’96 Black Dog (Hot Dog) National Dualsport Ride

by Tom Niemela

                 Another year, another “Dog”.  This is my once-a-year, damn-the-torpedoes, full-steam-ahead  pilgrimage at hosting an event.  Last year went down as The Soggy Dog due to “potential torrentials” and this year will have to go down as The Hot Dog.  Read on…

                This year promised to be a stellar event, partly due to the big names that were scheduled to show.  Past member of the US’s first winning MX Des Nations rider, Chuck Sun, said that he would show bringing his KTM presence.  Great - Chuck’s a great guy and is always full of killer stories.  I had also talked with national ISDE and MX champion Rodney Smith of Team Suzuki and he assured me that he was “99.9% sure” that he would be there along with Mark Hyde.  A few weeks later Mark Hyde called up and said that he couldn’t make it, but Steve Hatch would show up in his place.  Cool!  He also said that there was a 50/50 chance that Dick Burleson might also show up, and that Dick was doing a photo shoot for Moose Racing in Washington.  There was even a last-ditch effort to collar Lyle Lovett into showing up, but his concert schedule killed that idea. 

Over the past couple of years, I’ve had increasing requests for more trails when I lay out the course.  After last year’s ride, Suzuki’s Mark Hyde suggested I contact an old friend of his, Rick Higgins, in an effort to scare up some quality single track material.  So last Fall I contacted Rick and we set out on a mission: provide the riders with something they would not soon forget!  Being an off-road rider all my life and having a sick affliction with tight, gnarly and challenging trails, half the fun of setting up the event was scouting for trail options.  And find them we did.

                As usual, I laid out the course with the use of an enduro computer that was accurate to 1/100th of a mile.  The combination of extremely accurate and legible computer roll charts and confirmation ribbons on the turns kept any possibilities of getting lost to an absolute minimum, unless you don’t have two eyes and a heartbeat. 

                At sign-up, the riders each received a small bottle of blue Loctite (omen of a bumpy ride?), info sheet and roll charts as they started out around 7:30AM.  The Saturday course departed from the pristine start/finish location of the Mt. Hood Village, where approximately 150+ riders embarked with already warm temperatures, clear skies and high enthusiasm.  After the initial single-lane pavement heading up to Lolo Pass, the course divided up into separate A & B courses.  The entire B course was very easy and unintimidating.  1.3 miles later, the A riders got their first taste of off-road fun.  I ran them through a carwash type trail that had them bulldogging their way through brush, boulders and a few creek crossings.  Shortly afterwards the route took them through the creek crossing from Hell as they swam, kicked and paddled their way across a raging torrent.  Then the course took them through a fun two-track section with more water crossings, a quarter mile of narrow pavement and then dumped them into a 300 foot section that had been used in past trials events.  Lots of clutch slipping and finesse.  They then got a breather for a couple miles and were then directed up a powerline road that had been ravished from this last Winter’s wrath.  The result was a rocky uphill that went to the sky, and then dropped them down into an old skid road with plenty of logs to hop.  And that was the easy A section!

                The detailed roll chart then led the A riders to the next ‘secret’ 20 mile killer, trail section, while the B riders had a leisurely cruise along an old, washed out road.  This A rider section was complete with uphills, downhills, water crossings, log crossings, off cambers, scenery and more.  Many riders were overwhelmed with this section and were completely fatigued at the end of it.  Fortunately there was an easy, leisurely, unimproved-road section through countless orchards after that, so they could catch their breath.  This brought them to the lunch/checkpoint stop at the Mt. Hood Store, which was generously sponsored by Beaverton Honda/Yamaha.  Temperatures were hovering in the extreme 90’s, so many riders elected to take a siesta at this point before embarking on the second half of the ride and also visit with the local Forest Service Ranger and genuine nice guy, Doug Jones. 

                After lunch the A riders then set off on the ‘Stairway to Heaven’ section that paid off in large returns for challenge and scenic vistas.  After the assault up a near vertical powerline section, it then turned left at the summit and went across Bald Butte, where the riders were welcomed with panoramic views from Mt. Hood all the way up to Mt. Adams.  They were now in the higher altitudes, so the temperatures became cooler too.  More challenging two-track and trail, some fire roads and another creek crossing and the A riders were into the final trail section.  This was a three trail series of connecting trails on the East side of the Mt. Hood National Forest.  It started out on the easy #450 Trail, proceeded to get more challenging on the #456 Trail and then offered a “bail out point” for the “technically challenged” riders, before culminating on the #457 Trail.  The #457 Trail was an awesome treat for the skilled riders that still had the energy to brave this section.  It was downright hairball in some sections offering tight, lift-your-bike-around switchbacks, rutted-out side trails, drop-offs and rocky uphills.  But the ones who dared these obstacles were greeted with down right, died-and-gone-to-heaven trails in between.   Afterwards I heard many riders comment about looking around and thinking that they were on illegal trails, but legal they were. 

                Up some more two-track and into the next checkpoint at High Prairie.  The view of Mt. Hood was exhilarating.  Then it was more awe inspiring scenery on the gnarly Gumjuac Trail Road, around by the Pioneer Woman’s Grave and a descent down Still Creek Road to the finish with a total of 163 miles showing on the speedo.  It was so hot that many riders elected to relax longer than expected at the lunch stop, in fact some lurked around so late that the Black Dog Sweep Crew didn’t finish the course till almost 9PM.  Guess they needed a bigger broom! 

                At the finish it was trophies and prizes for the Saturday only riders, then everyone hit the excellent showers and pool that the Mt. Hood Village supplied.  This year’s Black Dog had the biggest list and most generous sponsors yet to date.  They included: Beaverton Honda/Yamaha, Aloha BMW, Cycle Country of Salem, G&G Cycle, Hillsboro Honda/Suzuki/Kawasaki, D&S Cycle, Pro-Caliber KTM, Portland Off-Road Center, Clarke Plastics, Steahly Off-Road Products, Dirt Rider Magazine, Dirt Bike Magazine, Dual Star, CycoActive, Sprocket Specialists, White Brothers, Maier Manufacturing, MC Events Motorcycle Newspaper, Lockhart Dualsport, Off-Road Specialties, Braking, Scott Goggles,  Bridgestone, Acerbis, IMS Products, Loctite, American Suzuki, American Honda and KTM Sportmotorcycles.

Mike and Carrie Walburn from Dual Star then set up a video unit so everyone could sit around and watch videos of Mike and Carrie’s past dualsport rides where they were using a helmet camera.  The stories and laughs ensued.  I then called home to check my answering machine messages and one was from Team Suzuki’s Rodney Smith.  “My deepest apologies, Tom,” he said, “Steve [Hatch] and I are up here in Washington State shooting ads for Moose Racing and the camera crew won’t let us leave.  Keep me on your mailing list for next year, though!”  Such is the best laid plans of mice and men…

Sunday promised more hot weather ahead and the riders were anxious to get out early to hit the high-altitude, cooler temperatures.  On this day the course went up to the picturesque location of Trillium Lake and the first checkpoint.  Club member, Darryl Reid once again had set up the checkpoint with a challenging twist for the riders to attain points: the riders would set a mason jar lid on their helmet top, put a Ping-Pong ball inside the lid, then ride towards a box and attempt to drop the ball into the box.  Paints a pretty funny picture, eh?  Darryl later said with a chuckle, “Gunny Claypoole [the US ISDE Captain] said that I obviously had way too much time to think up games like this!”  The riders then exited towards the beginning of the original and historic Oregon Trail, locally known as The Old Barlow Road.  This was an epic pilgrimage for the riders, as the Barlow Road offers historical signs along the way explaining the different camps, wagon train stories, etc.  Many thanks go out to Dennis Beechler, Sean Olsen and crew of the Bear Springs Ranger District for clearing out a plethora of windfalls just days before the event. 

After about 20 miles of the Barlow Road, the riders were thrust into the Eastern side of the Cascades where the air was dryer, as was the soil.  Some easy two-track, a gas stop at Kimmel’s Store in Pine Grove, and the course then headed to the McCubbins Gulch OHV area and lunch/checkpoint.  KTM’s own Chuck Sun was performing the barbecue duties complete with spare ribs and all the fixings.  All riders were threatened to go back for seconds or Chuck would terrorize them with a grill fork.  After lunch the course offered the A riders a chance to hang it out on over 15 miles of single track.  What a way to work off the rib calories!  Some more unimproved two-track, a few hops around downed logs and the riders were greeted with Allison’s Tunnel of Love, which was a massive culvert that crossed under highway 26.  You’ll have to ask Jim Allison how the name came about.  More moderate two-track by Timothy Lakes, a few miles of gravel road and the lone AA section was offered for those still needing a challenging thrill.  It was a single track trail that was no more than five miles long, but took almost an hour to go through!  Only the few, the brave and the proud attempted this formidable task, but they were once again greeted with eventual terrain that was typical of old Honda off-road ads. 

Onward to Frog Lake, another gas stop and a small pavement pound to the historic Timberline Lodge on Mt. Hood.  This is where the movie, The Shining was filmed and the view is second to none from the parking lot.  After that, it was a trip down Still Creek Road to the finish of their 154 mile trek and plenty of trophies and prizes for everyone.  In fact, there were so many prizes that all the riders were able to make TWO passes over the “Table O’ Prizes”!  Overall trophies were handed out, along with oldest bike, farthest traveled, oldest rider and hard luck.  The hard luck trophy ended up as the bench racing story from Hell as the stories poured out about countless flat tires, fouled plugs, crashes and snivels.  I wish I had some cheese to hand out with all the whine…  Team Rude’s own Mike Smith came in second place for the hard luck award and appeared dejected, since there was only one trophy.  Then we had a scurrying small kid come up and pull out the name of the $300 cash prize winner, who was - Mike Smith.  How did he do that?  How rude!

Cruising through the campgrounds later, I was able to yak with a few of the riders.  “Great job on the Black Dog (hot dog) DS ride”, said Steve Pettyjohn.  “Had a great time despite my two second day flat tires and consequential DNF...Hey at least I got a great rib lunch!  My unsolicited 2 cents worth (actually its 5 cents now because of inflation), I would like to see a more dirt oriented day, like you had on Saturday, but without all the extra highway miles.  And on Sunday, more of the road stuff for those guys that like that.  Anyway, you and NORA did terrific work, and I am looking forward to next years Black Dog! Thanks!”

“This is my first Dog, a three-hundred mile smile!” said Tom Myers of CycoActive Products.  “I couldn't believe how accurate the rollchart was.  I used a Honda electronic odo, which is resettable, and I  was rarely more than a few hundredths off.  To keep up this accuracy over 300 miles was incredible.  Bravo NORA!  This was my second ride in Oregon.  The trails were awesome, and Oregonians divert the streams down the road to make them more challenging.  The roads chosen were fun, the scenery was spectacular and I didn't get a flat tire.  There was one section of trail that was almost obscene.  It was a high elevation mountain trail that was so beautiful.  Apparently it was a LEGAL motorcycle trail.  Then there was the AA trail on Sunday.  A rocky, loggy, clutch-burner AA option that NORA threw in to humble anyone feeling spry after 290 miles.  I loved it, but I had to tie my jacket around my neck to cool off.  There were lots of log crossings, but one was a double-log as high as my headlight. It had ONE tire track over the top.  He wasn't at the awards ceremony, but I KNOW it was Ron ‘What log?’ Gray.”

Glenn Martinson  said, “Thanks for emailing me information on your Black Dog DS ride before the event. My dad and I rode it together and had a great time in spite of the warm weather. I think you guys really had a nice mix of easy, intermediate, and difficult trail sections. I really liked the first trail section through the brush and rocks! Thanks again!”

                “Thanks for the great ride - every thing seemed to go pretty well. I think it was successful,” said Mike ( MEGABUCKS) Smith.

John Hughes said, “The first 5 miles were great, then I broke down!  Camp was hotter than Hell, but the bikinis and beer made it worthwhile! Will these quotes work?”  Thanks John for getting to the point.

Dave Taylor said, “Tom, had a great time.  I was sitting at HWY 26 and a rider came down from another road and I asked him how he ended up coming out that way?  ‘I rode that silly AA section.  I didn't think I'd EVER get out of there!’.  Liked the trail through the woods that left just before the stop sign.   Several people had gotten confused at the first flag, so there were a couple little loops in the trail till we found the next flag, then just blasted the section up to the two track. More intermediate fast stuff like that trail section would be pretty cool.  I am going to do both days next year.  Wanted to this year but didn't have everything together.  I liked the stuff in the woods, I wouldn't a got lost if I'd followed ribbons instead of tire tracks. ‘Don't follow me I'm lost too’.  There were two people following me so we created a small loop by accident. Probably confused everybody after us as well. but at least our loop followed your ribbons after about 50 yards. Also like the run down to the gulch.  Almost got in trouble hot footing along, then going around a corner that dropped steep. Wahoo! Guess that’s how you get better. ‘What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’.”

“The Black Dog was a great event,” said Bill Leppo on his new XR400.  “Thank you for all your effort! I learned a lot of things like: Take water and drink it!  Leg cramps are a result of dehydration. Leg cramps are a new experience for me; Many dual sport riders are really go fast racers at heart;  You need to camp, not stay in a motel. I didn't get dinner Saturday night because of gassing up and prepping for the next day - restaurants closed early and I needed a shower and a change before going to a good restaurant, etc.;  You can't go easy and smell the flowers or take an hour for lunch; otherwise you don't finish in time; Course marking and roll chart use some strange unit of measure, not miles; just joking, roll charts are neat! The XR400 is awesome in full stock trim, except for a better front tire which I had. [I got] 40 MPG easy!  I'm ready to do it again!”

All the way from Brookings, Oregon, Lee Riddle said, “I had a wonderful, hot-and-dusty time on your ride and want to thank you for doing all the work involved in the setup and take down of the event.  The Black Dog is a bright spot in my normal work-too-much-play-too-little world, so I’ll take it as a Soggy Dog or Dusty Dog.  Still beats working!  I think next year you ought to have The Chili Dog - held in January with brown A course ribbon, or The Hot Dog - held July 4th with red, white and blue ribbon!  (he laughs)  Hey, how about trying a glow-in-the-dark ribbon for a klutz like me or you could just hook the roll onto the trail head and, holding the end, ride through the course, stopping to tie another roll on as the first roll unwinds, leaving me a neat ribbon to follow to/from the spare ribs?!  I suppose I could get a decent computer instead of a tenth, non-resettable stock odometer.  Naaahhh, it wouldn’t look right on the old orange dog [XR200].  Image is everything and I’ve got my reputation, which is bad, to uphold!”

“We had such a great ride this weekend”, said Lisa ‘Moto-Lisa’ Wright.  “Yeah, it was hot, dusty, rocky, steep and not to mention GNARLY, all of which made it a ride that will be hard to top for a while.  I got a real eye-opening introduction to the world of dual sports, met a lot of really cool folks and saw some great sights.  Thinking this would be a piece of cake, we took the A course on Saturday.

After getting lost once (well, OK, more than once) and spending time helping some other folks get up the hills we wound up at the lunch stop pretty late and had to take the B course the rest of the way.  The course was fairly challenging, but more like stuff I am used to riding with my WR.  I've never thought of taking my XT, the little mule, into places like that. I did miss the suspension on those rocks, though!  My riding buddies had been poking fun at me for going on this ride - if I hear ‘dual sports are for wimps’ one more time I'm going to make them do this ride next year - on my XT! I think it takes a tiny bit of practice to figure out the roll charts.  First, you need to realize that even if the roll chart is perfectly calibrated, your own odometer isn't! Naw, there wasn't a problem with the roll charts, just me!  But I think I have it all worked out now.  Ready for more!  I am starting to think that some male counterparts exhibit behavioral patterns similar to a mad bull - bright orange, flashy ribbons attract; while logical communicative devices such as roll charts or maps only confuse them. With that in mind, I think I'll be following my own judgment when in doubt next time.”

                Steve Lamm said, “Thank you very much for the job well done putting together such a great dual sport event!  Your club did a great job, the people were just great at the checks and the barbecue at McCubbins Gulch was absolutely superb.  I just want to thank all of you for your kindness, your help and for the fun you guys made for us.  See ya again next year!  I’ll make sure we thank the sponsors as well.”

                My special thanks go out to the many different sponsors listed earlier, Beaverton Honda/Yamaha for Saturday’s lunches, KTM and Chuck Sun for Sunday’s killer barbecue, The US Forest Service (Betty Daniels and crew) for acknowledging us as legitimate and responsible users of our national forests, Mark Ruple for driving all over and assisting with stranded riders, Steve Myren for his specialized assistance, Bill Johnston, Steve Doane, Jim Dukes, Tom “Slowhand” Ginsbach (Get better, Tom!), Dave Lund and Dan Hatcher for running sweep into the night, Rick “Trail God” Higgins for his never ending assistance and mappage (and a gas to ride with!), Joe and Julie Barrell for always being there, Bonneville Power Administration and Richard Dodge for the use of their land, and of course the extremely talented and gifted NORA Club.  Two other people also deserve huge accolades: “Dr.” Phil Vanderlende and Randy “The Bug” Beadle.  The Black Dog wouldn’t have happened without their skill and help.  Everyone should be so lucky to work with guys like these.  Plan on showing up next year!