Motorcycle Camping on a Honda CB500X and Husqvarna Norden 901
The following motorcycle camping trip story was part of Rider‘s adventure-themed November 2022 issue, which also included stories on the TransAmerica Trail, Trans Canada Adventure Trail, and the Trans Euro Trail.
Buried deep in my iPhone is a text message I sent to my riding buddies on Feb. 29, 2008 (lucky leap day, as it turns out):
I got the job!! I’m Rider’s new Road Test Editor! Woohoo!
I had just returned from my second interview with Mark Tuttle, Rider’s former editor-in-chief. We had met up for a motorcycle ride, and during lunch at a beachside cafe, he offered me the job.
Working full-time at a motorcycle magazine really has been a dream come true. It’s been an honor and a privilege to ride hundreds of new motorcycles and travel all over the world. But one of the most rewarding parts of my job has been getting to know fellow motorcycle enthusiasts who work in the industry – passionate, intelligent, talented individuals who have become not only trusted colleagues but true friends.
One of those friends is Kevin Wing. He’s one of the best motorcycle photographers in the business, and his work has been featured in Rider, Motorcyclist, Sport Rider, Cycle World, and other leading publications since the ’90s. Wing is responsible for countless inspiring covers and vivid images that bring this magazine to life, and he deserves way more credit for his contributions than we could ever give him.
Wing was the photographer on my first Rider photoshoot. A month into my new job, Tuttle asked me to photo model on the Buell XB12XT for the June 2008 cover feature. Wing was patient with my inexperience, coaching me on how to ride 2 feet off the back bumper of a minivan for tracking shots.
Wing is also a perfectionist. He’ll call for as many photo passes as it takes – sometimes dozens of them in a single corner – to get the lighting, focus, angle, and other details just right. On the Buell shoot, I struggled to do repeated U-turns on a steep, narrow road for the cover shot. When I blew it one time and ended up in the weeds, he snagged a few embarrassing frames of me trying to extricate myself.
If I’m honest, I’ve never felt like the “talent.” I’m a rider with middling skills who is always trying to compensate for a lifelong habit of cocking my head to the left, inspiring a few riding buddies to nickname me “iLean.” The real talent is the guy behind the camera.
Another industry veteran I’m proud to call my friend is Kevin Duke. He started out at Motorcyclist in the late ’90s and was an editor at Roadracing World and Motorcycle Consumer News before taking the helm as editor-in-chief at Motorcycle-USA.com and then Motorcycle.com. When the EIC position opened up at our sibling publication, Thunder Press (which became American Rider last May), I was stoked when Duke landed the job.
Over the years, I’ve attended dozens of press launches around the world with Duke. He was at my first press launch in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, in the spring of 2008, one that will forever live in infamy after one guy crashed (me), nearly every other journalist got a ticket, and one unlucky soul was hauled off in handcuffs. But that’s a longer story best told over a couple of beers…
In January 2013, Duke and I attended the global launch of the BMW R 1200 GS “water” Boxer in South Africa, an event that got cut short on the first day after a British motojournalist crashed and ultimately succumbed to his injuries.
Following the fatal incident, the mood at the launch was somber. We had a free day before our flight home, and Duke and I decided we needed to do something life-affirming. So we borrowed a BMW X1 and drove to Bloukrans Bridge, which, at 700 feet above the Bloukrans River, is the site of the world’s highest commercial bungee jump.
I was nervous during the entire two-hour drive there, hoping Duke would chicken out so I could do the same. But he never did, and we went through with it. The jump was two seconds of sheer terror followed by one of the most exhilarating experiences of my life.
The Motorcycle Camping Plan
Duke and I oversee a small editorial team as we work collaboratively on Rider and American Rider. Duke is a former racer and can wheelie anything on two wheels, but now that he runs an American V-Twin publication, his opportunities to ride bikes not made by Harley or Indian are limited.
“Hey Duke, we’re working on this adventure issue for Rider. How about you take the train up here to Ventura, and we’ll go for a ride? Bring your tent and sleeping bag.”
We both spend way too much time riding a desk chair, so he didn’t hesitate to accept my invitation. We had a pair of adventure bikes – a Honda CB500X and a Husqvarna Norden 901 – in the Rider garage, and we’d be joined by Wing on our Yamaha Tracer 9 GT long-termer.
2019 Honda CB500X | First Ride Review
2022 Husqvarna Norden 901 | Video Review
2021 Yamaha Tracer 9 GT | Long-Term Review
You know what they say about the best-laid plans. Duke missed his 6 a.m. train, pushing our departure back by two hours. Deadlines, a bum knee, and aftereffects of a Covid booster slowed down my last-minute packing, so by the time we hit the road it was noon.
First, the Ride
From my house, I can hit California Route 33 with a rock. It peels off U.S. Route 101 near the beach, and after winding through small hamlets like Casitas Springs and Oak View, Route 33 passes a biker hangout called the Deer Lodge and becomes one of the best motorcycling roads in Southern California, entering the wide-open spaces of Los Padres National Forest. I even wrote about the 33 in my cover letter when I applied to Rider back in 2008:
A motorcycling treasure sits in Rider’s backyard. The triple-crown of the Jacinto Reyes Scenic Byway (Route 33), Lockwood Valley Road, and Cerro Noroeste Road has it all: breathtaking vistas, peg-scraping switchbacks, fast sweepers, and top-gear straights.
Even better, these roads have minimal traffic, especially on a Tuesday. “The Kevins” and I have ridden together many times, and we enjoy a brisk pace. We pushed our bikes hard and gnawed the chicken strips down to gristle. And then, out of nowhere, we received an unexpected gift.
Covering about 25 desolate miles from its junction with Route 33 to the small community of Lake of the Woods, Lockwood Valley Road has suffered a long history of neglect. It was in rough shape when I first rode it 15 years ago, and over the years, it has only deteriorated further. One tricky section is a tangled knot of first-gear corners that go through narrow desert canyons and washes. On one of my first test rides through Lockwood Valley, I dumped a $20,000 BMW R 1200 HP2 Megamoto in a patch of sand that caught me off-guard, cracking one of the magnesium cylinder heads and nearly putting my dream job at risk.
As the Kevins and I turned onto Lockwood Valley Road, we saw that the top layer of pavement had been scraped off. A few miles later, we came upon the paving crew. And then … nirvana!
All the twists and turns that were such a challenge when the pavement was cracked, patched, potholed, and strewn with sand and rock-slide debris became a jet black, eerily smooth roller coaster like those plastic Hot Wheels tracks you could twist into acrobatic shapes and loops. We were gobsmacked.
The Actual Motorcycle Camping
An army marches on its stomach, and so does a crew on a photoshoot ride. We’re all remote workers these days, so rides like these give us a chance to see each other face-to-face and have some laughs. While we sat around a picnic table and scarfed down an XL combination pie at Mike’s Pizza, Duke revealed that Wing had also been the photographer on his first shoot – 25 years ago to the month. We commiserated about the recent heat wave, inquired about Duke’s and Wing’s kids, and discussed the length of my beard. By December, I should be eligible for a part-time gig as Santa.
We waddled out to the bikes rubbing our distended bellies, saddled up, and made our way through the alpine community of Pine Mountain Club before spiraling our way up Cerro Noroeste Road to the top of its namesake mountain. Cerro Noroeste is surrounded by the Chumash Wilderness, and sprawled across its 8,300-foot summit under the shade of enormous Jeffrey pines is Campo Alto Campground.
When my brother and I first camped at Campo Alto back in ’06, we had embraced our Tennessee heritage, bringing little more than a box of fried chicken, a bottle of Jack Daniel’s, and bed rolls tossed in the bed of my F-150. We’ve taken Rider staff camping trips to Campo Alto, so it seemed a fitting location for our most recent escape. A week after Labor Day on a Tuesday, it was deserted.
As the Kevins set up camp, I rode down to the general store in Pine Mountain Club and stocked up on beer, chips, sandwich fixin’s, and firewood. We soon had a toasty blaze going and cold cans of IPA in our hands. Heavy rains had spun off from Cyclone Kay and soaked the mountains only a day or two before, and the petrichor mixed with the smell of pine and wood smoke.
“Hard to believe we’re so close to home,” Wing said. “Feels like we’re a million miles away.”
We had ridden less than 100 miles since leaving Ventura, and it was probably half that to the campground as the crow flies. But we were on the top of a mountain surrounded by wilderness, and there was no one around but us.
After the sun went down, it dropped into the 40s, so we huddled close to the fire, sipped some 10-year-old Henry McKenna bourbon, and told war stories about press launches, photoshoots, close calls, and embarrassing moments. (Yes, I told the Gatlinburg story.)
Ours was an adventure with a little “a.” We didn’t do much preparation or planning, nothing went wrong, and we were back home in less than 36 hours. But we slept in tents under the stars, had fun, and asked, “Why don’t we do this more often?” Even a brief escape with good friends does wonders for the soul.
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