Oct. 2, 2016—It’s tough to write about a snow storm in Utah while we are on our way to South Africa, but there is one more blog entry to finalize our first year of the trip before we can proceed with everything that went into our plans for year two.
This was actually one of the more exciting sections of the trip and some of the photos will show it. We learned that October is a little too late to enjoy riding a motorcycle along the Utah Backcountry Discovery Route (BDR). With the Idaho BDR complete, Dave and I had one last stretch of the Utah BDR before we could check this state off as well.
We woke up the morning of Oct. 2 at Bear Pass near Logan, Utah and although it wasn’t yet snowing, the air smelled cold and metallic. The sky was dark. We thought we’d better get going.
The snow started as we turned off the highway at our junction for this last section of the Utah BDR. We could have made a dash for Evanston but what was the fun in that? Plus we didn’t know if this would be a passing storm. It might clear up.
Our first indication of what we might be in for was a snow-covered truck coming down the road we were headed up. Dave pulled over to ask him how bad it was ahead. The dirt under our tires was mucky and slippery but snow was not accumulating on the ground. Yet.
The driver said the road was just wet as far as he had come from so we pushed on. Dave and I had already missed out on this 100 mile section twice. This was our chance to get it done. We were, after all, right there.
Our oversight was we didn’t actually ask the driver from how far up the road he’d come. We didn’t get much more than 8 km (5 mi) before we started creeping up in altitude and subsequently, into the snow. We crested a summit and by this point it was snowing quite a lot but the dirt was still just wet. As we rode down the other side, the sage fields opened up and here was no snow whatsoever. We were glad we’d persevered. This wasn’t so bad!
We started creeping up another high shoulder of hills and it started to dump again. This time it was sticking to us and the bikes.
There were a few trees that had come down and covered the road. Dave had to get out the folding saw and we took some time trying to saw through one of them before we gave up and Dave just dragged it far enough out of the way for two bikes to get by.
I was both excited and a little nervous. We couldn’t tell how high we might have to ride, nor how far. The GPS showed a road juncture about 40 km (25 mi) away but it couldn’t tell us if it was paved or dirt. From there it was another 30 km (18 mi) or so to Evanston, where we would find a hotel for the night.
I kept my thoughts on a hot shower and a bed for the night and rode on. Our helmet visors were starting to ice up, making it very difficult to see. The heated grips on our bikes only worked for our palms, the rest of our hands were freezing. It was snowing very hard. Our tires left the only tracks on the dirt road. We passed no one.
My heated jacket had malfunctioned a few days ago. I noticed when I found a burn mark in my long-sleeved merino wool top. Dave had kindly loaned me his heated jacket. Even with it cranked, I was still freezing. I couldn’t imagine how cold he must have been with no heating source.
At one point we stopped on the two-wheeled track our road had become and jumped around. I worried about hypothermia. But all we could do was press on for what we hoped would be a paved road. It was closer than where we’d come from, so turning back would have taken us longer. We wanted the road ahead to be paved for speed and ease, however, if it was covered in snow that presented its own problems. Our feet were totally frozen, making it very hard to shift and control the bike in the mud and snow. I had to pop my visor up because it was iced over but then I’d be pelted in the eyeballs with snow, so I had to sort of feel my way along following Dave’s tracks ahead of me.
We rode through a sheep farm and a growling dog nipped at our ankles while we passed trying to keep the bikes upright in the slippery ruts caused by tires over the years. Despite the dog, the scene was idyllic. I took the time for a photo and it remains one of my favourite pictures on the trip to-date.
Just when I wasn’t sure I could handle the cold anymore, we came to a junction and blessedly, the road was paved. Enough traffic had moved over its surface that it was just wet, not snowy, so we rode the remaining miles into Evanston, found a hotel and proceeded to each have showers lasting about 20 luxurious minutes and a great, long sleep in a real bed.
You’d think we’d have learned our lesson. It was too wintery to ride the last miles of the BDR. We should just stick to lower elevations and start the long journey back to Dave’s dad’s house in Arlington, WA, still about 1600 km (1000 mi) away, right?
But we still had about 65 km (40 mi) left on the Utah BDR. And, well, we were right there.
Oct. 4 leaving Evanston to Salt Lake City was not snowy but still plenty chilly and, once we’d found our junction to hop back on the BDR, some of the worst mud we’ve ridden in a while. I don’t really have photos that do it justice on account of trying to survive the road, but here are some that will give you an idea.
It was thick and slimy. Five miles took us about two hours. My forearms and fingers were so sore from trying to work the clutch and throttle in harmony at such low speeds that I kept stalling the bike, which would then just start falling to one side or the other. This was the first day I picked up the F800 alone as Dave didn’t see me go down. (I also happened to catch Dave bailing off his bike as well.)
Dave gives me plenty of options to bail out on the tough days. Sometimes I truly want to but the only way to get better is to push yourself. Also, there’s nothing quite like the feeling of passing a bunch of rock trucks, excavators and bulldozers making a huge mess in the mud and watching their expressions when a girl sloshes by on a motorcycle. I’m sure they thought we’d be turning around not wanting to attempt to churn through the soup they were digging up but we ploughed through it and kept going in order to complete our Utah BDR miles.
There is, of course, a limit. I don’t like feeling scared or over my head. But after a particularly tough day, it’s a great feeling to look back on what we’ve accomplished together.
Taking the last two weeks to complete the Idaho and Utah BDR was certainly worth it. But the challenges were about to begin. While we rode along the interstate to get back to Arlington, Washington, I contemplated the next month. We’d planned to hole up at Dave’s dad’s house and organize the next leg of our trip over to Africa, Europe and Russia. We needed travel visas, carnet de passages and a shipper for getting our bikes over to Africa. Dave was going to pick up some work in the Seattle area to make a few bucks while I would write and hopefully sell some stories. Together we would work on plans and organising. I was loving being on the road so I asked Dave if we could minimalize being home to 6 weeks max.
We had no idea we’d be home for almost four months.