Learning how to ride in the desert at the Jimmy Lewis Offroad Riding School, April 24-25, 2004

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Group shot

The Jimmy Lewis Offoad Adventure Riding School is taught in Primm, NV, about 40 miles west of Vegas on Highway 15 and is two days long. While there, I stayed at Buffalo Bill's Resort and Casino. It was a weird place. Not fancy, not drab, but very surreal, since a roller coaster full of screaming people raced past my window about every 30 minutes all night until midnight. It was therefore hard to relax, which, I think, was the idea. If I can't relax in my room, then maybe I'll go gamble, right? Wrong. I was so tired every night it was all I could do to get back to my room. You would think that doing drills on the hot dry lakebed in the desert all day would leave my body aching but it didn't because Jimmy, Heather and Ryan taught us how to balance on our bikes, how to hold on (not too tightly), how to steer with our entire body instead of just our shoulders or back, and how to make the bike do most of the work. I know it sounds crazy, but it's true that the techniques he teaches improve the way you ride.


My trip to Primm, started with Al encouraging, almost demanding, that I register for the class. He had watched the Paris-Dakar Rallye with me for the first few weeks of January this year and was as enthralled as I was by the scenes of dune riding and the extreme conditions these racers endure. I've been watching the race for several years and remembered Jimmy Lewis as one of the only (if not *the* only) Americans riding a factory BMW bike. So when I found out that he was teaching a desert/offroad riding school, I really wanted to go. My best friend, Lin, couldn't go though and I was kind of shy to go alone. But Al encouraged me and finally I filled out the form, mailed it off, and made plans to drive to Primm by myself. I also had to get new tires on the KTM since dual-sport tires are not allowed in the class.


Excited and nervous, I struck out from Seattle on a Wednesday morning. I spent Wednesday night in Walla Walla with my Aunt Helen and then spent Thursday night in Salt Lake City with my sister, Ronna. On Friday afternoon, I arrived at Buffalo Bill's amidst a thronging horde of Harleys. It turned out that there was a gathering in Laughlin, NV that same weekend. I felt kind of out of place with my big goofy-looking KTM in the truck surrounded by Harleys. I felt even weirder the next morning when I left my hotel room dressed for dirt and walked out through the crowd of leather chap-clad Hogsters. They were having fun, though, and most of them were very friendly to me.

Amusement park in the desert

Dirty bike

At the motor home

The desert was blooming

The class met in the parking lot where Jimmy, Heather, and Ryan had set up their motor home. As soon as I arrived, I knew I had found my tribe! What a bunch of friendly people! There were Jimmy, Heather, and Ryan, of course, full of welcome and cheerful greetings. There were Mo and Jo, friends from Tucson on their almost-new F650's. I met Diana on her GS, Gary, from Fort Worth, TX, on his GS, Nick and Christy on their Hondas, Todd on his F650, and Glen from Palm Springs. I was pleasantly surprised that half the students in the class were women. Yay! More bathroom stops! All together, there were 10 students and between Jimmy, Heather, and Ryan, we all got plenty of one-on-one consultation during the course.

The first thing Jimmy did was show us balance and steering on his GS. Then he visited each of us on our bikes and checked out our setup. My handlebars are too low, it turns out, which was actually a relief to find out since I do have lots of back pain when I stand in the saddle all day. He adjusted people's clutch levers, brake and shift levers, you name it. Then we headed out onto the dry lake bed for the first day of the class.


The entire first day was spent on the dry lake bed near the casino parking lot. This is Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land and the surface reminded me of the playa at Burning Man: smooth, caked mud as far as the eye can see, and nothing whatsoever to run into (except each other!)

riding away...



OK, now I'm thirsty

Jimmy led us to an electrical tower and began to show us drills. He talked about the particular technique that he wanted us to practice and then he demonstrated it over and over, talking about what he was doing the whole time. Then we fanned out across the lake bed and practiced individually. Jimmy, Heather, and Ryan ride around and coached each one of us, waiting and watching us to make sure we understood. We stopped for lunch (provided by Jimmy and Heather) and then continued long afterwards, learning more and more and performing increasingly intricate maneuvers. It was a long, hot day and with each new maneuver I kept thinking "Wow, I wish I'd known this on this particular ride or that ride because I really could have done better that day."


Around 6pm, we broke up to go shower and then met for dinner (also provided by Jimmy and Heather) and had a wonderful time talking about where we were from, what we like and dislike about our particular bikes, adventures we've had and hope to have, and generally winding down a very exciting day.


I was pretty tired after the first day but was very excited for the second since we'd be riding jeep roads and powerline roads and even sand dunes. I slept soundly despite the screamers in the roller coaster. Before I knew it, the alarm went off and I was back at the motor home for the Second Day of the class. (lots more pictures here!)


I sank into bed Sunday night, exhausted but excited; my head was spinning with all that I had learned over the weekend. I sure did miss my friend Lin and wished above all else that she had been there with me learning and riding. She would have enjoyed it all. I got up early the next morning so I would get through Las Vegas before rush-hour and arrived in Salt Lake City at my sister's house late in the afternoon. I was so full of stories! We got my disposable camera developed at the one-hour photo place and I told her all about the class and tried, in vain, to describe the experience. In Walla Walla on Tuesday night, I tried to describe it to my Aunt Helen and showed her the pictures, too. All too soon, though, I was back home and back at work, dreaming of the sand, the lakebed, and the sunshine. More than ever before, I just wanted to ride my bike!


Hang on, Gummi!

Here's a little essay that my bike wrote about the trip. It's just possible that Katy had more fun than I did! She didn't even lose her gummi-bear.

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