They were almost 50 miles from the nearest town, and the only sounds to be heard were the croaking frogs and the soft flitting of bats in the ancient trees that towered overhead. Nearly 100 adventure riders were in the rainforest of Washington State’s Olympic Peninsula, gathered on the first night of AltRider’s Hoh Rainforest Ride to watch a preview of their weekend ride. The video began to play, and huge adventure motorcycles plunged into the deep water and heavy current of the Wynoochee River. One rider dropped his bike below the surface, and others ran in to help him recover it.The audience gazed in stunned silence. They had signed up for this ride, assured repeatedly that it was a safe ride with support available as needed, and appropriate for all skill levels. There had been no mention of river crossings. What had they gotten into?
Jeremy LeBreton, president of AltRider, got up to speak. “So, I know you guys all installed your crash bars and skid plates for this ride,” he said. Everyone chuckled—because although AltRider had orchestrated the weekend ride, the company is primarily an American manufacturer of hard parts for adventure bikes, and crash bars and skid plates were among its most popular products. “That’s good, because this river crossing is part of tomorrow’s route. As you can see, the water is a little deep, but that was last weekend so it should be a little lower in the morning.”A couple of nervous glances were exchanged. Many of the attendees were worried about the prospect of the river crossing, but no one wanted to admit it. A few questions were tentatively asked about the river and the snow that it once was.The ride seemed a little more than anyone had bargained for, and many were trying to remember what had originally attracted them out that June weekend. Such a unique opportunity lured adventure riders from as far away as Australia, and they arrived earlier on that Friday to set up camp on the Skokomish Tribal Nation’s ceremonial grounds, which was 45 miles from the nearest gas station and the site of the Skokomish people’s summer solstice celebrations. This was a special privilege granted by the chief, who is himself a rider.
Following the announcement, most of the participants tried to put the next day out of their minds. To the nervous few who approached Jeremy about the water crossing, he admitted his secret—the river was an optional loop, and no one had to ride it unless they wanted to take the challenge. Relieved, they were able to relax and enjoy the evening.Before beginning the day’s first ride, Jeremy introduced Chet Mainwaring from Puget Sound Safety. A veteran motorcycle safety instructor, he’d come along to do a brief training about off-road riding. He and Jeremy fielded questions about the terrain they’d hit during the day, and gave advice and tips on appropriate technique.
Then it was David McKay’s turn to speak. David is the owner of Griptwister Tours, a company specializing in creating routes and offering tours on the back roads and trails through the Olympic Peninsula, and had spent several back-to-back weekends working with AltRider, planning custom routes for this ride around the unusually low snow levels. “For the dual-sport rider, the Olympic Peninsula is nirvana,” he explained. “[On] most of the roads out there you never pass another vehicle. The Olympics don’t really have foothills like the Cascade Mountain Range, so they rise up from where they start, just jet up. The views are pretty stark because you’re right up against snow-clad mountains.”The large crowd broke into groups based on riding ability and set out in a spaced pattern. With each loop running more than 100 miles in an area without cell service, riders were tasked with keeping an eye on one another.It started out from the tribe’s ceremonial grounds, and headed off to a scenic gravel forest service road. It scrolled through the woods and up the mountain, unveiling lush views as the fog rolled back from the valleys. After a while, senses became dull to much of the beauty—it was everywhere, and only a finite amount of space existed on a camera’s memory card. Waterfalls cascaded down, and snowcapped mountains jutted into sight… The route was littered with groups that stopped to photograph some outcrop or crevasse.
The riding itself—when everyone put their cameras away and rode—was epic. Twisting gravel roads, piling up and down the Olympic Mountains. Long uphills and then incredible declines to pick their way through. Few other vehicles were on the roads, even the logging trucks that had been mentioned in the preride meeting. Long stretches meant hauling ass through the woods, the wind whipping at the riders. The route kept everyone on their toes, though, as there were some washouts in the road—sometimes with little warning. There were a few more challenging spots… The mud spatters, twigs and other various badges of honor gave the bikes and riders an earned rough-and-ready look.After chowing down on the next morning’s breakfast, a few daredevils made their way down to the river, as well as some amused onlookers. Jeremy took AltRider’s BMW F 800 GS into the stream first. The riverbed is lined with baby-head boulders and was quite deep at the time. The riverbanks were eroded, making the approach and exit anything but easy. The current was strong, and fill dirt had been swept away—meaning the rocks were also loose. A lot of clutch modulation was required to maintain any traction in order to get through, and the rider needed to be on a constant lookout for large rocks to dab and plan his next maneuver. It quickly became evident Jeremy was not going to clear the crossing. Dabbing and navigating from large rock to rock, he hit a hole, causing him to almost lose the machine into the current. Another rider, Andre, ran in to help him catch it. The bike made it through the rest of the river and then back to the other side.
Andre hopped onto his BMW HP2 to give it a go. David gave feedback while Andre navigated the big bike toward the river…but halfway across, the current and uneven riverbed got the better of him, the low air intake on his bike caused the motor to sputter, and he dumped the bike into the water. Jeremy ran out to pick it up but realized the bike was hydro-locked. Due to the high riverbanks they could not push it out to the other side, so they began to pull the spark plugs while in more than axle-deep raging water. The first few cycles of the motor resulted in water being shot 10 feet from the cylinders in either direction. Although impressive in its display, this method didn’t remove all the water. Jeremy showed Andre a technique to get the remaining water out of the motor; he pressurized the cylinder by placing his thumb over the spark plug hole and pressing the starter button. This caused the final drops of water to vaporize, then force out past his thumb in a mist. The two riders then reassembled the bike, bringing the soggy HP2 back to life. Jeremy volunteered to ride Andre’s bike back up the steep shore, but asked his fellow rider for a push… The resulting spray getting Andre hard in the face with a fountain of river water.
Riding continued. They began heading back toward camp, enjoying the turns but experiencing surprises along the way on several turns when after blind corners they’d discover washouts that would give way to hundred-foot drops. The single-track that was left gave some excitement along the route. Extreme washouts can and do occur—sometimes up to 100 feet of road gone, with nothing but a goat trail to get a 500-pound bike to the other side. The adventurers managed and continued through dirt and turns and towering trees, making their way toward the campsite for another great meal.Setting off on Sunday’s route, the dirt roads and trails led to a few treacherous spots that caused more than one heart to skip. A steep drop down the mountain, tightly hugging the narrow paths, made for beautiful views and concentrated riding. Back roads led to the next stop—a retired train trestle, spanning a valley thousands of feet deep.
Reluctant to leave but eager to see more, the group rode on until they reached the ferries that would take them across the Puget Sound. As motorcyclists, they were ushered onto the ferry before the other vehicles. The peninsula gently receded, the salty air whipped around, and finally Seattle’s waterfront came into view. The riders disembarked and after some laughing banter agreed to plan another ride for the future.Months later, many of the participants of AltRider’s Hoh Rainforest Ride are staying in touch and riding together. Bonding over the challenging terrain, they continue to run similar routes that keep them on their toes and connected to one another.
The versatility of these big bikes is what makes them appealing to a growing number of riders. With longer range, comfortable riding positions and capable on or off the road, your trips don’t have to be limited by mileage or a specific terrain.
While there are plenty of adventure riders who like to go solo, many enjoy the community aspect of this type of riding—just check out ADVRider.com if you don’t agree. Odds are, if you’re interested in getting one of the big bikes, you’ll enjoy it more if you have at least one or two riding buddies with whom to share the trail. Or at least help pick it up.