Two motoidiots ride and camp Utah

Discussion in 'Ride Reports - Epic Rides' started by CONKSO, Oct 9, 2013.

  1. CONKSO

    CONKSO Been here awhile

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    My brother and I are new to this motocamping game. Since we're from California, we think that winter means it rains once a month. So we were kind of unprepared for what Utah would throw at us last week. It get's cold there. We froze our asses off up on top of a mountain and cooked our balls off going through Vegas... but that didn't stop the fun, in fact, I can't wait to get back and ride more of that awesome area.

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    That's me and my brand new, 2013 Dl650 Vstrom- a bike I was told had all the character of a Honda Civic and all the off roadiness of a Barkalounger. Are you kidding me? My bike killed it- I went off road, on road, through gravel, over rock, on sand and clay and through water- no skidplate? No worries? No panniers? Who needs 'em! Have giant loop, will travel! Throw on frame sliders and a sheep skin butt pad and you can ride the world!

    I live in San Diego, supposedly I teach kids chemistry but to me it's just an excuse to burn or blow things up. The important point is that I've got lots of vacations- and my favorite one is our Fall break.

    "Fall", I thought, "what a great time to go for a ride. I bet that would be a good time to go out to this Moab place I've heard so much about, the weather's probably perfect." Now I just needed to convince my little bro to go with me- that part was easy.

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    That's my little bro Mike (I guess he prefers a more grown up Michael but eff it, he's always been Mike to me). Best thing about his rig is not that it's a BMW, its the mandolin he straps with him anytime we do this kind of stuff. Little bro likes to bust bluegrass riffs while I try to keep our California asses the opposite side of hypothermic. Brother Mike actually thought his mandolin and the $20 Big5 special he brought would keep him warm through the night. Damn it gets cold in Utah.

    So we figured we'd take seven days and make a goal of getting to this Moab place. It was farther than we thought and did I mention it gets cold there? But on the plus side we figured out that when things get gnarly, the trip gets epic. And when the pavement ends... you better be ready.

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    #1
  2. Bob

    Bob Formerly H20Pumper

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    :lurk
    #2
  3. RACINGTHESUN

    RACINGTHESUN Been here awhile

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    Can't wait for the rest!:clap
    #3
  4. CONKSO

    CONKSO Been here awhile

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    I guess I should clarify the whole "motoidiots" part of our handle. Basically, we're pretty new to all this stuff and being from California we get hit with wow-factor any time we see some of the real great outdoors. An actual flowing river is enough to get us pulled over, cameras out and shutters snapping ("Dang, look at all that free water!"). So if you're tuned in looking for a gnarly description of two grizzed veteran riders belaying their ADV bikes down granite faced drop offs you've come to the wrong ride report. On the other hand, if you'd like to take a bunch of steps backwards and revisit what it's like to feel the magic of riding, camping and learning from your moto-mistakes you might be at the right place.

    Day 1: I ride to Afton Canyon Campground. We figured out that a good half-way meeting point for the both of us (Mike is coming from Santa Cruz and I'm coming from San Diego) would be a small campground outside of Barstow called Afton Canyon. I knew about it because it's one of the ending points of the famed Mohave Trail.

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    What we didn't realize is that it's more than a 400 mile ride for Mike and if I decide to skip all the warp-drive craziness of Interstate 15 it would be over 300 miles for me. For us new riders, that's a long day. I decided to ride from San Diego, through Julian, to Anza and up and over the mountains through Idyllwild- I'd then come down into Banning and figure it out from there.

    The ride from SD through Idyllwild was beautiful- since I was riding on a Tuesday, the roads were empty. It was one gentle curve after another and as I ascended up to the little mountain town of Idyllwild, I could smell the pines and the air was a bit cooler, crisp and nice through my helmet.

    Realization #1: Moto riding is all about the smells- you don't get that locked up in a car.

    Once I hit Banning, it was getting later than I thought and I decided to go full gonzo down the 15. The 'strom obliged, cranking it up to 80 mph, Cal-autobahn cruising speed as minivans and beemers alternately rode up my ass and cut me off whenever they could.

    In a couple of hours I made it to Afton Canyon campground. Mike was already there set up and waiting (check the above pics) and so were the mosquitoes who came out like a blood crazed cloud. The campground is a nice, if spartan, little hidey hole featuring pit toilets (don't look down), no water, fire rings and shaded picnic tables. It will cost you six bucks to stay there or nothing if you don't really feel like paying; we never saw anybody come by to collect (we did pay though- we're good citizens).

    After a couple of blue grass jams Mike was tired- so we called it a night. Mike went to his Big5 tent and bag and I to my fancy REI nylon casa and 0 degree Big Agnes bag. Sleep came easily, until the trains started coming through.

    Realization #2: Moto ear plugs aren't just for riding.
    #4
  5. dksd39

    dksd39 Adventurer

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    right up my alley...i'm in
    #5
  6. prasta

    prasta Adventurer

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    Boom. That was one of my very first realizations too, and still one of my favorite aspects of motorcycle travel.
    #6
  7. acidman1968

    acidman1968 Been here awhile

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    Oh hell yeah! I'm waiting (im)patiently for the rest of the story... :lurk
    #7
  8. CONKSO

    CONKSO Been here awhile

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    We woke up the next day and Mike said that at one point in the night he thought to himself, "This is it, I'm not going to make it." Evidently he got so cold during the night that he shook himself awake and put on every piece of riding gear he had to try to stay warm through the night. Crazy how cold it gets just before the sun comes up. I woke up nice and comfy and made a cup of coffee.

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    By the way, the collapsible coffee filter cone is the way to go for a no hassle, quick cup of joe. You just throw away the coffee filter when you're done. There's no wasted water cleaning out something like a french press and the coffee tastes great. It packs down nice and tiny too.

    We bolted out of Afton Canyon and ran up to Vegas stopping to buy rain gear, a replacement tent, a headlamp and a sleeping bag liner for Mike. Vegas was hot and crowded- we couldn't wait to get out of there and plotted our course for some higher elevations to get out of the desert floor furnace. So it was back onto the 15 for a highspeed run out of Vegas and into first Arizona and then through a cool river gorge and into Saint George Utah. We figured we'd ride up towards Brian Head and sleep that night in the mountains were it would be nice and cool.

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    It was more than cool- man it was freezing! We woke up to frost all over the ground and and our bikes. I heard Mike moving around by his stove and this is what I saw:

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    My little bro was sticking his mitts into his camp stove trying to warm up his hands. I'd been warned by a veteran bike camper that we'd experience all four seasons every day of the trip but this was ridiculous. Twelve hours ago our balls were sticking to our seats in the heat of Vegas and now my brother was defrosting his icicle fingers in a camp stove.

    Realization #3: Long underwear are your friends- always bring along a full set.
    #8
  9. Longbow

    Longbow Vroooom

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    :lurk OK I'm in. Looking forward to reading more.
    #9
  10. CONKSO

    CONKSO Been here awhile

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    Our game plan for seeing Utah was pretty straightforward, I brought along the Butler Map of Utah and we tried to link together as many of the colored in, classic motorcycle roads as we could. We also wanted to get a bit lower in elevation hoping we'd warm up (we're from California, we're so soft). One of those was the Burr Trail and it's a great trail that's easy for motoidiots on big-ish bikes.

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    This is the paved portion of the trail- it was a beautiful easy ride and the bonus was that down in the canyon it was sunny and perfect- San Diego weather. There are these giant red stone cliffs that stopped us in our tracks.

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    Realization #5: Leave one glove off and a camera ready to go in your tank bag - if you're stopping all the time to snap shots the free hand will make life easier.

    The Burr Trail is 75 miles long and the last part is on gravel road, there's a tiny bit of sand but nothing to get worried about. If you're in the area it's a great ride and I noticed that there are even little campgrounds at the paved end.

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    Here's the part of the trail that turns into a gravel road. Mike's rig is about 8lbs lighter here because he finally decided to stop carrying around two tents. His $20 Big5 special was basically a cold amplification device and he had replaced it with a nicer tent from REI in Vegas- the problem was letting go of it. It's funny how attached we've become to things. That tent was worth only twenty bucks but Mike swore he'd carry it all the way home and return it. It took a few days of loading and unloading it to finally jump the mental hurdle that was stopping him from just letting it go. We ended up leaving it a gas station hopefully somebody who needed it has it now- and I hope they live somewhere warm.

    Funny, I had my own episode of attachment sickness. I had to buy a one dollar Starbucks plastic cup in order to get some change for a campsite. Every time I packed up I'd see that empty cup taking up space and it would piss me off- five days later I finally left it in a hotel. It's funny, the second I set it down and left it I felt better. There's a lesson in there somewhere- maybe we shouldn't get too attached to things but damn I thought I'd use it somewhere sometime.

    Realization #6: If you bring something along and you don't touch it for a couple of days, you probably don't need it. Maybe you should "donate" it somewhere along the route. I donated a plastic cup a pair of pants and three perfectly clean tee shirts. The exception to this rule would be tools and rain gear- hopefully you don't need to touch them on the road but that doesn't mean you should ditch them.
    #10
  11. Bg22

    Bg22 Adventurer

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    in for the ride. Sounds like a great trip!
    #11
  12. sealsam

    sealsam Sam...I am.

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    Great report!

    Not sure which way you went, but Brian Head to Burr covers some great country. Are you holding out on us?:ddog
    #12
  13. CONKSO

    CONKSO Been here awhile

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    Day 3 - 4: Off the Trail and up the Mountain.

    The government shutdown was pretty lame for us- all the major National Parks were barricaded off with rangers, whirling red and blue lights, it was bullshit. Every little campground in any area of land with the word, "National" in it was also closed- even the ones that offered no services.

    The good thing about Utah is that there are still beautiful roads and sites that our big National brother can't put it's paws on. So Mike and I made adjustments to our plans as they came up- and at times we thought we came up real winners.

    One of our plans was to come out of the Burr trail and go to Bullfrog which looked like it had campgrounds and maybe we could for a swim down there. Nope- once again whirling reds and blues and an armed ranger parked across the road blocking everybody off from coming in. The ranger was cool though and he directed us to Starr Springs campground which is on BLM land- he said it was a nice place to camp so we gave it a shot. Man, we scored!

    We bumped up the dirt road to Starr Springs but then we noticed there was a crossroad with a dirt road going even higher up inot the hills above the campground. We took the path less traveled and rode up the road veering off into a clearing. We found an old campsite, shut the bikes down and set up camp. Here's our "front porch" view:

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    Behind us there was a mountain that was being totally front lit by the setting sun. It was magnificent and I have the feeling that Utah has all kinds of stuff like this.

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    Realization #7: Don't be afraid to bump down an unknown road or take a left when you thought you were going to take a right- some of the best parts of our trip came from taking an alternate route or camping somewhere away from everyone else.

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    This was my favorite campsite of the trip- even if those dark clouds did dump a bunch of hail on us in the middle of the night. There was also the remains of the old Starr Springs ranch and cellar. Evidently the horses ate locoweed and went tats up. I really like checking out these old places and imagining all the work that went into building them and fortitude it took to see an idea like establishing a wilderness outpost through to completion.

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    We fired up the JetBoil, cracked a Mountain House chilimac (damn, Mountain House is pretty good!) and crashed out when it got dark.
    #13
  14. CONKSO

    CONKSO Been here awhile

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    Hi Samtheg! Yes there is some obscenely beautiful roadwork between BrianHead and Burr trail- unfortunately I didn't stop to take photos at that point. At that point, I was FREEZING and, get this, I had packed my whole bike up from our high mountain campsite, sat down to get out of my flip flops and into my riding boots and then realized I'd packed all my socks away deep into my Great Basin Giant Loop bag. So I had to ride barefoot in my boots out of the BrianHead area- that sucked big time so I was hustling. I did finally stop on the road through Bryce and got my one and only shot of my bro standing by a cool rock.

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    There was so much epic riding between the main spots we hit that I can't even describe them completely or give them the treatment they deserve. I'm sure you know this: Utah is mindblowing for motorcycles!

    We pulled over at that pullout and I sat down and dug out my socks. While we were there two different cars pulled over with guys who wanted to come chat and look at our rigs. This became pretty common, a guy and his wife, looking like they are retired, pulling over to talk about the good old days when they toured on a bike. Or a guy and his wife wanting to let us know how cool it was that two 40-something year old brothers were out and seeing Utah on motos.

    Each time that happened an old catch phrase would come into my mind- I don't know if somebody said it to me, or if I read it somewhere but each time one of these car-bound dudes would come talk to me the phrase would whisper through my mind: "Ride while you can."

    I wouldn't say it out loud but I would silently agree. The hour is getting late, ride while you can.
    #14
  15. Dirtnrocks

    Dirtnrocks Adventurer

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    Utah definitely has some epic riding and scenery. The older I get and the more I explore it, the less I'm willing to think about having to leave for career opportunities, etc. Glad you got to enjoy some of it.
    No joke about the temperature extremes this time of year- you have to pack for and be ready for anything. I have been snowed on while staring at sections of blue sky and sunshine.:D
    #15
  16. trhjohn

    trhjohn Adventurer

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    :lurk You get points for the V-Strom. I am living vicariously through this thread
    #16
  17. Ghostyman

    Ghostyman Been here awhile

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    Cool trip! I'm looking at getting out of Santa Cruz for some Utah riding soon myself.
    #17
  18. obrianmcc

    obrianmcc Been here awhile

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    The government shutdown was pretty lame for us- all the major National Parks were barricaded off with rangers, whirling red and blue lights, it was bullshit. Every little campground in any area of land with the word, "National" in it was also closed- even the ones that offered no services.

    The good thing about Utah is that there are still beautiful roads and sites that our big National brother can't put it's paws on.

    .....AMEN to that!

    :freaky
    #18
  19. CONKSO

    CONKSO Been here awhile

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    Day 5: Moab... not so much.

    We had a nice night camping out up at Starr Springs - if you're looking for a low key spot out near Bullfrog, this is a good one to mark on the map.

    The next morning after a sweet sunrise and a steaming cup of coffee we loaded up and rolled out planning to stay the night in Moab. Moab was the impetus for the trip. I'd heard about the place here on ADV and it looked like a mecca for riding but it's way out there for a guy like me in San Diego. Originally, I was going to use my two whole weeks of Fall break to get out there and check it out but my time got cut in half by a girlfriend request for me to go with her to Atlanta, Georgia (interesting for a California native). The result of the time loss is that we figured we'd only have a day to see Moab so with that in mind we fired up the bikes and logged some long miles getting there.

    The weather was pretty gnarly the whole way there. We rode the long way 'round cruising up 95 to the 24 across the 70 and then down the 191 to Moab. The 95 and 24 were some of the most wide open highways I've ever been on- we rode long miles on them but I have to say, I enjoyed every minute of the riding. For a guy from crowded southern California, being in that much open sky country is pretty amazing, I just wish I had more time to check it all our. Especially Goblin Valley State Park which looked cool (weirdly, a huge gust of wind hit me right when I passed the park- scared the shit out of me and gave me a sense of foreboding about the park and its ominous name).

    Like I said, the weather was pretty uneven the whole way. There would be pockets of nice sunshine but off in the distance you'd see dark storm clouds just dumping rain in the distance. It would get cold too and Mike and I resorted to putting our rain gear on over our moto jackets and long underwear just to stay a little more comfortable. I had been hauling my Frogg Toggs around the whole trip and this was the first time I had to use them- I was glad I had them with me.

    By the time we got to Moab, it was kind of a bummer. It was really very chilly and their was snow on the nearby mountains with very dark, very ominous looking clouds seemingly right on top of us. There were also rain puddles on either side of the highway leading into Moab. The sky was darkening and it just didn't have that sunshine, happy feeling that I was looking forward to. In addition, and this is worst part, ALL of the National Parks were again blocked off by ranger vehicles would not let anybody ride in. Moab itself looked cool, like a happening little action-forward type of town- it reminded me of Hood River or Bend both towns in Oregon with athletic people everywhere doing every sort of cool thing. We weren't feeling it though- we put the hustle of the little town up against the solitude of our previous campsites and came to a unanimous decision: we're outta here!

    Our next stop was a hotel up the road in Monticello- we lucked out and snagged the last room available. We took advantage of the heated indoor pool and jacuzzi, ate a great meal at the hippy joint across the street (see below: Ribeye, rare, with a roasted chili on top of it) and called it a day. A real bed never felt so good.

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    #19
  20. CONKSO

    CONKSO Been here awhile

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    Greetings All:

    trhjohn: The vstrom was great- it really did it all from cruising 80mph and more on the fast Utah highways to riding over sand and rocky roads on the back roads. The bike started every morning and ran all day long. It also gave me some solid mpg numbers- just by the computer I averaged 50 mpg- when I hand calculate I usually do a little better. I put a larger windscreen on it and a forkbrace as well as handguards and frame sliders and lower cowling but other than that it's pretty much bone stock. Oh yeah, Alaskan sheepskin seat cover- that thing was AWESOME.

    Ghostyman: Do it! My brother lives in Santa Cruz- you may see him around on his yellow BMW (F650gs or something like that?). Buying gear and thinking about the trip were the easy parts- actually rolling out of the driveway and letting go of the, "Did I forget something" feelings was much harder- just do it.

    Obrianmcc: yep- hands off MY National Parks!

    Dirtnrocks: Utah rules- you're in a good place my friend. Believe me I'm coming back for more sometime. Probably when it's a bit warmer. Late June?
    #20