Russell Fisher - TransAmerica Trail 2000 - Utah, Nevada
First off-road across the USA - Utah, Nevada
August 20, 2000- There's gold (& other stuff like uranium) in them that hills. But not a whole lot else.
In which our lone boondockian plodder wends his increasingly weary way through the rest of Utah and off into Nevada.
Now. Where were we? Ah yes... Utah I believe - absolutely enormous place chock full of dirt, dust, expansive canyons, precipitous drops, frightfully nice scenery and awfully accommodating locals. Couldn't recommend the place more, dear friends. Moab especially. Do drop by if you have the chance..
Arty or What? what I should think...
Moab, in fact, was the mid-term shot in the arm (or other fatty extremity) I quite badly needed. My confidence in the bike had been rattled by the carb shenanigans in lofty Colorado (yes, I know it was a straightforward case of foreign objects in inappropriate carburetor places, but -- hey! -- things can always get worse...). Meeting up with the stoical Fred Hink, he of Arrowhead Motorsports fame, cured many of my ills. And a few of the bike's too, particularly that of being too damn tall for any normal human being -- I'd persevered with its 37.5" seat height through some trying times, but there's only so many times you can dab fresh air, dangle uncertainly for a split second then keel over sideways like an aging cow struck rudely with a hefty mallet before you get... well, a tad pissed off with picking the bike up again and again and again. A lowering link dropped the back end by a little over an inch and - hey presto - my size eleven's connected again when they needed to. And brand new MT21 was welcome too. Hello, brand new MT21; sooooo nice to see you...
The day I was meant to leave Moab headed north to Green River to resume the trail, we just popped out for a swift ride (Fred, myself and Gene, Fred's trusty sidekick and East Coast refugee) -- "swift" in this case meaning a 100-mile loop around the la Sal mountains to the south-east (12,000ft stuff, no pimples here) concluding at Castle Valley and the famed Slickrock Trail, a 12-mile weave over, through and across bare, smooth fields of gorgeous red sandstone. Lovely. Thanks, Fred. It's been great. But, er... must get off n'all that.
By midway through the following day I was wishing I'd stuck around. The day's run took me west from Green River to Richfield, via a desolate area peppered with long-abandoned uranium mines (and tin signs peppered with bullet holes warning you not to touch the mines or, indeed, shoot the animals - stick with the signs, bud), Black Dragon Wash, Eagle Canyon, across a stretch of nasty desert and up into the contrastingly green and wooded hills to the immediate east of Salina.
The canyons were a sandy struggle, the desert was a trailer for things to come (oh, and home to the world's one and only ghostly Lexus, the 'affordably alternative' luxury vehicle which, complete with requisite blacked-out windows, just appears out of a minefield of apparently impassable washes and fading trails, folks...) and the green wooded stuff was an almighty pain in the arse -- mainly because I dropped the bike a few times on loose, rocky climbs. And unloading the bike then loading it up again three or four times in the space of a couple of hours makes me a little tetchy at the best of times. No, I doubt I'd ever get used to it. Why the hell should I? The only reason I managed to pick the bloody thing up so many times was because I was so bloody annoyed with it. Grrrrrrr, etc.
The last day in Utah involved another bout of loose climbs followed by loose riding and loose bouts of falling over (unload, pick bike up, swear, reload, wobble, fall over, weep like a child, unpack bike, pick up bike...) and - eventually - my first real encounter with a stretch of nothingness -- an 80-mile run on the Black Rock road across an area of desert the name of which escapes me. But, by definition, should a desert have a name? Aren't they a little like cats in the too-enigmatic-for-names stakes? When a cactus falls over in a nameless desert, does anyone hear it fa..... (that's enough of that crap, thanks very much - Ed.)
Utah, picking it up, again...
No, it wasn't particularly scary -- a note on the roadchart said "Do NOT go alone!!!!" Er, 'scuse me, very useful and thanks awfully, but what the hell choice did I have in the matter? Couldn't exactly round up a volunteer, could I? Yes, there's always the "what if I... (insert injury/ breakdown of choice here)" thought niggling away like an elusive nasal hair , but then that's part of this silly bloody game, isn't it? If I wanted all eventualities covered I'd take a fly-drive Disney package, OK? (note to self: next time take a Disney fly-drive package, OK?).
"Do NOT go alone!!!!"
Deserts just go on a bit, that's all. In Utah they don't go on for too long, unlike some, so I was getting off reasonably lightly, despite the uncomfortably warm mid-afternoon temperatures, but the bike once again behaved itself impeccably and, with the hills of Nevada looming across the last dried-up lake of the day, my spirits were once again up there somewhere. All it would have taken was one wrong turn, one patch of sand in the wrong place or one more bug to splatt itself across my goggles rendering me blind for the best part of 50 yards, and I would have been an unhappy and lonely bunny once again. Yes, I'm that fickle. You can afford to be when you're on your own. It's one of life's little luxuries afforded the lone motorcycle traveller. Enjoy it while you can; next month you'll be back smiling and pleasing, smiling and pleasing...
My first overnight in Nevada was at a long-forgotten little place called Baker, famous for its campsite owners who think they're undercover FBI/CIA operatives sent to this far-flung outpost of something or other for the purposes of 'national security'. No, honestly, they do. Top entertainment; thanks, Gary, and keep those eyes peeled and those ears pinned back. You never know who might be lurking behind the next, er, bush.
From Baker the trail crossed three or four north-south folds of mountains before heading north into Eureka, sand being the main problem of the day, usually when the trail chose to dip in and out of dried-up streams which, of course, were as sandy as hell. A bike as heavy as the XRL, especially one carrying 65lbs of luggage and 185lbs of sand-hating scaredy-cat, doesn't like that sort of thing, and yet again I was unloading/digging/loading/unloading (you get the picture). All this gets rather tiring. Sigh. Only another 1,200 miles or thereabouts to go. Almost home, really.
Eureka to Battle Mountain (still in Nevada, of course), saw a change of course to the north and a change in nature of my surroundings -- the flat valleys got wider, the sage brush got thicker, the trees thinner on the ground (until they chose to disappear altogether) and the general feel of the place altogether more... ummm, bleak, big and... well, empty again; only we'd changed up a gear in terms of emptiness. If Utah (and, to a certain extent, New Mexico) had felt empty, this bit of Nevada had it truly whupped in the bugger-all-here-for miles-and-miles stakes.
But it had a certain and, to date, uniquely welcoming feel to it, despite (or because of, who knows) the emptiness -- it was harsher than anything I'd encountered to date, Colorado included, and one ranch every 60 or 70 miles hardly adds up to a buzzing hive of activity. But I was pleased to be there, pleased to feel myself getting further and further away from home and any touchstones of familiarity -- the signs of human life began to get older and rustier, the vehicle tracks older and often non-existent and the trails themselves - yes - older and weaker as they struggled for survival against the onslaught of the inexplicably strident sage.
"Oerrrr.... what if I should (insert mechanical breakdown or personal injury of choice here, etc.)....."
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