Thursday : Arriving at Paradise ...
We arrived at the beach 2pm on Thursday (12/19). The blonde working the entrance station said; "Welcome to Paradise!" I smiled. It was a beautiful sunny day, about 70 degrees, ... yeap, definitely Paradise!
Huh, what's this? The NEW guide sez "Oceano Dunes State Vehicular Recreation Area". They renamed the place! The town of Pismo Beach is actually a couple of miles north. The Grand Ave. beach access is in Grover City. The Pier Ave. access is in Oceano. Hmmm, it will always be know as Pismo though ...
We "aired down" the truck & trailer tires to 15 psi and the big (80-90psi) RV tires down to 20 psi. The trick (#1) to driving on sand is flotation. With these low pressures, the contact patch is 2-3 times larger and the vehicles stay "on top" of the sand and don't plow. The arrival time was also "synced" with the afternoon low tide. This is necessary to easily drive an RV across the Arroyo Grande Creek crossing on the beach to reach the OHV & camping areas. At low tide, you can cross the creek far enough down (towards the ocean) to miss any of the low spots and steps associated with the creek where it cuts through the sand. Piece of cake ! As there isn't any "air" at the beach, I always bring my small 100-psi compressor from the garage for airing back up.
We passed only 3 other groups camped on the whole beach. :-) While heading further down, we saw a wild man on a big XRL power sliding & roosting up the beach towards us. It was Joel "Bonzai" Buck. He had beat us down here and was already playing. We spotted a good flat area just beyond marker sign #5 and circled the caravan a little further inland than the port-o-potties we had just passed. That is Pismo secret #2; setup camp at least as far away from the ocean as the P-o-Ps are located. The park service has these located just far enough inland than moderate storms + high tide won't drive the swells in this far. I mention these Pismo "secrets", but they are listed in the Oceano guide you get when you pay your entry fee. A number of the subsequent neighbors we had for the weekend didn't have a clue though ... but I'm getting ahead of myself.
After camp was set up and the dirtbikes unloaded, we attached the "flags" (orange triangle on an 8ft. skinny fiberglass pole) with tie-raps to the dirtbikes. These are required of ALL vehicles going into the dunes. It provides a little bit of visibility before cresting a dune so the guy heading up the other side at the same time will know about the impending head-on collision too! As the sand is pretty soft and there are no rocks or roots, we aired the dirtbike tires down to 8-14 psi to help them hookup and "plane out" on the sand at a lower speed. Played a little, watched a gorgeous sunset, & ate some of my wife's excellent homemade beef stew for dinner. The wind at night was out of the east, opposite of the normal daytime wind direction. Hmmm, might get cold tonight ...
Friday : the Flying-W Face-Plant (FWFP) Competition Begins !
Nature called just before sunrise, so I stepped outside ... WOW ! its COLD (for Pismo) at 38-40 F. Burrrrrrrrr, but the sky was clear and we were in for another day in Paradise(tm) ! The boys, Lee & Chris, had their dirtbike stuff on before we could get breakfast started. Lee (12) is Earl's son and rides an XR100, my son Chris (10) rides a brand new XR80. This was both of them's first Pismo trip on their bigger dirtbikes, and you could tell; both were stuck in different soft, low spots in their 1st 10 minutes out. The sand REQUIRES speed & aggressive use of the throttle. Timidness only gets you stuck, or in trouble. By mid-day, I had shed my jacket & sweatshirt to cool off in the nice 68 F ocean breeze.
Pismo rule #3: be very careful heading into the dunes from the beach. The windward side of the dunes slope upward very gently to nice round tops; but the back side (leeward) have steep slipfaces that range in height from 4 to over 100 ft.
We usually go into an area of dunes and circle it studying the terrain and slopes, and then ATTACK it til our ruts cause problems. Then we move into the next area and repeat. The ruts only last a few hours as the wind is constantly moving the sand around masking our tracks, but in the short term they give you fits trying to hold your line through a big arcing power slide. The sand is pretty soft & loose on top and doesn't clump; it could use a little rain.
The boys continued to ride on the beach & the easy dunes near camp as the MEN with big Sand Tires headed into the dunes. We hadn't gone a half-mile when Earl, the more distinguished (senior) elder in the gang, dove his KDX200 into a steep-walled bowl that was very soft at the bottom. It grabbed his front tire and stopped it NOW! Earl went over the bars with a classic flying-W stance and did his obligatory face-plant in the side of the bowl. He growled a bit and removed his helmet to get the sand out of it. Since his speed into it wasn't very high, I'd only score it a 7 or 8. 'Course Earl thought it should be a 10, but that honor was to be given later in the day to a more deserving individual.
It always takes me a couple of days in the sand to get use to it on my big XRL. Its a handful at low speeds, but that power (& the right rear tire) will get me up anything at Pismo I dare to climb. The only DP tire that works in the sand is the MT-21, but the rear really doesn't hook-up well til 3rd gear. This is true of most knobbies also. We have been using the Cheng Shin C703 "The Devastator" on the rear at Pismo with 8-12 psi. Its 6-ply design is stiff even at low pressures. Its WIDE open expanses between rows of knobs allow it to get a BIG bite in the sand & the knobs wrap way up on the sidewalls to help dig in the deep stuff. None of us had tried a paddle tire yet, but Chuck Sorensen would be down later with his YZ250 & a paddle tire.
Later in the afternoon we took the boys into the dunes & reminded them of the required riding techniques; i.e. WFO ! Lee has gotten quite confident & aggressive on his XR100 and was doing pretty well in the dunes. Chris, on the other hand, was timid with the throttle, didn't keep his momentum up, and was perpetually stuck; not a happy camper. I leaned the XRL against the backside of a dune, showed Chris how to get his bike un-stuck on the side of the dune he didn't make it up, & how to walk it back down to the bottom. He said he wanted to go back to the beach. I said SURE, but you have to get yourself & the bike out of here 1st ! He did, with some help.
As I rode back up to the top of a dune to see where everyone else was, I noticed Earl & Joel were playing in a deep bowl surrounded by 3 dunes. Joel was "cookin"; he'd blast up one side to near the top, hook a big sliding turn back into the bottom and then "fly" out the other side. On the 3rd or 4th pass I saw, he plowed the front tire in his turn; he and then the rear of his XRL were send over the handlebars. The bike had 1 tumbling impact before coming to rest up on the side, but Joel had 3 on his way back to the bottom. OUCH ! He was face down in the sand and not moving. Ohhhhh SHIT ! Earl & I got to him just as he was trying to get to his hands and knees and start breathing again. The 1st impact had knocked the wind out of him and he didn't remember anything after that. He rolled over on his back, wheezing and moaning. Since it looked like he was going to live, we told him that his FWFP was a definite 10 & rescued his upside-down XRL planted up on the side of the dune. By now Joel had sat up, took his helmet off, & was checking for broken bits. Although everything hurt, no definite breaks were discovered, so we eventually got him back on his bike & back to camp. Joel cringed in pain with every movement greater than a shallow breath. He laid down in his tent for the next couple of days. That evening we saw a few neighbors move in for the weekend, but the closest was about 1/8 mile up the beach.
Saturday : Surfing with the Fools ...
At 4:45 AM, we were busily dreaming away about Christmas, or naked wimmen for Christmas, or something; when all the sudden it sounded like a large noisy ATV was circling the RV. It stopped in front with its headlights on our window and we heard; "HELP ! HELP ! THE OCEAN IS WASHING MY FAMILY & CAR AWAY ! HELP !" Looking out the window towards the ocean, we could faintly see in the moonlight a minivan with a LONG trailer behind it sitting kinda low in the sand with the occasional wave breaking against 'em. Earl beat me to the door and told the guy about the emergency call-box up at sign marker #2, shut the door, & went back to bed. The ATV left. Since I was wide awake by now, I put some clothes on and walked down to the minivan. The ATV guy was in the next camp up the beach waking them to get some help; I talked to his wife. They had their 2 kids in the backseat and the little girl was quite frightened. They had driven in late (1am, near low tide) and decided to stay on the wet sand near the ocean til dawn & get some sleep. They were awakened about 4:30 by the incoming swells of the approaching high tide breaking against the van. Hubby got out and unloaded the ATVs from the trailer and tried to move further inland; but the van just buried itself to the frame and was stuck. He returned with some *help* from the next camp. As they worked furiously to get a tow strap in place to the Toyota 4x4, I reminded everyone of the need to dig out sand from in front of the van's tires and that the 4x4 should "air down" if they were going to have any chance of moving the van & trailer. They were in TOO big a hurry to deal with any suggestions. The 1st pull attempt failed as the van owner had evidently tied the tow strap to a brake-line bracket on the van and ripped it off. Now the only way to stop the van from spinning its wheels was to put the auto-trans. in neutral or park. The second attempt failed as the 4x4 started to dig itself in.
Although it was obvious to me by now that the tide was not going to rise far enough to actually sweep the stuck van into the ocean, they didn't believe it and SERIOUS panic was setting in. The little girl was crying loudly. As we carried the kids to higher ground the 4x4 owner had returned to camp and retrieved a couple more vehicles to help pull. As we unhooked the trailer, a 2wd toyota and a large ford 4x4 lined up side-by-side & tied their straps to the front of the van. For some reason the 2wd toyota tried to pull the van by itself and then he was stuck. With a large "crew" around now, they dug out the sand in front of the van tires and the ford was able to pull the van from its hole. He couldn't pull the van to safety though as the stuck 2wd_toy was in the way now. I walked back to the RV for something to drink & watched as the Ford pulled the toy, van, & finally the trailer to high ground.
The sun still wasn't up yet as a truck approached from the south. The driver was looking for some jumper cables to start his RV that was ALSO stuck in the pounding surf. Sheeeeesh ... what a morning ! ! I know we didn't have _every_ clueless idiot on the face of the earth with us, but they sure were WELL represented !
Matt Brockway & Pat Moriarty arrived after the morning high tide. Matt brought his XR600 & Pat had a brand_spankin'_new KX250. He was telling us about the "special" break-in he had just started the day before & that he was going to take it easy today. We gave him the hairy-eyeball & laughed. This was Pat's 1st trip to Pismo, or any dunes for that matter. Later when we took them into the dunes for the 1st time, Pat stayed with us for about 20 minutes ... & headed back to camp to let the new KX cool off <wimp!>.
Hans Koolhoven & son, Sammy, arrived after lunch. By late afternoon most everyone had at least one FWFP, but none were as spectacular as Joel's. He was stumbling around camp by now, but was NOT interested in riding again yet. His back and lower ribs were still quite tender. He was using the tried-n-true Drink-Beer method of injury recovery. =:o Harry Wong was supposed to have been down by morning also, so we figured he was going to be a no-show.
The weather had been perfect, but the storms we were hearing about in the bay area were finally going to reach us during the night. It sounded like a hurricane outside by 11pm. Around 3am, we awoke to sound of Joel starting his truck. Looking out the window with a flashlight, we could see Joel's tent _flat_ on the sand and flapping. The wind had broken the fiberglass poles and ripped the rainfly away. He managed to get himself & stuff thoroughly drenched & back into the truck. Poor Joel. :-(
Sunday: Super Sand & Suck-Holes ...
By sunrise, the clouds had cleared and Paradise had returned Big_Time(tm). There were HUGE swells breaking with the morning high tide and all of the local surfers were out in force. The RV south of us was in the surf AGAIN & trying to move to higher ground. The wind and rain coming out of the south during the night had completely changed the sand. Every moto-rut and footprint around camp was gone. The front of my trailer was buried. My truck had at least 6 inches (depth) of sand blown out from under it; except at the tires. It looked like it was on four little pedestals. The sand was blown into a new mini-dune behind the truck and across the side of Pat's new KX. He spent the rest of the day cleaning his precious new toy and wondering; "why me?" He desperately needed some of Joel's "remedies".
The best reward of the storm though was the moist, virgin sand everywhere for the Men with Big Toys to play in. It was shear HEAVEN ! Even Chris had a blast in the dunes with the improved traction. But alas, there was an evil side also. The soft, low spots that required momentum to cross before, were transformed into dark, sinister SUCK-HOLES ! I haven't ridden in quicksand, but these must have been some sort of strange genetically-altered clone. They were un-crossable at anything less than 45-50 mph & WFO. They'd SUCK your bike right out from under you. So, we learned quickly; stay CLEAR of the DARK low spots. Well, most of us anyway. One attacked Chris and his XR80, and then stripped Matt's XR from him as he got too close while coming to rescue Chris.
Chuck Sorensen arrived late morning and discovered TOO much traction with the moist sand & his paddle tire. He'd run a "course" 20-30 times til it was really chewed up & loose before his YZ250 would powerslide in it. But man could that YZ wheelie ! Chuck has been training out at King Kenny's ranch on XR100s to learn how to control slides better during his road racing. He took Lee's XR100 out to a flat area near camp and laid out a nice oval for us to play on. We had a ball on the kids' XRs while they were building this year's sand masterpiece down at the surf; a T-Rex lower jaw bone with TEETH--again.
Late that afternoon, we said goodbye to Joel, Hans, Sammy, Matt, & Pat as they all headed home.
Monday: AirTime & a Towing ...
Again we had a beautiful morning, big swells, & a surfing otter to entertain us during breakfast. Listened to the BoDeans doing "...and I'm falling for Paradise...". :-)
Earl picked up one of those disposable 35mm cameras to take into the dunes with us. As the boys rode together near camp; Earl, Chuck, & I headed into the dunes for some Air. We practiced on several slipfaces getting good air before Earl handed me the camera. I shot most of the roll from the top of a ridge they'd fly up & over.
Then it was my turn ! My first jump (in 2nd gear) had 3 ft. of height & a nice soft landing some 15 ft. away. "Wow, I can take that faster yet!" My remaining flights were in third gear and a little faster each time. I could finish off most of the landings with a nice rebound wheelie for the crowd (of two). YYYEEEEEEEHHAAAAAAWWW, I was stoked ! ! !
We continued this insane, addicting behavior on several table tops & other ridges til my deep landings got the best of my chain(oem,o-ring,3200mi.) Evidently, my rear tire was furrowing so far down in the soft sand on the landing that the chain was dragging through, & getting packed with, sand. The silly thing bounded up & BROKE !
Earl had a 15-ft. tow strap in his tool pouch, so he attached one end to his subframe in the back. I took the other end between my bar clamps, a couple wraps around the bars, and put the free end under my left hand. Moto towing is REALLY weird as the towee in sand. Earl had to spin his "Devastator" a bit to get & keep us moving. I'm glad we didn't have anything steep to go up to get back to the beach. To get out of his sand roost, I'd ride a bit to his right & lean right to help keep my balance. We were doing fine, til my front tire decided to deflect further right when crossing an angled rut. As I felt the front tire start to plow, I let go of the strap & instinctively grabbed a handful of throttle. But that only works if the motor is running & you have drive to the rear tire. WHOOPS ! Just before it hit the ground, I managed to leap off with a bit of forward momentum still. I took what seemed like 5-6 loooooong GIANT steps trying to keep my feet under me. I later realized that I stretched a groin muscle a bit, as it got tender that evening. Whoooooooa, is this a strange pain !
The Sand Center up at Pier Ave. had a new (el cheapo) chain & I was back in business. As the sun sank towards the ocean, Chuck loaded up & headed for home. We enjoyed our last <sniff> sunset at Pismo that evening.
Christmas Eve: Flying Kids & Going Home ...
Chris & Lee had really improved their sand skills with the larger dirtbikes on this trip. We went out for one last ride Tuesday morning with another disposable camera I picked up with the chain. Looking for a low ridge for the kids to play on, I came too close to the edge of a Suck-Hole & it promptly confiscated my XRL. I got off & proceeded to dig all the sand from in front of both tires & trampled a packed, arcing path in front of the bike. Twenty minutes later, I started it up & walked/powered it back to safety. Got my exercise for the day !
We found a nice long table-top ridge about 4-5 ft. high. The top was about 8 ft. across. We made a big loop jumping the ridge in both directions. As the kids became braver with their jumps, I pulled out the camera & cheered them on. They were getting 1-2 ft. of air over the top and almost clearing the table-top at their landings. I yelled at 'em "FASTER-FASTER!". I got some good shots of both until Lee landed once with his front tire pointed in a different direction than he was going. After a few tank-slappers, it pitched him over the bars. OUCH ! He was OK after catching his breath, but had seriously mangled the bars on his XR. We headed to camp and started <sniff> packing up.
Chris & I arrived home about 9:30pm to a frowning mom who thought we were getting home ENTIRELY too late. We told her that she should be thankful she hadn't received a phone call from us that afternoon about the river overflowing its bands & us not being able to leave the beach for another day or two ! ;-) Besides, we knew we got home before Santa arrived & that's all that mattered.
Another Amazing Adventure(tm) !
© 1996-97, M. R. Chaplin : catfish at endorphin-express dot com
Last update; 29 Aug 2005