Gateway BMW GS Challenge at Honz's Rouge Creek Ranch near Potisi, MO. This was the second year for the event. There were 36 spots available for $135 each, and included primitive camping at the Ranch, hot dogs Friday night, 3 catered meals Saturday, instruction by one of three highly qualified instructors, the GS Challenge at the end of Saturday and a off road ride Sunday. I almost forgot plenty of helpers to help you pick-up your bike WHEN you drop it, R1200GS Adventures are very heavy you know. Gateway BMW gives first dibs to those who bought off road capable bikes in the last year, and the rest are offered to the public on a first come basis.
Two of the instructors, Del and Jeff were from RawHyde Adventures, the other Mark was The BMW area representative and a instructor for the BMW off road school in North Carolina. Each instructor had 3 to 4 helpers including staff from Gateway BMW and experienced local riders. The participants were split into 3 groups based and riding experience. I was in the middle group and Mark from BMW was my instructor.
Saturday morning arrived quite early after a restless & cold nights sleep in my summer sleeping bag (April is not Summer time!). Breakfast of bacon, eggs, biscuits, gravy, fruit, pastries, juice, milk and coffee was ready at 7:15 A.M. and the riders meeting started promptly at 8:00 A.M. There would be 5 differnt areas were we would practice things such as hill climb & decent, braking, tight turning radius, figure 8 and creek crossing. All of the exercises would be performed at relative low speeds and would test your balance and clutch modulation or friction zone ("I love the smell of burn clutches in the morning" is on the shirts, The big GS's all have dry clutches).
Our group started with a short ride around the property to warm up the bikes and riders, then jumped into probably the most difficult task of negotiating a small ditch, rocks, back and forth around 4 or 5 close spaced trees and up a small rise where we would get inline to to it again. This first section required all of the skills we would learn individually later in the day, nothing like starting at he top and working our way down.
Next was creek crossings and braking. The creek only claimed one victim, and then only as he was exiting the creek, so no hydro lock. The goal was to keep more weight on the back tire to help the front tire roll over any unseen holes or rocks, and to look where you wanted to go, the horizon. Braking was to learn how the bike reacts on loose surfaces both with and with out ABS on. With ABS on the bikes have an exaggeratedly long braking distance on flat surfaces and can literally run out of control on descents (A clip of why it's important). My bike doesn't have ABS so no big deal, but the big bikes all do.
After braking we were onto figure 8's. 2 rows of 2 cones about 10-15 feet apart and slightly staggered. Left 180 degrees around the first cone, right 180 degrees around the second cone, then left , right and end of the line again. The goal is to turn you body the way you want to go and use your bum for balance. Just don't look at the cone, because just as riding on hard surfaces that's were you will go and you will need help picking up your bike.
Hill climb and decent was next. The goal was to carry just enough speed to make it to the top of the hill with out becoming air born or losing traction. If you stalled the engine going up we learned how to use it to get us back down the hill in a controlled manner. For the decent it was important that ABS be off so that you could control the bike. The hill looks much tamer in the video, the first time you approach the decent it looks vertical from behind the bars, same with the way up.
We ended the instruction literally riding in circles. Riding in circles at steering lock is one thing on flat even pavement and something completely different on a uneven rocky dirt surface. The later requires modulation of brakes on down slope and modulation of the clutch on the up hill slope.
After the last of the instruction it was break-time, while the instructors and ringleader Honz set up the Challenge course. The Challenge was on a volunteer basis, but would test all that we learned and some that we didn't. Of course there would be prizes for 1st, 2nd and 3rd valued at $200, $100 and $50 respectively. After having spent the better part of the day moving slowly in the hot sun wearing full riding gear I was slightly delusional, so of course I signed up for the challenge. The course set and instructions given it was time to send the riders in one at a time. I was about a third of the way down the list of 15 riders, so I had the advantage (disadvantage?) of seeing several riders complete and not complete the course. The runs were timed and judged. The lower the time the better, but if you put your feet down in the technical areas or fell down you were penalized, If you did something spectacular you were awarded, based on audience approval. You stared out at the top of the steep decent, then down to right turn and over several logs, next through an area of large rocks around a large mud hole, then you had a choice to make go through the 30 foot mud pit or around it. If you went around it you would lose points, but if you went through it all bets were off (the one rider who choose to go around it ended up crashing into mud pit). Tight circle around a cone was just as you exited the mud pit. After you made it around the cone it was unknown... our group never made it down this path during the day as one of the other groups all 12 bikes stuck in the trail. It turns out it was a rocky wet marshy mess, basically you were running down the middle of a muddy creek bed with several turns ending in a climb up a muddy bank onto the road. A short sprint down the road and you entered the bottom again through some very large rocks. At this point you have a choice to make, take the dry path and make a sharp left and climb the hill you started at or take the wet path and have a gentler turn to the hill. Finely it was my turn, It seemed like I had been sitting in the sun waiting forever. As I watched Leo give me the countdown things around me just faded away, I don't recall seeing any of the spectators along the course, the only thing I remember was thinking "GO, GO, GO!" and the course it self. I kept the bike on two wheels and made through the course with out indecent, it felt like I was going quick, but when I look at some of the video it looks quite slow. I did the best I could and was quite beat afterward. At some point near the end one of the guys from the shop came up to me and said "You had a great time through the course", I got a little excited and thought I might have a chance. It would be great if I placed. After everyone had completed the course it was announced that they had a winner, but that they also had a tie for 2nd and 3rd and that once the tie was taken care of they would announce the winner. I was not one of the riders in the tie-breaker and my hopes of placing were dashed. It was decided the tie-breaker would be settled my clap-o-meter and that the riders would rider the G450X demo bike (it's been through the ringer a time or two). A short course down the hill, through the mud pit and back up the hill was set. The second rider went through the mud pit twice and a pone climbing the hill gave the bike a toss to the ground, sort of rock start style. The crowd loved it and 2nd place was his. It was then time to annouce the winner, "Out of know where, the dark horse, only had the bike for 6 months, with a time of 2 minutes and 11 seconds... Art Wheeler". I was shocked, but it did feel good.
As good as it felt to win, I have to say the guys on the R1200GS Adventures deserve more credit than I on my diminutive G650 XCountry, They have my respect. I don't know if I would have even taken on the class if I was riding a 1200GS.
I was told that all of the riders who did the challenge were invited on a trail ride later after supper. Speaking of supper it was again catered by Liz Huff and included chicken, mashed potatoes, gravy, green beans, hot rolls, and baked apple crisp, of course it was delicious. It would be challenging, and if you had a big bike you would only want to do it with knobbie's. As much fun as it sounded I declined, I was absolutely exhausted from the instruction and being in the sun all day. Later that night while we sat around the bonfire, I drinking my annual beer (I won so I had to celebrate), the guys from the afternoon ride rode into camp. The tales they told both made me wish I had gone and glad I didn't. Little did I know at the time...
I had hoped my annual beer would help to put me to sleep, it had little effect, and 6:30 a.m. rolled around quite fast. Sunday's options were;
1. Pack up and head home.
2. Take the gravel road ride to Bixby, MO (The center of motorcycle heaven, both street and dirt).
3. Take the gnarly trail ride to Bixby, MO
I choose to pack-up and take the gravel road ride. I wanted to get a feel for the bike with a touring load, plus I would have help picking it up if I had a tip over. We had to meet up at the Micky D's in Potisi at 8:00 a.m. with the bikes and body's fueled and ready to go. I also stocked up on water and fig newtons for the ride, a little hydration and energy never hurt anybody.
After a brief pre-ride talk 20 bikes lined up behind Ringleader Honz and we were off. It didn't take long for the group to figure out that the GRAVEL roads were only letting Honz enjoy the ride (in Missouri gravel = limestone and limestone = white chalky dust, lots of it). I was in the middle of the pack and my Hi-Vis stich had lost it's Hi-Vis. At a rest stop it was put to a vote and we decided to take the un-marked, not on the map roads, more dirt less gravel. We finally ended up at what Honz called the impassable pass (the trail from the night before) , apparently it becomes impassable for the big bikes with even the mention of rain. Luck for us it was sunny. The trail leading us to the impassable part put to use the knowledge we learned the day before, lots of tight weaving between trees and rocks. We staged the twenty bikes at the precipices to the impassable portion and Honz talked us through it one at a time. We all made it through unharmed, even Tilly the enduro dog (see video). The trail ended just a stones throw from the Rouge Creek Ranch, so most of the group called it a day, myself included and went our separate ways.
I can't thank Bob Honz and the guys at Gateway BMW enough for putting on this event, it was an absolute blast!
I do feel a little bit guilty about winning the GS challenge, being on the smallest bike and all, but not guilty enough to forfeit my prize...
All the photos of me in this post were taken by Marilyn Roberts, she has many other photos from the event at the following Link.
Sorry the video clips just don't fit the layout of the blog, it's better to watch them on YouTube .
See you on the road, or off.
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