RawHyde Adventures - The Journey To Base Camp Alpha (Part 2)
With Introduction to Adventure complete and day three about to begin, I woke up to the delightful sensation off my body being more sore than it was after day one of training. I attributed the pain to my epic spill in The Sand Pit. To add insult on top of injury, I was nursing a slight hangover because I could not get enough of a delicious 2006 Cab and sublime 2006 Zinfandel brought to the ranch by Mike Kumelis Jr. of Mantra Winery. Mike didn't just bring bottles of wine with him to RawHyde, he brought two oak barrels full of vino.
I remember hearing a bit of commotion outside the barracks, so I threw on my clothes and gracefully staggered out into the daylight. Jesus, the sun was up and damn it was bright. At this point, everyone was up and about. There was nothing graceful in my walk to the coffee bar. It was just above a "walk of shame", I accepted that, especially when I caught my reflection in the side mirror of what I think was a Triumph Tiger. I chuckled.
A solid cup of coffee brought me back to reality like that scene in Pulp Fiction when John Travolta hits Uma Thurman with the adrenaline shot. As I ate handfuls of food---no plate---just food in my hands, I looked out over the porch to see something I had not seen all weekend, Jim Hyde preparing his bike and gear for our journey out to Base Camp Alpha. Jim had been playing host and managing the logistics of the ranch all weekend so I was happy to see him packing up for the ride. With a smile and a sip from my mug, that positive feeling I had all weekend came right back. I walked past Jim on the way back to the barracks and said affectionately, “Hey Papa Hyde, you ready to ride.” He smiled back and said, “Absolutely, if I can remember where I put everything, especially my keys.” I chuckled and walked away thinking, "well that's one thing he and my dad totally have in common."
After dropping off my duffel at the support truck, I headed over to my trusty steed to strap down my day bag which consisted mostly of my photo gear and my adventure suit thermal linings. My x100 would stay on my person as I was hoping to to grab some shots on the road. Jim and the coaches called a brief pow wow with all riders to go over the first leg of the Journey to Base Camp Alpha and basic rules for riding in a large group.
Moring on the Ranch Owen B. Mike Kumelis Prepping for the Ride Saying GoodbyeI sat with Ken and Suzanna just before heading out for Base Camp Alpha. They were two of my favorite classmates. Frame that Photo Fonzie!Photo by Alfonse Palaima ForeplayPhoto by Alfonse Palaima Shawn Thomas Drops His BikeThe shot I was seeking to capture all weekend. This photograph is the Holy Grail of my four days at RawHyde. It is akin to being the photographer that captured the snow leopard killing its prey in the Himalayas.
It was great to be out on the open road with my friends. A few nameless riders popped a couple wheelies, others cruised gracefully, then there was me, zig zagging and slaloming the broken lines in the highway. Even on knobby tires, the GS was a nimble beast.
Flying north on the 5 gave me the opportunity and the space to get some ride shots of my friends in motion. When we stopped for our first break a few people told me I was a mad man for shooting and riding. When I mentioned just knowing how to set my hyperfocal distance and having my exposure dialed in, I received some amazingly dumbfounded stares. Many think to shoot and ride is not the safest thing to do but I can assure those that are concerned for my own safety and those around me, these shots are often planned and I know what I am doing. I have some real checks and balances in place when I do this kind of photography to ensure it is performed safely.
My Man Evan! Rock on! Shawn ThomasKeep Calm Shawn and Rock On!!! Bruce! Bruce SteeverLooking svelte in the Rev'it Poseidon GTX Adventure Suit aboard the Triumph Tiger.
Our first stop was at the California aqueduct system, we hopped off, had another pow wow, and ventured off toward the first bit of dirt of the day. Dirt that would lead us to the infamous Sand Wash. Oh yay, sand. I think I expressed my fondness for sand in the first part of this article.
Relief in the Desert Jim Hyde and Zack Courts
Fish Eye FunPhoto by Drew F. BMW GS R1200 and Wind TurbinesI have driven through the California desert on so many occasions but for the first time ever, I was close enough to see the wind turbines up close. Perspective can change everything and it was awesome.
Highway CrossingThe fact that people shoot at this sign is slightly disturbing because it is directly parallel to a highway. Just saying.
After riding some pretty well groomed dirt roads along the aqueduct I found there were portions of this leg where I was getting the GS up to highway speeds. It was thrilling. My favorite moment came just before we reached The Sand Wash, the group had stopped at a highway crossing and who did I see at the back of the pack? Shawn Thomas. What did I do, well...I kept my speed constant. Traveling at about 65 mph the dots ahead of me grew bigger and bigger. I did some quick math in my head and at around 400 feet, I applied a generous amount of back brake. Oh yeah baby, long controlled skid. I was 10 years old again on my BMX bike except this time it was the adult version and I was in so much more control. Shawn looked back as I gracefully slid up beside him. "Wooo hoooo....oh yeah baby," I exclaimed as I came to a stop and looked back at my skid trail. "How long does that look to you? Couple hundo feet?" Shawn looked back and looked at me, "Naw man, easily 300 feet. Damn, awesome."
After crossing the highway and proceeding a bit further along, we arrived at the Sand Wash. At first glance, the sand did not look too intimidating. Only 300 feet in length, the first bit dropped down a hill and proceeded right up to the highway which contrasted beautifully against the light tones of the desert. All riders were told there was a “safe path” around the wash if you were not feeling up to proceeding through. I remember someone asking me if I was going to take the safe path. I won’t lie, for a second I thought, “I hate sand, I’ll do anything to avoid it,” but I also thought, “I don’t avoid challenges, I tackle them head on.” What do you think I ended up deciding?
Video of the Sand Wash
I still have some practicing to do in the sand. It is by far and away, the strangest terrain to pilot a motorcycle through. Part of me thinks that I am psyching myself out more than anything else. When I first went through the sand pit during training, I made it through flawlessly. Every time after that was a dismal failure. I didn’t let my failure keep me down because guys who had been riding for years were dumping their bikes all throughout this small stretch of terrain. What I did take away from the experience was where I went wrong when making my run. I tried to turn the bike to avoid a shrub when I should have just drove through it.
After getting through the sand wash and watching my fellow riders and coaches eat it just as bad as I did, we ventured on and ended up at Red Rock Canyon for lunch. So far the ride out to Base Camp Alpha had been pretty tame. That would all change after lunch.
A bag of chips, a soda, some water, and a delicious chicken wrap courtesy of my two favorite chefs, I pulled up next to my buds, Shawn, Evan, Fonzie and Bruce in the shade of the support vehicle for a nice mid day break, mild horseplay and jovial hazing.
Approaching Red Rock Red Rock The mandatory "look where I am because my bike is there" photo.
Drifting to CrashingI was tearing around the lot sliding my back tire this way and that to get a feeling for it. At one point it got away from me. - Photo by Alfonse Palaima Jim and the DroneHe really likes his drone, I would too if I had one.
Photo of me Taking a PhotoPhoto by Alfonse Palaima Food!!!!Yum, chicken wraps, chips and soda. Woot woot.
Guess Who Needs to be the Center of Attention? Photo by Alfonse Palaima Gang UpShawn and Evan start making a Sam sandwich. Photo by Alfonse Palaima Waytt Earp!!!Opposing titty twisters to fend off the hooligans. - Photo by Alfonse Palaima Counter Attack!Photo by Alfonse Palaima CheckmateShawn takes his trophy. A finger full of chest hair. Bastard. - Photo by Alfonse Palaima
Back on the highway for a short jaunt, we turned onto and pulled over to a gravel road that would lead us into the mountains. The real off-roading was just ahead. As we headed off it was important to keep a comfortable distance between riders as the terrain became more varied. Since it was dry and there had been very little rain, there was a considerable amount of dust being kicked up by whoever was in the lead. Here, I got my first taste of navigating an unknown road filled with rocks, sand, gravel, dirt…everything I came across in training packed into a single road. I found myself attaining the same level of focus I experienced on the Trees Course back at the ranch. All until Jeremy Lebreton from AtlRider came barreling up next to me on a pannier laden KTM 1190 Adventure. For a moment, our motorcycles were locked side by side as we trolled through the dirt. Now Jeremy is maniac but that mania comes with a professional level of skill. I am fairly certain he heard me yelling profanities as our bikes were locked up to each other and just before he sped away. When we came to a stop, I was vying to find him and punch him in the helmet thinking he was some new and reckless rider. My irritation subsided and I would find out later it was him. Knowing it was him and not a newbie made me feel a bit better because I am certain he did exactly what was necessary in that moment to keep us both from ending up face down in the dirt.
Another Flat TireA couple bikes expereienced flat tires on our way out to BCA. If you are going to adventure ride, be sure to carry a plug kit. It is not a matter of "if," but "when."
Touch Up Maintenance
We continued on higher into the hills along a dusty double track toward Burro Schmidt’s tunnel. I would have loved to hop off and get some shots of my fellow riders and the small abandoned buildings leading up to the tunnel but there was little room to safely stop and I was having too much fun tearing through the hills. We would eventually arrive at a scenic point near the summit overlooking the salt flats. Windy and breathtaking, it was the perfect break after riding up and along the ridgeline.
The View from the RidgelineBelow is Saltdale
I decided to forgo the historic sightseeing portion of Burro Schmidt’s tunnel to join the group of journalists looking to get ahead of the pack and set up for some trail shots at the Journey to Base Camp Alpha Hill Climb.
In total, there were about 6 or 7 other journalists and industry professionals in the pack, guys like Zack Courts, Alfonse Palamia, Bruce Steever, Jeremy Lebreton, and my coach, Shawn Thomas. All of them were seasoned, confident and skilled riders. Riding motorcycles, analyzing performance ability, writing about them for their prospective publications so consumers could make informed decisions about the newest and best bikes on the market, this was their office on a day-to-day basis. I was instantly in a whole other league and for the first time in this entire trip, I felt genuine fear because my competitive nature pushed me to keep pace with these guys. A dangerous and foolhardy decision on the part of any novice rider. I will also stress to new riders, no matter where you ride or what you ride, it is important that you ride within your skill set. Do not let others coax you into riding beyond your means (which no one in my group did. This is something I want to make very clear). Over confidence can get you seriously injured or killed on a motorcycle and that's no fun for anyone.
For the majority of the ride I kept pace and held my own. The group was riding tighter than previous pack and as a result I was insanely focused, super loose, and following a good line until I hit a series of whoops covered in gravel and stones at a good quip. I was probably moving at 35+ mph when all this occurred. Bruce was only feet in front of me and Alfonse was pulling up on my rear within equal proximity. The bike bounced heavily, veered to the left and began moving toward the dirt berm. I stayed loose and calm even though I was losing control of the bike. The voice in my head progressively got louder and louder, repeating “oh no, oh no, oh no.”. Something in me reacted and I managed to regain control. In the fraction of a second, I believe I applied pressure on my right foot peg, let off the throttle and put pressure on the right handlebar to counter the veer left. I was back in control but I was now halfway up the dirt berm like I was snowboarding up a halfpipe. Instinctually, I got back down and onto the trail and kept moving as though nothing happened but Alfonse was sure to mention to me later in the night that I looked very close to completely loosing it. He was happy I kept it together and remained calm.
Mid Day Video Recap
The Hill Climb didn’t look too difficult but upon observation it was more of a technical climb due to the various rutts in the path. I stayed back toward the end of the line so I could observe which route was the best to take. All of my journalist friends made it up with no issue whatsoever, then it was my turn. Everything started out very well. I could hear Shawn praising my form as I passed him and I found a good line to follow but then somewhere three quarters up the hill I hit something, applied too much throttle, spun out the back wheel and down I went. I was so angry. Im certain it was the fate of the Gods knocking me down a peg for pushing my limits in the section before. I wanted so badly to go back down and try again however, with the light fading and the larger group approaching, I was unable to get a shot at a second attempt.
Just Checking my Front FenderPhoto by Alfonse Palaima
Just Another Day at the OfficeJeremy Lebreton mashing up the hill on the 2014 BMW R1200 GS. Hill WheelieJason Houle not only climbs hills but he does it on one wheel. Badass. Take TwoJeremy Lebreton makes another run up the hill for the media photographers on the 2014 Yamaha Super Tenere.
With the entire group at the top of the Hill Climb and with the sunlight fading, we all embarked upon the final section of dirt for the day. I met up with my friend Evan and was eager to get going. He sat calmly on his bike and told me to wait.
“Let everyone go ahead, the next section is fun. Let’s give everyone a head start so we can take it at our pace. Plus we’ll get some ride time in together and we can go fucking crazy if we feel like it.”
Taking in the ViewJust before the final section of dirt, I take in the view and let my fellow riders distance themselves from me.
All Alone Evan and CompanyWaiting.....waiting.
I headed the advice of my wiser, slightly crazier, new friend and we took a moment as the pack of riders peeled away. I figured a good time to embark was when the landscape was void of roaring engines and popping exhaust. While we were waiting, Jason went off to explore another trail and returned. He told Evan to join him and it was at this moment I took off along the main path only to reconvene with the two of them a mile down the road.
This next section was crazy fun and just crazy in general. With no one in front of me to follow, I was choosing my own path and forging along at my own pace. My mind and body went into overdrive to navigate the rocky, sandy terrain. It was awesome. That “performance focus” kicked in yet again. It was just as amazing this time as it was the first time on The Trees Course. Laughing in my helmet, I became comfortable playing with the back end of my bike in this section, I began to drift the bike into and through turns, hopping on the throttle and powering out upon exit. It was an amazing feeling to be in command of a bike of this size and power. I was beginning to approach that point of over confidence so I began to dial it back. Lucky for me it was the correct decision because the next section of the trail would test me in every way possible.
I entered a section of the trail that consisted of a crazy chicane created by two house sized boulders. Not only was this twisty bit of trail topped with gravel and stones the size of tennis balls, it also dropped down 10 feet over a 30 foot distance. I entered the chicane around 35mph and quickly found myself on the back brake drifting hard into the first left turn down the steep grade. I got off the brake, righted the bike and got back on the brake to induce another rear wheel skid, this time to the right. Directly after exiting the final turn I was greeted by three or four whoops of questionable size and texture. I knew I was going too fast and I was venturing wide coming out of the chicane. I let off the back brake and managed to bring the bike back to upright but I was entering the whoops really far to left and at an undesirable angle. I hit the first whoops fast...way too fast. I found myself airborne for a split second surrounded by silence, the scary kind of silence that is only accompanied by the growl of an engine in the middle of its rev range. All of a sudden, Bang! A violent rattle as I came back down to Earth onto rough terrain. I was off the trail but still in control. That fear Shawn spoke about during training came creeping up in my psyche but I could hear Coach Bill in my ear saying, “Be Smooth, Sam. Be smooth.” That was quickly followed by Coach Shawn yelling, “Rock On!”
“Rock on,” is exactly what I did but getting back on the trail meant going through part of a tree! There was no room to come to a stop so I accepted my fate. I mashed my helmet forward---a straight up sailor kiss motion---and broke the tree branch in front of me and made it back onto the trail. It was either let the branch take me out or I was going to go through it. I emerged victorious. Around the next bend I came to a stop and got off my bike. I could could feel and hear my heart beating throughout my entire body. My senses were completely overloaded. All I could do was exhale and exist in that moment. Beyond having some impeccable luck, my actions were a testament to the training I had received over the weekend.
Owen pulled up a second or minute later, there was no real way to tell, I was in my own world, probably in partial shock due to all the adrenaline coursing through my system. “You looked like you jumped over the edge or saw a ghost? Take a minute and grab a drink.” Sage advice that was well received. A couple miles later we reconvened with the big group by the highway. An epic of day of riding in the dirt was over.
End of Dirt Riding for the Day - Recap
After riding on dirt for the better half of the day, it was a treat to drive on the open highway and reflect on what I just personally accomplished. I didn’t think it could get any better but just then, I found out my 2014 BMW R1200 GS had cruise control. Just like my car, cruise control is activated by sliding a switch, tapping the SET button and the bike keeps its speed. Press the button up or down, the bike accelerates or decelerates. Tap either brake and cruise control is rescinded. I know cruise control on bikes existed and the technology was not super new but it was new to me and I proceeded to have tons of fun. I put my arms out in front of me like I was Superman, I laid back and put my feet up on the crash bars and reclined, I even made flapping motions like a bird and used the drag from my angled palms to steer the bike left and right. Again, I found myself laughing hysterically in my helmet, I was the time of my life.
Final Fill Up in TronaMy man Tibero was so gracious to fill up my tank because I had left my wallet in another bag. Such behavior is indicative of motorcyclists, at least this group and many others I have come to meet. It is one such reason I love the motorcyclist community. It's about looking out for your fellow rider and paying the favor forward. One reason of many why I think everyone should ride a bike. It makes you a better person. Scott!
After fueling up in Trona, it was a 15 minute ride to Base Camp Alpha. Located just off the highway, lays a plot of land with a shipping container, an abandoned truck and a fire pit. This was home for the night. I rode in last with Evan and upon receiving more sage advice from my elder, we set up camp away from everyone else on a little spit of land.
Home for the Evening
Songs Around the CampfireEvan on his axe laying down some smooth and humorous tunes for everyone's enjoyment.
It was pitch black, so without a flashlight or the fire going, you could not see your hand in front of your face. After grabbing my tent and setting up camp, I grabbed a beer and posted up next to the kitchen with my girls, Ana and Julia. Food was coming and I wanted to be first in line. My appetite was voracious and in need of taming. On the menu, good old chili and cornbread. I could not be any happier. Every time I thought that, something made happier. It was fantastic.
Sipping on a brew and eating my meal, I heard the sound of a guitar being strummed followed by what sounded like a strange string instrument. It turned out to be Owen tuning an electric violin. Evan and Owen sat next to one another with the majority of riders huddled around the fire. With food and beverage in hand and lit only by the firelight, they began to vibrate the air and sing aloud. The jam session included covers from Jimi Hendrix, the Beatles, and countless other bands I cannot even recall. After Owen dropped out from playing, Evan in his typical fashion, played for hours. He would recite full covers, take requests, and even ad lib tunes straight off the cuff. My favorite was "Beer Run" and a little diddy he made up on the fly about meeting me and my time at RawHyde.
Last WatchThe final group of guys enjoying the fire before heading to bed.
After everyone shuffled off to bed, Evan and I stayed awake for a little bit and waxed philosophically about the finer things in life. During our conversation, I was hit with inspiration to create a new piece of artwork for my Illuminated Abandonment series. Like a good friend, Evan was supportive and assisted me in setting up the shot. Like an even better friend, he brought along some good whiskey and cigarettes.
End of Part Two
Keywords: ADV, ADV motorcycling, Adventure, Adventure motorcycling, Fuji, GoPro, Iphone, Mojave Desert, Motojournalism, Motojournalist, RawHyde, RawHyde Adventures, Sam Bendall, X100, XPro1, documentary photography, motorcycle, photography, samuel Bendall Photography, travel
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It's that Revitt suit, I'm sure of it. You look good in them but you're always falling of the bike.
I have one, and I was falling all over the Northwest Pacific Adventure ride in my Revitt suit.
Now Shawn, he wears a BMW suit, and as you know, he never falls in the sand wearing that...
BTW - my suit did it's job admirably when I fell on the hard stuff.
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