Death Valley is without question a remote and desolate place. Not a place most folks find themselves, yet there I was happy as a clam 4 days into an 800-mile off-road adventure throughout the Southeastern region of California. So, you can imagine the thoughts going through my head when my bike sputtered to a stop in just about the middle of it. Close to 50 miles from anything that represented a town, I turned to my fellow riders and said, “Sorry guys, my fuel pump just died.” We sat there in silence for a moment, raised a hand to the sky to calculate how much time we had before the sun set, looked around for a flat spot of land off the roadway to park my motorcycle and got busy tearing my bike apart to rebuild the fuel pump. It was about this time that Greg, who decided making coffee for all of us was a good idea (it was), looked up and said, “Now it’s an adventure!”
I define myself simply as a motorcycle rider. I ride dirt bikes, I ride choppers, and I ride Adventure bikes. I’ll ride just about anything I can get my hands on! I love each of them equally, as they all bring me immense joy in their own unique way. My first foray into motorcycle riding was a 2002 BMW 650 Dakar, with a black and white checkered flag motif. I knew I loved it the moment I saw it, but funny thing, I didn’t really know how to ride a motorcycle. I had some experiences on a borrowed dirt bike, but that was about it. So, I brought a friend to test ride it for me, handed over the cash when he gave it the thumbs up and began dreaming of places I would go. Long Way Round, with Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman traveling around the world via motorcycle, had just come out and thoughts of adventures to exotic lands occupied my brain 24/7. I rode that bike everywhere I could and to places I never even imagined I’d go, eventually selling it for something bigger that could take me further. I soon added dirt bikes to improve my skills and built a chopper that always grounds me in the simple joy of riding. I’ve spent the better part of the past 20 years becoming a pretty good motorcycle rider if I do say so myself and have been fortunate enough to travel extensively throughout this country, Canada, and Mexico.
Many of those trips fall under what folks today would call the “Adventure Riding” umbrella. A blend of mostly off-road riding linked by sections of pavement, carrying all your own gear, camping and often requiring some means of self-navigation (paper maps, GPS, modern apps or a combination of any of these). It can be challenging, it does require a lot of trial and error when it comes to gear, it can be physically demanding, and it is most certainly exhilarating. It’s that first moment when you find yourself on a long-forgotten dirt road, a place you first spied as nothing more than a tiny line on an old map and still decided you should go there, realize you haven’t seen another person in a day or longer, spot the perfect campsite and think to yourself “I have arrived.” I share all this simply to say, when it comes to this subject of Adventure riding, I truly understand that taking your first trip is not often as easy as it sounds. What do I need? Where should I go? Will I find gas, food, water, a place to sleep? All questions I first wrestled with and to some degree still do.
So, what if I were to tell you there is an incredible organization out there helping take some of the hurdles out of what might be your first true adventure? They plan the route, make sure it has gas stops, food, campsites and even lodging if you prefer. They break the route down into sections, so you can try one section at a time. Maybe a day trip first, then an overnight, then two nights on your bike and then three or four or five or a week! And what if I were to tell you they do it all for free? Hard to believe, right?! Backcountry Discovery Routes is a non-profit group that has been doing this exact thing since 2010, having created 10 state specific off-highway routes for dual-sport and adventure motorcycles. I’ve had the pleasure of riding many of their routes and it was on my latest trip, tackling the California Backcountry Discovery Route, where I think I finally grasped what a gift they are to those who desire to have an Adventure of their own!
Now in full transparency, the gift they deliver is more akin to a set of guardrails than a ticket on a bus. It’s an adventure not without challenges and risks as you probably surmised from my opening paragraph. Eyes Wide Open is a good way to start any trip, theirs included. Their routes still require basic riding skills, some areas more than basic. You are still on a self-supported trip and often out of cell phone range; they’ve just taken a lot of the guess work and planning out of it for you with downloadable GPS tracks and high-quality paper maps, so you can focus on the riding. They’ve marked the areas that can prove very challenging or might be impassible when it rains/snows. They’ve marked the routes for gas stations, but you still might have to carry fuel if you’re range isn’t far enough. Camping sites? Yes, they’ve got you covered, but you still need to know how to set up a tent, use a camp-stove, carry your gear, bring the right sleeping bag, etc. if you want to be comfortable. They’ve even offered tips on scenic or historical stops and divine places like hot springs you might want to take a break and soak in. Curated but challenging. Planned with unknowns. Exciting with just enough questions to keep the butterflies in your stomach buzzing about.
You’ll probably bump into a guardrail along the way, we all do, but it’s simply a part of learning. I believe that for each challenge you over-come, and you will be challenged, the confidence within you grows exponentially. That confidence leads to taking on a new challenge, maybe a longer trip or even getting yourself out of a complex situation without panicking. You’re lost, maybe a flat tire, maybe a fuel pump shits the bed in the middle of Death Valley…”no problem, I got this” you’ll think to yourself. A story to share with your family and friends, a constant reminder you are capable of more than you once thought you might be.
What a gift that will be. All it takes is a little encouragement.
For more information on Backcountry Discovery Routes, please visit their website at https://ridebdr.com/
For More from Steve follow him on Instagram @SJElmes