Learning the Dirt at the Touratech ADV Moto Rally
When you get a random phone call from the Marketing Manager at Touratech inviting you to attend their 2013 Adventure Motorcycle Rally, you get sort of excited. Then it moves to a sort of horror when you realize you have to tell them you’ve only ridden on a dirt a small amount, and on bikes either unsuited for the terrain, or much smaller than touring and adventure motorcycles.
Fortunately for me, one of the reasons they got in touch was because of my enthusiasm for adventure riding but my lack of experience in said environment. The Touratech Adventure Motorcycle Rally is set up for beginners to advanced riders- lessons on cooking with a camp set up, packing your gear as small as possible, and routes mapped and marked by difficulty.
I invited my friend Chris along because not only is he my favorite riding buddy, but he’s also got a lot more experience on dirt than I do. He rented a KTM 990 from Mad Bull Moto Rental in Portland, we loaded up the Suburban with our gear and took off.
I would have preferred to ride but at the same time, this way we got a giant suburban and trailer to sleep and change our gear in.
It wasn’t the worst set up, I’ll be honest.
The drive, with the ‘burban and big single axle trailer took about six hours from Portland.
We rolled into the town of Leavenworth, about 30 minutes from Plain, where the rally was taking place. Leavenworth is a strange Bavarian themed mountain town where they have rules about how every building looks, and every single business ‘logo’ is the exact same weird old school font (even subway). The “village mercantile” sign below is for the minimart store attached to the gas station.
Just a little bit further into the mountains…
We arrived at the rally around 3p, I met the Husqvarna 650 Terra I was going to be riding, and we got acquainted with the grounds and set up our base camp.
We were definitely the only people with a Ducati branded EZ-Up. Which made it easy to direct people over to where we were if needed. It also proved very useful in the rain later in the weekend.
I got a quick lesson on the Husky and Chris and I decided to go find food in town since we were starving and happened to forget any kind of fire source (give me a break, this was my first camping trip this summer… I had not yet found my groove). We found very satisfying meat piles between bread.
When we got back to the rally spot after rolling through the tight twisties on this new, totally capable on-off road machine… I was jumping up and down with excitement, yelling at Chris about how great the bike was. I couldn’t stop grinning!
After our little run into town and getting myself familiarized with the Terra, I felt more comfortable signing up for one of the rides. I had been a little anxious before hand and wanted to get myself accustomed to riding a bike I could only touch with one foot with my friend, not in front of a group of people. See? Even I have anxiety about motorcycles sometimes. It’s good though, I respect the machine and find out how it feels when balanced, how quick it stops, etc… before I go taking off.
Chris and I meandered over to the registration area to check out the map(s).
The map was coordinated to the routes- all you did to sign up was simply add your name to one of the lists.
Rides were organized by difficulty, length, and departure time. There were one hour to nine hour rides, and they even included some of the features of each trip such as “great photography view points” etc.
I chose a shorter ride a little later in the day so we could take off in the morning and get the Husky in some dirt before the group ride, again so I could get more comfortable.
We found a few really cool old access roads, some of them led to camp sites with really nice views.
I was getting very comfortable on the Husky, I still couldn’t stop smiling. This is the first time I got my hands on a motorbike I could dump / wreck while learning key off roading skills- and it was in amazing shape, pretty much new and ready to punish some trails.
The weather was lovely, probably 70 degrees and sunny. I wore my Akorp jacket because I wanted to test out it’s wax canvas finish in the dirt and mud. Chris and I headed back to camp just in time to meet up with our ride, which had a couple ladies and was led by the Touratech USA owner Tom. That was a little intimidating- he’s been riding dirt and specifically these trails for a long, long time. Half the routes are mapped across his property.
They told us this route was easy. Yeah, it wasn’t. Tom stopped us before an area that usually had light weather damage from water run off and warned us to be careful, it turned out being much worse than he had anticipated. All these routes were scouted days earlier, however in the Pacific Northwest, a giant rain cloud can dump overnight and change everything.
I hit some deep ruts for the first time, feeling the weight of the 410 lb 650 thumper switching below me- it felt like trying to ride a mechanical bull except at 35-40 mph.
We made it to our overlook, which was lovely to say the least. I was more than happy with the performance of the knobby tires on the Husky, and my newfound confidence off the street where I’ve been most comfortable.
After all, I love getting dirty. It reminds me of being a little kid, running and jumping in mud and rain puddles not giving a damn about getting wet or gross. In fact, that’s sort of what adventure motorcycling is like to me in general… but with horsepower and speed!
The rain the day and night before may have significantly deepened some ruts, however it also kept down the dust which was certainly a nice treat for for myself and the other new adv moto riders on our ride.
After the lookout and a short break, we headed back down. We found a lot more ruts, some puddles and mud. I even went through some sand! When I returned, the Akorp jacket choice had gotten too warm as the day went on and it started getting muddy, but it worked amazingly well protecting me from water/mud while I [purposely and excitedly] rode through puddles!
After changing my gear, getting some food in us, and taking a rest…
…Chris and I headed out to hit the pavement. When we were driving in, we noticed all these beautiful sweepers that begged to be ridden. So why not go back and get ‘em?
After discovering exactly what a speed wobble on knobby tires feels like going full speed into a corner (so much fun), Chris and I stopped by the fish hatchery before going back to camp.
A very beautiful area.
Justin, Marketing Manager at Touratech, rode the minibike (equipped with Touratech hard topcase of course) over to tell us about dinner time.
That night was a good one, we ate amazing food cooked by Angel Dupree and Karissa Coffey (Chris and I were fortunate to be included in their crew so we wouldn’t be eating cold sandwiches all weekend). Angel and Karissa immediately became some of my favorite ladies in the whole world. Not only were they sweet, helpful, incredibly good cooks, super intelligent, fun, and beautiful… but they also always made sure my drink was full! haha.
Chris scored us some ice from the general store up the way on the 990- I am always overjoyed by people carrying things in their lap for some reason.
Some minibike hooliganism happened at twilight, the race was on.
Fun was had.
People were roosted, minibikes were used as weapons.
They fought dirty.
No matter, sometimes smaller is better.
The neon Unimog glowed gloriously in the setting sunlight.
Justin started time traveling.
And later while we were watching cool Adventure Moto movies in the big Touratech tent, someone runs in and says “YOU CAN SEE THE NORTHERN LIGHTS” and runs out. I booked back to base camp across the field to get my camera and managed some blurry photos.
Nathan Slabaugh, the official photographer for the weekend, got a much better shot (he thought to bring his tripod, unlike me).
We were greeted the next morning by foggy mountain tops and some rain clouds, but it was going to be a lovely day.
We just had to brave some raindrops in the morning. Here’s Chris stuffing his face with a banana (he’s going to love me for this photo I’m sure).
I however didn’t waste stomach space on a banana, bacon was on the menu for breakfast!
There was a lot going on that day- tons of workshops, skill building on the course, rides…
A women’s only ride!
Lessons on how to pick up your motorcycle, which would undoubtedly come in handy later after the skill building courses set up on obstacles. Which included assistance and tips from qualified instructors. Trials became triumphs with real world off road riding obstacles of all sorts set up for you to try!
This girl kicked the course’s ass.
Sometimes the course kicked your ass, but that’s how you learn, right?
They even had a workshop on what you should always be carrying with you, and how to pack it.
Rides gave great opportunities for beautiful photographs and views of the forest.
The ride I went on that day included a few really cool cats. Nathan Slabaugh (event photographer), Carl Parker (from Adventure Motorcycle Magazine), Paul Guillen (Manager at Touratech), and Erik Archambault (Sales at Touratech). Of course Chris was there with me as well.
We stopped a couple times so Carl and Nathan could get some shots. Carl Parker grabbed these two of Chris and I which I really love.
Nathan Slabaugh also got some great shots.
Waitin’ for Chris to turn around… then he speeds by, as he does.
We had a good time, I got slideways a few times… Paul, who was sweeper heading up the back, told me he was impressed after seeing me hit some pretty crazy ruts and had the bike get a little squirly. It’s always nice having a more experienced person watching you ride new situations, while it might be really nerve wracking… you almost always get good insight for improving your skills. In this case, it was awesome knowing that while the bike felt like it almost got away from me a couple times, it never looked it. Proving that you feel many more “oh shit” moments on the dirt than you do on the street, and they translate completely differently. Losing traction doesn’t mean dumping your bike, in fact a lot of times it just means MORE FUN!
Seeing that I was decently equipped on the terrain, Paul asked if I wanted to try single track. Chris saw my eyes get big and reassured me I could do it- I took a breath and said, “sure let’s do it”. You have to realize, I love pushing my limits, I love learning new skills and doing new things on motorcycle… but I really didn’t want to trash Touratech’s Husqvarna. It was a nice bike- I really didn’t want to return it with anything broken even though they told me it wasn’t a big deal.
When we turned onto the trail it looked something like this, which quickly went from a rollercoaster of big woops to super deep cut out trail in pretty thick and dark woods. It was terrifying, it was challenging, it was AMAZING.
Each heavy corner, no options for alternate lines, you had to adjust your hand controls, body position, bars, speed… everything. I started out in first gear and ended up in second. Chris hit a patch of super mud in a corner on the KTM 990 and it went over past the “point of no return” and he dumped it maybe 100 yards in front of me. I’m still proud of myself that I engaged both brakes equally quick enough to stop ONE INCH from his back tire. Close call! Yeah, you can’t stop as quickly in mud as you can on say, asphalt. Duh. The heavy weight of the 990 was honestly a lot to take on single track and I’m still amazed that Chris managed it.
When I finally emerged, a minute or two behind Eric and Chris, sweating bullets and stoked beyond all comprehension I let out a happy squeal, threw the Husky onto the kickstand and started ripping all my gear off. Even in a mesh jacket and riding pants with the vent zippers unlocked, I was dying of thirst and heat exhaustion. Now I truly know how much energy you exert riding in a real off road environment. New found respect for all types of dirt riding, and an incomprehensible amount for trials riders! ha.
After I cooled down a moment, I walked maybe a half mile back up the trail to take some photos of what I had just done (and also check for the other part of our group that we separated from). I couldn’t hear them off in the distance so after I had exhausted myself yet again, I returned back to the end of the trail and we decided they must have gone back shortly after the start of the trail. We returned to the rally and had found that something had broken on one of the photographer’s bikes so they had to head straight back to camp.
The clouds had moved in and trapped all the heat it seemed, muggy as hell we found ways to cool down like riding through the hose.
Meanwhile, Nathan was roughing it (obviously). Living without running water or electrical outlets sure is hard— wait.
Angel, Karissa, Justin, Chris and I all decided to go cool off in the frigid river water which included a short jaunt across a cool old wooden bridge.
It was a bit of a hike, and there was really no beach…
But that didn’t stop us from hopping in.
The water was so cold, but so worth it. By the way, pants are not required for riding mini bikes to the river, it’s a fact that I just made up.
Angel and Karissa immediately went back to work being TOTALLY AWESOME when we returned from the river.
So after we all nommed on amazingly delicious food, the little troublemakers convinced me to go tear up some grass on the minibikes.
Or did I convince them?
I’m pretty sure this was all mutual, my newfound partners in crime were as encouraging of trouble as I usually am…
We may have gotten yelled at… and we don’t regret it.
Karissa (above) is giving me the “are you seriously taking a photo with your phone right now?” face. Angel (below) gives me the “fuck yeah you’re taking a photo with your phone right now” face.
Girls just want to have fun, ooooh…
When we returned, and apologized for being minibike hooligans… we watched a couple other people have fun on the course.
Raffle and campfire happened, too.
We topped off the evening eating cupcakes and watching MotoGP, yelling at the screen together. It was magical.
The event was a blast- it’s set up to be entertaining for any level of rider. If you’re interested in off road or adventure motorcycling, I would highly suggest checking it out.