Feeling claustrophobic in the spanning void of the Mojave Desert is devastatingly ironic. Not so long ago, I would point out a distant peak as my destination and open the throttle in that direction, dodging Joshua trees and attacking whoops, single track, rocks, sand wash and any other geography that came between me and the approaching monolith that before had been merely a silhouette. Eventually, I would arrive atop Mother Nature’s grand podium to enjoy the magnificent view, the only limitation to reaching the next landmark on the horizon was fuel left in the tank. The desert was an open playground on the grandest of scales, where many of my favorite memories from youth to adulthood were lived.
Unfortunately, although the landscape remains the same, the environment has radically changed. These days in the Mojave, trail-closure signs outnumber cacti. Until recently, feeling the squeeze of restriction, I gave up my life-long passion of riding in the desert. It was not worth the heartache of seeing this desolate stretch of land closed to the only people in recent history who have enjoyed it. Not to mention the economic distress of the towns near these OHV areas that have been so visibly affected since trail use was restricted, with the majority of business boarded up.
Although this vast resource has been greatly diminished, I recently rediscovered the desert’s polarizing draw. Truth is, there is still heaps of fun to be had on two wheels. A large part of this I owe to my dirt-worthy KTM 500 EXC. In today’s restricted riding environment, a license plate is the key to freedom. Add a hearty powerplant to crush the wide-open fireroads linking the smaller OHV areas that remain intact, and paradise is once again open for business. For my riding partners and me, the combo of hitting whoops and single track and then lighting it up on big sweeping roads modeling ourselves after Mark Brelsford in On Any Sunday has become our new favorite outing. Rolling into town on knobbies for a refuel and snack is a bonus that gives us the ability to venture even farther outward.
Our circles continue to expand, as do the grins on our faces. Still, I feel a sharp sting riding past standout trails that now have a red sign marking their closure, or worse, an entire area fenced off to OHV use. That said, we are seeing places and spanning gaps we would not have had the ability to see on any other type of vehicle. The voice inside me keeps repeating, “This is way too much fun to be legal.” National forest to BLM to municipality, highway to byway to trail, we own it. Or, I should say, we share it with a select few. You are invited to join the party, and while you’re at it, let’s push the motorcycle manufacturers to make more agile, large-displacement and license-able dirt machines. The wilderness awaits.