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Great Ride.

This last weekend the IMS crew had the great opportunity to participate in the Cal Poly Penguins Hi Mountain 125 in the hills of San Luis Obispo CA.  At the ride was the owner Scott Wright on a new Husky 501, Chris Hardin, manager, on a Husky 310 and I, Ethan Sullivan, blog writer and elementary school teacher, on the IMS Triumph Tiger 800XC.

The bikes at the IMS booth.

The bikes at the IMS booth.

I have owned the IMS Triumph Tiger for the last 9 months and the bike has always ran flawlessly.  As I was quickly approaching the 6,000 mile warranty service mark, I figured now is as good a time as ever to replace the old worn out TKC80 with a new one, and kill two birds with one stone.  This also gave me the peace of mind that the bike would have fresh oil, and completely checked out for what was going to be one of the tougher rides I have ever done on the bike.

The ride wasn’t until Sunday but for me it started a day earlier, with riding the bike down from Monterey to Pismo to the hotel I was staying in.  I had originally wanted to leave in the late morning, early afternoon, and cruise Highway 1 all the way down, much like I had done during Thanksgiving.  But as life and luck would have it, I was not able to leave until almost 6pm.  Since I didn’t want to get stuck on the 1 at night for to long, I decided to slab it down the 101.  Now, where as the 1 from Monterey to Pismo is a gorgeous, an amazing feat of engineering and breathtaking beauty, the 101 is a great study in efficiency and practicality.  It is almost arrow straight, carving it’s own way through the state of California, not following any route other then the one decided on by man.  This means that getting from Monterey to Pismo took just about two and a half hours, verses the three and a half along the 1.  As it was I arrived in Pismo just a few minutes after total darkness, (after a brief stop at Firestone Walker Brewery, the one main highlight of the 101).  I checked into my hotel, got some food, detached the Tourtech 45L hardball full of my stuff, and went to bed.

I was up early, geared up, and meet Chris and Scott at the Cal Poly University H1 parking lot at the IMS booth, showing off the new Rally Foot pegs (full review to come soon, but lets just say, they look awesome).  After parking the bikes to display the ADV 1 foot pegs we rubbed shoulders, walked around, meet some great people, and saw some really cool bikes.  They did a rider briefing, and raffle, and by 9am, we were off.

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The ADV 1 pegs, ADV 2 under those, and new Rally Pegs on the very bottom.

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The beginning of the ride was pretty uneventful, just under 31 miles of on road riding to the first dirt.  I usually ride alone, not because I don’t like riding with people, just none of the people where I live now ride a motorcycle.  As a result I had a great time riding in the group.  There were a few times, in the tight, blind corner roads I was a little unnerved, riding that close to the other bikes, but over all it was great fun blasting along with other riders, together.

The first set of dirt we encountered was what I was expecting the majority of the dirt riding to be, nice dirt roads, a few dips and hills, pot holes and ruts, but over all nothing to super hard to do on a 500 pound ADV bike.  After all these are the types of roads I normally ride on when I off-road the IMS Tiger.  For this ride I had aired down the tires to around 22-24 PSI, which for a big ADV bike is pretty low, a far cry from the 14-16 PSI I used to run on my XR650R, and I left the rear Touratech Shock alone, set up for a 215 plus pound rider, and two fully loaded 45L panniers.  How did this effect the bike, how did she perform off road?  In a word, Flawlessly.  The bike did great, only let down by the lack of skill of the rider.  Yes, with a 50/50 tire (which the TKC80 is considered) the front end would push on hard pack, or gravel.  There are some times where you just can’t deny the laws of physics, a 500 pound bike with limited grip, will push.  But that was not the bike’s fault, but more a consequence of having to run street rubber for the high speed highway miles this bike does.  There were a few times that I crested a small hill, unable to see very far ahead due to the dust of another rider, and came upon a pot hole infested, rutted downhill that, had I known was there I would have slowed down for.  As it was, I trusted the Precision Concepts forks, and Touratech rear shock, and actually found my self gassing it down such hills, surprising even myself.  The bike ran over everything in it’s path, ate it, and burped it out.  I can see now why many people love these bikes.

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After some lovely dirt roads, we hit the asphalt again, only to transition again to some dirt roads.  After having our spark arrestors checked, and dealing with a lost license plate, we were off to the first Ranch.  Now in this area the GPS was of no use, we were going old school, with neon orange arrows marking the often very narrow single track.  This is where things got fun.  It was evident that the creators of this ride were making a true dual sport ride, not a ADV ride.  This was apparent by the A. lack of big ADV bikes that showed up (5 counting me) and B. the types of trails and hills that were set up to ride.

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As we entered the first Ranch things were good, narrow single track yes, but nothing that the IMS Tiger and I couldn’t handle, (remember the bike could do all of this, the rider…well not so much).  This was until the first of 3 major hills.  This was a hill that entered through a left hand turn through a gate, and up a 50-60 foot hill.  This normally would not be a big deal, except this hill was tough to just walk up, was about 6 inches of deep powdery silt, and was littered with fallen dual sports that had tried and failed to climb the hill on the first try, and the only way to get up it was the 12 inch wide trail, the rest was tree and branch lined making other line choices almost impossible.  This was the first of several tip overs.

I charged up the hill, confident that I could do this, just stay to the out side edge, on the virgin not as deep silt dirt, and modulate the clutch to prevent tire spin.  Unfortunately a XR650L had decided to take a nap right on my chosen line, so I cut left and almost immediately the back end tried to swap places with the front, I got sideways in a bad way, and went down.  With some help, I was able to get the bike upright, aimed it down the hill and went for run number two, this time with no sleeping XR in the way.  I charged up the hill, and soon discovered it didn’t matter what was in the way I did not possess the skill necessary for this amazing machine to do what it does best, conquer the dirt.  After dropping the bike again, I was able to get some more help, and with Scott coaching me and pushing, I got the bike to the top of the hill.

The quickly found out that it wasn’t the uphill that was the worst, but the downhill that really made you tighten up.  When you are riding a 300 pound XR650R, you think you got a heavy bike.  When that bike has custom Precision Concepts suspension, and a 680cc big bore kit with matching HRC cam, you think you got power.  Nothing is quite like the 100 horse and 500 pound off road beast that is the IMS Tiger 800XC.  This bike wanted to go faster then I wanted it to go.  With the loose silt everywhere and the ruts that forced you to go where they wanted, and with 500 pounds keeping you where it wanted, it was a different experience.  Yes, it would have been easier on my old 650R, but better, well, that is debatable.  I loved every minute of it, the bike, the ride, the people around me, all of it.

I finally found my personal limit on the Hill from Hell.  After an amazing steak, maracconi, and salad lunch,

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we headed out, I got lost, and then was found (there is a metaphor in here Luke 15, Prodigal Son) and came upon the Hill from Hell.  It was a steep downhill to a right hand up hill to a left hand up hill, all in deep deep loose silt, that had been abused by probably over 100 riders by this point.  After looking at it, muttering “you got to be joking” a few times I finally had my turn.  After watching over half the field try and fail to make the hill after the first, second, and sometimes third try I knew I wasn’t going to make it first time either, but hope springs eternal and I went for it.  Trying a different line recommended by the Cal Poly Penguin spotter I charged straight down the hill, saying screw the turns I was just going straight up this hill.  I made it to the right hand turn, the first of the two turns, hit a dip and plowed into it like a bull.  Those laws of physics came into play and the bike stopped, but me being significantly lighter then the bike, didn’t.  I went head over tail smashing my helmet onto something incredibly hard, and landed on the ground, the bike simply fell over, ran for a second and then stopped.  I have never been hit so hard in my life.  I immediately stood up to save what was left of my dignity, and walked the few steps over to the bike to pick it up.  I almost immediately started to black out, my vision started to narrow to a black tunnel and I had to use the bike to steady myself.  But being a male I refused to acknowledge that I was swimming in a sea of almost solid black, and with some help hauled the bike upright.  Scott had already climbed the hill, with an ease of a seasoned Pro level rider, and was walking down the hill to check on me.  The fact that to me it looked like two Scotts were walking down the hill kind of told me that there was no way I was climbing that hill on anything other then my own two feet.  Giving the bike to Scott I got a chance to see what the Tiger could really do in the hands of a real rider.  Basically it looked like any ole Sunday ride in the dirt, the bike simply went up the hill.  The hill was still deep silt, the grass hid the many many pot holes, and the bike still weighed 500 pounds, but Precision Concepts and Touratech knew what they were doing when they did the suspension, and Triumph knew what they were doing when the built that engine, and the bike did what it was supposed to do and made that mountain into a little mole hill.

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Like the hill wasn't even there.  Scott Wright on the IMS Tiger.

Like the hill wasn’t even there. Scott Wright on the IMS Tiger.

After a long miserable hike up the hill, I mounted up and we finished the ride, there were a few more hills, all of which paled in comparison to the Hill from Hell, and I was able to ride up in the first try.  The downhills were still frightening, where I pulled over a few times to watch the much lighter KTM bikes skip down.  But finally it was over, and I have never been so glad and yet so sad to see pavement in my life.  In the end I had a blast.  The bike was perfect, yes it is a big heavy beast, yes I need much more time off road to learn how to ride the thing to it’s full potential.  But in the end I wouldn’t trade this bike, or that ride on that bike for anything.  It isn’t the ride that you win that sticks with you, trophies fade away and glory is eclipsed by another better rider, but it is the ride that you stuck it out and finished that matters.  “Coming in dead last with nobody but an old man and a flash light was the greatest victory I ever had.” said a rider to me once, and after this ride, waking up the next moring with bruises and aches I didn’t even know I had, I think I see what he meant.  It was more about the fact that I did it, on a bike I had never really tested on this hard of an off road course, that is what mattered.

Yeah, on a KTM 450EXC this ride would have been easier, or my old Baja Preped XR650R this ride would not have been nearly this hard, but it didn’t matter, what did matter was I did it.  I did it on a 500 pound, 90% street ridden ADV bike, and I could ride it home the next day, in comfort, and style, 160 miles.  This is what Adventure riding is all about, this is why these bikes are so popular.  It just makes sense, these bikes will get you there and get you home.  In the right hands with the right amount of forethought (in gear, suspension, and trail choice), these bikes can do it all, and do it with more comfort and style then any dual sport.

Not to sound like a paid advertisement, but I really can’t say enough about the suspension on this bike.  Precision Concepts once again did a great job, they took a soft, and heavy brake dive front end, and made it a work of art.  This floated over bumps, dips, pot holes, ruts, and rocks.  It didn’t miss a beat, didn’t wander, shake its head, or lose control ever, only the tires (being 50/50 dirt/road tires and the rider) letting them down.  As for Touratech, wow, just wow.  Yeah this shock is expensive, but anything this good will be.  At slow speeds the shock could have been softer, it was set up to handle me (215 plus pounds all geared up) and full panniers, but once you got the speeds up a little, to where the fun really happens, the rear shock just motored over everything, and asked for more.  It didn’t matter the terrain, the bike just moved over it like it was smooth asphalt, and made a hero out of a Average Joe.  Thanks again to the Cal Poly Penguins and all the sponsor that made this ride possible, and I will see you again next year.

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What are you thankful for?

So Thanksgiving has passed now, and Christmas is coming along very soon.  It is a great time of year to sit and reflect on what we have to be thankful for.  Over here on the Central Coast the winter is pretty mild, we don’t have to pack our bikes up because of the snow, or convert them into snow mobile type machines.  Instead we are pretty lucky to get to ride all year long.  Now since I am a school teacher I was thankful to get the entire week of Thanksgiving off and took the opportunity to ride down Highway 1 from Monterey to Pismo Beach (while my wife took our daughters the faster way on the 101) to meet Scott Wright, the owner of IMS, for a Thanksgiving getaway with my family.  I of course was riding the IMS Triumph Tiger 800XC and was hoping to get some time at the Oceano Dunes, and was not disappointed.

First off the road riding section.  WOW, I am very thankful of the men and women that put countless hours of time into crafting what has got to be one of the most amazing stretches of road in California.  The most beautiful sections of road were from Monterey to about Cambria.  It was tight, twisty, forest, ocean, cliffs, and just all together amazing views and roads.  The opportunity to pass slower moving traffic is not as abundant as I would have liked, but it is times like that I still found something to be thankful for because it allowed me a chance to just really admire the views and enjoy the scenery.

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After about 3 and a half hours of amazing riding I arrived in Pismo.  Spending time with family is always something to be grateful for, and after an amazing dinner I followed Scott out to Oceano Dunes for some riding and a impromptu photo shoot.  The bike tracked great in the sand.  I didn’t go into any of the deep stuff out in the dunes, staying primarily on the compact wet stuff near the water.  I was very thankful for the GPR Steering Stabilizer as it helped in the few rough spots, or where the sand was a little softer.

GPR Stabilizer was a great help.

GPR Stabilizer was a great help.

Love the panniers.

Love the panniers.

Excellent Grip.

Excellent Grip.

Best view of the day.

Best view of the day.

The sand was perfect for riding.

The sand was perfect for riding.

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End of the day rider and bike.

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Beautiful sunset, just one more thing to be thankful for.

IMG_7192 IMG_7187End of the day, there is a lot to be thankful for.  Your adventure ride doesn’t have to be a 6 month tour to South America from Alaska, it can be something as simple as a ride down the coast for Thanksgiving, and a cruise on the beach.  Thankfulness is a frame of mind, don’t let other things get in the way, and if you have time, just get out and ride.


The 1%

After the ride to Colorado and back the IMS Triumph Tiger 800XC has been regulated to what 99% of all motorcycles do, commuter duty. Since the ride I have moved back to Monterey CA where I teach at a elementary school 21 miles away from home. In the last few months over 2,000 slab miles have been put on the bike, and I have learned a few things. One of them being, even though TKC80 tires are phenomenal in the dirt, and grip really well on the road, they suck on mileage. After the 2,000 some odd miles of commuter duty the tires are over half way gone. I learned that on the street I can almost drag the pegs with out any trouble in a fast corner. I learned that even though the bike may be advertised at 45mpg, 38mpg-40mpg in stop and go normal everyday traffic is what is really going to happen. I also learned that having a bike like this isn’t just about big adventures, but the 1% of the time that you get to really just ride, and that 1% is what it is all about.

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Clean bike, no bags, looks kind of naked.

On Sunday I finally got a chance to do that. About 20 miles from my house, on Highway 1 is Bixby Bridge, the most photographed feature on the West Coast, and just north of the Bridge is a 11 mile dirt road called Old Coast Road. At one time this was the only way people could get from Big Sur to the Monterey Penninsula, and is now open to all street legal vehicles. I have ridden it before on a older IMS dual sported XR600R, with 90/10 street/dirt tires. But now I had the right bike, with the right tires, and all the time I needed to just enjoy it.

I usually have Touratech 45L bags on the bike, but for this ride I took them off, and I suited up in my full KLIM gear, and SIDI boots. I have not worn all this gear since the ride to Colorado and I forgot how nice it really was (I normally just wear the jacket when I commute). Since I was going to be meeting my wife after the ride, I had jeans on under the pants, and a normal shirt on under my KLIM Jersey and Jacket. The pants and jacket kept me warm during the cool morning fog here on the Central Coast, and when the sun came out they unzipped and ventilated really well. The TKC80 tires, even though the back was over half gone, still gripped really well, especially after I dropped the pressure from the high street pressure of 36-38psi down to about 18psi in the front, and 22psi in the rear. After that they stuck like glue, I could corner as hard as I was comfortable with and brake with confidence, even with ABS causing a few pucker moments in the loose stuff.

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Start of the ride, lose, downhill, cars. Good combination.

The first part of the ride is a lose gravel downhill dry section. Since this road is a street legal vehicle road, you have to keep your eyes open for the random truck or SUV. Coming behind me at the beginning of the ride was a guy in a SUV following a little to close behind me. This did cause a little bit of a rush and I over cooked a corner and with the ABS almost slide into the ditch on the side of the road. After that I simply pulled over and let the SUV pass, aired down the tires, and just had a blast.

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Beautiful Day.

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Beginning of the good stuff. Those tracks in the middle were left by a kid on a CR250R, that got dropped off to ride.

As I moved deeper inland and further into the forest the ground got wetter and the grip just got better. I come from riding a dual sport XR650R, and to be honest once the Tiger got moving it felt almost the same. Only the sound of the engine was different. The power that the Tiger was addictive, the linear way that the power just came on and kept coming on, was amazing. There was a direct connection between your right hand and the rear tire, and how much you slide is completely up to you.

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Messing around with my Panoramic setting on my iPhone Camera.

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Recent rains means this little creek had some water in it finally.

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Bike on a bridge.

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Throwing roost like this was all to easy and actually very controllable. Who needs traction control?

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With the recent rain we have had here on the coast, the plants can finally start to grow back.

One thing I love about Old Coast Road is that along the way you see that people have build and still live in houses hidden deep in the mountains. The area is absolutely beautiful, and with the recent rain, the plant life is amazing. Near the end of the ride I stopped at a point that over looks the ocean and Highway 1 to take a few pictures. During my little break, a small group of maybe a half a dozen riders on F800GS bikes came riding by. While I was there another guy stopped at the same point, in a brand new 1200GSA on it’s maiden voyage. He said he was taking a picture to send to a friend to make him jealous. This is when it hit me. Yeah 99% of these Adventure Bikes will spend 99% of their time on the road, commuting back and forth. Most of the guys who own one of these bikes is in a similar life situation as I am, kids, wife, regularly scheduled job, bills, the whole lot. We can’t just drop everything, travel from Alaska to South American and then on to Africa, up to Russia, Europe and back home. But it is the times like this when we get to ride with our buddies, or make our friends jealous, or just get away, it is these times, these 1% times, that make riding what it is. It is these times that help define this Adventure we call life.

Almost done.

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F800GS rider.

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Another F800GS rider.

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Making his friend jealous on his brand new 1200GSA.

Dirty bike parked outside swanky Carmel Plaza Shopping Center in beautiful Carmel-by-the-Sea, CA.

What Adventure is really all about.


Big Bear Dual Sport Ride

What an exciting weekend.  June 21-22-23 was the Big Bear Run Dual Sport Ride.  This is a very well known ride inside the state of California and luckily for me is only about an hours drive from where I live.  Big Bear is a pretty cool place to begin with, it is in the mountains, surrounded by trees, a beautiful lake, great weather, skiing in the winter, downhill mountain biking in the summer, and the best part, over a thousand miles of Dual Sport trails that are pretty much open all year round.  Because of this it attracts all kinds of off roading, from jeeps to mountain bikes to dual sports and adventure bikes.  Since the 1980’s the Big Bear Trail Riders club has been hosting this event including a easy and a hard loop.  The hard loop is so tough that just finishing it awards you a plaque to take home.

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 The easy loop on the other hand isn’t so easy. It is funny how different people’s ideas of what is easy and what is hard are very different.  This year’s ride also included hard sections of the easy route you could take if you were feeling adventurous or just wanted a little extra challenge without fear of breaking your bike, or your self.

So this year I, along with the GM of IMS, got a chance to participate in this event.  I had heard that even the easy loop was pretty challenging and not being an expert off-road rider, I was a little cautious and took extra steps in preparing for the ride.  I normally ride with a Kenda 270 rear tire and a Kenda Track Master front, provided for us by MTA, with some STI heavy duty tubes.  This is a great 70/30 on road/off road combination.  The 270 is a hard enough compound to withstand the brutal power of my 650 (bored to a 680, HRC cam, high compression, full exhaust, you get the picture) on asphalt and still provide a pretty good level of grip along with being very predictable in how it reacts on the dirt, all while lasting a long time.  The Track Master in front is grippy in the dirt, grippy on the asphalt and long wearing as well, way better then the matching 270 I used to run.  For this ride I was advised that the current rear tire I had wouldn’t probably be enough, and with my riding skill I figured as much.  See when I say the 270 is predictable in the dirt what I mean is it predictably slides a lot. Now I like to rear wheel steer a little so this isn’t bad, and most of the trails I ride are two track or fire roads, and I don’t need a high level of grip, so this tires work great, but for this ride I needed more.  Once again MTA stepped up and provided us with brand new Kenda Track Master tires front and rear and ultra heavy duty tubes.  Now I admit I am not very good at changing tires, and even after watching a million Youtube videos on how to change Dirt Bike tires I still am not great at it, but it was worth the effort.  On a spare rear wheel I had I removed a old worn out tire and replaced it with the new Track Master and STI Tube, and oil change, wash, and chain lube later I was ready.  (The front tire still has over 80% tread left so I kept it the same).

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The day of the event the GM and I loaded our bikes in his truck and drove up to Big Bear, getting there around 6:30am.  We unloaded, got the GPS tracks, geared up and hit the trails by 7am.  After only a few miles I understood the need for my new tires, it was a rocky, tough, sandy, loose, hard, soft, combination of dirt.  I did not want a pinch flat so I started the day, on the recommendation of the owner of IMS, with about 22 psi in both tires, and even at that “high” of pressure those tires would grip.  After a few miles my confidence was up, and the tubes were doing good, so I dropped the psi down to about 16 and nailed it.  Let me tell you, when I was finally able to relax, and calm down and realized that even though this was tough I still could do it, I had a blast.  The scenery was amazing, the trails were well thought out and planned, and the multiple bikes that passed me were amazing.  There was everything, from other dual sported XR650R’s to two stroke 250’s, and everything inbetween.  Also a lot of KTMs… I mean a lot. Probably 3 out of every 5 bikes was a KTM, not that that is a bad thing, it isn’t, it was just funny, but with them and Husky being the only real makers of a large variety of dual sport bikes it makes sense.

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 After only completing half of the easy route the GM and I decided, now that it was Noon and we had started at 7am, we were done.  Getting off the tracks and stuck in a dried up sandy creek bed for over an hour might have contributed to the length we were out there.

Some of the highlights of the trip would probably be the above mentioned Creek incident.  You see, sometimes GPS tracks are a little hard to read.  Because of this the GM and I might have taken a wrong turn and ended up in a very deep, very sandy dried up Creek Bed.  This one incident taught me a lot about teamwork and how hard it can be to move a 300 pound dirt bike buried in sand.  It also taught me the benefit of having a light bike, the GM’s bike is a TE310 much lighter then my XR.  Luckily this happened in the beginning of the ride, so we were still fresh and the weather wasn’t too hot. Near the end was probably the other major highlight for me, we encountered a hill, and not just any hill, a pretty steep, rocky, and long hill.  Now for the hard loop guys it was probably just a slight incline but to us mere mortals, it was tough.  So tough in fact that most of the people we saw approach it turned back and found a different route.  The GM of IMS had more guts than I did and attempted it twice, but eventually we turned back.

Looking at the GPS the GM was able to find an alternate route, that even though it wasn’t as tough as the hill, was still quite a challenge.  The best part was the 20-30 yards of uphill bowling ball size rock section that we had to go through.  At this point I was glad for the heavy bike I had, the weight kept the bike from deflecting too much, and the torque allowed me to chug up and over the rocks in a higher gear, instead of just spinning the rear wheel.  And once again, the tires and tubes provided by MTA gripped and I didn’t get a single flat.

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Overall this was one of the best rides I had ever done.  Even though I didn’t do the hard sections of the easy route, there was still enough challenging sections to keep me on my toes and help me improve, mixed with some high speed gravel roads to really let the XR stretch her legs.   I got a chance to meet some really cool guys, like Jeffery Glasset, who was still in high school and completed the hard loop as the 8th finisher, and his custom WR250R tank his dad made.  As well as Ken “Iron Man” Kosiorek The Baja Turtle, he had done 12 solo Baja Races (five 250’s, five 500, and two 1000’s) all with IMS tanks on one of his three XR650R’s.  

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The entire event was well organized and everyone had a great time.  The food was good, the prizes were nice, and the people were super friendly.  I look forward to doing this ride for many more years, and highly recommend it to anyone who can make it.