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Can You Say Four Stroke?
Riding Out West
The Imperial Sand Dunes
Back out West Again!
Silver Lake, Michigan was a BLAST!
February in Phoenix
Imperial Dunes in February, 2001
Imperial Dunes in March, 2001
Silver Lake 01
Coal Creek, TN - Woods Riding Extrodinaire

(12/99) How about a new 2000 Yamaha YZF 426???

A brand new Yamaha YZF 426After riding an RM250 for four years, I decided to get a new bike. I'd had my eye on one of the Yamaha YZF400's for about eighteen months. I liked the way the bikes seemed to work (all the magazines raved about them) and the idea of having four stroke power - smooth, wide power band that relied on torque instead of a peaky two stroke power - really appealed to me too. The decision was made and I started looking for a YZF. A few calls later and I had my bike.

Happy Birthday To ME!

This is the most impressive bike I've ever been on. Loads of torque, smooth easy to control power band, amazing suspension and handling that works both in the slow tight stuff and the WFO areas too. It doesn't do anything weird.

I'd heard horror stories about getting the YZF400's to start if you stalled or fell over and the bike died. In fact, the magazines say that the 426 is even worse about it than the 400. I guess I either got lucky and got a really easy starting bike, or I paid enough attention to all the articles on how to start the bike - both cold and hot. I've followed the instructions to the "t" and other than stalling once in the sand, in the bottom of a gully between two dunes and then not being able to find neutral - or get my feet to touch the ground, it's started pretty easily for me. I do admit that I spent probably close to 10 minutes getting it out of that gully...

The only thing that's taken getting used to is that the bike slows down REALLY quick when you let off the throttle. There's very little engine braking on a two stroke. No so with this thumper. Back off and be prepared to stop way short of a corner. I'm getting the hang of it and have discovered that I'm on the brakes later and on the gas sooner than I ever was with the RM. I don't have that fear of the power band kicking in and making the back of the bike slide out like I did with the RM - the traction is amazing.

Getting to take the 426 out west with me during the attempt at the 2000 Pace Stadium Racing Series was the smartest thing I've done in a long time. I got to play on four motocross tracks, the Imperial Sand Dunes and many different desert terrains. I'm blown away at how versatile this bike is. I was completely comfortable on it all the time. I never managed to crash - came close once. I did manage to pull off a couple of stall and fall over maneuvers, but they don't count as crashes.

(1/14/00) Houston and Beyond...

With the potential for problems with my stadium race car, the Moskito, in the Pace Off Road Series, I decided to have a backup plan. I would be able to run my new YZF in the "Thunderbike" Class.

January 14 - I go through morning sign up of the Pace Stadium Racing Series and discover that there's no practice on Friday anymore! Gee, now what was I supposed to do? - Well, it just happens that I had my YZF in my van (Motel Dodge) and the knowledge of a couple motocross tracks around the Houston area. I consider this area "old stomping grounds" from when I was going to college about 90 miles away. (I grew up in South Texas and spent a couple years in this general area after high school.) Doesn't take rocket science to figure out what I did with my day!

I really wanted to go to Conroe's motocross track. I spent countless weekends there back in '84 and '85 and thought it would be real cool to hit it for old time's sake. But, to my dismay I was told that the track had washed away a couple years back when Houston was flooded by the San Jacinto River. What a bummer!

Next on the list would be Rio Bravo. This track has some of the most impressive history attached to it as any track in the US. It was built back in 1972 and although it has hosted numerous 125, 250, and 500 Nationals, Rio Bravo is most noted for being the first track where an American beat the Europeans in the '73 Trans-Am victory.

Pretty cool, eh? I'd only ridden at Rio Bravo once, back in '85 and I remembered a very rough, tough course. Boy how times have changed. This track now seems old and fairly timid - who knows when the last time it's seen a tractor's disk. It's roots are in using the natural terrain - ala European style tracks - so it makes use of an old creek bed and it's banks. A few jumps - a couple step up types and a couple easy table tops. Pretty fast but not scary like I remember. I enjoyed riding away half the day there. Next I went to a track called Highlands Motocross Park. I'd never heard of it until talking to a couple guys at Rio Bravo. On their advise, I gave it a try.

Highlands track is a BLAST! Two HUGE table tops, a couple descent doubles, a couple of step up jumps - one wicked one that was a blast to get over and a couple medium table tops too. The track was very well groomed also. I didn't try to clear one of the two monster table tops - it was one of those that required total commitment and I was only about 90% committed! There was also a triple set of doubles (six pack) that I didn't try either. I saw a couple guys do them, but the penalty of missing was just too high for my chicken blood.

The night track was a bit different. A short tight much more technical track. I followed a couple local guys around and then decide to go a bit harder. I got around one pretty quickly and then tracked down the second guy. As I followed him over a really peaky (short) table top, I grabbed WAY too much throttle and found myself about 5 feet higher and 10 feet farther out than I needed to be. Major bottom out, then on the brakes to keep from going on over into oncoming traffic. Pretty scary stuff. I took one more lap on the night track and decided that I just didn't care for it too much. I was having too much fun riding fast on the big track than trying to ride short and technical. I discovered later that I actually had flexed the bars on my landing so badly that I displaced the cross bar. It ended up pulling itself over about an inch and tweaking the bars. Time for a set of Pro Tapers!

A couple more rides on the big track and I'd had enough for the day.

January 15, 2000

My fears come true and the Moskito's out of order.

I went to Pace's registration booth and informed them that the Moskito was done for Houston. "Can I try a practice with the Thuderbikes? If all works out, I'll just race that class instead." I was given the go and got ready for practice.

I followed all the other Thunderbike riders down the entrance tunnel of the Astrodome and got ready for the first practice round. As I'm sitting there waiting on our group's turn to go out, I have none other than four time four stroke national champion Doug Dubach pull up beside me. I gotta tell you, it's pretty intimidating sitting in the tunnel next to him and other riders of national caliber. I admit it, I'm not the fastest of the bunch! (I'm no where near it!)

We got down to the track and started practice. The first thing I noticed was the track was made of "Ego Dirt". This is the best type of dirt there is. It allows the bike to stick in the corners like it's on rails, doesn't produce a lot of roost and lets you do just about anything you want without fear of sliding out. Neat Stuff! (when you finally do manage to screw up, Ego Dirt usually bites back hard.)

The next thing I noticed was that the section of the track for the bikes and quads (where I didn't go with the Moskito) was WHOOPS - LOTS OF WHOOPS! I don't like whoops. They have a nasty habit of eating me. I knew I was in over my head. I wasn't the slowest person on the track in my practice session - I passed three guys that looked more scared of the whoops than me - but I knew that I'd be nothing more than "filler" and a back marker for the fast guys and probably didn't have the proverbial snowball's chance of making the main. Three days into my three week adventure was too soon to end up the victim of a good slam dance with the ground.

I finished the practice session (intact!), pulled up to the registration booth on the way out of the Astrodome and told them that I was done for the day.

After Houston, I headed out west for the next two Pace Races and to stay with the guys at ATV. It ended up that I dropped out of the Pace Races and decided to play in the desert instead.

My first experience in the desert was wild. I met Neil (ATV's owner) on Thursday morning and we headed north out of town. We got to a parking area just of I-17 and unloaded. There it was, out in front of me - a terrain I'd never been on with a bike - the Desert.

It's a bad picture, but if you look closely, you'll see the ONLY one that doesn't have a mark is the motorcycleTalk about a harsh environment. Every, and I mean EVERY, plant or bush has thorns, stickers or spikes of some sort. The ground is baked hard and texture varies from sand to gravel to bowling ball sized rocks. Some of the rocks just stick out of the ground and wait for the passing by bike so they can feed. It's pretty amazing. The terrain is flat in between mountains. Trails just go off randomly through the low brush in the flat areas and down the washes. As you get up to the edges and sides of the mountains, ravines, dips and rises start to form and the trails begin to come together and become more defined. As you get up the sides of the hills and mountains most of the trails are first and second gear work. Tight twisty trails go around rocks, cactus and drop offs. I understand why case guards and hand guards are needed now. Everything out there wants to eat your bike. It was a totally new experience and a complete blast.

I discover that ATV had plans to go out to the Imperial Sand Dunes in Southern California for the weekend. No doubt about it, I wanted to go. I got them to order me a paddle tire, mounted it up and was ready to go. We left after work on Friday night.

The Imperial Sand DunesThe Imperial Sand Dunes are just amazing. Out in the middle of the Southern California Desert you suddenly come across this vast landscape of sand dunes. Not just a few, but MILES of these HUGE sand dunes. We stayed at an area known as Glamis. This area is an RV campground where everyone sets up camp. (Naturally, pulling my trailer I promptly got stuck in the sand trying to get off the high way and to the camp area!)

When we got up on Saturday morning, I think that Jay and Neil were a bit tentative about me riding on a bike in the dunes with them in their cars. Both of the cars they were in are capable of 90+ mph and were able to go UP the face of ANY dune we could find. (some of the dunes out there are over 300 feet high! - Jay was clocked over 60 going up the face of a dune called Oldsmobile Hill in a twin powered Pilot.) They didn't know that I used to live on South Padre Island in Texas and rode on the beach all the time. I had a BLAST. I was able to stick right beside them anywhere we went and I would even pass them if the opportunity opened up. (I'd always drop back after making the pass, though, because I didn't have a clue where I was!)

The YZF with a paddle tire was just plain amazing. Even in the really deep soft sand all I had to do was twist the throttle and the front end would come up out of the sand and skim along on top of it. Running in the huge bowls was killer. If the bowl was big enough and I was running fast enough I could lay the bike down so that it was horizontal. It was pretty wild, because if I stayed in this attitude long enough, my perception of up would get tilted over and it was like riding in a loop. There wasn't anything that I couldn't go up or down. Once again, my new YZF amazed me.

I rode out in the desert a couple more times and even hit a local motocross track on a practice night. Having the bike with me was perfect. I headed home and ended up just leaving the YZF in the van for almost three weeks because of the weather here in Ohio during Winter.

(3/26/00) Back Out West Again!

Table at NataliaThree weeks and two days after getting my arm broken, I got my cast off and exactly four weeks to the day of breaking my arm I was back on the bike.

My family and I traveled down to the San Antonio area for a quick vacation at my parent's place. I planned on getting in some riding with my brother Greg. He'd purchased a 2000 YZ 250 about a month ago and we hadn't ridden together in close to fifteen years. It was a great time!

Me getting in some flight time

Exactly four weeks to the day of breaking my arm, I was back on the bike. Greg and I went down to 'Good Times Motorsports Park' in Natalia, Texas. This track was home to one round of the AMA 500 Nationals back in the 80's. It HAD to have been bigger back then! There was a back section that added another thirty percent or so, but most people didn't go that way. They stuck to the smaller night section. I had been there a couple times back the late 80's when I lived in San Antonio, and the layout has changed quite a bit since then, but one thing remains - the Yamaha Table Top. It's got to be close to 100 feet from end to end. I can remember coming close to clearing it 'way back when' but I wasn't about to attempt it now. Especially since my arm and wrist were only about 75%. Instead, I ran around the track slowly a couple times to get the layout and see how my arm would feel. It felt great and I picked up the pace.

Greg over a table top

My brother Greg over a table topGreg's still getting used to being back on a bike, so he's not up to speed yet, but he's still got it. 'Back When' we rode together (twenty years ago) I always chased after Greg and never even had a chance of keeping up with him. Now, the table's turned - at least for a little while. I've gotten a lot faster and I can now keep up with him! In fact, he wasn't able to pass me. I NEVER thought I'd see that day! Hopefully we'll get to ride together in the next six months, letting him get some seat time, and then we'll see how I really stack up against him. - Come to think of it, I wasn't up to speed with my arm in it's present condition. - this just gets better from my point of view! (:

We had a blast chasing each other around the track all day. I made sure that I didn't over do any jumps and tried to take it easy on my arm. There was a fairly large, yet easy, table top that I really wanted, but the landing at the end of top, before the downside was a bit rough and I figured it wasn't worth pushing. Same for a small triple. The landing area was just too rough to chance. There was a nice step up jump that was easy to get over, but hard to clear. It made for a good challenge each lap. There was a smaller table top that was fun and then there was the rhythm section. It consisted of four sets of small double jumps - too big to be considered whoops, not quite large enough to be considered serious doubles. BUT if you got out of rhythm, you found yourself bouncing through them. I just went around this section because it just wasn't worth chancing my arm on. I noticed that about half the people there did the same thing.

All in all, it was a great day and I'm really looking forward to getting to ride with Greg again. I head back to San Antonio to get my van in a few days and head on out to Phoenix. A Dunes Trip is already planned and I'm stoked!

(2/18/01) February In Phoenix

The Johnny Shuffle!Johnny Weisman is one of the guys that works at ATV, putting himself through college. He moved to Phoenix from New York and is working on his degree in teaching. One of the first things he asked me after I got to ATV this time was if I brought my bike with me and if I was interested in going for a ride on Saturday. And he wanted to know if I was interested in racing in a seventy mile enduro on Sunday up near Wickenburg, which is about forty five minutes north west of Phoenix. I told him I'd be happy to go ride, but didn't know about running an enduro. I'm not certain, but I think it was one of the National Enduro races. The big names and factory racers were going to be there. Way out of my league - I've never even witnessed an enduro, much less run one. Didn't seem to make a lot of sense for me to a) run a type of race that I'm totally unfamiliar with. b) run a race in a setting that I'm totally alien to c) run a race without any preparation such as case guards, hand guards and such. Making my first race a Nationals Race didn't seem too terribly smart either. I told him that I had reservations about the race, but he kept at me to go run it with him.

Johnny on his CR 250Anyhow, I was looking forward to going riding with him on Saturday. The plan was to meet up at ATV about ten in the morning and then drive out to the area where the enduro was going to be held. It would give us a chance to get a feeling for the race that Johnny was going to run. We unloaded in the same spot that Neil, Jay, Jason and I went to last year. Amazingly, I remembered the trails quite well. One of the first things we did was head towards an uphill run. It's not a hard uphill, but it has a crappy rocky approach and you have to make a tight left turn around a green thorny bush (like that's descriptive - they ALL have thorns!) at the bottom of the hill then point up and gas it. Last year, following Neil, I made my approach to the left hander, grabbed second gear and pointed myself up the hill. I got to the point that I could just see the top of the hill and then began to loosen traction. The front end started to drift to the right and naturally, the bike decided to pitch me off the down hill side, so it's a long step off. I fell over, stalled the bike, found out just how nasty some of the plant are first hand and then wrestled the bike back down the hill. The second attempt was successful.

This year proved to be no different. Johnny bolted right up the hill and I managed to pull off a carbon copy of last year's dump, but I added a full forward somersault followed by a butt slide down the majority of the hill. By the time Johnny realized that I wasn't behind him and came back, I had already worked my way back up the hill, picked up my dumped bike and worked it back down to the bottom. I got lucky and only bent the front brake lever, but I wasn't terribly happy with the fact that the damn hill had beaten me two consecutive times. About the time that I had kicked life back into the YZF, Johnny showed up, asked what happened. I told him and then we headed back to the pits.
Round One:
Desert 1 - Richard 0

After being beaten by the hill again, I figured it would be best to just go 'on down the trail'. We headed on out with me keeping back just far enough to stay out of the dust. The first couple miles went quite smoothly. I was adjusting to my newly shaped front brake lever's feel and beginning to get my "desert legs" back under me. On the trails Johnny had the advantage. His bike is set up for the desert. I'm still running my motocross settings. While Johnny's CR 250 just floats over the smaller stuff and holds traction, my front and rear are constantly searching and bouncing. It takes a while to get used to the feeling and then even more time to gain confidence in the feeling. When the trail headed down into a wash and began to follow it, I was able to hold pace with Johnny. We cruised for about six miles or so and the trails became tighter and more narrow. They began to climb up the sides of the hills and weave across the rocky terrain. This technical stuff is not too bad as long as you can keep a flow going. It seems like you get into a rhythm with the trail and as long as you can maintain that flow, everything seems to go along all right. Interrupt the flow and, well, it usually starts to fight back. Toss in a four stroke that doesn't have a flywheel weight and an affection for stalling and you start getting worn out a bit.

We had traveled about eight miles out away from the pits. The trail was quite tight and just starting to loop back towards the pits. Johnny dropped down a small gully, went back up the other side and promptly stalled at the top. I had to get on the brakes and stop on the near side of the gully. Johnny got his bike fired up, moved forward and I dropped in. I came right out, stalled at the crest and fell over. There was one - only ONE - rock...the rest of the area was just dirt, but there in the middle of that dirt was one baseball sized rock. As I stalled the bike, I lost my balance and fell over to the left. The clutch lever immediately headed straight down for it's date with destiny.
I looked down to see that the lever was snapped cleanly off just ahead of where my index finger usually rides! Things just got interesting.
Round Two:
Desert 2 - Richard 0

We're at the farthest point from the pits, I'm on a frickin stall prone four stroke and I now do not have a clutch! But, we did have a saving grace. My wife gave me a hand held GPS unit for Christmas. It was strapped to my cross bar pad and I knew where we were, where we needed to go and where we'd been.

With a lot of effort, I was able to pull the clutch in to get the bike started and rolling, but once under way, the option of clutch use was pretty much a not happening thing. I followed Johnny down the trail and just kept my concentration on keeping the bike rolling and not stalling it. I was actually pretty amazed how well I was able to bull the bike around and force myself to ride like I had to so I wouldn't stall. Johnny later said he was pretty impressed too. One bad thing was that I was now forced to deal with bushes a lot more than usual. Normally, I avoid plants, rocks and stuff. Without the clutch, I had to pretty much just put my head down and turn the throttle. Bouncing off stuff just became part of the "adventure". I had to stop twice and remove cactus thorns from my left hand - Hand guards are a MUST!!!!.
Round 3:
Desert 3 - Richard 0

Anyhow, I'm still following Johnny and he's following what he THINKS is the trail. We turn down a wash and it slowly gets smaller and tighter with bigger and bigger rocks. The banks of the wash begin to get pretty tall too. When Johnny dropped into a small hole and then stepped off the front of the bike over the bars, he decided that we may have managed to miss the trail somewhere... I started studying the GPS and came to the conclusion that we were, for the most part, pretty much off the trail and kinda, sorta, lost. But, I knew that if we went "that way, this far", we'd hit the trail again. Easier said than done.

After a lot of grunting, kicking and restarts, I finally worked my way out of the wash and up onto the side of one of the hills. Best I could tell, the trail was two more hills over. We had to climb up/go around them to hook back up with the trail. I made it up the first hill pretty decently. A couple bounces off some trees and one really nasty rock hit, I bailed off just above a small mesquite tree. The bike fell over and promptly lodged the handle bars into the tree. I couldn't move the bike. Johnny and I finally picked it up (one time I was NOT happy it's a four stroke - that sucker's heavy when you're worn out), got it started and pointed upward again. A couple more bounces, bushes and rocks and I finally arrived at the top of the hill. Pull out a few more thorns and then head down the side of the hill. This is where it got fun.

The area between the two hills was a fairly narrow, but rough, rocky wash. I got out of line with my original crossing spot and ended up on right at the side of the wash. I couldn't figure out how to get the bike back up the hill without the clutch. I didn't have any place to get a good run. And, from where I was now parked, I couldn't see any good way down either. Johnny went right on up the other side, parked and then we proceeded to work out our plan.

Since I had the GPS, I could tell where we needed to go. We climbed up to the top of the final hill and there it was - the trail. I wanted Johnny to go back to the pits and get my spare clutch lever. I'd just sit on the top of the hill and wait for him to come back. He left and I decided to go back down to take another look at my situation.

On the way back down I scoped out a possible path to try to take. Fortunately, just down from where I had stopped, the wash opened up and was fairly shallow. If I could get the bike started and up the side of the hill about twenty feet, I might have a chance at a run at the wash and then the up hill section. Lady Luck smiled on me and I was able to make the top of the hill with only one stall. I got to the top, located the trail and headed on down. About two miles down the trail I met Johnny as I came around a small bend. He had a clutch lever and a bottle of water. Couldn't have asked for anything more! I put the lever on and we headed back to the pits.
Round 4:
Desert 3 - Richard 1

The Desert is brutal - throw in a National Enduro Trail and it's just plain NASTY!!!

About a week later, I did manage to get in one ride that I have to consider the best I've ever had in my 20+ years of riding.

The ATV crew and I headed out to Dottie and Paul's house on the north western side of Phoenix, with the bikes of course. Neil, Jay and I got our gear on and headed out into the wild. The area that we were in is desert floor surrounded by some small hills and mountains. The desert floor is table top flat with a few small gullies that run through it. You have to stay alert for them, but usually they aren't deep or wide enough to hurt if you do manage to miss spotting them. Most of them you can just blow over at full speed. There are a couple that could be bad, but they were visible enough and Neil and Jay knew where they were, so I just stayed behind them and relied on their judgment. The closer you get to the mountains the deeper and nastier the gullies become and washes start to develop. By the time you're up against the sides of the mountains the washes are deep and common, the trail climbs and drops away erratically as it crosses and follows the washes. The bottom of the washes are deep course sand littered with rocks that range from the size of golf balls to Volkswagen Beetles. You follow the water flow paths, darting around the rocks as much as possible. The trail gets narrow and the bushes have gone from small scrub to larger trees and a lot more cactus.

We headed out from the house into the flat areas, each carving our own trail through the scrub bushes. The idea is to follow an existing path, but keep spread apart enough that you don't have to ride in each other's dust. Cruising along in anything from 3rd to 5th gear is great. You float over the small washes and hit a few ridges that let you get in a little high speed air time too.

As we closed in on the mountains, the speed came down and we were forced to all follow the same trail. We kept enough distance between us so the dust wasn't a problem, yet close enough that we could see what the lead bike was doing and where he was going. The trail also became a bit more twisty, but not too technical, most of the twists and turns were to go around some of the larger trees and cacti that were now becoming more common.

Cactus Thorns at their finest!We finally ended up on the side of the mountains, running down the washes and following the 'goat trails' along them. These are single track trails that brush right up against the cacti and trees. The big Suaro cacti are really amazing to see up close. The spine clusters on them can be over four inches across and there are thousands of these clusters that cover them. Hand guards sure would have been nice! Most of the trees are Mesquite and Sage and there are dozens of other smaller types around too. The one cactus that I was told to avoid at all costs was the "snowball" or "jumping" cactus - Choyos. These cacti can be up to about four feet high and are made up of clusters of white thorn covered balls that are about the size of a tennis ball. The thorns so densely cover the body of the cactus that you can't see it and even though they are only about 1/2 inch long, they are hooked shaped and cause an infection where they get stuck. To make matters worse, the little balls of thorns fall of the cacti with very little provocation. A rock thrown from the bike in front of you can be just enough to make them "jump" off. The biggest worry is having the guy in front of you run over one, throwing it at you. So far, I've been very fortunate and haven't tangled with one - yet...

Anyhow, we were well on our way into the 40 mile loop and as we were riding through the smaller single track trails, I had "an experience" - one of those things that only happens to someone few times during their lives.

I've dreamed of riding out west in the desert for as long as I can remember. I don't know what the allure of it all is, but it's something that I've wanted to do for a long long time. Last year when I was out there for the first time, it was all so new and I was so awe-struck that I didn't have the time to soak it all in. It's sort of like a new song that you hear and like - at first you're taken by the song, but as you listen to it a few times, you start to really appreciate it for "the experience". This year was different. I knew what to expect and was now enjoying taking it all in. As we were running along the edge of a mountain, 1st to 3rd gear stuff that requires quite a bit of concentration, I suddenly found myself totally in tune with what was going on. I found myself not even consciously thinking about what I had to do to ride, it was more like I was floating along down the trail at a speed that usually would be scary fast, but I was in total control and one with the bike. This feeling lasted about three or four minutes and then was gone. I don't know if it was adrenaline, endorphines or what, but it was the most amazing feeling I've ever had on a bike. Everything about it was perfect. The actual ride in the desert was more that I had ever dreamed of and when it all comes together just right, it's just amazing. Anyone that's ever experienced this feeling will understand completely. Those that haven't, keep chasing your dreams, it will come and even though it's only a few minutes long, it's well worth the wait.

Our ride lasted a little over an hour and was the best I'd ever had. I hope to repeat it again next time I'm out there!

(6/10/01) Coal Creek Tennessee - CCMMC/Windrock ATV Area

Dunepilot (Eric), from Michigan & I showed up to the CCMMC/Windrock ATV parking lot about 3:30 - and less than 5 minutes apart on Friday, June 8, 2001. I've ridden with him at Silver Lake a couple times and at Spring Valley too. We were the first to show. Expected were about 8 or 9 other guys from the Pilot/Oddy board. We talked to a couple locals (one of which was stressed over his tyuhrs being worn so quickly) and found where to get passes - you have to have one for each day.

Redrider (left) & Hoser  (right) trying to help Chris get his Oddy running againWe headed down to the 'Short Stop' to get our passes and there's a green Chevy truck w/a 250 Odyssey in the back sitting in front of the store. We walk in and look at the people in the store - I figured that one of them might own the Oddy - Eric walks up and says "Are you Chris?" - "Yes" he says - "I'm Dunepilot, Hello!" I put my hand out and said "I'm Moskito" - I've never seen anyone do such a PERFECT double take, and the first thing out of his mouth is "You're not THAT SHORT!" I laughed my a## off at that one!

Chris is one of the nicest guys I've ever met! We went back at the parking area and he unloaded his Oddy - it looks killer - perfect color scheme, the classic 80's Honda red and blue. While we waited on Dune to unload his Pilot, I pulled out the YZF and Chris and I took a short cruise. It looked like Coal Creek was gonna be fun! Chris headed back home (he lives about 10 minutes from the camp area) for dinner and our friendly local gave Eric and me a quick tour of the general area. At the top of the mountain are three of the large windmills used to generate electricity. A really beautiful of the surrounding mountains was there too. It's well worth seeing.

Camp on Saturday MorningRedrider (Steve), Rocketman (Mark) and their buddy Mike showed up from North Carolina in short time and it looked like we were going to have a good time for the weekend! Chris came back with his brother and they cruised around the pits. Everyone unloaded, did a small amount of riding and sat around talking. I crawled into 'Motel Dodge' about 12:30 a.m. and went to sleep.

At 6:11 a.m., I'm awakened by a bunch of guys talking. I couldn't believe that these guys were up already! I finally crawl out of the van about 10 minutes later and Mark has the same look on his face I do - Who Woke Me Up??? (Red could be heard crabbing at the world from inside his sleeping bag). Come to find out it's the group next to us making all the noise! I guess our day was on its way.

As I started looking around the pits, I noticed two new vehicles had shown up. Hoser from Illinois and Wheelman from Alabama were sacked out in their vehicles. They had both arrived sometime during the night. I'm not sure when KiowA (Andy) from Indiana or Stoneman (Chris), Eddie and Scrambler (John) showed up, but it was sometime during the morning. Mark and I headed into Hardy's for a quick breakfast. Oh and when you ask for tea while south of the Ohio/Kentucky state line, try not to forget that it's sweet and add a package of 'Sweet-N-Low' out of habit - whew!

The crew was ready to go. Five Pilots, two quads and three bikes left the pits and headed out for our first ride of the weekend.

John (Scrambler) kicking back after a rideSaturday's first ride proved to be the worst of the weekend for a couple of the guys. - Redrider & Rocketman. Within 10 minutes of our first ride of the day, Red decides that he doesn't like his left front wheel or tie rod, so he bashes them forcefully against a nice big pile of rocks. Bad plan. He bent the edge of his nice shiny aluminum rim back about an inch and half and the readjusted his tie rod so that it was about an inch shorter. Lucky for him, he was about 200 yards from the top of the trail. I found out that he'd pulled off the same stunt the last time he was there in exactly the same place and manner. Hey, you gotta hand it to him for consistency! Somewhere along the trail Rocketman punched a hole in the sidewall of his front wheel too, so I decided to head back to the pits with them for "moral support" - yea, more like give them as much grief as possible... And everyone else headed on into the woods.

We quickly discovered Mark's favorite tool. The Tire Plug! Like a tiger stalking it's prey, Mark carefully sized up the hole in the tire and then attacked it with the precision of a surgeon. Four plugs later, the tire was sound and holding air.

Red's situation, on the other hand, was not quite as easy to remedy. The rim looked like it was toast with it's edge pushed back about an inch and a half, and the tie rod was definitely a goner. Luckily Dunepilot had delivered two sets of tie rods, just for Red, so that part was easy - well, if he had the correct wrenches handy. As he worked on getting the tie rod replaced, I started looking at his tire and decided that it might just be fixable - besides, as bent up as it was, it sure wasn't doing any good, and I couldn't hurt it anymore than it already was.

Red and Rocket brought with them one of my favorite tools - and a good specimen it was - what appeared to be a three pound hammer; also known as a "BFH". It had already done a number on Rocket's hand - don't talk to him when he's swinging a hammer, he bleeds. I borrowed said BFH, stood on the edge of the rim and started swinging. About this same time, Red was putting on an old bent stock rim that wasn't the same offset as the aluminum rims he was using, complaining the entire time that it wasn't gonna work. (yes, I'm picking on Redrider!) To my amazement, the rim quickly yielded to the blows from the BFH and it started to look round again. The edge of the rim began to crack, but it still held. A few more blows and it appeared to be road worthy. I think all three of us had the same idea about the same time - "Wonder if it will hold air?" We pumped it up (well, Red did the work) and it started hissing - but not from the crack in the rim! All we had to find the leaks was 'Febreeze', (no soap), but it quickly showed three pinches that had come from driving on up the rim eating trail on a flat. Once again, Rocketman (who is now known affectionately as Plugman) whipped out the tire plugs and six later, the rim and tire were holding air. None of us ever thought that it would work, but work it did! In fact, Red never had to put air in the tire again for the rest of the weekend!

Plugman was able to install 14 tire plugs through out the weekend - every one a success.

Sometime during the repair work, Eddie, on his CR-500, came down out of the mountain and joined our merry crew. We spent a couple hours getting everything back in order and talking to one and other. I finally decided to go for a quick recon trip and see if I could find the rest of the pack. To no avail. Everyone finally showed back up at camp and we all had lunch.

Stoneman and KiowA beside Stoneman's KX-500We got in a some more riding later that day, with only one casualty. Stoneman's KX-500 decided to eat its water pump seal and pour coolant into the tranny - along with breaking the starter. His ride was done for the duration. Fortunately, Redrider brought his XR-250, so Stoneman made the transition and rode it for the rest of the weekend. I had to laugh at Stoneman's description of riding the XR (after getting off a KX-500): "This thing is like riding a sewing machine! It makes noise, but not much happens." Once he got used to it, he ripped along! The suspension was much more in tune for woods riding than the KX's was and it made up for the lack of hp.

We all headed back out into the woods and had a blast. We covered a lot of the northern part of the area, finding some beautiful scenery and some killer trails. Our last blast back to the camp included one killer high speed run area. I got stuck in the back of the pack along with Redrider. We hung back for about three or four minutes to let the dust clear and then raced back to the camp. It was a total blast!

(added 6/12/01) I completely forgot about the 'Saturday Rocketman Happening' that should be a reminder to all of us! (thanks for reminding me about it Andy!)

As we were coming back down the mountain, finishing up Saturday's last ride, I decided to take a small loop off the asphalt - Trail #15. I was out front followed by the bikes and quads with the Pilot's bringing up the rear. I headed on down the trail and got to a muddy crossing point and decided to wait on the others. Eddie, Stoneman and John came up. ... no one else. Hmmmm.... We waited for a couple minutes more and then turned around and went back to the start of the trail. There sits the group of Pilots. Eric and Andy are wandering around looking for something and everyone else is "studying" the back of Rocketman's car - which is sitting a bit cocked. Whaddya know, the left rear suspension had collapsed! The shock bolt was sheared off and the front traverse link was hanging in the breeze. Not Good!

Redrider and Stoneman headed on down the mountain road and soon arrived back up top with a pickup truck. While they were off getting the truck, we followed the marks that the link left in the road back up to before the asphalt started - never found any of the bolts. They loaded his Pilot up and we all headed on back to camp.

Once we got back to camp, we were able to do a closer inspection of what had happened. It turns out that the bolts that hold the suspension plate to the carrier decided they didn't want to play nice anymore, so they left the party. This put all the suspension's stress on one little shock bolt. Who knows how long it dealt with these forces, but when the traverse link's bolt decided it didn't want to be part of the system either, things decide to go down hill. The traverse link dragged for about a mile and finally the lower shock bolt broke. Mark was done with forward motion for the time being.

They unloaded the Pilot, Mark sat down and started taking it apart. I pulled up my 'directors chair' and positioned it so I could be a pain in the butt and direct his repairs. We found that the traverse link was bent, but that was all right, there was a spare floating around the camp. (can't recall who had it - but I'm guessing it was Eric - you'll find out why in just a minute) The carrier plate was a bit bent, but I knew of just the tool to fix that. There was a broken bolt stuck in the carrier, two bolts missing, a bent main carrier bolt and a missing traverse link bolt.

As Mark would start to remove something, I'd say that's a "x" mm bolt or that's a "x" mm nut. He'd just kinda look up at me... (but hey, I WAS correct!) Every now and then someone else would walk up and add a comment or two, you know, just to help. He finally got the carrier plate removed and I grabbed it and went off to fix it with the BFH.

Rocket had his spare Pilot in the trailer - we all just figured that he'd rob the parts off of it, but he kept saying that he wanted to take it out and ride it (he never DID!). Instead, Eric came to the rescue. We now believe that he has an entire Honda Pilot disassembled and stored in the front of his trailer - and each piece has been packaged, complete with part number too! I hear Mark say that he needs a bolt, suddenly Eric says "I have one!" Eric wanders off to his trailer and come back with a brand new one in the package. This went on for a few minutes. I then hear something about needing a drill. Funny, I don't remember anything that needed drilling to fix - just needed new parts. I finished straightening out the plate (thank you flat rock and BFH) and decided to investigate the drill phenomenon. There sits Eric getting ready to drill a hole in the end of the bolt that was sheared off. I asked him to stop and said watch this - I grabbed the end of the bolt with a pair of Visegrips and just threaded it the rest of the way through the carrier. Slick and easy!

We need a 'so and so' bolt - Eric would disappear and come back with another, still in package. This went on for about 5 minutes as Rocket bolted his ride back together. We finally did come across ONE bolt that Eric didn't have - my guess is that it's already on order now! Have to hand it to Eric, he really did come to the rescue with the parts. Thanks!

While all this was going on, Hoser walks around to the right rear tire and bumps it - guess what, it's loose. A quick inspection and it's discovered that just about everything's loose! Mark mumbled under his breath and took the tools to the car. After an hour or so, his Pilot was trail worthy and ready to go.

So, what did we learn from this little experience? Check those bolts! Mark didn't know the history of the car when he bought it, so he had no idea that some of the stuff may have been removed before - or never checked. The Pilot has a history of bending the long lower carrier bolt. Once this happens it rotates around and wallows out the hole. It becomes a viscous circle, the more it moves, the more it bends so the more it moves. Just one of those things!

Mr. Dirt!  Andy Get's a bit muddy!When all was said and done in the woods, we packed up and headed into town to the hotel rooms that a few of the guys had. Showers and food for all. (KiowA got the "I'm dirtiest award") We walked across the street without casualty and invaded a small Mexican food restaurant. I still feel sorry for our poor waiter - he was nice and tried very hard and spoke about 10 words of English, I think he was in over his head just a touch - not that we were being rowdy, it was just a "quality crew"! (We kept wondering why they put us outside on the patio) Stoneman made the mistake of asking for the "hot" hot salsa. Without ever tasting it, he covered a taco and started eating. Damn habinero stuff will kill ya! Poor Stoneman pretty much destroyed his mouth and just sat there sweating, breathing hard and hoping that the ability to taste would come back one day. Out of curiosity, I had to try some of the stuff. All I can say is "Bad Juju's!" HOT HOT HOT!

Me in Motel DodgeThose of us that were sleeping at the camp headed back. I parked 'Motel Dodge' crawled to the back and went right to sleep. A crew came out of the woods in the middle of the night, parked their vehicles right at the end of the trailer that Redrider, Rocketman and Mark were sleeping in and then proceeded to discuss the ride, the Pilots and other things right there at the end of the trailer. Glad I slept through it! - in fact, I left the YZF in Dunepilot's trailer and he didn't show up until almost 9:00 a.m. I got to sleep until 8:30! Everyone else was up quite a bit sooner. (:

Sunday morning, Hoser unfortunately decide that he was gonna load up and head home (can't blame him, as he had an 11 hour ride ahead of him), but in doing so he missed the best ride of the weekend.

We had covered a lot of the northern section of the riding area on Saturday - kept going over the same trails and you had to run along about two miles worth of asphalt before you got off road, so it was decided that we would head east for Sunday's ride. Red acquired a topographical map of the area with the trails marked on it. We plotted out our path and headed on out. Our first leg was up "Boulder Alley" again, but this time everyone made it through without incident. We played around on a fire road (gravel road that you can fly down) for a while and then came to our next smaller tighter trail. Stoneman, Eddie and I would take turns either leading or following the pack of Pilots. We were able to spot tires that were going flat before they caused too much damage, check the trail ahead and in general play lookout for the group. It was a blast. Stoneman lead most of the time in the tighter woods on the little XR and Eddie and I played leader on the faster sections. Following four Pilots, two quads and a couple bikes is a dusty job!

The trails ranged from fire roads to single track that the Pilots were just able to get through. We went down some really steep rocky trails, followed along a creek, making some deep water crossings and some serious mud crossings also. The one section that seemed to blow everyone away was a long rocky uphill. After being bogged down in mud and only able to move at a crawl, we came to where the path started back up the other side of the mountain. I still don't know how we all made it up as easily as we did! When we got to the top, there on the marker, plain as day, the trail was marked as "expert" - meaning quads or smaller. We did it in Pilots!!! Stoneman on the XR-250 put on the best "show of the hill". He was the last one up, as he got caught by a stalled vehicle and had to start from the middle of the trail and work his way up. We all stood at the top to watch - wish I had the video camera that time.

At the top of the trail, we came into one of the main gravel roads. It took us either back to camp or over to hiway 116. We followed it over to 116 and then turned around. The ride back down the road was a blast! Fourth and fifth gear - hit 65 mph in one section, sliding around the corners and such. As long as Redrider and I kept our distance from the others we were able to do just like the day before and scream down the road. When we got to the turnoff, we discovered that John and Mike on the quads were no where to be seen. I got to be the lucky one to go back down the trail in search of them. I found them back at the beginning of the gravel road and got to run it back to everyone again. It was a blast trying to pass them! They were able to carry speed through the corners better than me, but I could take them on the straights. I did screw up one corner and came in too hot. I managed to keep the wheels under me, but slid off the side of the road and into a small tree. Never lost control, just had to stop...

We hooked up with the group and headed back into the woods. The trail was fast & fun with the exception of one major mud hole. We worked our way back to camp, had lunch and then everyone packed up for the ride home.

Chris was there waiting on us with the bad news about his Oddy - it had eaten the lower ring, so it was out of commission. Rocketman let him take a quick ride in a Pilot and I think that Chris was hooked. Now we have to find him one at the right price. By 4:00 p.m. we were all loaded and ready to cruise on home, said our good-byes and headed out. KiowA followed me on to Cincinnati and then went on back to Indiana from here.

This has to be one of the best weekends with the Pilot group that I've had - for that matter, it was one of the best weekends I've had in a while. We had no injuries - other than Rocketman's little incident with the BFH, had no one other than Chris ended up w/o a ride - and like Chris said, at least he didn't have to drive 8 hours just to have his car die, he was only 10 minutes from the place. Stoneman was able to ride Red's XR, KiowA spent the weekend in Stoneman's Pilot, we got Rocketman and Redrider's Pilots back in trail shape without much problem and the only mechanical that would have been a weekend ender was when Eddie's CR-500 lost its rear brake on the very last downhill of the day. He and I got away from the pack when we got to the asphalt. I stopped at trail #14 - a steep downhill with a really nasty rocky section right in the middle of it. About 1/4th the way down, Eddie suddenly overshoots one corner just a bit, seems to rocket down the next little straight and go right into the edge of the trail. He launched over the bars, doing a nice little roll as he landed. As I got to him, he stood up laughing "I lost the rear brake! That was scary!" He walked away from it without a scratch, thank goodness. He ended up going back up the trail and following everyone else down the asphalt road. I went on down #14 and promptly stalled the YZF in the exact same spot that I had stalled the day before. I only stalled the bike three times - all of them on #14, and never went down. It doesn't get better than that!

Everyone there was a blast to be with - good people, each and every one of them. If you ever get a chance to go ride with any of these guys, take it. You won't be disappointed!

For more info on Coal Creek, check Redrider's Review or go to WindrockATV.

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