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Old 08-22-2010, 05:54 PM   #1
mmg781 OP
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New England Boy Discovers the West - A Cross Country Tale

Welcome! I’m Mike, and this is my tale of scratching the itch, the timeless itch of a grand motorcycle road trip for the ages, in this case, a 3-week, 6,300-mile solo journey across the United States on a 2008 Suzuki V-Strom. This trip has been rattling around in the back of my head for nearly ten years, really since the first time I saw Easy Rider, as cliché as that may sound (paying no heed, of course, to the movie’s inglorious ending). I mean, what red-blooded American doesn’t have the urge for THE road trip...setting out from the comforts of home into the unknown, crossing the prairie, witnessing the Rockies emerge from the endless horizon, and climbing into the clean, cold mountain air?

To paraphrase Emerson, any goal can be achieved by the cumulative effect of innumerable small decisions and actions along the way. The major actions included learning to ride and purchasing my first motorcycle four years ago, upgrading to the tour-capable V-Strom, shaping the dream over thousands of miles of riding, and sealing my fate with an one-night motorcycle camping trip last year. Finally, my life situation screamed at me to GO, so, between August 1 and 19, 2010, I scratched the itch with a nice ride from Connecticut to Salt Lake City and back, and was rewarded with all the views, cool people, and emotions that only hard travel can provide.

A few teasers…

I rode through rain…


and snow…


saw a lifetime's worth of corn and soybean...


got high on crack…


witnessed some prairie justice…


and lived to tell the tale.


I’m writing this report not so much as a way to contribute to the ADV community, but to combine my photographs, memories, and many pages of road diary entries into a cohesive visual memory on which I can reflect when I inevitably settle back into the routines of home and work life. That said, I appreciate any comments or questions!

The many great reports on this forum were invaluable in shaping my confidence for pulling off this trip. “Hey”, I thought, “If these folks can do it, then so can I!” So, I can only hope that reading this report may possibly help some rider out there germinate a plan for his or her dream trip. It never hurts to dream...

Ride on,
Mike
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Old 08-23-2010, 01:19 PM   #2
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So, on with the ride! Day one found me wide awake at 5am, anxious to roll. My wife joined me for an early breakfast. Supportive of this trip from its inception, I could suddenly see the hesitation building in her eyes.

“So, three weeks?”

“Yup.”

“(sigh)…OK.”

I pulled out my atlas and picked out the day’s route. Prior to the trip, everyone I talked to would ask, “Do you have your route planned out? Do you know where you’ll be staying each night?” For a three week trip? No way! This type of trip has to be a day-by-day experience since not even the most astute (read…anal retentive) traveler can predict the multitude of factors that can influence the course of a trip. I have a GPS on the bike, but 99% of the time I would look at the map, write the route, and stick the cue sheet in my tank bag. Just way more fun than that way. Plus, maps give you the big picture in a way a GPS does not.

First, this will give you a general idea of where I went…it’s not exact but close enough.


Last shot before kissing the wife, sliding on the helmet, and clicking the bike into gear. That goofy vest lasted about two days before I hit some hot-ass weather in the plain states!


If you haven’t been through western Connecticut, it is a scene of pastoral beauty and wealth. Nice roads, too.


Unfortunately, eastern Pennsylvania, with it’s burned out coal and mill towns, did not resonate so well. In some bizarre coincidence (or maybe Steve Jobs is using iPods to read our inner thoughts in a play for global domination), the iPod shuffled Billy Joel’s “Allentown” just as I passed through about the fifth or sixth coal town, not more than 30 miles from Allentown.


The dreary drizzle didn’t help my mood, which was an expected mix of excitement, fear, and the realization of the hard miles I was about to put in.


But eventually, the rain cleared along with my spirits, and I found a campground at Kooser State park in Somerset, PA. My typical procedure for this trip was to get my ass off the road by 5:00pm, which gave me plenty of time to hunt down a grocery store or Subway for dinner, a campsite, and allowed me plenty of chill time in camp. At any rate, I racked up over 430 miles this first day, with a decent mix of backroad and highway riding. I decided to hit highways for a fair bit in the east since this is home territory and I was ready to get WEST.


I’m not huge on the “bike trip food photos”, but I was pretty stoked to be camping on the first night of my trip, so here’s looking at pine nut couscous with fresh jalapenos and red bell peppers. My 7-year old Whisperlite stove worked like a champ on this trip. I ran it off gasoline for the first time (as opposed to Coleman fuel), and it worked great if not a little sooty during priming.


On day two, the deeply corrugated folds of Pennsylvania’s landscape began to smooth out in West Virginia, with only some soft wrinkles remaining by the time I rolled into Ohio.


And the landscape turned fully agricultural in a hurry.


At this point, I was mostly riding I-70. I tried a lengthy detour on Route 40, billed as the “National Road”, but to my dismay it was endless parade of frustratingly-spaced traffic lights. As soon as I got up to speed from one light (60 mph or so), another would appear, and it was always red. F that. But, I kept in the back of my head that this is a bike trip, not a commute, so don’t forget to smell the roses!

Or the daisies. Dawes Arboretum, somewhere in Ohio.




I do a fair bit of backpacking and cycling. I tend to be the “long distance” kind of guy…I get my kicks from putting in long miles with steep climbs. My ol’ buddy Clarksie, also an outdoors nut, is a smell the roses kind of guy. We had a few clashes on some earlier trips when our philosophies (and egos) got in the way, but we’ve since learned how to plan hikes that accommodate everyone’s goals. Clarksie couldn’t make it on this trip (time for a motorcycle, bro!), but I adopted his mindset on this trip whenever I started to get the idea in my head that I needed to make more miles. This vastly improved my experience. Thanks buddy.

The temperature and humidity climbed as I traversed Ohio and struck deep into Indiana. Corn and soybean fields dominated the landscape. Hot and tired, I found a cheap Super 8 hotel in Cloverdale, IN and cranked the air conditioning.


Hard days, so far. Lots of miles, little reward, and I found myself wondering when this trip would begin in earnest. Did I make a mistake? One diary entry from these first few days reads, “I feel as if the first 4-5 days of this trip are just building principle in the “awesome bank”. I hope I can make a big withdrawal in the Rockies.”

More to come.
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Old 08-23-2010, 01:46 PM   #3
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Nice RR. Another CT native here and I also happen to ride a Wee. I can't tell from the pics - is that the stock seat on your bike? I can't seem to find one that fits my ass so even the idea of a 430 mile day has me in pain already.

Good luck on the rest of your adventure!
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Old 08-23-2010, 01:58 PM   #4
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I swapped the stock 650 seat for a stock DL1000 seat...the added seat height helped (I'm 6 ft tall), and it has a better shape. I ride with a Bead Rider cushion, which makes ALL the difference. My biggest day on this trip was about 550 miles, and my ass wasn't complaining (much).

http://www.beadrider.com/

Glad you enjoy the RR so far. The good stuff is coming soon!
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Old 08-23-2010, 06:01 PM   #5
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Looks like you've had a great tour

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Old 08-24-2010, 08:02 AM   #6
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Day 3 dawned with a palpable mugginess that forecast the day to come. I found some great Indiana back roads leading right from the hotel…a nice break from the freeway onslaught of the prior day.


An enjoyable 200 mile morning jaunt brought me across Illinois to the shores of the Mississippi River. I crossed the Mississippi…on my motorcycle…! This is the moment the magnitude of the trip really hit me. I am WEST! THIS IS AWESOME! In a heartbeat, the ride became an adventure.

Gateway Arch. I was fully impressed by my first sight of this, reaching tall above the St. Louis skyline, a welcome sign to modern westward travelers, and a fitting monument to those that paved the way.






I visited the Westward Expansion museum beneath the Arch. I particularly liked this photo…the expressions on the faces of the man and woman speak volumes about determination, hardship, and hope. Was the life they were heading towards any better than what they were leaving? Were they eastern sharecroppers or mill workers seeking a piece of land to call their own? Immigrants? They are a few of thousands that made the push west, and their story, while lost in the winds of the prairie, has undoubtedly flavored the American experience.


Can you imagine making 10-12 miles per day in this?


And then living in this?


While hoping to come across some of this?


Oddly, I found no mention of the term “Manifest Destiny” anywhere in the museum (though I’m sure I could have missed it). Manifest destiny was, in essence, an American religious viewpoint that God favored the white Americans to spread west to conquer the landscape for their benefit. This was all the justification needed for the denigration, relocation, and murder of an indigenous civilization, along with an entire prairie ecosystem which fell beneath the plow. Perhaps that’s why I didn’t see manifest destiny discussed much, it’s a terrible and brutal scar on our history.

I had a great lunch at the Miller Street Brewery in St. Louis’ revitalized downtown district. A nice use of what I’m sure were formerly decaying factory buildings.


Anyway, enough city, and by noon the heat was creeping towards 100 degrees. I sought relief from the urban heat on some fantastic Missouri backroads. I was totally surprised by the roller coaster roads through hill country…




…a welcome respite from the ubiquitous corn and soybean fields.




This was the hottest day of the trip, by far. Soaking my t-shirt in gas station restrooms helped cool me down a bit. All that damned riding gear! I looked with envy at the majority of passing motorcyclists with jeans, t-shirts, and a pair of sunglasses. Oh well, with thousands of miles to ride, I had to mitigate the risk somehow. A little sweat didn’t kill me.

As we riders know, riding a motorcycle lends a unique perspective that those in a vehicle never experience. I’m talking about very subtle changes here…case in point…as I was riding through the Missouri landscape, I experienced micro-climates passing by croplands. The humidity rose perceptibly near soybean fields – those plants must actively transpire a huge amount of moisture from the soil to the air. (This is probably why each field is fitted with a large, expensive-looking irrigation system.) Someone in a car with the AC blasting would never experience this. Poor fools!




That evening found me at Knob Noster State Park in Missouri. Aside from a few RVs parked in the campground, I practically had the place to myself. A good time to catch up on the diary.


Little did I know that an epic battle of man versus beast was about to unfold…


There are no photos of this, so a written tale will suffice…

While I cooked dinner, the little beasts fearlessly congregated around my campsite, hungry for scraps and eagerly anticipating an opportunity to heist some goodies. Wisely (or so I thought), I hung my food bag and cook pots from a post that was ostensibly placed there for protection from critters. Smugly retiring to my sauna of a tent, I enjoyed about five minutes of rest before the clanging of cook pots heralded the first raccoon attack. Running out of the tent, I found my food bag slashed, along with the wrapper of one Clif bar. Thinking now (or so I thought), I threw the food in the hard, locking sidecase of the motorcycle. It was minutes later that the brigands were climbing all over the motorcycle, and, with visions of chewed Givi cases in my head, I fashioned a length of rope to hang the bag from a tree.

Of course, all branches below 10 feet had been taken long ago for firewood, so I found myself monkeying up a tree, rope in hand. As a reached a sturdy limb, I promptly dropped the rope, leaving the food bag lying uselessly on the ground with my ass 10 feet in the air, knowing full well the folly of this situation. I tentatively downclimbed a foot or two before slipping and falling the remaining distance. Luckily, I suffered no more that a few minor cuts on my hand.

Not to be outsmarted by a raccoon, I tied the rope horizontally between two trees spaced 10 feet apart, and hung the bag in the center, hopefully out of a raccoon’s reach. One critter actually climbed the tree and watched me rig the whole setup.

This setup worked, though it was now about 10:30 at night. Heading back to the tent once more, I could hear the raccoon howling in frustration. But they were not done with me. Pouring sweat now in the 85 degree nighttime heat, I lay half naked on my sleeping bag listening to critters patrolling my tent, reaching for the hanging food, and inspecting the V-Strom.

Enough is enough. In the course of 15 minutes, I packed camp back on the bike and dialed in the nearest motel on the GPS. Ten minutes later, I was basking in the glorious air conditioned accommodations of the local EconoLodge.

This is what makes a camping trip a camping trip, folks. Although I was hot and tired, I was laughing the whole time. And I only lost the one Clif bar.

Says the EconoLodge receptionist, “You were camping at the state park, eh? Yeah, we used to party there in high school. I spent a lot of nights chasing raccoons away with baseball bats…”






Next installment…Kansas nearly defeats me, and redemption in the Rockies.
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Old 08-24-2010, 10:42 AM   #7
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Amazing!

Absolutely incredibly! Subscribed.
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Old 08-24-2010, 02:02 PM   #8
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After a refreshing night in the EconoLodge, free of harassment from wildlife, I set off through the wilds of western Missouri towards Kansas.




Now I’m really getting far from home!


The first big grain elevator I came across. Don’t see this back East. This was cool! After the next, like, 400, they kinda lost their luster. Especially when you could see one on the horizon and you say to yourself, “Hey, a town, I can get an iced tea!” and then it takes you 30 minutes to get there and there is nothing but the elevator, a tractor shop, and that’s it.


But, I got my first glimpse of real prairie, unmolested by corn, soybean, and wheat.


I put my mount out to pasture for a bit while I stretched my aching shoulders.


Saw this guy coming from a few miles away.


Typical Kansas view. At first, the wide openness of the prairie was strange to me. Open, too open! How can I wrap my mind around this…like reverse claustrophobia! Look at all that sky! Now, as write this report in Connecticut, surrounded by hills and tall trees that block the sky, all I can see when I close my eyes is that endless horizon and unmarred blue dome.




Relentless prairie wind, or did they forget their V8? (Anyone remember that commercial?)






This picture is nothing special, but it marked THE mental turning point of the trip.


Let me back up and explain.

I mentioned earlier that I had no route planned for this trip, no real goal. Well, I actually did have one really big goal, and that was to meet up with my brother (who lives in Salt Lake City) in Zion National Park in southwest Utah. The plan was to meet in Zion on the evening of Friday, August 6. Since I left on Sunday, August 1, I figured that would give me plenty of time to cross the country. Well, by Wednesday I was in the middle of Kansas with over 1,000 miles to Zion, and I had no intention or desire to bang off two 500-mile days, through the Rockies. Shit. Zion was really hanging over my head and was a big reason why I was pushing so hard through the prairie states.

Remember I said earlier that I’m the goal oriented type and I need to stop and smell the roses? Well, I did myself a favor and came to the realization that Zion wasn’t happening. I was bummed that I wouldn’t be able to hang with my brother since I haven’t seen him in a year.

So I called him up right there on the side of the road in Kansas.

“Dude…I can’t make Zion.”

“Whatever bro, meet me in Moab then. No worries.”

A weight was lifted right there and then. Moab was way closer than Zion, and equally as awesome. So, I made the decision to chill right the fuck out and take in some cowboy history in Dodge City…the infamous Dodge City of Wyatt Earp fame.




Dodge City always was and probably always will be a cattle town. Entering town, I was struck (figuratively, of course) by an endless parade of tractor trailers pulling livestock trailers to the National Beef Packing Plant. The air actually smelled of beef, which kinda made me hungry until I inevitably caught a whiff another cattle byproduct which I’m sure you can guess.

I found a cheap motel and had a great conversation with a Harley rider from Brooklyn who left New York the same day I left Connecticut, and he basically took the same route across the country as I. He was just as beat up by the heat and ready for a few days off the road. A grandfather, he was taking six weeks to tour the country solo and was hoping to eventually meet up with some far-flung buddies to party in Sturgis. Pretty cool!

In need of a break from the road myself; I headed over to the Boot Hill museum, which has a decent collection of frontier memorabilia circa 1880.


Connecticut represent! Winchester, Remington, Marlin, Colt, Sharps…all made in Connecticut during the frontier era. One guy I met in Kansas commented that Kansas could do without Connecticut, but Connecticut probably couldn't survive without Kansas (referring to all the food produced there). Um, yeah bud, your ancestors would have had a great time taming the west with a floppy stalk of corn instead of a Colt Peacemaker or Winchester lever action rifle...


So, upon further reflection, I suppose my ancestors here in Connecticut had a lethal (manufacturing) role in that "Manifest Destiny" thing, too...

Pimpin’ style.


The banker’s chair. Badass.


The ATM of yesteryear.






As I toured the buildings, a group of cowboys fresh from a cattle drive came strolling into town, thirsty and looking for some fun.




The sheriff was none too pleased that the boys wore their revolvers into town, in violation of his new brand of law and order.




Voices were raised and tempers flew. I don’t know who drew first, but the sheriff drew best.




The saloon keeper lent a hand keeping order in front of his establishment. There is no arguing with a shotgun at close range.


As the dust and gunsmoke settled, the sheriff retired to the saloon for some well deserved whiskey and womanizing, and four cattle rustlers lay dead in the street…



Well, until they got up to sign commemorative photographs…



Since 1880 or so, riders hot off the trail have come to Dodge City looking to blow off some steam and have a cold one.

In 130 years, things haven’t changed much!

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Old 08-25-2010, 08:06 AM   #9
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After some refreshment, rejuvenation, and a major mental realignment, I was ready to get the hell outta Dodge (couldn’t wait to write that)! First stop was a scenic viewpoint where ruts from the Santa Fe Trail are still visible. They just look like swales in the prairie grass, but I saw some real prairie and it was a serene setting.




Finally…


The owner of a coffee shop in Syracuse, KS recommended a remote road (Rt 10) through the Colorado prairie to the base of the Rockies in Walsenburg, CO. This was cattle country, but for the most part the prairie landscape was untouched.








I watched this storm all morning, moving in a different direction than I.


And then…a persistent bank of clouds sitting on the horizon gradually revealed that which I’d been waiting to see for four days now…the Rockies. Ebullient shouts and tears of joy filled my helmet for the next few hours as the mountains thrust forth out the prairie with every passing mile. Salvation…from the endless croplands and searing mid-country heat. Trees! Roiling streams and mountain breezes! Just ahead now…


Leaving Walsenburg after gassing up, I headed over North La Veta Pass, surrounded by the Sangre de Cristo range.


Nearing the summit, I had to stop and layer up as the temperatures had dropped with the considerable increase in elevation. As I crested the pass, I stopped once again to put on raingear, for laid out in front of me was my first Colorado mountain thunderstorm. The western sky was sodden with a grey-blue wall of clouds, crackling with spiderwebs of lightning . The wind picked up, buffeting the bike across my lane. No photos here. The effects of the cold, thin air were offset by continuous shots of adrenaline into my pounding heart as I made my way down the pass. Lightning storms, elevation, and motorcycles do not mix. As I reached the floor of the mountains in the neighborhood of Great Sand Dunes National Park, my fears subsided as the storm moved off to the south. It completely missed me, save for a few scattered raindrops. A sigh of relief…and the adventure continues.

The afternoon brought me to my destination for the evening, South Fork, CO. A branch of the Rio Grande flows through this mountain town, and the atmosphere was one of trout fishing, ATV riding, river running, and general Colorado mountain goodness. I stopped at the tourist center and the (gorgeous) girl at the counter gave me some great campground suggestions. Equally as important, I found a liquor store for the evening’s ration of Pabst Blue Ribbon.

En route to Beaver Brook Campground.


Home for the night.


The river was 20 yards behind my tent…ice cold mountain water flanked by a granite cliff. I was in heaven!


Nature’s refrigerator.


Alfredo noodles, canned corn and chicken, with some chili seasoning. Yeah it’s backpacking food, but it hits the spot.


This one’s for my wife, who can’t stand it when I wear socks with sandals. But, in my defense, the sandals were the only footwear I brought aside from riding boots. And once those boots came off at the end of the day, there was no way in hell they were going back on! Plus, the cool Colorado air necessitated a bit of Merino wool on the ol’ dogs…






He was inspecting my tread depth…




So I’m sitting in camp after dinner, reading and listening to some music (The Samples, a great Colorado band from the heyday of the mid-90s indie scene), when I spotted a dog out of the corner of my eye coming up behind me. I stand up, turn around, and realize the dog is a bear only 20 or so feet away! I instinctively grabbed my camera and ripped off some shots as the bear, startled by my presence, ran down the bank and crossed the river. This is the only decent shot I got. Big sucker…with shaggy blond hair across his back!


After the bear excitement settled down, the 3 PBR tallboys mixed with the rare mountain air at 8,000 feet above sea level to make this motorcycle adventurer ready for bed. Ahead of me the next day was a ride through Colorado into the magic world of Utah canyon country.

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Old 08-25-2010, 08:57 AM   #10
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Awesome write up so far! You have me looking at the calendar and figuring out vacation time for next spring. Keep it coming!
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Old 08-25-2010, 01:56 PM   #11
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Originally Posted by daveinoh
Awesome write up so far! You have me looking at the calendar and figuring out vacation time for next spring. Keep it coming!
Do it! Although, spring in the Rockies can be a bit...snowy

I'm happy you're diggin' the ride so far. Stay tuned for more soon!
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Old 08-25-2010, 05:34 PM   #12
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I got a great night’s sleep in the bracing mountain air…this was only my second full night camping on the trip. The valiant stand against the raccoons in Missouri didn’t really count! With the first short ride ahead of me (250 or so miles), I lingered in camp, enjoying several cups of Starbucks Via instant coffee, reading, talking to fellow campers…basically doing nothing outwardly productive but of great spiritual importance. You fellow campers and outdoorspeople know exactly what I’m talking about (and not just the crucial morning constitutional…though the outhouses in this campground had great wildlife identification posters to occupy that other form of idle time…).

My diary from the previous night was bursting with fresh ink, the result of a hand loosened by Pabst Blue Ribbon and the excitement of entering the next phase of the journey. I reflected on the last year or so of my life, starting with my frame of mind during a V-Strom camping trip to Vermont during Memorial Day weekend 2009. (Read about that one here). That trip found me as a disoriented 27 year old who suddenly began questioning life. An awakening of the soul, so to speak. I had all the trappings of a life that should have made me very content: a happy marriage, a home, and a steady job. But I wasn’t content, and I couldn’t figure out why. Depression? Scary thought. Come to find out, my wife was seriously unhappy at her job, and she retreated into a very private place emotionally. I didn’t realize the effect of her mental state on my own until she quit her job and started her own company working from home. Almost overnight, the girl I met years ago returned, along with my sanity. I suppose it’s a testament to our relationship that my happiness is inextricably linked to hers, and vice versa. So, here I am, same marriage, same home, and same job, but with a healthier state of mind!

“Well,” you may ask, “Was this cross country trip one of self-discovery?” No. In the last 12 months, I think I pretty much figured out who I was. In fact, to pull off a trip like this, a long way from home on a motorcycle, I think you need to know yourself pretty well…know your capabilities and limitations and how your mind and body will react in certain situations.


Anywho, back to the bike trip! Some of you campers might want to know what I brought and how it all fit on the V-Strom. Starting clockwise with the green stuff sack, the port-side case carried clothing, MSR cookpots and stove, stuff sack with miscellaneous gear (batteries, headlamp, multi-tool, rope, first aid kit, etc.), food sack, and shave kit.


The starboard case carried the Kelty V2 tent and poles, ¾-length Thermarest-knock off pad, stove fuel bottle, and a plastic travel mug (absent on photo day, probably in my hand full of coffee).


A cheapo Kelty 20-degree sleeping bag got stuffed in a Cabela’s dry compression bag and was strapped to the passenger seat along with a folding camp chair. The top case carried the maps, Camelbak, books, raingear, gloves, spare parts and tools, a Slime mini-compressor, tire plug kit, and a camera tripod. A Cortech Super-Mini magnetic tank bag housed a Spot Tracker, iPod, cell phone, camera, various power cords, a notepad, pen, and a micro-fiber towel for cleaning the helmet visor. That’s about it.

So, I rolled out of South Fork by 11am, heading west through Colorado. Shortly after passing Wolf Creek Ski Area, I crossed the Continental Divide at Wolf Creek Pass.








After lunch at Kirk’s Grill and Cantina in Pagosa Springs, I continued on, eventually descending the backside of the Rockies into the Colorado desert…some of which was, unnaturally, irrigated cropland.




The La Sal mountains teased me for hours.


Now we’re getting somewhere!


Almost out of nowhere, the endlessly flat prairie began to fall apart in front of my eyes, and the bizarre desert rock formations started to appear as the road descended into the bowels of an ancient seabed.


You can comprehend what’s going on with the landscape for a few brief miles…


Until the visions of some alien creature’s psychedelic fantasy pop into your sober reality.


My brother was not due in town for several more hours, so I took a 22-mile scenic detour.






Words and photographs fail in every respect to convey this landscape. I can only tell you the basics…the Colorado River and its tributaries have spent eons carving their channels into practically every type of rock you can imagine, leaving a tortured landscape of labyrinthine canyons and mesas, quite literally as far as the eye can see.







Behind me, a late afternoon thunderstorm swelled in the desert heat 20, 30, maybe 50 miles from where I stood?! I lost perception of distances. I was dumbstruck by the vista in front of me, but I did not tarry, as with Colorado, I was on a high piece of land with a storm barreling my way.




The overlook was easily a thousand feet above the desert floor below.


I wasted no time on the 22 miles back to the main highway, but stopped for a few pictures. It’s not often that I visit this corner of the world, and the experience is not to be wasted on silly fears of storms.








I haven’t tried embedding video yet, so here goes nothing…


I made it to Moab in advance of the storm and sought out an auto parts store for some motorcycle oil. The employees were kind enough to lend me an oil pan and I treated the V-Strom to a few quarts of fresh juice just as the storm hit. My first desert storm…didn’t quite know what to expect. The winds swirled fine red dust all around town and peppered me with some lukewarm raindrops. Amazingly, the clouds emptied their contents above me but the dry desert atmosphere sucked back nearly all of the rain before it had a chance to hit the ground. Simply wild.

My brother rolled into town and we met up at the Moab Brewery for a great steak dinner. Damn it was good to see him again. Following dinner, we rolled to a public campground on Potash Road at the east end of Moab, just past the uranium remediation project. In the pitch black desert night, I could only faintly make out the magnificent landscape in the headlights of the motorcycle. Christopher and I set up camp and commenced swilling Utah’s finest 3.2% microbrews and catching up on old times.

Past 2am now, I retired to my private nylon bungalow.


This is what greeted me as I unzipped the vestibule in the morning.


Here’s the big goofball. I’m four years older, but he’s got 4 inches and 30 pounds on me. I don’t tease him anymore.




Christopher brought some bicycles with him from Salt Lake City, so we peddled into town for a heart-healthy breakfast at Dennys. He somehow got a hold of my father's old 1978 Univega 10-speed, which I piloted around Moab. Breakfast...I’ve never seen so much mayonnaise, butter, and meat on a breakfast sandwich! Not that I was complaining…it sure beat the instant oatmeal packages I was eating across the country. Here’s the view along Potash Road that I missed the previous night.


And on the other side of the road…the Colorado River.


We decided to do a bit of rock climbing before the midday heat set in. I started climbing 5 or 6 years ago with some buddies from work. My brother got into it when he was still in Connecticut, then he moved out west for the real deal. I stopped pretty much when he left 3 years ago since he was my most consistent climbing partner, and the rest of us got married and found our time occupied by things other than dangling from rocks on a rope. Just recently, I sent him most of my climbing gear, and he’s put it to good use on the Moab and Zion sandstone and on the granite cliffs of the Wasatch Front in Salt Lake City. At any rate, I was pumped for my first crack climb. The Wingate Sandstone in the Moab area tends to fracture in beautifully consistent vertical cracks. All you gotta do is jam your hands and feet into the crack, twist, and climb. There is nothing really to “grab” onto, it’s all friction.

The first climb was “30 Seconds Over Potash”, a splendid 5.8 handcrack. Christopher led the climb in traditional fashion, meaning he placed protection in the form of mechanical cams as he went up. The committing thing about trad climbing is that you fall twice the distance that you climb above your last piece of protection. So, if you climb 10 feet above your last cam and then fall, you fall 10 feet to your cam and then the next 10 feet until the rope arrests your fall. Hopefully the cam stays put in the crack and your buddy, who has you on belay (meaning he tends the rope), doesn’t have his thumb up his crack. Hopefully you don't fall at all! It’s all great fun, and once I got the butterflies and cobwebs out on the first few moves, the pitch was just a blast.




Caught him mid-pose doing something funny. Yeah, his tattoo is an old-school bicycle with a banana seat and flag with the words “Pop A Wheelie”. Our mamma only preached the evils of three things when we were growing up: motorcycles, tattoos, and tobacco. Well, he has a tattoo, I have a bike, and we’re both guilty of some lung calisthenics now and then. Love you Ma!






Your scribe on the rappel off the second climb of the day.




The heat started to soak into the sandstone and we sopped it back up in spades, so we decided to pull the ropes and go for a hike out to Corona Arch.




My brother yelled at me for not bringing a longer pair of shorts. Hey, it was hot, I didn’t have much room to pack shit on the bike, and that’s all I cared about!


Damn that arch was heavy!




Check out Christopher in the white shirt for scale. This arch was most impressive.








Hanging gardens. In this vast rock wasteland, some groundwater happens to seep out of the sandstone and supports a community of ferns, moss, and algae.




Deceptive scale here. The foreground is cryptobiotic crust, basically living soil. Various bacteria, algae, and fungi take residence in the dry soil, creating little sand sculptures less than an inch tall that stabilize the soil against erosion and form the backbone of the desert ecology. Formed over hundreds of years, cyrptobiotic crust is destroyed in an instant by a careless footstep. The cliffs in the background are hundreds of feet tall. I have a B.S. in biology with an M.S. in environmental geoscience, so stuff like this really gets me going!


One last look at this Martian world before we retreat to the foggy, rainy La Sal mountains for the night.


A reading assignment for anyone who’s interested. Edward Abbey’s “Desert Solitaire” manages to put this twisted rockscape into eloquent written form. Abbey’s passion for the American Southwest is unmatched in American literature. Do yourself a favor and pick up a copy and then immediately schedule a trip to this forlorn and fantastic place.



Moab. Now this trip started to roll

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Old 08-26-2010, 02:20 PM   #13
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The La Sal Mountains are located outside of Moab and rise to over 12,000 feet above sea level. They are beautiful triangular/dome-shaped peaks (if that makes any sense), but they evaded our gaze on the ride from town as they were socked in. I followed my brother up La Sal Loop Road into the clouds. We turned off onto a gravel road heading towards OowahLake campground...eight miles later, and after loose gravel on uphill switchbacks, the V-Strom and I emerged unscathed at the campground.


We set up camp, then I walked to the creek to wash off the desert stink. My brother, an avid desert rat, scoffed at the idea. Shortly after our arrival, the rain set in with vigor, so we did the logical thing, hung out under the tailgate and drank beer all night.


Utah beer really just exercises your kidneys and bladder. One beer in, one beer out. The liver gets a vacation with this stuff. We killed a 12er of Mormon High Life before tackling a 6er of local microbrew. At the end of the night, I was fairly confident that I could competently operate heavy machinery.

At sunset, the clouds broke just enough to allow a glimpse of alpenglow and the peaks above.


Morning broke cold and clear until the sun peaked over the trees, and the whole rain-soaked world began to dry out in swirling clouds of vapor.


We took a short hike from camp to a high-mountain pond through nice aspen groves.


But really, the whole mountain side was a cowshit-strewn graze fest, scenic, though!










After the hike, I loaded all my gear into Christopher’s vehicle so I could enjoy the gravel roads unencumbered by all the weight. The bike handled MUCH better. Then, I got to rip the paved switchbacks down La Sal Loop Road at full speed. It felt great to start thinking about corner entry speed, angle, apex, and exit acceleration after a full week of dead straight roads in the prairie! After lunch in Moab, my original plan was to part ways with my brother and head back into Colorado to explore more of the Rockies. But, I wanted to hang out some more, so I followed him back to SLC and spent the night at his house drinking Mormon PBRs and watching episodes of Eastbound and Down. I also was able to some laundry…shit was starting to stink after a week in the heat! I was glad to make the trek to SLC…Colorado will still be around for another trip, but time spent with a brother is invaluable.



Short installment today. Up next, northeast Utah and its stunning diversity, and the Grand Tetons!!!
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Old 08-26-2010, 02:58 PM   #14
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Great RR! Looking forward to the rest!
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Old 08-26-2010, 03:14 PM   #15
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Great ride report Mike, looking forward to next instalment, Mark.
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