Looking at the map we thought we knew what we were doing. No way were we going to backtrack East toward Salt Lake city, no, we were going North through an area that no one really knew much about.
I rustily asked the old monolingual mexican dude if there was any fuel up there and he shrugged his shoulders and looked at me with that “you’re an idiot, why do you want to go up there anyway” expression. Screw it, we bought fuel cans and Adam was getting antsy in his pantsy to leave so we strapped them up and headed north up the suspiciously unused road.Turning to dirt we soon noticed the rarely seen dashed line on the GPS and a cattle grid; the state line to Nevada!
It’s weird that, as humans, we feel a need to delineate stuff, especially when you’re out in the desert taking photos of a random cattle grid and orange plastic pole with the barely visible “NEVADA STATE LINE” stenciled on it. Where are the booze and hookers? All we got was more dirt when the road shortly ended and we were back over the Utah line to some very remote farms. Those people really live a long way from nowhere.
I never got used to how a major road on the map can be such a disappointment. We crossed highway 30 and headed up to the unknown and a dot on the map called Grouse Creek. If you do this kind of trip across the ‘states it quickly becomes apparent that these towns are normally a small collection of buildings and nothing else. This made me pretty nervous because fuel was playing on my mind and it was getting late. Of course all that was nonsense. We cruised into this lovely quaint farming hamlet and saw an old guy putting along on his farm ATV. We introduced ourselves and he reciprocated in great humour by proclaiming his self appointment as Mayor. We asked about camping spots and were told that we could use the Rodeo ground, just along the road. There was power, water, cover and a toilet. Lovely! When we rolled up there was a couple there that ran the catering there; slightly guarded at first we chatted about their dogs and they soon made us feel very welcome, showing us where the water and light switches were. Tents were unnecessary so we just slept on our mattresses and sleeping bags. It was a lovely night with distant coyotes and a cool breeze, then a beautiful sunrise.
We did see a really weird thing in the sky. I would have never noticed but Adam was looking south, about 10 o’clock elevation and called over to me to check it out. After my eyes resolving the faint stars I saw a loop of light points about the same brightness as the surrounding stars chasing themselves. We stared at it for some time and it eventually dissolved. I can’t say I have ever seen anything like that and my rational mind can’t think of what it could have been. Pretty odd.
In the morning we followed our noses over some quite spectacular hills toward the Idaho state line with dreams of Sunday bacon and eggs, got distracted by the “City of Rocks” National Reserve (not really what I would call a city, per-say, more like a village) and ended up refueling in a gas station in Declo that had what seemed to be a nice looking food outlet. Things soon got pretty odd. A dude in a very sensible sedan wearing a suit congratulated us for touring the country and basically chastised us for not already having as many children as we could. He used a very close to the bone expression that said forthrightly “Us white people need to keep up our end of the population”, then he left and we went into the store. The door creaked and a clutch of men looked around. They were doing that hanging around for a while but not sitting down thing that men do in some circumstances when the should be somewhere else. You can see this behavior in fishing shops, motorcycle dealers and anywhere where the man can be in his natural habitat and drink isn’t involved. There was no food to be had, the glass display cabinets were empty and that’s when the penny dropped. Church. The man in the suit, the men in the foodless cafe and the total lack of beer. I paid for fuel and asked for food. I might as well have asked for a copy of Reader’s Wives or Teen Sluts because the look on the man’s face said “You heathens really shouldn’t be asking us to make food on a Sunday”. It was pretty weird and we were glad to be back on our bikes.
Relief came in the form of Village of Trees RV resort. Milkshakes, bacon and other ungodly things were imbibed whilst we made friends with Mad Max and Eric the Blacksmith. You know, the most interesting people in America live on what most would call the fringes of society. They’re not normal and that is what is so great about them. As usual we found them way too interesting and spent far too long hearing of Max’s brushes with Mexican bike gangs and looking at Eric’s workshop along with all the stuff he makes in the realm of the mountain man.
On the map you may notice a really big gap north of Minidoka. I blame Adam. Note the use of the word blame. It’s implying that an event happened that someone is responsible for. I was getting that weird spider sense that means “you don’t really want to go up there”, but that was being countered by the lovely experience of finding the Rodeo ground in Grouse Creek, another map black hole. Adam is a bit more gung-ho so we crossed the railway tracks and headed north through the ever diminishing and horribly corrugated farm roads until the GPS had only one spidery branching track to follow.
There was wind and a nasty barely existent rut track that broke out into horrible rocks and undulating corners with blind crests that promised a change of scenery but never delivered. Peppering the experience were millions of grasshoppers the numbers of which were biblical. They jumped through the hole in my fairing where my forks go, which meant me being rained on from below with a torrent of insects. Adam had it worse. He was behind for most of this and was splashed with the wake of these hopping nasties. Did I mention the wind? Trying to keep a big bike upright in a dusty rut with plagues of grasshoppers bothering you is hard enough but there was also a wind strong enough to lean against. It was awful. The kind of horrible that you want to just get over with but can’t because the track meandered through patches of nasty sharp volcanic rock.
About four hours later we arrived at Atomic City. I’m pretty sure the CIA put this ‘town’ here for nuclear testing because it is the most god forsaken place in the United States. Maybe that explains the plagues but what about the locals? Refreshingly drunk, they were relaxing after a day of racing cars round their own track. Again, awesome people that welcomed us like friends after we explained exactly where we had just ridden from. I got a lot of that on this trip.
“Where? You came from where? Are you sure you came from there? You know there is no road?” asked the man in a dusty plaid shirt, a greasy hand gesticulating a beer.
“Yes, I know, now give me a Coke before I pass out.”
We regretfully shrugged off offers of shots, signed a dollarbill for the wall and headed for civilisation. Riding at a 30 degree slant due to the incredible wind we saw a sign for a nuclear site and despite being totally beaten by the wind and insects we visited the site of the first Nuclear reactor. Can you believe they were building nuclear jet engines for aeroplanes in the 60s too? They are still there, out in the desert, rusting.
Luckily there was a room at the Lost River Motel but bad news came from Adam. The dry bag containing his lovely Belstaff jacket, tent, sleeping bag and a load of other stuff also contained a quart of engine oil. Contained, past tense, because the contents were now covering the contents of the blue dry bag. I made helpful comments like “You really shouldn’t have put that oil in there” whilst trying to avoid touching anything that Adam owned. He managed to wipe a lot of it clean but the Jacket was toast so we did what any self respecting adventure man would do and sent it to his mum. That really isn’t what you want to deal with after such a brutal day but Adam came out with good humor regaling me and a cool group of Kiwis we met with stories of the advertising world whilst we ate at Pickle’s Place .
Nathan’s Honda entertained us in the morning and provided more chain lube. That stuff doesn’t last very long when you’re doing two bikes and a load of miles. It propelled us west and toward more passes that we really weren’t expecting. I must have been getting tired by then because I didn’t take many photos, but I remember it being hard riding and spectacular. I even rode Adam’s bike for a while until we approached Sun Valley which was a complete culture shock. I chuckled at how Californian Adam has become in seeing an overpriced Quinoa salad and getting excited. There were vintage Porsches and equally well maintained older women parked in shady spots. We made the place look untidy and headed west again to a late night check in at a Motel in Boise, Idaho. The home of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.
Zen it was not to be…
I waited until I had a camera and unpacked my bike so those nervous of all that kind of thing could see what went into riding such a long way.
Moving away from the 3 step ranch was difficult. It’s beautiful, there is great food and it’s very serene. Being on the road is kinda the opposite, except for the scenery, but off and at ‘em we were, confident in Adam’s plumbing work on Dr Zeleaky and the lovely fresh tyres that I had installed.
Aaaaand we’re off… through the undulating hills of Eastern Utah in the cool morning. Dr Zeleaky was smoking, what I thought, was the smoke of a fresh fiddle when we stopped to put our rain gear on just past La Sal. Adam took a cursory look and spearing ensued.
The whole exercise to reduce kinks in the DRZ’s guts had an awful side effect; the plastic catch tank was resting on the exhaust and now had a hole burnt clean through. Adam, now as adept as a F1 pit mechanic, whipped the thing out and we set about with gasket sealant and gaffer tape in an attempt to patch the scar made oh-so difficult because it was covered in oil, like the whole bike.
Off again we went climbing heights again, through forest and up into damp cloud. Not the terrain we imagined for Utah, but a great relief from the 42ºC (108ºF) of yesterday’s foray into Moab scavenging for parts. Even the workers at the recycling centre were complaining about the heat whilst they sucked on popsicles and sorted card and metal, overlooked by an Angelina Jolie era Tomb Raider cardboard cutout. Like everyone we met they were all too glad to help and untangled an old power supply from the pile for the fan inside.
Peaking Mt Peale and Mt Mellenthin we descended to an incredible view of Moab and it’s Warner Bros matte painting like canyon backdrop. There is no doubt that the cartoons we watched as kids came from the mind of someone who spent quite some time in Utah. The overlook was spectacular, so much so that I almost want to deny you a photo because the justice the photo brings is kangaroo court. This trip has been full of moments like this, with the sad realization that the vistas can never be shared, only experienced at the time. Photos are a cruel court in which to judge the expletive generating scenes that I experienced daily.
The other great advantage of being line-of-sight with a major town is cell phone signal. So I call Anne and jibberishly attempt to describe what we are seeing and Adam calls Rocky Mountain ATV, the Amazon.com of the motorbike world, to see if we can replace the melted blob duct tape ball that was his catch tank. Of course they have it and weirdly Adam has a credit of exactly the amount in his account there, having bought pretty much everything he was wearing and riding from the same shop.
Through Moab we at at Milts, my Moab favourite for it’s simplicity, busy collage age staff and genuine history. The place gets a lick of paint but thats about it. The formica top to the bar must have seen hundreds of thousands of burgers and ‘shakes crossing it since the fuzzy black and white photos from the ‘50s – its great. We bumped into a couple of English lads there who paid to come and teach American kids to play football for the summer. Seems a bit of a scam that; they should be paid, not the other way round. A dash up the highway for a couple of miles, then left into the real desert of sand and red rock, climbing up and up to a precarious view down to the canyon, then down to the plateau. It’s hard to ride in this desert. There are rocks sticking up treating to puncture Ginko’s new boots and nasty sand to test my fortitude. I’d love to be on a light enduro machine here and blast across it at warp speed but I need to get all my water, food, fuel and supplies across in one piece.
At one point we had to rely on traditional map skills of Northings and Westings to work out where we were. GPS gets you so far, but the desert is pretty featureless and there are a lot of snaking canyons of which we were in the wrong branch.
More desert, sand dust and sun brought us back to the Highway and then the old highway, dangerous for it’s huge potholes going North to Green River and more rain. We chickened out and took a motel, washed clothes, ate crap and slept to continue across the desert the next day where we encountered the most incredible of canyons. If you are ever in the area look up the CR332 and drive the road North-West. The scale of the scenery is astonishing.
The TAT heads in the direction of Salt Lake City, which is where Rocky Mountain ATV is based so we decide to head there, first climbing and descending South Tent Mountain to Ephraim where we had what San Franscisco resident Adam described as ‘the best burrito I have ever had’ at a little Mexican place in town. It was great, but we needed to ride to Nephi and the cheesy carbohydrate volleyball in our stomachs caused some narcoleptic episodes.
Adam’s favourite was the freeway. We needed to make time for all the stops and that meant him riding what is akin to an angry lawnmower a long way up the freeway to Payson near Salt Lake City and Rocky Mountain ATV. Of particular seared in olfactory memory was a truck that overtook us. The DRZ is geared at a speed juuuuust below which these Semi-Trucks are comfortable, so we end up being slowly overtaken by a succession of interesting, dull and in this case gag-reflex inducing stench that crept past us until we were still in it’s wake with the rig miles away in front. It must have had desert baked animal bodies, off offel or maybe liposuction fat in it. Memorable it sure was; that truck driver can not be popular.
Arriving at Rocky Mountain ATV we park on the pavement outside and the dirt savvy customers exiting the little shop glued onto the massive warehouse clock Ginko and I get the now familiar questions about the rarest of beasts, the Africa Twin. Adam decides not to sully the clean cement and parks away from the shop, walking in to be greeted by tempting bits and bobs on sale. We got chatting with Mattie who is a guru with the Rocky Mountain ATV website, quickly pulling up the most random of bits. Adam got his weird plastic black box, some extra Roc Straps to replace those that Dr Zeleaky had eaten and I bought a mirror smoke visor for my craigslist helmet. we chatted and as we were leaving someone in the clouds opened a tap and the sky filled with water. We were a bit stuck because we really needed to fix the Dr and we asked Payton, the supervisor if there was a covered area where we could pull the Suzuki apart. To our surprise he opened one of the loading ramps and we were ensconced by a billion dollars of motorcycle parts taking the world’s grimiest DRZ apart on their clean floor. That warehouse is massive, so big that the only thing limiting its expansion is the Interstate. thew staff were super cool and interested in what we were doing. It was amazing to look up from the dirty Dr and say “umm… have you got one of these?” holding up some destroyed part for someone to come back with a selection for us to choose.
When we’d installed the wretched black box and some other bits (causing a nasty gash in Adam’s hand) it was closing time and we got the local knowledge about where to camp. Dave came out in his helmet and jacket so I asked about his ride… something I have wanted to try since Anne and I lived in Bangkok, a Honda Grom. The antithesis of Ginko, it’s a tiny but classy fun machine with a clutch, upside down forks and great brakes. We swapped had a scoot round the loading area then set off chasing Dave in the direction of the valley we would be camping in.
Setting up tents in the trees we chatted to the camp neighbours and had a walk wound the lake in the woods overlooking the town, ate some food and tried to start a fire. Our direct neighbours were a pastor and his family of eight children who were out for the day. I suspect they must have noticed us trying to light the damp wood hurriedly left by the previous occupants escaping the downpour, because the kids bought us a succession of campfire lighting tools, starters and eventually Dad bought over the heart of their own fire on a metal skillet. Not only that but marshmallows and sticks, so we had a raging fire and pudding.
In the morning we were given even more hospitality from another Dad and kids cooking pancakes on a griddle. We got a fantastic fresh cooked pancake breakfast and were on our way. We looped round to Eureka and Vernon where we battled huge heat and big winds, north to Tooele and then the Salt flats where we fulfilled a life’s ambition and took to the salt… then ran away because the stuff was wet and stick to your bike like alien blood cement, eating through steel with abandon.
Having cheap Mexican in the Bonneville salt flats cantina we studied maps and decided to cut the TAT where it goes into Idaho. There is a curious loop that runs way East then North to Idaho which we concluded could be short-cut. Whilst doing so a dude interrupted us saying he was on the TAT in his Jeep and his friend’s Land Rover. He told us that GPS’ were ‘a good idea and that we should be using them’ and that ‘…there are these fuel containers called RotoPax, you’ll need some of those too.’ Errr.. okay dude. I think we’re okay for now, but thanks for the useful information?!
Nervous of the lack of fuel for the next section we had bought gallon containers and filled our bags with water. Local knowledge was scarce of information about the roads north. Would we be okay? Find out next time on JasonWD.com!
Click here for the next entry – Utah to Idaho – North to the Waste
The Colorado passes are a ride of a lifetime. In a jeep it must be spectacular, trundling up unthinkably steep rocks and looking over the edge to a certain doom. In a bike it is terrifying. On Ginko the switchbacks are about as tight a corner as you would normally do, except there is also loose rock and extreme steepness. Doing down I disabled the ABS on the rear wheel and slewed the back like a storm anchor on a ship. One corner was so loose it was impossible to stop the weighty war horse (as Adam calls her) so we skidded and slid down the loose rock sideways until we were inches from the edge.
I’ll have to look at a map, but we rode quite a few passes and camped in between at a national forest campsite, setting our tents up military style in the teaming rain when a little, mildly officious, lady approaches us for the $14 fee to camp. In our rush to find a spot we didn’t realise there was a massive trailer behind the trees with a generator running to power the huge TV we could see through the tinted window. I don’t understand why these people come all the was to the beautiful countryside and sit in humming air conditioning watching soaps through the satellite receiver placed on the picnic table. It seems I did a bit of killing along the way too…
It’s a different experience I suppose. I’m sitting under the cover of a rodeo arena in my sleeping bag listening to coyotes howl over whatever they caught for breakfast. The sun is just ebbing over the mountains to the east. More of that later.
Our last pass ended with a really fun ride through the tree line and mud whoops, snaking down to a pair of dudes arguing over a map. Their fresh bright orange KTM Adventures parked patiently and packed to the neighs, they sat and discussed how best to tackle the passes. Adam has a better memory for names so explained our route which at first they thought impossible, at one point gesturing to my bike and exclaiming ‘On that?! You guys are the real deal!’.
I told them how great Ginko was to ride and convinced them to have a go. Returning Mike said “I’m getting rid of that piece of shit KTM and getting myself one of these as soon as I can. This thing is amazing!”
When we reached Salida (sa lie da) adam’s bike was still building up huge pressure in the oil tank. He would have to stop and release the cap to relieve the engine for fear of a gasket of hose blowing off somewhere.
Farther up the trail we came across two guys on KLR 650s. Scott suggested we visit Dustin in town. What a magic geezer. He stood in the rain pulling hoses and finding the culprit.
Opting for a motel we rolled the strip in Salida and discovered our pet friendly room would be $170! I desperately needed sleep and Adam needed a place to strip his bike so we went for it. There was a rodeo in town and even the Internet couldn’t help us.
Another pass and rolling tree lined roads through undulating forest put us through Silverton for lunch then up up up back into the forest and a campsite overlooking an incredible valley. We were really in the middle of nowhere cooking my last Quebec bought rehydrated Shepherds pie, then hanging all out food in a tree to prevent bears getting it.
That night was my first experience of coyotes. They were right outside the tents making this weird yap/howl/screech. I should have put earplugs in because there wasn’t the best sleep to be had at over 10,000ft it was cold too.
The states have very different characters because after the woods came miles and miles of nasty gravel toward Utah. I had to stop and reduce my tyre pressures which made a remarkable difference in the ease at which Ginko carved the deep stuff, but increased puncture paranoia from the ‘sticky outy rocks’ we warn each other about over the radio.
On the plains a house came into view so we took a look. It was a dust bowl era house that looked as if it would collapse at a gust. Cecil turned up in his truck and confirmed our theory then gave us the best local knowledge. A canyon not oft visited but as spectacular as the Grand was promised. We had our doubts but were gobsmacked when we saw it. As usual, the pictures don’t really do it justice.
When Scott and Julia arrived we were given a cabin and shown to the Livery where my new tyres were waiting. The thousands of miles from The Saint’s house had taken their toll on the poor Shinko 804/805 combo and they really needed retirement to get me to Victoria, BC.
It’s a good thing Scott’s 3step Hideaway workshop has a concrete filled barrel because getting those huge tyres off and on is a mother f**king b**ch ass pain in the hole.
Adam also had DR Zeleaky (her new name) apart in a constant struggle with the oil hoses.
Scott needed to hunt for a bag his previous guests lost and offered to take us along in the ATV. What a cool and incredibly capable vehicle! We followed a dry river bed deep in sand then crossed back into Colorado via a very Zimbabwean fence. As a kid it was my task to jump from the bed of a pickup and drag these barbed wire fences away from the path of the truck. The bag, containing an expensive helmet, was just beyond, having being flung from the race prepared ATV that was no doubt skipping over the gnarly terrain faster than the average highway family sedan speed.
We loved being at 3step and wanted to relax there, but Adam needed to replace his hoses and possibly get a fan rigged up to his radiators. We awoke from our cabin to a delicious huge breakfast and headed to Moab on Ginko and her new tyres. It’s odd that town is a hundred mile round trip, but we arrived in a 42°C Moab and scouted for parts. No luck with the fans: we were looking for computer fans to bodge onto the radiator of the DRZ, but a bloke in the NAPA suggested we get a mister bottle (the kind your gran uses on her geraniums), so we got one of those too. The motorbike shops were surprisingly bad, at least compared to the bicycle shops I went to in my past Moab visit.
A lovely steak dinner and more bike fettling followed with Scott’s angelic presence reassuring us with all our idiotic wrenching. The man knows his bikes but won’t interfere unless you really need him. He’s a top bloke who should be supported in every way. Go to 3 Step, you’ll enjoy the place no matter what.
We left and back to the TAT. Aaaannnnnnd… DR ZELEAKY STIKES AGAIN!
We stopped to put our rain gear on and Adam discovered that his exhaust was burning a hole in the oil catch tank.
Next time. How do we fix that?
Click here to read the next instalment – Utah desert – Desert for Dessert
Eating fine food and recounting stories to Mitch and Rhys, cousin Adam and Carolyn’s great friends, seemed like a surreal parallel life from living in a tent and getting covered in dust every day.
I visited the enormous REI and picked up a pair of discounted travel shoes because I lost another pair of flip flops from the agressive bounce of the dirt, and a mesh sack to put my drying clothes in on the outside of the panniers. I was secretly hoping to pick up a travel chair but they are a bit too much cash and a bit big. I also spotted a phone holder in the bicycle section for $25 that looks just like the $250 Touratech one. Bargain. I had been using an ill fitting pouch with a clear cover that was cooking my phone. It was no fun waiting in the heat for my phone to cool down whilst in Oklahoma. Remember the pics on the plains? They were the result of pouring water from my CamelBak over my phone to revive it.
In my luxurious slumber I was thinking about helmets too. The problem is that riding by myself is dandy with my lovely Shoei, but as soon as you are following someone dust becomes an issue and you need goggles. I had been looking at a Bell Adventure helmet but, despite the amazing value, the extra cost had prevented me from picking one up. The gods must have been looking down on my because on searching the motorcycle section of Craigslist Denver for ‘adventure’ up pops the perfect example at a price that QVC watchers would be dialing for.
Joe the Jeep gets me the slightly farther distance than I thought and Ralph explains that his other half doesn’t really use it. The helmet is perfect and as we chat I realise Ralph lives in his amazingly well equipped Mercedes Sprinter Van. Being an aerospace engineer he has completely decked it out for comfortable and stealthy living, including a hydraulic lift on the back for his bike. It’s weird because Anne spotted one in Valle Bras du Nord and said it would be cool to do that. What is fate telling us?
It was a great pleasure to sit on the front porch with Uncle Peter and give my perspective of the magical farm he had in Zimbabwe. We spent a lot of time there as a family and it is a big part of my makeup. He also had some great insights about the family that I never knew; like my terrifyingly posh great grandmother thinking my grandfather was a failure whilst sitting having tea in the garden of his beautiful mansion in Salisbury (Harare).
I picked Adam B up from Denver International and the next day we spent making the Whitehead’s garage look like a mechanised refugee camp by spreading the contents of our panniers across the floor. The theme of the next part of the trip was set by Adam disassembling his bike and fiddling with the carburettor to adjust for the altitude and fitting a longer stand that required more hardware.
By the time we sent some stuff home (my helmet and the maps I had already used) and farted about it was much later than we really wanted but said our goodbyes to the incredibly patient and thoughtful Whiteheads and we’re off into the setting sun.
The cardinal rule of adventure travel is: Don’t travel at night. We cruised Denver’s southern edge and Adam had a problem. His rear tyre was loosing pressure. We stopped, checked, stopped, checked the came across a bar. Cowboys and food. Real cowboy dancing with his lady and real cowboy drinking a beer at the bar; stools with horse saddles and two English blokes dressed like astronauts.
Back on the incredible but darkroom black twisty road I dropped Ginko simply turning round and we called the night. The crash bars that I had imported from SW-Motech in Germany were worth their weight because the hard dirt road would have destroyed my radiators. Through the darkness we hoped we’d find a little spot to kip and rounded a corner to see what looked like a Mexican tent festival in one of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) sites. Pickups and communal tents with drunk Hispanics loudly talking about romantic entanglements with hot nieces.
We needed sleep and set up camp sharpish in a spare spot to be woken by wood chopping at 2am and more loudness so at 5am we broke camp and headed off into the mountains. Down the beautiful snaking Tarmac and into more arid climbs Adam’s Suzuki started spitting oil. We stopped and for the second time his petrol tank was off and we were in the back of a filling station hiding from the heat with a bike in bits. We secured a hose and fiddled more then were off up the dirt.
This may get dull, but Colorado has some truly stunning scenery. We rode up through forests, cattle plains and incredible valleys then up to our first pass. I didn’t really know what to expect from a pass but there was some pretty extreme riding for someone on a 225kg machine with full luggage. At one section Adam warned me that he had stopped before a rock garden but I had to push through and Ginko did her best and powered through the baby head rocks and boulders to eventually crest the summit and down the other side to Salida. By now Adam’s DRZ 400 was spewing oil again and we found the workshop of Dustin who was recommended to us by some blokes on the trail riding KLRs. Despite not knowing us from Adam (see what I did there??) Dustin dropped what he was doing and delved into the problem, pulling hoses off and going to his computer to look at parts diagrams. In the rain of the car park Dustin worked out that the breather tubes were blocked and needed attention so Adam and I decided a motel was the best choice and he set about fixing the problem under the canopy of our pet friendly room.
Excellent pizza was had in the cute little mountain town of Salida that night and we retired to arise and start all over again, but this day would be the most epic. The passes in Colorado take you over the high peaks in a way we never ever expected. There are very steep rocks to climb and loose rocky switchbacks on extremely exposed ledges. Epic is an over-used word but it really fitted this day. I think we crested four passes and descended loose corners and ledges with extreme sketchiness whilst trying to avoid the jeep traffic of the devotees that make the pilgrimage to trundle up the magnificent mountains.
Coming down to a clearing I thought I saw a mirage. Ginko was standing in on a flat spot with some blokes around her. No it wasn’t Ginko, I was riding her, it was another Africa twin! Then behind I saw another one! Weirdly there were now three of these unicorns in the same place. We got chatting to the owner of the red one who actually works for Honda and bought his at full retail because they are so hard to get hold of. Rely and Ann were fantastically enthusastic about our travels and have offered to replace my shameful KTM umbrella with a nice Honda one. I just need to work out where to get them to send it! Only after chatting for a while did I realise that we were at the continental divide so Anne snapped a pic of us and we set off down a lovely smooth road to file up at Sargent at the bottom of the pass.
On one descent I needed to make way for a Jeep, stupid descision, and moved up onto an off camber loose cutting where my front tyre couldn’t quite take the load and I lost her. We soon righted her and we’re back to the challenge.
Sitting chatting at the store in Sargents a dude pulls up on a bike, the kind you peddle. He looks like he is coming to work, riding a cheap hybrid and wearing leather slip ons. This dude, Chris is the real deal. He makes me feel like a total fraud all dressed up in my adventure pyjamas because he has cycled from Huston, Texas headed to Washington state. Adam and I adopted our Cycle Surgery past and lubed his chain and checked over his bike then gave him the candy bar he requested and huge props for his efforts.
After Sargents we climbed a wide road up to a farm on the hill and saw encroaching lightning and rain so donned the gimp suit and Adam his oh-so-cool Belstaff jacket. We were both extremely worried about getting hit by lightning and made a navigation error. Actually the road moved. The maps and GPS told us to go up a two track technical little farm road and turn up a wash that was impossible.
So, to set the scene: it’s raining we’re lost and we are scared of being killed by lightning so we have a wee. Adam then asks if my camelback was under my gimp suit and I freak out because it’s lost. Backtracking to the farm where we put the gear on, down the technically hard track the bag is not there. The cute cat is. Making a plan Adam heads back up the difficult track and I go down to Sargents to see if I left it there.
I’m freaking out because my whole being is in that bag and it would be a disaster to the trip if I lost it. Against Adams wise advice I speed down the road and meet a pickup who flags me down and I slew to a stop in a cloud of dirt. The true gent of a man, Blake, had seen it and picked it up. He had to go through it to see who owned it and took the initiative to look at the inreach to see where we were going. I owe this bloke a lot.
Next time on our travels.. Generators, cinnamon and coyotes.
Click here to read the next instalment – Colorado to Utah – Dr Zeleaky
Powering away from the Motel that morning felt great. I had washed all my clothes in the bath, as I did today. Sweating that much makes you stink… and I’m not normally a sweaty person. I’ve actually taken to keeping one of those crunchy little water bottles that people dispose of so readily and every time I see a creek I fill it up and tip it over my jersey and trousers.
The flat part of Arkansas is pretty horrible to ride on a bike. The roads seem to be either constantly being graded, which is a sandy nightmare or 6″ thick gravel, like a rich person’s drive. If you ride a motorbike you’ll know the terror of the gravel; tottering along with the wheels seemingly under some demonic control. Yeah? Well I did that for most of a day at some clip too. The technique is-
Hold as tight as possible whilst seated and hope your bowels hold….. or is it Stand on the pegs and lighten your grip? Easier said than done. I’ve now mastered the Paris Dakar ‘ride like a racehorse jockey’ stance.
Now here is an admission that I’ve been thinking about whilst wrestling this giant bike. I grew up on small off road bikes and thought ‘no problem… Pffft, silly mid life crisis Adventure bike, I’ll just POWEEEEERRRRR through everything looking incredibly cool whilst I fishtail out of every corner and roosting dirt on the admiring crowds cooing at my incredible adventurousness.’
No. Not at all. It’s more like… Shit! Gravel on the outside of this off-camber corner, there might be some hick in a truck coming so I can’t take the rut… I’ll just Poole round at walking pace. All those people that say the Africa Twin “doesn’t have enough power, I mean the BMW has loads more, and the KTM… well… have I just put a canoe in my pocket or is that power? WOOF!”
They can suck my trench foot toe. This trip requires finesse and judgement. I mean… It would be great to spolsh into every water crossing with a abandon but that wouldn’t be wise. I tend to stop… look and gently meander through. I can’t imagine dropping Ginko in a slimy bottomed creek ford and trying to right her.
So poodle I did… Then POOOOOOWER… then pootle etc. Until I saw TAT written on an old shop. So I use the amazingly effective ABS and come to a stop. Out pops Percy who offers me a cold drink and some crackers. Him, his son Glenn and his friend from down the road Al maintain the ’TAT shack’ near Trenton, AR (oops, I seem to have been calling Arkansas AK!). It’s kind of Percy’s retirement hobby, that and the horses. It’s at odds with the “piles of crap I’ve collected over the years” adorning the shop that he uses an iPad and flat screen TV for the horses. In there is a large board dedicated to many #TransAmericaTrail riders and a some books that Al makes every year with photos of the ones that have stopped.
Al often sees #TransAmericaTrail riders from his sawmill a mile down the road and calls ahead to Percy who greets them. What an amazing experience. I asked Glen if he had a hose so I could wet myself down and he led me to his mancave (oh if I could dream) where I scored more ice. Al and Glen admired Ginko, with her weird gearbox and we were off again to the gravel. By the way everyone – SHE’S NOT A FREAKING BMW!!! I need to get a sticker made.
Very shortly after the shack was some of that talcum powder like dust which is nasty, and a pretty big water crossing where some rice fields had leaked. The umbrella came in useful again.
And onto the levies. High speed riding like flying above the fields upon these magnificent bits of engineering I came upon a cool looking cat on a three wheeler enjoying some tunes after work. I came alongside when Jordan pulled over to let me past and we chatted. After the now usual ‘where, when why’ questions I asked about food and he directed me to the burger joint in town where his mom worked. We parted and I went to freak her out by sticking my head through the order window and asking for her by name. Jordan appeared and we chewed the fat under the fans of the outdoor seating area. He drives combines on the farm and is a lovely kind bloke. His biggest concern is paying for health care for his growing family because he earns too much for Obama Care. Thinking about what he was saying on the levy overlooking the town was insightful of the cultural outlook of the people I met. Pointing at the rails he described how most black people live on one side and whites on the other. We were at the crossing, and so is he as his mom turned out to be a lovely white lady who makes a great burger. He’s not going to vote because he thinks it won’t make a difference.
More farms, gravel, farms, massive projects with giant machinery to dodge. ”What you building” I shout to the driver of one stepping down from above head height to refuel. He plops down to the oily squelch I’ve wobbled through to round the massive dam scoop and he replies in a thick Texan accent. ”This here is gonna be a dam Sir”
It’s about half a mile long scar in the land like a meteor strike. Bigger than any Dam we ever built… maybe besides Kariba ;).
With failing light I do the zig zag through the countryside looking for a place to camp. Again everything is deserted because of the heat. I look at maybe a church with flat green grass surrounding it, but locked doors bar that idea and I furrow a path down another gravel road to have a bug splat me in the eye. I stop. Stop engine, remove dome, gloves, rub eye (it’s a self cleaning mechanism you know?) and hear dogs.
When I look over my shoulder I see some mean looking dogs, Trump garden signs, a flamed dump truck a cherry picker and a random assortment of buildings. There’s a scary looking 8ft tall dude with a beard staring at me. I leave Ginko on the road and approach the demise line of his property and wave hello. There is a castle doctrine in Arkansas – you know what that means?! Matt comes bounding up and enthusiastically introduces himself instantly asking if I need to rest or want anything. And so I come across incredible generosity. Matt and Janice are looking toward the good life. Un-reliant subsistence seems the goal with chickens (amazing scrambled eggs Matt), cows, pigs and even Guinea Fowl chirping down from the shed roof alerting them of my presence. Matt is no redneck. He lived in Oz for 30 years and has the most comprehensive knowledge I have come across in a man. Microscopic electronics to animal butchery. Incredibly resourceful. He’s a keen HAM radio operator with the top licence and enough equipment to reach anywhere with the quality of a good radio broadcast.
I slept on their couch and when Janice left in the morning for work Matt set about making me a screen to try and combat the terrible buffeting I was getting from the wind. Being a life long biker he knows the suffering that turbulence can bring. He has the most beautiful Harley. I’m not really into them but I’ve seen two I like, both owned by people I got to know in a short space of time. Matt’s is the top dog with subtle and showy in one package: All chrome with silver and gun metal paint embellished with blue pinstriped scallops. Tell you what. He’s a very brave man taking that down his nasty gravel road. Oh and the screen he made from a chainsaw face shield is magic.
I left the Davis’ sad I couldn’t get to know them better (didn’t get a photo of Jan either) and headed toward the Hills. More riding through tracks and trails, farms, woods, creeks and roads in the incredible heat I rounded a corner and saw Scotland. Thinking of Jenny (my long time friend and colleague) I selfied at the seemingly deserted town, fiddled with the inreach to try and get it to Bluetooth to my phone (fail) then came across a little shop. It was lunch and I could nearly see if it was open. I saunter in, probably complaining about the heat and am presented with a #TransAmericaTrail sign in sheet. Wow.
They too have #TransAmericaTrail memorabilia and I’m the 13th to pass through this year. Lucky because I get chatting to the lovely lovey family that run the place. Jonathan takes my order and makes my lunch whilst Becky and Bill quiz me; Savannah probably thinks I just talk funny. It always takes some time to explain not only the trip, but also my background. Again, they seem genuinely interested and ask very relevant and thoughtful questions. It’s a shame that Buck is selling the place and I hope that people as kind and thoughtful take over. Becky not only offers to wash my disgustingly smelly clothes (I could never let her!) but then pays for my lunch. I couldn’t refuse her, it wasn’t allowed.
Up and up into the Ozarks where I was promised cooler weather, but not a hint. Through deserted woods roads, higher until that time to sleep again. It comes round so quick. I pull into a camp… ”there is a public campground down the road, we have this church group who booked the whole place”. Bit of a shame, all I wanted was a patch of grass. So I pull into the remote county campsite that is completely deserted, set up and use one of my panniers as a water hauling system to wash and use the stove to boil more drinking water. The tap is a way up the road. A weird couple does the rounds in a white sedan in a really creepy way which gives me the heabies and I get into my tent and try to write. I fail. It was so hot that, lying on my mattress, phone above me, my elbows dripped with sweat. I ended up waking at 4am because I was being eaten by tiny tiny ants and was sweltering, so packed and set off.
I managed the rest of Arkansas and a fair chunk of the incredible Oklahoma, the start of which has a great river in which swimming is a must. I met Larry there. He fishes whilst the raucous young floaters drift by. He says the biggest fish he got was when they are about, so doesn’t mind them. Larry works in a can factory but says he preferred his first job in a plant nursery.
Over the plains I went to the incredible comfort of the quality motel in Bartlesville.
I donned flipflops and shorts, white tee shirt and left the helmet to enjoy the wind in my bald for the first time in a city on the way to Murphys. There, the dish to try is a burger on toast covered in cheese, fries and gravy. A ate until it looked like road kill and gave up. There Roger (the codger) and Brian entertained me with great craic. Roger seems a favourite of the ladies that work the place. He’s into oil and was familiar with the place where I took the pics. I actually snuck in there because the trail was too low. When hearing of my architectural work he suggested I visit the tower that I spotted on the way to the Resturant; the advantage of no helmet! It seems that Frank had his hand in Bartlesville and his tower here is his only ‘skyscraper’.
Brian came on his flamed Screaming Eagle Fat Boy and joined Rodger and I in to car park to kick tyres. I gave him a go on Ginko and he loved the gearbox. He wanted me to ride his Harley but I had to refuse because in flipflops I’d be a menace. It seems Brian is a victim of the awful separation of Indians (is that politically correct??) because his family are completely disparate, so much so that he had to convince the hospital that he had a solid base of friends to take care of him otherwise they wouldn’t give him a new liver. Rodger and 9 others were there for him and he looks very very well now. Super cool with hair to accompany that Oklahoma helmet law.
The main problem with this trip is having to move on from all these wonderful people. Even the intimidating looking geeza at the milkshake place in Salina, OK was a thoughtfully generous person, looking carefully at my maps and giving all the knowledge he could.
Now I have to hit the interstate, for my own well being and the time needed to meet Adam in Denver; I just hope my rear tyre lasts so I can enjoy New Mexico. The Saint should know; I have pinned the OK dirt – 100+ club!
I should have been suspicious of the price, I mean, it’s a lovely place to stop and camp but my golly was it noisy. It wasn’t really plain to me that the highway was close enough for the exhaust brakes of passing trucks to intrude into dreams past the earplugs because I had just ridden the most awesome road ever. Totally forgot about the highway. It was otherwise peaceful and I met one of the transitional residents whilst I was packing up the million things that need to go in and on poor Ginko. This lady had a dog bigger than me and looked to be, seriously, knocking on a hundred. I asked if she was in a RV and she replied “yeah… A really big one!” Her husband had had several strokes so “I do all the driving; we’ve just come from visiting in Vermont. Going back to Florida now.”
She left in a vehicle which is honestly bigger than our apartment, towing a full sized SUV. It may be a RV thing but they also played a weird jingle over external speakers as they left.
But now I’m here in Alabama, the only camper in the whole Cathedral Caverns State Park. The overseer of which presented as the stereotype Alabama trailer dweller but ended up being far from it. He’s been about in the movie business and the evil serpent thing in Minsters Inc and The baddie from the first of the newer Sherlock Holmes films were named after him. Randal Blackstone? I’m so bad with names but it seems rude to write them down.
Before here I was remotely encouraged to visit Chattanooga and very glad for it. What an interesting little town. I actually meandered into the Choo Choo by mistake and they were confused as to why I wasn’t _eating_ there. Weird. I just circled and went to a much more interesting part of town. The road out of there towards Alabama is also pretty darn great; mountains., huge levies and perfect Tarmac.
But what about the bike! I hear you ask. She is incredible. Roll on performance is stunning. That’s the moment you go to pass a truck and it indicates. Roll the throttle and she’s away like the clappers. A local Sheriff noticed too and was so curious he stopped me and demanded cash. That or I go down to the courthouse. I was tempted just for the craic but resisted.
So continue I did at a very legal speed until my ass told me to turn off. Through majestic Alabama hills I went, past small holdings with goats and into the deserted campground at the caves.
Cathedral Caverns State Park Campground, Woodville, Alabama 35776 – 637 Cave Road
To read the next exciting instalment click here – Alabama to Mississippi – Grits
Packing breakdown. Some cheating here, there are extra items hidden in that camel back.