Day 2 started off just like Day 1 – I woke up to the unpleasant sound of my cell phone alarm and was my “reward” was frigid darkness. It felt like the movie Groundhog Day, except Spurgeon was my Andie MacDowell. Now that’s a downgrade.
There was one fundamental difference at the beginning of Day 2: my outlook. Yesterday’s doubt and pessimism had been replaced by cautious optimism. Spurgeon and I were both getting more comfortable with the Ural off-road, and we had an earlier start to the day. Nathan had ditched some camera equipment we were barely using so he was lugging around less weight on his back. Things were looking up for all of us, so Spurgeon put the hammer down and we started making our way through the desert yet again.
In open desert, the Ural did great. We only got stuck once (my fault), but the effort of two big guys should be enough to easily get the Ural free, right? More on that later…
Having a trunk was very handy, especially for all the DayQuil I had stashed away to fight a cold I was suffering from.
A third of the way through the day, there was a checkpoint at the world’s tallest thermometer in Baker. That’s where we learned the temperature was a balmy 57 degrees. The thermometer has quite a complicated story even though it was only built in 1990. It is 134 feet tall to represent 134 degrees – the highest recorded temperature in the US. That temp was recorded in Death Valley back in 1913. For more details on the thermometer’s checkered history, check out this article on Roadside America. The main takeaway is that the thermometer was shut down in 2012, as the montly electric bill was $8,000/month. The family of the creator took over and brought the property back to life in 2014. The guy in charge is a big supporter of desert riding and he came out to chat with Spurgeon and I for a few minutes.
Spurgeon’s doesn’t care what the temperature is – he’ll take any opportunity to enjoy ice cream.
At Baker, we had a choice to make. Some people said the hard route would be doable on the Ural, though most people disagreed. We asked around but at a certain point you just have to try it for yourself. So that’s what we did.
Day 2 was going much better than Day 1, and I was having a great time. The Ural was running well, I had a big smile on my face, and I’m sure if there were birds around, they’d be singing along like we were in a Disney movie.
Because we were doing so great, the off-road gods made sure to take us down a peg or two. We encountered some deep sand that quickly got the best of us. We struggled to get off the trail and to less sandy terrain.
Our next stop was the appropriately-named Sandy Valley, where the organizers had lunch ready to go. To prevent the spread of certain vegetation, they give your bike a quick rinse. Looks like someone had a cooler 3 wheeler than we did!
All that pushing in the sand meant I had unknowingly brought along some souvenirs from our struggles.
Sandy Valley is the last major stop before Vegas, so we had one final decision to make about our route. Things were going well enough that the safety of pavement wasn’t even being considered. The dilemma was if we should take the hard or easy way through Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area. Nathan and I did the hard route last year, and based on that experience I thought there were a couple of sections that were just too narrow for the Ural to get through. It’s entirely possible that we could have made it through that section, but I also didn’t want to be the guy that was holding up a whole bunch of riders because we had to crawl through a rocky section – or even worse, have to turn around and ride against the flow of traffic. We decided on the “easy” way, which still ended up being a challenge for us.
The ride through Red Rock was my favorite part of LABV last year because of the scenery. I was worried that the easy route wouldn’t be as pretty as the hard route I was familiar with, but thankfully my fears were unfounded. Somehow, I only managed to get lost once:
As you can probably guess from the name, Red Rock NCA is…red and rocky. The Ural doesn’t have much in the way of ground clearance, so some of those rocks were getting acquainted with the left exhaust pipe.
After a few miles, Spurgeon and I noticed that the Ural sounded a little different. The header and the muffler were starting to separate, which meant it was inevitable when the muffler came apart and the Ural got much louder.
Spurgeon’s Instagram handle is “thefixxer“, so he made his name proud and got to work. The Ural comes with a pretty impressive tool kit and air pump to help with trailside repairs.
We kept plugging along, dancing our way around rocks and other riders who decided to stop and ponder what to do with a flat tire while in the middle of the trail. I thought it was the best part of the trip. As the end of the trip approached, a nervous energy started building up inside of me. Was the Ural actually going to be able to complete the ride?
We couldn’t avoid the rocky terrain forever, and soon the left exhaust was back to getting beat up. Less than 10 miles had elapsed before we could hear exhaust gases leaking out in the gap that was opening up between the header and the muffler again. We were worried about the setting sun so instead of trying to fix it, we decided to just pull the exhaust off and stash it on the rack on the rear of the sidecar. This time, I went to work. I guess there are uglier locations to have a mechanical issue.
With the exhaust out of the way (figuratively and literally), the only remaining obstacle for us was the setting sun. We slowly made our way out of Red Rock NCA, and by the time we hit pavement it was nice and dark. Here’s a quick little taste of our escape:
Once you’re on pavement, it’s about 15 miles until the last checkpoint at the Orleans casino. Earlier in the day I had promised one of the D37 volunteers that if Spurgeon and I made to the finish line, we’d go through backwards. This is for you, Frank!
After you’ve checked in for the last time, tradition dictates that you get a photo with a couple of showgirls. I tried to convince them to take a photo where they were on/in the sidecar but if you know my luck with women, you won’t be surprised when they said no.
Exhausted but happy, we parked the bikes at our hotel and got prepared to attend the post ride banquet. Unfortunately, because we still had to film some shots in Vegas and a closing for the video, we were quite late to the festivities. Despite this, Kieth Huff (the president of District 37) was nice and got Jenny Smith from Rider Magazine and myself up on stage to talk about our foolish decisions to take Urals on the trip.
It wasn’t until I was on stage that it finally hit me – the Ural actually made it! To be fair, we had to take several detours and we had our share of mishaps, but Spurgeon and I made it to the end in one piece. The Ural made it in two pieces, but it was the star of the show. I originally wanted to do LABV on a Ural because I thought it was too easy on a dedicated dirt bike. I wanted an adventure. I’m glad Spurgeon had similar aspirations, because that’s what the Ural gave us. It also brought us plenty of attention. Whenever we were stopped (or even being passed on the trail), the sidecar never failed to elicit smiles or thumbs up from fellow riders.
Speaking of which: as always, everyone involved with District 37 was supportive and helpful. I’d like to give a special mention to Kieth Nuff, Gil Busick, and John Nave, but all of the volunteers and riders were good for answers or having a laugh at our expense. Make a point to introduce yourself when you do this ride for the first time, and they will take care of you.
I’m lucky to get the chance to take trips like this, and it’s my pleasure to share the highs and lows with you (even if it takes me a long time to get the story up on the site). These stories are obviously more interesting when they’re accompanied by photos and videos, so I want to take a moment to specially thank Nathan, Aaron, and Ellen for joining us and capturing the story as it happened. We’re currently in the process of editing video and I’m excited to share that with you when it’s done. But for now, the big question is: what are we going to ride LABV on next year? Suggestions welcome.
Until next year…
But wait, there’s more! We still have to get the Ural back home.