TRANS-AMERICA TRAIL OVERVIEW
Last year during my planned hike across Nevada, I came to the conclusion that I know I can hike. Furthermore, I was able to recognize that I will continue to know how to hike regardless of whether or not I undertake a multi-month jaunt each year. That conclusion might not seem to be a big deal, but it was an epiphany of sorts for my myopic outlook. Strangely I felt kind of obligated to hike each fall season…maybe due to my identity with my business, or possibly because some humans have a tendency to repeat what they are good at doing…thus rarely stepping beyond the comfy confines of routine and expectation. Anyway, I had a few other things ideas brewing in my head for some time and I decided that in 2007, I’d pursue something entirely new.
Sailing was first on my list. However, after a few days of puking all over a very nice sailboat of a friend off the coast of California, and recognizing that the practicalities of learning to sail without an ocean nearby would be difficult, I decided upon Option #2 for the annual Fall trip in 2007.
I’ve been intrigued with motorbikes for some time as they seem a practical tool to get around efficiently, and allow greater accessibility to remote corners of landscapes that would otherwise be impractical to drive, bicycle, or walk to. In addition, I’ve been told that women like motorbikes (and possibly those that are riding them), so that seemed a reasonable benefit of motorcycle ownership in addition to the endless excursions one could plan while atop such a machine. So far no chicks, but plenty of day long rides rediscovering the local landscape that I thought I knew well before becoming ‘motorized.’
Before getting too carried away and thinking of distant landscapes, cultures, and possibilities, I decided to enroll in a Motorcycle Safety Foundation course, find a suitable bike, and research possible routes for my initial foray into the motorized world. For new moto-riders, I would highly encourage enrolling in an MSF Course. Despite being intrigued with motorbikes, I was (and still am to some degree) quite intimidated by the thought of riding one. Furthermore, there is a huge difference between riding a motorcycle and riding one safely, in control, and with confidence.
Anyway, MSF course complete, a bike bought, I started to think of ideas for my upcoming moto-excursion.
I happily cyber-stumbled across the Trans-America Trail and decided that I would focus my attention to attempt the route as my introduction to backcountry motorcycle touring.
In brief, the Trans-America Trail (TAT) is the end result of one man’s tireless pursuit of a non-traditional motorcycle route across the United States. The TAT starts in Jellicoe, Tennessee and heads eastward. Ten states and ~4,800 miles later the TAT finds its western terminus at Port Orford, Oregon and the surf of the Pacific Ocean.
Although portions of the route get paved each year, the majority of riding (~90%) is along non-paved surfaces such as dirt roads, gravel roads, jeep roads, forest roads and farm roads. Occasionally the TAT drops down into dried-up creek beds or follows abandoned railroad grades. Amazingly, the entire route is on public land which is a happy surprise to a jaded, elitist westerner such as me.
The plan is to start riding westward in the third week of August. The only time constraint is needing to rendezvous at Lake Tahoe, CA to take a week off to hike the Tahoe Rim Trail with a few friends. That leaves me a month to ride ~4,200 miles. 140 miles per day might not seem like much with a motor between your legs, but I am anticipating that I will be earning everyone one of those miles as well as being interested in taking the time to meet people and experience the sites along the way. Although I do have a schedule of sorts, safety and travel experiences along the way will not be compromised to stay ‘on schedule.’
After completing the Tahoe Rim Trail, I’ll jump back on the bike and finish off the remaining ~600 miles to the Pacific Ocean.
On the grand scale of backcountry motorcycle touring, one bike company seems to consistently prove its reliability and worth during epic adventures all around the globe. Bavarian Motor Works, or BMW, was my initial choice when I began the research for a motorbike. Maybe my initial bias pre-determined the outcome, but after a few months of reading, dealer visits, and online forum chat I decided upon a BMW 650 GS as my bike of choice. Admittedly the bike is big (meaning heavy) for the terrain of the TAT, but it gives me greater flexibility for future excursions (should there be any) as well as many safety features which I was drawn to.
Fortunately there are lots and lots of people out there that think motorcycling is something they want to do and have the money to spend on a brand new BMW.
In addition, there are also lots and lots of people that have bought such machines only to watch them grow dusty and depreciate in their garage. Just my luck! I found my ’05 650 GS (via craigslist.org) in Prescott, AZ for a very reasonable price.
I’ve outfitted the bike with additional equipment to offset the inevitable wear and tear on the mechanical aspects of such a trip. Seeing as how I am not too mechanical, my intent in doing so was to reduce the possibility of having to impersonate a mechanic during my time on the TAT.
Many BMW’s you see set-up for ‘Adventure Touring’ are even larger than my bike….typically the 1100 or 1200 GS. Those bikes are HUGE and would be terribly impractical for my trip. In addition, my ego would be considerably bruised if I rode a bike that I could not lift back up should it tip-over.
The most obvious concern is overall safety. Challenges include mental and physical fatigue, mechanic failures, environmental considerations (humidity! rain! chiggers!), navigation, overall lack of moto-skill, and quite possibly the most daunting…Monkey Butt.
If a hiker’s most important consideration for success is their ability to keep their feet happy, a motorbike rider’s greatest concern is most definitely their ass. If the ass ain’t happy, than you ain’t happy. Plain and simple. I am still experimenting with MBA’s (Monkey Butt Abatements) and am hoping to have a solid solution before I start.
Like my hiking journals I’ve posted in the past, I’ll be relying on my Pocketmail and transmitting through Pay Phones along the route to post data on the website. Unlike hiking, I anticipate being able to update the journals more frequently as I’ll likely be in a town each day…or at least every other day. Click the “MOST RECENT ENTRY ” at the top of this page and you will be conveniently directed to my most recent post.
Thank you for reading!
August 23: Jellico, TN
Arrived in Knoxville this morning and motored up to Jellico and the beginning of the Trans America Trail along Hwy 25, which was a shady, winding road along a creek. The humidity is brutal, but as long as I am on the bike and moving the temps are bearable. 96 today with humidity to match.
Anyway, ready to go although I am quite anxious…a few butterflies in my gut..which I have not really felt in the past few years. The humility of knowing that I really no idea what I am doing despite adequate planning is also worth mentioning. Regardless of my ignorance, I’ll soldier on and just try to remain open to the lessons which I’ll learn. Beginners mind re-visited.
The only bad news is that I blew out a fork seal on the journey out to Jellico. I’ve made arrangements to get repaired in Nashville on Tuesday of the coming week, so a slight detour from the TAT in the next few days before returning.
Alright…let’s get started.
All in all a fine first half day on the Trans America Trail. The majority of the route was disappointingly paved, but it was nice to make some easy miles and get familiar with the handling of a loaded bike. I rode ~90 miles in ~5 hrs with stops for lunch and dinner in small towns along the route.
I did get mixed up a few times…slight difficulty with the mutli-tasking of riding, navigating, and sightseeing. This activity is a bit more dynamic than the routine plodding of hiking.
I stopped at a primitive campground for the evening…tempted (and refreshed!) by a large swimming hole close by along the banks of the Obed Wild and Scenic River.
The campground is void of people, but highly populated by mosquitoes, fireflies, and incredibly large spiders in the outhouses.
The forest is quite noisy compared to the relative quiet of western forests — lots of chirping and whirring from the local insects. A nice change in some regard, but I’ll likely opt for earplugs.
A decent nights rest and I was back on the bike by 8 am. A few visits from non-camping locals made for a interesting evening…trying to decipher the local dialect is hard enough…adding apparent rage and drunken slur to the speak made it damn near impossible to eaves drop, or to get any sense when I may be attacked. Knowing I was powerless either way, I just shoved the earplugs in deeper and went to sleep.
The riding this morning (~100 miles) has been mostly rolling terrain through pastoral landscapes…pretty barns, grazing animals, and a combination of paved and dirt\gravel surfaces. Not much in the way of vistas, but an occasion clearing at occasion highpoints made for some decent views. The beauty here is more in detail, rather than in large scale magnificence. Probably a debatable point when the leaves change color, but as of today, accurate I’d say.
Riding through the Catoosa Wildlife Management Area was a highlight. Great gravel roads, a variety of terrain, and a few deer and wild turkeys.
I stopped at a few cemeteries today…it seems there is one every ~20 miles (along with Baptist churches)…some with typical ornamentation and others overgrown with unmarked sandstone slabs as headstones. All interesting and all with scenic vistas which I am sure the dead appreciate. From what I’ve been able to read, 1842 has been the oldest.
Another observance has been the myriad yard signs with religious themes which are common yard decor for the locals. The most popular I’ve seen include: the 10 Commandments listed in an eye-catching purple, “Jesus is coming! Are you ready?”, as well as (and my favorite) “Abstain from Evil!”.
I took a midmorning break at a river crossing beneath the welcome shade of sycamore, pine, and oak. The riverbed itself was flat and slabby with a few pouroffs and pools of warm water. It reminded me a bit of southern utah, although it was flanked by thick vegetation instead of sandstone cliffs, and was crossed via a graffiti covered bridge. Still scenic in its own right.
I eventually motored into Sparta, TN and enjoyed a fine fried fish (with hush puppies!) lunch special at Kitty’s Cajun Kitchen. Interestingly, outside of the restaurant were “disaster pods” for sale. The pods were giant ABS plastic spheres that were accessed by a ladder and were large enough for a family of four…and no doubt sturdy enough to withstand the coming apocolypse.
Although tempted to inquire just to get the sales pitch, I motored on. The temps today have been brutal. I hit the wall around 2 pm…just no energy, and no concentration. Since I only need to be in Nashville by Monday night (for that fork seal repair on Tuesday), I decided to camp early at Rock Island State Park. A dam was built in the 19-teens and created Great Falls Resevoir (in the West we have a tendency to call them `lakes’) and consequently 120 miles of shoreline and thus an early recreational mecca of the Tennessee Valley Authority.
The dam is just upriver from a stunning natural waterfall and the water that the dam releases cascades through ledgy, layered strata creating a long corridor of idyllic swimming holes…and a perfect place to get my brain and body cooled back down to reasonably operating temperatures.
Two days on the road and two fantastic swimming holes to finish off each day…you can’t argue with that. Camp tonight is in the `primitive’ portion of the campground. From past experiences I knew that `primitive’ typically translates to `neglected’ in state and national parks. So the hard, tent stake impervious ground, wobbly picnic table, trash filled fire ring were not a letdown. Happily, the bathrooms were clean and the showers hot.
A group of Vanderbuilt University freshman are also camped here tonight as part of their freshman orientation course. A few of them wandered over to have a look at the bike. They wished me safe travels and I reminded them to “Abstain from Evil” during the next 4 yrs of college…Rain has started.
After a wet night I loaded the bike up and set off in the cool morning through farm fields and along creek ways.
Moisture usually makes the true scent of a landscape obvious…like sage or alfalfa in the west. Tennessee simply smells like earth…a subtle fragrance of tilled soil and vegetative compost. Kinda musty and heavy, but oddly refreshing.
The morning buzzed by pretty quick as the miles came easy. I’ve got my trifecta of skillz (navigation, riding, and sightseeing) a bit more refined, but the disappointing fact that 95% of the terrain I’ve ridden has been paved and signed certainly makes things easier to coordinate.
About mid morning I was riding along side a creek beneath the shady arms of sycamore when I noticed a clearing and a bunch of horses, carriages, and folks dressed up in old school English garb. Turns out it was a weekend competitive rendezvous of the “American Driving Society”. No doubt being judged based upon their riding, style, how tight the creases in their woolen lap quilts were. The competition looked fierce! Pretty horses, pretty carriages, and pretty (for English garbed) people. I think I saw an ESPN 2 truck there so be sure to check your local listings.
Further along, I noticed some folks coming toward me in not so pretty garb, with work weary horses, and on the lower end of the personal aesthetics scale.
Not wanting to spook the animals I pulled off the road onto the grassy shoulder and cut the engine and offered a `hello’. Despite my efforts the animals remained suspicious and needed some encouragement from the wagon drivers to continue past…which came in the form of a young man hollerin’ (that is Tennesseeian for yelling) at the horses and jerking the reins. Discouraged, the horses eased to the opposite side of the road and the rest of the caravan followed. After a few more attempts, the elder in the wagon took the reins, made a few clicking noises and the horses proceeded forward, caravan in tow.
Watch and learn sonny boy!
After the wagons passed I went to start the bike and be on my way. Instead of hearing the engine come to life I got the slow, disgruntled whirl and chirp of the starting relay trying to do its thing but lacking the power to do so. I turned off the driving lights and tried again. Nada.
Seems that during the course of riding through the morning, the battery had been drained (an electrical short?) or the alternator had failed to provide a charge. Although that seemed to be a likely and easy solution to my problem, it did not persuade me to test my theory by simply flagging down a passing car, getting a jump and either going on my way or go to Plan B. Instead I decided to look into the problem. This would give me a chance to dirty my new tools, and perhaps get more in-touch with my inner mechanic whom I know is desperately trying to get out of my mechanically inept mind and makes his presence felt.
It was not until maybe an hour later, after I had successfully tightened a few screws, checked a few wires, and sweat out 2 gallons of fluid beneath the Tennessee sun did I decide that the slow, disgruntled whirl and chirp of the starting relay was due to a battery in need of a charge.
Fortunately the first truck I flagged down had jumper cables and someone willing to leave the air conditioned womb of the truck cab to help me out. Hooked up, the bike fired right up.
Back on the road, I rode the rest of the afternoon intent on finding a garage to check the battery and maybe trickle charge it for a few hrs. No luck in doing so, but I did find a couple of dudes at a gas station who insisted that I “white smoke” the rear tire for them. Disappointingly I did not oblige them, and the excuse of needing the remaining tire tread for 2,500 miles of riding seemed to fall upon deaf ears.
Anyway, the bike started fine the rest of the day. Hopefully it will start tomorrow.
A brief spell of rain today allowed me to don my homemade lime green rain pants, bright orange rain jacket and motor about in the storm for a short time. I remained dry, and definitely turned some heads as a blur of color sped through the rainy gloom.
Camp tonight is at Henry Horton State Park. I upgraded to `tent camping’ instead of `primitive’ accommodations for the evening. A cold shower replaced finding a swimming hole, but it was a worthy capstone regardless. So far no bubbly college bound co-eds to camp with this evening, just conversation about football (Go Vols!) with the Park Ranger.
Finally got out of Nashville by mid morning and motored 80 miles south to re-join the TAT were I left it.
Up to this point I had been a little disappointed with the route in Tennessee…far too much pavement. Scenic for sure, but to much bitumen!
Fortunately today did not disappoint. The TAT’s character through the afternoon was consistently idyllic…dense forest overhanging a narrow, winding dirt track. Throw in a few stream crossing, Blue Herons, skitterish fawns, a few gaggles of wild turkeys, and sprinkling of rain now and again, and it was quite easy to be having a very good time!
Further along, I pulled off the road a few times for horse drawn carriages as the TAT made its way through some Amish country. At just about every driveway to a modest home set back from the roadway was a hand painted sign advertising what wares or services were available…cookies, bread, candy, pickles (I love Amish pickles!), blacksmithing, wood work, etc.
I stopped for a late lunch in Waynesboro. As I was eating, a fellow stopped by to check out the bike and then decided to come in the restaurant to hunt down the owner. Considering I was the only one in the restaurant, I was not hard to find.
Harvey is a former math teacher who came to Waynesboro 35 yrs ago to start a second career as a wood worker. He builds all sorts of custom wood work..cabinets, furniture, toys, and even does intricate carvings for the interior of decorative churches. In addition, he rides a BMW, toured through Europe in his 20’s on a Germany-purchased BMW, and also is one of 5 road cyclists in Waynesboro. Harvey has an appreciation for classic 70’s steel bicycles as well. Cool guy, and we talked about small business, living in rural communities, and life in general.
After lunch, I set back out, pretty intent on racking up as many miles as I could before nightfall. While Nashville was enjoyable, I was pretty anxious to get back on my bike and spend a good long day riding.
Nightfell and I was still ~35 miles from where I wanted to be. Despite the hour, I kept riding albeit at a slower pace to better react to the deer, opposums, racoons, and armadillos that kept seeming to materialize in the roadway. A bit white knuckled, I finally pulled into the empty Big Hill Pond Campground and made camp, cleaned up and went to sleep. I ending up riding ~280 miles for the day.
Baptist Church sign of the day:`If you give the devil an inch, he will become your ruler.
August 29: Welcome to Mississippi, you hungry skinny boy?
Awoke early and hit the road.
Mississippi was only a few miles away and I was anxious to get there.
I slept well despite a few nocturnal visitors…the most disturbing of which was a racoon that thought it was fun to sniff at my tent door, have me shoo him away and repeat the game every few hours.
My intent was to ride across Mississippi today and it was not difficult to stay motivated given the terrain. Throughout the morning I was treated to a variety of dirt roads, primarily well graded lumbar roads with deep gravel and sandy corners to keep me humble.
(Deeper and longer than it looks…)
Around mid-morning I came to a daunting water crossing…~35 yds long and of undetermined depth. Fortunately there was no current, and the bottom (from what I could see) was sandy, but firm. Tire tracks lead into and out of the other side so I felt sure that I would be able to do the same…assuming I kept the bike upright and water out of my bikes air intake.
I did think about walking across first to get a better read on the depth and the condition of the river bottom, as well as simply walking the bike across, engine running and managing the throttle to assist me.
Eventually I decided to pull on my man pants and deal with it. Get on the bike, give it some gas and ride it out…consequences be damned, manhood intact.
I turned the bike around to get a bit of speed up, spooking a wandering armadillo (the majority of which have been smashed on the road) from the brush and then headed toward my watery destiny. Entering in 2nd gear I was immediately bogged down as the front wheel threw up a large wake.
I downshifted, gassed the throttle and leapt forward, the bikes front wheel rising slightly like the bow of a boat as it pushed through the water. Half way across the bottom became rough and was I was thrown off course slightly… threading through giant lilly pads as I steered the bike back in the direction I wanted to go. Meanwhile, the water depth increased…now spilling over the top of and consequently filling, my knee high riding boots.
Keeping focused on the opposite shoreline I kept the throttle steady and steering straight and eventually climbed out the other side…but not before the water had risen as high as my kneecaps, and about 3 inches lower than the air intake on the bike. Whew! Elated, I parked the bike and dumped out my boots…pouring out quite a bit of water and wringing out my socks before continuing on.
Comparatively the rest of the afternoon was noticeably dull. My high hopes of the majority of Mississippi being dirt dwindled away as I zigged and zagged my way through cypress swamps, cotton fields, and along the tops of earthern levees. All interesting riding, but mostly connected via long stretches of pavement. It also seems that every bridge in rural western Mississippi is currently under construction as I had to find alternative routes for 5 bridge crossings today. Not difficult, but a bit of a nuisance backtracking and adding miles to the day. Intermittent rain and hail added a little variety throughout the day as well…the steam rising from the roads as the skies cleared added unwanted humidity to an already humid afternoon.
Eventually I arrived at the Mississippi River and swung right before crossing the waterway for a special evening at the Isle of Capri Casino. A weekday $29 special got me a king size bed,snazzy curtains, pool access, and a gastrointestinal challenge of a Mississipian casino buffet. 33.2% of Mississpians are considered obese and thus the populus of this fine state lead the nation in fat per capita. I did what I could to represent Utah, but good lawdy I did not do us proud…even after 2 plates of dinner, a salad, and a few deserts, I was only matching up to the 12 yr olds comparatively. What a display! Anyway, I retired. Soundly defeated and severly bloated.
August 30: Ozarks
I left the casino early with the intent of riding ~250 miles today and heading into the Ozarks..the Himalaya of Arkansas. I was excited to get some sort of vertical component back into my landscape, all the better if I got any accompanying vistas along with the elevation.
The morning riding was much as the previous miles have been, circuitous routing through agricultural lands linking up a small towns along the way. Today was a bit different in that most of the ag roads were dirt, and pretty wet and muddy from the evenings rain storm. As such, my brain had to be functioning to stay upright and after my gorging at the casino last night, the ‘ol brain was more focused on digestion.
Regardless of its distraction, I stayed upright and noticed a number of cardinals and hummingbirds through the morning and early afternoon.
When lunch rolled around I was fortunate to find Big Mama’s Cafe. I always try to find the `local’ spot to get a meal and Big Mama’s did not disappoint. I ordered a plate of fries and a BBQ sandwich (with coleslaw in the sandwich!) for $3.85. Wow..what a sandwich! For good measure I ordered and ate another.
During my meal I had a few conversations with some of the other diners. Jackie was eyeing the bike and was intent on shaking my hand, and asking me loads of questions that I could not answer, while another fella told me about his 6 week Harley ride he just returned from. Just us biker bro’s talkin’ about the road…
After lunch I headed out and started into the Ozarks Mtns and the Ozark National Forest. The roads were phenomenal…old lumber roads smoothly graded, beneath the dense canopy of hardwood forest…for nearly 100 miles. The pavement that did exist was brief and very twisty (or crooked as the road signs say)
in nature so it was not a spoiler by any means.
Riding up into the mountains the temps dropped considerably which was a welcome relief. After a stuffy morning of `air you can wear’ the temps felt almost crisp by comparison. Refreshing to say the least. I eventually rolled into the Bayou Bluff Campground for the evening and set-up camp inside a picnic shelter which was a converted Civilvian Conservation Corp cabin from the 1930’s. All around a pleasant place to spend the night and a capstone to a fine day of riding. Glad to be in the mountains!
Baptist sign `o the day: Don’t want to burn in hell? Come inside!
During the night something happened to my refreshing mtn air and I awoke repeatedly in a puddle of sweat. Ugh.
At around 1 am, some other campers saw it fit to drive into each campsite with their truck, lights on and radio playing. Unbeknownst to them, campsite #1 was occupied with one grumpy Utahan. They pulled up and started rooting around…I greeted them with a bellowing `good evening’ to which both these sizeable fellows let out a yell of surprise.
“Jesus boy, you dang near gave us a heart attack.”
While I was flattered by my effectiveness, judging by the size of their respective bodies, they had a huge head start in causing their own heart attacks.
“We’s just looking fer firewood fer our camp. Do you have any rolling papers by chance?”
No on both accounts.
“Ok then, thanks. Hey, sorry about waking you up man. We have half a joint. Its yours if you want it.”
Despite their graciousness the last thing that I wanted at 1 am was a half smoked joint from 2 half baked nocturnal Arkansans. I just wanted to return to my sweaty sleep!
Eventually they left, and the remainder of the night went fairly smooth…except for an opossum making a crunchy attempt to eat the leftover charcoal briquettes in the grill from the last campers…
Finally dawn rolled around and despite my fatigued state I hit the road as soon as I could. The morning was cool, and being on the bike was refreshing as I headed up again into the high country of the Ozark mtns. Again the terrain did not disappoint. The road switch-backed up through the forest until gaining a rolling ridgeline with open views in all cardinal directions. Excellent!
After a few miles, the road dropped quickly into the drainage below. Climb, ridgeline, repeat for ~40 miles of riding. On one descent I came around a corner and surprised a black bear lumbering along the center of the road. Easy big fella! Most blackies I have seen have been on the smaller end of the bear spectrum…easy to categorize this dude in the 400 lb range. Big black bear. He disappeared into the dense thicket quickly and we both went on our way.
Shortly after, I swung onto a short stretch of pavement and rode into the town of Oark. It’s Ozark without the `z’. There is a great old merchantile there and I stopped for a few pics as well as a brief wander around town. I did not make it far as I was distracted by the slabs of Coconut Creme Pie in the window. Uh…yes ma’am I’d like a slab ‘o pie. Thank you or asking. Finishing off the pie, I then burnt some calories helping two guys push start their truck before jumping back on the bike and heading off. You simply cannot argue with sunny skies, slabs o’ pie, samaritan work, and motorcycling.
After leaving Oark, the Ozarks continued to impress. This place must just be packed on the weekends and when the fall colors occur. However today, I only saw one other car on the backcountry roads.
An hour or two later I swung a right onto Warloop Rd to drop into the town of Mountainburg. Up to this point the TAT has not been technical by any means. Warloop Rd changed that as it narrowed to an overgrown two track with huge puddles, and rocky terrain…much like a cobbled creekbed. I downshifted, stood and rode through the first few obstacles with aplomb. Gaining confidence (and appreciating the lower geared cog installed before the trip) I managed the rest of the track with surprising grace despite its steepness, ledgy drops, and all around slickery-ness. I was happy though that my bike was not any larger, and thought ahead to terrain in CO, UT, and NV with excitemnt instead of trepidation.
Through Warloop I passed the local sewage plant and wound through town to the M-Town One Stop for some gas, and a lunch special of the day: Club Sandwich. Mark and Glen both worked at the sewage plant and were also moto-enthusiasts. They inquired about the bike, the trip, and a vast array of technical moto-questions I was at a loss to answer. Mark told me some other guys had come through Warloop Rd on the TAT a few years ago on big Triump Tiger Dual Sport Bikes. They all made it, but said it was the scariest riding the had done and were wishing for smaller rides.
Anyway, more Q and A and they eventually went back to work. Thus far my bikes ability to attract men vs women stands at a disturbingly lopsided 6-0. Maybe I should have bought a red one instead…After lunch I only had ~40 miles to ride before finding camp at Devils Den State Park for the evening. Before arriving though, I enjoyed a fine swimming hole (with cliffs for jumping) and scared off 2 golden eagles from a late lunch of roadside armadillo. Devils Den State Park is pretty nice.
The entire 2,500 acre park was a WPA CCC project in the 1930’s and features some amazing native stone work…a bridge, cabins, lodge, large dam, and an intricate curb, gutter, and drainage system. Natural features of the area include some caves, swimming and an extensive trail system for biking, hiking, and equestrians. In Sept the park plays host to the Arkansas State Mtn Bike Championships.
I was fortunate to get a campsite (cancellation!) given the holiday weekend and the Arkansas football game that is tomorrow. Lots of sports talk radio and inflatable Arkansas Razorback mascots in the campground. Managed a load of laundry this evening as well which is a good thing given the buckets of sweat thus far and my meager clothing rinse sessions beneath bathroom faucets. After ~40 miles tomorrow I’ll be in Oklahoma.
Baptist churches are on a severe decline so I’ll end with a few signs seen today:
From the bathroom in the M-Town One Stop: `Don`t you dare write anything on these bathroom walls. No one wants to read your nonsense.’
…and from a house with a yard full of junk:
FOR SALE: anything you want.
I took off early from Devil’s Den State Park and the temps were noticeably cool until I climbed out of the river corridor…heated grips are devine for such occasions!
The terrain was pretty good, winding dirt roads, dense forest canopy, and no traffic, but I knew I was leaving the Ozarks as the climbs and descents became more rolling and lazy.
After ~40 miles of riding I crossed into Oklahoma along a dirt road sandwiched between fields of hay.
I did not did really have an expectation for Oklahoma, other than anticipating long stretches of straight roads, and a mixture of cows and corn along the way. Eastern Oklahoma, or the `cross-over country’ which the locals call it, was a pleasant surprise. Undulating terrain with curvy dirt roads through a mixture of open fields and dense oak stands led to a very pleasant afternoon of riding. Wild turkeys, turkey vultures, and even a few road bound turtles highlighted my Marty Stouffer Wild America moments for the day.
Eventually though the landscape flattened, the trees thinned, and the roadways straigtened…90 degree intersections at every mile made progress doubly slow…even the more so given the number of stop signs.
Despite being easy riding, the lack of variety is going to make crossing Oklahoma a challenge. There should be sign at the border…Welcome to Oklahoma! Be sure your iPod batteries are charged…
Anyway, rolled into Wah She Sha State Park on the debris riddled shores of Hulah Lake..sight of the recent 30 ft of flooding that occurred a few months ago in Oklahoma. My camp, in lovely number 54, was under water at that time when the reservoir rose 12 ft in a single night. Hard to imagine given that the waters edge is ~150 yds away this evening.
Lots of Labor Day revelry taking place, kids in the water, BBQ’s fired up, folks out on the reservoir water skiing.
More interest in the bike from the campground cop and the campground host, Bill. The cop rides a KLR, and Bill owns an ’83 Goldwing. He has a one-legged Vietnam buddy who just converted a brand new BMW 1200 GS so he can operate the rear brakes from the handle bars. Told me that the motorcycle was the only thing that kept his buddy’s depression at bay after returning from Vietnam.
After ~270 miles of dirt roads today, the riding has been superb, albeit mostly straight, the skies sunny, and the stop signs thankfully infrequent…or just simply ignored.
(Oklahoma, pretty?! You bet.)
Oklahoma itself is great country. Definitely the first time on the trip that I feel akin to the landscape I am riding through. Moments of complete jubilation throughout the day…the simple joy of being in big, open country. As nice as Arkansas was I prefer the big skies, visible open space, and the infrequent sighting of homo erectus here in Oklahoma.
I do think that if Oklahoma was not dissected into a 1 mile by 1 mile grid of roadways, the place would be much more alluring…although likely less productive in an agricultural and oil development sense. The grid based infrastructure imposed on such a landscape is really the ultimate contradiction to the place itself…big country encourages wandering, fancies freedom, and is really the heart and soul of the western American identity. Chopping it up and regulating its openness to mile by mile segments is just brutal. While I know sizeable wilderness designation (any?) is out of the question here, the Tall Grass Prairie would be one of the most intriguing landscapes to experience for me…maybe simply because it is so unlikely, but it holds some sense of mystique.
The small dips and hollows throughout the landscape are probably the most intimate spots I’ve experienced on the TAT thus far. Seemingly unique little communities of flora and fauna exist with a trickle of water, the cover of shade, and the infrequent visit from Mr Cow.
I was surprised and thankful for these wee oasis throughout the mornings ride.
Midmorning I took a slight detour from the TAT to ride through a larger portion of the Tall Grass Prairie Preserve and the Buffalo Herd Reserve…a landscape and animal which were once prevalent (and relevant) in the country which I was riding through. I am happy to report I did not spy a single blade of cheatgrass! Imagine! Sadly, I did not see any buffalo, but it was not difficult to imagine them covering the hillsides and munching away at the abundant forage.
The afternoon was a bit of blur as the landscape continued to flatten, trees became even less frequent, and turning became a long forgotten action. Boring you say? Well, pretty much, but you have to admire and appreciate any place where you can travel for 200+ miles and not run into anything.
I motored up to Hartdin, Kansas with the hope of finding something open for lunch…as fortune would have it, the `Yur Place’ gas station was serving a Sunday buffet lunch. Hehehe! Normally buffets are kind of low on the scale of culinary quality, but not here…BBQ beef, homemade noodles, mashed potatoes, corn (of course) salad fixins, and my choice of either cherry cobbler or strawberry shortcake for dessert. Seeing as how it was a buffet, I had both.
After my gorging I motored back south to the TAT and continued by straight, westward assault on Oklahoma.
In the late afternoon, the roads decided to turn and twist through some oil rigs and I passed a `cowboy cemetary’….in remembrance of two fellows killed by Chief Dull Knife as his band of savages retreated northward from the US Cavalry. Killed the cowboys for their horses and mules to expedite their escape.
Certainly lots of oil development in these parts. Seems to be rigs set-up every half mile or so and the waft of petroleum is on the air.
I eventually cruised south a few miles from the TAT to make camp for the evening at Dolby Springs, a green oasis encircled by cottonwoods and a 9 hole golf course.
A few other campers with trailers are set-up as well, and they invited me over for a plate of fixins…my second dinner for the evening and much better than the first. 2 pork chops, macaroni and potato salad, garden grown tomatoes, and a slab of watermelon to finish it off. Tasty!
In addition to the good food was good conversation. Both of the couples camped out worked within oil development…one guy operated a rig and the other moved rigs from site to site as an independent contractor.
Guy, whom was 82 and had lived close by for all those years remembered how as kids they use to come to Dolby Camp to watch the rodeo…the corral in those days for the event was simply the farm truck parked bumper to bumper in a circle.
Strangely, one of the wives mentioned the TV show that featured Scott Williamson and his PCT Yo-Yo hike. I did not mention that I sewed Scott’s pack, as she joked that maybe after I rode across the country I should consider walking across it. It is a beautifully small world at times.
I left Dolby Springs Camp as the sun rose and headed off to a day of infrequent turning. Thankfully James Brown provided an upbeat start to the day as I funked and grooved my way across Oklahoma.
As I progressed, the landscape continued to change…trees now replaced by scrub, sage, and cactus and soil beneath my wheels became more fine grained and sandy…so sandy in fact that on slight incline I augered into a sandy rut and came to a prompt and immediate halt. No harm done, just a laugh at the thought that I crashed in Oklahoma of all places. A heave and a ho and the bike was back upright ready to roll.
Despite the stark character of the landscape as I rode, I spotted plenty of wildlife throughout the day. Roadrunners, 80+ antelope, a bobcat, seemingly lost turtles, and of course cows.
Most of the cows have been responsive to the whine of my machine and promptly left the road. One particular herd today was much more stubborn. Undeterred by my revving engine, horn (which sounds like a bleating goat), or my yelling the cows remained stock still in the road. I pressed forward in 1st gear, at a safe 10 mph ramming speed and entered the crowd of cows. As if it was planned, I was then engulfed by the herd, encircled by the bovines and not making much forward progress, suddenly subject to bovine bylaws. Much mooing ensued as I came to a complete stop, engine idling, stuck between the meaty mass. More mooing.
Like some chapter from Animal Farm, I felt like I was on trial, and my fate was being argued and decided by the majority opinion. A bit uneasy, I awaited my fate while still trying to creep forward on the bike. Steering toward a slight opening, I gassed it and startled the cows. As they moved the gap grew and I rode through the opening…past the bailiff and back on the road to freedom! Creepy.
I pulled through Boise City, OK and continued to the Oklahoma / New Mexico border…all the while fighting a stiff crosswind and being bludgeoned by grasshoppers. My riding jacket looks like the work of Jackson Pollack.
After reaching the border I back tracked to Black Mesa State Park to camp for the evening…but not until after another strange animal encounter.
Just outside of the park boundary, a white llama was in the road. I rode up to it slowing as I approached, expecting it move along as I came closer. Instead, it walked toward me eventually blocking my way and forcing me to stop. Once I did, the llama circled the idling bike a few times, sniffing at me, the bike, and making attempts to nibble my gloved fingers. I reached out and stroked its nose a few times.
The llama seemed to like that. I tried to motor off, but every time I would begin to accelerate the llama would move in front of the bike and block my forward progress. When I’d stop, the llama would stare at me…he standing, me sitted, eye to eye. I put the bike in neutral and slowly walked it forward trying to distance myself from my new companion. The llama nimbly trotted along side, occasionally nibbling at my helmet, and elbows. I kept pushing myself along trying to get a bit of distance so I could drop the clutch and out pace him.
To my surprise the llama suddenly stopped. I gapped him, shifted, and cruised ahead. As I motored across the cattle guard and into the park, the llama was still standing in the road…perhaps a bit saddened at his new buddies unfriendliness.
Anyway, I set up camp and spent most of the evening thinking about my brother in Belize whose home is facing its second Category 5 hurricane in the past 2 weeks.
Good luck J.
I had a box of maps and warmer clothing mailed to me in Boise City, but figured delivery would not arrive until mid morning. Before heading back to Boise City for my re-supply parcel, I spent my morning hiking to the highpoint of Oklahoma, Black Mesa. The casual ~8 mile hike eventually winds atop Black Mesa to the High Point Obelisk that was donated by the Tulsa Tribune newspaper to mark the 4,923 ft elevation. I was hoping for clear skies and maybe a peek into Colorado, but no so luck as the horizon was hazy.
Returning to camp, I packed up and motored back to Boise City…fighting a stout crosswind again.
My box had arrived and I re-packed, sent some things home and made my way back to the road around 4 pm after a late lunch with the intent of reaching Trinidad, CO before nightfall.
As soon as the TAT crossed into NM, the roads began to turn again and strange bumps were on the horizon. If I recall those are called mountains. It has been awhile…Hallelujah. I wound my way through a few ranches, nearly getting bogged down in a deceptive mud hole, before switchbacking my way atop the plateau and then dropping into Branson and Trinchera.
If memory serves, both of these rural communities are fighting our gov’ts plan to extend the Pinon Canyon Military Maneuver Site into their ranch lands, under the pretense of national security and the `war on terror.’ Maybe the people will succeed, but I doubt it. Proclaimed national interest, and eminent domain are typically not beaten.
Easy riding, and an extra hour (due to changing to mountain time) had me arriving in Trinidad just before dark and I motored out to Trinidad State Park to Camp. Nice facilities but not likely worth the $23 it cost me for a single nights stay.
Short ride today, but NM was very enjoyable and the morning hike brought some feeling back to my ass.
My first day riding in Colorado dawned cool and crisp as I bundled up in all available clothing as the sun rose and I motored away from camp. Not knowing what to expect in terms of the road conditions, etc in this state, I wanted an early start to allow the most flexibility.
An hr after leaving Trinidad, the TAT climbed into the foothills of the Spanish Peaks…12,000 ft mountains that appear much taller as they rise abruptly from the plains to the East.
The cooler mtn temps were a welcome change, and the air tasted fresh…not like windblown topsoil as in Oklahoma.
The route wound in and out of drainages, affording views to distant peaks to the N and W, and the flat plains to the E. Really pleasant riding. Deer, hawks, and misc rodent life throughout the morning…even witnesses a redtail hawk swoop into a drainage ditch and snare a rabbit.
I eventually dropped into Westcliffe…a small town situated at the eastern base of the Sangre de Cristo mountains…a long and high ridgeline of 12 to 14,000 ft peaks, and quite possibly one the most stunning backdrops to a town that I’ve seen. Absolutely gorgeous. I had a tasty lunch in Westcliffe, filled up on gas and headed north dropping into Cotopaxi and then climbing up to ~9,500 ft in the Pike-San Isabel National Forest above Salida.
Although I heard plenty of thunder and the skies threatened to storm, I remained dry as I cruised along a high contouring roadway. If it had been clear, the views westward towards the Collegiate Peaks would have been stunning, but as it was, I was only offered teasing glimpses of the hulking mountains that hid in the clouds.
I dropped into Salida in the late afternoon with ~250 miles on the odometer for the day.
Colorado is a stunning state but it is disturbing to me how much of it is apparently for sale. There are roads everywhere, and the `mountain ranchette’ seems to be popular.
Anyway, my original plan was to slow down in Colorado and hike some 14er’s, but the weather looks to be a bit spotty, the mountains look awfully tall, and I feel pretty lazy.
I left Salida before 8 am and headed up to Hancock and Tomichi Pass. The route is not recommended for bigger dual sport bikes such as my own, but I figured I go find out exactly why not. The morning was cool and I was dressed in all the clothing I had. An evening rain had moistured the roads and the riding was very pleasant as I wound my way upward, gaining elevation and working my way up through old mining sites. In doing so, the road narrowed and began to become more technical… meaning muddy, rocky, and uneven.
Overall though I was riding well and the challenges were met. Further along, the old mining road continued to deteriorate…the rocks became bigger, loose, and inter-mixed with a small stream of water which further reduced my traction. About .20 of a mile from the top of Hancock and still a mile from Tomichi Pass (which is more rough) I dumped the bike twice and decided that I now understood why this route was indeed reserved for smaller, lighter, more nimble machines…and perhaps a more nimble rider. I turned around, content at giving the route a try and headed back toward Salida and the Marshall Pass alternative route…a high elevation twisty dirt affair that would drop me into Sargents, CO. I motored south and headed up to Marshall Pass.
Unfortunately, a few miles up the road a Forest Service sign stated that Marshall Pass was closed due to a rock slide and was thus impassable. Passes: 2, Me: 0. I looked over the maps for another alternative route into Sargents, but none were apparent…which meant hitting the bitumen on Hwy 50 over Monarch Pass. ~40 minutes later I was eating lunch in Sargents…big hamburger with sweet potato fries.
Leaving my lunch stop I again rode the pavement for ~12 miles before turning off and following the Los Pinos Cebolla Rd, climbing to 10,500 ft with views into the La Garita and Powderhorn Wilderness Areas. Spectacular country…a combination of pine and aspens covered plateaus and mesas rising to distinctive alpine peaks. The riding was straight forward along well groomed dirt roads…40-50 mph in most cases. But all good roads end, and I eventually hit Hwy 149 and dropped into Lake City. I was planning to stay in Lake City, but considering the early hour, I decided to push on another 60 miles to Silverton.
Lots of motorbikes in Lake City…plenty of BMWS but none were outfitted for backroads. So far, still no other moto’s seen on the backroads of any of the states I’ve ridden through. From Lake City I headed into the high country of Colorado along the Alpine Loop Backcoutry Rd…a popular 4wd route that everyone with a shiny new Jeep Rubicon is anxious to conquer.
Thankfully, not much traffic midweek and late in the day as I rode up and over 13,300 ft Cinnamon Pass spotting a large, waddling Badger on the ascent. True to its name, the talus covered slopes along the pass were an unbelievable hue of red, brown and orange and lit up by the evening sun.
After topping out, I descended into the historic mining town of Animas Forks above Silverton, CO. A number of old mining structures still stand, and one can get a sense of the hustle and bustle of a 1900’s boom town.
Beyond Animas Forks I continued upward, winding my way along re-graded mining tracks to 12,930 ft California Pass before dropping slightly on tight switchbacks and contouring to Hurricane Pass.
The views from these passes are quite stunning….high peaks in most directions and colorful mtn slopes dropping to treeline. The only eyesore being the very roadway in which I traveled and the multitude of road cuts that could be seen on many distant slopes. As fantastic as the riding is, I’d trade a lower route for unmarred slopes in a heartbeat.
Colorado definitely has an access oriented backcountry that is rightfully categorized as ‘industrial’. While it caters to many users, I think it is accurate to say that in doing so, it has jeopardize the inherent quality of the experience and the place.
From Hurricane Pass I took a right turn and climbed up to what I thought was Corkscrew Pass which was to lead me to the pavement of the HWY 550. Cresting a saddle I began a precipitous drop into a hanging valley. The route was very steep and rough and seemed out of character for the riding thus far. After a scary descent, I was loathe to discover that I had dropped into an old abandoned mine site that was a dead end.
Looking back up at the saddle 1,000 ft above me, I turned around and psyched myself up for the challenging ascent that awaited me. The 5 switchbacks I had come down were very narrow, steep, and with loose scree in the turns. In addition, the ‘turns’ were not really wide enough for turning, rather a sharp, opposite directional cut in the mountainside…terrain that would make a Peruvian bus driver blush.
I made the first switchback well, finding traction and keeping the gas steady. On the second switchback I came around too high. Panicking, I let off the throttle to straighten the bike, lost momentum and stalled the bike at the apex of the turn. With gravity now in control of the situation, the bike fell downhill. As it did so, I pushed off uphill and thankfully avoided an ugly situation. With adrenaline flowing, I managed to get the bike back upright on the steep slope, re-mount and motored up to the second switchback…spitting talus off the rear wheel as I gassed the throttle. At the 2nd switchback I pulled onto a relatively level spot, cut the engine and made an effort to regain my composure.
Having the bike fall downhill on the first switchback was incredibly frightening, and not a situation I wanted to repeat on the remaining switchbacks to the top. I was definitely in terrain that demanded a higher skill set than I possessed, and frankly, I was frightened of the consequences. I got off the bike ate some food, drank some water and walked up to the next switchback to try to calm myself and plan my attack.
I moved a few intimidating rocks from my intended path and then walked back to the bike, straightened it out and fired it up. Feeling insecure but at least focused, I motored up to the 3rd switchback intent on getting around the turn with some grace and dignity. No luck.
Halfway through the sharp turn, I lost traction (rear tire is pretty worn out after 2,300 miles). I worked the clutch in an effort to keep the bike upright and retain some momentum. The bike bucked and jumped as I continued forward slowly, making an effort to stay close to the upslope to avoid another downhill fall. I hit the gas too hard and the rear wheel skid out downhill. I fought to keep the bike upright, but in seemingly slow motion, I was able to get my limbs out of the way as the bike dropped. Frustrated, but thankful I was uninjured, I got the bike upright again.
Shaking with adrenaline, I re-mounted, started the bike, and promptly dropped the bike again as I lost the rear tire as I gave the bike too much gas. Again I lifted the bike, fired it up, gassed it, and dropped it. I repeated this stressful song and dance 4 times…making just enough forward progress each time to inaccurately justify the toll I was taking on my body, my mind, and the bike itself. All said, after this sequence of misery I was still 2 switchbacks from the top and had cracked a side view mirror, bent my shift lever, broke my clutch lever off, and cracked a mount for the auxiliary lights.
As for me, I was breathing heavy at 12,000 ft with bruised shins, whimpering like a puppy, and was physically and mentally worked over. Any inkling of confidence that I had gained in the last 2,300 miles of riding vanished, and at this point I was scared of my motorcycle. Not good.
I had about 20 minutes of full light before the sun sank below the high ridgeline to my west, so I immediately set to work making the repairs to the bike Obviously I was going no where without a functioning clutch, so I replaced the clutch lever (glad I packed that!) first. The rest of the damage was not critical so I decided to address that later…whenever it was that I managed to get out of this situation! Besides, my hands were shaking so badly, I was fearful of dropping parts, tools, etc.
With the clutch level repaired and in an effort to regain my composure, I decided to unload the bike and walk my gear up to the saddle. I just needed to give myself some time to calm down, get away from the situation, and clear my mind. Panic was controlling the throttle, not my mind.
I made 2 trips to the top hauling my gear, inspecting the 2 remaining switchbacks on the ascents and descents. Along the way I made an effort to clear as much scree in the corners as I could with the hope to my improve traction as well as chucking any large boulders off the side of the road. Everything looked like an obstacle at this point!
A bit more calm, but still physically and mentally taxed, I re-mounted…telling the bike that I’d trust it, and do what I could to match its own ability.
I started the bike, eased the gas and crept forward working the clutch much better and keeping the rear wheel in traction. I motored upward, routing the bike through the small area that I cleared in the next switchback and climbed to the last switchback…a sharp, steep righthander (my less-strong cornering direction). I had cleared a good portion of the entire corner, so the entry and exit where good….but I had to route the bike spot on or else I end up in the loose, deep talus and likely bog the rear wheel again.
Standing, I entered the corner well and looked around the switchback to the spot I wanted to be and kept the throttle steady. I made it around the apex of the turn but was then bounced upslope into the hillside and out of the thin rut of dirt I had cleared beforehand.
Slightly panicked, I took my eyes off my intended direction and began to look at the fall zone…a bad decision, but one that my frazzled nerves defaulted to. I kept the throttle steady and the wheel straight though and the bike headed upward, bouncing wildly through softball sized stones. Still upright, but slightly off course, I slowed the bike with the clutch and promptly stalled out. Fortunately I keep the bike up, and it was just a matter of re-starting and feathering the clutch to get going again and finally gain the saddle. Whew! I got off the bike and laid down in the road, breathing heavy incredibly relieved.
As the sky grew dim, I re-loaded the bike up and headed back to down to the TAT, found the correct turn off to Corkscrew Pass, and hit the HWY in total darkness.
I motored into Silverton and collapsed for the night at the first hotel I came to.
After yesterdays events, I awoke from my slumber a bit late, my upper body stiff with fatigue and my mind
I felt considerably better once I got back on the road…the cool 40 degree morning working to revive my spirits.
I turned off HWY 50 and headed over talus-strewn, 11,700 ft Ophir Pass and dropped into the town (more like collection of homes) of Ophir before hitting the pavement of HWY 145 and riding over Lizard Head Pass and paralleling the Lizard Head Wilderness.
Mid-morning found me riding across Willow Divide, a high, rocky ridgeline on an ATV trail which switchbacked (this time with turns that actually had a radius!) down to the West Dolores River.
The temps were surprisingly warm at the river, and I took a moment to get rid of the insulative layers of clothing I had needed in the high country.
Further along, I ascended Cottonwood Creek along good dirt roads into the open, drier country of Lone Mesa before descending to the Bradfield Bridge and crossing the clear waters of the Dolores River.
In the last ~80 miles of riding, the landscape has changed from alpine in character, to pinyon-juniper high desert scrub…noticeably dry, noticeable warm, and noticeably fewer people!
Ahhh…the desert is close!
I motored into Dove Creek along a maze of agricultural roads…passing fields of sunflowers en route. A quick lunch and I was back on my way, intent to get to Monticello, Utah and then head south to Bluff, UT (off the TAT) to visit my Bluffoonian friends Brandt and Anna and their freaky cat Sylvester.
Wanting to ride as much dirt as possible en route to Bluff, I dropped into Montezuma Creek…a drainage I’d wanted to explore for some time. Along the way I passing two unique, modern homes built directly into the canyons sandstone wall. Further down canyon, I stopped at two Anasazi ruins with arguably better architecture and site aesthetics.
(Montezuma Creek, UT)
The upper portion of Montezuma Creek was fantastic…perhaps the best gallery of Cottonwood Trees that I have seen in Utah as well as good road and a few stream crossings. The lower half has been infiltrated by oil and gas development and the smell of such activity was with me for the remaining miles of its length before I came to Rd 401 and the Aneth Oil Fields…which looked and smelled comparatively worse.
I dropped into Montezuma Creek, and motored west into Bluff…happy to see my friends, get off the bike, and have a great meal in good company.
I’ll be in Bluff for a few days while I do some bike maintenance (oil change, new rear tire, repairs, etc) before pushing on through Utah.
Thanks for reading.
I left Bluff this morning and headed west along the HWY. Since I left the TAT in Monticello, I intended to rejoin the route there as well, but not until after ~100 miles of backroad riding that I had planned before getting there!
After a few miles I dropped into Comb Wash. I rode north, beneath the long escarpment of Comb Ridge which rose abruptly to my east, blocking the morning sun.
The riding was fine…still struggling a bit with sand, but in the coming miles, I am sure I’ll get it figured out.
From the North end of Comb Wash I joined HWY 95, and headed through Salvation Point (so dubbed by pioneering Mormons) and continued on towards Natural Bridges and the Bears Ears.
Fantastic riding as I headed along South Elk Ridge and gained elevation into the Manti La Sal National Forest…the road freshly graded with no other tracks than the ones I left. Not quite as good as fresh powder, but first tracks nonetheless.
The terrain leveled out into Ponderosa filled meadows…with a few cows lurking in the shadows to keep me on guard and the air was cool.
I rode upward, with scenic Chimney Park and Hammond Canyon on my left, and the Dark Canyon Wilderness unfolding below me on the right.
Ahhh…high ridgelines! My favorite no matter the type of travel.
I swung eastward through the Abajo Mtns, the Chippean Rocks, and contoured around the west and south slopes of Mt. Linnaeus, and then traversed below the Red Ledges and through Cooley Pass. Aspen, Doug Fir, and Bigtooth Maple lined the roadsides as I made my descent toward Monticello, UT and re-joined the TAT.
After a quick lunch, I motored north along HWY 191 for a few miles then swung right and zigged and zagged through dry farms and a few mines before passing through La Sal, UT and beginning my climb into the La Sal Mtns.
For such a small mtn range the La Sals pack quite a wallop. Talus covered slopes of 12,000 ft peaks towered above the road as I wound my way through aspen, doug fir, and the occasional open meadow. A few clumps of trees beginning to turn, but the vast majority still green. I rode below the alpine slopes of Mt Tomasaki and Haystack Mtn, as I motored through 10,530 ft Geyser Pass before dropping to the paved La Sal Loop Rd…redrock desert country stretching out before me.
My bad luck with bridge construction continued as the bridge spanning Mill Creek was under repair…seeing no other alt routes, I sadly followed the pavement down to the Spanish Valley and into my least favorite Utah town…Moab. Easy to say that it does not look any better on a motorcycle than it did last year towards the end of the Hayduke. Cursed place!
I got gas and motored north with a quick stop near the Colorado River, to get some water. There is a pipe close by that pours clear, cold water from the base of a sandstone wall. Best tasting water around.
I filled up, and to my disappoint I noticed a half rotten cantaloupe in the outlet pool of the tapped spring.
As I walked back to the bike, I gave a swift kick to the offensive melon and it skittered across the road and into the brush.
“What the hell do you think you are doing! Where are you from? That’s my melon!”
Thus my introduction to a tanned, sinewy, homeless guy that was napping along the bank of the Colorado River…likely dreaming of his tasty melon that was now roadside with a boot hole in it. Opps.
“What the F$#@ man!”
“I am sorry…I did not realize that was anyone’s melon. It was half rotten so I figured someone had left it there. I thought it was garbage.”
“No s%&# man! That is where I get my food…the garbage! Do know how hard it is to find a melon in the trash? I need those vitamins man!”
I apologized again, and offered him some food to compensate for my folly.
“I am a strict grain and fruit eater man. No processed food, no meat, no animal products. What have you got?”
Fortunately I had some vegan Pro-Bars with me and I gave him all three that I had left. As he munched away, he went on to tell me how when he got out of Vietnam, he had such an aversion to killing that he decided to dedicate his life to being a person of peace and therefore abstained from all activities that may result in the harm or death to another living creature. Since crashing his motorcycle in Hanksville, UT in the late 1960’s, he had been moving throughout the west by thumb, foot, and bicycle. He could live a whole year on $200 and carried all he needed. He continued on about the demerits of capitalism, America, the military industrial complex, and the eventual downfall of modern civilization….ending with an impassioned speech about his preparations to “get ready to live in the cliffs like the f$#@ing Anasazi!” He punctuated the end of his speech with a hearty laugh, turned, and strode towards the river bank to retrieve his melon.
I never find such interactions uncomfortable, but I always get a laugh at the fact that I generally agree with most of the diatribe that I hear from babbling homeless people. Maybe that is more telling than I care to admit! See you on the river banks in 20 years…
I motored on, turned off HWY 191 and made camp in the juniper past Gemini Bridges with stellar views as the sun set on Canyonlands and Arches National Parks.
I got motoring as the sun rose and headed north along sandy roads toward Green River, UT. The morning warmed quickly as the sun moved skyward. No matter how many days and nights I spend in the desert, I am always surprised by how quickly the temperature can change in only a few hours time. After ~45 miles of meandering, I crossed beneath I-70 and followed a pothole covered frontage road into Green River. Gas, food, bathroom. Standard routine.
I left Green River headed westward, paralleling the rail line for a few miles before dropping into a muddy wash bottom and climbing a step sandy bank to exit. I followed a stretch of neglected asphalt for a few miles…sage, rabbit brush and misc weeds were slowly reclaiming their home, and making for interesting riding as I dodged and wove through them. After shadowing I-70, I eventually had to join the frenzy of fast moving cars and trucks for a few miles before exiting at an unmarked dirt road, through a barb wire gate, and headed toward Black Dragon Wash and the the middle portion of the San Rafael Swell.
I’d visited Black Dragon Wash a few years ago to check out the petroglyph panel that is on a south canyon wall…and I specifically recall being annoyed by a motorcycle breaking the silence and intimacy of the canyon. I was relieved to see that I was unlikely to ruin someones experience as the parking area was empty. The only person I was going to annoy by being here was myself.
I motored past the panel along the rough and rocky water course, ocasionally standing and trying to get my groove on in terms of my `technical’ riding skill. The middle portion of the canyon was reportedly quite rugged, and I was intent on rising to the occasion. Unfortunately I didn’t, as I struggled with keeping the bike going in my intended direction. Accurate steering was apparently the skill to be learned today as I careened and bounced my way off rocks and boulders as I headed up canyon. Not graceful, but forward progress was being made.
I am continually amazed at how able these machines are…they will go wherever one wants assuming one can keep them upright and gassed. Without question, the bike was doing the majority of work as I continued up Black Dragon Wash.
About 1/2 way up, the wash was severely deterioted. When the trail climbed out of the wash, the eroded banks presented a near vertical challenge upon entry and exit. The wash itelf was riddled with loose boulders, patches of deep sand, and vegetative debris from the last flash flood. Needless to say, there were often too many obstacles for my brain to process in time for me to select a route, position the bike, and motor through successfully. Such is the case when your only experience is inexperience!
After dumping the bike a few times, I decided to take a short hike to cool my nerves, adjust my attitude and to see if there was a chance the trail might leave the wash…preferably sooner than later. A few minutes up canyon, the trail made one last vertical leap from the water course and contoured steadily above. Relieved, I set about figuring out my plan of attack. At each wash entry and exit I built small ramps of stone to reduce the abrupt angle of the eroded bank. I cleared away some particularly intimidating boulders and even built a few cairns so I had something to focus on to dictate my direction and distract me the terrain below my wheels.
Elaborate? Possibly, but I id not want to repeat my Colorado Death Crawl…afterall I don’t have a another replacement clutch level anymore! Back at the bike, I re-mounted, took a deep breath and engaged the clutch. I motored through the first two obstacles well, nary a pause and a accurate steering to boot! Looking ahead, the third obstacle was a tricky weave between a few boulders, a short section of ledgy slickrock, across a deep sandpatch, and then another abrupt exit from the wash bottom into a steep corner….and then freedom! Fortunately no problems! I climbed above the wash and gave a litle whoop of excitement. Oftentimes I find myself relying more on intense focus than actual skill to accomplish things, but this made me feel like maybe I am actually improving…to the point where I can rely on ability rather than willpower. Of course I am not ruling out plain ‘ol dumb luck.
I cruised along ATV two tracks until joining a larger gravel road out to the on ramp for I-70. The following portion of the TAT through Eagle Canyon, Copper Globe Rd, and down Kimball Draw are not recommended for bigger dual sport bikes. Learning my lesson from Colorado, I was not interested in challenging that. However, instead of riding interstate, Brandt and I had come up with a good alterntive route through the northern portion of the San Rafael Swell that was all dirt.
I set off, but ending up riding in a circle…eventually discoverng my mistake but deciding to simply return to I-70 and ride the bitumen and re-join the TAT near Lone Tree Crossing. Riding through the Swell has definately been the first time during this trip that I’ve felt that I am riding in isolated terrain. Good stuff and all to infrequent! I left the Swell and rode through North Hollow, another recently graded road that was in good shape and allowed me to take full advantage of the fun, undulating terrain.
North Hollow spit me out close to I-70, and I followed another frontage road into the town of Salina, Utah. Unlike most frontage roads, this one had character, passing through a few tunnels, switchbacking the canyon wall, and weaving beneath I-70. Surprisingly I hardly noticed the rumble of Interstate traffic.
If you are dedicated motorhead or have hig hopes of becoming one, I’d recommend relocating to Salina, UT. Designated ATV route exist throughout the town, and ATV’s appear to be the motor of chance for daily errands. Think of snowmobiles in West Yellowstone in the winter and you’ll get a sense of Salina with regard to ATVs. Anyway, I had a quick dinner at Mom’s Cafe before calling it a day and resting my head on the soft green grass of the Butch Cassidy Campground…a stone’s throw from the noisy HWY, and no doubt a place that would make a long-dead gunslinger proud that it borrowed his name.
The earplugs did the job, and I slept well despite my close proximity to the HWY. I rode out of Salina early, shivering as the TAT followed the low dips of the valley as I zigged and zagged through ag fields, and along the canals edge before riding into Richfield, swinging westward and climbing into the mountains along the Piute ATV Trail.
The terrain here is quite scenic…colorful slopes and big views across the valley below. Despite that, I was disgusted with the wanton destruction of the hillsides. It seemed that trails, and ATV tracks were everywhere…absolutely no regard to established routes. Any barriers that the BLM had built were laid to ruin, busted up beneath the tracks of ATV’s.
Further along into the mountains, the vegetation became thick enough to discourage such behavior, but I had a pretty bad attitude through the morning. The riding was great though…tight ATV trails through Bigtooth Maple stands, across a few trickles of water, and at a technical level that challenged, but not frighten me. Perfect, no need to retrieve the man-pants from my gear.
I dropped into Kanosh after leaving the Piute ATV Trail and motored towards the Sinclair gas Station, where 3 old codgers were sitting out front talking the morning away. I had a quick laugh…I had read a TAT journal from a few years ago and the rider had mentioned these guys and posted their picture online…same guys, same bench and no doubt a variation of the same conversation 3 yrs later.
We talked a bit as I ate an early lunch of gas station microwaveable’s and tried to re-hydrate. An hour later, the old fellas pushed off, a few more humorous jabs at one another before going their separate ways.
Bob, the gas station owner said that the guys were all widowers and they came to the station every morning at 10:30, stayed until noon, 7 days a week. I ended up talking with Bob for another ½ hr…learning what I could about the tow truck business and hearing crazy stories about often being the first on a crash scene, dealing with the impounded vehicles of drug runners, and other such stories of his trade.
I eventually managed to push off, and rode about an hour south through the Dog Valley before crossing I-15 and heading into the southern west desert of Utah…Great Basin country!
Jubilation! 82 miles of open desert: fierce crosswinds, hardpan lake beds, dust storms and gravel roads. My favorite kind of riding through desolate terrain…seriously…I was having a blast. Tooling along at 50-60 mph, with a distant horizon, big skies, and some undulating terrain…perfection!
At one point I crested a ridge and spooked a Golden Eagle which was slow to rise from its roadside snack. Fighting the crosswind it rose slowly…paralleling the centerline of the road as I rode next to the big bird, mesmerized by the slow flap of its wings, its intense stare, and its talons. Most likely the closest I’ve been to such a large raptor.
I found it strange to be in such a place, with a motor between my legs, and feeling much the same as I might had I been walking at 3 mph. In some regard I feel like the motorbike is actually a better tool to experience this landscape. Oddly, the place seems even larger on the bike.
I passed by the south shore of Sevier Lake, (which had me thinking about another handcart trip) past Crystal Peak, and dropped into another windy, dry valley…the first views of the Wheeler Peak Ridgeline of Great Basin National Park on the horizon.
I rode on, turning off the main road onto less defined two tracks and crossed into Nevada…a single orange carsonite post announcing my arrival.
Baker, NV sits just outside the boundaries of Great Basin National Park, and a lazy blink would make you miss the small collection of structures that the Hwy splits. I parked at the Visitor Center and moseyed in to see what I could find out about camping in the park when I met Billie O’Doan, one of the Rangers at the Park. She lived in a cabin that was 3 miles from the nearest road and enjoyed a hearty hiking commute each morning. We had a great hour long conversation about the Great Basin, the park, water issues in the west, and desert themed authors between the questions from other visitors.
The Las Vegas Water Authority currently has a proposal they are trying to ramrod through which would pump water from the Snake Valley south to Las Vegas. I watched a PBS episode about it before I left, and Billie was actually the spokeswoman for the concerns of Great Basin National Park. Utah’s governor, Jon Huntsman Jr does not support the plan, but most Nevada gov’t officials do…as does Nevada’s Democractic Senator Harry Reid. But…at least a portion of the pumped water will go towards supporting 10 Championship Golf Courses in the Las Vegas Valley. Schedule your Tee time now…Fore!
I am impressed with Great Basin National Park. This is how I think parks should operate…truly a celebration of the place and its components…the ecology, biology, geology, etc. that gives the place its character and distinction. No entrance fees, and no other distraction to compete with…no theme based restaurants, knick knack shops, IMAX theatres, helicopter tours, or other kitschy crap that normally surrounds National Parks these days. To visit Great Basin, you really have to want to go there as it is not on the way to much of anything else. Listening to the questions from other park visitors that Billie was so admirably fielding, it seemed clear…these people were engaged! They wanted to be here, they wanted to learn about the place. The memories they took and the things they learned were the souvenirs they took home…not some keychain with a picture of the (quickly melting) Wheeler Glacier or the formations inside of Lehman Caves. Can you imagine Zion or Yellowstone without all the surrounding garbage?
Anyway, I continued to visit with Bille until closing time and then made my way up to 7,800 ft for a surprisingly temperate night of camping at Upper Lehman Campground.
An absolutely great day of riding!
While in Bluff, I decided that I was going to get to Nevada, then head home to Logan. I am a bit behind schedule and have been rushing the TAT trip in hopes of making the 9/20 rendezvous to hike the Tahoe Rim Trail. I figured I’d cruise back to Logan, pack up and head out to Lake Tahoe for a week with plans to return to the TAT around 10/1…with the hopes that I would not miss the fall colors in the Nevada high country but still be early enough to avoid the snow! We’ll see.
With that decided, I formulated a route from Great Basin National Park through the West Desert back to Logan. ~350 miles of riding with ~70 miles of pavement.
I left Great Basin National Park later than normal despite the long day ahead. My battery is no longer taking a charge, so I coasted downhill briefly before popping the clutch and motoring off into the morning.
The wind was blustery as I motored north, but fortunately from the south so a hearty tailwind made the riding easy. I stopped for gas and was amazed to calculate that I got 70 mpg from Kanosh to Baker yesterday. Amazing machine!
As I headed north toward Wendover I passed through the desert outposts of Gandy, Partoun, Callao, and Gold Hill…crossing the Pony Express Rte, and paralleling the Air Force Bombing Range Fence…looking ahead for misguided ordinance as well as coyotes and jackrabbits. Heading into Wendover I found the old HWY….pretty well overgrown with desert scrub and eroded at the wash crossings from flash floods. I enjoyed shadowing the traffic of the HWY but along my own route…bobbing and weaving through the desert.
A quick lunch stop in Wendover and I continued north…passing the Bonneville Salt Flats Raceway and dropping over the Silver Creek Range before crossing Hastings Cutoff and noticing wagon tracks heading towards the salt flats and disappearing in the simmering waves of heat on the horizon. Hardy folks passed this way…
I rolled on, surprised at having to wait or a freight train to speed by in Lucin before following an old abandoned railroad grade through long forgotten historic railway towns and across causeways and rough hewn rail bridges. Good stuff. I’d ridden much of this terrain before hand, but in the context of riding from Great Basin National Park and seeing a major portion of the West Desert in a single effort, it seemed new to me. I am continually amazed at the scale of this landscape…simply enormous. Easy to be out here and believe in the concept of manifest destiny…
(will subdivide…whose in?)
I passed through Kelton, switching to an eastward trending route until climbing to Cedar Springs and the Salt Well Wildlife Management Area. Golden Spike Monument (where the transcontinental railroad finally joined) was next and the roadways were back to pavement for a few miles before beginning my ag road zig zag to Tremonton and over to Logan…back home 10 hrs later.
I’ll be back to the TAT 10/1…
Thanks for reading.
A few days ago I left Logan and made my way back to Great Basin National Park and the Trans America Trail.
On the way down, I stayed to the west of the Pilot Range after riding across, and camping a night in Utah’s west desert, then continued south through Ibapah, and the Goshute Indian Reservation. The Goshute Rez was once the controversial site for nuclear fuel rod storage. Since the state has done little for their economic development, the Goshutes figured since they are a sovereign nation, they’d pad their pockets and take the waste. A few lawsuits later and their big idea was sunk by The White Man.
Anyway, I camped on the back lawn of the Lectrlux Cafe in Baker last night after a kind offer from the owner.
This morning dawned cool as I headed south towards Garrison before bending westward and climbing to the base of the Snake Range.
As I motored on, I spooked a small herd of pronghorn. As they paralleled the road, I kept accelerating trying to match their speed. 30…40…50, and I was losing ground! Amazing critters.
Eventually they began to contour away from me, disappearing as a unified cloud of dust behind a small rise. Just ahead, another grouping crossed the road 20 yds ahead of me, effortlessly galloping to catch the rest of the herd.
Without question, the pronghorn best represents the scale and feeling of this place…
I eventually swung around the south end of the Snake Range and dropped across the valley, heading toward the aptly named Fortification Range…an abrupt, jagged topped, escarpment that separates two saline valleys.
The TAT route description recommended heading north around the Fortification Range as a `dual sport bypass’ to avoid ~5 miles of single track sand. I opted to check out the real route and see what sort of mess I could get myself in.
Although tight, semi-technical, and with sections through a sandy wash, I managed to get through with no problems…other than wacking myself repeatedly in the head with low hung juniper branches.
Once through, I crossed the valley towards Patterson Pass dodging cows, dung filled puddles, and errant strands of barb wire along the way.
Passing over Patterson Pass, I swung northward into Cave Valley, riding for many miles on well graded dirt roads at 50 mph. Easy ridin’ as I passed a number of fellas in orange, glassing the slopes for signs of life to shoot. `Tis the season…
I stopped for lunch at a cow-burnt spring before descending Sawmill Canyon to the small town of Lund. Standard routine…gas, calories, drinks.
From Lund I continued NW, climbing into the Toiyabe National Forest along the historic Hamilton Stage Route and passing the ruins of Wagner Station. Contouring upward, I rode through a recent burn, before cresting a saddle at 7,800 ft.
A short descent had me back in Pronghorn country following the historic Lincoln Highway through sage, shad scale, and fragrant rabbit brush. Again I managed to ride along a herd of Pronghorn…this group was ~20 in size and stayed close to the road speeding along single file as I I accelerated. 40…50…60 mph! Absolutely amazing! We kept pace for a few hundred yards before the herd angled behind a small knoll and then headed southward. I sped on and crested a small rise catching another glimpse of the herd and its dust cloud. Exercised perfection.
Further along a few wild horses perked up at my presence, but simply melted into the horizon by moving steadily towards the closes point in the landscape that hid them from my view. Smart critters those equines.
An hour and half later I dropped into the small town of Eureka, NV…self-proclaimed `friendliest town on the loneliest road.’
I found a lovely patch of grass and a shower at the RV Park south of town. Looks to be another clear, cold evening.
I left Eureka early and promptly got lost among a swirl of mining roads.
I backtracked to the pavement, tried again, but eventually just decided to cruise a few miles along the highway to get past my confusion.
Unfortunately my savvy-nav skills would fall short again mid-morning. Turns and junctions did not seem to match up well with the roll charts, and I felt I was making the landmarks on the map fit the landscape before me.
Frustrated again, I made an educated guess and headed north riding along ranch roads towards a huge hillside mine on the horizon, figuring a main road had to access the mine — maybe even a road with a name and a sign — which seem to be in short supply in Nevada.
Fortunately, as I approached a road junction and referenced my maps, things began to be looking less dodgy. Unfortunately, in my haste I still managed to turn left when I should have gone right… a lapse in correct mental function that was obvious when I caught it ~15 miles south of where I was meant to be.
But…seeing as how I was trying to have a sense of humor about my navigational challenges this morning, I continued southbound then swung back north and circled Caprice Lake…a fair sized slab of aesthetic playa.
The wind was whipping at this point and I rode through clouds of dust which sprung up from the lakebed…. temporarily reducing my line of sight from miles to yards.
Eventually I made it around the lake and rejoined the TAT at the same junction I had left it at…this time opting for the correct direction of travel. A few hours later I rode into Battle Mountain..still fighting the wind and dodging dust storms.
I stopped in the Chamber of Commerce to fill up on water and try to learn something positive about Battle Mountain. Every state has an `armpit city’ and I’ve long suspected that Battle Mountain is Nevada’s. But, here I was and I was trying to dispel my perceptions of the place.
Interestingly, this week featured `speed week’ for human powered crafts. The event featured the current European (slovakian) Champion and the current World (canadian) Champion human powered racers…both of whom have pedaled their custom fabricated 2 wheeled vehicles over 75 mph. Unmotivated by the wind, I decided I`d call it a day and spend the evening checking out the event.
Oddly, as I was turning around in the parking lot I noticed a lanky fellow with a crooked toothed grin working on one of the competition vehicles. I rode over and immediately had him pegged as Barclay Henry, a guy I briefly met on the PCT in ’99 who had the distinction of having his parents airdrop a few of his re-supply parcels in Oregon. Messy but I guess effective.
Anyway, I re-introduced myself and we got to chatting, catching up on each’s other business in the past 8 years. As it turned out, his 15 year old brother, Jay, was racing the human powered event and Barclay was making some mods to the vehicle before this evenings heat. He invited me along to watch and introduced me to his whole family.
The Henry’s are a funky bunch of folks. All the kids are home schooled and incredibly bright, and also very sociable. Each kid seems to have their `thing’ that they do. Barclay is currently a record holder for some division of electric car racing…the car he designed, built, and drives at the races averages ~53 mph for the hour long effort. He’s never lost a race and has only been competing for a year. When he hiked the PCT, he had sewn and fabbed all his own equipment… pack, clothes, stove, flashlight (pak-lite.com). Definitely one of the most interesting people I met in `99. Jay, Barclays 15 year old brother decided to design, build, and race his human powered rig and in a matter of 2 months had qualified for the national event, and posted a speed of 50.42 mph…just about as fast as 3 well-funded college teams in attendance. The Henry’s also live off the grid in Oregon in a highly modified house, drive highly modified cars, and basically look at everything that most people would consider conventional and figure out a way to improve it. Pretty amazing family.
After the event in the evening we went out for Mexican food, and spent more time discussing hiking, lifestyles, etc. They live quite close to the TAT route in Oregon so we made plans for a visit. I meet Barclays sister, newborn son and husband — who now live in Boise only a few blocks from my parents house AND her husband use to climb with a bunch of people I climbed with back in high school.
Battle Mountain: City of Coincidences.
Anyway, it was a very pleasurable evening and I was happy to spend time with great people.
This trip has been a bit lacking in the category of interesting encounters. Hanging with the Henry`s was a welcome reprieve from talking to myself and trying to act interested in what I have to say.Cold front blasting through here on Friday. Might see some snow on Friday. Ugh.
I headed northward from Battle Mountain this morning, anxious to ride as many miles as possible before the winds began to blow.
Pretty uneventful terrain for the better part of the morning…mostly flat, ranch land inter-mixed with avoiding giant mining operations. Occasional views I could label as scenic as well terrain that could be called interesting. Mostly though, it was not either. I did ride a 3 mile stretch of sandy single track through giant sage and rabbit brush. Pretty exciting, but a keen reminder as to my lack of moto skill. No crashes, but unfortunately plenty of smashed sage brush in my wake…so much for low impact.
While I figured it was inevitable, I was beginning to think that I might make it all the way across the country without a flat tire. Today that inevitable puncture occurred as my rear tire picked up a nail and went immediately flat as I was cookin’ along at 50 mph. Easy fella!
I got the bike stopped without incident and set to work…45 mins later with no visible sign of bleeding knuckles, nor utterance of a single curse my tire was fixed. I was also happy to discover that the nail that caused the wound was at least historic…an old school flat sided nail likely dropped from some ‘ol ranchers packhorse on his way to build something. Embracing my mechanical moment, I also replaced my front headlight bulb which had somehow shattered in the headlight.
On my way again, I rode into the treeless Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest. Treeless in that the majority of the country in which it covers is sage scrub with occasional willow thickets along its creeks and infrequent patches of golden aspen. Much of the terrain reminds me of southern Idaho; rising buttes and plateaus like throughout the Snake River Plain, albeit more interesting than the I-84 corridor.
As I rode towards 7,000 ft the temps cooled considerably, the skies darkened, and the winds picked up. Fortunately the skies behaved as I dropped from the higher country into the head of the Quinn River drainage, spooking a herd of ~30 pronghorn as I went.
Exiting the Quinn River Canyon, I entered the Fort McDermitt Paiute-Shosone Indian Reservation and the small hamlet of McDermitt just as the sun set, and the Casino Buffet opened…
~200 miles to California!
I left McDermitt this morning beneath stormy skies. A cold drizzle was falling as I mounted up in full battle gear for the day…which equates to riding in all my available clothing.
I rode out of town hopeful that the storm might move south and that I’d be able to get through the ~200 miles between me and California in a reasonably comfortable fashion.
I swung off the pavement and began a steady climb into the hills. Within 5 miles the rain had turned to snow, but the road was still snow free although a bit muddy and slippery. I motored on. Another 5 miles slipped by the odometer and with a few hundred more feet of elevation gain, the snow was falling hard and the roadway was covered with 3-4 inches. I did not feel that the riding was dangerous or unpleasant up to this point. Other than the obvious reduction in braking, the real issue was visibility. The shield on my helmet was easy to keep clear, but with the falling temperatures and my breathe, the inside would frost up. In addition, the light was incredibly flat so I lost all ability to recognize any terrain features. Regardless I kept riding, stopping now and again to clean the inside of the shield.
Near the summit of the fist climb of the day, the wind picked up and the blowing snow further reduced my visibility. Progress was tedious at best and the snow continued to deepen. Knowing that a downhill was ahead, I decided to retreat to a lower elevation route and bypass a few miles of the higher ground in favor of what I hoped would be better visibility…a moment of rationality I decided to embrace.
I turned around and cautiously made my back to the highway where I headed westward toward an old mine. Turning off the road I continued on graded dirt for about 8 miles before the road became snowy once again. The skies seemed to be letting up, but the higher country was still cloaked beneath heavy clouds.
Despite the snow on the road, I figured as long as I could see, I’d keep riding. Unfortunately, it was not long before the storm intensified and I was back in whiteout conditions despite the lower elevations. Visibility became a major issue once again.
For the second time this morning I turned around, and headed back the way I came. Although all of my important parts were still warm and dry, it was not hard to justify my decision given the conditions and my limited margin for error in terms of staying warm, and thus alive should some disaster (another flat tire, etc) occur.
As I made way back the storm continued to rage, dumping enough snow to cover up my tire tracks and insuring slow, 10 mph progress until I reached the relative comfort of the paved road.
The remaining 10 miles back into McDermitt were a cold, wet, snow plastered affair as the snow continued all the way into town.
Refuge has been found at the McDermitt Motel. Hopefully the weather will at least be clear tomorrow. The temps and road conditions are manageable, but you just can’t ride without being able to see!
After yesterdays weather, I was happy to awake to clear skies. Cold, but at least dry.
I re-traced my route from yesterday… the roadway was snow free but the sage and rabbitbrush were still cloaked in white. I dropped down to a ranch, broke ice on a creek as I crossed, and began to climb upwards along a frozen two track. The riding was a challenge as the ground was frozen solid. Anything flat was fine, but a slight uphill, downhill, or sidehill gave me troubles. I dropped the bike a few times, struggling to find traction with my feet to get the bike upright each time.
As the morning warmed, the snow and ice began to melt and the two tracks became a sticky, gooey affair… effectively filling my knobby tire tread with guck that rendered my bike virtually tractionless. More bike dropping ensued and I looked to the maps for an alternative.
Without any reasonable options, I decided to continue upward, intent on cresting the 7,500 ft saddle and dropping down into the town of Denio well before lunch.
The riding continued to be unreasonable, but I was making just enough upward progress to justify my efforts. I am sure if my bike could talk, it would disagree with me, as it took the brunt of the pain…mainly in the form of a severely deformed rear brake pedal.
But…upward we went, eventually riding high enough that the ground was hard and snow covered again before dropping down towards Denio and having to ride back through the `melt zone’…definately more thought provoking on the descent!
About 20 miles out of Denio, I stopped near a camp trailer with a torn out rear axle as a big Dodge Dually Truck came rumbling up the road. Out from the cab came Cliff, a Vietnam Vet scoping the area he drew his deer tag for…and to “get away from the old lady for the weekend.” Cliff was a very nice guy, but he continued to talk to me for near 45 mins. Despite a number of tactful attempts at an exit, Cliff’s stories continued to flow seamlessly …despite having absolutely zero relation to one another. He’d be taking about shooting 90 rabbits with 100 rounds of ammunition during the last full moon, and that would somehow remind him of restoring an ’63 Buick with a buddy named George…all the while smoking one cigarette after another, “because his old lady doesn’t like it when he smokes in the truck…so I gotta catch up my nicotine when I am outside.”
A classic character for sure, but my growling belly was not interested. Eventually I simply put on my helmet, said goodbye, and rode away.
On the way into Denio I hit a bump and broke off my rear tail/brake light and license plate…ugh… and also noticed that the front half of lower fender had snapped off during the morning. The casualties continue! All told the 60 miles from McDermitt to Denio took me 4 hrs and left my body feeling like I had already ridden a full day.
I filled up on gas, had an enormous burger and headed back on the trail…hopeful that the tone of the morning had passed. Nevada was taking its toll on me and the bike and I was gunning to be across the border and in California before nightfall. The afternoon was pleasant enough despite rough, slow roads. I saw a number of groups of pronghorn as well as feral burros, and 4-5 small herds of wild horses. Most of these critters were in the wildlife refuge that the TAT passes through.
An hour before dark I dropped into a valley with 2 enormous dry lake beds and turned off a speedy gravel road onto a two-track overgrown with sage and rabbitbrush…standard terrain by now for Nevada, but still troublesome to ride without beating myself with branches.
Unfortunately I noticed that my rear tire was a bit low…another flat! Instead of fixing it, I figured it was a slow leak and just pumped it full and rode on. The tire would last 4-6 miles before needing to be re-filled. I had ~25 miles to the California border, but only 45 mins of sunlight left. I pressed on. Darkness fell as I continued to stop and fill the tire. After repeating the process 5 times, I had enough and found a flat, cow-paddied camp ~3 miles from California.
Instead of addressing the tire in the morning, I set to work with the repair figuring the tire would be more malleable when warm, and I’d sleep better knowing it was taken care of.
Unfortunately I am not as proficient changing a tire by headlamp as I am in full day light. I ended up pinch-flatting the new tube, patching the hole, and then pinch-flatting the tube again. So…end result: two patches in a brand new tube, frozen hands, no dinner, and still a bike that can’t go anywhere. I decided to address it in the morning and am now bedded down amongst the cow flops. California is only 3 miles away, and I damn well better make it there tomorrow!
I awoke after a great nights sleep. After my morning routine I set back to work on the rear tire repair. No problem. With daylight to warm my hands and help my eyes, I got the tire repaired quickly and was back on my way.
I passed into California and dropped into the town of Fort Bidwell, a pretty little half-dead agricultural community.
Leaving town I climbed towards the Oregon border and the western boundary of the region that drains into the Great Basin. After yesterdays efforts I was looking forward to what I hoped was going to be an easy day of riding…a day where I might not fall of my bike nor lose any more parts!
The forest road continued to climb until I was back to riding on snowy roads..correction…icy roads. Since the storm rolled through, this road had seen plenty of traffic from hunters, etc. With a day of freeze-thaw thrown in, the roads were not suited for a motorcycle…or at least not suited for a rider as inept, fatigued, or grumpy as myself.
Gaining a saddle (after dropping the bike) I found an alt route down to HWY 395 and ignored the TAT… which was easy to do seeing that it climbed another 1,000 ft. More snow, more ice, more falling. No thanks. I made my way very slowly down 7 miles of intermittently icy roads before finding the comfort of pavement and motored into Lakeview, OR for lunch. Hooray! Oregon!
In Lakeview I re-fastened my license plate, but could not do anything about my missing tail light. Good thing I am on the backroads…
From Lakeview I headed into the mountains…thankfully low enough to avoid snow, and along well graded forest roads. Ahhh..so easy! Such conditions allowed my mind to wander and I overshot a few junctions throughout the afternoon….the last one being ~10 miles before I came to and realized my mistake.
Heading into Silver Lake the TAT followed an old railroad grade for ~12 miles which was the highlight of the afternoon. The railbed was red cinder and contrasted nicely with the sage, juniper and Ponderosa.
I managed to make it to Silver Lake as the sun set, finding a quick dinner before making camp in he community park. Soft grass, lots of coyote yelps, and a noticeable absence of bedside cow dung like last night.
I left Silver Lake early riding through a fog filled dry lake bed and passed cows chewing their cud… apparently indifferent to the cold morning.
Leaving the ag roads behind, I rode across juniper and sage covered high desert, rolling through once volcanic terrain on two tracks.
I had a good chuckle as a fellow in bright orange drove by, rifle in the passenger seat and gun rack affixed in the rear window…of his Geo Metro. Seriously. I was amazed he had not dropped his oil pan miles ago, but did wonder if he considered how his clearance would be affected if he had to cram a deer carcass in the hatchback…
The ~40 miles to Gilcrest sped by quickly and Oregon continued to be the reprieve I wanted…easy roads, easy navigation, and no real threat to the well-being of the bike.
After a microwave-lunch in Gilcrest I motored westward a few miles…then had to backtrack due to a bridge being out…just like Mississippi. A quick detour and I was back on track, over Windigo Pass (PCT Trailhead) and then just north of the Mt Theilsen Wilderness area and Crater Lake National Park. I was happy to have some clear skies as snow covered Mt Thielsen (the lightning rod of the Cascades) was easy to spot as were other notable peaks.
The TAT then began a steady climb, switchbacking up steep mountainsides along both active and inactive logging roads. Plenty of blind corners to make a fella nervous about a head-on with a semi…really not so much fun. The high ridgelines were fantastic though…winding along the spine of a mountain with views in all directions… although those views generally encompassed massive clear cuts.
About 30 miles from my planned stop in Tiller, OR the TAT dove off a high ridge from Quartz Mountain into Boulder Creek. Although the road was posted as,”closed in 3 miles” I thought I’d check it out. My guess was a washout, but seeing as how I had plenty of sunshine left in the day, curiosity got the better of me and down I went. In about 3 miles I ran into a series of 3 blowdowns, fairly large sized logs lay across the road blocking progress for vehicles. I stopped, and walked past them all to be sure that this was the obstacle that deemed the road closed. I came to the river crossing and a bridge still stood, so I set to work figuring out how to get past the blowdowns. The first log required that I build a small ramp from assorted debris (logs, rocks, etc) on each side of the fallen timber and then ride across. No problem.
The Second log was just shy of my total ground clearance so I was able to ride over it with a well timed twist of the throttle.
The third log was the smallest, but required me to skirt between it and the ravine that fell away to the creek below on a thin edge of crumbly road.
Success! I motored across the bridge and turned down canyon only to discover the real obstacle…two huge trenches cut across the roadway…at mile 3.5 from the closed sign. Ugh.
Defeated, I turned around and managed to bypass Log 2 and 3, but unfortunately got hung up on Log 1…teetering precariously on my skid plate high centered. Despite a few attempts to free my bike, they bore no fruit.
Finally, after unloading the bike and with enough rocking and tugging from behind, I was able to free the bike. Good news, except I still needed to get the bike over the log.
Finding more debris about, I set up a larger ramp that reduced the overall angle between the top of the log and the ground…hopefully enough to get me over and on my way. I cleared some brush for a straight entry and mounted up. Bingo! Up and over with no problems…other than that now the daylight was waning and I still needed to find an alternative route and descend to town.
I motored on, finding a good route down from Quartz Mountain to the drainage below, before climbing into the mountains again and a long contour above the town of Tiller. Despite the late hour and darkening skies, I did take a quick a side trip to see the Worlds Tallest Sugar Pine Tree. Working my way through the crowd of salivating lumberjacks, I saw the behemoth tree…275 ft tall with a diameter of 7.5 ft. Pretty dang big tree.
Somehow, on the way into Tiller I got off track and ended up on a lengthy detour, eventually riding in a large circle and coming into town well beyond sunset…tired, frustrated, and hungry. Given the hour, the town was shut down for the night and I resorted to finding a soggy camp off the side of the road.
I awoke from a surprisingly good sleep despite the dubious location of my camp. Thankfully not much road noise in these parts.
I packed up and left Tiller with ~210 miles to the Pacific Ocean remaining along the TAT…
More logging roads were pretty much the standard throughout the morning with a few irksome detours on steep, overgrown, wet, muddy trails. ~10 mile routes to avoid 2 miles of pavement. That has been standard throughout the TAT, but today it was bothersome as I was feeling a bit impatient and simply wanted the easiest, most direct path to the Pacific at this point!
Mid-morning I sped through Fortune Branch, OR and filled up on gas and microwave able breakfast burritos… burp… gas station food is WAY worse than the stuff I normally ingest for hiking.
Onward, climbing into the clear cut slopes of the mountains, I came upon an active logging operation. The road was closed, so I was forced to backtrack again, but not before hanging out for a half hour to watch the operation work…pretty amazing how a swath of forest is leveled, cleared, loaded, and hauled away. Given the steps involved, the machinery necessary, and the environmental impact, it is difficult to imagine the business being cost effective. I did talk with a one of the lumbermen and he was a cordial fellow, explaining the process to me and inquiring about what I was up to…he also told me to ride safe and watch out for lumber trucks. Gotcha.
I continued westward climbing up to Dutchman Butte where I stopped briefly in the high wind to check out an abandoned fire lookout and get a birds eye view of the landscape.
Back on the bike, I began a convoluted descent to a drainage…again another roundabout route to skip a few miles of pavement. This go round I as treated to more overgrown trails and a few technical sections along deeply rutted and steep ATV routes which twisted through the wet undergrowth and had me thinking about dead ends on more than one occasion.
Given the number of trees I had successfully passed in Oregon, it was really only a matter of time before I ended up running into one, and today was the day.
Along one road, I was forced into a side trail to bypass a huge trench which was dug to ineffectively close the road. ATV riders had swung left in a tight arc through the forest and left a deeply rutted track that clambered over roots and then went between the trunks of two trees. I got off the bike and scoped out my route…it looked straightforward enough if I could just follow the tight arc of the turn and stay in the rut. Back on the bike and with my man-pants on, I motored forward into the turn, promptly lost the rut and slammed my bike into the tree trunk…fortunately hitting my fairing guard squarely instead of my kneecap! The bike dropped right between the two trees which left it in a position where I could not lift it up. Precarious to say the least.
Despite a few fruitless efforts at doing so, I eventually resorted to the graceless act of dragging the bike through the mud and out from in between the trees…effectively destroying one of my driving lights in the process. Ho hum…more casualties.
With the bike clear of the trees, I got it upright, fired it up and rode through…physically unscathed, but frustrated that after nearly 5,000 miles of riding, I still suck!
Further along, the TAT mellowed out again, staying along well traveled dirt and gravel roads. Overall the riding was pleasant, but I had now ridden far enough that the coastal weather began to take effect. Heavy mist, rain and other associated conditions of such environs became apparent….making the riding more demanding and further eroding my patience. Its the journey not the destination right? Uh…right.
With the obvious increase in moisture, the forest along the roads was a dense variety of hugh pine, hemlock, rhododendron, maple, and sycamore. Moss clung to the roadcut cliffs and dangled from the branches of the trees. The air was thick and smelled incredibly earthy…reminding me of Tennessee and Arkansas 3,500 miles ago
Despite riding hard all day I was still fighting the onset of the evening, the skies darkening earlier due to the cloud cover, rain and the dense overhead canopy of vegetation. Another road closure due to a massive rock slide resulted in ~15 mile detour which further ate away at the remaining daylight.
~10 miles from Port Orford and the Pacific Ocean I swung left off a main road and began a descent along a soggy, overgrown trail. The rain continued to pour down, filling each rut in the road with a steady rivulet of water. Rounding a curve a “road closed” sign peaked out from the bushes. I stopped and weighed my options. So far, only 1 of 4 closed roads have been navigable for me. Seeing as how it was now 15 mins before dark and pissing down rain, I had no other thought except to backtrack to pavement and ride into Port Orford via the Highway. Not the romantic ending I may have envisioned, but certainly a safe one given the conditions and my fatigue.
I unceremoniously rode into Port Orford on pavement in the dark. Although I was unable to see the Pacific Ocean, the pungent, salty sea smell told me I had arrived.
Thanks for reading.
October 10th….The Pacific!