The Odessa 100 – A Lesson in Dirt Riding
The “Odessa 100″ is a two-day even put on by Stumpjumpers, a local (‘Central Washington’ local) motorcycle club that’s been putting on this event for the last 37 years. Each year it gets bigger and better. I knew very little about it other than it sounded like fun. What the heck – it was time to check it out for myself!
April 13-15, 2007
Total Miles: 156 miles, 3 days
Seattle, WA to Odessa, WA
I first heard of the Odessa 100 race in Odessa, WA last summer after it had happened and other motorcyclists were talking about it. All I knew was that there was some sort of race in the desert and thousands of people showed up for it. I had been practicing some off-road riding on the KLR and recently put on some Avon Gripster tires, the same sort of tire I came home from Alaska on and had puttered around on some forest service roads with. Surely they would do well for this event. After all, it’s the desert – how hard can it be?
I left work a little early on Friday and pointed my KLR east on I-90. I rode for three hous before I got to Odessa and miraculously found the two friends I was to stay with that weekend.
I-90 outside of North Bend, WA
Mt Si near North Bend
Wild Horses Monument near Vantage
Where I-90 crosses the Columbia River
Rain over Vantage, WA
Generic view of eastern Washington near the Columbia River
When I say “miraculous” you’ll understand the odds of running into them here. Consider this sight: an open field packed with hundreds (hundreds!) of RVs, trailers, cars, pick ups, tents, canopies, bikes and people. Add to that mixture the element of time: I was leaving Seattle about the time that Tony and Dale had reached Odessa. They had no plans for the evening other than to look around and head back to the hotel room. I met them as they were leaving the campground and I was just pulling in. A quick decision was made to leave my bike at the campground with theirs and I’d ride back to the hotel with them in the truck. A good idea. The hotel was 40 minutes away in Ritzville, the closest room that the guys could get when they decided to come to the event. I joined in at the 11th hour and got possession of the roll-away cot.
My bed in the corner
A sea of trailers, trucks, RVs, tents and bikes (sorry about the fuzzy picture)
This one’s a little clearer, even if the scope isn’t as broad
Waiting to get into the campground
Tony and Mr Cobb
There were a couple of people I knew at the campground and I’m sure many more that I didn’t know were there at all. When Tony, Dale and I returned to campground at 7am the next morning it was to a seething mass of noise. The Dual Sport Poker Run (the event that I was to enter) would start around 7:30, with the “gates open” until noon. I registered, got my paperwork in order and pulled my first card. I met up with Tony and Dale at the bikes and we casually geared up in the light drizzle. Surprisingly, it wasn’t very cold but I was used to riding at 30-40mph and feeling the windchill bite into me. Therefore I carefully layered on the heated jacket, the sweater and the outer gear. I had strap on protective armor for my elbows and knees and made sure that everything was in place. I put on my old winter gloves, my turtle fur neck warmer and my helmet. I was ready to ride!
Or so I thought. The three of us threaded our bikes through the slightly less-populated campground to the starting point of the Poker Run. Before me was an open, sage-filled field with a few dirt tracks where previous riders had gone. I rolled on the throttle and eased the KLR out into the open. Almost immediately the rear end started to fish around in the mud. Those weren’t dirt tracks – that was mud! The Gripster tires on the heavy KLR weren’t cooperating and my second thought (right after “oh this is going to be so much fun!”) was something like “I’m screwed.” I gamely kept up with Tony, Dale keeping pace behind me. I learned quickly how to navigate the mud (avoid it) and continued to ride across the scrublands. I was beginning to think that I could do this with ease. Then the trail laughed at me.
The start of the Dual Sport (Family) Poker Run
Riding through the sagebrush
I approached the small ravine with some trepidation as I couldn’t see over the edge from where I was and there were a few other bikes stopped in the area. Then I saw that it wasn’t just a small up/down to navigate but it was full of sludge. I don’t know if it was sludge or mud, but either way it was thick, deep and frightening. I could see no easy way across this morass. Tony and Dale blew across it like it wasn’t even there. I picked my line, rolled on the throttle and promptly fell down. Tony was kind enough to take a picture before he came to my aid. We righted the bike, I swore as I struggled to remove my boot from the 4 inches of goo that was holding it down and then we worked out a plan to get me up the other side. During all of this there was a constant rush of motorcycles flying by us. Smaller, lighter bikes with knobbies on the tires and experienced rides at the bars. I was none of these things. I was standing ankle deep in mud trying to figure how the hell I was going to get out of this. With Tony and Dale’s help, we pushed/rode the bike up the other side and I parked it safely out of the way near their bikes.
They make it look easy
And they just kept coming…
The first drop of the day (photo by Tony)
A rider scoping out his line of attack
In case you couldn’t tell how deep it was
Then we met Brad. Brad has a BMW F650 Dakar with tires that had less tread than mine. He was having just as much trouble getting through this section as I was, which was quite a relief to me. Tony and Dale to the rescue again, they went in and gave Brad a hand in getting his bike out. Brad appreciated the help and he hung around us for the rest of the ride. By now I had worked up quite a sweat and while Tony and Dale busied themselves with Brad I took the time to remove the heated jacket, the neck warmer and switch to my summer gloves. I was still hot and wish I had brought my off-road helmet as well.
Giving Brad a helping hand
And they just keep on coming
Tony and Dave
Tony, Dale and me (still clean!)
Looking towards our intended route
We left this area after watching a few dozen (if not more) riders go past us. I saw a red KLR go by and marveled that he did it so easily on the same machine I had. Then I realize that I knew the rider! It was Norm from Nelson, the same guy I rode with in Mexico and had stayed with during some Canadian trips. I hoped that I could meet up with him later, but it sure wasn’t going to happen now. He was long gone on the trail, speeding with the best of them.
I dropped my bike coming up this rise
The approaching pack (photo by Tony)
I dropped my bike here too
Eventually I learned a little more about how to ride in the mud. I avoided it as much as possible, but I also got more comfortable at controlling the bike when I had no alternative. That’s not to say I didn’t drop the bike. No, I stopped counting after the 6th drop. Tony and Dale were always there to help me right it, except for once, when I had ridden ahead of them (I think they had stopped to help Brad pick up his bike, which gave me quite a bit of a lead). Anyway, the bike had fallen in such a way that my foot was pinned underneath it and I couldn’t leverage it up with my other foot. Two other riders stopped to give me a hand (one of the advantages of sharing the field with so many other riders I guess) and I was upright, although not on the bike, when Tony and Dale arrived.
One approach to crossing the creek
The other way to get across the creek
The approach to the crossing
Someone didn’t make it up the other side
Outbuildings on the ranch
There are 15 riders in this photo – they’re too far to see easily though
The terrain varied, from flat, wide-open fields where any space between the sage brush was fair game to narrow, 4′ wide gullies that bunched up the riders and they had to wait their turn. Or didn’t wait, as the case sometimes was when pushy riders would ride to the front and weasel their way in front of others. I climbed in and out of a number of streams, usually without falling down, and was pleased at the longer hill climbs that I powered my bike up.
I was tired but the course was still in front of me. There was no turning back and I didn’t want to turn back. Not now. The course kept on going for 28 miles or so (there was an Iron Man course that shared part of the Family Course that was longer and harder; not something I was interested in). I passed some riders, which was a boost to the ego, and then I was passed by dozens of other riders. I climbed up one particularily steep hill and powered my way over the top, both wheels in the air for a moment as I cheered my own victory. Then I saw the rocks that I was to land on and immediately repented for my premature exhultations. I managed to keep the bike upright but it was yet another humbling experience.
The fact that I had a heavier bike than most, with very limited single-track experience and was still “making my way” made me feel good about myself. Not to say that I wasn’t also tired and frustrated. At one point after a particularily hard drop I sat next to the bike as Tony rolled up. I didn’t want anything to do with the bike. I didn’t want to finish the course. I just wanted to find some nice easy pavement and ride. But Tony had been such a good sport I couldn’t bear to be even more than a pain than I already was, so I lifted up my chin, we lifted up my bike and then we spent the next 15 or so minutes making some minor repairs to it.
Coming up a long hill
Flying down a steep hillside
The layers of mud begin
Tony catches a shot of me after I came down the hill
The Barbie Box does indeed hold tools and parts
Riding through the scablands of eastern Washington
The whoop-dee-doos were deep!
A wide section of the trail
We were in the dirt for over three hours. I’m not quite sure of the time, as time-keeping was the last thing on my mind during all of this. We reached another checkpoint and after I parked my bike I went back to look for the guys and found them helping Brad with his Dakar again. Poor guy! But still, the selfish part of me was glad that there was someone else on the course that was having as much trouble as I was. A volunteer at the check point was handing out hot dogs to the riders. She said that they had ordered 1,500 hot dogs and I found out later that they had run out. That’s a lot of riders!
Towards the very end of the dirt portion we asked a course volunteer if the campground was close by. He mentioned that a quick ride through the field would bring you to a road and then it was a very short ride. I looked to Tony and Dale and said that I was done. Granted, there were just a few more miles left of the dirt ride but I was beat. I knew that I was too tired to go into the rest of the ride with a clear mind. It was better than I bow out now before I hurt mysel or my bike any worse than I had already. They understood and took off to finish up the course as I retreated down the pavement. Oh but that road felt good under my wheels!
I reached camp and left the bike at the truck and then walked around for a bit. I had spied some KLRs near the entrance to the campground and on a whim decided to see if any of them belonged to Norm. Imagine my surprise when I approached the tent and saw Norm himself standing there! He and his buddies had ridden down from Nelson and had finished the Iron Man (of course). We talked for a while and walked back to the truck to see if Tony and Dale had arrived yet. They had, so Norm went back to his campsite as the three of us got ready to finish up the Poker Run on the gravel/dirt/pavement portion of the ride.
Norm and me
Easy Jeep trail
Scouting out the gravel roads
Finishing up at the Brewery
We experienced some pretty bad gravel roads, some very excellent paved roads and one very nice Jeep trail. But the novelty was wearing off and as we approached the last “detour” on the way to the final check point we unanimously agreed to skip it and just head to the brewery. Once there we had burgers fresh off the grill and some locally brewed beer (or a glass of water in my case). After some bench racing and casual conversation we rode back to the campground to wait for the drawing of prizes at 5pm. Time was easy to kill as we loaded all three bikes onto Tony’s trailer. Dale had contemplated riding in the race on Sunday (the main event of the Odessa 100) but I think that Tony and I somehow convinced him that his old bones would be too sore in the morning. Before I had left Seattle I had toyed with the idea of running the race “depending on how Saturday went”. Well I had my answer now: there was no way in hell I could run a race. I had decided that just this once I’d let my bike enjoy a restful trip back to Seattle in the back of a trailer. Not to mention that I would enjoy being in the cab of the truck visiting with Tony and Dale for the three hour return ride. The bikes barely fit, but they did, and we sauntered down to join the large crowd gathered around the stage. The annoucer was saying something that none of us were paying attention to. We walked over and picked up our “free” t-shirts for completeing the Poker Run and then decided that we didn’t want to hang around any more. We hooked up the trailer and drove back to the hotel room.
Dale pushes his bike into the trailer (Mr. Cob’s Ural in the background)
All the bikes fit in the trailer (barely)
Old school camper
Modern camping with your bikes
Sunset in Ritzville
Sunset in Ritzville, Part II
Hot showers all around and an old Bob Hope movie were in order that night. Dale went out for dinner but both Tony and I were content with our meal from the Brewery. It had been a long, grueling day for me and I was only too ready to close my eyes that night.
The next morning we left the hotel around 8am and pulled the bikes back to Seattle. I was home by noon and could do little more than stare at my mud-encrusted bike and brush some dirt off my gear. And to think that I toyed with the idea of running the race on Sunday!
Windfarm across from the Columbia River
Cascades from Elk Heights Pass on I-90