Thursday, October 23, 2008

EPIC Utah MOTO 2008 Introduction

"The route. Each color represents a different day"

"Josh and the KTM 450 on top of Gooseberry Mesa, Utah"

For those of you who know me well, you know that I love things with 2 wheels, primarily peddle bikes both road and mountain. So several years ago, I set myself this goal of riding my peddle bike from my house in Park City, Utah to Rockville, Utah. Why Rockville? Several reasons. The destination is located at the very bottom of the state and Park City is located relatively close to the top. Rockville has always had special meaning in my life since this is the location of a beautifully restored old pioneer era home which my dear Grandma and Grandpa Simmons restored back in the 1970s. As a child, I spent many weeks and weekends down there with them. As a huge fan of Utah geography, I really feel like I owe most of this to them (my grandparents) as they had this home in such a beautiful part of the state next to Zion National Park. Grandpa also used to drive old highway 89 to Rockville and come in through the east entrance to the park. This also gave him the opportunity to stop at every branch of Zions Bank along the way and say hello. Let's just say, a drive to Rockville could take 12 hours.

So I set myself this goal to ride my bike to Rockville, but recently decided against it only because biking on I-15 is illegal and highway 89 is scary enough to drive let alone ride a bike down the shoulder full of rumble strips. So I reverted to plan B, outfit my motorcyle with the appropriate gear to make a multi-day trip. In planning the trip with my good friend Van, we decided we would stick to either scenic backways, dirt roads, or established ATV trails and routes. We would only ride pavement when necessary to get to a trailhead or turnoff. Turns out we created a 700 mile route from Park City to St. George (via Rockville).

You would be surprised how many little secret roads and trails this state is full of. In fact, after planning the route for this journey, I realized one could easily cross the entire country in either direction, east, west, north or south and probably stay off major highways and roads 95 percent of the way. (let's just say such a trip has not yet been ruled out :)).

So we started planning this trip right at the beginning of the summer. We decided we would ride all the way to Rockville via the west part of the state and return back home via the eastern part of the state. This would mean the trip down would consist of mostly mountainous terrain and high mountain passes. Then the trip home would cover the better part of Utah's sandstone and red rock country, riding primarily along Lake Powell's western shore and then heading north into the famous San Rafael swell, perhaps Utah's most rugged and remote country! So using google earth, sophisticated GPS mapping software, a Utah recreational atlas and many trail maps compliments of the BLM and US Forest service, the project of mapping our route began. We planned the itinerary and loaded every single mile of the path into our GPS computer which we mounted on our motorcycles. This would make navigation and mileage calculation between fuel stops safe and easy.

"The KTM Cockpit"

As many of you know, I am sort of a tech geek. Of course everyone who knows us thought we would perish, get lost, crash or simply die of exposure, so I decided to use a little program on my iPhone which would send our GPS coordinates, altitude, and speed every 15 seconds to the internet. This way, anyone who cared about us or perhaps loves us could constantly track our position on a website I created. This little tool proved itself very effective and useful. You would be surprised how many co-workers, family and friends spent the weekend watching our position on the web. Allison called me the first day of riding and said, "hey, I saw you on the google map going 60 MPH @ 10,500 feet!". Now how cool is that :-)

Click here to read about day 1 of the trip

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

EPIC Utah MOTO 2008 Day 1

It's weds morning. The kids are off to school and Allison has given me a big kiss and made me promise not to kill myself. She really doesn't ask much does she? :-). I pace the kitchen waiting patiently for my riding buddy Van who is suppose to kiss his family off and then ride his motorcycle back roads to my house from Kaysville, Utah. I finished packing up last minute items, secured a few things to my bike and waited patiently. He didn't show up til 10 or so. Turns out he got held up by a large tractor down on the east canyon dirt road on his way to Jeremy Ranch. We make a few final bike and gear adjustments, close the garage door and head to the Jeremy store for our first fillup. We've ridden almost 2 miles! We are moving quick today.

"The first fillup, Jeremy Store, Park City, Utah"

The original plan was to ride up to Deer Valley, down the dirt road from guardsman into Heber and then out to Strawberry Reservoir. But due to the fact that construction workers dug up a 100 year old stash of TNT from the Park City mining era several days before, the Park City PD closed the road for safety. So against our will, we jumped on US 40 (i hate that road!!) and drove to Strawberry Reservoir. After all, we were running way behind and needed to get rolling.

We hit the first backroad of the ride just before strawberry reservoir. This road would take us south down to US 6 where we would start our 100+ mile journey on the famous Utah Skyline drive trail. I've driven this (Indian Creek) before and was quite familiar with it. Just as we left the bleak pavement and started our ride on the teeth chattering washboarded Indian creek road, I looked down and noticed my GPS was missing from the handlebar mount. I immediately locked up the brakes to turn around. Just after I stopped, I noticed a huge diesel truck hauling a 5th wheel coming the other way. My first thought, was I need to get turned around and find my GPS before this huge truck and 5th wheel run over and smash my GPS in a million pieces, perhaps the most important piece of equipment I was carrying, besides my motorcycle learners permit :-).

I was able to stop the guy and ride back 100 or so feet and there it was, laying in the dirt. I knew I should have spent $125 for the Touratech GPS mount instead of the made in China RAM mount. I picked it up, wrapped about 10 feet of electrical tape around it, and that was the last time the GPS would ever vibrate off the mount.

"Our first scenic overlook, Indian Creek Road, Utah, just north of US6"

We arrived at US 6, filled up our bikes at the Sheep Creek Sinclair, and rode the 5 or 6 miles up US 6 to the Tucker rest stop - the official furthest north starting point of the famous Utah Skyline Drive Trail.

My heart was pounding as I knew the next fuel stop would be a good 125+ miles down the trail according to the GPS. I knew once we started up the Skyline, we would be committed. In preparation for this trip, we ripped off the cheap KTM stock fuel tanks which hold about as much fuel as a small can of Red Bull. We replaced the stock tanks with a Clarke 3.1 gallon desert racing tank. We also mounted 1.2 gallon rear fuel tanks from Baja Designs in California. We were each carrying nearly 5 gallons which on a 4 stroke bike of our size is quite a lot of fuel. With that in mind, I was feeling calm about making it to the end of the skyline for fuel which according to plan would be Salina.

"Cruising the Skyline Drive at 10,500 feet, backside of Mt. Nebo in the distance"

Turns out we were riding the Skyline Drive in the middle of Elk Hunting season in Utah. This would explain why we were seeing more trucks, RV's, 5th wheels and rednecks than one would see at a NASCAR race in Vegas. I was extremely impressed with the quality of road. It was easy to cruise safely at high speeds, atleast during this section.

As we approached the southern end of the skyline, the elevation increased slightly to just over 11,000 feet. With the higher elevation came more snow and mud from the recent and first major storm of autumn in Utah.

"Skyline drive road becoming muddy towards the southern section"

The Skyline Drive crosses over several major west/east highways at various points as it meanders along the ridge of the Sanpete Valley. It eventually becomes the Great Western trail which I believe runs all the way to I-70 and then down south just east of HWY 89. The Great Western Trail is a 4500 mile trail which runs from Canada to Mexico. Now that would be an EPIC journey someday.

"Great Western Trail sign on Skyline Drive, 10,800 feet"

The autumn leaves were great, but I think we might have missed the best part of the change perhaps just a week earlier. The leaves in Southern Utah would prove to be more colorful. I kept thinking to myself as I rode along the Skyline how much I wanted to bring my family back camping here some day. Allison would be in heaven with her camera and the incredible 360 degree scenery.

As we approached the turnoff to Manti Canyon from Skyline drive, we stopped and decided to head down to Manti because of possible limited daylight due to our late start. The Manti canyon turnoff was probably our last and final option for getting off the skyline before I-70 and Salina. We figured we had ridden about 3/4 of Skyline at this point and started heading down. The road down the canyon was extremely muddy and rocky. I'm not sure that would be a good way to access Skyline via a car, unless of course you don't care about your car.

We arrived Manti and filled up with gas. Our bikes were filthy and tracked a lot of mud into town. Oh well, I guess that is why they call them dirt bikes :-).

"Fueling up the filthy beasts in Manti, Utah"

After filling up and phoning home to check in with loved ones, we decided we would hit the highway and get to Richfield, Utah before the sun goes down. That would be our first hotel and night of the trip. We felt pretty good about our progress only because we had pretty much stuck to plan with the exception of ditching Deer Valley and bailing off the Skyline a bit early. A nice hotel and hot tub was sounding pretty good so off we went.

We arrived at the Comfort Inn just before the sun started to set. We unpacked the bikes and rode them into Richfield to the Little Wonders Cafe. The cafe was definitely little but wasn't such a wonder. Any food was good after a day of 230 miles (almost 300 for Kaysville Van). Our moving time for the day was approx. 5 hrs 38 minutes according to the GPS.

As we rode down the street to the cafe, I looked to the west and could see the backside of the Tushar mountains glowing in the distance. Crossing over the snowy Tushars would be 1 of tomorrow's first major challenges. Hot tub, advil and sweet dreams of the skyline.


Click here to read about day 2 of the trip

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

EPIC Utah MOTO 2008 Day 2

One week before we were due to leave on this journey, the local weather guys started forecasting snow in the mountains of Utah. The storm was supposed to start dumping snow in Park City thursday of that week. Of course, this didn't brighten our spirits considering the route of our trip would cross over many high mountain passes, some as high as 11,500 feet. I personally checked the forecast of every city we would be passing through as a daily ritual right up until the hour we left the house. I have to be honest, I was quite bummed about the prospect of cutting the trip short and not being able to ride the trip "driveway to driveway". We (Van and myself) had spent many hours and days planning this trip and the idea of a cancellation was out of the question. Of course, being stranded in a miserable town like Hanksville for an entire weekend didn't sound good either. So the night before the trip, we had decided that pending the weather, we would plan an entire different route home via the west desert. We studied some maps, loaded some routes in our GPS and had a good contingency plan just in case.

So on day 2 of our journey, I wake up and walk over to the window. Of course, I'm expecting gray cloudy skies, the pre-cursor to this mother of all storms that is supposed to be ravaging the wasatch front. I open the blinds, and I'm practically blinded and knocked out by the beautiful blue sky and sunshine penetrating the hotel window. Well, looks like day 2 of the EPIC journey will continue. I thought to myself, wow, we only have 125 miles to ride today. Piece of cake considering we rode almost 300 yesterday. Little did I know, this would be the most difficult and challenging day of the trip.

"Preparing the donkeys for a brutal day, Richfield, Utah. Notice the blue sky.."

As we jumped on I-70 for a quick trip to Joseph, Utah, you could see the beautiful Tushar Mountains in the Fishlake National Forest. The Tushars are Utah's 3rd highest mountain range with peaks in the 12,000 foot range. These mountains are very visible from I-15 to the east when you drive through Beaver, Utah. I think of all the terrain we had on the itinerary, I was personally most excited for the Tushars. They always seemed so mysterious to me for some reason. I think the mere fact that most Utahn's know very little about them made it that much more exciting for me.

"The road to the famous Paiute ATV trail, the snow capped Tushars in the distance"

We stopped in Joseph, Utah for a quick fillup. Let's just say Joseph, Utah is definitely a 1 horse town, and a 1 gas station town as well. I was almost paranoid to put gas in my tank given the rusty old look of the pump, and the criminal figure of the man and woman running the station. They (the station owners) sat on the bench in front of the station and smoked a few cigarettes as we rode away.

Just a few minutes down I-70 to Fremont Indian State Park and this is where we would start our journey on the southern leg of the famous Paiute ATV trail. The Paiute ATV trail is a 275 mile long ATV trail that covers the better portion of south-central Utah. The trail is a sort of ATV highway that interconnects many of the small towns in that portion of the state, primarily along Hwy 89. It is considered one of the top 5 ATV trails in the entire country. Our portion of the trail would only cover 58 miles, I-70 to Circleville, Utah. This leaves many more miles to explore some day :-).

Of all the trails we rode, the Paiute was the most well marked. The junction signs were huge and easy to spot. Of course, we had the entire trail loaded in the GPS so signs or no signs, we were prepared.

We started up the Paiute and immediately it was obvious that this was a well traveled ATV trail due to the fact that the trail was just as wide as a typical ATV and had 2 distinct ruts to follow. We immediately started gaining altitude and it was obvious that we would be knocking at 11,500 in no time at all. The trail constantly crossed over a stream, back and forth as we zig-zagged our way up.

"Van posing for a quick photo on the Paiute ATV Trail, notice the distinct ruts of millions of ATV'ers"

We passed an old abandonded mine and several ATV dudes coming the opposite direction. Of course they were just flying down the road with no helmets, no safety gear and mullets flapping in the wind. I was actually quite surprised how few people we actually encountered while riding the Pauite. Compared to Skyline drive, this place was quiet but equally as beautiful.

"A typical junction, Paiute ATV sign, and Tushar mountains in the background"

As the snowy Tushars started to appear closer, we stopped for a few photos and a cliff bar. The peaks and mountain pass looked very snowy and I really started to wonder wether or not we would actually be able to cross. According to the official trail map, there was a small note appearing on this section stating that due to potential high snow, you may need to wait til late July or early august to crossover. What we were seeing was remnants of 1 mild October storm. These mountains must be pretty gnarly in the middle of January.

We arrived at the top of the pass and it was definitely snowy. I was ahead of Van and stopped to take a photo. I couldn't see Van coming up the road but could hear the sound of his engine running at full boar. I could see a rooster tail of snow flying from the back of his bike and at first thought it was a snow blower. It was simply Van pushing his bike with the aid of some throttle up the snowy muddy trail. Keep in mind that our altitude right at this spot was the equivalent to standing on top of Mt. Timpanogos.

"Van running the KTM snowblower up the Paiute at 11,000 feet"

We came to a junction where the trail immediately starting heading due west. Good thing considering the road straight ahead was completely drifted over by snow and definitely not passable. The trail started to head south west and due to the heavy sun exposure and decent amount of snow immediately started to get very muddy. This was perhaps the worst mud we would encounter the entire trip. Luckily I had installed a GPR steering stabilizer before leaving for this trip and it definitely came in handy during sections like this. I simply turned the thing up to about 4 or 5 and it made riding in mud feel like riding my old banana seat schwinn bike with training wheels.

As we descended the muddy rocky trail with a nice view of I-15 in the distance, we passed by a lake, appropriately named "Mudd Lake" considering our bikes had more mud than rider and gear at this point.

We rode for a while and eventually came to our first "log jam" obstacle of the day. This would be the first of many log jams that day. I personally lost count after about 10.

"The first log jam obstacle of the day"

It was obvious that there was no "easy" alternate route around this trail obstacle. So we stopped and started scouting a possible route around the fallen tree. As we were scouting, I looked down and noticed that I had a tear in my pant pockets and that my camera was missing. Of course, my first thought was about a tree that I had ridden quite closely to some miles back. I figured that when I blew by the tree, it had ripped my pocket open and my camera had fallen out. I told Van to wait while I back tracked a couple of miles to find my camera. I started tracing the trail back and diligently combed the trail with my eyes. Of course, all I would notice is the millions of smashed bud-light cans that I honestly didn't notice when I was enjoying my ride prior to losing the camera. I rode 1 mile, then 2, then 5, then 10 thinking any second now I would find that place where I brushed that tree and there would be my memory maker laying in the dirt waiting for my rescue. After a good 30 to 45 minutes of riding, I decided to give up and head back. After all, we still had a long ways to go before finishing the day up.

I turned around and started heading back. It just so happens that while I was backtracking looking for my camera, Allison just so happened to be watching us on the website and noticed that our path was all of the sudden going backwards. Of course she panicked as she told me later and thought something bad had happened. Isn't technology cool!

Well I finally arrived back to the log jam where Van was just settling into a nice afternoon nap. He said, well did you find your camera? I said, No and I'm not very happy about it. He said, well right after you left, I saw this shiny thing in the bushes where you were scouting and it just so happened to be your camera. Wow! What a painful 1 hour of backtracking relief.

We ended up finding a way to get around the jam and continued down the trail to Circleville, Utah.

"The alternate path around the log jam. This turned out to be one of the easiest log jams we encountered that day"

The descent into Circleville was extremely steep and rocky consisting of many switchbacks. We lost altitude fast as we approached the valley floor. I'm glad I experienced that section of the trail as I would never consider taking my family up that thing on a 4 wheeler or anything else.

There wasn't a cloud in the sky as we pulled into the 1 gas station town of Circleville, Utah. The wind however was blowing atleast 30 mph. It was actually quite annoying. Just as we started to fill up the bikes at the gas station, a school bus full of kids pulled up. The door opened and they all filed out and into the gas station for after school snacks. The bus driver (as well as possibly the store owner) came over and started to chat with us and wanted to know more about our trip. He was actually a pretty cool guy and the kids in the store were very polite, inviting us to get ahead of them in line so we wouldn't have to wait for all 50 of them to buy twinkies and mountain dew. That last 58 miles of Paiute was challenging and we almost considered just riding down Hwy 89 to Panguitch and calling it a day.

The original plan from Circleville was to ride the Fremont ATV trail 50 miles south through the Dixie National forest to Panguitch, Utah. We were both feeling slightly worn out but decided to ride it anyway considering the 30 mph winds blowing down Hwy 89. I'm glad we didn't turn our backs on the Fremont trail, it turned out to be one of the prettiest sections of the entire trip.

We headed out of town and soon we were on the dirt road leading south to the Dixie National Forest. Van was riding ahead of me as we started to gain altitude into the mountain range. At one point, I passed by him thinking he had stopped to take a picture. After a few more miles, I didn't see in my rear view mirror so I stopped to wait up. As I sat and waited, there was no sign of his headlight in the distance. This was very unusual for Van so I started to head back. A couple miles back, right where I had passed earlier, he was off his bike and pulling out all his tools. Turns out, he had a flat front tire. I've easily ridden thousands of miles with Van and not once has either of us ever had a flat motorcycle tire on the trail. This day was really turning out to be a long one.

"Van preparing the bike for on-trail surgery. Notice the bike jacked up on rocks and tied to a tree for stability"

He's still not sure why his front tire flatted, but when it did, he said it blew loud and bucked him off the bike like an angry rodeo bull. Just like in regular cycling, we carry spare tubes as well as patch kits. It's a bit different with motorcycles though because the front and rear tire take different sizes. So we each carried a different sized tube. The change was actually quite painless and went fast only because we had the proper tools to get the job done quick. The $10 pump I bought at Walmart before the ride worked like a champ!

The autumn leaves on the Fremont were the best we would see during the entire trip. The trail was very well established and every now and again, you would see a huge monolithic rock sculpture right in the middle of the wintering aspen trees.

"Autumn on the Fremont trail. Notice the rock sculpture hiding in the Aspen trees"

I was riding ahead of Van when all of the sudden I heard this loud crash right behind me over the noise of the engine. I immediately turned around and caught the final few milliseconds of a huge tree falling down behind me. I guess the mild vibration of my bike passing must have finally caused this old giant to go. My first instinct was Van could be caught underneath that thing since he was just right behind me not long ago. I jumped off my bike and ran back to the scene. He was nowhere to be found. I looked down the side of the trail in the ravine thinking maybe he flew off the trail in an attempt to avoid the falling tree. But he was no where. Then a few minutes later, he came puttering down the trail. He stopped in front of the tree and yelled to me "how did you get across that thing so fast?". I said, "I didn't, that tree just barely fell." It was quite a moment of laughter. Of all the things that could have killed us on this trip, I'm not sure the life insurance company would have bought such a story.

"The fresh fallen tree, our closest encounter with death"

We rode on and once again encountered more fallen trees as well as challenging maneuvers around them. There was a big part of the trail that had recently experienced a large forest fire and it was in that section where we came across many of them. At one point, there were 2 trees in the trail literally 20 yards apart. It was definitely a team effort to get the bikes across a couple of them. This day was definitely one of work and not pleasure.

"Josh praying to the tree gods for mercy and safe passage"

This was the day of riding motorcycles when one's love for the sport was truly challenged. I really feel like we passed the challenge. The original plan for the day was to end up in Rockville, Utah but given the amount of daylight and the amount of energy left in our souls, Panguitch would be our overnight stop for the day. The ride out of the Dixie National forest and into the Panguitch valley was one of achievement. We had just ridden over 100 miles of rocky, steep, snowy, muddy ATV trails and were still alive and kicking. We pulled into the beatiful 1 star Canyon Lodge motel and had some excellent BBQ for dinner at the local restaraunt. After dinner, we found ourselves out in the parking lot of the hotel with our headlamps tweaking our bikes and tightening and replacing nuts and screws after a seriously brutal day of riding. It was this day that KTM EXC motorcycles met their match.


Click here to read about day 3 of the trip

Monday, October 20, 2008

EPIC Utah MOTO 2008 Day 3

We slept like babies after a tough day 2, our version of the motorcycle ECO-challenge. After all, the 1 star canyon lodge put us in the "anasazi" theme room for the night. I'm still not sure what made it the Anasazi or even theme room for that matter. Given the size of the room, it should have been called, the "state prison" theme room. With all our gear packed in there, walking room was virtually non-existant.

"Van after a good nights sleep in the 1 star "Canyon Lodge" motel"

Again, I woke up expecting to look out the window and see the mother of all storms making her way into Utah, but once again, blue skies and not a cloud in the sky. I thought to myself, good thing these weather forecasters aren't paid based on their accuracy of predicting when storms will hit. I stepped outside and the local temperature in Panguitch was definitely chilly. My guess would be easily in the 30's. It was a cool brisk morning in that part of the state. Of course the elevation of Panguitch is equivalent to that of Jeremy ranch so the cool morning was not a surprise.

We loaded the bikes, turned on the GPS and iPhone tracking unit and headed up the highway towards Panguitch lake. Today's ride would consist of riding to Panguitch lake on the pavement, then exiting the highway and riding a national forest service road which I saw on my mapping software while planning the trip and then arriving at Cedar Breaks national monument, over 10,000 feet, for a scenic photo opportunity. We would then ride down Cedar Canyon and take the scenic Kolob reservoir road through the north-west part of Zion and end up in Rockville, Utah. Definitely not a big day on the bikes.

Once we arrived at the turnoff to the forest service road, we realized quickly that we were not going the right way according to our route in the GPS. We immediately turned around and within 1 or 2 miles found where we went wrong and once again were back on track. This trail we were riding turned out to be the Marathon trail, another big ATV trail in Utah. The scenery was awesome and it was good to be off the highway on yet another backroad adventure.

Within several minutes, we came across yet another log jam in the trail. This one was big but had several easily rideable routes around the perimeter. We only hit a couple of log jams and within no time, we were back on the highway just 1 or 2 miles from Cedar Breaks.

"A minor log jam compared to the others. The prayers must have been answered"

We arrived at Cedar Breaks a few minutes later. As I pulled my bike into the parking lot, I heard this loud thud. I thought perhaps I had just hit a small rock and flipped it up underneath the fender. I parked my bike and as I climbed off I noticed my kick-starter was missing. I put 2 and 2 together and combed the parking lot where I had heard the big thud. There was my kick starter sitting on the ground. Losing a kick starter wouldn't be a huge deal considering we both have electric start on our bikes.

If you've never been to Point Supreme (10,350 feet) at Cedar Breaks, you should definitely take the 30 minute drive up Cedar Canyon from Cedar City, Utah. This is one of the most beautiful and easily accessible places in Utah. I've been there before by car, but by motorbike was much better for some reason :-).

"Van standing at Point Supreme, Cedar Breaks, Utah"

We started down Cedar Canyon towards our turn off to the Kolob Reservoir Road. This is a secret backroad that will take you on a nice dirt road from Cedar City to the town of Virgin, Utah. I'm somewhat familiar with this road as I've driven it before from Vigin up to Kolob reservoir. I've always wanted to cover the full length but never did for some reason. This is definitely a route that you wouldn't want to take in winter as i'm sure it becomes unpassable. We stopped at the famous overlook on the way down that canyon that gives one a beautiful view into the back of Zion National Park.

"Josh in deep thought at the Zion Canyon Overlook"

We decided from this point that we would head into Cedar City before making the turnoff to Kolob reservoir. We wanted to fill up our tanks, grab a quick snack and stop at a motorcycle shop to replace our front spare tube which we had used the day before. We filled up at the local Maverik and then hit the Suzuki shop for a spare tire before heading back up the canyon to the Kolob reservoir road.

"You can't tell me you would really buy a Suzuki after seeing these tricked out KTM's on the lot eh?"

We started to gain altitude fast immediately after we turned off on the Kolob road. The views from up here were absolutely amazing, cedar breaks in the east, i-15 and nevada to the west, and the snowy Tushars extremely visible to the north east. Soon we were passing all those cabins you can see from I-15 when you pass through Cedar City. I always wanted to know how to get to those cabins. Now I know.

The road passed by a lot of ranch property and the aspens were everywhere. I was surprised how good the road was but yet how few travelers there were. We started down a hill and all of the sudden I could see 2 motorcycles coming the opposite direction. KTM Adventure 990's, the first KTMs we had seen the entire trip. I gave them a hand wave and they returned the gesture. Wow, it was like a secret fraternity handshake. It was cool to see them. Adventures are awesome bikes,very similar to the BMW GS series, but due to their weight and size, I don't think they would have survived day 2 of our journey.

"Autumn leaves on the Kolob reservoir road"

Within minutes, we arrived at Kolob reservoir, the largest single body of water that drains into the Virgin river via Kolob creek through the Zion Narrows. This was familiar territory as I had been here before. This is where the dirt road ended and became pavement once again. This was very evident when we saw a huge pack or Harley Davidsons which had come from the other direction. This was obviously their turn around point as I don't think that would be a good bike to ride to Cedar City.

"North end of Kolob reservoir in Autumn, 8100 feet"

We started down the road from Kolob heading towards Virgin. Within just a few minutes, the road turned to the classic "deep red" asphalt that all of the roads in Zion National Park have. We passed by the "Wildcat" trailhead, the place where several times I started my hike for the "Subway" and the "West Rim" in Zion. The memories were rushing back like crazy. The views of the backside of the West Temple in Zion are simply awesome from way up there. The road meanders slowly through "Hop Valley" in Zion National Park as it meanders towards Virgin, Utah.

"Van on Kolob Reservoir Road, Zion and the West Temple in the background"

Before we knew it, we had arrived at the end of the Kolob road where it meets US 9 in the town of Virgin, Utah. Only just a couple of miles of riding on US 9 to the town of Rockville, the end of the road for the day. US 9 pretty much any time of the year between I-15 and Zion National Park is an absolute nightmare. Given the amount of the traffic, you would think that Disneyland is at the end of the road, assuming everyone going to Disneyland is going to stay in their camper trailer.

It was a cool feeling to be cruising this familiar route on my KTM that I have driven so many times in my life. I think I was probably 5 or 6 the first time I traveled this highway. It was great to be in Zion!

We arrived in Rockville and parked our bikes in the driveway. I thought this would be a good moment to do a self timed picture so we could both be in the photo. I grabbed the garbage can from the side of the house and carefully set my camera to snap the pic.

"Grandma and Grandpa's vacation retreat, I don't think Grandma would like the bikes :-)"

The day seemed young and the skies were crystal clear blue. We decided to head into town and grab some pizza and then put a plan together for the rest of the trip. Because of our day 2, we were already behind schedule at this point. The storm was starting to show signs of arrival in the northern part of the state and so we had pretty much scrapped our plan of trying to ride our bikes back home.

We unloaded some gear and rode into town and ate a delicious lunch at the Zion Pizza and Noodle, a personal favorite. We both still had a lot of energy considering the days ride wasn't too bad and decided to head out to the Gooseberry Mesa, the new Moab of Utah. Van had never been up there and I assured him he would not be disappointed.

We head back to the house, geared up and started up the grafton road to the Mesa. I've been mountain biking here several times and ridden my motorcycle out there a couple of times. On a typical day, there can be somewhere between 25 and 50 cars in the parking lot, mostly mountain bikers, but this time there were only a couple. If you are a mountain biker, there are many miles of trails and different loops. Luckily the BLM has kept the main trail down the middle of the mesa to the overlook open to ATV and off road vehicles.

"Van on the Gooseberry trail, I think the mountain bikers were jealous :) Notice the moon in the upper left"

At one point, we crossed paths with a large group of mountain bikers. We stopped and shut off our engines so they could pass peacefully. Their trip leader stopped and immediately starting enquiring about our trip. A fellow rider himself, he noticed the custom seats we had made just for this trip. Of all the modifications we made to our bikes, the custom Renazco racing seat was probably the best money we spent. Talk about saving our butts :).

After a few more miles of riding, we arrived at the end of the mesa. The views up here are absolutely incredible, especially looking at Zion National Park to the north-east. We snapped a couple of photos and gazed the valley in awe and then mounted our donkeys and headed back to Rockville.

"Van on top of the Gooseberry, Zion in the background; Nowhere in the National Park will you get a view like this"

We got home just before dark and parked the bikes in Grandpa's shed. I'm sure that is the first time there has ever been a dirt bike parked in there. The bikes were comfy and cozy with the shed full of lizards for the night.

We sat on the porch and talked about our options for the rest of the trip. It was friday night and according to our original plan, we should have been in Hanksville tonight already on our northern route home. We decided we would most likely ride our bikes to St. George the next morning, park them in my friend's garage and rent a car and drive home sunday. We decided unless the weather was really bad when we woke up, we would take a scenic route to St. George considering riding US 9 and ultimately I-15 to St. George would be absolutely against our original rules of engagement.

We pulled out the atlas and began to study the options for a scenic ride to St. George. Unfortunately, neither of us loaded the topographical maps for northern Arizona in our GPS computers. Besides that, we only had the Utah atlas. I've spent some time riding the southern part of St. George and was quite familiar with the area between Hurricane and Washington, Utah and knew some of the roads over there. I was certain that once we got over in that general area, we would be able to feel our way into St. George. As you will read later, this definitely was not the case and we end up discovering a new 100 mile route from Rockville to St. George via the Arizona strip.


Click here to read about day 4 of the trip

Sunday, October 19, 2008

EPIC Utah MOTO 2008 Day 4

Saturday morning came bright and early, all thanks to neighbors chickens next door. As usual, I first took a peek outside to check the condition of the weather. The skies were gray and even darker to the west. I think the storm was finally breaking it's way into Utah's Dixie. It was quite cold and windy outside but no signs of rain or snow, yet.

We once again performed the morning ritual of loading our gear, turning on all the spy gadgets and checking the vitals of the bikes. One of my motorcycle boots had lost a rivet right near the toe and seemed to leak a bit whenever we would cross through streams and puddles. With Van's recommendation, I took a small plastic garbage sack and some electrical tape and wrapped it tight, after all with those gray skies, the possibility of riding our bikes through a hurricane were quite high today.

We jumped on our bikes and rode up to Springdale for a full breakfast at the Pioneer. The servings there are huge and we should have ordered 1 entree and an extra plate. After 3 good days of riding, the fatigue was definitely starting to set in. If only the weather were more cooperative, I'm sure we would have had plenty of energy to make it home.


"Tying up the horses at the Pioneer. The first gray skies of the trip."

After breakfast, we started back over the Grafton road towards Little Creek, Utah and Hwy 59. We stopped at the Chevron and topped off our tanks and then started south on a dirt road we found in the Utah atlas. Within 2 or 3 miles, the road abruptly ended and there was a brand new golf course right where the road used be. "Wow", I thought, we are still a good 35 to 40 miles from St. George as the crow flies and even this remote part of Utah has fallen victim to the "california-ization" of Utah's Dixie. Before you know it, the polygamists are going to sell Colorado City to the people of St. George so they can build some more golf courses and mexican style condos. Who knows, maybe even In-N-Out burger has already purchased a corner. Keep in mind, we were only about 5 - 7 miles as the crow flies from Colorado City.

We eventually found our way around the golf course and within minutes were back on course. All of the sudden, big flakes of snow started to fall. The wind was blowing and the skies looked angry. We kept on cruising and didn't let mother nature get in the way of our final day of riding.

I was riding ahead of Van and stopped for a brief moment. As he pulled up, he asked me if I was aware that my rear fuel tank was falling off and being dragged down the road. I guess I didn't use enough "loctite" when I installed it and all the pounding and rattling of the ride must have finally loosened it up. We pulled off, had a good laugh and got to work re-installing my rear fuel tank. A very minor repair compared to Van's flat tire on day 2.


"Josh replacing his rear fuel tank somewhere in middle of no-where Arizona"

We honestly had no idea where we were at this point. The GPS was showing nothing on the screen except the direction we were headed. I think next time, I will load every neighboring state into my GPS just in case we somehow end up there. We were able to see how far we were from major cities as the crow flies, but that is about it. The dirt road was very well traveled and we figured it had to connect into St. George somehow considering it (St. George) was the closest major city. We could also see that we were very close to the rim of the Grand Canyon, probably a good 20 miles or so but didn't think we should try to go that far south without having the topography loaded into the GPS. We finally came to a junction that gave us some idea of where and how far St. George was from our current location.


"A good thing to find when you have no idea where you are in the middle of the Arizona desert"

The weather was quite moody as we flew down this well traveled gravel road. It would occasionally start to rain but then suddenly stop as we passed through various cells of moisture. It was cold but not cold enough to require riding in our "extreme foul weather" gear. We would occasionally hit several miles of beautiful sunshine.

We eventually arrived at the edge of the Hurricane Mesa where the road suddenly dropped in elevation down to a lower valley. It was obvious that there weren't very many ways down off this huge plateau and i'm sure this portion of the road took some serious effort to build.


"Only way down off this huge plateau"


"Bottom of the plateau. I think this "Primitive Road" sign is trying to tell us that Disneyland is not around the corner"

We arrived at a place in the road where there were signs of a faint trail running east to west across the road towards St. George. After reading the sign, we learned that this was the old "Temple Trail" the mormons used to haul timbers from the Mount Trumbull wilderness area in Arizona to the site of the St. George temple. I was immediately reminded of an old door and bench that Grandma and Grandpa Simmons had somehow salvaged from the St. George temple while they were restoring the Rockville house. I sat and wondered if it came across this old trail to the temple and eventually ended up in Rockville. Looking at this trail and valley, it definitely gave you respect for just how tough those early settlers were compared to most people today.


"Van posing for a snapshot at the crossing of the "Temple Trail, Arizona"

According to the tracks we were creating on the GPS, it was obvious that this was about as far south as our journey would take us. You could tell we were starting to head in a north west direction towards St. George. It was kind of a strange feeling knowing that within a good hour or 2, we would be fighting traffic and eventually parking the bikes. After spending so many miles and hours on primitive roads and trails, this is a hard thing to adjust to. Even Van pointed out later in the day that he could tell I was quite edgy riding my motorcycle through St. George traffic. I guess this is quite indicative of my personality, one who likes to choose the road less traveled :-).

We arrived at the final "high point" before slowly descending into St. George coming from a south-easterly direction. You could see St. George in the valley below. The views from up there were incredible as it gave you a sense of just how strange the geography of this part of the state really is.


"Van for a final pic high above the valley of Utah's Dixie"


"Josh with the St. George valley and Snow Canyon in the background"

After riding a few more miles, the road suddenly turned into Pavement and it was obvious that our trip was coming to a close. We had decided earlier in the day that it would be fun to pull our filthy bikes into In-N-Out burger in St. George for lunch and take a final photo. This was a truly classic moment as we pulled up and parked our bikes just outside. Everyone in the the restaurant were looking at us through the window like we just arrived from some other planet. It guess in a way we sort of did. After all, we had just taken the 100 mile scenic route from Rockville to St. George.


"The end of the road. Notice the people starring at us from inside"


"Van preparing himself to devour America's finest burger"

Just as we sat down to eat our burgers, it started to rain quite hard outside. We both looked at each other and started to laugh considering we just too the 700 miles scenic route from Park City to St. George and had 4 decent days of riding. The rain turned to snow and we sat and watch our bikes get soaked. We weren't all that concerned considering we each sprayed atleast 1 bottle of scotch guard on our seats and all of our riding gear prior to leaving northern Utah.

We climbed on the bikes and road them for 1 last time to pickup our rental car at the St. George airport. From here we would take the bikes to my friends garage in St. George where we would store them until I could find time to come back down and pick them up with my trailer. We would then get a final hotel in St. George and drive home in 1 piece the following day, a plan the loved ones back north were very happy with.


"The St. George storage facility. The bikes look very sad.. :-("

As we were driving home the next day, we stopped in Fillmore to get some gas and snacks. The weather was quite foul and the day was definitely cold. We noticed a very nice BMW GS1100 parked out front the Maverik. Inside was a man all suited up in his riding gear drinking coffee and warming up. I would guess he was in his mid 60's. Van proceeded to strike up conversation with him. He told Van that he was on his way back from Arizona to Bountiful, Utah riding solo. Van told him of our journey and he immediately scolded us for renting a car and not riding our bikes home. I thought to myself, don't worry, someday when I have no timetable and a nice heated coat, pants and gloves, I will most likely be doing the same thing. I found it rather inspiring to see this guy in the age he was. It made me realize that I still have plenty of time to pursue my dreams and embark on many more adventures. After all, I sure hope I'm as tough and adventurous as he is at his age :-).