Russell Fisher - TransAmerica Trail 2000 - Oklahoma, New Mexico, Colorado, Utah
First off-road across the USA - Oklahoma, New Mexico, Colorado, Utah
August 5, 2000
You ain't in Kansas any more...
Sorry about the breakdown in communications, folks -- seems like the US is a little short of internet cafes. Anyway, since we last spoke I've slogged through Oklahoma, New Mexico, Colorado and - as we speak - Utah. And it's been a trip of contrasts to say the last...
Oklahoma started pretty well -- in the eastern extremes it was still a case of the Ozarks, but fairly soon they petered out into the mind-boggling flat agricultural plains. And - boy - how those plains go on, and on, and on, and on. The trails (mainly what they call 'mile-marker' grid roads) are surfaced either in gravel (if you're lucky) or a sandy-loam type of stuff (if you're not). If you've done something dreadful like squash a bug or something in a previous life, it'll probably rain on you once you get into the sandy loam stuff, and quite obviously I've squished a few bugs in my time -- it tossed it down. Sandy-loamy-whatever turned into a clay-like slush, making the going sheer hell for hundreds of miles at a time.
That's more or less my abiding memory of Oklahoma. Sorry. Numerous over-full creek crossings, minor detours to find less slushy surfaces, and flat, flat, flaaaaaaat nothingness. For virtually my entire run through the state I was little more than a mile or two south of the Kansas state line, and childhood memories of Dorothy's bleak lil' homestead and newsreel of tornadoes stuck with me throughout. The company of Laree Peters from Tulsa (he's service manager at Honda Of Tulsa, who sorted me out superbly with a new rear tyre and a few odds & ends) was welcome in the first day, especially as it coincided with a minor brush with the Dangerous Brothers -- a dodgier pair of Hillbillies of Evil Intent than you're ever likely to see -- if, like me, you live in Somerset, UK. We don't make 'em like that at home...
Come New Mexico I was gagging for a change -- and virtually as soon as I crossed the state line, it was like throwing a topographical switch. Scrubby prairie, black sage, deer and full-on western movie-style escarpments aplenty. Pity it only lasted 65 miles...
But then came Colorado -- and if anywhere represents a change from Oklahoma/Kansas, it's Colorado, the 'Mile High State'. I climbed what I thought was a minor pass to get into the state, but as soon as I reached the top the bike began wheezing and sputtering -- a quick check of the map told me I was at 6,500ft, and the fuel mixture was, of course, running overly rich -- from the overnight in Trinidad, things just got worse elevation-wise.
By the time I'd scraped into Salida, I'd already notched up two 11,000ft passes, and the going was getting rockier by the minute. I was joined in Salida by Howard Schultz from Colorado Springs, and Bob (whose surname I've forgotten -- sorry!) Both were present (thankfully, because it meant I could dump my bags in their pickup which was being ferried to the next town) for a run up a section of the Rainbow Trail - an amazing 100+ miles of fantastic single-track through deep woods. But singletrack in this case really did mean single -- with the panniers I would have been in deep trouble; and the drop-offs and massive rock steps didn't make matters easier. Our route took us up 15 miles or so of this.
But the biggest challenges were yet to come -- north of Salida next day we (just Howard and me, Bob having scarpered) climbed the Hancock Pass (12,200ft approx) and then headed south for the Tomichi Pass -- within 100 yards of the summit the bike (mine) died. It would idle, but as soon as I opened the throttle, it would die -- fuel starvation, obviously, but my attempts to drop the float chamber off the bottom of the carb simply resulted in a stripped screw and frayed temper.
There was nothing else for it but a ten mile coast all the way down to the ex-mining town of Pitkin (and the term 'town' is being generous), where -- without my camping gear which was in Howard's pickup down in Lake City, some 100 miles south west, I got a $60 dollar room and more time to fiddle with the carb. By wrenching it sideways I had no more success in removing the float bowl, but in doing so I obviously disturbed the rubbish inside and once again it ran -- to late to save the day, however.
Tomichi Trail breakdown
The Kawasaki dealer in Gunnison stripped the carb next day and fished out what turned out to be in the remains of a grasshopper / cricket type thing, thousands of which I'd remembered running through and over in New Mexico. And so much for me thinking I'd manage without an inline filter...
The rest of Colorado was just the same (minus the mechanical hassle) -- absolutely jaw-dropping but, if I'm honest, a bit on the gnarly side for a bike which, loaded and fueled, probably tips the scales at 400+lb. In fact, given the choice I'd probably say the Trans America Trail was absolutely perfect for an XR400 and a backpack, because now it's hit the high country it's become decidedly technical in places, and 'technical' on a packed mule like mine means 'whooooaaaaa shhiiiiiiiiiit'........
Fred Hink, working on the bike
And now I'm out of the mountains and holed up for a day or so with the wonderful Fred Hink of Arrowhead Motorsports in Moab (1-435-259-7356) we've fitted a new x-ring chain, new sprockets (14-48 now instead of 14-46) and a new rear Pirelli MT21; that'll be my third rear tyre so far. This morning we took a 90-mile loop through Canyonlands National Park -- up the Schafer Trail among others. And while it may be some 6,000ft lower than the Rockies here, it's none-the-less spectacular -- I'm getting bored scraping my jaw off the dirt.
Pity it's 108 degrees in the shade...
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