Mt. Shasta dominates Northern California, so we spent three days poking around the surrounding forests and towns.
Sometimes the best things are right in your own backyard. We got a big slap in the face from one of our local landmarks as we toured around the area below Mt. Shasta’s snowy peak. For three days we tested a trio of adventure touring bikes in Northern California, just a couple hours away from the MotoUSA headquarters in Medford, Oregon. And in doing so, rediscovered what an amazing place we live in.
Mike and Mary Lingsch have only been at the ADV motorcycling business for a few years, but that doesn’t mean they’re new to adventuring. With years of experience as world-class skiers, sailors and mountain bikers, these two have packed more fun and excitement into their smallest digits than most do in their entire body. McCloud Dual-Sport Adventures jumped onto the national scene as a last-minute replacement for one of the AMA BMW National Adventure Riding Series events. A few years ago when one of the organizers dropped the ball, Mike jumped at the chance to fill in. He’s now joined the sanctioned series with five scheduled events each year, one per month from June through October, and is open for doing tours outside of the AMA format as well.
We needed a way to test our ADV bikes and a quick call to Mike ensured we’d be able to put them through the gauntlet with his two-day ride. The bike list contained a BMW R1200GS, Ducati Multistrada 1200 and Triumph Tiger 1050, so a street ride followed by mostly dirt with other like-minded riders sounded about right. We called in some hotel reservations, picked out some curvy backroads and headed south to meet up with the crew.
The saddlebags were packed and we hit the road early Friday morning with the intent of shooting most of our photos and video before the bikes got dirty. Heading north we tested the wind protection along Interstate 5 before cutting off toward the Pacific Coast. Once through Cave Junction, Grayback Road put the lean angles to test until we rendezvoused with the giant Sasquatch in Happy Camp. Fuel and lunch were in order before leaving for our next destination at Scott Bar. Everything was going according to plan until our photographer’s camera bag, bursting at the seams with expensive equipment, fell off the back of the BMW and passed me tumbling down the ditch. By the time I retrieved it and got things strapped down again, the rest of the team was way ahead – far enough that they decided to pull off for a quick dip in the river. We all stripped down to our trunks and cooled off in the fantastic swimming hole before getting back in the saddle.
We wanted some photos on top of Mt. Shasta with the late afternoon sun, so we bailed out from Fort Jones to I-5 again and made a beeline for the mountain. Our timing was impeccable and we soaked in the fading rays while the cameraman went to work. Unfortunately, it was too late to make the welcome dinner in McCloud, so we shacked up in Mt. Shasta City and grabbed a few margaritas at Casa Ramos to cap off an awesome ride.
Taking time to stop and enjoy the river made our first day more enjoyable. Ivan is the mascot at McCloud DSA.
The next morning we buzzed out of town and pulled into the Lingsch’s driveway by 8 a.m. Walking into the beautiful modern craftsman-style home, we were greeted simultaneously by a warm handshake from Mike’s wife, Mary, and the wagging tale and friendly tongue of company mascot, Ivan. We shared a quick introduction and tour of the custom home before converging in the kitchen. Our co-guides, Sig and Helli, chimed in with comments as we briefly went over the day’s route while munching on thick cut toast with almond butter and downed it with dark, steaming coffee. Having spoken with Mike several times by phone, it was obvious that he’s dying to show off the landscape. That was confirmed once he handed out a basic roll-chart for the Medicine Lake Loop. Only one spot was marked with a caution, but numerous vistas were labeled to give us a heads-up on photo opportunities.
Shortly before 9 a.m. we headed out, turning down forest road 31 which weaned us into dirt mode as it slowly degraded into broken pavement and patches of gravel. A quick regrouping to lower tire pressure helped ensure better handling as Helli offered suggestions for each bike. As a professional test/stunt rider for BMW, he easily qualified as the most experienced big-bike rider in the group. We came to learn that when Helli speaks, you listen! Just looking at his own R1200GS and it was obvious that this guy does more on his Beemer than most do with their enduro bikes. A motocross rear tire spooned on the front, unobtainable Dakar knobbies for the rear and tools strapped all over the bike were a pretty good indication that this guy is an adventure riding badass. Not to mention the massive survival knife strapped to his leg “in case he got in any trouble.”
Despite having a guide that could probably wrestle his bike to the top of Shasta and two others who knew every inch of the local road network, the ride was actually moderate. Easy, scenic roads took precedence over gnarly, bike-thrashing trails, which matched the capacity of our street-oriented trio very well. It was obvious that it mirrored Mike’s pace of life – taking time to stop and enjoy the natural beauty. At 65-years-young, the retired lifelong adventurer was content to lead or bring up the rear, often waving us by for some hard throttle twisting and never complaining when we dusted him out. But don’t worry, he’s anything but boring. Ever seen those Dos Equis beer commercials with the “world’s most interesting man?” Mike is about as close to that character as you’ll find. The guy is a world traveler who raced sailboats, helped pioneer freestyle skiing and cycled across multiple countries. He’s cultured, but drops an occasional F-bomb for the right amount of man-lingo.
We crossed the shallow but slippery Ash Creek, splashing through several times while our photog adjusted focus. Before heading out to Jack Rabbit Flat and the miraculous view of the mountain, we broke out Mike’s toolkit to adjust the handlebars and levers on the Ducati and Triumph. The British bike was nearly impossible to ride with a heavy emphasis on the front wheel and standing up was out of the question until we tweaked the controls. We still had to proceed with caution, but at least it was a little more tolerable.
Crossing Ash Creek was one of the more technical sections before stopping at Tennent. The Triumph Tiger 1050 was the most street-oriented of our trio, but we managed to get it set up tolerably for off-road.
Our crew dropped right down into Tennant where we caught back up to Sig. The guide had sprinted ahead in order to prepare a cool drink for us at his tiny home on the main street. Cold lemonade cleared our throats of dust as Sig filled us in on the details of the former logging town. Built in the 1920s, the hard-working men and women hauled roughly 3.5 billion board feet of lumber by train over 30 years. It once had a schoolhouse, market and even a hospital, but now it’s just a quiet, half-deserted community.
We cruised out of town for another 27 miles to lunch at Medicine Lake where Ray, Susan and Mary had laid out a spread of homemade chili, burgers and cool drinks. Thanks to our extra-slow pace (taking all those photos and video eats up time), we were over two hours late. Fortunately, they waited unfazed and were happy to reheat our meal. We made better time in the last half of the day and hit a long stretch of pavement to close things out. With tire pressure readjusted, we blazed back toward home with a quick stop at the impressive Middle Falls of the McCloud River. Apparently there is an upper and lower falls as well, but we opted to skip them for an opportunity to cruise through the actual town of McCloud before it got too late.
After almost 140 miles in the saddle we finally returned to the hotel for a quick shower and change of clothes. Originally, several other riders were signed up to join us, but for any number of reasons they all canceled. Our party of four was the only one left, and we soon realized that it was their loss and our gain. Because our group was so small, Mike and Mary hosted us at their home for a dinner of prime rib, yams, peas, rice, two green salads and rosemary bread followed by thick-crusted homemade pie. Rather than ride the 10 extra miles, Mike graciously offered to shuttle us in his truck so that we could enjoy a glass of wine or cold beer to its fullest. After dinner we watched video footage of the day’s ride and stayed a little longer than we probably should have. That’s what they get for making us feel at home.
Scorpion XDR Commander Jacket $340
Scorpion XDR Invasion Pants $170
Scorpion XDR Recon Gloves $86
Sidi Adventure Rain Boots $375
Shoei Hornet DS Helmet $486
Day 2 headed away from Mt. Shasta and focused on lava flows and the majestic Castle Crags formation. We toiled along the backroads that ran through Dunsmuir, proving there’s much more to this little town than we’d ever expected having only driven by on the freeway. As we headed into the forest, a small road jump let us get some air under the tires of our lumbering beasts, but we didn’t play around for too long in an effort to be on time for our meal.
Lunch was at a lakeside camping area that was comfortably devoid of other users. Again a wonderful spread of edibles filled our human fuel tanks and we left for our final stint in good spirits. Our track went from ridgeline vistas and a stop at a lookout to water crossings in the valleys below. Obsidian flows provided unique views before we looped around and caught the afternoon light back at Castle Crags. As much fun as we had, the weekend was running out and we all had to be back in the office Monday morning, so we made a quick farewell back in McCloud. It only takes a couple hours burning up the freeway to reach Medford, so we had just enough time to recount all the splendor witnessed in the past three days. Snaking pavement and versatile off-road routes showcased what this region has to offer. If anything it opened our eyes to how much we’ve underestimated this place over the years, naively driving past on the Interstate.
The Shasta area has an amazing amount of riding available, but we enjoyed the company as much as the scenery. We took the opportunity to chat with Mike at every opportunity and had him regale us with tales of his time as an Olympic athlete and world travels. Northern California is rugged and beautiful, but a ways away from sizeable populations. That probably explains the relatively small turnouts for the McCloud Dual-Sport Adventure events, but anyone who attends will be able to testify that it’s certainly no reason to stay away.