Motorcycle Movies: Road Less Travelled

Dirt bikers and brothers James and Steven Beatty ride off-road across the Trans-America Trail – a different type of classic American road trip. They ride 5,000 miles from Tennessee to Oregon before reaching their final destination at the Pacific Ocean. Along the way, they ride across forest service roads, gnarly single track trails, slippery water crossings, and get caught in quicksand. They deal with crashes, injuries, getting lost, and breakdowns. This is a must-watch for those who hope to do the Trans America trail someday.

In one breathtaking shot, one of the riders narrowly missing a wild horse that runs across the trail. Another scene shows James working on his bike and getting indirectly zapped by lightning.

The movie does have its weaker points. The first hour is an entertaining narrative that focuses on the riding and the scenery and brings the viewer with them. Towards the end though, it breaks down into reality TV style melodrama, taking the focus away from the riding. The protagonist’s struggle to deal with his father’s death and seeking to expunge those demons during the ride frequently struck a false note, something that could easily have been remedied with a better voice actor. In spite of all this, the movie is worth a watch for the first hour alone.

Filmmaker: James Beatty

Dirt riding in the Snoqualmie Falls area…

Click to see Route

I haven’t gone dirt riding since Memorial Day weekend when I went riding up in the Leavenworth area. This was almost five months ago, so I’ve been chomping at the bit to take the XT out on some dirt. The hard part is actually getting to the roads. Most of the really good ones are almost a couple of hundred miles away via freeways and riding the XT that far isn’t very much fun. This leaves the option of taking the bike there via truck/trailer which involves enough logistics that I never really tackled it. Which is why I was delighted when a couple of co-workers mentioned that there were several forest service roads in the Seattle area that we could get to via backroads. We decided to meet on Saturday morning at Salish Lodge in Snoqualmie Falls and set out from there.

I left home at 9:00AM (this used to be the norm back in the day when I rode all day every weekend, but is more of a rarity now). I took 520 and 202 towards Snoqualmie. As I passed Fall City, I started feeling the bike sputter and realized that I was on 120 miles and I wasn’t going to make it all the way to Snoqualmie. I’ve always wanted to find the exact range of this bike and I guess now I did. Either I don’t have a low fuel indicator or it doesn’t work. :P I knew there was a gas station in the neighborhood that I always fuel up at, but I couldn’t find it. All of a sudden I was out of fuel and coasting down the hill without power. I managed to turn left into a parking area and turned off the bike to think. I had passed a gas station half a mile before and I really should have stopped there instead of looking for the other one. Unfortunately it was uphill and pushing it all the way up was not going to be fun. And then I had the brilliant idea (:P) of checking to see if I had a reserve. The last two bikes I have owned didn’t have one, so it’s not something I’m used to thinking about anymore. Turns out that the XT did, so I rotated the knob to RES and it started right up. Yay! I rode back up the hill, found the 76 gas station and refueled. I mentally calculated that I had gone 120 miles in 1.8 gallons, meaning that I was getting a good 67 miles to the gallon on this bike. Not too shabby!

It had started to rain now, although it was Seattle rain, more like a light misting and drizzle which didn’t bother me too much. I got to the parking lot in Salish Lodge in ten minutes and found Dave and Nikolas waiting, the former with a Husqvarna and the latter with a DRZ450. I’ve never seen a Husky up close. Those are some fun looking machines! Of course, I am partial to red and black bikes. ;) Nikolas’ bike was neat looking too, looking more like a dirt bike that had been ridden unlike mine. He had a bunch of gadgets hooked up too, which I made a mental note to get for myself in the future.

Dave led us to the start of the forest service road. The entrance was full of loose gravel and I felt the bike starting to slide around alarmingly. As always, I had that feeling of “Why the hell am I here again?” and “There are people who do this for fun?”. After a little while, we emerged onto more packed road and the bike settled down. Nikolas passed me and they both sped on. I lingered and went slow. They waited for me at intersections, of which there weren’t very many, so for the most part it felt like I was out for a ride in the forest alone, which is a rather nice feeling. :) I think I kept a steady 25-30 mph pace, painfully slow for those roads, but more within my comfort zone. The route itself wasn’t very technical, but it was a good place to brush up on my (mostly non-existent) off-road riding skills. We stopped in a few places, tried one side road that was uphill, gnarly and to my relief, blocked by a landslide so that we had to turn around. We ended the ride at the end of 5700 where we parked, got off and walked a little and climbed onto a broken bridge to catch a glimpse of a waterfall. As with hiking or snowshoeing, I always do like to have a little “reward” at the end of a trek.

The ride back was mostly downhill and I found that going uphill was a lot easier than going downhill. It was here that I finally started standing on the footpegs and was amazed at how dramatically I felt so much more stable. No more sliding all over the place and veering around puddles and potholes. The bike’s suspension took everything the road could throw at it and I barely felt any of it. Theoretically of course I know that standing is better than sitting, but it still feels so unnatural to me that it takes a while before I can muster up the courage to do it. I also get tired and my legs cramp after a little while of standing. More reason to work out those quads!

We reached the end of the trail and Dave slowed down indicating an area off to the right, which I understand is usually closed off. It looked like a good place to go practice dirt riding skills. Unfortunately, it was sandy and I wasn’t going fast enough and I washed out. We got the bike up, but then it wouldn’t start!!! We tried and checked everything we could, with no luck. Press starter button -> nothing happens. No sound of even trying to turn over, indicating a faulty switch somewhere. It boggles my mind how a little tipover could cause something like that. Push starting didn’t help either. It made a sort of sound, but never fired. We think it could be a matter of a bad switch plus a fouled spark plug.

Dave lived pretty close by, so he offered to come back with his trailer. Nikolas and I waited on the side of the road, getting soaked in the rain until he returned. I was relieved to get a ride back to Seattle and secretly a little frustrated at having yet another bike that didn’t start!! I have had the damndest luck this year. :|

So I guess I’m delighted that I could go out and play in the dirt, but really bummed about not ending the ride in a more satisfying way. :(

125cc bikes rock!

The April issue of the AMA’s American Motorcyclist was one of my favorites as it had a whole feature on motorcycling related things to do that you’ve never done before. I added quite a few of those to my todo list for this year, which I won’t share quite yet, but I checked off the first one today after my first ever experience with riding a dirt bike at the Puget Sound Safety Dirt Bike School. And it was a BLAST. :D

Worth the 1 1/2 hour drive to Roy, WA and back through a rainstorm. Not to mention the fact that after a week of sunshine, this was the one day that it had to pour down continuously throughout the class. It didn’t rain enough to dampen my spirit though.

My street bike habits kept taking over, and it took me a while to get the dirt bike riding posture, and a much longer while to be able to stand on the footpegs for longer intervals. But it was *incredible* to be able to ride such a light, maneuverable bike! I couldn’t believe how easy it was to ride figure eights and tight circles on it. My street bike’s going to feel mighty big and clunky after this. :)

Speaking of Roy, WA, a conversation I had with my trainer last week:

Me: I’ve got a dirt bike class coming up soon at Roy, WA
Her: Where’s that?
Me: Next to Yelm, WA
Her: Where’s that?
Me: Next to Lacey, WA
Her: Where’s that?
Me: Next to Olympia, WA
Her: Oh. Yeah, it really is in close proximity to Nowhere, WA.

Doing turns…

I’m especially proud of this one, because the thought of going over that obstacle had me mentally screaming “IcantdoitIcantdoitIcantdoit… oh, I did it… OW”. This last being the outcome of not standing high on the footpegs so that
the bike smacked me in the butt after it bounced off of the log.

Now I’m hankering for a dirtbike of my very own, inspite of the fact that there are hardly any roads close to where I live, where I could ride it. The BMW F650GS I have my eyes on could meet part of this craving, but I highly doubt that it would be anywhere near as manueverable as the Yamaha I rode today.