I’ve owned a dual sport/adventure bike for over 11 years and excepting a few dirt/gravel roads I’ve never had it off pavement. Largely that is because I don’t know how to ride off road. At various points in the past I’ve tried to find a dirt school, only to find the options too far away, too expensive, or the timing just didn’t work with my schedule. When a fellow New England rider at the MD2020 mention that he and his wife were going to be attending the Touratech Dirtdaze Rally in VT this year, and taking an off road class in the process I was intrigued. A little bit of research showed that they’re offering two different class, a 3-hour introductory, and a 4-hour intermediate class on 4 different days for a reasonable price. Google shows it being 3 hrs and 175 miles from home, making it practically in my back yard.
My wife had a horse show on Sunday, and in an effort to not use any more vacation time, I signed up for the Saturday morning introductory class and Friday night camping. My plan was to head up after work on Friday however about 6 weeks before the event they called and informed me that in order to camp Friday night I would need to purchase a day pass for an additional $20. Not needing that much encouragement, I decided that meant I should take a vacation day on Friday and make a day of it. I also decided that going the way google suggested was boring and put together a route to pick up 9 TOH locations on the way. I specifically wanted to hit the Gold Star Memorials in Concord NH, and Montpelier VT. The purpose of the Gold Star Families Memorial Monument is to honor Gold Star Families, preserve the memory of the fallen, and stand as a stark reminder that Freedom is not free. These are new to the TOH this year and are of particular interest to me as I lost a cousin in Iraq and witnessed the devastating effect this had on his family.
Friday morning I’d planned to leave at about 0500, which would get me to DirtDaze around 1200. Due to a late night EMS call, and general lack of anything but a self imposed time table I snoozed the alarm a few extra times and didn’t end up leaving until after 0600. Having never been to this event before (turns out it’s actually it’s first year in this format) I was concerned about getting there too late and decided to drop the eastern most part of my plan that would have taken me through Manchester, NH and up into Concord, NH. The new route hit 5 TOH sites, including one Gold Star Family memorial and got me to DirtDaze just after noon. In retrospect, the event was smaller than I’d imagined and I would have had plenty of time to do the full route, oh well.
As I mentioned the the event itself was smaller than I expected, they’d been advertising for weeks that it was sold out so I was expecting it to be pretty crowded. That turned out to not be the case, it was definitely busy, but not overly so which was a pleasant surprise (I generally don’t like crowds). I was able to get registered right away and despite the schedule showing camping check in not starting until 1600, I was able to do that right away too. The camp sites were in a field, that clearly hadn’t been mowed recently. They had it partitioned into 20’x30′ sections. Certainly not the best camp ground I’ve ever stayed at, but not the worst either. The spots were functional if not exciting and got the job done.
Once settled in, I wandered the expo area which was pretty sparse. I was disappointed that the title sponsor, Touratech didn’t have a booth at all. This is particularly perplexing since they apparently “uninvited” Mosko Moto about 6 weeks before the event. I have a couple of bags from Mosko Moto and really like them, they have a new line of apparel that I was really hoping to see in person. I guess Touratech doesn’t like direct competition. If a little company like Mosko Moto has Touratech scared, they must be doing something right, I can’t think of a much better endorsement. There was one vendor, with a 10’x20′ booth selling mostly Klim gear. I did try on a few things for sizing, but didn’t buy anything, even with a 10% show discount it was too rich for my wallet. The highlight of the expo area was the demo rides from 4 manufactures; KTM, Honda, Triumph, and Beta. I considered riding a few of them, but the reality is based on the type of riding I’m currently doing, none of these bikes would be on the short list if I were contemplating a new bike. I decided to avoid temptation, and possible liability, and didn’t ride any of them.
I spent some time watching the Intermediate class train on the obstacle course. They were doing some obstacle crossing exercises and hill climb type stuff. Watching them, I was glad I’d decided to do the intro course as it didn’t look stuff I was quite ready for. After the class ended they opened the course up to the public and it was interesting to see the variety of bikes attempting stuff. There was everything from a grom, that did shockingly well to a big GS bike with an Iron Butt Rally backer plate, didn’t take too much work to figure out who that must be. After watching that for a while I went and made dinner. There were meals available at the lodge, but when I’d registered I was under the impression you’d be able to purchase them on site, but it turned out to get the hot meal you had to pre-order. I decide to just have some dehydrated meals from Mountain House which where decent enough. From talking to some people that bought the meals, it didn’t sound like I missed much. After dinner I headed up to the lodge for the door prize giveaways (I didn’t win anything) and camp fire. Outside alcohol was forbidden, but they had beer for sale. Turns out the only options were PBR and Harpoon IPA, pretty disappointing considering we’re only 12 miles from the Long Trail brewery. Following the door prizes there was a presentation from Ernie Vigil who rode a Triumph Scrambler 1200 in the Mexican 1000. It was an informal, but interesting discussion. It started to drizzle a bit as he was wrapping up and I decided to call it a night.
I awoke the next morning to the sounds of the porta pottys being pumped out at 0600. It was nice that they had them close to the camp ground, but they could have waited a bit to service them, oh well. The plan for today was to take the basic class at 9, then head home after. Class was scheduled to 12 and camping checkout was 11 (not that I think anyone was checking) so I took my time making breakfast and broke camp. Unfortunately my tent was still pretty damp when I put it away, at least I wasn’t going to need it again this trip. I headed over to the training area early in order to take all of the luggage off my bike before class. It probably would have been fine, but I didn’t want to have to worry about it. The classes were conducted by Dragoo Adventure Rider Training (D.A.R.T.) which is based Oklahoma. They brought in two instructors to run the training for event. Class started promptly at 9 with some basic safety and philosophy discussion and then proceeded to the meat of the class. The first things they had us do was to drop our bikes (ok, lower slowly to the ground) and practice picking them up. This wasn’t new to me, but a good review (and a skill I used twice more that day). That was followed by some basic balance exercises, slow riding, enduro steering, and finally counterbalance turns. It doesn’t sound like much, but we moved at a pretty good pace for the full 3 hours with only a few breaks. After the 3 hours I felt very comfortable controlling the bike from a standing position which I’d never really done before and felt I had some good tools to play with off road. At the end of the course they asked if anyone was staying for the advanced course that afternoon. No one was, but there was some discussion on how the descriptions on the site weren’t very clear and there were some that might have done so if they’d known that was an option. There was one participant who was able to register for the afternoon class on the spot. Despite advertising for weeks that it was sold out, they apparently had a few spots open. I was very tempted to do the same. Despite the way I’d felt watching the advanced class yesterday, I now felt confident enough to try some of the harder stuff. Whether that confidence was justified or not I’ll never know as I needed to be home that night and decided not to try signing up. I guess that will give me an excuse to come back next year.
My only real complaint about the whole event was a lack of readily available water. There were porta potties near the camp sites and expo area, but the only place to get water was at the lodge. There were no obvious water fountains and they were selling water for $3.50 a bottle which is ridiculous. I filled up my water bottles in the bathroom sink a couple times. I learned from another person in the training class that they were allowing people to fill from the water spigot on the soda fountain in the cafeteria, but that certainly wasn’t advertised. It would be nice if next year they have a water buffalo near the campsites and where the guided rides depart from so people can fill there hydration packs easily.
For my trip home I’d prepared a couple of options. One was another TOH trip that swung west to Albany to pick up some more sites and another gold star family memorial. Another option is to try the Trans-Mass trail, this is a route I heard about on Facebook a few weeks ago that attempts to cross western Massachusetts north-to-south using as many dirt roads as possible. I figured this would be a good way to exercise my new found dirt skills on relatively tame roads. I didn’t have a good way to judge how long the trail would take, but figured if it started getting late, or stopped being fun I could bail and head straight for home pretty easily. I ended up taking just about 3 hours to do the whole trail (but I forgot to take pictures), making the whole trip home a little over 6 hours. In total I put in 533 miles for the 2 day trip. I felt vastly more confident on the dirt roads than I ever have before and am eager to find some more challenging trails.
Overall I had a great time on this trip, I think that if I had to do it all over again I would just make a day trip of it, and signup for both classes. It would have made for a pretty long day, but not unmanageable so. Next year I’m going to try and make it back for the advanced class if they’re still offering it.