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June, 1998


On my recent trip to Jawbone Open Area, I was reminded that, although I've been riding for several years now, I am still "The Rookie."

It began innocently enough. Larry (my step-father), and his friend Jack were going to go to Jawbone to camp and ride for the weekend. It sounded fun, so I invited myself along. Besides, Larry hadn't ridden since the '60s, so I thought that maybe he could use some help from a "pro" like me. Well, as it turned out, it was I that needed HIS help.

Jack bailed for reasons not yet determined because he is still too shameful to come forward and speak to Larry. So it ended up just being the two of us, which was fine for me. I brought my KDX-200 for me and my XR-500 dual sport for Larry. I figured that, although more powerful, the XR would be easier for Larry to handle. This was the only right thing I did all weekend.

Here is a breakdown of my "reality check" weekend:

Oops, we're stuck...1. We arrive at 2:00 am. It is rather windy in the canyon, so I decide to get off the main road so we can camp near the hillside and have a bit of a windbreak. I think to myself, "We drive off in the desert all the problem. I'll show Larry what my 2-wheel drive Dodge Dakota can do." And, boy, did I show him. Contrary to what Bryce might tell you, confidence plus 2-wheel drive does not equal 4-wheel drive. I sink my truck up to the rear axle in a sand wash less than 100 yards from the road, making our choice of campsite rather easy. Well, to make a long and agonizing story short, with creative use of the stock scissor jack, the bike loading board, some firewood, nearby rocks, and my toilet shovel we are able to free the truck in the morning.

2. In daylight I was able to stay on what appeared to be more solid ground. We find a good campsite just around the corner from where we spent the first night. I drive back to our stuff, we load the truck, and I then proceed to sink it again in another part of the wash. See above for the list of truck extraction gear.

3. OK, the truck is out and on solid ground for good. We make our camp for the weekend and the check the bikes. The XR takes a few kicks but starts fine. I then go to kick the KDX and get the kick-starter rammed back into my shin. Can you say "hydrostatic lock?" Some rookie (me) had left the fuel on all the way down from San Jose and the bouncing had filled the engine with fuel. A bad, bad thing because fuel doesn't compress, so what ends up giving is either your shin (lucky me) or a connecting rod. I turn off the fuel, remove the plug, flip the bike over and proceed to perform CPR by cranking it over and over, blowing fuel out of every hole. I put in a new plug and get it started, but it won't idle. After years of listening to the endless babble between my riding buddies about "how big the main jet is" and "what's the needle height" I found myself wishing I had paid a little more attention. I have to bump start the thing all weekend.

4. Our first outing was to the Jawbone Visitor's Center at the mouth of the canyon. I see a picture there of a tunnel entrance and ask about it. The nice lady there tells me a man looking for gold dug into a hillside and 2000+ yards later punched out the other side (and never found gold). This sounds like a cool thing to ride to, and the trail is easy (part of it is a powerline road). I get a map and off we go thinking, "How hard can this be? If Brad can navigate by these maps, then I can too." Well, I will never tease Brad about his sense of direction and map reading skills again. We have a nice day of riding but never find the damn tunnel. I am still very bitter about this.

A view up the canyon5. The next day we head to the other end of the canyon. We get to a point where, to avoid riding across someone's shooting range, we have to ride across a little gully maybe 5 feet across and 2.5 feet deep. Larry doesn't want to risk it, so I decide I'll show him how much I've learned over the years and ride both bikes over. After endo-ing the XR into the other side of the gully, jarring my shoulders, rattling my teeth and breaking off a turn signal, I decide to walk the KDX over. I also decide that I will no longer show off, considering that I have much less to show than originally thought.

The view down6. We follow the graded county road up into the hills. A nice view, but I want to do a little more trail riding, so I finally pick a trail that seems to be heading back down to the bottom of the canyon and doesn't seem too difficult. What else could go wrong at this point, right? Well, the trail does go back to the canyon floor, but only after getting narrower and narrower until it finally channels through three 80 degree drop-offs in a row, the tallest of which is about 25 feet. We muscle the bikes down the troughs, I drop the XR on my foot (nice bruise), I nearly throw up at the bottom, and we finally meet up with what I am sure would have been an easier trail. As a little added sting, the trail met the canyon floor about 20 yards from where I sank the truck on the first night -- Nice.

We left the next day without incident, thank God. I also thank Larry for his help and patience. He was a trooper through all the difficulties I managed to throw at him. He always had a smile and a kind word, which I think is the key to any bike trip. You're out there to have fun, so have fun no matter what crap comes your way. Oh, yeah, he also makes a mean plate of pasta on the Coleman stove. Thanks again, Larry!

I bow now to my experienced riding buddies. Brad, Bryce, Jay...I will never think I can do it without you again. I was humbled and reminded that this is still "The Rookie" speaking.

"The Rookie Speaks" by Paul D.