Of the places Dave and I have travelled on this trip so far, Utah is one of my favourites. I like to see contrast and diversity in life and Utah has it. I love when the desert merges into alpine, like the red sandstone cliffs with the snowy peaks of the La Sal range behind. There was a day when we rode out of Moab, UT in the flowering cacti and 90F (32 C) then a few hours later were making our way up to 3048 m (10,000 ft) in alpine flowers and snow patches. The vastness of the desert skies make the clouds so much more impressive. When we stopped for lunch one day we could see Shiprock in New Mexico over 100 m (160 km) away. But what I like the most is even after riding through so many miles of Utah, there’s still so much more to see and so I look forward to going back.
Dave and I completed many of the 871 miles (1401 km) of the Utah Backcountry Discovery Route however we were thwarted several times in the higher passes that hadn’t yet melted out. The mostly unpaved route takes you from the Arizona border to Idaho and passes through great locations like Moab, Valley of the Gods, Indian Creek, the La Sal range and the northern Wasatch Mountains.
It was not without sincere effort that we pushed, shovelled and rooster-tailed our bikes through some of the more snowy areas but after a certain point it became clear we would not be able to finish any of the higher altitude sections. We were pretty bummed by the snow disabling our attempt to ride the La Sal range but taking the alternative did force us onto one of the most challenging and rewarding sections of riding either of us has done to date.
Lockhart Basin is classified as “Expert Only” for vehicle travel. Normally you wouldn’t see me on a ‘road’ like this but I was curious, for one, what Lockhart looked like. Dave had tried to ride it in November 2015 on his way to Arizona while his dad was trailering my bike down to Quartzite, AZ from Sandpoint, ID for the second start to our trip. Dave ran into snow and other problems. I wanted to know what a trail that had my boyfriend dropping his bike six times in an 1/8th of a mile section looked like.
For the first 40 m or so (60 km)—well, actually for all of it—I wondered what we’d gotten into. It was hot and slow going. Technical riding like this doesn’t allow a rider to get going fast enough to generate airflow. I’d already gone over and above my ‘serious riding’ quota for the day. My G650GS is no dirtbike but I was bucking it fully loaded up, over and down the other side of things as though it were indestructible. Which it’s not.
Along the way something in my brain clicked. I was experiencing more fun than fear, riding as though outside of myself. Sometimes I’d stop and scout a line, other times I’d just hammer into it and hope for the best. Dave was surprised or more like incredulous. He’d get to the top of something then get off his bike expecting to see me walking the route with my bike left behind but I’d be working through it or even right on his tail. There were still areas Dave had to take my bike through but they were fewer and farther between and I never once dropped my bike. If you’ve been reading along for most of our travels you’ll know I’m much less comfortable riding off-road. It’s a skill I’ve been working on and want very much to succeed at. This was a euphoric day and that’s what we’re all living for, right?
Around 6:00 p.m. we got to where the toughest part of the route goes through the basin and where Dave had his trouble in November. We contemplated what to do; push through or camp and try it fresh in the morning. It was late evening and still quite hot. We had only a litre of water between us and nothing but snacks for dinner. The day had taken much longer than we thought and we’d both drunk more than usual working so hard in the heat. We were dehydrated and tired. If we pushed through we could get to water another 18 m (30 km) after the basin but how hard would we have to work our already exhausted bodies? If we slept overnight would we feel rested or worse having had so little water and food?
We decided to set up camp and rest then try the basin very early in the a.m. while it was still in shade. After dropping electrolytes in some of our precious water we drank sparingly then I passed out in my underwear in the shade of my bike. Dave, also in his underwear, walked down the canyon to scout the route.
Our plan for the morning was for Dave to ride my bike down first to make sure he could get it through. If he rode his bike first then couldn’t get mine through we’d have a problem. I’d remove all the luggage from my G650GS to help it sit higher and skinnier for better clearance then ferry the loads through the basin on foot. The track would get wider after the tricky 1/8 mile section and I’d be able to strap it all back on and continue from there on the bike. This allowed us the best chance for success and efficiency. Although I wanted to attempt some parts of the route myself, it didn’t make sense to be hopping on and off in the confined basin.
Neither of us slept too well that night thinking if we couldn’t get both bikes through the basin, we’d have to turn around and go back the 40 some miles (60 km) that had just taken us all day. Although it had been fun it’d be a long, tough go without water or food. If we could get through the basin it was an easy 18 m (30 km) out to the road that would lead us to Moab and subsequently, cold water and beer.
We woke very early with a mission. While Dave packed the tent, I rode to the first switchback before the basin and starting pulling off luggage then looked down the track into the canyon. I felt sure Dave wouldn’t want to take my bike down there and that I should prepare myself for a long day back out in the other direction.
Dave rode up on his bike and leaned it on the kickstand swinging his leg off. Without a word he walked over to my bike and swung the same leg over my seat and started the bike. I could tell he was nervous. I told him he didn’t have to do it, that we could go back. He said I know then started creeping my bike toward the first drop, which I was sure was going to topple him over the handlebars. I offered him my neck protector, which my friends kindly refer to as a toilet seat, for whatever good it might do in a crash here. He seemed to not hear me.
Just before the drop he came to a sliding stop in the loose dirt, not wanting to commit. I couldn’t blame him, it was intimidating. Around the boulders were signs of past carnage; paint smeared on the side of rocks, broken reflector lights and glass in the sand.
With some struggle we pushed my bike back so Dave could have more of a running start. This time he went for it and rolled over the rocky ledge. There was a screech of metal on rock but the bike stayed on two wheels. Just like that one of the trickier sections was done. With the first bike anyway.
I hiked the canyon with my luggage and enjoyed having the luxury to look around and see how beautiful it was in there. It was only about 7:00 a.m. and the temperature was cool. Dave passed me on his walk back to his bike and I could tell he was much more at ease. He hugged me and said he’d never in a million years have thought we’d be riding this section of the UBDR together after how difficult it was for him to get through it last year. The advantage was definitely going down instead of approaching it from the other direction as he had. It’s much easier to roll off obstacles like these than to hammer them head-on.
When Dave rode his own bike through the top section, I was there to catch some of it on film. The video below helps to show what it’s like maneuvering big bikes through places they’re not meant to be. Dirtbikes would definitely have been a better option.
In the end, Dave got both bikes through Lockhart Basin; not without some amount of difficulty but thankfully without any major damage to him or the bikes. We rode the rest of the way out together to Hurrah Pass and down into Moab, our excitement escalating at having completed some of the toughest fun riding on our trip so far.