One foot in the grave out west tour Sept 2010 Part 1.
This report covers my second motorcycle trip ever. Man, it took forever to write this thing and add the pictures. Hope somebody reads it.
There are so many well written and photographed reports that cover the places I went that I hesitate to post this. If there is anything that distinguishes this report other than the bad pictures and crappy writing, it is probably my perspective. I am an older novice rider with one foot in the grave and doubts about what I can accomplish on a motorcycle. This ride was not only a vacation, but a test of where I am at and what I think I can do. Since it was a test I gave myself a grade. If I pass, I can go on to bigger things.
Bio: 52yo, 155#, arthritis, acid reflux, high cholesterol, 6 surgeries, artificial hip, and leaky heart valve.
Other than that, a fine physical specimen.
Now that I am bedridden for many weeks from hip surgery, I have some time to write this report.
The surgery I got is called "hip resurfacing". Unfortunately I did not have good bone density so I have to take the long recovery route. I suppose it is heredity, because with my lifestyle my bones should be like steel. I am not sure if this is going to prevent me from solo travel to those places I really want to go the most. If anyone is interested and has a strong stomach, here is a video of the procedure I had. I was stupid enough to watch this beforehand.
Below is a link to a thread I started in preparation for this trip. It gives some insight as to where my head was at.
My basic plan was to ship the bike to Las Vegas. Fly out and ride it back. Do some dirt roads and camping. Also to generally test myself physically and mentally. Except for the Grand Canyon north rim, I only did general route planning. Most of the my prep time was spent throwing money at the bike and flushing some down the toilet.
The return half of the trip was almost completely unplanned. I was going to do what I felt like at the time. The unplanned portion began when I left Moab. I did some detailed planning for the GC because I thought it would be the most dangerous part. From Google I could see there was a maze of dirt roads out there to get lost on.
The adventure began with shipping the bike. Below is an edited post I did on another thread about Haulbikes.com.
"Hey I have a haulbikes.com story too. I had them haul a bike for me from Raleigh, NC to Las Vegas. I chose them because they had a $508 dealer to dealer special. When I first talked to them I asked if they could deliver by Aug 19. The answer was yes if we can sign a contract right away. They faxed me the contract and I signed. I also noted that there was no delivery date or commitment on the contract.
I called several weeks later and was told they probably couldn't meet Aug 19 and didn't know the date they could meet. After a week of calling every day to get a delivery date so I can make my flight plans, I was finally told it would be Aug 24. I bought a plane ticket for the 27th to give me a little cushion. I didn't want to get there and have to wait for my bike. I made that point clear during every conversation I had with them.
I called on Aug 25 to check up. I was told the bike wouldn't be there until Aug 31st. Well I already purchased my plane ticket for the 27th (Friday). I was beyond pissed. I called and let them have it. I talked to the supervisor and demanded they deduct my airfare. They had to listen to me vent for an hour. However, I didn't use profanity or personal attacks. But the answer was always we are very sorry but we can't reimburse you.
Then I searched for whatever frequent flyer points I had and managed to find another reasonable flight out on Aug 31st. I bought the ticket on Delta and got a year voucher on SW airlines for my first ticket. The next day (Aug 26) the receiving dealership in Las Vegas calls and says my bike arrived. @#$%
Before the trip I had zero knowledge about gps. I bought the Garmin 60csx to keep me from getting lost in the desert. I bought it early enough so I would have time to learn it. As it turns out I spent all my time trying to get maps unlocked and then re-unlocked again! Garmin does not have customer service on nights and weekends, and it is usually a 15-30 minute wait for a human to answer the phone. I had to call them many times because nothing they had me try worked. We ended up having to copy/paste individual files into various directories on my computer to get the maps to unlock.
I could barely use the gps by the time I flew out. I did manage to create some routes around the GC from gps files created by Crawdaddy.
Mostly camp stuff. Wolfman medium duffel.
Clothes/misc stuff. Ortlieb duffel
DAY 1 8/31
I arrived at the airport and took a cab to the dealer. My rig drew some attention as I tried to get everything packed just right. I am the absolute slowest packer. After about 90 minutes I finally hit the road and set the gps to a route I made to get me out of Vegas. After a few miles I see it is taking me the wrong direction. I look at a map and get back on course. In has only been a few minutes and I am already losing confidence in my gps. I don't know what I did wrong here.
On the road at last
I cut through Valley of Fire state park to get to highway 15.
I like this place.
I get on highway 15 and head up to Mesquite. I felt like I was being shaken in a jar every time those big trucks passed me at 80mph. I couldn't wait to get off that road. It is getting late when I finally get to Mesquite. I ask around to see if there is a campground nearby. I am told there isn't. I almost pussed out and stayed at a motel my very first night. What an adventurer! My shame made continue on to the Grand Canyon despite the late hour. So I got water and filled up my (@#%$) MSR bottles with gas. I discover that MSR bottles and arthritis do not mix. On the gps I pull up the route I made to get me from Mesquite to the Bar 10 ranch. I hope this one works better.
Away I go.
I followed the dirt road for about 16 miles before I found a suitable camping site. It is nearly dark. I would have to ride across a sandy, rocky wash to get to the site. It was probably a good thing the light was dim when I crossed because in the morning light it seemed a lot worse. Or maybe I crossed at a different place on the way out.
I set up camp at a tortoise pace. It took me over an hour an a half. This needs to improve. I had to empty all the luggage because the panniers were packed almost 2 months ago, and I couldn't remember where I packed anything. It is so quiet and there are a million stars out. I felt like I was in someone's ADV ride report. Later I hear some 4 wheelers and loud voices. I am hoping it isn't a bunch of kids, or meth addicts looking for a place to party. After a few minutes it is quiet and serene again.
DAY 2 9/1
When the sun comes out the next day I realize what a great campsite I found. I enjoy the surroundings for a moment, then set about breaking camp. Takes 1.5 hours.
I check over the bike for loose parts and empty an MSR bottle into the gas tank. I start up the bike and the hand guard starts rattling badly. The allen wrench is wisely stored at the bottom of the pannier. I can’t get the lid open with the bags mounted. I have to unpack to get the wrench. I tighten the hand guard and repack. Packing for me is a three step process. Pack, then unpack then re-pack. I am ready now and set off across the sandy wash.
I feel something wet spray me as I cross the rough wash. Being in the desert, I jump to the logical conclusion that it is water. Then I feel it again. I see that I left the gas cap off after I emptied the MSR bottle. There went about 10-15 miles of gas wasted. I get back on the main trail and put on the gas cap. I turn on the gps and start following my Bar 10 Ranch route.
I look down the road and think, this is exactly the experience I am looking for.
The road is getting a little rougher.
But I make it through, no problemo.
Here is where the excitement really begins.
Now the road is heading uphill and getting rougher yet. I feel a little sense of pride making it through this.
I come around a blind corner and the road turns into this! OMG!
The trail is narrow, gnarly and uphill now. I think there is no way to stop and turn the bike around. I know I am not strong enough to wrestle all this weight by myself if I can’t make it up the hill. But there really is no choice other than to go up. I get about 2/3 up and stall. Damn that tall DR650 1st gear. I feel the metal panniers hit the back of my calves. I start to recall all those warnings about breaking legs by going off-road using metal panniers. I feed my anxiety by thinking about what all could go wrong. Again, there really is no choice for me. I have to make it up. I start the bike and manage to get into a standing position quickly. Lucky for me the traction is good. I go faster than my ability because I absolutely don't want to stall again. I am so relieved to have made it up.
Yea, I know, some of you could do this on a Gold Wing.....fully loaded....riding two up...with a fat girlfriend….using street tires...pulling a trailer....after dark...under a new moon...with a burnt out headlight. But it was nerve racking for a frail old guy like me.
I am thinking what do I do now? What if the rest of the trail is like this or worse? If something happened, maybe it would be a week before someone else ever came by this way. Why did I wait to the last minute to rent a SPOT only to find out they were all rented out? I really didn't want to go back down that hill. It is not even my first 24 hours yet and already everything I planned against is about to come to pass. I say to myself “don't panic“. Just keep following the gps route. The Bar 10 route has been pretty accurate so far.
I go maybe another mile or two and notice that the magenta line of my gps route has come to an end yet I am nowhere near the Bar 10 ranch. OK, can I panic now? I allow myself 5 minutes of panic time. WTF am I doing here? I am totally lost .. bla bla bla. Then I reason, it looks like I still have a lot of gas and water. I will just continue on the path I am on and avoid any turns. I see some cattle watering holes and I have a filter so I am not worried about water. What seemed like days (but was really less than 2 hours) I am dumped out on a well maintained dirt road. I find a sign that says St George 60 miles. I decide to go to St George and get fuel, water, a Subway and regroup. On the way I pass a pack of riders mostly on KLRs. It looked like a tour group maybe. After my pit stop I head back down the same road to find the Bar 10 ranch and come to this familiar landmark.
Giving adventure riding classes.
I am not sure what happened with my Bar 10 route. I created it in mapsource by tracing a GC north rim track posted by Crawdaddy. Maybe there was some limitation in my 60csx where the route got truncated when I downloaded it and I didn't even realize it. Another fundamental mistake I probably made was not making sure the route was suitable for me. The track was made by a strong rider, with a riding partner, with dirt oriented bikes loaded for a shorter trip and hotel stays. I suppose 99.99 % of that route was suitable for me, but it only takes one bad section for things to go wrong.
I easily get to the Bar 10 ranch. It is almost a straight shot from St George. I continue down a jeep trail to the Colorado river overlook. I notice that the closer to the river the trail gets the rockier it gets. Especially the last little downhill to the overlook. That observation stayed in the back of my mind preventing me from fully enjoying the overlook.
That last downhill (now an uphill) is pretty rocky and has a turn in the middle. I don't want to make the mistake again of stalling the bike so I go a bit faster than I am comfortable with. Just before the turn I hit a rock which throws me back on the seat. Now I can no longer steer with my feet and the bike starts to buck. I quickly stand up but am too late to save it. The bike dumps me on one of the small cactus lining the trail. I pull about a dozen needles out of my hand. The needles are so fine that only a couple draw blood. Between the panniers and the built up side of the trail, the bike is sitting at about a 45 degree angle. It didn’t flood and I stand it up without too much trouble. The traction is good so I am able to get going.
Here was a situation I always worried about. Dropping my bike in a remote area and having no help to pick it up. I was lucky it fell the way it did. I have watched many videos of people picking up heavy bikes. None of the techniques seem to work for me. It is like the bike is anchored to the earth. Even the XR200 I used on my last trip was a strain for me to right. I need something like an adrenaline shot to give me a short burst of superhuman strength.
My plan was to spend this evening at the Toroweep campground. I wasn't even close to making it before nightfall. The last 5 miles are in the dark and the DR's headlight is pretty stingy with the lumens. I select a campsite and set up the Luxury Lite cot. I am amazed at all the stars and the Milky Way. Turning on the mp3 player and just looking at the night sky became my favorite activity. An hour later the moon came out and gone was the Milky Way and about 2/3rds of the stars.
DAY 3 9/2
The next morning I went to the canyon rim to watch the rafts tackle the rapids. The rapids look so small from way up here.
Yea, I could swim those.
Views from the rim.
Today the plan is to head to Fredonia for gas and water.
When I saw pictures like this (lone bike in the middle of nowhere) on other reports, I was always a bit envious.
After Fredonia, I head for Crazy Jugs point. Looked for something that looked liked crazy jugs but couldn't find it so I am not sure I am in the right place. I wanted to camp here but like all good camp sites, I only find them early in the day.
After Crazy Jugs, I hooked up to the highway going to the North Rim lodge. I head to the lodge to take a break and call home.
It is getting dark and cold. The North Rim campground is full. I was told about the Demott campground up the road. On the way I see these boys playing in the dirt.
I stay tonight at the Demott campground. Again I am setting up camp in the dark. I paid $17 to camp and they didn't even have showers. It is quite cold here at night.
DAY 4 9/3
Today the plan is to make it to Utah. I head up 67 to 89a. I come up on the Vermillion cliffs. There is a dirt road to the left of the cliffs that looks inviting so I to take it.
Again I find just the kind of campground I am looking for. It is on the trailhead for the Arizona trail. But it is only 1pm (sigh). I underestimate the sand wash leading into the campground and almost dump the bike.
This road eventually dumps into 89 so it is just a connector between 89a and 89. It was a very nice alternative to the paved road I planned to take.
The road had some sandy sections near the end. One of the sections had deep sand in a sharp corner with an uphill exit. I wasn’t paying attention and it came on me quickly. I didn't have any time to think or prepare. I just went through it at speed and hoped for the best. I made it through surprisingly easy. Often when I come across something like this that looks challenging I will stop and ponder. The more I ponder the harder it is for me to do. I do this on a mountain bike and skis too. I am a serial ponderer. Something may be a minor obstacle, but if I ponder enough, I can make it almost insurmountable.
Once on 89 I find another scenic campground. I decide to stay there even though it is only about 3pm. It was good to set up early and relax and enjoy the surroundings. This is the Whitehorse campground. The road to the campground is kind of sandy. The campground was empty when I arrived but it eventually filled up with backpackers. This was the trailhead for the Pariah Canyon trail.
DAY 5 9/4
I start the day with my brain turned off. The bike is standing fairly vertical and I am loading the right pannier. The left one is empty. Then I stack something on top of the pannier that I am loading. The bike falls over but I catch it just before it goes too far for me to handle. I move the bike to more level ground and finish loading the panniers. Then I close the padlock on the pannier. For some reason I am convinced I just locked my keys in the pannier.
There was still some people in the parking lot, but after dropping off backpackers, they were starting to leave. I didn’t want everyone to leave before I got my keys otherwise I would be stranded. I ask if anyone has any tools. Thank goodness nobody had any because I was ready to cut the lock or try to beat it off with a hammer. I eventually find my keys somewhere at the campsite. I feel embarrassed and release all my hostages.
I ride out to the paved road. When I get up to speed the hydration tube starts to flog me. I forgot to re-route the tube so I have to stop and route it. A few minutes later I stop again because I forget to wire the gps to the dc outlet. Every morning it is like this. I have to stop 2-3 times the first 10 minutes because I forgot to do something. After a three stooges start I am moderately intelligent the rest of the day.
I make my way up to Scenic Byway 12. I had planned to take the Cottonwood Canyon road, but was talked out of it at the ranger station. I was told that it was very wet and slippery and a lot of vehicles were getting stuck. I decided to take the pavement. I am disappointed but I think I will be back to this amazing area again.
And the old.
I have a little tourist map of the dirt roads off of Scenic Byway 12. I decide to follow one. It starts out like a ski slope. Groomed at the top then moguls near the bottom. A lot of the roads I took were like that. It got a little worse than the pictures show, but it never got too bad. Even for me.
Near the end I found what looks like a ski jump into a pond.
When I reach the pavement again I see that the road took me right back to 89 where I was about 90 minutes ago. My next stop is Kodachrome Basin state park. I got the last camp site and paid dearly for it ($24). But it was money well spent. It was too hot to set up camp so I dumped the luggage and explored some of the hiking trails. I can't hike too far or fast on this bum hip, so I only do the short trails.
The DR almost looks like a pocket bike here. Hard to believe it is 425-450lbs (fully packed). The store looks big but it ain't got jack.
Dramatic entrance (exit view here) into the park.
Aerial view of campground.
The giant wiener stood guard over the campground and made us feel safe.
This park is very photogenic. Guess that is why it is called kodachrome.
DAY 6 9/5
The next morning I explored Kodachrome a little more and head back to highway 12.
It was very windy when I stopped at a cafe in Escalante for lunch. I ordered my food and called home. Soon someone walks in carrying my helmet. He tells me my bike fell over and he saw my helmet rolling down the parking lot. It takes two of us to get the bike up. I never would have lifted it by myself, even if I removed all the luggage. The parking lot had a little slope and the kick stand was on the wind side of the bike. As heavy as the bike was I didn't think anything could blow it over.
After lunch I take the Hells Backbone road to Boulder. While on the Hells Backbone I had a moment of exceptional stupidity of which I will keep to myself.
Once in Boulder I looked for the Burr Trail. Wow, what a great road. It started out between red rock cliffs.
The entrance into Capitol Reef National park was spectacular. Unfortunately I could not capture it with my camera skills.
The Burr Trail snakes down through hairpin turns along a cliff wall.
I wanted to catch the ferry at Bullfrog and camp on the other side. I missed the last ferry so had to find a place to camp on this side.
DAY 7 9/6
The day is starting out with great weather just like every other day so far.
I manage to get on the first ferry. There I meet Eric on a KLR and Bruce on a GS. They were just closing out their ride. I join them on the other side for lunch. Bruce lives in Telluride and he invites me to stop over on my return. I have no plans on where I will go after Utah. I make what will be a wise decision to include Telluride on my return.
My next stop will be Natural Bridges National Monument.
There are Indian ruins in there. I am a ruin junkie too.
I am finished with bridges and its on to Monument Valley via the Moki Dugway. I check out Mulay point before going down the Moki. Mulay was rightly recommended as a good place to camp.
I went by Monument Valley 30 years ago, but the fog was thick and all the way to the ground. I totally missed it. Today is a whole different story.
This place is really touristy but it is easy to see why. From the huge visitor center, there is a dirt road that heads down to the monument. It has a bad sandy section on the initial downhill. The right side going up was the worst. Cars were getting stuck trying to come back up. I made a mental note to myself to take the left side when I exit.
The road down among the formations was generally on the crappy side. I would not want take my passenger car there. It looked like a lot of money was pouring in to this place but none was spent to maintain the road.
When I left Monument Valley the shadows were getting long. No way would I make it to Mulay point before dark, plus the road to the point was several miles long and sandy. It would be dark by then and I wouldn’t see anything anyway. I pass up a great camp site to stay at another good site in Valley of the Gods. Valley of the Gods was the opposite of Monument Valley. There were no tourists and the road was in much better shape. I find a suitable camp site. I notice too that I lost both MSR bottles. Good riddance.
DAY 8 9/7
This morning I am going up the Moki Dugway. The Dugway climbs up a cliff, with many hairpin turns. It is fun in both directions. The road to the left is the Valley of the Gods loop.
Today's plan is to take an off pavement route to Moab and see some of the sites along the way. I stop at a ranger's station and ask how I can take Beef Basin road up to Canyonlands. I was told it might rain (which it did) and am advised against it. I don’t know what it is about me, but it seems the rangers take one look at me and advise me not to do it. Maybe I need some scars or tattoos or something. I take their advice and stay on the pavement. They also tell me about several indian ruins nearby. The first is between two mile markers. There are two dirt roads with cattle gates between the mile markers. I try both but the trails basically disappear and deteriorate into rock. I start to worry that if I make one mistake and the bike falls over, I’m screwed. I turn back. I probably missed some great ruins here.
I take another dirt road to the trailhead leading to the Firehouse ruins. There are no signs pointing to them. It was about a 40 minute walk to the ruins. They were pretty impressive. The ruins were far from any road, and there were no tourists, guards or roped off areas.
Another interesting piece of road.
I see a sign for Arch Canyon pointing down a dirt road. I put my supercomputer brain to work and figure out that there is a canyon that way. I follow the sign and after 2 miles I get to this water crossing. It basically turns into a sand pit on the other side. I decide to turn around and go back. When I get perpendicular to the trail, I can't back the bike up at all to turn it around. Just the slight uphill in the sand made the bike immovable. I realize the only way out of this situation is to go forward. That means I have to go through the weeds and the creek, then turn around in a pit of sand. All without dropping the bike. You can see on the right the path I took. I managed to turn around in the sand pit which is just past the top of the picture. So happy I learned a little about riding in sand before this trip.
Safe and sound.
Back on the road again I found these cliff ruins. I thought they would be close to the parking lot, but they were a mile away. It was worth it but my hip probably didn't need another 2 mile hike.
I am now on the way to Canyonlands southern entrance to look for camping. On the way I pass by Newspaper Rock.
When I get to the Canyonlands entrance I can see it is raining hard in the park. Not wanting to set up camp in that mess, I head up to Moab. I hope I beat the rain. When I get to Moab it is raining, so I backtrack to a KOA I passed a couple miles ago. It costs $27! Ouch! But the hot evening and morning showers were a real treat. It was only misting while I set up camp.
I see in the campsite next to me was a BMW Dakar. The bike belonged to Alex who was doing a solo trip of his own from California. We talked a bit that evening. He had just been to Monument Valley too and got stuck coming up the right side of the sand hill. He required onlooker help to get the bike out of there. I am thinking his setup probably weighed 500+ pounds. Good thing there were people around.
DAY 9 9/8
In the morning I get a call from another inmate who I met online while preparing for the trip. He was doing a trip himself and would be out that way around the same time I am. We tentatively talked about doing the White Rim trail should all the stars align. He was calling from a Flagstaff hospital. He had just broke his leg coming down that same sandy hill in Monument Valley. He was on a big BMW. 1200 something I think.
I mentioned to Alex that we could drop our luggage at the KOA and do the White Rim trail. He wisely didn't take the bait. It was very wet and still raining. We then head to Arches National Park.
I think Arches had the most impressive rock formations I have seen yet on this trip.
It was also very touristy and crowded.
After an hour Alex was ready to start his return journey. I stay and ride around Arches for another hour, then make my way to Telluride. At this point I had no specific plans for this trip. The only plan was to wait and see what I feel like doing.
I find Bruce's house and spend the night. Bruce, if you're reading this, thanks again for the hospitality. I did a little bike maintenance and see my front tire has very little air. I don't remember if I ever checked it. Maybe that explains the strange wear pattern it would develop near the end of my trip. I was able to clean all my gear for the first time. It was totally refreshing to get a night’s sleep in a real bed.
DAY 10 9/9
The next day Bruce gave me directions to some of the mountain passes. I never had plans to do mountain passes or even Colorado. I would have really missed out on some great stuff if I hadn't run into Bruce on the ferry.
The first was Ophir pass. I went up and down the same road 3 times looking for the turnoff to the pass. I finally pull off onto a side road which had some houses, hoping to see someone outside and ask directions. Nobody was outside. I spot a BMW1200 in a gazebo by a lake. It's owner is another ADV'r. We chat for awhile and I head off with new directions. I again drive right by the turn off. I stop and ask directions again. This time I find it and it was so obvious! Cleary it was where Bruce said it was. It seems like when information gets in my brain something very bad happens to it.
The pass road quickly turned into a jeep trail. A deer comes out of the trees in front of me and puts its front feet in the road. It immediately does a u-turn back into the trees. I was really lucky it did because I had no time to react. I would have hit it for sure.
Next on the list is Cinnamon pass. Before I reached the top of this pass, there is a hill climb that is somewhat gnarly. Normally this would be a hill that I would do a double or triple ponder over. At the base were two other riders working on one of their bikes. I went right up the hill without near the anxiety. Just knowing someone was there made all the difference in the world.
The next pass is the Cottonwood pass. This was a nice easy one that any passenger car can do. The Ophir and Cinnamon passes were jeep/suv only trails.
After Cottonwood pass I decided to try for Rocky Mountain National Park. My mind is really drawing a blank. I can't remember how I got all the way from the Cottonwood pass to Rocky Mountain park. But one thing I do remember was the miserable wind I ran into going north up highway 9 into Kremming. It was constantly blowing me off to the shoulder. I was leaning in the straights like I was going through a corner. I was so grateful when I got to Kremming and could turn east. It was much worse than being passed by those trucks on highway 15 in Nevada.
It is getting dark when I get close to Rocky Mountain park. I stop at a hotel near the park entrance. I try to bargain with the attendant but he doesn't agree to my price. Pride doesn't let me accept the motels asking price so I push on to the park. When I finally get to the park campground, it is dark, cold and very windy. I am regretting passing up the hotel. Setting up the tent in a hurricane sucked big time. That night I could not keep warm even wearing several layers and a bag liner. Even the inside walls of the sleeping bag were cold to the touch.
DAY 11 9/10
The next morning the bike and tent are covered in frost. It began to snow lightly after I gain about 500 more feet of altitude. I really appreciated the heated grips but even they were not enough. I was quite cold going over the pass at 12,000 feet. It felt good to get down the other side where it was much warmer.
I really made no plans for how I was going back to Raleigh. In the beginning I thought about seeing some old friends. But they were far from each other and out of the way so most likely I was going to take a southern route back. But now that I was in northern Colorado I decided I would stop in on a high school buddy in Minnesota who I have not seen in 25 years. My general plan will be to go through Wyoming to the southwest corner of South Dakota. See the sites in that area before cutting across the state to Minnesota.
I learned today that I didn't know what real wind was. Coming up 85 to Cheyenne, it was even worse then when I came into Kremming. I spent more time on the shoulder than on the road. When I got to Cheyenne, the gps put me on highway 25. Now I experienced un-rideable wind. Even the low heavy Harleys were leaning 30 degrees into the wind. My bike was blown right off the road. I had to slow way down and turn into the wind to get back on the road. After a mile I realized this constant slowing to 20mph on an 80mph superhighway wasn't the way to go. I pulled off the nearest exit and find highway 85 again. It went mostly east at this point so I got a break from the wind.
Not quite sure where I am here. I think I am close to the South Dakota border. Maybe the intersection of 85 and 18.
My plan is to camp in Custer State park. It is dusk when I arrive. What a great park to ride in. It was late so there were no cars and I had it all to myself. Lots of nice curves. I get far into the park and there is a herd of buffalo grazing in the road. They were in no hurry and there was no way I was getting through. I turned around and headed back to the town of Hot Springs in the dark. I was going to stay at a dive I passed on the way out but I noticed a more interesting motel which consisted of cabins. The price was right and I rented a cabin. They did not have a liquor license, so they gave their beer away. Lucky me.
DAY 12 9/11
In the morning I ride some of the dirt roads around Custer State park. The plan is to head to the Badlands via dirt roads at about 11am. This day is starting out great.
I notice on my very not to scale tourist map, that there is this area known as the needles. It should only take about an hour (not!) to go through. It was a great road but the cars were going sooo slowwwwww. It was like they were site seeing or something.
I am behind schedule, but how can I be so close and not see this?
I am several hours behind but I still want to take the dirt roads to the Badlands. It's looks simple. The map says just follow route 1 all the way there. So I follow 1, but it comes to an end at another road which is not on the map. Which way does route 1 go? I take a guess which turns out to be correct. That's unusual for me. Normally when I am presented with 2 choices I take the wrong one 75% of the time.
Again I dead end on another road. My choices are now either take 1A to the left or 1B straight ahead. So I take 1A and it dead ends onto someone's farm. I backtrack and take 1B which also dead ends on somebody's farm. I just now notice every road is labeled 1. Now WTF (where) am I? I pull up to a nearby farm building where I see someone working.
I don't see the mean looking dog until I am almost near the building. The dog doesn’t attack. A man walks towards me who looks as mean as the dog. He was not the typical friendly person I usually run into while traveling. More like somebody in a B horror movie. But he didn't kill me so I am happy with that. I explained that I was lost and he gave me directions, all the while giving me that “you are an idiot” look. I follow his directions and end up near Hot Springs. Now I am back to where I started the day and 8 hours behind schedule.
I take the slab to the Badlands and end up with just enough daylight to get through. I wish I could have stayed in this corner of the state longer. There is so much to see here. I even missed seeing Sturgis.
From the Badlands I head north to highway 34. It was dark shortly after getting through the park. I end up riding another 2 hours in the dark on the way to Pierre. I know there is a lot of deer out there so I was a little on edge. My headlight is so dim. I wish I had done some kind of upgrade on it. I guess my solution was just to not ride at night. It took longer than I thought but I finally arrive in Pierre. I check out several hotels and choose the cheapest one.
DAY 13 9/12
I check out early in the morning. In the daylight I can see that Pierre is really a nice town. Today I ride with an mp3 player for the first time ever. I always thought it would be dangerous because I couldn't hear cars, etc. But I knew I had a long boring stretch of road today so I was going to chance it. I ended up riding with the mp3 player almost every day since.
I'm in corn country.
When I get maybe 40 miles from my friend's house, a motorcycle passes me going in the opposite direction. The rider stares at me and I know instantly who it is. My friend Cam knew I was coming this way and my bike certainly sticks out. He came to meet me and we take a spirited ride together via the back roads to his house. There was a delicious pot roast waiting for me when we arrive.
Cam has a few classic bikes sitting around. Being a minimalist at heart, I really took to this one.
Some other classics.
Plus several others in varying states of mummification.
Minnesota wasn't the frozen tundra I thought it was. Lots of pretty lakes.
Tread on the rear tire is getting low. So I order another tire and have it shipped to my sister's. I will regret not getting a front too.
That night we jam but I don't rediscover the musical talent I never had.
DAY 14 9/13
The next morning I do my oil change. No way would I ever do anything as stupid as put the new oil in without first installing the drain plug. It must have all been just a dream.
It's time to say goodbye and head to my sister's house in Michigan. Because of the distance, there was probably only a 25% chance originally that I was going to make it to Minnesota. It would really have been a mistake if I hadn’t. I had a great time and wanted to stay another day. I would like to talk this guy into going on an adventure ride with me someday. But I think he would only go if we did it on lawn tractors.
Cam, thanks for everything. It won't be another 25 years before we meet again.
I have a long and uneventful ride to the border of Michigan. I don't even remember going through Wisconsin. It is like I went directly from Minnesota to Michigan. I am sure it is a nice state but I was just trying to make time. I drive another hour at night through deer country. I stay in some cheap but ok dive near the Michigan border.
DAY 15 9/14
Reached the bridge to the lower peninsula. There was some longitudinal metal grooves on this bridge that were playing havoc with my knobby tires.
My sister lives just west of Kalamazoo in south central Michigan. It is going to be a long drive to her house. I have to abandon the route I wanted to take and do a straight shot down 131 instead. Daylight is gone when I get to Grand Rapids. The last 1 1/2 hours are spent riding in the dark. What a surprise.
It is always great to see my sister, since we have bad genes and could croak at any day. She came to visit me in July and we spent a week at a beach house on the outer banks of North Carolina. But we hadn't seen each other for 1 1/2 years before that. While I am here I decide to see another friend (Jeff) who I haven't seen in 25 years. We lived close by and played together as kids. First I have to track down his phone number. Luckily my sister has seen the facebook page of his sister. We leave a message there that I am trying to get Jeff's number. The next day there is a message on my phone with his number.
DAY 16 9/15
Jeff has to work today but we manage to hook up for lunch. I learn Jeff met his son for the first time last year. His son is grown now. They are just starting to become part of each other's life. A lot has happened to both of us over these 25 years.
After lunch I return to my sister's house. My tire has arrived so I put it on in the driveway. I lubed the hell out of the tire, and it slipped easily on the rim. However, it was almost impossible to get the wheel back on the bike. I should have replaced my front sprocket with a 16 tooth since it will be slab from here on out.
DAY 17 9/16
Today I am going to meet my old college roommate. We had both transferred from separate universities to Northern Arizona University about 30 years ago. We met in the parking lot of our residence hall (Secrest). He couldn't tell at first meeting how lame I was, so he asked if I wanted to be roommates.
We had lost touch until one day he discovered me on Linkedin. Now I am headed to Detroit to meet him. I leave in a light rain. I have been pretty lucky with the weather on this trip.
No indecision here. I'm turning right!
Yeah baby! I reach Mike's house with plenty of daylight left! Mike looked just like in college, only a little grayer. No beer belly here.
I have to remove the panniers to slip the bike into the fenced back yard. This being Detroit I am a little worried about my bike being stolen. Next priority is beer! We talk over a 12 pack about what has happened over the last 25 years. Then we go out for some hot Thai, followed by dinner. I think about going to Montreal tomorrow to see a friend I haven't seen in over 10 years. We look on the internet and it looks like a long ride on the superhighway to get there. I am thinking now it will be too far.
DAY 18 9/17
That night the beer and hot Thai doesn't sit so well. I wake up about 2:30am and can't sleep. I am thinking if I can't sleep I might as well be riding. If I leave very early, I think I can make Montreal before nightfall. I had let Mike know I might leave before he gets up. I want to quickly and quietly reassemble my panniers and load the bike in the front yard, before anyone can rob me. First thing, I open the front door and it almost comes off in my hands and hits the floor with a bang. It didn't come completely off the hinges, thank goodness. I get on the road about 4am. Thanks Mike for putting me up or putting up with me.
I am riding at night again but it was good to ride these normally busy Detroit highways with no cars. When I get to Highway 94 it is raining. I cross the border into Canada at Port Huron. There is no one in front of me. The border agent was sarcastic and unpleasant but I guess sitting in that booth all night can be depressing. Soon the rain stopped. Taking highway 401 is my only chance of making it to Montréal before dark. This will be a 600 mile all superhighway day on a one lung bike. Really wishing I had a road bike now. There was a couple traffic jams along the way, the worst being through Toronto, but otherwise it was smooth going. I was passing many more cars than were passing me. Normally it is the other way around.
I arrive at my friends house in Laval (northern Montreal) at about 6pm. I actually judged this stretch correctly. I think superhighway is just easier to estimate. I meet my friend Christine at her apartment when she arrives home form work. Christine is from Ivory Coast, Africa. It is located on the south side of the club of Africa. That is where I made my first of several trips to Africa. She immigrated to Canada earlier this year.
We order a pizza and talk the best we can despite the language differences. She is a French speaker. I have forgotten most of the meager French I knew. Between her small but growing English and my fading French we did ok. Her employer provided this apartment for her on a temporary basis. It had a spare room where I could bunk. As good as the Luxury Lite is, it can’t compete with this.
DAY 19 9/18
The next day Christine went to work. I took my motorcycle downtown. I rode around for a little while trying to figure how motorcycles generally park there for free. I find a space on the street next to another motorcycle, and note the name of the intersection. I proceed to walk around for several hours. I lose track of how far I go. I get tired and head back to the motorcycle. I come to the intersection where I thought I parked it and it is not there. I think don't panic, maybe it is further down. The brain however is going to run amuck until it can make visual contact with the bike.
I go past a few more interactions. The streets are looking different now because there are so many more people on them. Now I am thinking it may be stolen, or maybe I parked illegally and it was towed. Oh no, now I have to get a plane flight. I will miss work. I put so much time and money into that bike. etc. etc.
If I pass another intersection or two I am going to look for the police. At last I see my motorcycle. That wave of relief just feels that much better after a good panic attack.
I head back to the apartment and get a little lost on the way. It doesn't matter. Plenty of daylight and no deadlines. I relax at the apartment. When Christine gets home we head out to see one of the tourist sites and have dinner. This church may be the world's tallest. It has a lot of steps but my hip is handling it fine.
DAY 20 9/19
Its time to head back to the USA. I am noticing some unusual wear on my front Dunlop 606. One row of knobs looks like they didn't wear at all. The second row is very near the rubber. How can this be and have the tire still be round?
It was great to see Christine after 10 years. I have aged 20 years since then but she looks exactly the same. Maybe she stole 10 years from me when I was in Ivory Coast. Africa is a mysterious place. It was another good decision by me to come here. I could have passed up this opportunity and then die on the operating table. Christine, if you are reading this it means that you are probably really bored. Thanks so much for your hospitality.
Back in the USSA!
My time is really short now. I have to be at work in 2 days and I have a long way to go. Looks like there is going to be a lot of night riding. I crossed into New York on highway 87. I got off at highway 3 and took some of the scenic roads south. It was hard to find a good non-superhighway way through New York and Pennsylvania on the fly. The Adirondacks were beautiful. I need to come back when I don't have to race through it. I didn't take any pictures the rest of the way.
When I get to Scranton it was dark and raining. I pull over to gas up before looking for a hotel. I am at the pump and reach into my pocket for my wallet. It is not there. That little wave of adrenalin starts to flow. I check every pocket and the tank bag. No wallet. I must have left it at the last gas stop about 3 hours ago. Here I am with no money or id, its raining and I have to be at work the day after tomorrow. My front tire is about ready to blow. I don't know what made me do it, but I felt down around my ankle. There it was, caught between my mesh pants and the rain pants over top. The wallet sat there for hours without falling out. Another big wave of relief.
I need to find a hotel so I can search for a tire online. The nearest hotel has no vacancy. I go down the road and the next one is a Holiday Inn Express $120 OTD. It is against everything I stand for but I pay it anyway. They let me leave the motorcycle parked under the entrance overhang. On the internet, I find a dealer in Harrisburg. I find a motorcycle shop too, so I am all set.
DAY 21 9/20 FINAL DAY
I get on highway 81 in the morning. The front tire is so bad I am afraid to go over 50mph. When I get to Harrisburg I call the shop and they have two tires available. I choose the Duro. It cost around $120 installed. The tire was on in little over an hour and I was on my way again.
I have to be at work tomorrow, so today was all about making time. I make it through 5 states. It is becomes dark at the North Carolina border. There is not much time left for me to make any more boneheaded mistakes. I get to the house at about 9:30 pm. Normally I drive the bike between a bush on my left and my 4-runner on the right when putting the bike in the garage. So I did that as I always do. Except I never had panniers on before.
Last act of stupidity (for this trip).
Final tally is 6,200 miles over 21 days. The first half was about seeing the incredible scenery of the American west and camping under the stars. The second half was an unplanned mad dash from place to place to reconnect with old friends.
I am so grateful that I did the 2nd half the way I did. It was never a focus of this trip. Sometimes we can wait too long to visit friends and never get another opportunity.
This was a fine adventure for me all by itself. However this trip was also a test of my ability to do a true epic adventure. Since it is a test, it must have a final grade. My final grade is a passing C based on the 6 criteria below.
1. Bike prep: B
I did a good job here. I should have done something about the dim headlight but my overall electrical and suspension mods worked great. The bike ran perfect the whole time, even in high altitude and temperature extremes.
2. Trip prep: D
Too much night riding and setting up camp in the dark. Set myself up for too many chance encounters with deer in the dark. Ironically the only time I almost hit a deer was in broad daylight and the unplanned part of the trip went the smoothest.
3. Nav/gps ability: D
To get lost in the area I most wanted not to is unacceptable. The places I want to ride in the future may not be as forgiving. Lumped in with this was waiting to the last minute to rent a SPOT, and having them all rented out.
4. Riding: B
Even though I had one crash, I managed to stay on two wheels. I was wise to ride the DR one time in deep sand and once in very rocky terrain before this trip. None of the terrain on this trip was worse than my prep rides. But I wasn’t ready for the handling difference between the loaded bike and unloaded bike. Most of my riding problems were caused by what was going on in my head. I thought about the metal panniers, not being able to right the bike, etc. A lot of the obstacles made me nervous simply because I was alone. If I was on my WR250R and with someone, I could handle so much more.
5. Number of Totally Avoidable Bonehead Mistakes: D
I didn’t include the millions of minor TABMs. These were the ones that had the potential to be significant in the wrong situations. I thought 8 was too many.
Almost lose gas cap
Almost lose keys
Almost lose wallet
Almost lose motorcycleFail to monitor front tire
Almost lose myself
Park lot error, bike fall over
Hit car with panniers
6. Intangibles: B
Fudge factor needed to get me C.
I spent the big bucks for the Luxury Lite cot. I knew with my hip and back I would never be comfortable on just a pad. It was money well spent. It did add about 12 minutes to set up, then another 12 to tear down. I like that it kept me a few inches off the ground since I usually slept without the tent. I still used a pad too. The cot is very stable for someone in my weight range. Wolfman and Ortlieb bags were very tough as were the Happy Trails Panniers. Aerostitch rain gear worked great to keep me warm and dry.
Do I have the physical capability to do an epic ride? The facts say probably not. But it is human nature to ignore facts that don’t support what we want to believe. So I am going to believe that an epic trip is still in my future.
Maybe not possible, but two months in South Africa/Namibia/Botswana solo in 2012 would be my ultimate dream. I am studying some Spanish too for possible forays into the Spanish world.
I would also like to do an off/dirt road camping trip like the TAT or CDT on my WR250R with another rider.
Thanks for reading.
But you get an "A" for Effort :clap
A+ in my book.:thumb
Fantastic ride, report and pics!! :clap Thanks for the detailed report and all those great pics. :thumb
A++ Perfect Adventure!...took all the right chances....made all the funny mistakes! Great report and the pictures were excellent (most trip report mess this part up with a bad camera or no eye for a good shot!)
Enjoyed your adventure. I am 53 and in pretty good health and I doubt that I would have rode some of that alone. Props to you man!
Heal fast from the hip surgury.
Nice work man. You have the right stuff. Do that epic !
Thanks for your candid-ness, and/or honesty about all the little personal concerns. I too suffer from some arthritis in my left back/hip, and as i consider future travel plans, this is something that goes in the equation. However, I am pretty sound beyond that, and at 59 years old, plan to do a lot in the years to come. So far the medicine keeps the arthritis at arms length.
We have a winner!
You may not truly realize what you have accomplished, but you managed an epic ride that few people will ever get to do. I have lived in Colorado for over 20 years and have ridden most of the areas that you covered in your 3 week trip. You rode many of the most scenic areas to be found in the Southwest and kept your DR650 right side up (most of the time). I know many people that only dream of doing what you have accomplished.
Great photos and great commentary. One of the better ride reports on this site.
Good bike.... Nice set-up.... Great job with the pictures and report.... Thanks for sharing with us !!!! :thumb
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