With a rough plan for the next two weeks, and a bit of optimism, I set out to race the Sandblast Rally in South Carolina and then continue down to Florida to catch bike week if all went well. The plan was to work out of my company’s Florida office and to rough it in a tent for as long as I could cut it; hopefully long enough to combine my return trip with a detour to Tennessee to catch March Moto Madness. Despite some ups and downs the stars aligned and it turned out to be quite the journey.
Sand Blast Rally
On the morning of Thursday, March 2nd I packed up my bike and departed from my home on the eastern shore of Maryland. The ride down to Cheraw, SC was uneventful but I was burning through my knobbies faster than I anticipated causing my somewhat worn rear tire to turn into an extremely worn rear tire. I arrived at the campground in time to catch a stunning sunset before unpacking my things and making a run into town for signup. At signup I ran into my friends Steve and Amelia who offered me to pit with their crew, an offer which I took them up on.
After signing up and getting supplies I returned back to a cold campsite and prepared for bed. It was a cold night, dropping to freezing temperatures, but I was plenty warm and plenty grateful that I had opted to pick up a 30⁰F sleeping bag before I departed on my trip. The problem though, came when I had to leave my sleeping bag and put on all of my now frozen clothes. There is nothing like scavenging together pine cones to burn for warmth at 6 am.
I eventually warmed up enough to go into town and run through tech inspection before attending the novice competitor orientation. Following orientation I went back to the tent and prepared my roll chart for the race by cutting out the special stages then trimming and taping it all together.
Shakedown runs in the afternoon were followed up with parc exposé (fancy words for race car show) in the adjacent town of Chesterfield where the rally start would be held. After talking with other riders and getting some tacos for dinner I called it a night. The morning of the race I woke up extra early to give myself time to warm up by the fire. Once warm, I made my way towards Chesterfield for the start only to arrive shivering; it was still near freezing at 6:45am. I warmed up with some coffee and a hot breakfast sandwich, set my watch to key time, and queued up taking my spot as the last motorcycle to start. Starting 30 seconds behind Steve I followed him to the first special stage while getting better acquainted with using my roll chart. Doing some mental math I ensured that I checked in on the correct 30 second interval to avoid penalty and moved up to prepare for launch. With my nerves buzzing with anticipation I watched the timer countdown to my exact second to launch. The timer hit zero and I took off blazing. Unthinking and overly anxious I did not heed the old adage of “slow is smooth, and smooth is fast”. Only several turns in and I was already getting the dreaded arm-pump. Barley able to hold it together, sliding through a chicane I ignored logic and accelerated into the next turn pitching rear slide sideways.
Photo by Mathew Styrker
I had bitten off more than I could chew and I put myself into a drawn out lowside giving the viewers quite the spectacle. I picked up the bike and finished with a more sustainable pace, the arm pump now so bad that I could barely pull in the clutch at the finish. Heeding my lesson in exceeding my limits, I relaxed and elected a more suitable pace for special stage 2. With my arm-pump subsided I was able to find my rhythm and increase speed throughout the day, though not without a few more mild crashes.
Photo by Rally Girl Racing
All in all I ended up finishing 8th of 13 for medium class, and 16th of 28 for all bikes. Steve’s video of the rally sums up the whole experience nicely, plus it has some sweet crash footage.
Video by Steve Kamrad
The end of the rally was in downtown Cheraw where NASA threw an excellent party with “free” food and beer for the competitors and volunteers. Trading war stories and tall tales of the day’s events seemed the perfect way to cap an exciting day of racing. Comradery runs high among the rally folks and many new friends were made.
In the morning I packed up camp and set off down to Florida. Upon arrival I crashed at my friend and coworker Joe’s apartment for a few days while I decided where to camp. Joe owns a Ninja 300 so naturally the hijinks started right away.
Joe had expressed an interest in riding dirt with me so we went adventure riding after my first day of work. I do not think he expected to ride 20 miles of powerline cuts, rail road tracks, and trails but he managed them much better than I ever thought possible.
After a few days of staying with Joe I found a place to set up camp in the woods near my office. I guess word got around the office because I soon had an offer to set up camp at my coworker Tommy’s property. Tommy has around 40 acres of property and gave me free reign over it. I found myself a little lean-to structure in the woods and set up shop under it. This would become my new home for March.
Adapting to living in a tent turned out to be easy and I quickly got into a routine of going to work early to shower, making meals at work, stopping by the laundromat twice a week to wash the small amount clothes I brought with me, and doing “Florida things” such as visiting the swamps and paddle boarding.
I caught wind of a free CADS/GS Giants event called the Trans-Florida Adventure Ride so I eagerly prepared the Versys with an oil change and new rear tire. Early Saturday morning I packed up my bike with my camera, sleeping bag, tool roll, and air compressor and headed out to traverse Florida.
The Trans-Florida Adventure Ride starts out of Crescent Beach along the Atlantic on the first Saturday of bike week and takes a primarily dirt route out to Cedar Key on the Gulf, followed by a mostly dirt route back to the start on Sunday totaling around 360 miles. Navigation is done solely by roll chart with optional “enduro” sections and picture challenges. Deciding I wanted a challenge I took the first optional section, to ride down the beach and get a picture for proof. It turned out I was the only one who did the 4 mile long challenge which now placed me behind literally everyone. Questioning my abilities to follow a roll chart I hastily made off to the next dirt section hoping to catch up with the pack.
I rocketed through the next dirt section and despite a few navigational difficulties I got back on track. Passing a group of riders taking a break as I neared the first split between enduro and adventure routes I decided to take the enduro route with the hope that there would likely be someone behind me in the event something went wrong. Naturally things immediately went wrong.
Things started to get bumpy blasting down an overgrown trail that somehow passed for a “road” according to my roll chart. At first it was fun getting small amounts of air as I set my pace to 60mph, but my concern grew as the dried mud holes that launched me started to increase in size. I tried to back off but was too late; I flew out of a dip over the bottom of another hole and landed onto the uphill face exiting it. Bottoming incredibly hard, I felt my left foot come free from the peg. Headed towards a mud hole that was filled with water I tried frantically to get my foot back on the peg and regain control but to no avail. I blasted straight through the water hole before finally coming to a stop, now completely drenched. Checking the damage I realize that I could not perch my foot back on the peg because the peg had broken free of the rearset mount taking the shifter and linkage with it. The riders I passed by earlier stopped to check on me as I zip tied the dangling peg and attached shifter to the frame. Seeing that the bike was still rideable I sent them on their way.
Attempts at rigging up a way where I could still shift failed as the zip ties snapped immediately or didn’t allow for enough movement. Thinking about my vice grips laying back in my tent, I contemplated what to do now that I was stuck in 3rd gear only 40 miles into the day 1 ride. “How hard could it be to ride one footed,” I pondered. I would soon find out that hard was the answer.
Photo by Steven Breckenridge
Realizing I had nothing better to do this weekend I decided to forge onward. Placing my left foot on the rear passenger peg afforded my quickly tiring leg some rest as well as added bike control as I made my way through the deep Florida sand. For the next hour I played cat and mouse with the group of riders I encountered earlier; I would pass them as they would wait for the group to reassemble, then subsequently get passed back as I missed turns. Soon I found myself lost, all alone, deep in Ocala National Forest single track. Ready to give up, I turned my bike off (since I couldn’t shift into neutral) to check my phone’s GPS, and to my surprise I distantly heard a bike struggling through the sand down the trail to my right. With renewed hope I rapidly took off in the search of the machine’s pilot hoping that they could show me the way.
The first rider I found, Courtney – a R1200GS pilot, had lost place on the roll chart as well but directed me to catch up with the leader of the group, Nick who helped organize the event, would surely know. I reached the group at the end of the trail only to find out that they were actually taking a slightly different, “locals only” route they knew and that I indeed had been lost. I followed them through the last few miles of the section before regaining my bearings and finding my spot on the roll chart. After talking with one of the riders, Mark, at a gas stop I decided I would take their offer to ride with the group for the remainder of the day. After many more miles of sand we reached Cedar Key. Mark was kind enough share his hotel room with me after discovering that I had no accommodations.
The next day we ride the 180 miles back, this time with slightly less dirt. About three-quarters of the way through the ride the skies opened up quickly soaking us. Cold and wet we finish the ride back to Crescent Beach to earn our Trans-Florida Ride Finisher stickers. While we celebrated with dinner and some beers I messaged my “roommate” Tommy to see if he knows anyone who can weld aluminum and fix my footpeg. As luck would have it Tommy was drinking beer with his friend who happened to be a welder at that very moment. I limped back at 60mph down I-95 and paid a visit to his friend.
With my bike fixed I went back into my normal routine: wake up early, go to work, adventure ride, eat tacos and drink beer, and sleep. That Saturday I headed down to Daytona International Speedway to get a taste of bike week. I started off by immediately demoing an Indian Scout, followed by an FJR1300, and finishing on a Hayabusa. After thrashing them as much as I could get away with (they all do wheelies, yes, even the scout) I went and met up with Joe and we checked out the manufacture’s offerings that we couldnot ride, then watched the Daytona 200 from the infield before finishing the night off by bar hopping on Main Street.
Photo by Joe Sendzia
During the time since the Trans-Florida Ride I noticed that my gas mileage was starting to drop, and soon a noticeable power loss too. Checking my air filter I discovered the problem; it was completely clogged. The dirt and sand was caked onto the filter in unbelievable amounts, to the point that rinsing it was futile. Having failed at cleaning the filter I had a new one overnight shipped. With the new filter in place power was immediately restored and wheelies abounded.
In the period from when I first took Joe to the trails to now he had been riding his ninja off-road nearly daily, unbeknownst to me. After catching me planning an afternoon dirt ride he wanted to join along, which I agreed to of course. We started off with local sandy ATV trails and single track that led to a large play area of deep sand.
Photo by Joe Sendzia
Joe was surprising me with how much more comfortable he had become off-road and was able to go at a respectable pace. After playing on the single track for a while longer we decided to see how far we could make it on the powerline access trail before dark. After knocking out around two miles we reached a swampy low area where I suggested we turn around. Joe wasnot having it and volunteered me to go through first to see how bad it was before attempting the feat with the ninja. Like a good friend I obliged.
I started by trying to ride the center between the 4x4 ruts but it turned out to be slick and I soon found myself pulled into the rut of slimy mud. Duck walking I managed to make it through at a crawling pace as the rear refused to get traction despite my best efforts. As I turned around to tell Joe not to attempt it he came barreling down towards the ruts without heed. Despite nearly tucking the front he saved it and his momentum carried him half the length of the rut before the trouble started. Appearing to be stuck Joe turned down my offers of assistance and instead man-handled the 300 to conform to his will. I laughed and photographed him as he slipped and slid every which way, slowly making progress in the intended direction. With the sun about to set we jumped onto the next road the powerlines crossed and met up with Adam for some food truck and brewery action.
Brec, one of the riders I befriended at the Trans-Florida Ride, asked if I would be interested in riding a mostly dirt route from Florida up to Tellico Plains for March Moto Madness. Already having plans to attend March Moto Madness, I quickly asked my boss for additional time off to take the long way up. With permission granted I packed up my tent home and spent my last few days in Florida at Adam’s apartment, getting in a few fully loaded test runs over the weekend.
Onward to Tennessee
Tuesday morning I loaded up the bike for good and headed north to meet Brec in Jacksonville. With his KTM 690 smartly packed and my Versys loaded to the brim we took off, picking up the trail west of the city. Following our route we winded up through the sand roads of Florida and into Georgia, eventually setting up camp for the night near Twin City, Georgia.
Rising with the sun we got an early start on our day, crushing many miles of sand that slowly gave way to the red dirt that Georgia is known for.
As the day wound on we found ourselves on the twisty, gravel, mountain roads of Chattahoochee National Forest nearing sunset. With only 35 miles of riding left before hitting our intended stop, Mountain City, Georgia, my trunk broke free and tossed itself down the gravel road. The bouncing had sheared the horizontal pins from the ¼ turn fasteners that connect the adapter plate to my tail rack. With a quick zip-tie repair we were back underway only to have it break off again a mile down the road. With sunlight fading fast I was prepared to leave my trunk, its only contents being a sleeping bag and pillow which I could lash to the rack and some MREs I would have to leave behind. Brec insisted that we give it one more go but this time he lashed the adapter plate to the rack with a cam buckle strap. To my delight this worked, but the happiness would be short lived. While stopped at a junction a mere mile down the road my oil pressure light illuminated red. Neither Brec nor I had oil with us and we were still 30 miles into the mountains. Reviewing the roads on the GPS we see that we are already on the shortest path back to civilization and we decide to push on. Maintaining revs to elevate oil pressure enough to stave off the light became my new riding style as we made our way through the forest in the dark. Pulling into town a little after 9pm we decided to get a hotel for the night.
In the morning I got oil from gas station next-door which conveniently carries Rotella T-6. The versys eagerly gobbled down a quart, followed by most of the second bottle. This was not good; an oil change requires 1.9 quarts per the manual, only 1.7 if you don’t change the filter. The moment of truth: I pushed the starter and it reluctantly came alive only to stall when idling. Sometimes the bike does not like to idle on cold mornings I reminded myself and I fired it alive a second time. Mildly concerned, I crossed the street to the gas station only for it stall as soon as I pulled in the clutch. My concern quickly grew; I thumbed the starter button but there would be no third time.
Not wanting to accept its fate, Brec and I swapped batteries since it was cranking a bit slow. No dice. With it starting to rain a man from the town Welcome Center offered me the use of his pavilion to work on the bike. After pushing it over I pulled the tank off and checked the air filter for oil only to find that the entire airbox was covered in dirt.
I called my friend Chad, who lives in Georgia and would be attending March Moto Madness, to see about getting a lift. Chad offered to pick me up on his way north that night, even though it was two hours out of the way. Seeing as I had all day to wait he recommended that I try pulling the plugs and putting some thick oil down the cylinders in an effort to raise compression enough to get it started. Now armed with a plan, and back-up plan, I said farewell to Brec as he continued his journey solo. (Brec has a much more detailed report of our ride, with plenty of pictures, located at http://advrider.com/index.php?threads/waybills-ride-to-tn-from-n-e-florida.1229589/ )
I walked down to the auto parts store and picked up oil and fresh plugs and got to work. I poured oil into both cylinders and gave it time to settle while I found lunch. After turning over the motor a few times to blow out excess oil I installed the new plugs but not before checking for spark the old fashioned way. With the plugs installed and my fingers tingling I tried starting it again but the motor gave not even a hint of wanting to start. Due to the abundance of time and stubbornness I tried oiling the cylinders and cleaning the plugs three more times before accepting the hard truth that the versys was dead. I put the bike back together and waited for Chad to come save me.
March Moto Madness
Chad took me up to March Moto Madness where we meant up with Steve, Amelia, Rob, and Don. After some pleading, Steve and Amelia were kind enough to offer the versys and myself a lift back home. With a ride secured I turned to the problem at hand: how do I find a bike so I can ride with my friends? After asking around I discovered that GSM still had one rental KLR available for the weekend, and with some exchanging of information I had a hot new ride to thrash.
How is March Moto Madness? Well Steve answers that with his video better than I could explain:
Video by Steve Kamrad
Steve playing in the water
Chad and Rob laugh at Steve’s inferior, non KTM bike
Tough limbo competition this year
Don doing his version of limbo
Top of the world
Amelia ripping on the ‘burg
The crew pondering where to go next
After a great weekend of hanging with friends I loaded the versys up behind the TRD Pro and spent a cozy twelve hours with the Karmrads. Arriving back home in Maryland it was now April 2nd and time to return back to the normal grind. March was a hell of a month; now I have to figure out how to top it.