RawHyde used this year’s Adventure Days to show off their new facility – Zakar. Charles Fleming went to check it out.
Zakar – RawHyde’s Adventure Days Deliver – And Then Some
Story and Photos by Charles Fleming
Out of the bad weather they came, singly, in pairs, and in groups, by van, camper, RV, and on bike. The first ones had arrived by mid-afternoon. By 6:00pm, through a howling rainstorm, hundreds of them had assembled at the Mojave Desert RawHyde facility known as Zakar. They circled their RVs, pitched their tents, took shelter under tarps, and hunkered down to wait for the bar to open and dinner to be served.
They had come for the 6th annual “Adventure Days,” a three-day event that one attendee likened to “Burning Man on bikes” but that seemed to me to be more of a two-wheeled Woodstock. Despite the foul weather and the cresting of a larger than expected COVID-19 wave, they rode GSs, Super Adventures, Africa Twins, V-Stroms and KLRs — and even a lone two-wheel-drive Rokon — all eager to see friends, watch product demonstrations, attend seminars, practice riding skills and, maybe, take their big bikes into the hundreds of square miles of BLM rock and sand surrounding them. They’d paid $389 for the experience if they carried in their own lodging, or $540 if they were using one of Zakar’s “rooms.”
I had ridden in from Los Angeles, grumpy upon realizing I had been traveling under the same rain cell for almost three hours, but grateful that I’d booked one of the Zakar cabins, which in reality was a comfortable but sparsely furnished half of a retired shipping container.
RawHyde founder and namesake Jim Hyde welcomed the roughly 300 attendees to his desert compound, the third RawHyde campus after the original site near Castaic and his second encampment in the Colorado mountains. The Zakar facility – which has several meanings but is generally translated as “Zombie Apocalypse Kombat At RawHyde” – would be home for the next two and a half days to Adventure Days, and the first to which RawHyde was welcoming the “overlanders” who eschew two-wheeled motorcycles for four-wheel-drive rock-crawling machines.
There were long lines at the bar and, when dinner was ready, for the food. The temperature had dropped, and the rain continued. Mindful of the corona that doesn’t come in a glass bottle, each diner was subjected to a hand-spray of sanitizer before being served the meal. We clustered as near as possible to the available space heaters and waited out the night.
Friday morning broke clearer, with the rain tapering off. The campers had soon decorated their tents with damp socks and undergarments and the event vendors had opened for business. Rocky Mountain ATV-MC had an immense display, as did Klim and Mosko. Aether had brought a lavishly appointed Airstream filled with gorgeous gear. There were tents sheltering impressive arrays of product from Wolfman, Black Dog, Motorex, N2Dirt, Galfer, AltRider, Sena, Long Beach BMW and more.
RawHyde had also organized a wide variety of presenters in tents scattered around the property – some including, and some not, the space heaters that the day seemed to demand. Inside one, Sandro Milesi of Galfer was giving a primer on brake rotors. Inside another, Eric Hougen of Wolfman was giving instructions on packing light for adventure riding. Throughout the day there would be seminars on accessory wiring, the utility of auxiliary lights, the basics of rally navigation, and off-road bike suspension settings. There were also clinics on “campology,” protective riding gear and, for four-wheelers, winching.
I opted for Trailside First Aid and Kits from “adventure medic” Matt Jones. I soon wished I hadn’t, as Jones gave us detailed and often vivid descriptions of riding injuries and the tools required to treat them in the field. A sucking chest wound? A spurting femoral artery? Jones calmly and with great humor demonstrated the use of medical paraphernalia like the SAM splint, gear shears, wound seal powder, and more.
By the time it was over, I was fairly certain of two things:
1.) I was going to go home and purchase enough first aid gear to be really helpful if someone got injured during a ride.
2.) I was absolutely never going riding again. Who knew all those awful things could actually happen to people while riding?
Shortly after, I joined AltRider’s Jeremy LeBreton for a highly informative hour-long presentation on how to set up a big bike for off-road adventuring. LeBreton, as schooled as anyone I know in GS maneuvering in the dirt, begged his dozen attendees to individualize the positions on their clutch and brake levers – hand and foot – so they can be easily reached while standing up in the rough stuff.
Those who cared to were invited to attend various riding courses in areas set aside for instruction in “The Basics of Dirt Riding,” “RawHyde Refresher Course,” “Skidding On Dirt” and “Basics of Sand.” I opted for this latter one because I, like most off-road riders, feel my sand skills could always use improving. As it happened, the torrential rains had turned the sand into something more like damp dirt – rendering the terrain easy to conquer and the instructional course itself somewhat moot. Or maybe not: one fellow attending Adventure Days on a two-wheel-drive Rokon had never been in the sand, and another gentleman on a shiny new GS pitched himself off the bike a couple of times, struggling to conquer the basics of this hard-packed “sand.”
Meals were served in a large tent that was again staffed with too-few space heaters for the nighttime and early morning temperatures. The food, prepared by the jolliest kitchen staff imaginable, was hearty and healthy. No one was over-served, no one had the chance to overeat, each diner had to submit to substantial spray of alcohol on their hands.
Saturday morning after breakfast, as a corrective measure to Friday’s mortifying first aid course, I chose for my next seminar called “What If Your Adventure Doesn’t Go As Planned?” given by Mr. RawHyde himself. Having spent time with Jim on several occasions, I knew I would find his guidance helpful and reassuring.
In a Quonset hut warmed pleasantly by the space heater – hey RawHyde: tip for next year’s Adventure Days: get more space heaters – about two dozen of us thawed out while listening to Jim tell the story of one of his first guided trips through Mexico. An exciting and successful adventure down the length of the Baja peninsula, it began to go sideways after the group had crossed the Gulf of California and set out from Los Mochis for the fabled Copper Canyon.
The details were spellbinding, and the punchline was unnerving. Lost, cold, wet, hungry and nearly out of water and gasoline, Jim and his exhausted and disoriented riders found themselves separated from their support vehicle and uncertain whether they would make it back to civilization before nightfall – or at all.
Future RawHyde rides were informed by the lessons learned on that disastrous journey, we were told. Jim shared some basics designed to help others to avoid having a similar experience. Never, never, never leave on a ride without packing emergency supplies like, at a minimum, space blankets, a fire starter, extra water, freeze dried food and a way to cook it, flashlight, knife and, somewhat ominously, “protection.”
The day had warmed, the sun was out, the wind was mild and it seemed, after Jim’s seminar, like the ideal time to go for a ride. A group was forming up to follow some Rawhyde-provided GPS tracks for either the Trona Pinnacles, the town of Randsburg, Burro Schmidt’s Tunnel or all three.
We set forth in fine form, about 15 of us, most on GSs, headed north from Zakar toward the hills. Soon we had turned onto the Garlock road, and shortly after were headed up a slightly choppy dirt road, I running sweep behind two newcomers who, having never ridden big bikes off-road, were anxious about going into uncharted territory.
“Don’t worry,” I told them. “I’ll be right here. If you get into trouble, I’ll help you. And if you are nervous at all about continuing, we’ll come back down.”
On we rode, as the path rose before us. Twenty minutes in, we had all made it safely to the tunnel, a fabled high desert location (and one of the only open mines in the area). The riders dismounted, eager to read the plaque telling the strange story of “Burro” Schmidt and his mad plan to blast through a mountain of rock.
I’d seen the tunnel before, so I hung back. A little bored, but eager to continue chronicling the adventure, I strolled away from the group to shoot a couple of photographs of the collection of bikes, Jeeps, side-by-sides and ATVs near the tunnel’s entrance.
And then I stepped funny on some loose rock, spun a bit sideways, and fell awkwardly to one side, landing in the middle of the dirt road – in a howl of hideous physical pain.
It was immediately clear that I couldn’t walk, and certainly couldn’t ride. The team riding with me, led by RawHyde coach Andy Lehman, got on their cell phones – there was signal, luckily, from that spot – and began seeking help. (Two men in side-by-sides were asked if they could ride me down to the paved road. Uh, no thanks, they said.) Thirty minutes later it was determined that, because it was too windy to land a helicopter where we were, a four-wheel-drive truck would have to be sent in to fetch me.
Shock gradually set in. The pain told me that I had dislocated my right hip – the hip on which I’d had a full replacement a year earlier. I also suspected that I’d broken something. Femur? Pelvis? Both?
I slowly began to feel cold and lose focus. I was quite aware, however, of two ironies. First irony: After all the adventure riding, all the dirt bike riding, all the tennis, and all the snowboarding – this? Second irony: Despite the seminars on first aid on the trail and preparedness for unexpected emergencies, neither I nor any one in the group was equipped to do anything about a fallen rider in my condition. No splints. No bandages. No pain medication! A nice woman in a side-by-side offered me three ibuprofen. I took them, but they might as well have been Tic Tacs. The pain continued unabated.
It took several hours, but in time a pair of paramedics arrived. Trevor Tallon, a Salt Lake City and RawHyde coach, and Barry Betha, a fireman and former Navy diver from San Diego, piloting a Toyota FJ, were together able to immobilize my wrecked leg and fashion a makeshift stretcher. Then Barry and several other men managed to squeeze me into the back seat of the FJ. Barry began to make his way, slowly, and very painfully for me, off the mountain.
Barry drove to the ER at Ridgecrest Regional Hospital, where I was transferred onto a gurney – another agonizing transition – and Barry stayed with me until, after another eternity, I was finally shot full of Dilaudid and sent for X-rays. The pictures confirmed my worst suspicions: dislocated, and fractured. Though the doctor at first refused to try to get the leg bone back into the socket – for fear of worsening the fracture – I begged her to reconsider, and in time she relented. After multiple efforts on their part, and massive quantities of Dilaudid, Versed and Propofol on mine, she and her team were able to set matters straight.
After a restless night in a nearby hotel, my wife and I made our way back to Zakar late the next morning to find my bike parked and ready and all my gear – which I’d left strewn around my shipping container room – neatly packed in all my side- and top-bags. A friend offered to ride my bike home.
When I expressed gratitude to Jim Hyde and his wife Stephanie and their team, before we packed up and headed for Los Angeles, Jim shrugged and said, “Hey, that’s what we do. We’re a family here.”
The takeaway, for me, was two-fold. First, the information I was given during those two seminars was of immense value – or would have been, had I acted on it. Second, for all my apologizing for falling, for interrupting the ride, for ruining everyone’s afternoon, for inconveniencing Barry and Trevor and everyone else who had to help get me and my stuff to safety – I was in fact treated like a member of the family.
That should make the next six weeks on crutches a little easier to bear, and give me that much more incentive to get back on a bike as soon as the doctor allows. Or maybe a little sooner.