Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Death Valley "Enduro Test" 2006

Death Valley is always an exciting road run as it's one of the neatest places on earth. After all it is the lowest place in the United States at 282 ft below sea level yet in a very short time be on top of 6-10,000 ft mountains and over looking the lowest point. 89 year old Max Bubeck knows the western United States the best I know out of anyone I have ever met and especially Death Valley as he has raced over much of it in his youth on Indians. He was also the western rep for Hodaka which also added to his knowledge of the west. I’ve had the pleasure to ride with Max on some western U.S trips on Indians and he really knows what’s down the end of some of those out of the way dirt roads that don’t show up on maps. Many of us in the antique m/c club have been lucky to learn from his experiences. Many people think there is nothing in Death Valley when it is actually quite the opposite, thanks to Max passing along his knowledge and experiences. It’s got a lot of history, wild west characters, magnificent scenery and breath taking views, extreme weather and exciting and challenging riding for both on and off road riding. It’s for the extreme riding conditions I like to use this place for parts durability testing as we beat the living day lights out of our equipment. If it pass’s the Death Valley test then it’s ready.
Our base was at the Furnace Creek Resort which has an Olympic size swimming pool that has natural water filling it from a nearby spring. There are no additives added to the pool water as the water runs in 1 end and out the other completely refilling itself 3 times in 1 day. It is not necessary to heat the pool as the natural temp of the water is nice and warm even on cold days at this time of year. It’s the best swimming pool water you will ever dip into, so much so that you will stay in so long that you’ll come out looking like a prune every time. It was Tuesday Oct 3 (day 1 of our antique motorcycle club road run) and the weather was ideal. After we got to Scotty's Castle (about 60 miles away) about 20 of us decided to have an impromptu drag race rather than just ride back to base camp at Furnace Creek. The previous year we found a cool dry lake bed about 25 miles north of Scotty’s Castle just across the Nevada border which we rode around on so this year Rocky decided to hold some informal drag races for those that were up to it. About 20 of us headed out and about 1/2 took part in it. It was a rush and it was balls out wheel spinning racing and nobody held anything back, 101's, 741 Scout, Chiefs, Harley's and a Norton. I lost out to a Norton by about a bike length but the Kiwi bobber was the last flat head standing. The OHV engines are no match against a flat head but I think OHV’s are just a passing fad and will never catch on (yeah right). After the drag races 6 of us (4 Indians, a Norton and a new BMW 650 dual purpose) decided we needed a challenge (far bigger than Titus Canyon from years past) and decided to take on a 60-70 mile 4 wheel drive off road track over hunter mountain with our bikes which there are absolutely no services what so ever. The natural beauty of the scenery in these way out of the way places is well worth the trip in itself and its about as far out as one can get to being in the middle of bf no where. If something were to happen we would be doomed but that has never stopped us before. This was by far the biggest challenge any one of us had ever taken out here and none of us really knew what the road was really like other than it looked interesting on the map. Gas was going to be the biggest challenge as we were going to be cutting it fine but we should all able to barely make it to Panamint Springs (civilization) for gas and food. Keep in mind there is no cell phone service in Death Valley, none what so ever so communication is a problem if we should ever need any. Nothing seems to stop us when we’re on a mission. About an hour into the ride we came across a nice couple in their 4 wheel drive Jeep Liberty that had a flat tire and while changing it the jeep slipped off the jack and turned the jack into a pretzel so now the jeep was sitting on a cockeyed wheel and they were left to hang. They had been waiting for 4 hrs for someone to show up until we came along to save their day. 1hr into this ride only amounted to less than 1/4 of the way into the ride and as it turned out, to be the easiest part. The road was all loose gravel, rocks, boulders, washouts, wash boards, dirt, holes, switch backs, hills, mountains and just about everything what a dirt bike or 4 wheel drive vehicle is designed for and not any Indian especially a rigid frame bucking bronco bobber but hell if it can do Titus Canyon it can do this too. It wouldn’t be a challenge if we all had dirt bikes (or thought normally) and each of us was just as determined as the other to do it. Most of the riding was in 1st and 2 gears which chewed up a ton more gas. I was told the following day that the 4 wheel drive clubs take 2 days to do this track while we figured 4-5 hrs hours or so should do it. Gas ended up being an issue about 3/4 the way into it as we took a wrong turn that cost us precious gas to double back which was all up hill. You have to visualize this, we’re out in the middle of the earth and it's not called Death Valley for no reason and there are no road signs and it's very easy to miss a turn as you don’t know if what you are looking at is a road, washout, mining road, track, river bed and then you have no idea where you are at since you have nothing to reference yourself to. It turned out we had covered more ground than what we thought so the intersection we were looking at on the map was a turn or 2 earlier, bummer. Now that gas became an issue and as we started running out we stayed in pairs with each other for safety. Matt Blake and Jim Mosher had plenty of gas (oversize tanks certainly help and so does British fuel economy) and had the best chance of getting out and bringing back gas so they went ahead as it was now dark and our plan was to be out by now eating a big juicy steak at Panamint Springs. The last meal we had was breakfast which was at 7am (12 hrs ago). Gary Smalz and Bob Clift went ahead on a different route but that's a different story in itself. After Rocky and I ran out of gas we figured we were done as there most likely only 1 or 2 vehicles at most a day that might pass over this road but after a few hours 1 lonely vehicle came by and had gas and beer but no siphon hose. We ended up pulling the windshield washer hose off and started siphoning into an old water bottle we saved. The beer was used to flush my mouth out plus a few swigs since who new when our next drink was going to be (the last meal we had was 7am that morning and its now about 9 pm). We got as much as we could (of gas) with the 2-1/2 ft hose which we thought would be enough but it got us about another 1hr up the road before we ran dry again. Now we were in the higher elevation and cooler climate too and with a gentle wind blowing. It was getting pretty cold and we found a hole on the side of the road so Rocky and I nestled into it. We didn't even think about snakes and scorpions until way later on when something was poking at my body but we were so worn out that we didn't give a rats ass anyway. The wind pretty much blew over us but it was still cold and getting colder and Rocky decided to throw dirt on himself to try and get warmer but without much luck. I know in extreme cases people cuddle each other to keep warm but thankfully it didn’t quite get to that point. We got as comfortable as we could and left our helmets on gazing up at the stars. The helmets added warmth and comfort rather than have our heads on hard rocks. After a while Rocky pipes up and says, you know Kiwi, I think we’ll take tomorrow off and just kick around by the pool. You now, both of us have done more riding on Indian’s than almost anyone else and there isn’t anything else we need to prove to anyone. We’ve done it all and this was about as extreme as it can get. Funny thing is I was thinking the exact same things. We had all sorts of things going through our minds as to how long we just might be stuck out here. Hell we didn’t even know if we were on the right road to be found anyway. While shivering away I was thinking how nice it would be for it to be morning and to have the sun come up and warm us up but then the reality of it was what good would that be if no one comes by. We still don’t have food, water or gas. Then at about 1am we heard a vehicle and then saw head lights come over the hill and it was Jim and Matt in their van with gas so we jumped in the back and warmed up. Jim and Matt continued on the long way to sweep the road to make sure Bob and Gary made it out ok and we continued on in our original direction as they confirmed we were on the road out. We got about 1 mile down the road (2 am by this time) and a coyote ran out in front of me what looked like was going to take out my front wheel, next thing I knew I was heading into a big ditch which endo-ed the bobber and threw me off the bike like a pole vault. The bike was done and hurt real bad and definitely was not rideable. I ended up landing on my right shoulder but considering all the dangerous rocks and boulders everywhere I dodged a bullet and landed in a clear patch. I took a quick inventory of my body parts and my right shoulder felt like something was wrong. I decided to lie down and regroup. Rocky doubled back since he no longer saw my head light and he didn't expect to see what he saw. As he approached I made sure I waved with my good arm so he didn't have any bad thoughts about me being dead or unconscious. I was still able to laugh and joke about it as being just another experience on an Indian as we've both had a few together. At this point we concluded no one could have topped our experiences. We left the bike there and I gently eased my way over to his 1945 chief and I rode bitch on the rear fender. We still had about 8 miles of bad road to go over and about 20 miles of good main highway black top and after what I had gone through even the rough road felt like a pretty smooth ride but it took a few breaks to get to Panamint Springs. Panamint Springs is a 1 stop shop (gas, restaurant, bar, motel, etc) and has a magnificent view of the Panamint Valley during the day. Obviously at 4 am no one was still up at the office but there was a note on the front office door stating that when so and so arrives your room is #6. Rocky said what do you think, I reckon if no one is in there it’s ours. The light was one, door was unlocked and no one was in there. All I wanted was a bed just to be able to get comfortable. I eased my way onto the bed, dirty clothes and boots still full of gavel and all. Rocky had made good friends with the owners the day earlier so we thought that amounted to something for gate crashing the place. At about 6 am they came in and made me very welcome and served up breakfast and hot chocolate. It was the 1st food we had in 24 hours and I thought where was that hot chocolate at 12.30am when we were shivering in the hole.
I paid a couple of local guys to head out and haul back the wrecked bobber. I managed to drive myself back to the hospital in Riverside (250 miles) in the comfort of my van and I had the quacks take a few x-rays. It showed I had shoulder damage but no broken bones which I was thankful for. The quacks had a good laugh at my grubby and tired appearance, torn jeans and home made sling and my story and they decided to donate me a new late model sling saying this new model is fully adjustable which I'm to wear for 8 weeks. I must have taken a good tumble as 24 hrs later I hurt in a lot more places and all over. I have a saying that I have used for many years about riding Indians, "make every ride into an adventure", well we sure did this time, no regrets, just all good memories and great people. It's the people that make the difference and we're all laughing about our experiences. Thanks to Rocky Halter, Bob Clift, Matt Blake, Jim Mosher and Gary Smalz for another great ride and memories and being there when needed. I'm now planning for an off road special edition Death Valley model Indian. Some minimal requirements will be hydraulic forks, swing arm rear suspension and a custom made 5 gal tank. I have nothing left to prove, been there, done that.
Incidentally we did a thorough inspection of the leaf spring forks that we manufacture and were testing on this ride and they were not tweaked in any way. A good testament to our products quality but the crash is 1 form of testing I could have done with out. Live life to its fullest and make every ride an adventure. Ride an Indian.Mike Tomas


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