BMW Invitational GS Ride: Death Valley, California May 8, 2001

"Some guys spend all weekend polishing their bikes. I wash mine"
Cifu Motorsports Home / Motorcycles / BMW R100GS/PD / Death Valley 2001

May 8, 2001, BMW hosted an invitational GS ride through Death Valley. The ride was supposed to thank the many GS fans out there by hosting this get-together in the one location that is almost synonymous with GS ownership (with a nod going to the Alaskan Highway). Unfortunately, BMW let the word out through its dealer network and that news was slow to spread. The ride was to coincide with a photo and video shoot for their upcoming ad campaign. The day prior to the ride, the BMW factory riders and photographers spent the day taking both F650GS and R1150GS models over some impossible roads and photographing the carnage. The following day would be the ride with the public. And so, on the mid-week morning of the ride, only 20 motorcycles showed up at Furnace Creek Ranch. BMW had sent nearly that many to staff the event. Nonetheless, we embarked on what turned out to be one of the greatest motorcycling days of my life.

Leading up to the event, all I knew was that there would be a guided ride of some length that would take place in Death Valley. There would be some freebies and other guys on BMW's: good enough for me. This promised to be an awesome ride--and I had no idea how good it would become. Living in Palmdale, Death Valley is an easy 4 hour ride so I decided to make the leg out there just as memorable. After glancing off of Ridgecrest and passing through Trona, I peeled off to Wildrose Canyon Road which leads through Emigrant pass.

My last time through Emigrant Pass was the prior January and it was in a snow flurry (but that's another story--see picture at right). Aguerberry Point had long been on my list of 'must see' destinations and this trip would bag that view right at sunset. The warm, red setting sun illuminated the rock strata on the far side of the valley in a surreal way. After sunset, I continued on to my final destination--Furnace Creek Ranch. Once at the ranch and checked in, I headed for the bar. I found a crowd of about 15 guys, obviously there for the ride, having a grand old time. I suspected that it was 'open bar' but didn't want to take advantage of my hosts. I ordered and paid for a soda, made a little small talk, then left for my room to get some quality shut-eye for the big day ahead.

The next morning, I got to the gathering area, wearing my new Paris Dakar shirt from the 2001 rally. As I walked around, I looked across the parking lot. Almost unbelievably, there stood Jimmy Lewis--off road editor for Cycle World Magazine and more importantly, US competitor in the great rally. I raced off to the general store to find a permanent marker. I'm not an autograph hound but a chance to have my Dakar shirt autographed by Jimmy Lewis was just too much. After introducing myself, I explained that I had to have his autograph on the shirt. Jimmy is a really genuine guy and I don't think he sees himself as much of a celebrity. Nonetheless, I watched and rooted for him through the rally and to meet and ride with him was an experience I would never forget.

Shortly after signing my shirt, the organizers started gathering us together. That's Laurence Kuykendall of BMW North America giving the pre ride briefing. The guy looking on is none other than the guy in all the TV commercials: Helli Korton. He's an even better rider than the commercials let on. He had one of those black BMW T shirts but his is one of a kind. It says "Yes, I AM the guy in the commercial".

They covered the basics, riding formation, that lunch would be served, etc, etc. I asked about where we should go to pay the park entrance fee. Laurence held up a huge stack of the $10 entry packs and said "BMW has covered all of our entries for the day, now please go over to the Chevron station so we can fill all of your tanks." Fill our tanks? I was already full but I never expected them to pay for my entrance, much less the gas.

After running bike after bike through the line and paying an obscene amount for the fuel, we were off on the first leg of our ride: North through the center of the valley and West on Highway 190. We passed through the Devil's Cornfield and Burned Wagons Point. After a quick stop at Stovepipe Wells to top off fuel on the shorter range bikes, we continued out through Towne Pass. Our destination was Saline Valley Road, a dirt road running through the center of the valley which eventually leads into the Inyo Mountains.

At the turnoff, an SUV was parked in the middle of the dirt road with its tail gate open. It didn't click for a few seconds: this was a BMWNA support truck, there to bring us cold bottled water, served by a beautiful woman named Roxanne! Geez, these BMW guys know how to live! The only reason I remembered the girl's name was because Laurence and others from the BMW staff kept breaking into bad singing renditions of the song of the same name. After more stories and tire kicking we were off again. Because some of the riders lacked previous off-road experience, the going was slow at times. I tended to speed up, catching the lead riders, stopped to take pictures until the sweepers caught  up, then I'd repeat. I got a roll of great photos, some of which are here and others were posted by BMW on their website.

After meandering our way through the Santa Rosa Hills, we skirted the edge of the Nelson Range before dropping into the vast expanse of the Saline Valley floor. It was some 80 miles before we would eat lunch and there were plenty of memories being made along the way. At one point, I was stopped for a photo and Jimmy Lewis pulled up on a new R1150GS. After a few minutes of chit-chat, we took off. For a few minutes, I was able to ride within 100 feet of Jimmy, while living out my own mini Dakar fantasy. That alone was enough for me. My day was complete and little did I know that it had just begun.

We unintentionally broke up into about three groups, leaving many of us to our own navigation by the supplied map. Here a group of us stopped at a largely unmarked intersection. Our route was to continue on Saline Valley Road on the left. To the right is Hunter Mountain, Quackenbush Mine , Hidden Valley and Teakettle Junction--the back way to Racetrack Valley. On the left side of this photo, you can see my friend Shawn Smith on his 1996 R1100GS. He's also visible in my right side mirror in the picture above. Shawn wasn't able to come out the night before and had to leave after lunch. He's a tough guy. He rode from Tehachapi to Furnace Creek before the ride. He rode all day with us, had lunch in the Inyo Mountains, then rode Death Valley Road back to Highway 395 and returned home the same day.

After passing the Snow Flake Talc mine, the old road for Beveridge and Saline Valley Dunes, we wound our way up Waucoba Saline Road into the Inyo Mountains--the temperature dropping with every passing mile.. I could hardly wait to arrive at our lunch destination. Nothing sounded better than a box lunch and soda with all of these guys. It kept me going long after hunger and fatigue had set in. Poor Laurence had been riding on one of the F650 models that BMW brought out. They had lowered the tire pressures for the off road conditions and he ended up pinching a tube when he struck a rock mid-way through the valley. He was rather calm about the whole thing. The support truck was on its way back to pick him up. He was just lounging next to the bike, enjoying the solititude and waving to us as we each took turns stopping to make sure he was okay.

This is just a few miles before lunch, looking South-East down Marble Canyon.

Upon arrival at the lunch stop, much to my surprise, BMW had brought out a fully equipped kitchen truck. Tables were laid out with white linens and folding chairs. There wasn't a plastic utensil in sight. Metal utensils were the clue that we would NOT be eating box lunches today. A buffet table was loaded with trays of freshly prepared Teriyaki, BBQ or Garlic seasoned boneless chicken breasts. Chefs prepared authentic German food for the purists and for the rest of us, assortments of pasta, fruit and vegetable salads awaited. They were expecting 100 bikes. There was more food than could be consumed and everybody left...umm...'satisfied.' Secretly I hoped the food truck would return to Furnace Creek for dinner. It was WAYYY too much good food to just watch it go to waste.

Following lunch, the ride continued through Crankshaft Junction and south toward Ubehebe Crater. Upon returning to pavement, a park ranger was parked across the road and standing beside her vehicle. "Oh no, what did we do now" went through my head. I pulled up, nodded and pulled up my visor. She smiled, walks up and says "You'll need to head that way...they're taking a sunset photo and they're waiting for you." HUH?!? What planet is this? Did I just have a park ranger smile at me on my pseudo dirt bike and then give me directions...UNSOLICITED? Yes, BMW had created a strange anti-universe where motorcyclists were welcomed and encouraged.

The final photo destination was the parking lot at the rim of Ubehebe Crater (an extinct volcanic vent at the North end of the park). The BMW photographers had set up on the roof of an SUV and they asked us to line up for a large group photo. I had hoped that my PD being both stock (save for the Corbin seat) and very clean, would warrant being in the foreground of such a photo. It was. They asked me to put the bike in one of the center parking spaces, then instructed us to mill around and talk about our trip. They took both posed and 'natural' shots of the group. To my surprise, one of those photos ended up in the 2002 BMW Accessory catalog (here it is...sorry for the fold in the photo). That's me just left of the fold (with my mouth agape--explaining the function of my Garmin GPS III+).

Once the photos were 'in the can' I decided that it was time to head home. I could be in my bed by 10:00 PM. I thanked Laurence Kuykendall profusely for all they had done.

"What, you're leaving? You can't leave, we're having dinner back at the ranch."

I thanked him and gave a half-hearted excuse about working the next day.

"No, you really can't go." He walked up to my bike and looked at the front tire. "That tire isn't good enough to get you home...I'm an expert. I'm sure it will look MUCH better in the should wait until morning" (wink-wink-nudge-nudge).

I thanked him again. I knew what he was trying to do but I was pretty insistent. Secretly, I wanted to stay but it WAS another night in the hotel (the only thing BMW did let me pay for--sheesh) and I DID need to go to work the next day. I think Laurence sensed this so he took it a step further.

"It's 6:30...where are you going to get gas?" he smugly asked.

"My plan is to fuel up in Stovepipe Wells."

"Nope, they close at 7:00--you'll never make it. So where are you going to get gas?"

"Okay, Furnace Creek is only 18 extra miles, I'll go there."

"No, they ALSO close at 7:00--where are you going to get gas?"

I knew Trona was a long shot and if I was wrong, I'd be sleeping on my bike in the gas station parking lot. Laurence sealed it:

"I've got 50 gallons of gas on the support truck and you can HAVE all you want in the morning but you aren't getting any tonight so come back and have dinner with us."

If I REALLY had to go, I'm sure he'd have given it to me but he obviously wanted me to join them. So like the "Great Leslie", trapped in the town of Borracho, I would get no gas unless I let them make me feel like the guest of honor. How could I refuse an offer like that? So the bunch of us did the last miles south to Furnace Creek. After quick showers, we regrouped at the Furnace Creek Ranch Steakhouse. They held the restaurant open late just for us. About 30 of us settled into the dining room. The BMW guys were awesome hosts. Conversations centered on adventure tours, likes and dislikes of the bikes, highlights of the day's events and upcoming rides. One guy was from Colorado, on his way to Alaska via Death Valley. Not bad for a retired guy on a loaded F650 GS Dakar. Still others bragged of motocross racing on stripped down airheads. We ordered our meals, not one of which was under $20 (for the entree alone). I was determined to at least pay for my own dinner. BMW would have none of it. They insisted--the meal was on them: "thank you for taking the time to come join us and thank you for buying a BMW." Not only did they pay for dinner but afterward, we moved to the bar next door and they opened a tab. No, they refused to let any of us pay our own way for any of it. It was truly one of the greatest motorcycling days of my life. There have been rides with more dramatic peaks during the day but none have sustained this level of excitement and then stayed there from dawn until well after dark. Thank you Laurence Kuykendall, Jeff Byers, Helli and the rest of the BMW team. I will never forget that day.

Of course, my greatest 'long tour' was my week spent wandering around the Cascade mountains in Oregon and Washington.

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