I did a 220-mile ride yesterday, running down 101 to 25 to Panoche Road, then catching Little Panoche and stopping at the entrance to Panoche Hills across from the Mercy Hot Springs. There I talked with a beekeeper who was just leaving the area after watering some hives. (It turns out that the big bee die-off seems to have been caused by low amounts of protein in the pollen the bees have been eating, so supplementing with high protien pollen patties has helped tremendously.)
The area's closed to vehicles until October because of fire hazards, but I've heard that it's a good place to go for some long-distance target shooting (1,000 yards or so). It takes about two hours to get there, but that's shorter than the trip up to the Sacramento Valley Shooting Center.
After a brief break to drink water, I continued on Little Panoche until it hit I-5. Going south on I-5, I went two exits to the Panoche Road exit and then got back on Panoche Road going west. For the first 14 miles it's a graded dirt road with some areas of fine silt and one slimy water crossing. I was still running street tires (Pirelli Scorpion MT 90/ATs) at street pressures so they didn't hook up real well, but I made it through with just a couple unintended slides and no crashes.
Shortly after Panoche becomes paved again is the Panoche Inn, where I stopped and rewarded myself with a $1 ice cream cone. (I didn't think you could get a hand-dipped cone for a buck anymore!) With some dessert in my belly I continued on Panoche back to 25 and then 101 to home.
It was a great ride that let me brush off my rusty skills, and a perfect example of why I love my KTM for the fun roads around here—patched and re-patched until they're as bumpy as a teenager's face, with edges collapsing or covered with falling rocks from above, occasionally turning to graded dirt or gravel. If I'd still been riding my Sprint ST I'd have turned around at the dirt and been beaten-up by the bumps, but the long suspension travel and offroad design of my 690 Enduro let me enjoy everything the roads threw at me.
I also got to use my new SPOT personal tracker. It worked like a charm mounted on the front of my seat, reporting my location every 10 minutes to a Google map that's password protected and shared with my wife. It gives us both peace of mind when I travel by myself.
Oh, and yes I did break down and get a new Arai XD3 helmet—this time in medium instead of small. It fits much better than my old XD, with none of the forehead pressure I'd get after wearing the old helmet for several hours. The redesigned beak also catches the wind less, so although it was never really a problem for me even at highway speeds, it is nice to feel less wind resistance. The helmet also seems quieter, and Arai finally has a factory solution for an anti-fog face shield—the Pinlock system.