When it comes to long-distance adventure, dirt riders typically envision endless roads, desolate spans and plenty of lonely time inside the helmet. Not that these are bad things, but an adventure motorcyclist is a solitary to a certain extent. But what if the off-road adventure doesn’t happen on two wheels? Side-by-sides are built specifically to carry a passenger, but so far as we’ve seen, most UTVs are viewed as work rigs, dune runners or camping companions. Why not long-distance adventure machines? Kawasaki calls its Teryx a Recreational Utility Vehicle (RUV) and what defines recreation better than a two-day caravan of journalists hell-bent on Sin City?
The beauty of a UTV is its ability to pack a bunch of gear. Carrying an extra fuel can on a motorcycle isn’t realistic, and an entire spare wheel/tire? Forget about it… But for the Teryx it’s child’s play. Seven stock 2011 Teryx UTVs were equipped with a five-gallon fuel can, a wheel and a rearview mirror to keep track of our posse. Rick Wallace, whom we all called Wally, served as our guide. As the proprietor of UTV aftermarket company Side X Side Outfitterz, he led the way in his own modified Teryx. Even though we all had the capacity for an extra passenger, only Wally carried our photographer and the sweep driver ran doubled up for support purposes. Everyone wants to make a trip to Vegas, but mostly we were anxious to see if seven stock UTVs would survive bashing across the California/Nevada state line.
Our band of nomads settled for the first night in the Northwoods Resort, a rustic hotel in Big Bear Lake, California which was to be the launching point for our expedition. A big dinner and a margarita should have put me right to sleep, but I was honestly too excited. The Sand Man barely had time to visit before I woke up, fully rested and raring to go. We couldn’t leave straight from the hotel so we shuttled out of town about 12 miles to where the Kawasaki semi-truck was already unloading. The last thing I did before putting the Teryx into Drive was turn on my phone’s GPS feature and plug into the 12V charger in order to keep track of our route.
Kawasaki had everything ready to roll in the morning and we enjoyed the high-elevation scenery before dropping into the desert.
Our first day was promised to provide the greatest variety of terrain, and it didn’t disappoint. Leaving Big Bear, we crossed our first mountain range at almost 7000 feet elevation before heading gradually downward into the desert. Being up high we witnessed the autumn colors while passing southeast through the San Bernardino National Forest. Wally eventually turned us northward and the bronze oaks were traded for an expansive forest of Joshua trees. Once we crossed Old Woman Springs Road (Hwy 247), it was up to the Johnson Valley sand dunes for an impromptu play session and photos. At some point we had to get underway in order to meet our lunch appointment, so the Kawi guys rounded us up like a bunch of school kids on the playground. Reluctant to leave, I pulled aside one of the other journalists to show him a hillclimb I had discovered down one of the dune fingers – just “real quick.” I warned him that the back side was super steep and it would require a touch of speed to crest the top without getting high-centered. I had been up it previously to scope out a line, but he hadn’t, and so I soon headed back to the waiting group to find a few guys to help tip the Sport model UTV off its skidplate. So much for real quick…
Top: Crawling through the technical sections was one the author’s personal highlights. King of the Hammers is an amazing event that has a UTV class. Above: The Horn is in the middle of nowhere.
We were soon picking our way through a rock-crawling race course known as the King of the Hammers. This is a unique race that connects multiple rock sections with fast, open desert. Competitors have to race from one to the next as well as through the technical stuff – a blend of two unique competitions. As it turns out, there’s a UTV class as well. This event is worth a story in itself, so if you have the time, head over to YouTube and start poking around – very cool stuff.
Kawasaki was providing a support crew to leapfrog its way to Vegas providing lunch and extra fuel as needed. The gang met us with a table full of sandwich makings and BBQ chicken at our predetermined location in the Mojave Desert. It just so happened to be the same spot where an off-road truck racing accident killed eight people back in August, and we rolled right past the memorial markers – a somber reminder of how dangerous the desert can be. Kawasaki’s Team Green Manager, Reid Nordin, was on hand to chat with as he was part of the crew who planned this entire trip, lending his knowledge of the area and prerunning the course.
Once our bellies and fuel cells were topped up, it was time for the trail again. One of the coolest points of interest along our first day was the Horn, also called the Mojave Desert Megaphone. This oddball piece of metal art is poised atop a rocky mountain, all alone and with no sign or signal of where it came from. With the caravan parked at the bottom, most of us hiked up for a closer look. Basically a metal tube, the Horn has welded rebar inside of it that make it seem like the crosshair of a scope, though what it points at I don’t know.
We passed quietly by the Slash X Ranch Café without any need for stopping in. However, with 44 acres of camping and outdoor seating available, it’s a popular dual sport destination for a cold brew and hot wings. We paralleled Hwy 247 north until splitting off to reach the final destination for the night. A quick check for oncoming traffic and we eased the Teryx machines across Lenwood Road and right into the parking lot of the Hampton Inn on the southwestern edge of Barstow. The odometer read exactly 90 miles. Unplugging the phone and downloading the GPS info revealed an average speed of 21.9 mph and a top speed of 47.8 mph, though the speedo was an indicated 52 across the dry lakebed.
Flat, smooth power line roads were numbing at times, but the lakebeds were another opportunity for top-speed.
That eight hour day was long, but the 11.5 hours it would take us to reach the gleaming streets of Las Vegas on Day 2 was an entirely different story. Leaving the hotel at 7 a.m. started off 240 miles of top-speed power line roads, throttle-busting sand washes and full-on rally-racing through small foothills. Our crew backtracked over 50 miles until heading east along the first of several long, straight and top-speed power line roads. The smashed foot pedal made the miles pass quickly, and we passed across Historic U.S. Hwy 66 and underneath Interstate 40. Just as we reached the boundary of the Mojave National Preserve, we cut back west across a white dry lakebed, careful to stay within the designated route that was marked all the way across until tying into Basin Road.
Our lunch stop was 105 miles from our cozy Hampton beds, right next to Interstate 15 which is the way most Southern Californians get to Las Vegas. Unfortunately, as we unplugged from the driver’s seat for awhile, I also unknowingly unplugged the phone and quit recording our track. Oh well, up until then we averaged 30 mph, which is no surprise considering all of our smooth power line roads. Our rapid pace continued after lunch, as did the stiff wind that we battled all morning.
The ride up and across Sandy Valley was relatively uneventful. During one of the slower sections, as we wound across another small mountain range, Wally suddenly slammed on his brakes, checking up the entire procession. I hopped out to see what the leaders were gesticulating about and discovered that I was parked on top of a desert tortoise, which only the lead driver would have seen in the dust. Backing up, I picked the little guy up and gently moved him off the path. I’ve heard you aren’t supposed to touch these animals, but figured the slight disruption was better than playing chicken with the remaining six Teryx.
Eventually we made it to Primm, just on the other side of the state border. A rendezvous with the support truck at Whiskey Pete’s Casino coincided with the setting sun, so we bailed out as quickly as possible to get the last 30 miles out of the way. Rubber gloves were donned to help block wind and extra layers added under jackets, but the desert night proved uncomfortably cold.
The Teryx models were all impressive in the way they handled every terrain the Mojave threw at us, but a manmade obstacle proved to be the most dangerous. Our group caught up to a pair of full-size pickup trucks working down the stony, narrow road. The first immediately pulled aside and let us pass, but the second decided he wanted to be difficult and romped the accelerator. Only Wally and I were able to stay close as the dust from our three vehicles was impenetrable – especially in the darkness. Chasing his taillights at speeds up to nearly 50 mph, the driver finally relented after multiple near crashes. The rest of the UTVs made it past as well, but only another mile or two and I heard one of Wally’s rear tires blow out. During the repair, that damn truck went by again, and sure enough we caught him within 20 minutes. This time there weren’t any dramatics and a few miles later we crested a small rise to the welcome site of Las Vegas glistening in the distance.
With the sun setting on our adventure, the long miles had us anxious for a hot shower and the comforts of LV.
We all stopped for photos before heading out again as our four-wheeled friend pulled in behind. Hoping this was the last of him, we took off down the trail. After leading unwaveringly across 300 miles of the toughest terrain, Wally finally showed his human side – or at least his GPS got buggered up. We had to backtrack, not bothering to wave at the truck, and followed the lead Teryx obediently as he chased the errant coordinate. Even when we lost sight of the city lights, the Luxor’s brilliant beam taunted us from behind the ridges. Our loop finally came around and within minutes we popped out at the waiting Kawi semi-truck. The journey, at least the dusty part, was over. After loading the rigs, a quick 10-mile shuttle landed us at the South Point Hotel, Casino and Spa. With 330 miles in the saddle, a hot shower and dinner was about all any of us wanted, despite the pre-trip hype for Vegas shenanigans.
Even though the first day was shorter, there was actually more to see and was the most fun for this driver. That said, busting out almost 12 hours at the wheel on Day 2 felt like an accomplishment as well. All told we suffered only one flat tire on the stock Teryx machines, plus the one on Wally’s decked out rig – an amazing testament to the 2011 Teryx. Even though we had a chase truck acting as a pit crew, it would have been entirely possible for us to be self-sufficient simply by hauling a few extra fuel cans and adequate food. Kawasaki was careful to plan our entire route along legal access roads, and there’s no reason why someone couldn’t duplicate the trip on their own. The only details to sort out would be the original shuttle out of Big Bear and the final one into Vegas, though I’m sure these could be avoided with different lodging arrangements. Our successful passing and the amount of ridiculous dusty grins at the end proved that UTVs aren’t just for milling around a weekend campsite or toiling away on the farm. They can be true adventure vehicles, and the Teryx with its powerful, reliable V-Twin and adjustable suspension was just the thing to prove it to us.