The Ride When I learned a Skill After I Needed it

Riding from our house in Arvada, Colorado to the Rampart Range located in the Pike-San Isabel Forest just southwest of Castle Rock was one of longest distances I’ve ridden on my little Yamaha XT-250, AKA Dory.   The round trip (including the trails we rode) was approximately 120 miles.  After some discussion, Motoman and I decided to ride there because of the diversity of trails in the system and unlikelihood for mud.  It had snowed a couple of days before and we were hopeful that it would not be muddy.   It turns out that the OHV trails at Rampart Range are very similar to the mountain bike trails at Buffalo Creek in that they are covered with granite pebbles and sand, which tends to keep the mud to a minimum.

When we arrived at the Rampart Range Staging parking lot, I was surprised at how many vehicles were in the lot.  I became nervous about how many other riders I would encounter along a trail and how I would maneuver my motorcycle to share the trail.  Mountain bikes are so much lighter!  When Motoman asked me which trail I wanted to ride first, I picked a beginner trail, of course!  It was a twisty path through the forest with the occasional water puddle.  The trail was fairly smooth and the most common obstacle was tree roots, which are slippery when wet. It was an uneventful ride until we came to a 40 foot section of rocks on a downhill where I completely lost control of the motorcycle.  I had stood up for the descent and when I reached for the rear brake with my right toes, all I got was air.  I bounced down the trail, afraid to touch the front break for fear I’d go over the bars.  I had a death grip on the clutch and bars.  By the time I thought to release the clutch to slow down, I was at the bottom of the hill and came to an easy stop.  I don’t know how I didn’t crash.  We encountered only two other riders on this trail, despite that full parking lot.

The trail ended and we found ourselves on the Rampart Range dirt road, which travels through the heart of the trail system.  It was here that Motoman taught me the rear brake  skid technique.  It works like this: get your speed up to about 15 MPH, pull in the clutch, let off the throttle, and step on the rear brake hard enough to skid.  We practiced this over and over, eventually seeing who could leave the longest skid mark on the dirt road. I wish we’d had this session before that first trail!! [Sidebar: now I understand why Motoman is constantly buying new tires.]

The next trail we did was still relatively smooth, but much muddier and hence slipperier.  The climbs and the descents were also steeper.  We found a beautiful rock formation and stopped for a snack and pictures.  On this trail, we encountered only two other riders.

It seems every time I ride the motorcycle, I learn something new.  This ride offered three valuable lessons. First, the skidding lesson has already proven to be a valuable addition to the toolbox.  I used it non-stop for the second trail we rode that day.  Second, I don’t like riding in mud.  Third, speed is helpful.  If I’d applied the brakes during the rocky section in the first trail, I suspect I would have gone so much slower that I would have crashed.  The fact that I took that section at speed kept me from getting a wheel hung up on a rock.  I’ve replayed that section in my mind a number of times since the ride itself, and words from my fearless daughter keep coming to mind:

“Sometimes you just gotta give it gas and hang on.”

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