Barstow to Vegas
Every rider knows it's going to come. We try our best to prepare for, safeguard against and avoid it; but we know it's simply a numbers game. The more you ride, the better the chances you're going to get hurt. Halfway between Barstow, CA and Vegas, my card was pulled.
But before we get to that, let's start from the beginning of the ride report. Paul called me a couple weeks ago and said, "Let's ride the Barstow to Vegas event." Since first hearing about Barstow to Vegas from my uncle, who took part in the event nearly twenty years ago, I've always wanted to participate in this classic enduro ride. So it didn't take a lot of convincing. Before I knew it, we were heading out from Phoenix on a Friday afternoon -- destination Barstow.
The plan for getting there involved taking dirt roads from Wickenberg, AZ to Needles, CA. The first leg in this trip would take us around Alamo Lake, just NW of Wickenberg. The dirt road to Alamo is very smooth and straight, with an occasional small whoop to keep it fun. The end result is a high speed pass where your front tire is often off the ground at exhilarating speeds. What a blast. When we reached the lake, however, our ride was quickly halted. The normal crossing point was under about six feet of water. It seems the recent rains had done their job. Our choices at that point included either turning around and hightailing it back to the highway, or trying to find a trail around the lake and reconnecting on the other side. Since we really weren't in a hurry that day, we opted for the latter.
For the next couple of hours, we followed one goat trail after another trying to get around the lake. But every time we came to a ridge, we could still see the lake sprawling across the terrain. The funny thing is, this turned out to be some of the best riding of the entire trip. We eventually conceded, and turned back the way we came. By the time we hit the highway, it was nearly dark, and we had only made it about one fifth of the way to Barstow. We were in for a long stretch of tarmac. But that's what adventure riding is all about -- looking for the lesser traveled route, even if you don't find it.
After reaching Barstow, we registered for the big event and immediately went to bed. There were what seemed to be about 200 other dualsport riders getting ready, so excitement was in the air. The next morning, we skipped breakfast and hit the starting line to begin the big day. Because this is a non-competitive event, you can pretty much leave anytime you want.
As soon as the trail turned to dirt, we came across a rider walking alone by the trail. We stopped to see if he needed help. After using Paul's cellphone to call for assistance (the rider's DRZ had called it quits), we were off once again. The next twenty or so miles were an absolute blast. I was getting the hang of using the roll chart, and the 950s were in their element running along the fire roads. This was what we came to Barstow for.
Then the first bit of bad luck hit us. I noticed the front end getting a little unresponsive. Sure enough, I had a flat. We stopped, got off the trail and started taking the front wheel off. (950 owners take note: getting the front axel out of the hub can be a real challenge. It's a good idea to carry a decent sized set of vice grips to grab onto to axel and pull.) Once we had the wheel off, we replaced the tube and tried putting the tire back on. However, we just could not get the last bit of tire to fit over the rim. One thing was clear -- we needed some lubricant. I went through my pack, looking for anything that would serve the purpose. Then I stumbled across a tube of chapstick. We spread some of the balm on both the tire and rim, and were able to get the tire back on. I started to fill the tire with air, only to hear that most dreaded of sounds... the hissing of a pinched tube. After a few choice expletives, I took the tire back off the rim, pulled out the tube and patched up the hole. We waited a few minutes for the patch to cure, then started the process all over again. This time, however, I laced the entire rim and tube with a layer of chapstick. The tire went right on. By the time we had the tire remounted, about 90 minutes had passed, and nearly all of the other riders had sped by. The only other riders still out there were two guys who went by on Vespa scooters (no joke). Now that was a site to put a smile on your face. Exactly what we needed. We finally sped off, determined to try and catch up with some of the other riders (or at least the scooters).
We had another 20 or so miles of outstanding riding, and were even able to catch up with some other riders. We made it past the checkpoint and joined up with a couple of guys on DRZs to tackle the long difficult option of the trail. It was here that our second bit of bad luck happened. I was riding along at a comfortable pace when I went into a wash and hit a bad bump. The front tire came out from under me, and I went for a tumble. It wasn't a horrible crash (the bike was fine), but I hit my shoulder in just such a way that the collar bone snapped in two. Paul came up on the scene and helped get both me and the bike situated as best as possible. There was no cell phone service at the crash site, so Paul rode ahead to get help. I spent the next hour sitting there trying not to think about it.
The sweep bikes finally made it on the scene about the time that Paul returned with a deputy sheriff. We all agreed that the EMT crew would take me out in their truck, and the event sweep truck would meet us at the ranger station to take me and the bike to Vegas. So the sweep crew took off and the EMT guys loaded me up in their truck. After a very bumpy ride to the station, I sat there for a while, waiting for Paul and the sweep truck to arrive. A call to the sheriff's dispatch revealed that Paul's bike had "broken" on the way back, and he was being towed to the station by one of the sheriff's 4WD quads. Paul finally made it to the station to tell me that his chain had jumped off the rear sprocket, wrapped itself up in the front and cracked the case. It just wasn't our day.
After Paul and I waited a while for the sweep truck to arrive, he went over to the sheriff's truck and had dispatch call the race organizers. We were then told that the sweep truck already left for Vegas and wasn't returning. So there we were... stranded with a broken bike, a broken collar bone and a broken promise to pick us up. We paid $320 to AMA for event support. I'm still wondering what that money was for, considering we received NO support from the event organizers (after they said they would pick us up). I hope they had a nice dinner in Vegas, while we were sitting there wondering how to get home. So, approximately four hours after I broke my collar bone, we called to have an ambulance take me to Vegas while Paul tried to sort out bike delivery. It turns out he had to ride my bike to the finish line in Vegas (about 120 miles away) and raise hell before someone agreed to go back and pick up the broken bike and gear. So much for the AMA looking out for riders (let alone paying members).
Paul and I finally met back up in Vegas, where he rented a Uhaul to get us and the bikes home. Despite the pain and suffering of a broken bike and collar bone, I still had fun that weekend. One thing I'll never forget is how good a friend Paul is, helping me get through it all and back home safely. He's the kind of guy who would move mountains for a friend in need, and he more than proved that on this trip. Thanks, bud.
Now for the long 6-8 week recovery period... Looks like I'll be doing some "virtual" riding on my Playstation for a while.