Introduction to Adventure-Training at RawHyde - The Pleasure and Pain of Learning to Ride ADV MotorcyclesIntroduction to Adventure -Training at...
Introduction to Adventure -Training at RawHyde
The Pleasure and Pain of Learning to Ride ADV Motorcycles
I arrived at RawHyde Adventures in Castaic, California on Friday evening. I had come rather hastily after observing an ex struggle to install a set of engine crash bars on my BMW F650GS in the eleventh hour of a hot March day. I’m a rookie rider and a non-mechanic. My wrenching skills must improve since I’m hell bent on riding out to the middle of nowhere. And given my recent disdain for an ill-tempered ex-boyfriend, I will fair better gathering knowledge on the mechanical aspects of motorcycles on my own. I wasn’t pleased to be so distracted and hurried by last minute snafus and short fuses. But life with difficult men happens. All. The. Time.
I received my California M1 license 18 months ago. I have tons to learn and that is what keeps me interested. I only have street riding experience yet yearn to go deeper into the wilderness, so last month I bought a BMW f650GS.
With the crash bars finally installed, I geared up and was ready to go. I made my way North up the cluttered Interstate 5 in 50 minutes to Castaic from North Hollywood, leaving my troubles far behind.
To my surprise, upon pulling off the freeway, my friend Peter stood smiling at the entry of the snaky, pot-holed graveled driveway, which led to the sprawling facility of RawHyde Adventures. Black Angus cattle and horses roamed the pastures completely unimpressed with our loud machines. Peter had sold me my BMW f650GS and was curious to take a look around hoping to join RawHyde on another weekend.
I had relaxed within minutes of parking my bike as I looked around at all of the other motorcycles and friendly folks milling around doing various tasks; getting their bikes ready, checking in, getting a lay of the land, or simply enjoying the early evening fire pit, beverages in hand. Audrey, Jim Hyde's assistant, brought me to my room, which was clearly a step above the other accommodations on the grounds. Maybe they thought I snored so they separated me to spare the rest of the riders.
It was going to be a challenging weekend, so yes, I gladly accepted this comfy room with a queen size bed without question. I told myself I'd apologize to the rest of the grunts later. So here it goes: I apologize to the entire group.
The first night, we gathered for a delicious dinner followed by introductions from owner Jim Hyde and the RawHyde team. We went around the dining room and introduced ourselves by stating our level of riding ability.
There were over thirty riders of all ages, three father-son duos, three women and two young lieutenants. A wonderful mix of Wile E. Coyotes meets super geek professionals that all happen to share a passion for off-road motorcycling, natural wonders of this planet, and the desire to learn how to maneuver these big bikes so we can take them anywhere our hearts desire.
Personally I want to become proficient enough to take a trip from Alaska to South America. But first the tentative, humbling baby steps had to be made over the next two days of training. I would have to excel at tight, off-camber figure eights amongst other obstacles to be able to attend Base Camp Alpha, a 400 mile ride in the Mojave. I felt positive and prepared. I’ve been personal training for the past few months, hiking almost daily, had done a little dirt biking the prior week and watched videos on adventure biking.
We woke up early for day one of training, and started with proper off-road posture. We stood up on the pegs slightly pigeon-toed, knees hugging the tank, loose arms on the bars and began to mold our minds into those of adventure riders. This was new to me and took a bit of practice and lots of patient reminders from the awesome coaches.
We practiced balancing skills as we rode up and down the snaky driveway, alternating taking one leg clear over to the other side of the bike while riding. That was fun and easy. Adding on slowly to our skills we learned emergency braking, front breaking, back braking, the use of the friction zone, how to lean our body far off to the opposite side of the bike as we lifted the other leg off the peg to make tight corners.
One thing was clear: this was completely different than street riding. Next we moved on to figure eights. The dreaded figure eights, which are so important to master. Many of us dropped our bikes as the drills became more complex...luckily we also learned how to safely lift our bikes up. I was able to lift a 1200GS from the ground to an upright position.
If I thought the figure eights were difficult enough on flat dirt...but then we advanced to off-camber ones complete with trees and boulders. Every time one of us succeeded we all cheered and high-fived knowing this kind of stress required a little laughter, a helping hand and on-going encouragement. Knowing a healthy meal and a cold beer was waiting for us at the end of the day also kept up morale. The guys at RawHyde certainly know how to throw a lady into the dirt and make her feel good about it.
Day two of the training was spent quickly reviewing, riding stepped climbs, stalling out on those ascents and learning how to safely recover oneself and the motorcycle. My favorite drill was learning how to ride in the sand pit. Since my bike isn’t as heavy as the 1200GS I was able to glide through without mishap.
After I had dropped my bike eight times on that second day I stopped counting. RawHyde Coaches Sharif Massoud, Dusty Wessels and Bill Langford were assigned to our group and each one of them went above and beyond to talk me through the scary parts.
After two days of skills training and practice known as the "Introduction to Adventure" it was time to take everything I had learned out on the road and trail for the next level in RawHyde's training program, Base Camp Alpha.
Day one of the Base Camp Alpha ride into the Mojave was when things got dodgy for me. It challenged me mentally and physically. There was no turning back if I wanted the whole experience. I love the long hauls presented to me in life. I knew the ruts, deep sand and potential high winds were about to greet us as we rode up California's Northern Mojave Desert Burro Schmidt Road. Things were about to get a little more serious.
Continue Julie's adventure below.
We rode for about three hours on and off road before stopping for lunch at the gorgeous Red Rock Canyon State Park. It provided a welcome rest before motoring deep into the desert to resume testing the skills we had accrued over the weekend. After six miles riding off road, we started an ascent and I got a taste of the endurance involved. I was getting in the groove and allowing the bike to slide around quite a bit while I maintained composure. I basically let my motorcycle have a tantrum underneath me while I stood on the pegs, squeezed the gas tank with my inner thighs, listened to the engine for clues, looked ahead for the line, avoided large rocks and deep ruts, and followed that line through the exit beyond and into the next turn.
During this stretch it’s curious to note that a gremlin entered my brain to taunt me with negative self-talk. "Julie you can’t do this! You are a woman-the only woman out here! You are going to hurt yourself! You just went through a shitty break up-you are in a shitty mind-set! Turn back!"
I tried dousing out any stressful thoughts by telling myself that we’ve all been through shitty relationships. "You can do this Julie! Believe in yourself Julie! You are a strong, capable woman. Think about all the angry sex I can have after this training with whom-ever I please! Ah see, much better. Atta girl. Go!"
I remembered the training and the coaches repeating, screaming, pantomiming instructions, which helped me immensely. “Throttle through the sand, dance with your bike!” This kept me upright and focused. I did well in the sand during the training so I just needed to keep my wits and enjoy.
However, the 340-mile ride ahead did not appear to be my idea of enjoyment. Landscapes? What landscapes? Fuck the landscapes. I was hoping I’d make it out of there in one piece. I had precious little time to pull it all together and change my attitude. But I love physical challenges so I fought the urge to succumb to fear and doubt.
I turned a corner nicely and I smiled at the small success. The gremlin continued to recede as my confidence prevailed moment to moment.
With a shift in positive thoughts came more ease and I continued throttling nicely through difficult terrain. In fact, this is exactly what I want to be experiencing and I thought I’d never accomplish this adventure on a motorcycle. I was so thrilled that I resumed my happy “meow." It began miles back when we rode through the windmill fields but once the technical riding hit meowing was getting sparse. Happy meowing in my helmet is a spontaneous response that happens when I am over the moon while motorcycling. It happens when I’m surrounded by nature, good company, when I’m in the moment; when I acknowledge how fortunate I am and when my senses are acutely tuned and when my motorcycle is running like a champ. It is the vocalization I make when I remember that I am whole.
The endless, epic stretches of landscape were back to being stunning. It was a dream come true, a dream I didn’t know I had until it materialized before my eyes.
I was just 25% into the ride when BAM I got locked into a sandy rut going uphill, and started to lose control. I accidentally throttled it too hard, which threw me off my bike. I landed on my tibia with enough force to fracture it. Was I out of the game? Damn it! I tried to get up to kill the engine and get the bike upright. I collapsed from the searing pain and the inability to bear weight on my leg. I woke up and saw a fellow rider at my side telling me to be still and talked me through staying calm until the rest of the pack caught up with us. Turns out there was another bike down about a mile back, so the coaches evacuated both of us one by one on the back of their bikes to the support truck. I continued to get both great humor and great coaching as Dusty rode me down on the back of his bike reiterating the useful application of the friction-zone while the engine is off.
The other rider who went down, Robert, and I were driven to the ER while the rest of the bunch continued the ride. Drat.
I won’t even bother explaining how poorly the staff and care was at the rinky-dink hospital, suffice it to say the RawHyde coaches and my fellow bikers were much more helpful than hospital medical personal.
After getting released from the hospital with crutches and an X-ray not showing the fracture I figured, I wasn’t finished with my time around these amazing people. I tagged along with our chef Julia Delreal and Leah Halbert who drives the ginormous support vehicle which hauled our food and gear. I arrived at the Base Camp after dark and was hoisted yet again by Dusty into a comfy bed complete with an ice pack for my throbbing knee. I didn’t dare hobble around in the dark so I just listened to the music being played around the fire by Owen and Evan. Happy at least that I would be able to see these guys off in the morning and along the way for our lunch stop at Jawbone.
I’m so glad I stayed just to see the faces of these guys coming out of the desert, clearly having quite a time with the sand, yet something in them had changed. They were all unusually quiet; as though they had to conserve energy to finish the last leg of the ride. The look of satisfaction of a job well done was written across their faces and I was so proud to be part of it.
I spoke with Coach Sharif shortly after I got home and he reminded me that with anything that gives us such great pleasure comes the risk of potential pain.
The irony of breaking a leg is how I am developing more inner strength, a time to grow, how to do my life better, how I thrive when participating in life and how easily I feel defeated when I’m injured and unable to participate. I’m not going to run from this risk of growth. Once I’m healed I will get back on my motorcycle and begin again the life of an adventure motorcyclist.
I thrive through kindness and firm clear directions otherwise I am living a life of adversity and mere survival. RawHyde Adventures illustrated this philosophy so beautifully. I’m so ready to thrive!
For more information about training and tours offered by RawHyde Adventures checkout their website