On the first day of this adventure, I woke up pre-dawn on a concrete garage floor in Encinitas California surrounded by the most dialed in ADV Motorcycles I have ever seen. The day had finally come, embarking on a 2000+ mile off-road expedition through California’s desolate backcountry.
Filled with anticipation and admittedly some doubt because people I had never actually met orchestrated most of this trip. A diverse mix of experienced riders, all gathered here from different parts of the country: Nick from Missouri, Spencer, and Robbie from Washington, Cory from Alberta, Canada and Myself from Santa Barbara California. Our machines consisted of two KTM 690 Enduro’s, two KTM 1090 Adventure R’s and one Honda Africa Twin (All highly modified of course)
We hit the road early, motoring north through thick coastal fog and cold morning temperatures. A quick right turn east on highway 76 took us out of the wet haze towards the arid high desert landscapes and our first taste of dirt. This was a perfect warm-up run of smooth and flowing two-track crossing the dry chaparral-covered hills of the Cleveland National Forest. Continuing on the tarmac headed northeast to our first quick stop in the small town of Anza. Fully loaded with fuel and snacks, we embarked on the longest section of the day: a beautiful combination of fire roads and mountain tarmac took us up through the scenic mountain town of Idyllwild.
Some high-speed canyon carving dropped us back down to the desert floor and into the town of Banning for lunch. The sun was already descending in the sky, so we inhaled our food and got back in the saddle, knowing there were plenty of miles to cover before we reached our planned campsite on the far side of Big Bear Lake. Quickly ascending out of the heat into the Big Bear Mountains on more twisting tarmac, the temperature dropped precipitously as the sun went down. After confirming plans on the helmet comms, I signed off and held the throttle wide open as the frigid air pierced through my highly ventilated gear. The campsite was a relief after a very long day in the saddle; I quickly set up my tent, cracked a bottle of Bourbon, and kicked back by the campfire.
Day two began with an early start, we broke camp, packed our panniers and had the kickstands up before 7:00 am. Rested and ready for anything the day could bring we pointed our wheels towards the best diner in town.
Filled with excitement for the week ahead, I kicked the day off properly with a power wheelie down the first stretch of tarmac. Letting my childish enthusiasm get the best of me, I ended up tearing my rear valve stem from that ill-advised ice-cold wheelie. Getting the first flat tire of the trip meant that I hastily changed the tube in the parking lot while my new friends stood around making fun and taking pictures. Well deserve and lesson learned…
Our GPS track for day two took us down the backside of the Big Bear Mountains and into the high desert near Victorville. The heat started beating us down early, I remove some layers and twist the throttle to cool off. We were zigzagging our way northwest through the vast and empty desert, crossing through Adelanto, California City and into Jawbone Canyon on approach to the Piute Mountains. After several hours of baking on the highway and slugging our heavy bikes through soft sandy trails, we were stoked to be on fast-paced rugged terrain again. Already mid-afternoon we upshifted into high gear racing up washboard roads at 70+ MPH. Towering windmills were spinning above my head; I couldn't help but look around in admiration of this empty and beautiful landscape.
The harsh and dry desert quickly transitions to thick forest as we ascend the mountain pass. Joshua trees and Cactus give way to Pinon Pines and California Juniper. This region is known fondly as the “Mojave-meets-Sierras Wilderness” Spring water trickled out of the rocky road cuts as we power slide our overpowered ADV bikes around the soft and silty switchbacks. The road eventually started to descend to our destination of Lake Isabella. We have plans to meet another group of riders for burgers and beers at the local brewery in town, so we booked it down the mountain just in time for sunset on the Kern River. Our group almost doubled in size; we meet up with four more riders that would tag along for segments of the trip. We set up camp right on the bank of the Kern River, built a big fire and got to know each other employing moto stories, cigars, and howling laughter.
The third day was ambitious with a plan of crossing over Sherman Pass, Kennedy Meadows, through Ridgecrest, Trona, Panamint Springs, up Lippincott Pass in Death Valley to finally land at our planned campsite near the Racetrack Playa.
Now nine bikes strong we sounded like a pack of fighter jets blasting up Kern River canyon. After a few hours of white-knuckle tarmac, we were back in the oppressive desert heat. Covering ground, we wasted no time in crossing the vast and callous valleys. The Trona Pinnacles were on our list of sites to see, so a few of us decided to turn off route to scope them out. What seemed like a quick side trip turned out to be quite the debacle; we promptly took a wrong turn, buried the two 1090’s axle deep in sand, and had a chain come flying off just as the icing on top. As our reward, we had the pleasure of turning some wrenches in the mid-day Death Valley sun.
Reconvening at the Panamint Springs Pub, the rest of our crew was relaxing shirtless on the porch with cold beers, eager to crack some jokes at our misfortune. Although there was a campsite right across the street from the pub, I realize that we were far from done for the day. Gassed up and fully loaded we headed towards infamous Lippincott Pass. Tearing through Saline Valley, I smile ear to ear as my speedometer ticked over 100mph as we race down the graded dirt road. Fragmented into separate teams, we waste no time tackling this treacherous rocky hill climb. The first group got to the top with relative ease suffering just a few spills. This trail is no joke, composed of mostly basketball sized and larger boulders, some tight switchbacks, and seriously dangerous cliffs. We reached the top just as the sun was dipping behind the Inyo Mountains to the west. As we offloaded and began to set up camp, I realize we had not heard from Spencer and Nick, who hung back to capture some photos. I volunteered to dump my gear and take a quick recon back to the saddle to see if I could spot the guys. Coming around the corner, I get the first glimpse of the massive Saline Valley getting darker by the second, and I started to worry about them coming up on fully loaded 1090’s in the dark! Anyone who has been up Lippincott Pass will tell you; it’s no place for a fully loaded ADV bike especially at night! Much to my surprise, I came to the edge of the lookout and suddenly heard Nick's voice come in over the Sena Bluetooth helmet comm. I was stoked to hear that they were fine and having a blast lugging their 500+ pound bikes up this goat trail. Our asses thoroughly kicked, we settled into our rocky, slanted campsite. After freeze-Dried Mac and Cheese for dinner along with some hot foamy beer, I slept better than I ever have before in the backcountry.
Stay tuned for the conclusion of this EPIC ride cominglater this week!To see the parts Ryan used to dial in his 690 followthe link: Ryan Turner's 690 Enduro Build Sheet
#RoadToDirt #KTMTwins #KTMAdventure
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