By Tom Niemela
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Driving out to the staging area Friday night was surreal and I just knew it was a positive preview to coming attractions. God’s yellow moon was spotlighting the landscape as critter eyes raced across the pavement on the horizon. My genetic experiment, Ariel, was sawing logs in the passenger seat, so I had the radio blaring Lou Reed’s “Take A Walk On The Wild Side” and subsequently The Door’s “Riders On The Storm”. Driving up the Trask River from Tillamook I narrowly missed a four-point buck as it was inspecting a roadside mailbox, which sent my fingers into an adrenaline frenzy. Hitting a “bumper burger” would NOT have been a positive omen!
This year’s Rat Dog staging area returned to its original location, due to recent land-use issues. The last two years it was staged out of the quaint Flying M Ranch by Yamhill, Oregon, but big changes happened recently, which has thrown the available recreation around the ranch into a tailspin. Willamette Industries has been the landowner of most of the land around the ranch for years and they have worked hand-in-hand with the OHV community, therefore offering a responsible marriage of recreation and harvesting timber. But Weyerhaeuser Corporation made a hostile takeover about a year ago of Willamette Industries and they want zero OHV use on their land. Island sized gates went up, signs have been posted and an extremely large section of famous and historic Trask ISDE Trails are forever closed. Reeling from this change, Northwest Tour & Trail made an executive decision to return to the Coast side of the mountains to hold this year’s Rat Dog. And it wasn’t just the old trails that are sorely missed, but the relationship with the owners of the Flying M Ranch will also be missed. As a side note, the OMRA (www.omra-online.org) is working with Oregon State Parks together to make proposals to Weyco in hopes that they will change their views of OHV use. Stay tuned on this hot item.
With that, this year’s Rat Dog would once again be hosted back at its roots of Trask County Park, about 12 miles upstream of the Trask River from Tillamook, Oregon. As I pulled into the picturesque Trask County Park, I saw that there were numerous riders who’d already made camp and had their campfires burning. I pulled up and started to pitch my tent, while Randy Beadle and Dan Hatcher got me up to speed on their day of confirming rollcharts. Their biggest piece of excitement was seeing a mother bear and three cubs alongside nearby Kansas Creek Cutoff Road as they were returning from their day’s ride. About that time, Frank Noe and David Van Riper showed up with their usual ‘tonic’ to better my health. A few minutes later Laura Claypoole showed up and was bouncing with excitement after seeing a “mother bear and three cubs” on the drive in. The bears were getting around! The cold, moonlit night then faded into discussions of morning’s signup and campfire stories and most of us didn’t hit the hay till after 1AM, due to marshmallow sugar highs, especially little Ariel.
At 5:30AM on Saturday, September 21, Laura was gently whispering into my tent, “Tom, it’s time to get up…” Ugh. Where’s the coffee? It was still darker outside than the inside of Jimmy Hoffa’s 55-gallon drum as we started shuffling around and lighting lanterns. Sure enough, antsy riders were already lining up to get their signup done and snag their day’s rollchart. As the highly organized progression started to make their way through, I was so thankful that my managing professional, signup Nazi, Laura Claypoole had once again shown up to help. She’s a gem. As I was still wondering where to smell the coffee, Scott Adams saved the day for me, got me some java and my eyeballs starting to open. The line of riders kept growing and growing! It’s always a big treat to see so many great repeat riders and friends. My old racing bud from Klamath Falls, Jim Heath showed up with his Dad, Buzz, along with his riding partner, “Tiny” Knight. This was the first time Jimbo had EVER been up here to ride in my neck of the woods for over 10 years! My old college bud Larry Lake showed and was giving me the usual business and ended up riding with a couple knucklehead friends, Tim Erickson and Richard King, who dished out their usual verbal abuse. Must have been just like the Three Stooges. A guy I haven’t seen since grade school days, Mickey Figuroa showed up and blew me away. It’s been a long time, Mickey! A coworker, Justin Whitney, showed up for his first dualsport ride on a new Suzuki DRZ400.
At 7AM was the rider’s meeting, and then Ilse Schoffstoll, Christy Gohner, Dawn Wayne and Laura Claypoole helped me with the start checkpoint. Scott Adams had his usual organizational skills in full force with the ham radio folks (aka: Hamsters). It then finally started getting light! As usual, the riders were not allowed to leave until they left a card of value with their name on it (so they would for sure return to pick it up at the finish and we’d know they made it), a rider number on their bike and a silencer check. After that, the lemmings were on their way!
One by one they reset their odometers at the park exit, went up the pavement for seven tenths of a mile and immediately started into the luscious loam. Per the norm, NWT&T offers the riders many levels of courses. There is the ‘C’ course, which is mostly gravel road and pavement and might have some very easy trail. The ‘B’ course consists of mostly gravel roads and moderate trails. The ‘A’ course is almost exclusively trail, which has occasional ‘AA’ extreme trail options. NWT&T’s rollcharts are miles long due to this (okay, so they were 19 feet long at this event), but it also makes everyone happy for their own skill level. The main ‘B’ course is the most used though and, once it went off the tarmac, it wound up Toll Road towards Murphy’s Camp, traversing a few mild trail experiences. One section in particular proved a challenge for the larger BMW bikes, since it had an off-camber piece that added to their road-style tires, but make it they did. The Portland BMW GS Group (www.pdxgs.com) showed up in numbers of almost 10 and I hope they enjoyed their ride. After Murphy’s Camp the ‘B’ course continued through some overgrown roads and skid trails to the first checkpoint manned by Ken “Mad Dawg” Murphy, where he offered his game of “Dog Balls” for points. From there it wound its way to the panoramic Grindstone Summit and snaked its way down to Blaine and eventually the town of Beaver for lunch and another checkpoint.
The ‘A’ course went somewhat the same direction as the ‘B’ course, but it was almost entirely of killer enduro trail. In fact, the ‘A’ course was more of an enduro ride than a dualsport. It started up into the Eagle Hill Trails, wound its way down Blue Bus, up Steam Pot Trail, up Gas It, Gas It, Gas It Trail and settled into Murphy’s Camp, but the continuing trail was relentless for the unskilled and continued up Seven-Rut Trail. This nasty little piece took its toll on a few already tired riders and they resorted to the ‘B’ course from then on. NWT&T’s rollcharts thankfully offer these ‘bail out’ options along the way. The ‘A’ route continued on Leap Of Faith Trail, NORA Trail and assorted other classic trails of the area, specifically the On Any Sunday2 Trail, which scared more than a few riders (it was steep!). Once it led to Grindstone Summit, it condensed again into the main ‘B’ course down to lunch and gas in Beaver. Eating at Beaver is always a treat and the riders came away with a smile.
After lunch everyone took the same course up Hwy. 101 North, then turned off up Munson Falls Road, with an option to briefly go look to the lone, remaining blimp hanger, which is now an air museum. Over the top of Simmons Spur Road the riders went to another reset on BSM Road. There the courses split up again: The ‘C’ riders had the option of going down the gravel road to the end of the first loop. The ‘B’ riders went down a thrilling, hop-and-scratch, two track called Bushong Road and the ‘A’ riders had a separate 11-mile loop up Poe Wade Trail and Sypher’s Gap Trails and back down to Bushong Road. They then went up and over the ‘AA’ trails of Willy’s T-Shirt Construction Trail and the white-knuckled Fugawe Trail. Everyone then descended back to the staging area, which was the end of the first loop.
For the ‘C’ riders, they were done, but the ‘A’ and ‘B’ riders still had the North Loop to soldier on after they filled with gas, if they were before the 2:30PM cutoff time. The first loop was so busy, that only a handful of riders (5 ‘A’ riders and 15 ‘B’ riders) were back in time, or had enough energy for this second loop. The ones that did go were glad they did! Both ‘A’ and ‘B’ routes worked their respective ways up to Hembre Ridge Summit for a reset; the ‘B’ route using the exhilarating Zig Zag Trail, while the ‘A’ riders used an assortment of face slapping, mud slinging, loam roosting trails that were used in past ISDE enduros from the 90s.
From Hembre, the ‘B’ course took an easy gravel ride down Fox Creek Road to the start of Rogers Road for another reset. The ‘A’ course was riddled with yet more trail coming down the rocky Hembre Ridge Trail, crisscrossing Fox Creek Road on the Firefox Trail and culminating on the epic and exigent Mad Dog’s Pumpkin Patch Trail and ended also at the Rogers Road reset. Then both courses were the same to the bottom of the classic and pleasurable Rogers Road. Due to the distance on the North Loop, the route then took the riders 5 miles down Hwy. 6 to Kansas Creek Cutoff Road to the summit. The ‘B’ course meandered its way to the finish, but the ‘A’ riders still had one last blast: the Kansas Creek Cutoff, Cutoff Trail. This consisted of about a half mile of nothing but brush, vines and foliage winding through a trail that was so overgrown you literally guided your front tire by Braille.
The finish checkpoint was a big party of games and entertainment for all. As the riders came in, they pulled out their favorite beverage and lawn chairs to watch the incoming riders have their way with the last set of points possibilities. People crashed on the slow test, choked on the poker hand draw and bailed on the tire iron toss. Everyone also had a chance for major points by hand writing a positive letter to the district rangers, which will be delivered at a later date. A few riders took the opportunity to sooth their aching/tired bods with Ilsa’s massage booth. Others started benchracing like the champs they were and others just relaxed and enjoyed the atmosphere waiting for the trophy presentations. Once the smoke cleared, a smiling George Flanagan won the overall event with the highest score and received a trophy almost as tall as he is (not saying much). Prizes were handed out from Beaverton Honda/Yamaha and the $100 bill was awarded to Bruce Guinsler on his first ever dualsport event! He said, “Thanks a lot! You guys simply do an amazing job!” The Oldest-Rider Award went to 72-year old Bob Sandgren, who beat out Buzz Heath by only four months! They’re my idols! William Cook got the Vintage-Bike Award with a ’78 XL 250 Honda. The Long-Distance Rider Award went to Mick Skolnick, who came all the way up from Big Bear, California to ride the Rat Dog. The Youngest-Rider Award was snagged by 17-year old McCord Parks. The Hard-Luck Trophy went to Jim McConnell with a bruised hand, bent handlebars and busted blinkers. Some people split their roll charts into two halves, but one hapless rider put the second half in first – oops! Coach Ramie showed up along with the other BMW Boys. This was so cool to see these guys on their manly machines! Each night across the creek a pack of coyotes were howling at the moon and added to the ambience of the event. Todd Boies lost his Suzuki muffler going up the Willy’s Construction T-Shirt Trail and came into the finish with only a header pipe. Thanks Larry Moore for being so honest! Sorry Rob and Todd Boies that you didn’t do the North Loop (maybe we’ll give you the guided tour sometime!). Thank God there were no major injuries and everyone had a good time! Well, okay, Randy, Dan and I all did major lipskids before or after the ride, where Randy and Dan got bruised and I got a busted radiator.
As usual, the event couldn’t have happened without the full support of many, many great people like: Clyde Zeller & Ian Caldwell of Oregon Department of Forestry, Debby Drake of BLM, Scott Adams and his helpful Hamsters, the God-like sweep crews of Billy Rush, Mike Ellis, Mark & Christy Gohner, Jim Dukes, Randy Beadle, and Dan Hatcher. Other major helpers were Laura and Gunny Claypoole, Frank Noe, Walt Koch, Dawn Wayne, Margie Dang, Ken Murphy, David Van Riper, Beaverton Honda/Yamaha and Stevie Ray “just barely missed a ticket” Branstetter.
That night was a great party as everyone huddled around the huge campfires, cooking marshmallows, playing guitars and singing, and enjoying the camaraderie of the day’s events. It was perfect weather, good course, great location, awesome people and killer traction. Many thanks to everyone for cleaning up their area of the campground afterwards. It just doesn’t get any better than this! Next year we may have to advertise that the ‘A’ route is more of an enduro! Come see us on the web at: www.blackdogdualsport.com It appears that next year we may team up with Lobos M/C for a two-day event, so see ya there!
On a final note, the next day (Sunday) we were all awakened to the sound of Stevie Ray Branstetter walking around saying, “Hey, where is everybody?” Doh! He thought the event was on Sunday! We all laughed and then he, Dan and Frank went for another fast trailride.