On Nov. 6, Dave loaded our bikes into his dad’s trailer and the two drove from Sagle, ID south for Quartzite, AZ. Dave unloaded his bike from Rick’s trailer once he felt they were past the higher altitudes getting hit by snow, which was just south of Salt Lake City, UT. For the next week or so he had some cold, challenging days alone on his bike. Here’s his story:
After four-plus weeks of not being on the bike I was really itching to start riding again. My hopes of riding from Neil and Linda’s in Northern Idaho were quickly crushed as I awoke to fresh snowfall the first morning there. As a result, I needed to load not only Heather’s bike into the trailer but also mine. There where two problems with this. First, with two full-sized adventure bikes, a quad and all of the gear myself, Heather and my dad had, the 14′ trailer was quickly filled. The second problem was I still hoped to ride from somewhere along the route my dad was taking to Arizona but the bikes needed to be loaded at the front of the trailer side by side with the quad going in last. In one way this ensured my dad wouldn’t have to mess with Heather’s bike when he got to Quartzite but it also meant when I wanted to ride, we had to unload most of the trailer to get my bike out.
It took the better half of a day to load everything into the trailer safely with the help of Neil and my dad. After a morning departure the next day, we started our route south to I-90 and then east into Montana. The further we travelled the better I felt about my decision to travel in a warm truck. In Montana the temperature dropped to 21 F and there was as much as 8″ of snow along the freeway. Once we re-entered Idaho and then into Utah it warmed up and dried out. After contemplating numerous options for a starting point I eventually settled on Spanish Fork, UT, just south of Salt Lake City.
From here my goal was to join the southern portion of the Utah Discovery Route. After a very chilly ride up Highway 6 over Soldier Summit, elev. 7477′, I headed up an access road to gain a ridgeline. Once I was over about 7800′ every shaded area had snow on it but the road wasn’t very steep and I was able to maintain traction. However, once above 8000′ there was constant snow and the road steepened. I was unable to maintain traction and was forced to turn around. This was tricky on the steep slick road but I discovered a technique: with the bike turned off and in gear, I got off the bike, forced my hip into the side of the bike and slid the front wheel sideways pivoting on the rear. Then I got back on the bike and retraced my steps back to the highway.
After consulting the map I found another point to gain the trail just a few miles further south at a slightly lower elevation. It was a quick, pleasant ride to this new point, however, once back on route I quickly discovered that although this portion was descending, it was in a tight valley. This meant melting snow most of the way down. At this point it was the most challenging riding so far. The soils in this part of the country turn to gumbo when wet. I actually found it easier to ride in the snow than on the muddy road. To illustrate just how slick, imagine riding just fast enough to keep rolling at idle down a slight incline only to find your rear tire breaking free and sliding sideways even though you hadn’t touched the brakes. I guess bikes just love to turn, not go straight. I think they find that boring.
Eventually things dried out and the riding improved. I spent the last three hours of the day riding fast open dirt roads. Every once in a while there was a deep abrupt cross-ditch thrown in for good measure. The past summer rains were some of the worst in years and thus had created a lot of erosion issues. That night was spent under the stars with a meal of mushroom ravioli and pesto.
The second morning started out much of the same in terms of fast open roads, although the frequency and severity of the erosion increased. I was able to cover some ground with the knowledge I would be unable to ride the portion of the route that travelled through the La Sal mountains due to the elevation and snow. I made the choice to ride the “expert only” portion through Lockhart Basin, just east of Canyonlands NP. Now many of you may be thinking, Dave, you’re not an expert rider, you’ve only been riding for two seasons. And while this is quite true, I had been making it a habit to ride these sections before without any problems. In fact I generally refer to them as the fun bits. Heather sometimes disagrees. What I have come to find out is not all expert sections are created equal. And that some things are easier ridden down than up. These discovery routes are set up to be ridden in a south-to-north direction. I was travelling in the opposite direction. This I learned the hard way. I dropped my bike six times in a 1/8 mile section, shearing off my left pannier and destroying the latch holding it to the bike. I also put a very large irreparable dent in the right pannier. (I later had to replace the right pannier and they’re not cheap. Thanks goes to Cody Fults at GoAz Motorcycles, who provided great help and service to repair and replace the damaged panniers.) Each time the bike went down, I had to remove all my luggage in order to lift it. This section of trail took over two hours to get the 650lb bike through, half of which was spent in the dark. It was a very mentally and physically draining day.
There was a very nice camp spot waiting for me at the top where I spent a sleepless night waiting for the sun to come up so I could move on. There was a sense of urgency to move on due to an impending storm system forecasted to move through the region late that day. At 5 am before the sun was up I started to walk the trail ahead with headlamp. I was trying to determine if I should move forward or turn around. After 45 mins of walking I didn’t see anything to turn me back so I walked back to camp and prepared to ride on. As luck would have it though just around the next corner after I stopped walking earlier was another difficult section. At this point I chose to tuck tail and run. I still had another estimated 35 miles until I knew it would be smooth sailing and didn’t want to get deeper only to be forced to turn around later. It’s the devil you know versus the devil you don’t.
This was where I learned trail direction can make all the difference. The section I struggled immensely with the night before with an unloaded bike I now was able to ride with a loaded bike. It wasn’t pretty though. Now back on familiar ground I backtracked to Moab, UT and rode the route I should have taken. As the day wore on the temperature dropped and I saw the storm system make its way towards me. This certainly reinforced my decision to turn around as I was now confident I would have been in the storm on the already difficult terrain. As it was I had to stop early in the day, about 3:30 pm in Monticello, UT due to a blizzard. A nice warm night in a hotel with a hot shower was what I needed.
I awoke the next morning after a great night’s sleep only to find my bike and the highway both covered with snow along with a cold wind. I was somewhat prepared for this as the forecast called for a cold morning and warming throughout the day. It did take longer than I had hoped to warm up but by 11 a.m. the road was free of snow and mostly dry. I packed the bike and headed off to the south completing the last southern portions of the Discovery Route with no mishaps. My goal at this point was to make my way to Quartzite, AZ where my dad winters and where it would be much warmer. It was a very long ride as I travelled from NE of the state to the SW. Even as I made my way south through the Navajo reservation the temperatures plummeted when the sun went down and it wasn’t until the next day just south of Flagstaff, AZ that my body warmed up and my mind didn’t think every patch on the road was ice. Then like the flick of a switch it was warm again. There was nothing left to do but ride to Quartzite, AZ.