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.)