Rawhyde Adventure Academy


When you invest in something valuable like BMW GS 1200, the worse thing that you can do is not use it.  The next worse thing is not using it to its potential. I have ridden motorcycles all my life, but it was time for me to go back to basics.

While building out my bike, I discovered Black Dog Cycle Works. Kurt and Martha Forgét created Black Dog Cycle Works to feed their love of adventure riding. It’s this deep-seated passion that drives them to design and manufacture products of unparalleled ruggedness—including the ULTIMATE skid plate on the planet. With over 15 years of adventure riding and constant product development, Kurt and Martha have learned what works best, what will last, what will protect your bike—and most importantly, what will help get you home. They tirelessly punish their own machines—having broken, bent or destroyed more than their share of parts in their ongoing quest for perfection.

“Brad…now that we have put this fine armor on your bike, now it’s time for you to go out and learn how to ride the damn thing. Check out Jim Hyde at the Rawhyde Adventure Academy”, Kurt urged.

I did some research on Jim Hyde and come discover that he is a legend in adventure motorcycle training. Some spoke in hushed voices that he might be some type of Jedi Master.

This was a good sign.

The Rawhyde Academy is an outdoor self-contained training center in Castaic, California. There is a class for every level. Jim invited me to take the basic and the adventure courses, but this weekend they were going to try something they have never done before.  He was inviting adventure motorcycle journalists that were going to be joining us and testing Yamaha, BMW, Triumph and KTM bikes to see which one would perform the best in a real life situation.

“Hey Brad, I need you to bring something on your way to Castaic”

“Sure Jim…ice…beer…sandwiches…whatever you need.”

“I need you to meet a guy named Owen at BMW of Riverside. He’s got a package for me”, he replied. My mind was spinning. What was the package? Why was he sending me miles out of my way? And who is this guy, Owen?

As I arrived at BMW of Riverside, I was approached by a husky, blonde, long-haired man with a look in his eyes that spoke of madness or genius. He looked like a mix between Jerry Garcia and Harry Potter. Immediately, I was under his spell. I was in the presence of Owen Balduf, the #1 BMW GS salesman in the country. He was so powerful that you could walk into the shop to ask for directions and leave on a BMW. Jason Thomas, operations manager for BMW of Riverside brought out the secret package that I was sent to retrieve -- five more BMW adventure bikes. Let the adventure begin.

Rawhyde Academy is set up in a manner to make everyone successful under the watchful eyes of master instructors: Shawn Thomas, Famous Jake, Jason Houle and Dell.

Upon successful completion of the first course, I was welcomed to participate in The Next Step.

This program is designed for those who want to begin to expand the boundaries of their riding and travel beyond the realm of logging or forest roads. We would work with skills that will help the rider gain confidence for managing rougher trails. The goal is to reinforce the lessons of our introductory program, to increase the pace, and to equip the rider with a skill set such that they can overcome virtually any obstacle encountered on a round the world trip. This class would teach the rider a very complete toolbox of skills that would enable the rider to conquer any foreseeable challenge.

“You must practice in full immersion or the education will just fade away.” Jim opined as he shared his wisdom as teacher and adventurer.

So we packed up and headed on a 400-mile trip to Base Camp Alpha, a satellite facility at the gateway to Death Valley. This was where we were going to take all the skills we just learned in an educational type format and test them in a fully immersive real life environment. Jim invited the best journalists in the adventure bike world that included: RoseAnn Hanson, Overland Expo and theconstantapprentice.com; Stephen Gregory, videographer; Scott Brady, Overland Journal; Bruce Steever, Motorcycle Consumer News; Bart Madson, Motorcycle USA; Scott Breauxman, ADV Moto Magazine; Steven M. Green, Rider Magazine and Zack Courts, Motorcyclist magazine.

After the practical application of getting to Base Camp Alpha, Rawhyde had created The Expedition CV, the ultimate first adventure in the beautiful remote California southwest desert. This program is part expedition preparedness, part education and part vacation. It's a real life adventure, on a fully loaded motorcycle and it takes place in the ‘real world’ not the carefully crafted environment of their training school. To top the experience off… this is one cool trip as well.

Our first stop was Barker Ranch located inside Death Valley National Park. Initially, I was excited since my last name is Barker and maybe this could be the history of distant relatives. That vision turned dark when I found it was infamous due to its notorious association for the last holdout of Charles Manson and his family until their capture here in October 1969. This idyllic scene today doesn't testify to the horrific events that took place in Los Angeles miles and decades away. It was here that Charles Manson sought refuge, concealment and a place to launch his personal interpretation of Armageddon.

If the Manson Family weren’t scary enough, the trip through Goler wash would do the trick. It tested the very limit of our skills, endurance and the necessity for skid plates and other protective gear.

Further down the trail, we found an abandoned mining town call Ballarat. Named after the Australian gold camp by young Australian immigrant George Riggins, Ballarat was created in 1897 as a supply post when the Ratcliff Mine opened in Pleasant Canyon. By 1899 the town had 400-500 residents as well as a Wells Fargo Station, post office, school, jail, hotels and several saloons. After the mine closed down in 1905, Ballarat began to die. And when the post office closed in 1917, the town ceased to formally exist.

Near the town, we encountered a real oddity and a testament to obsessive-compulsive behavior. Thanks to miner, William ‘Burro’ Schmidt, a.k.a. the human mole, there is a strange tunnel that traverses 2,087 feet of solid rock up in Copper Mountain. What’s strange is that it doesn’t lead to anywhere special. It simply emerges on the high ledge, in the middle of nowhere. The only reason it exists is because he wanted it there.


Although he spent 32 years of his life single-handedly digging a half-mile long tunnel through a solid granite mountain, he never talked much about it. When questioned about his bizarre project, he simply replied that it was a shortcut. To where, no one really knows.

The great privilege of having an adventure bike is the ability to access remote locations unseen by most people.

One such amazing area was Titus Canyon. It is a deep, narrow gorge cut into the steep face of the Grapevine Mountains of the Mojave Desert, within Death Valley National Park in southeastern California and southwestern Nevada. The canyon features limestone rock formations, petro glyphs, and native plants and wildlife.

Another amazing geographical site was Striped Butte (originally named Curious Butte by prospector Hugh McCormack) in Butte Valley is one of the most beautiful, yet rarely visited natural wonders in Death Valley National Park.

If the great challenge and majestic beauty was not enough to satisfy, every day ended with a hot meal, cold beer and camaraderie around a campfire. We were treated to the musical storytelling of Evan Firstman. The emcee of the fire was born to do this as he could spin a yarn until the last beer was drained.

By the glow of the fire and crackle of the wood, Jim shared his last pearl of wisdom, “Brad, there is something primal about coming back from a day of adventuring and sharing stories around a fire that goes back thousands of years”.

As the fire dimmed, I picked the smoothest rock for a pillow and pondered the recent days events. I thought I knew everything I needed to know about riding. What I learned is that I will never stop learning. Every little skill I learned enhanced my adventure and may someday be the very thing that helps me survive.

I hope you have enjoyed reading the blog, but there is so much more that must be seen on the video – hyperlink video. You will see more of the following:

        Advanced skills available at the Rawhyde Academy

         More smashes and crashes and thrills and chills

         Access to the most amazing parts of America, unseen by most people

         Riders from all over the world coming together to have the time of their life

         Spontaneous acts of comedy and music

         Backcountry repairs on motorcycle when there are no shops and few tools

Everyone can be an adventurer and I encourage you to READ, WATCH and PARTICIPATE.

Read all the blogs and picture yourself in the action.

Watch all the videos to see what it would be like for you to be in an adventure yourself.

Participate by following us to see how you can possibly join us on a future adventure.


Right now, the next step to becoming an adventure rider is to watch this video [HERE]



Brad BarkerComment