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To Solo or Not to Solo…

by Michael Hardy
Originally Published in the IAMC Newsletter, May 2014

While pondering what I would share about last years Challenge, I stumbled across what is possibly a very common statistic among riders. Of the twenty-two challenge points collected last year, I ended up hitting eleven sites solo. Let’s do the math, twenty-two total, minus eleven solo, add the “post your own ride”, carry the Three Island Crossing that I lost my picture of, and we end up with a perfect 50/50 split. Did I really spend that much time alone on rugged mountain roads and deserted two track, in places like Sawpit Saddle, where I hadn’t seen another person for many miles, it was lightly snowing, and I may have ended up as bear poop if my bike had decided to take a nap in the mud? My first challenge point this season made me think about the possibility of things going all wrong, and if that rider who made a small misstep hadn’t had two other guys around, it could have gotten ugly.

I am one who enjoys the solace of being the only person within ten miles of a given patch of sagebrush. I love to pause in the absolute human-less quiet, where my own thoughts seem so loud that I find myself trying to hush them, so as not to disturb the ground squirrels. I love the freedom of wandering, of not having to explain to the guy behind me my habit of inexplicably clamping down on the brakes to examine whatever roadside artifact happened to have caught my eye, the next minute racing along again full throttle like a Pony Express rider, chased by warring Apaches and outrunning ominous thunderstorms within my mind. It’s easier for me just to saddle up and head out, without all the planning and coordinating required to organize a group ride to an unfamiliar destination. Now, it’s not that I’m antisocial, as I have enjoyed the camaraderie of everyone with whom I have ridden. It’s not that I prefer dropping my bike on a precarious jeep trail climbing a steep slope 40 miles from help, all by myself. And it’s not that I am so terrible at planning ahead of time that I can’t arrange to ride with someone, though there may be just a hint of truth to that one. It’s just easier sometimes to go it alone, to live at my own pace.

A couple of years ago, I had an incident that matured my thinking a bit, and the voice of caution was heard. I had the misfortune of breaking my ankle while riding solo, and it was indeed a wake up call. I was in the parking lot of Jump Creek Falls, and by way of a poorly timed act of hooliganism I ended up with my KLR on top of me, specifically on my right ankle. I got the KLR back up on its wheels, and rode it home. Luckily it was a Xlat easy 45 minute ride, and not thirty miles of rocky, sandy, Owyhee two track. It certainly could have been much worse. The area wasn’t remote, and my ‘Spot’ was tracking me, so I felt fairly secure. After that, I decided it was not wise to go far into the back country alone. 2013 was going to be a safer year for me, better planned and coordinated. At the least, I wasn’t going to be out there all alone.

Most of my solo rides in 2013 were day trips not far off the beaten path, so I did pretty well in that regard. My journeys into the back country in pursuit of Challenge points with my fellow riders were punctuated by some memorable moments last season. Like that moment when Woody realized I had been filming him while he wrestled his GS down some rutty and powdery back road near the Radar Site. And when the ranger showed Rockhop John and me what the inside of Barber Flat cabin looked like, and explained how each cabin was set up within a days horseback ride of each other. And riding the Alvord dry lake bed with Ron and Special Ed, and the thunderstorm we rode under on the way home. I actually planned and executed an overnight ride in 2013, including other riders. And of course there were rides that earned no Challenge points, where I made new friends, and strengthened bonds with some I already knew. We all have to ride our own ride, but we don’t have to do it all alone. For me, that is what the club and the Challenge are all about.

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