Thursday, October 1, 2009

Trans America Trail... Part Three

Utah brought on some great riding, and beautiful scenery, its a very unique State to say the least. Its known as having some of the best dirt bike riding in the nation, and it didn't disappoint.

We came across this old abandon mine shaft, after plundering around inside we found a sign saying "NOTICE: Mine shafts may contain radon, radioactive material or abandoned explosives. DO NOT ENTER". Now you tell us...

This is a great example of what Utah had to offer, this is Black Dragon Canyon, and probably my favorite stretch of the whole TAT. I had been to Zion National Park just a month before and this place looked just like a miniature version. And we rode through the whole canyon and never seen another person, try that in Zion.

Luckily the trail wasn't this nice through the whole canyon, it quickly turned into pretty much just a single track dirt bike trail that followed a dried up creek bed. It was tough and very technical but offered the best riding of the whole trail, in my opinion. Would love to have this kind of riding in Florida.

A little more technical part of the Trail, and it got a lot worse!

This was a pretty tough section, but fun to ride, it always helps when you have the kind of view that Utah offers.

This is the morning and picture that almost pushed Dave over the edge. After riding with Brian for 3 or 4 days Dave had all he could stand, he was done. Brian had been working on his bike just as you see him, in speedos and medical gloves, but that wasn't enough, after he finished working on his bike he decided to take it for a test ride around the campground, dressed just as you see him here. Dave about flipped out. Turns out this would be the last day we rode with him anyway. I actually enjoyed having Brian around, most of the time. Mainly because his riding style was like mine and the fact that he loved when the trail got tough or fast, just like myself. Dave being the older and least skilled rider tended to ride a little slower and more conservative, he rode keeping in mind that it was a long trail and you could have a trip ending crash or injury at any moment. Brian and Myself on the other hand tended to ride in the moment, living for every hill we could jump, corner we could slide around or anytime you were riding with the front wheel off the ground. But anytime you ride like that, especially for day in and day out you take many chances and eventually one of those chances catches up to you.

This moment is exactly what I was talking about, the chances I was taking came back to bite me. We had just turned onto the trail in Nevada, it was just a long straight road heading right out into the desert, I was feeling good and hit the throttle while trying to look down at my roll chart and reset my odometer at the same time. When I looked up I saw a berm about 20 feet in front of me, now for some reason there is all kinds of small berms across the road in the desert but this particular one not only caught me off guard but it also had a ditch just on the other side of it. Usually you can just stand up on the pegs pull back on the bars while hitting the gas and just glide right over pretty much anything, but as my rear tire launched off the berm my front tire was down in the ditch which sent me heading across the desert just riding on the front tire, not a good thing when your going 40mph. I thought for a while that I was going to save it, and I did manage for a bit but once I ran off the road and into the scrub brush it was all over, I wiped out! Bigtime!

I was fine, I rolled about 3 times then landed back on my feet, Roy on the other hand didn't come out of it so well, you can see if the picture he is pretty banged up. But we picked up all the pieces, got my gear strapped back down and Roy fired right up! Only major damage was a broke windshield and some bent handle bars, which took my a couple days to just adjusted to riding with. Dave got to relish in a big fat "I told you so" being he had been warning me the whole trip, but I was having a blast!
I pretty much led the group for about 90% of the trail, mainly because it just worked better that way, I like to ride faster than Dave does so it just worked better for me to be out front and riding at my own pace. But when your leading you are exposed to a lot more danger, and on to many occasions to count when something almost took me I out would make some kind of hand motion to warn whoever was coming behind me, or just stop and take out my camera and film Dave taking a spill. When you ride for hours on end off road you just kind of get into this zone, crank up Bon Jovi on the Ipod and its just you, the bike and whatever may come around the next corner, nothing else matters and its a great feeling. Every mile you travel makes you more confident with your riding ability, the feeling that you get when power sliding around some corner and just for a split second you are completely out of control is very addictive, its an instant rush of adrenaline, your mind is completely focused and then when you regain control your completely stoked! But no one can keep that up for 4700 miles without a major crash. Its just sometimes you have to throw caution to the wind and live in the moment. And riding the TAT is one of those times.

This turned out to be the worse day of the whole trip, but arguably the best. After picking up pieces of my bike spread out over about 25 yards of desert we ran into some mud that was just horrendous! But somewhere amongst all the bad things we managed to loose Brian! He got separated from us and we haven't seen him since. So at least some good came out of this! I had finally got my fill of him the night before when he decided to change his clothes while standing on the picnic table in our campsite! And I mean all of his clothes! But I do hope he finished the trail.

This mud got caked around my rear wheel so bad that when I let out on the clutch it would just stall my engine, I would have to keep digging it out of the swing arm. Plus it was as slick as ice so there was no way to control where you were heading, you just went wherever the bike went. Must have taken an hour to go one mile!

After we finally managed our way through the mud we hit miles upon miles of sand, in my opinion Nevada was be far the hardest section of the trail. But it depends a lot on the weather, if its really rainy I hear that Oklahoma can be worse.

After 20 days on the TAT we finally made it to Oregon, and I think we both got a well needed moral boost after riding across Nevada. This is just one of what seemed like hundreds of crystal clear streams that we would cross.

Being the TAT goes within 10 or so miles of Crater Lake we decided to stop in and camp for the night. What an amazing place! We met a guy name Al who was just out on a long weekend ride, he was on a 650 BMW and we took a 32 mile ride around the perimeter of Crater Lake right at sunset. It was beautiful but the mosquitoes were out in full force and I about froze my butt off on the way back.

Crater Lake at sunset....

Well as you can tell from this picture we made it! 5,300 or so miles of which probably 4,200 or so would be considered off-road. It took us 22 days of riding to complete, we took one day off in Telluride ( by one day off I mean we only rode for 3 hours ) while looking for Dave, I put 160 hours of actual engine run time on my bike. So that works out to riding a dirt bike 8 hours a day for three weeks straight! That's hardcore! I think the TAT was tougher than me or Dave had expected, but that's exactly what you want, if it was easy everyone would be doing it. When we got to the Pacific we stayed the night in a hotel and celebrated with some beer. The next morning Dave headed south to head home ( which turned into a whole different adventure, check out his blog ), and I headed north to Portland where I had left the VW Bus exactly a month before.
The main question I get asked is "Would you do it again?", absolutely! Not only would I do it again, I plan on doing it again, would love do it in a jeep or some other kind of off road capable vehicle, which could probably make about 90% or so of the trail. If not in a jeep it will be on an actual dirt bike, something that you don't have to carry all your own gear, and having a motorhome as a support vehicle would be ideal. Its crazy to think that in 2009 you can still drive across the country using pretty much only dirt roads, but its possible! I don't think people realize how large the United States actually is, when I hear people talk about over population... I just laugh.

Trans America Trail... Part Two

After riding across Oklahoma which included a 31 mile stretch without a single turn, a miniature Sahara Desert and temps in excess of 107 degrees, we were finally in what is considered the western half of the TAT. The eastern half of the trail and the western half are both very popular for people just looking to do a section, but between the two is Oklahoma which is just a vast nothing with grass, and sometimes it doesn't even have grass. But I did manage to find pleasure in the fact that the Gators put a beating on the Sooners just six short months ago, and it made my day when I saw an OU sticker on someones car, which of course was promptly followed by a Gator Chomp!
Its always been amazing to me how the terrain changes so dramatically as soon as you cross state lines, guess it was planned that way.

If I had to pick a favorite section of the trail it would have to be Colorado, this place has everything as far as a dirt biker is concerned. And the scenery just gets better the farther you go from civilization.

At a fuel stop about half way across Colorado we ran into Brian, he was from New Hampshire and was riding the trail also. he was the first person we met who was actually riding the TAT. We knew there were other riders a couple of days ahead of us because we had found some strategically placed notes along the trail, with the date, times and ADV Rider screen names. Brian was riding a Honda XR 650R, I looked at this bike before I bought Roy but had decided against it because you can only go 90 miles on a tank of fuel, compared to 250 on a KLR. In this picture he is filling up the bags that hold wine when it comes in a box, that's what he was using to carry extra petrol. Brian was intent on letting everyone we met know that he was riding a Honda 650 "R "not an "L", R is for racing, and as he put it, "L stands for Lady". Being he was riding it solo we offered to let Brian ride with us for a while, something we would both soon regret.

This picture was taken as we started our ascent of Cinnamon Pass, the highest point on the TAT, almost 13 thousand feet!

Proof that we made it.

Cinnamon Pass being the highest point along the trail is also the last to shed its snow from the winter, because of this riding the TAT completely isn't possible until usually around mid July. As you can see we were right in time.

View from the top...

Dave was exceptionally happy when we finally made it back to a stretch of asphalt! This is the Million Dollar highway in Colorado, and also the last time we would see Dave for a couple of days. It was just about dark when we turned onto the Million Dollar highway trying to make it to Telluride, Brian and I got separated from Dave and ended up spending the night near Silverton, Dave went on over Ophir pass, in the dark!

The campsite where we spent the night. Beautiful place.

This is Ophir Pass, Dave went over this in the Dark, after already riding all day. But it actually worked out great being he couldn't see what was over the edge, he had dropped his bike about 4 times on Cinnamon Pass but made it over Ophir ( Which I found tougher than Cinnamon ) without a hitch! He had no idea how dangerous it actually was until I showed him some pictures! This picture doesn't do Ophir justice, this part was super steep, and very difficult, its a jeep trail and you have your choice of riding in one of two ruts. If you ride in the rut closes to the edge you risk going over it if you were to drop the bike, which would be game over. But if you ride in the opposite rut you are constantly dealing with big rocks because it catches everything that comes rolling down the mountain, it sucks no matter where you ride.

When we made it to Telluride we expected to find Dave, but he was nowhere to be found. So we just waited around Telluride for him to find us, being I have a Satellite tracker and he could find me. But we found out later that evening via email that he had decided to ride on to Moab and wait for us there. This picture was taken in front of what Telluride calls the "Free Box", its just some shelves where people drop off stuff they don't want, but I hear some really cool stuff passes through it. I was sitting at a hostel in Bogota, Colombia two days ago showing my pictures of the TAT to this guy from Colorado that I had met, when I got to this photo he said "hey that's the Free Box, I got this shirt from there!". Small world.

I left Telluride with Brian the next day, Dave was waiting on us in Moab, so we drove like we were competing in the Baja 1000 to make the 200 miles by a decent hour. All was going well until Brian decided to take the lead for the last 50 or so miles, when he came around me I noticed a pair of jeans come flying out of his bag, then a t-shirt. So I flagged him down to survey what was missing, a bunch of unimportant clothes and his whole map bag! He wasn't worried about the clothes but the map system is intricate and takes countless hours to prepare ( thanks Dave ) and he was not willing to go on without them. I was not happy to say the least. We had stopped for a break about 32 miles back and he had left his bag open at that time, now 32 miles doesn't sound like much but when it takes you all day to go 200 miles, you do the math, 32 miles can take hours, then you still have to drive back! So we decided that we would ride back until we found the maps and forget about whatever might have fallen out before that, that's when it actually became somewhat comical, because every mile or so we would find another piece of clothing, underwear here, a sock over there, I couldn't help but laugh. Just my luck the maps had fallen out about 100 yards from where we had stopped for the break, so we had backtracked over 31 miles! I arrived at the maps before Brian ( because he had to stop and pick up a pair of pants ) and I couldn't help but have some fun with him being that they were so important to him. I hid the maps in my jacket and told him someone must have stopped and picked them up along the roadside, but if I had found them he would have probably been happy enough to buy my beer that night, he obliged and I showed him the maps.

Just outside of Moab...

In Moab we met back up with Dave, at a hostel that reminded me of the bar from Star Wars, I've spent the night at tons of hostels throughout Central America but the Green Iguana in Moab takes the prize when it comes to strange people. We coined them with the term "lifers" because there are those who will pull themselves out of a pathetic life and those who never will, and these people were some of the latter. Also in Moab I was met by some long-time friends of the family, Bonita and Bill drive a Semi out west and just happened to be in Moab the one night that we were. They took us out for a great Mexican dinner that was well needed and much appreciated. It was funny because they were in Moab waiting for us to arrive that evening when they saw Dave ride by ( he was already there ), they didnt know Dave or had never seen his bike but knew he had to be the guy riding the TAT with me just by the way his bike looked. Which was looking pretty rough at this point.

This was one of the toughest hill climbs of the whole TAT, and I think Dave will agree. For some reason pictures just dont show how steep these hills are, but this one was steep, sandy and had a bunch a large rocks.

An open stretch of trail outside of Moab, this place looked like you were riding on the moon. Crazy!
I had planned on just writing one blog entry about the TAT and then just posting a link to Daves blog, but it hasn't worked out that way, just to much to write about.
More to come...

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Trans America Trail... Part One

The fact that its been over two months since the last time I posted a Blog I thought I'd finally take the time out of my busy schedule to somewhat catch everyone up on whats been going on. I'm going to make it the short version, a lot has happened since the VW Bus trip ended and I could probably fill up a novel with stories. That's part of the problem I've found with writing a blog, what do you actually include? You can't possibly write about everything that happens so the hardest part for me is trying to decide what to include and what to leave out. It actually takes me longer to decide on what to write then it does to write it.

So way back on June 27th when Tina and Myself finally made it to Portland we left "Charlie" in a storage yard and jumped on a plane back to Florida so Dave and I could get started on riding the Trans America Trail. The TAT is a dirt bike trail that runs 4700 miles across the U.S., of which 4300 or so miles are dirt, gravel, sand, mud, lime rock, snow and just about any other type of terrain that you can imagine. You can read all about it here The TAT starts in Eastern Tennessee and ends on the Pacific Coast in southern Oregon, it normally takes 3 to 4 weeks to complete, we did it in 22 days, which is on the faster end of the scale. I didn't carry a laptop and by the time the trip was over there was so much to write about I dare not even attempt it. But Dave on the other hand did keep up a blog and you can read about his side of the adventure here

The TAT turned into 22 days of nonstop adventure, it was tougher than either I or Dave expected and sometimes making the daily 200 mile average took 12 hours or more. There were days we made 350 miles, and others where we barely hit 100. Riding a motorcycle takes a lot out of you to begin with, but when riding off-road it demands a huge amount from you not only physically but mentally also. I would love to know how many decision your mind makes in a minutes time while riding high speed on a dirt bike. Your just constantly watching the terrain in front of you and making a decision on how to handle it, it will wear you out. We battled fatigue, flat tires, crashes, rivers, rain, mud, mountains, bears, snakes, at some points each other and what I thought to be a wolf stalking me in the middle of the night, turned out to be a big white dog. But we made it, we rode the TAT! Quite an accomplishment in the dirt biker world.

Together we took hundreds of pictures so here are some of the honorable mentions...

Leaving Jellico, Tennessee on a rainy morning. It was a great feeling to finally pull onto the trail after months of planning and years of dreaming. Because we had to ride 600 miles on I-75 to get to Jellico we carried a fresh set of knobbie tires to put on when we finally hit dirt, but I decided to ride my tires for a few more days being my knobbies held up on the highway better than I had expected them too.

In case we lost our way we would always know how to get to Oregon, just follow the front fender.

I know this is hard to believe but at some point the State of Tennessee must have got smart and compared the cost of maintaining a dirt road monthly to just paving them and forgetting about it for the next ten years. So about 75 percent of the back roads are paved, usually just small, one lane roads with no yellow line. It was actually quite nice and a gives ample time to get adjusted to the physical challenge before hitting the tough stuff.

The first real spill that Dave took, we had been warned about how slick the bottoms of the rivers in Tennessee can get, but Dave had underestimated it and hit this one going about 20 mph. It looked like him and "Matilda" were sliding into home plate. We almost never got it back upright, I had to drag both my feet on the bottom to keep my bike from falling when I crossed.

This turned into a common sight for us, must have been 5 or 6 bridges that were out along the trail. Some we had to detour around and some we just made a makeshift bridge and rode the bikes across.

Another one of Daves spills, this one was fun to watch and I even got it on video, if Dave will ever post it online for the world to see. He hit it going about 20mph also and wiped out doing a complete 180, it was great! This was in Mississippi were a rice patty field had overflowed onto the trail.

A picture of "Roy", my trusty companion for many adventures. Never has left me stranded.

Welcome to Oklahoma! This is pretty much it for the next 700 miles or so.

When your riding a bike for 10 hours a day across Oklahoma you have to find ways to entertain yourself.

Took a break from riding the dirt bike to give this Oil Rig a try.

Not sure how this happened, but I suspect it was a Tornado. Didn't think about it the time but we probably should have checked to make sure there wasn't still a dog in it. Hope the little guy was alright!

To be continued...

Monday, July 13, 2009

350 miles to Portland....

We've made it!  Farther than anyone could have imagined I suspect.    Charlie has done for us what we could not have anticipated.   Over 4,000 miles with no major setbacks.  I am more than impressed with him.  We stopped right inside the oregon border in the town of Brookings.  We found a nice, quiet campsite right near the beach, Harris State Park.  The weather is slightly warmer, but the view just keeps getting better!

We now have the option of taking our time and enjoying the coast.   We stopped  many times along the way, there were just so many beautiful views to take in right off the road.

   We decided to stop in Bandon.  It came highly recommended by a co-worker.  We ate lunch at the Bandon Fish Market, deciding to get what everyone else was getting... fish & chips.  They were great!  While waiting on our order, Daniel met a man, Tom, who was inquiring about the bus and Daniel's Florida jacket.  Turns out he went to UF.  We spent an hour talking to Tom & his wife Nancy about many things.  They invited us to stay in Bandon and go clamming with them the next morning, as well as a nice home cooked meal that evening.  How could two lonely wanderers say no?    Nancy's cooking was by far the best meal of the trip!  Matza ball soup and a yummy berry cobbler.  We enjoyed the evening with good food, wine, and conversation.   Both Daniel and I were happy to have made some new friends.   A late night and then early morning of clamming.  We apparently hit Bandon at just the right time.  The tide was the lowest it had been in about 7 years, so the clamming was supposed to be good (and easy).  Unfortunately, it was not so easy, or we were just not that good.   No clams for us!  

Daniel & Nancy looking for clams

locals showing us how it's done

Tom & Nancy wanted to take us to a beach they had visited and since the tide was so low we could walk farther out onto the beach than normal.  So many amazing things.  Closer to the water the beach was nothing but rocks.  Worn so smooth by the water.  We were able to see the biggest starfish I've ever seen.  And crazy colors!    We could walk between the rocks and get close to some seals sunning themselves on the rocks.  Check out these pics....

low tide at Bandon Beach

No sand, just rocks

they blend in so well

We were sad to leave Tom and Nancy... I'm not sure they realized how thankful we were to have met them.   But Portland is in our sights!  Back in the bus and north we go.  Here are some pics of some of the things we stopped to look at.

Heceta Head Lighthouse

We stopped close to Newport at Beverly Beach state park... tomorrow we reach Astoria.  The inner goonie in me can't wait!