Tigger Goes to Camp

Story by Ian Fleming// Photos by Ian Fleming and Shawn Thomas
July 1 2015

Exhilarating and adrenaline-pumping adventure camp has the author looking for more

It was mid-morning on Friday and I was riding in northern Colorado, very cold and very wet. The southwest wind was as strong or stronger than anything I had ridden in, and those clouds in the mountains ahead and to the right foretold a miserable day. I debated with myself whether I should stick to my plan of hitting a bunch of famous Colorado twisty “destination roads” as I headed south toward RawHyde Adventures’ base camp near Hartsel, Colorado. If I took the next left, I could instead drop down into the I-25 corridor, a densely populated strip from Fort Collins to Pueblo that holds the vast majority of Colorado’s 5.4 million people (and traffic). I told myself at this time of day, the traffic on I-25 won’t be so bad, and since the horrid weather precluded slicing apexes on Independence Pass, perhaps I could arrive early at the RawHyde Adventures HQ, have a nap, shower and prepare for the upcoming week.

Colorado Adventure CampI had left Saskatoon late Wednesday evening, getting only as far as Regina sometime after midnight, with more than two hours still to go to the border. After crossing the border on Thursday, the weather alternated between stifling mid-August heat in northern Montana and the strong southwest wind and nasty rain that had started well before the Wyoming line and which plagued me still. But I had an appointment in central Colorado that afternoon, so I turned up Tigger’s heated grips, dug deep, gritted my teeth and bore down. I was going to have an adventure, dammit, come hell or high water.

Arriving at RawHyde

Motorcycle Adventure CampEventually, shortly before dark, a very soggy and slightly hypothermic Canadian on a very wet Triumph Tiger 955i pulled into RawHyde’s Colorado base. The staff gave me a great welcome, assigned me a cot in a big green army tent and sent me to the main Quonset hut, where I would find grub and beer. I met folks from all over the U.S., as well as a Mexican fellow who had ridden his BMW R1200GS from Coahuila and a fellow Canuck, a lovely woman from Gatineau, Quebec, currently living in Florida, who had ridden her BMW G650GS to Colorado as part of a larger odyssey. It turned out there were about 20 of us there for the weekend “Intro to Adventure” camp, ages ranging from late 20s to 60s, on bikes ranging in size from Japanese 650s to BMW 1200GSAs. I have to acknowledge that there were a lot of BMWs, but there was a scattering of non-Germanic machines, and my 10-year-old Tiger wasn’t the only one in attendance – a young fellow from Denver rode a black 800XC with fewer than 3000 km on the odometer.

The next morning came early as Shawn, the head instructor, got us onto our bikes and, while riding in a more or less straight line on more or less straight gravel roads, had us progress from lifting a leg off the foot peg to waving it around and eventually had us flipping legs across to the opposite side of the bike. This was all intended to get us accustomed to moving around on the bike. After about half an hour of this, Shawn told us that by the end of the weekend, the seats of the bikes would feel unfamiliar and we would really be more comfortable standing on the pegs.

Let the Fun Begin

Off Roading Saturday consisted of a progressive series of exercises in the increasingly hot sun as we practiced manhandling these giant trailies in ever-more-difficult terrain. And for those of us who love high speeds, it’s always educational to experience just how elusive balance is at 4 km/h. While navigating cones, Shawn had challenged us to use a foot to nudge a fallen cone back upright – if we could. Now of course, for many in the class, just getting through the drills was a great success, but there were a few of us who felt confident enough to try to right those upset cones. In fact, as I navigated the very tight course toward Shawn, I noticed just such a cone, and saw that the right kick might launch it right at his head. What was I thinking? Just as in my old rugby days, the cone sailed wide of the mark, and Tigger, at all of 5 km/h, decided to have a catnap in the sand. I felt like a prat, but it was all in fun amidst this warm and accepting group. We all ended the day a bit sore and tired, as we had been warned, but with growing confidence in our abilities.

After finishing the Saturday training, we returned to the base camp for a good supper of Mexican food cooked by RawHyde’s expert Mexican chef. One of my new friends was curious to find out whether Canadians could handle spicy Mexican hot sauce. Given that this was coming from one of the BMW GS drones who had spent the day telling me that I should give up my beloved Triumph and be assimilated into the BMW borg, naturally, with more than a little bravado, I replied that I love hot and spicy food. And in truth, I always go for the hottest sauce available back home; how much worse can it be? Well, a lot worse, as it turned out, and it didn’t turn out well.

GOD that Was Scary

It seems to rain in the afternoon every day in Colorado in the summer. At least that’s my impression from the week I spent. And Sunday afternoon’s rain was certainly appreciated, as it had been a very hot, dusty day on the bikes. We had practiced skidding and sliding rear tires, had negotiated some rather steep inclines and descents, and were now ready to attempt RawHyde’s famed Gully of Death (or Gorge of Doom – I can’t quite remember, as I was terrified, but it spelled GOD). As it happened, the route entered an off-camber turn with a bit of a sand wash into a steep-sided rutted gully that wouldn’t let you poke down through the middle, culminating in a couple of bumps out the exit. It would have been nothing on a Honda CRF150, but on a 230 kg top-heavy adventure bike? Well, we had loads of fun, and the young fellow on the 800XC showed those jerry bikes why the RAF won the air war – I really have never seen such air on a big bike.

Everyone who didn’t make it the first time tried again, and everyone made it on the second attempt, and then some of us who had made it the first time went faster the second and third times – way, way faster, until Tigger ended up (still upright mind you) sideways with the front tire in a rut, the belly pan on the ground and the rear wheel spinning several inches above terra firma. This precise moment is when you’re glad to be with a large group rather than completely alone on the Dempster or Trans-Lab. The support and help is great, and the camaraderie is incomparable. But really, in my mind, the bottom line is, Tigger flew!

A New Kind of Tiger

The final part of the Intro to Adventure camp was a 50 km ride that Shawn had been talking up all weekend to us about how awesome it was. I had been really keen to try a newer Tiger, and they had a 2014 Tiger 1200 Explorer XC. Granted it was the one Hinckley machine they had, and it was surrounded by many Germanic borg drone GSs, but I was keen to try the Explorer XC and the RawHyde staff had it ready for me for the penultimate ride of the weekend. I loved the Explorer and am now pretty sure I know what my next bike will be, but please, Mr. Bloor, bring back Lucifer Orange paint and the black stripes!

I Want More

I had signed up for the five-day Colorado Back Country Discovery Expedition following the weekend course, figuring that since I had come this far, I should do the longer expedition rather than the tamer two-day post-adventure-camp excursion. As it turned out, all my new friends from the weekend training camp were doing the tamer two-day trip, and the hard-core GS-heads were starting to arrive for the five-day adventure; most of them looked pretty expert, and I started feeling a little intimidated.

There was, it turned out, no need to be intimidated; it was a great group, and Jim Hyde and Dusty Wessels, the trip guides, were really good at leading a diverse group of riders on this sort of excursion. There were a few small spills and a few minor bruises – mostly to egos, including mine – on the very first day. Nobody got lost (at least not too lost) and we enjoyed everything from the challenging, steep, rocky jeep trail over 3600 m high Hagerman Pass to the high-speed bush roads winding through the lowlands with the occasional shallow water-crossing. Whoever said cats don’t like the water?

With each passing day, I felt more and more confident, and I frequently reminded myself of the various drills from the training camp the previous weekend – now feeling like a million years ago. The week went by like a flash, and it seemed as though all of a sudden I was heading north toward home. With horrible headwinds and torrential rain. Again.

I will be returning to RawHyde riding Tigger rather than a GS, despite all the well-reasoned arguments. I like my feline friend. I’ve heard great things about RawHyde’s Level II weekend adventure course (The Next Step), and the YouTube videos of its Level III (Expedition CV) look hairy enough that I absolutely can’t wait! So, I’m going to try to do the Level II next year, and then who knows what Tigger might get into next?


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