3:00 on Friday I pointed the Jetta south with the Yellow Menace in tow. YM had just emerged from its (her, I've decided) second rebirth and is now bright yellow with lots of new parts, lots of disassembly and reassembly, and hardly any miles. Knowing I would be running late into the night getting to Raleigh (my layover) on a bike that hadn't had a shakedown, I opted to drag it for the first half.
Traffic was bad but not horrible; I got well below Richmond before I started getting sleepy and never had to resort to phone calls to stay awake. I rolled into Raleigh shortly after midnight.
The forecast was terrible for the south. When rain is expected from dawn 'till dusk in an area, you can't expect to stay dry. Most of the route was like that; with an unproven bike and heavy interstate traffic I elected to leave the bike on the trailer and drive down. Forty miles into the drive I was thinking, "Heck, I could ride in this!" It was barely sprinkling. By the time I got to South Carolina I was thinking, "I wouldn't be caught dead on the bike in this." The rain had traffic completely stopped at times, with a car washed from the shoulder into the median by a flash flood. Traffic moved at about 80 at best, but constantly slowed to 40 or even stopped for the numerous accidents.
I didn't realize it, but I-95 is 2-lane each way through most of NC, SC and GA. Bike week counted for about 10~15% of the total and the road was just overworked. Close to FLA I bailed when the traffic stopped dead yet again and got onto 301 headed for Ocala, which was actually a really nice break from I-95.
I got here (Inverness FL) about 8:30 and took the bike for a spin. Seems to work well. Tomorrow is going to be 265 ~ 375 (depending who you talk to) miles of mostly street with about 80 miles of dirt. Sunday we go to a local offroad park, courtesy of BMWNA.
I can see why the snowbirds head south. The air is warm and sweet, and the roads don't suck. Getting here was pretty crummy, though... 11 hours to go less than 600 miles.
Taken in the woods on day 1 by Ian Schmeisser
This ride was billed as being "for experienced riders." They weren't kidding; I think my skills were pretty marginal for this terrain. There is so much deep, loose sand everywhere that you almost find it a pleasure to get into deep mud instead.
We got going around 9:00 after a brief chalk talk by Jimmy Lewis, and the morning consisted of mostly sand or gravel roads connected by shorter bits of pavement.
The sand is tough - there's not much you can do about it except let the bike go a bit loose and be ready to take control FAST if the front wheel takes a serious twist. The gravel was usually 'marbles'; a sprinkling of small stones on top of a hard packed surface. Starting the day with 30PSI (already lower than usual) in the tires led to some of the most uncomfortable nonpaved riding I have ever done. The bike was weaving and wobbling all over, but dropping the pressure down to 22 fixed that; almost immediately it was pretty comfortable to do 60mph sweepers on gravel. :)
But the sand was still a PITA. Knobbies might have helped a bit, but I think the real problem was my skill. :( Well, that and the fact that the PD is an overweight pig, carrying too much fuel too high up. Without knobbies. I stayed upright for the most part, dropping it in one very deep section (target-fixating on deep sand) and then again during a deep-sand hillclimb.
The hill. Holy moley, I had no idea the bike could go up that. We were dodging along on some sandy singletrack, with a river on one side and a hill on the other, when everyone came to a halt. I could see a barricade across the trail further ahead, and walked up to the front, figuring that the trail had suddenly been closed and we needed to come up with plan B. Nope, it turns out that plan A was to make a left turn and climb a fairly steep trail with deep, loose sand. The best technique was to get going in first gear and modulate the throttle to limit wheelspin somewhat. Then, steer to stay in a rut (harder surface down deeper) and paddle-walk to help stay upright. It looked kind of lame, but it worked, and if Jimmy used that technique then it's good enough for me.
The hill was about 75 yards long, and then after that there was another 100 yards or so of flatter terrain. I dumped the bike the second time here, then came back on foot to watch the action.
Then, after a few miles of rain-slicked hardpack road, we settled in for the 40-minute ride back, dinner at a seafood place near the coast (great twisty road leading there but it was dark and rainy) and sleep.
Monday was clear and beautiful. The plan was to head south on I-75 to a motocross park, where we would have a demonstration and some basic pointers from Jimmy, and then just ride recreationally. As nice as the day was, I trailered down there again because my clutch had started to slip the day before, and I wanted to get a running start on my trip home so I could replace it. Being stranded there with a burnt clutch would be bad news.
We met there around 9:00, entered the park and rendezvoused at a parking area adjacent to a large sandy area with whoop-de-doos, berms, water, and other assorted terrain. Deep sand, that is, like the hill the day before.
Jimmy started off with a few pointers on riding overweight bikes like ours. Stand on the pegs to isolate the bike's movements from you, use the controls (not your muscle strength) to control the movements of the bike, let the bike drift around within reason, and be ready to give a handful of throttle with a steering correction to straighten the bike up when it gets too far out of line. Other tips included use of the clutch and the rear brake to control the bike during slides and wheelies, rather than using the throttle.
He demonstrated this stuff for us, sliding the front tire and then the rear, riding slowly, letting the bike nearly fall to one side then catching it with a steering correction and a dose of throttle, pulling wheelies, etc. Then in the sand, he spent a lot of time showing us how to get unstuck (he buried the rear drive of his bike pretty well) and how to keep from getting stuck. Then he rode out in the deep sand for a while, looking nearly like he was riding on hardpack, and amazed all of us with a pretty sharp uphill turn across the side of a hill, with the side of the bike nearly dragging the ground.
At that point everyone was standing around looking at each other and I wanted to ride, so I headed out into the sand. With nothing there to hit and soft ground, I put the fear of falling right out of my head and just steered and gave controlled throttle input. Amazingly, the bike behaved. In the deep sand, the front wheel is more like a rudder than a wheel, so you just point it where you want to go and give some throttle to push the bike through. On the wetter hardpack it was more traditional, but still squirmy enough that I wanted to stay up on the pegs and let the bike move by itself. I did a few laps of the course, threw in a few deep water crossings (to cool the engine, you know :) ) and eventually made my way over to this area where the BMW photographers were shooting people riding up this large berm. Helly (one of the Germans) on an F650 Dakar was getting all of the attention so I made a couple of passes through there, dropping the bike a few times as I got more tired but still having a great time. Dropping down a 15' 60° slope in deep sand isn't something that I had pictured myself doing before on a PD, but it was just business as usual by now.
On the way out I did that same uphill turn that Jimmy had done earlier... no big deal. The breakthrough is in realizing that there is actually lots of traction out there, but it's nothing that a street rider will recognize as traction. When the tires dig into the sand, there's plenty of grip but it's hidden by all of the slow slipping that's going on. Ignoring the slow sliding and concentrating on the overall motion of the bike lets the rider control the bike with a reasonable degree of accuracy. But keep in mind that this 'insight' is coming from someone with nearly a whole day (!) of experience...
From there we went to a hot catered lunch and then Helge showed us some packing tips for long-distance traveling. By about 2:00 I was heading for the trailer, then made my way out of town, back to I-95 and got to Raleigh around 11:00.
Returning home was uneventful. I got to Hilko's place around 5:00, we went home and took off the transmission and clutch. Although there was no real wear on the friction disk, there was the appearance of grease contamination, possibly from using too much grease on the splines when I had it apart the week before. So, a new disk is in and the clutch seems to be behaving.
The folks from BMWNA were great and put on a great event. The only flaw, really, was that the group was too large to be treated as one group, so we spent a lot of time waiting. In fact, we could never make it through a traffic light in one group. But otherwise, it was superb. It wasn't a really glossy show; they were all very real people with real things to say, and they were extremely good riders. The BMWMOA page mentions the two most prominent ones, Laurence and Helly.
http://www.bmwmoa.org/features/030502_ocala.htm (pictures gone, unfortunately)
Jimmy was a great addition to this event, of course. Going down a sandy trail before the hill, I got passed by another rider while the trail was still two tracks wide, and I think I might have passed someone as well. No big deal. After that, it narrowed down to singletrack, and a bike came up on me pretty quickly and *effortlessly* swooshed past me with perfect timing in a wide spot, and then swooshed past the rider ahead in a narrower spot. All I could think was, "Dang... he can control a bike." He had a really down-to-earth way of coaching and talking about riding. I really want to attend one of his classes.
Helge was a great addition, also. He was there with his new 1150GS Adventure in preparation for his upcoming trip through the far east. Also a great rider, and all-around nice guy, it was nice to finally meet him.
Who else was there? Let's see... Fast Eddie, Roger Wiles, Ian Schmeisser, Pirate John... Maury Ball and a few folks from Atlanta BMW were there (Bob, the shop owner actually covered our lodging!) and a few other folks that I've met but can't quite place. All in all a great crowd.