I broke my leg riding a dual-sport motorcycle just 24 hours in to the New Mexico Backcountry Discovery Route after two years of preparation, and this is my (sob) story.
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Once up a time (in the West) we moved to Tucson, Arizona and fell in love with the southwestern deserts. So much so that we moved back in 2012 after a nine year exile in (shhh…) a very different state. Shortly after, I bought a brand new BMW motorcycle that I thought would allow me to ride off-road as well as on, and I did! (Just ask Jim K.) It was a beautiful red F700GS but in retrospect it wasn’t the best choice for off-road. I rode it for three years as if it was an F800GS (the model that is off-road ready), knocked it about as if it was a much smaller bike, wore out the clutch in a sandy gully (and had to be rescued by Jim K.), bashed in the side panniers from falls on rocks, and broke the sump cover underneath the engine despite a good quality skid plate (I thought I had written off the bike after that one). I got a bomb proof skid plate after that. But these are the faults of the rider, not the bike, and I really wanted to ride off-road.
(Left) the 2013 F700GS I bought, and (right) the 2013 F800GS I didn’t.
Just in case you don’t know, it’s fairly normal to fall off a dual sport bike, depending on the match between the madness of the terrain and the mad skillz of the rider…
In the Summer of 2015 I rode up US 191 from Arizona to the Tetons on the BMW in order to check out the mountains in Wyoming prior to backpacking the Wind River High Route. On the way back I discovered the awesome 3-Step Hideaway off the grid about 50 miles from Moab, UT. (That wonderful, serendipitous discovery is a story unto itself. )
It came about that the owner Scott (Dingweeds on ADVRider), another traveller Ken, and I were sipping Irish whisky and shooting the breeze on the porch after a blow-out magnificent home cooked dinner (I said it was an awesome place). We are all three in the prime of life, enjoy off-road riding but with no need to impress with the size or horsepower of our rides, and maybe I mentioned I was tired of picking up a 500 pound bike on my off-road adventures. Then the conversation really started!
Turned out both Scott and Ken enthusiastically favored a Yamaha WR250R for long distance off-road riding and camping. “Only” a 250cc bike, but fuel injected, strong suspension for carrying gear, plenty of amps to power accessories like heated grips and heated clothing, 26,000 miles between valve inspections, and a reputation for reliability. Excepting the pre-2012 fuel pumps that had a known tendency to fail (we’ll come back to that later) and a recent stator recall (nothing’s perfect). But most of all, only about half the weight of a big bad BMW GS.
Dingweeds had ridden with Big Dog from the Mexico border to the Canadian border, and back, on “WRR”s. They’ve each done a lot more before and since. Others were riding the Trans-America Trail on them (3-Step Hideaway is on the path of the TAT). Scott and Ken had story after story of men (it’s mostly men) in their 50’s and 60’s and beyond giving up big heavy bikes for off-road trips on these versatile dual sport WRRs, with no regret. On my next visit to 3-Step I met round-the-world-Paul (rtwpaul on ADVRider) and guess what, he too was riding a WRR. It was a movement, and I had no idea!
I was persuaded, convinced, and decided. I contemplated a new project all the way home. I did have an underpowered Kawasaki KLX250 that I had bought from my friend Jim when he upgraded to a KTM EXC 500 (a wild ride, that one!) but the WRR sounded much superior.
I would invest some money in the project and take my time. I would acquire not one but two WR250R, so that friends and/or family could accompany me on off-road rides and camping trips. I would read up on all the modifications that Scott and Ken (and Big Dog) recommended, and get two bikes ready for Backcountry Discovery Routes (BDR’s). I would be free of picking up 500 pounds after every stumble and fall, and ready to go… anywhere, for weeks on end!
At some point I recruited my school friend Charlie in England to come ride with me at some future date TBD. We had met at age 11 and were friends through high school (grammar school in the UK). We would ride a BDR together!
Scott found the first bike while browsing on Craig’s list, for sale by a dealer in Montrose, CO. I bought it over the phone and collected it a few weeks later. In the Fall of 2015 I found another one on Craig’s list in the burbs of Phoenix, AZ, not as far from home.
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There was an “interesting” side effect to this project. Since I would no longer be using the BMW for the challenging off-road riding, I could “give myself permission” to upgrade the 700cc bike to a 1200cc with the famous boxer-twin engine. I didn’t really have a plan, but when I took the 2013 F700GS in for a service in November 2015, I came home with an even more beautiful 2012 R1200GS Rallye Edition 🙂
In 2016 I had fun doing some of the simpler mods, upgrades and additions to the WRRs, and Ken who it turned out lives near Tucson, kindly showed me how to install (i.e. he installed) a massive 5-gallon gas tank on the bike that didn’t already have one. I continued to do day rides and local events on the WRRs, and sold the Kawasaki.
I named them “Montrose” and “Chandler” to tell them apart. I bought two new luggage systems to carry camping gear etc., and different brands, partly to compare. By the summer of 2016 I had most things purchased and/or done. Finally in 2017 I had the suspension replaced, followed by new tires and heavy duty inner tubes. We were ready to rock. Charlie was flying over for two weeks at the end of May and we had settled on the New Mexico BDR.
One year into the project, and still awfully clean…
The last things to get done were a bit last minute and I needed to get Chandler to a local shop a couple of days before Charlie arrived. I got the truck and trailer ready and started the bike. It ran for about 20 seconds and then stopped. And would not start. It wouldn’t even bump start down the hill. Penny thought a fuel problem. So did our neighbor Bob. Chandler already had a 5-gallon desert tank when I bought it used, so we hadn’t seen the fuel pump. (I knew the one on Montrose was good, we’d seen it). Damn! But that was another reason to get it to the shop, quick, so I pushed it up on to the trailer. Then the truck wouldn’t start! Damn again. Batteries die notoriously quickly in Arizona because of the heat. I jump started the truck, got it to a place where they installed a new battery, got the bike to the shop, and waited for news. And waited some more. Well you know what was wrong, the fuel pump needed replacing, and by now Charlie had arrived from England.
Long story short it took a week to get a new fuel pump and have it installed. In the meantime, Charlie and I did a fabulous four-day loop trip, me on the BMW R1200GS and Charlie on Montrose, the still-working Yamaha WR250R. It was a road trip with off-road excursions, taking in a 40-mile forest road along the edge of the Mogollon Rim and it was a blast. But it wasn’t a BDR.
Charlie on our pre-BDR loop ride in AZ
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Charlie was half way through his two week visit by the time Chandler was fixed, so we knew we weren’t going to complete a BDR. But we could ride the southern half of the New Mexico BDR, which would bring us back towards the Arizona border, and still have a lot of fun.
First round of packing, and then we were off!
The NMBDR starts in the small town of Dell City, Texas on the border with New Mexico. We could have slabbed 420 miles down Interstate 10 all the way to El Paso, but who wants to? We decided to take a longer, more scenic ride, away from the Interstate. Friday May 26, 2017 saw an early start from NW Tucson, up to the mining town of Globe, back down to small-town Safford, East to artsy Silver City, NM at 6,000 ft altitude and a little further on to the picturesque City of Rocks Campground for our first night camping. The annual Silver City Blues Festival started that night, but we couldn’t slow down now, not even for a free music festival.
We did choose to slab along I-10 the next day, from Deming through Las Cruces, sweltering in El Paso when the traffic slowed because of road works, but we made it to tiny Dell City by the early afternoon of the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend. We stopped for cold Gatorade and hot pizza made to order in a “mercantile” country store and heck, then we started the BDR! So now you know, paradoxically, that this story is about to end…
It was flattish rough gravel roads for a couple of hours until we rose up into the northern section of the Guadalupe mountains and rode a rim trail with occasional fabulous views back South and West over the Brokeoff Wilderness. (Was that a premonitory sign – Brokeoff?) We rode hard and long, it seemed to go on for ever. Parts of the route were filled in with what dual-sport riders call “baby heads”, which are rocks of a certain size that are scary and skittish to ride over. This was ranching land and there were cattle about. Only cattle, and us.
Eventually we found a spot to camp that was mostly out of the wind that was blowing hard over the rim.
It’s not like I wasn’t wearing protective gear!
Sunday morning we set off, descended and eventually left the rim road, and took some beautiful paved country roads to the small town of Weeds. Charlie was impressed with a microwaved breakfast sandwich at Weeds country store.
We gassed up and headed North, expecting to reach Cloudcroft and then figure out where we would be by the end of the day. At about midday I took a left hand turn a bit too tight and fell to the left. I remember that the weight of the luggage and the bike was on the lower half of my leg and I JUST HAD to get it off. It took three hard kicks from my right leg to push the bike off my left leg. Charlie arrived and I saw that gasoline was leaking from the gas cap. He couldn’t stand the bike up so I hopped up on one leg and together we righted the bike. I remember thinking, even if I have broken my leg we should ride on to Cloudcroft. I put my left leg down and almost screamed. That wasn’t going to work. I carry a SPOT GPS Messenger. When it is on it broadcasts my GPS coordinates every few minutes, and family and friends can track my position on the web. I’d never had to use the SOS button before to signal to emergency services, but this was what it was for. So I pressed and held the button, hoped for the best, and crawled into shade at the side of the road.
Within an hour an EMT arrived from High Rolls fire station and splinted my leg. A police officer from Alamogordo arrived next in a truck, and was on the phone a lot. In two hours an ambulance arrived, and the police officer co-opted Charlie and a couple of others to lift my bike into the bed of his truck. He didn’t have to do that, but everyone who arrived was incredibly helpful and I remain very grateful.
We knew now that we were fifteen miles from the nearest paved road, and it was a hell of a bumpy ride out in the back of the ambulance. I had surgery that night and stayed two nights in the hospital. The police officer helped Charlie find a hotel and looked after the bike. Back home, another friend Jim helped Penny attach the trailer to the truck, and she drove out to Alamogordo on Monday taking care to always position the truck when she parked so that she would never have to reverse with the trailer!
I’m not sure why I fell. I wasn’t going fast, and I didn’t hit anything. There wasn’t a scratch on the bike. I think I got lazy and vaguely remember thinking “I’ll just lean in a bit more than usual and flip the bike round this corner”. Part of the fun of riding is the constant concentration required, but which can also free the mind. In any case, I’ll not be lazy on a bike again.
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