How to have a gas on the White Rim Trail

Start Time: Start Mileage: End Time: End Mileage: Total Time: Total Mileage:
4/19/97 @ 7:00 MDT 0 (no odometer, just a trip meter) 4/21/97 @ 00:30 MDT 130ish 41hr 30 min 130ish

Main characters:

Alan Fleming '82 XR500R
Todd Blachowiak '96 XR250L

For the past few months, Steve "Scooter Scum" Johnson has been talking about a trip to Moab, Utah for some dual sport riding. I'd been interested but non-committal, mainly because I'm a dirt novice and wasn't sure heading out with a group of seasoned pros was a good way to jump in. Additionally, I've been spending lots of money on my novice race effort and spending a couple of hundred bucks for a weekend of riding was out of my budget. Then, last week that all changed.

Todd Blachowiak recently purchased a used '96 XR250L (along with a closet of new gear) and was itching to try it out. Since part of Steve's group ride was a Sunday ride around White Rim trail that seemed a decent approach at getting used to the new bike. However, the group was making a long weekend out of it, Todd didn't have the vacation time to take off work so he wanted a riding partner that would road trip over on Saturday, do the White Rim on Sunday and do a night drive back Sunday evening. Since Todd was planning on camping, it seemed like a cheap enough trip to tempt me to go along.

Saturday morning at 7am, I crawled out of bed. I'd intended to pack on Friday night but opted to go out with my girlfriend instead. With only an hour to get ready before Todd arrived, I hurried through packing the camping gear, camp food, clothes, bike tools and my meager assortment of dirt gear. After everything was packed, I jumped into the shower. Just as I stepped out, I heard knocking at the door. The clock ticked over to show 8:00am. Right on time.

It took me a second to recognize the face at the door window since it was topped by an unusual hair do. Apparently, Todd had gotten a strange attraction to Q-Tips and decided to do a bob and bleach job on his 'do. After a quick "good morning", Todd waited outside while I dried off and got dressed. It took about 20 minutes to load my XR into Todd's S-10, get the food in the cooler and load my duffel bag of gear. Andrea (my girlfriend) came out to see blondie's new look, then we were off.

Down 119 to I-70 and then west across the Divide. We passed the time swapping bike stories, past bikes, current bike plans and other bike related stuff. Eisenhower Tunnel, Vail, Glenwood Springs and Rifle passed by. At Grand Junction, we spotted a *huge* 4WD area. We contemplated a quick break to unload the dirt bikes but decided to press on. We did pull over for gas, ice and a bottle of iced tea. We contemplated getting beer but decided it wouldn't be *that* much more expensive at the Utah state run liquor stores. (It should probably also be noted that we contemplated the age of the girl getting gas next to us. I guessed 12 (going on 25). Todd's guess was within a year of mine. We decided she was trouble and beat feet out of there.)

It was a quick 50 miles to the exit for UT-128. It was marked as a "scenic road" and therefore seemed a better choice than going on down to UT-191. As it turned out, this was a fantastic choice. The road is curvy (damned shame we weren't on bikes), scenic (it runs along side the Colorado River), interesting (there were old farms, rafters on the Colorado, mountain bikers in the camp grounds and an old suspension bridge) and saved us some time. It was a little distressing to note that all the campgrounds were full but it was early enough in the day we shouldn't have a problem.

We got to Moab around 3pm and immediately headed to Arches Nat'l Park to see about a campsite. At the gate, there was an ominous "Campground full" sign. The lady at the booth said they'd filled up at 8am. She also said the Slick Rock campground had been full the night before. Uh-oh. Fortunately, she recommended just camping down any of the dirt roads in the area, so at least the park service seemed to have a pretty lax view of roadside camping. We got a list of campgrounds from the Info Office and headed out in search of a place to camp.

After a drive through downtown Moab, we headed up to SlickRock. Sure enough, it was full too. Since it looked like we were in for a scavenger hunt, we decided to take care of a few "in town" items. I discovered I was missing the fuel bottle for my MSR stove. We also needed beer. How can anyone camp without beer? It turns out both were and adventure. We ended up going to five different places before we found a place that stocked MSR style fuel bottles (and then it was $11!). The price of beer at the state run liquor store was $10/six pack for mediocre beer. We bought a fifth of vodka and a fifth of rum (also for $10) instead. (Next time we're bootlegging it!). Another stop netted us some cola and orange juice. Thusly supplied, we were ready for anything.

On the drive out of town, we saw a bunch of KLRs go by. We followed them to the hotel we suspected Steve was staying at and sure enough, this was part of his group. We promised to show at the Denny's the next morning and headed for Potash Road (UT-279), figuring we'd just pitch our tent roadside. A few miles up Potash Rd, we passed Wall Street, a series of rock climbing walls. Just past that, was a series of roadside fire rings. Since this appeared to be "legit" camping we grabbed one. Next to us was a group of Jeeps and Toyota LandCruisers (as a Jeep owner, I'd like to point out it was the Toyota that had a broken front axle) so we figured 4-wheelers would be less likely to be offended by our dirt bikes than the mountain bikers might.

We immediately unloaded the bikes and decided to go do some riding. We put on our gear and locked everything else in the cab of the truck. I verified the XR had oil while Todd warmed up his XL.

Now on the bikes, we continued down Potash Rd, looking for "Pucker Pass". This was to be our return route Sunday evening after hopefully completing White Rim and we wanted to scout it out to see how difficult it was. We turned at the "Dinosaur Tracks" sign and headed up. Almost immediately, we encountered a long, steep, rock covered hill climb. The XR was skidish over this but I seemed to be in reasonable control. Near the top, I slowed as the rear tire spun on rocks and Todd's XL stalled out when he tried to avoid hitting me. I made it on up but it look a little while for Todd to get the XL to kick over.

We continued on up the trail for a few miles, encountering deep sand and progressively steeper rock climbs. I was continually being too passive at attacking these climbs and having the bike stall out. The XR isn't very difficult to kick start but doing numerous times while holding the (weak, drum) front brake (to keep from sliding backwards) was exhausting. Todd was again having trouble kick starting his XL, so we were both working up quite a sweat. Along the way we encountered a few mountain bikers, most of whom where quite friendly. I guess the mountain biker vs. motorcyclist thing is overblown a good bit. We also encountered a few 4X4s and were impressed that they could handle some of the rock faces.

After about 5 miles, we hit a steep narrow canyon. The trail went right up the center and was littered with rocks and gravel. I was in the lead at the time and opted for a "when in doubt, gas it" approach. This lasted me about 1/4 of the climb, then the rear wheel let loose and slammed me down. Ouch! No major damage to me or the bike but I realized I was getting too physically exhausted to keep this up. After catching my breath, I asked that we turn around. Todd made an attack on the climb (and made it to the top, damnit!) then we headed back down.

The steep climbs coming up where much easier going down. I adjusted my front brake to the point it would actually do something and that helped a lot. Someone replaced the (presumably damaged) rear brake pedal on my XR with a shorter version. This made it virtually useless and the weak front wasn't taking up the slack. Once I tightened up the front, I could actually bring the bike to a reasonably quick stop. Thus, I could pick my way down rock faces rather than just giving a quick prayer and going over the edge. Only once did I have any problem, when the bike stalled when I was a little slow gassing to go over a rock. The bike tipped over when I found air where I was expecting a foothold. Otherwise, the trip back down and to the truck was uneventful.

Since there was still some sunlight, we decided to pour a drink and walk around. During out walk, we headed back to the head of the road to see how far we'd made it relative to where we'd start at White Rim. The sign at the trailhead made it very clear we'd screwed up. Instead of taking Pucker Pass, we had gone up Poison Spider Trail. Ooooppss! After contemplating our mistake, we climbed up the nearby cliff a bit and sat down to watch the sunset.

Now, I'm an avid motorcyclist. I really *love* to ride and I'd enjoyed today's ride, even if it had kicked by butt. However, the real joy of these kinds of trips is just hanging out with a like-minded person (or people). Todd and I proceeded to jaw, yap, pontificate and generally have great conversation for the next hour or so. All the while, we were watching the color in those magnificent Utah cliffs change from brown to red to grey.

Once we had both emptied our drinks, we headed back to the truck. At a relaxed pace, Todd set up the tent while I got a fire going and started up the camp stove. Over another couple of drinks, we fixed and ate dinner (soup, rice-n-beans, corn, bread and cheese). Once the fire burned down a bit, we went out walking to see what was going on at the nearby campsites. Nearly all the vehicles were from Colorado, so we struck up a few conversations and shared a few drinks. Just before midnight, we staggered back to the tent and collapsed. Between the effects of Poison Spider and poison vodka, I slept *great*.

Around 6am, the neighbors began to start moving. Young girls were giggling and someone else was throwing around coolers and bags of gear. Normally, I might be able to sleep through this kind of thing but there was this annoying little thump happening inside my skull that made the noises particularly annoying. Todd was apparently feeling the same, as he was quick to get out of his sleeping bag. After a half gallon of water, some scraping of the teeth and some aspirin, I was feeling vaguely human.

We broke down the tent, loaded up the bikes and headed into Moab to the meet the DP crowd at Denny's. Todd and I both planned our breakfast and looked forward to another gallon of water to help sooth our hangovers. At Denny's, Todd dropped me off and then headed to the gas station to top off the bikes. I wandered into the assembled crowd of bikers and started making introductions. I was soon informed that Denny's was just the meeting place. No group breakfast was planned and they'd already eaten. Once everyone showed up, the mass was heading for the trailhead.

When Todd got back, we hastily replanned. Denny's would provide a bathroom stop and also allow us to fill our water bottles and camelbacks with water. I had some fruit and some breakfast bars in the truck, so those would do for breakfast. Since everyone was heading out shortly, I checked the oil in the XR while Todd got the plan from Steve. We then headed out early, so we'd have time to unload the bikes before the DP crowd got to the trail head.

Back down Potash Rd, we found a camping area right at entrance to South Fork Rd. We unloaded the bikes and started suiting up. While the bikes were warming up, the booming of single cylinder bikes started echoing up the canyon. We watched as all the DP bikes streamed past. My rough count was 9 KLRs, 1 BMW GS, 1 Transalp, 1 DR350 and 1 TDM. Todd and I mounted up, then went flying up the road to catch up. The XR handled great on this stuff. On the graded dirt road, I was cruising at 40mph, no problem.

After a few miles, we caught up to the bulk of the group. They'd pulled over at an overlook above the Colorado River to check on everyone. After a short break, everyone headed back down the road. At this point, Todd and I left near the front of the group (following Steve Johnson on his TDM and a fellow named Nick on a Suzuki DR). The pace was again brisk but nothing dangerous. At this point, South Fork Rd starts to wind along the edge of small canyons and gullies. Not a good place to crash!

A few miles later, the White Rim trail meets South Fork. We took a left onto White Rim and started the trail proper. Things started to get really dusty, as the bikes in front began to kick up a cloud of fine dirt. Knowing the drop offs that were nearby, it was pretty important to maintain visual contact with the road so I ended up dropping way back from the lead riders to escape the dust plume.

After just a short distance on the White Rim, the leaders again pulled to the side, this time at Muscleman Arch. Since we were near the front, we got to watch as the majority of the group bumped and bounced down the trail and into the overlook area. All accounted for so far...

Muscleman Arch is a *huge* arch, standing a hundred or so feet above the ground below. The arch itself is probably 10 feet wide but from the rim of the overlook it appears much narrower. If you pick your way carefully, you can walk out on the arch. Todd, always the adventurer, rode his XL out onto the arch and posed for pictures as those assembled looked on nervously.

While the group looked over bikes and talked, Todd and I decided to head on. The folks on the DP bikes were going to make a day of it but we needed to be back in Denver. As such, we were far more motivated to make tracks and thus went our own way. As we were leaving, we asked if anyone had any spare gas. Neither of us knew the range of our bikes and were a little worried we might have problems. Unfortunately, it was a little early in the trip for the DP bikes to volunteer their gas supplies so we opted to strike out with what we had. With a "watch out for the big hill climb" and lots of waves, we were off.

The first order of business was to get used to the bumpy trail. While the bigger drops or rocks could be avoided, the main technique was just to stay on the gas and stand on the pegs. Even though the XR's suspension is dated, at 30mph it was actually a reasonably smooth ride.

After leaving Muscleman Arch, the trail runs along the White Rim (pretty clever, huh?), mainly alternating between the edge of the cliff top and fairly straight, flat sections. To one side are the cliffs going up to the "Island in the Sky" portion of Canyonlands and on the other side is the drop off to the Colorado River. The cliff going up is probably a 1000 ft, while the drop off going down is about 600 ft. No matter which way you choose, the only way off the White Rim is to just follow the trail.

The terrain is very arid with just tuffs of scrub brush along the sides of the road. Since the surface of the road is mainly dust/dirt covered rock, you're either going over bumps or burrowing through an inch or two of loose sand. Its not very difficult but requires constant attention less you end up heading towards the aforementioned scrub brush. More importantly, it requires constantly standing on the pegs to either soak up bumps or guide the bike through sand.

Since it was just Todd and I at this point, we picked up the pace again. Generally, we ran along at 30 to 40 mph (despite the 15 mph speed limit). When we started encountering mountain bicyclist, we'd slow down considerably to reduce the dust cloud and give them plenty of room. This seemed to work out well since the bicyclists were generally friendly. Todd slowly pulled out a few hundred yards and they moderated his pace to keep that distance. This kept me out of his dust but still kept me in sight in case there were problems.

Thankfully, the weather was really in our favor. The sky had a thin layer of cloud that hinted of rain but was neither raining nor blistering hot. (I'd heard that the sand along White Rim turns to a horrid mud if wet, so the lack of rain was particularly nice.) The temperature was probably in the 70s or 80s but the 30 mph headwind and sweat evaporation kept things comfortable. I just had to hope the clouds didn't make good on their threat of rain later in the day.

After about 10 miles, Todd pulled over for a quick rest break. I gave the XR a quick lookover and was happy to see everything appeared as it should. We stretched out for a bit, enjoyed the scenery and then jumped back on the bikes.

My XR could definitely out accelerate Todd's XL (no surprise considering the extra displacement) but from just watching it was obvious Todd's suspension was much better. I could feel my helmet jolting over some of the 10" - 12" drop offs while Todd's XL seemed to handle those without passing the blow along to Todd. Nice!

The next 10 or so miles was more of the same. While the scenery was spectacular, the attention needed to run at this pace kept my eyes on the trail most of the time. A few times, I really regreted having to rush through because there were some great overlooks that we weren't able to stop and enjoy.

At our next "shake it out" break, I noticed that the XR's rear fender bag had burst open. This deposited my spare front tube, spare clutch and brake levers and spare spark plug onto the trail. Since we didn't know when this happened, we decided not to turn back but to hope that Steve and the DP crowd would find those when they passed through. After a couple more photos were added to the Kodak disposable and a few chugs of water, we again returned to the bikes.

All along here we'd been passing bicyclist and as we were further along, I was more and more impressed at what it took to peddle this far into the dry Utah wilderness. I know there are side trails that come down from Island in the Sky to White Rim but even then, it would be an impressive feat to decend and then re-acsend. Moab truely is where the hardcore peddlers congregate!

We did another ten miles, only slowing as we passed cyclists or to take in a view from over the canyon ledge. The comprehension of distance was particularly obvious along here. The rim of Island in the Sky was probably a couple of miles to one side, the far side of the canyon on the other side of the Colorado River was probably another two miles and the Rim above that was at least that far again. All in all, the upper canyon was on the order of six miles wide. All this space around us, above us and below us. What's more, just looking ahead along the White Rim trail was probably good for five or so miles of distance. Amazing!

As the trail continued, I noticed we were heading towards a ridge with no apparent way around. As we got closer, I could see the trail cresting the ridge and realized this was finally the dreaded hillclimb. Even knowing it was there, I was surprised as we went from flat to incline. Todd stopped for a moment to check for anyone heading down, then gunned the little XL and raced up the hill. I went around the tight hairpin at the bottom and then immediately stalled when the rear tire started skipping on washboards. With the bike sliding backwards and the front brake locked, I got the bike turned sideways and came to a stop. After an aggrivating series of kicks, I got it restarted and tried to pick up momentum as quickly as the washboards would allow.

Todd had reached the top and stopped to see if I needed help (or at least see me wipe out). With an audience, I couldn't dare choke now, so I held the throttle open and bounced up the hill. With a steep drop off to the left and a rock face to the right, I opted to stay to the right. The road had a slight angle downwards towards the rock face and rain had washed rocks onto the right half of the road. These caused the wheel to bounce erradically towards the left side of the road and I was constantly correcting to keep it pointed over the rocks, not over the cliff.

With no major problem, I zoomed past Todd and over the crest. As Todd came back past, he stopped to congradulate me while I asked "Was *that" the difficult hillclimb?". Jeez, no sweat! That short, steep incline lead to a long, steep decline. The need to use the rear brake on the downhill was considerably hampered by the nearly worthless short brake lever on the bike. It has been damaged in yesterday's crash and eventually locked solid as it hung up on a bolt on the frame. As I skidded to a halt, I fixed the problem by kicking at the lever in frustration until it bent out of the way. This unlocked the front tire but also made the rear brake unusable.

The remainder of the down hill was made using only the front brake. Near the bottom, I had to stop because the front brake was overheating and fading badly. I noticed this when I ran into a right hand switchback far faster than I'd originally intended. Once I thought it had cooled down enough to get me the last hundred yards down the hill, I kicked it back to life. Just as I got to the bottom, Todd was starting to turn around to look for me.

Now that the terrible hill climb was over, I magically calmed way down. I'd been pretty tense the whole way, mainly because I was picturing this ramp straight up the thousand foot cliff to Island in the Sky. With that demon out of the way, I really started to look around more. This was fortunate timing since nearby White Canyon proved to be truely beautiful. The white rock that gives White Rim it's name is very obvious in this area. There are hundred foot tall towers of rock with the top twenty foot a milky white color. Even the dust along here was grey-ish white covering the trail and surround plants.

Since we were beyond our ten mile break, Todd pulled over at a large rock on a cliff top. I dug out the apples from my fanny pack and we sat for awhile, staring down into the canyon. This rest was particular well timed since my knees and lower back were beginning to complain about all the standing I was doing. The XR forks were doing a good job of absording the bumps but sitting on the seat was difficult because big bumps would compress the shock spring and bounce me out of the seat. When proplerly timed bumps came along, I ended up getting bounced around more than was comfortable. Standing allowed my legs to absorb the rebound and kept my head reasonably level no matter what the bike was doing. This worked great except that I'm in lousy shape and my legs didn't like the workout.

After the apple we made a few calculations about how far we were from a gas station. I was guessing I had about 20 miles left and Todd guessed that was about how far we had left. With a last look into the canyon and a final swig of water I got back on the XR. Again, we ran at a pace around 30mph, going through similar terrain but somewhat more sandy that what we'd encountered earlier. After just a couple of miles, the XR began to sputter, so I switched to reserve. After my '97 Elephant Ride, I knew I had less than 20 miles at this point so I hoped our guesses were right about how long the trail was.

After another couple of miles, we came to a outhouse. Since these are rare facilities in the Utah wilderness, we decided to stop and avail ourselves of the facilities. While we were there, some bicyclists came along and said it was probably 20 miles to the end of the trail. Unfortunately, we were hoping it was 20 miles back to Moab, so our calculations considerably in error. With no other choice, we pushed on.

The next ten miles were fairly flat but with an increasing view of the Green River. Over time, the trail began to decend and after a series of inclines, actually got down to the water level. If we had more time (or at least more gas, so that time wasn't a potentially valuable resource) I'd like to have stopped and rested here but we were in crisis mode. Instead, we slowed the pace for a bit to enjoy the cool air and relatively lush vegetation.

Once we were down by the Green River the trail varied from hard, dry clay to loose sand. Surprisingly, the hard clay was the worst. After the last rain, the 4WD crowd must have been through because the clay was molded into deep ruts with uneven tire-tread shapes. This caused the front tire of the XR to slide around unpredictably. It was never really difficult, just very unpredictable.

After a few miles, we came upon a campground with some trucks gathered around. I thought about stopping and asking for gas but thought surely the end was nearby and at this point we were bound to make it. Instead of pulling in, I gave a wave and kept on keeping on. After the campground, the trail went over a small ridge. The hill climb up was easy but the switchbacks were tight and would easily hide a decending 4WD. Since velocity is your friend on hillclimbs there were some stomach wrenching moments as I went around large rocks that blocked my view uphill. The downhill section of this ridge was much longer and less steep, so I spent some time coasting with the engine idling. At this point, fuel conservation was the rule. As an added bonus, my quiet idling let me pass a cross-country mountain bicyclist at a curteous speed.

About a mile after we reached the bottom of this ridge, the XR sputtered a few times and died. No diagnostics required, I'd finally discovered the range of the XR...89 miles. I tried to coast of the shade of a nearby tree but the sand ground things to a halt about 50 years short.

Todd pulled in behind and we quickly unlimbered tool kits and proceeded to pull the tank off his XL. Since he hadn't gone on reserve yet, we decided to drain off his tank with the petcock in the "on" position. This would transfer over some gas to my tank and still leave him with the 3/4 or so gallon of gas. While this was going on, the bicyclist went back past. The tortoise goes slowly but end the end the mighty rabbit might run out of gas...

With everything put back together, I refired the XR. The trail along here is very beautiful with the flowing river and greenery struggling to reach the densely overgrown banks. Now that I was accutely aware of the fuel shortage problem, I slowed way down and really got a chance to enjoy the surroundings. After about six miles, we passed a Ranger. Again, I thought about stopping but decided to keep pushing on. At this point, it seemed likely that Todd could make it to a gas station. If so, he would just fill up and return to whereever I stopped. Then we'd just bleed off more gas to get us both back to the gas station. Besides, the end was surely just around the next bend.

No, but around the next bend the bike died again. I'd gotten about seven miles out of the gas Todd supplied. Rather than share Todd's remaining gas, he went on up ahead to see where the end really was. I rested for a short time, then decided to start pushing and just ask any passers-by for gas. After pushing for about half a mile, Todd returned to say the bottom of the long climb out was just around the corner. Since there was an intersection at the bottom of that climb, where White Rim meets the road to Horsethief boat ramp, Todd headed back there to flag down traffic while I continued to push.

For the most part, pushing the XR is really easy. The wide bars are set at about shoulder height and the large diameter wheels turn really easily. The only drawback is when there is a slight uphill, then you notice the bikes weight. About half the remaining distance was slightly uphill. Not uphill enough to make one give up immediately but certainly uphill enough to make muscles in your shoulders start to ache.

As I neared the top, Todd must have noticed my look of dispair and helped crest the hill. There, in the shade of a parked Ford Explorer, we parked the bikes. After removing the dirt armor, we sat on the ground, leaned up against the truck and started to wait. Almost immediately, a truck came up from White Rim headed out. I flagged them down and asked about spare gas. Negative.

Waiting, is always a good time to think. To think about the gas we should have brought along in our fuel and water bottles. To think about how we should have been more insistant about gas before leaving Muscleman Arch. To think about the people we passed along the way that probably carried spare gas. To think about just how hot it can be in the early afternoon in Utah. To think about how long it will take the DP crew to catch up and how sunburned we'd be when they got here.

To avoid all that, we started spotting destroyed cars along the steep grade up. This grade is pretty amazing. I'd guess its probably a 15% grade but its a mile long. It snakes along the walls of a canyon, climbing about a thousand foot until it reaches the campground at Horsethief Point. In a couple of sections where the road makes a sharp switchback, there are smashed hulks of cars that never made the turn. These aren't just old rusty cars from the 50s but visible amoung the pieces was the light-blue commonly found on Nissan Pathfinders.

Off at the very top of this assent we could see a very slow moving white vehicle, just starting down. While we were watching, a bicyclist came along, this one headed to the boat launch. Unfortunately, he didn't have any gas their, either. So we sat, talked, drank the last of our water and watched that little patch of white slowly decend the one mile long grade.

About twenty minutes later, the white dot turned into a white pickup with lots of rafting gear tied to the top. Among that gear was a one gallon gas can. Ah ha! I flagged the guy down and asked if he had any spare gas. After a conference with the passenger, he said he had one gallon of 2-stroke premix but it was a very weak mix. Something like 200:1. Never one to turn down a drink in the desert, we never blinked and offered to buy it off him.

We split the gas 50/50 between the two bikes and gave the guy $5 for the gas. He initially refused but we were thankful to the point of pushing the money on him. After less than an hour, we were back underway.

We wasted no time in suiting and starting up to the state park. Almost immediately I realized I hadn't buckled the helmet strap. I found a spot to stop and fixed that. I also put the petcock back to "on" since I knew I could get about 15 to 20 miles on reserve. Since we suspected it was about 20 to the gas station, this would be indicate if I'd make it. About halfway up, the bike sputtered and I switched back to "reserve". It was still going to be close.

Other than the gas problem, the climb up was a breeze. The steep drop off was imposing but after Poison Spider this was no problem. Just keep the bike in second gear, sat on the seat and let it thump along. We stopped at the top of the grade and took some pictures. The view across the canyon was spectacular. Just the road itself was spectacular since you could see the full one mile clinging to the cliff side and ending at the intersection below.

Once out of the camping area, the road is a long, graded dirt road. The surface is hard with a dark red dust everywhere. In an effort to make up some time, we really wicked it up here. To avoid the buzzing butt that comes with riding across washboards, I stood on the pegs and kept the needle at 50mph. Todd was far enough ahead that I could avoid his dust cloud but again close enough to see if anything happened.

It was about ten miles back out to UT-313 and it was spent concentrating on the dirt road surface and following Todd's dust cloud. On 313, we swapped the lead and headed back for Moab. On the dirt road, the XR handled fine but on the asphalt the knobbies felt very nervous, particularly in turns. At 50 it was managable. Above that and it felt like it was skating around. The only other time I'd ridden the bike on asphalt was the '97 Elephant Ride and then I had a bent rear rim and ice screws. Unfortunately, a straight rim with knobbies isn't that much more confidence inspiring.

After about five miles, I started to get concerned about the gas situation. We had passed an overlook with a truck full of ATVs but didn't see anyone so kept on going. Shortly thereafter, signs came along saying "Steep downhill grade, 10%". We got behind a row of cars, directly behind a mini-van. Once we got to the top of the downhill, I shifted the XR into neutral and cut the engine. With just the sound of the "click-click" of the knobbies, I cruised down, nearly rearending the van a couple times as I gained speed.

Near the bottom, I shifted into third and let out the clutch to restart. Instead, the compression locked the rear wheel. I shifted up and tried again. Same result. With cars behind, Todd pulled over and I followed suit. While slowly rolling along, I was able to kickstart the thing and continue along. Todd gave a confused look, since he's assumed I'd run out of gas again.

After another few miles, we came to the intersection with US-191. More importantly, we came to the gas station at the intersection with US-191. As we rolled to a stop, three dirt bikes (two Honda XRs and a Suzuki DR) pulled in. They'd done Poison Spider, then come down a back way and gone cross-country to the gas station. I considered falling to the ground and bowing but decided I was too tired. Surprisingly, they seemed equally impressed when we said we'd done White Rim. Their surprise stemmed from their belief that it couldn't done on a dirt bike because of the fuel range. Hmmm...are these guys psychic?

After filling up the bikes and waving farewell to the trio of dirt riders we again mounted up. This final stretch was going to be all asphalt and both bikes were only nominally street legal. The relief of overcoming the gas crisis was tinged with the anxiety of having to dodge law enforcement for the next 20 or so miles.

The traffic on US-191 was pretty heavy as the nearby National Parks were beginning to empty. We waited for a group of cars to go past, then took of in pursuit. This gave us a large gap behind, a benefit considering our mediocre brake lights. Once again, the knobbie-clad XR was skiddish at highway speeds. Fortunately, we weren't tempted to go above the speed limit thanks to the traffic. This was particularly fortunate since we passed one of Utah's finest who as going in the other direction.

Things came to a near stop at the entrance to Arches but the cars behind detected either our slowing or the dim glow of my brake light. After this it was just a couple hundred yards to the turnoff for Potash Road. We buzzed up Potash only slowing as we passed the busy rock climbing area.

We got back to the truck to find the camping area deserted. I parked the XR and immediately started pulling off the dirty, sweaty gear. Once I was unlumbered, I finally sat down and thought things over. I'd not only survived my first dirt ride but really enjoyed it. The XR really shows its age but did everything I was capable of doing. From the looks of it, Todd was equally pleased with the trip. We joked around for a bit, drank some water, took some photos and loaded everything up.

The route back was just the reverse of our route in. Back along the Colorado River, then out to I-70 for the slab ride home. We passed the time from Moab to Grand Junction by talking about the ride, the bikes, our friends, their bikes and all the other things bike geeks talk about. In fact, between being exhausted and our chatter, the trip to Grand Junction was basically a blur. The sun was just setting as we crossed into Colorado and the cliffs at Grand Junction were spectacular as the last bits of sun illuminated them.

Since we'd only had a few breakfast bars and some fruit to eat all day we hit the first exit at Grand Junction. We started looking for a place to eat...and kept looking...and kept looking. Other than a couple of fast food places, we couldn't find anything. We were both looking forward to sitting down and enjoying a real "meal" but its not like we were being all that finicky. I'm not sure where the population of Grand Junction eats but apparently it isn't off the business route through the south end of town!

Finally, just as we got to the I-70 on-ramp on the east side of town, we found Gator's Bar and Grill. Sold! As we walked in, we realized we might not get seated. We were both covered in dust and looked like we'd walked from Moab to here. The host didn't bat an eye so we went with it. Todd headed to the bathroom to wash up while I checked out the menu. Then we swapped with Todd placing my order while I had a near orgasmic experience washing the muck from my face.

The meals were fantastic. Maybe exhaustion spices meals up a bit but we were both very complimentary of our respective meals. We both declined their beer selection and instead sucked down caffiene for the final push home.

Since Todd had gotten us this far, I agreed to take over the wheel. We were immediately back on I-70 and I was already tired. Worse yet, just as we started climbing into the mountains it started to rain. If it weren't for a few trains in the Glenwood Springs Canyon, I'm sure the monotany of the drive would have put me to sleep. Fortunately, I had enough simulus to keep me moving until we started up Vail Pass.

I started going into micro-sleeps and quickly pulled off on the shoulder of the interstate. I woke Todd up and let him know I was too tired to drive anymore. He didn't look that much more capable than me but with an unenthusiastic shrug swapped seats. I was probably asleep before he pulled back onto the road.

Thanks to the akward sleeping position required in the passenger seat of an S-10 pickup, I woke up just as we started the climb to Eisenhower Tunnel. Through the blur of my tired brain, I noticed it was snowing and also noticed Todd wasn't looking particularly spry. After a long delay while I added thigns up, I decided I should wake up and try to keep Todd in a similar state. This was unbelievablely difficult and I suspect I was drifting between awake and asleep, talking all the while. Once we hit the tunnel, I launched back into my dreamworld and didn't wake up until we were turning into my driveway.

In the cold rain (it hadn't started snowing on the east side yet), we unloaded my gear and Todd took off for home. It was just after midnight when I walked into the house and somehow I had the good sense to unpack before going to bed. This allowed me to put my jeans in the washer; a key part of the trip's plan since I only have two pair from which to choose when it comes to work attire.

As I drifted off to sleep, I dreamt of riding the trails in the Rockies...and *not* running out of gas!

[Most of these photos were taken by me. However, some of these photos were taken by Nick Horianopoulos (greek@concentric.net) and another was stolen off Max Bertola's Southern Utah web page at (http://www.so-utah.com/).]

Return to Alan's Trip Reports
Return to Alan's Home Page


Alan Fleming alanf@dorje.com