Not many people are still riding dirtbikes at 70 years old. It takes a man with grit, determination, & demetia to keep pushing & ride through every obstacle that comes up in life. It takes guts & real manliness.. like John Wayne turning his back on Bruce Dern in The Cowboys. It takes a man who sneers at death, scoffs at injury, & considers danger among his most intimate friends. Tom is such a man. His physical fitness level eclipses that of much younger men. His mental toughness is an inspiration to all who ride with him. He does not give up, wear out, or break down under the most grueling conditions.. conditions that convince most riders to take up knitting or switch to quads. So on his 70th birthday, what kind of ride could we do to celebrate such a monumental event and milestone in his life?
It had rained most of the night. It was still sprinkling & cloudy when we walked next door for a fast food breakfast. We were planning a short ride in the morning, then trailering the bikes & heading for Hanksville, our next riding destination. With the rain, it looked like we might be missing the ride this morning. But after we bought Tom a hearty breakfast.. a $1 muffin sandwich & a coffee.. no expenses spared for this special day.. the skies began to clear! We might get a ride in after all! We figured we had about a 3 hour window. Kim & Brian wanted to ride to arches & look at the rocks. Tom wanted to do some dirt & see how his bike was running. I thought we could do the Kane Creek trail. It was a longer loop, but we could just cut it short & return, or there was a shorter turn off that cut over to highway 191 for a 30 mile loop back to moab. We checked out of the rooms, leaving our stuff in Kim's truck. We wouldn't need lunch or much water.. just going on a short, easy ride! We'd meet back at the truck at 1pm, grab some lunch, then head to Hanksville.
The sun was shining brightly as we headed out on Kane Creek road.. a wide, graded road with stunning views.
We passed a few cars, a couple of motorcycles, but it was not busy, & we had the road to ourselves most of the time. Tom & I were both dazzled by the majestic beauty of the canyons & rock formations, & we stopped several times to take it all in, & snap some pictures.
We hadn't gone far, & Tom realized his bike was still not running right. He would later find out the accelerator diaphragm had a hole in it, & was causing the bike to run rich. It would stall under acceleration, cough & sputter when starting, & it smelled very rich following him.. too much gas going through the engine unburned. It would start very hard when it died.
After a few miles, we came to a crossroad. There was an unimproved road heading to the east, which on the map reconnected with Hwy 191 & would take us back to moab. Or we could continue on the improved road for another hour or so, then turn back to meet Kim & Brian.
Tom's bike wasn't running very well, but he thought we could ride the easy loop back to moab.. it was only about 20 miles or so.
The first part was fun.. had a lot of ups & downs, wash crossings, rocks.. nothing too hard, but still challenging enough to be a fun ride. Tom could keep his momentum up, so the bike didn't stall.
But it was still running rough.. Tom wanted to stop again to look at it. He tinkered with it for a bit, & was a little worried about it overheating.
He messed with it a bit, but it wasn't running any better.. so we had to decide whether to keep riding or turn back for the easier road. We had gone about 10 miles into this part of the trail, & while it had some challenging spots, it wasn't too bad & Tom was not having a problem with it. ..only 10 more miles or so, we could finish this out & be back at Kim's truck early.. maybe we'd go over to Arches, too & meet them.
The last picture of the riders with color in their faces and their limbs all intact..
Then we ran into a narrow, rocky section. The honda stalled, so Tom had to get off & manhandle it through the narrow slot. I helped a little, getting the back up over some rocks.
I followed, & got through the narrow part, but stalled on the hill.
Now the trail began to follow the creek.. sometimes right down the middle of the water. Other times, it wound around in the sand. There were other tire tracks, so we figured it was passable.. at least some other unfortunate souls had come this way, too.
We got through another long section along the rocky edge, & got into sand & water crossings. Would the honda have what it takes to make it through the sand? ..got to keep up the momentum & keep the wheel driving in that stuff..
Here we start into the water.. right away there's a small crossing with a steep sandy bank. Tom get partway up, but the honda stalls & buries the back tire.
I decide to continue along the creek.. not really any better, just different.
About this time, my bike starts to act up, too. It won't start unless it's in neutral. I suspect the kickstand switch is the culprit, since i had disabled it & put a jumper in it. That has happened before. So now when i stall, i can't just pull the clutch & restart, i have to shift to neutral, then start, then shift back to 1st.
We wrestle with the bikes for 4 or 5 drops in the sand.. lifting them up, getting the rear tire some traction. It's a lot of work, but it looks like we've only got a few miles to go. More sand washes. More following the creek. Then we get to a section with a narrow ledge with about a 3' drop down to the creek. Branches are sticking out with dense undergrowth. No room for error, have to ride the 12" ledge. I start looking for another way, but Tom goes ahead. Then i hear some yelling. Tom's bike slid down the drop off & pinned him against the bank. I walk over & help lift the bike off. Now it is in the creek, so he gets it started again, then follows the creek for a bit until the trail crosses again. I decide to go down a 2' drop & follow the creek, too. I make it down the drop ok, but get into some deep sand again & drop it.
My video card is full, & i don't take any pictures of the next few miles, but it is more of the same: a few more drops in deep sand, some boucing around in the river bed, & a couple of deep pools we ran fairly fast to cross. They covered us with a sheet of water.
I only brought a small water bottle. It is gone by now, with all the physical exertion. I had a small bag of trail mix, but neither of us wanted to eat. Tom had his camelback, & gave me a cup. Fortunately, it wasn't hot.. it was warm enough with the work we were doing, but a 90* day would have done us in.
The road starts to climb up away from the creek bed. We think we must be coming out. But now the road gets narrower.. hardly big enough for a bike, much less a quad. We finally come to a sign.. this is a 'more difficult' trail.. glad we know that, now. There were no signs when we came in.
We considered turning back. But the trail we had come on was pretty tough already, & we didn't really want to go back through it. So we pressed on, hoping it would get easier. It didn't.
This section had some metal tracks for going over some big steps. I'm not sure why. There were other bigger steps we had already been on & would come to that were bigger. But they were nice for getting down to the creek.
I managed to get through the water ok, then had to gun it to get up the sandy bank. It spun & dug in, but i did finally make it up. I then watched as Tom followed. He decided to go a different way across the creek, but he eventually made it, too. We then rode through the creek for a few hundred yards, with not a few tense moments to add to the increasing drama.
No sooner across this obstacle, than we came to a gnarly uphill, steep, & stepped section. We got off the bikes & walked it.. trying to decide whether to go on or turn back & ride through everything we'd already done. I picked out a line, & i thought if i could keep my momentum, i could keep the line & make it up. I had also put in another memory card in my video camera.. i figured if we were both going to die in fiery crashes in this canyon, i would at least get it on video. But i didn't turn it on in this part, so intent was i on plotting this section.
I backed the bike up a bit, then hit the throttle & raced up the hill. You can see the start of it at the end of the last video. Somehow i managed to actually keep the line i wanted to take & got up the hill in just a few seconds! I was euphoric! I was very stressed in anticipation of this climb, and making it was a great relief.
Now it was Tom's turn. He also gunned it & started up. I could see him boucing up the big steps & he made it almost all the way up before the ornery honda stalled again. Fortunately, there was only a short section to finish up. We wrestled the bike up & rested for a bit before continuing the journey.
The trail we were on was not on my gps. But i could see on the gps that the highway was only a few miles away.. as the crow flies. Tom wondered how far if the crows had to walk out, pushing broken down dirt bikes..
We were both getting a little tired & stressed from the constant challenges at every turn. We knew it would be much later for us getting back, if we did at all. It was about 3pm, local time, & we were supposed to meet Kim & Brian at 1pm for the trip to Hanksville. I was getting dehydrated. It was also starting to cloud up again.. like it did the first day. The skies were getting very dark, & we could hear distant rumbling. We fully expected to have torrential downpours added to our list of obstacles.
We tried to keep moving if we could.. didn't want to stop for anything, since we were already late, & we figured Kim & Brian would assume we were dead & go on to Hanksville without us. I checked for a cell phone signal several times.. nope.. Not in these canyons.
We rode along for another few hundred yards, when we came upon another creek crossing with a steep, rocky climb afterwards. The rocks had slick moss on them under the water, & this was the hardest section, yet. How many more can there be? Each one was harder than the previous one.. was this trail ever going to end?
It was getting darker & darker.. loud crashes of thunder followed the bright flashes in the sky. We were going to get hammered by the rain, & did not want to spend any more time in this canyon. We walked up the trail to see what was on the other side... another creek crossing & a sandy bank. It looked easy compared to what we had to do first. I was feeling very weak.. the stress, the work of wrestling the bikes, & the lack of water was taking it's toll. I began to look at some of the rock shelves, thinking we could huddle under one of them & spend the night. Going back would be even more impossible.. we knew what lie behind, & would rather take our chances on hopefully fewer challenges ahead.
I stretched out on a flat rock for a bit. I drank some water out of the creek. This was a critical survival situation for us, & i needed to be clear minded & positive. Tom could sense my dispair, & exhorted me to press on. The skies continued to darken & large drops began to fall. He was feeling very threatened by the rain, knowing it would make our exit from this canyon even more difficult, not to mention flash flood possibilities. So Tom didn't wait for me to go first, but hopped on the honda & motored up the hill. This next pic shows some of the terrain, though as usual does not capture the steepness or the step size. The big step he was about 15' from stalled him & he dropped on the right side. I ran up & we pulled the bike upright, & tried to get the wheels in a good slot for climbing the rest of the way. It is a little blurry because of the low light conditions.
We got it up & the wind began to gust extremely hard. I looked down & my bike had fallen over! The wind had blown it off the side stand & it lay there, whimpering on its side. I stood it up & began to psyche myself up for the climb. You can tell by the headlights & dashlights in the pics & video how dark it was getting. At the beginning of my climb, you can also see the rocks dotted with big raindrops. Maybe there was more ahead, but we had to get out of this, now. I straightened up my handguards & took off up the hill.
I dumped it in the same spot as Tom, falling on my right side. My new radiator guard was installed just in time.. this ride tested it out. We wrestled my bike up the hill, mounted up & kept going.. the rain was falling harder, & we did not know what was ahead.
The rain was falling harder.. it was dark.. as you can tell by seeing the headlights on the trail in the videos. We made it up the most difficult climb we had up to this point, & were hoping to get back to Moab before dark. It was about 4pm by now. Bryan & Kim must think we'd fallen off the edge of the world. We thought that, too, on some parts of this trail.
Here was my bike before the previous climb. A fierce gust of wind just toppled it.
We were still running along the creek.. in the creek for a lot of it. Sorry about the raindrops on the camera lens.. it fuzzies out some of the terrain.. makes it look nice & soft. But it wasn't. It was sharp & had an edge.
The trail followed the creek a bit more, then started up another rocky/sandy/muddy climb. We didn't stop to check it out, but just twisted the throttle & climbed up. After all, we were advanced riders, now. I was very relieved to see we were at the top, following a wide road, & heading away from the creek. In a few miles, the road came upon a gate, which opened up onto hwy 191 which took us into moab. We were very happy to be riding in the rain on pavement, and it wasn't far. It was nearly 6. We were over 4 hours late. We were very happy to see our loyal comrades Kim & Bryan waiting in the parking lot, bikes already loaded. Kim gave me a cold gatorade which i drank down almost in one swig. We loaded our bikes into Kim's trailer, kissed the pavement, then took Tom out for his Birthday dinner. Tom & I rambled on and on, boring Kim & Bryan with our tales of danger & brushes with death. They were mostly amused, but patiently listened. They told us they had to cross a trickle of water on the pavement in Arches, & the blow dryer was out in the men's restroom, so they had some grueling experiences, too. But we all survived to ride another day. We drove to Hanksville & made it to the hotel by 9pm. It was wet & muddy there, too. We drove through the rain. More fun tomorrow!
Tom admitted this would be a very memorable birthday ride.. one he wouldn't forget soon, & would retell many times in therapy. I told him God must have a twisted sense of humor to let him do this ride on his 70th birthday, & why did i have to go, too?
Adversity brings out the best & worst in people. I learned a lot about Tom & myself on this ride. Tom is a man with dogged determination. There was no whining, no regrets about what we should have done, or blame. It was all about what we needed to do, next.. what we had to do to get through this. Even though we both knew we were in over our heads, Tom kept our focus on the problem of the moment, & how we would solve it. We both knew we were very close to spending the night outside in the rain, with no relief until morning, no water & no food. It was not a pleasant prospect. We were on the edge.. very close to a meltdown. I felt a mixture of anxiety & anger. ..a little afraid, since injury seemed very possible, as well as exposure if we broke down. I was angry with myself for not looking into this ride & finding out what it was.. for assuming a line on the map was a normal navigable road. Compulsive streams of epithets were coming from my mouth, like a sailor with tourette syndrome. But it was spilt milk to Tom, & he pressed us to keep going & not give up. I will remember this life lesson for my next adventure:
End of day 3.