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Training Day: Lessons in the Desert

Training Day: Lessons in the Desert
Beating the Heat while looking Fear in the Face
If you’ve seen our four-part series Chasing Light, you’ll be familiar with the custom red and white air-cooled BMW G/S featured heavily in these Journals. Originally, multi-talented REV’IT! ambassador Gregor Halenda invited fellow bike builder and photographer Matias Corea along for the Chasing Light adventure. Matias is the man behind Myth Motors, and as such he’s the man behind that eye-catching custom R80G/S.

However, Matias had to tap out of that adventure at the last minute and call in a substitute. A broken ankle just before he was supposed to set off with Gregor and the others to chase the illustrious ‘magic hour’, threw a spanner in the works. 

Luckily, among his many talents, Gregor is also a skilled off-road riding teacher, taking on the challenge of reviving Matias’ confidence after he physically recovered from his injury. A perfect getaway, and another amazing adventure, out in the desert heat on the ragged and rugged border between California and Arizona.

Words by Gregor HalendaMan vs. Sand

Matias was nervous - he didn’t want to look me in the eye but I could feel his fear - the fear of sand. Sand is a succubus. It drains horsepower, energy, traction, and enthusiasm. What better way to face your fear than in the dry warmth of the Arizona desert for some one-on-one training?

Face your fears and they’re not scary anymore, but for Matias, who was recovering from a broken ankle earlier this summer, the fear was perhaps a bit more acute. So let’s back up to that broken ankle. 

Broken but not Deterred

Matias broke his ankle the day before we were to leave on an epic adventure ride through Eastern Oregon. Not only did it shake his confidence but it kept him off the bike for months. 

Not one to be deterred, he healed up and suggested we do a private lesson. I teach adventure riding technique and this was the perfect excuse to head someplace warm and build back that confidence he misplaced along the way.

Warming Up to the Desert

After considering Mexico, California, and Arizona, we settled on Yuma, AZ as a place that would offer the greatest variety of landscape to prepare Matias for his upcoming trip to Africa. REV'IT! sent us prototype Cayenne 2 outfits to test in the sizzling temperatures of the vast, empty landscape. Rugged, sparse, and unforgiving with morning temperatures in the low 40s (close to 0 degrees Celsius) and daytime highs near 100F (38C), Yuma was exactly what we wanted.

We set off in the morning chill wearing mid layers and shed them as we pulled off the highway to the unmarked 4-wheel-drive road. Dry and dusty, the double track snaked through rocky cactus-covered hills and deep gravel filled arroyos. Our goal: find balance and saguaro cactus. 

“Our goal: find balance and saguaro cactus.”
Core Skills

The two core skills to riding big bikes off-road are balance and traction, and we started with balance. Being active on the motorcycle; standing, moving, and using your weight to ride dynamically is best learned with stationary standing drills then a game of follow the leader. Through the dust, Matias watches as I stand on the foot pegs, pushing and pulling the bike to maintain balance. I see him in my mirror struggling, fighting, and then finding his center. Our pace is quick enough to keep his mind focused but not distracted by the speed. 

I want Matias to struggle but feel progress. Then I see him relax his motions; they become smooth. We’re learning. We stop for water in the sparse shade of a desert willow and Matias is smiling. Secrets are being unlocked and his confidence is growing. We’re having fun and riding our air cooled BMWs like they were the Dakar race bikes that inspired them. 

Finding Traction and a Flow

After the gravel washes and rocky Jeep trails, it was time to tackle the traction part of the equation. Glamis - one of the largest dunes in the southwest - is where Matias faces his sand dune nightmares but with the foundation of balance still fresh in his mind. The dunes present Matias with two opportunities - little traction or none at all so we drop our tire pressure and set off.

A few exhausting hours later, the flow of the dunes starts to make sense - dunes are horsepower traps and once you realize that and adjust your riding you can start to surf the rising and falling dunes like you would ocean waves. The thrill that Matias felt unlocking the secrets of sand was palpable. 

“The flow of the dunes starts to make sense.”
Bringing it all Together

With balance and traction in the bag, it was time to bring it all together. We found a steep, loose, and rocky Jeep trail that added fear by winding precariously along the top of a narrow ridge. My goal wasn’t to scare Matias but to focus him on the principles that we’d been working on and I knew Matias could ride this track, but he didn’t know that yet. It looked dangerous and consequential. We arrived at the start, drank deeply from our water bladders, and set off. 

The trail started easy enough but offered up a number of extremely steep climbs littered with small and large rocks, gravel, sand, steps, and gave absolutely no time to pause and think about any of it. Over the intercom I heard the doubt, “Gregor, no, I don’t think I can do this!” Two days earlier, he might have been right, but on this day Matias kept his eye on the prize, his balance neutral and his rear tire from spinning.

An Uphill Battle Turned Triumphant

As Matias’s BMW crested the top of the final climb, there was no one more surprised than him and absolutely no one happier. Matias had the determination but now he has the skills and with it the confidence.

Good luck in Africa, my friend! 

Words by Gregor Halenda

Meet Gregor, a quintessential modern-day renaissance man. Started out as a photojournalist, Gregor later expanded his skillset to bike building and instructing in off-road riding, and he makes an impressive pizza. Read more about his previous adventure by clicking the links below.

Chasing Light, a 4-PartAdventure Travel Video Series
Cayenne 2 Outfit
For High-Temperature Adventures