Brandon was insistent. A mob of about a dozen dads was going dirt riding for the weekend out near the Salton Sea. No kids, no wives, just a few Toy Haulers, an RV and a formidable amount of food, drink and premium unleaded. Sounded like a weekend of good man-fun.
Usually, I'd say no. For a motorcyclist, I've come to realize that I sure say "no" to motorcycling a lot. I spent my formative years rabidly dirt riding, then sunk another decade into the best job ever, working on the staff of Motorcyclist back when it was owned by gun-toting regular-guy Bob Petersen (God rest his soul). Motorcycling to me then was all about riding the crap out of things; going fast was what mattered. When I left Motorcyclist 22 years ago to go to Motor Trend, I went home to a garage devoid of test bikes, but full of test cars. Maybe I figured I'd wrung all the enjoyment out of motorcycling.
But since cars don't tip over, they're inherently dull. Writing about them pays the bills, but I've never stopped thinking of myself as a motorcyclist. Maybe that's why Brandon's invitation sounded like a "why not?" type of thing. A call to my pals at Motorcyclist had a pristine Yamaha WR250F (the pure off-road enduro-with electric start!) all lined up. Perhaps a bit small compared to the phalanx of 450s I'd be riding with, but hopefully adequate.
Our convoy descended on the desert, and in short order we selected a campsite in the vast expanse of nothingness. A large, defensible plateau overlooking a football field-sized clearing that would be the ideal test range for the arsenal of weaponry on hand.
Brandon's pals were a lovable bunch of 30-something men (and one sub-20 man-cub) of varying skill levels. The two legitimately fast guys knew the area like they were wired into Garmin headquarters, and graciously led tank-draining morning and afternoon rides every day of the long weekend. Cheerfully waiting for the stragglers at every turn, Tod and David were supportive of the slower riders and inspiring to the better ones. The group mood was up. Everyone was just glad to be here, enjoying the cool California desert.
By the first afternoon ride, I realized something about my little blue-and-white Yamaha: It was extremely fun! Scratch power-wheelies off the "to-do" list, but otherwise it was ultra-entertaining. That Yamaha took me back-not to my motocross-bike-testing 20s, but to my trail-riding teens. I had completely forgotten about the simple fun of exploring the countryside, giving it a squirt of power and just enjoying the feeling.
Once the bikes were parked each afternoon, we'd fiddle with suspension settings and chain adjustments, then attempt to plant potatoes in the adjacent hillside with a frightening variety of homemade spud guns. Cheap, remote-controlled airplanes were launched into the sky above our camp and we fought, Lord-of-the-Flies-style, to take shots at them with paintball guns and itty-bitty Airsoft pellets. Then we'd enjoy the luxury of a hot shower and a great meal. Beer was served. And consumed. Dave and Ken surely know how to put together a fine Man Camp.
Each day was just like the last, only the wake-up process was getting slower and the socks were smelling worse. But the fun of riding never faded. Maybe that's why now, many months later, there's a brand-new WR250R (the street-legal dual-sport) sitting in my garage. I rode it today, and I can't wait to ride it tomorrow.