I first heard about the SheetIron 300 enduro event several years ago. Some of my friends have ridden it and they don’t stop talking about how awesome it is. While I have played off-road a fair amount dating back about 7 years I still do not own a proper dirtbike so I never thought I would be participating in something like the SheetIron as soon as this year. I was wrong. Very happily wrong.
It began a couple months ago. I emailed one of the organizers at the Oakland Motorcycle Club (OMC) to see if it would be alright to just go to Stonyford -where the SheetIron begins and ends- and volunteer in hopes of getting to know some people and to participate in some capacity. The guy said, “sure, you’re welcome to come up. When you arrive look for me and we’ll find a way for you to help out.” So that was the plan. I had the weekend blocked off since about March.
Next I talked about it with some friends and found out that a few were going to try to sign up. The SheetIron only gets a permit for 500 riders so needless to say it’s a challenge getting in.
Then, after going to one SheetIron vet’s birthday party in late April he told me I was welcome to borrow his DR-Z400. Within days he called to let me know that another friend of his was unable to go this year and was giving up his entry. My friend said it was mine if I wanted it. What? Really?!! “Hell yes!” I told him. (That’s exactly what I said.)
And then everything just came together.
I found a couple of nice guys on the Bay Area Riders Forum (B.A.R.F.) who were able to trailer the DR-Z up to Stonyford and two of my pals got entries so there was my ride. I already own most of the gear but added a few more essentials and next thing I knew it was ON.
Troy, Chris and I left San Francisco on Friday a bit past noon in Chris’s Suburban towing a U-Haul trailer with their bikes. Chris has a DR650 thumper and Troy has a gorgeous fuel injected WR250. We arrived at the Stonyford Rodeo Grounds around 5 o’clock where several hundred participants were already setting up their camps, riding bikes around and generally getting amped for the weekend ahead. We checked in, quickly set up our tents and those other two brought their bikes through the very loose tech inspection which included your bike getting something akin to a wire anal probe. Upon leaving the check-in we were greeted by a very friendly man named Tom who heartily shook our hands and with much sincerity said “Welcome to the SheetIron. Thank you very much for participating. Have a wonderful time!” It was indicative of the interactions I would have the whole weekend.
Finally my bike arrived and I took it through tech. A-OK, ready to go!
After making friends with a few of our neighbors and using one of their grills to cook up dinner we got to bed around ten. I set my watch alarm for 547am (I hate round numbers). I was sleeping essentially on the ground because I didn’t bring a mattress pad but somehow got a good enough night of sleep and was up a hair ahead of that bothersome beeping. I wondered when I would hear the first bike fire up and I didn’t have to wait very long. Must have been a bit past six. Despite our grogginess we made decent time getting going and were checking our bags in around 7 then riding off. Finally riding off.
There was so much anticipation about this event even before I knew I would get to participate. Just the thought of borrowing my buddy’s bike and taking it to somewhere where there are trails made me excited and anxious. From the first time I rode a 125 on some guy’s farm several years ago I knew that I wanted to get good at this. But it has been a bit elusive. Will this be the kick in the pants I need?
So it’s after 7am and we are riding down the country road out of Stonyford in the crisp early morning air. I’m trying not to be nervous. I am telling myself “dude, you’re a motorcyclist. You’ve been riding for years. You belong here.” Yet I felt so awkward out of my normal element. Whenever it’s been awhile since I’ve ridden off-road I start off kind of jittery and it takes a little while to warm up. Eventually I always find my groove so this knowledge helps me relax some.
Following the roll charts provided to us at check-in we first ride off-pavement onto an easy dirt road about 8 miles outside of town. Shortly afterwards we come to a clearing where we find our first easy/hard split. The “hard” is Goat Mountain (footage from the 2011 event) which to me at that time was more than I was ready to attempt. By my guesstimation it is at least a 45 degree climb up the face of this mountain and keeps going up and out of site for maybe a couple thousand yards. It’s as if the mountain is daring you to keep your front end down and throws plenty of ruts in just to fuck with you. We watched a few guys tumble so I was more than happy to take the easy split there.
Eventually we made our way into the woods where we rode up, down and around bumpy, dirty and sometimes gravely roads. We crossed a few streams and punched through deep grooves left by 4-wheelers. At this point I was really loving my DR-Z by the way. I kept messing up my downhill corners, often going wide and I believe barely averting disaster. I can guarantee you that my mom does not want to know about the drop-offs waiting on the back side of some of those turns. Going uphill I was making much cleaner corners but the downward slides into sharp banks just wigged me out. So I found purpose in getting that figured out. I’m not saying I really did master it all weekend but I sure as shit got a lot closer. There were certainly times in the afternoon of both days that I felt I had found a good flow. And despite the 150+mile days I always wanted to turn around and do more.
We pulled into Fort Bragg around 5pm on Sat. and picked up our bags at the designated spot. Also at bag pick-up was the photo ops which were included with our event fees. A nice touch. For that we were directed to ride our bikes into an enclosed tennis court where cameras were set up and our pictures were snapped against an official SheetIron 300 backdrop. After that we rode over to the Holiday Inn to check in. They brought a cot up for me since I was a late add-on and not part of the original sleeping plan. In the room were two queen beds, one cot and a whole lot of motorcycle gear. Needless to say it was tight.
We were filthy as fuck so we prioritized showering and then went downstairs to clean our bike chains, check air filters and generally assess our bikes’ conditions. Fortunately for each of us there were no problems and we moved on to the task of feeding our hungry selves. After a short-sighted attempt to walk to food we doubled back, grabbed our bikes and rode the couple miles down the road to the local brew pub where we found half the event participants and possibly half the township. It was busy. Not only that but we came to find out that the restaurant was short-staffed and apparently unaware that 500 hungry motorcyclists were invading that weekend. In lieu of getting our own table we joined some guys that Chris knew from B.A.R.F. and enjoyed chatting with them. It took quite a while to get our food ordered, nearly as long to receive it and then the aps and mains were all brought out together. That’s the kind of night they were having. But the staff was very nice and the food was decent. The beers were delicious too.
On Sunday we woke up and got going on our proposed timeline but got waylay’d by nearly an hour when we ran into the B.A.R.F. group from Saturday evening at bag check and Chris decided we should tag along with them. In the end that proved to be too much work so we pursued our original 3-man plan though we connected with them at several points over the course of the day.
Just a little while before lunch we were in a forest on this mountain riding some nominally technical terrain. It was very dusty (several guys said it was the dustiest year they could remember) and you had to keep your distance from the bike in front of you because the dust cloud left you virtually blinded. That’s generally a bad thing when you’re doing over 30mph along an already shadowy path of bumps and loose surface. I was riding about 80 percent confidently about 80 percent of the time when suddenly around a hard left downhill bank I came upon an accident that just happened. Troy, who is a solid rider with prior motocross experience, had been playing chase with another apparently competent dude. He was right on the guy’s butt when the guy missed his corner, slammed into the backside berm and flipped his bike. His leg smacked a tree trunk pretty hard and he ended up with a tibial compound fracture. By the time Chris and I came around the bend 5 or so guys had already stopped to help out. Poor victim was yelping in agony. We parked our bikes off to the side of the path and I walked back up-hill to slow the on-coming riders down. Some of them were really hammering it and racing each other so it was difficult to get them to snap out of their adrenaline rush.
Miraculously, somebody’s cell was getting a signal so they called in an ambulance. It took a while but I finally flagged down an EMT among the riders. I think we were at the scene for about an hour before being relieved.
Continuing on, roughly five minutes past the scene we had to duck under a large tree that had fallen about chest high across the washed-out road. Shortly afterwards we crossed paths with an ambulance coming up the same road, siren blaring. We knew they were going to get stonewalled by the tree and have to turn back. Poor guy. I would bet he didn’t get off the mountain for at least 3 hours. The crash happened in a fairly inaccessible place unless by all-terrain vehicle like a bike or a quad.
Putting that past us we rode on and with some navigation difficulties made our way off the mountain into Lucerne for lunch. The roll charts were not consistently helpful on Sunday. They actually seemed confusing and had many guys stopped along the routes, scratching their heads going “is this the right road?” Fortunately both Troy and Chris had GPS units on their bikes so we were able to find our way out.
We had a not-nutritious lunch at Fosters Freeze. I think the burger I ordered was listed as having over a thousand calories. But I have to admit it was damn tasty …and so was the vanilla shake.
More great riding in the afternoon although we had to labor through several long stretches of highway to get to the good stuff. Knobby tires with low air pressure do not make for the funnest ride on pavement.
The last hard split was Cow Mountain. Initially I was doubtful about tackling that because in fact I do not want to die (or get a compound fracture) but Troy made the executive decision that we were all doing it and I could not be happier about that. Thanks Troy!! Cow Mountain was exquisite if I may use such a term. Very dusty single track going up- and downhill with switch-backs, big ol’ ruts and a couple of steep climbs. For added fun it must have been 85 degrees on the open mountain-top. Up there the vegetation wasn’t more than 8 feet high and we got the sun’s full kiss which meant that stopping left you baking inside your layers of armor and motorcycle gear. Chris was getting tired from trying to keep his heavy DR650 upright so he stopped several times while in front. I think I “gently” urged him to keep moving a few times. Nonetheless, when we got off that part of Cow Mountain I truly wished to ride it again. I felt like I wanted to get back in line for the bumper cars at the county fair.
But coming up was a long silky gravel road where Troy went ahead and kept a comfortable pace of about 35 miles per hour which allowed me to work on virtually everything. A half an hour of that left me feeling the need to tear off a little and I did so promising to hold up at the next intersection. Right before shoving off Chris said to me “You know, if you go faster you can get more hurt.” I said “yep, I know it. But I’m working on shit and I think I am onto something.” I passed a few guys but it may be that they were hot and tired and taking it easy. But maybe something else as well. I was getting better.
I haven’t said enough about the scenery along our journey but suffice to say –whenever I was able to look up- it was breath-taking at times. Such beautiful country! Coming down off Cow Mountain there were magnificent vistas and although we only stopped once or twice to snap a few photos really we could have been hopping off the bikes every couple of minutes to capture something pretty awesome.
We rode through this gorgeous grassy valley where we stopped for a bit and marveled at it’s vastness. I think we also realized it was nearly the end of the ride and frankly, we weren’t quite ready to be done with it. I’m still not.
I was a bit sad as we pulled in to the Rodeo Grounds at Stonyford. I wanted to keep on playing! But it was such a brilliant weekend. I felt triumphant and… “I got to do that!”