Categories: Features
2 weeks ago | Updated 2 weeks ago

Whatever: Adventure Riding The John Burns Way

It’s not that I didn’t want to go on the big Adventure Bike Shootout a couple weeks ago; it’s just that I didn’t want to die a hot, thirsty death in the middle of nowhere. My perfectly legit excuse, though, was that as a team player, I want what’s best for MO, and having anybody less than a guy who really knows how to ride 600-pound motorcycles over terrain Marines would refuse to assault would be a disservice to both the manufacturers and MO’s faithful readers. Am I right? Of course I’m right. I know people who can ride a Triumph 1200 Explorer up and down vertical single-track trails; I’m not one of them.

I’m fine as long as there are spaces between the rocks and the trail is roughly horizontal.

I’m perfectly happy to ride them on paved and mostly dry fire roads, but the ex-wife and I learned what can happen on muddy ones when it rained on us in Colorado on the first GS 1100, many moons ago. They needed a team on horses and a helicopter to get that bike out of the Animas River. I learned a lesson, though: I’d rather drown than become human jerky under the broiling sun.

Our last couple of MO off-road events were like The Thin Red Line reenactments. By the time we got down off the easyish mountainous route Tom had laid out above Big Bear but failed to follow last time, my Camelbak was drained and I was close. The Super Ténéré was a stretcher case. We (and by we I mean Big Dirty Sean and Little Scotty Rousseau) finally got it down to where a flatbed could retrieve it. The worst part was while we waited a couple hours for said flatbed in a nice restaurant/bar, there was No Drinking because we weren’t done riding for the day – a hard and fast MO rule. (I haven’t been so happy-sad since the night we sat down for a nice dinner with Kevin Schwantz and Marnie after a long, sweaty Schwantz riding school, only to learn we were in a dry county. What? How can you people live this way?)

The Super Ténéré in a hard place, shortly before a rock would relieve it of its precious lubricants.

But when you look back on that stuff, you only remember the fun parts, so I’d’ve been happy to ride along if need be. But Evans’ pal John Nave, a serious off-road guy wanted to go, so WTH? I’ll sit here and hold down the fort. You kids have fun. So, there I was about 3 pm churning out a MO Quiz! or something when the phone rang. Brasscannons on Line 1. Can I pick up a new Africa Twin at Honda, if Honda can get us one, as there’s a hole in this one where all the oil drained out, for delivery to Kennedy Meadows ASAP?

Natch, I’d just changed the oil in the trusty Ranger truck the day before, and was alarmed to find oil in the coolant reservoir – blown head gasket! Dang, it only had 189,000 miles when the odometer stopped working a while ago. I didn’t know if the old girl would make it. I also thought I might die of heat frustration on the way up the 405 at 4 in the afternoon since the AC was also out – and no way I’d make it to Honda HQ by closing time. But I wasn’t worried, because there was no way Honda was going to get us another Africa Twin that quick anyway.

The phone rang again. Brasstacks said the fresh Honda was waiting for us in Torrance, and that I could drive his nice new Tacoma if I could get the bike to his house in Burbank. Oh. Better plan. I sprang into the garage to throw on my gear and hop on the Tracer 900 GT, only to find I had no Tracer 900 GT. My boy had stolen off on it that morning. What I had was my old R1 which I hadn’t ridden in probably a year. I knocked off the dust and cobwebs, checked the tire pressure and she fired right up, thank you Shorai. I bungee-netted my sleeping bag above the fading Freddie Spencer  autograph on the tailsection, and off we went.

Away to Honda I flew like a flash, so happy was I not to be in that thrash; The 405 north was its usual creeping kudzu of five or six lanes of cars, which I’d’ve been stuck in if the old Ranger hadn’t taken its timely dump. As it was, it was great to be on the old R1 again, howling up the carpool lane and lane-splitting as needed. Maybe loud pipes do save lives? I’d forgotten how much I love the old beast.

Normally it’s poor form to leave a competing brand at an OEM, but this was an emergency, and the Honda guys were great. Colin Miller rolled my bike inside (it would’ve been happy to sleep under the stars) while I signed the papers and took off on the fresh Africa Twin DCT. An hour more funnish adventure-splitting through LA at rush hour, which would’ve been two miserable hours in my truck or more, had me at stately Brasfield Manor in Burbank. Rilo the dog, who I’ve met a few times, had no objections to me finding the truck keys and loading ramp behind the driveway gate.

But I needed to roll the Honda up the sloping Brasfield driveway backwards in order to roll it forward onto the Tacoma, and I, I couldn’t do it. Too heavy. And I couldn’t ride up the driveway and turn around in the back yard because a car was blocking the way. Dammit. What to do?

Just then a young Owen Wilson look-alike came strolling down the lovely tree-shaded sidewalk, a strapping blonde kid from the Midwest visiting his aunt who lives down the street, and obviously a motorcycle guy, as his blue eyeballs grew erect immediately at the shiny new Honda. He not only helped me roll the AT up the driveway; he then also rolled it into the Tacoma bed in one graceful swoop. Warner Brothers studios are nearby; it was like one of those guardian angel scenes from a movie. I mean, it wasn’t a life or death situation, or was it? How ironic would it have been if I’d avoided the big ADV ride only to be crushed under an Africa Twin in Brasfield’s gutter?

At that point, the hard part was over. It was 7:30 pm and I was at the northern edge of the megalopolis, rolling along in a beautiful sunset with the windows down, 168 miles to Kennedy Meadows. I clicked on the locator link Evans had sent me on my phone, and when I plugged it into his truck’s USB port, Siri or whatever her name is started giving me turn-by-turn directions right to the campsite. How that works I know not, but 20 miles or so after Siri told me to turn off on 9 Mile Canyon Road, and I was way out of cell phone range, she still told me exactly where to make four or five more turns in the black night, all within feet of being correct, which led me right to the MO campground. Ten years ago, maybe two, I know I’d’ve been driving around for hours looking for missing street signs in the dark middle of nowhere. Progress is good.

After all the pre-hype about how every square inch is precious when packing a motorcycle, the kids still managed to have plenty of cheap beer and ice around the campfire, so it’s a good thing I’d picked up a six-pack too at the last gas stop. After discussing deep thoughts and various theories as to why chipmunks decide to cross the road right when the only vehicle of the day comes along, and re-noticing how many stars are up there, I crawled in the back seat of Evans’ Tacoma and slept.

Wait. We’re screwed again.

Next morning we swapped Africa Twins on back of my new Tacoma and I rolled homeward, making it seven or eight miles down the winding mountain road through the pines and firs – a beautiful happy drive even in a truck – when a Ducati Multistrada passed me and signaled me to stop. The new Africa Twin had a screw in its back tire and was flat. Yet another bullet dodged: It could only have picked up the screw when I rode it from Honda to Evans’ house. It would’ve sucked if that tire (the only tube-type in the test) had gone flat on the 110 freeway yesterday. I went back, we swapped its flat tire for the still airtight one on the bike with the missing oil, I drove Evans’s truck back to Honda in Torrance and dropped it off, the cool kids there helped me swab out most of the oil in the truck bed and load up my R1.

A nice drive is a nice drive even if you’re in Brasfield’s truck.

I hit surprisingly little traffic on the way back to Burbank, parked Brasstacks’ truck out front of his house, played with my phone for ten minutes hoping Owen Wilson might happen back by, finally rolled the R1 off easily by myself (much lighter than Africa Twin), gave Rilo a pat as I stashed truck keys and ramp out back, blasted back to my Santa Ana estate, grabbed a Sierra Nevada Pale Ale and got in the hot tub. There, it occurred to me that oil in the Ranger’s coolant doesn’t necessarily mean coolant in the oil, which I then remembered had looked fine.

It all worked out well, but it was quite an adventure considering I didn’t go on the adventure ride.