The 1997 Black Dog 2-Day National Dualsport Ride - The Perfect Dog

By Tom Niemela

                 Things started off with a big bang in the form of me fracturing my left heel at the Flying M 2-Day ISDE on June 22. This literally changed everything.  After turning myself into an instant tripod (crutches) I questioned whether or not me and the rest of the Northwest Off-road Racers Association (NORA) members would “do the Dog” this year.  It was only three weeks later!  After all, I couldn’t ride, nobody knows the course but me, I had a list longer than my arm of things I still had to do, the course hadn’t been marked, let alone CREATED!  Plus, I didn’t want to return the entries, especially since everyone already had their campsites and vacations reserved.  So... with much thought, late nights and some SERIOUS leaning on friends, repayment of favors, etc., I went full steam ahead and hoped for the best. 

                I decided, since I was a gimp, that I would use last year’s course with a few different extras, so with the diligent and non-failing assistance from fellow NORA club members, Phil Vanderlende and Randy Beadle, we crossed our fingers and crutches and went ahead with plans.   First I had to confirm that the course was even open after the tough Winter, then record mileages, while marking too.  By this time I was getting quite skilled at leaning on crutches, so why not lean on friends too!  I dropped a couple quarters and coherced/begged longtime dualsporters and friends Bob Schwarz and Billy Toman into confirming and marking the main routes for each day.  For the advanced trail sections I schmoozed help from Randy “The Bug” Beadle, Dan “Vine Maple” Hatcher, Rick Higgins, Joe Lawry, Robert Johnson, Ken “Mad Dog” Murphy, Tom Ginsbach and his buddy Frank, Greg Odle, Al McCutcheon, and Jim Allison.  Sometimes it felt like a circus just trying to organize everyone into the proper direction and area, but I persisted.  I routinely dumped the busy work onto poor Phil Vanderlende, who never once balked at offering help.

                On the day before the event I stopped at the Portland Airport and picked up Suzuki’s national dualsport representative and jovial fellow, Mark Hyde.  At the airport he was a cinch to pick out.  It’s not often you see a mid-sized guy lurking at the passenger pickup area with a bright yellow Suzuki shirt and packing an island sized Moose gearbag plus a couple of Dunlop bumpy tires!  Mark had called earlier claiming that his transportation had a change of plans.  He claimed that national ISDE and Hare Scrambles Champion Rodney Smith was going to show up, but had the Suzuki van repainted and so was late.  “Right.  Sure.” I mused as I humored him after leaving the airport.  Mark told me last year that he was going to show and bring along Rodney.  Last year they never showed, so I was just happy that Mark could take enough time out of his busy Ohio itinerary to visit us backsticks folks up here in Oregon.  Besides, I had just spent the previous night down at the neighborhood Kinko’s making rollcharts for the riders.  Boy, was I proud of the charts, but questioned the lack of sleep to get them.  Mark, however, was his usual cheery and amusing self going on and on about how he just got eye surgery, how Rodney was going to show, how he spent a vacation with his wife and Jason Dahners in the Caribbean and how he and Jason raced their little scooters everywhere.  Mark is a great guy and can benchrace till the cows come home!

                On our way to Mt. Hood we stopped for lunch at the town of Sandy.  A quick call to Chuck Steahly of Steahly Off-road Products fame, quickly had him down there chowing down with us.  Come to find out, Chuck used to live in Ohio also, so it was like Mark and him were long lost buddies.  Then it was onto the Mt. Hood Village, which was the staging area for both days.  NORA member Melissa Nourigat had already brought up the club trailer and started setting everything up. 

                Saturday morning brought stellar weather of epic proportions.  Years past have at times just been Hell.  Two years ago was the Wet Dog, where the rain was coming down so hard that it practically bounced higher than the handlebars.  Last year was the Hot Dog, where the temperatures soared into the 90’s and the riders couldn’t pack enough thirst quenching fluids to keep their tongues moist.  This year however, the weather gods smiled upon everyone and blessed us with 70 - 80 degree weather the entire weekend.  I too was blessed with an entire armada of support from fellow NORA Club members and non-members alike.  Low and behold, Rodney Smith actually did show up with his lovely girlfriend Lori.  Mark did good.  KTM’s wily Chuck Sun also showed up along with his notorious brother Ron.

                Saturday’s course started South over Lolo Pass and dropped into the Hood River Valley.  Along this section were three advanced sections that included everything from rocky up and downhills, to trials, to log hopping and of course one big creek crossing that got the best of Walt Koch.  Not many people would know, but later on his waterfight was caught on helmet cam!  Then the course turned up towards the scenic vista of the Mt. Defiance radar tower where riders could see Mt. St. Helens, Mt. Rainier and Mt. Adams across the majestic Columbia River and to the South they could practically touch Mt. Hood along with the view of the Hood River Valley.  The course then returned back whence they came for 1.2 miles and veered left where the classic Rick Higgins advanced trail section separated from the main route.  It was this main section that ribbons had unscrupulously been changed and rearranged by derelicts.  Fortunately everyone kept their nose to the rollcharts that guided them down to Hood River and towards the lunch stop at the town of Mt. Hood.  This was the first checkpoint and lunch provided by the kind and generous folks at Beaverton Honda/Yamaha.  Daryl Reid and crew manned this check with his usual bizarre, but fun, game for the riders to attempt for points.

                From there the course split with an advanced section again that took riders up the Stairway To Heaven section, over the breathtaking top of Bald Butte, around a number of downed logs that eventually led them to a multi-use trail and on to the next checkpoint at High Prairie.  This check was manned by the famous Joe & Julie Barrell.  They had the best seat of the day.  The advanced course riders then had one final obstacle to take them back home towards the finish - SNOW!  A few riders attempted the snow section of Gumjuac Ridge, most made it through, but not without a few lipskids into the white, frosty powder.  This then led the riders to an easy putsy towards the finish. 

                Sunday was another bodacious day with a big smile again from the weather gods.  This route ran the riders up by the scenic Trillium Lake and up to the start of the historic Old Barlow Road, which was the first route over the Cascades of the original Oregon Trail in the 1800’s.  The Barrells manned this check and then pointed the riders onto the Barlow Road.  The Barlow Road is an abundance of surprises that continues to amaze and greet the riders each year.  It is riddled with rich history, challenging and fun sections for all riders, and the scenery is remarkable.  At the end of this 20+ mile section the riders were then delivered into the arid, Eastern Oregon side of the Cascades.  A quick stroll beside a lengthy irrigation ditch and Rock Creek Reservoir, over the White River and before long they were at the quaint town of Pine Grove for lunch and a gas stop.  Another magnificent day and good eats. 

                After lunch the course meandered the riders up to the McCubbin’s Gulch OHV Area where Dennis Craig and Frank Wildgrube had their usual warped game for points.  This had another advanced course split that consisted of about 12 miles of fun single track that poured the riders to Allison’s Tunnel Of Love.  Then it was an easy two-track ride around Timothy Lakes and made its way towards Frog Lake, but not without one AA section named appropriately Jekyl & Hyde Trail in honor of Mark Hyde.  This trail was only about two miles long, took almost a half hour to ride through, but was like riding in heaven.  Luscious loam, beautiful trees and plenty of mosquitoes in case you wanted to take a break!  From there it was a leisurely stroll to the famous, picturesque and historic Timberline Lodge (where the classic move, The Shining was filmed) and onto the finish. 

After two days of riding, there was a certain amount of things that happened.  Joe Turk lost his license plate.  Patti Waxman lost her front fender bag.  Gary Brown lost his entire Fox fanny pack.  Jim Dukes about lost his front brake rotor.  Jeff Bragg crashed his RMX only about 200 feet from the start and skidded on his fanny for a ways.  Twitchy right hand, Jeff?!  Mike Lake tagged a rock with his knee on the Jekyl & Hyde Trail.  Oldest Bike Award went to John Knepp and his immaculate 1972 Harley-Davidson Sprint 350. Some dualsport riders were stopped on Saturday’s course, looking at their map when Team Washington’s own ElRae Morgenthaler and a friend, who were going to a quilt show in Sisters on the same weekend, stopped and teased the confused riders. 

                There was also a $300 cash award that went to a random entry.  When Greg Leonard’s name was called, he was no where to be found!  After many minutes of standing around and waiting for Greg, it was decided that he had already left, so the next name that was drawn from the helmet was Whitney Koeberle.  Da winna and $300 richer! 

                Funny thing happened at the finish though - Mark Hyde officially got the highest score, but he had already taken off with Rodney and Lori.  Hmmm… kinda makes you wonder!  He does have those shifty eyebrows and he probably bribed the checkpoint people!

Calling all the way from Reno, Nevada bringing his Honda XR650L, R. L. Lemke said, “Thanks for the note. Hope you considered the ride a success. I will tell you that it was the best ride I have ridden because it was a complete package. Meaning, it was an awesome place to stay with family; the weather was perfect; the views were spectacular; the single track was better than sex; the chart was accurate and the history was inspiring.  The BMW R11GS couple [that I brought up with me] had a blast on day two. No problems, in fact they blasted by a lot of dirt bikes on the open sections. I am continually impressed with the abilities of the R11GS to overcome obstacles. The single track B-loop on day 2 had a log cut that allowed 1.5" on each cylinder. That's close!”

“Had a great Black Dog!!” said Phil Butler.  “Thanks for providing this event so us dualsport only riders could enjoy the benefits of an organized ride.  Looking forward to a Coast Range ride sometime.”

Gary Brown said, “Thanks again for setting up a fun ride and great weather.  I’m bummed to hear the fannypack didn't show up - still no word.  It has my address and phone inside so either it hasn't been found yet or it was found and still in the mail on the way to my house [he laughs], or some scumbag ,  certainly not anyone on our ride, picked it up and is keeping it.  Oh well.  Jim Dukes and I made it home okay.  After riding our bikes home, I grabbed the extra keys, rode back and got the RV back home by about 11:15pm - not bad.  It sure was a good day of riding - 320 miles!  Thanks for your concern and attempts at trying to track the pack down, and again for the great ride!”

Jim Dukes said, “The only slightly humorous thing I can think of that you could mention is my brake caliper falling off, and me getting the Loc-Tite AFTER the event!”

Doug Bragg said, “I think this year's ride should be dubbed the "Perfect Dog."  The weather was nice, but cool enough to really enjoy the trail sections without getting too hot.  I had a lot of fun.  Last year I didn't ride any of the trail options except the ‘Big Hill’ because of the heat.  The Barlow Road is always a hoot too.  Keep up the good work and we'll see you next year, we already reserved a spot in the campground for the '98 Dog.  I'll keep bugging Jon Bridges from Omak about copying the helmet cam footage for you.”

Bill Leppo only had three words, “Good Black Dog!”

“Thanks for the T-shirt!” said trail god, Rick Higgins.

Joe Lawry, who assisted with the trails too, said, “Rodney Smith, Chuck Sun, and Mark Hyde must have been going too fast for my blurry eyes. Next time you have a run that I’m going to watch, the law says all riders must wear their names in bold letters on the front and rear of their jackets.  How do you expect me to recognize them, with all that paraphernalia covering the face? [he laughs]”

Lisa Wright said, “Thanks again for a great time this weekend.  I must say it will be pretty hard to get out of bed tomorrow morning, but well worth it!  This year we managed to stay on schedule and were able to take the A sections and still finish on time.  I especially liked the McCubbins Gulch area. I am finally getting back into riding again after the move to Bend, and there are miles and miles of dual sport country to explore!  I haven't found anybody to ride with yet, but I hope to be meeting some dualsport fanatics like me.  Well, thanks again.  See you at the next ride!”

Dan Morse said, “Again, I wanted to say thanks for the super job you did ‘putting on the Dog’.  We couldn't have a better time on the Saturday ride.  The amount of work you put into it must have been overwhelming.  It was great.”

Walt Koch said, “Enjoyed the ride very much,  just call me splash.  You guys did a great job!  Looking forward to next year.”

Suzuki’s Mark Hyde commented later, “My score was valid, and Rodney & Lori said so!  The ride was great,  a little dusty on Sunday,  looking forward to next year, good luck with the foot!”

Craig Peck said, “You did another splendid job.  Thank you again for an extraordinary effort.  I had ANOTHER great time at Mt. Hood this year and look forward to next year and the other Oregon event you questioned the group about.  Sorry you were unable to ride.  Hope the foot, leg, ankle, whatever, is healing well!  The weather was wonderful, food was good, all personnel were friendly and helpful, and the event went off close to schedule.  I will ride more ‘A’ sections next year.  I am always careful to understand the definition.  I enjoy the rocks and roots on fairly rough trails, I just don't enjoy picking my bike up over things or having to get off and wrestle it around switch backs, etc.  Regardless of which route was taken the scenery is excellent.  I'll be back again next year for the Black Dog and will attend any other event you plan.  Thank you again for your time and devotion to our sport.”

Dave Naegele said, “Tom - I'm sure you're glad the work is mostly done!  Thanks for putting on another great event!  I only could ride Saturday this year and really liked the course.  Thanks again.”

Patti Waxman from DualStar said, “Yes, I had a great ride!  A great event, as usual.  Thanks for having us!“

Dale Voigt said, “My new Moose skidplate is tough. Little wowies aside, it successfully fended off the rock demons during the Black Dog this past weekend.  Thanks for a great weekend, Tom.”

Hard Luck Trophy winner Mike Lake later said, “My current rides include an '82 XL500R, '81 TT250, '71 Triumph Bonneville, '57 BSA Goldstar, '75 Hodaka Road Toad, and lots of other parts & pieces.  I just got my XL put back together after a long winter of top-end work, which is a long story, and was looking forward to the maiden voyage - Tom's incredible Black Dog!  Thanks for a great weekend!  Now if I'd only had one of those Moose skidplates on my leg, I wouldn't have this gnarly bruise right now.  I'm healing up just fine - my leg turned all different shades of purple/green/red/yellow/black, etc. from just above the knee to my toes.  Most of that is going away now, but I still have a huge knot on my leg at the point of impact.  The Doc says it's just a 'hematoma', which is medical jargon for ‘you just made my next boat payment’ or blood clot that will take a month or so to dissolve.  No problem.  I think I can probably kick start a bike again now.  I'm looking forward to next year's Dog already, but hopefully it will be on an XR600.  I'm going to sell my 500 and another bike and look for a '92 or newer 600 over the next month or so.  Thanks!  The leg is nearly healed now.“

Coming all the way from Medford, Oregon, George Flanigan said, “I liked the T-shirts.  We had to stay in Salem. Could not get a motel in Portland because too many things happening on the same weekend had them all booked solid.  But other than that it was fun.”

There are people and organizations that I must thank: Dennis Beechler of the US Forest Service, the Mt. Hood Village, Bonneville Power Administration, Steve Doane, Bill Johnston, Gunny Claypoole, Melissa Nourigat, Mark Ruple, John Hughes, the Clough Family, the Dunham Family, the Hatcher Family, Mark Hyde, Rodney Smith & Lori, Chuck & Ron Sun, and once again an extreme thanks to troopers Phil Vanderlende and Randy Beadle.  I’d also like to personally thank and urge everyone to support the following excellent sponsors.  Couldn’t have done it without them either: Husqvarna/KTM of Gresham, Beaverton Honda/Yamaha, Pro-Caliber Cycles, Portland Off-Road Center, Hillsboro Motorcycles, G&G Cycle, Aloha BMW, D&S Cycle, Affordable Trophies, Motorsports News, MC Events, AT&T Wireless, Ultimate Direction Hydrating Systems, Dual Star, Clarke Plastic Products, Steahly Off-Road, CycoActive Products, PBI Sprockets, Fog City, Dirt Rider Magazine, Dirt Bike Magazine, Sprocket Specialists, White Brothers, Maier Plastics, Motion Pro, Wiseco, A-Loop Off-road, Race Tech, Answer Racing, Off-Road Specialties, Red Line Oils, Acerbis, IMS Products,  Smith Goggles, KTM Sportmotorcycles and Suzuki Motorcycles. 

                Support the people that support the sport!