The plan was simple enough – fly down to Vegas, have a week’s holiday and then show up to do the Honda Canada launch there, before flying back home to Montreal.
A quick look on the ‘net for things to do Vegas way, turned up an outfit called AdMo Tours that offered up dual-sport bikes and a guide for a few days of dirt riding in the Mojave Desert region.
Sod the original all-inclusive beach holiday idea, this looked like a lot more fun – now all I had to do was convince my partner of this too.
Turns out that Courtney was erring more to the side of adventure holidays too, and despite her relative newness to the sport of motorcycling, was open to convincing.
Three days later we were booked in and planning out the details.
PRIMED FOR PRIMM (DAY 1)
Primm is really just a casino. Actually it’s three casinos, all owned by mega-company MGM strategically located just on the Nevada side of the California border, in the middle of the desert. The idea is that really lazy Californian gamblers can save the extra 40 miles to Vegas, and lose all their earnings in Primm, before heading back home to their trailer.
As a result, Primm offers a cheap place to stay (Whiskey Pete’s) with all amenities available to entice the less discerning gambler. This also works nicely for the dirt-riding enthusiast, looking for a decent bed and food at the end of a grueling day spent carving up the surrounding desert, without having to pay too much for it.
Our first day’s ride started in the parking lot of WP’s, where AdMo guide and company founder, Uwe Diemer had parked up his trailer and had already unloaded a trio of DRZs for our riding pleasure. After the signing of waivers, fitting of gear, determination of skills and the handing out of maps, we were off into the desert – destination, the Colorado River.
The route out was an easy way to ease into the dirt mentality — especially for a couple of igloo-dwellers like us — with a combination of paved and gravel roads. These led us to the top of the Colorado River Valley and an epic view of the intestinally bent trail (complete with some steep drop-offs) that would eventually lead us to the river at its base.
The track down required a chunk of thought and care thanks to a relatively rocky surface and the option of a quicker descent to the valley floor if you misjudged a corner and took the more direct — albeit head over arse — route.
Uwe had by now decided that I was a relatively safe bet and had given me the go-ahead to make my own way down while he kept close to Courtney. Yee haa!
Once at the bottom, Courtney and Uwe headed on to the lunch stop while I was given the option to take a short detour to the shores of the Colorado River. The rocky road had now become finer gravel and packed hard enough to allow for a pretty fast rate of knots. It was perfect – I’d bonded with the DRZ and was getting a good enough speed to have it “glide” around the meandering corners in perfect control. Glorious.
After lunch we looped back towards Primm and a dirt track that took us over a pass in the McCullough Range. Tiredness was beginning to creep up on me, with Courtney showing similar signs as she lost control of the big DRZ a couple of times and suffered low-speed drops as payback.
I was starting to wonder whether opting to ride for three days in the desert for a relative newbie was not such a good idea after all. But things soon changed as we hit the Roach dry lake bed just out of Primm.
So what’s so fun about a dry lake bed you may ask?
Well, it’s a very large and flat expanse of hard packed sand, that allows you to do whatever you want – full throttle, slalom, wheelies, whatever.
I think for Courtney, it allowed her to let go of the tension and just get used to the feel of the bike. It was a cool way to end a fun day.
DOING THE DUMONT DUNES (Day 2)
With an event-free day under my belt and a non-aggression pact agreement between myself and the DRZ, I was ready and willing for day two. Even my muscles and joints were feeling fine.
Today we headed west, with the ultimate destination of the Dumont Dunes, but not before hitting another dry lake bed, which allowed us to refresh ourselves with the bikes before hitting the rougher stuff.
As we cross Mesquite lake bed, tufts of grass and shrub sprout up. Their roots hold sand from the eroding winds and create solid obstacles to the rider – hit one and it’s enough to buck you out of your seat, or worse.
But they’re well spread apart and the lake bed is moist and grippy, allowing for a fast lurid slalom between the tufts. I’m starting to feel like I’m in the middle of the Dakar.
Quickly, small dunes start to grow up to my right and Uwe signals that I go off and ride them. The dunes are tiny, though, and I confidently attack them, grabbing moments of air as I crest the sandy humps and land perfectly on the other side, all the while slaloming between the ‘camel grass’.
Five minutes later, and I was panting like an asthmatic Labrador on a 40 degree day. Shit, how do those Dakar guys do this … for 18 days??? Exhausted but exhilarated, I returned to tuck in behind Courtney and Uwe, realizing that the day had only just begun and if I was to see the end of it I shouldn’t be panting like this at 10:30 in the morning.
After a couple of hours we zero in on lunch at China Ranch. The road down to it sinks into a jagged canyon and its surface is hard with loose gravel.
It’s like riding on marbles and I try to imitate Uwe as he slides his bike masterfully from one bend to the next.
But I’m not masterful, and my poor attempts to control throttle and pre-corner dabbing of the rear brake have me going into corners sideways and sliding precariously into the oncoming lane.
Pumped with adrenalin and aware that the DRZ was rethinking our non-aggression pact, I back it off and putter into China Ranch.
Here is an oasis. Not just in the geographical sense (which allows them to grow and farm date palms) but also in the little café in the grounds that has the best date bread I’ve ever tasted. Okay, it’s the only date bread I’ve ever tasted, but for moist muffin-like goo it was even better than a fresh Tim Horton’s banana nut muffin (yes, that good).
While inhaling the bread, Uwe gives me some pointers on how to tackle the China Ranch road. “Move up against the tank to keep your weight over the front tire for maximum grip, and lean the bike – not your body – into the corner. Then the back is lighter and easier to control too” … or words to that effect. He was right, and my exit on the China Ranch road was a lot more masterful than my entry.
The next section takes us down the Sperry Wash – an actual river through the desert – and the trail swings down its channel and crisscrosses the river, which will eventually empty and die in Death Valley to the west.
But I’m still full (unlike the river) and definitely alive and as we crest a small hill the horizon is filled with the biggest dunes that I’ve ever seen. Holy shit, they must be two or three hundred feet tall!
Uwe leads the charge, Courtney and myself follow, unsure as to what’s going to happen next. After a brief pep talk on how to go over dunes (at an angle, with a pause at the top to check that it’s not cliff-like on the other side) he charges at the first dune. We follow.
The sand is soft and full throttle is necessary to keep momentum up and stop the bike from being consumed by the fine sand.
We crest a dune and before I know it we’re riding in a fifty foot diameter bowl. It’s just as deep and I keep it pinned, follow Uwe for a lap and then crest out of it. Damn, now I know how a flushed turd feels. He then attacks one of the monster dunes but Courtney and I decide to hold back to see what happens.
The start is a direct line straight up but as gravity and the sucking sand begin to take over, he starts to arc off to the side, increasing the arc in relation to the slowing until – just before he stalls – he rolls into a downward direction, allowing gravity to now help him gather speed and power back out.
I figure that it’s now my turn but I lose approach speed on a series of whoops at the base and only manage to climb fifty feet or so before I have to peel off and return to earth. Attempt two is better and I perfectly predict the stalling point and ride it out, yelping in my helmet.
Attempt number three is bolder still, but I refuse to accept defeat and stall out – sideways onto
the hill. The dune is steep and I have no choice but to let go of the bike and it falls onto its side – tank downwards.
Have you ever tried to right an up-side-down bike half way up the side of a soft sand dune?
It’s a bitch, but I’m aware that I’m losing gas and Uwe has already expressed concern about fuel consumption. It proves to be a multi-stage process, but I finally get it right-side-up and have to gingerly remount to avoid repeating the whole affair.
But the sand doesn’t want to let us go now and there’s a prolonged battle between the spinning rear wheel and sand plume before I finally get downward pointing and charge away to freedom.
Sadly, we have to leave the dunes as it’s getting late and we pelt full speed across another dry lake bed, before joining up with a power line that is a beeline east to Primm.
About forty miles short of sanctuary, the sun finally drops behind the horizon and I feel the temperature plummet. The trail now starts to tighten up and fatigue battles against our wills to get back to a hot meal and warm bed.
Twenty miles later my DRZ starts to misfire.
Thankfully I’m riding beside Courtney and I manage to splutter ahead of her just enough to do the classic slash-across-your-throat “I’m dead” signage. She signals that she’ll go ahead and get Uwe. I pull in the clutch and coast slowly down the valley side.
Uwe is waiting half a mile ahead, and he’s already draining gas from Courtney’s bike to give to me (conservative on the throttle that girl). It’s only a couple of litres, but it’s all I need to get back to base. We’re both exhausted but I’m ecstatic.
Feck – that was fecking cool.
In part two (the second and final installment of our Primm adventure) ‘arris finds out that three days is one day too many, whereas the altogether fitter Courtney finds that three days are just perfect thank you very much … and just why is ‘arris gasping for air like a dying goldfish?
Founded in 1997 by Swiss national Uwe Diemer, AdMo Tours is based out of California and offers tours, around the world – fully catered or trimmed down with a more adventurous edge.
The main drive is to provide a tour option for the rider more interested in freedom and exploration of terrain – and skill – rather than a focus on lavish lunches and spa treatment.
The dual-sport tour we chose is based out of Primm, Nevada, and runs on demand (call and work out some dates) from October to June. It can be as short as one-day ride, to however many days your wallet (or more likely – your body) can manage.
The minimum is two riders, although solo tours can be arranged for an additional premium. There is always at least one guide per five riders.
The average distance covered in a day is between 80 and 120 miles, with a departure time of 9:00 am, returning no later than 5:30 pm (although it might be dark and cold by then). All the riding is in desert, in fact AdMo say that they are the only motorcycle tour company to have commercial permits from the BLM (Bureau of Land Management) and the Mojave National Preserve, giving them access to areas that other companies cannot.
They also offer a dirt riding school out of California suitable for all levels of riders, including the novice (as well as families and kids 10 years old and up) thanks to the option of less challenging terrain in the area. And if you’re planning that ride of a lifetime to Machu Pichu, then Uwe (a seasoned global traveler himself) can train you for all the eventualities that you may encounter en route.
For more information, check out their website at www.admo-tours.com or call 1-760-249-1105.
Check out all the pics that go with this story! Click on the main sized pic to transition to the next or just press play to show in a slideshow.