Jim Hyde of RawHyde Adventures in California sat with nine Southern Adventist University outdoor leadership students, wondering if they could pull off this considerable venture his business had played an integral part in helping to make a reality.
These students had planned a six-day, 1,000-mile motorcycle expedition through Death Valley for March 5-10 as part of an adventure leadership class at Southern. But Hyde had veto power; a single “no” from the expert would put an end to months of hard work and planning for any individual he said was not ready to ride.
Having overcome numerous obstacles to get to the RawHyde Ranch, including planning a trip that normally takes two years to prepare in only two months, the students hoped their willing attitude and all they had learned in the class would be enough to impress Hyde.
“Hyde was worried because he has a business to run that depends on those bikes working smoothly,” said Tyler Morgan, junior outdoor leadership major at Southern. “When he’s going out with his usual clientele—typically seven-figure income professionals—if they trash a bike they just dip into their pockets and buy a new one. But with a bunch of college students, he isn’t going to get that.”
After a half-day of what the group called “testing,” Hyde was able to see how they handled the bikes and came away pleasantly surprised. Lucky for Hyde, he did not have to correct the bad habits common with traditional weekend riders, but was instead able to simply teach.
“They picked it up very quickly. Statistically, five out of ten people struggle to learn these skills,” Hyde said. “I wondered if their adaptability came from being accustomed to learning as students; their minds seemed so flexible.”
Hyde was so impressed that later that day he called Lance Thomas, a trainer at RawHyde who would guide the group through Death Valley, and asked him if he wanted to go on vacation; going so far as to tell Thomas that he was not going to have to worry much about taking care of this group!
On the first day of Adventure Leadership class, the instructor told the group their semester could go one of two ways: it could be an academic-type class where they would write lots of papers, or a class where they would plan an epic expedition that would enhance both their leadership skills and resume. They chose the latter.
What followed was two months of planning, delegating and facing the obstacles that came with preparing a big adventure in a short amount of time. It was through this planning that the group was able to learn what it really took to be outdoor leaders. They met twice a week to coordinate all aspects of the trip, and Jessie Ewing, junior outdoor ministry major, was selected class leader. She was put in charge of delegating tasks such as budgets, meal plans, risk management, and written proposals to BMW, RawHyde Adventures, and Southern’s Outdoor Leadership council.
With the help of Joy McKee, corporate foundation relations officer at Southern, the group obtained financial assistance from RawHyde Adventures and BMW Motorrad North America. The BMW Motorrad sponsorship paid for insurance to cover the students while biking; the RawHyde Adventure sponsorship included use of nine BMW GS Adventure motorcycles, on-site training, and a staff guide to accompany the group through the desert. These expenses would normally add up to more than $20,000.
While on the six-day trip, the group experienced adventures like riding through 70 mph wind gusts and camping in a sandstorm. Tyler even road a mile with a live mouse stuck inside his helmet! The highlight of the trip for many of them was Titus Canyon, a 27-mile steep and narrow dirt and gravel road that starts in Nevada and ends in Death Valley.
The group returned to the ranch with no injuries or bike wreckage. Out of a $2,000 budget they had set aside for damages, they only had to pay to replace a single headlight. This respect for the equipment was one of the things that impressed Hyde the most; enough so that he talked at length with the group about the possibility of internships.
One aspect of the trip for the Southern students was finding a balance between celebrating their own spiritual experiences and making others, like their hosts Thomas and Hyde, uncomfortable. Not everyone, after all, is accustomed to group prayers and corporate worship. This group varied in many ways from the typical motorcycle enthusiasts Hyde normally sees, and the class saw an opportunity there to highlight those differences and leave a good impression of Southern, and of God.
“We were able to show the employees of RawHyde the difference between college students who follow Christ and those who don't by concentrating on selfless service, positive attitudes, and upright living,” Tyler said.
And while that attitude of service was definitely one component of the spiritual experience gained by Southern students, members of the class also had their own introspective moments in the desert where God was at the forefront of their hearts and minds. While on the road, they prayed and celebrated Sabbath in a personal way that seemed fitting considering the desolate regions where they were traveling.
“On Sabbath we drove through country that was alive again—Death Valley had been so dead and brown—and seeing the colorful flowers and green grass reminded me how much God loves us and what he has waiting for us in heaven,” Jessie said. “When we get there, this whole earth will seem as dead and brown as Death Valley seemed to me during the trip.”
With the ride completed, the group spent most of their last day at RawHyde Ranch helping Hyde with projects would have taken him more than a week for him to do himself. They washed bikes, sanded floors in the new barn, taped moldings in the new kitchen, and built a new advanced-riding trail for the academy to use in training. Their host was astonished at the students’ strong work ethic.
“That was a great way to portray a Christ-like spirit,” said Sam Voigt, junior nursing and outdoor emergency services major. “We were willing to go above and beyond what was required of us to help someone out.”
Safely back at Southern, Outdoor Leadership faculty and staff are proud of this trip, and the class that made it all come together.
“The students stepped up to the plate,” said Doug Tilstra, director of Southern’s outdoor leadership and education programs. “By completing this considerable planning project, they have demonstrated the skills of competent outdoor professionals.”