Tell us about the ride, any mishaps? Did ya get lost? How was the terrain? Any particular challenging sections?
As usual, the ride starts the Friday after Thanksgiving in Palmdale, CA. We were in line for tech inspection around 5:30am, and there were already hundreds of bikes ready to go! After tech inspection, I picked up maps, a roll chart, rider instructions and GPS tracks for Day 1, then regrouped with the girls to make a game plan. Since I had some experience, I was asked to the group and navigate. Our chase crew included my mom Lori driving the MotoMinivan, Christina’s boyfriend and our team mechanic Giancarlo in a truck with their two pups, and Casey’s friend Kyle, who was also keeping an eye on two other LAB2V riders. We all confirmed where our first pit stop location would be, then hit the road.
As we made our way north to California City, I kept looking in my mirror and thinking how cool it was to see three badass, brave women taking on this new adventure. We kept up a great intermediate pace, and were staying on schedule to make it to Barstow before sunset. Although we carried extra lights for night riding, we didn’t want to use them! After the first gas stop, we headed east towards the lunch location in Johannesburg. Along the way, we decided to test our first Hard Route opportunity in Last Chance Canyon. There were some bottlenecks with other riders once we hit the deep sand and rock sections, which made riding through the obstacles even more challenging. With Casey’s injury, she made the very smart call to preserve her wrist and go back to the less crowded route, with Erica by her side. We communicated to our chase crew that we were briefly splitting up, then continued on. Christina and I put our two strokes through their paces in the long stretches of rocks and deep sand before meeting back up with Erica and Casey at the end of the canyon. It was at that point that Casey was having trouble getting her bike started. Some friends of ours, Billy and Joe passed by and they were able to get Casey’s bike running well enough to get back to the main road, and be picked up by our chase crew. Once again, Casey’s selflessness insisted that we press on while she figured out the fate of her poor CRF.
The trail was from there was fun and flowing, with amazing views overlooking Searles Valley. Then we arrived at a steep downhill with a bit of a rut, which is my biggest fear in riding. I know how I’m supposed to ride downhills, but executing it is another story. As I looked down the hill I saw a vintage XL600 on its side part way down, with its rider looking stuck and unable to fully lift the behemoth of a bike. I got off my Freeride and walked (slid) down to assist. As I helped him lift his machine, I learned he had no front brake! The bike would quickly pick up speed when we lifted it, pulling us all back down to the ground. We decided to push the XL on its side into the rut for leverage, where it could be stood up and walked down in gear, using the clutch as a brake. After the rider caught his breath and expressed his gratitude, he was able to get down the hill more safely. The other riders now had a clear path down, including Christina, who tackled that downhill like a pro. Fearless and confident, she rode down flawlessly as I watched from the rut. Then I realized I still had to walk back up to my bike! This made me realize how steep the hill felt and made me psych myself out even more. Despite being inspired by Christina’s success, I didn’t feel confident about riding down, and I wound up walking my bike halfway down the hill too. I got back on my bike and coasted to the base of the hill, where it plateaued before descending again into a second hill. I tend to be a stubbornly cautious rider, especially in the middle of a 400-mile ride.
Our entire group reorganized at the lunch stop in Johannesburg, where my mom greeted us with sandwiches, gasoline and ibuprofen. Casey’s bike was still in the truck, where it would stay until we could get to Barstow and let Giancarlo take a crack at getting it running well enough for day two. After a well-deserved lunch break, Erica, Christina and I got back on the road. Johannesburg to Barstow had a lot of fast, flat sections, and it was fun to open up the bikes after all the previous rocks and ruts. The very last dirt stretch of the day was a long, wide whooped out dirt road just outside of Barstow. This is where Erica really showed her speed and skill, as she opened up her 250 and flew across every rut and whoop section with ease. This girl can rip!
We eventually rolled into Barstow to end day one around 4pm, an hour before sunset and ahead of many other riders. I was proud of our pace as we picked up our roll charts and GPS tracks for day two. I immediately started bike prep before my fatigue totally set in. For me, that meant topping off my gas tank and gas bag, swapping out my air filter, replenishing my camelbak, cleaning and lubing the bike’s chain, checking tire pressure, mixing gas for tomorrow’s pit stops, charging all my electronics, loading the new roll chart, and previewing tomorrow’s route options as part of my navigator duties. All I wanted to do was eat and sleep but this ride is all about prep. Giancarlo already had Casey’s bike torn apart by that time and he discovered that, despite his outstanding efforts, the bike simply required new parts and wasn’t reliable enough to ride day two. We were heartbroken that Casey’s ride had come to an end so early in the weekend, but thankful that she stuck around and continued supporting her friends for day two. After carb-loading at the best Italian restaurant in Barstow, we got some rest before another early morning start.
The next morning we were all a bit sore and were starting to feel the muscle fatigue. Despite how much we wanted to ride the super rocky Hard Route through Calico Canyon that morning, we decided to stick to the Easy Routes and save our energy for Red Rock Canyon at the end of the day, which for me last year, was the highlight of the ride. We left Barstow and rode alongside the Calico Mountains for a bit. It was so difficult to pass up the Hard Route turnoffs into the canyon, but I felt that staying conservative was the best option for the group to get to Vegas while the sun was still up. A small consolation for missing out on the rocky canyon was watching the still-visible full moon hang over the mountain ridges while the sunrise cast long shadows of our bikes on the short stretch of pavement past Calico. It’s easy to get caught up in the fast pace of the ride, but I tried to remember to look up and enjoy the beautiful scenery that we are fortunate enough to be able to ride through.
The pavement faded to dirt and the dirt to sand in a canyon. This turned that beautiful sunrise into a challenging one, as we were now heading directly east in clouds of hazy dust. Ultimately, we popped out onto some fast, wide dirt roads that paralleled powerlines and railroad tracks near Yermo, and the wind helped clear the dust. Giancarlo met us at a railroad crossing so Christina and I could top off our small tanks before the next gas stop in Baker. As we headed off towards our first checkpoint, we turned on to the sandy and curvy Powerline Road. I could see that Christina and Erica were eager to click through some gears behind me, so I waved them on ahead, knowing that navigation wasn’t going to be an issue for several miles. Moments later, I came around a corner to see a group of riders huddled around someone on the ground near a small washout on the left side of the road. Then I saw a Freeride with no one on it and my heart sank. But just as quickly, Christina’s face appeared through the small crowd as she was sitting upright and looking my way with a slightly bloody half grin. I knew then that she was okay… relatively speaking. Erica was by her side and so were a handful of other riders who had stopped to check on her. Christina took some time to recover and felt good enough to press on, so we did. We sped off towards Baker, home of the World’s Tallest Thermometer, and arrived there just before 9:30am. We were still ahead of schedule to be able to ride Red Rock that afternoon, and we took advantage of that with a long break. Giancarlo went to work fixing a few things on Christina’s bike while Erica and I indulged in more of Mom’s sandwiches.
After Baker, it was a quick 50ish miles to Sandy Valley, a tiny little town in Nevada where we were served a hot lunch by the local student council at an elementary school. Once again, the volunteers that come together for this event are amazing! We realized that Christina’s front tire had a slow leak after her crash, so a repair was in order. Giancarlo saved the day with a post-lunch tire fix that allowed Christina’s Freeride to keep going. With a little time lost on the tire change and an ankle issue creeping up on Erica, we decided to take what can only be described as a dirt highway from Sandy Valley to the entrance of Red Rock Canyon to make up some time. On this final leg of the trip, we had a couple other friends tagging along as well: Scott and Ichi.
We arrived at the start of the Red Rock Canyon Hard Route and were immediately greeted with some fun, winding single track leading us to the base of the canyon. We twisted our way through stone-filled dips and climbs until we arrived at a rocky downhill, where sheets of dark red shale were stacked like stairs covered in loose rocks and small boulders of the same color. This place was appropriately named. The downhill ended with a sharp right turn into deep, deep sand where other riders’ tracks wound tightly around Joshua trees and more rocks. I had to keep looking up from the faint trail to find the signature LAB2V ribbon markings and make sure we stayed on course. The sand ended into a deep wash filled with nothing but rocks and boulders, with gravel underneath. Some parts were narrow enough for only a single bike to fit through and the wash’s walls came up over our handlebars at times. But I felt like a kid in a candy store. My little Freeride was built for this type of terrain and my excitement outweighed my fatigue. My bike gobbled up the rocks and crawled up a few small step ups without issue. Eventually the wash widened and leveled out a bit, so I stopped to check navigation while waiting for the others.
I realized the roll chart and GPS both alluded to a right turn that I had missed, which could get us back to the main road more quickly. This was the first time on the ride that I felt uncertain about navigation, and I certainly didn’t want to lead the group through more enduro riding then they had to, since shadows were getting long and muscles were getting tired. The group caught up and took a break while I turned around and unsuccessfully tried to find a cutoff back to the main road. Other riders passing by confirmed that they didn’t see a turn either, so I double backed to my group. We decided to keep following the wash, since more riders were heading that way as well and none of them had turned back around. It wound up working out and we reached the blacktop a short while later. I linked back up with the GPS track and I knew we were around the corner from the grand finale.
After a very brief paved reprieve, we were back on winding dirt two track, ascending to the rock garden at the peak of Rocky Gap Rd that seems like the most sought after section of Red Rock and the LAB2V ride itself. I arrived at the peak to find 4x4s blocking all the non-Jarvis lines through the first stage of rocks and step ups. Some riders tried going around the trucks but were having trouble because the lines were nonexistent. Ichi hopped off his bike and assisted the riders ahead of us. Eventually the trucks moved but I was already set up for a less-than ideal line choice. I tried it anyway and dropped my bike. I repositioned, and gave it another shot, and successfully crawled up the first rock face, with Ichi spotting me just in case. He stayed behind and helped some others while I charged ahead with Scott right behind me. There were more 4x4s coming towards us on the trail, which took away more line choices, but we were there for a challenge anyway. I bounced around from one rock to the next, smiling and feeling at home in the rocks. Within minutes, the hardest part of the section was over and it was just a matter of flowing back down some rocky two track before emerging into the beautiful Red Rock Park.
One of the best parts of the ride, is the sense of accomplishment felt when reaching the pavement after Red Rock Canyon. The dirt portion of the ride was over, and I could see a glimpse of the Vegas skyline poking up between the Red Rocks and horizon. I felt so proud of our little group for finishing despite the challenges along the way. I was elated to riding into town, even though we had to jump on the freeway momentarily and caught every red light down Flamingo Blvd on our way to the finish line at The Orleans Casino. We pulled into The Orleans’ parking garage around 4:30pm, with the last bits of daylights fading behind us. My mom and Giancarlo were waiting proudly at the finish, taking pictures and sharing in our excitement. After some high fives and two stroke revs, we lined up to have our picture taken with Santa Claus and two Vegas showgirls; a traditional LAB2V finish.
I loaded up my bike and gear in the MotoMinivan, then and rushed to my hotel for that long awaited shower. Next it was time for the LAB2V rider’s banquet inside one of the casino’s ballrooms, which is a cool ending to the event filled with awesome giveaways, photos, drinks and grub. For those who stayed in Vegas through Sunday night, there was an LAB2V bowling event also at The Orleans, which I participated in for the first time this year. My bowling team happened to also win the 50/50 pot that night, so thanks to my teammates Dave, Abigail, and John!