TAT June 2010 (Oregon or Bust!)
United States Massachusetts Concord
Random thoughts of the "Trans America Trail":
Update: first video compilation of trip - http://vimeo.com/13365926
After several years of building up enough vacation time, one of my enduro bike riding friends (Rick) & I were able to set up a full tour of the Trans America Trail (http://www.transamtrail.com/). Basically its a motorcycle trip that is mostly dirt roads & jeep trails from Eastern US to the Pacific ocean in Oregon. Budgeting time, riding everyday on the designated trail is 22 days if you are able to stick to the plan, but that really isn't realistic provided you need to do occasional "maintenance" days for tires, other odds & ends & repairs as needed. Also, the days are fairly full & don't give much time for stopping / diversions off the main route. We planned to knock it out in 37 days, giving us time to get to the official trail start in Jellico, TN, and back from Oregon's coast with some floating days built in. This is a "do it yourself" trip, and aside from buying the routesheets & maps from the site, its all on you to make it happen. There are no highway signs on the jeep trails to spoon feed you directions, etc. We were planning on camping along the way (along with hotels), which added some complexity & weight & also brought more reflexbility to where to stay.
We decided to go in June, as much for timing related to work as for the trail. The good part is we lucked out with moderate temps in the arid western US, and the wild flowers were still in bloom in the desert. Also, we ended up seeing a lot of young & new-borns along the way - mostly cattle, but plenty of others too. The risk with doing it that way, is the likelihood for wet weather, quagmires of endless mud, and a strong possibility of having to bypass the high peaks / passes in the Rockies.
Each day was different. Sometimes mild, others dramatic. The transition zones between areas were surprisingly quick - its one type of environment on the east side of a mountain pass, and something different when you come out the other side.
Outside of the taking in the scenery, the "adventure" was in part talking with many people we met along the way. An oil company paramedic on stand-down/off-time from the gulf spill; folks traveling the SE of the country visiting mom & pop "hidden gem" restaurants; a sheriff in OK (just checking out the dirt biker "psycho's" in his area); Mormon bikers; the bar flies in Denio Junction NV; & so many others. One pleasant surprise: we ended up having dinner with the TransAm Trail creator, Sam Correrro, as he was nearby the route & had some important updates for Oregon he wanted us to have. We actually bumped into him again in UT, as he was on the way back from OR & saw our bikes at the hotel & stopped by to say hi. Sam is passionate about his TAT project, and enjoys interacting with folks who are doing it. An interesting observation from that conversation was the amount of Euro's who buy the TAT route package & presumably end up riding it. ...I met one of them last year in the Smoky Mtns of NC, on my way to see my folks in TN. He was riding a BMW 650GS, that he had shipped from Germany to Canada & was riding down from Quebec to the trail's start in Jellico TN...
We had a very positive experience with virtually everyone we met. Also, everyday there seemed to be a section of trail that would keep you on your toes. If you don't have dirt bike skills &/or if your riding a heavy bike, it will be more challenging. Good thing is you can route around it.
We lucked out with the weather big time. We avoided some very nasty storms in the eastern US just barely, and only had to "slab it" on pavement for 1 day to avoid nasty mud in OK. Those storms ended up killing several folks right along the path we had taken in AR & OK. CO was much cooler than everywhere else. We were actually riding while it was snowing up in the Alpine Loop (central CO). The 1st full day in CO (starting in Trinidad), it rained for much of the day bouncing between high 30's to high 40's, but it was ride-able. Pretty chilly, considering the length of OK & NM was in the 90's, just before we experienced the CO cool down. UT & NV were pretty warm, but not horrible (high 80's low 90's), & we were very lucky not to be caught in rain out there (horrible mud, as was evidenced many places on the trail with sun-baked deep, hardened ruts of trucks trying to get through mud earlier in the season).
In Trinidad CO, we bumped into 3 guys at our hotel who were going riding the central section of the TAT; we ended up BS'ing with them for much of the evening swapping riding stories and info. Good guys, all from MI, & we ended doing a great day of riding with them when we bumped into them again at the Hancock Pass area. After exploring the old mining ghost town of St Elmo (near Salida CO), we met a guy riding a KTM 990 Adventure, doing the TAT solo & then heading up to northern tip of Alaska (lucky bastard!). He gave a good side-trip idea to explore Tincup pass, though the top was still impassable due to snow. This was the first "real" technical riding of the trip & it was great fun.
We ended up riding with the MI guys for the rest of the day until we reached 8-mile canyon, just outside Lake City, CO. Rick & I were really making good time up until then, but slowed to snail's pace as the scenery was just incredible. I had to stop for pictures after every corner... We ended up getting into town late & bumped into the MI guys at the one restaurant still open. It was an Italian joint, hosted by a bunch of young eastern Euro kids, & they did a great job. The guys ended up buying us desert, as thanks for us leading that day (not sure if the Marshall Pass section was a trail ride or a Rallye Raid, but we made great time!). The gesture was certainly a surprise, but appreciated! Though it was great riding with them, we ended up doing our own thing the next day, doing some more exploring in the area (Engineering Pass, Ouray, then out to Gunnison) vs sticking to schedule. Too much to see & would have been a shame to pass by it...
The CO high passes where fortunately open (some anyway). The first set (Hancock & Tomichi) were impassable due to heavy trail damage from mudslides & an avalanche. California Pass proved to be the most difficult due to the snow & mud under that; it was pretty tricky getting traction & steep switchbacks further complicated matters. After allowing our clutches to cool down after the torture-fest of abusing them in the snow, we debated for sometime about whether we should press on or turn back. The way ahead was snow covered, and had some "interesting" switchbacks. We saw several jeeps attempt the route, but had to turn back. Going back the way we came was no bargin either. After talking with some ATV'ers coming from the other side, we decided to press on. It was doable, but pretty sketchy. The follow-on passes were fun & mildly technical. I couldn't imagine doing it with a big adventure bike (like a BMW 1200GS) in those conditions. Just passing other vehicles on the trail would have been a challenge in places.
After our mountain retreat, we entered UT, and shortly after approached the town of Moab - the "offroader's" paradise for the USA. Shortly after the change from mountains over to arid "slickrock" & sand, Rick's bike stepped out on a gravel corner & the bike went down. He hurt he hurt his foot, but we were unsure of how severe the injury was. We left the boot on as a splint & fortunately he was able to ride into town. It was pretty tricky given a loaded-up, tall bike, an injured foot, & having to "heel shift" the bike on loose gravel winding roads... Turns out after waiting 5 hours in the ER, it was a dislocated bone in his foot. We decided to hole-up in Moab (only town for many miles, and the riding is getting tougher) for a few days to reduce the swelling & hope he could ride.
We ended up getting the bikes serviced at Moab Powersports - only reason being that Arrowhead was closed due to the owner's vacation. Anyway - Moab Powersports was a serious disappoint (they "lost" our tires we had pre-staged there & after much debate proving they were delivered, etc. they found them in stock). It took half a day to change two sets of tires & the charges were pretty steep... I was really not happy with them as I could have done the same thing on the trail side, in better time.
During Rick's recovery time, I spent the time exploring Moab's trails, and ended up doing the "White Rim" trail for a day trip. Its a very scenic area, & perfect for jeeps. The trail at times was pretty harsh on the stock dualsport suspension, given the miles of jarring rocks & the speed I was trying to maintain as I got a late start. I was feeling pretty abused by the end of it, but enjoyed the trail & scenery nonetheless. Like later on in NV, you could generally maintain a good speed on most of the trails & have fun getting air off the rises/whoops, but you had to be careful for sudden changes - like a rocky creek bed & a sharp corner just behind one of the whoops... Moab was great, & I didn't even scratch the surface of the riding you can do out there.
Utah & NV had some challenging spots to them - some sections of deep loose sand weaving through sage-brush, with the occasional sharp turn hidden by the brush to dive into a steep sided gully or drainage. You learned to expect the unexpected... Some of the highlights were Black Canyon, UT & some ATV trails beyond it; the mountains east of Fort McDermitt, NV, and the folks at Denio Junction. Denio looks like a pretty sketchy place, but it was a hoot with very friendly folks. Met some really cool people, both local & some passing through (but were frequent visitors.). One guy was from OR, but worked in CO, and knew the trails we came through like the back of his hand... Other guy was a prospector/miner & was showing off some stuff he found (petrified wood, & some other stuff), & the bartender knew how to manage her somewhat rowdy clients...
Oregon was close behind & rapidly changed from desert scrub to forested mountains, leading to very thick undergrowth about the time you pass by Crater Lake. Speaking of which, Crater Lake was probably the single most impressive area on the trip. Even in late June, it was still covered in snow & ice, and only the western rim was passable. The area was breathtaking, and pictures don't do it justice. The Pacific was just around the corner, and one day to go. Halfway into that last day, I came around a sharp corner on a gravel road & thats where my western bound trip ended... A younger bear had launched himself in front the of bike, basically knocking the steering to full-lock & pancaking me into the ground. It knocked me pretty silly for a minute, but was conscious enough to be concerned about a possible mother bear finishing me off... The bear was no-where to be found, having taken off into the undergrowth; no sign of others as well. Having messed up my leg & forearm, I knew I was not going to ride it out. I was going to be in for an adventure just trying to get the hospital. Fortunately for me, a good Samaritan happen by in a pickup - the only vehicle for miles around. He was a botanist working with USFS to identify endangered species prior to logging the area. The guy was kind enough to haul my sorry self 1.5 hours to the hospital, and then turn around & give Rick a ride back there to pick up the bike, which fortunately was rideable. Talk about going out of your way...
The ER in Medford, OR was quick & turned out I had a pretty good sprain in my knee & ankle, and broken my wrist. Such is life... could have been a lot worse. The U-Haul home was as advertised "an adventure in moving"; not ideal for recuperating from the injury, but at least I didn't have to ride my bike through it as Rick did with his foot.
All in all a great trip & ton of memories. Now I have to figure out, what's next?