After much discussion, a little planning and heaps of anticipation myself and B-Rad (friend Brad whom I met while living in Canada back in 05-07) each headed from our respective homes to Bend, OR to get 4 days of desert riding in.
Our respective rides, I have the ’05 KLR 650 farkled to the goddamn hilt and B-Rad his ’15 BMW F800 GS Adventure with some respectable add-ons.
I cut my teeth with this bike in the deserts of Central Idaho and Central/Eastern Oregon. Most of the The Pig’s 33k miles have been on dirt since I got it in ’14 with 14.4k on it. Often it has felt fat and unwieldy when pushed, but I have come to find that’s standard when trying to ride Mx style with a KLR. It’s general dirt road/mellow trail demeanor is rather predictable and easy to manage. Fun, in other words. It’s tossible-ish, holds a line well and has far exceeded my expectations.
B-Rad is newer to bikes and has been putting on a lot of miles on the dirt roads of Southern Alberta around the general Calgary area. One drawback of Alberta’s forest lands is a lack of standard issue shit dirt roads to bumble around on.
The trip was loosely planned with a few highlights I wanted to hit, but a very open route across miles of BIG desert country. Montana is not the only Big Sky state. I was thinking 200-250 miles a day of around 6-8 hours on the bikes. I’m an endurance guy and like to go long and hard all day long, pass out, get up have coffee and get back at it. Didn’t know Brad’s style and I not sure that he did either not having done big rides in this kind of country.
We hit the trail soon after Brad got to Bend and a last minute grocery/gas/gear/lunch round up. Headed out Hwy 20 to the base of Horse Ridge then off the roads and into the desert we go. All was going just dandy, got onto a road made from cinders which is the worst material in the world to build a road out of. It gets pulverized into a thick loose sand like grabby nightmare that will fuck you the minute you get comfortable. I mentioned to pay attention to the shit handling properties of the road then headed off. After going a bit I stopped and waited for Brad to catch up, gave it a couple minutes then headed back to see if he was having issues. Pulled up on him with the bike down, cargo boxes scattered and him standing there with a face covered with that miserable dirt. Shit. He was fine, the bike was fine, taking into account some remodeled plastics, and the boxes were fucked. Spent a while banging them back into shape so the lids fit and could be remounted on the racks. You could look down the road and see signs of the death wobble in the shit slop that initiated the wipe out. Got it all patched back together and headed out 10 miles down the road to camp out.
Not that far from Bend, but totally alone. Having worked out here for 10 years and played for 20, this is my favorite place on earth.
Day 2 got going with coffee, some light trail riding and a few turn arounds on 2 track dirt roads. Found that the 2 tracks were no fun on a bigger bike, so got us on bigger roads and put on a ton of miles and hours getting from Pine Mountain to the Hot Springs Campground on Hart Mountain. Stops at Ft Rock State Park:
The shitty meth hole known as Christmas Valley provided a gas stop, but deserved no photo recognition. Headed over Abert Rim, a childhood deer hunting spot and off down the dirt deeper into it. I love the huge spaces and empty landscapes. You need patience and an attention span to get what the desert offers.
Blasted across miles and miles of dirt roads in the hot hot heat and found an excellent refuge in Frenchglen where we got gas, sodas much needed shade and 4G!! Brad got word out to the Mrs. who is one of the best wives of friends I know who basically said, shit happens enjoy the rest of the trip.
Headed up the shit washboard road to get to the campground that was so rough one of Brad’s boxes rattle off. Slapped it back on, got the the camp spot, pulled out the little camp chairs and slumped for a while. Came to the quick determination that 4 days of power push in the brutal heat was not gonna be fun so agreed to reign in the miles per day a bit. Have an actual vacation, not a punishment run. Hit the hot springs and chatted with a hippyish dude from Santa Barbara headed to Utah to play in a music festival and a couple from Salem checking out the desert.
Steens Mountain was the next days destination allowing for a nice long trek across more hot desert with wide open skies and tons of antelope to check out, but not too long. The plus was getting off the bikes a little earlier and getting to kick it in camp, the downside was the bazillion skeeters that fucking hammered us all night long. The views were worth it, however.
Took our time working around the rest of the loop on Steens, taking photos and checking shit out before heading to Fields Station for a huge tasty burger and shake. So goddamn full of tasty goodness it was painful to ride. Thankfully by the time we got to the Alvord, stuff had settled and it was time to blast out hard and fast across the playa.
Saw a large group of gliders on the playa and ran the KLR as hard and fast as it would go. It’s a bizarre feeling and a ton of fun as well. Go hard and just have white slide under you for miles.
Rolled up the east Steens road to wind up the dirt part of the trip. Almost ate shit myself when a car went by and I tucked a little deep into the side of the road into deep gravel and did 50 yards of death wobble, but pulled it off. Whew! Such a goddamn nasty feeling. Figured the last night together should be at another hot springs so we hit the pavement, aired back up and headed to Crystal Crane Hot Springs. I’ve hit this place a good number of times and it is the goddamn bomb for a cheap, decent little get away. I typically spend around 95% of the time I’m there in the water, even waking up in the middle of the night and trucking down to the pool for a few hours.
Saturday AM we each headed out Hwy 395, Brad north, me south. ended up going back by Abert Rim and decided to get a shot of the soon to be gone lake.
THe mud was the nastiest shit around. Took 4 days for that stuff to get off my boots. Smelled like rotten anchovie vaginas.
Ran down 395 til the JCT that heads off to Mt Lassen National Park, so took that as I’ve never gone that way and had no desire to go through either Reno or Sacramento in my soon to be worn out state.
Pulled over for a short rest, took off back into the road, went for second gear and the fuckin’ clutch cable snapped like a twig. Shit. Decided to ride it out for a while, highway doesn’t require a lot of shifting. Thought about it while heading towards Red Bluff and came up with a solution that actually worked. Called a shop and they had no cables or interest that a fellow rider might be stranded so that shop can go fuck itself. Not for not having the cable, I get that. For not giving the slightest shit, fuck ’em. I got the below solution figured out and it ended up working fairly well the rest of the ride.
Ran I-5 as long as I could in the 100+ heat, but called the ball in Williams and stayed in the least sketchy Motel 6 ever. It was so clean it actually made me suspicious. Fuck it, A/C, ice and shitty food readily available.
Took 2.5 hours to get home the next morning and felt like i had my ass kicked. 2500 miles in 6 days with a ton of high attention shit dirt riding will take it out of ya. Ordered some clutch cables, rear sprocket and chain as they were fucked as well.
Brad made a huge push the first day and made it home Sunday AM. Had a day to rest and unpack before heading to the in-laws fancy cabin on lake Ontario.
Given the opportunity, I’d do little but ride around the West on shitty little dirt roads on a KLR 650 and check shit out. I’d thought about maybe getting an F800GS in the future, but seeing the issues Brad had with it handling in dirt, how bad the wind pushed it around and how complex it is, I’ll be happy getting a newer KLR eventually and keep keeping on.
I didn’t feel like getting a set of tires just for the trip so ran my Silicon Valley daily driver Kenda K761’s and was amazed at the off road handling capability of this tire. Dropped the air to 18 psi and it just did the job: gravel, dirt, trail, slop-nothing threw it. It wasn’t rock solid on every surface, but very predictable. Very happy with my whole setup, once again I was able to focus on the adventure, not the gear. Well except for the clutch cable, but shit happens.
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