So what's all this buzz about Death Valley, anyway?

Discussion in 'Ride Reports - Day Trippin'' started by breeno, Apr 1, 2018.

  1. breeno

    breeno Adventurer Supporter

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    First time RR poster here, but don't be gentle as I have a general distrust of nice people (Canadians excepted, my working theory is nice people just hide their evil agendas better than most) :lol2

    The requisite backstory: After relocating to the CA Bay Area for work a few years back, I've been pretty much been heads-down trying to prove I wasn't a bad hire (über demanding job and all) and neglected my need for adventure. Turns out, this is bad.

    As in, I've been growing grumpier over time about being stuck indoors staring at glowing rectangles all day (I work for a Fruit company in Cupertino, so I'm basically a cave dweller during the day). Now, don't get me wrong, I love my job, it's been worth (overall) moving to the People's Republic of California ... but neglecting my solo time off on the bike exploring isn't ... healthy. Y'all know what I mean (which is why I love this place, long-time lurker that I've been).

    Leading up to this trip I did a (mostly road) US coast-to-coast trip last fall, which was great, and although that included a couple days in Moab, what I really wanted was some backcountry wandering.

    So, Death Valley, right?

    Who knows how long I'll live in CA, and while I'm here and so close ... and after reading insanely great reports from @larryboy and @dave6253 (skip this report and go straight to those reports if you are new to DV stuff, no hard feelings) and others ... I knew this was the right call.


    Prep

    So, my planning formula is pretty simple: read up about the area and try to get a feel for it, have a few "must see" spots and let the trip unfold as it will. I plan to not plan. Given the structure of the rest of my life, this works for me. This was going to be a solo trip and would be on my commuter sled, an R1200GS. I ditched my KTM 450 EXC before moving from Texas (bummer), so the big girl was on deck for this one.

    During the research phase it was pretty obvious straight-away that I could only scratch the surface on a single trip (seems like DV has enough charms for a lifetime of exploration) so I tried to keep expectations set accordingly. This was to be a simple reconnoiter mission.

    I poured over ride reports here primarily (so much solid intel) and picked up a recommended paper map, a SPOT and did some basic bike prep and figured I was ready as I was gonna be ... and got the fak outta San Jose at 0500 3/8/2018: Death Valley bound for 5 days.


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    Oh, and holy fried foods, is this thing ever a barge when fully loaded! Pretty sure the attendant gravitational field sucked in small pets as I made my way out of the San Jose urban area. (more on that later...)
    #1
  2. N-Id-Jim

    N-Id-Jim Long timer

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    Looking forward to the rest of the story!
    #2
  3. jmckeown88

    jmckeown88 Been here awhile

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    #3
  4. breeno

    breeno Adventurer Supporter

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    Day 1 (3.8.2018)

    While my preference for this trip would be to find a more interesting route than slabbing down I5 from San Jose, I really just wanted to get there since I only had 5 days, so slabbing it was.

    I like getting on the move early as well to avoid ... people ... so I was Oscar Mike at 0500. Gloriously quiet (for the Bay Area anyway) on the roads and I had a good audio book to listen to as I watched the sunrise as I slabbed along the interstate.

    Did I mention perfect weather? Check.

    Fast forward to entering DVNP around 1130 and a quick stop for a photo. I tend to suck at stopping for photos but decided the last couple of trips to improve on this score.

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    With the gain of altitude it was pleasantly chilly and the views were definitely getting more interesting.

    The roads were surprisingly devoid of traffic and I got entertained by what looked like an F18 pilot who didn’t get the memo that he wasn't flying a crop duster. Awesome. I couldn't help but respond by standing up on the pegs and giving the soldier a "hell yeah, America!" first pump to show my appreciation. I didn't get a pic, but you've all seen Top Gun so go with that mental image.

    Today’s “target” was to hit the Furnace Creek visitor center, buy my pass, refuel and go find some dirt and generally wander around to find a spot to camp for the night. After Furnace Creek (all those people!), I headed for West Road which runs roughly parallel to Badwater Road. West road was nicely maintained gravel / washboard-y affair and it great shape. Absolutely perfect weather and the views were outstanding. Heaven.

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    Several spurs off West Road looked interesting so I peeled off each to go explore a bit. Finally, time for some fun! Now, while I've ridden dirt bikes consistently from childhood, I hadn't spent much time on a "big bike" in the dirt, so took it easy trying to figure out how the GS likes to be ridden - especially this loaded down (Ok, I think maybe I brought too much sh*t).

    And I have to admit, my first impression was "well, this was a stupid idea after all" as the loaded bike was a handful and not a ton of fun. But I was here for 5 days, dammit, and I was gonna have fun (as in, that red-faced parent racking up the credit card debt at Disney World frustrated at their bratty kids shouting "we're here to have fun, dammit, so let's have fun!!"), so I started to experiment a bit with riding styles.

    After a few miles of a rocky road in Hanaupah Canyon I settled on a "gas-it and smash-it" mode which was completely devoid of nuance and style. I just let the mass of the barge (aka USS Breeno) punish any obstacles via sheer momentum. Now, this wasn't a particularly rewarding style, but seemed effective enough. Ok, I can do this (or something like this) for 5 days.

    Near the end of this road I met some guys hanging out at what looked like a pretty great spot to camp (maybe they weren't gonna camp here?) We chatted a bit while I re-attached my tent and dry bag which kept coming loose.

    Dude: "What are you on there -- are you riding a street bike out here?"
    Me: "well, yeah, sorta? it goes both ways" :rofl

    I found it hard explaining a GS to non-bike folks when asked on this trip. WTF is it, really? :loco

    I didn't snap a pic -- so just picture two middle-aged dudes on lawn chairs in front of a beat up Tundra and you've got it.

    One of them seemed to know the area a bit so I asked a few questions about the area and picked up a few ideas for the next day.

    It became pretty clear they were definitely gonna camp here (bummer), so I figured I'd move along and go find somewhere to camp.

    After a bit I hit Johnson Canyon Rd which was more of the same. Gas-it and smash-it GS style - I danced with the rhino - and was starting to have a pretty decent time. The boxer is really a solid motor for this kind of thing and the suspension was getting it done. It all felt a bit silly, if I'm honest, this thing is entirely too heavy for this sort of thing, right? But damned if I was starting to groove with it.

    Almost to the end, I picked a spot and made camp.
    Now, I mostly do all this for the riding, but I really love this part of the day - the ritual of it all. The reward, if you will, of the "getting there".

    Setting up, cooking my Mountain House (beef stroganoff, oh yeah) and finishing up with coffee, cigars and a good read.

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    Not a bad first day.

    I started out that morning fleeing the stresses of Bay Area high-tech life and ended up under the stars in Death Valley in under 500 miles later that same day. I didn't toss (I'll save that for later in the trip) or run out of gas - and like that pheromone certainty you get when you meet someone you know you're going to be into - Death Valley already had it's hooks into me.
    #4
  5. flying.moto

    flying.moto Earthbound Misfit, I Supporter

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    Great stuff! :clap

    I am itching to get back to DV-ish area this April too. You gotta have more photos than this, right?!

    :lurk
    #5
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  6. Ocho NA

    Ocho NA Been here awhile

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    I think I know who you are (from work's motorcycle mailing list). Great read, keeping tabs for the rest of the days.
    #6
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  7. manfromthestix

    manfromthestix Lost in Space Supporter

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    I've put a lot of miles on my "barge" and it has not once let me down. Yeah it's a beast if you dump it, so you try not to. It will take you anywhere your skills are equal to.

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    Great RR, looking forward to more! :lurk
    #7
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  8. eaglescan

    eaglescan Borrego rocks

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    Best ride for a big bike is Titus canyon I say. You will be taking lots of photos there. I wish I had rode it both ways.
    #8
  9. breeno

    breeno Adventurer Supporter

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    Day 2 (3.9.2018)

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    I seriously won the weather lottery today. Since I rarely win that, I embraced my luck and did some hiking in the morning before deciding where to head off to for the day. So since day 2 fell on a Friday, I thought I'd get the more touristy stuff out of the way before the weekend hit and the crowds ruined my sense of solitude. So that meant Titus Canyon. From what I had gathered while the riding part isn't particularly interesting, the views were spectacular and not to be missed. From there I was loosely thinking of heading over to the Racetrack. I was hoping to stitch together Chloride Cliff "on the way" to Titus, but wasn't sure how long that would take and really didn't want to miss Titus on a weekday. So, a "plan". Of course, something something plans and the first bullet something something.

    I took West road South (as one does) and spotted Warm Sping Road and thought I had a bit of time, might as well see what this is all about. Turns out, it had a stretch of sand at the start (not terrible but enough to be annoying), and I decided I wasn't really in the mood for that, so I turned around. The typical dirt bike pivot turn didn't work as administered and I dumped the barge. Hey, those sticky-outy cylinders are cool for this, it lays over at like 35º. Note to self: practice "big bike" u-turns on the dirt. Now, I'm not a huge guy at 5'9" / 175# and while picking up the GS wasn't a huge deal, I'd like to avoid that in the future. Onward.

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    Devil's Golf Course was cool!

    Artist Drive was fun. There were some nifty slow speed hills to pop wheelies over. Cool. Oh yeah, and spectacular views! The riding part wasn't really what I came to DV for and it felt a bit like singing along to a Brittney Spears guilty pleasure song hoping nobody would notice. Oh, and since there are precisely 1 billion images of Artist Drive and this is my RR, here's an image that captures this moment best for me:

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    The ride up to Titus was pretty scenic, notably Beaty Cuttoff and Daylight Pass. So of course, I didn't get any pictures. I was too lost in thought enjoying the moment. It occurs to me DV really could cater to any kind of motorcycle adventure: pure off-road, pure on-road or, as is my case, a mix of both. I saw very few cars so far, so things were going according to plan nicely on the solitude front.

    Finally, Titus Canyon Road!

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    Looking at this image nearly a month later, I just want to jump back on the bike and call in sick.

    Zero traffic, perfect weather and the road was in great shape. This will do. So, after a few miles I started to notice a dark stripe down the road. It looked pretty wet. Hmm. Wait, sh*t, that's oil, and it's pretty fresh. Someone is having / about to have a bad day! This went on for quite a ways until a predictable knot of cars appeared in a particularly narrow spot, so I stopped and chatted with folks. The hold up was a F150 with a flat front tire. There were a few guys up dealing with that, so I thought I could buzz around everyone and be on my merry.

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    After a few minutes, I mention to a group of folks near the back that I had seen some oil on the road and one of the guys visibly had a lightbulb go off: "oh, sh*t, that's what that was". Turns out he heard a big bang a few miles back which had put a hole in his oil pan on his rented Mustang.

    me:
    "did you buy their insurance?"
    dude: "yeah"
    me: "well done!" :clap

    One of the other couples volunteered to give him a ride back to cell coverage while his wife waited back with the oil-free Mustang and I wandered up to check on the tire changing party - which at this point seemed stalled.

    We've all met this kinda of guy (or have been that guy) that just doesn't have a ton of mechanical skills, but the ego isn't really making it easy to ask for help. (plot contrivance: this theme returns later). Turns out the F150 guy was sorta that guy. And he had his wife and 4 kids with him. And they aren't going anywhere with this flat tire. So after 20 more minutes of non-progress, I teamed up with another dude to just take over and get the tire patched up. Turns out my co-conspirator had recently bought a compressor and plug kit (which means I didn't have to use my supplies, added bonus) but didn't know how to use it. Win-win.

    So two plugs (really odd snake-bite puncture) later, F150 dude was on his way and the traffic jam cleared.

    Titus was a nice mellow ride - actually a bit more fun that I had expected - and was pretty much amazing. I'll need to do this ride again before I cash out, no question.

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    Towards the end, I stopped for a coffee and cigar break to absorb the gestalt of it all. While I was enjoying my solitude the guys I met the night before when finding a spot to camp stopped and we chatted a bit. I was asking about a spot to camp near the Stovepipe Wells area (at this point the afternoon was slipping away and I wasn't sure I had enough time for Racetrack without being rushed) and they had mentioned a road over near the public campground that was decent that I could go check out. Maybe I'll camp over there tonight.

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    All good things must end, and like yesterday's snow, thus was the end of Titus.

    I wandered around a bit and decided to head over to Stovepipe and see about finding a spot to camp as the day was starting to wind down with the delays and my cigar break. I refueled at Stovepipe with their any-kind-of-fuel-you-want-as-long-as-it's-87-octane and was engaged by some Harley dude guffawing at this same said fuel.

    me: "ah, your Harley won't run on 87 huh?"
    dude: "I ain't never put sh*tty gas in muh bike, no f-ing way"

    needle scratch

    Now, younger me would have launched into some unsolicited "well, actually..." diatribe explaining rate-of-combustion, compression ratio (your 50s vintage tech isn't even 9:1, dude!), modern knock sensors, ignition timing, octane-doesn't-mean-quality ... but...

    mature me: <redacted> "I hear that, brother!"

    My dad would have been proud.

    So now I'm off to find this road near the public "campground" (ugh, that ain't camping!) and wind up on some airstrip. Nope. After poking around I find the road and off I go. After not too far along I see a sign: "Deep sand next X miles; Turnaround in 1/4 mile"

    Well, fakk. :becca At this point, though, I'm getting committed since I only have so much day light left and really don't wanna hunt for a campground in the dark. How bad can it be? I've ridden tons of sand in my life on dirt bikes, I've got this....

    There really seems to only be one way the GS wants to be ridden in this stuff and that's with lots of momentum. So I obliged it. My natural dirt bike instincts (much like the first time I put my leg out and hit a cylinder :lol3) of sliding back don't seem to actually do much so I just sit down, lean back and crank the throttle and tank slap merrily down the road occasionally making a recommendation on which way I'd prefer to go. It does occur to me after a mile or two of this that a) turning around and b) stopping might present some challenges. But like housing costs in the Bay Area, I choose to not think about this and carry on.

    I'll stop whenever I find a suitable spot to camp, I tell myself.

    ...until I come over a slight rise and see a Prius stuck up to it's axles with about 4 teenage girls gathered around pondering their fate.

    Well, fak, need to sort out a plan for stopping ... and then restarting again. The road's been grated so I can't get off the sides and ... while I was pondering my fate not paying close enough attention I naturally tucked the front and the pig goes down. :muutt Well, that's embarrassing AF. I can whine after I die, however, as daylight is burning.

    So, now the plan is to get the bike up, go help the Prius get unstuck and carry on. The sun is getting low. I'm starting to sweat. I'm pondering my life choices. Well, bike choice. While I was uprighting the bike, some dudes in a jeep pass and go help the Prius get unstuck ... and I decide to bail on this road. No way I'm not gonna see that car again and the sand goes as far as I can see. I'll just get the hell outta here and go find some other spot to camp. :ksteve

    I do the read-about-it-on-the-internet trick of pivoting the bike on the cylinder head (can confirm) and set about picking the thing up now that it's pointed towards sweet sweet not-here. Now, I well and truly hate to ask for help, but I can't get any footing in the sand and at this point am ready to be ... elsewhere.

    Luckily, Jeep dudes see me flailing (I was truly braced for the "miss the turn to the Starbucks?" joke) and swing over to give me a hand. Sweet. People actually do generally rule. Bags back on, geared up they give me a glorious 10 ft momentum shove off and I tank slap my way back to the paved road, pride modestly dented but happy to be ... not there.

    Regrouping at Stovepipe I glance on the map to see about a spot to camp and find something that looks interesting on Echo Canyon Road (rocky, not sandy I hope) and not too far away to make it before dark. Echo Canyon Road was awesome! Perfect mix of gravel and rock and lots of fun. I found an interesting spot to camp and consider all things right in the world over dinner and a cigar.


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    Another great day. :clap
    #9
  10. 86_Aidan

    86_Aidan Been here awhile

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    Enjoying the RR and appreciating the detail! hoping to head over there soon.
    #10
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  11. DeltaNu1142

    DeltaNu1142 Old White Squid

    Joined:
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    Tampa, FL
    Great read. And congrats on giving that airman the chance to check a mid-difficulty Top Gun moment off his list. Low-difficulty is picking up a 7 in a bar as a fighter pilot. Highest (and career-threatening) is, of course, buzzing the tower.


    Sent from my iPad using Tapatalk
    #11
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  12. open1mind

    open1mind Been here awhile

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    thanks for sharing and including pics
    #12
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  13. N-Id-Jim

    N-Id-Jim Long timer

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    Yer not done yet... are ya??
    #13
  14. jmckeown88

    jmckeown88 Been here awhile

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    Lexington, Ky
    Moar updates plz
    #14
  15. Boxerbreath

    Boxerbreath 2017.5 GS Black Storm

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    ...yes, timely report, want to hear more.
    Thinking about another solo trip on a very similarly equipped GS, though I doubt I would camp anywhere.
    Just like to do some non-deep-sand dirt roads and explore.
    #15
  16. 23103a

    23103a not n00b

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    Subbed :clap
    #16
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  17. jmckeown88

    jmckeown88 Been here awhile

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    I bet this guy has poor taste in whiskeys and cigars
    #17
  18. breeno

    breeno Adventurer Supporter

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    Bring your best to Colorado this Summer, buddy!! :clap
    #18
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  19. breeno

    breeno Adventurer Supporter

    Joined:
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    Day 3 (3.10.2018)

    I slept the slumber of the guiltless and woke to - gasp! not-completely-blue skies! The horror, my run of perfect weather might be coming to an end. I hiked around a bit near my campsite and pondered running down the end of Echo Canyon and checking out the mine, but decided instead to stay south today and go check out the (south) warm springs area. From the looks of it the riding should be interesting and there are some old cabins, abandoned mines and natural hot springs to check out. So that was the plan. I didn't have any sort of cell connection (actually, maybe I did, but I didn't even check - I was really enjoying being unplugged) so I didn't bother checking the weather. If it rained, well, I'd get wet, right?

    I'll figure it out as I go.

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    Echo Canyon Road was more fun with a belly full of oats and coffee, it turns out. I was so completely sated to be on the bike I'm pretty sure nothing could ruin my mood. This trip was turning out to be exactly what I needed.

    Once I pulled off West Road, I sat parked in the middle of the road for a few minutes and laughed at myself: this is the very same road on I turned around on due to the sand and dumped doing that u-turn on day 1. Not sure how I didn't put that together but, I didn't. Well, via the power of The Decision, today wasn't gonna be one of those turnaround kinda days, so I twisted the throttle and surfed through the sand. That actually turned out to be No Big Deal: probably a combination of gaining a better understanding of the GS way and the power of "stop over-thinking and just ride".

    I wasn't in any sort of hurry, so this morning I stopped more than I usually would and took some pics and enjoyed the views - as well as focused on the simple joys of riding. There just is nothing better in this life. And this bit of road had some great riding! Nothing particularly challenging, but a ton of great views and mixed with interesting terrain.

    There were a ton of people out today, being Saturday and all. I could see some weather brewing to the west, but so far everything was dry and I didn't get the sense that this road would be too bad in the wet, except that sandy bit at the start. I suspect it would have to rain pretty hard to turn that muddy, but that would be tomorrow's problem.

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    Hantavirus: if it can't kill you it's not worth doing!
    Maybe the DV experts can chime in and correct me - but my understanding is nobody actually contracts this nasty virus, this is just more California "oh noes! sh*t isn't safe!!" propaganda :imaposer
    Regardless, I'd keep an eye out for rat turds and try not to mix them into my coffee.

    After a bit I pulled into warm springs camp and hiked around a bit. Really cool area! Getting into the mine was a non-starter (bummer, that would be pretty cool) as the entrance was barricaded (for good reason, I'm guessing). I used to do some caving as a kid growing up in Florida and would have loved to check this one out. Not to be.

    A group of dirt bike dudes rolled up (note to self: bring a proper dirt bike on a follow-up trip) and I chatted with them for a bit. Something about these more remote areas means the quality of people you meet just tends to go up. The more remote the locale the higher the caliber of souls one tends to encounter...

    The leader of this particular group said indeed they came through some weather and that they expected a fairly sizable storm to arrive shortly. I figured I should probably go check out the warm springs (a pretty short hike away from the abandoned camp) while it wasn't yet raining. That turned out to be a good call.

    The warm springs was situated perfectly within a tall rock formation giving good natural cover from the elements in a nice, umm, "intimate" setting :getiton.

    I was solo, but if I had "company" I could see this being a pretty decent spot to .... "warm springs and chill".

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    So, as is my custom, I smoked a cigar and read a book to soak it all in.

    I had nowhere to be and no clock to punch and didn't want to be a slave to schedule. Halfway through my cigar, an attractive 30-something couple from the Pacific Northwest comes up the trail to join me.

    We chatted for a few minutes and mid conversation dude gets naked and jumps into the hot spring, as one does in these parts I'm led to believe. Ok, this is fine, whatever floats your sausage. Now, of course, the big question is what dudette is gonna do. I feel like I'm being measured and weighed by her, but just keep the conversation going talking about our shared travels and things feel pretty natural and relaxed.

    I guess I "passed" the "not a pycho" test and she sheds her bothersome clothes and jumps in as well. So, um, new to this, I wonder what the protocol is here? Am I expected to follow suit? I decide against it and mention as nonchalantly as I could muster "well, I'll finish up my cigar and leave this place to y'all in a few" and we continued to chat a bit. It's starting to drip a bit and it's obvious we're gonna get some rain in a bit.

    Respectful southern gentleman that I am, I didn't snap any pics at this encounter. :lol3

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    True to my word, I bid them farewell and hiked back down to my bike and hastily pitched my tent in the event that the skies opened up and I needed to ride out the storm. Sure enough, about 30 minutes later the storm rolled in and settled over the region. It rained steadily for the next 18 hours with varying degrees of intensity. Oh well, I've got a good book and I love hanging out in the tent during rainstorms (it wasn't all that windy, so it was a pretty mellow storm in the end) so I just chilled for the rest of the day. Super short day of riding - but a good day regardless.

    A few folks stopped by and chatting in the rain: a guy doing a cross country mountain bike ride (he just came through Goler wash earlier, stud!) the hippie chic from earlier (I usually have these great conversations with ladies before I see them naked, so that was new) and another dude that had spent a few weeks squatting around various parts of DV amidst some sorta self-discovery regime.

    Great folks, good conversations.

    I think if I had set in my mind that I had to cover X miles each day, I would have been bummed for the first time out on this trip. But not so, I was determined to go with whatever happened and enjoy each moment regardless of the circumstance.

    I think I slept 10 hours (I usually get 5 1/2 hours a night) aided by the rain on my tent and awoke completely and utterly refreshed. And the rain had stopped at some point during the evening.

    Not quantity, but quality riding today - overall, another great day.

    Attached Files:

    #19
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  20. breeno

    breeno Adventurer Supporter

    Joined:
    Mar 26, 2014
    Oddometer:
    70
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    Heath, TX
    Check out @larryboy and @dave6253 reports if you haven't already - they have the area nailed.

    From what I experienced there's plenty of spots for the big bikes to have a good time. Camping really makes for a good time, if you have that inclination at all. You can camp anywhere along a non day-use road if you go more than a mile away from the main roads.

    I think I wasn't supposed to camp near the mine, which I did, but I didn't realize this under after I left.
    #20