We've been trying to get on one of these tours for a couple years now so when our Off-Road Editor got the invite he packed his bags and headed for the nearest airport.
The two men in front of me are cool and collected, leaning easily on the crossbars of their 2008 KTM EXCs. In the immediate distance lies an expansive, colorless wasteland of crusted mud and featureless sand, the type of place only an OHV rider could appreciate. The man on the left is a sand-riding expert. In the not-so-distant past he was a national-caliber Dutch motocrosser, a man who claims Southwick is virtual hardpack compared to his everyday tracks in Holland. He also participated in the Dakar Rally as a mechanic, so he knows a thing or two about going fast in the sand. The man on the right, Scot Harden, a living off-road legend, Dakar racer and the man charged with getting me home safely. I'm trying to match the deliberate demeanor of these two desert rats, but the primary thought running through my head is "How the hell will I know where to go once these guys drop me?"
KTM Adventure Tours
is a joint operation between KTM North America and Harden Off-Road. Scot and his company are essentially contracted to design and operate the tours while KTM provides the equipment and support requirements. I attended the last of four Anza Borrego SX Adventure Tours and I'll tell you right now that it was unbelievable. But don't despair, you can still hook up with Scot and his crew through a number of other options. For 2008, the operation not only offered the Anza Borrego/SX tours, but 12 Mojave Trail tours, 10 Mammoth Mountain High Sierra trips, five Mike Lafferty Enduro School sessions, three Las Vegas SX/EnduroCross tours, two European expeditions in Tuscany and Elba Island and a partridge in a pear tree. All told, there are only 18 weeks out of the entire year that don't have a tour scheduled.
The best way to get better as a rider, in my opinion, is to ride with people who are faster and more talented than you. When I got the call from KTM Adventure Tours with an invitation to participate in one of their Supercross packages there was no doubt that I would be following superior talent. Led by Harden, the three-day ride through Southern California would carry us out of Harden's backyard in Temecula, into the Anza Borrego Desert State Part, around the famed Ocotillo Wells Vehicular Recreation area and into San Diego for the sixth round of Monster Energy AMA Supercross in San Diego.
Everyone was wearing smiles at the first shared meal and they would last until our final dining experience. Left to right: Stijn, Eric (not riding), Tom, Steve, Scot Harden, JC and Jeff.
The format for these tours is fairly simple in terms of preparation, travel schedule and riding - just do what you're told. The tours are all-inclusive which means as long as you can get yourself and a packed gearbag to the rendezvous at KTM headquarters, the rest is as simple as following directions. Getting to the KTM headquarters is the hardest part, but a quick visit to Travelocity will get your flights in order. Tour Coordinator, Tiffany Clark, makes the rest easy by sending out a detailed list of the what, when and where, and what you will need to be prepared. The Anza Borrego SX tour will set you back $2395, but before you write it off, consider everything that you get from the deal: your choice of immaculately prepped 2008 KTM 450 or 530 EXC-R and hands-off maintenance from a factory mechanic at every checkpoint, world-class tour guide, terrific accommodations for food and four nights lodging, three days of riding, a pit pass and VIP access to Red Bull at the Supercross and a ticket to the race. The hard parts alone are worth the pricetag, but it's those intangible things that really give KTM Adventure Tours their value.
Scot does his best to keep the riding as fun and challenging for everyone involved. By limiting the number of riders to 10 for the SX tours, Scot is able to separate into two groups which generally gets riders pretty close to where they want to be in terms of speed and technical requirements for their skill level. In our case, we were able to leave from the hotel on Thursday morning and convene at Scot's home where the bikes and support truck were waiting. The other benefit of starting at his personal residence is the grass-track loop that's set up in his backyard. Ten minutes on the winding circuit under Scot's watchful eye was enough to give him an idea of who should be in the advanced or less-advanced group. Scot would take the "A" group while his son, Brent, our secondary guide, would be leading the "B" group.
After flying into the Ontario International Airport throughout Wednesday, the five riders in our group were shuttled off to our respective hotel rooms to relax and hang out until dinner. We converged on a busy steakhouse for some wicked grub and to listen as Scot laid out the general plan for the rest of the week. A round of introductions proved our crew amiable, and we were all anxious to get started bright and early with our little moto try-outs in the morning.