First serious shakedown.

With the rack done and Simon dirt prepped, it was time to load up the bikes and try a one-night camping trip. We headed out Friday around lunch time and slabbed it up to Lost Valley, where we got our first taste of dirt while loaded up.

Initial thought after getting through a couple of the rockier patches: “30 days of bloated yak wrestling? Well… let the crying begin!” After our recent relatively unladened trip to the Grand Canyon on a KTM 530EXC and Husky TE450, the packed-up DRZs were an abomination. Wayne had to carry Simon in all the dirt sections because I was sure I was going to pitch sideways at any time. I knew I was being mental and I knew the bike would turn if I would just quit stiff-arming it. After the miles went by, the yak and I eventually came to an agreement that if I would quit squeezing its horns like I was trying to get milk out of them, it would stop thinking about laying down on me.

The road up the Santa Rosa mountains was a typical occasionally rutted mountain road. We went up to Toro Peak to check out the view. We weren’t sure what we were looking at until we saw the north end of the Salton Sea through the haze.

We camped at Stump Spring camground (7,710 ft). The campground had about five concrete picnic tables scattered throughout a fairly level area. Although stretches of road that we had traveled on en route to our destination had the smell of fresh rain, we never saw a drop. The threat of rain could be why nobody else showed up while we were there.

Wayne boiled water for the dried tortellinis while Simon ate his kibbles — probably should’ve withheld the meal so he’d be that much lighter tomorrow.

The two-man tent went up easily. With the Thermarest pads thrown in it looked snug but not overly tight.

But when we brought in the rest of the stuff we didn’t want to get damp overnight, the joint was crowded. Simon is the white spot in the middle of the picture.

I was reacquainted with my tremendous distaste for mummy bags. It’s not that they’re just claustrophobically uncomfortable, but my legs need to be in goofy positions to keep a couple of pinched nerves from killing me. So I ended up unzipping the bag to accommodate my legs, which meant less warmth. This will need to be addressed since the TAT trip will run into mid October and there’s a good chance we’ll see much colder nights. Honestly, I’d rather be in a motel every single night, but most places don’t allow dogs and, frankly, even if we stayed at places running about $60 a night we’d be spending almost $2k by trip’s end just for soft beds, hot showers, uncramped comfort, total climate control and buffet-style electricity. Compare that to the character building from pissing in the early morning cold and darkness, night after night… priceless, I say!

The memory of one of the worst nights of sleep I’ve ever had was dismissed by a rejuvenating cup of instant coffee. I can put up with a lot of shit as long as it all ends with a cup of coffee. Here’s Wayne, a non-coffee drinker, summoning his riding mojo in his own way before a new day of dog-toting and yak wrestling.

The weather was still looking good as we came down the mountain. Getting an early start with blue skies and a pleasant view is hard to beat.

After dropping down from the mountain we headed over to Bautista Rd and then up Thomas Mountain Rd. A few riders passed us. We thought maybe they were SDAR folks. Then a few more passed us. While taking a bio break, a couple of more riders came along. They also stopped for a bio break so we asked if they were part of a group. Turns out the OC dualsport club had a ride going on and if we didn’t get a move on, we’d be on the trail with many, many more people. We got off Thomas Mountain as quickly as we could so we wouldn’t get caught up in a rolling clusterdoodle (with our heavily loaded selves being the primary doodle).

After lunch in Idyllwild, I took over the dog carrying duties. By now I was feeling pretty confident on the yak and adding another 20 pounds didn’t seem beyond my scope. We dropped back down into Hemet via the San Jacinto Ridge Truck Trail.

The ride down was filled with undulations so I stood most of the way, using my legs as another level of shock absorption to keep Simon from getting “car sick.” Wayne said Simon didn’t look the least bit distressed so next time I’m going to alternate standing with sitting so my knees can get a break. During the times I was sitting I felt like I had Simon in a rock tumbler, but maybe I was being overly sensitive.

After turning onto Bee Canyon Truck Trail near the bottom, we came across some stopped vehicles. They were towing a US Forestry truck from the trail. We asked what had happened and some folks who had been waiting a couple of hours said the sport ute had flipped. The ranger had been badly hurt and airlifted out. We were lucky enough to pull up shortly before the trail reopened.

Wayne and I agreed that the hardest part of the ride was the long slab back from Hemet. The DRZs are running with their stock gearing, so the bike is not fun for long, straight pavement stretches. As we neared Mataguay, the wind was ripping, the sky was overcast, and we were getting cold. We made one last stop at Dudley’s to let Simon relieve himself and for us to scarf down some snacks. You can see that Simon is desperate to get at my trail mix so he can shit whole almonds tomorrow.

We had a great shakedown ride and came away with some good ideas on how to improve both the bikes and the camping experience. I’ve also come away pretty sure I can handle the DRZ in rougher conditions, which is a big load off my mind. Wayne has extensive training on a true barge of a bike — a KTM 950 Adventure — so if that bike is his version of a yak, then the DRZ must’ve been like a gazelle.

And as for the most important part of the test, Simon ended the trip upbeat. He never threw up and his enthusiasm never waned so he passed his third test as a passenger.

Next up: A multi-day camping trip and more backpack prison time for the hairy rapscallion.

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