Tag Archives: GPS

The Leatherman vs. Snap-on Combo Wrench

Why you need a dedicated navigation device for the Tour of Idaho

Martin asked me to provide some guidance regarding dedicated navigations devices (GPS units) and smart phones, specifically, the roles these devices play while navigating in remote areas. Not surprisingly, I’ve discussed this matter on numerous occasions in the past 3-4 years with a wide range of folks. And as you might expect, there is no shortage of blog posts and technical articles about this topic scattered across web. In this instance though, my aim is to lend some advice to Tour of Idaho aspirants.

Tour of Idaho Overview Map
Tour of Idaho Overview Map

The ubiquity of the smart phone, and the proliferation of apps (i.e., MotionX, Gaia, Avenza Maps, . . .) that can leverage their internal GPS chip, have muddied the waters when trying to determine which type of device to employ for a specific purpose. It is true that the GPS chipset being used in today’s smart phones is pretty darn good. That, coupled with the fact that the phones can leverage cell-towers and WiFi to improve locational accuracy, means that they perform best in more developed areas. I’m always surprised how well a smart phone works for navigation on our nation’s highways.

The Redbird Crest Trail in Avenza Maps
The Redbird Crest Trail in Avenza Maps

But think about it, that is not the “primary” function of your smart phone. Calling, texting, and e-mailing is what your phone is all about. Taking pictures, checking the weather forecast, or monitoring the Tour of Idaho Facebook feed. It does all of those things and more, and it does them very well. It is a fully-loaded digital Leatherman, a modern-day multipurpose tool that has become indispensable in our daily lives.

One thing to keep in mind is that the GPS chip embedded in your smart phone, just like that bottle opener in the Leatherman, only accounts for a small percentage of the overall functionality and cost of the unit. It does a “good” job, but its reception capabilities, especially in remote areas, are limited. I can tell you, from first hand experience, that your phone will wear itself out trying to maintain a satellite signal in some of the central Idaho valleys.

On the other hand, a dedicated navigation device, like those in the Garmin Montana 600-series, can acquire and maintain satellite connectivity in the deepest, coniferous tree filled valleys and in the dense urban canyons of metropolitan areas. Their top of the line chipset and receiver provide high-sensitivity GPS and GLONASS reception. Additionally, the WAAS-enabled receiver takes advantage of ground-based reference stations here in North America to improve accuracy on the fly. Throw a barometric altimeter and compass into the mix and you’re equipped with all the necessary tools for navigation.

Garmin Montana 680t
Garmin Montana 680t

All of this technology is then wrapped up in a rugged, water-resistant (IPX7-rated) casing that isn’t phased by vibration, rain, snow, or even dust. This is the type of device you want for a backcountry adventure. Cover it in mud, dump it in the creek, drop it on some rocks, or strap it to your vibrating handlebars while riding 1,600 miles across the landscape of Idaho! That’s what it is made for. You don’t want to subject your smart phone to that kind of abuse. It is important that its camera is functional so you can take the required photos at all of the Tour of Idaho challenge point locations!

Look at it this way, dedicated navigation devices don’t have the multiple personality disorder of the Leatherman (i.e., smart phone) but rather are focused and specific like a nice Snap-On 10mm combo wrench. They do one thing and they do it very, very well. Sure I can try to loosen a 10mm nut with a Leatherman if I have no other option, but we all know the 10mm Snap-On is the tool for the job.

So when it comes to the Tour of Idaho, make sure your primary navigation device is a dedicated unit and not a smart phone or tablet. Sure, load your tracks and waypoints into a mapping app as one form of backup, but just do it as a safety measure. One that you’d hope to not have to use. It is my recommendation to take two dedicated navigation devices, a smart phone, hard copy maps, and the written route description.

One last thing, you can bet good money that the next generation of smart phones will employ advanced navigation chipsets that rival current dedicated units. But the companies that make those dedicated units will also be taking advantage of new technologies. Thus in the end, whatever smart phone or dedicated navigation device you have today will become obsolete. Just remember to use the right tool for the job, but always keep that multi-tool handy, you might need it to take a selfie!

Tour of Idaho Track Development & Map Study Tip:   When you’re putting together your tracks, make sure to look at both aerial photography and topographic base maps. If you’re closely following the route description, many of the peaks, saddles, passes, and valleys are much more evident on a topographic map. Switching back and forth will help you to better read and understand the terrain you’ll be tackling. Martin mentions many of these features by name and those names are typically found on the topographic maps. 

Pass @ Snowslide (Day3)
Pass @ Snowslide (Day3)

See you on the trail!

Mapping Technologies on the Trail

As users of this nation’s public or private trails, Sharetrails.org/BRC members likely rely on a variety of mapping technologies for navigation.  Being able to visualize where you are, and where you’re going is important. Maps help us gauge distance and direction, and determine elevation or ground conditions. Personally, I feel that having a good map when venturing outdoors is as important as taking water and a first aid kit. I always carry a GPS, but having a paper map as a backup provides another level of comfort during an outing. It’s familiar, provides a tactile experience, and its fun to know where the heck you are on that piece of paper!

In the past couple decades, the transition from paper to digital maps has been accelerated. We can now carry more “maps” on our GPS or cell phone than would fit in a 100 tightly stuffed backpacks 20 years ago! Additionally, digital maps are dynamic, in that we can change the base from aerial images to a topography, layers can be added, turned on and turned off, and routing between destinations can be accomplished in a couple clicks or swipes on your device. These mapping tools and their information empower us in a variety of ways and can lead to a better understanding of various types of terrain and how we move across it. But, have you ever thought about the technologies that make all of this possible?

If you are my age, you probably learned to get a feel for your surroundings with the USGS Topographic Quadrangle Map Series or a state-based gazetteer, like a DeLorme map book. The government agencies and private-sector firms that created those cartographic products are now driven by geographic information systems (GIS), global positioning systems (GPS), and remote sensing technologies. Collectively, those high tech geospatial tools make it possible for users to access vast amounts of mapping data from a GPS unit or phone.

USGS Topographic Map
USGS Topographic Map

Entities obtain spatial data through the use of survey-grade GPS units and GPS-equipped vehicles while satellites, airplanes, and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) are capturing land cover, aerial photos, elevation data, and even thermal imagery. For example, the acquisition of highly-accurate elevation data using LiDAR, and aerial photos with a resolution in the range of 3″ to 6″ per pixel allows us to visualize and evaluate ground conditions like never before.

LiDAR-derived Elevation Data Enhanced with MultiDirectional Hillshade
LiDAR-derived Elevation Data Enhanced with MultiDirectional Hillshade

Keeping this data as up to date is a monumental task, but very critical as things change almost daily. Think about it . . . new roads are built, boundaries change, land is graded for development, trails are re-routed, sewer lines are installed, and waterways cut new paths across the landscape. A myriad of public and private entities  continually track those changes. The features are then organized as layers, categorized by theme, spatially analyzed, and shared in a digital map format using GIS and web mapping services.

The value of geospatial technologies, and the underlying data, is realized when you can stand anywhere on this globe and view a map that is centered directly on your current location. Not only can you see the trail you’re traveling, but you can turn on the aerial imagery and see the stand of trees east of the trail just over the ridge. The ridge can be visualized due to the use of hillshading on the elevation data and its obvious that the last creek crossing is about 3 miles away in the valley below the next 2 switchbacks. Wow . . . you’ve never been there before, but you can see what lies ahead.

The Redbird Crest Trail in Avenza Maps
The Redbird Crest Trail in Avenza Maps

A wide array of proprietary and publicly available GIS data makes this possible. It is leveraged to provide the mapping services and downloadable data we so conveniently consume. In most cases, maps for our devices are in-expensive and readily available on the internet in formats that are compatible with our phone and GPS units. It is getting easier to do this everyday and the cost is rapidly diminishing.

Just imagine how handy this has been to Martin while laying out, and fine tuning the Tour of Idaho or for Jeff Stoess and the compilation of the Kentucky Adventure Tour. The aforementioned mapping resources have been key to their success in putting a line on the map we can follow. Their understanding of an area of interest, coupled with the dozens of map layers they studied, made both adventuresome routes possible for us to enjoy.

The Kentucky Adventure Tour in MotionX GPS
The Kentucky Adventure Tour in MotionX GPS

One important thing that goes along with having great maps at our disposal is using them to stay on the defined trail. Part of being a responsible off-road enthusiast is sticking to the route. Please realize that getting off the trail, or traveling cross country where not permitted, gives us all a bad name. You can’t claim to be lost if you have a GPS or map in-hand!

See you on the trail!

The Tour of Idaho: Initial Bike Prep for 2018

In my opinion, bike preparation must be the easiest part of getting ready for the Tour of Idaho. Lots of other folks have done their homework and shared their successes accordingly. Martin has some invaluable info on his site and other finishers have offered their thoughts and guidance as well. Its my feeling that mental and physical readiness are more difficult to achieve and for some, navigation will be a big issue.

I’m not really worried about the navigation aspect (I’m a Cartographer!) and physically, I’ll likely be just fine. Basically, it is the mental part that freaks me out more than anything! I waiver between being very excited and down right terrified on a weekly basis. Randy and Jeff have both reassured me that everything will be just fine but my roller coaster ride of emotions has continued.

With all that being said, I’ll jump into what I’ve done to the WR450 thus far. I’ve studied pictures of Randy’s bike and have watched the Jimmy Lewis video on multiple occasions. Their setups are very similar and being as though they both finished, I suspect their path of prep is a good one to follow. And the rundown on Martin’s site of essential items is not be ignored.

New Exhaust, LED Tail Light & License Plate Holder
New Exhaust, LED Tail Light & License Plate Holder

As with all my bikes, I immediately installed an FMF Q exhaust. I don’t need or want any additional power but I do love a quiet bike. Loud motorcycles piss me off. The license plate holder (yes, I got it plated here in Kentucky) is mounted to a Baja Designs LED Dual Sport conversion tail light. They make good stuff. Tucked behind the side panel is the GYTR ECU. I don’t have the tuner yet, but that is forthcoming.

The Tour of Idaho has a day where no gas is available. If I remember correctly, there was a 230 mile stretch during the later days of the tour this year. My options were the 3-gallon IMS or the 4.1-gallon Safari tanks.The Safari is quite pricey but I felt the extra 1.1 gallons of capacity would be crucial. I also plan to carry a 1-gallon Giant Loop Gas bag. If that doesn’t cover it I can get some from Jeff’s 6-gallon tanker!

Safari Gas Tank
Safari Gas Tank

Mounting the tank was easy, however the wiring harness would not reach the fuel pump. The quality of the tank, and the hardware that came with it, are great, but the lack of a harness “extension” was not cool. I was able to get all the stuff I needed to fashion an extension from CycleTerminal.com. They had the exact connectors that Yamaha uses so it was fairly easy to create once I had all the components in-hand. Having the correct crimping tool and the ability to solder small components was helpful.

My next focus was the seat. Jeff recommended Fisher Seats. I’d never heard of them. He said Harvey used them too. I reached out to Harvey and evidently he has 4 or 5 them. I trust both of these guys so I shipped my seat to Eagle, Idaho so they could work their magic. You have to fill out a form for them before they’ll do the work and it’s almost like filling out a form at the Doctor’s office! When the seat got back to the house, I was shocked at the width. But, after riding it I can see that it will likely work well. The workmanship is outstanding! Honda style vinyl on the top (I don’t like a grippy seat), carbon-fiber style vinyl on the sides, and Yamaha blue stitching make for an awesome looking seat.

Fisher Seat & Safari Tank
Fisher Seat & Safari Tank

There is also one upgrade that is “invisible” but has made a big difference. I’d only ridden the thing once when I noticed the overly soft forks. It would dive going down hills and during braking. Not good. I just happened to have a set of KYB SSS forks in the garage from a YZ250. The spring rate in the YZ forks is a bit firmer and the valving is different two. I rode the bike last weekend with the YZ forks  and was very pleased with that upgrade. They are staying on the bike.

Some smaller items are the Double Take Mirror and a Baja Designs combination switch that combines a Hi/Lo/Off for the headlight and a kill switch. I have horn but its not wired up yet but I did put on my standard full-waffle Scott grips. GYTR-radiator braces provide some protection for the radiators and a TM Designworks skid plate protects the frame and engine. The skid plate wasn’t an exact fit. It was like it was “sprung” outward a bit. A lift stand, some C-clamps, and a drill were needed to get it into place. Hopefully, it will retain that shape when I take it off. If not, I’m getting one from Flatland Racing.

Double Take Mirror
Double Take Mirror

There was a lightly used Scott’s steering damper in the garage, as well as the top handlebar mount. Once I got a Steering Stabilizer Tower I was in business. I feel it’s an essential upgrade for any off-road rider. Can’t imagine owning a bike and not putting one on it.

Below is a listing of the items I’ve installed thus far. The list is still growing but not as quickly now. A tank bag, front fender bag, saddle bags and so forth are the next items to be acquired. I’m good on gear, it’s almost all Klim. It is the best gear I’ve ever purchased in terms of durability. Period. Plus they use topo lines as a design element. Any cartographer would be a sucker for that stuff!

Yamaha GYTR Competition Programmable ECU
Baja Designs Dual Sport Taillight
Baja Designs License Plate Holder
Solid Rear Rotor
Cycra Yamaha ProBend Hand Guards
Scott Full Waffle Grips
FMF Q4 Hex Exhaust
YZ250 KYB SSS Forks
Yamaha GYTR Radiator Braces
Universal 12 Volt Horn (Black 2.25”)
Mirror Mount for Clutch Perch
Safari Gas Tank
Double Take Enduro Mirror & Mount
TM Designworks Skidplate (Blue)
Scotts Performance Steering Stabilizer Tower
Power Tender Battery Charger
Power Tender USB Adaptor
Fisher Custom Seat
DID 520 X-Ring Chain
Sunstar Front Sprocket (14)
Sunstar Steel Rear Sprocket (52)

Additional bike upgrades, GPS and navigation, and all other preparation efforts will be detailed in coming blog posts. I realize it is  11 months away, but I can’t help but plan. Just my nature.

See you on the trail!

Idaho Riding 2016 – #4

Day 4 of riding in Idaho was great as usual. Dwayne, Chip and I set out on the Little Casino trail around 9:30am or so. Dwayne hadn’t ridden this trail since the re-route they’d done 2-3 years ago. I’d only ridden it once when the trail followed the original route but honestly don’t remember much about it except that there were multiple creek crossings.

About three miles in we stopped and Dwayne said, “This new trail sucks!” He preferred the old route that had less exposed side hill, more creek crossings and a good climb to the top of the ridge. It is not a bad trail, its just not what he’d ridden for so many years. My understanding is that the new route gets you up to the ridge sooner and it never crosses the creek. This is all part of a strategy to keep trails further away from running water thus reducing erosion and sedimentation.

Next stop was a couple logs down across the trail. They weren’t huge so we stopped and cut them with the hand saw. This section of the trail had been cleared recently and whomever did the work certainly earned their wages. Dozens of logs were across the trail just a week or two beforehand and the sawdust piles were still visible from the fresh cuts.

Chip wanted to stop where there is a good view of Redfish Lake and the Sawtooth Range. With that in mind we made our way up the trail looking for the best place to get some photos. A little climb and a few corners later the perfect spot came into play. Ended up being a great view in all directions! Chip got the photos he wanted and I took a few as well.

Chip & Dwayne - Redfish Lake in the Background
Chip & Dwayne – Redfish Lake in the Background

When we headed up the trail from where we were in this photo, I rode Dwayne’s new Beta X-Trainer for about a mile. The bike was very nice for the type of riding that we do. It’s plushness and linear power delivery are perfect for mountain trail riding. Anyone with a short inseam should try the bike as well. Dwayne said it is 10% shorter in both directions which makes it very maneuverable. It is a 300cc engine and all you have to do is dial it back a bit and you’ll be reminded it is a big bore. Oh . . . and electric start too!

This view is along the way . . .
This view is along the way . . .

Onward to the “4-way” where the Casino Creek trails come together with the trail up to the Rough Creek Fire Tower and Martin Creek that leads down to the Warm Springs Meadow. On our way up the hill you pass the junction with Boundary Creek Trail. I went down that trail about a week ago at the recommendation of a local bicycle rider. He said that anyone who can climb up Boundary Creek without stopping on a bicycle has iron lungs and legs!

At this junction we saw a bicyclist coming up that trail. We stopped and talked with him for a few minutes. If I understood correctly, he only stopped once on the way up. One thing for sure . . . this guy was fit! We told him where we were headed and he indicated he’d be going the same way. I’d cleared several logs off the trail ahead the week before so I told him it was probably clear. He waited for us to depart and then headed up the hill.

Martin Creek Trail was the plan so we took the right hand turn and made our way down the trail. I’d forgotten how darn rocky it was. I’d been up it once and there is this one rock step up that is just plain tough. As we approached the Warm Springs Meadow, the downed timber became more and more frequent. Looked like a big game of pick up sticks. That is just the best way to describe it. Forward motion was slow at times throughout this mess.

Dwayne & Chip in the Pick Up Sticks
Dwayne & Chip in the Pick Up Sticks

So we are sitting here on the trail, taking a break after crossing 50+ downed logs, and the guy on the bicycle rolls up. Yep. he’d caught us. Very impressive to say the least. I know Martin Creek is almost all downhill but he’d climb another 750+ vertical feet since we’d seen him and made his way down the trail and across all those logs and over all the rocks. Wow!

We were just getting ready to leave so once again he let us go first. About 20 more log crossings and we rolled into Warm Springs Meadow. What an awesome place! For many years I’d eyed this valley on the aerial photography and topographic maps. It was 2013 before I actually made my way to the valley. Awesome views!

Dwayne on the Beta - Warm Springs Meadow
Dwayne on the Beta – Warm Springs Meadow

About 1/4 mile past the location shown in the photo above you take a right and head up the valley. It is really marshy in that area as beavers are active nearby. We carefully picked our way through the wet spot and as we were getting back on the main trail we saw the guy on the bicycle coming our way. Geez!

Warm Springs Meadow
Warm Springs Meadow

The next mile or so is flat and there were several downed trees along the way to the next creek crossing. This crossing has a “bridge” if you  want to call it that. Essentially, there are about two dozen logs laid lengthwise across the creek. No boards or anything on top. We came to a stop got off and carefully walked our bikes across.

On our heels once again was the guy on the bicycle. He was incredible. Chip told him it was all “downhill” just ahead and onto the Williams Creek Trail. Chip had forgotten there were two more small ridges to traverse before the final descent. Oh well, this guy was in the for the long haul.

Warm Springs Meadow Pano
Warm Springs Meadow Pano

Dwayne took off and I rode just behind his dust all the way to the Williams Creek trailhead just of ID75 near Obsidian. Chip rolled in about 3 minutes later and we took advantage of some shade offered by a pine near the trailhead sign. There were two vehicles parked there and within 8-10 minutes bicyclists arrived, loaded up and drove away. About 5 minutes after that, the bicyclist rolled right up to us. I was amazed! He’d climbed up and over those two ridges and cruised down Williams Creek with ease.

In the end, we learned he was from Washington State and was not acclimated to the high altitude as he lived at about 800 feet above mean sea level. His bicycle was a “Felt” and from what I figured the frame alone cost around $10K . . . yep, just the frame. He’d been “glamping” (his term) with his family at Redfish Lake.  He was impressed with how we got our bikes over all the downed logs but we were blown away with the fact that he’d been keeping up with us for nearly 30 miles!!

Before he pedaled down the road, he took some pictures of us and grabbed a selfie or two. It is about 6.5 miles of flat pavement to the turn off for Redfish Lake from the trailhead. I estimate that the loop he’d ridden was ~36 miles. Wow! Dwayne put it best when he described the guy as “sculpted” . . . you can probably get the picture.

We too made our way up the road and back to the turn off for Boundary Creek. I was looking forward to climbing the trail back up to Little Casino. A group of horses was coming down and we all got off the trail as best as we could. One horse was spooked by the whole thing and almost bucked off the rider. It was kinda scary. Didn’t like it that that happened.

I met a hiker half way up so I shut off my bike. She walked by, said hello and high-fived me! Wasn’t expecting that! The trail was clear up to the junction and all the way back down to the Casino Creeks Trailhead. Simply awesome single track compared to anything we have in Kentucky.

Dwayne had an iced downed watermelon in his cooler so Chip cut it up and we enjoyed it before loading the bikes. What a wonderful way to finish up another great day of riding in Idaho. No doubt I’m fortunate to ride with these guys!

It was good to shed my gear and I was certainly getting hungry. Jumped into the Sprinter and pointed it towards the hotel for a shower and dinner. Already thinking about the next riding adventure!

See you on the trail!


Idaho Riding 2016 – #3

Day three turned out to be adventure! Chip and I went out for the day and started right where his RV was parked. The ride began with about 4 miles of asphalt heading out towards Stanley Lake. Another 3+ miles of two-track leads to a frequently used section of single track that traverses some awesome meadows where the views of the surrounding mountains are wonderful. We stopped about 6 miles in where the trail intersects with the Elk Meadow Trail. The photo below shows the view just beyond the trail signs. We have to cross that meadow.

Elk Meadow
Elk Meadow

I’ve only been across this “trail” four times now. Each “crossing” was memorable. The first year, the meadow was flooded with about 7″ to 9″ of water with thick reeds and grasses stretching as far as the eye can see. I was following someone that had been across before and magically we emerged at a 10′ wide running stream where there was a sand bar that made it easy to cross. After that, you turn left and head towards this tall wooden post way down the meadow where the crossing is easier. More than half of this 1+ mile crossing was through the flooded type area I described above. Sketchy.

The second year it was relatively dry and the crossing was not too bad at all. I had the GPS tracks so that made it easier to find the trail and the best crossing points. Year number three was an adventure for many reasons. Check out this video for a cool riding blooper captured on helmet camera in the meadow. Hats off to Philip for keeping the bike out the water!

This year was a challenge. The middle of the meadow was closer to 10″ to 12″ deep. I followed my tracks closely but it just kept getting deeper. We reached the point where the initial creek crossing was supposed to be easy, but that was far from the case. The sand bar was gone and a tall bank had been cut into the far side. (We found out later that beaver dams situated downstream had raised the water level in the meadow.)

Retreat! We turned around, backtracked to the edge of the meadow and started riding along the margins as best we could. Patches of willows, large sinkholes, and narrow but deep creek crossings were encountered. Our goal had been to find that tall pole where the second crossing was marked and finally it was within reach. Some quick searching revealed a place to cross that was easy and wouldn’t tear up the meadow or the opposing bank. Less than 20 yards beyond where we crossed, the tall pole highlighted the path forward.

A mile or so afterward, we were at the base of the mountains where the trail intersects with two others (see below). This was a good opportunity to take a quick break and regroup. I knew that the climb ahead promised to be the next challenge.

Trail Junction
Trail Junction

What we found on the way up was not fun. There were dozens of downed trees and some portions of the trail had deteriorated for a variety of reasons. Not good. At one point, I had to use the hand saw to cut a path so we could move forward. I should have taken my chainsaw on this ride. Bad move on my part.

With some effort, we reached the top of the climb. The last portion wasn’t steep but it sure was rocky. Momentum was the key! Elizabeth Lake is visible from this summit and a good view of the Sawtooth’s is just a few feet away through the white bark pines.

Elizabeth Lake
Elizabeth Lake

We paused for a while to enjoy the view and rest up a bit. What a cool place! I feel fortunate to ride on this great trail system with folks that appreciate it and know it well.

At the Summit - Elizabeth Lake is at my back.
At the Summit – Elizabeth Lake is at my back.

The next section of trail is notoriously rocky. Keeping a good rhythm is tough as there are places where you have to bulldog your bike through the boulders. Reprieves are few and far between until you reach the next trail junction. The scenery is nice and the wildflowers were on display, but concentration on the trail was important.

We forged straight ahead at the next intersection and made our way down Swamp Creek trail. Someone had cleared most of the logs on that route, however some quads had pushed there way up the trail about 2 miles farther than allowed. Irresponsible use of the trail will eventually lead to its closure. The trail ends at the highway where we found a way across the meadow and over to Cape Horn road. After about 3 miles of gravel, we reached the Valley Creek trailhead. There is a short quad section that leads to some single track or another Forest Service road.

We chose the single track! The Forest Service had worked on this trail last summer and it wasn’t too bad considering it burned 2 years ago. The setting is surreal. The ground is seared black as are the trees. Wildflowers are abundant on the hillsides and the creeks in the valley are very lush in comparison. Riding the trail with the trees was certainly better but we still have fun on this slow and steady climb up to Basin Butte road.

A view towards the White Cloud Mountains from Basin Butte Road
A view towards the White Cloud Mountains from Basin Butte Road

Chip and I took another quick break at Basin Butte road. The view above is just a few feet from the trail marker on the opposite side of the road. Afterwards, we coasted down this trail which leads back to the Basin Creek trail. This mostly downhill route is favored by mountain bikers. All was going well until we encountered some downed trees in an old burn area near the end. Getting around a couple of the root balls was not easy and going over was not an option!

Some more nice single track back led us to another Forest Service road and then back to where Chip’s RV was parked. Just under 50 miles once again! Kim was nearby at the RV Park with her friend Kathy so she came over as I loaded up and peeled off my gear. It was about 4:30 and I was ready for beer! Back to Stanley for a shower, some beer, and a good dinner.

Doing a loop like this is nearly impossible in Kentucky. There are few places left in the US where riding like this is an option. I plan to ride as much of it as I can before it is all gone!

See you on the trail!

My First Dual-Sport Event

Honestly, I was very apprehensive about this “Dual-Sport” thing as I am not comfortable at all riding on the road.  It scares me. I’ve laid it down going 50+ on a dirt road and can’t imagine hitting the pavement at any speed. But . . . I had been told that this event was closer to an Enduro than any other Dual-Sport event. So with that knowledge we made plans to attend.

The event was staged at Lake Linville in Mt. Vernon, Kentucky, the County seat of Rockcastle County. It was a beautiful morning and the forecast called for perfect conditions. There was very little rain the week before so I figured the trails would be relatively dry for the first Saturday in May (Derby Day).

Unloading at Lake Linville
Unloading at Lake Linville

Unfortunately, we missed the Rider’s Meeting as we were trying to get our act together for the day. I had laid out what I thought was the perfect riding gear combo consisting of some Klim Dakar pants, a vented Klim Mojave jersey with my awesome Klim Dakar Pro Jersey layered on top. That Dakar Pro Jersey is so cool. It may be the most bullet-proof garment I’ve ever owned. This was topped off with some Klim Adventure gloves, Gaerne boots, and my trusty Arai VX-Pro 3 with the classic solid white color scheme. Onward!

At about 8:40, riders started leaving the staging area so we followed accordingly. I had my route sheet, the odometer was reset, and my GPS trip log was reset. Ready to go!

Well the first 6.9 miles were asphalt . . . hmmm . . . I’m thinking “What did I get myself into?” Then, we turned onto a gravel road. The gravel quickly deteriorated and at its end was a left onto some single track trail. Very nice. This section was laid out well along the contours of the hillside and emerged at the top of a hill on a gravel road. The last section was certainly more enjoyable than the first 6.9 miles.

There was a “Key” provided on the route sheet that provided two characters codes for each surface type (i.e., BT – Blacktop, DR – Dirt Road, TR – Trail, etc.) which proved to be useful. However, the variance in what was to be considered a Gravel Road was VERY wide. It might be fresh, 1.5″ deep gravel (very sketchy), well-packed gravel, or some washed-out road bed where gravel once existed many years ago. The later actually turned into a little single track trail as riders consistently picked the line of least resistance.

Point of Interest
Point of Interest

There were also “Advanced Sections” scattered here and there. Those were designated with a green Moose arrow rather than the standard issue orange. Those were the best trails we rode all day. If you took the wrong bike on those trails you’d be miserable for sure. Travis rode his DRZ-400’s’ decked out with gnarly knobby tires (IRC VE-33 on the rear) and showed up quite a few guys on pure dirt bikes!

In each of the advanced sections there were places where a bottle neck would develop. Some guy would “fail” at negotiating a hill or creek crossing and a bit of a backup would slow the pace. In most instances we waited very little or creeped around and up through the carnage. The smell of antifreeze (the smell of KTM’s) lingered at the top of every challenging hill as riders struggled and their buddies reached out to help their fallen comrades. Seriously, (most) everyone was very nice and courteous. Certainly a great group of riders!

None of us had any problems at all with the “obstacles” as Jesse employed his Rekluse and displacement to crawl up and over and Travis just attacked each one on that DRZ as it was his only option! Definitely glad I had my “WR” 250 one those sections.

On the Trail
On the Trail

So all of sudden, my odometer is saying that I’m going much faster than I am. Something is up. I slide my Trail Tech odometer out of the holder and back in real quickly. Still reading the same. When we finally come to a stop I see that it has switched to Km/hr and the battery light is flashing. Geez . . . I picked up the older of the odometers. Oh well. So I get a reading from Travis and start tracking it on my GPS. Now I’m doing math on the fly. I’m not an old school enduro rider, nor am I Bryan Bunch. A few stops, turns and so forth on the route sheet and I was done with keeping track of that info.

At one point we emerged on a familiar looking road. Travis asked if I knew where we were . . . Ah hah! We were on the road that goes back to the main trailhead for S-Tree! We continue along that road for a bit and arrive at the Sandgap Community Park. We’ve driven past here a dozen times over the years when riding at S-Tree. There were nearly 100 bikes there when we arrived and they were still rolling in. Lunch was provided as a part of the entry fee but the local Fire Department took donations in a fireman’s boot at the beginning of the lunch line. Good idea for the locals and the event promoter.

Lunch at Sandgap
Lunch at Sandgap

While heading to the end of lunch line, I came across Charlie Williams from Indy. He was pulling in on his GasGas as we wandered towards the shelter house. We chatted a bit and moved forward for some deserved nourishment and bench racing.

Travis was complaining about a certain rider that had left us behind on a trail ride a couple years ago and Jesse said, “Well he doesn’t have anything on Ross!” Charlie chimed in immediately and concurred, “Ross will do the same and he has the right tools to do it with!” If you’d ridden with Ross you would understand!

We saw several riders at lunch that were once KORHS racers. Many asked what had happened with the series. It is obvious that many folks appreciated what we did, but continuing at a loss is just not the way to go. I appreciated hearing all the good comments. I said farewell to Charlie and we headed on down the road to get some gas.

The gas station was a hoot! There were 45+ bikes there at any given moment for I’d say 20-25 minutes. Jeff was topping off the RMX, Travis fed the DRZ and Jesse’s WR300 had sucked down nearly 3 gallons so far! I saw just as many people there as I did at lunch.

The trails during the afternoon were just as good and from looking at the GPS I could see that we were starting to loop back around towards the staging area. The trail traversed some properties that we’d used for racing in the past and it was neat to suddenly realize that we were at that location!

At various points during the day I turned on my helmet camera. I tried to only use it on the best of trails but ended up getting some footage of paved and gravel roads. The plan was to get several 3-5 minute clips out on YouTube and I’m making progress with 4 posted for viewing thus far. Below is the first of the bunch. Make sure to click on the gear and watch it in HD.

Below are the links to the other 3 in this series:


The afternoon trails provided more great scenery, had some tricky creek beds, and were laid out to wrap up the event in a good way. The promotors did a great job for sure! At the end of the day, Travis’ odometer said 116 miles and my calculations using the GPS and my odometer reading before it gave out was also right at 116 miles. Other folks said they got 125 miles so I’m not sure if we missed a section or what. Regardless, it was a good time!

My regret at this point is that  I did not go back on Sunday. I hadn’t made plans to do so but will next year for sure! Marty said the percentage of trail vs. gravel vs. road is about the same but it is only 80 rather than 125 miles. Jeff said it was well worth the time and highly-recommended by many of the riders that had gone with him in the past.

My plan is to go again next year! Who’s going with me?

See you on the trail!

Sandlapper Enduro Race Report

I’d ridden in South Carolina once before, but that was up at the Big Buck GNCC where they actually have some soil. That was not the case down around Salley, South Carolina where “sand” was the predominant soil type and “pines” are the most abundant tree. This made for an interesting riding experience for someone from Kentucky.

The weekend started to fall apart even before we left as two of our riding pals had to back out at the last minute. One due to sickness, the other due to his better judgement. Both made the right decision, but it was hard at the time.

With two guys out, the number of “known” folks on our line was down to three eager racers. Marty, Bo, and me were really looking forward to the Enduro and the weather forecast was just awesome compared to what was going on in old Kentucky. Upper 60’s on Saturday and low 80’s on Sunday with clear skies to top it all off!

We arrived around 4 or so on Saturday and got registration behind us and then walked around to check out the Pro pits. All the regulars were present and everyone was trying to put their best foot forward with their bikes and rigs. The KTM rig was especially large and lavish . . . remember the Shane Watts article? With that all behind us, we headed back to the hotel for some rest and some food.

We arrived in plenty time on Sunday morning and got everything ready at a leisurely pace. Didn’t have to hurry at all as most everything was ready to go. I don’t like having to rush at all on race day, it just ruins it all for me.

We met our two new row partners at the beginning of the first test. One guy was quite wide and portly and was riding a four-stroke Husky. The other racer was 47 and grew up in Pikeville, but now lived in Tennessee. He was the sleeper on the line as he was riding a newer model YZ125 two-stroke.

The first test was really cool and it started to give me an idea of what was going to follow. Can you say SAND and lots of it mixed up with some pine roots. This section must have been mostly new as it was not totally eaten up, but it was more than obvious where the course went.

The pecking order seemed to be set by the end of the first test. Marty had to move over and let the guy on the YZ125 by and neither Bo nor I could keep the wide guy on the Husky in sight. Bo came by me flying in the first open section and I could only keep him in sight for a mile or so. Regardless, I got to the start of the 2nd test in plenty of time.

The second test was a combination of some new stuff mixed up with some trail that had been ridden before making for some really chopped up surfaces. This section had some tight scrub and sandy fire road type portions. I was making fairly good time, but the deep sand in the straights was whooping up badly and I just can’t hit that stuff too fast.

When I got to the start of the 3rd test, Bo said I only had a few minutes . . . I think it was about 5 or so. This gave me some time to rest and regain composure before the next test. Both Bo and Marty seemed to be having a good time.

A few minutes later we were off into even more tight trail that was whooped out and eat up. There were many sections where you’d just have to come to a complete stop and wiggle your bars through the trees. I like tight trail, but some of this was a bit overboard! Each change in direction also entailed a big pile of sand followed by a deep rut. The brakes were dragging the sand into a pile before the corner and then a big deep rut would develop on the exit where people gassed it ahead down the trail. People need to ride more smoothly like me and the trail would not work up like that.

At the end of test 3 we came out near the truck but neither Bo nor Marty were around. I circled around one big row of parking and didn’t see them so I went back to gas up and get something to eat. Bo came up in about 4 minutes or so but without Marty. He couldn’t find him. I gassed up quickly and we each ate 1/2 of a peanut butter sandwich and drank a bunch of water and such. We then headed back into an insanely tight transfer section just come out at the beginning of Test 4.

We found Marty there but he had not eaten or filled up with gas so he was a bit worried about making it through the next two tests. Test 4 was really tight once again and some of the trail had been ridden before. There was some raised wooden bridges in this Test and a bunch of that stuff where you had to come to a complete stop and wiggle.

Towards the end of the Test there was a raised wooden bridge and people were all backed up on it just sitting still. I rode around as many as I could and saw carnage ahead in some deep muddy ruts. Where the heck did the MUD come from!! Regardless, it was there and no one was really moving. Sitting still was costing me time, but there was really nothing to do but wait. When I got closer some guys on the right were all tangled up in the vegetation and a big rut and a guy on the right was laying over to the center with a small line between his bike and a little tree. I rode across the ruts (perpendicular) and then shot up between his tires and the tree. Glad to get that behind me.

Shortly afterwards the test ended and there was a nice restful transfer section along a fireroad. It was good to catch my breath but I knew I was late for sure. Upon arriving at the test I saw Marty sitting beside his bike. He was out of gas and Bo had gone back to the truck to get him a splash.

I went on up to the start and noted I was almost 10 minutes late so they waved me through. By this point I was really tired and was starting to ride quite stupidly . . . you know, bouncing off of things and just not having the precision to pull something off between two tight trees. This started to cost me lots of time and energy. At about mile 50, my legs started cramping. This helped me make a decision that I’m still Ok with . . . I was NOT going to ride the last 19.4 mile test . . . it just wasn’t going to happen. Test 5 ended back at the truck and that’s where I was headed! There were some open and flowing trails through the pine forest towards the end of this test that were really cool and fun to ride.

In the end, it was all good! None of us got hurt or broke anything and we each had a good time. We’ll definitely be back for another one down this way!

I carried a GPS during the event and had it track the course. See the image below to get a good idea of how much ground we covered. If you want the tracks for your GPS or Google Earth let me know.

South Carolina Enduro Course (Sections 1-5)
South Carolina Enduro Course (Sections 1-5)

See you on the trail!

The view from above . . .

One nice part about my job doing GIS for State Government is the access to the most current aerial photography and other data layers. The Federal Government through the National Aerial Inventory Program (NAIP) has acquired leaf-on aerial photography of the entire state at a 1 meter resolution every two years since 2004. In 2006 2 foot resolution (much better) was obtained. We just got the 2010 photography a couple weeks ago and have been working to mosaic it all together and make it available for everyone to use and/or view.

Horseshoe Bend - Summer 2010
Horseshoe Bend - Summer 2010

Checkout the photo above of Horseshoe Bend taken this summer as a part of the NAIP effort. You can see every twist and turn of the MX track and if you know where to look you’ll see where the KORHS course crossed some fields and where it tied into the MX track. If you look closely you can see where scoring was just inside the little kids track. Also, every jump and corner is very clear on the Supercross track on the left hand side of the image.

I cruised around the state looking at the new imagery and in most of the KORHS race locations there were few indications of our presence that were visible in the imagery. Mainly, the scoring areas and some corners on the grass track sections. These types of things are visible at the Sawmill in the area next to the road. Now in the case of Salt River Run, the imagery was acquired before the event. Thus, there is no sign there was a race there this year, but you can count the roll bales in one of his fields with great precision!

Below is a link that will allow you to view the new 2010 imagery. We haven’t exposed it in any of our public facing sites yet, but these public “services” are accessible and allow you to view it in a simple Javascript viewer in the interim.

2010 Imagery Service Javascript Viewer – Use the little buttons to zoom in and out or Shift+Click and drag to define an extent to zoom to.

Let me know if you have any questions about the aerials and when we get it out in an easy to use viewer I’ll let everyone know.

See you on the trail!