During our first attempt, last January, we came oh-so close to achieving our goal, but it slipped between our fingers as the sun sank low in the sky. We made several mistakes during the Plane Wreck Trek, an all-day dual-sport ride in Southern California’s Mojave Desert. Precious time was lost during an unscheduled visit to an aerospace museum, our route was much too long for the limited winter daylight and we got split up without having a plan to regroup. The Husky Memorial would have to wait for another day. (Read the full story here: The Game Plan (Or Lack Thereof).)
When I arrived home from the press launch for the 2013 Husqvarna TR650 Terra, an all-new, 50/50 dual-sport from a legendary company renowned for its dirt bikes, with a test bike in the back of a van, I knew it was the perfect machine on which to make another attempt to visit the “sacred site for desert riders.” To ensure a successful journey, we simplified our approach. Two riders instead of four, no unplanned stops and an earlier start time with a shorter route.
Conveniently, my riding and homebrewing buddy, Paul, lives just two blocks away. With clutches out at 6:30am, we braced ourselves for the 160-mile drone from coastal Ventura to Kramer Junction, a crossroads of two highways in the heart of the Mojave. Riding inland through the Santa Clara River Valley, the temperature dropped to a brisk 37 degrees; my hands ached from exposure and the chill sank deep into my bones. The Husqvarna TR650 Terra is a great platform, but in stock trim it lacks a windscreen, hand guards and heated grips. And, foolishly, I didn’t hook up my Gerbing’s heated gear. An hour into the ride, we stopped for gas and to thaw out. Next door was a Denny’s, which lured us in with the promise of hot coffee and fresh-off-the-griddle breakfast. Though unplanned, the stop revived us and allowed time for the mercury to notch upwards by a few degrees.
After gassing up in Kramer Junction, we rode less than a quarter mile north on U.S. 395 and turned onto a sandy, east-west powerline road. According to our GPS track, our northerly off-road route to the Husky Memorial was 21 miles long, a modest distance that would take us more than two hours to traverse. Paul and I had ridden in the Mojave Desert many times before, and we knew that the strange, barren landscape contained many challenges and curiosities, some of which show up in the blink of an eye. Countless tracks crisscross the desert, so staying on course requires vigilance. Soon enough, we were sweating in our helmets. We stopped to catch our breath, shed layers, open vents and slurp water from our hydration packs. It was a beautiful day, with white clouds scattered throughout the brilliant blue sky.
Back on the pegs with throttles twisted back, we bounced over soft, deep whoops, climbed up and over rocky hillsides and powered through seemingly endless sand washes. Sand is a fickle surface to ride across, one that requires a unique combination of determination and relaxation to conquer. After a bone-headed tumble into the tumbleweeds, I forced myself to breathe, to stay loose on the bars and let them flop around, to lean back and stay on the gas. Too little speed and the front wheel plows. Steer by weighting the pegs, not by turning the handlebar. Go with the flow, and have faith.
Eventually, the sand turned to small pebbles and the surface became more firm. In the lead, I spooked a rangy coyote as we entered a small canyon. During a photo stop, a small group of riders on 450cc dirt bikes roared toward us in a cloud of dust. “You’re almost there!” they exclaimed in encouragement. And true enough, within a few minutes the Husky Memorial came into view, just as a large group on big-bore KTMs braaaaaped their way toward us.
With the place to ourselves, Paul and I lowered our kickstands just outside of the memorial’s rock perimeter. With the wide-open desert all around us and sandy tracks approaching from all sides, the site of the Husky Memorial is well-chosen. What began as a memorial to one man, Jim Erickson, with his 1978 Husky 390 dirt bike buried up to its axles by his friends and family soon after his death in 1987, has evolved into a memorial to many men, some of them heart-achingly young, and at least one woman, all of them avid desert riders and racers.
All of the individual markers, most of which are set into concrete, are personalized, with engraved metal plaques bearing names, dates, nicknames and quotes, accompanied by helmets, boots, wheels, handlebars, fenders, pistons, shock springs, entire front ends of dirt bikes, tool boxes, metal sculptures, even a sword sunk into a stone that reads “RIP Shiney.” There’s a flagpole covered in stickers, from which flies a rusted metal American flag and a tattered fabric one. Beer cans, energy-drink cans, a glove that is forever flipping the bird. And off to the side, a good 50 feet away from the memorial, is a concrete bench, on the top of which is engraved the name of Rick Hobbs (May 24, 1941 – Feb. 17, 2009), along with an inspirational quote: “…rest and remember us, then get on the gas…”
We sat on that bench and ate beef jerky and army surplus rations as the wind whipped around us, the brand-new Husqvarna TR650 Terra and Paul’s BMW R1200GS near Erickson’s buried Husky 390. Neither Paul nor I know any of those honored at the Husky Memorial, but we were moved by the expressions of love and fraternity that are preserved there.
We had burned enough daylight, though, and we couldn’t afford another two hours or so to get back to pavement. On his Garmin zumo 550, Paul quickly plotted the fastest route back to U.S. 395, which took only 30 minutes to travel about 20 miles.
The Husky that I rode to the Husky Memorial is a capable, nimble mount. Weighing just 406 pounds fully fueled, with its 3.8 gallons of gas stored under the seat, the TR650 Terra is light and well-balanced, with a great chassis. Its liquid-cooled 652cc single, a tuned-up version of the engine found in the BMW G 650 GS, makes a claimed 58 horsepower, and provides snappy acceleration and plenty of power for technical trails as well as highway blasts. (Read our review of the 2013 Husqvarna TR650 Terra.)
For a list of names of folks honored at the Husky Memorial, as well as a map and directions to get there, visit the dedicated AMA District 37 webpage: thebannerisup.district37ama.org/places/husky-memorial.shtml