Get­ting hitched

THE TRI­ALS AND TRI­UMPHS OF BIKES TOW­ING BIKES

Motorcyclist - - Contents -

Which sounds bet­ter, a road trip on tour­ing bikes or shred­ding dunes on off-road­ers? On sec­ond thought, why choose?

IMAGINE an enor­mous sand­wich. Three slices of bread, meat over­flow­ing, with toma­toes and cheese and condi­ments tum­bling out be­fore you even take a bite. That’s what it feels like sit­ting down to tell this story. I don’t know where to start. With as­sem­bling box-store trail­ers in the Mo­tor­cy­clist garage? Or per­haps with flip­ping over the han­dle­bars of a dirt bike and re­al­iz­ing—midair—that I prob­a­bly wouldn’t be able to get home with a bro­ken wrist? Maybe I should just start at the be­gin­ning, with the idea to ride dunes and slick rock with­out us­ing a car or truck to get there.

“No way.” That was Ari’s re­sponse to my sug­ges­tion that we tow mo­tor­cy­cles with other mo­tor­cy­cles for 400 miles across the Amer­i­can Southwest in the mid­dle of sum­mer. He made a good point; it was a lit­tle bit ridicu­lous. I bad­gered him with no­tions of obli­ga­tion to the mo­tor­cy­cling pub­lic. When that didn’t work I tried to en­tice him with an anec­dote of a guy I used to see in the road­rac­ing pad­dock who towed his 1970s Honda CB to the race­track be­hind a four-cylin­der Gold Wing.

You’ll no­tice, by the pho­tos you’re look­ing at, that I won him over. Good thing, too, be­cause there were two or three points along this jour­ney where I needed con­vinc­ing my­self. Like dron­ing on the free­way, only re­cently hav­ing es­caped bumper-to­bumper traf­fic in god­for­saken heat, wa­ter bot­tles empty, and striv­ing to make it to civ­i­liza­tion be­fore pass­ing out.

It had all seemed hunky-dory when we had set out from our of­fice that morn­ing, swad­dled in the gen­tle co­coon of a cool marine layer and a warm, coastal breeze. The ther­mome­ter had gone over 100 mid-morn­ing some­time, just about when we es­caped the LA basin, and hadn’t let up. My back was soaked and my mouth was dry. My mind wan­dered. This was a bad idea. Deep breaths. I told my­self if my grand­kids shake their

ABOVE Miles from camp on two light­weight off-road bikes. This is as far from tour­ing as one can get, yet we wrapped both ac­tiv­i­ties into the same ad­ven­ture. LEFT Sweat­ing it out (with Ari ob­ject­ing to the photo op) in front of the world’s tallest ther­mome­ter in Baker, CA, which read 107 de­grees. Triple-digit tem­per­a­ture dogged us through­out the trip.

heads and raise their eye­brows, I would have more than enough sat­is­fac­tion.

Just then Ari glided by in the left lane, cruise con­trol set to about 75 mph and beam­ing like an id­iot out of his three-quar­ter hel­met. Maybe an­other car pas­sen­ger was tak­ing our picture, or maybe he had heat­stroke. I gath­ered it wasn’t heat­stroke when he cranked his stereo and I heard the faint sound of mid-’90s hip-hop over the road noise. We were ap­proach­ing Las Ve­gas and no­body was more ex­cited to be free of the I-15 Fm-ra­dio void than he was.

As Ari and his head-bob­bing grin moved past, I took a minute to take in his ves­sel: a Kawasaki Vul­can 1700 Voy­ager sail­ing ma­jes­ti­cally through the desert with a dinghy in tow—kawi’s own KX250F mo­tocrosser lashed to a half-inch-thick

of ply­wood along with off-road rid­ing gear, camp­ing sup­plies, and a change of clothes. We had got­ten the trail­ers at Har­bor Freight and found a tow hitch for the Vul­can through an out­fit in Iowa called Marvel­las. It was an aw­fully good-look­ing rig. I was on the match­ing setup from Honda: the mighty Gold Wing, pulling a CRF250X on the same trailer, in my case hooked up with a slick Bushtec hitch.

A few days prior, when we had first at­tached the trailer and rolled a dirt bike on it to look at what we had cre­ated, we had some doubts. It was equal parts glo­ri­ous and ter­ri­fy­ing—a mas­sive wave that we wanted to surf but didn’t know where we would find the gall. We teetered cau­tiously around the park­ing lot and soon found out that low-speed ma­neu­vers were the hard­est part. Above 30 mph the tour­ing bikes didn’t seem to mind the trail­ers at all. Per­for­mance was dulled a bit, but I think we can all agree that’s hardly the point of a Vul­can or a G-wing. It’s com­fort that’s para­mount.

And, boy, were we comfy. For the most part, any­way. I had loaned Ari a black leather jacket and told him it vented well. Around mid­day he in­formed me, us­ing short and stern words, that the tem­per­a­ture near­ing 110 de­grees had neg­a­tively af­fected his opin­ion of the jacket and of my judg­ment. Point taken. The com­pre­hen­sive wind pro­tec­tion of the king-wing and the Vul­can were hurt­ing us too. We stood on the pegs but couldn’t de­cide if hot, fresh air was bet­ter than warm, stale air.

We de­toured to the Hoover Dam be­cause it felt like the right thing to do. Plus it was also re­as­sur­ing to see a struc­ture that out­weighed our four-wheeled freedom yachts. After that, a sin­gle trip down The Strip was enough to sat­isfy our thirst for Ve­gas tourism, and con­sid­er­ing the con­trap­tions we were rid­ing it felt like fate was tempted enough. With the mer­cury drop­ping mer­ci­fully through the 90s, we left a sun­set over the neon lights of Sin City in our wake and high­tailed it for Sand Hol­low State Park.

It was well after dark when we set up camp, and we woke up won­der­ing if we had over­shot south­ern Utah and landed on Mars. Chest­nut-col­ored rock jut­ted out of a sea of pow­dery, red sand as far as we could see. The time had come to re­al­ize the po­ten­tial of this whole hare­brained idea, and we tri­umphantly un­loaded the dirt bikes. No ramps needed, in­ci­den­tally—a fringe ben­e­fit of a low trailer and nearly a foot of sus­pen­sion travel.

No, as it hap­pened, sus­pen­sion def­i­nitely wasn’t the prob­lem. It sounds ob­vi­ous now, I know, but what we re­ally needed were sand tires. Our first task leav­ing our camp, and ba­si­cally our first at­tempt at rid­ing in sand, was to climb up about a half mile of dune and rock. Even though Ari’s KX250 was made for mo­tocross and not off-road rid­ing, it worked sur­pris­ingly well. Or maybe we just didn’t know any bet­ter. My CRF250X was am­a­teur-off-road bliss: lin­ear power (but not too much of it) and a solid chas­sis to match.

That said, with stock tires and flour­like sand we soon re­al­ized that in or­der to main­tain speed the bikes had to be wide open most of the time. That was all well and good un­til the rear tire caught a slice of red rock, which we came to learn has at least as much trac­tion as as­phalt. Some of the accidental wheelies were very ex­cit­ing.

At first we stayed close to camp, gas, and wa­ter. We prac­ticed lean­ing back and let­ting the front wheel wan­der across grooves and tire tracks in the sand, throt­tle al­most al­ways pinned, up­shift­ing when­ever pos­si­ble. The bikes planed and weaved. It was re­ally dif­fi­cult and just as re­ward­ing. Now and then we’d get cocky, slide for­ward on the seat, and try to carve a neat arc through the red pow­der, which was fol­lowed shortly by cough­ing up sand and curs­ing the bru­tally hot weather. We had brought knob­bies to a pad­dle-tire fight, but we de­cided it was an honor to get our asses kicked by the ter­rain for a morn­ing. A rite of pas­sage. Our con­fi­dence went up as we rode, and by early af­ter­noon we were travers­ing wide swaths of dunes with­out stop­ping for hy­dra­tion or swear­ing.

Tired and sweaty as we got, there was no grow­ing weary of the Utah land­scape. It was truly oth­er­worldly watch­ing dune after dune rise up over a shal­low hori­zon. We even­tu­ally reached a jagged cliff of red stone and tena­cious shrubs, with sand spilling down to­ward the val­ley be­low. We fol­lowed the edge of Sand Hol­low un­til it seemed we couldn’t go much far­ther, perched on a round bulb of Mar­tian rock look­ing out over the sun­set and what felt like most of the Southwest. Even though we still had to get back to camp, load the bikes, sleep, and ride back to Cal­i­for­nia, the trip felt com­plete. We had sum­mited the moun­tain, reached the pin­na­cle. Sure, we still had to go back down, but this is what we would re­mem­ber.

There were prob­lems, yes. The sweat run­ning down my back at 75 mph. The se­ri­ously un­easy feel­ing of rid­ing a 900-pound bike with a trailer in and out of gas sta­tions. Ari hated my jacket and re­ally wished he’d brought a dirt bike with electric start. We were sore, de­hy­drated, sun­burned, and tired to the point of slur­ring speech. Yet we found what we al­ways have: The lack of per­fec­tion in this mo­tor­cy­cle ad­ven­ture is what made it spe­cial.

We would have been much more com­fort­able for 1,000 miles if we had taken a truck. Just like a clim­ber would be bet­ter off, for san­ity, dig­nity, and health if they just stayed off the moun­tain. But there’s no story there—no san­drid­ing ed­u­ca­tion and no sat­is­fac­tion. It’s some­thing I’m go­ing to re­mem­ber the next time some­one sug­gests a mo­tor­cy­cle trip and I want to say, “No way.”

LEFT

Perched atop our fi­nal sum­mit, as far from a foggy of­fice park as any­one could hope to get in 400 miles. Sand, sand, and more sand. Rid­ing dunes and red rock was just as unique an ex­pe­ri­ence as bikes tow­ing bikes. Com­bin­ing the two was an in­sipred way...

RIGHT

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