It was over a week ago now that I had arrived in Price, Utah after having ridden through wonderfully scenic and varied desert landscapes. Price is situated in the shadow of a mountain range. Because it was something I have been concerned about, I always scan the mountain tops looking for snow.
This time I noticed snow on several peaks to the Northwest.
"That's not ok." Audrey said on the phone when I told her this. She asked what I would do if I came across any snow on the passes ahead.
"If it gets too deep, I'll just turn around." I assured her.
I've heard claim that it's possible to ride in snow. Some years ago, I once rode across a 25 yard expanse of 4 inch deep snow successfully but it was less than graceful.
The next morning I packed up my gear and thought about what the German TAT rider had said about the trail ahead. "Nothing too challenging." he had commented. I walked outside to load up the bike and looked at the mountain peaks in the distance and noted the white.
There was a man with a very little dog in the parking lot. The little thing saw me and immediately waddled it's way over to my feet. I bent down to pet it. It was hardly larger than my foot and would just walk around my ankles. It would take a step or two away and then turn around and seek the apparent safety of my legs. I tried to get a photo of it, but it was shy. I asked the man what kind of dog it was. "English Bulldog" he said.
It was an impossibly cute little thing and just didn't want to leave me. It's owner would call but to no avail. I tried to slowly walk away but the little guy would just follow me. Eventually, it listened to it's owner and walked away but looked back at me a few times.
"Awwwwww." I thought but then considered a Bulldog I know named Norman who grew up to be an asshole.
I checked the weather. 0% chance of precipitation not only for where I was but also for where I was going. I looked at the map and checked the elevations of the two passes ahead.
"I am smart." I thought sarcastically as I congratulated myself on my situational awareness and uncharacteristic attention to detail.
I got on my bike and rode the 30 miles or so back down to Castle Dale and picked up the trail.
Almost immediately I was confronted with foreshadowing.
"Pavement ends", "No winter maintenance", and "Watch for Flood".
What could possibly go wrong?
Shortly there after I came across a sign I had not seen before.
"Wildfire and flood?"
Things could get biblically out of hand quickly in these parts. Maybe that's why religion is so prevalent out here.
The trail route wended it's way up a mountain. Soon I saw that things were covered in a light dusting of snow.
"0% chance of preciptation."
I reminded myself that I could turn around at any moment if it got too deep and continued on.
It had clearly rained here not too long ago. The trail quickly turned muddy and slippery.
The trail descended a bit and soon I was in the midst of beautiful fall colors.
I was momentarily on pavement when the route turned and I came across this more earnest example of ominous foreshadowing.
"Fortunately for me, it's not winder yet." I thought as I paused and considered how bad it could get.
The trail started to ascend again. A dramatic turquoise blue lake could be seen illuminated by sunshine.
A little further up I stopped to take in the scene before me. Once again I could see a dusting of snow ahead.
As I proceeded things began to get a bit stressful as the trail turned quite muddy and the dropoffs became more pronounced. I slipped and slid my way along thinking, once again, "no left turn".
It started to get "right proper muddy and slippery" but I was still able to ride through this mess largely with my feet on the pegs. It was, however, stressful as the front wheel would slide and sometimes catch in the ruts causing the bike to quickly pitch this way and that. I thought it was highly likely that I would fall down today.
Conditions on the trail improved momentarily when I came across a sign I approved of. "Get your head in gear." it said.
I failed to take note of the slight dusting of snow that surrounded the sign. I pressed on. Slowly, things began to get more snow covered as the route climbed slowly up the mountain. Soon the trail itself was covered in a layer of snow and slush.
Interestingly, this was not nearly as slippery as I had feared. My best guess is that muddy surface underneath was still above freezing so no layer of ice lay in wait under the slush to ruin my day. Occassionally, I would hit a slippery spot and the front would go one way and the rear another but overall this was much more doable than I would have imagined. The trail continued to climb and much like the cliche of the frog in the frying pan I didn't take much notice as things slowly got progressively more snow covered.
Surprisingly, I was able to ride through this without too much trouble. Occassionally I would be reminded that the bike might drop, but overall I was able to continue on with my feet on the pegs making good progress. It was cold but not oppressively so. I thanked my former self for taking the time to add heated handle grips to the bike. Without them, this would have been much more uncomfortable. Contrary to what I had feared, the grips didn't tax the electrical system of the bike much but I did install an LED headlight which draws much less power than the stock halogen bulb.
I was also embolded by the fact that I saw two sets of TAT rider tracks that had come through here not long ago. Of course, I failed to remember the dangers of following tracks.
I kept thinking I was near the top since I could see clouds ahead but at every turn the path would continue to climb and the snow would get a bit deeper.
I promised Audrey that I would turn around if it got too deep.
I started composing a Facebook status update in my mind.
"I told her I would turn around if it got too deep. But I failed to realize that I don't know what too deep is since I've never done this before."
Trucks had come through and made tracks in the snow which I was able to follow for the most part. At some points I rode through virgin snow and was surprised that, as long as what was underneath was mud, it was easy to traverse. Occasionally, there would be hints of ice and the front wheel would skid out violently reminding me to be vigilent.
As an experiment, I'd ride through deeper sections to see how it felt. I wanted to know what could be done and what was unlikely to be passable. The snow had gotten pretty deep. In places, it was more than 8".
"Since this is my first time, I didn't know but now with a little experience, I can say with some certainty that I hardly notice 4 inches, 6 inches is on the verge of not-doable, and 8 inches is right out." I thought and then laughed out loud nearly crashing.
"Pay attention to the task at hand." I could just hear Bruce say. Things then started getting properly deep.
When to turn around was a question. I was still making good progress forward. It wasn't too terribly cold. There was little in the way of ice and it did not seem to be freezing. I wondered how quickly conditions could go from managable to impassable? Since I didn't know. I pressed on watching carefully for that moment when I needed to retreat.
I had not seen a vehicle in quite some time but given all the fresh tracks I figured if I got stuck a vehicle would come along before too long.
The snow got deeper and I found myself in the beginnings of a white out as a cloud passed over the mountain.
I took another version of the same photo for a more dramatic effect.
Fortunately for me, this was the top of the pass. A truck drove by. The driver did not seem nearly as surprised as I would have thought. I started making my way down the other side and conditions quickly improved.
I came across a Jeep with snow chains that was just left on the side of the road.
Conditions continued to improve steadily.
Soon I saw an interesting hole of blue in the cloud covered sky which exposed a vast valley below.
I came around a bend and at first did not comprehend what I had seen.
Sheep were just roaming around. This is something I have never seen before.
As I descended the snow slowly disappeared and I was able to make good progress. I could see Ephraim, UT in the distance.
I stopped, very out of character, at a McDonald's for a cup of coffee and to carefully examine maps. The GPS battery had run out and I had come to the end of the roll chart. I sat at a table with my maps and roll charts spread out.
"How foolish was trying that pass?" I wondered. There is probably no "correct" answer. Do you turn around at the first hint of snow? If heavy snow is predicted, my answer would clearly be "don't go". But I had checked the weather and it was all clear. If I had broken down or if it had gotten significantly colder things could have gotten bad. If a heavy snow came through just as I was traversing the pass it could have been bad.
I would later find out that this was a freak storm the kind of which typically doesn't occur in this area until mid November. It was now late September. What do you do about freak storms?
I decided I needed to write an app for the phone so that TAT riders can communicate conditions and leave travel advisories. I may yet do that.
I thought about the passes coming up. I had been emailed a weather advisory for further north in Utah or maybe it was for Idaho where 12 inches of snow were expected at higher elevations. I began to question to the wisdom of continuing. Any pass with more snow than what I just experienced would not be easily passable and would likely represent what I would consider an unacceptable risk.
It was getting a bit late in the day. Riding through the snow took quite a bit of time and had slowed my progress down to less than 10 miles per hour. I had made non-refundable reservations in Delta, UT. There was another pass between Ephraim and Delta. I had another 90 or so miles to go. I thought as long as the route isn't too challenging I should be able to make it.
I headed out and initially found myself on perfectly maintained gravel roads where I could make good time.
Because I was concerned about making progress I took less photos. The path ascended up the side of another tree covered mountain. It had clearly rained not long ago. Signs of significant erosion and water damage were everywhere. In the distance, more snow could be seen.
The condition of the trail started to deteriorate. It started becoming muddy but unlike the slick wet mud of the previous snow covered pass, this was thicker and stickier, but still very slick.
My tires were covered in mud but there was no snow. I could see a number of TAT riders tracks. The trail got progressively more challenging, narrow, and muddy. I was slip sliding along when I came upon a TAT rider riding in the opposite direction. He stopped and asked if I was riding the TAT and warned me that it was impassably muddy ahead.
"Any snow?" I asked. He said he had gone about a half mile further up when he dropped his bike and decided to turn around. Another TAT rider could be seen ahead packing his bike also turned around. "He dropped his bike GS hard." the rider said.
"Thanks for the heads up. I'm going to give it a try and if it gets too hard I'll turn around." I told him. My thinking was that as soon as I dropped the bike or it got too muddy to continue I'd turn around. I had a shovel and a block and tackle "motorcycle recovery system" with me, so I thought I was likely ok. I also have the Spot tracker and a personal locator beacon.
I rode on through the slippery muck to see if the other TAT rider needed any help.
It was strange. His buddy had just left him to fend for himself. To my way of thinking, this is "not cool". I asked him if he needed any help but he said he was ok. He had broken his front fender and some other bits as I remember it. "It's just too muddy ahead." he said suggesting that I turn around. I bid him good luck and continued on cautiously evaluating the surface as I went.
I came across two other riders who had said they had gone ahead a ways and then turned around. If I remember correctly they said they had fallen as well. They said there were two more guys ahead that had made it a bit further.
"I can turn around at any moment." I thought. So far from what I could see if wasn't that bad. This was nothing like the mud I had seen in Oklahoma which could swallow an unsuspecting KTM rider whole and leave no trace.
This was just slick and sticky but it was only a few inches deep.
I slipped and slid but was able to ride through this with my feet on the pegs. I soon came upon the last two TAT riders.
It was Allen and his friend Martin. I had first met Allen when he was riding with Amber and Dave and then again on that gawdawful Ophir Pass descent. I stopped to see if they were ok.
"We're just going to set up camp here and wait for the mud to set." he said. They had found a bit of a clearing not far from a pile of wood and were busy setting up camp.
"I"m going to see how far I can make it." I told him. I had failed to pay attention to his rear wheel. I've met a number of riders on "Adventure" bikes with low front fenders who have had their front wheels lock up due to mud. This is why dual sport bikes have such high fenders, so it can accommodate a larger volume of mud.
It honestly didn't look that bad to me. It was very very slick and quite thick but the bike wasn't sinking into this muck much and I was to continue on riding with feet on pegs.
I rode on through this mess for about another mile. There were a number of downed trees.
What I failed to notice was that for the first time in a very long time, there was no evidence of any TAT riders who had come through here. The mud was virtually undisturbed as I slipped and slid erratically up the face of a steep and impressively muddy hill. As I ascended I could barely keep the bike upright but was still able to make progress when suddenly the front wheel lost traction and slid laterally a bit. I stopped just a few hundred yards from the top of the hill and took a moments rest. I was quite warm as I had been working quite a bit but still, progress was being made.
I put the bike in gear and let out the clutch and .... nothing.
My immediate thought was that I had broken the chain. Awkwardly, I put the kick stand down and inspected the chain. It was covered in mud but still intact. The entire bike was impressively caked with mud.
I tried it again. Upon letting out the clutch, there was an ever so slight forward pull. I thought maybe the front sprocket had failed.
Using my hands, I scraped out as much mud as I could around the chain where it goes under the cover to the front sprocket. I pulled on the chain and it seemed intact. I scraped out more mud.
I began to suspect that maybe the clutch had failed. I took off my helmet and gloves and checked the phone to see if, by some miracle, I had any coverage. To my great surprise, I had 5 bars with full data. So I quickly posted a question in a Suzuki DR650 group on Facebook.
Then a text message came through that crushed me. Duncan sent me a text telling me his father had just died. It was unexpected. I had known him for over 30 years. In many ways, Duncan's family has been more family to me than my own. Of all times for me to be caught in a bad position, this was about the worst. I tried to craft some words there on the mountain in the mud as the sun started setting. I failed miserably. I hoped Duncan wouldn't see the posts I had made, but moments later I got a message about the clutch.
"Yea, I might be fucked." I messaged Duncan back but told him that I had good cell coverage and that I would make it out one way or another and that he should be with his family during this horrible time. Despite my protestations, he took time out and offered suggestions to help me diagnose the problem.
"Pull the oil filler cap and see if the oil smells burned." he suggested.
I did as instructed. Removing the oil filler cap filled the air with an incredibly intense and awful burned smell.
Given that I was getting slight forward pressure releasing the clutch lever with the bike in gear combined with the gawdawful smell I concluded the only likely answer was that the clutch had failed.
This was not something I was going to be able to repair here on the mountain.
"My luck might finally have run out." I thought as I wondered how "real adventurers" handle this situation out in the real middle of nowhere.
I paused. I have long since learned that there is a limitation in my mind. There are an infinite number of scenarios that could play out that would end up very poorly for me from this moment forward but my mind can only conceive of a very limited subset of them while expending a great deal of energy and distracting me. I could encounter a bear or a mountain lion. It could start to rain and freeze causing hypothermia to set in which might end me. The wind could pick up or maybe it would start to hail baseball sized hail. I could get too tired and start making big mistakes.
All of these thoughts are useless as they do not point to a direct course of action /right now/. Additionally, these thoughts have a way of preventing you from seeing opportunities in front of you.
This is why the more dire the situation the more a pause is in order to assess what needs to be done /now/.
I was uninjured.
The sky was clear with a bright red sunset developing. "Red sky at night sailors delight."
I had plenty of water.
I could build a fire.
The bike had nearly a full tank of gas and I had both heated grips and a vest. I could run the bike and keep warm that way if a fire didn't work out.
I was on a marked road and I thought it was likely that someone would come by eventually.
There were two TAT riders a mile back who were setting up camp.
I had a Spot Tracker and a Personal Locator Beacon and more importantly I had 5 bars of cell coverage.
I have MedJetAssist, BMW MOA, AMA, and a host of other organizations that I can draw upon.
"There are big problems in life, but with all this, this is not one of them." I thought as I concluded I had many options available to me. Duncan's family, on the other hand, was facing one of life's big problems and I felt terrible that I was not there.
I thought about the mud and briefly considered whether I'd be able to push the bike out but even just walking in this muck was causing my boots to cake up significantly with this sticky black muck.
I briefly tried to move the bike when I discovered that the rear wheel would not spin.
"Ok, so there's no moving the bike."
I had been responsible. I had gotten MedJetAssist evacuation insurance and had added the motorcycle rider to it so that if they evacuate you they pull your bike as well. I called them.
"We're sorry, but this only applies if you injured in a life threatening situation." the representative explained carefully.
"If I encounter a bear or mountain lion, I likely will be." I explained. "I have a broken finger nail, does that count?" I joked. I tried calling BMW MOA but all circuits were busy. I tried calling the AMA but they told me "road side assistance" only applies to paved roads. It was quickly looking like I would not find a way to get the bike off the mountain.
I looked at my bike and pondered attachments for a moment and realized, very clearly, that if I were too attached to this bike at this present moment it would mean my options for survival would be narrowed and that both the bike and I would be much less likely to make it off of this mountain. By being willing to let it go, we were both more likely to make it out.
For a moment, still pausing, I wondered if my inability to let go of people I love has narrowed my options in a similar way and prevented me from being as good for them as I could be. It seems counter intuitive, but looking at my bike at this particular moment realizing I was about to leave it brought this point home for me painfully.
If I was going to have to spend the night on the mountain, I thought it would probably be wise to be near other humans. Allen and Martin were a mile or so back on the trail setting up camp. They'd likely have a fire and there would be some modicum of safety in numbers. I hung my helmet on the bike and started trudging my way down the hill. I noticed cattle hoof prints in the mud and then saw one that looked odd to me.
I don't notice details often.
I looked a bit closer and, possibly owing to fatigue, thought, "Now that's funny. I've never heard of a cow with big claws before."
The tracks went up back up the hill to where I had left my bike and it slowly dawned on me, "BEAR!"
To my eye these were very fresh tracks. And like those scenes in horror movies where the next victim has made some obviously stupid error, I had left the bear spray on the bike.
"Snacks!" I thought as I realized I had bags of mixed nuts on the bike as well. I turned around and rushed back to the bike. I grabbed the bear spray and then noticed, again following the stupid mistakes common in bad horror movies, that multiple bags of nuts had opened and spilled their contents over everything.
So there I was, in the mud, on the mountain, in the woods, a bear having crossed this way very recently, and I was cleaning out the luggage. I grabbed a spare stuff sack shoved all the snacks and toiletries in it. If at all possible I didn't want a bear to destroy the bike but the remants of nuts covered much of my gear. I pulled out some WD40 and sprayed it over everything hoping that maybe it would cover the scent. I pulled out my electronics, which I had left on the bike stupidly, and locked everything up. I put the rain cover on the tank bag.
"This was a scenario I had not considered. If I do this again, I will be better prepared to abandon the bike." I thought as I pondered I really should have a huge orange "distress" or "disabled" sign to tie to the bike with a space where I could, using permanent marker, write in which direction I had wandered off so that if someone finds the bike before they find me they would have some idea of where to look.
Bear spray in hand I trudged back down the hill mud clumping up on my boots as I went. It was starting to get noticably cold. My concern now was for the other two TAT riders. I suspected they had not considered the bear problem.
It seemed to take a very short time before I made it to the other two where they were setting up camp. Allen looked up with an "Uh oh" look on his face.
"Are you guys prepared for bear?" I asked as I explained the fresh prints I had seen. This unsettled them. It was a this moment that I found out Allen's bike also had a failed clutch. If I had known that previously I would have stayed to help but I suspect at that time they didn't know either. They mentioned they had seen a hunter who said he might be back.
We started calling around. Allen called into town and I got on the phone with Spot Tracker. Unfortunately, the SOS button on the Spot is only for life threatening situations. "If you were injured we could come get you." they told me. "What if I break my leg?" I asked.
I think Allen called the local police who directed him to a towing company. He recited the number and I called the them. I explained to him our predicament but he said the only four wheel drive tow truck he had was a boom truck which wouldn't work for motorcycles.
I asked him if he knew of anyone with a 4x4 pickup that we could put two bikes into. Martin's bike was still operational so could be ridden out.
"My son is up in the mountains with my pickup. I'll call him and then call you back." he said.
It was in this pause when the hunter, Mr. Anderson, showed up on a six wheeler with some contraption on the back.
We got to talking. He mentioned his son was also on the mountain. The towing company called back.
"We can come get you in the pickup truck." he said.
There was some confusion as to our location and sending the pin on Google Maps wasn't working on their end for some reason. Mr. Anderson asked to talk to him. It turns out he knew the towing guy whose name I have forgotten. I think it was Kevin. They chatted for a moment about routes and conditions. Kevin said he would be up with his two sons in a few hours. My phone was starting to die but Allen had a charger battery which he loaned me.
This was starting to shape up much better than I would have imagined.
"I saw big bear prints up the trail. " I explained to Mr. Anderson. "Yea, we chased a bear up that way just a few hours ago." he said.
We tried to build a fire to no avail. It was starting to get cold.
There was a beautiful sunset.
Photos never do it justice.
"Why don't you come in out of the cold and warm up in my trailer?" Mr. Anderson said.
I looked around and saw nothing. I thought maybe the contraption on the back of his 6 wheeler converted to a trailer. That didn't make sense.
He walked up the hill and disappeared in the woods. So I followed.
I could not believe what I saw completely hidden behind a stand of trees not 100 yards from where we were standing.
He opened it up and invited me in. Respectfully, I took off my muddy boots. It was a surprisingly nice tailer. He fired up the stove and handed me a bottle of water.
Mr. Anderson explained that this spot on the mountain had a clear view of the cell tower which is why we had reception. "If you had made it over the top there, you'd have 0 bars." he explained. He went on to say the area on the far side was much muddier in the low lying areas.
Martin and Allen joined us a short while later followed by Mr. Anderson's son, Hunter. We sat cozy warm in the trailer for a few hours.
Mr. Anderson and his son come up the mountain to hunt bear and mountain lion. "We caught 20 bear so far this season." he stated.
"You've killed twenty bears this year?" I asked a bit surprised.
'No. We tree them." he said. He went on to explain that he has nearly two dozen hunting dogs. He takes six at a time and they come up on the mountain and chase bears until they get tired and run up a tree. "Then I take out my camera, shoot a photo, and gather up the dogs. The dogs have a good time. I have a good time. We go home. The bear goes home. In my old age, I've become more soft hearted and don't like killing things." he explained.
I asked about threats from bear or mountain lion. "Oh, the bear will leave you alone. There was a camper here last year that got pulled out of his tent and killed but that doesn't happen often." He went on to explain that there's a government program to "tree" bears. It causes them to develop more fear of humans and reduces the number of attacks.
Allen was visibly annoyed with himself and commented on how bad our collective luck was.
I sat in the corner and repeated said, "I can't believe how awesome this is."
To Allen I said, "Do you have any idea how incredibly unbelievable lucky we are right now? Of all the ways this could have turned out once we were broken down, we would be hard pressed to come up with a better scenario."
It's all a matter of perspective. Break downs happen but I could not believe how fortunate we were. Mr. Anderson was so kind. Without his help we would have been in bad shape.
After a few hours, the sound of a large 4x4 truck could be heard struggling it's way up to our location. We all went outside. I awkwardly struggled to be my muddy boots back on.
It was properly cold outside. The truck drove by and headed up the hill to where my bike was. I started walking when Mr. Anderson rolled up on his 6 wheeler.
"Get on." he said.
And up the mountain through the mud we rode. The truck was already turning around to put itself in position to load the bikes. Kevin (?) and his two sons were already at work. All of us worked together to turn the bike around. They had a ramp and with a great deal of effort, owing to a very slowly turning rear wheel, we got the bike positioned along with all of my gear in the the bed of the truck. It was properly dark now. A layer of ice covered everything.
We drove down to where the other two bikes were and we repeated the process. Allen's rear wheel wouldn't turn at all making it much more difficult to load. But all of us working together, we got it done and after a while had both bikes and all the gear loaded in the truck. It was approaching 10:30 PM. There was some question of what to do with Martin's bike. He didn't want to ride it back down the mountain through the muck in this pitch black moonless night. Allen certainly didn't want to. We didn't want to leave it so I was going to offer when Kevin said, "My son can ride it down for you."
His son got on the bike and familiarized himself with the controls and then slip sliding made his way ahead on the trail. We said our goodbyes and thankyous to Mr. Anderson and piled into the truck.
We passed Kevin's son who started following. It was an impressive feat to ride an unfamiliar bike in those conditions. Kevin was unconcerned. Kevin told stories of hunting and mountain lions. He talked about a friend of his who had been stalked by one.
It was approaching midnight when we arrived at the motel. Allen had gotten two rooms reserved for us while we were up on the mountain.
We drove into the parking lot and in relatively short order had the bikes unloaded leaving clumps of mud everywhere.
We thanked Kevin profusely. He charged us a quarter of what I thought it would cost.
This could not have turned out better. I took the upstairs room, dropped my gear, let people concerned with my untimely demise know that I was ok, and heard from Bruce.
He said he could come get me the next day and bring me and the bike down to Los Alamos where I could fix it at my leisure. It's an over 19 hour round trip. I had been thinking about how fortunate I had been today between making it across the snow covered pass and then being able to be rescued on Mud Mountain. I already knew in my gut that I wasn't going to be continuing on the trail. It has gotten too late in the season and the passes ahead and much further North represent an unacceptable risk. Going around the passes on pavement doesn't appeal to me for this trip. I've been to Oregan four times on a motorcycle now?
My 2016 Trans America Trail trip was over.
I am so fortunate to have the best of friends I do. I reluctantly agreed. It's a huge order but I figured if I was at Bruce's for a bit I could help him turn wrenches on his new (to him) bike and get that on the road. It would also be good to hang out with him.
I then promptly fell asleep. It would take me many days to recover from today's effort.
The next morning the proprietor of the motel let me use a hose to get most of the mud off the bike. This was going to make it much more convenient than I was imagining. I didn't want to muddy up Bruce's driveway. The amount of mud that came off the bike was simply astounding. They say that sculpting is the art of removing everything that is not the sculpture.
I call this sculpture, "Motorcycle".
Towards the late afternoon Bruce arrived ahead of schedule. He had made really good time. With the help of the others we had the bike loaded up and we were on our way. Allen and Martin, the last I heard, were going to continue.
We drove for several hours and because all rooms were booked in Green River drove all the way to Monticello. The next morning we had breakfast at this funky little coffee shop where I saw a man walk in wearing a TAT t-shirt.
I immediately recognized him as the Brit in the Land Rover who I had heard of. His name is Kevin Baldwin and the site on his truck is www.mudstuff.co.uk. It's such a small TAT world.
A number of hours later we arrived at Bruce's house in Los Alamos. I've been here since and in the interim we've gotten his bike put together and my bike is operational again. Tomorrow, I should be making the slow pavement only ride homeward.
I have the suspicion that my time on the mountain, about which I could easily write so much more, has altered me. That could have gone very badly and I cannot fathom how fortunate I have been. It is a dangerous thing we do and one not to be done too lightly.
But just because it is dangerous does not mean it should not be done.
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I am still in Los Alamos staying with my buddy Bruce and his family but should be making my way homeward in the next couple of days. After he drove up in his pickup truck to come get me and my broken motorcycle, we spent the last few days working on his 2001 BMW K1200RS that he recently bought. He wanted to make some modifications to it so we've been focused on getting that done. He had a wrecked 2003 K1200GT with an aftermarket exhaust and wider rear wheel that he wanted to salvage along with some other parts. So we were moving parts over to the new bike. He also needed tires so we did that. Changing big tires without a tire changing machine is quite tiring. I am, once again, much more sore than I think is reasonable. After two and a half solid days of wrenching, we got his new bike sorted. Once that was completed, I turned my focus to my own bike. The Mighty DR now sports a shiny new Barnett Clutch to replace the one I destroyed outside of Ephraim, UT in that gawdawful mud. Interestingly, online all the reviews of that clutch that I've read say the clutch lever becomes very difficult to pull but it doesn't seem that bad to me at all. I still have to take the bike for a shake down run to make sure all is in order. That should happen later today, weather permitting.
It's now been well over a week since I've been in Green River, UT.
A major storm had been predicted with heavy rains and wind gusts over 60mph. I had decided to hole up at the Motel 6 for an extra day to rest and do some writing. I was still quite sore from my time in the high mountain passes. I had been thinking that this whole body ache I feel is much worse than it has been in quite a few years. Back in the 90's, when I was terribly ill for years on end, I hardly rode because it simply hurt too much. Every joint and fiber of my being would just ache making any kind of movement burdensome. In the early 2000's, when my health really crashed and doctors started talking about removing large parts of my innards, I happened across the suggestion that maybe excluding starch, sugar, and lactose might improve my situation. I tried it as an experiment and the improvement was nothing short of miraculos. It took me some time to realize most of my joint pain and ache had disappeared as well. My suspicion on this trip is that maybe I have not been eating well enough and it's been taking it's toll. Or maybe this is what arthritis feels like. I don't know.
But I hurt.
Because of the Miles By Motorcycle page, I get friend requests on Facebook from people I've never met pretty regularly. I tend to accept them if any of the photos depict motorcycles or we have any friends in common. One such request came from a woman named Ariel, after the famous motorcycle. Her primary bike is a BMW K100RS, which is the same model as my Beloved Blue Oil Burner (that sadly I've had to leave at home for this trip). This makes her the only woman I've ever heard of that rides a K100RS. She's owned hers for about as long as I've owned mine but has significantly more mileage on it. When she heard that I was going to be in Colorado riding the Trans Am Trail, she reached out and said she would like ride down and meet up with me when I was in the area. Meeting people in person that I've met first on Facebook is always interesting for me. There's how you experience them through a computer screen, largely just in the world of ideas, and then the way you experience them in person. Ever since the Big Deadhorse Trip, there've been a few brave souls on each of these rides who have ventured out to cross paths with me. I remember in 2014, riding with John St John, Bob rode out on his FJR and at a different point so did Michael on his Harley. I saw Bob again on this trip but missed Michael. Since I'm going to be going home on the Southern route I may meet up with him yet. There were others who reached out, but the timing or distances didn't work out.
This year, more so than any year I've been riding, has been filled with accomplished women riders. I remember telling Megan as she and Marisa guided me along Witt road for a shake down run that I could not remember ever riding with two women on their own bikes before. Megan thought that was surprising. There was Amber on his DRZ400 making things I considered challenging look easy.
And now there was Ariel and her K100RS. The timing looked like it was going to work while I was in Salida so I let her know in advance. She hit the road. "140 miles is nothing for me." she had said, but her bike broke down on the way leaving her stranded for quite a number of hours. Her son reached out to me through Facebook Messenger. "She's on the side of the road fixing her bike." he told me.
That was the same day I crossed paths with Dave and Amber. I had first met Amber through Facebook as well.
The next day Ariel messaged me mentioning she had been planning to camp in Moab and that we might still be able to meet up when I was in that area. I reached out once I arrived in Green River.
She had fixed her bike in the interim and headed out to make the 5 hour ride which coincidentally was right during the heavy rains and wind that had been forecast.
There are some people who "endure" adversity. They'll push forward but with the understanding that something, like riding in 60mph gusts of rain laden wind, is "adverse".
Then there's Ariel. She arrived just after the heaviest rains had come through and had the demeanor of someone who had hardly noticed.
We talked about the bike for a while and the modifications she had made to it. She turns her own wrenches. She mentioned the rain and wind in passing but didn't seem phased by it at all. If it had been me, riding through a storm like that would have been the focus of my attention.
"She's made of tougher stuff than I." I thought as I said "After a ride like that, the least I can do is buy you dinner." She reluctantly agreed and we walked over to a nearby restaurant with a view over the river.
We had a liesurely dinner filled with intelligent philosophical conversation. She's a scientist with an interestingly cross cultural view of the world.
"At some point you make the conscious decision to be kind." she said as we talked about intolerance and judgement in the world. I told the story I sometimes tell about how I challenge myself with every human being I see or hear of to ask myself the hard question, "What would have had to have happened to me for me to think that or end up like that?" I can always find a path, no matter who it is. I find, as a result, I've come to have more compassion for others, even those whose views I find distressing.
After dinner, despite the continued rain, we said our goodbyes and she got on her bike and rode out into the dark and wet to Moab where she intended to set up camp.
"There's a difference between doing something uncomfortable and forcing yourself to do it, like riding off into a cold rain, and being able to do it and enjoy it." I thought as she rode off.
The next morning I walked over to the same restaurant. They have pretty good omelettes. I saw a BMW R1200GS parked in the lot with a rain suit draped over it. It was super clean and I noticed the "Iron Butt Association" license plate holder. You can only get one of those if you ride an authenticated 1000 miles in a single day. It's called the Saddle Sore 1000 and is one of those little checkboxes people fill to communicate "hard core".
I sat inside and had breakfast. I noticed a woman sitting across the room. She had a helmet. I scanned the room to see if there was another rider, but it then dawned on me she was by herself and the bike outside as in fact hers.
I chuckled to myself thinking, "Women riders." as I momentarily admonished myself for the assumption that it had to have been a guy. I've never met a woman who's done the Saddle Sore 1000.
She was getting up to leave when I asked, "Is that your bike out there?" She came over and we got to talking.
"Have you ever heard of the BMW MOA?" she asked as I chuckled. "Yup. I'm a member." I told her. I mentioned I knew several people involved with BMW MOA, but as has become more prevalent with me in recent years, I couldn't remember a single name. Troubling memory loss.
Her name is Jean Excell and she's on the board of directors for BMW Motorcycle Owners of America, one of the largest motorcycle organizations out there.
It's such a small world.
I asked her if I could snap a photo.
We connected on Facebook. Later, despite the fact that I was not on my Beloved Blue Oil Burner or any other BMW, she reached out when I was down with my broken Suzuki in Manti, UT asking if she could help out.
That was kind.
I walked back to the motel and gathered up my gear. I was concerned about how much it had rained the previous night and what trail conditions might be like. Ariel had said that the terrain around here dries very quickly and that I was likely not to run into much trouble.
As I rolled out of the motel I noticed a KTM that had somehow managed to avoid the Devil's temptation to ride in mud that's too deep.
It looked like a TAT bike to me.
I arrived back at the trail shortly there after and at the first turn was greeted by some proper flooding.
I thought it was going to be more challenging than it was. I walked across the muck carefully but the mud was pretty fluid. I crossed this expanse without incident. Within seconds, I was presented with yet another landscape that was in stark contrast to all that had come before.
And moments later the terrain changed again and began to resemble an alien moonscape.
I came across areas where it was clear there had been significant flooding very recently, likely just hours before.
In places there was still evidence of flowing water. I was very surprised how quickly conditions could change. I imagined that if I had tried to come through this area just single digit hours earlier that none of this might have been passable.
I came across one wash that was still filled with violently flowing water. Fortunately for me, a bridge had been built over it recently. The path on the GPS went a bit further to a point where it crossed this body of water. If the bridge had not been here, there would have been no crossing it. It was deep, muddy, and very fast moving. I stopped on the bridge for some seconds and watched as the water brutally excavated a small wall of rock and earth.
Soon the landscape changed yet again and I was presented with significant sand.
Conditions like these went on for miles. At one point, I happened upon what looked like "real desert" to me, a kind of which I have not seen in years.
Desert soon transformed into canyons.
But even in these canyons there was plenty of evidence of a deluge and it's resulting erosion.
Unfortunately for me, there was still evidence of significant rain all around me.
Rain to the left of me. Rain to the Right. Here I am stuck in the middle again.
And while I thought the scenery changes could not get more dramatic the path descended into this deep huge canyon with vertical walls.
At first I thought a formation on the cliff wall was a man made cut out sculpture. It looked like a Picasso to me.
"Mother with Child in an Archway"
I snapped countless photos but there is a futility to it all. A photograph simply cannot capture what it feels like to be "in" these scenes.
Around each bend in this canyon I was convinced the canyon could go no further but this thing extended for miles upon miles. Eventually the path ascended up a cliff wall face as the sun was setting.
There were no hotels available in Castle Dale so I had to take a 30 mile detour up to Price, Utah where I had made reservations. Price sits below a range of mountains.
As I rolled into town I scanned the mountain peaks as has become a habit of mine of late. I've been concerned how late in the season it has gotten.
I look for snow.
I was just ever so slighly unsettled when, for the first time, I saw that a number of the peaks to the Northwest were white with snow.
"This ain't gonna be good." I thought in my inner Gomer Pyle voice.
Little did I know that my time on the Trans Am Trail would come to an abrupt end the following day.
You can click on the map for an interactive version, if you are on a desktop machine or larger tablet. I'll get it working correctly on the phones once I have a chance.
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I've been in Los Alamos now for a few days waiting for parts to fix my poor broken a little less Mighty DR650. Finding the motivation to write has been challenging. My mind is disorganized and I've been having trouble concentrating. My thoughts keep reaching homeward and up to close friends in Canada.
A number of days ago now, I had gotten the last room within 50 miles by sheer luck. How many times have I lucked out like this on these travels?
"My luck is going to run out." I thought. I wondered if there was a way to figure out if my fortunes were statistically unlikely. It certainly has felt like it.
I was still sore from head to toe from the previous day of terrifying mountain passes and many miles of rain so I had thought about just staying at this lodge to take a rest day but the costs have been mounting and the lodge is quite expensive. I talked to the person at the front desk and she said that in this area motels fill up very quickly and it's often quite difficult to find a room.
Completely out of character, I decided to narrow my future options by looking for reservations. I had thought about staying in Moab but there were two problems. There were no vacancies and the prices of rooms were simply astronomical. Another 70 miles up, I found a reasonably priced motel in Green River, Utah. The weather forecast was calling for a severe weather event the following day, so I figured I could hole up there for two days for the price of one day here. So, since we live in the science fiction future, I booked a room on my handy hand held super computer.
The next morning arrived with cloudy skies.
It was approximately 50 miles to get back to the trail in Monticello. As I headed out of Bluff, Utah, I saw a rock formation that looked familiar.
It's a little small in this photo but I recognized the two columns in the middle left. They are called the Navajo Twin Rocks. 25 years ago, on my very first cross country trip on my Honda V65 Sabre, I wild camped down a dirt road that runs near that formation. I remember not sleeping well due to the sound of two groups of coyotes yipping at each other.
On the way up to Monticello, my Mighty DR650 suddenly lost power. It started bucking and felt like it was going to stall. Then it caught and rode normally for a while. The symptoms repeated. At one point, I passed a gas station when the bike started losing power in earnest. I rolled to a stop on the side of the road trying to keep it from stalling. My plan was to go back to the gas station and see if I could diagnose what was wrong. In neutral, I revved the engine to near redline to keep it from stalling and suddenly power returned. The problem did not recur again.
I stopped in Monticello and topped up the fuel tank and, for good measure, added some carburetor cleaner. It's just snake oil as far as I've been able to tell. Maybe it helps. Maybe it doesn't.
I rolled out of the station and soon found myself back on perfectly reasonable gravel roads that disappeared in the distance.
Wasn't it just the day before I was riding along thousand foot drops at over 12,000 feet? It's dramatic how landscapes and conditions can change so quickly.
It was around this time that I noticed my GPS was running on battery. The mount for the Garmin Zumo 550 is notoriously unreliable. I've already had one break on me one before on my last cross country trip. As I took the GPS out of it's mount, I saw one of the golden pins from the mount separate and fall out.
"That sucks." I thought as I realized I didn't know how long the GPS would run on battery. I started taking the roll chart very seriously.
Green River was, following the trail, roughly 150 miles away. As a result, I was more focused on destination and didn't take quite as many photos as usual. I was making really good time. It was momentarily sunny but I knew that would likely not last. There was a small mountain ahead that was ominously covered in dark clouds.
At one point as I was crossing some pavement, I came upon a KTM rider who was standing next to his bike on the trail.
"TAT Rider." I thought. I asked him if he was ok. He was just taking a break. We got to talking.
He had an accent I recognized.
"Where are you from?" I asked anticipating the answer.
"Germany." he responded.
We switched languages and talked about the trail ahead for both of us. He mentioned some jeep trails on a small pass. I told him about my experiences on Ophir Pass and was even able to be funny. He had been on the road for a couple of months already and had crossed Canada. This was his fifth day on the TAT meaning he had been making really good time. We talked about some of the water crossings and I described how I had been pushed off the cement on one. He described a time in Iceland where what seemed like easy to cross water was flowing so strongly it knocked him down as he probed it by foot.
Water, especially moving water, can be very deceptive.
We chatted for a quite a while as clouds started rolling in. I gave him a card and hoped he would check on the site. I have enjoyed meeting other TAT riders out here.
We said our goodbyes and I headed off.
It was then I realized that I had failed to tell him, a KTM rider, about the Devil's Mud Runner in Oklahoma.
Since I had spent so much time chatting with the German, whose name I forget, I was focused again on covering distance. The battery charge indicator on the GPS was steadily decreasing.
The trail became steadily narrower and at one point the rollchart and GPS track disagreed.
The GPS trail routed me up along what was clearly a jeep trail. The rollchart indicated a right. Not trusting the rollchart, I followed the GPS hoping the battery would last. There was a marker with a jeep pictograph on it with, I believe, a green square. I can often not tell the difference between green and blue.
It quickly turned narrow, rocky, and a bit muddy. I was surprised how much my beast of a rear tire slid on this surface.
Some of this was challenging and there were a couple of points where I nearly dropped the bike, but it was more fun than stressful. On a motorcycle, most problems can be solved with a suitable applicaiton of throttle.
Or as Amber said, "When in doubt, gas it out."
Soon I was back on the wider trail when I realized that GPS track was taking me along "optional challenging routes" and the rollchart followed a more leisurely path.
The German TAT rider had mentioned that it got a bit muddy up here and I soon came upon what he was describing. It was slick but not terribly so. I'm not sure if it was due to a difference in the surface or whether I've just become more accustomed to this riding. Maybe the tires account for the difference. It's likely a combination of all three.
I was coming down one hill when I saw a mountain ahead of me that was slowly being engulfed by a cloud.
There was another intersection where the rollchart and GPS disagreed. I followed the GPS route onto another jeep trail that climbed the face of the hill through a series of aggressive rock covered switchbacks.
"I really need to re-evaluate my decision making." I thought as I risked life and limb skipping my way up the mountain.
Back on the main road, I took a rest. There was a voicemail waiting for me but I wasn't able to get it because I was out of service.
"Voicemails are almost always bad news." I thought as I stressed about it. "There's nothing I can do about it right now." I told myself as I got back on the bike now with a bit more urgency.
The ride down was beautiful.
And as quickly, the landscape changed as I descended to lower altitudes.
I came upon what I call "The Nose Rocks".
The look like cartoon character noses to me.
There were also cattle on the road. I call this one "Cow on the Rocks"
The GPS died. I was now relying solely on rollcharts and my failing memory. At each turn, I would have to remember to add the distance to the next turn to the current trip meter reading so I would know when to turn. The problem was that I would often forget that number. Fortunately, there were not many more turns before I got to Moab. I thought maybe I could find an electronics store in Moab to get a charger.
One turn on the rollchart indicated a 20 mile section. "Cool. No decisions to make." I thought.
Then I saw this.
Now who thought this was a good idea?
Fortunately, while the sand got quite deep and challenging in spots the majority of the next 19 miles was easily to ride.
Again, the landscape changed dramatically. Wasn't I just on a tree covered mountain in the clouds?
I descended into an impressive little canyon where the trail was carved into the cliff wall.
And, of couse, the trail was a bit off camber and completely covered in sand which got quite deep and loose near the edge.
It would get a bit dangerous with this scenery being as distracting as it was. Around every corner there was something to see. The formations here are just impressive.
After a seemingly long time, I came to the realization that I had been riding in a park. The entrance had a shack but no one was inside. There were campgrounds and the number of tents and RVs one could see was truly impressive. There were a lot of people here.
Soon I was on pavement and stopped in a parking lot.
There were 5 bars on the phone.
I nervously checked my voicemail.
And for the first time in a very long time, there was no emergency. It was a nice message about a good day. It made me smile.
I braved Moab traffic and found an electronics store. I thought about buying a spare GPS or maybe seeing if I could find a charge cable for my existing GPS. Unfortunately, Garmin GPS's go into 'USB Mass Storage Mode" when you plug a USB data cable into them. So while I'm charging it, I can't use it. Even then, I've noticed the thing gets into a confused state when charged using a data cable. The shop did not have the right "charge cable". I opted not to spend a bunch of money and figured I could probably find something that I could use on the smart phone to keep track of where I am on the route.
"I really need to finish writing the mapping app." I thought as I came up with dozens of ideas. Software just takes too long to write.
It had started raining and with the delay in futzing with the GPS, it had gotten quite late. I opted to skip the trail section between Moab and Green River and made my way to the interstate.
The interstate on a DR650 is no fun. There was a good wind and to my dismay the wind would catch the tank bag rain cover and try to pull it off. But soon enough I rolled into Green River and arrived, a bit wet, at the Motel 6.
I had booked the room for two nights. I was spent, sore, and needed a rest.
While most days on the trail are not all that challenging, they are still exhausting. Riding on these varying surfaces requires a degree of concentration for hours on end that saps me of what little remaining life force I have. At the end of the day, I find I rarely have the necessary mental clarity or energy to process the photos I've taken during the day let alone attempt to craft a few words.
With a major storm in the forecast, I've once again decided to take a rest day. I am currently in Green River, Utah. The last few days have been "interesting".
Four days ago I was in a little Colorado mountain town called La Veta ...
I had rolled into La Veta after dark. Unlike most places, La Veta at night is eerily quiet and pitch black. What few lights there are cast menacing shadows that, out of the corner of your eye, seemed to move. A dive motel which looked as if it had long been out of business turned out to be open. The Conoco gas station next door, however, had been abandoned but left in a state that seemed to say the occupants had to leave in a hurry. Inside, the motel room had hot running water and I was grateful to be able to take a shower to soothe my aching shoulder and back muscles.
Once had I sufficiently warmed up, I decided to brave the dark and shadows in search of something to eat. Main street was empty. There was not a soul to be seen anywhere. Train tracks cut through the town and the outline of empty rail cars could be seen.
"This place must be haunted." I thought as I noticed one place where the lights were still on, The La Veta Inn.
"Fine dining." the sign said. I opened the door and walked in out of the dark. The feel was much like that scene in Lord of the Rings where the hobbits come in to a pub from the quiet menacing night to find life and activity in the shielded warm light. There were people here. On the inside, it's very nice and tasteful with wood work, couches, and a fireplace. When I'm alone, which is most often, I like to sit at the bar. It somehow feels less isolating that way.
"I wish my name were Audrey." Aubrey, who was working the bar, said introducing herself. "Aubrey just sounds like a made up name. Audrey sounds like a proper name." Later, I would mention this to Audrey who said, laughing, "Funny, when I was a kid I wished my name were Aubrey because it sounded more unique."
With fire red hair, peircing eyes, and a mischevious smile, Aubrey is one of these rare people with a very expressive face that communicated more than words ever could. Volumes were contained in every look. She struggled for some time to open a bottle with a stuck top. I offered to help her open it when she paused and slowly gave me this confused but intense look of "over my dead body".
"How am I going to rule the world if I have to ask for help?" she asked to which I replied, "To rule the world you have to have minions and henchmen and for that you have to learn how to delegate."
She smiled apparently seeing the wisdom in this and succeeded in opening the bottle herself. "Maybe it's best she doesn't learn to delegate." I thought as I imagined armies of minions bent to her will. This led to recurring conversation snippets as she went about her work.
I walked back to the motel through the dark. The next morning, as seems to be the case in most haunted towns, everything seemed normal. There were people and evidence of life everywhere. What I had thought were long abandoned buildings were in fact thriving businesses.
"Definitely haunted.' I thought.
After a day of writing, another dinner at the Inn, and another set of enjoyable conversations with the would-be world ruler, it was time for me to make my way Westward. Colorado mountains were calling.
How long has it been since I've had a conversation with anyone that lasted more than a few seconds? On every trip, there are moments that stay with me. I suspect this time in this strange little town will be one of them.
I had intended to get gasoline but as I mentioned, the Conoco station while it looked operational was in fact just a corpse. Down the street there was an old style full service gas station and garage but as I approached I realized it was closed. Then I realized it was Sunday.
"Like most haunted towns, there's some kind of time distortion going on." I thought.
I wasn't sure about fuel economy so I checked the maps. It looked like there was gas about 100 miles out. I rode out of town slowly and climbed the surrounding hills. In the morning light, it seems like such a reasonable little town in the mountains.
I rode along easy gravel roads through gently rolling hills with mountains in the distance.
At one point I came across a stick in the road. I have never seen a western Rattlesnake before. I dubbed it "Noisy Nope Rope" but I suspect that's not an original nickname. There was virtually no traffic on this road, however I was still concerned about the thing. I sat on my bike at a comfortable distance spending a little bit of time with the Nope Rope wondering if I should throw some pebbles or sand at it to get it to move off the road but after a while it moved of its own accord.
I suspect if the Nope Rope could speak it would also consider me a threat that was better off dead. We, wisely, decided to let each other live.
I kept looking to the mountains in the distance thinking that's where I wanted to be, not down on these boring plains.
I came across a long abandoned church in the middle of nowhere.
Curiously, there were no "No Tresspassing" signs so I contemplated taking a look inside but considered Nope Ropes and other threats and thought better of it.
It was a day of being endlessly teased. At every moment when this easy gravel road looked like it was finally heading into those mountains where I wanted to be, it would turn North for yet more miles upon miles of easy distressingly well maintained gravel roads.
I took an extended break at a gas station when a group a TAT riders approached. They were traveling West to East and had crossed Engineer's Pass. One told me that after this trip he would never ride a dual sport again. He did not look like he was having a good time. They were all on very small bikes.
As the sun set, I was still not in the mountians. I had the audacity to ponder whether or not Sam's Trans Am Trail would ever amount to anything more challenging than these easy gravel roads.
As I have said many times, beware what you wish for.
I rolled into Salida as the sun was setting. It's a touristy busy town. I found a Super 8 motel with a vacancy which was unfortunately quite expensive. I was tired and in no mood to try to find a less expensive town. I took the room and pondered getting something to eat.
My cellphone buzzed shortly there after.
"Where are you?" the message read. A friend of mine, Katy who rides an almost identical DR650, had suggested a Facebook friend of hers, Amber, contact me about the TAT. She and her significant other were planning a TAT trip and leaving a few weeks after me. I had accepted the request some time ago and had been following her preparations and progress.
I responded that I was in Salida. "We just parked next to you." she replied. "We should get together for dinner."
I took a much needed shower and some time later walked out at which point I met Amber and Dave. It's a strange thing to meet someone in person who you've been interacting with online for a while. Amber and Dave had met another rider, Allan, while underway and had ridden together for most of the trip. The three of them were going to continue on the next day together.
As it turned out, Allan had already grabbed something to eat. Amber and Dave had eaten a very late lunch so weren't hungry.
"They have a hottub here. Why don't you join us? I'd love to talk to you." Dave said and Amber agreed.
I very rarely use hottubs but my shoulder was completed cramped and I could hardly turn my head so I thought it might help and I wanted to talk to the two of them. There's something very cool about a couple traveling across the country together. My sister used to describe me as a manifest cynic and latent romantic. There's a certain romance to the idea of a trip like this as a couple. Amber rides a Suzuki DRZ400 and Dave rides a Yamaha WR250.
After a bit, I went out to the hottub. It was outside. The sky was clear but there was too much light pollution.
Once again, I could have used a shooting star to make a wish on, but there were none to be seen.
Amber and Dave came out some time later. It was a small tub but there was enough room for the three of us. We spent a couple of hours talking about bikes, the trip, riding, and other topics motorcycle related. Dave makes a living buying and selling bikes. Amber does tax preparation.
"We've been following you on Facebook this whole time." Dave said.
"Shhh!" Amber said, 'You're going to make it sound like we're stalking him!"
"And then you say, 'Oh, come join us in a hottub' just after meeting you. Not creepy at all" I replied.
"Dammit, I forgot the rufies" Amber joked.
We all laughed, me somewhat nervously.
Dave suggested that, if I was up for it, that I ride with them the next morning. "We can have breakfast together." they both suggested.
I agreed but it was getting late and I was hungry so I left them in the hottub and went back to my room to dry off and change. I walked out into the town. It was about 9:45 in the evening.
The restaurant next to the motel had closed at 9.
The bar and grill down the street also closed at 9.
I asked a person closing up another restaurant if they knew of any place that might still be open. "You'll have to walk downtown. It's a bit of a hike." he said.
So off I went to hike the 14 blocks to downtown. Downtown Salida is beautiful.
It also brightly lit thereby clearly demonstrating that it is not haunted.
But unlike haunted towns filled with posessed deer, this town was dead. Every restaurant had lights on but was closed.
One woman, closing up her shop said, "Yea, we love it and hate it. Everything closes at 10."
I looked around but as she had said everything was closed. I walked back 14 blocks and made myself a dinner of nuts and instant oatmeal.
I had thought I would sleep late but woke up pretty early. I was hungry. The expensive Super 8 claimed to offer breakfast.
By breakfast they meant starches, sugary stuff, and hard boiled eggs. I managed to find one packet of plain instant oatmeal so breakfast consisted of 3 such eggs and instant oatmeal followed by brown colored water. My thought had been this would be a snack to hold me over until Dave and Amber were ready to go for a proper breakfast.
Dave and Amber showed up at the motel breakfast some time later while I was finishing my coffee. "Allan already went to eat and we still have some stuff to take care of. The motel breakfast will hold us until lunch."
They were concerned they were holding me up too long but I assured them I had no schedule and was looking forward to riding with them. I warned them I tend to ride pretty slowly.
I went back to the room, gathered up my gear, and packed the bike.
It was then that I met Allan.
He had started the trip with a group of other riders he hardly knew but decided it was best he venture out on his own. After riding solo for some days, he crossed paths with Amber and Dave along the way and had been riding them since. We talked about riding styles and how it was extremely uncool to leave someone behind.
Dave and Amber agreed.
It took them a while to get their gear together. I assured them I was in no rush and patiently waited for them to get it all together. (And frankly, waiting for someone to get ready was bringing back fond memories of my riding buddy.) Since they were camping, they had much more stuff to carry than I did.
A little after 11 we were off. We stopped to get gas and then headed out.
Amber and Dave have Sena communicators. After a bit of futzing, as is always the case with bluetooth communicators, we synced up and were able to talk. They agreed it significantly added to the safety of the ride.
Dave said he always leads and suggested I lead for a while. So I did.
"What's that hand sign mean?" Dave asked through the communicator.
"It's not a hand sign. I'm just snapping a photo of you guys."
We had chatted a bit about how much the TAT was a tease with every road looking like it might lead to the mountains and fun but then always turning away at the last moment. I had somehow expected that the route through the Rockies would gradually increase in difficulty since everything on the trip thus far had been pretty easy. Amber pointed out that since I had missed the New Mexico section I had not experienced one challenging ride up some cliff face.
But nevertheless, this route is supposed to be "big bike friendly" and complaints have been raised that it has been made "too easy" to accommodate a wider audience to the detriment of more experienced riders.
There was some confusion about the route. The roll chart was not very specific about which turn to take. The GPS seemed to be routing us up this gnarly looking jeep trail.
"That can't be right." I said. We checked the GPS's and the "easy Sam's TAT route" did in fact go up this jeep looking trail thing.
I speculated out loud that a jeep probably wouldn't fit up it but was later proven wrong.
At first it was a fun little trail that got progressively rockier.
I continued to take one handed photos as we went along.
Allan did not have a communicator so from time to time I would stop to touch base with him. He seemed to be ok with the speed I was leading. Then things got rockier and more challenging. Dave pointed out that since his 250 is pretty under powered he had to keep up some momentum to make it over these rocks which meant he needed to ride faster than I was comfortable with. He and Amber waited while Allan and I went ahead a ways.
We came across a section that Allan had showed us in a video. It was maybe 25 yards of very large rocks and small boulders. I stopped to survey the situation and try to figure out what path to take to get through it.
I have very little experience riding across stuff like this. I failed to notice that I had stopped such that a large rock was right in front of my rear wheel. My plan had been to duck walk it across these rocks. The rear wheel spun impotently. Allan looked on. I nearly dropped the bike two or three times but with great effort pushing it forward while giving it some gas I got the rear wheel over the offending rock and was able to, very awkwardly, make it to the far side of the garden.
Allan had an equally rough time. It looked like he might drop it so I kept looking to see if I could find a spot to put the kickstand down but I was in an awkward position. Thankfully, Allan made it through.
Apparently, Amber and Dave made it through without any difficulty. Bad asses.
I had explained earlier that I get easily tired and can quickly loose steam. Pushing the bike and trying to keep it from falling over combined with this altitude had already overtaxed my limited resources. I was shaking.
So we stopped in a convenient corner near a stream and rested.
We wondered if there would be more sections like the rock garden we had just been through.
I was getting a bit concerned. While most of the TAT has been at, let's say, a skill level of 2 out of 10 this was a solid jump to a 5, maybe a 6.
Dave and Amber were unconcerned. This kind of riding didn't seem to phase them. They explained they had spent quite a bit of time in the Pine Barrens in New Jersey riding through deep sand and had done a lot of rocky travel in other areas. To my great surprise, Amber explained she preferred going downhill over loose rocky surfaces over going uphill. This is something I cannot comprehend.
Dave and Amber decided to take an extended break to eat something so Allan and I went ahead. The ascent was challenging but not terribly difficult until we came upon one corner that was, once again, nothing but rock. I stopped and walked it explaining to Allan that I'm cautious and if I can't see what's ahead I'll check it out on foot first.
We discussed how best to approach this. I suggested that the outside track was probably the best.
I attempted the ascent. It was a bit scarier than expected as the path I had chosen was quite steep and close to the outside but I made it up, despite myself, without issue.
Allan was not as fortunate. He lost momentum, got the rear wheel caught on a rock, and dropped the bike hard. I struggled quickly to find a solid place to put the kickstand down and then ran over to help him. He didn't fall with the bike as I remember it. The wheels were solidly off the ground. Even with the two of us it was a bit challenging to lift. He got it started and with me at the rear and him on the controls we walked the thing over the rocks with a great deal of effort and got him to the far side.
At this point, I was pretty much toast.
We rode to a flat section and parked the bikes in the shade and waited. We waited for quite a bit longer than I felt was comfortable. I remember a time when someone was following me and then wasn't. That evening ended up with a totalled favorite motorcycle and an emergency room visit. I mentioned this to Allan and suggested that if they didn't show up in the next few minutes I would go investigate. I under-estimated how far we had ridden. I walked down hill for about 15 minutes without any sign of them. I thought I would walk back up and get my bike to go investigate. So I hoofed it back up. On foot up is much harder than down.
Allan had been unconcerned and I suspect was a bit annoyed at my concern. "They'll be fine. They have a beacon and each other. We should get going. I have to be in Ouray."
Shortly thereafter Amber and Dave showed up. They seemed surprised at my concern. I tend to take things pretty seriously. We agreed on a 15 minute interval to wait before going back to check on them.
The two of them went ahead to ride their pace and Allan and I followed. I was pretty winded, tired, and shaky at this point so I was starting to ride slower. The thin air was making breathing challenging.
At times when we were in signal range, I made it a point to try to snap a photo every time Amber said, "Pretty!"
The rest of our ride together was easy and scenic.
There had been a restaurant at a gas station listed on the maps.
"Hopefully you can find something to eat here." Amber said.
"I'm sure I can make something work." I replied.
As we walked in the proprietor told us, "Sorry, our cook quit so the restaurant is closed.".
Lunch consisted of mixed nuts and coffee.
Allan decided to bail. He had made a commitment to meet up with a relatively inexperienced rider who was waiting for him in Ouray. So he opted to skip the rest of that day's trail and head via pavement to Ouray.
Now it was the three of us. Both Amber and Dave were sad to see Allan go. They seemed to have really enjoyed their time with him.
Amber, Dave, and I spent the rest of the day riding through absolutely stunning landscapes ranging from carving narrow little sheer cliff canyons to traversing wide open fields. They led and I followed.
Things got very dusty.
As a matter of fact all of my gear was completely covered in dust. Through the communicators Dave would describe the scene. My response was always the same.
"I hadn't noticed. Not that I can notice anything."
"Dave, look in your mirror." Amber said at one point marveling at the thick cloud of dust I was continually riding through.
"How can you see anything?" Amber asked.
"I'm not sure."
Use the Force, Luke.
I would continue to try to snap photos as often as I could while riding. Every once in a while one would turn out.
At one spot with a particularly impressive background I said to Amber, "Look pensively over in that direction."
Her poetic interpretation of "pensively":
We talked about the futility in trying to photograph the scenes we were experiencing. No matter how you try too much gets lost. The pixels simply can't convey the experience.
We descended into Lake City, a cool funky little mountain resort town, just as the sun was setting.
We found a little Italian Espresso place that was still open.
"If they have espresso they are likely to have salads." I remarked.
"He's a GS rider at heart." Dave said, or something similar joking about the GS Starbucks cliche.
Finally, I was able to get something decent to eat. A greek salad with salmon.
Places in town were pretty expensive so Dave and Amber decided to camp. I needed to find a place to stay so we said our goodbyes with the possibilty of riding together the next day.
I lucked out and found a little reasonably priced apartment room.
I had really enjoyed my day with them.
I had heard that there were big passes coming up and, checking the weather, rain was forecast for later in the day. After the experience with Marshall's pass the last thing I wanted to do was to be caught out in the wet up at elevation. Dave and Amber had wanted to ride Engineer's Pass which I have heard is significantly harder than any of the passes listed on the TAT. Sam's TAT is, after all, supposed to be the "easy" route for intermediate riders and is even marketed to beginners.
So in an abundance of caution, I got up early, packed my gear promptly, and headed down the street to a little breakfast place. They had reasonable coffee. I started talking to the people there asking if they knew anything about the passes I was going to be riding. The feedback I got was that they were a bit rocky but overall not too bad.
Amber and Dave are clearly more comfortable in this kind of riding than I am so I decided to let them do Engineer's Pass on their own without me slowing them down. I texted Amber to let her know.
The weather was already starting to look iffy so I got on my bike and stopped to top off the tank. The closest gas station was listed as a texaco but looked nothing like one. It was closed but thankfully the automated pumps worked.
I was not sure what to expect with these passes. I suspected they might get bad but I thought I could always turn around. It wasn't long before I found my way towards the first pass.
As I was saying, there's an impossibility to conveying this experience either in words or in photos.
Honestly, now days later the passes have melded into one memory. The only parts I remember vividly are the ones that scared me senseless. Before I first got scared, there were moments next to sheer cliffs where I tried in vain to capture the feel of the place.
That cliff really does feel much steeper than it looks. It's as if the photos conspire intentionally to deflate any tall tales of dangers encountered and overcome. As the elevation increased the road narrowed.
The drop offs became more dramatic but the road remained relatively civilized. There were embedded sharp rocks and potholes but all in all it was easily manageable. Then I came across a key bit of understatement.
The sign says "Four Wheel Drive Only Recommended". I remember the ascent to be moderately challenging and I remember thinking that it was not something one would want to do in anything other than a real four wheel drive.
I soon made it to the summit. Surprisingly, it was not that cold but the air was quite thin.
At 12640 feet, I was surprised how well the carbureted DR650 was running. It clearly had lost quite a bit of power but I was having no trouble climbing. I seem to remember that the downhill section after Cinnamon was a bit worse. I think there were a few places that made me a bit tense but my memory of it, despite photos, is not that clear. There were some impressive drop offs however.
Some of the switchbacks were challenging and stressful. Because the universe clearly hates me and has engineered gravity and mechanized propulsion to work as it does, the steeper and tighter the switchback the more rocks, dust, and gravel are to be found at exactly the wrong spot, not to mention the occasional deep hole. Going up these things is one thing. It just involves an adequate application of throttle and some blind unsubstantiated belief in a thing called "traction". However, down is a completely different matter. Throttle is of no help. As I come down these things all the weight goes to that skinny front tire whose soul desire in life, because it hates me too, is to find that one pile of gravel or sand or that one big rock to bind up in, so it can lauch me to the high side and over the edge of the abyss, to finally free itself to pursue it's goals in life unfettered by an uncaring owner.
Of course, it is terrifying to know that I'm hated by the universe and my front tire. So as I descended down these impossibly steep and tight switchbacks on the edge of oblivion, I tried my best too look where I wanted to go. My body, however, had other ideas as my shoulders and arms locked in complete panic. I shouted in my helment for my knees to grab the tank to relieve my shoulders from their duty of panicking. Despite this, the bike turned with all the grace of your basic Mack truck. This simply added to the stress and made me go even closer to the edge than I wanted.
Fear is truly something to fear.
Occasionally, there would be evidence of old human settlements in this bleak landscape. Most, if not all, of these seemed to involve mining.
For so long I had wanted to do some hill climbing. Today I got my wish and then some.
"But Yermo, it looks so tame and easy in the photos. What are you, a wuss?"
I came upon Hurricane Pass at 12,730 feet.
What was harrowing about the pass was that the entire area at the top was steeply angled so I had to park the bike facing uphill. To get going towards the descent side meant making a U-turn on this steeply angled loose surface.
The area was more than wide enough, maybe 4 car parking spots wide if not 5. I can easily do a U-turn in less than two on a level surface. There was nothing about this U-turn that was in any way all that technical or challenging. It was all perception. It was all fear. Fear of the two drop offs which were sheer cliffs. Even though I know this to my core, making my body obey my mental commands was challenging. As a result of fear of heights gripping me in a way it normally does not, turning around was an awkward tentative affair.
I was really high up.
I kept trying to capture the sheer scale of these dropoffs to no avial. Do you see that little spec to the left? That's a tree.
There were more wicked switchbacks either filled with rocks and gravel or loose dirt and silt.
Then there was the ascent to Corkscrew Pass.
The descent on the other side was also modestly challenging with more wicked switch backs and hairpin turns and steep descents.
Interestingly, ths photo is one of the rare ones that makes it look worse than it actually was. This wasn't difficult, it just looks lke that way.
So you get the idea. Tall mountain passes. Narrow roads. Switchbacks. Some gravel in corners. Modest fear that was enough to have an effect on my riding. But I was able to ride everything without needing to put my feet down.
I naively thought the worst was behind me when I came upon a section of pavement after Corkscrew Pass.
I was tired. It had already been a long day and as far as mileage goes, I had only gone maybe 40 miles.
I rode on pavement for a ways making good time when I noticed that the route would cross something called Ophir Pass. I would later read that Ophir Pass is considered the easiest of the tall mountain passes.
Then I came upon this sign.
The ascent was pretty straight forward. I don't remember anything particularly remarkable about it but I suspect the video I took (which unfortunately my laptop is not powerful enough to display) will tell a different story.
The pass itself was strangely interesting. It was a field of broken rocks that were this strange green color maybe a result of copper content.
It was an eerily alien landscape.
Later, I would wonder if Ophir hadn't been must a mispelled version of "O'Fear".
I even, laughably, looked down the far side of the pass and thought, "oh, that looks easy."
After an extended break where I had some snacks which mostly consist of mixed nuts, I got back on the bike and started to make my descent down the far side of the pass. It was not long afterwards that I was to be confronted by a sharp decline covered in large loose rocks.
So I stopped to carefully assess how to move forward. I decided to try to go to the left since it seemed a little further up that it was a little clearer. I really didn't want to fall on these sharp rocks and I especially didn't want to go tumbling down the side of the mountain. It was awkward and very stressful. My shoulders kept locking up. The photo doesn't show it but the downhill angle is steep enough that I just pulled in the clutch and rolled over these rocks both front brake and back brake engaged carefully modulating them so they didn't lock up. What I failed to realize was that behind one large rock a jeep or truck had gotten stuck and dug a huge hole.
This photo taken from my position after the hole back uphill demonstrates the incline a bit better.
As I rode down this, the front wheel nearly succeeded in it's lifelong goal to off me by getting stuck on a rock and pitching the bike. I managed to keep the bike upright and thankfully on course. This was neither graceful or in any way fun. With my untimely demise waiting patiently to my right, I slowly managed to get past this field of rocks.
I came down around a long bend when in the distance I saw a motorcyclist standing next to a bike parked on the edge of a dropoff. I saw a second motorcyclist standing with him. I came to a stop at the top of a truly gawdawful decline and scanned the cliff face looking for a motorcycle. I thought maybe I'd have to pull out the Motorcycle Recovery System which I had yet to use. I parked the bike and motioned to the two riders to see if they were ok. I got no reaction so I walked down. To my surprise, it was Allan and the rider he had gone to meet. If I understood him correctly, they both had dropped their bikes a few times on this descent.
Allan mentioned that according to the GPSKevin route this was considered a "green" or easy route.
The other rider whose name I have forgotten mounted his bike and with feet dangling made his decent awkwardly pulling the front brake. I was much more terrified for him than I was for myself having to do the same thing shortly. I thought I was about to be in a rescue situation but he made it past the difficult section and was able to continue on without dropping his bike.
Allan said that no matter what they would make sure I made it down.
"Getting down is not the problem." I said pointing to the abyss. Allan laughed. He joined the other rider and shortly there after I saw them riding off in the distance.
The photo above, as is the case with so many, doesn't convey the angle.
If you look carefully way up high you can see a spec which is my DR650. (Not the large black spec to the left which is a huge boulder but the miniscule little spec in the top center.)
I walked back up, which given the altitude involved quite a bit of effort, and got on my bike. I noticed two plumes of dust in the distance approaching. Two riders on little two stroke bikes rode up the gawdawful section at speed seemingly without a care in the world. They didn't even slow down to take a look. They had no luggage so I suspect they were locals familiar with these passes.
From my vantage point up high it looked deceptively tame.
The two other riders were now little but plumes of dust in the distance.
I paused. I briefly considered turning around but the sections down on the other side were also bad. There was regular traffic here and I could see a jeep in the distance so my thought was that if I fell down the side of the mountain or hurt myself against a rock someone was likely to stop before too long. I strongly suspected that if I fell off the side it would be a matter of body recovery. I doubt such a fall at that angle on those sharp rocks would be survivable even in all my gear.
"If it goes bad just let the bike go." I thought as I slowly started my descent.
The details of what happened next have become fuzzy. Terror has a way of modifying memories.
"This one goes to 11." I thought.
It doesn't look like it in the photo above but the downward slope was such that the front tire started to skid. I had the clutch pulled in and was on both front and rear brakes trying as best as I could to keep the wheels rolling but at a controlled pace. There was no path down this mess that didn't involve going over mounds of loose jagged rocks. The front wheel would pitch as rocks moved or sometimes it would get caught stopping all motion for a split second. There was a fine dust between the rocks, often in small depressions, which would cause the wheel to lock up as it came off a rock if I didn't let go the brake quickly enough. Either approach, on or off brake, induced terror. On brake, even with the slightest pressure, the front would lock up momentarily. Off brake, the bike would accelerate uncomfortably. At one point, the front wheel dug into some gravel next to a large rock and pitched me to the right. My direction suddenly changed and I was heading, very thankfully, towards the wall as I put my foot down to prevent the bike from falling. Unstable and shaking the bke pitched in the other direction but I managed to recover. I stopped and tried to duck walk it for a ways after this but that was even worse. At a crawl, the front wheel was even more likely to start sliding.
So I took a deep breath and let out the clutch to get a little speed and proceeded to terrifyingly make my way down the piles of scree screaming at myself, "grab the tank and get off the fucking handlebars!!!"
But I was terrified beyond all reason. Every motion was like through molasses as my shoulders locked solid in a death grip and it was all I could do to control my fear and ride the bike.
"Fear is the mind killer."
"Look where you want to go, not where you want to avoid." I shouted as I glanced at the edge of oblivion to my left. My heart racing, the rocks, dust, gravel, and gawdawfulness just continued. Seconds turned to hours as it was clear to me my untimely demise was imminent. The back wheel would catch then slide or it would step out left or right. The front, continuing it's quest to be rid of me, did whatever the it wanted to. It pitched left. It skidded. Letting off pressure just increased my speed regardless of the rear brake. With that beast of a rear tire I would have thought I'd have more traction. Any increase in speed made slowing down even more treacherous as both front and rear would skid on over this broken surface.
I made it down to a slightly level spot where I could stop and catch my breath.
I had exerted too much effort. I was shaking. I was tired. And I was scared nearly beyond my ability to control.
A little fear is always good. Too much fear is the enemy.
I took a deep breath of this thin oxygen poor mountain air and continued my descent wondering how in the hell does anyone successfully ride this stuff. I also wondered if this, what is known as the "easiest high mountain pass" is this bad, how terrible are the others?
After a while, the downward grade let up and I managed to get past the section of gawdawful scree. The surface evened out and I was once again able to ride confidently no longer feeling like my end was imminent.
But I had been scared to my core. I immediately started to question my decision making.
This was stupid. This was irresponsible. I shouldn't even be here. I should have turned around. What the hell am I doing up here on a motorcycle anyway? If this is considered easy, what is hard? What horrors like in wait for me ahead?
I cannot remember a time when I have been that terrified. I felt like I could not do this.
When looking at whether or not I think I can do something, I ask myself the question "If I ride this 100 times, how many times would I confidently think I could make it?"
If the answer is not 100, I consider myself not able to ride it.
If I have to put my foot down, I consider myself not able to ride it.
If I had to ride this section 10 times, I would definitely drop the bike and would very likely fall off the mountain at least once.
This was too hard.
And they say it's easy.
"Obviously, I don't have the skills to do this. There must be things I do not know."
Later that evening, I posted in the Trans Am Trail Facebook Group about my experience on Ophir and asked the question how does one ride this kind of thing.
I would get responses like, "Well, if you can't do Ophir stay away from the hard ones like Engineer and you're probably really not going to like what's ahead."
This made sense to me. Obviously, I'm not up to this task.
But then more comments came in. The picture slowly changed. Apparently, there had been a recent bad rock slide in that section.
But with that rock slide, what was previously a very easy pass had now turned difficult. Some have told me that people have complained it should now be labelled a "red section". Another has said, "No, it's now expert class." A number who rode through it either up or down mentioned how difficult it was. Many dropped their bikes. Some were injured.
I tend to doubt myself.
It was suggested that those who know how to ride this kind of surface lower the pressure in their tires dramatically so the rubber can flow over the rocks more fluidly. "14 PSI with rim locks" one said.
Megan suggested that rimlocks, which keep the tire on the rim when there isn't sufficient air pressure to do so, make changing tires a royal pain.
It's always a question of compromises.
Another suggested that one could walk the bike over the really bad sections with the ignition off but the bike in gear. This way the clutch could be used as a kind of rear brake to better control the bike.
I had never thought of doing that but it's a perfect hack for this situation.
I've been asked about the conditions on Ophir and the other passes a few times. As I mentioned, I doubt myself and never think of myself as particularly accomplished. I think this comes across when I talk to people. But I rode this section only putting my foot down once. I suspect there's a danger in a muted response to question of conditions. I was lulled into a false sense of "I can do this" by those who said the pass was not that hard.
Am I, by being self deprecating, unintentionally doing the same? Maybe someone hearing me talk about a given section and thinking they are a much more accomplished rider than I am might believe they can do it easily and get themselves into trouble.
"I'm going to have nightmares about this." I thought as I continued on my way.
But Ophir (O'Fear) was the last pass of the day and before I knew it there would no longer be tall mountains looming in the distance ahead. Landscapes change so quickly.
I came across a little Nope Rope. The photo makes it look so much bigger than it actually was.
I found myself on fast even gravel roads and I was able to make very good time.
It's gotten to the point where, what previously was so challenging, I no longer even notice. Gravel? What gravel?
I was rolling along most of the time near 50 miles per hour. My thought had been to make it to Monticello, Utah and grab a motel.
There were a huge number of cattle on the trail during these hours and for some reason they liked to congregate at cattle gates.
I'd have to hit the horn to get them to move always cautious to do so from a little distance in case they started to run.
And then, suddenly, the landscape changed. The mountains were behind me and nothing but flat could be seen in the distance.
It started to rain in that kind of misting steady drizzle/light rain that invades everything. I was grateful not to be up on the high passes. The temperature was dropping.
I crossed the border into Utah.
I had this strange sense that my approach to traveling without reservations was going to cause me trouble. I rolled into Monticello and immediately saw a no vacancy sign.
"Uh oh" I thought.
Sure enough, every single hotel and motel in Monticello was booked solid. There was a town 25 miles to the south. So through the dark mist I rode there.
It was the same story. Everything was booked solid.
So I rode another 20 some miles down to Bluff, Utah. By this time it was pitch black. The mist combined with spray from the road was making it near impossible to see especially through these canyons.
Once again I found myself questioning my decisions.
Once in Bluff, I again noted that everything was booked solid. I was not sure what to do. My shoulder had completely cramped again and I was near exhaustion.
"My luck has finally run out." as I remembered how often I have been able to get the last room available anywhere. I rode to the southern end of town when I noticed a "No Vacancy" sign. Then I looked again and it clearly said "Vacancy". It was some fancy lodge thing. I immediately pulled into the parking lot and walked into the office.
Someone had just cancelled. I got the last room. I asked the woman why were all motels booked for a hundred miles around.
"It's always like that this time of year." she said.
The lodge had a restaurant attached to it so after a quick hot shower, I managed to get something decent to eat.
I was spent. This had truly been a hard day.
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I post more photos than I include in the articles, You can see all the photos here: https://miles-by-motorcycle.com/136/photos/11729/yermo-s-2016-trans-am-trail-trip-photos
All the maps from the trip are available here: https://miles-by-motorcycle.com/136/maps
(If something doesn't work please let me know. There are still a bunch of bugs and feature shortcomings I have to work through but it'll all get done in due time.)
It was a torrential downpour. Hail bounced off the motel roof as every depression in the earth filled with water. After the rain finally let up hours later, I walked across the street to a restaurant. Flowing water could be seen rushing by everywhere. I overheard someone talking about how golf ball sized hail had damaged their car.
"Man, getting stuck Out There in large hail would hurt." I thought as I realized I was strangely afraid. I felt an unusual sense of dread about what lie ahead. I just kept imagining mud like the kind I saw in Oklahoma. I imagined getting stuck, getting soaked, and being pounded by hail out in the open.
"I can't do this." as my mind raced through endless scenarios that would really suck and likely hurt. It happens rarely but sometimes I am gripped by a panic that makes my chest hurt as it takes over my mind. I imagined the very real scenario of having to over exert myself out in the muck getting shaky tired as I sometimes do, at which point I am my own worse enemy. Fatigued, my judgement falters and I often make very basic mistakes. I pondered how many more miles I "have" to go and how little progress I've been making. The knowledge that it's going to get cold in the mountains kept entering my consciousness.
"Snow would suck."
"Ice cold freezing rain would suck."
"Breaking down or running out of gas in the cold would suck."
"Freezing to death would suck."
My shoulder hurt so badly and my whole body was sore that I could just imagine getting to a point where I couldn't ride at all.
I stayed in this dark place for some hours that evening my mind tormenting me with horrible scenarios of my untimely demise. The temptation is to give in to these narratives. They take on a life of their own and your emotions get invoked. The two enter into a vicious cycle and won't let you go. Your spiral down into Darkness.
When this happens I have learned to pause. I have practiced forcing myself to ponder, artificially, a different narrative as my mind races.
"This ride is elective. It's not important. The are Big Problems(tm) in life and nothing about this trip is a Big Problem. No one's life is on the line. I can go a little ways, over to the next hill, and stop there. I can go in a different direction. I can just stay here where I am in this dive motel. I am only bound by the stories I tell myself about what any of this means. By itself, it means nothing."
And with this different narrative, I remembered a feeling of standing on the side of the Dalton Highway with a broken motorcycle. It was a scenario I had feared so much but when it came, and I remember this feeling vividly, there was a sense of calm. It was actually one of the better moments on the trip.
In each adversity lies opportunity.
And with that the tempest in my mind settled and I was able to fall asleep but had fitful dreams. The next morning I woke up relatively late. The bike had been running very poorly. I usually get around 48 miles to the gallon but on the last tank I had only gotten 32. I thought the air cleaner had maybe been clogged or maybe I had a bad tank of gas. The mechanic who installed my new tires said it was the altitude. I was surprised but he assured me everyone runs into this problem. He suggested drilling a few quarter sized holes in the airbox to lean out the fuel mixture. I checked online and read that people often just remove the airbox cover for the same effect.
So I opted to remove the cover and give that a try.
I've started paying very careful attention to fuel consumption. At 32 mpg I don't have as much range as I would like even with a 6.6 gallon tank.
Next, because I fear the mountains and wrong turns, I carefully prepped the Colorado section in my rollchart holder and resolved to get comfortable using the rollchart because my GPS hates me and is trying to engineer my demise. This took a distressingly long time. Getting that ridiculously long piece of thin paper rolled into the holder is fiddly and takes longer than one would think it should.
Having finished that task, I pull all my gear back on the bike and rolled up to the gas station to fill up. If there's gas available, I'll get gas which is completely contrary to how I usually travel. "Measure twice." I thought as I carefully calculated my fuel economy.
36mpg on that last tank. That's just ugly. I'll have to keep an eye on it.
I rolled out and headed towards Branson, Colorado to pick up the start of the Colorado section of the trail. I've bypassed the 72 miles of New Mexico and the last dozen or so miles in Oklahoma. I don't feel the need to be pedantic about following the trail. There was standing water everywhere.
"I can turn around." I reminded myself.
The weather was simply gorgeous. It was cool with cotton white clouds making their way across a blue sky.
The route to Branson through the hills was pleasant and curvey. In the distance I saw what looked like a small volcano. Signs to that effect appeared. The volcano was a national monument. I could see a road leading up to the top.
There was a small entrance fee, $5 I think. I paid it and then made my way up the side of the volcano. Riding up the thing, the walls were much steeper than they looked from a distance. There was no guard rail and the drop to the right was quite serious. "No right turn." I thought. Normally I am not all that affected by heights but with the wind I was a bit tense. It was, however, absolutely beautiful with a fantastic view.
Before long it was time to go.
It was only 50 miles or so to the start of the Colorado route. Along the way I saw some railroad construction equipment. I had never seen anything like this before.
In a small canyon pass I came across an ancient toll booth.
Before long I was at the Colorado section of the Trans America Trail. There was a little ancient jailhouse.
Within yards, the pavement ended and I was on gravel roads. To my great relief the roads were completely dry. There was hardly an evidence of the previous days deluge. I'm guessing this area must have been spared.
This was also the first hint I noticed of real mountains in the distance. This first area was largely flat and as there has been so often on this trip there were abandoned buildings at seemingly regular intervals.
The trail continued to follow the plains below the mountains. I found myself wanting to turn left but the trail kept going off into the distance.
The new tires, a Continental TKC-70 Front and TKC-80 Rear, are not as confidence inspiring on gravel as the Mefo Explorers I had previously. The front seemed to want to wander more. I often say "Beggars can't be choosers" when asking people for help and the mismatched tires were what I could get without having to wait days. I would have thought that tires for a bike as popular as the Suzuki DR650SE, a bike that's been made for two decades now, would be easier to come by. I have been proven wrong.
Purchase the Continental Twinduro TKC80 Dual Sport Tires at RevZilla Motorsports. Get the best free shipping & exchange deal anywhere, no restock fees and the lowest prices -- guaranteed.
These are also available from Dual Sport Touring and it might be much more convenient if you're in the Maryville, TN area to just go over there than to wait for Revzilla.
I had really liked the Mefo's. They are in my humble opinion exceptional tires and gripped on pavement to a degree that has to be experienced to be believed. They are also very predictable off road. The only place where they falter that I've experienced is in deep mud. For the Trans America Trail, especially the first half, they are a good choice.
I was told that it will get more challenging as I make my way further into Colorado with more mud and sand so the TKC's, being more biased to off road use, would be better suited.
To use the rollchart I needed a way of keeping track of distances. The roll chart marks each turn and then a distance to the next turn. As you reach each turn you rotate the handles on the rollchart holder to bring the next turn into view. I had tried to just use the trip odometer but it's a hassle to reset each time and I like to use it to keep track of how far I've gone since the last fillup. Keeping the numbers in my head proved daunting so I started using the new useless "Fuel odometer" on the GPS. It has the advantage of being very easy to reset.
I quickly became comfortable with the rollchart and, as others have pointed out to me, I should have started using it some time ago. On a couple of occasions the route on the GPS would flake out as it has often done and the rollchart proved invaluable. It got to the point that I just kept the fuel odometer screen up on the GPS and ignored the map completely.
Using the rollchart is, however, slower than relying on the GPS. At each turn, you stop. You turn the holder gadget to bring the next section into view and then reset the Fuel odometer. This would likely save me from a crash some time later.
I followed this ritual for some time when rolled up to an intersection. As I did on every other turn I stopped, turned the holder and reset the GPS. I paused as I looked at a strange installation across the road. It then dawned on me that I was looking at a rather large solar farm installation. Contractors could be seen going in and out of the fenced installation in trucks. Each time they went by they would kick up clouds of dust.
The route would take me left right in front of the installation. I let the clutch out and it felt like a wheel was coming off. Initially, I wasn't sure what was wrong. The bike was wobbling frighteningly.
"Flat tire? Wheel coming loose?". I looked at the front. All seemed in order. I looked at the rear ...
It was completely flat and the bead had already come off the rim.
I stopped and looked around. Practicing removing a motorcycle tire using tire irons was on my long TODO list that did not get done before I left.
This was one of the scenarios that I had feared. I could just see being stuck here for hours stranded.
I got off the bike and carefully moved to a position off the road. A contractor from the solar installation stopped to see what I was up to.
The sun was a bit brutal but it was relatively cool. I took off my helmet and jacket. I carry a hat for just this situation. I've learned a hat can do wonders for making it easier to tolerate the sunshine. I suspect they are the all rage with the vampires these days.
I had thought it was overkill but I had purchased a "tire change mat" with some extra tire irons and a bead breaker. Motorcycle tires form a chemical bond with the rim called the "bead". Separating tire from rim, especially if the tire has been on the rim for a while, can be quite a challenge. This was a brand new tire that had just been put on.
I looked around to assess how bad my predicament was.
"Humans present." check.
"Water in the camel pack." check.
"Tire patch kit." check.
Upon reflection, it became clear to me what I had here was a first world problem and the only thing really at risk was time.
What's the worst reasonable case?
I might have to abandon the bike. I could walk to the solar installation. They would probably let me get in out of the sunshine. Even then, chances are someone there might help me get it or might know of a towing company that could come out here.
I could try to repair it and have it fail in which case I might have to do it again.
But I had no sense that I was in any danger. I looked around. No big spiders. No nope ropes. (snakes).
I can sacrifice time.
I slowly and methodically set about taking everything off the bike. Owing to the strong wind, dust and dirt got absolutely everywhere. Every passing truck would make the situation worse. I had bought these large combination axle bolt wrenches/tire irons.
Both the mat and these tire irons turned out to be good purchases.
The rear axle bolt is tightened to 79.5 foot pounds. There was no getting it loose by hand but a simple application of foot pressure and I soon had the nut off and the rear tire removed.
Given how tough the tire is I was very concerned about getting the tire over the rim so I could pull the inner tube out. I have very little in the way of physical endurance and this took a huge amount of energy but I managed after some time to get the inner tube out.
On recommendation from Megan, I had added some "Ride On" to the tube. These were heavy duty tubes. I reused them when the TKC's were mounted. "Ride On" is similar to slime in that it's goo you inject into the tube and it seals small holes.
I looked at the tube and noticed an area that was a bit wet. I soon discovered why the tube lost air. With a gash this large the tube would have lost all its air in seconds. I suspect this happened while I was stopped futzing with the rollchart holder. If this had happened at speed it would likely have resulted in a crash as the tire would have come off the rim completely.
It has been over two decades since I've patched an inner tube. I took out my trusty patch kit and opened the instructions to refresh my memory.
The instructions in the tube patch kit were for a tubeless patch kit. I remembered to clean the area around the slice and to roughen up the surface. I applied the glue and then applied the patch.
The first patch did not hold air so I repeated the process. I carry a small compressor that I got from Aerostich. It's a bit fiddly but the thing is awesome and very very small.
This is the smallest, lightest compressor we carry and one of the most efficient you ll find for its size. This stripped-down mini fits in the palm of your hand and will inflate any motorcycle tire in a couple minutes. When a larger compressor is too much
I used the pump to inflate the tube a bit and let it sit in the sun. I thought the heat might help the thing cure.
I took a close look at the tire and found the slice.
I started the arduous task of putting the inner tube back in. Getting the stem into the little hole involved repeatedly getting my fingers pinched painfully between ring and tire.
One of the contractors stopped and asked if there was anything he could do. I mentioned the flat tire. He said he had some "slime" for just such a purpose and he gave me the bottle but wouldn't accept any money for it. I mentioned that it was clear he couldn't use it on his truck. "I carry it in case I come across guys out here with flats." He mentioned that with all the construction on the solar plant the cattle grates were getting pretty beat up and they were having a lot of problems with flat tires.
It was exceptionally nice of him to stop.
Taking the tire off was difficult. Putthing the damn thing back on took a huge amount of effort and was honestly difficult. The challenge is that the inner tube keeps trying to commit suicide by getting between the rim and the tire iron.
I was starting to get tired.
But I managed to get it on. I used the trusty little Areostich pump and inflated the tire. The bead popped into place. I pumped it up to 31 PSI, guessing that it was probably a decent pressure.
The tube was holding but now that it was at pressure it had visibly opened up the gash in the tire. I had initially thought that maybe I could continue on my way with this tire but this tire was toast.
But it's not that big of a problem. I was facing a first world problem. All it involved was time and money. I knew there would be ways to find a tire or have one delivered. Maybe I would have to wait a few days. But in the grand scheme of things this wasn't a real problem.
I would later hear from Tom Cutter of Rubber Chicken Racing Garage. He is arguably the most experienced, intelligent, knowledgeable mechanic/engineer/wizard I have ever met.
He suggested a number of ways to improve a solution. A section of old inner tube could be used to cover the hole. Duct tape could be used. In the worst case, if no tube held the tire could be filled with something to help keep its shape. There is a world of improvisational knowledge for a whole range of typical problems that I simply have no experience with.
It made me think of the stories I've heard of guys down in South America doing road side transmission repairs and improvising solutions one would just never think of. I mentioned to Tom that he should teach an "Improvising on the Adventure" course.
But here I was in the first world and instead of trying to limp along for the next thousand miles on a compromised tire, which apparently can be done if you absolutely need to, I would just find a way to get to a shop and have it replaced.
At this point I was pretty tired. Not shaking yet, but tired. I put everything back on the bike, checked the pressure one last time and proceeded to cautiously make my down the route with the intent of making it to the nearest town.
It seemed to be going pretty well when I started to notice a wobble. I had made it may a mile from my previous location.
The rear tire was completely flat and I was quite tired.
I carry a spare front inner tube. I have been told by several people that in a pinch you can use the front tube in the rear. The sun was setting.
I repeated the previous steps. I pulled everything off the bike, pulled out the tools, and removed the rear tire. Slime had gotten all over everything. I was a mess. By this time I was starting to shake.
Over exertion is my enemy.
"Tired Yermos make mistakes." Audrey warned via text message.
I paused, drank a lot of water, and ate an apple that I had with me. I rested from a bit and then set about putting the front tube in the rear tire.
Another couple of contractors stopped as the sun was setting. They told me that the security detail at the solar plant was there 24/7 and that if I needed to I should just walk the mile back. They then gave me their number and said if I was stuck out here too much after dark that I should call them and they would come and get me.
The kindness of strangers. I thanked them profusely and told them I suspected I would be ok but that I would let them know either way.
After some time, I managed to get the tube in and the tire on. I inflated the tire and it seemed to hold air but it took forever to develop any pressure. I was starting to get nervous because it's a 21 inch tube in a 17 inch tire. I'll have to research how much air to put in the tire in this context. I inflated it to 18psi, which as I mentioned, took forever. I slowly rode off quite very tired at this point. The sun had set and it was dark.
I stopped and checked the pressure. It was holding. Interstate I25 was just ahead. The GPS, who hates me, listed a gas station a few miles up the road. I cautiously got up to 55mph and kept that speed while I was carefully paying attention to how the bike handled and was ready to stop at a moments notice. The gas station was an ex-gasstation. The next one was 20 miles further up the road.
So further up the road I went and after some time made it. I texted the kind souls who had stopped to let them know I was ok. I explored motels but there was nothing much in the area. Pueblo Colorado was only 43 miles further up the road and, doing a quick check of Google Maps, there was a Suzuki Dealer there. In the worst case, it was a pretty big town and would make a good place to hole up for a few days.
Riding those 43 miles took seemingly forever. I found a motel, checked in, and took a very long hot shower. My whole body ached from the exertion.
I got up early. Checking the rear tire I noticed that it had lost significant pressure overnight but it wasn't completely flat. I added some air and then, skipping breakfast, made my way over to Rocky Mountain Motorsports Plaza which, coincidently, was only 2 miles from my motel.
I walked in and talked to the service writer, Bryan I think his name was. Awesome guy. He said if the parts department had a tire they would install it the same day and get me back on the road.
I went over to parts. I described my plight and that I was looking for a 120/90-17 rear tire and tube to put on my bike so I could get back under way.
The parts guy looked through various sources and after a good long while said.
"Sorry. The soonest we can get you a tire would be Tuesday."
It was Friday.
I was hungry so made my way to a nearby Denny's where I ate and looked around to see if anyone had a tire. I called several shops.
Megan of Dual Sport Touing had mentioned in a Facebook comment the previous night that she might be able to hook me up with a tire so I called Dual Sport Touring in Friendville, TN. ( http://dualsporttouring.com). Francois answered. Megan had mentioned my plight to him. "I'll do some searching and call you back." he said.
Some minutes later he called back and asked how far I was from Rocky Mountain Cycle Plaza.
"I was just there. They told me they didn't have a tire that would fit."
"They have a tire in stock that'll fit. A D606 130/90-17"
I went back and asked about that tire. "Oh yea, that'll fit."
Why didn't you tell me that when I was here before?!?
I called Francois back and thanked him profusely. In the meantime he had found another tire in Colorado Springs in case this one didn't work out. Fantastic.
There's a difference between answering a question and solving the larger problem.
Bryan in service hooked me up. He got a tech to start working on the bike within the hour. Two or so hours later the bike was ready.
I didn't know that size would fit. I can't thank Francois and Megan enough. They just saved me from a four day oversight.
It is, however, a BEAST of a tire. "Beggars can't be choosers."
It was around 2:30 in the afternoon. I figured I could make it the 60 or so miles back to the trail and then do the 50 or so miles to the stop in La Veta where the maps say there's food, gas, and motels.
I was still sore from the previous day but not feeling too badly. I hit the highway.
My shoulder, which had eased up a bit, cramped up almost immediately. I got gas 20 miles from the trail, just in case. Riding South I noticed rain clouds in the distance. There was sunshine everywhere else except in the direction I happened to be heading.
While the previous day had been spent in the plains the route immediately went up into the mountains through water cut little canyons with steep walls.
There were a seemingly endless array of cows in the road. I would slow to a crawl lest one of these stupid beasts gets spooked and runs out in front of me.
There were also more critters in a shorter span of time than I have seen anywhere else on this trip.
Elk. Deer. Turkeys. Some weird gazelle like thing that was running at probably 30+mph.
There were also all manner of abandoned old buildings.
At one point, my luck ran out and it started to rain dramatically. Sunshine was everywhere except where I happened to be.
I did come across a rainbow that seemed to end right in front of me. I was tempted to go looking for gold.
The rain ceased and the scene opened up to tall mountains in the distance. The sun started to set. I would ride so slowly stopping to look at the various sights along the way taking it all in.
It was simply glorious and by far the best riding of the trip so far. I would slow down nervously as I crossed every cattle grate. It's funny how one runs into one problem that's a bit painful and suddenly a repeat of that one event, an event you've not worried about in decades of riding, occupies your consciousness.
I made it into La Veta just after sunset and found a dive RV park/Motel. La Veta is a strange town. At night it looks like something straight out of a horror film but perfectly normal during the daytime.
Some work issues came up so, still hurting from my day of tire changes, I decided to take it easy today and spend the day exploring the town a bit. It's a funky artsy little town and warrants further investigation.
I plan to get up early tomorrow and see if I can't make it to Salida. 175 miles of trail should be doable.
I've got to figure out a way to say more in less words. If you've made it this far, brave soul, I thank you.
Click on the maps for an interactive version.
Moments come and go and get lost to time. It has been a while since I've written. The longer I wait the more the memories fade and the more daunting the task becomes. I'm currently in Raton, NM. I can hear the sound of cold thunder outside as dark and very angry clouds slowly march this way. Bright sunshine pierces through white clouds in the distance and in the other direction all is black and despair looms.
I got new tires mounted on the bike today. I thought with as popular as the Suzuki DR650SE is that finding tires would be a non-issue.
I was mistaken. My plan to get tires in Santa Fe met with "we'd like to help you but tires will take 4 days to get here and we're very short handed." Calls to other locations yielded similar results. I did, however, find a Honda dealer in Raton that could get tires for my bike and was willing to mount them. I had pondered mounting them myself but a shoulder injury I sustained on Day 15 is making even typing painful so I decided it's probably best to let someone else expend the effort. Originally, I was supposed to arrive here last week on Thursday but I had made a wish on a very bright falling star ...
Some number of days ago, my 14th day on the TAT, I was in Western Oklahoma. The previous day had been filled with comfortable riding under gorgeous skies on distressingly well maintained country roads.
Over previous days I had heard that there lurks an evil in these upcoming parts. Few would speak of it directly and those few who spoke did so hurriedly in hushed tones as if afraid "It" would hear them.
"Oklahoma Black Mud"
Some locals had told me it had rained quite a bit a few days previously. I soon started finding evidence just how interesting it could get in the wet.
Again, I was fortunate. While deeply rutted in places, it was mostly dry so my challenge was primarily keeping the front wheel from straying into ruts. Having said that, the surface would change dramatically and without warning.
From time to time, I would come across giants standing guard.
I have two best friends, or at least I wouldn't be able to choose between the two of them. One is Duncan who has been trying diligently for the last couple of years to grow sunflowers. On rides, when he sees a small garden filled with them, he often exclaims, "Arrrrgg! It's a curse, I tell ya! More of them" and begins to ponder ways to get his to grow.
So, on this trip, I have been going out of my way to show him photos. Sadly, this one doesn't do it justice. I came across a field of sunflowers that seems to span to the horizon.
At one point, I came across signs of a slaughter. Clearly, Don Quixote had had a field day. I have never before seen the giants felled in this way.
The further I rode the more of a sense I got just how bad this black mud could get. I suspect being Out Here after a solid soaking rain would make these roads next to impassable.
Crossing this was, how shall we say, inelegant.
The oil and gas industry, who I understand I have to thank for the eventful waking the other morning, can be seen everywhere.
There was also foreshadowing. I noticed that my GPS sometimes would not calculate the distance to the next turn correctly.
This was a detail.
I should learn to pay just a little more attention to such details.
The next turn was just a few miles ahead and the GPS would dutifully show me the turn while the distance to the next turn would increase.
At one point, I started seeing evidence of TAT riders who had come through when it was significantly wetter, their tires leaving clear imprints.
Out here it gets good and flat.
I had been warned about a water crossing that was impassable. In the distance, I saw what I thought might be a Ford Taurus (passenger car) slow to a crawl and then speed up again. As I came upon the crossing, I found myself wondering how he made it across. A 4x4 approached from the other side. The driver looked at the water and then promptly turned around and disappeared.
I did as I promised. I pulled out my little camp stool, pulled off my boots, and put on my flip flops and waded out in the water.
My newly acquired flip flops immediate came apart. The current was about as strong as the current in that errant crossing a week or so ago. I explored the edge of the concrete slab and noted that there was a significant lip to it, maybe 5 inches high. If I were to hit that I would definitely fall over into the drink. After pondering whether or not I should attempt it, I decided discretion is the better part of valor. I am alone after all and an off here could represent a real hassle.
Or as my buddy Matt used to say, "Chickens live longer."
I put my boots back on and headed off to find a way around. This was facing due West so I headed North and found the first marked roads that pointed West.
Yes, this is, in fact, a road.
There were all kinds of bugs hidng about just ready to jump up and attempt to get inside my helmet.
This road let to an even worse water crossing. This was consisted of deep mud.
So I headed further North and eventually found a road West that included a bridge. I continued constantly on guard for changing conditions, my shoulders tensing up from the discomfort and uncertainty.
As the miles rolled on, more evidence of fearless TAT riders could be seen. I imagined them throwing caution to the wind and at near full throttle fearlessly throwing their machines forward into the muck unlike timid me who is ever careful.
And then I came upon it.
"Oklahoma Black Mud".
I could clearly see tracks of an intrepid TAT rider going into and out of the puddle. This photo makes it look so easy. That can't be more than a few inches across, right?
I stopped the bike well before the deep mud and decided to try to walk it. Yards before the water the muck tried desperately to steal my boots.
"There's just no way. This thing would swallow my bike whole." I thought as I wondered how in the hell could someone ride across something like this clearly in conditions that were wetter than what I was facing.
It was an impressive little puddle up close.
I couldn't walk through this. The mud was significantly deeper than my boots are tall. The mud would stick to you in large clumps making it challenging to extract yourself.
I stood and pondered this scene for some time questioning my initial decision not to attempt it, words in the back of my mind hissing in a devilish voice, "What are you? A wuss? You can do it ...come join us ...". But I soon realized that no mortal could traverse this hells bog. I imagined a scene below the surface not unlike the souls lurking beneath the waters around Mordor.
"KTM riders." I thought. "I bet the bog is filled with the souls of undead KTM riders who foolishly tried to cross lured by the tracks. I bet they are now just waiting under the surface to pull unsuspecting travelers down to their doom. Satan himself probably put those track there as a trap." I then went on to ponder why, as it is well known, Satan prefers the souls of KTM riders to other souls. It's been a subject of much debate for millenia.
I then thought about the TAT rider whose tracks could clearly be seen. "How did Satan put the tracks down? It's not like he does his own work. He bet he possessed some DR650 rider."
And then it dawned on me.
I bet she, the one true love of his life, left him. I bet this broke him down to his soul like he had never been broken before. Distraught, broken hearted, and in despair, he took his trusty DR650 and decided to end it all.
Out in the rain through the impossible muck he went and came upon Hell's Own Puddle. (Now filled with undead KTM riders.)
Amidst the pouring rain as he was about to twist the throttle to meet his end he broke down in a moment of weakness and sobbed skyward:
"Baby come back!!!"
(And now that song is stuck in my head.)
This was the moment the devil was waiting for. Desperation is the devils' "in".
He appeared, wondering why there were no hickory stumps, and hissed. "I can get her back for you, but first you must do a little something for me."
Of course, we all know the devil is the great deceiver and should never be bargained with.
But the DR rider was in love and his heart was badly broken and, as many poor fools in love do, he would grasp at any chance to get her back.
"I'll do anything." he said sobbing to which the Devil replied, "I give you this Hell's Special DR650, a bike that can magically cross any expanse of mud. All you have to do is ride all the mud in Oklahoma and she'll be yours again."
"I'll do it!" the poor fool said not realizing that there's always more mud in Oklahoma.
Now he's got to ride the Oklahoma mud forever, the new rains his eternal damnation, his tracks an endless KTM rider temptation.
And this is how the devil lures those sweet KTM souls to their doom.
Occasionally he nabs a GS rider or two who dares stray from Starbucks, but that's another story.
"The Legend of the Devils' Mud Runner" I thought as I extracted myself from the muck and then man handled my bike to turn it around and find another way around.
If you see tracks in puddles in Oklahoma, it's a trick. "Run away!"
As I rode on for the remainder of the day there was quite a bit more mud but none so deep as that Hell's Puddle.
Eventually the roads got a bit better and I found myself out in the middle of nowhere when, taking a wrong turn, I noticed a sign.
This little gravesite was in the absolute middle of nowhere. Some cattlemen had been killed by Native Americans back in the day. I paused to think about the narratives each side must have told themselves about the other. Conflict and pain has a way of creating even more inaccurate stories of the "Other".
If you dehumanize them it is eaiser to kill them. This is likely why we don't mourn the loss of Storm Troopers.
My day of challenging rutted muddy roads came to an end with another group of giants standing watch against a sinking sun.
SItting here in Raton thinking about mud I listen to this incredible thunderstorm raging outside. Hail can be heard bouncing off the roof. I suspect the trail may be "interesting" tomorrow. There's quite a bit of rain forecast for the next several days.
The next day I found myself back out on the trail relatively early. I had noted that the GPS was telling me I had only 247 miles to go to the border of New Mexico. From there it was just an easy day ride to the house of my other best friend, Bruce. So I texted him to let him know that I was likely to make it by the next day so I could see him before his business trip. I didn't stop to think how I had made such good time.
On the way out, I took a moment to take a closer look at the giant windmills. These really are impressive machines.
I was a man on a mission so I did not stop to take many photographs. After a few hours, I rolled into a gas station where I noticed a Triump Tiger 800 that I immediately recognized as a TAT bike. The rider soon came out and introduced himself. Dennis. We spoke for a bit about the reasons we're on this trip.
"Reset." is all I said. "I'm in need of a reset." We pondered riding together but he said this as a solo trip for him. It is for me as well.
It was then that two riders were approaching ..
(and now I can't get that song out of my head)
... and joined us while they fiddled with roll charts. They had been making crazy good time and had clearly done trips like this before. Dennis and I were on similar schedules just taking our time.
Dennis mentioned at one point, "If it rains that mud must be impassable." I agreed but did not share with him my religious insights into that evil muck.
Having seen so few people on this trip and thinking I had plenty of time, I hung out for two cups of coffee and exchanged stories, but not too many. I was more abbreviated than usual, finally.
The time came to be gone and I said my goodbyes and headed off. I initially took a wrong turn due to a lying road closed sign.
The GPS flaked out again. The route jumped in a straight line across what must have been twenty miles where there was no road.
"Damn GPS software bug." I thought again not paying attention to details.
I was left trying to find a way to the far end of the straight line one my own. I should have set up the roll chart but did not..
The end of the error was North and West of my location but there were a number of turns to try. Eventually, I saw a rider in the distance and I sped to catch up. It turned out to be Dennis, the Triumph Tiger rider.
We decided to ride together for a ways. We were well matched. Dennis was leading. I once again get more of a sense what it must be like to be Duncan as when we ride I usually lead.
I guess we probably rode together for well over a hundred miles through varying open landscapes and surfaces. At one point Dennis asked, "So do you think there will be more sand?"
"I wish he hadn't asked that." I thought facetiously.
At one point we stopped in the middle of the open nowhere and he said, "We are so lucky to be here. Not many get to do what we're doing."
At this point he mentioned to me one aspect of his ride. His mother-in-law had recently died of Alzheimers. He had bands made up which he handed out along the way. He gave me one which I put around one of my mirrors. I found myself thinking I should have had something on my bike, beyond the tungsten steel dogtag I carry around my neck, to honor those I've met along the way with Ehlers Danlos Syndrome. "Dedicate one of your rides to my daughter." a mother said who lost her second child to complications from EDS. It's strange how you meet some people and they forever alter the trajectory of your life. The horrors I have seen ...
Dennis invited me to join him for lunch. Again, since I had spent so much time alone I thought it would be a nice break and judging by the distance left I thought I should be able to make the New Mexico border by nightfall. Just as I was getting off the bike at a restaurant we had found, I felt this searing pain on my shoulder.
I started beating my shoulder into submission. Something was in there stinging me repeatedly. I asked Dennis to help. He took to it more enthusiastically than I was expecting. It has been a very long time since someone has hit me that hard. "Feels like home." I was tempted to say but didn't. During a short pause in the pain, I managed to get my jacket off at which point a largely intact bumble bee carpenter bee type thing fell out and started crawling away. Dennis was about to step on it but I said I needed to take a photo.
I let the thing live because, you know, I'm sensitive like that and it wasn't the thing's fault. It was just doing what it does.
I went the restroom and counted six welts. However, I did not have any allergic reaction.
Over lunch we spoke of a number of topics. Loss. We spoke for quite a while about goals. In his line of work, he has to be goal oriented and manage a team to get things done exactly on time. When planning out this trip he had each day mapped out, where he would get gas, eat, and sleep.
"That plan got thrown out the first day." he explained.
"No plan ever survives an encounter with the enemy." I replied.
He talked about almost giving up. "This is strangely difficult, but not in the way I thought it would be." he said mirroring what I have thought for a while now.
I talked about my Alaska trip and the challenges I faced like breaking down on the side of the Dalton Highway North of Camp Coldfoot.
"What did you do?" he asked.
"I was in this place where I had given up. Each moment I would give up. I thought that at some point a trucker would come by. It was nice weather and I wasn't in any immediate danger so I just looked around at how beautiful the place was. Then I figured, having given up, I could take one small step. And then another. Soon I had the bike unloaded, the exhaust off, and the rear wheel removed and I was able to solve my problem."
"Have you found that on this trip yet?" he asked.
"No. I haven't been able to get out of my own head yet. But even trying to do that is in and of itself a goal."
I am at this present moment too tired to do the topic justice. It was a good conversation of the type I have not had on this trip.
"May you find failure Out There and may you be open to a redirection in some unexpected fashion."
We parted company and I headed back out onto the trail.
To make a long story short the GPS lied to me. The calculated distance that it displayed for the route was off by over 150 miles. For the next couple of hours the distance to the end of the route would increase, not decrease.
The wind from the South was relentless. I guess it was a constant 30mph with much larger gusts that would catch the visor on my helmet and wrench my neck. After some hours, my back and shoulders thoroughly locked up.
I was in pain and starting to take Advil in a way I have not done in years.
At one point the line on the GPS routed me to where the road ended at a farmers field. It looked like there was a tractor trail to the right which I surmised must head back to a road.
It then disappeared and before I knew it I was riding along side a row of corn. Then the cornfield ended. I could see a road a few hundred yards ahead but there was this tall very tough grass like stuff between me and the road. So I did what I usually do. I kept going.
There was a two foot embankment just as the grass ended. At first I thought it was likely going to cause a fall but ended up being no problem.
I continued on watching the "distance to go" indicator on the GPS increasing instead of decreasing. The wind was still relentless and my back continued to hurt.
The route took a sudden turn South, towards a looming thunderstorm I might add, which ended up following a sandy tractor trail.
The sand got deep suddenly and the bike pitched violently back and forth but I managed to save it.
Sand is rarely, if ever, a motorcyclists friend. I cautiously made my way forward and put my feet back on the pegs as it looked like the surface was becoming more solid.
The violent pitching repeated several times and several times I was able to save it until I wasn't.
The front wheel dug in hard and the bars locked to the right and for the first time I highsided and faceplanted into the sand next to some sunflowers.
Given how I landed on my face and left shoulder and given how locked up my back had been, despite 6 advil, I was pretty sure I had injured myself. I got up and waited but it seemed, aside from the pain I had already been feeling no new pain was developing.
I was also surprised how easily I was able to pick up the bike. I must be getting stronger.
The sand continued for a while and was really no fun.
The sun started setting. I paused for quite a while at this spot. At this point I knew I was in for a very late night.
I tried my best to capture this incredible sunset.
There are some moments that are a not meant to be spent alone. This was one of them.
In the other direction, there were dramatic clouds. The sun's red glow reflected off them. A large thunderhead loomed threatenly to the North.
The wind never let up. I compared the GPS with the printed maps and that with Google maps. It looked like I had at least another 50 miles to go but even that was a bad guess.
The sun set and I thanked my former self for equipping the bike with a high power LED headlight and driving lights. Despite the gathering gloom, I was able to see the trail clearly enough. For most of those 70+ miles the trail was civilized. The wind continued to torment me. A muscle that runs under my left shoulder blade had cramped up so badly it was starting to feel like it was bleeding. I was no longer able to turn my head at all without searing agony.
Then it went pitch black. I stopped to marvel at the thunderhead in the distance. I tried recording the cloud to cloud lighting to no avail. Looking up I could clearly see stars appearing. I waited hoping for a shooting star because I had a wish to make. But as we all know, these things cannot be forced and trying makes them not happen. After an extended pause in the dark, I continued on.
At one point, near the end, I came upon a huge expanse of mud. I managed to navigate around it by riding through deep dirt. When the GPS flaked out again leaving me guessing as to the route I decided to bail and set my sights on Los Alamos. I figured with the gas I had, I could make Springer, NM with over 60 miles to spare on the tank. It's a decrepit little town but it would put me in striking range of Los Alamos for an easy next day. It was now around midnight.
I should have taken the visor off. I eventually ended up on highway doing highway speeds in that horrible cross wind. If my back and shoulders weren't hurting before they were seriously hurting now.
The bike felt like it wasn't running right. At times I would notice that it would bog down or miss as if it were running out of gas. These are details I pay very careful attention to. I reassured myself that I had plenty of range left. I have, in my entire lifetime, never run out of gas in such a way that I was stranded. On a couple of occasions, the vehicle stalled while underway and I was able to roll to the gas pump.
I passed a sign that Springer was 40 miles ahead when I hit reserve. I usually hit reserve at 260 miles. This was 215. I knew I was consuming too much fuel. I went into full on fuel conservation riding figuring that maybe I could make it. I can usually do well over 50 miles on reserve.
7 miles outside of Springer, NM I ran out of gas. It was the middle of nowhere. The bike rolled to slow stop. It was pitch black. There was no sign of life. No street light. No car. No planes in the sky.
It was a cloudless windy night. The moon had long since disappeared. The Milky Way was clearly visible. It was beautiful.
There was no panic. There was no anger. There was nothing. I just stopped in the dark. "I wonder how far I can push my bike?" I asked myself as I proceeded to start pushing it.
It was slow going but not as painful as I would have imagined. I guess the advil had finally started kicking in in earnest. Then I came up a hill. It was about a half mile long. I would push the bike about 50 yards and then have to stop to catch my breath and wait for my heart rate to settle down. My legs were on fire. If I didn't hold the handlebars just right that cramped muscle in my back would ignite into agony.
Occasionally cars would pass but no one stopped. I tried various hand symbols and gestures of "motorcyclist in need please help" no to avail.
The incline of the hill got worse and my progress slowed to a crawl. I already knew I wasn't going to be able to push the bike another 5 miles. But I thought I could at least get it to the top of the hill.
Then something caught my eye as I was panting desperately trying to get some air.
It was one of those extremely bright extremely slow falling stars, the ones that look like fireworks. I watched the thing slowly fall to earth shining in a bright white light seemingly in slow motion.
"Did you wish for gas?" she later asked.
"Of course, not. I've learned you never make wishes for yourself." I replied.
I have been in a position three times previously where someone I care deeply about has faced Big Problems(tm). One of the most difficult things to deal with for me has been complete powerlessness. You want to help with all your being but there is absolutely nothing you can do. They've been in and out of comas. They can't sit up. No one knows what's wrong or why it's happening. The best medical professionals available are, momentarily, stumped. Things looks about as dark as they possibly can. And here you are. Alone. In the dark wishing beyond all that they recover but absolutely powerless to do anything constructive.
"If there is nothing you can do, do nothing."
It was a about a year and a half ago and I was standing alone in a field and I saw a shooting star. I made an impossible wish that they recover and could go home. I also knew that if the wish came true, I would likely not get to see them very often anymore. That part of the wish hurt. But this wasn't about me.
"What are you going to offer up or do to make this wish come true?" might be a good question.
Incredibly, single days later a cause was found and not only would she recover but the field would advance because of the revelation and others would benefit as well.
From this I've developed a litlte superstition. I'm not actually superstitious and I don't actually believe in wishing on shooting stars, but there's something to the ritual. It focuses you on the needs of another human being and away from yourself. Wish on a star for the benefit of someone else and make an offer that represents an emotional cost. This way you realize it's really about them and not about you.
So no, don't wish for gas.
So I made a wish.
I pushed the bike nearly to the top of the hill when I gave up. But now I had one bar of reception. I tried to call and see if there's a 24 hour towing service or a cab company or anything in Springer that might be able to bring me some gasoline. It was to no avail. I couldn't hear the person and the connection was too spotty. I was just about to push the "call roadside assistance" button on the Spot Tracker, which would mean many hours sitting and waiting, when a pick up truck stopped. It was driven by a disabled Australian veteran. His wife and attack dog were in the passenger seat. He made it clear that the dog would attack if I were a threat. I made sure to be my least threatening self and told him all I needed was a little bit of gas so I could get to Springer.
"I have 5 gallons in the back. You're welcome to it. My wife will get it since I can't walk.".
She got out and pulled out a wheel chair and then handed me the 5 gallon jug. I guess I was pretty tired, in pain, and winded. I couldn't for the life of me figure out the safety nozzle thing in the dark. So while his wife held a light I just poured a half gallon in from the open container. I thanked them profusely and offered to pay many times the worth of the gas but he wouldn't take it.
"Just promise me you'll pay it forward and help someone out."
I nearly laughed and said, "If you only knew how many times I have stopped, but yes, absolutely I will pay it forward."
They drove off and I managed to get the bike started. Springer was largely dead but there was a gas station where the pumps were still on. I filled up and looked for a motel. Unfortunately, all the motels were booked solid. I looked at the map and realized the next best stop of Las Vegas, NM which was another 70 or so miles South.
I rode back out into the wind my back and shoulders cramping even worse than before. At around 3AM I rolled into Las Vegas and got a hotel room. I stood under a hot shower for a while, let people know I was ok and then passed out.
The next morning, surprisingly early, I messaged my buddy Bruce and then made the 100 or so mile journey to his house where I would stay for a few days.
On Tuesday, I called around to get tires and found the place in Raton. It was the only place I was able to find. 158 miles. No problem. I would have to explore the fuel consumption issue separately. Air filter clogged maybe? Altitude? Gummed up carburetor? I don't know. It was not long after I got off the phone with the shop in Raton when the phone rang.
The phone never rings.
When it rings, it's always bad news.
Not this time.
Impossibly, truly impossibly, my wish had come true. The timing could not have been better. I had a place to leave the bike.
But it meant I had to, /immediately/, fly back home.
24 hours later I was on a plane and heading home. Bruce and his wife, Ha, made it so easy for me. They are so good to me and I do not understand why. They loaned me a car I could leave at the Airport so I'd have a way to get back when I return. My buddy Duncan picked me up in Maryland.
Ehlers Danlos Syndrome is such a bitch. So many people live with it undiagnosed. It involves chronic debilitating pain, fatigue, immune system involvement, anxiety, depression, vascular issues, etc. I've talked to so many people who have gone decades trying to find answers and have been harmed by incorrect treatments. So many are in wheelchairs. It's an invisible condition. "You don't look sick." But even if you suspect EDS, getting diagnosed typically takes years. No one is available. Few doctors want to touch these complicated patients. Most normal doctors think they're just hypochondriacs and refer them out to psychiatrists. (no lie) The few doctors that understand the condition are booked solid two and three years out. But getting a diagnosis is so important because the entire way you treat an EDS patient is different than normal patients. What helps a normal patient can hurt an EDS patient. The goal is to keep them out of wheelchairs and functioning, but to do that they need proper care. And for that they need a diagnosis and referrals to clueful practioners.
And that, typically, takes years.
It is one of the strange aspects of my life that people with EDS have become so important to me ... I do what little I can.
I flew back to New Mexico Sunday.
The rains have just stopped but it's been an hours long deluge. I am a bit concerned about what I'm going to find tomorrow.
And I wonder if this shoulder is going to improve.
And the rains have continued ...
I had fallen back asleep having hit the snooze button with the thought that I need to get up because I need to write when suddenly someone started jumping up and down on my bed.
"What the f***?" I thought as I looked around the room for the culprit. "Huh. There's no one there. Oh right. I'm in a hotel. It would be a bit odd if there were."
I looked at the room. Yup. Still shaking.
I slowly started coming to the realization. "Ah. Earthquake." It was a calm realization.
Even then, I wasn't sure it was an Earthquake. The earthquakes in California I've experienced feel like jackhammers. Even the one in Maryland had a jackhammer nature to it. This shaking felt much slower and smoother somehow. It was as if someone was pushing and pulling the room in long strokes. This lasted long enough that I began to question the integrity of the building. "They don't build structures in Oklahoma to be earthquake proof." I reasoned as I pondered the fact that I had no clothes on. "This could be awkward."
It started to subside after some many seconds.
I got up, got some clothes on, and headed down to breakfast after a shower. The word in the breakfast room was that this was on of Oklahoma's largest quakes. 5.6 on the Richter scale. The woman at the counter confirmed it was a fracking quake. "We get them every day now but ones that big are rare. I was afraid the building was going to come down. They started about 5 or 10 years ago." she explained.
The only thing I could think was, "California, here i come."
It was raining pretty steadily when I got up. Staying another day in Fort Smith just didn't feel right but I had been static for days now and the smoothness of motion I had developed had already left. I was dropping things again. Unwisely, I waited to futz with the rollchart holder and new tank bag that Megan, of Dual Sport Touring, had shipped me until I was at the bike standing in the drizzle.
I waited a few hours between breakfast, a stop at a gas station, and an extended Good Sit(tm) at the nearby Starbucks to see if the rain would let up. It just continued seemingly unaware of its rudeness. So once my Good Sit felt like it had been sat long enough, I put on my gear, still wet from my brief excursion from the motel, and headed back out into the rain.
To my surprise within less than an hour the rain subsided and I found myself riding in cool weather under cloudy skies coming upon area after area where it had just poured.
The day proceeded as so many before it had.
Deep gravel? check.
Water crossings? check.
Closed Roads? Check.
Super Slick Wet Red Clay? check.
But today was specially marked by wildlife. Within the first two hours more than a dozen deer jumped out across my path. None of them, thankfully, were close.
"Forest Rats" I call them. Tagging one in a car is bad but tagging a deer on a motorcycle is Bad(tm), especially Out Here so far away.
At one point, a strange little bird ran out in front of the bike and headed down the road at a good clip. It had a striking resemblance to a certain Road Running cartoon character.
"I wonder if that's an actual Road Runner." I thought as I reached for the camera. I would come across a few more of these critters and would run but not fly but every time they were too quick and I was unable to get a photo. Even with the camera attached to a lanyard on my jacket, I'm still not quick enough on the draw.
There were, of course, more dogs. I decided the mean dog the other day must have been a rottweiler and not a pittbull as a very fast Pittbull came out of no where and was extremely motivated to chase me down. I sped up in time but was impressed with how long that dog stayed at a full run after me.
There are also these mean nasty extremely aggressive fly things around these parts that attack with reckless abandon once you get off your bike. Despite your efforts to swat them, they easily avoid your attacks and then fearlessly go for your exposed skin without any regard for their own survival. I felt ridiculous as I was jumping around swatting at thin air seeing glimpses of this prehistoric sized fly thing that I'm sure no one else would be able to see. Fortunately, there were no witnesses of this out of town lunatic and the invisible fly.
"It's the loneliness." the Swede had said.
I had been concerned about bears. I had been concerned about mountains lions, and I had even been concerned about wild boar.
But I have never been concerned about bulls.
I came around one muddy slick corner when there in the middle of the road walked a bull, or maybe it was a steer but I wasn't about to get close enough to check. I stopped. It stopped. It looked at me intently as if to ascertain "threat or not". The road was fairly narrow and if the bull was only a number of bike lengths away so I knew if it charged I wouldn't be able to turn around in time. How quickly can a bull change direction when charging? I suspect probably fairly nimbly. We stared at each other for what felt like quite some time when, apparently unimpressed, it turned and walked into the woods over a section of knocked down fence. It momentarily got its hind leg caught on the barbed wire but freed itself in short order and went on about its day.
The super slick red clay continued in finite stretches carefully positioned, like the Spanish Inquisition, where you least expect it. The bike would get upset and slide in all directions but I was strangely less concerned about it. In place, as the road wended its way through hills the surface would become quite disturbed with ruts, mounts, rocks, and gravel. From time to time, the hills were steep.
At one point, in the distance I saw two riders approaching from the West.
We spoke only briefly. They were heading West to East and spoke of a group of DRZ400 riders that I was likely to encounter. They also mentioned another solo rider up ahead who would probably very much like a riding companion. I gave them a card and we parted company.
At one point I came across sections of wet rocks. While the red clay is like riding on oil these rocks are like ice. The front wheel would touch them and suddenly start sliding only to be caught by the relative traction of the Red Snot, as the locals call it.
There were small water crossings.
Slowly, the landscape changed from tree covered hills to semi-tree covered lower elevations. Bridges became larger.
One bridge I came upon looked particularly convenient to jump off of. I suspect Audrey will be pleased to note there was a sign placed there clearly for my benefit.
Also there were plenty of signs foreshadowing a potential future.
These signs are everywhere once you come down from the hills.
I had not slept hardly at all the night before, kept awake by an unsettled mind.
My phone rang. I am never excited to hear the phone right. It seems like it's always bad news, but this time I was excited for this call which I hoped would be a call of triumph, accomplishment, and good feelings.
A new car purchased.
Just a few short miles away from the dealership.
Extreme frustration after too many setbacks.
And you just hurt because they hurt. It sucks because there's nothing you can do.
I didn't used to get it, but I do now.
"Do I turn around?"
Crushed, I called it a day. 9:30PM and I was out cold.
I woke up at 2AM as I usually do if I fall asleep too early. But I was so tired I managed to fall back asleep and slept fairly late.
Outside, the weather was wonderfully cool. I had crossed into Oklahoma the previous day and I had been very concerned about the heat here, but this was the more glorious weather so far on the trip.
What had been tree covered hills turned into the big and flat almost instantly.
The red clay of the Arkansas hills had given way to ridiculously isolated pleasant gravel roads in the middle of nowhere under big sky.
Somewhere along the way I realized that something had changed. After extended periods on the red clay and the rocks that abstained from all traction, I had become less tense. Here I was riding on what I had previously called First Gear Gravel in second and third gears. I pondered whether maybe there was something different to the nature of this gravel that made it provide better traction or upset the bike less but I couldn't tell. There was a new effortlessness to riding these surfaces where Things(tm) would happen and instead of tensing up I would merely glide over them leaving them behind almost as quickly as they appeared.
"Yup. Seen that before."
I would intentionally move the bike, at speed, into the deeper gravel to see if maybe I was just making it up, wanting to believe I had made some riding breakthrough. But it wasn't any difference in technique that I could ascertain. It was just, as far as I could tell, a familiarity with the chaos that is gravel.
"The less I react, the easier it is." seems to be the rule. I just let the bike do what it's going to do.
It's strange to think the section I was most dreading, which is Oklahoma, has so far been the most pleasant and interesting riding. Where as the mountains are always where I head, the endless beautiful trees and wonderful switchbacks become monotonous after the first 1000 or so. But after having been there for so many days in a rows, the mind craves the difference.
Interestingly, it's not nearly as flat here as it appears. Creeks and rivers cut deep channels into the landscape and unlike the paved roads that merely cross bridges over them that one hardly notices, travels the gravel route each such dip in the terrain becomes an event.
In sections, the terrain is also interestingly hilly.
At one point, the route circled a wetlands restoration project that looked like something straight out of Africa. The photo doesn't do it justice.
And, as is my mission, there were turtles to save.
And for Duncan's benefit, I noted how many sunflowers seem to grow haphazardly on the side of the road.
There are places out here where there is a different feeling of alone. It's an unoppressive alone.
And there were hints of how bad it could get as evidenced by the recent rains.
But despite the changing surfaces, the muddy sections, and the gravel, none of this was unsettling me. The miles clicked off easily.
I even came across some windmills.
The challenge, however, is that these roads take more energy out of me than the corresponding pavement. So despite the relative ease, after 240 miles of this, I tend to be on the verge of exhaustion which makes writing these reports much more challenging. I try to write them in the mornings but they usually take well over a couple of hours to put together, And that's just for a first error laden pass. This makes for a late start for the day.
But there's no rush. There's no point to Getting There. This will all be over too soon anyway. Sure, I may have to go around some of the passes in the Rockies because of snow but there's no deadline.
There's a freedom in being unneeded, unwanted, and without pressing obligations to anyone. But there's a sadness in this kind of freedom.
Life may interject itself and force a return, but not yet.
Right now, there's only this storyless road.
And it's calling me again.
I am currently in Fort Smith, Arkansas. Megan, of Dual Sport Touring, shipped a new tank bag and rollchart holder to a Quality Inn here and found me a Suzuki dealer not far away where she had a new heat shield for my exhaust delivered. I made better time than expected and arrived, soaking wet and completely wiped out, Sunday afternoon (Day 19, TAT Day 11).
The Suzuki dealer didn't open until Tuesday so I had some down time. Sunday's ride was by far the most difficult and challenging of the trip so far so it was good to have a rest.
I spent Monday fixing a few more bugs in the software. Slowly, it's coming together. I fear it'll never become the thing I envision in my head, and if it ever does it'll likely be way too late, but hopefully before too long it'll be something useful that some people will enjoy using. Interestingly, it's often easier for me to write software than it is to write these posts.
On Tuesday, I rode over to the local Suzuki dealer, Wheeler Power Sports, here in Fort Smith. The poor long suffering DR650 was due for an oil change. I was going to do it myself but it was quite hot outside and I thought while I'm at the dealer I might as well see if they could accommodate a quick oil change. They have an 'express lane' service option for simple maintenance. The service writer, I have already forgotten his name, WIllie I think, was super helpful. They had a tech working on my bike shortly after I arrived. I went into the store to see if my parts had come in. While the service department was quick, attentive, and motivated things on the parts side of the house moved at, what shall I call it, an unhurried pace. The guy beind the parts counter was a morbidly obese man with a huge round bloated face who looked like he would be at home in a science fiction movie. He seemed to me to be in pain. Beyond his mass, there seemed to be this existential weight that followed him around. I am a bit familiar with that feeling.
In the past, I have often been quite judgemental about people like him who "let themselves go". I would invent narratives that would render reasons that made sense to me and I would use them to model my world and create a safe distance between me and their outcomes. "I would never let myself go like that." I used to tell myself.
"lazy". "undisciplined". "unproductive".
The last couple of years have fundamentally changed me and the way I see the world is radically different now, largely thanks to three women, two of them Canadian.
I have learned to distrust the toxic narratives that bounce around in my mind.
I read a book called "The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma". It has strongly influened my thinking.
The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma: 9780143127741: Medicine & Health Science Books @ Amazon.com
There is such a stigma to "mental illness" as if it were somehow separate and distinct from other illnesses. We are slowly learning that the systems in the body are fundamentally linked. There's even strong evidence that gut bacteria imbalances correlate with psychiatric conditions.
I have been challenging myself to find honest ways to be more compassionate of other people in their own contexts instead of trying to evaluate them from mine. I now try to view other human being facing some condition, such as morbid obesity or homelessness, without a narrative. Instead of harsh judgement where I try to protect myself with the story "that could never happen to me", I ask myself the difficult question, "What would have had to have happened to me for me to be in the same situation as this other human being?" I always find plausible reasons how my life could have followed a path that would have ended in the results of anyone I've encountered. Sometimes it involves not having met some crucial person along the way who irrevocably altered my trajectory in life. "What if I never met Duncan or Bruce? What if I had never met Audrey? What if Brooklyn and Rebecca had never crossed my path? " Other times, the invented narrative involves traumatic brain injury or infection. In the US, with the exception of the wealthy, most of us are one serious illness or injury away from homelessness. If I lost use of my eyes or my hands, I would soon be homeless as there would be no way for me to earn an income or manage my life.
I guess it's this knowledge that motivates me to step up and help when I see people I care about facing Big Problems. So many of us are so alone and it's so rare for someone to be there when things are truly difficult for the long term. It's so easy to fall in this world, especially if you have no one to watch out for you. I do try to help when I can.
But having these new narratives, knowing full well that there is such a slender thread that separates my situation from the ones I see, does lead to a certain feeling of vulnerability. It does, however, also engender more compassion in me because I understand deep to my core I could easily have been them.
It's not that I felt sorry for the huge man behind the parts counter. It was more just a feeling of sadness. "Mitleid." I suspect there's pain there and I wonder if no one has ever bothered to notice.
I've "let myself go" as well over the last two years. I've put on weight. I no longer have a washboard stomatch and my arms are much smaller than they used to be. My resting heart rate is much higher and my endurance much lower. But this trip is changing that.
My parts had not arrived. The service writer came out to tell me I had adjusted my chain incorrectly. The chain had apparently worn unevenly and I adjusted it at one of the loose spots instead of measuring the tightest spot.
Oops. "Experience is directly proprotional to equipment ruined and mistakes made."
I had a question for the tech as he was looking over my bike after having taken a quick test ride. He told me that he had just discovered that my exhaust had cracked badly at the mount right behind a frame member. In order to see it, you had to lie down on the ground and look up from under the bike. The point where it mounted was completely broken free but unless you pushed on the thing it just looked like a hairline crack.
I felt really stupid. "Details". I had thought the heat on my right boot was coming from the lack of heat shield but it was, in fact, coming from a broken exhaust.
It really is questionable letting me out of the house unsupervised. Then again, leaving me alone in the house unsupervised might not be such a good idea either.
There's no riding it the way it is. My thought was that since I'm at a dealer and they seem to know what they are doing I should have it "fixed right". Things are going to get sparse heading West from here. They pulled off the exhaust. The mount point was completely separated. (On the bike, the mount point obscured how much the hole was.)
Welding it would be an option but I have had very poor outcomes with welded exhausts. Once they break they tend to break again. A replacement exhaust needed to be found.
Stock Suzuki exhausts are ridiculously expensive so after some searching they found an aftermarket exhaust they thought they could get overnighted. Hopefully, this will be a somewhat quieter exhaust than the previous one. I suspect the exhaust failed when I got pushed into the deep water in that one errant water crossing.
It's now Wednesday shortly after noon and I'm waiting to hear from the dealer.
Five days ago, Friday, I had taken a rest day because of extreme weather. I did manage, during a break in the storm, do some needed work on the bike.
It rained extremely heavily that afternoon. I spent the next morning in no hurry to leave pondering what kind of muck I might encounter out on the "trails". Even at 11AM there was still quite a bit of standing water.
I rode back down to the closed bridge where I had stopped two days before. Applying all of my intellect to the problem and taking extra time because I know I have been error prone on this trip, I carefully reviewed the GPS, the paper maps, and Google Maps and noticed that the closest bridge across this river happened to be painfully close to the motel I had just left 20 miles ago.
So I headed back North, found the bridge in question and obsessively decided I would go around to the other side of the closed bridge to take a photo. I followed the GPS and noted that the track and the road diverged. To my surprise and embarrassment, I ended up on a brand new bridge a mile past which I found myself in the exact spot where I had so carefully planned my long detour around the closed bridge.
I turned around and headed back across the new bridge looking for the point where I had missed a turn. After a short search, I lost interest and stopped on a little access road next to a bayou.
It was a nice little spot with many flowers and distressingly many bones. I got back on the bike and followed the GPS track for some miles when I began to get the sense that something was wrong.
I had turned off "auto-recalculate" so that even if I went off course the GPS would not change the line of the route on the screen. This way I could quickly find my way back after taking a wrong turn.
Unfortunately, it looks like the Garmin Zumo 550 has a bug. Even if you set "auto-recalculate" to off, the thing will maliciously auto-recalculate if you happen to be back tracking along the track on the screen. I have since verified this. If you go off at some angle or perpendicular to the track it does not recalculate, but if you do a 180 and backtrack along the track it recalculates which means you're no longer following Sam's Trans Am Trail Route.
So I missed about 20 miles or so of gravel roads. I have since gotten into the habit of reloading the route each time I take a wrong turn just to make certain.
I found my way to the closest entry point to the route after having ridden too much pavement when, almost immediately I ran into yet another road closing.
This was starting to get a bit old. The construction site was abandoned. I noticed an easy way around to the left so I opted to go through being careful to avoid anything that looked like deep mud. I remember, as a kid, riding into 'quick mud" at a construction site that swallowed my bike up to the gas tank. Having something like that happen to me here would suck.
I made it through quickly and unnoticed and continued on my way.
The riding became quite pleasant. I was surprised to see that there was virtually no hint of any mud on the trails despite the deluge from the previous night. The weather was cool and this section was overwhelmingly in forested areas. At one point, I came across an odd little structure.
What do you do when you want to add an extension to your camper?
As I rode along, I continued to ponder the Innuit with their countless words for snow and wondered what words I could use to describe gravel roads. Then it dawned on me. I could use the top gear that I felt comfortable in as a way of indicating the level of unpleasantness of a road.
First gear gravel is the worst. It's usually a couple inches deep and riding it means the bike is pitching and sliding unpredictably and the fastest that I feel comfortable riding is around 15mph.
It's nerve racking riding on this surface. Sometimes there are nice tracks, as in the photo above, but oftentimes it's just piles of gravel and rocks strewn about haphazardly. The rest of the afternoon would be spent overwhelmingly on this kind of surface. Making progress on this stuff is challenging as you feel at every moment like the bike is about to slide out from under you. And on several occasions despite my caution, it nearly did.
Gravel sections would be interrupted by small sections of pavement. More often than not roads are lined with these pretty yellow flowers.
Another frequent sight is the dead armadillo. While out East we usually see dead possums, here armadillo casualties seem common.
I typically see several of these a day. Poor critters.
As the day progressed, I was finally starting to get more comfortable in gravel. It wasn't that I was doing anything differently but my level of tension was lessening through familiarity. Tension has a weird way of upsetting a motorcycle and making it more difficult to ride.
After having done countless miles in FIrst Gear Gravel, coming on sections of Second and Third gear gravel felt like riding on pavement. The problem with second (25mph) and third (35mph) gear gravel is that they often turn into first gear (15mph) gravel without warning, usually in a blind corner.
It had gotten quite warm. I stopped to have a cup of coffee and some water at a country store/gas station. One of the clerks in the store started talking to me about someone he was following who had done a big trip from the US, across Alaska, and Russia down to Pakistan. This guy apparently has a series of youtube videos about his trip.
Shortly thereafter a guy approached me, 'You're a TAT rider, aren't you?" he said enthusiastically. "I see you guys come through here all the time. I've always wanted to do that trip but I own a bike shop and this is a busy time of year for me." We chatted for a few moments. I talked about my experiences so far on the route and how much of it was just gravel and pavement and how it wasn't, so far, what it has been reported to be. And then I paused. It was a dream of his to ride this route and I was stepping on his dream with reality. "People prefer the dream." I have to keep reminding myself. I felt bad for raining reality.
I tend to live in a cold grey harsh world devoid of idealized outcomes and fairytale endings. I constantly forget that despite everything I might believe about myself being a ghost, my presence and perspective as much as I would prefer to think the contrary, does seem to have an effect on other people.
In the early evening after having only traveled a total of about 170 miles, I crested a hill and across an intersection saw two riders, clearly TAT riders.
I rode up next to them and we chatted for a few moments. They were heading East and had started their trip just earlier that same day in Western Arkansas. They were going to do these Eastern section of the TAT this year and then the Western section another year. They asked about road conditions so I warned them about the gravel, silt, and water crossings and especially crossing #4 on Witt Road near Tellico Plains, TN where so many people fall.
"We're looking for a motel. I don't if you want to make more miles today but you're welcome to join us." Without hesitation I said, "Sure."
The trail has been overwhelmingly solitary. I've encountered so few people along the way. I followed them on the road for some time. The town was seemingly devoid of any motels near restaurants but we finally did manage to find a nice older motel on a tree covered lot next to a Mexican restaurant. The two riders were Jim, a orthropedic surgeon, and Ben, a financial adviser. They were both a little older than I am. We sat out in front of our rooms after dinner in the early evening talking about the TAT and other rides.
They talked about how they had initially planned to do this ride of theirs in a few years, 'but sometimes you just have to do the ride."
At one point they mentioned, "You're a brave man for doing this trip solo."
"I don't feel brave." I thought but said nothing.
They knew some guys who had done big rides up to Alaska. They talked about Ewan McGregor and his big trip. They knew a guy doing a similar round the world ride. They talked about these trips with a sense of excitement and wonder.
"Yea, I've ridden up to Alaska." I said at one point trying awkwardly to find something to contribute to the conversation.
"This guy went to the Arctic Circle."
"Yea, I went up to Deadhorse."
"Something like 300 miles North of the circle on the shores of the Arctic Ocean." I replied as I showed it to them on the map. I talked about the people i encountered. I talked about Danny, the Italian adventure rider who spent two years on the road. I talked about Lois Pryce, who I met at a motorcycle show, and her ride across Iran. I talked about other women world solo riders I had met.
Afterwards I would think, "Here they are on their first big ride across Arkansas and Tennessee and I was running my mouth. I should just keep my mouth shut. Talk less. Listen more."
We called it a night early and I told them I was unlikely to be up when they left. I had given them a card and told them I'd enjoy hearing about their trip.
The next morning I woke up uncharacteristically early. I was up and ready to go before 07:30. They were already gone.
"Damn. Early risers." I thought. I left the motel in search of a diner to have some breakfast. I was pretty hungry. There was one listed on Google Maps close by. As I headed out I came upon a scene I so rarely see. Morning sunshine on the mountains.
Unfortunately, the diner was an ex-diner. The next closest one was 50 minutes away and in the wrong direction so I decided to skip breakfast and set my sights on lunch. While I was futzing with the GPS, I noticed this cool scene playing out near a bridge. A heavy mist had rolled in.
I managed to not repeat the navigation errors of the previous day and was back on the trail quickly. The nature of the roads had changed and, as Jim and Ben had mentioned, the riding soon changed from gravel farm roads to country forest service roads that were more dirt than gravel. There were very few first gear sections. The weather was cool and I was making good time.
And, as I do from time to time, I came across another one of these little guys (girls?).
I stopped but there wasn't much to talk about since I don't speak turtle. I picked the little critter up and put it off the side of the road a good ways.
"Yermo Lamers, on his epic journey from town to town saving turtles."
I continued on.
One surprising thing about the Trans Am Trail is the amount of poverty you see. Overwhelmingly, people seem to live in trailers and, of the trailers I've seen, many are abandoned. Quite often you'll come across entire town fronts where everything is empty.
There are also quite a few very old structures. Multiple examples are seen daily.
Another thing that you see, mostly in the hills in the Ozarks, are these purple markers.
They are almost always a board painted purple (or whatever you call this color) nailed to a tree on the side of the road. Sometimes it's just a paint mark, same color, on a rock. Strange.
Another thing I noted was that all the streams in this area resembled dirty laundry water.
People would swim in it.
At one point I took a short wrong turn that led to the top of a hill.
It was washed out a bit with significant loose rocks and quite a step up near the top. The photos never do these things justice. I was sorely tempted but I remembered Duncan telling me before the trip, "I wish I could go with you if only to, at those points where you're tempted to go off on some difficult climb that looks interesting, talk you out of it."
I was tempted but thought better of it and turned around slowly and made my way along.
One thing you see a great deal of on these roads are downed trees. Usually, they've been cut or smashed but not completely cleared. Occasionally, they will catch you by surprise.
Things to note for this day of riding:
And for the first time on this trip, the gravel sections extended for dozens upon dozens of miles and ascended into hill country. It was beautiful. The more I wanted the road to end the longer it became. I was hungry.
I stopped at one point near a large creek to have some cashews in lieu of lunch when I heard thunder. But I thought it was just going to be another small cell. I got on the bike just as it started to drizzle. It then began to rain. It then began to rain in earnest.
Once again I was fortunate as the gravel surfaces I was riding didn't seem that affected by the water. Traction was good I wasn't sliding any more than usual. Contrary to what I had thought, it turned into a long hard soaking rain.
I came upon a small paved section in the middle of nowhere. No restaurants were close by. I came upon the next gravel section and thought, "I wonder how bad this might be if it gets slick?" I turned in figuring I should find out sooner rather than later.
I was mistaken. I soon found myself on very wet red clay roads going up and down steep grades where traction was almost non-existent. The roads here were almost all off camber where sliding to the right meant tumbling down steep grades. "In these hills no one would find me." I would think as I tried to stay to the left, the danger of a head on collision much less than the danger of falling off the mountain.
I have never ridden on surfaces like this before. It was a combination of slick and sticky. The front wheel would turn to the left but my direction wouldn't change. The rear end would start to slide out. It was as if I was in one constant state of slide as if on oil. The locals, I would later be told, call it "Red Snot". Traction would resume for short periods and then the slick stuff would reappear. The problem was there was no visible difference between the slick and not that I could ascertain. It was just all of a sudden the bike is going all squirrelly for no apparent good reason.
I spent hours in first gear doing less than 15mph constantly reminding myself every time the bike was upset to "express my tension through my legs." The more you grab onto the bars the worse the bike handles. Regardless of what I tried, it seemed like every few minutes the bike would get all skewed, start sliding, and I would panic. Familiarity after a couple hours of this made it no better.
I was cold, wet, hungry, and very tired. Riding on these surfaces this slowly for this extended period had once again tapped my reserves. I came out of the hills onto pavement, finally, and came upon a small gas station/cafe where a number of cruiser riders were taking refuge from the rain under an overhang. They eyed me suspiciously as I rolled up. I was soaked. My boots were full of water owing to their water proof nature. It turns out my pockets are also water proof as they, zippers left open, also filled with water. I walked inside and bought a cup of coffee and stood quietly amongst the tatooed and leather clad Harley riders. Eventually, the rain started to let up and I saw what i recognized from my rides with Duncan so many years ago.
A sucker hole.
I followed pavement for a while and found myself on more muddy hill country roads and trails.
And before I knew it, I found myself at Warloop Road, which I had read is a challenging road and should be avoided "by big bikes". I was soaked, starving, and very tired. So, of course, I decided to go take a look see.
It turned into a very nice single lane little jeep trail looking thing. I figure if a car can't drive through it it should be called a "trail" and not a "road". All was fine until the trail turned left.
I should have taken more photos but I was more concerned about making it through in one piece. The road degraded to trail which then degraded to a steep washed out baseball sized loose rock covered descent. Photos and the video I took just don't do it justice. Inappropriate for big bikes is not an exaggeration.
Some people consider the DR650 a big bike. Towards the bottom of the descent there was actually a piece of ancient pavement that terminated into a steep step with a nice drop off to the left and a downed tree trunk to the right. However, immediately after this the trail becomes completely civilized.
I made it out the other side without pitching the bike. Falling on this road would have been Bad(tm).
Fort Smith was only a couple dozen miles down the road. I was thoroughly spent by this time. So on Sunday late afternoon I arrived in Fort Smith and have been holed up in this motel room since.
There's something about motion, constant motion, that changes my perspective and deeply alters how I feel. Being a ghost leaving before I've even arrived, I keep my gear in a constant state of ready. But as soon as I pause for more than a day, it's as if the demons catch up with me invading my joints. I stagnate almost immediately and I begin to feel the way I do in my day to day life.
It's past time to leave this place.
The plan had been to try to make it to New Mexico to visit my buddy Bruce before his next business trip, but with the additional day I've had to spend here in Fort Smith that possibility is no more. I'll have to stop by there on the return trip.
I picked my bike a couple of hours ago. The new exhaust is nice. I think it's an improvement. I'll bid farewell to this town tomorrow morning and will head back out onto the trail now with a repaired exhaust, heat shield in place, new rollchart holder, and a new tank bag. Hopefully this will all add up to more pleasant riding.
And as an aside, if you're riding the trail I'm going to try to keep this map of road and bridge closings up to date as I travel.
We invent narratives. We tell ourselves stories. "I'm too old." is a common one. Of course it makes sense. I'm older now and many have told me the same story. "This is a young man's adventure. At 48, you're just not a young man anymore."
I know a man named Tom White that I met on the Cannonball Centennial Ride. He was one of the few who rode across one way and then back the other. The last I heard he's 79 and just toured to and from the Mount Rushmore area and does off road events. He's endlessly busting my chops on Facebook. His last comment responding to my post about heat was, "95 isn't hot!".
"But he's an outlier. He must be special."
Probably so. "A much tougher man than I am." I tell myself. But that's the thing about narratives. We would much sooner exclude direct experience, namely Tom, than to consider that maybe the narrative we've adopted might not be the best model for capturing a given experience. Maybe "too old" isn't the best answer. Granted, it does seem to be the case that memory suffers and it takes longer to learn new things. "You just haven't given it enough time yet." might be a better narrative.
Audrey sent me a photo of a present Stacie had given me during the 2010 Alaska trip. It says "Give it time." I learned on that trip to ride the road ahead of me not the road that I have in my head. Somewhere, caught up in toxic narratives, I let myself fall into a narrative fallacy. But now that I see things a little differently the narratives of "too old, too ill adapted, too incapable, too much a failure" I was telling myself have been replaced by "no, the immune system was just acting up there for a while", which of couse, is just another story. Given that all the gawdawful pain I was experiencing has suddenly vanished, it seems to be a model that fits a bit better. That may, however, also be less than accurate. Maybe I got bit by a tick. Maybe I was coming down with a flu. Maybe something else happened. Who knows? There in lies the dilemma. We come up with narratives to make sense of experience but we forget that a narrative is at best an approximation of an experience and oftentimes just plain fantasy.
The Trans Am Trail is also just a narrative. It's story goes "An Epic 5,000-mile Dual-Sport Motorcycle Adventure Across America. Ever dreamed of traveling cross-country on your motorcycle, seeing sights you’d never see from a car, and meeting great people along the way?". Epic. Dual Sport. Meeting people. I ride along pondering pavement which has been causing me some cognitive dissonance because there seems to be entirely too much of it. Then when the gravel comes I ponder surfaces.
This isn't exactly what I would call "dual sport" but for the last few days, with some notable exceptions, this has been what the surfaces have been like. Loose dirt covered by a layer of, what do they call it, pea gravel? Round little evil pebbles and rocks like you would find in a creek bed. Unlike the jagged blue gravel we are all familiar with, this kind provides much less traction as the little buggers tend to roll out from under your tires. WIth car, truck, and tractor traffic, invisible little ruts are formed that the front wheel inevitably finds. Regularly, as the front wheel decides to explore these ruts without my approval the bike shakes violently as the front wheel tries to dig into the dirt under the gravel. Unsettling.
Having been in the South for some days now, one can't help but think about Christianity. There are churches everywhere. I've been told by more than a few people, 'Have a blessed day." I understand that Sam Correro lives in Mississippi. I imagine he's a Christian.
I narrate a story to myself as the bike goes all haywire, my feet come off the pegs and I nearly pitch it yet once again. "I bet he's a Christian. I bet he lives by the Golden Rule. 'Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.'".
What if Sam is a masochist?
There was one day, the day before, where for a few hours the route resembled the kinds of paths I would ride as a much smaller me.
(Don't ask how I took this photo. You don't want to know.) I channeled back to the days where I would escape chaos, on those rare occasions when I could, and spend hours, sometimes all day, riding my little AMF Harley 90 around in the woods trying to find trails of various kinds. I had come up with a classification system. "Destination trail" that went somewhere. "Extinct" ones used to go somewhere that had been long forgotten. And so forth.
I wonder if locals, like Eskimoes do with snow, have countless words to describe conditions of gravel roads. It would seem to make sense since the conditions seem to vary moment to moment. I'm going to have to find a local somewhere ask.
Through Mississippi I encountered more closed roads than I have on any trip to date. It seemed everywhere I turned I would encounter another.
Unlike the first bridge I encountered that was out, there was no way to cross these chasms owing to the presence of countless construction workers. So I would back track and see if I could find a way around which, so far, I've been able to do without much trouble. At one bridge out, I stopped to look and in the distance I saw what appeared to be a familar form. A man wearing a camel back in full off road dirt riding gear was staring back at me equally confused, as if he was looking at something he had not seen before, pausing to make sure what he was seeing was not just an apparition in the mist. Just as it was dawning on me what I might be looking at, the same dawned on the other man, and he tentatively raised his hand to wave just as I did.
"I can't believe it, another TAT rider." I thought as I rode my bike closer, got off, and fumbled getting my helment off and earplugs out. Strangely, this is only awkward on those rare occasions when I have someone to talk to. There were two riders who told me they were riding the TAT in reverse. They had accents which I thought I recognized so I asked them. They were from Sweden.
They said the construction worker had told them there was an easy detour and we quickly agreed to stop and chat when we crossed paths. Shortly thereafter at an intersection we met. We talked for several minutes. It turns out I'm the first rider they've met on this trip. No one else stopped to talk.
"Yea, I've run across two riders but they weren't interested in talking to me." I said.
"Loneliness will do that to you. I don't talk to him either." he said laughing. I've been struck by how rarely I see human beings There are entire days I'll go where there's just no one. Nothing. They talked about some of their experiences. They said there's a water crossing that's too deep somewhere in Arkansas that involves a 45 minute detour. They talked about hail in the Rockies. They also talked about some of the run ins they've had. "We stopped at a big bridge to take some photos when someone walked to up to tell us, 'I just want to let you know the owners just called the cops.'"
"Yea, you have to be careful. Americans are afraid." I replied.
They then told me a story about a farmer who chased them for over 20 minutes because, apparently, they stopped to check a map on the road in the vicinity of his house. They went on to talk about their rides in Norway and Iceland. "I dropped by bike in the water in Iceland." the one guy explained. "I didn't think to check the oil. We got the the bike started but the next day we checked the oil and the crankcase was full of water."
Good to know. They strongly suggested I ride both Iceland and Norway. I didn't get their names but gave them cards. They are on their way to New York via GPSKevin's Shenandoah trail.
Their bikes were kick start.
And then they were gone.
The day progressed and I continued to obsessively take photos of every surface transition but I've decided I've done enough of that and will limit photos to points of interest. After these days of trying to mark gravel sections, I've decided it's just not that useful after all. But I have enough data for a mapping software experiment I want to try once I have enough time.
In Mississippi, at breakfast the previous day, there had been a pleasant waittress, whose name I have, of course, forgotten. She was very kind and I happened to mention how nice people in Mississippi had been to me even when there was nothing for them to gain from it. "Yea, people talk bad about us down here in the South but there are a lot of nice people here. You can't judge all of us from just a few." I asked to take a photo of her for the blog but she said, "Oh no, I don't look good enough. I'll send you a much better photo to use!".
I laughed. Appearances seem important down here. It's not the first time I've encountered this.
The day after meeting the Swedish TAT riders, the weather had turned properly hot. It was the kind of thick humid heat I had been concerned about. It seemed that this day would involve almost all of my concerns, except bears.
The dogs were back in force. Killer would come racing out of no where at random angles. "I want me some fresh Yermo leg. Get 'im!" Fortunately, as is the case with experience but not narratives, so far I've been able to, based on cues I am not conscious of, predict what houses will have angry dogs and which ones won't. There was one German Shepherd that was unbothered by my presence but there was one pit bull looking thing chained to a post that looked like it wanted not just the leg. "There's Yermo! Kill it! Kill! Kill! I need to feel its veins between my teeth!" I suspect if that dog had gotten a hold of me things could have gotten "interesting".
The heat was truly punishing. At one point, I stopped to take a break in some bug infested shade. I checked messages and happened to have one from Megan of Dual Sport Touring. She was responding to an inquiry about parts and a new tank bag. I gave her a call and we chatted for a few moments.
"Looking at the photos I can see just how wet everything is. It must be like 99% humidity." she mentioned.
"I suspect I'm under water and just don't know it yet." I replied as I was already dripping in sweat. She had given me an evaporative neck band and I was wearing a cooling base layer but in this humidity it wasn't doing much. Under way it was a bit better but as I've mentioned often before, I do not do well in the heat. This was the kind of 'headache that starts in your throat and ears and begins to dominate your consciousness" kind of heat. I get shaky. I start having trouble concentrating. I tend to make more mistakes. But I was dutiful. Megan had loaned me a three liter camelback which I had filled with water and I was sipping from it regularly just as I had been instructed. I had added the electrolyte solution Audrey gave me. With all these measures, the heat was bearable but still it would suck to have to do any kind of real work in this punishing steam cooker.
At one point I took a wrong turn on a pleasant section of hardpack. I had had a few incidents of the front wheel being grabbed by invisible ruts in the gravel and unsettling the bike violently so I was being cautious. I came down a hill and didn't notice the surface was about to change from hard pack to deep silt.
The front wheel dug in /hard/. It pitched left.
It pitched right.
It pitched again more violently. There was no way to save it that I was aware of.
"Ethel, this ain't gonna be good."
The front tucked hard and into a mound of dirt, rock, and silt I went hitting it with my shoulder.
I was good. I paused. I left the bike on the ground checking briefly to see if gasoline was pouring out. It wasn't. I waited for the adrenaline to stop. I waited for the pain. I stood there in the punishing sun for several minutes.
The pain never came.
This was exactly the scenario I was concerned about. Punishing heat out in the open under the oppressive yellow orb needing to exert myself.
After several more minutes, I decided to try to lift the bike. I pondered removing as much of the luggage as I could, but first gave it a try without removing anything. It took some serious effort but I was able to get it upright. I tried to pull the bike backwards off the mound only to realize that the rear caliper was locked. With some more serious effort I managed to drag the bike backwards from the mound. After some more pushing back and forth, the caliper freed itself and I was able to roll the bike backwards and put it on it's side stand.
I surveyed the bike thinking that it was going to be damaged. The "bark busters" that Francois had installed for me did their job perfectly and saved the right hand lever.
I suspected the MulePack pannier on the right side was probably damaged but it turned out to be unphased. It seemed the bike had fared the fall pretty well. I did, however, notice the idiot mechanic who installed my rear caliper after replacing the brake line with a stainless steel braided one (me) had not installed it correctly so it was moving around loose. "That explains that clunking sound I really should have investigated." I thought as I told myself a story about incompetence and inattention to details. "This is what happens when I'm left unsupervised."
At this point I was completely dripping in sweat and was in danger of overheating. I wasn't yet seeing spots, so there was stil a little time. To my surprise the bike started right up and I managed to ride to to a shady spot where I sat for some time pondering what to do. I contemplated removing the rear wheel to fix the caliper but decided it was simply too hot. As long as I don't have to sit with the rear brake engaged on some serious incline this shouldn't be an issue. "I'll take care of it at a motel. There's supposed to be rain in the forecast anyway so I can take a day when I have access to air conditioning to cool off." I thought wisely. "Pause. Give it time."
I started the bike and continued on the sadistic gravel roads. What makes these roads particularly unnerving is that they are severely crowned. So not only are you riding on what amounts to a layer of marbles on top of dirt, every time the bike starts to slide it's trying to slide off the road to the right or left into the inevitable deep irrigation ditch that so often border these roads.
But it was not without the occasional interesting thing to see. As has happened so often on this trip, I would come across old abandoned structures from times gone by.
Every now and again, I would come across a swamp.
I crossed the Mississippi river and found myself in Arkansas. The heat was ever present. I stopped at a rest station and checked maps. I was warned of approaching weather so I checked the weather and figured I could ride another fifty or so miles before calling it a day.
The farm roads continued. I came across more of the silt that had tried so valiently to harsh my ride.
"Slip slip slidin' away"
I came across "foreshadowing roads" where clearly there had been some rain in the not too distant past.
"It would likely have really sucked if I happened to have come through here when these tracks were made." I thought pondering the stories of mud and muck that I've been told.
At one point, I saw a storm cell in the distance raining on the trail. As I approach the area of wet, I was relieved to see that it was a normal gravel section. The water seemed to have little effect on traction and I was able to proceed without issue. The next dirt deeply rutted section I came upon had not been touched by the rain so was still solid. I was contemplating how fortunate I had been so far to encounter wet only on gravel sections. I turned a corner and there in front of me was mud to the horizon.
"This is another thing I've been concerned about." I thought as I realized I was going to go ahead and attempt it. The rain had cooled things off a bit so it wasn't quite as oppressively hot but it was still quite warm. I cautiously made my way and was surprised at two things. There was virtually no traction. The rear wheel spun and the front wheel skidded around trying endlessly to go off the crown of the road into the deep deep muck on the side. The second thing that surprised me is how sticky this stuff is. It clumps everywhere and would later turn to the consistency of stone as soon as it dried.
At first it didn't seem too bad. I was able to ride without having to put my feet down. Undaunted I took a photo of my path.
It doesn't look too bad. Unfortunately, I failed to take any photos of what was to come. Within just a few yards the wheels started to sink in a good six to eight inches and there was no keeping the bike upright without putting my feet down. Once i have a chance, I'll post the video I took but it doesn't really capture the experience. Upon application of throttle, the rear would slide to my right, the handle bars locked at the extreme and I would duck walk the thing foot by foot as it slid closer and closer to the really deep muck at the edge of the road. Eventually I did end up there momentarily stuck unable to make forward progress the rear wheel spinning impotently. With a good mount of effort and back and forth motion I was able to get the bike unstuck and managed to get into one of the ruts which provided ever so slightly more traction. Mercifully, the deeply muddy section only lasted a few hundred yards and eventually I found myself on a semi-gravel surface again that I could ride, only to be presented by the next thing that I've been concerned about.
I had been warned to watch out for holes and deep ruts. The bike and my boots were completely caked in mud. I "duck walked" the bike through the water paying careful attention to the surface underneath which I was able to see. To my surprise it wasn't very deep and I was able to make it through easily cleaning bike and boots along the way.
It was starting to get late and I was becoming concerned about approaching storms, having lost a good amount of time in the muck. I rode along starting to think about motels when I came across this little guy.
I stopped to take a distant look at the critter. He (she) was just hanging out on the gravel road baring its clearly visible fangs at me. I didn't recognize the snake. It wasn't a Copperhead or Rattlesnake but I could tell it was most likely venemous. I kept my distance, snapped a photo, and went along my way deciding to leave the little guy alone. My concern with critters in the road is they might get squashed but there's so little traffic this guy likely made it to safety before being flattened. I asked on Facebook and was informed this was a Cottonmouth. We used to call them Water Mocassins back in the day but I had never seen one before.
These days I understand that they are also referred to as "Nope Ropes".
And, of course, it wouldn't be a day on the Trans Am Trail of Detours without:
So this was my cue to call it a day. I checked the GPS and the town of Brinkley, AK, had a Super 8. Given the forecast for rain and the need to effect some bike repairs, I decided to head there.
The size of the mosquitoes in this depressed little down is truly impressive.
I spent the early part of the next day quietly working on the laptop trying to fix some more nasty bugs on the site, notablly the code that generates the screenshots of the maps I post. The most difficult bugs, I find, are the ones that are not in my code but in the code that I use. I did manage to fix a few issues and make some improvements. Slowly the code gets better. It still has a long way to go.
I tried to write. I spent hours at it but it wasn't working so I put that on hold. I asked the hotel manager if they had a hose I could use. They were very accommodating. I rode the bike over and tried to hose off the caked on rock mud from the previous days struggle. I managed to get enough off to be able to clear the rear wheel for removal. I went to start the bike to ride it back to my parking spot. The thing wouldn't start. I had been careful not to get water on the carburetor or other critical components but I must have made an error or maybe, as the story goes, the regulator had spontenously died which I hear is a common failure with these bikes. I started pushing the bike back when a serious rainstorm rolled in. I managed to get back to my room just as a deluge came pouring down.
I was glad not to be out on the "trail".
I tried to write. Still nothing. After over an hour the rain passed leaving behind a soaked landscape.
I checked the bike and tried to start it to no avail. It smelled like it was getting fuel so I pulled out my tools and started taking the bike apart. I wanted to check to make sure it had spark but that entailed taking off the side covers, seat, and tank so that I could get at the plug. Yup, it had spark. So it's not the regulator. I figured maybe I had gotten some water in somewhere but wasn't sure. I went to the gas station and got some starting fluid. I sprayed it into the open air cleaner and cranked the bike. After a number of repeat attempts, it sputtered to life and after a few seconds started running normally. Starting fluid is a cheaters way out, but it seemed to do the trick in this case. I let the bike idle for a good long while and shut it off. I then restarted it without issue.
I then went to reinstall the brake caliper correctly. I took the panniers off when a couple in a big pickup rolled up. The guy said, "You really look like you know what you're doing. That's good."
I said, "Thank you." but was thinking, "Yea, I'm the idiot who installed this thing incorrectly in the first place."
I got everything apart, situated the caliper correctly this time, and put everything back together. The problem is that I don't have a torque wrench and wouldn't want to carry one. It's too big. The bolt holding the axle on has to be tightened pretty seriously tightly and there's no cotter pin to prevent it from coming off. So I did my best approximation based on how much force it took to take off. I have parts coming in to Fort Smith, thanks to Megan, and maybe the shop there will let me use a torque wrench to check it. In the mean time, I'll just keep an eye on it.
The weather forecast for the next several days looks pretty good. I'm not sure how long it takes these mud roads to dry so I'm in no particular hurry to leave the motel but it's slowly coming on time for me to leave and see what I will find Out There today.
People have asked me quite often if this is fun. I'm not experiencing this as "fun". It's not "vacation". But what it is is "motion". Motion every day with an ever present feeling of "leaving" in a way that I don't experience in my sedentary life when I'm encased in the four walls of an empty house having no reason to move. Is it an adventure? I'm not sure. Adventure is such an overused word that it's largely lost any agreed upon meaning. It's not like being an operative trying to stealthily cross North Korea or Iran on some intelligence gathering mission without any support whatsoever and where error means unlimited down side. It's not a Shackleton style expedition. I'm not sure if there are any "real" adventures left.
In some ways, it feels like a ritual hazing or challenge without an external purpose but one that yields some internal benefit. There are so many places where there's a fork in the road. Crowned pea gravel, dust, silt, mud, and muck to the left for dozens of slow miles in punishing heat or a couple of miles of perfectly good pavement to the right both leading to the same location.
I could go right onto the pavement and get there in no time.
But the point Out Here is not to get There. There is no There. There is only motion on a motorcycle carrying a damaged unhealing mind and heart overland. The time in motion seems to be what I need, for the moment at least. You can't run away from your problems, they will chase you where ever you go, but you can take a break from them if you keep moving for a while. "Time, Distance, and Shielding" as Bruce likes to say.
So while it is not "fun" it is what I irrationally feel I need to be doing at this juncture for reasons that are not entirely clear to me and may never be. Any reason I could come up with would just end up being a narrative. I have begun to develop a strained relationship with narratives preferring, at least for the moment, to try to ride the road as if it had no story. And of course, the road knows no story. It is we humans that layer stories, often grossly incorrect stories, over our experiences and end up allowing the narrative to completely color the experience. We do the same with ourselves, telling ourselves stories about why we feel a certain way or things have turned out as they have.
If anything has been developing, it's the sense to try to ride this road "storylessly".
I won't be doing the incessant transition photos in upcoming maps so they should prove to be more interesting. I'm going to have a down day or two in Fort Smith. My thought is to improve how the photos are rendered so they can be viewed fullscreen.
I should have realized it much sooner, but I did not. On the first few days of this journey, I was struggling. Nothing flowed. I kept dropping things. (Those who know me best, at this point, already know where this is going.) I kept making mistakes of a kind I typically don't make. I felt out of sorts. I would end the day completely spent with sore muscles of the kind I have not felt in ages. I pondered calling it quits. I began to tell myself stories, "I'm just not a dual sport guy. There's something about this riding that I'm not suited for, but I can't figure out what or why. I'm going to slow. I'm taking too long. Thankfully, I'm alone because I would ruin the trip for any traveling companion. I should be forever alone. That would be best. No one will ever love me. This beautiful forest sucks. That mountains sucks. The sunshine sucks. Everything sucks." The world turned dark and hopeless as I rode along starkly beautiful forest service roads under a black sun that rained relentless cold sunshine through the lush green trees of a perfectly cool forest that gave me no peace. Rains were forecast and on that fourth day I finally got soaked and quite chilled. I was grateful for the heated grips. That evening I felt mostly ok but when I woke up in the morning my face and hands were strangely swollen, even for me, and every joint, muscle, fiber, and sinew of my carcass was in near agony. (At this point the ears of the fibromialgia suffers perk up.) I groaned as I hobbled around like some hundred year old man who had led a particularly rough life. Still, I told myself stories, "I'm not suited for this kind of riding. This hurts too much. I have allowed myself to get too weak."
The following morning, which was Day 5 on the Trans America Trail, the pain was gone without any hint it had ever been but I had a noticable sore throat. I have seen this many times before, but still I didn't pay attention because I was too busy telling myself stories. I had waited quite late for the rain to pass and when I thought it was over I head out. I saw a storm cell in the distance but thought maybe the trail would go in some other direction.
It did not and ran straight into the cell. For a few moments I was in a downpour and got pretty wet. Strangely, I didn't mind in the least. After a few miles, the rain stopped and at times even the sun came out the warm my way.
Day 5 was overwhelmingly on pavement. The amount of pavement in this trip so far has been surprising. Instead of a "trail across America", this section could be better described as "expanses of pavement that haphazardly zigzag all over the place to include distressingly short sections of perfectly tame gravel roads." The riding was easy. The AirHawk was helping tremendously and the pain I had felt from the seat was solely at the modestly annoying level. "You made a lot of progress today." I was told. My answer was,"It was overwhelmingly pavement so that's why it was easier." It was obvious to me, or so the story went.
The landscape changed again as the world flattened out and opened up.
At some point I decided, given how little gravel there is on this section, to try to document where the gravel starts and ends, so I started obsessively taking photos at each pavement to gravel transition (and the reverse). If I have time, I should be able to use the GPS locations in the photos to calculate how much actual gravel there is in each state. It gave me something to do as I rode along.
There were some things to see such as decrepit houses from an age gone by on the verge of collapse.
I began to think about expectations and fears being two sides of the same fallacy. I was concerned enough about bears that I decided to take a can of bear spray with me. Mountain lions were also a concern as were wild boar. I was also very concerned about mosquitoes and ticks.
But the most dangerous creatures I have encountered thus far /BY THE DOZENS/, have been dogs.
This became such a recurring theme that I started to become nervous as I approached any house. I could just hear the conversation.
"Hey Rex." said Rover.
"What Rover?", replied Rex.
"There's Yermo. Let's go chase him!" suggested Rover.
"Smashing idea!" responded Rex as both dogs go from sitting still to full on run in the blink of an eye.
I must have been chased by over a dozen dogs and seen another dozen who couldn't care less. Most have been of average size. No truly large dogs except one that would likely have taken me out if he hadn't face planted as he tried to run out into the street. That dog came out of no where. Many very small dogs have also fearlessly come to attack. I confess being chased by weinerdogs is somewhat amusing. The real threat is that they inevitably try to get under the front wheel. So I've learned to slow down and sometimes even stop. Interesting, this seems to confuse the dog. At one point, I was cornered by three small dogs. One tries to bite my boot to no avail and when I didn't react it apparently became confused, laid down in the street and started licking its balls.
At another point, I was chased by a group of very small dogs including one very small but fierce poodle looking thing. I've seen groups of as many as six dogs just hanging out in the road or on the side just waiting for an unsuspecting Yermo to come rolling by.
"Get 'im!!" I can just hear them say.
This "dog attempting to protect its owners from the evils of Yermo" theme would repeat over the following days distressingly often.
There had been evidence of serious rainful. Interestingly, the sparse unpaved sections seemed to be less hazardous than the paved one where gravel, mud, and debris would be strewn across the road in unsuspecting places. The worst on the unpaved sections was the occasional rut that had to be avoided.
At one point, I came upon a church. The route went left but something to the right caught my eye.
"Fortunately, I'm heading to the left." I thought. In the back of my mind, I pondered, "Foreshadowing?"
Only a few hundred yards later the road was covered in water. It was shallow and easy to cross.
Not long thereafter, I came across another water crossing. This one caused me pause. It was getting late in the day and the sun was starting to set. I remember saying that if there was any doubt in my mind I would walk a crossing to check it out before riding it. In the worst case, I would go around. I have very little experience crossing water and none crossing moving water. I am well aware of the hazards of flowing water and some many years ago have been knocked down by moving water when a canoe tipped and I was unable to stand due to the force of the water.
There was a concrete slab that spanned the expanse of the crossing. I couldn't quite see the bottom in the middle so I carefully, one half foot at a time, walked across it probing the surface and trying to feel how much pressure the water was exerting on me. In the middle, it was deeper than my boot but not by much. Traction was good and I guessed that because the spoked wheels there would be less force on the wheels of the bike than there is on me. But still, I was hesitant and considered finding an alternate route.
I walked it a few times trying my best to evaluate it and decide whether or not it should be attempted. I didn't know how deep the water off the ledge was which was the really big concern. Then I heard a loud engine approaching and a dune buggy looking thing appeared. A local guy with a thick Southern accent said he would guide me through and that there was a much worse crossing a couple miles down the road. The only other way out, he told me, was a long loop and it wasn't clear that those would be water free either.
He went across two wheels on the slab and two off. He turned into the deep water off the edge of the slab and it was clearly not all that deep. He made it to the other side without issue albeit with a lot of splashing.
I figured if I ran into trouble there'd be someone to help and he seemed to imply that locals did this crossing all the time.
So I got on the bike and started my way across. To my great surprise by the time I reached the middle, where it didn't seem like the current had been all that strong, the side force exerted on the bike was such that I was about to pushed over. There was simply no keeping the bike going in a straight line and I felt strongly if I gunned it I would simply pitch it into the drink which would likely end my trip or maybe worse.
The bike started to be pushed off the side of the slab and I knew there was no saving it so I gunned it as the bike fell off the slab and went into the deep. I kept the bike upright as it stalled in water roughly up to the tank deep but mercifully close to the far shore. Instinctively, I hit the starter immediately and the bike sputtered back to life and I gunned it. I thought I was completely hosed because it looked like there was a rock shelf between me and dry land. I thought maybe I could try to pop up over it but it turned out just to be muddly water unsettled by the buggy creating an illusion. In seconds I was on dry land and surrounded in a cloud of steam.
This could have gone very wrong. I second guessed myself quite a bit but decided it was not a failure of judgement. It was a failure of experience. I do wonder how more experienced "ADV" riders judge what waters to cross and what waters to avoid. My new rule of thumb is that anything deeper than my boot that exerts any kind of noticeable pressure will be avoided. I haven't yet figured out what "noticeable" is.
If followed the buggy for some miles. The route veered off to the right but the buggy went straight. The second crossing was much bigger with a stronger current.
"No way." I thought. I shouted over the buggy driver and told him there was no way I could make it. He said he wasn't sure about the crossings on the other turn but thought there might be some. I thanked him for showing me the way and turned back up the hill to see about getting out of Dodge.
I stopped and emptied my boots which, being water proof, make for excellent water carriers. I noticed a dramatic sunset.
There were a number of smaller and some larger crossings that evening before I got out of the area and managed to find a motel.
The next day involved a bit more unpaved roads but largely the same conditions. There continued to be too many dogs and more evidence of much rain.
Fairly early in the day, I came across a muddied little road that I thought might be the "jeep trail" section listed on the rollchat but turned out to be just a "normal" gravel road. It had clearly had a bunch of rain.
It, however, led to what looked to be an intimidating water crossing.
I didn't want to soak my boots again so I pulled them off and walked it barefoot. I immediately regretted not bringing flipflops.
I walked it very carefully. There was little if any current. It was just about as deep as last night's errant crossing. But I could see the bottom. There were no obvious holes and only a few large-ish rocks. I guessed that if I did pitch it in the drink the bike wouldn't be completely submerged and the chances that I'd be pinned were very low. I simply decided to be in a position to jump away from the bike if need be. I then realized I was pretty confident that I could simply put my feet down and stop at any point in the crossing if I needed to. The previous nights events were very much in the forefront of my mind.
I under-estimated how solid the surface was. It was not sand or mud but the consistency of gravel. My boots didn't sink into it, but the tires immediately did making for a shaky launch.
Riding across was no problem at all. No drama. No issue. It was however, quite far. I'm terrible at judging distance. I thought twenty yards but looking at the photo I'd say it's probably farther, no?
The day continued with some minor crossings, more dogs, more gravel roads, some devastated forestry sections.
And butterflies. Butterflies everywhere. I did my best to avoid them but there were so many it seemed the air was filled with them. I've never seen that many in my life and this has been going on for days.
They would congregate in the road for reasons I do not know since I do not speak butterfly.
I really did try my best to avoid them but every now and again I would tag one despite my efforts.
At one point I came across a turtle. I stopped and watched for some time when I noticed it start to open its shell.
"Alive!", I thought as I picked it up and put it a distance off the road.
"Yermo Lamers, savior of turtles and unintentional assassin of butterflies."
There were more dogs including vicious poodle looking things.
These guys attacked in a coordinated fashion. "Be very very quiet, we're hunin' Yermoes."
At one point after many miles of farm gravel/dirt roads I the route went across a bridge that was out of commission.
I walked around trying to see if there was a way across but there simply wasn't. The GPS wasn't being much of a help so after about half an hour of walking around I decided to head back up and find an alternate route. Channeling the days as a smaller me, I found myself thinking there's no way the locals would accept a bridge out. There had to be a path somewhere that would lead across. A short way up from the bridge I did see tracks leading down to some powerlines which I followed. And behold, I did indeed find a place where the locals crossed and there happened to be a local on the other side smoking a cigarette.
His name was Colton and he was surprised to see a non-local. I told him about the trip. .
"Aren't you married?" he asked.
"Nope. All by my lonesome. No wife. No kids." I replied.
"That's how you do you it!" he exclaimed.
"I don't know. It'd be nice to know you have a reason to go home instead of just an empty house." I said.
With every opportunity comes a cost. People perceive the upside they want to perceive. They rarely pay attention to the costs. Some upsides are very costly.
He warned me about crossings. There are often deep unseen holes in these crossings that can sink a bike. He then talked about avoiding going off trail in the swamps.
"We lost four 4x4's in the swamp last year." he said as he described jeeps sinking and being completely lost to the murk. He called it "sink sand" I think but I understood it as quick sand.
"I fell into quick sand when I was a little kid." I told him to which he looked surprised as if he was looking at someone who had escaped a near death experience.
"Who pulled you out?"
This crossing as also no issue.
There was another sunset.
There are other stories to tell. The toddler who appeared the restaurant and looked up at me. Her father picked her up and said, "Now, honey, you're going to have to wait a while yet." Everyone laughed for quite a while.
There's the dinner Bob, the BMW Riding Philosopher Baptist Pastor, treated me to last night. I met Bob on the 2014 trip and we've stayed in toumch since then via Facebook. I'm saddened that he's unfortunately having the "bad unconsciounably bad BMW service" experience. He's got a decent bike but no one to fix it correctly. I hate seeing that kind of thing. We spent thme evening talking trips, Taoism, Yoga, Mysticism, resistance to ideas, close mindedness and a host of other topics during which time he regularly interjected Middle Earth and Star Trek references. It was a wonderful evening spent with a kindred spirit on what has been ovewhelmingly a very solitary ride.
And, as the riding has gotten easier and whatever that immune system event was that plagued me those first days has passed, I've further explored my developing bad relationship with narratives, notably the narratives we use to explain our world. I suspect that will be a topic that will occupy my mind for some time.
It's almost checkout time and I have a few phone calls to make before I venture deeper into the red clay of Mississippi. I've been warned about what this could be like if it rains. I've certainly seen more than ample evidence that it could get "interesting".
If you'd like comment on these posts directly or try to mess with the errant maps, you can register for an account on the site or contact me on Facebook. As I mentioned, for the moment I'm obsessively documenting surface changes for reasons that are not entirely clear to me. You can click through on the map to zoom in and see endless photos of pavement and gravel. Once I have another couple down days, I hope to improve the photo integration so you can just click through full sized versions. There still so much work to do on the software for this site.