By Jeff Petron
Trail riding on full-dress BMW’s.
Grand Prix fast guy John Ferro called to tell me he had my kid's boots and mentioned that I should go with him on a three-day, 875-mile ride through Nevada on the coming weekend. I thought about it—it sounded nuts, but I agreed to see if I could rustle up a bike with a plate. I've never ridden more than 200 miles in a day on the dirt, so going almost 300 miles for three days straight was pretty intimidating.
Robert Walker waterfall climbing on a BMW.
I swindled the Dirt Bike 2009 KTM450 EXC test bike shortly after Mark Tilley and Adam Booth had raced it in the VCMC Qualifier. It was bone stock except for the Motoz tires and Moose handguards. Oh, and Adam had lightened the bike by removing the rear turn signals with a rock, tomahawk, hatchet—or he might have just looked at them and they flew off.
Terry Nichols, Robert Walker, Kip Wood and John Ferro flashing their prettiest smiles for the camera.
John and I held the gas pedal to the floor for the 400 miles to Gardnerville, Nevada, on the Thursday night before the ride, and then met up with the other three riders Friday morning. Robert Walker hosted the ride and was on a BMW X Challenge 650. He found the roads and trails on Google Earth and went out with his son, Malcolm, to record the tracks on his GPS. He manhandles his 350-pound BMW in a manner reminiscent of Scott Summers on an XR600. Robert even does a version of the Bubba Scrub off of water breaks. It has to be seen to be believed.
Terry Nichols, 66, charges the rocks as John Ferro looks on.
Terry Nichols is an A-enduro rider in AMA District 37, the father of modern-day dual-sporting. He was riding a plated KTM525 EXC, and while he is 66 years old, he still rides very fast and very well. Kip Wood rounded out our quintet.
View from the bungalow of the Middleton gas station and saloon.
Originally, the ride was planned for big adventure bikes. Since most of us were on the "little" Katooms, Robert shortened the route to 600 miles and made it more technical. This made me feel far more comfortable. John was on a 450-pound BMW F800 GS, and while John is a freakishly talented rider, the massive Beamer would be too much on the more technical trails. Robert had alternate routes set up for John and his beast.
We left Robert's house at 7:30 Friday morning. We rode 35 miles over very tight two-track through the Pine Nut Mountains to get to our breakfast location in Wellington. We tanked up and took a very indirect 90-mile route to Hawthorne. We stopped at an old mine site along the way. Standing at the mine's entrance felt like standing in the doorway to a walk-in freezer. The outside air was in the mid-’80s with no wind. But a continuous flow of cold air exited the mineshaft. The floor of the mine was covered with a glacier a foot thick. None of us really had a plausible explanation.
Scary woods creatures.
After lunch and a tank of fuel at Hawthorne, we rode 85 miles over the Gillis Mountain Range to Middleton. Middleton is located on Highway 50, billed as "America's loneliest highway." It consists of an old saloon, seven bungalows, an outhouse and a very small trailer park. It was built in 1859 as a Pony Express stop. Rumor has it that the bungalows served as a brothel back in the day. It was interesting explaining to my wife where I stayed. It isn't much, but it had food, a bed and, of course, 87 octane gas.
Saturday had the best riding. Very soon after leaving Middleton, we hit single-track, miles of glorious overgrown single-track that disappeared and reappeared with regularity, and we relied on the GPS to stay on the proper route. It was 120 miles of dirt bike heaven! After crossing the Desayoya, Paradise and Shoshone mountain ranges, we arrived in Austin for a late lunch and another tank of fuel. Austin lies in the center of Nevada and constitutes the apex of our ride.
There seems to be a lot of these kinds of cars around Nevada.
The afternoon ride was fast and interesting. Basically, we would cross over a mountain or mountain range and then cross a valley to get to the next mountain. The mountain trails were slower and more challenging with many water crossings and some snow. The altitudes were sometimes well over 9000 feet. The valley roads were dirt, but often straight and fast. This is typical of central Nevada. We eventually came to a paleontologic site where they have uncovered an ichthyosaur. Don't worry—I didn't know what an ichthyosaur was, either. It’s an ancient, 50-foot-long fish. After that, we rode to Berlin, where they have a preserved mine with all of the processing equipment, including a large mill and machine shop. We had rain off and on throughout the afternoon, with the treat of some cool lightning flashes. It was close to 6 p.m. when we made it back to Middleton for the night.
The Berlin Mine
Sunday we rode back to Gardnerville. It was a fast ride as we covered the 180 miles in five hours. The highlight was the 25 miles of forest trails near Robert's house at the end. My 450EXC was an excellent choice for a ride like this. The suspension was a little hard in the rocks for my 180 pounds, but a few clicks off the compression at both ends remedied that. The stock tank was too small for all of the 100-plus mile legs between fuel stops, so I carried a five-liter jug on my belt. The gearing was tall for the tight stuff, but nice for the ultra-high-speed roads. The engine used no oil and only hiccupped when the petcock needed turning to reserve. It got over 40 mpg and ran fine on the available 87 octane fuel. The bike handles excellent and is stable at speed even without a stabilizer. I am usually a big fan of KTM's hard seats, even over the course of a long enduro. But for this many hours, I would prefer something a little softer. I would also balance the wheels to smooth out the high-speed vibration.
John and Robert attempting to wake John’s bike from a trail nap.
This was a great ride, and Robert deserves credit for all of the thought and planning he put into our route. It was over 600 miles and almost 20 hours of riding. He kept the pavement to a bare minimum. We had a discussion as to what the difference between a dual-sport and adventure ride was. The conclusion was that if it was a multi-day ride requiring you to carry all your own clothes, tools and parts, it was an adventure ride. John said that this was too complex. He feels that it goes beyond simple dual-sporting if you need to carry Chapstick. The experience really whetted my appetite for this type of adventure. I would like to buy a 450EXC. But first, I'll have to convince my wife that doing so won't cause me to spend more nights in brothels.
Be careful how you mount your saddlebags.