A Masters in Adventure

RawHyde’s Advanced Course in Getting Lost

By Zack Courts, Photography by Zack Courts

The first two levels of Jim Hyde's off-road training program—Intro to Adventure and Next Step—take place on the grounds of his ranch in Southern California, helping riders learn how to handle full-size dual-sport bikes off the asphalt. The third and final stage of preparation in the world of RawHyde (rawhyde-offroad.com) is called the Expedition CV, and it's a little different. As the name suggests, the expedition allows riders to pad their adventure résumés (under the supervision of staff) with an excursion in and around Death Valley National Park, while exercising the techniques learned in the previous programs. (Part of this course is available as an add-on to the first two programs.)

Hyde's vision for preparedness extends far beyond riding skills. The Expedition CV we attended also served to illustrate the burgeoning World of Adventure (woadv.com) platform, a community of motorcycle adventure companies brought together by RawHyde to present a forum of resources for ADV and dual-sport riders. In the context of this curriculum vitae, attendees get to see products from major manufacturers being tested (thoroughly) in the field. How much more valuable is it for a customer to watch parts in action rather than browsing a web page? Time would tell…

Setting off for our multi-day trek, it started with a short interstate stint and a few miles of desert roads leading to the first test for men (and women) and machines: to navigate 150 yards of soft sand on our packed and fueled adventure bikes. Predictably, this was also the first test of crashbars, hand guards, and saddlebags, most of which met some part of the axle-deep earth.

As we've come to expect from RawHyde experiences, failure is often the best coach. Provided you have a sense of humor, that is. The staff has an endlessly good attitude, and all of the students are soon infected. Instructors are always on hand to encourage students (and the occasional journalist) through a tough section of trail, whether parking bikes and pushing or simply reminding them of the lessons learned back on the training grounds.

Arriving near the southwestern tip of Death Valley after dark, we pitched tents at RawHyde's Base Camp Alpha and retired to sleeping bags. A loop ride the next day took us along many more "adventurous" roads, exploring remote hills and abandoned mines, perfect for utilizing ADV bikes and equipment. It was a tour in the sights that we saw, but each piece of terrain served up a new challenge and the potential for finding a soft spot in your motorcycle skills.

And there was more terrain to come; the next day saw us point the bikes toward Death Valley, sinking our teeth further into rural California. Trundling down miles and miles of dusty desert roads under the intermittent thunder of Naval fighter jets conducting aerial exercises led us to Goler Wash, where we dived into a severe canyon road. One particular ascent was loose with softball-sized crushed rock, causing the troops to pause and take in all of the lessons of such an arduous climb. Much cheering, pushing, and tipping over ensued. Some lessons came harder than others, but everyone had fun.

Beyond reinforcement, leading the ride, or offering a literal helping hand, the RawHyde staff has the Expedition CV packed with pertinent information. "Classroom" sessions were held on packing techniques, GPS usage, what tools to bring, respectful use of land, setting up campsites, and more. Also useful, and perhaps most fun, is the anecdotal information that slowly trickles out of veteran instructors, carved into them by years of riding on different continents, bikes, and landscapes.

Once past Goler Wash, a water break at Charlie Manson's dilapidated cabin got us through to our campsite overlooking the stunning Striped Butte. Impromptu concerts by staff members who packed instruments in the chase truck became the norm around the campfire, while students patted backs over the day's accomplishments. Seeing friendships form is commonplace in motorcycling, but adventure riding seems to catalyze personalities faster than usual. Alaskans and Midwesterners, blue collars and white, all beaming from the ride and promising to be in touch to share photos.

The following day we traced over countless ridges, through more "character-building" rock gardens and washes to the eastern edge of Death Valley, feeling truly adventurous. We dipped into Nevada briefly, retreating to California via the ultra-scenic, one-way road through Leadfield and Titus Canyon. "When you think it can't get any more amazing," one instructor warned, "just wait. You're not there yet." You can't ride slow enough to soak in all the beauty, but soon we were on two-lane asphalt, and after braving some blinding, horizontally blown sand we camped out one last night in Furnace Creek.

It was there we met a group of riders who snapped this whole idea into focus. Four friends from Los Angeles who were out adventuring on their own fleet of ADV bikes. One proudly said he was glad he packed his camp shovel for the trouble they got their bikes into that day, while another seemed frustrated he didn't have to use his winch. It would be easy to think Jim Hyde is the only one crazy enough to try all of this stuff with 500-plus-pound bikes, but you would be wrong. Adventure bikes can, and do, go on adventures.

As for the World of Adventure, we split welds on skid plates, bent rims, and ruined hand guards bounding through the California desert. Good service for the potential buyers in the group and certainly good R&D for the companies involved. The final day we plodded back to RawHyde Ranch largely on pavement, a good time to reflect on an epic journey. All of the students were drawn together for the love of the same idea: an adventure on a motorcycle. Jim Hyde's World of Adventure offers a little more than that though. What you sign up for is an adventure ride. What you get is an education, stories, and new friends.

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