This is part 2 of our continuing series on our big offroad motorcycling wager.
You can read part one here.
For most citizens of these United States of Awesome, Thanksgiving Day is a 24 hour period of stuffing faces, throwing shade at relatives, and discreetly checking social media while the olds try to get everyone playing some board game. It’s an American tradition. And I’ll have nothing to do with it. No, for myself and my adversary/friend Thanksgiving 2015 was filled with sand, rocks, and Kielbasa. That’s right, we went overland motorcycling in Southern Utah to further our personal bet.
With 4 days away from the office to play with, we wisely chose to spend them offroading and camping in the high desert, complete with shit talking, s’mores, and red rocks. Fun! To be clear, up to this point we’d only been out 3 times on our bikes for about 4 hours at a time each. Just warmup rides really. And we’d be exhausted afterwards. So the prospect of 3 days with 8-12 hours of riding per day filled us (well at least me) with equal parts trepidation and concern. Nevertheless, we packed up our tents, marshmallows, and bikes and headed out of LA towards the border of Utah and Arizona.
6 hours later, we arrived at the edge of BLM land. Now the magic of the Bureau of Land Management is that they give exactly 2 flying squirrels what you do on their land. It’s federal land, so really it’s your land. And because the BLM is so over caring about their lands they are yours to do with as you please. Camp wherever you want, light a fire, blast away with guns, start a casino using only baby teeth as poker chips – literally most of these things are allowed. With that knowledge, and a bag of baby teeth, in hand, we pointed our car and trailer due East and drove up a dry riverbed into a secluded canyon and set up camp far away from any other humans.
Day 1 saw us exploring the various trails, canyons, and riverbeds of our little corner of wilderness. We took it fairly easy for the beginning of the day, with no jackassery from either of us. That would change. After lunch we trekked out to see some fossilized dinosaur tracks (over-hyped) and explore the trails of Arizona (under-hyped). Bikes were dropped, I can say that. With darkness closing in and us on small trails, we had a bit of time trying to find a road to get out of dodge before the desert sun disappeared and took it’s heat with it.
This bet is really a contest between two very different learning styles. My opponent Gary is all about that book-learning life. He will watch youtube videos and read articles in preparation for doing something, then go and practice that skill (and only that skill) until his next round of learning. Very stepwise and fairly risk free. I, on the other hand, prefer to throw myself into a new skill and fail – repeatedly and relentlessly – until I figure out a solution or have to go read on it if I’m truly stumped. I want to push my boundaries and never be comfortable to learn as rapidly as possible. At the outset of our contest, this put me in good stead. I was far ahead of Gary and feeling quite comfortable in my chances of winning next year. But now, oh but now, his book learning is catching up to my real-life learning. Gary is getting overland motorcycling skillz. Obviously this is worrisome to me. But there are still some rays of hope…
Day 2 brought the deep sand of Sand Hallow State Park. Acres and acres of deep rust-red sand populated by buggies and tourists. The sand challenged both of our skills and utterly destroyed our energy. After barely escaping and refueling the bike and ourselves, we tackled cattle tracks through the red rocks and practiced our hillclimbing skills. There have been many an accident already while trying to mount steep hills, so we leaned on some of Gary’s book learning to figure out how to do it correctly. I proceeded to confidently summit my first mini-mountain. He proceeded to treat that hill like his bitch and got about 7ft of air off the top. And land more gracefully than an angel bald eagle. I was, and am, jealous.
He and I have very different bikes for this first phase of the bet. While I did things properly and purchased a purpose-built race bike that had been jerry-rigged into a road legal bike, Gary went with a beginner dual-sport bike with not a lot of power and street-oriented tires. This difference in bikes is beginning to become a focus of excuses and whining from my opponent. And while his tires are certainly suboptimal compared to my big knoblies, I feel a less cowardly and more handsome rider like myself could champion his bike even the most challenging trails.
Day 3, our last day, was a near catastrophe and I loved every minute of it. In the spirit of my school of hard knocks, and to try and reclaim some confidence after Gary’s booky learning triumphed so well the previous day, I steered us up an extremely challenging single track road known as the Honeymoon Trail. Made up almost entirely of steep hills and loose house cat-sized rocks, not to mention steep cliff sides along every trail, this was a path not for the faint of heart. And faint hearts it turns out we have. I threw us up a very challenging trail to push our boundaries and move the learning needle forward, but it was beyond Gary’s books and videos so we turned around and tucked tail back towards flat ground.
After a regroup, we decided to take it easy and just hit some fun trails through the wilderness. However, at this point we are exhausted from days of riding and the previous trail. We have very little left in our physical tanks, and it is at this point that we start making lots of mistakes. Bikes were dropped again, with alarming frequency. We quickly found ourselves in the middle of nowhere with Gary’s bike loosing brake fluid and with bent brake, clutch, AND shift levers. We feared one more crash could break any or all of them, and attempted to get back to our campsite as quickly as possible. Easier said than done when in the middle of wilderness. All the trails headed in the wrong direction or where impassible (such as the way we had just come). After some deliberation and guilting, we forged our own path through the brush and riverbeds to find a trail out of wild and back to the main road. Our day, and trip, was over.
While there was some slight panic during this search for a path out, I’ve never felt more alive or involved in this challenge than I did that hour we were charging over unknown landscapes in search of a way out – moving as quickly as possible to race the sun, while not going so fast as to risk another crash of his bike and possible disaster. I loved every minute of it. It was no longer about fun, it was about doing what absolutely had to be done. It is a damn blast being in near danger, I highly recommend it. It may not be edge of catastrophe, but it is the edge of the edge, and I’ll take that for now.