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Thread: Big Bend IMBA Epic Ride Report

  1. #1
    MoJo Neophyte Texitaliano's Avatar
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    Big Bend IMBA Epic Ride Report

    Got to ride the IMBA Epic in Big Bend Ranch State Park a few days ago, and it ended up being more epic than I planned. This is part ride report and part suggestions for anyone interested in tackling this ride. Our plan was to complete the ride in one day. Didn’t happen. We parked at the Barton Warnock Visitor Center (short ride to the trail head) and checked in at 8am when they opened. Got some tips from them and confirmation on info I had researched (such as water sources, route, etc.) then hit the trail at 8:20.

    First part of the route consisted of a combo of smooth dirt road and some nice flowing singletrack spurs. This went on for about 8 miles, at which point we dropped into Fresno Canyon. Most of the next 10 miles was spent in the creek bed, much of which was very sandy/gravelly. Some of this was pretty difficult to ride (i.e.- wheels spinning as we powered through loose sections), and many sections we ended up walking. This is where my weight (135#) and bike (29er) proved beneficial. Both of my buddies struggled more here despite being more fit than me, and I attribute it to their weights (160#, 190#) and bikes (26er). We learned to pursue the bigger rocks and bumpier sections which afforded more traction. Next time I do it, I may switch out my 2.1 tires for 2.4. Despite having to trudge through much of the Fresno Canyon creek bed, I liked it as it was very scenic. We got a little off track once by following a trail marked by a rock cairn but quickly got back to the creek. For those sections of the Epic route that left the creek there were metal signs guiding the way.

    Once we got out of Fresno Canyon the trail turned to mostly double-track (pretty rough in some places) and gave us a good amount of climbing (700’ per one ranger we spoke with), including a big, loose climb up Fresno Hill. Of the 2 route options presented at this part of the Epic, we had opted for the southernmost one (thru La Posta). After a few more rolling hills, we hit improved dirt road that took us into Sauceda (halfway point, ranger station). It had taken us 6hrs to cover the 26miles to get here. As a frame of reference for fitness levels, a couple months ago I completed 16 laps (~150 miles) at the Rocky Hill 24hr race. I think I could do this Lajitas-Saucedo section in 5hrs but probably not much less.

    In Sauceda we replenished our water, ate, then started heading down the other side. We anticipated the return trip taking considerably less time as it was less creek bed plus a 2,000ft drop in elevation. After about 5 miles we came to a junction that gave 2 more options for the Epic route, one thru Madrid Falls Road and one thru Monilla Canyon. Monilla Canyon was the one suggested to us by a ranger and the one that we took. It was very scenic and sometimes pretty rough double-track thru rolling hills. It was also the area where our trouble began. We had, unfortunately, come to rely upon the up-until-that-point reliable signage, and when we got to the area where we should have turned left (somewhere past Javalin Pens), we missed the turn-off and continued along the more travelled road. Of course, we thought we were on the right road all along. Then we got to an intersection that we didn’t recognize and that was not on our map. This was not good, especially given that it was now past 5pm.

    Knowing that we were going to be caught out after dark, I had a strong inclination to try to “fix” our situation and capitalize on the ground we had covered. One road left this intersection in approximately the right direction, so we decided to at least try it for 15min to see if it could get us back on the map. It didn’t, taking us southwest instead of southeast. Getting a bit desperate, we briefly considered trying to use the topo map to help us cut across country back to Lajitas. Thankfully, we decided that this would be too risky in the dark and would make it much more difficult for us to be evacuated if needed, so we decided to retrace our path all the way back to Sauceda (3hrs away) and called my family with the satellite phone to give our coordinates and info on our revised plans. There were multiple mistakes made in the preparation for this trip (which I have detailed below), one of which was that we only took flashlights (for emergency use) instead of proper bike lights (which we didn’t anticipate needing). So we doubled back on our tracks, rode as long as we safely could then pushed our bikes when it got too dark. Periodically we’d check in with our family and provide updated coordinates. At the same time, they were working on getting a ranger to drive down from Sauceda to pick us up, which did happen around 8pm. It’s a good thing, too, as a cold front blew in around 9pm, taking the temps down into the 30’s. It all ended up working out, but it could have gone really wrong. If we would have been forced to sleep out there we would have been at serious risk for hypothermia. No doubt we made a few significant mistakes, and hopefully this report will prompt you to take better measures than we did if you attempt this route. Below is a summary of steps we took as well as those that I think we should have taken.

    Measures we took that we thought were sufficient:
    • 2 maps: IMBA Epic map and GPS iPhone app w/US Geological topo maps
    • 3 iPhones (main plus backups)
    • Borrowed satellite phone (can also be rented in Austin)
    • Overstocked on water (w/purification tablets) and had enough food
    • Info on current water sources
    • Tubeless tires w/plenty of sealant
    • Spare tubes, patches, tires, links, tools, pumps, zip ties, duct tape, flashlights
    • Relayed our plans and route to park ranger and our families


    In hindsight, measures that we should have taken:
    • Allot more time (Because we were fit, we thought we could complete the route in one long day. Even if we didn’t get off-track, we would have been really pushing it to finish in daylight. We certainly didn’t give ourselves enough time to have a comfortable margin of error for mechanicals, getting off track, etc.)
    • Better maps (the IMBA Epic map didn’t cover enough area; the US Geological topo map didn’t show trails or road names and was too cumbersome to use on the small iPhone screen). After the ride I saw the 3’x3’ park map that I should have got.
    • Proper bike lights (would have helped us cover more ground after dark, even with only getting 3-6hrs extra ride time)
    • Emergency blanket


    I’m certainly not trying to scare anyone away from this ride. I just urge better planning than we did. Except for getting off-track after dark, I loved it. It was awesome and I will do it again. In fact, the trails that we did that were beyond the IMBA Epic route were equally cool, and now I want to explore all of the roads and trails in the state park. If the above story does scare you from attempting this on your own, just hook up with an expert guide such as Mike Long at Desert Sports or one of the park rangers. Better yet, head out there for the Chihuahuan Desert Dirt Fest coming up in February, where they’ll be hitting a lot of these trails on organized rides.

    Here are a few pics from our trip:

    A couple miles in


    Dropping into Fresno Canyon


    Cave on western flank of the Solitario


    Some of the deeper sand/gravel we encountered


    Some steep, rocky climbs


    Some long, rocky climbs


    View from the top, Fresno Hill


    Some sweet twisty double-track


    More sweet double-track (this section off the IMBA Epic route, on Guale Rd)


    I bought this t-shirt at the Sauceda gift shop halfway thru the ride. How ironic that it says “I survived the ride”, not “I finished the ride”. Sheesh.

    Hope you enjoyed.

  2. #2
    MoJo Priest CooterBrown's Avatar
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    Awesome story. Glad you survived.

    For GPS, I personally wouldn't rely on a phone. It is either triangulated between cell towers or assisted GPS (cell towers + satellites) and both are notoriously flaky and with the former, it doesn't work at all if you don't have a cell signal. Also, you have to make sure you have the maps loaded on your phone and don't rely on google maps since they won't be available without a good cell signal.

  3. #3
    MoJo Mother Superior bsdctx's Avatar
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    Great ride report. Great lesson learned and shared.

    A friend and I ended up spending the night in the woods South of Mount St. Helens when we got lost on a hike. Finding a cave and having a lighter made a big difference to us. After that experience, I gave my parents fanny packs loaded with survival gear for their frequent hikes. They never got lost but did use a lot of the gear including the emergency blankets when a sleet storm hit them on a hike on a mountain in Oregon.

    There's a big differnce between getting lost in a city green belt and getting lost in very huge, remote places. It really helps to be overly prepared. Food and water are certainly issues, but shelter and warmth may be even more urgent. To that end, I highly recommend having a fire sources (matches, lighter, fire starter, etc.) and a survival bivy sac when you are going back country.

    I've also found myself going on a number of back country solo bike rides in New Mexico and Arizona the last year or two. I picked up a SPOT satellite locator. Or course a satallite phone would be better but the SPOT is a lot smaller and lighter. It allows you to send messages saying where you are and that you are OK, Need Non-Emergency Help, or an Emergency Distress Call.

    I'd like to hear what other survivial gear people recommend.

  4. #4
    MoJo Mother Superior sherpaxc's Avatar
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    Thanks for the write up and pics. I can't judge because I've never ridden any of the trails out there, but I sure do see the word "road" and "double track" written a lot. That's not the words I want to read when I hear the word "IMBA Epic".

    I do eventually want to make it out there, but I have a heart for a nice ribbon of dirt cutting through the country side. Are there plans for more singletrack out there?

  5. #5
    Free Clay Henry Toobin' Tobin's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by sherpaxc
    Are there plans for more singletrack out there?
    a) there's plenty now (see pic below) b) there's more has been recently flagged & under construction... should be ready for the upcoming Chihuahuan Dirt Fest c) plans for more for the future.

    Like you I have a preference for singletrack. When you're riding on the doubletrack/jeep road sections out there, you don't realize it because the scenery & terrain distract you from thinking about the fact that you're not riding on singletrack. Also, there are sections out there that are not doubletrack or singletrack, they are "figure-out-a-track" REF: Fresno Creek mentioned above as one example, and those are my favorite.


  6. #6
    OnPermanent Vacation jmhix's Avatar
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    I friend from work was telling me this story today about a few mtb'ers who got rescued after using a sat phone and it looks like it was you. I'm glad you got out ok!

  7. #7
    MoJo Priest ItsCraig's Avatar
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    Great ride report, thanks for sharing. So where do you get the 3' x 3' maps that you mentioned? (at the ranger station) I'm planning on heading out there soon. After doing the Marfa 100 road ride in August, I've been jonesin' to get on the dirt. Did you see lots of oversized tarantulas and wildlife?

  8. #8
    MoJo Neophyte Texitaliano's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by CooterBrown View Post
    Awesome story. Glad you survived.

    For GPS, I personally wouldn't rely on a phone. It is either triangulated between cell towers or assisted GPS (cell towers + satellites) and both are notoriously flaky and with the former, it doesn't work at all if you don't have a cell signal. Also, you have to make sure you have the maps loaded on your phone and don't rely on google maps since they won't be available without a good cell signal.
    Thanks. Actually, the iPhone uses pure GPS signal when no cell signal is available. I consistently had "No Service" indicator while back in the park. The Topo Maps app I used lets you download the maps onto the phone.

    Quote Originally Posted by bsdctx View Post
    Great ride report. Great lesson learned and shared.

    ...I highly recommend having a fire sources (matches, lighter, fire starter, etc.) and a survival bivy sac when you are going back country.

    ...I picked up a SPOT satellite locator.

    I'd like to hear what other survivial gear people recommend.
    Good info. I'd also be interested in hearing other survival gear recommendations.

    Quote Originally Posted by sherpaxc View Post
    ...I sure do see the word "road" and "double track" written a lot. That's not the words I want to read when I hear the word "IMBA Epic".
    As with Tobin, I also typically prefer singletrack, but the double-track and "no-track" (in the creek beds) are really fun (i.e.- you have to pay attention and pick your lines). For pure singletrack, Contrabando and the Lajitas Airstrip area have lots of this, and I'm anxious to see what Mike Long and the the Big Bend Trails Alliance have under construction and planned (for which everyone's participation in the upcoming Chihuahuan Desert Dirt Fest would help fund).

    Quote Originally Posted by ItsCraig View Post
    So where do you get the 3' x 3' maps that you mentioned? (at the ranger station) I'm planning on heading out there soon. After doing the Marfa 100 road ride in August, I've been jonesin' to get on the dirt. Did you see lots of oversized tarantulas and wildlife?
    Should be able to get these at the Barton Warnock Visitor Center and maybe at the visitor center in Sauceda. Wildlife was sparse probably due to winter - just saw some deer and quail on this trip.

  9. #9
    Mojo Riposte June Bug's Avatar
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    The picture with the cave shows a great perspective on the size of the landforms in the Solitario. Fresno Canyon looks inviting, too. Thanks for this great trip report with pics.

  10. #10
    Gravity Challenged MTNrider's Avatar
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    Wow, glad y'all made it out OK. I was there too that day but with the motorbike and we did some of the same roads. Some folks told me about MTNbikers needing aid that night. It was in the 20s that night too - I know from camping in it.

    Photos if you care: http://mnelson.smugmug.com/Motorcycl...15303762_4YKUG
    NB area Road Ride Maps (PDF):
    York Creek (Old Thursday Ride)
    Ten Tops (Steep Hills route)
    Bat Cave (Nice route)

    MojoFest '06 -'09 Road Ride maps (PDF):
    A-Ride (Long 80 miles w/lots of hills)
    B-Ride (Meduim 35 miles, but hilly)
    C-Ride (fewer miles w/a good hill or two)

  11. #11
    Not-quite-geezer RVer FoldsInHalf's Avatar
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    Hey, thanks for the fantastic ride report. This is some really great background info and solid tips (both what to do and not to do).

    I'm soaking up everything I can about this area because it looks really cool and I'm kind of an IMBA Epic junkie. Doubletrack on an IMBA Epic? Hell yeah. There's a few that are all singletrack but they're the exceptions, really. I think the variety--single, double, widetrack, open range--is an essential part what makes 'em "epics" as opposed to being merely the "best" rides around.

    Great that you had a true epic experience and lived to share the tale. I will aspire to NOT duplicate your experience. If nothing else, I will definitely spread mine out over several days, somehow. This ride, like the Maah Daah Hey and High Country Pathway IMBA Epics, are naturally multi-day rides and present the most daunting logistics. I'm working on 'em though!

    Major props for attempting that loop in a single day, especially this time of year. Guess that's one way to tackle the logistical problems! There's just no daylight to work with though, which leaves little margin for dealing with the (inveitable) screwups/problems.

    I came this close to spending a night out alone on Poison Spider in Moab February '09 and I significantly upgraded my cold-weather survival supplies after that: both waterproof matches and butane lighter, vaseline-soaked cotton balls, emergency blanket, etc.

    The person who mentioned keeping warm as a priority above food and water nailed it. It's not something you really think about until you're about to actually get stuck out overnight when it's supposed to get down to freezing or so... then it's like, oh man, this could be a real problem... Layers of clothes will only do so much. Fire is what's gonna keep ya alive. Still gotta find some wood, but at least I'll be able to light it!

    I also tote a SPOT around these days. While I aspire to never use its 911 capabilities, the ability to "check in" when out of cell range is nice, and it does give me an option if a real emergency were to arise.

    Be safe, keep learning and sharing, etc...
    "Rollin' on 20s and 27.5s!" ride reports and more at WWW.DEBCAR.COM : Debbie and Carey's RV Travel Website

  12. #12
    MoJo Mother Superior Coolhand's Avatar
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    Great write up and pictures man. The lessons learned are the best part. Friends of mine were down there on motos (ok MTNRider who are you?? ) and mentioned that they saw you. Glad it turned out OK.

    This guy, plus a steering damper and about 50 mph, makes the pea gravel in Fresno Canyon much more fun I was kind of thinking fondly about my 29er until hitting all of that sand and gravel.


    (Not to mention it makes the climb out of Fresno easier as well )

  13. #13
    Ride More!! shredhead's Avatar
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    Yet another boring trip report....

    Great writeuo texitaliano!! I have been procrastinating doing a write-up from our bikepacking trip down there in early December - but I think our experiences will also be helpful for others to plan trips down there. We essentially did the same trip that was written about in the Statesman recently (which was 'The Other Side of Nowhere Epic Ride' - the last ride in the TPW biking guide - http://www.tpwd.state.tx.us/spdest/f...BBRSP_BIKE.PDF , but did it in 3 days self-supported. Access to/knowledge of a lot of this stuff is relatively new so it was hard to get good intel. As far as we could tell we may have been the first ones to do a multi-day bikepacking trip out there. The Rangers at the Warnock Center told us about two previous parties: one guy who was loaded up with panniers who planned to spend a couple days out there and turned around at Fresno Canyon and bailed on day 1. Another group had tried to make it Saucedo to stay at the Ranger Station after leaving late morning and must have had some issues because they did not make it to Saucedo until 2am. One Ranger told us we were kind of 'pioneers'. After I told Mike Long at Desert Sports what our plans were and where we planned to camp the first night 'Jackson Pens' he said 'You guys are going to be hurtin'. After all this, we were a bit intimidated and had alternate plans in the backs of our minds. Since we had everything we needed to survive except enough water for the three days, we had some flexibility.

    Some logistics:

    - We stayed at the Chisos Mining Company Motel (prob cheapest in town and they let us keep our luggage there while we were out so we didn't have to worry about it getting ganked from the truck).
    -We parked at the Barton Warnock Center - they were cool with the truck being there three days.
    -We did buy the 3'x3' map - it isn't folded, we almost cut it into sections but the lamination is such that it easily creases and folds (they messed the order up but new ones should be z-fold).
    -Matt created his own GPS track.
    -We also had the IMBA Epic map.

    -Day 1 - Warnock Center/East Contrabondo TH to Jackson Pens. Great water source at Pila Montoya 1 and Jackson Pens (JP requires a pretty good extra climb to get to the actual well/spring source). This was only like 26 miles so we figured it couldn't be that tough, but the two local opinions for this day were 'That is ambitious' and again 'You guys are going to be hurting'. We tried not to mess around too much but it turned out to be relatively easy. 4 hours of ride time and maybe 6 total after navigation, visiting ruins, hiking around, etc. You do gain significant elevation but it is pretty gradual except at the end, but nothing insane. Avoid Jackson Pens for camping. The well at the top of the hill feeds 2 or 3 water troughs near the campsite. The free range cattle make their rounds as well as all the other wildlife in the area. We could hear a bunch of Javelina right by in the brush but never saw them. Also heard a ton of coyotes. We actually closed ourselves in one of the livestock pens as it was the most level and cleared area, and the fence would keep the cattle and hopefully wildlife from jacking with us or our stuff. I think we started around 9:30 and arrived at the site by like 3:30. There were two picnic tables and someone left some firewood. We didn't know what it was like getting to the next possible campsite (Tres Papalotos in the Solitario) and if we would have a table and/or firewood or if anyone has reserved it (we had Jackson Pens reserved). Next time we would have loaded up on water and pressed on to Tres Papalotes for the first night. The extra 6 miles was mostly downhill. Tres Papalotes has clean pit toilets, picnic tables and also had some firewood (there is no real wood to gather) and is much nicer in general.





    Day 2 - Since the Solitario is a loop (we did the outer loop) and you come back through Jackson Pens, we just left most of our gear there and picked it up on the way back. We stopped at the Sauceda Ranger Station and loaded up on more water, took showers (free, hot and open 24 hours) and bought some snacks (all they have is crackers/peanut butter, a couple candy bars, jerky, chips and sodas (outside vending machines). We talked to them about getting some freeze dried backpacker meals and they were immediately looking into it. They are eager to stock stuff that people will want/buy. Our next site was only a mile or so away - Los Ojitos - which is highly recommended - picnic table and 360 degree views. It is a bit exposed though if is windy. Maybe 35 miles - a little over 4 hours ride time - a good chunk of which was unloaded.



    Day 3 - Los Ojitos back to the West Contabondo Trailhead and River Rd back to the Warnock Center. This was a pretty big day. We stopped back by the Saucedo Ranger Station on the way out to reload on water and use the flush toilets. I cannot remember what time we got rolling but we didn't get back to the truck until right at Sunset - right around 44 miles - we stopped at Madrid springs to refill on water.

    We were pretty conservative, staying pretty well loaded on water (especially before hitting camp so we had plenty to cook, drink, make coffee/tea/breakfast, etc). Navigation was not a problem with the GPS track, and the two maps. We also had a SPOT just in case. Slime tubes plus 2 extra tubes each, lots of tools, first aid, etc. Matt started having a slow leak towards the end but just kept topping it off. When I was changing out my tires after the ride I pulled out 6-8 thorns of various sizes. The slime tubes did the job. No mechanicals. Great weather. The stars were unbelievable at night. Lots of interesting ruins. Wildlife (lots of quail and Mule Deer, coyotes and javelina (heard not seen) wild burros).... All in all a great adventure.









    If you are looking for all technical singletrack, you will be disappointed, but you will be missing the point. If you want to be able to explore some big unforgiving country that has changed very little since it was ruled under different flags, this is for you. A good part the park has never seen bikes - the main constraint being reliable water. We spoke with Mike Long at Desert Sports for a good while and got the run down. The stuff in the National Park will be singletrack but only a 3 mile loop here, a 7 mile loop there, etc... The State Park has unlimited potential, it is just a matter of having the manpower to build more trails. It can take so long to get to a particular work area, you almost have to camp to be able to get anything done. But this is part of the draw - it is very remote and remains relatively natural. They were having deer hunts while we were there, but away from the Ranger Station, we only saw a few people in three days. Only two hikers and no bikes... only a few hunters.

    Definitely get up to date information on water sources and give yourself plenty of time in case you get off track, have mechanicals, etc. Bring extra tubes, make sure your tubeless tires have plenty of sealant, etc. Be prepared. We would obviously all hate to see restrictions on bikes and bike trips if too many folks need to be rescued (or worse).

    Totals - 104 miles - 13.75 hrs ride time - avg 7.5 - fully loaded at a pretty easy touring pace - for reference we are both pretty strong endurance riders (Enchilada Buffet, 6 hr race, Tour das Hugel all in the weeks preceding this trip). Your mileage may vary of course.

    More pics in case of extreme boredom:

    http://s769.photobucket.com/albums/x...ection=reverse

  14. #14
    Free Clay Henry Toobin' Tobin's Avatar
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    Well said.

    Quote Originally Posted by shredhead
    If you are looking for all technical singletrack, you will be disappointed, but you will be missing the point. If you want to be able to explore some big unforgiving country that has changed very little since it was ruled under different flags, this is for you.

  15. #15
    OnPermanent Vacation jmhix's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Coolhand View Post
    Friends of mine were down there on motos (ok MTNRider who are you?? ) and mentioned that they saw you. Glad it turned out OK.
    My friend is Scott Ray and I think he was on his KTM 690.

  16. #16
    Gravity Challenged MTNrider's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Coolhand View Post
    (ok MTNRider who are you?? )
    A bit like you possibly? Bicycles, motorbiking, travel, photography, dogs and so on.......

    Mike
    NB area Road Ride Maps (PDF):
    York Creek (Old Thursday Ride)
    Ten Tops (Steep Hills route)
    Bat Cave (Nice route)

    MojoFest '06 -'09 Road Ride maps (PDF):
    A-Ride (Long 80 miles w/lots of hills)
    B-Ride (Meduim 35 miles, but hilly)
    C-Ride (fewer miles w/a good hill or two)

  17. #17
    Gravity Challenged MTNrider's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by jmhix View Post
    My friend is Scott Ray and I think he was on his KTM 690.
    Two KTMs out there. Don't recall who had the 690. Is this the BIG dude?
    NB area Road Ride Maps (PDF):
    York Creek (Old Thursday Ride)
    Ten Tops (Steep Hills route)
    Bat Cave (Nice route)

    MojoFest '06 -'09 Road Ride maps (PDF):
    A-Ride (Long 80 miles w/lots of hills)
    B-Ride (Meduim 35 miles, but hilly)
    C-Ride (fewer miles w/a good hill or two)

  18. #18
    OnPermanent Vacation jmhix's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by MTNrider View Post
    Two KTMs out there. Don't recall who had the 690. Is this the BIG dude?
    yes...6 foot 5 ~300lbs...

    guy on the right he posts as stingray

    Last edited by jmhix; 01-05-2011 at 08:43 PM.

  19. #19
    Gravity Challenged MTNrider's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by jmhix View Post
    yes...6 foot 5 ~300lbs...
    Yep, cool cat.
    NB area Road Ride Maps (PDF):
    York Creek (Old Thursday Ride)
    Ten Tops (Steep Hills route)
    Bat Cave (Nice route)

    MojoFest '06 -'09 Road Ride maps (PDF):
    A-Ride (Long 80 miles w/lots of hills)
    B-Ride (Meduim 35 miles, but hilly)
    C-Ride (fewer miles w/a good hill or two)

  20. #20
    MoJo Neophyte Vieh96's Avatar
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    Texitaliano - Please check your private messages.

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