Friday, December 31, 2010

Fencing with the Devil

"This is the most treacherous ride I've ever been on," I kept repeating to myself as the 30-40 mph winds lashed at my F800Gs and the driving rain sleeted against my helmet and suit.  I was soaked, 70 miles from home and fighting to stay upright winding up Montezuma Grade coming from Borrego Springs, CA.  And then I recalled the freezing rain in Julian, CA a few hours earlier with 34 degrees indicated on the bike's thermometer and thought that perhaps THAT was the most treacherous!

Egads - what had Mark and I been thinking? A few days ago it hadn't sounded too bad — hey, if it rains a little while we're out and about, so be it!  But to head off this morning as the rainy front end of a cold Canadian winter storm rolled into town was sort of crazy.  Still... 'that which does not kill us, makes us stronger' some old fool said one time.

I'd thought when my friend and riding buddy Mark Myers called on Monday to suggest a Tuesday ride instead of Wednesday, I pressed for the original plan - having the extra day to get over my head cold would be beneficial.  Well, we both paid for it in spades.  I set out about 7:30am in a light rain from Buckwheat Manor to Mark's house in Rancho Bernardo.  My travel bits were nestled in a Krega-10 drybag tail pack so I was confident they would arrive in good working order no matter where we ended up. I wasn't sure about me though!

Rather than start off with the steep & twisty Highland Valley & Bandy Canyon jaunts that preface nearly every one of our rides, we headed over to Poway and Hwy. 67 through Ramona. Our first destination was to be a hearty breakfast at the Old Julian Cafe on Main Street.  Getting there was trickier than expected.  Since both of us have new Anakee tires on the bikes, traction never seemed to be an issue throughout the day, but the rain would not let up until we hit Borrego late morning.  As we climbed above 4200 feet into Julian and the temperature dropped below 40º, a nagging concern for "black ice" peeked out of my sub-conscious and put me on high alert.  By now, my outer suit and gloves were soaked and I could feel my fingers going numb.  Fortunately my feet were dry in a pair of rain boots and we were nearly there.  By the time we rolled onto Main St. the rain was a torrent, literally bouncing off the pavement.  Yessiree!  High adventure in our home county - sheesh...

There was some question about whether the folks in the cafe would let us in, but once we shed our waterlogged coats and helmets at the door we were a little more presentable.  I felt the stares of other patrons and as the rain continued to pour could only imagine what they must be thinking!  We warmed up with coffee and the aforementioned hearty grub before grabbing the gear and heading back out to confront the elements.  Over food, we agreed to head down the steep and twisty Banner Grade into the Anza-Borrego desert and hopefully warmer, more inviting riding weather.

Banner Grade is arguably one of the most fun, most twisty and engaging rides in the county.  It descends about 6 miles or so from Julian to the small outpost of Banner on the desert floor, a drop of just over 1500 feet.  There was water sluicing from the hills, usually at the apex of the corners which made every lean of the bike a delicate one.  I was concentrating as hard as nails and surprised when the old Banner Store with its neon "OPEN" sign flashed by on the left.  We straightened out the road and cracked open the throttles as the rain dissipated, first with thinning drops then the occasionally "plink" against the helmet.  While the skies were still gray and black clouds puffy, the desert smelled fresh as we shot past Scissors Crossing en route to Borrego Springs.

Dolomite Me Baby!
Christmas Circle in Borrego is a familiar rest and jumping-off point for all points in the region.  Mark had brought along a new map of the area which was an excellent guide to dirt roads and jeep roads; we intended to discover the difference between the two on this trip!  Click here to see the map.  After a short respite in balmy 52º weather and light rain, we set off heading eastward towards Peg Leg monument, Rock House road, and to explore one Truckhaven Trail.  Good choices all!

Rock House road began paved for a couple hundred yards, then turned to dirt.  A lot of RV camps were set up close to the S-22 highway, with dirt bikes, quads and buggies galore.  With the rain, very few people were out and about in camp.  We rode by the campers, me switching off ABS at the dirt, then standing up on the pegs for pretty much the duration of the road. Standing puts the CG ("center of gravity") a bit lower on the bike making for a more sure-footed ride off-road.

This was a fun ride, riding parallel to Clark's Dry Lake bed, with angry clouds above, but chunks of blue sky peeking through. The rain had hard-packed any sandy sections so it was smooth.  About 2-3 miles in, we saw the Borrego rock quarry and stopped to take a peek.

No Freakin' Way!
Another reason we stopped:  mud, and lots of it.  Not the kind of mud you fly through, or even crawl through at slow speed.  This was the dry lake bed turned wet kinda mud.  Even the old gent repairing a barbed-wire fence at the quarry advised us to not even try.  Said that if it had just rained the soil under the surface would have been hard-pack.  But with the deluge from days prior and last evening, it was soaked through and through!  Better judgment prevailed.

We moseyed back out to the highway, and went searching for Truckhaven Trail, a little slip of a dirt road just before Font's Point which was a trip I'd taken in the Tacoma with the kids and my buddy Steve Koenig (who owns a sweet H3 Hummer).  The Trail split off from the highway at a 30º angle then hugged some foothills, dipping through a couple of (mercifully hard-packed) sand washes and climbing a couple of embankments and low-lying hills.  Eventually it wound back to S-22, a thoroughly satisfying big-bike jaunt.

Tow vehicle?
While poring over Mark's map at Christmas Circle, we'd also seen a side-road for the Vern Whitaker Horse Camp and thought that would be fun to explore.  Anything for a dirt-road!  This one split through some sweet-smelling orange groves.  Amazing that the trees were still producing at this time of year, but the migrant workers picking oranges were not bluffing.  The camp was several miles into the desert, but had stalls, bathrooms and campsites.  Of course, ya had to have a horse to camp there, and "iron horses" apparently didn't count!

Desert Beauty at Vern's Horse Camp
At this point we'd been riding and poking around for almost 6 hours and it was time to start heading homeward.  We stopped briefly at the Chevron in Borrego - Mark for gas, me for a Red Bull.  I figured I'd need some wings to head up Montezuma Grade which was looking pretty dark and foreboding at this point.  The route home was set to be as rapid as possible:  Borrego Springs > Ranchita > Hwy 76/Lake Henshaw > Pauma Valley > Hwy 15.  We briefly flirted with taking another side trip out of Ranchita on what looks to be a very promising dirt road back down through the mountains to Yacqui Flats, but that will be for another day.

Which brings us, gentle readers, 'round to the start of this Missive: treacherous riding up a gorgeous and dangerous twisty road, in sleeting rain, fog and the gusty wind of Hades own breath.  OMG, I'm gonna die!  Cautious, but quick, we headed up the mountains.  I can't speak for Mark but I had a warm house and family on my mind!  I think the thing that was most unnerving was the wind.  Unpredictable. Swirly. Inconsistent in its ferocity.  There's simply no way to describe the sensation of the bike drifting almost uncontrollably across a wet lane towards "rocky pain" than unnerving.  We were in a fencing match with the Devil himself: parry, thrust, side-step, score!  After reaching safe haven at home, I looked up the weather report online only to discover in horror that wind gusts up to 65mph were reported in Ranchita... I don't think I'd be here to write about it if I encountered something that strong, but it does give one pause.

We finally reached Hwy. 79 east of Lake Henshaw, and yet it seemed as though the wind kicked it up a notch, having a few miles of open space across the lake to build in intensity.  The rain hadn't let up since we left Borrego and wouldn't all the way home.  We blasted past the Mataguay Scout Camp to Hwy. 76 - lots of folks at the Lake Henshaw cafe´ today - and onward towards home.  Still... Jilberto's Taco Shop called out - we needed to refuel our bodies after the workout!  Spicy carrots and carne asada tacos never tasted so good!

Besides being chilled to the bone, wet and tired, the rest of the journey was pretty much routine - a fast blast south on Hwy. 15, thanking Cal Trans for rain-grooving the concrete and thanking the Good Lord above for delivering us once again to our loving families — ever the more appreciated for the journey we'd endured to return to them.

Without the constant adventure and adrenaline rush of a RTW trek — or at least a trans-continental journey — we search for some pinch of hard-nosed reality in our own backyard.  This week's ride was all that and more!

Monday, September 27, 2010

Scout Backpack Trip: Devil's Slide

Earlier this month, Ethan and I embarked on a tasty little backpacking trip with 34 of our closest friends from Troop 648.  The 3-day/2-night trip consisted of driving up to Idyllwild on Friday, hiking up Devil's Slide on Saturday, and hiking down on Sunday after an overnighter near Skunk Cabbage Meadows.  Of course, I insisted on riding the F800GS up while Etho carpooled up with one of the Troop drivers. Yahoo!

I'd dropped Ethan and his gear off with the group leaving San Diego at 6pm, but I didn't hit the road on the bike until 7pm.  Leaving town on a Friday evening heading through Riverside to Hemet is always a bad idea, but it's even worse when there's an accident (for no obvious reason) on the I-15 freeway between Fallbrook and Temecula.  Luckily I could lane split close to the front, but was dismayed to see a full-dress Harley smashed up against a guardrail.

Turning east on Hwy 79, I headed into the desert on a familiar route to Idyllwild - Aguanga, Anza, Mountain Center.  By the time I really got cruising though, it was pitch black.  Been a long time since I'd ridden at night, so I thought this was good practice (and incentive to put on some aux. lights one of these days!).

Our first night was to be at Idyllwild Park in town, to keep things simple.  I was astonished to be the 2nd vehicle in camp - everyone else got caught in traffic and all stopped for a Dairy Queen through Hemet.

Once everyone was in camp about 45 minutes later, the tents were set up pretty quickly and all were in bed by about 10:30pm.

The Troop tradition on campouts is to serve a "Cracker Barrel" snack to tide everyone over - cheddar cheese and Ritz crackers never tasted so good!

The next morning, once everyone got up and had some muffins & coffee (juice/water for the boys), we fell into a rhythm of taking down the tents and then divvying up the 2-person Troop tents for backpacking.  I was going to bunk with a fellow named Chris (whose son is a good friend of Ethan's), so I took my share, got everything sorted and threw my pack into a truck for transport.  Did I mention yet that my pack was *wicked heavy*?  More on that later...

Crew #2 on the morn of departure from Humber Park.
We had a bit of an auspicious start trying to get everyone to Humber Park, the starting point of the trail.  Seems all the cats that knew how to drive there left in one group.  So the other 4 vehicles and I lagged behind and ultimately I asked a lady walking down the road for directions.  To my surprise, she asked for a ride down to the end of the road - about 3/4 mile - in exchange.  Sure, says I, and she hopped on the F8!  LOL.

Because we were such a large group, we divided into 3 "crews" and left in 20-minute intervals.  I'd hiked the Devil's Slide trail with Rod Baine and River back in '96 or '97, but the steepness of the trail and elevation gain was still very trying.

Etho and I had done a "shakedown" hike up Black Mtn near our house with the rest of the Troop, but our packs weren't completely loaded then.  Now they were and we were laboring...  I'd bought some Leki trekking poles so my aging knees might be spared, but Ethan immediately claimed them for his own.  I called dibs on the way down!

1996: A younger me and my pal who is now in "doggie heaven"
1996: Best friend Rod and I - start or finish? (I can't tell)
"Window Rock" - nice pic Etho!
The switchbacks up both afforded spectacular views and were butt-kicking.  One of the leaders had said we were gaining 1600' in about 2 miles.  That's pretty steep if you're counting!  Our crew started about 11am and by about 3:30-4:00 hit Saddle Junction.  I was very impressed with Ethan's strong performance - what a trooper!  We planned to camp Saturday night near Skunk Cabbage Meadow.  There were reliable opinions of water that we could filter up there and it was big enough in area that a group our size could set up camp and have 200 yards or so between crews (one of the principles of Leave No Trace).

At the sign we should have turned at!
Hiking down from Saddle Junction, we followed another crew that unfortunately took a wrong turn.  I had just turned to our crew leader an remarked we were off course when a hiker coming up the trail confirmed that we were heading away from Skunk Cabbage Meadow.  So... back up the trail we went!  At a junction we passed earlier, pointing to Taquitz Meadow, we headed down another finger trail and downhill - losing precious altitude!  Still...  the trail through the meadows was gorgeous compared the the scree field we had climbed up earlier in the day.

About 3/4 of a mile in, around a nob hill, and down further into the meadows, we stopped and a couple of us fanned out to located a suitable campsite and water source.  Eureka!  A flat area above Reeds Meadow beckoned, with a tiny brook several hundred feet further down in between two hills as further evidence of a good camp.

Awesome meadows await
Despite being tired, the boys and adults set about erecting their tents quickly, and filtering the first of many batches of water from the brook.  Everyone had to do it at least once, but some boys took to it like, well... fish, so they did the lion's share!  Since we arrived so late into camp, it seemed like we only had about an hour to hang out in camp before the sun started to go down, dropping the temperature dramatically.  It was only forecast to get into the high '40's deep at night and I'm confident it did.

Our campfire!
We were boiling water like mad to get everyone's dry food "cooked", and then most of the camps seemed to hunker down and talk amongst themselves as the night grew longer.  One of our ASM's, Anne Daniells was kind enough to bring over a tin can "campfire" filled with cardboard and wax.  Doesn't seem like much, but it really sparked up the ambiance of our camp!

My tent mate turned in a bit earlier than I, but eventually I crawled into the tent through a half-open doorway - the zipper was broken so it would only conveniently open about halfway w/o a lot of noise and workin' it.  Eventually I got settled in and fell fast asleep pretty quickly.  It had been a tough slog - I'd packed too heavy and actually took on a couple of things from Ethan's pack - but all's well that ends well.

The "kitchen"
The next morning (Sunday), the camps woke somewhat slowly but once we got going everything broke down and packed up quickly, departing around 10am.  We were once again the 2nd crew to leave, and willed ourselves uphill back to Saddle Junction for a quick break before heading further downhill.

It got hot fast as the sun crested the trees and bore down on us.  I took my trekking poles back from Etho, which I credit for helping my aging knees on the way down Devil's Slide trail.  Again, Ethan would be very strong on the way down, marching forward and this time keeping pace with one of the 16-year old boys and the adult among us in the best shape.  Yeah, I was lagging in the middle or talking with our "sweepers."  ;-)

I had left my riding suit and helmet in the 3rd crew leader's truck, so once we arrived at the trail head again I had to wait about 45 minutes to retrieve them before hopping on the F8GS back to San Diego.  It was again getting later on in the day, but I still avoided Hemet and went back through Anza - hurrah for Dairy Queen there! - through Temecula and onward south on Hwy 15 backtracing my steps of a couple days prior.  The traffic was moving along nicely and a couple of times I jetted forward to keep up with some executive barnstormer in a BMW or crazy person doing triple-digits.  Bike felt nice and stable at about 105mph.  ;-)

As for Ethan?  Despite protests in the beginning and the reluctance at the start of the trail, he had a great time with his friends and just being out in the woods.  I think he was glad I was along, but not more glad than I was to be a part of his life in this way.  Go Troop 648 - Onward to the beach camp in a few weeks!

Monday, August 02, 2010

Black & White Delight

A few times a year, Nik Software (company I work for) has an "employee photo contest."  The mid-year contest theme was "Dramatic Black & White with a Human Element."  All were color and light adjusted with Nik Software's Viveza 2, converted to B&W with Silver Efex Pro, and sharpened for output with Sharpener Pro 2.0.

I thought each image hinted at some good and rather human stories. Herewith for your viewing pleasure are my 2 entries to the contest, and some others considered.  Cheers.


Lonely Man Mulls Redemption
Joe Gets Ice Cream


Order of the Arrow

Sunset Surfer

"Did You Just Pinch Me?"
Chalk Artist - NYC

If you like what you see and have Adobe Photoshop, Photoshop Elements, Lightroom, or Apple Aperture, download our free 15-day trial software.

Sunday, August 01, 2010

Solo Black Canyon Blast

A couple weeks ago - the weekend of Emily's big dance recital which will be the subject of a future blog post - I took the opportunity of having mother-in-law Mary in town to take a solo blast to find and ride some dirt roads.

Creeping past mom (who was asleep on the couch) and my friend's beagle that we were "dog-sitting," I quietly headed into the garage and fired up the F8GS motor after putting the garage door down. There was a little nip in the air, but most early mornings these days are around 60 degrees and pretty comfie.

I shook off sleep and motored away from Buckwheat Manor towards the Wild Animal Park and the "real" start of my ride. Riding past the Orfilia Winery and the llamas on Old San Pasquel road to a gloriously empty Hwy 78, the trek was fast and smooth. My plan was to try and find the south entrance to a longish dirt road called Black Canyon truck trail that my buddy Mark and I had traveled on several times, then motor out to Lake Henshaw on the dirt. However, we'd always traveled from the northeast side coming from Sutherland Dam. I recalled one of those occasions in 2009 when we exited on a road called Haverford, so that's the one I turned on this particular morning.

It wasn't clear how to get to the road so I found myself winding through pleasant rural neighborhoods waking up.  Folks were jogging or walking dogs, slopping pigs, getting their morning papers, and nearly all waved as I rode by.

Finding a promising sign for Pamo Ranch road - promising because it said "Dead End" and "Pavement Ends" - some instinct inside told me to press on regardless. I wasn't disappointed!

It turned out to be a paved road winding down into a valley past the Ramona dump, which after a mile or so turned to dirt - yahoo!  The land on both sides had signs saying it was owned by the City of San Diego but I just figured that meant as a taxpayer I could cruise on until they stopped me!  Early in the morning and surrounded by small foothills, the sun peeking over, it was a relaxing time for a ride.

I spent a lot of time up on the pegs learning the feel for the bike on the dirt.  Mostly I stayed in second or third gear since Pamo was pretty flat with lazy turns - 2nd gear on the F8 is wide-band joy.  Had to slow down for some turkeys crossing the road, but the cows stayed put in the fields barely looking up as cows do.

Start of Black Canyon road
 Eventually Pamo ended with locked gate and a ranch in the distance and I turned around.  Heading back into the neighborhood, I saw a promising road that seemed to lead into the hills beyond.  Turned out it was in fact the entrance to Black Canyon road.  This one was a bit more technical than I recall, with lots of narrow curves.  Again, up on the pegs most of the time, in 2nd gear, and working on throttle control (which would serve me well a couple weeks later up in Big Bear).  

About 10 miles along, I stopped at the new bridge built near Sutherland Dam to replace one constructed in the 30's, and then continued on to the Mesa Grande Indian reservation.

Black Canyon through the reservation was wide and well-graded, but had a few wash-board areas - still, no issues at all for the F8.  I love poking around through the back-country and came across the Shooting Star Ranch as well - love that gate!

Shooting Star Ranch
Beauty shot on Black Canyon
I've always sung the praises of the twisty Mesa Grande road which was re-paved a few years back. The dirt ends right at the old Mesa Grande store.  I turned left and immediately was on the gas, flying through the corners heading for breakfast at Lake Henshaw.  The versatility of the big dual-sports never cease to amaze me!  The lake was looking beautiful and I couldn't help but stop for a "self-portrait!"

Breakfast was hearty, the coffee was hot and the boot-wearin' waitress cute, but it was also getting to be mid-morning.  I'd had it in my mind to be rolling back into the driveway in Rancho Penasquitos at 10am, and that was going to take some "scooting" to get 'er done.

I jetted the straightest way I could think of, which was back through Santa Ysabel to Ramona and into Poway.  I clipped along as fast as possible and arrived at about 10:15am, tired but all smiles.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Big Bear Ride

Yesterday's ride had all the rich goodness of a long-distance adventure ride, albeit packed into one long day.  For a couple of months, riding buddy Mark (R1200GS) and I have been taking a day off from work during the week to ride - this month, we headed towards Big Bear Lake about 2 hours North of San Diego.  We knew generally we wanted to cruise up fast in the morning, poke around the lake, and sample some of the fire roads.  The plan was followed, but as I reflected later, what we really did was a dandy little compressed ride for big dual-sport bikes.

About a week earlier, I posted our intentions on the San Diego Adventure Riders web forums and asked for some advice about dirt roads suitable for big bikes.  Most of those cats it seems ride smaller, purpose-built, barely street legal cycle and can go up trails that would make mountain goats think twice...  A friendly rider, DSFOX, answered my call and totally delivered the goods.

Deb hooked us up with a forestry map complete with highlighted trails and notes about each one and her take on whether it was cool for the biggies.  There was way more to explore than we could handle in a day, but since she had just ridden the South side of the lake the weekend prior, that seemed like a good choice.

As always the day started early.  We left Mark's joint at 6am and traveled fast up Hwy 15 heading to San Bernoo.  Traffic wasn't bad at all - roads laden with "contractor trucks" easily identifiable by their racks, gear, and logo'ed doors - but when we hit Hwy 215 thru Riverside it became a small nightmare (you'll see later in the day why it was only "small").  Eventually, we popped out of the mess on to Hwy 10 East to the 330 towards Running Springs, Lake Arrowhead, and of course Big Bear Lake at approximately 7500' elevation.

Hwy 330, which turns into Hwy 18 about half-way up the mountains, is a clean and twisty biker paradise kinda road, winding up through the trees towards the heavens.  Again, a few contractors and some semis slowed our progress, but thankfully all used the turnouts to let us pass. 

Arriving near the top, the road went to one-lane due to construction, with flagmen at each end alternately stopping and releasing traffic in great long trains of vehicles.  It's a joy to have a bike at these times to jet to the front of the line.  ;-)

As we got closer to Big Bear, we could see some significant work being done near the dam that, well... makes the lake possible.  In fact, the road over the dam to the town was closed, so we detoured on the North side of the lake and stopped for breakfast at a town called Fawnskin (eewwwww!).  The Gold Pan Restaurant called out to us and we enjoyed the cool, 42-year old family run restaurant and bar.

The interior was filled with mementos of the glory days and lots of signed actor/actress publicity shots.  We sat next to guy who works for a concrete company and he explained what was going on at the dam:  it was built in 1911 and because the main road into town was built on the top of the dam (and 20,000 lb. trucks weren't around in 1911) it was crumbling fast.  The decision was made to build a new bridge and turn the current road on top of the dam into a pedestrian walkway. I think it was TARP money footing the bill.  He marveled at the construction of the dam, saying that in the old days plywood hadn't been invented yet, their "rebar" was square iron rods, and they didn't have the cranes we use today.  Just an observation and nod to the ingenuity of earlier generations...

After a hearty meal, we cruised to the east side of the lake to a bridge that of course we had to stop on - it was turning into a gorgeous day!  Mark got some great shots of the 2 bikes on the bridge and of course the BMW Rallye Pro 2 riding suit advertisement.  ;-)

We planned to try one of the forest roads Deb suggested right away to get our boots dirty.  Called "2N10", the road started off of Moonridge road near the Bear Mtn ski resort on the Southeast corner of the lake, and wound through the pines for at least 8 miles back to the lake.  Nothing too tricky, and the views were spectacular.

Mark was hot-dogging it around some berms, and there were some ruts to stay out of, but otherwise it was a piece of cake.  We emerged on the Southwestern edge into one of the many cabin-infested neighborhoods and then finally into the town of Big Bear.

Mark scooting around a berm on the big bike!
Dusty and now a bit more tired in the mid-day, Mark led us to a little bar right on the lake where we had some hot wings and cool drinks.  Taking in the boaters and jet-skiers sitting outside in the cool breezes was completely relaxing and a great way to ease into the second (and more difficult part of our day).

By the time we left the lake, we'd pretty much decided on another road from Deb's map called 2N93 which would take us from just outside Big Bear City and wind down through the mountains to link up with Hwy 38 to Interstate 10 and home.  On one map we had, 2N93 was labeled a dirt road and on another it was designated more like a 4x4 trail.

The latter proved to be true, demanding all our attention and skills to make it down the mountain.  There were times when it was a pleasant dirt path, but mostly it was a rock-strewn "scree-field" of a road where you just needed to keep the speed up and roll through the shards.  Other times you had to steer your front wheel slowly through the jutting rocks that could easily cause you to lose balance if they shifted.  This happened to Mark once and he dinged up one of his exhaust pipes and an engine cover - battle scars...

Even though I had plenty of close calls, I found the F800GS to be in it's element on the 12-mile road.  It wasn't too technical, just enough.  The switchbacks were not too tight for the long bike, just right. The up- and down-grades were challenging, but manageable. Most of my time was spent standing up on the pegs (and I'm feeling it today!).  I tried hard to ride the bike, not overly control it.  The snatchy throttle so characteristic of the F8GS was a bit tricky, but it was surprising how low you can lug it when needed. I'm really pleased by the bite and performance of the Michelin Anakee tires - while knobbies would have been better on the dirt road part, for an all-around tire I'm pretty stoked.

There was a pretty technical downhill part right in the last quarter-mile of 2N93 that had me relying on the F8GS's massive 21" front tire to roll me through then - eureka! - there was Hwy 38, a gleaming smooth ribbon twisting through the valley.  The amazing thing that completely spoke volumes to me about the versatility of the BMW dual-sport bikes, was this: we had come off a hard dirt trail, then in 30 seconds were shifting with ease through all 6 gears again, slicing and carving on an incredible twisty road, with nary a skip.  I took it easy through the first couple of corners wanting to make sure the dust was off the edges of my tires, then blazed on with reckless, giddy abandon until the next town, still about 2 hours from home.

We made a quick pit-stop at an A&W, victims of a roadside billboard, then were quickly into 5pm rush hour traffic.  Interstate 10 wasn't bad, but Hwy 215 - the bypass through Riverside between the 10 and Hwy 15 was a NIGHTMARE.  This was the opposite of the aforementioned "small" nightmare. The only thing I'll say about it is that 40 miles of lane-splitting through bumper-to-bumper traffic is no picnic - demands equal parts instincts, faith, experience, and insanity.

After all that, I was glad to have a little extra time at the end of the day to chill with my good friend Rod and his family in Temecula, still about 45 minutes from Buckwheat Manor.  He graciously offered a bottle of cool water and we caught up a bit on the back porch of his hacienda before I scooted for home.  My family wasn't there when I arrived at 7:15pm. That was probably a good thing as I was in desperate need of a hot shower.  A few minutes later, a cold beer never tasted so good!

So... this one had it all folks!  My checklist for a good all-encompassing adventure ride:  meet new people, ride twisty roads, share good meals, ride challenging dirt roads, marvel at beautiful scenery, be with friends, don't crash, see new places, have a blast.  Done, done, and done!  Until next time...

Sunday, April 18, 2010


Methinks it's been more than a decade  since I've showed up at Giovanni's Restaurant (err... Mr. G's) on a Sunday to ride with the venerable BMW Owners Club of San Diego.  Back in the day when I had my K75S, was editor of the Road Signs (the club's monthly fishwrap), and was a single man, it was pretty much a 3x per month thing.  Heck, back then I figured no better way to learn the back roads of our county, blazing trails, kicking tires, and meet new people.  Plus, the annual Oktoberfest rally was always a blast.

With nothing much going on this weekend, unlike the upcoming 2-3 weekends, AND a couple of new tires on the F800GS - Michelin Anakees - I decided to jump back in the pool and check out how the club was doing.  I'd fixed breakfast for me and the kids, which made me burst out the door a little later than planned, but still had plenty of time for some coffee, tire-kicking and getting to know a couple of people at Giovanni's.  Klaus - the fellow with the sidecar built in Switzerland comes to mind, as does Terry who is a retired musician living right across the street from the start of Highland Valley road - one of my all-time fav roads.

But who should also walk in but good 'ol John Hermann, the King of the Alps.  All decked out in his black leathers fresh from the Coronado trek on his trusty R1200R, he looked dashing with a characteristic twinkle in this eye - great to see him!  Made me sorry I missed the annual running of the Wildcat Canyon ride last weekend.

I elected to tag along with Terry and the ride leader for the morning named Bill.  Terry was riding 2-up with his wife on a K1300GT, and the rest of the pack was a mix of R1200 and R1150 bikes of the road and dual-sport variety if you get my drift. Fun to see a guy on one of the big GS's doing a wheelie down Ruffin road as we left.  I was definitely the odd man out on the F8GS.  There were 10 of us total.

Only Bill knew the route, so we followed him down the 15 south to 805 south down to hook around Otay Lake.  Ahhhh... a road I know well.  Still... these guys were fast and butter-smooth through the turns.  Zoom - Zoom - Zoom, ten in a row we blasted through the corners, only slowed by the occasional car or Border Patrol enforcement truck.  I was focused and in the groove with the pace, the F8GS humming along always above 5k RPM in the sweet band, shifting snick-snick up and down in formation.  As I was getting used to the tires, I was a little reluctant to press the outer edges, but definitely shaved some newness out of 'em.  We hit Hwy 94 and continued to haul butt towards the east, past Portrero and the burned-out church where I took a few cool photos back in January, past Dulzura, and on into Campo for a rest at the Circle K mini-market at Cameron Corners.

It should be noted that the roads are delightfully twisty in this part of the county, making them a magnet for folks like us but also for the "squids."  Dunno why we call them that (I'm sure my friend Jon will weigh in here), but these are the high-speed sport bike crowd who really MOVE down the public roads.  You really have to be on your toes because these cats will whiz by, aftermarket pipe howling, or just dice through our 10-bike formation pell-mell looking to move to the front of the pack like we're on the track at Willow Springs - been there, done that.  I don't begrudge them at all, but on a twisty road, oncoming traffic, bicycles on the right side, there is damned little margin for error.  I was even passed a couple of times on the right side which was a bit reckless by most people's reckoning.  I know... some of you are thinking "pussy", but hey, I'm also mortal.  ;-)

Anyway, after a few tire kickin' stories at the mini-mart and a couple of artsy antique gas pump shots I couldn't pass up, we threw our legs over the saddle and fired up the iron horses again.  The group jetted over to old Hwy 80, rolled through the Border Patrol stop there, and then I broke away from the group to head back home via Hwy 8.  It was close to noon, and I had some things to do back at Buckwheat Manor.

After free wheeling through the back-country, I was still feeling pretty froggy on the way home and thus didn't suffer the slow "car coffins" lightly.  Taking no prisoners, despite a few stiff breezes, I cruised back in record time clocking 85-90mph most of the way on the 8.  Hwy 67 was a little more leisurely - I fell into a pack of Harley cruisers for awhile.  Finally the home stretch on Scripps Poway Pkwy towards home provided a little amusement talking stoplight-to-stoplight with a pig-tailed girl on a Sportster heading from home in Ramona to Mira Mesa.

All told, a great little re-introduction to the club and some fun riding.  Wished I could have done the Laguna Mtns with the rest of the gang, but next time will certainly be the charm.  Oh, the new Anakees?  Sticky as gum - couldn't be more pleased on the tarmac.  Big shout out to San Diego BMW Motorcycles for a job well done mounting/balancing the tires and also replacing that pesky gas tank under warranty!  Stay tuned for a fire trails report on the tires when I go riding with R1200GS Mark.  ;-)

Monday, March 22, 2010

Are the Boy Scouts Ready for Ethan?

It's been nearly a month since my son Ethan "bridged" (i.e. graduated) from the Cub Scouts of Pack 621 to Boy Scouts the last weekend of February.

This was a 5-year journey of some note, beginning in 1st grade which is the "Tiger" rank all the way to 5th grade and his Webelos 2 rank. As a parent and coincidentally the Pack Cubmaster for several of those years I couldn't be more proud of his accomplishments.

In that short amount of time, the experiences we shared include but are certainly not limited to:
  • Ft. Rosecrans flag placement
  • Visiting Fire Station #40
  • Snow day at Big Bear
  • Webelos Woods camp at Mataguay Boy Scout Ranch
  • The Traveler achievement
  • Den meeting at Heritage park in Poway
  • ARC camp at Camp Balboa
  • Summertime bowling
  • Every Pinewood Derby race, but most especially the last one where Etho won and will represent Pack 621 at the annual San Diego 500 this April
Pack 621 celebrates these occasions with a combination annual "Blue & Gold" part and bridging ceremony led by the Order of the Arrow, a special group within Boy Scouts that help such things.  It's a Pack event with each Den represented as well, and lots of parents and grand parents enjoying the spectacle.

The celebration and bridging ceremony this year also coincided with the 100th anniversary of the Boy Scouts of America. This is obviously a huge deal for the organization and they've gone all out to note the accomplishment and look ahead to the next 100 years (God willing!). Their "Adventure Base" making the trek around the country is a visible example, as are the Centennial ring patches that fit around the World Crest badge on uniforms.

We had 6 boys bridge over to 3 different Boy Scout "Troops" (vs. "Packs" in the Cub Scouts). Troop 676, Troop 622 and Troop 648 all welcomed the boys by calling them over a Bridge symbolizing the Scout Law that was built by Mark Mallrich (alum of P621) and switching out their neckerchiefs and epaulets.

So, after 5 years, Ethan and I are on a new Scout journey. He's joined T648 and is working towards his "Tenderfoot" rank. He's in a new Patrol called the "Flying Squirrels" and by all accounts loving it. The Troop is made up of a lot of pretty cool kids, insofar as I can tell.  I especially like the way the older boys treat the younger ones with respect.

It's far too challenging to eloquently sum up how one feels when your child passes from one special place in his life to another, so I'll just let a few more pictures do the talking...