By Paul Strubell of Dirt Orcas – 3/20/17

For the twenty fourth installment in our ongoing interview series here at Dirt Orcas, we are very happy to speak with Mark Sampson. You may know him as The Big Dog of Big Dog Adventures.

Mark is a very well traveled adventure motorcyclist. He is based out of Southern Illinois, but seems to regularly pop up in far off places like Alaska and Baja. He brings a relaxed style of adventure riding to his trips and as a result, he does an awful lot of riding in remarkable places.

Mark rides with Scott Stevenson of the 3 Step Hideaway often. You can see my interview with Scott here. They seem like a great team.

Being a fellow Midwesterner, I admire Mark’s ability to get to far off lands with “exciting” terrain with regularity. His secret is a personally customized, Ford 250 Transit Van that allows him to pack up a bike and head out to a remote destination at the drop of a hat. But don’t think Mark has gone soft. He still finds time to take rides the old fashion way and simply heads out on a bike from his home.

You can read about all of Mark’s adventures on his personal website, He has a huge amount of adventure riding information in his purview. If you prefer to read about his trips in a forum, you can search for BigDogAdventures on

He has a YouTube Channel that I really enjoy. I often use his videos and trip reports to help inform my own trip planning sessions. He can be found numerous times on Facebook and Instagram using the hashtag   #bigdogadventures as well. You’ll find most people use this hashtag to thank Mark for a great trip or recommendation.

Mark is a fantastic reminder that we all create the life we want to live and the barriers to living that life are just barriers that we alone are responsible for building.

Tell me about your bikes. What are they?

2008 Yamaha WR250R

2016 Honda Africa Twin

2016 KTM 350 EXCF

2014 KTM 690E

Did you name your bikes? What do you call them? 

I don’t have any names for my current bikes——–I’ve owned about 60 motorcycles over the years and only remember naming one—it was a 1969 Triumph which me and my wife got married on and went on our honeymoon on. It blew up after 45 miles on our honeymoon. We called it “Trump”.


Have you made any upgrades or changes to it?

I don’t really upgrade any bikes as I’m just an average rider. All I’ve ever done is ride motorcycles and I don’t have any other hobbies but still consider my riding skills average.

However the changes are extremely extensive as no bike comes set up like I want it and I’m sure none ever will. All my bikes get big gas tanks (I never carry gas), heated grips, GPS mount and power, steering stabilizers, tank bags, HDB handguards, Power port for charging the battery and plugging in an electric vest, Tail racks, Tail bags, soft luggage (I never use hard luggage), LED turn signals, LED auxiliary lights, different tires, Rekluse clutches on 2 of my bikes. My luggage is all soft stuff——–but varies greatly from bike to bike and gets real small and minimal on my 350EX for long camping trips such as Baja.

What do you consider to be your current job or goal? (I know you are retired but if you are leading or organizing rides we can discuss that here)

I do organize rides and have friends join me———-seems I’m always leading. I never organize large group rides——I much prefer riding alone or with 1 or 2 close friends.
I do join some others people organized rides—ones that you can ride alone or with a couple friends only though. Riding with a large group has always resulted in a disaster for me. I just don’t do it anymore.


What is your favorite part about it living off of your bike? 

When you retired like me and living off you bike—even for a short ride—what I like most is never having any mileage goals, maybe not even a destination, stopping and lollygagging as I please.
If I’m packing food I only have to surface to civilization once a day for gas——and stock up on supplies——–gas stations always have that.


What is your least favorite part about it? 

It’s really rare for me to get lonely——–but it happens with everybody. Always miss my family and home at some point.


How many miles have you put on your bikes? 

I used to put over 100,000 miles on bikes back when I was sport touring and riding fast and not seeing a dang thing.

Of course that is just the opposite for me now and I could care less about miles————-now riding off-road the huge miles don’t pile up even though I’m riding all the time.
Sometimes a big hard full day is only 150 miles or so. I do trade bikes every few years. My oldest bike I have now is my 2008 WR250R with about 70,000 miles on it. I did my longest bike ride ever on that bike (7,000 miles)—–Alaska and back mostly off-road—it was a  month long ride.

What is the best place you have taken it? Is there just one? 

In Idaho me, my buddies Rick and Dingweeds rode up to over 10,000 ft. to see the “Chinese Wall” in Idaho———–my most spectacular view I’ve ever seen. You don’t hear about people going up there—I think very few do.


Favorite road you’ve ridden? 

A route me and friends (Mobius Riders) rode in Utah that crosses the dirty devil river—it’s all off-road and so beautiful. It was an all-day ride Southeast of Hanksville, Utah.


In one word, what describes your approach to life? 



If you could give a person one piece of advice when thinking about living and traveling off of a vehicle, what would you tell them? 

Don’t pack 8 weeks of riding into a 4 week time frame and try to finish it.


It takes a special kind of person to recognize that the journey, not the destination, is the point of life. Travelers know this. Was there a point in your life where you became conscious that you were one of those people? 

Yes————–I now appreciate every inch of my ride each day———every inch———even across Kansas. My routes I lay out may or may not have destination at the end———–but if I did——-I don’t care if I get there.

You have found a strong place in the community of adventure riders. Do you see yourself as someone who gets more out of adventure riding by documenting your travels? 

I’ve been glad to share my rides. But what hardly anybody knows—–I only write and share about 1/20th of my rides. That is—one out of 20 rides.

If I did them all it would cut into my riding. I just don’t have time to do that.

And on the same note————I sure enjoy reading other people’s tales greatly. I think we all like that. It gives us all good ideas.

We can all learn a lot———and also learn what we don’t want to do.


What values do you think your job instilled in you that you take on the road and bring to your trips? 

I was a pipefitter/welder and worked on huge industrial piping projects—–most of the time I worked huge overtime hours but were short term. Kind of—–work 12 hours days for a month—–then take 2 months off. This opened a huge door for me as I could take huge long trips while not retired (yet) that most working guys just couldn’t do.


Do you see yourself as somebody who took a leap of faith to live in an unconventional way or do you think it kind of just happened? 

I remember way back when I had road bikes and dirt bikes (maybe 1982) ??? and was still racing. I was running my last lap in a local hare scramble race in which I won first place.

And I remember saying out loud in my helmet “man how boring is this—riding around in circles”. I never raced again and started dual sporting and adventure riding and in the process found I was bored with my previous riding and didn’t even know it. Life and riding was never the same for me and at the age of 65 I’m like a little kid and can hardly sleep at night thinking of riding to new places.


Where do you want to go next? (Geographically and career wise)

I’m so lucky to have great health—-that will keep me going———-my bucket list is endless.
I sometimes on rides get something off my bucket list that wasn’t even on it J

I just got back from Baja and saw a sign at a guy’s place that said “My Life Is Better Than Your Vacation”.

6 replies
  1. Marty Sampson
    Marty Sampson says:

    Bigdog is my father. He may consider himself an average rider but you can’t ride as many miles as he has and never get hurt without being great. When he was young he was fast too. I rarely ever passed him because if I did, I had no idea where we were going – but also he was damn hard to pass! Moreover, he has an iron butt and is tough as a railroad spike. That’s not how people think of him though. They don’t think of great, fast or tough, they think of his kindness. You cannot find a more kind gentle person to ride with. He is the best at one thing in life – fatherhood.

    • Dirt Orcas
      Dirt Orcas says:

      Thank you for the words Marty. I have only spoken with your father a few times but I can say this is accurate. Thank you for checking out the interview.

    • Jeff
      Jeff says:


      I have fairly recently had the pleasure of riding with your dad.

      As you wrote, his kindness is instantly evident and his willingness to help and share his knowledge is also quickly apparent.

      Those of us who have been inspired to get out and see the far away back roads of this country owe him a debt of gratitude.

      Now, if he would just add a few more bike builds to his blog, he’d have something. Ive lost count.

      P.S. your mom is an even kinder gem than the father unit.

  2. Lark Weidenhaft
    Lark Weidenhaft says:

    Great interview! Sounds like he’s living the dream! I first heard of him thru my son, Shane. We had both just bought Husqvarna Terra 650’s and he told me to check out his website, we both found a lot of valuable information there. Ride On, Big Dog!

  3. Steve Wasion
    Steve Wasion says:

    Hey Mark. We met today (Sunday) at the bike show. I have the KTM 390 Adv. I found my picture on your page, so I guess we’ve ridden together. 2012 Loosenut starting in Vincennes. I’m in the picture at the little cemetery on the hill where Steve planted the flag. 1999 DR350. I was wearing the same day glow yellow helmet that I wore today. Time to replace that hat!
    I had previously run a Loosenut ride with Steve’s son, and Steve’s daughter, Cate, recently joined us (wife and I) on the board of Tri-state a greyhound adoption group. Met her new baby yesterday.
    No doubt we’ve also met at Moonshine.


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