Thursday, 13 Oct 05.
Having taken the day off work, I got an early start, planning a very circuitous and mostly offroad route down to Clayton in southeastern Oklahoma. Highway 102 took me to 9, which took me to 377, which ... blah blah blah ... "Just get to the interesting stuff, Hopkins!" LOL. Leaving the pavement, I breezed through the town of Wolf -- what's left of it anyway. It's mostly a ghost town. The creepy thing is that everywhere around Wolf, there are signs saying "Patrolled by the Wolf Protection Agency." Oklahoma's own version of the Mafia, I guess. I imagine them visiting farmers and cattle barons once a month for "protection money." What on Earth they're protecting, I haven't a clue. About the worst crime I could imagine in and around Wolf, Oklahoma would be cow-tipping.
I visited this cemetery once before on the Tiger, but this
is the Beemer's first trip here. It's near
Your typical Oklahoma county road. If you try really
hard, you can damn near
Dirt roads carried me south of Holdenville, where I planned to take an old, little-traveled bridge across the Canadian River just north of Atwood, near where the Little and Canadian Rivers converge. Unfortunately, I arrived at a locked gate and a "Private Property" sign. How this could possibly be private property is beyond me, as it's a county road and a bridge that was certainly built at one time with taxpayers' money. Of course, I'm just guessing that the bridge is still there because it appears on my maps and my GPS.
Grrrrrr ... Time to turn around.
If it's on a map, I ought to be able to ride on it.
Dammit. I question the legitimacy of this one (near
Doubling back, I found an old bridge over the Little River, but getting south of the Canadian meant riding a mile or so north and connecting with Highway 48. Heck, everyone takes the modern bridge on 48. I wanted something a bit more scenic!
Avoiding pavement as much as possible, I worked my way south to Coalgate, where I caught 43 and crossed the Atoka Reservoir, then it was offroad again into the Atoka WMA. The gravel roads there are nice and wide, but there was one section under construction. Dozers were ripping up the gravel road for some reason -- just grading it down, I guess. They'd made quite a mess and I was a bit leery about riding through the loose dirt and the criss-crossing, foot-deep tracks of the dozers. I stopped and talked to one of the dozer operators and he assured me that it was only a couple hundred yards or so and, looking over the bike, he thought I could make it through. Bogging down in the loose dirt would probably mean dropping the bike, so I sat as far back on the seat as my camping gear would allow, gave the Dakar lots of the gas, and shot through there like I knew what I was doing, under the critical eye of the dozer operator and his crew. Piece of cake.
Passing through the Atoka Wildlife Management Area.
From the Atoka WMA, I worked my way north (yes, in the wrong direction -- I told you I was taking a circuitous route) to Pittsburg (yes, we have a Pittsburg in Oklahoma), then turned northeast to follow the limestone ridge which Highway 63 parallels enroute to Haileyville. There's a natural arch somewhere in these hills, one of just two natural arches in the state of Oklahoma (and the other one, located at Alabaster Caverns, collapsed in the mid nineties). It's marked in my DeLorme atlas, just southwest of the town of Arch (which really isn't a town at all -- near as I could tell, Wolf even puts Arch to shame; what's with these Okies giving dirt intersections names as if they were towns?). Try as I might, I couldn't find an arch, however. There are no signs for it, which seems odd. You'd think there'd be someone in the area trying to eek out a tourist dollar or two. I could have probably looked harder, maybe got off the bike and hiked around a bit, but I ultimately decided the elusive arch could wait for another day.
I think this nice old single-lane bridge crosses Brushy
These are called Hedge Apples or Osage Oranges (because
they drop from the Osage trees
I turned south and followed dirt and gravel roads through other intersections masquerading on the map as legitimate towns: Counts, Star, etc. Somewhere along here, the bike started riding funny. It felt like my steering was going. I thought maybe my front tire was flat, but when I leaned out to look down at it, it looked just fine. But the bike was sure wallowing as if I were in sand, instead of good solid gravel. I stopped and got off the bike and immediately saw that it was my rear tire that was flat. Crap!
This is the same tire that went flat on me at the F650 rally a couple weeks ago. It was full of Slime tire sealant already (which cured the previous flat). I rolled the bike, looking for the puncture, and found it PDQ. There was a nail sticking out. I grabbed the head of the nail and pulled, and three inches of metal slipped out of my tire, followed by an oozing trail of iridescent green Slime. Sumbitch! A nail that long isn't going to roll around inside the tube without doing damage to the sides and the inside of the tube -- places where the Slime isn't going to seal. I tried inflating the tire anyway. My little air compressor wasn't able to keep up with the air escaping the puncture. I was in something of a pickle, as I wasn't carrying tire irons, a spare tube, a patch kit, or even some chewing gum. What a numbnuts!
Crap! Slime couldn't save me this time.
I'd seen maybe three cars all morning. Help arriving before my bones bleached in the sun was doubtful. It was time to start pushing. Good grief this little bike is heavy with a flat rear tire! What is it about flat tires that adds a hundred pounds to the weight of the motorcycle?!?!? Screw this pushing stuff. I got on the bike, started it up, and just rode slowly -- 10 or 15 mph -- so as not to damage the tire or my wheel. At one little hillybilly abode, a woman was nice enough to let me borrow her husband's air compressor. I was hoping that if I got enough air in the tire and spun it, that maybe the Slime would at least slow down the leak. I was about 30 miles north of Clayton and knew that there'd be guys at the rally with tubes, patches, tire irons, and all manner of emergency supplies that I was too stupid to carry with me.
Unfortunately, the tire was flat again before I'd even left the woman's front yard.
Hmmmm ... what are the odds that it would fit my bike?
Riding on a
Riding through the hills, I asked several other people that I ran across if they had a bicycle patch kit. I thought I might be able to open the wheel with a couple screw drivers, as the Dunlop 606 tires come on and off fairly easily. Without a centerstand, I'd probably have to lay the bike on its side to remove the wheel, but I figured I could lay out my sleeping bag and make the Dakar comfy for the operation. But no one seemed to have a tube repair kit.
The ride across the dam at Sardis Lake was gorgeous. Of course, traveling 10 mph, I had plenty of time to enjoy the view. Coming into Clayton, I saw a little podunk automotive tire shop and pulled in to ask if they had a patch and would be willing to loan me some tire irons. They suggested I try another shop in town to see if they had a replacement tube. I checked. They didn't. There was a Firestone tire dealer across the street, though. I pulled in there. The owner told me he wouldn't work on a motorcycle because of insurance issues (Huh?), but he could maybe loan me some tools, sell me a patch, and lend a hand, but first he had to finish a couple other jobs. I asked him how far it was to the State Park. When he told me it was only another five miles, I decided to just ride on to the rally, where I knew there'd be plenty of guys who just love to repair flat tires.
Highway 271 carried me south out of Clayton. In short order, I was pulling into Clayton Lake State Park. The flat tire got lots of attention. Another rider -- sorry, guy, I've forgotten your name -- sold me a brand new tube from his stash of spares. A guy named Curtis helped me take the wheel off the Dakar, remove the shredded, Slime-coated mess of a tube from inside the wheel, and install the new tube. Thanks, Curtis! I learned a new trick. When you don't have a centerstand on your bike, pull it between two obliging pine trees and use a couple tie-down straps to simply ratchet the bike up into the air. I should have taken some pictures of the operation, but a flat is kinda like when you drop your bike: remedy the situation quick before too many people notice! No time for picture taking. That whole bike raised in the air between the trees thing was pretty cool, though.
I unloaded the bike. Set up my tent. Went into town with James Pratt and a bunch of others for pizza. And that was pretty much the entire day finished. Caput. Oh, Chris and Rich (of Moab and "The Death of the Tiger" fame) finally showed up with their trailers and wives and everything but the kitchen sink (no, wait a minute, I think Rich DID bring the kitchen sink). I should shut up, though, as they did feed me off and on over the weekend. Being the minimalist camper that I am, all I had to eat was a pack of cookies and some beef jerky. Best thing they brought along, though? Tequila and margarita mix. Talk about making your aches and pains go away so you can sleep at night! Forget ibuprofen! From now on, I'm traveling with margaritas! (Don't tell the wife, though, as I'm actually not supposed to consume alcohol these days -- health reasons.)
I slept well that night. If any armadillos visited my campsite, I never saw them.
My campsite at Clayton Lake State Park.
Friday and Saturday, 14-15 Oct 05.
Morning was nipply. Upper forties, I think. Chris made me a cup of cappucino. Yummy! Ashley (Rich's wife) spread some cream cheese on a bagel for me. Yummy again! I was feeling like a bit of a freeloader, but what the hell. These people love me. LOL.
We all geared up so we could do what we came for: see how many bikes and bones we could break riding through the hills! There were slow groups and fast groups. I wanted to ride with the slow people, but that would make me look like a pussy. Can't have that!
Clayton Lake just as the morning sun starts to burn off the fog.
Riders gather for a group ride. That's my buddy Rich
to the left -- stand up straight, Rich! Between us is
We formed up and James gave a rehearsed speech about how this was not an organized ride and he was not responsible for our safety. He just happened to be riding here and along came all us other yahoos. Someone broke a leg the year before last, so please don't go riding over your head. If you belong with the slow group, then go over there and ride with those pussies. (I shuffled my feet, whistled, and tried to appear nonchalant.)
Then we went riding!
I now know where everyone in Oklahoma stashes their extra boulders. This place is nothing but rocks! (My engine guard, once so pristine and shiny and new, is now a banged up mess. I knew all that banging I heard while riding was going to have a price.) And the dust was horrible for everyone but the lead guy. I'll be coughing up dust for the next month. Good thing I had sent my dirtbike helmet and goggles with Chris. No way I could have ridden in that dust with my street helmet, as my eyes would have become impacted with dust. We had an awesome time, though, returning to camp shortly after lunch to see who else had arrived. The number of riders had doubled by the time we went out again that afternoon. (Final head count was probably between 40 and 50 riders.) I met a lot of cool folks, some of them even from OKC. The increased number of riders for the afternoon jaunt required us to break into more groups to try and keep the dust down.
What an awesome time. This really is a pretty part of Oklahoma. Rocky hills covered in sweet-smelling pine trees. Watch out for the big rocks, though. And the cows. This is still free-grazing country. Quite a few times there were cattle standing beside the trail. A time or two, they'd stick their heads out of the brush as you roared past, unseen until that last second -- which, of course, would be TOO LATE if the cow happened to want to jump out into the trail in front of you. I think I heard that some actually hit a cow one year.
One of many trails through the hills and the sweet smelling
pines. Note the Dakar,
I survived the first day without a single incident, even traversing one section that I really, really, REALLY wanted to bail out on. This was a steep hill that was washed out with some very deep ruts. Toss in a lot of rocks -- big ones that wanted to knock you off your line, and small ones that skittered out from under your rear tire, making traction an issue -- and it becomes challenging. A single misstep into one of the deeper ruts and you would very likely be going down. I made it, though! But I must confess to being a wee bit scared (scared for the bike that is; I could care less about banging up my old battle-scarred hide) and having to remind myself that this stuff is FUN. My heart was hammering and I was soaked in sweat because I was having fun. You got that? F.U.N.
Only other iffy moment was when Connie, a female rider on a Sherpa who I'd just met at the rally, was in front of me going down a steep hill. She must have thought she was going too fast and got on the brakes. There were way too many rocks on that slope for brakes to be of much use -- "Downshift, Connie, downshift!" -- and she found that out rather quickly as her rear tire locked up and sent her slipping and sliding down the hill, the ass end of her Sherpa trying its best to pass the front end. I was following way too close and was sure she was about to go down. I didn't want to run her over, so I had to get on my brakes too, which meant my rear end was suddenly fishtailing. (The guy behind me said it all looked pretty exciting from his vantage point.) Fortunately, neither of us went down, but it was touch and go there for a second.
Only crash I actually witnessed was ZRod's. (This is the same guy who ran his KLR off the pavement and down a steep bank, somehow missing boulders and trees, on the Eureka Springs ride earlier this year -- an incident for which Rodney is now legendary.) There was a nice hump in the middle of the trail. Everyone else was trying to gas it over the top and catch some air. Something about the hump didn't sit well with Rodney, though. At the last second, he hit the brakes and turned his wheel as if to come back down off the bank. Well, that's not a real good place to change your mind. His front wheel hit a rock and down he went. Crunch! No damage to the bike and ZRod only bruised his ego.
That night Ashley made some delicious chili. A nice big bowl of hot chili and some margaritas, and I was a happy camper. Later, everyone crowded around James Pratt's bonfire to tell tall tales and watch Levi, his Labrador Retriever, chase sparks (that dog was some kinda entertaining, lemme tell you!). Oh, we also got to try out a trials motorcycle that he'd brought along (a trials bike is a very light weight, extremely well-balanced dirtbike used for performing various rock-climbing tricks). I even got a turn on it. What a fun machine to ride; imagine a stunt bicycle with a motor added on.
Saturday morning, I rode into town with ZRod and his wife Pam for gas and breakfast. The little restaurant in Clayton was overrun and we wound up waiting nearly an hour for the "breakfast special," which wasn't nothing but pancakes. You'd think you could cook about a hundred pancakes in an hour, right? We finally bailed on them because we were out of time and needed to get back to camp to go riding with everyone else.
Chock up another great day of riding on Saturday, only this time I would have a couple incidents of my own (so would a lot of other people, for that matter). First one came within the first twenty feet of offroad riding. We were hauling ass down the main highway (271), when the leader realized right there was the turn he'd been looking for onto a gravel road. Well, take the first guy slamming on his brakes and add a second or two delay for every rider after that, and what you have is a pileup, with the last few riders leaving pavement and hitting gravel much too fast. I was eighth in line of ten or twelve bikes. I had another rider on the inside of me going into the turn, so rather than over-brake, I went wide around him in the turn. To turn on gravel, you can only lean a bike so far before your front end washes out. The trick is to spin up and slide the rear wheel around, squaring up the turn. That's what I did, only I gave the bike a bit too much gas. The wheel spun, the ass end of the bike came around ... and dropped into a ditch that was 18 inches or so deep. Crash. Boom. Bang. Rider down, rider down! It was a stupid error and I felt like an idiot.
The two guys behind me helped me push the bike up out of the ditch. We looked it over and saw there was minimal damage. Like James Pratt says, the Dakar crashes really well. I could just take his word for it, but there's nothing like doing a little field-testing of your own, eh?
Second crash: We'd been crossing a number of dry creek beds. These were heavily laden with large rocks, and if there'd been any rain in Clayton in the last year, I think these crossings would be quite treacherous, as choosing a good line through the dark water would be mostly luck. I came down into a steep one, saw a nasty flat-surfaced rock sticking up -- imagine a 10 inch high curb and you get an idea of the surface presented to my front tire. I thought I was two inches to the left of the rock. Guess I wasn't. Maybe I target fixated. Don't think so, though, because I know I was already looking up the steep bank out of the creek bed, plotting my ascent. So maybe I didn't pay enough attention to the rock. I dunno. Anyway, my front tire hit it and it was like the bike stopped cold. Wham! I went over the bars. The bike went over on its left side. My body armor kept me from braking any bones, but I did find a few bruises that evening. Falling hard on rocks and boulders isn't for sissies. You can do some serious damage. In retrospect, I think the best line through that creek bed was to the far left, dropping down off a rock shelf. The problem was that it was difficult to judge how high the drop was as you approached it. After the crash, from my great vantage point on the ground, I could see that the drop was only about 9 inches.
Damage to the bike -- again -- was minimal, but my gear shift lever was bent like a pretzel. (Been there before, haven't I? ::sigh:: ) Curtis jumped in and straightened it out for me. (Yup, same Curtis who helped fix my flat tire Thursday evening.) What a great guy. From now on, anytime I ride offroad, Curtis has to come along as my personal mechanic.
There were other unplanned dismounts that day. Connie crashed and jammed her thumb. James's wife, Kay, crashed and (I heard later) broke a rib. D.J. crashed his KLR on the Garland Trail and did quite a bit of damage, but it was still rideable ... kinda. Daniel (great guy who works at Tinker that I just this weekend went riding with again -- we rode out to Okarche together and shared a chicken at Eischen's) crashed and broke off his front brake lever. James's son, Adam, crashed and also broke a lever. And there were probably others that I didn't hear about. All in all, it was some hard riding with a few fairly technical sections.
Saturday, we headed into the little town of Pickens for lunch. On the way there, we came upon a dirt road intersection blocked by two Rangers in pickups. They flagged us down and wanted to see our permits for offroad riding in the Honobia WMA. There were ten of us in the group at this time. Four of them didn't have their permits. It's like a $175 ticket or something. Glad I had bought the 3-day pass ahead of time. That was $5 well spent. Funny thing is, I was just an hour or so earlier thinking that I could have saved myself the five bucks 'cause it wasn't like there was anyone out in the boonies checking for the permits. WRONG.
I asked the Rangers how, if I was just some guy crossing the country who had picked these roads off the map, I would know that I needed a permit to ride here. They said there were signs, but I'll be damned if I saw them. "What do the signs say?" I asked. Their reply was that the signs advise you that you are entering the Honobia WMA and should check the regulations. "That's it?!?!?" Well, maybe they say more than that, they replied sheepishly, saying that it had been a long time since they had actually looked at the signs. Sounds like bullshit to me. Here I am, just riding through, and some sign tells me I should pull some regulations out of my ass and check to see if I need a permit? I would assume -- like any sensible person -- that the only serious regulations for a WMA would have to do with hunting there. I sure wouldn't think I couldn't just ride through on my motorcycle, or even in my car for that matter. Supposedly, it's one of only two WMAs in Oklahoma requiring a permit. What a racket!
All in all, the Rangers were fairly nice (but they'd have been a lot nicer if they'd let those four riders go with warnings!). I had fun messin' around with them (as you can see from the photos).
Time for "The Man" to get his due. Permits? We don't need no stinkin' permits!
Of course, you don't want to tell them that...
...especially when you look like as big of a troublemaker as this bozo!
Lunch that day was at a little country store. You had your choice of a ham sandwich ... or a ham sandwich. The little old lady behind the country would slice the ham fresh and put your sandwich together with the help of a guy I would guess is her son. This guy would carefully "paint" on the mayonnaise and mustard. Talk about SLOW. It took forever to get all forty or so riders served. It was a good sandwich, though. Or maybe I was just starving, since I'd missed breakfast.
Some of the trails we rode over the two days (as recorded by my GPS) include the K Trail, Garland Trail, Watson Creek Road, Silver Suck Trail, Middle Harris Trail, Pickens Creek Road, Five N Trail, Six N trail, Florence Trail, and others labeled simply "4WD" in my GPS software. Despite doing two very full days, we just barely scratched the surface of the riding that's available in that area.
Finally we were back to camp for more tale-swapping. James had a big BBQ feast catered in for all of us. The food came from some restaurant in Snow, OK. It was delicious. There was even apple pie for dessert (but no ice cream). Then it was back to the bonfire for more good fellowship and finally into my warm, comfy sleeping bag for some well-earned Z's.
Sunday, 16 Oct 05.
I woke up early and just couldn't get back to sleep. Since I don't wear a watch, I hadn't a clue what time it was. The whole camp round was quiet, tents and motorcycles gleaming beneath a full moon. I lay there a while, trying to go back to sleep, wondering how long before subrise, but finally decided to hit the road. Lots of folks were sticking around for a Sunday ride, but I wanted to be home by 10:00 to watch motoGP. Also, I was kinda missing the family. Many of the riders had their wives with them for the weekend, which just made me miss mine all the more. I planned to skip the offroad stuff on the way home and just blaze on pavement, so I should be able to get home in 3 hours or so. If I left early, I could probably even be home before the missus crawled outta bed. It'd be nice to surprise her by crawling in with her.
I packed up my stuff as quietly as possible, mindful of all the tents and snoring riders around me. Took me twice as long as usual, 'cause I was trying not to make any noise. Then I pushed the bike off a ways from all the tents and fired it up. Climbed in the saddle. And zoomed on outta there. Once the bike was on, I could see the clock on my dash. It was only 4:30 a.m. Definitely an early start!
It was cold -- mid to low forties. This was deer country, so I kept my speed down. The Dakar doesn't have the wind protection that the ZZR does, so even with my electric vest going, I was shivering because my legs were cold (dirt bike pants offer little insulation). Just a couple weeks before, I had installed heated grips on the bike. They seemed to be running a bit weak, so with both the vest and the grips running, I must be at the limit of the Dakar's alternator. Of course, I was also wearing vented, mesh gloves (my summer gloves), so that probably didn't help.
Though cold, it was an uneventful ride home. When I got there, the wife gave me a royal ass-chewing because I had never called her to let her know that I had arrived safely or when I would be coming home. (No cell phone signal, of course.) "You could be lying dead in a ditch somewhere," she said -- one of her favorite lines. She kinda has a point, but she ought to be used to it by now since I'm always disappearing on the motorcycle for two or three days at a time. But there was certainly no joy in Mudville that morning and I might as well have stayed and rode with everyone else on Sunday. Oh well, I did get to watch the motoGP race. Rossi won. Naturally.
Total Mileage for the trip was 653 miles. (For once I failed to record my mileage for each individual day, but I do know we did between 120 and 140 miles on both Friday and Saturday, 99% of it OFFroad.) My Dunlop 606's are holding up splendidly. I have a brand new set sitting in the garage, thinking that I'd be coming back from Clayton on bald tires, but the ones on the bike look good for another thousand miles or so. Tearing down the bike to clean it up, I found a small amount of oil in the airbox from my two get-offs -- nothing serious, though. My air filter was a dusty mess, so I replaced it. Changed the oil and filter. Added water to the battery. I'll be replacing the shift lever soon; though usable, it's rather unsightly now. Besides, a lever that folds up in a crash is really the way to go. Don't know why BMW doesn't put one on the bike to begin with. My handguards and mirrors are scratched from the crashes and from a lot of tree branches that smacked the bike on the tighter trails, but otherwise the bike still looks new. Well, there is that dinged up engine guard, but I guess that's what it's there for. I wonder how bad it would look if I just coated it with something like Rhino-liner?
I'd like to thank all the great riders who shared the trails with me. Hope we can do it again soon. If you enjoy dualsport riding and are anywhere close to Oklahoma (we actually had one rider who came all the way from Iowa), you need to put this rally on your calendar for next year. Thanks to James Pratt for starting it years ago and continues to make it such a great event for all concerned. I'll definitely be back.
Copyright © 2011 Brian A. Hopkins, 2011-08-02 19:00, www.bahwolf.com