I don’t know what I expected when I got the last-minute call to join some fellow women riders for the first-ever Dual Sport Summer event, but I certainly didn’t expect to test my very limits as a rider.
Babes in the Dirt have been running their famed big-group gatherings on both coasts now for several years. The formula traditionally has been taking over a big campground at an OHV park where hundreds of female dirt riders, from experienced to brand-new, gather to share the ride, take classes and party. The announcement of the Dual Sport Summer event had piqued my curiosity. A much higher price tag, elevated accommodations, and guided trail rides all signaled that Dual Sport Summer was a wholly new venture. Was this just a swankier version of the classic BITD event? Or was there something deeper happening here? I had to know, so I said yes and packed my bags for a long weekend in Big Bear, California.
Cozy wood cabins and Huskies? Sign me up! The Outpost has all of that Big Bear mountain charm.
Big Bear has long been a destination for most Southern Californians to experience summer and winter mountain fun within a two-hour trip from Los Angeles. While the tourism advertisements are dominated by happy families in fluffy snow on the ski slopes or kayaks along the peaceful lake waters, off-road enthusiasts know that Big Bear is home to some of the most challenging trails.
On the north shore of Big Bear Lake, the newly renovated Outpost was the perfect basecamp for our off-road riding adventures. The cabins effortlessly melded nostalgic summer camp vibes with modern decor and offered every amenity imaginable. Aside from the cabins, tent campsites were also available and filled in the gaps around the central fire pit hub. Every morning and evening, we all gathered in the center for delicious homemade meals, tall-tale sharing and camaraderie. Husqvarna Motorcycles were onsite, offering support, helping with mechanical issues, trailside assistance and more.
The 20-plus attendees of Dual Sport Summer were split up into three groups according to skill level. I opted for the advanced group, code named “Alpha,” as the description seemed to fit the bill for the type of riding I’ve been doing lately. As it turns out, all of the Alpha group was going to experience a transformation few had anticipated heading into the weekend.
Out on the Alpha trails
Day one of riding I woke up bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. With my day pack prepped, gas tank topped off and tire pressures quadruple checked, I was confident and ready to hit the trails. Our route for the day was ominously named “Devil’s Hole Loop” and we were warned in the rider’s meeting the first half of this ride would be a challenge with rocky technical sections.
Rushing the boulders on the Devil’s Hole Loop took a lot of exertion and patience.
Undeterred and spirits high, the Alpha group hit the fire roads and double-track leading to our first rocky encounter with plenty of zest. Our first rock garden was a good skill-check and a prelude for the “category five” boulder climb that was to follow. The terrain was a bit tougher than I had expected, but with trail leader Anya and the WLF Enduro crew to help with line choice, spotting, and the eventual bike lifting, the entire Alpha crew rode and cheered each other on through the boulder pass. It was an exhilarating experience. I had never gotten this physical on a bike before. Muscling and throttling my FE 250 up and over huge rocks was exhausting but the shouts of encouragement from the group was the fuel I needed to keep going. With the entire group through the category five boulder garden, we triumphantly rode to a nearby campground to enjoy our packed lunches in some shade.
What’s that, some more boulders? It’s safe to say the Big Bear trails are chock full of them.
Fully believing the hardest part of the trail was over and feeling refreshed from the lunch break, my cheery mood would soon meet its match in a sandy, rocky creek bed. It was slow and tough going, but emerging from the creek bed presented a whole new challenge — the skinniest off-camber single-track where one small slip would mean a long trip down into rocky ravines. The hairs on my neck were raised as I tip-toed this single-track. Sure, it was “easier” than the other obstacles of the day, but the difference here was that only a tiny mistake could have major consequences. I breathed a mighty sigh of relief when the tight-rope single-track gave way to regular trails and whooped and beeped the horn with joy when we pulled back into the Outpost to join the rest of the crew for some well deserved libations and laughs through the evening.
Day two I woke up bruised and sore, but with some peace of mind knowing today’s route was said to be the shorter and easier one. After meeting the challenges of yesterday’s ride, I was surely up for anything right? Some new riders had leveled up from the intermediate group, as well, so it was safe to say we would be taking it easy. The Little John Bull Trail was our destination, and while the official John Bull Trail is well regarded as one of the most difficult trails in San Bernardino, many friends I consulted agreed that the Little John Bull Trail would be fine for my skill set.
Some log jumping and rock dodging was on the schedule for day two at the BITD Dual Sport Summer event.
It turns out they were right, and the Alpha group made quick and easy work of what Little John Bull had to offer. Emboldened by this achievement, it was put up to a vote to the group during lunch if we should tackle the real John Bull Trail. The majority of the group was enthusiastic to take on the legendary trail. I had my reservations but bit my tongue. If they all had confidence to take John Bull by the horns, well, why shouldn’t I, too? Casting aside my fear and doubts, we mounted up to face off with one of Big Bear’s most difficult trails.
If you aren’t making it through this first chunky rock section of John Bull, it’s best you turn back!
We reached the trailhead section known as the “gateway.” For the 4×4 community, this beginning section of the John Bull Trail will determine if you and your rig has what it takes to complete the whole trail. One by one, we passed through the gateway and onward to the point of no return. The hill climb became steeper, the dirt turning into slippery moon dust, and the rocks jutted out menacingly and were easy momentum killers. The WLF Enduro team and trail leader Jolene Van Vugt bravely shepherded all the Alpha team up the massive climb.
Can you spot the “junk man” trail marker in this BITD Alpha group shot? He’s pretty well hidden!
After a group photo with the iconic “junk man” of the John Bull Trail, I couldn’t help but wonder, what is next? I had gotten wise now to the fact that our “easy day” had definitely taken a sharp turn in the opposite direction, but just how difficult would it get? Was I going to make it? Was I going to cave and need someone to ride my bike over difficult terrain, or beg to take the next available fire road home? I had entered the realm of doubt and self-pity, wondering what the heck I was doing here, and rolling up to the skree field of tailings rang the panic bells in my helmet loudly.
Looking like a miniature version of Carl’s Dinner from the world-famous Erzberg Rodeo, this rock slide of tailings shook me at my core. I had no business riding anything like this, I was sure of it. Yet I watched as each brave Alpha team rider plunged into the rocky field, and their determination inspired me. I might fall, I might fail, I might get hurt — but I was going to at least try. I started standing on my foot pegs but soon got jostled to my seat, feet dangling and dabbing as I kept motoring onward. I fell over multiple times, but Jolene and WLF Enduro were there to push me back up again. My throttle grew sticky from too many slams on the ground and I had to take extreme care in its modulation. In agonizing slow motion, I rolled over each and every sharp rock until I finally made it to the other side. Too tired to celebrate, I simply rested, but the gravity of the accomplishment would hit me later.
Our ride was not over. Transitioning from the John Bull Trail to the equally hard Gold Mountain Trail, we soldiered on to an extremely steep and loose rocky descent. The busy Saturday 4×4 traffic had finally caught up to us so we dodged trucks and boulders alike while skidding the rear tire down the mountain. Just when I thought I had finally found my breaking point, the trail abruptly ended with a glorious view of Big Bear Lake and the winding paved road home.
Completely spent after day two of the ride, I promptly parked my Husky and “recuperated” on the pavement for several minutes.
A moto metamorphosis
I had expected fun hang-outs, campfire shenanigans and some leisure dual-sport riding in the picturesque pines of Big Bear. While all of that was surely present at Dual Sport Summer, what I didn’t expect was such a transformation in my riding and mental state.
The Babes in the Dirt Dual Sport Summer event pushed me to my very limits, and then through them. I cannot recall a more poignant rite of passage in my riding, or maybe even in my life. I had overcome fears and battled terrain I once considered impossible. I faced self-doubt, self-pity, and rose above it. I got to share this journey with so many amazing riders and mentors from all walks of life, I feel equally proud of each and every one of them. The atmosphere of this event simultaneously created a safe but challenging environment, a paradox in the best way possible.
I’ve left this weekend with a new sense of self as a rider and a person. I better understand now what I am capable of when pushed past the comfort zone and that I’m hungry for more challenges in the near future. How deep does the Dual Sport Summer experience go? As far as you will dare.