Day 22 and I’m solo again. Even though I really enjoy the Aussie’s company when we ride, there is something inside me that always has the desire for solo adventure travel. I like deciding my own pace. When, where, and how long I’ll stop and when I might just turn off the bike and listen to nature. My pace is decided by my ability to take in the scenes around me.
After a fuel stop I take the highway up to the turn off for Gemini Bridges, the next landmark on the TAT. The road soon gets steep as I leave the desert floor, the early morning light beginning to illuminate the rocks on the cliff side. After providing a nice view, the road drops back down and turns right, heading into the backcountry. I pass interesting formations and navigate some sandy areas. The recent rain makes it a little easier. Eventually I pass a really soft sandy area then turn right onto a steep slick rock climb, the rubber from so many vehicles leaving two distinct lines to follow on the surface. After cresting the top, the trail becomes a mix of slick rock and sand making for technical, fun riding up to Gemini Bridges.
There is a lot of riding after that today that is long, fast, and frankly boring desert sections running down power lines or across open barren desert. And I mean barren. Except for a small patch of sand dunes that looked beautiful, this section is a snoozer.
Once I reach the Mexican Mountain Wilderness and the San Rafael Swell things begin to get more enjoyable again. The canyons return and the landscape is magnificent. This is bighorn sheep country, and there are over 900 currently making their home here after a very successful repopulation program started with only 12.
As ever, the weather has me firmly in its sights. I see a monster of a dark cloud headed my way and I will have just enough time to reach camp. I think. I round the last corner and see the campground. Completely empty and sporting some nice new metal shelters at each site. I pick the largest one that serves adjoining sites and set up as fast as possible. I’ve seen these types of storms many times in the desert and know what is in store. This is the calm before the storm, literally. I move the picnic table over, then set up the tent and the bike under the shelter.
As I pound in the last tent stake, I’m getting wet. The storm has come up the canyon and it is angry. I don’t know it at the time but the Aussies have taken shelter about 3 miles away. The wind tries to rip my tent out of the ground and I dive in to hold it down with my body weight. It pulls 4 of the 8 stakes out but the corners hold securely. I can barely hear the thunder over the rain pounding on the roof of the metal structure I’m under. The desert can’t absorb the amount of water it’s getting and my shelter begins to turn into an island for 1 guy and his bike. Muddy streams and small ponds begin to form all around the campsite. Then the hail starts and now it’s deafening. Everywhere around the campsite there is a puddle, it is exploding with the impacts of millions of bb-sized hail stones. The hail lasts about 10-15 minutes and all I can do it watch by peeking under the flapping rain fly of my tent. At least I’m dry.
After about 25 minutes the storm has spent it’s energy and the sun comes right in behind it. The rabbits and birds come out almost instantly and start splashing in the muddy water, knowing how precious it is in the desert and how soon it will dry up. They are almost completely indifferent to my presence. In the new silence, I can hear water rushing as the valleys empty down to the campground, flooding tent spaces and campfire rings. Luckily no one else is here and it’s just me to watch nature reclaim its personal space. The hail stones begin to melt away quickly in the sun and the nearby river is now a chocolate colored stream 4 times its normal size.
Soon, all seems to return to normal except for many ponds and muddy areas that will take days to dry, and the Aussies roll into camp to claim a couple shelters for the night.
Enjoy the pics. Good night.
I woke up last night around 2am from being cold. I fell asleep on top of my sleeping bag before I could even get in it. I guess all the storm excitement wore me out. Oh yeah, and riding. I’m out of camp by about 6:45 and make a quick stop at the Buckhorn Pictograph Panel. It isn’t as impressive as I remember due to mud that has run down after last night’s rain. The visibility of the images changes with seasons.
As I leave the San Rafael Swell area, I see an ominous dark cloud ahead. This does not bode well for me, as the Aussies are already convinced I am a rain magnet. I reach Castle Dale and top off fuel. As I put my helmet on it begins to rain and the curse continues. Up to this point my tires have not been an issue in the rain. I have not been overly cautious but I do ride with the understanding that I’m on off road tires, not special racing rain tires, and I conduct my behavior accordingly.
Up the road on Highway 29 before reaching Joes Valley Reservoir, I splash through a shallow rain runoff streaming across the highway. Just after that I cross a patch of road that is shinier than the rest but gave no initial cause for additional concern besides the normal caution I would use while riding in the wet. As I crossed it though, it may as well have been an ice rink. My back tire started sliding away, no longer following the front, which I can handle because I practice rear wheel skids as a matter of proficiency. But then the front wheel departed controlled flight as well and now I was drifting, or rather hydroplaning, across the lane. Two wheels hydroplaning on a vehicle with only two wheels is normally a near instant crash. By some random act of luck the rear started to swing back the other direction and the moment traction was regained the front and rear tires were in perfect alignment going straight down the road. It was a one in a million chance of not going down and somehow I didn’t. I’ve never had a two-tire hydroplaning incident before, only the rear, and I never want to again.
Once on the back side of Joes Valley Reservoir the road turns to dirt and the rain stops. I stop too and add an extra layer. It’s only 52°F but feels colder. I’m climbing over 8,000ft through the switchbacks when I’m stopped by a sheep protection dog guarding its flock as they move down the mountain. I’m a “dog person” and know that this pup has a job to do so I make it easy on her. I stop and turn off the bike, respecting the flock and in turn allowing the flock to move without fear of my actions. The dog gives me a few barks to let me know she’s the protector, and the two Australian Sheppards run around gathering strays and maintaining the form of the flock. It’s a beautiful thing to see working dogs engaging in their jobs. Dogs with a purpose. Soon the sheppard and his horse come around the bend to clear the flock from the road. The dogs take cues from a simple wave of his hand. No speaking, only signs. Signs can be understood easier I assume over the noise of the 300 or so sheep in the flock. Once clear we exchange the universal thumbs up and I’m off.
Down the back of the mountain to Ephraim where I can grab a bite and upload some previous day’s stories. The next section has me climbing up a semi-steep grade to the top of a mountain only to find the route now goes through a large ranch gate labeled Timber Canyon. The kind you see over a private drive into a ranch. Four years ago this wasn’t here and I can’t tell if the road is public access across private land or not. What I do know is that it’s very unusual to proceed through an entrance like this without it being private and two, I respect private property with a passion. All the tire tracks turn around here and none proceed up the drive. I turn around and on the way down the Aussies catch up to me headed up. I stop them and they also decide a possible trespass isn’t for them either. They will detour around to the south and I will detour to the north to retrieve a front sprocket I have at will call at Rocky Mountain ATV in Payson a short trip up the road. After 23,000 miles I’m going to need a new one soon.
On my way back to the TAT there is a grass fire on the median of the freeway so I take a back road diversion into Delta where I made a reservation earlier while in Payson. When I pull up, guess who is here just by coincidence. The Aussies. And I didn’t even bring rain with me.
As always, when leaving a motel, I have a harder time getting up early than when camping. As I’m packing my gear I hear the Aussies heading off on their ride. They are making a detour to part of the Idaho BDR north until it hits the TAT. I’ve done the Idaho BDR and honestly, it’s probably a better route than the section I’m doing around the great Salt Lake. But I’ll stick to my route and maybe we’ll cross paths up the road.
I grab water and fuel in Delta, Utah before the section to Baker located on the Utah/Nevada border. This section from Delta to Wendover is my least favorite of the trip, probably rivaling the windy section I had in Oklahoma. Delta to Wendover is 250 miles and most of it consists of long straight sections of gravel road.
After about 40 miles of gravel I reach the Swasey Mountain Wilderness through the House Mountain Range. This section is a welcome relief from the monotonous straight roads I’ve been on. I pass by a Trilobite quarry but had no interest in digging up prehistoric roly-polies of the ocean so I continued into Death Canyon. An ominous name for such a docile two-track.
Over Dome Canyon Pass and through Wildhorse Canyon, the scenery is beautiful and unique for this area. After a short tour I exit west to an intersection marked by an old truck living out its last days as a bullet magnet. From there, another 40 miles of gravel roads across BLM lands to reach the blacktop near Baker and my fuel top off point. On the way a cloud blocks the sun and for a few minutes I’m riding in shadow. It’s hard to make out the tire ruts I’m following in the road for the lack of contrast in the road surface. So for a few miles I ride by braille, allowing my front tire to gently kiss the edge of the rut before nudging it back to the center.
Baker has a gas station, a small motel, and a convenience store that has only just enough items to get you through a night if you plan on camping somewhere before reaching Wendover.
After I leave Baker heading north to Wendover, I’m in for 115 miles of gravel road of varying quality. Some hard packed, some soft. But if I keep my speed between 50 and 60 mph I can blast through, or rather over, whatever the surface changes to. There isn’t much to see along the way but there are a few interesting standouts. West Desert High School is the smallest and most remote high school in Utah. Riding by, it seems a little out of place. It doesn’t look like there would be enough people in the area to even have a school at all. It’s over 40 miles just to the nearest paved road. There is a campsite that the Civilian Conservation Corps built that would serve as a good stop if you can’t make it to Wendover before sunset. Next I pass the remnants of one of the old Pony Express Stations along its route. On my bike I sort of feel like one of those old Pony riders. Just me and my steed making it from point to point.
By the time I finally reach pavement, I have about 35 miles to reach Wendover. I made good time today and have time left in the day to make some miles but I decide this is a good stopping point. 250 miles of gravel roads is plenty and it puts me in a good position tomorrow to hit the Transcontinental Railroad Scenic Byway and visit The Golden Spike NHS.
I left Wendover this morning a little grumpy that I couldn’t find an open diner in town. They were either closed or closed down. So I grabbed fast food and headed for Bonneville.
The famed Bonneville Salt Flats. It’s heyday was during my childhood and I can remember stories about land speed record attempts. I had to make the quick stop and run my bike down the racetrack out and back while I’m here. The course isn’t the same as it used to be. At one time the salt was 3 feet thick and the race area was 12 miles long. Now, over time, it is only 2 inches thick in spots and the course is only 2 ½ miles long. The big speed record attempts are no longer attempted here, although many smaller events still are. I run up and back a few miles in the early morning before the Sunday tourist crowds show up, take my photos for posterity, and head off to kill more TAT miles.
Fifty miles down more of Utah’s less exciting gravel roads I reach the start of the Transcontinental Railway National Back Country Byway. The official TAT route splits to the left here and more or less parallels the Byway on the north, meeting up with it about 45 miles from here. I decided to take the Byway and retrace the route of the original Transcontinental Railroad. Along the way there are interpretive signs telling about the different stations that used to be along the line. Many of the old trestles are still in place and the route goes around them. I pass a few ADV riders along the way and eventually arrive at the Golden Spike National Historic Site. As I arrive I’m just in time to see the 119 engine pulling up to the more famous Jupiter, chugging along slowly and blowing its whistle while the bell is rung by the conductor.
After visiting for awhile and watching a film, I stop in Tremonton for fuel and head north through miles of farmland towards the small town of American Falls located on the Snake River. Along the way I pass into Idaho, another unmarked border crossing between two wheat fields.
With the exception of a few short sections, the entire 300 miles today has been rather a tough slog, just hammering out distance in order to get to the good stuff tomorrow.
I arrive in America Falls, clearly a town dedicated to supporting the local farming economy, and grab a bite for dinner before finding a spot to camp. I’ve zeroed in on a BLM campsite on the bank of the Snake River but it’s Sunday and there are limited spots. When I get there I find only one campsite open and take it even though it’s within earshot of the next campsite having a party. I’ve got earplugs. As I’m setting up, the music stops and the cars eventually go home, apparently only out for the day. The rest of the evening is perfectly quiet and the sound of water over the distant rapids sends me to sleep after a long day of riding.
Tomorrow should be a better ride with more to see and talk about.