Live From Thailand: 2016 BMW GS Trophy Update 5

Day 4 Review: 90 miles and a Stone’s Throw to Burma for Team USA

Live From Thailand: 2016 GS Trophy Update 5
Team USA with two countries in the background; Myanmar on the left side of the Thanlyin River and Thailand on the right.©Motorcyclist

One of the wonderful things about adventure touring, or motorcycle travel, is the sensation that ground is being covered. And the GS Trophy offers a slice of that—waking up in one place, arriving at another, and breaking down camp every time. Day 4 of the event was a different story; a loop west from Mae Sairang to the border of Myanmar, with two special stages on the trail and a third back at camp after the sun went down. So, no sense of accomplishment in traveling, but at least we could leave our tents up for the day. You take the good with the bad.

The opening roads were not technical, but delivered a new kind of scenery. Less scaling hills and crossing ridges, more following nearly dry creeks through valleys. Also, lots of water. The road crossed and re-crossed running water all morning, when it wasn’t winding through heavily wooded jungle. Special Test #1 of the day utilized the many water crossings; a sprint up a creek bed, with a twist.

GS Trophy Team USA
Team USA members Tom (front) and Dennis (back) do all of the heavy lifting while the useless journalist shows off his spandex shirt. Charles helped too, but is clearly camera shy, hiding on the other side of the GS.©Motorcyclist

The challenge facing Team USA was to race up a partially dry river, being timed, but also keep an eye out for three signs stuck to trees alongside the river. Getting up the course quickly wasn’t a problem for Charles, Dennis, and Tom, but being the team with the oldest average age probably didn’t help them read small signs at a distance. Even with aged corneas, the boys did well, finishing mid-pack and scoring 10 points. The journalist from Argentina sprinted up the river bed to quickly deliver the answers in hushed words to his team, but the marshal spotted it and shook his head, saying the cheater points wouldn’t count. Oh, how potential glory can twist our morals.

After that drama it was more water crossings and similar terrain until we arrived at Special Test #2. The theme of the second test was brute force, with a bit of cunning. Teams (along with their journalist) had to lift a non-running GS over two huge pieces of fallen tree, as fast as possible. Tom volunteered to pull from the front, Dennis to push from the back, which left Charles and I on each side. After watching a few teams struggle briskly through the challenge with times between 15 and 20 seconds, Team USA tackled the task. Twelve seconds later, Charles’ GS was on the other side, and the Yankees had taken the maximum 20 points. So much for old age slowing these guys down!

GS Trophy Team USA, roads of Thailand
We can’t decide what’s better, the views or the roads to get us there. Okay, fine, Thailand is beautiful, but we know which we’d choose.©Motorcyclist

More roads and trails dipping in and out of the jungle followed, eventually spitting us out on a (dusty) dirt road along the border river between Thailand and Myanmar. After settling in a river-side village for lunch, we departed via a creek bed intersecting the main river, riding through polished river stones and axle-deep water. A mile or so of that was almost as epic as gazing up at the stilts propping up houses, clinging to the hillside 30 feet above the creek—a good reminder that the monsoon season probably wouldn’t be a good time to try the same route.

The highlight of the afternoon was an epic dirt road running up the spine of a nearly bald ridge, giving us panoramic views of the cloudless sky and bright green farmland below. There was also suffocating dust, but the scenery was worth it. It being only a 90-mile day, we were back to camp early and had a few hours to relax before dinner, and an after-dark special stage to finish the day.

GS Trophy Team USA in Thailand
Charles (background) and Tom (foreground) taking a break to soak in the view. Have two people ever been happier to be covered in this much dust?©Motorcyclist

Special Test #3 that BMW set up to cap Day 4 was complicated to say the least. Some teams might have fared better if they were asked to split an atom rather than navigate through an area about the size of a tennis court, performing menial tasks with one hand while riding with the other, and trading one bike between three teammates all along. I’ll spare the specifics; suffice it to say it proved very difficult for every team but, aside from an unlucky tipover while trading bikes, Team USA scraped a solid 8 points from the trials course for a total of 38 on the day. This makes for 122 total, and a jump up to 8th place in the overall standings.

Team USA is predictably happy after today, winning a Special Test outright and sinking their teeth into the top 10 with 122 total points. Argentina (114), France (112), and Mexico (112) are nipping closest at the Yankees’ heels, while the closest group ahead is six teams with scores between 141 and 149 points—everyone is still trying to catch the South Africans at 164 points. Uncle Sam’s GS army has a long but easy day scheduled tomorrow, resting up for Day 6 which promises some of the most difficult riding of the week. Exactly what these guys have been waiting for to attack!

GS Trophy Team USA, Day 4 standings
It’s a fair gap to the top seven teams, but Team USA doesn’t seem worried. It’ll take solid scores to keep out of reach of Argentina, France, and Mexico, too.©Motorcyclist