Rawhyde Adventure (Graduation test)

It was 10pm on Sunday night as I zipped up my rain gear. To the northwest, a storm grew and lightning struck in the distance.

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(For many reasons, I don’t have pictures of the stormy ride home, so these are shots I took from Rawhyde’s Colorado base.)

It had been an exhausting weekend, but with the knowledge I learned and the thought of sleeping in my own bed with my wife, gave me the energy to ride the 3 hours home.

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Raindrops hit my visor and windscreen and I started my bike and turned off the ABS. I had become a pro at turning it off, and skilled at riding off-road. Even today we took a fun ride through the slickest mud I’ve seen since my first epic fall in the mud trying to complete the southern Colorado section of the Great Divide Trail.

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If you peruse my past ride reports here (at least those on two wheels), you will see the recurring theme is of me falling, or trying not to fall, and for quite a few years now I’ve been lamenting not being able to take a class that would teach me how to ride my GS off-road.

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Sure I’ve known of the Rawhyde classes, but I wasn’t going to travel all the way to California to enroll. I simply didn’t have that kind of time or cash. But when they opened up shop here in Colorado I had no excuse but to save my pennies. I even thought of the class as a way to save money from not buying all the parts I might break on my bike in the myriad of falls I take (this is still only a hypothesis, so don’t quote me on that!) Plus, I want to upgrade to the 800 GS soon, so getting some skills and confidence are high on my list of “upgrades” I’d like with a new bike.

I kicked my 650 into first gear, revving the engine and slipping the clutch. Since I spent the entire weekend without loaded down panniers, the bike responded sluggishly and I had to add more throttle. I crunched out over gravel, rode through the gate and into the darkness.

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Naturally the rain started right up. Big drops indicated towering cumulus clouds above. I switched between high and low beams, wishing I had an auxiliary light. But I kept the speed slow and my upper body loose as I stood on the pegs, taking the turns back to the main county road.

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When I got to Country Road 53, the rain came down steadily and since I stood, it ran down into my gloves. I flipped on my heated grips and kept riding. What else could you do? The smartest thing would’ve been to stay the night.

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Lightning flashed in the distance, briefly illuminating the landscape and reminding me of the storm scene in All the Pretty Horses. A rabbit, caught in the side beam of my headlight raced toward my front tire only to veer away at the last moment. Way too quick do one of the panic stops we learned that day.

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I kept riding. More lightning, more rain in my gloves, and more miles passed below me. The road varied between washboard gravel, hard packed mud and just slick sections with puddles, but my training served me well. Every once in a mile there was a wobble and a slight meandering of the bike, but I stayed upright and didn’t worry, even smiling at some of the small challenges that cropped up.

Once I hit the highway, I turned the ABS back on, and lit out for home. The rain had stopped and eventually the roads would dry out. I crawled into bed after midnight and even now as I write this, I am looking forward to my next off-road adventure. Maybe the road to Moffat Tunnel. Now I just have to find the time.

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It had been a short but packed weekend, but that final ride in the rain felt like my graduation test. And I feel I passed with flying colors.

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The Final Push to Prescott

“If we’re riding on the BDR tomorrow, we’re getting up at five,” Dezso said, sounding petty adamant.

I had another friend on another road trip so very long ago that was also adamant that we get up at five. He said he’d even start off driving so everyone could still sleep. And sure enough he’d get us all up, hop in the driver’s seat and thirty minutes later ask someone else to drive because he was tired and wanted to nap.

They never did find his body.

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“No way! Seven”

“Six, “ Dezso countered, “and we’re getting up and getting on the road. We’ll stop for coffee later.”

“But there’s free coffee and breakfast downstairs!”

So we settled on 6 and free coffee, not even realizing that in a few short hours we’d pass into Arizona which doesn’t believe in Daylight Savings Time, thus gaining another hour to ride. It was my turn to panic. My odometer showed two hundred miles and I figured I had about seventy miles left. Dezso said he still had half a tank and we both know my single cylinder 650 gets way better gas mileage than his. So once the morning fog cleared out of my brain, I figured I hadn’t zero’d out my trip counter from the last fill up.

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Our first stop was the Painted Desert and Petrified Forest national parks. Last year I had purchased a national parks pass and shared it with Dezso, so he did the same this year and I got in for free. I haven’t been here in decades. I remember having gone here on a family vacation, but I can’t really tell you how much it’s changed over the years. I’m pretty sure the adamant tone regarding not collecting things in the park and the search stations at the exits are a more recent addition. But if you really need a chunk of petrified wood there are a million shops right outside the park.

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I was surprised to see a lot of desert flora in the area (duh).

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I guess I didn’t know what to expect but grasses and brush grew in the area.

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We pulled in to each turn out, sometimes getting off the bike for photos and sometimes just standing on the pegs to get a look out over the edge.

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We were both suitably impressed with the park, and I’ve love to see it from the air as the maps show a large swath of geography that “looks like tye dye” covering a good chunk of the area. From the ground, there are lots of colors although none looking like an old weathered hippie.

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The landscape range in colors from faded desert tans to reds and purples. It almost reminded me of the colors of Petra, Jordan. Most of the overlooks (by definition) looked out over the landscape from the top of buttes, but there were a couple at ground level that looked up onto hills (named the Tepees) which gave a different perspective.

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Just before we crossed over I-40, there’s a pullout for Historic Route 66.

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Jack Kerouac traveled this often, so it always holds a little place in my heart. Pair that with my love of maps and travel and I’m hooked. I want to have the time (and money) to travel its length on my Ural.

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To be fair, I would also like to travel Rte 66 in a car like this.

We took a side road leading to Newspaper Rock. I assumed a place where people came to sign their names in the soft rock (there’s a place like that out…somewhere. Montana? I’ve forgotten where because I think I’ve seen a couple of them. One in Montana where Lewis and Clark signed their names and one in Nebraska or Kansas.) This one had Native American Petroglyphs instead. You could stand on a platform and use scopes to look down on a couple of large boulders that had been covered in glyphs.

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Soon we started seeing chunks of petrified trees. Dark brown chunks of rock laying on the distant landscape. Since we rode from north to south, it took a while to hit the more grand chunks of forest and they saved the grand finale for last.

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At the Petrified Forest Museum they have a park you can walk around in. Some have the upper formations of roots, some are really large in diameter, but they’re all just gorgeous to look at.

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Crystals mixed darker minerals, all showing tree rings. It really is amazing to see and I highly recommend a stop if you’re passing through.

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We stopped at almost every pullout and it only took us an hour. There’s building labeled as an inn inside the park, but it only functions as a museum. All I can think of are the millions of stars over this stark landscape that would make for some amazing photographs (provided you know what you’re doing). Oh well, another vague plan thwarted.

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The wind picked up and as we rode into Holbrook, we got hit with some significant gusts that had us leaned far into the wind and weaving in our lane. We stopped for lunch at a mom and pop Mexican American restaurant that hovered right around mediocre. We jumped back on the road and headed into Heber. We were still bucking a strong crosswind which didn’t stop until we got into a landscape with a few more trees.

The landscape started off with a windswept prairie that graduated to pinions which eventually changed to a pine forest. The temperature dropped and clouds built up. Mom wrote and said it was overcast in Prescott and so we might get some rain. Not a good sign since we still hadn’t started riding where the pavement ended.

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Why’s it always gotta rain when I want to ride off road?

Just west of Heber we picked up the AZ BDR on Rte 300. This is a section that follows the Mogollon Rim. We had climbed about 2000 feet in elevation, so we had to pull over and don some warmer layers. Just then the drizzle started and we watched the side roads to see what they ground would be like once we hit dirt. Since we’ve never ridden off-road here, we weren’t sure what the ground would be like (mud, gravel, quicksand) and since I’ve already taken a good spill in the mud, I wasn’t too keen on repeating the maneuver.

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Fortunately (or un) Rte 300 was paved for a while. We stopped for a photo-op looking out from the Mogollon Rim and could see the wall of rain approaching. Still optimistic we continued on. Eventually the pavement ended, turned to eroded pavement, then gravel, and finally hard packed dirt which slowly turned to mud in the rain.

We turned around based on my “recommendation.”

On the plus side it knocked a couple of hours off of our trip.

We back-tracked a mile or two and rejoined Hwy 260 and rode into the Verde Valley. As we descended in elevation and the rain stopped we had to take off more and more layers until we were sweating in our Kevlar. We passed quickly through Cottonwood, and started our climb into Jerome.

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Yeah, this is Arizona, so it is best to leave people alone.

Jerome is a fun little town with a motto of “We’re all here because we’re not all there.” It used to be an old mining town and is the home of Caduceus Cellars, expensive wine made by the front man of the band Tool and Puscifer. I would normally scoff at such a wine, and I did so until I tried it on a previous trip. In fact wines from this area are pleasant and I’ll usually buy a bottle for special occasions (like the one I’m saving for when I finish my second novel) or friends who’ll cook me a nice meal. But paying $40 for a bottle of wine is something I’ll rarely do. There are too many great bottles under $20 that are just as, if not more, enjoyable.

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(Looking toward Sedona)

Since I still had a fair amount riding left to do today, and had been riding for two days straight and was tired, I just popped in and purchased two bottles of wine I had previously enjoyed without doing a tasting. Now it was the final stretch into Prescott. We were tired and saddle sore and Mom had mentioned dinner at a deli near the house. I was sad that I didn’t get a chance to ride off-road, but we’ve got the Rawhyde class and Colorado BDR coming up in a month. Stay tuned for more reports!

A different approach to off-road in Moab Pt. 1

Onion Creek Road on smaller bikes.

It’s already March and both Dezso and I have been champing at the bit to get out on some rides. It has been a long winter with very little riding, not even when I could take the Ural out in the snow. Work and everything else seems to have blown up in my face and kept me out of my garage and neglecting my bikes.
So when Dezso proposed a trip to Moab to rent dirt bikes, I was all for it. I had taken a dirt bike class, using Honda 230s in a vain attempt to help me ride my GS through dirt, sand, and gravel. Sadly, only dirt had been present at my class, but I did get a better feel for riding a small bike off-road.
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We invited some friends, Dezso’s brother, Alex, and my wife, Deana, who were interested in renting ATVs, and struck out for the weekend, camping along Highway 128 and eating at Fiesta Mexicana like we usually do. In the morning, after a breakfast of habanero bacon, eggs, and coffee, we headed to High Point to rent a slew of machines.
The crew at High Point Hummer and ATV were friendly and charming, but as they went over the machines with us, noting every scratch, ding, and dent, we all became worried that we’d have to account for everything that touched the bikes and ATVs, including our butts. But that wasn’t the case, as they took our machines back with smiles. (Not that we tore the living shit out of those machines, but I’m sure it’s every rental agency’s worry that they won’t see their cash flow return, and it’s the customer’s worry that they’ll find something that only can be seen with the aid of a microscope)
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Photo Courtesy of Rachel

Since only one dirt bike (A new Honda 250) was street legal, we had to rent a trailer as well ( Which actually comes free with the rental as do coolers and a gas can). I rode the Honda 250 up to Onion Creek/ Fischer’s Tower and Dezso towed the rest with his truck. Dezso and I had ridden this road last year as part of the Utah Backcountry Discovery Route and I had wished I had been able to take photos, but also wished I could’ve shown the area to Deana. Now I finally got the chance.
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I had tried to sync our three helmets (Deana, Dezso and me), but couldn’t quite figure it out. Plus we were all ready to hit the trails, so talking to Deana trumps Dezso in this situation.
It wouldn’t have mattered; we unloaded the machines and Dezso immediately took off only to be spotted when he returned to see where we were.
Michael and Rachel brought up the rear as they had their two dogs with them, but the poor dogs lasted about 3 stream crossings before tiring out and they had to return to the car to let the dogs sleep it off. I stuck with Deana as she got the feel for her ATV and I got the feel for my Honda 230.
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This improved road follows Onion Creek and crosses it many times. For once I had on waterproof boots and had no qualms about splashing through each time. On such a small bike, I had no problem bouncing over hidden rocks in the stream bed, or going a little faster around turns, using the techniques I had learned in my class.

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The red canyon walls crept closer and taller as we wound our way through. There were other ATVs, dirk bikes, and cars on the road. Vehicles had parked all along and off the roadway, enjoying an overcast and slightly chilly day. The road dipped and turned, giving Deana the opportunity to practice shifting as well as turning while using the thumb accelerator on her ATV.
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Gradually the road led up a few switchbacks and put us (sort of) on top of things. We had the option of continuing on, or returning to the truck and trying another off-road trail. It was a unanimous consensus and we turned around. There was more to see out there.
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On the way down, we met up with Michael and Rachel who had dumped the dogs in the car to rest and sped along to catch up with us. We told them our plan and they were fine with it. By now we rarely saw Dezso who zipped along like a Labrador Retriever chasing balls.
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We made it back to the trailer and opened our coolers for meats and cheeses and crackers before trailering over to the next area.

Heading Home: Part 3 of our trip down the CO BDR.

There’s a point in the morning where the sound of drizzle hitting your tent no longer matters because your air mattress had lost 90% of its air and you are essentially resting on the ground. Does one get off the uncomfortable but dry floor of the tent, or get up and go outside to face the damp day? At least there’s coffee to look forward to.

While watching the weather on our phones, we loaded up, and rode into town for gas. Dezso expressed an interest in heading out to the Twin Lakes for some photos so we altered our plans to include a side ride.

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The rain continued to pick up and by the time we reached the turn for Hwy 82, my engine had lost significant power. My speed went from 60 on the downhill to 40 and I had to downshift to keep it at that speed.

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We pulled into a parking area near the lake and tried to troubleshoot the issue.

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This was the first time I’ve had such a problem and I wondered if it might be bad gas or water in my carbs (turns out that due to the day and night of wet weather, then riding out in the worst of it, my coil and plugs had gotten wet-but I didn’t know this at the time). We didn’t have many options: We could head south on US 24 to Buena Vista, then head up US 285 to home, or head up and over Weston Pass to US 285 and head home. The former route would be more populated in case I broke down, and the latter, would be in a harder to reach place, but I wouldn’t have to worry about any speeders rear-ending me for going too slow in the rain.

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Cell coverage wouldn’t be great, and Dezso was concerned about riding through mud on two wheels. But with these power issues I felt it best to take Weston Pass. I lead the charge, linking our intercoms so I could warn him as to when any mud or soft sand leapt out from the road in an attempt to sabotage his ride.

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And to Dezso’s credit, he didn’t seem to have any trouble—which kinda pisses me off. Why can’t I have that kind of skill on my GS? I am forever slipping and falling over—sometimes even when I come to a complete stop!

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The road comprised mostly of larger rocks sticking out of sand. There were little bits of mud, but Dezso didn’t have any problems.

I had problems on the more bouncy portions of the road and there were times when we all got off the Ural and pushed it up to the next flat area. I think I’m due for the new and improved clutch.

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The clouds parted near the summit and we had a good time getting to Fairplay, enjoying the sudden lack of rain.

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Getting to the top: A reenactment of how we did it.

To the west we could see storms descending off the mountains as they dumped on the continental divide. We gassed up and suddenly my engine ran better—sometimes even reaching 65 mph which also led me to believe it had been bad gas (but when I got home, I checked with a variety of people and forums and the consensus was that it had been the rain that caused the problem).

We rode up to Bailey and stopped for a late lunch, hoping to dodge some of the worst weather. The rain caught up, then passed us as we lingered over fries and cokes. By the time we got outside it only sprinkled.

There wasn’t much more rain and we mostly dried out on our way home. As with all Sundays in Colorado, we did get stuck in traffic as Denver returned home in preparation for the Monday work day.

Overall, the trip was a success. The air mattress was a nice addition, but we knew going in that it was on its way out. The next time we get stuck in that much rain, I think I will suck it up and get a hotel room, just so our stuff stays dry. I will also spray my coil with WD-40 to keep the moisture off, and with a new and improved clutch plate I will be ready to tackle the larger passes on the COBDR. I can’t wait till next year!

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They never warned us about the grasshoppers! Part 2 of the COBDR

We first awoke at 4am, courtesy of some large diesel truck rumbling through the park. We had no idea what he sought, but it certainly was annoying. I lingered awake only long enough to pull my keffiyeh over my head for the extra warmth.

The next time we awoke, it was dawn, but the sun hadn’t hit our tent, and the air was still chilly. Since this was vacation, we rolled over again until a “reasonable hour” had been reached, i.e. when the sun had warmed things up.

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We had a quick meal of coffee and granola bars before loading up and getting back on the BDR. We passed a sign that said Steamboat Springs was only 29 miles away. I had plenty of gas, having filled up from the jerry can. What I didn’t realize is that the BDR takes a few turns before reaching Steamboat, taking to all points west and possibly even close to the Pacific Ocean.

Deana spotted a side trail off to our right and wondered aloud about where it went. I turned around to find out. The path went up a slight hill before ending at a campsite. Cross beams lashed to trees indicated it must’ve been used for hunting, and the fire pit was large enough to warm quite a party, but the best part Deana spotted first.

“There’s an office chair over there.”

“What?” I asked and pulled over.  Sure enough an office chair sat sublimely in a sunbeam beneath the aspens. We took a few photos before returning to the BDR.

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We passed through the town of Columbine, stopping to read a plaque telling the story of a mine there and how the owner of that mine chased his wife with a butcher knife to the town because “The voices in his head told him that her ghost would lead him to the gold.”

15 minutes later we rode past Steamboat Lake State Park. Okay, so we hadn’t been that far when we stopped for the night, but judging by the crowds, we did alright camping in the national forest. Houses dotted the fields around us as we twisted and turned in a direction that always seemed to be away from Steamboat Springs. Some houses looked like summer homes, and others looked lived in year round. Regardless, many had For Sale signs on them.

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Two hundred more turns and we rode past an elk farm (I wonder if they’d sell you a steak right before you camped for the night? If so, that’d be my plan for the next time down the BDR). Then there was farm and ranch land, and then—holy shit—the Valley of the Grasshoppers. I’m not talking about a few skipping merrily across the road. They jumped and flew everywhere—into the hack, all over Deana and me, our luggage, and yes, they even wedged themselves into the cooling fins on the cylinder heads.

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Deana set about removing the ones from the sidecar, no longer leaning in the turns because the little hoppers seemed to aim directly for her helmet (another great reason for ATGATT. I’d hate to see what would happen should one of those little buggers hop their way up your sleeve and commenced to bounce around your armpit!) Hazards like this should be marked on the map!

What felt like 28 days later we pulled up in Steamboat for gas and Deana continued to evict grasshoppers from our rig where birds made quick work of those that didn’t get away fast enough. As we were leaving, we got a text from Dezso.

“I know it’s short notice, but I’m going for a ride. Want to come?”

“We’re already on the BDR. Ride to Gypsum, then head north. We’ll meet you along the way.”

We continued south on paved roads until we reached the end of pavement marked by a sign that read “Impassable when wet.” Being on the Ural, I liked that! But as there were no rain clouds in the sky (yet) we couldn’t test that theory. As we rode down this road, I could guess at the meaning of the sign. From side to side, the road opened up in varying sizes of potholes. Fill those up with water and you just might have some hazards.

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We passed some cyclists, then some hikers and fishermen. Apparently this was a popular trail. When we stopped for some photos we noticed a roasting smell. It wasn’t quite bbq, but it wasn’t quite hamburgers grilling either. It turned out to be all the grasshoppers stuck in the cooling fins. I grabbed a stick and proceeded to flick out as many as I could reach.

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We passed Stagecoach State Park, not having realized there was such a large body of water up here. A couple of boats and jet skis dotted the water and it looked quite pleasant. We rode around the lake, hitting some pavement and some dirt roads.

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Now it started to look like rain. Dark clouds rolled past and we hoped we’d dodge the worst of it. I debated rain gear, but just ended up pulling on my jacket.  Lightening cracked overhead and it started to drizzle as we rode through more ranch land. Aspen covered slopes stretched up on our left, and pastures with a stream meandering through opened up on our right. It was definitely gorgeous up here.

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We passed a few trailheads and a semi rest area with bathrooms and an informative moose sign so we stopped for a coke and trail mix whilst we read the sign. Then we passed Hwy 134 and instead of going around, I took Deana down to see the stagecoach stop and the deep water crossing that I (somehow) crossed back in March. I knew it was too deep for the Ural since the air intake is under the seat and exhaust pipes are even lower than that.

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We returned to Hwy 134 and rode east to pick up the BDR on the other side of the water crossing, hoping we hadn’t passed Dezso somewhere within this area. The route dipped back into the forest mingled with cows grazing (always, there are cows grazing!) It looked like lots of beetle kill befell this area as many trees had been removed, scraped up into piles, or burn scars marked where they once stood. But aspens still grew tall, and it even looked like they popped up in areas where the pines once lived. Rain clouds kept pace with us, although little actually fell.

The road twisted and bucked its way through the folds of the mountains. Our sight was limited only to the heavy rain clouds and how much of the forest that had been left standing. Sometimes we could see across a small valley, sometimes it was only up to the next bend in the road. We had a few inclines (That usually start right after a horseshoe turn) where we had to shift down into first gear to make it up.

We broke out of the trees to the great Colorado River Valley, just above Radium. Below us bales of hay sat in fields and our view finally opened up for miles. Rafters, campers and kayakers stretched along the river banks.

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We crossed the Colorado, heading south on Hwy 11, finally meeting Dezso coming up the road. We stopped for snacks and to discuss our plans. Deana and I wanted to get dinner in Leadville, but since it was already well into the afternoon and we hadn’t even reached I-70 yet, we decided to cut out the next portion of the BDR, and head straight to Gypsum on paved roads.

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In town, I pulled over at the first gas station I saw. A Colorado State High Patrol pulled in next to us. He mentioned a huge storm was headed our way and to be careful. We could clearly see the storm he spoke of, and we didn’t want to get stuck on Hagerman Pass in what could easily turn into a snow storm at that altitude—that’s no way to get press for Ural motorcycles. As if we hadn’t already made up our minds, it started to pour as we finished gassing up. So we turned around and rode up US 6, then up US 24 to Leadville.

We outran the first part of this storm, then caught it just past Minturn it started raining on us. Due to the steep grade, I slowed down to between 30 and 45 mph, and we rolled through Leadville and found a commercial campground near town. In fact it was the first campground I came to. Usually I’m not interested in these, but it was getting late and I was ready to set up our tents and get over to The Grill for the best red chili enchiladas in the state. We bought a bundle of wood and set up our camp next to a nice family from Indiana.

It rained pretty hard during dinner, but held off enough to us to ride back to camp and stay up a while longer. Unfortunately our wood was damp, but we managed to light it with the coercion of lighter fluid. It gave a half-hearted attempt to burn while we chatted with the family next door. Eventually we gave up and went to bed. It rained all night and as the air leaked from our air mattress, I thought we might have had better luck in a motel room.

Trial Run of the Colorado Backcountry Discovery Route. Part 1

We had this idea that we wanted to ride part of the CO BDR this year and test out our Ural camping skills to boot. Usually we are of the car-camping style of people, having done our fair share of backpacking, etc. and now enjoy a more comfortable style of camping. Think British Safari of the early 1900s. And yes, we’ll take our quinine with our gin and tonics. No more building our beds out of pine boughs (too pointy and scratchy) nor eating freeze-dried meals in a bag!

On the plus side of camping with our Ural is that there’s extra room for gear. Granted there’s extra room for people, but I like to think that the luggage rack holds more gear than Deana displaces. We whittled down what we would bring until it fit in the trunk, the rack, and a bag at her feet. And by fit, I mean I packed it so tight that nothing could escape from under the trunk’s lid. We risked losing an eye when we popped the trunk that evening.

Having safely stowed our gear, we had two options to get to the Northern end of the BDR: North over Rocky Mountain National Park, or more west, through Winter Park, Steamboat, and Craig. We chose this option since neither of us had been this way in a while.

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By Thursday evening we had our bags packed, and Friday morning (at a reasonable hour) we loaded our Patrol, rolled down the garage door and hit the road. However, due to our “reasonable hour” we needed lunch by the time we hit Idaho Springs. A quick Yelp search found us an excellent sandwich spot called “Two Brother’s Deli.” It’s well worth a stop.

Having fueled ourselves up, it was a quick run on I-70 to US 40. We stayed in the right lane to let others pass us up the pass. As loaded down as we were and with Deana helping to lean in the turns, the sidecar had no chance of flying around the right hand turns! I think half the fun of learning to drive a sidecar rig is estimating how much lean is required from my monkey to make the turn as smooth as possible. Deana has this down to a science: sometimes a tilt of the head, and other  times, it is a full body lean with her arm hanging out the side (usually with camera in hand).

On the way up, I noticed the bolt for the gas tank had shaken loose. This was lucky since I usually only notice parts that had dropped off a long time ago and is probably stuck in some unsuspecting driver’s tire. We pulled over at the summit to tighten things up and check for anything else that might be trying to break free.

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As we coasted down the other side traffic piled up. When this happens it is because of gawkers and rubber-neckers and this time was no different. People who won’t leave the sanctity of their cars as they marvel at nature.

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This involves parking your car in the middle of the highway and snapping photos. Today’s traffic was brought to us by moose grazing on the side of the road, and I understand the interest to stop for moose since I rarely see them around here. Fortunately for me, I had Deana taking photos as we rode by and the road cleared up after that.

We gassed up in Kremmling, then Steamboat, and finally Craig, all the time watching the sun race toward the horizon. I had hoped to have made it a fair ways down the BDR, possibly even to Steamboat Lake State Park, but it became clear that wouldn’t happen.

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“What time is sunset?” I asked

“8:30?”

It was 7pm and I didn’t want to admit I lacked a plan b. The map didn’t show any campsites nearby. The only other option was to ride into the national forest and find a nice spot.

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So we continued on as the sun set, crossing into Wyoming and turning east on Hwy 70. This was the time that game appeared for their highway-side dining. Antelope and deer sprang from seemingly nowhere and I had to ride more cautiously.

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We turned onto Snake River Road and the scenery became more rural.

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We passed houses, farms, and ranches, and now had to add avoiding bovine. Riding near calves can be a little nerve-wracking. They’ll stare at you for a while, then bolt as they decide you’re evil. Larger cows usually don’t make such an effort as you ride pass.

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Farms and ranches gave way to aspen forests where we saw 2 porcupines crossing the road. I pulled over and Deana chased them with her camera, glad to have all her riding gear on. They were nonplussed and showed their gratitude by raising their quills in a most inhospitable manner. We rode on.

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This was the twilight hour (No, not those damn werewolves and vampires)—the hour when the light is just perfect for photography. Golden light filtered through aspen leaves. Far away clouds had scalloped edges tinged in tangerines and pinks, and Deana took photo after photo.

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I think this best describes one of the many reasons I love to ride. Not only am I outside in the elements unlike driving in a car, but I’m also seeing a lot more than if I were just hiking. Hikes are fine and we all need a little more exercise in our lives, but I enjoy going a little faster and seeing a little more of the world around me.

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The sun had disappeared behind the distant mountains by the time we rode through the “Entering National Forest” sign.

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We followed the BDR for a few more trails, each one decreasing in size until we bounced along on a two track in dwindling light. It was hard to see the road and what lay over the next bump so we decided to call it quits. A sign read “Small Red Park: 2” and we turned down the side road and found ourselves a campsite.

Campers already had their fires going and we pitched out tent in the beam of the Ural’s headlight. We ate dinner, then lay back with a glass of wine and watched the stars. A meteor, brighter and longer than any I’ve ever seen streaked across the sky in all of three seconds, but the image is burned forever in my brain. It was the perfect end to the perfect day.

Final instalment of the Utah Backcountry Discovery Route

By now we had passed the pinnacle of our trip as we rode toward the proverbial home stretch. This is the point where I start thinking of home, the next trip, and regret for not having more time. But we still had miles of dirt roads to ride today and thoughts can’t linger outside of staying upright and dodging the worst parts of the road.

Today we rode from Moab, crossing over I-70 and straight into the Bookcliffs (a mountain range that starts in Grand Junction, Colorado, and extends westward deep into Utah) then west to Green River, UT. Then there’d be nothing but pavement as we head home. This section of the BDR would be new territory and Dezso wasn’t too interested as he assumed it would be flat and boring. Thankfully he was wrong!

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I had regained my confidence by not falling in sand, dirt, silt, or any other road gremlins that pop up from nowhere, despite the two times I suddenly tipped over for no reason at a dead stop. In the hotel I spent some time reviewing online videos on how to ride in loose gravel. And again I was disappointed when no one remarked on riding whilst fully loaded.

We set off on Hwy 128 until a few miles past Dewey Bridge where we picked up the Kokopeli Trail. We had long since ridden out of the Canyon, so all we could see were desert hills dotted with low scrub brush. No more red rock walls, deep canyons, or pine-covered vistas. But we got to ride on dirt again and that was enough to make me happy.

The road twisted in and out of rolling hills, limiting our sight until we crested a hill. And I admit that the only joy of this segment of the trail was that I hadn’t been here before so I saw things I had never seen. Plus I kept the bike upright, bringing no more damage to my abused pannier!

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Not too far down the road we happened upon two old buildings made of railroad ties. We stopped to take photos, wandering around the site to see what secrets we could discover. Dezso continued snapping photos while I strolled around, trying to determine the age of the site based on trash and other artifacts lying about.

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My guess, based on the can dump*, was that occupation started in the early 1900s (based on a can I found called “hole-in-top” that dates from that period), extended through the 1970s (based on the pull-tab cans I saw and the lack of any of the types of soda cans we use today which started in the 1980s, and into modern day (based on a claim stake we found). Some of the older tins came from South or Central America based on the Spanish on the tins. But just looking at the area, I couldn’t imagine what anyone could mine out here!

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I circled farther out and found a deteriorated road. I followed it and found 4 mine entrances that connected to each other. I don’t need to tell any of you that going in alone is dangerous—so I went back and grabbed Dezso to share in my stupidity.

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Having escaped the mine alive (Seriously, nothing happened. We just looked inside and left), we saddled up and vowed to return to camp here one night.

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Duck!

As if this homestead was the gateway, we saw mines pop up all over the landscape, some old, some new. We saw more campers set up shop, and few ATVs and trucks roaming around. The ground grew more desert-like: stretches of sand, volcanic rock, and sparse vegetation. Different colored minerals leached out of the soil in thick striations dyed in the hills, changing from shades of tan to faded greens and reds. We took our time, scanning the landscape for anything unusual and man-made.

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In the distance we saw an old bus 100 yards off the road so we parked and walked over to it, finding a few more mine shafts and can dumps.

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I took a few hundred more photos before we rode on to the final stretch to I-70. As if suddenly tired of all the twisting it had done, the road straightened and headed directly to the interstate over some significantly flat prairie.

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photo courtesy of Dezso Adai.

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(To be fair, you can reach Moab from here. It just takes longer.)

On the north side of the interstate we took a feeder road for a tenth of a mile. A dog walked onto the road, wagging its greeting. I had no idea why a dog would be so friendly this far from any humans, but scanning the horizon revealed a man on horseback. As we got closer we saw he herded sheep and sat on horseback to survey his flock. I had visions of Don Quixote tilting into sheep, and then Dr. Vendicarsi riding full bore into a flock as well, so I wisely let Dezso go first, thinking I could be the first to flee and get help.

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I even idly though of ways of getting Dezso into trouble with this shepherd and filming the results for a book trailer, but I needed help completing this section of the BDR so I sidelined the idea until later.

We ducked into the foothills of the Bookcliffs and things got technical fast. The road varied between gravel, hard packed dirt, and rock-strewn twists that climbed and fell with abandon. Sight grew limited to the next turn or hill that creeped Dezso out. We joked that this was prime ambush country, suspecting a western could be filmed here.

Concern crept into our consciousness on whether we’d make it to Green River before nightfall. Dezso had an appointment at the BMW dealer in Grand Junction for 11am tomorrow, and we needed to be close enough to make it. It didn’t help that we now rode into the setting sun. Also it is hard to determine how long a trail will take due to the quality of the road and how much we might decide to dawdle. We had taken our sweet time in the morning, so it was time to stash our cameras and focus on riding.

We came to an unclear fork in the road. To the right a sign posted on a fence said, “No Trespassing.” The road to the left headed vaguely toward a waypoint and definitely toward I-70. We consulted our maps and GPS, but there wasn’t enough information to go on. We chose left, entering a small canyon and after half a mile, decided we went the wrong way when pavement started back up.

We pulled over, and as Dezso examined the map, I scanned the canyon for anything interesting.

“Holy shit,” I said.

Dezso glanced up. “What?”

“Look around. Tell me if you notice anything.”

“What is it?

“Keep looking.”

“Where?”

“The canyon walls.”

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Soon enough Dezso spotted the red, humanoid pictographs from ancient Native Americans. We rode over for a closer inspection and discovered a small recreation area named Barrier Canyon. As if on cue, a few cars and trailers pulled into the parking area.

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We snapped a lot of photos, then saddled up and moseyed back through the canyon. As it turned out, the no trespassing sign was intended for the land and not the road. I verified this once we passed the next GPS waypoint.

I think what surprised me most was that this was cattle country. We passed rain collection cisterns, fence lines, and the unfortunate discovery that cows had used the road as their own path the last time it was muddy. Their solid hoof prints rattled our bikes as we cursed their tasty bones. Dezso vowed to eat a steak if he made it to the end of the day, and I promised to drink a glass of milk at every pasture I encountered on my next trip.

But after a few miles of dodging hoof prints, we went back to wishing we could ride over them from here to Tierra Del Fuego as we hit the soft dirt scraped up by a road grader that must’ve cleared the road only a day or two ago. It’s disconcerting to ride on hard pack, then suddenly have your front tire dig in, your rear tire float in every direction but straight, and your balance just fly out the proverbial window completely.

We were tired, exhausted even, and had the sun in our eyes. We weren’t the most aware to navigate the soft soil, but it was the only option to get to Green River before sundown (in theory. Who knew what lay ahead of us!) I rode 300 feet behind Dezso, waiting for any curses or instruction, plus the tell-tale rooster tail of dirt.

We talked strategy, and most things worked, most of the time. When Dezso cart-wheeled over his bike, I duck paddled my legs through the tricky section. When I suddenly found myself in the thick of it, I’d lean back, stand on the pegs, and let the bike go where it may. Sometimes I’d gas the throttle, or let up depending on what was going on. Basically, I still didn’t really understand the physics of riding through soft sand or dirt with a loaded bike.

It goes without saying that I fell many times. After the easiest fall, I dusted myself off and got back on, but during the worst I somehow managed to land directly on my left shoulder. I don’t know exactly what I did, but since I could still rotate my shoulder I suspected it wasn’t broken. That shoulder hurt for weeks afterward.

14 miles never took so long, and by the time we reached pavement, I knew we’d be getting a room in Green River. Covered in dust, we blew mud balls out of our noses, and created our own whirling tornado of dirt trailing behind us that could be seen in bordering states. I used hotel points to reserve a room and surprised the hell out of the front desk clerk as I hobbled in, leaving a trail of dirt on their freshly vacuumed carpet.

We unloaded our panniers, leaving the hallway looking like a Texas-sized stampede had commenced to take up residence, and rode into town to get steaks.

*Despite this being a trash dump, Federal law states that anything over 50 years old is an archaeological artifact. When you see even what looks like a pile of trash, don’t destroy it because archaeologists can determine a lot of information from these dumps—from the time of occupation, economic welfare of the site (Are there champagne bottles, or beer cans? Or neither?) to what kinds of foods and where they came from. And yes, I was an archaeologist for a while.

Utah Back Country Discover Route, Part 2. Moab to Moab

The next portion of the BDR started in Southeast Moab and looped through the LaSalle Mountains before dropping into the Colorado River Canyon near Fisher Towers along Hwy 128. If anyone has just a couple of days in Moab, I’d recommend riding this portion. And when I return on my Ural, I plan to ride this part again.

We grabbed a quick smoothie for breakfast, meeting a Tenere rider who was out breaking in his bike. After swapping stories and destinations, we rode out of town on Sand Flats Rd, past the landfill, stopping inside the recreation fee area where high clearance 4X4s lined up to try their skills on sandstone ridges. I certainly wouldn’t ride it on my Beemer, but I would have considered it on the Ural. And I’m sure we would’ve made quite a sight since the Ural could have fit under most of those trucks.

Due to the silt factory we rode through yesterday, I wanted to bang out my air filter before we got any farther down the road. I pulled off the panel and opened up the air intake, but didn’t get a lot of dust out of it. I did find a seemingly large amount of oil in there which freaked me out, but after research on F650.com it turned out this will happen if you fall over. I sopped up as much as I could and replaced the panels.

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Photo courtesy of Dezso Adai

With that taken care of we started up the road again, stopping to take photos and videos as we rode through a landscape that looked like a vegetated Martian surface. The campsites here made me want to camp the next time through, but the idea of needing to reserve a campsite then didn’t cross my mind. It turns out campsites in Moab fill up rather quickly, but we didn’t learn that until the end of the day.

The landscape was red sand dotted with low scrub and the occasional juniper trying to break rocks in half with roots and patience. Rock formations like the backs of monsters broke through the ground in arcs of sandstone and the tracks of 4X4s showed the recreation trails through this playground. We passed some cyclists and dodged sand drifts in the road, climbing further into the mountains and away from the crowds.

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No longer on the desert floor, the roads had gravel on them which required different skills to avoid slipping. Aspen and pine forests closed in with the occasional house or pasture coming into view. Somehow we missed the Kokopeli Trail, but didn’t mind too much since the roads we rode were still new to us. The next time we’re back, we’ll ride this missing section. We consulted the maps when we reached the Mountain Loop Road, turned left and headed back down the mountain until our next turn onto the proverbial road less traveled.

Despite Dezso’s warning that there would be more sand along this portion of the route, we had somehow forgotten to let air back out of our tires. Over the course of the day these gravel and dirt packed roads had started building my confidence (Seriously. Riding is a mind game. You want—need—a certain amount of confidence in order to tackle what’s in front of you, but not so much that you’re riding like an idiot.) I do know I lack confidence in many areas that can only be eradicated with hours spent riding. And I plan on getting as much hands-on experience as I can and follow up with a few classes also. But for now, I had hands-on experience right here in the field.

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At Castleton Road, we returned to dirt and gravel roads, once again passing a few cars and trucks out for pleasure drives, or dropping off cattle which had started moo’ving (Sorry) to higher pastures. We were still up in the mountains, but the topography had changed again. We returned to junipers, red dirt, and rocky outcroppings.

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We stopped a few more times for food, photos, and breaks, and two times in a row I (cough) experienced a sudden shift in Coriolis Effect. Each time I stopped, I would suddenly list to starboard and topple over. I couldn’t explain it. Perhaps I was tired; perhaps I thought I rode my Ural. But it only happened twice before I stopped doing it.

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The route took us on Onion Creek and Hideout Road, which dropped down into the canyons. We started to warm up with the drop in elevation, but the weather held and kept things perfect all day. We hit farmland, and returned to sagebrush country except when following creeks and other water sources where trees grew.

Continuing on Onion Creek Rd, we rode the spine of some of the erosion that happened in geologic time, able to look down from both sides of the road.  It was a great twisty, dirt-packed road that afforded lots of photos and videos, and we took our time, fearing the end of the ride was near and not really ready to let it go.

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The road dropped into a narrow, red canyon that had many small stream crossings. I got my boots wet over the course of splashing through, and soon enough my socks were soaked.

I really need better boots.

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Photo Courtesy of Dezso Adai

It’s times like these that I wish I had a camera mounted to my bike so that I could snap photos whilst I ride. Chances are the camera couldn’t capture the height and red of the canyon walls, but still wanted to try (just another thing to add to my wish list, right?). Campsites appeared full of campers so we rode on. We had talked about camping, enjoying a fire, and trying some night photography, but as we rode through each campground all we saw were reservation tickets posted before each site. Lesson learned, we road back into town and got our same room from last night and then went straight for margaritas.

The Utah Back Country Discovery Route. Pt. 1

Winter kept a tight hold on Colorado this Spring, But Dezso and I finally found a window of opportunity to get out for a trip. Granted we had both gotten some short rides in during the winter months, but it’s not the same as loading up your gear and disappearing into the back country for a week. We looked at our options. The Rockies still held an abundance of snow, but Dezso and I figured we could ride around a great deal of Utah without getting snow on our shoes.

We rode hard from Denver to get to Mexican Hat, UT, arriving at dusk and checking into the hotel. We wanted a good night’s rest before hitting the beginning of the Utah Back Country Discovery Route. So after an insipid dinner and a restful night we got started on the first segment through the Valley of the Gods.

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Located in the Southeast corner of Utah, the landscape is sandstone and desert flora—desert poppies, sage, and a few cacti. We got on the road and up to our turn off in a matter of minutes and began to ride through the dirt toward an escarpment to the north.

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Between Hwy 163 and the mountains to the north are stand-alone red sandstone towers.  We rode between these, taking our time and shooting photos and videos when the opportunity arose.

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We met one other Beemer rider headed in the opposite direction, and after a brief ride report about the road ahead we continued on.

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Still clean and uninjured!

Now, I hate to admit this, but this was the first time I got to try out my new(ish) knobbies. I took my time, testing my ability to turn, swerve, and stop in the dirt. Little did I know they’d get the ultimate test a few more miles down the road.

 We passed a B&B way out on the western edge of the Valley of the Gods that looked like a great place to stay. I can only imagine that without all the light pollution, this would be an excellent place to photograph at night.

We exited Garden of the Gods Rd onto Hwy 261 and climbed the Moki Dugway—a narrow, gravel road full of switchbacks and, oddly enough, an RV or two. On every horseshoe bend you could look down over the edge at the road below. Looking up, you can’t even see where the road goes next.

At the top, we turned left and took a dirt road toward Goosenecks State Park. Now the best part of this ride is that I’ve let Dezso go first. The downside is that when there is dust getting kicked up, I’m usually eating it. The upside, as I learned on this segment of road, is that when the road suddenly changes, I get to hear about it first hand over our intercom.

Dezso soon disappeared ahead and I was left to ride dust free. Then the silence broke as Dezso’s voice crackled in my ear.  “Whoa!” A pause. “Watch out. There’s sand up ahead.” I slowed down and saw a wobbling line of tire tracks.  I’m not that good at riding in the sand and silt. I know I need to learn, and I am trying to learn, but damn! It’s one thing to watch a video, another to take a class using small Honda 250s, and a whole different galaxy when you’re on a fully loaded F650GS! Where are those classes?

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Having safely ridden through the sand, we made it to the edge, looking out over the San Juan River and the vistas afforded from this view. We took some photos and moved back onto the UTBDR. It was just a short jaunt up the paved road to Snow Flat Rd. Once we started down the lightly sandy road we had to stop and let air out of our tires. A trick first developed by early pioneers crossing the plains in Conestoga wagons* and later used on motor vehicles to give better grip on tricky surfaces.

The road quickly deteriorated into more technical riding, but that’s what we wanted. And since I hadn’t fallen, life was grand. We went from dirt to bare rock, and all variables in between. Brush and juniper grew high on the sides of the road which contrasted nicely with the red sand we rode on. Aside from the tail end of jack rabbits, or the shadows of crows overhead, we didn’t see much wildlife. This was fine with me since I wondered if I was capable of avoiding little critters as well as sand pits and chunks of rock in the trail.

True enough, the road started throwing rocks our way and just after one engine-guard-scraping occurrence, I took my first spill right over a rocky ledge that turned into deep sand. I had lined the bike up to go over a few rocks, made it, then noticed the sand drift creeping onto the right side of the road. I tried to correct, turning my handlebars and slowing down (you know, all the wrong things to do), but with my weight forward, the front wheel dug in and I was down in the dust. It is because of such (cough) unscheduled “dismounts” that I am a firm believer in ATGATT, and the pinnacle of such events was still two days away.

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My left pannier had busted off (I abuse the hell out of that left pannier) and a little gas had leaked out making me think the incident was much worse than it actually was. Luckily it turned out just to be the gas tank overflow. We picked the bike up and moved it to a more level place. I tried to reattach the pannier, but laws of physics-of which we are bound to-had tweaked the mounting bracket and bolt and it wouldn’t go back on. We found a good-sized rock and banged on both until the mounting bolt would fit.

Photo Courtesy of Dezso Adai

Photo Courtesy of Dezso Adai

As if a precursor to the road’s deterioration, it soon became nothing more than sections of bare rock, interspersed with large chunks of rocks as we moved off the escarpment. Each time a rock jumped up and twanged against my engine guard I was happy to have it in place. We continued down onto the desert floor and the roads turned to dirt which soon enough turned to silt, often in the most unexpected placed. Again, Dezso tested the road ahead as I heard exclamations and expletives once he found deep sand. This is where I fell the second time.

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After a rather large stretch of deep and rutted sand, Dezso turned around in time to see a big puff of sand: My second ejection from the saddle; this time to the right. News flash: It turns out if you fall over, oil can run into your air intake area. I busted the lens cover off my turn signal and bent my rearview mirror.

This was the beginning of 5-10 miles (I am still hesitant to count) of off-and-on deep rutted stretches of silt. Not quite dirt, not quite sand, but fine enough to kick up clouds with each passing, and deep enough to make travel through it highly questionable.  Dezso would lead, I’d hear a curse, and he’d ask if he could film me going through the sand trap. As I write this and reflect, I should’ve had him film it so that I could possibly learn from what the hell I was doing and to give you, gentle reader, something to laugh at.

There’s a theory about your mentality and riding. You can easily psyche yourself out and after a few more falls I felt myself improve, but I also started to second guess my abilities. I rode slower, hesitated on curves and rocks, and even though I knew this was bad, I couldn’t change it. Only more practice and experience gets rid of this feeling and I got a lot of it the following day.

By the time we hit pavement again I was beat. The area holds lots of archaeological ruins, but I no longer felt like riding down long stretches of sand. I was covered in dust from the inside of my helmet down into my socks. After a brief discussion, we beat a hasty retreat to Moab for Margaritas and showers.

Stand by for Part 2!

*this may or may not true. Oh wondrous internet! The things you can make up!