By Tiffany Nicole Tong, HRCA Associate
I wasn't sure what to expect when I embarked on my first dirt bike trip in the California desert. I had taken the Motorcycle Safety Foundation (MSF) Dirt Bike course at the Honda® Rider Education Center in Colton, California, but this was going to be the real thing and I was a little nervous about it. Two other girls from my dirt bike class were also on board for the ride. It was comforting having other beginners along with me for my first off-road trip. The adventure started, however, before we even got on two wheels.
As our CR-V clawed its way over the sand ruts on the unpaved road leading to our destination, I wondered if we would ever get there. We were driving at night, and as we wound our way through the desert, all we could see was the slither of ground illuminated by the headlights; all else was pitch black. Sand and cacti were the only objects that flashed into view as we made our way deeper into the darkness. But then we saw something strange off in the distance. Was it a UFO, a mirage? As we got closer, however, it appeared to be the faint glow of . . . Japanese lanterns.
We had arrived at Honda town. Lowell Christensen, the manager of the Colton Rider Education Center, greeted us as we pulled in. He had set up camp between two hills and it was like an oasis in the desert. There was a huge motor home on one side, two canopies strewn with lanterns in the middle with tables and chairs underneath, a truck that had hauled the dirt bikes and ATVs, and of course, Lowell's tent, fittingly referred to as "the condo," due to its home-away-from-home amenities. After overcoming the challenge of assembling our tent in the dark, we hit the sack preparing for a long day of riding ahead.
As the sun rose above the desert horizon, it revealed a completely different environment than what little we had seen driving in. It was a beautiful open landscape of rolling hills, mountains in the distance, and all types of desert vegetation. After breakfast, we geared up and checked the bikes before the ride. I was so excited as I mounted my CRF®150F, but as the butterflies in my stomach attested, I was also a little anxious.
The first challenge we encountered was a sand wash. My bike slipped and wiggled under me as I tried to keep it in a straight line through the soft sand. Luckily, we were riding with three MSF instructors who advised us to look far ahead into the distance, to get off the seat and weight the rear of the bike, and to go a little faster. The technique worked like a charm. We had conquered our first challenge; my confidence increased, and my nervousness started to wane.
The next obstacle to challenge our skills and test our nerves was a steep hill, which, to my novice eyes, slightly resembled Mount Everest. Nevertheless, with a little encouragement (and remembering my off-road training) I gave it a go. I chose my gear, gained some speed, and leaned forward over the handlebar as I climbed. The CRF's rear tire dug into the dirt as I rose up the hill and finally reached the top. It was such a thrill! I then had to negotiate the equally steep downhill, but remembered to shift my weight backward and it wasn't a problem. I'm always excited when I can use something I've learned and apply it to real life.
After more hills and soft terrain, it felt like we had been riding forever when we arrived at our halfway point. I couldn't believe we had only ridden 12 miles. I was exhausted. Though, I must admit that some of my energy had been spent on kick-starting my bike because I stalled it about 20 times. On the bright side, I was very good at it by this point. The ride back to Honda town seemed much easier because we followed the same route and knew what to expect.
Once we got back to camp, we switched to ATVs and headed out again. This time we rode down some power-line roads to a place dubbed Hotel California. Hotel California is a tiny enclosed rock shelter area complete with a fire pit and guest book. The idea is that if you get stranded out there, you can stay sheltered and even get some food. There were a couple cans of beans and some bottled water in the makeshift pantry. We signed the guest book and then headed back to Honda town.
Back at the camp, we compared dirt mustaches and bruises; I think I won. It was a wonderful experience to be challenged by the desert, but by putting into practice what I had learned at the Honda Training Center, I conquered all the obstacles that came my way, even my nervousness. I can't wait to get out riding again soon.