March 28, 2014
Sun, rain, wind. Hot and cold. Sand, mud, gravel, snow, even some asphalt. Long hours in the saddle, challenging routes, motorcycle field repairs. Grizzled rally veterans, group meals and camping.
Sounds a lot like the Dakar Rally, doesn’t it?
Getting the flavor of the punishing South American rally raid is what the Taste of Dakar, a dual-sport/adventure pow-wow in the Mojave Desert, is all about. But instead of requiring a year of preparation, $100,000 and a support team, all you need for Taste of Dakar is a weekend and $259. Show up on Friday afternoon, ride on Saturday, head home on Sunday and wear your new T-shirt to the office on Monday.
Taste of Dakar is organized and hosted by AltRider, an adventure-touring accessories company based in Seattle, with support from sponsors such as Icon, Akrapovic, Rox Speed FX and MotoQuest. The entry fee includes meals and drinks, a campsite, ride routes (GPX files and paper maps) and that T-shirt. The third annual gathering took place during the first weekend in March and was based at the Wine Ridge RV Resort (wineridgervresort.com, 775-751-7805). Gravel RV sites accommodate tents, motorcycles, trucks with campers, RVs and toy haulers; for an extra fee, cottages are available for rent. Clean showers and bathrooms, a coin-operated pressure washer and a large clubhouse made Wine Ridge an ideal venue, though the semi-permanent RV residents weren’t keen on motorcycles being fired up early in the morning and zipping around faster than the posted 5mph limit.
About 100 riders from as far away as New York attended this year, riding a wide assortment of dual-sports and adventure tourers, everything from KTM 690s with rally kits to Kawasaki KLR650s, BMW R 1200 GSs, Honda XR650s and even a couple of Buell Ulysses. Heavy rains leading up to the event cleared out during dinner on Friday night, resulting in bluebird conditions on Saturday with a fresh coating of snow on the surrounding mountains. After a hearty breakfast, riders left in groups and rode one of three routes (easy, intermediate and hard) that covered 150-170 miles and included a grilled-hamburger lunch stop at the Pioneer Saloon in Goodsprings. It was dark when the last riders returned to base camp, where everyone got cleaned up, enjoyed a hearty meal and told war stories around the bonfire with beers in hand.
Special guests included Jimmy Lewis and Chris Blais, the only two American motorcycle racers to achieve podium finishes in the Dakar Rally. In addition to his success in the Dakar, Jimmy Lewis is a four-time International Six Day Enduro gold medalist, overall winner of the Baja 1000 and overall winner of Dubai Rally. His Jimmy Lewis Off-Road Riding School is based in Pahrump, and in addition to creating Saturday’s ride routes, he held special one-day off-road training classes on Friday and Sunday ($250 per person). Chris Blais, who was the top American rookie and 9th place finisher in the 2005 Dakar Rally (he placed 4th in 2006 and 3th in 2007), was a featured speaker on Saturday night. He told a heartfelt story about his life, from his early days wrenching and racing for Honda to the challenges of Dakar and his current work as a technician and manager for off-road racers.
Taste of Dakar will return to Pahrump in early 2015. AltRider will host other dual-sport/adventure events this year, including Conserve the Ride (Woodward Caves, Pennsylvania; June 27-29, 2014), the MOA Adventure Ride (BMW MOA Rally, St. Paul, Minnesota; July 2014) and the Hoh Rainforest Ride (Olympia National Forest, Washington; August 22-24, 2014). For more information, visit altrider.com.
|It doesn't rain often in the desert, but when it does the results are impressive. Pounding rain, thunder and lightning on Friday soaked us on the 300-mile ride from Ventura, California, to Pahrump, Nevada, and tested the waterproofness of our tents.|
|The rainstorms passed through late Friday night, leaving behind brilliant blue skies, a dusting of snow and perfect trail conditions on Saturday. Friends Paul Beck (left) and Peter Neuper (right) take a short break on the expert route.|
|Easy, intermediate and expert routes were available, each totaling 150-170 miles, and they would overlap or crisscross throughout the day. After the first expert-only section, we joined the easy route for some cruising on gravel. Scenery like this is what adventure riding is all about.|
|Every motorcycle at Taste of Dakar was street legal, and the 100-plus riders who attended were mounted on a wide variety of dual-sport and adventure bikes from Betas, BMWs and Buells to Hondas, Kawasakis, KTMs and Suzukis.|
|The expert route turned sloppy as it climbed from the sand and gravel of the desert up into the mud and snow of the mountains. Getting dirty is part of the fun!|
|After 75 miles on the expert route, which included field repairs for a kickstand switch and a punctured clutch cover, as well as target-fixation topple into a bush, we arrived at the Pioneer Saloon in Goodsprings for lunch.|
|After lunch, all three routes crossed into California, and the intermediate and expert routes included some optional play time in the sand dunes. And to make things interesting, after a bluebird morning the rains returned.|
|We met several guys from Oregon who took the Taste of Dakar to heart, with the riding skills and rally-kitted KTMs to prove it. (Photo by Dave Wachs)|
|After the dunes came Mesquite Lake, one of the many dry lake beds in the Mojave Desert. Pinning the throttle across a wide-open, dead-flat expanse of dirt is a rush!|
|Well, the lake bed was mostly dry. Having deviated from the established route to play around, the KTM 1190 Adventure R became hopelessly mired in the mud. It packed so heavily around the front knobby that the fender literally exploded. Due to our various field repairs and delays, we didn't complete the entire route. It isn't an adventure until something goes wrong!|
|Chris Blais, a three-time Dakar Rally veteran and podium finisher, was the featured speaker on Saturday night. His life story about hard work, seized opportunities and persistence through adversity (including a spinal cord injury) inspired all who attended. (Photo by Kurt Asplindh)|
|Chris Blais' trophy from the 2007 Dakar Rally, the year he placed 3rd in the motorcycle division. (Photo by Kurt Asplindh)|
|Pahrump, Nevada, is only 35 miles east of Death Valley National Park, which is part of the reason the town bills itself as "Your Base Camp to Adventure." It is also surrounded by mountains and almost limitless off-road riding. Taking the scenic route home through Death Valley was a Taste of Dakar bonus.|