Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Vegas Baby!!

Not very long ago, my wife and I discovered the music of Richard Cheese & Lounge Against the Machine. He and his band take popular songs, such as Baby Got Back and Gin & Juice, and turn them into lounge music. Since he was playing in Vegas on 12/29 and 12/31, we decided that warranted a trip to Nevada over the holidays.

The plan was to fly out Christmas morning, and then return on the 30th. The biggest issue I had was what to do with the rest of my time while we were there. I've never gone to Vegas before because I don't gamble and, since I won't even waste money on a strip club, the other popular past time in Vegas was never really an option either. Fortunately, my wife found out that the BMW motorcycle dealership in Vegas (BMW Motorcycles of Las Vegas) rents some of their bikes out. After a couple of emails with the owner, and a quick post on www.i-bmw.com for some tips on good roads to check out, I had a plan.

My initial plan was to rent a model that I was thinking of buying in a few years. Unfortunately, that only narrowed me down to the R1200RT, the R1200GS, and the K1200GT. Which of those I buy depends a lot on what type of riding I find myself wanting to do at that point, as well as on whether or not my wife spends any significant time on the back of the bike on trips. For the purposes of this weekend, however, the K1200GT quickly became the object of my desires. The primary reasons being that: a) I've never spent any significant time on a 4 cylinder bike and b) I wasn't going to going off-road anyway (or so I thought). So there I was, as the doors opened on the 27th, waiting anxiously to pick up the bike and get the heck out of Vegas.

Day 1 - 12/27 (approx 180 miles. temp: 45F-50F)

The plan for the first day was fairly simple. Since my wife was going to be coming along that day, it was going to be limited to a 4 hour trek along Lake Mead, with a detour to Hoover Dam. The first thing that we learned is that there is no such thing as a quick detour to Hoover Dam. We were barely out of Boulder City when the traffic came to a stand still. Since police in Virginia frown on riding the shoulder, or lane splitting, I spent a few minutes sitting in the traffic until a couple of Harleys with Nevada plates cruised on past me. Taking my cue, I shot up along the shoulder behind them.

Having seen Hoover Dam now, I'd have to say that, if you aren't planning to stay for the tour, it's not worth the hassle. Based on the traffic, it's also possibly the worst way imaginable to get to Arizona from Nevada. My wife and I hit the gift shop, took some pictures, and high tailed it out of there to find someplace a little less crowded. The rest of the ride was pretty nice. NV-166 and 167 along Lake Mead are a lot of fun, though I wasn't expecting the small toll to enter. We did have to take a pit stop for food, and to give my wife time to thaw her hands a little (it was 45F that day after all). NV-169/Valley of Fire Hwy, however, was a bit of a disappointment. The rock formations were beautiful. But there were just too many people pulling onto the road around every blind corner that we couldn't really enjoy it much.

Day 2 - 12/28 (350 miles. temperature: 26F - 55F. Altitude: 8668ft to -250ft)

Today was the ride I had been looking forward to since we planned this trip. After gorging ourselves at the Mandalay Bay breakfast buffet, I split off from my wife and our friend who came along for the Dick Cheese show to start my ride. The first destination was Mt. Charleston and NV-158. Anything that looked that twisty on Google Maps couldn't be a bad time, and my assumption was correct. In no time at all, I found myself more than 8000 ft above sea level, and the temperature had dropped to 26F. The view was absolutely beautiful, the roads were fun, and I hated finding myself heading back downhill on NV-156 so quickly. But Death Valley was waiting for me, and sundown comes quickly this time of year.

Next stop was bustling Beatty, Nevada for gas and food. I had hoped to find some real food there in Beatty, instead of settling for a small sub from the gas station there. But when you live your entire life on the east coast, you grow to expect people, as well as gas stations and restaurants, to be everywhere. From there, it was off to Death Valley.

The first thing I that really hit me when I got to Death Valley was how little there was there, and how far away I could see while still not really seeing anything. "Vacant" seems like an understatement, especially once I passed Furnace Creek Ranch and started riding down Badwater Rd. The other thing that caught me off guard was the salt pack in the middle of the valley. My first thought was "How in the hell is there snow out there when it's 55F?". Even when I got a closer look at it, it didn't really sink in that it was salt. It wasn't until I got home and looked around the internet that I learned what it really was.

After the winding, though somewhat bumpy, trek down Badwater Rd, the ride started straighting out quite a bit on the way back to Vegas. Not being one to pass up an opportunity like straight roads in the desert, I decided it was time to see just how fast I could get a K1200GT to go. It took three attempts before I got my comfort level up enough to really peak things out, and it turns out that 156mph is the fastest I could manage without a gravity assist. After that, all that was left was to fill up again in Pahrump, NV and then head back to the hotel.

Day 3 (244 miles. temperature: 45F - 55F)

Since I had to have the bike back to the dealer before they closed, this was another shorter day. If I had it to do over, I'd have just spent it back up at Mt. Charleston, but not for the reasons you might suspect. I had planned to take I-15 to I-215 and then head down to Searchlight. But, having completely missed the sign for 215, I decided to just go ahead and ride back and forth on NV-164 rather than double back. There's really not much to say about the first part of the ride. Aside from seeing so many joshua trees in one place, there wasn't much to see on the ride. There were a few things I would have liked to photograph. But, being the ADD wonder that I am, the battery for my camera was still in the charger back at the hotel.

I was surprised to see even less at the "towns" along this ride than I saw in Beatty, especially when I hit Nipton, and then Cima, with a low tank. By the time I hit the truck stop at I-15, after putzing at 45mph to conserve gas all the way from Cima, the estimated range on the bike had been flashing "0" at me for about 3 miles. When you live where I do, you sort of expect the find gas anywhere that rates being listed as a town on the map. Obviously, I have some things to unlearn if I plan to spend as much time riding around the continent as I do.

After I hit the interstate again, I was off to Jean, Nevada and Sandy Valley Road. I learned a couple more valuable lessons here. First lesson: Sandy Valley Road ROCKS! I could spend an entire day on here and not get bored. Second lesson: when I set up the route for the day, Google Maps was determed to make me double back through Vegas to get from point "E" on the route to point "F". If I had looked at the estimated travel time once I forced it through Sandy Valley, I might have guessed why. Since I didn't pay attention to that, I ended up learning how to take a K1200GT offroad for about 16 miles. I started out going pretty slowly because I thought the rock/gravel road would turn back to pavement after a few miles. Once I realized that I was wrong, I only had 10 miles left, so I just kept picking up the pace. By this point, I might as well have been on a GS. I was doing 35-40mph, standing on the pegs nearly the entire way, and the K1200GT just ate it up. I couldn't even find a mark on the fairing once I finally reached NV-160.

After this, I headed over to Red Rock Canyon to check out the scenery on my way back to the dealership. Despite the dust, and going over on mileage, they didn't charge me anything extra there. I think the only thing I could possibly think to complain about with them was that they didn't have any dealership t-shirts in stock at the time.