Track Time: RawHyde Off-Road Adventure Riding Camp

Welcome To The School Of Hard Rocks

By Kristi Martel, Photography by Kristi Martel, Mark Kariya

Off The Beaten
RawHyde Adventures is a factory-authorized off-road training facility for BMW, complete with flashy concrete BMW signage and a selection of adventurous Bavarian machinery. They organize adventure challenge races and riding schools for omnivores like the KTM 990 Adventure, BMW R1200GS and my steed for the weekend: a bright-red Kawasaki KLR650.

Despite said enthusiasm, I wasn't exactly working off those caramelized-onion quesadillas. We only put about 30 miles on the odometer over the two-day school, which seemed at least partially due to being lumped into one group. If the drill at hand was crash-heavy, I found myself waiting while the bikes were lifted, riders dusted off and replacement parts installed. Smaller skill groups might make for more efficient learning. To be fair, they generally do split the group on more populous school days, and I was the only one who felt more riding would be better. Evidently, I am a goer as well as a screamer.

I joined Jim Hyde, the rugged 52-year-old family man and proprietor of RawHyde Adventures (www.rawhyde-offroad.com), for an all-woman, two-day Adventure Camp ($1295). Gender-exclusive weekends are rare here, but this one turned into a confab of spunky, powerful women: one superior court judge, a recent college grad who had ridden to the Arctic Circle, a world-traveling legal secretary, a publisher of a motorcycle magazine, a quality-assurance tester for Kawasaki and me. The getting-to-know-you conversations alone were fascinating. The total five-day experience began with three nights and two days of school at RawHyde's headquarters in Castaic, California, followed by an optional two-day trail ride to Base Camp Alpha, a rural outpost some 200 miles northeast of headquarters ($595).

As for the accommodations, I couldn't ask for more from something called an adventure camp. Food and drinks were superb, outdoor showers facing the springtime hillside were stunning. Disney-esqe Imagineering touches around the camp lent a cool, underground feel. Belly up to the Dakar Bar (a full-service libation station manned by one of the riding coaches) or roll over to the 60-foot seesaw riders are expected to ride on to, balance, and then ride off without incident. Maybe next semester. Then there is the optional two-day "graduation-trip" to Base Camp Alpha. I was unable to attend due to scheduling conflicts, but the folks that did reported riding about 200 miles per day through the best desert in California.

The RawHyde campus is a scenic, 120-acre ranch that's far enough from the I-5 freeway to be serene, but close enough for the comfort that only comes from having a nearby trauma center. When I arrived Friday night, it was almost time for gourmet appetizers of caramelized-onion quesadillas, handmade guacamole and fresh pico de gallo. Top-notch meals around here tick off like clockwork: Appetizers and drinks start at 6:30 p.m., dinner at 7:30, then just toddle off to bed when you're done jabber-jawing with your newest circle of friends. As I look back, the weekend resembled a culinary adventure with a side of dirt riding.

All in all, the school was a good time, in a beautiful place, doing one of the most fun activities, with fascinating people. So? If you're the sort of person who goes for such things, go for it.

After a comfortable night's rest in the bunkhouse, we awoke Saturday morning to coffee, pancakes, sausages and, finally, a lecture in front of the cleverly repurposed shipping containers at 9:00 a.m. There, Jim Hyde gave us the essentials of adventure riding: Stand up on the footpegs, stay relaxed on the bars, stabilize yourself on the bike by squeezing the seat and tank with your knees and lean away from the bike in turns while you push the bike under you. That last one sent my roadracing hackles up, but I was there to learn.

Our inaugural ride began with a few laps up and down the driveway. This is not your ordinary driveway, however. When I had driven up it the night before, I made a mental note not to traverse it in anything but a vehicle flush with seat belts and very puffy air bags. The twisting, gravel-strewn path has warning signs and a metal gate that could have been unbolted from the Velociraptor pen at Jurassic Park. Still, we survived to hammer out core riding skills such as counterbalancing, steering, braking and body positioning. Over the next 48 hours, we tackled hill climbs, descents and how to stop and start again on a hill. Meanwhile, crashing ensued. Lots of it. By the third drill on Saturday, I began timing our sessions like a professional bull rider: Last 8 seconds and you can legitimately dismount. One, two, three...ohhh, not quite, honey. Just sit a spell under the camo netting while Jim finds another clutch lever and the other girls polish their solo bike-pick-up skills.

According to Hyde, "Women tend to go down with the ship," whereas men will jump off at the first sign of failure. Just like relationships. If bikes actually are a litmus test for how women function in relationships, this weekend was a revelation. When I stood to get my diploma on Sunday night, I was dubbed The Screamer: I was the only student who didn't crash, but every drill made me shriek in my helmet. Loud. Hyde could hear me from his office with the door closed. I can't help it-I've always been enthusiastic.

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