For an Australian, riding for four days through the United States of America without seeing another soul seemed as close to impossible as riding your 950 Enduro on the moon.
Only hours after landing at Los Angeles International Airport and heading towards the eastern edge of California on seven-lane freeways packed with vehicles going in both directions, Touratech Australia’s Robin Box (who is also the founder of Safari Tanks) was being pushed to his physical and emotional limits – all in the name of fun! Peter Whitten takes up the story.
Along with the Safari Tank’s USA distributor, Ben Rosenthal, Robin had the good fortune of being invited to participate in Casey McCoy’s legendary ‘Dawn To Dusk’ ride.
Over four days, 23 riders set out to cover an incredible 1450 miles through California, Nevada and Utah, scaling rocky and sandy mountains, creek beds, through rugged pinion pine, and over sage plains as they followed a course that would put them all at, and beyond, their limits.
IN THE BEGINNING
Although it started life as a competition, the Dawn To Dusk (or D2D) is now an invitational tour through some of the USA’s most barren and remote country, which year on year increases its status and mystique.
The event initially ran as the Nevada Rallye in 1995, and since 2000 it has run annually under the direction of well-known racer Casey McCoy. A resident of Bishop, a small town of 3500 people at the gateway to Yosemite National Park, Death Valley and Mount Mammoth, Casey made his name riding in some of the world’s toughest events, including the Dakar Rally and the Australian Safari.
He started the Dawn To Dusk as a way of training for competitions, gathering a few friends together and riding for days on end. With a start and finish in Bishop, the surrounding areas proved to be the ideal training ground to test the endurance of both he and his machines. Sand, rocks, hills, high speed tracks and incredibly remote locations all added to the training, and with little chance of coming across other people, it was the perfect training.
Now retired from competitive riding, Casey still organises the D2D for a fortunate few, with Robin and Ben thrilled to be a part of the 2011 marathon.
HOW IT WORKS
Although it’s an untimed ride, D2D riders must adhere strictly to a number of rules that help to ensure the safety of everyone. Bikes must have a fuel range of at least 180 miles (288km), and participants travel as a team of either two or three riders.
All bikes are fitted with a sophisticated spot tracker, with the track logged on to GPS units that have the D2D route pre-installed, ensuring that riders travel the correct route. However, despite this, some of the terrain is so rugged and remote that this in itself can prove extremely difficult.
Casey’s wife, Becky, remains in Bishop during the event, watching on computer the progress of all riders as they traverse the course, while a chase vehicle is on hand to assist riders if they get into trouble.
While Ben provided a pair KTMs for their entry in the D2D, Tom Myers, from Touratech USA, loaned a GPS tracker with the route loaded on to it, which
Robin used on the ride, and it was a critical piece of the puzzle.
“I literally arrived in Los Angeles and Ben was waiting out the front of the airport fir me with the bikes loaded on the trailer. They looked quite out of place at the busy international terminal, so we hit the road and headed straight out of LA,” Robin explains.
As the name suggests, riders start at dawn and usually don’t finish until dusk, but with well over 300 miles to ride every day, just completing the whole route isn’t easy. Most riders need to “cut and run” at some point during the four days, and such was the challenge this year, that of the 23 starters, only nine rode back into Bishop four days after the start.
The bikes on the ride were mostly KTMs, with 950 Super Enduros, 690s and EXCs featuring prominently, while Honda XR650s made up the rest of the fleet.
Robin got to know Casey during the time that the American was riding for Honda and Yamaha, and their friendship grew from there. Casey was actually the first person to bring Safari Tanks into the USA, a task now undertaken by Ben, who accompanied Robin on this year’s event.
“Casey invited me to do the Dawn to Dusk in 2010, but work commitments meant that I wasn’t able to do it,” Robin said.
“But this year I ran out of excuses not to go, and I’m so glad I did. Although when I received the details with the average speeds and distances to be covered each day, I had some real second thoughts because I knew it was going to be a damn tough ride.”
Both Robin and Ben are experienced riders, but in reality, nothing can prepare you for the remote and isolated terrain that they found themselves in over the four tough days of the D2D.
“Early on, the hardest part was that I couldn’t read the terrain,” Robin explains. “Some of the sand was quite difficult to ride in, and sand in the mountains is something that we just don’t have in Australia.
“The suggested average speeds were also very hard to maintain, and I certainly didn’t manage to achieve any of them.
“Despite the length of the days, the time usually passed quite quickly. You’d go from challenging riding to more open going, but just as your bum was starting to get sore from sitting down, you’d go off a good road and onto some more challenging tracks, which was the theme of the whole event.
“It was a continuous journey of up mountains and down valleys, then up mountains and down valleys – it was an incredible adventure and to be quite honest, I have no idea how Casey found some of the roads and tracks we rode down.”
With a 5am start from the centre of Bishop, all 23 riders were bright eyed and eager to get started on the adventure. A gruelling 375 miles lay ahead of them on the way to the overnight stop in Caliente, NV, so it was to be a tough initiation for everyone.
“From Bishop at 4500 feet, straight away we climbed 6000 feet in about 15 miles to snow-capped mountains. And these were big mountains.
“What surprised me was that you ride at a mountain range that appears impossible to get over. It’s just unbelievably steep on the sides, but there are little canyons that lead up them and you follow those. You’re either in the seasonal streams, or you ride beside them.
“Eventually the track will do some really tight switchbacks just to get you up on to the top of the mountain, then it’s down the other side into remote ranch country.
“It was on the first morning that I saw my first coyote as well, in what was literally Road Runner country!”
The morning took riders along or over Silver Canyon, Wyman Canyon, Deep Springs Valley, Gilbert Pass, Sylvania Mountains and into the Palmetto Mountains, before a breakfast stop in Goldfield after 108 miles.
Goldfield is an old, somewhat abandoned, goldmining town that really typified the remote landscape that the ride passed through, while a couple of huge wooden aircraft hangars (remnants of World War II) attracted plenty of interest.
From Goldfield, tough navigation sections and deep sandy tracks that “would swallow a BMW 1200” challenged everyone on the 155 mile run to lunch at Rachel, NV. Sitting on the locally named “Extraterrestrial Highway”, Rachel is a town of less than 100 people, and home to the famous Little A’Le’Inn. The local townsfolk put on a magnificent buffet lunch, re-energising riders for the final 112 mile section that went into the Tempiutes Mountains, before arriving in Caliente for the overnight halt.
“Because we were staying in very small towns, we quickly realised that if we didn’t arrive at a respectable time, we’d miss out on a meal,” Robin says. “Everywhere we went the people were incredibly accommodating, and it made the end of day dinners something that we really looked forward to.”
At just (!) 339 miles, the second day was the shortest of the four, heading from Caliente into Utah, stopping in Parowan for lunch after 179 miles, and then continuing up to 10,500 feet and over-nighting in Brian Head.
“This was a technical day with lots of single track riding. We used part of the Nevada 200 course, and while today was definitely a small bike day, it was certainly doable on a 950m,” Robin admits.
This day had everything. Deep sand washes, twisty canyons, deep ruts, dry creeks, and best of all, magnificent scenery in real ‘Wild West’ country. It reminded Robin of the cowboy and Indian westerns he’d watched as a kid back in Australia
“The variation in the terrain was the thing that continually blew me away. You’d be doing 80 mph, and then you’d be on a single-track in first gear, struggling to work out how you were going to ride up a dry creek bed.
“Although the GPS showed you the route you were taking via a distinct white line on the screen, sometimes you needed to pick your own course through some of the more rugged parts. As US magazine editor, Jimmy Lewis, commented on more than one occasion, you need to have a damn good reason to leave a good road for a scrubby, unmade track!”
Once again the day was full of highlights, but with the longest day to follow, riders were keen for an early night.
“This was a wet day, and we started off at altitude in the snow as we made our way around Paguitch Lake, through Horse Valley and down into Bear Valley on twisty gravel.
“The tracks were slippery and the scenery was spectacular. Again, we were up and down mountains all day, and with the rain it made conditions even more difficult.”
Using the banked turns on the switchbacks on the run from Freemont Pass into Lake Hollow added to the adventure on the way to lunch in Milford, UT.
“As the day wore on we started to feel more at home in the wet, but many guys fell off their bikes on a tricky section where a polythene pipe was running down the track.
“Another challenge was riding through the pinion pines and sage bush. It was a place where you had to rely on the GPS totally as you made your way on farmers’ tracks that were hard to see. The low branches on the pinion pines gave my helmet a fair beating, so much so that it looks like I’ve been sliding down the road on my head!”
Out of Lund, the unique sight of the Salt Lake City to Las Vegas pipeline had all riders stopping in amazement. The 12” pipe is currently being laid, and at 250 miles in length, it serves no other purpose than to pump jet fuel from one place to another!
The final 278 miles from Milford into Eureka was described in the event guide as “fun, fun, fun”. Riders made their way through the Star Range, over Antelope Springs and the Wah Wah Mountains, then across the valley into the Mountain Home Range and into Nevada.
The Egan Range, Sawmill Canyon and White Pine Range all faded into the distance as the scenic route ended in Eureka late on day three.
The tired riders who remained were once again up before dawn on day four, anticipating the 350-mile run back to Bishop, via Tonopah. It was a day that presented fantastic, open flowing roads that become very narrow through the many canyons.
Having left the freezing temperatures of the previous day well behind them, riders had to negotiate muddy creeks and valleys as the temperature soared to over 100 degrees. It proved to be the perfect test for the new Touratech Companero riding suit Robin had taken on the trip.
“It was quite bizarre,” Robin remembers. “Here we were riding in sweltering summer temperatures, yet in the distance there were snow-capped mountains everywhere. As an Australian, it’s something we just don’t see.
“For the record, the new Touratech suit was brilliant, and I was never too hot or too cold.”
Travelling through Allison Creek Reservoir, the ‘Miniature Grand Canyon’, Little Fish Lake Valley and Eagle Pass were all negotiated, before heading up Big White Sage Canyon to Mud Springs, then down the valley to the lunch break in Tonopah.
“The common theme of the ride was two-fold. On the one hand, if you were riding along a good piece of road, you knew it wouldn’t be too long until you turned off onto a little-used track. That’s just the way Casey thinks.
“And secondly, you knew that if it was hilly terrain, you were only there until you could find your way to a creek bed to ride along.”
With just 143 miles left to travel, riders may have been looking forward to an easy finish, but it wasn’t to be.
“On the run to the finish we were on tracks that were fairly tough going, yet within easy range was a really nice asphalt road that was taking us to exactly the same place. We were riding in deep sand, up a powerline road in steep terrain, and the temptation to take the easy option and hit the tarmac was fairly strong.
“Fortunately, those of us who stuck it out got the tremendous satisfaction of riding into Bishop on that fourth afternoon.”
BACK FOR MORE?
Looking back over the event, there are plenty of ‘American-isms’ that Robin remembers vividly, and made the ride incredibly unique for an Australian.
“Where do I start,” he asks. “I guess in no particular order, it was the fact that you could ride for four days and only meet two vehicles on the dirt roads. That really surprised me in a country of over 300 million people.
“The areas of California, Nevada and Utah we rode through are incredibly remote with lots of abandoned houses and ranches. The extreme temperatures were also a big change as well.
“We were operating at altitude and crossing mountains with snow on them, then a day later we were at the other extreme, riding in temperatures that were over 100 degrees.
“Yet despite the remoteness and the incredible size of the country, there was still a network of semi-made roads that you could use to cut and run if you had to. You may not see a car for a long time, but at least there was a way out.
“I also learnt a lot of American terms that I hadn’t heard before, such as a sand wash (deep sand washed off the hills), and silt (bull dust). The term ‘wingman’, your riding partners, is something else that isn’t used back home.”
Asked if he’d do the ride again, Robin initially pauses, before answering in the affirmative.
“Would I go back? Yeah, I probably would. I’d prepare a bit better, because coming out of an Australian winter the weather wasn’t conducive to training, so getting motivated isn’t easy. But with more riding and training, for sure I’d go back.
“There were times when I asked myself what the hell I was doing there, and then five minutes later my face was aching with a huge grin on it. You experienced those extremes every day. It was very hard work, but once you realised you’d have these highs and lows, it was easier to get through.
“The key was to remember that it’s an endurance ride, not a race, and you do have out options along the way, although you feel like you’ve cheated yourself when you do cut and run.
“Overall it was an incredible experience that I would love to have the chance to do again. I got to ride in places of America that most Americans have never seen, with a group of like-minded guys who were all there for the adventure.
“I am extremely grateful to Casey for inviting me, and to Ben for providing me with the bike. It’s something I’ll never forget.”
For more photos on the Dawn To Dusk ride, check out the gallery on the Touratech Australia website HERE.