough but I was looking forward to the Taskers Gap trail system the next day where we hoped the trails would be easier. Certainly, they wouldn't be harder than what we experienced today. I don't know if I could ride a harder trail.
I went to my little tent and crawled into what, to my shock and horror, was a damp and largely frozen sleeping bag. It was COLD, but warmed up eventually.
Once I managed to fall asleep, images of the trail and the sounds of the Mighty DR Yin dominated my dreams.