July 07, 2003 GMT
Installment 1 5500 mile Trans America Offroad Trip

Bike's knackered so I've now got some time to tell the whole story so far!

The flight from the UK was great, lots of leg room and good food! We arrived in New Orleans Hotel at around 7pm US time ( which is six hours ahead) and went out for food and beers. I left the bars at around 12 midnight and slept until 4am when Stef and Jon arrived back!

We met Sam the next morning as planned and drove north through torrential rain to madison mississippi, arriving at around 5pm. It turns out that it was the wettest June in living memory. The normal rainfall for the region is around 1/2 inch per month. It rained 4 1/2 inches in a day!

Sam was great and his house was beautiful. The bikes looked great and after paperwork completion his Italian mother cokked us great pasta and meatballs. We watched a bit of TV and after doing some minor work on the bikes made a shopping list for the next day and went to a motel and slept.

The next morning we hoped to leave at noon so we shopped like maniacs around the local bike shops for parts/spares and stuff. Typically we had problems and didnt leave Sam's until 4pm. Luckily Sam was driving us to the trail head and the bikes were on trailers so any problems were soon forgotten on the 7 hour drive through 1 forest!

Arrival and sleep was good, although the stops in strange towns to eat wierd food was pretty regular.
Who wants to eat chicken gizzards and corn bread? or biscuits and gravy for breakfast?

Day 1: Tennessee

The next morning we set off at 7 am and Sam rode the 1st 100 miles with us. The navigation went really well and although a lot of day 1's route had been tarmac'd the scenery was excellent, sadly we soon figured out that 12 hours a day on the bikes was going to be the norm, and with the seat on an xr400 thats not great, on a better note we saw some amazing wildlife and an incredible diversity of people from quakers (who look like a film about the 18th century with no power or tools) to the US 'redneck' in his 6 liter V8 truck complete with gun rack and dead animals. Quite serious variety!

The highligjht of the day was the slippiest river crossing in the world. Sam said one of us would come off, and in true form a little over exuberance saw me drinking more than I had bargained for. Typical.

We all slept well that night, crashing out by 9:30pm (around 3:30am uk time). Stef was riding really well and the few off road miles we had done (50) were all no problem.

Day 2: Mississippi

Immediatly the scenery changed and became far more swamplike, the heat rose to around 95 degrees and the humidity was 100 percent. Sweating became the norm and we all drank like fishes to stop dehydration. Wishing for water was one thing, but when we finaly got it it wasnt exactly what we'd been wishing for! All that rain took its toll on the state of the trails and tracks. Mud became the order of the day and plently of it! Riding a bike through slippy/sticky mud is no fun in that heat, and boy did we suffer. We had to keep the speeds up to get our daily 250 miles done in the light and the riding became quite exciting....

We were too busy congratulating ourselves on our excellent time keeping to notice the bridge out sign. Sad really. When we got to the building site/bridge we had ridden a long way along a track that we really didnt want to have to reverse. Amazingly the bridge was almost fixed, and the only part we couldnt ride was the six foot high concrete wall to get us up on to the part finished other side.
Even more amazing was the quantity of building materials left around the site, and the lack of workmen.

Clearly there was a simple solution to the problem. If we sweated before, we certainly sweated more during the construction of our mk1 bridge jump ramp. 4 pieces of 12ft planking, two ft/sq rolled steel joists, a mallet, some old rotting wood, and 3 litres of sweat saw it complete. I got to go first and after a brief period of 'air time' touched down on the new bridge and squeezed passed a large crane at the other end. Jon jumped next, followed by Stef. We were now 1 hour behind schedule, and suffering from heat exhaustion and mosquito bites.

We were quite pleased with ourselves tho', and when the next 'bridge out' sign came along we quite fancied our chances. However, this was not to be quite so simple. The bridge was well and truly not there. There were however, workmen , a dam, and a massive american size JCB with a huge fat driver with an equally fat cigar. The bridge when finished was going to cross a ditch 40ft across and 30ft deep, and there were steep tracks down to the centre of the ditch for the JCB to sit in a mud bath and dig out holes for concrete beams.

Jon had a few words with the driver and before we knew it had negociated to have the far bank and part of the road removed to create a series of ramps for us to ride up. The problems were based purely around the consitency of the mud, it was knee deep gloop.

If we wanted to save time we had little choice but to have a go. The far bank was so steep that the driver used his bucket to pull himself up the far bank so that the machine didnt topple over. It was spectacular to watch his driving (well he looked impressive to me anyway) and after 10 minutes of puffing away on his cigar had created a series of hideously steep and messy looking mud ramps.

To cut a long story short Jon was fine, Stef looked like a moto x star as he shot up the other side of the bank on his back wheel! I bogged down, got within 2ft of the top and slowly slipped 20ft backwards and collapsed under the bike in knee deep gloop. Typical.

My next attempt was more successful and we were soon moving along at a good pace, good enough to get us to the next motel exahuasted but within our 12 hour limit. Although the amount of mud based near misses told us that the next few days were going to be dirty, sweaty and wet!

As we pulled into our motel for the night we marvelled at how a 400 acre casino site could exist in such a desolate place. It seems state/county gambling laws create some strange business ventures and as we were next to a none gambling state the casino was doing great business!!

I gambled 25 cents that night, smug in the knowlege that if everybody else won 125 percent of their stake like I did,the casino would collapse. (Obiously I then spent my $1.50 on food, but you cant have everyyhing!)

Day 3:Mississippi/Arkansas

An early start saw Stef navigating for the first time. This means that he takes the maps and road book (detailed directions) and leads us as quickly as he can along the route. Ideally he trys not to stop at junctions so that we dont waste time, but if he isnt sure where he is both Jon and I have GPS's and he can call for a Lat/Long and check his position.

Stef had been a little reluctant to navigate as he was still getting used to the bike and off road riding, but I didnt think he'd have too much trouble. His previous days riding had been good and in terms of falling off he had shown far greater skill than me! We pulled out of the motel and crossed the state line to fuel up before heading off for the days riding.

Coming out of the fuel stop Stef shot off like a torpedo out of a tube and Jon and I followed as best we could, hoping that the off road sections would be a little 'steadier'. Amazingly, Stef didnt stop to be asked or told. Jon and I stopped just long enough to look at each other in amazement, and shot off after him. After 10 minutes my wrist ached from constantly wrapping my hand around the throttle and trying to open it further, the bike was flying along and had begun to get the floating feeling which comes from riding a dirt bike very fast over loose gravel. The steering becomes strangely light and the bike jitters and kicks from left to right. I wasnt happy. The next junction saw Jon and I laughing, probably to release nervous energy, but not for long, Stef was already a dot on the horizon. It became clear we were going to have to catch him and have words!

However, that was easier said than done. Another ten miles saw us hitting some really hidious mud and often the way the bike was pointing had little to do with the direction it was going. At one point I saw Stef exit the track sideways doing at least 50 mph and plough through some trees and foliage. However, it appeared he had remembered our advice regading sand and mud riding well (get on the footpegs and open the trottle as far as it will go) as the exhaust note blipped, changed to a howl and Stef shot out of the grass crossed up sideways the other way and looking a soldier who had just undergone a camoflage course.

At the next junction he finally stopped. I pulled up along one side of him and Jon the other. I was covered in Mud from a low speed drop and Jon who had been eating mud from my back tyre for the last ten miles didnt look much better. Stef, apart from the bikes new camoflage look, looked clean and quite unpeturbed. I looked at Jon and we both started to laugh, this was ridiculous. Stef need to slow down, a lot! When we suggested this to him he said he thought we were going the same speed we had been riding for the last few days! He had been terrified then and he had been absolutely petrified all morning....this was, he informed us, 'quite normal'.

We slowed considerably, and after walking a section further up the flooded road we rode nearly 1/2 mile down a lake (track) with the water up to the middle of our engine casings. My boots were full of swamp water and mud and we had already had a tough morning when our next 200 yard water crossing loomed into view. A quick wade up to knee level showed that a bike crossing was clearly not going to happen, the water was running really quickly and looking nearer to waste deep in the centre of the stream. A quick map session showed a possible way around to the north and a plan was formed. We set off back down the road we had just ridden turning north at the end. Within minutes we were on a trail that was only recognisable by riding from deep puddle to deep puddle whilst ducking to tank level to avoid trees, it clearly wasnt a well used track. After 25 minutes of fighting forest and water we arrived pretty exausted at the trail end. It over looked raw swamp in every direction.

Jon had done an outstanding job of riding his huge KTM advernture 640 this far and wasnt too pleased at the prospect of a return trip, but he swatted some more mosquito's, turned his bike around and headed back. I soon lost sight of him as I fought my own way back through the undergrowth and deep pools only stopping when I heard the sound of a horn. I immediately stopped my bike and shouted. I got no reply, but assumed that Stef was having problems. He had commented earlier that he had found this trail particularly hard. I propped my bike against a tree and ran back throught the heat and sweat haze to find Stef sideways as usual with a huge 4ft rooster tail of watery mud being ejected fropm his back tyre as he fought with another pool. Hmmmm.....nothing wrong here then.

I walked back to my bike and headed further on down the trail to find a different story with Jon. He had got tired fighting the trees on his huge 640 and tried to ride the centre of the trail. At 30-40mph he had tried to lift his front wheel over a short puddle by opening the throttle on his bike. The rear had slipped out and the front ploughed into the 'puddle'. This puddle turned out be the perfect shape to trap a 21' front wheel and had a vertical back wall. Jon went head over the bars hitting a previously broken collar bone on the screen, wrenching a previously broken wrist, and hitting his balls on the wing mirror. Apparently he had tried to reply to my shout but had been unable at the time!

He looked a little annoyed but OK and we travelled on to lunch in a little railroad side cowboy style town.
At the petrol stop I noticed an unhealthy flow of liquid from his bikes' lower front fork region. Inital worries of brake failure were soon dispersed by a little logical thought. It was clear that Jon had blown both his front fork seals when hitting the back wall of the pool. With fork oil all over his brake pads it seemed obvious that the rest of the trail was out for the day, and a KTM dealership was needed!

A local Honda dealership provided us with the information we needed to order the parts and was quite happy to do the work if we stayed in town overnight. The parts could be courier'd to us in the moprning to save to a 140 mile ride over to the KTM dealers in Fayetteville.

Jon asked the shop assistant if she knew where there was a motel with a bar nearby, after all it had been an eventful morning. Her reply wasnt good news.

Assistant, 'Bar'?
Jon, 'Yes, a bar...'
Assistant (with accent) 'Ther'll be no bar around here, this here is a dry county'.

Jon looked at me, I looked at Stef, Stef looked at Jon.

Later that night in Clinton over in the next county as we sat down to a mexican feast (normal sized meals without pie are just not available in the states) we reflected on how close a call we had had.

We could have been stuck in a dry county for the night!

Day 4: Arkansas

Dry roads and beautiful mountain scenery coupled with miles and miles of winding trails saw us all at a lunch stop by 11 am the next morning. We were at Oark Stores. The oldest store still trading in Arkansas. It was built on 1890 and looked as though renovations had been few and far between. The store only had poor quality petrol and we were about to move on when the owner asked us if we needed to check our Email!! Obviously there had been more modifications than firsat met the eye.

It was a truly remarkable place. The type of spot that you want everyone you know to visit because its such a unique experience. I would try to describe the wall signed by trappers and hunters from as long ago as 1902, (before the war of american independance!), the great food, the single track dirt road that led to it, the photos on the walls, the hand written menus on paper bags, the smell of barbeque meat oozing from the walls, but I wouldnt do a great job. You really need to visit it yourself and find a piece of the america you see on wild west films is still alive and very muck kicking.

We stayed until 1 pm eating the customary huge amounts of food and chocolate pie (its rude to refuse food this good and this cheap!) before heading off to finish the trail early and go north to fayetteville to get Jons bike fixed. It had been an outstanding effort, with little front suspension and no front brakes Jon had ridden a KTM 40 Adventure 170 miles off road in 4 hours.

Fayettevile saw Jons bike being fixed and a rather dodgy pillion ride to our motel. Air conditioning on we relaxed until a taxi came to take us into town, and more food, and a swift beer............

The next day I split from Stef and Jon to visit an old friend in the hills of Arkansas. Seven acres of beautiful forest and a home built wooden house is as close to paradise as I've seen in a while, I ate great food (not fried, pasta!!), had a few beers, and slept like a log wishing I could stay in this fantastic place longer than a single night.

As it turns out I seem to have more than my fair share of wishes come true this trip. As I rode down Stacy's drive I got 200 yards from his house and tried to change gear. My clutch lever pulled straight in and my bike ground to a halt. A quick clutch cover removal showed that the head of the thrust shaft had snapped off!! I'd never heard of this happening before, and was a little upset. But what a great place for it to happen!

Its Sunday, the dealerships don't open until 9am mon. And thats how I come to be sitting in the roof space of a home built house in the woods of arkensas. I've just had home made pancakes for breakfast with real maple syrup and bacon and eggs, and it was gorgeous. Stacy is downstairs cooking MORE food, and I'm typing away looking over endless forest to the next county and going canooing this afternoon in the river at the bottom of his land. Its 80 degrees in the shade of the trees and thats exactly where I'll be eating breakfast, lunch, and dinner, until I get a new part.

Life's tough...............................but not around here!!!

Hope all is well back in the UK


Dave

Posted by David Lomax at 09:40 AM GMT
Installment 2 5500 mile Trans America Offroad Trip

To all,

Bike's knackered so I've now got some time to tell the whole story so far! Again.............

Hmmm..... sound familiar, this trip is now going to be officially known as the 'Destined to Fail Trans Am Trip of 2003', We have broken pretty much anything that can be broken and as usual are waiting for parts. This allows me to catch up with you all in the local library (free internet).

I left you on Sunday sitting at Stacy's place eating a lot of food. The part was ordered on Monday and I was waiting for a replacement on Tue at 11am (or so they told me...)

Tue 24th

I got up and hung around waiting for the 11am phone call from Stacy's mum who was waiting an hour away to pick up the part. I fixed Stacy's starter motor and time dragged. At 11:15 I phoned Judy to check all was well, it wasn't. The order would arrive between 11 and 3 not at 11. So I waited some more. Luckily Judy didnt seem to mind sitting in a car park for ages and waited for me, lovely lady. At 12:30 the wrong part arrived. I had been talking to some other adventure bikers on the internet an one of them suggested welding the offending part. The problem was the size and composition of the piece, this was going to need an outstanding welder. I spoke to Stacy and he assured me that despite the area looking as if we were in Waltons, if you knew where to look, excellent tradesmen could be found. Stacy made a call and we rushed to see a friend of his who owned the most excellent workshop/piece of land/house/canyon. He was really busy when we arrived making some stuff for a holywood film being made in the area. It was about a local welder who made sculptures and was also involved in drug production (apparently the smell of making amphetamines is identical to that of a chicken house! and Arkansas is the US's hot spot for production). When we arrived Billy Bob Thornton (the films star) was being taught to weld and Stacys friend was welding up a huge sculpture for the set ( all in an open garage thing). The guy turned out to be a genius, he used a tool called a plasma cutter to cut a hole in a hardened piece of steel no more than 1/4 inch across. He then welded it to the base and voila, job done. It took only 3 mins and would get me at least as far as Stef and Jon by nightfall.

I set off at 3pm and rode for 4 hours through some stunning country, I would have loved to take photos but stopping wasnt possible. Althought the clutch was fixed I really didnt expect the makeshift repair to hold for long. In 130 miles I used it only three times and arrived safe (if a little deaf) at 7pm. It turned out that extended road riding was not a good thing on a tuned xr400 with a a loud exhaust, seat like wood, knobbly tyres, and a motorcross helmet!!

By the time I reached Stef and Jon they were pretty glad to see me. They had discovered that small town america isnt the best place to get stuck for a few days. The good news was the 6 litre pickup they had rented to head to out to Tulsa for the day. It was airconditioned and had comfy seats! We entertained ourselves all night by seeing how many things we could do that night without getting out of the truck. Answer: in a land of drivethroughs, everything!! You dont even have to get out of the car to get money out of a bank!

Wed 25th

We set off early next morning glad to be on the move, We had left Arkansas and were now in to the start of the flat plains covering areas including Oklahoma, Kansas, and Colorado. If all went well we would be reaching the rockies in four days after covering over 1000 miles and seeing nothing but flat plains.

The navigation was really simple, at each left/right turn we would cover 30 miles west to around 2/3 miles north. Sam had said that we would be riding for 10-12 hours a day, but this section was flying by. The fields along side the route were huge and full of massive combine harvesters cutting the wheat and creating massive dust clouds! The view wasnt exactly inspiring but the riding was simple and we made excellent time. By 11am we were over half way through our route. Jon was putting up a punishing pace and Stef and I were eating a lot of dirtand dust, thoughts of air conditioned hotel rooms were foremost in our thoughts as the temperature soared to over 100 degrees and the heat sapped life and will.

When we arrived at our fuel stop the station had clearly been shut down for some time and we needed fuel badly. We had foregone an earlier stop to keep the pace up and were now suffering for our choice! We finally found a small town station within riding distance and headed out on a due south bearing which led us straight there.

American petrol is generally of a very low quality ,only around 83 octane for all you tech heads out there. This means that we cant use the regular 'Gas' but need the very best stuff we can get (our bikes are quite highly tuned and ideally require at least 90 octane or the performance is awful and engines sound as if they are destroying themselves due to preignition). Most stations sell a range of fuel, this one didnt! Stef and I dutyfully filled up and moved off to await Jon.

The next section of the route was a short one and completed in only one hour. It was 1pm, we had finished the route for the day and 20 miles away awaited our air conditioned room and showers!

Sadly we didnt quite make it that far. Jon in his wisdom had decided to fill up with as little low quality petrol as possible and 12 miles into our hotel run ran out of fuel. We switched to reserve and ran another 200 yards!!! (KTM reserve's are NOT to be taken seriously!!) We were stuck in the middle of nowhere with no shade at 1pm in searing heat. Jon was not popular.

But then neither was I when I told Jon that whilst staying with Stacy I had posted back our team 'Syphon Tube' to the UK as a weight saving measure.........

To cut a long and hot story short we called Jon talentless, took his bike apart and raided his fuel brether line from his bike. Luckily it was about 3ft long and allowed fuel transfer to take place. By 3pm after a steady rebuild we arrived at a crappy motel with poor air conditioning. The town was another example of 'nothinhgshereville' and food was a dodgy mexican restaurant which gave me stomach problems for the next 4 days. Not a great end to our day.

Thu 26th

Realisation that our bikes may not really be up to the task in hand slowly dawned as the sun rose over a supposed 6:30am start. Taking stock we realised that my bike had no clutch, Stefs engine was good but his tyres were shot after only five days, and his sprockets were going to need replacement soon. Jons bike was busy eating everthing it could get its hands on. Air fliters, tyres, and sprockets, were to name but a few.

Our route took us nowhere near anywhere and we needed a Honda/KTM dealer badly.

Jon's vallient attempts to use the US phone system had us all in hysterics as he tried in vain to get anyone to tell him where a honda dealer could be found. By 10:30 am (yep, thats right, four hours later!!) we still had nothing except a really frustrated team and no dealership or spares in site. It was time for an executive decision. We were going to have to cut north, head to dodge city, and hope there was something in the only decent size town within 400 miles of us. I navigated that morning through some of the most beautiful grasslands I have ever seen. The praire reserves are stunning rolling grasslands full of wild roaming buffalo, gazelle, and good old cows. The road wound in welcome curves over the gentle hills and hid small farms and water pumps. A good slow scenic ride. Partly to preserve Jons bike, partly because it was so stunning. By 3pm after 70 road miles and a trail short cut we arrived in dodge city. The first thing we saw was a Honda/KTM dealer. The Gods were smiling down on us today.

Inside the dealership were some serious off road enthusiasts. Although they had none of the parts in stock, that didnt stop them dismantling just about every bike in the shop to get what we needed. By 6pm we had three working bikes ( although I still had no clutch we had arranged for a part to be sent to Trinidad, Colorado, and I was hoping to pick it up and finish my bike on Fri ) and information that a local dried up riverbed headed 70 miles in the direction of the trail.

Dodge City would have been great if the town council hadnt decided to pull down the original buildings and replace them with a car park in the 70's. I'm not saying the disney like replicas of the old buildings and daily 'gunfights' were a little tacky.........................but I think the originals would have been just fine!

We took lots of stupid photographs and went home to a huge steak and bed (well, what else could you eat in Dodge Citys 'Boot Hill' area restaurant?).

Fri 27th

The dried riverbed turned out to be some of the most technical riding I have ever done. I was incredulous at the mechanics stories of 80 mph crashes and super long wheelies. It was all I could do to stay on the bike at 40mph. The bed of the river was soft sand and this mingled with tight twisty turns and blind curved made life hard. If I was having a hard time Stef was most certainly not a happy bunny. At the first 7 mile stop Stef, who isnt really known for his emotional outbursts, stated his position quite clearly. '**** this, I'm getting out the first chance I get!!'.

At 15 miles we exited the river bed. Jons bike was producing about 30 percent of its supposed power, both Stef and I had come off and we were all shattered and sweating like manicas. We decided to make up our own route and headed for Trinidad 200 miles away, we had a days riding to make up. It was 11 am and the day was just starting.........

20 miles down the road Jons bike stopped. It had been running badly all morning and had decided that enough was enough. An hour later fuel starvation due to a badly replaced breather tube was diagnosed and fixed. We set off again. Although initially ok Jons bike soon bgan to lose power again and a lunch and rebuild stop was planned. The local Esso station picnic table had probably never been used as carb rebuild platform before ...........but theres a first time for everything, we stripped the bike fuel system down to its component parts. A fouled plug and seriously dirty air filter didnt help, but then neither did the huge jets fitted to the carb by the Canadian dealer to cope with Jons new exhaust system . We were running at over 6000ft on the high plains and the bike was running far to rich on petrol that was just too poor...

A plug clean saw the bike a little happier and we set off west again towards a town called 'Liberal'. Initally we were hoping to push through to Trinidad 120 miles further on, but continuing problems from Jons bike, my lack of clutch, brain numbing riding along flat plains, and a broken spoke on Stefs bike soon stopped those plans. At a small town Jon bought three spare plugs, we entered colorado, the time zone changed to mountain time and we gave up. The only motel room in the small town had a one single bed. My stomach was still cramping badly. We ate and slept.


Sat 28th

Jon left for Trinidad at 6am. Sleep hadnt been forthcoming and I was also up and about. I had started to develop my own engine problems and suspected I had a broken valve spring. A loud ticking from the head area could have been tappet related, but a quick inspection revealed no obvious solution or diagnosis. We needed to get to a larger town and dealership, again! We debated hiring a car to take our bikes but couldnt find a hire place. We could either rebuild here and wait for spares, or head on to trinidad, risk futher engine damage, and pick up the clutch spares I desperatly needed. A toss of the coin saw us riding west again.

Trinidad is a nice place. Its cool here because of the altitude. We have been here for a few days now. My part hasnt arrived yet, our time is running out. Jons bike is fixed, we have a spoke waiting for stef in Moab, Utah. We just have to cross the Rockies to get it! After a total top end engine rebuild the closest thing I can diagnose the fault as being is the decompression system, but I'm not sure. I have to go and pick up my clutch part in 10 mins and so will have to tell you about my day out yesterday in the next istallment. It was a good day, I took the bike to 12000ft and although it lost power we are hopeful for the three days ahead.

Things not looking so rosy this time but we have some beautiful riding to do. We are at the foot of the Rocky Mountains and just the sight of something other than plains is cheering me up.

Hope to tune in again soon with more details of the land and less of the technical bike faults

Dave

Posted by David Lomax at 09:41 AM GMT
Installment 3

I left you in Trinidad on a Sunday with a free day ( waiting for a clutch spare). I was sitting in the library with a bit of a sore head typing up as much as possible of the last few days riding and shopping fiasco's. I have had a few complaints regarding the 'technical content' of the last posting. I apologise for this, but in my defence would just say that I write about things that are happening to me at the time. At that time my head was full of bike bits and pieces! I wished that the riding was more straight forward and that I could just enjoy the trail a bit more!! As it happens that pretty much how the lasty four days have been, so I hope this will be a little less bike orientated and little more country and culture information!

On my day off on Sunday I went out for a scenic road ride to see some of the eastern Colorado Mountains and check out some of the local history. The whole of this area is pretty crowded with great place names centred around the late 1800's and the mining, cowboy trails, and ranches that dotted the area. I say 'dotted' but a ranch running from arizona to canada is perhaps a little larger than dotted! theres nothing like a 5 million acre back garden!! The scenery has suddenly lifted itself from high flat plain to typical mountain pine scenery and with the riding comes a wonderful cool pine smelling air flowing around rider and bike. A great relief from the baking and dusty plains. I chose a simple scenic 70 mile loop all on the road and got a guide sheet from the local library. A little rain didnt cause to many problems, except a welcome cold feeling, and the first half of the trail took a little over an hour and was really quite enjoyable. As usual I couldnt leave the route alone and decided to make a small 'modification' to allow better view of some of the higher alpine meadows. Within 10 minutes the scrumpled piece of newspaper I was using as a map deteriorated in the rain, but the scenery drew me onward. One hour later I topped a 12000ft pass in perfect sunshine and stopped. The bike was pretty unhapy in the thin mountain air and misfiring badly. I was beginning to feel the familiar ache in the top of my head which tells me I'm at altitudes I'm not immediately designed for, and my breath was decidedly short. The views were stunning and I was delighted to be back in the mountains and off the plains. I was glad the bike had made it to nearly 13000ft and could now tell Jon and Stef that the 13000ft extended Tomichi pass (due in a few days) was at least possible on unmodified bikes.

Sadly, I was now pretty lost and had to switch on my GPS to guide me in rough directions back to Trinidad and food!!

Jon was not so lucky. A quick trip to the grand sand dune national park had resulted in a ride home through a severe rain/hail strom. He was so cold on arrival that we had to put him in a warm shower for 30 mins to stop him shaking. Minor hypothermia was diagnosed and calories were stated to be the only cure, more food ensued!

Monday

11:15 saw the clutch part arrive. I readjusted my valve clearances to try and kill some of my engine rattle and dismantled the top end of the bike. My suspicions were directed toward a broken valve spring, cam chain fault, or decompression problems. Either way there was going to be no fixing it here and onward was the only way. At least I would have a clutch!!

30 mins later and we bid goodbye to our odd motel keeper, left him a tip to try and fund his $40000 sex change operation and headed west into the mountaiuns. That day we road as fast as we could to try and complete our prescribed 250 mile ordeal. The first few hoursd were quick and stunning as the trail took us around the mountains I had crossed the previous day on open sandy trails. The classic mountain ranches and farms were all around us as we climbed and dropped and the views opened up to show us our first true range of snow covered mountains.

Although we rode as fast as we could we were trying to complete 250 miles in a single afternoon. The last part of the route was over a piece of ground known as the rainbow trail and we knew that this would be hard, technical, and exposed riding. At 6pm we rolled over a low pass and dropped into a huge glaciated valley. We could see it run as far north/south as the horizon, and opposite us was the barrier known locally as the rain mountains. This range rises consitently to 14000ft and formed what looked to uslike an impenetrable barrier to our westward route. It was clear that the ranbow trail crossed this range and the chances of us hitting the days deadlines were not great.

Prudence was called for and a motel loomed into view. We stopped in an exposed village, there were no trees to be seen in any direction. Behind us lay a low range of hills, to each side down the open green valley lay small farms dotted at 15 mile intervals and ahead were the huge snow capped peaks. Out of our motel window perfectly framed lay a dirt road running west into the mountains as far as we could see. This was a BIG valley!!

The town turned out out to be a great place to stop and buffalo burgers from locally grown stock provided an unusualy tasty tea.

Tuesday

The Rockies started seriously today! The first few miles of the route led to an uphill boulder field which was the feeder to the Rainbow Trail. We stopped at an impossibly small trail leading into the woods wondering where the trail began. A mile further up the boulder strewn track we were given the happy information that we had stopped next to it 1 mile earlier!

The trail turned out to be difficult, dangerous, and a lot of hard work. The temperature was still fairly low, but at the cost of altitude and thin air. It was often no wider than 18 inches and wound through a mixture of forest and open mountainside. Numerous river crossings, 1 in 3 boulder slopes, and hideously tight switch backs cut into our days ride time condsierably. Caution was definately the word of the day as 2 and 3 thousand feet drops pulled our wheels into the moutain side and drew our gazes from the job in hand. Two hours and 15 miles later we emerged battered and exhilerated onto on open flat track. Stef used all our luck for the day when he came off and dropped his bike off the trail and down the mountain. He threw himself off the bike and onto the small track fully expecting not to see his bike again. He was lucky when it caught and stopped!!! Although the language he used to describe his efforts to get the bike back on to the route was non to sweet, we were to glad to see him alive!

12noon saw us filling up with fuel. We had covered a non to impressive 38 miles and were all pretty knackered. We were now 1/'2 a day behind schedule and had todays 180 miles to cover in a single afternoon. Inital speeds gave us high hopes for success as we sped down the valley out of a small town with one ouf our four mountain crossings behind us.

We were now ringed by mountains and our GPS told us that ground level here was at nearly 8000ft. It was clear we were going to pass over a second set of mountains fairly soon and that this time they were going to be rather high.

A left turn off the main highway directed us toward a side valley and wound steadily upwards following old mine workings and pine forests. To our right a huge gorge dropped away, carved by the melting snow waters and clearly still rather to full for comfort. We had been forced to ride the trail this time of year and endure the desert and plains heat for one reason. We had to have the high moutain passes of the Rockies open and snow free. The amount of melt water suggested that melting was still very much in progress and gave us some cause for concern. As we rode higher the directions on our road book became ever more vague and the landscape ever more wild. As we crested a rise we came out of the forest and a high alpine plain stood before us surrounded by huge scree slopes and snow covered peaks. The bies were all down to less than 50% power, and the XR400's were suffering misfires paticularly badly. It was 2pm.

It took us nearly 1 hour of technical riding and getting lost to locate the small track switching back off the 'main' (3ft of rocky river bed) trail. By 3:20pm we were past our point of no return for the day and knew that reversing our route would not be possible before dark. Altimeters and bad headaches told us we were well over 12000ft and we hoped that we were nearly over the first pass. We crested 'Hanson' ten minutes later, stopped briefly for a photo and dropped into a remote valley. We could see no signs of life except for trees, and the odd bird of prey circling miles overhead. The trail wound downward and was as tight and twisty as the rainbow trail in places. Sitting back over the bikes luggage racks was essential to prevent toppling over, and in this position 'lock to lock' turns over steep drops were not popular. We soon hit the bottom of the track and began the climb up to our next pass. The Tomichi.

Within a few hundred meters we met our first snow patch crossing the track. It was clear that vehicles had been up to this point but the track looked unkept and partially missing further up the mountain. Jon initally tried the direct approach, but soon discovered that riding over snow on bald knobbly tyres inst really possible. He did crash quite spectacularly trying though! It took three of us to haul his bike over the 10 meter section and then we formulated aplan. Jon would ride ahead to see what other problems there may be whilst stef and I would try to rebuild and clear the track for more heavily loaded bikes and vehicles. At nearly 13000ft it was exhausting work just walking especially as we were no acclimatised at all. After 15 minutes Jon reurned with bad news. There were two more fields of snow that he could see, the first possibly crossable, the second possibly not.

We could see the top of the pass only half a mile ahead and knew that any snow would be be on our side of the pass as it was north facing. We had a choice, try to ride 70 miles back to the last road over rough terrain in the dark, or push onward hoping to break throught the snowfields and cross the pass knowing that a road lay only 12 miles over the mountain. We gave ourselves a two hour dealine of 5:30 pm and move the bikes over the first of the snow fields and onwards towards the second.

The second field was crossed fairly easily by jumping off the bikes with the engines running and pushing. This would have been hard at sea level, but up at this altitude, uphill, over 50 meters the effect was devestating. We all crossed but colapse was pretty enevitable. As we each took our turn there was usually someone on their knees rasping for breath, eyes bulging. The stupidity of the situation caused many attempts at laughing, usually cut short by a lack of breath!

The final north side snow field was an altogether more serious affair. It lasted 'forever', and pushing the bikes accross was NOT going to be an option. The snow was soft, and sinking knee deep I crossed looking for harder patches of snow. I wished we had crossed earlier in the morning when there may have been a crust of harder snow known as neve. It would certainly have made life a lot easier.

Stefs bike was first accross, it took three of us 30 minutes of lung wrenching effort and we were exhausted by the time we had finished. I took the bike while stef and Jon rested, keen to see the summit and check for further problems. The top was a welcome site, the snow field on the other side was not! It was short tho', and mostly downhill (albeit at an angle of around 70 degrees!). I decided upon a strategy of one problem at a time and returned to find unloaded bikes ready to cross. Jons KTM was a BITCH. 200kgs of bike with a 7 gallon tank nearly killed us all. It took over 40 minutes to heave accross the snow and at any given time there were at least two of us gasping and rolling around like exhauted fools. At this point I stongly considered Tenerife and a beach holiday next year.

The good point about hauling the KTM was the development of a limited form of technique which we then used to drag the final Honda across rather more rapidly than the first. It was 5pm, we had one snow field to go and 12 miles of technical riding...........

The final Tomnichi summit called for a Photo befoe a before a new riding technique was pioneered. It is called. 'droppingyourbikedownabigsnowslopewhilstsittingonit beccauseyourtooexhaustedtodoanythingelse'. Possibly the name wont catch on, but the technique certainly works!!

Some rather unsual photos later we rode down a track which earlier in the day would have had us decidedly worried. At this point we really didnt care!! 6:30 pm and were eating snickers bars and drinking gallons of cold liquid at a bizarre mountain store at only 7000ft. 8pm and Jon and I sat in a jacuzzi thinking about just how much better it is travelling in America than the deserts of Africa. Problem was, we had a restaurant booking for 8:30......so we couldnt stay long.............

I am now only a few days behind the full story and hope to catch up when I next find an internet cafe.

Hope you are all well,

Dave

Posted by David Lomax at 09:42 AM GMT
July 14, 2003 GMT
Installment 4


The temperature outside is currently levelling out at a pleasant 50 degrees
or 'bloody hot'. I'd tell you what it is in old money but the thermometer
doesnt go that high!! (about 130 degrees!).\

I will continue the story as before when I get the chance but the main news
yesterday was that I came off the bike, I had to ditch it quickly before I
rode into a barbed wire fence! I was too busy looking at the roll chart
trying to figure out the navigation marks when I rounded a corner and......

The bike stopped before the fence, with me under it!!! My right leg was
twisted backwards and my left thigh had the handlebar embbeded in it!! Stef
was good enough to remove the bike when he arrived and Jon kindly kicked it
over for me to get moving. A few dozen Ibuprofen for lunch and, bob's your
antie's nextdoor neighbours budgie, we were off again. Am now trying to limp
with both legs!!

David Lomax

Posted by David Lomax at 04:49 PM GMT
 
 

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