Tuesday, March 10, 2020

The thing about Death Valley: March 2020

There’s something wrong with the desert between Trona and Panamint Springs...maybe even as far as Furnace Creek. The land looks scarred, sick, as if there’s been trouble. Like battles were fought there. It’s all stirred up and grotesque. Someone did something to the terra to make it not so firma, likely early entrepreneurs trying to make money by pulling ore out of the ground. Whoever did it or however it happened, it looks terribly beautiful, breathtaking even.

Calcite, dolomite and many other ites make up hundreds of miles of frothy, salty-looking terrain that will hurt you if you allow it to get too close. Best to view it from a distance—to ride right past it. But that’s not what I did.

You see, I spent the past few days riding and walking into and through it. I let it wash all over me. I’m still brushing the fine borax dust from my boots and old motorbike. So many things come out of the ground up there that I’m not sure what’s in my eyes and hair. Minerals turned my hands chalky white. I realized immediately upon arriving that I hadn’t researched it enough, hadn’t taken it seriously. I’d never been there and no one properly warned me. Everything I’d learned about Death Valley was hearsay, rumors and lies:

“There’s a trove of hidden gold up there somewhere. There are dead bodies everywhere. The hills are alive. Stuff moves at night. The ground is blessed and cursed at the same time. The canyons talk, the sand sings. You’ll get lost if you’re not careful. You’ll find yourself out there.”

And it’s all true.

I tried to count the colors and gave up right quick. The place is a natural palette, alright. You’ll witness the entire spectrum of vibrant and muted colors from the rocks, grass, ground and sky. But those colors meant dollars and since the mid-1800’s, men came looking for them.

Who did this to you? You watched as an unwilling participant, unapproving of the damage being done. So much was taken and yet there’s so much still there, all around, as if you’re saying to those long dead, “Nice try. Please stop it.” And in 2005, the Billie Mine, an underground borax mine along the road to Dante’s View, was the last of Death Valley’s mines to cease operations. I’ll bet your sighs of relief could be heard way over in Beatty.

Extremes? Oh, yeah. I was up high in the snow, I got down low at Badwater. Other souls were there, too, looking for something...and not likely the same thing I was seeking. I passed by many of the well-known sites: The Racetrack, Teakettle Junction, the Charcoal Kilns, Father Crowley’s Overlook, Striped Butte and the Geologists Cabin. I rode up to that ranch where they found Charlie Manson hiding, too. Serene and a bit spooky, like Tex was out there watching me from the trees. But what I enjoyed most were the poorly maintained trails deep in the heart of it all: Saline Valley Road, Goler Wash, Mengel Pass, Lippincott Mine Road...places like that. I thought then of those early miners who carved these roads out of the landscape. Man against nature. Sure must’ve been a lot of dynamite in those days. They wanted to yank every last ounce of value from the earth; the Earth had other plans. The twisted, discarded machinery scattered in seemingly impossible locations hinted at who won.

And I kept riding, absorbing its beauty and its danger. An inattentive moment and a visitor could find himself on the ground. I wasn’t careful and saw the scenery up close. I tasted that gypsum-rich soil on more than one occasion. “Enjoy me, respect me.” Yes, I hear you now.

I left Death Valley knowing I’d only scratched the surface. And I knew that whatever minerals I’d rolled around in had done their work: I wanted to return, to see more, to be there in the quiet, open places. I felt a commonality with the place. I felt comfortable there—not unlike a snake handler or a demolition expert does in their environments. So, enjoy yourself but be careful...because one wrong move and you might remain part of the landscape.

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

Repair/replace rubber turn signal stalks on Gen 1 KLR 650

Like many KLRistas, I had some rubber turn signal stalks go bad—three at once, actually. I looked at options and ended up going with 3D Cycle Parts (available for $25 delivered from Amazon or eBay). I did this mod on my Gen 1, though the kit is also available for the Gen 2.

* Just FYI, in case you’re gonna ask: 1. I didn’t go with LEDs on this one, though I did on my other KLR. 2. While I might’ve been able to gather the parts from a hardware store or fabricate them myself, the entire kit was only $20–and it was well thought out—so I went with it.

Though I did watch the installation video about a month ago, I didn’t watch it today before I installed them. That might’ve been a good idea as there are a couple of small points that make the install go easier. Watch the video.

As well, I would’ve done things a bit differently, by using the existing nuts—or at least the same sized nuts—but that was no big deal. The install is straight forward and the entire job took less than 90 minutes...the first one taking the longest.

NOTES: 1. Your signals will be closer to the bike, though you can use spacers to push them out a bit if you like. 2. I didn’t need to remove the front cowling to do the front signal install. 3. If your bike was previously modded in any way—like mine, for an aftermarket rear rack—you’ll have to slightly tweak the install...but nothing major, usually just some wire routing. 4

I highly recommend this kit if you’d like to keep your existing turn signal set-up—whether or not yours is broken or about ready to break.

Good luck!

Sunday, November 24, 2019

Baja for Dummies: November 2019

The five of us are no dummies...well, the other 4 aren’t, anyhow...but the way we set up the weeklong ride would make some people wonder. The plan was: No real plan...just a couple of possible ride locations.

We planned to meet in Calexico, California, on Monday, ride to San Felipe —and other points in the Baja peninsula—and exit via Tecate 4 days later. And that’s pretty much how it ended up going.

The riders were from Florida, Arizona and Texas. I’d ridden in Baja and other places with Steve, Brad and Dave, and Dave brought along his son, Carter, to round out the group.

Steve and I were on Gen 1 KLRs, Brad was on a brand new BMW 850 GS and the other two were on Yamaha WR250s.

We crossed into Mexico at 1pm and had our FMM tourist permits within 20 minutes. The ride to San Felipe along Highway 5 was straight and easy and we found our seaside AirB&B just before dark. We unloaded the gear and rode into town for some very tasty tacos and beers along the malecon, right on the Sea of Cortez. We were all in great spirits and had a fun time interacting with the locals. The Baja 1000 was scheduled to start at the end of the week, so everyone was prepared for the onslaught of thousands of visitors.

The next morning we loaded up the bikes and found a nice place to eat. Chorizo and egg breakfasts would be a recurring theme on this ride.

We were headed south toward Bahia de Los Angeles by 10 am. The weather was cooperating and the bikes were running well. Everything pointed to another fantastic Baja ride.

Though the road to Bay of LA was just bad pavement and a series of construction detours, we still enjoyed the ride. Our bikes were perfect for this terrain and we made good time. We passed through Puertecitos and Gonzaga Bay before rolling into Coco’s Corner to see the man himself. Coco greeted us with a smile and some cold Pacificos. Ah, yeah! After some fun conversation, signing of his guestbook and topping off with fuel, we headed south along an off-road trail that would lead us to Highway 1. By the time we reached the point where the two highways met, we could see, sadly, that all of the dirt roads were being paved over. Soon, the small quiet towns we’d enjoyed for years would be more accessible to visitors in cars. And that’s just the way it goes. Progress, as it were.

The view of the Gulf of California as you ride into Bay of LA is truly spectacular...just an amazing sight to see. We all pulled off the road and stared in awe at the little town on the shores of that beautiful bay.

We quickly settled on a small hotel with a restaurant/bar and unloaded the bikes. The plan was to stay one night and then ride south to the tiny village of San Francisquito the next day...unless we could find a boat that could bring us out to see the whale sharks. And over beers, Capitan Luis showed up with a reasonable offer: He’d take us out for a half day of swimming with the whale sharks the next day. The price was right so we agreed. Brad decided to skip the boat tour and ride down to San Francisquito and back while we were out. We enjoyed a nice meal and called it a night.

After a fine Mexican breakfast the next morning Capitan Luis picked us up at the hotel and we were on the water by 8:15. Spoiler alert: While we didn’t see any whale sharks, we still had a great time touring the small islands in the large bay. After we returned, we all explored the town on bikes, riding up into the hills and along the coast. It’s such a nice little place, definitely a new favorite Baja locale. We had a great dinner, hung out with some boisterous fellow travelers and planned the next day’s activities.

It had rained throughout the night and it was windy and brisk on our way north the next day. That part of Highway 1 doesn’t have a lot of fuel options, so we topped off our tanks from the back of a man’s truck along the road near Punta Prieta. We were hopeful that we’d find more gas along the highway but the first fuel we found was in El Rosario, 150 miles away. Those little 250s were on fumes when we rode into the Pemex there. Instead of eating lunch at Mama Espinoza’s, we pushed on through the chilly, windy mist to the small town of Erendira 120 miles away.

When we reached San Vicente to fuel up, I contemplated taking a cool off-road route across the mountains, but due to the heavy rains they’d had recently, I opted to continue along the paved roads. We rolled into Coyote Cal’s, a cool little hostel in the village of Erendira, by 4 pm and Rick, the owner, immediately pushed a bucket of cold Pacificos across the bar to us. Ahhhhhhhh!!

We settled into beach chairs in the sand pit as Rick lit the fire. We talked bikes and the Baja 1000 with the other riders who were already there or arrived throughout the evening. As always, the vibe was chill and everyone was having fun. An announcement was made that the Baja 1000 was postponed for a day due to the rains...something none of us recalled happening in the past 50 years.

Dinner was served at 7—Thai Chicken—and the place buzzed with excitement as we loudly discussed the postponed race and our memories of previous Baja rides. One by one, our team of riders peeled off and went to bed. There was mucha cerrveza that evening...

The next morning was crisp and sunny with no chance of rain. After breakfast, we all rode out to a small volcano on the coast. We picked up shells as the waves crashed loudly on the shore. There was still some mud left on the dirt roads but nothing that hindered our morning ride. Within the hour we were back on Highway 1 headed toward Ensenada. We stopped at my favorite stand—La Floresta—for some of the very best fish and shrimp tacos in Baja. After stuffing ourselves with tasty local food, we fueled up and headed north to Tecate.

It was an uneventful ride and we were back in the US by 1 pm. Brad and Steve headed east toward Phoenix while I headed west to San Diego with the other two. I parked my muddy KLR at a friend’s house later that day, happy and tired after another fun and satisfying Baja ride. Just about 900 miles of Mexico riding.

And not surprisingly, we’re already planning our next one...