By Justin Mackie-
6000 miles behind bars, 7 Western States, 8 National Parks, but most importantly for this tale, with 25+ riders.. Thats my ride stats year to date for 2020. When the Covid closures hit in March, a good friend suggested we invite EVERYONE, and go ride and camp off of our adventure bikes in Utah. He made the astute observation that with the Covid closures the national parks, normally packed with people, would be empty. Yes, some of the main hikes and attractions would be closed, but we don’t do those anyway, we just want to ride through and take in the sights without the tour buses and rental motorhomes to battle. We formulated a plan and sent the invite to ALL of our cronies, extended cronies and their cronies, with zero regard for proven ability or readiness. It was anxiety inducing, I mentally confided in myself to find an excuse to not go a few times. When it gained traction and grew a life of its own, frankly I was scared. You see, I am a rider who dreads riding with others beyond a very select few that I am extremely comfortable with, riders that are Uber prepared and skilled at the craft of living on the edge on two wheels among a remote backdrop. In my experience most riders who have ridden for any amount of time, have the same hangup. I don't want my trip ruined, delayed or derailed because a liability or three showed up to tag along. ill prepared, ill equipped and likely lacking the physical and/or mental ability to safely or willingly maintain pace or endurance. I am an embrace the suck subscriber and if its not hard and at least a little scary, I’m out. For most folks thats not their idea of fun. So, agreeing to organize, plan and open invite anyone buying the wanderlust along for an adventure ride, was panic attack status. Then 20+ riders committed to go.
Route logistics were laid and the date arrives. We set off to meet in Mexican Hat, UT. A flight of 10 out of Vegas, who converged to roll together from their origins in central and southern California as well as Las Vegas locals, me included. A flight of 12 out of Phoenix together and a lone soldier headed south to meet us out of the Salt Lake basin. 23 in all, no chase vehicle, no backup bikes.. Oh boy.. What could go wrong??
We converge in Mexican Hat and setup camp in Gooseneck State Park, a gorgeous backdrop for our first evenings lodging. This kicks off 5 days of incredibly scenic routes that includes the national parks of Canyonlands, Arches, Capitol Reef, Bryce and Zion. As anticipated, ghost towns of natural beauty, just as we had hoped for. We were 23 riders attempting to ride together as one. Bikes ranged from a DRZ400 to GS1200’s, Riders ranged from seasoned pro’s to newbs still trying to sort out why they agreed to come. The spread of machines and riders couldn’t have been greater. There were riders who wanted to ride slow and riders who wanted to ride fast. Riders who wanted to leave early in the morning and those that wanted to sleep in. Riders who wanted to explore side roads and those who desired to only stay the published course. Simply put the riders in the back always felt pressure to go faster or further between breaks than they wanted. The riders in the front stopped all day and sat in the sun letting riders behind catch up, feeling like they were spending as much of their time waiting on others as riding. Luckily everyone was understanding and in the end had a fantastic time. Aside from the logistical challenge posed by hosting a ride for 20+ riders, when you yourself just want to ride with your buddies, it was a smashing success.
Something happened at camp though each night on that ride. The camaraderie grew with the size of the group, the campfire conversations more robust and more intriguing. The diversity of the group was shining through, brighter than the challenges presented by its size. My days frustrations, of feeling responsible to keep everyone together, which was fruitless were lifted with new connections with amazing individuals. A balancing act was occurring as we rode, I was self examining my actions and attitude about it all
The ride wrapped up without any major incidents. We all disperse to our respective home towns. The long droning ride home to Vegas south on the I-15 was a couple solid hours to debrief personally. Would I do it again, was it worth it? I came to an easy yes to those questions but it clearly needed improvement. The push, pull pressures felt by those at either end of the group needed a solve for this to be a sustainable idea, riding with more than the typical 6-8 people most of us adventure ride with
I realized on that ride home debriefing in my helmet, that we sell wanderlust and its working, whether we like it or not. I wondered how in the hell we came to be riding on a trip that I organized with two other buddies, with 23 riders. Not 23 riders showed interest two weeks out and then 8 showed up. 23 riders planned and prepared and prepped bikes in 4 different states. Took time off and away from their family. Made the life plans and adjustments required, during a health scare shutdown of our nation, to go follow us through the red rocks of Utah for a week. By design or not, participating in these things we love and using social media to document it as we do, we are inadvertently selling the wanderlust. Whether we like it or not people want to participate and why wouldn’t they? I was sold on the idea personally to which I had previously been adamantly apposed. it was possible to pull off an invite them all ride and have a wonderful time, to not babysit or get drowned out daily by those who were ill prepared. It just needed a little tweaking to be really great.
That tweaking needed to come in the form of redesigning how the group moved along the route each day. A leader and a sweep traditional arrangement simply didn’t work, too many people, too many individual agendas, too big the spread of needs. I remembered an excerpt written on the GPSKevin website (if you aren’t familiar do yourself a favor and give it a googling) The excerpt mentioned how his rides work, each rider is responsible for their own navigation of the published route, they ride in pairs at minimum, there are daily meet up spots, as many riders have one, share their gps tracker links and everyone converges together at the end of the day for dinner and the campfire. The day is theirs, to complete at their pace, on their terms and in their reality. The group inherently isn’t ever far from reach if needed and everyone gets to fill their bucket. I decided this was how we would attempt the next one, trial by fire, see how it goes.
I didn’t have to wait long as we had the next one planned and the invite published online within a week or two of returning from Utah. Montana, Wyoming, Idaho was our next destination, 9 days, 7 riding. What do ya know, more folks wanted to go than did last time, what a beautiful thing, to have many friends is truly a blessing. My trepidation’s felt leading up to the Utah ride were gone. Now I was eager to add in the tweaks of the groups within a group riding arrangement and experience the outcome. Although it was not without risk. We laid the plans and announced we would be doing this ride utilizing the groups within the group style of execution. An explanation of what that was disseminated, I announced that the ability to self navigate was going to be paramount, that each would be self responsible for their completion of the route each day and why. The next occurrence was an unforeseen gift for me as I distain when people go on a ride with a pre-published route and don’t take the time to educate themselves on the route and how to operate their navigation equipment. Their sole of attack to follow the leader. Which never works and puts a tremendous burden on others (aka they are a liability). So I announce the route, published it, disseminated it and scheduled an online live how to nav course for utilizing a phone app to follow the route to anyone going that needed it. There were bumps and bruises through that process but in the end all but a few had a sharp grasp of what they needed to do. Even those that were still admittedly shaky with the tech were still far improved from any previous measure.
We all converged in Idaho Falls as our launching point for a week of more empty national natural treasures. Riders from 4 western states, this time everyone was biked up, it was 700cc + all the way around. I noticed everyone was more prepared than last and more organized.
Some were new and some were with us in Utah. Some even brought their spouses and were riding two up, which also would have previously caused me to immediately pull the eject handle on the ride. More confident and more sure in their actions was everyone leading up to our departure as we assembled in the Shilo inn parking lot. I announced and announced and announced again. “ You are responsible for you, ride in pairs at a minimum. You don’t need to wait for me, I’m not going to wait for you. I will see you at dinner.” I started a full group inclusive text chain and let everyone know that was there lifeline, if plans changed it would be announced there, if they were lost or down for any reason, that was the place to announce it. We had previously collected everyones contact info and published it as a google sheet and made it available to all, so everyone had ample ability to connect with the group, even if they were without previous relationships. I had but one fear, that someone or some few was going to feel left behind or left out. That we would get to the end of the day and someone would be AWOL, MIA or upset that they rode alone all day and had no fun. That they came to ride with the group and the group abandoned them. I hoped to god that wasn’t about to happen, but there was just one way to find out. Let um fly and see what comes of it, trial by fire. We set off, 20 of us in all (I think). I vowed to myself sitting in the parking lot suited up and ready to go that I was going to do my earnest to make this work, give it a fighting chance. To do so I was going to wait just a little longer at rest stops, ride just a little slower than normal, not be in such a rush when fueling and generally dial it back, just a little, exercise some patience (not my strong suit). Not so much as to not have fun myself, but enough to give this social experiment I was so confidently pronouncing to these folks a fighting chance to work.
Day one consisted of scenic pavement over Teton pass, into Jackson Wyoming, Jackson hole and the southern entrance to Teton Natl. Park. Upon leaving the parking lot that morning in Idaho Falls, I noticed we had already lost three who had a stop to make in town for some forgotten provisions. Instead of waiting like usual frustrated I pressed on, determined to simply keep moving and worry less about those behind me. I felt I had said my piece, given the disclaimer and needed to let it play out. At first gas we were still missing just 3, upon asking a local a few riders floated the idea of adding a scenic lake loop near us to the route. Instead of taking votes or upsetting the apple cart of plans it was nice to just say. “ Ya man, you should go do it, we’ll see you at dinner.” I set back off up the road and I noticed we had lost two more, to where I still have no idea. There was a call in the comms to pull off and find out. “Ya if you would like do so go ahead, I am going to keep moving.” My response was hard to say, but I needed to stay true to the strategy. The comms came back, “ Ya, they’ll catch up.” No one stopped. By the end of day one the group was disjoined naturally into 3-4 groups within the group and a few solo artists were off doing what they do. That first three hours set the tone for the trip and it just clicked. Dinner plans abruptly changed at the last minute with an unexpected last minute closure, a new place 35 miles away was chosen and a text went out to the chain. Surprisingly all but two riders ended up at the new dinner spot, although I hadn’t seen them since just after the first gas stop that day.
We all sat on the patio and ate. Listening to the conversations was completely different from previous experiences on rides with friends like this one. Normally we all would experience the same thing throughout the day, in step together. Not so now, a new dynamic emerged, everyone was telling their story of the day. Everyones adventure was different, the solo artists appeared with pics to share and stories of single track found and elk sightings. It was working!
At camp that night we all gathered and I began the conversations surrounding the new groups within a group setup. How did everyone like it? Do we need to adjust it? Everyone was elated by the new arrangement, everyone was getting exactly what they wanted, when they wanted it, Me included. Those that wanted to ride together did, those that had another agenda scratched that itch and shared the tales with us later.
The days and miles passed on, we traveled through Yellowstone, and on to Glacier National Park, stopping to hit all the hotspots in between, Bear-tooth Pass, Hot Springs, Dead Indian Pass, Lolo Pass, Bitterroot Valley, we didn’t miss a thing. Everyone was prepared, everyone self navigated brilliantly. The squirrels squirreled and the social butterflies got their attention. Everyone got theirs, whatever their flavor. Throughout the trip the groups changed, not just daily but multiple times a day. I was a bit afraid the groups within the group might become cliquey, but they never did. At one point or another during the ride we each rode with every other rider in the group, not just a little but a lot. Riders peeled off the route to visit long lost cousins, rediscover home towns they hadn’t seen in decades and there were even those who needed a rest day in between who were able to find a buddy feeling the same, shorten the days route and hang it up early. Everyone got exactly what they wanted. Each day I surveyed the riders about the setup and it was always the same answer. Killer man, killer… You simply can’t hope for more than that.
I realized over these miles during the health scare shutdowns, while we chased rare opportunities to travel our nations best held natural treasures, free from tour buses and rental motorhomes, that I had developed a scatoma. A scatoma is a blind spot that occurs in ones vision. Thankfully mine wasn’t physical but was developing mentally. This blind spot was causing me to become more elitist in my riding circles and exclusive in my sharing of the sport as each year passed. It was a blind spot that thankfully through the help of friends who could see the potential, and my own undying desire to fix every problem, I got it cleared. I am not saying that a ride with a few close friends or especially solo isn’t still wonderful in its own right, but if you are like I was, and by the gasps when I tell most how many went on these rides, you are. I encourage you to do at least one ride a year that is all inclusive, not exclusive in invitation. Open your incredible world and network to all those that are buying your wanderlust, they are whether you like it or not. If you are reading this you have social media, you likely post pics of your riding and your friends probably tell you all the time they want to go on the next one. You say “ya man, you absolutely should, anytime" but inside you are thinking you wouldn’t last a half hour out there with me and my buddies. Once a year, plan it and announce it to your broader circles and let um all come along, let them bring others and roll with the flow. It’s a wonderful experience, that just like a solo trip, shouldn’t be missed. It's worth the effort and the planning. It’s worth the risk and worth the anxiety. For me it's proven to be one more incredible opportunity in my life, that was only previously blocked by my own scatoma. We can’t ever have enough true friends, once a year. Plan it, Sell it, Send it.