Man up for a motorcycle camping tour in Sequoia, Kings Canyon, Yosemite national parks

Man up for a motorcycle camping tour in Sequoia, Kings Canyon, Yosemite national parks
A four-day motorcycle trek in Sequoia, Kings Canyon and Yosemite national parks. (Steve Dubbeldam / Wilderness Collective)

"Saddle up, boys," the expedition leader said. "It's time to hit the trail."

The other dusty men and I, having warmed our boots by the campfire and filled our bellies with scrambled eggs and thick-cut bacon, stirred slowly in the chill mountain air. Then we were astride our mounts, tethered under the pines just above 7,000 feet in California's Western Sierra.


On our leader's signal, we slipped on knapsacks, helmets and gloves, and fired up our red and white Honda motorcycles — dual-purpose bikes capable of riding on the highway and off. The day's ride was 150 rugged miles of mostly dirt road and trail.

All of us had come to the mountains as paying guests of Steve Dubbeldam and his Wilderness Collective. We had started out as a team of 14 — nine riders, four guides and one man driving a four-wheel-drive support truck.

By nightfall, we would lose two men.

Motorcycle camping is in vogue, particularly among small groups of younger riders who carry nothing but bed rolls strapped to their bikes.

My experience was at the higher end of that spectrum. Wilderness Collective, like other motorcycle tour groups, offers a curated journey that includes great riding, good sightseeing and rider-to-rider bonding.

But the basics are primitive. We were carrying little more than the clothes on our backs. We stowed our sleeping bags and pads in the truck, which also transported all the food, water, fuel and tents. Otherwise, everything we needed for the four-day camping trip had to be carried in the narrow knapsacks Dubbeldam gave us at the start of the ride.

The four days would take us from just outside Visalia, into Sequoia National Park, across Kings Canyon National Park, into Sierra National Forest and finally Yosemite National Park.

We rode for an hour along a meandering river into the velvety foothills northeast of Visalia. The temperature dropped quickly as we gained altitude. Soon, we were at the first camp.

Dubbeldam left his associates, who would begin making camp and preparing dinner, and led the rest of us on a sunset ride.

It quickly turned tragic. One of the younger riders, charging too fast through the failing evening light, went down hard. X-rays would later reveal a spiral fracture to the leg, a broken arm and wrist, and a crushed hand. We were 10 miles from camp, and it was getting cold and dark.

It took half the night to get the injured man and his brother-in-law off the mountain to medical care in Visalia.

The next morning, sobered by the night's accident, we remaining riders set out for what would be three full days and more than 300 miles of our mountain route, almost entirely on dirt forest roads running hidden through the pines.

Our group would experience many more spills, as those new to off-road riding discovered what happens when man and machine meet mud, sand, hill climbs and stream crossings. None of the other falls was serious, but by the end of the journey, only two riders — I was lucky to be one of them — hadn't hit the dirt.

But if the riding was rugged, the lifestyle was not. The drink and food options were lavish — French toast, short ribs and pork belly BLTs — although we were sleeping in tents, deprived of proper bathrooms and — Dubbeldam insisted upon it, as a way to heighten the riding experience — cellphones and cameras.


The scenery was breathtaking, sometimes quite literally. We dropped from 9,000-foot ridgelines into 3,000-foot canyons, winding through forests of pine and sequoia, sometimes gaining and losing almost 20,000 feet in a day.

We swam in rivers and lakes under a 90-degree sun, and camped in forests where the temperatures dropped to the 40s. Along the way, the mindful hours watching the trail for ruts and potholes produced a pleasantly mindless calm.

It was a manly adventure. Dubbeldam adheres to a strict "no estrogen" policy, which he maintains on similar motorcycle adventures to the Grand Canyon as well as snowmobile trips in Alaska, horse treks in the Eastern Sierra and sailing voyages in the Channel Islands.

The testosterone may have contributed to a bit of motorcycle showing off, and the resulting falls, but it also encouraged family bonding.

Cameron, 29, was riding with his father, Jud, 56. Michael, 27, had come from the Midwest with his father and his uncle, Joel, 65, and David, 68, who had ridden dirt bikes in Baja California in the late 1960s and had hardly been off-road since.

On the last day, we emerged from the woods — mud-spattered, unshaven and rusticated — and entered Yosemite through a little-known back road near the Wawona Hotel. An hour later, we were sharing cigars and gaping at Half Dome from the Tunnel View overlook. The macho-manliness of the first three days was gone, replaced by hugs and high-fives.

Half the men were excited by thoughts of showers, soft beds and the opportunity to text or telephone their wives or girlfriends. The other half were wistful that the ride was over. I was in that half.

A guide to the ride, route and food of a Wilderness Collective motorcycle adventure in the Sierra

Wilderness Collective ( offers "adventures for guys who are too busy to plan adventures." The company's adventures, said founder Steve Dubbeldam, aim to "get guys out of their comfort zone so they can experience something epic." The Sequoia epic costs $2,500; the Grand Canyon, $3,000. Besides a rad experience, riders receive a lavish photo album and video.

The route

Over four days of riding, following an eccentric route, we rode from the town of Woodlake, past Hume Lake, through Grant Grove, across the Kern River, high above Bass Lake, through the town of Shaver Lake, and into Yosemite Valley.

Detours included a hike up Fresno Dome and a dip in Redinger Lake. Sometimes, they were an excuse for what Dubbeldam referred to as "an aquatic situation," which usually involved someone falling while fording a stream or crossing a mud hole.

The ride

Wilderness Collective has partnered with Honda Motorcycles, which supplies light CRF250Ls and heavier XR650Ls.

The nimble dual sport bikes — legal both off-road and on — were ideal for the mixed riding, which in a day could include backwoods highway, unpaved logging roads, rutted fire roads and rocky stream-bed crossings. Retailing at $4,999 and $6,690, respectively, the 250s and 650s proved easy to ride, reliable and trouble-free.

Riders with more dirt experience didn't necessarily stay upright longest. Rather, it was a question of age: The younger, friskier riders were more likely to go down than their stodgier, sturdier elders.

Other sponsors included the motorcycling equipment company Icon, which supplied riders with boots, helmets and gloves.

We were all also given little notebooks to "journal" our thoughts. A card in the notebooks said, "You're going to have a lot of time to think on this trip" and asked questions: "What surprised you about you on this trip? What's the one thing you want to start doing, stop doing and keep doing?"


I didn't see anyone writing in their notebook but me.

The food

Everything about the ride was rugged. Except the grub. The first night, we sat under a full moon, before a roaring camp fire, eating short ribs with polenta and a kale salad. The next day's breakfast was French toast, with French press coffee from Santa Cruz specialty roasters Verve.

Lunch was pork belly BLTs, prepared for us while we leapt from rocks into the icy waters of a mountain lake. That night, we had steaks and goat cheese-infused mashed potatoes. Each sunset by the fire featured a theme cocktail — Moscow mules one evening, Manhattans the next. The meals and libations were prepared by ace downtown Los Angeles chef Felix Barron, creator of the hip pop-ups Ktchn DTLA, Ktchn 105 and Ktchn DTSA.