Just completed the western TAT: What I learned

Discussion in 'Americas' started by txmxrider, Aug 16, 2018.

  1. txmxrider

    txmxrider Been here awhile

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    Keith and I completed our tour of the western half of the TAT last week. We used gpsKevin's tracks and went from just outside Walsenburg CO to Port Orford OR in 12 days. I thought I'd pass along some things I learned so maybe it can help someone else.

    How long does it take?
    First off, we had no idea if 12 days was going to be too much or not enough. Considering the driving involved for the two of us and the amount of vacation time we had allotted it was 12 days max and we'd either make it or we wouldn't. I'd read a lot of accounts about how long it could take but nothing about how short it could be if say you put your head down and moto'd from start to finish. If you have no bad luck and are a good rider and stick to the blue trail you can do Trinidad CO to P.O. in 10 days but I would advise allowing 12 days for sure and 13 would be even better, especially if you want to make any side trips. We killed two days doing single track in CO, spent a morning replacing the battery in Keith's WR in Salida, and lost the equivalent of a day replacing Keith's rear tire in NV. In spite of all that we finished in 12 days but in order to get that time back we did several 13 hour days with almost no breaks (a donut for breakfast and a pack of M&Ms for lunch) and rode at close to a race pace wherever the terrain allowed.

    What to pack?
    If you saw my TAT Packing and Logistics post a few weeks ago you'll know that I reduced my load considerably, and when I met up with Keith we pared that down some more by distributing items between us. A solo rider would probably have a heavier load than either of two riders. Here's my final list:
    30-degree down sleeping bag (not warm enough btw)
    Exped inflatable pad
    1-man tent and footprint
    rain jacket
    REI Flexlite camp chair
    camp towel
    a packable camp pillow
    spare air filter, 3 filter skins, and 4 pair of latex gloves
    I-phone and DC charger (connects to a Powerlet port)
    1 spare riding shorts
    1 light weight civilian shorts
    1 spare T-shirt, moisture wicking type
    1 spare pair of riding socks
    1 pair of lightweight, el-cheapo flip flops
    (I wore the same Klim Dakar pants, a moisture wicking T-shirt, a MX-style jersey, and Klim Dakar gloves the whole trip.)
    A ditty bag with toiletries
    A MSR fender pack with a spare clutch lever (Keith carried a spare front brake lever), 2 tire irons (Keith carried one tire iron), a tubeless and tube type patch kit (glue, tire plugs, patches, and plug reamer and insert tool), a 21" tube, and a tow strap. I carried the fender pack in the bottom of my Wolfman pannier, not on the fender.
    A plastic bag with food (tea bags, instant coca, instant oatmeal, Bumblebee tuna packets, and soft tortilla shells)
    A plastic bag with hard copies of section maps to go in a tank bag and to write notes on each day.
    1 pair of cold weather / wet weather gloves
    1 pair of vented MX-style gloves
    MSR enduro jacket
    A silicone foldable bowl and a spork (Keith carried a Jetboil camp stove and a small fuel canister).
    A backpack with a 2L water bladder
    A spare 2L water bladder
    Two 1L MSR fuel bottles with fuel carried in holsters attached to the Wolfman panniers.
    Fanny pack with basic tools.
    Keith carried a compact bicycle pump and a high pressure and a low pressure tire gauges
    Chapstick and aspirin

    What would I have packed differently?
    I could have done without the civilian shorts because I ended up wearing my riding gear everywhere. I also could have done without the wet weather / cold weather gloves because I have grip warmers and everything dries out really fast since there is no humidity. I also could have done without the MX gloves because I wore the Klim gloves pretty much the whole time. I could have done without the flip flops and the camp chair but they were handy every now and then. Everything else worked out pretty much as planned. My only regret was not packing something warmer to sleep in as I was uncomfortably cold many nights.

    Logistics:
    Left my pickup truck at Northside Storage in Pueblo CO (which is also the Penske truck drop-off point). A one month RV parking slot is $40. We rode backroads and I-25 from Pueblo to Walsenburg then hopped onto the TAT just south of town. When we finished the ride in P.O. we rode the next day to Grants Pass Equipment Rental where we rented a 12' Penske box truck for $835 then hauled the bikes back to Pueblo.

    Gear:
    The Garmin Montana 600 worked great. Keith's Garmin eTrex was sufficient but had too small of a screen imo.
    The Tubliss tubeless tire system worked perfectly. I read some grumbling about it beforehand but it worked great for us and we both used it. We checked our tire pressures every few days just as we would if we ran tubes and we never had to add any air. We ran 15 psi on the low pressure side front and rear. Keith managed to hit a rock wrong and cut a 3/4" gash in his rear tire that we couldn't plug but that wasn't the fault of the Tubliss system. It also allowed him to ride 20 miles with a flat tire to the next town. I recommend the Tubliss and you don't have to worry about pinched tubes any more. Just keep the air pressure up so you don't damage your rims on the rocks.
    We ran a Pirelli MT21 front and Dunlop D606 rear and while they did okay I think a desert racing tire would be best. There were very few places where you could say that traction was great so you're not giving up much and having a tire that can take endless high speed pounding over sharp rocks would be a definite plus. For the record both tires were trashed by the end.

    The bike:
    First off, no matter what bike you choose it will work fine for about 25% of the trail and not so well on the other 75%, it's just which 25% do you want it to work in. We jokingly said a Harley XR 750 flat tracker would be the best bike for the most trail but seriously, we debated this endlessly and I think it all depends upon what type of rider you are: aggressive, stand-up, attack mode versus sit-down, leisurely pace. If you're in the first category and money is no object a KTM 350 would be my recommendation. Since I fall into that first category but money IS an object the WR250 proved to be a good choice, primarily due to its good (but not great) suspension and excellent ergonomics. It soaked up the rocks and ruts as well as any bike I've ever owned and it climbs like a tractor. And you can stand up and ride all day long and it won't beat you up. We rode single track in CO that was equivalent to an A/AA enduro section and the little Whizzleberry plowed through and over everything...fully loaded too. The downside to the WR is that it's heavy and underpowered. It's hard to get more than 60 mph out of it because it simply doesn't have enough HP to punch through the air. Consequently we rode a lot of high speed desert sections sitting down and tucked in behind the handlebars when I would have preferred to have been standing up. On the other hand if I had a KTM 350 I probably would have died at least 5 times from riding too fast for the conditions! But no way would I recommend anything larger than a 450 or maybe 500 if you plan on staying on the blue and red trails. Even a very good rider on a big bike I think would struggle in a number of places on the blue trails. If you're riding a big adventure bike or even a 650 I suggest taking the green bypasses unless you're into pain and punishment or simply don't mind beating the crap out of your bike.
    We ran 14/48 sprockets on the WRs which is essentially one tooth bigger in the rear over stock and it proved just about ideal for these bikes.

    Camping vs motels:
    Again it depends on your timeframe and objectives. If you don't care how long the trip takes then staying 100% in motels makes sense. By far the most bulk and weight of our load was camping gear so removing that should improve your ride. On the other hand you give up a lot of daylight because you have to call it a day at the last town in the section if there isn't enough daylight left to get to the next town in the next section. Camping allows you to keep riding right up until dusk if you want. Also there's just something special about camping in the desert. We were in the Perseid meteor shower window and the night sky was unbelievable.

    Misc stuff:
    One big surprise was that it was cold where I expected it to be hot. The trail is pretty much all at higher elevations so the desert sections were very tolerable during the day and downright cold at night. And Oregon, which I expected to be cool and rainy was scorching hot. I'm from the south so anything less than triple digits is comfortable to me but it was 104 at Dry Creek Store...much hotter than Dallas or Atlanta...and it was a HOT 104, not that 'dry heat' stuff.
    UT and NV proved to be much prettier than I expected. When I think of NV all I think of is Las Vegas and flat desert but there was a lot of elevation and even some alpine sections that were very scenic. Conversely OR was much uglier than I expected. Between the scorching heat, environmental degradation, poverty, and fires and smoke, everything east of the Cascades had a hellish, apocalyptic feel.
    Another surprise was how far we could go between doing laundry. Here in the south I have to change T-shirts just walking to the mailbox but since there was so little humidity your clothes never gets all that skanky. Dirty yes, but smelly no. And if you wash things in a creek or a motel sink at night everything will be dry by morning and you're good to go.
    Most gas stations these days have a good selection of food and just about every town on the trail has a mom and pop type place to eat so it's easy to have at least one good meal a day.

    There were a few places on the trail where it would be helpful to have some hints so over the next few days I'll update the section comments on gpsKevin's website. You might want to read those over and make some notes before you start out. No reason for everyone to learn things the hard way. And maybe I'll post a ride report after that.

    Thanks for reading!

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    #1
  2. ttripp

    ttripp n00b

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    Great read, thanks.
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  3. Bigfury

    Bigfury Been here awhile

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    Interesting, looking forward to learning a bit about the western section.
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  4. txmxrider

    txmxrider Been here awhile

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    I thought of something that I should have included in the initial post...chain and air filter maintenance. I brought a can of chain lube and we lubed the chains pretty much every other day. We both have O-ring chains so that interval seemed satisfactory. As for the air filters, the trail is VERY dusty. So dusty in fact that outside of the Colorado singletrack we almost always had to maintain 1/4 of a mile to a mile of separation between us and still the 2nd place guy got a lot of dust. We brought a spare filter and two filter skins each and kept a filter skin on the filter. We swapped out a filter skin about every 2nd day, then when we used up the clean filter skins we still had a clean filter to swap out. When we got to Moab we found an independent bike shop, Mad Bro, that agreed to clean and lube two filters and filter skins (off the bike) for $16. That was enough to get us to the finish.
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  5. Bullet Burner

    Bullet Burner Adventurer

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    Thanks for the review, good info.

    I'm about to do the CO section of the TAT on a KTM 690 and hoping that your comment on staying to the green does not apply to Engineer and Imogene passes. Any additional input would be appreciated.
    #5
  6. wbbnm

    wbbnm Long timer

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    I strongly disagree with the OPs opinion that only bikes 500 cc and under can do the hard stuff on the TAT.
    I did the TAT several years ago on a KLR including all the hard sections and made it okay.
    I now ride a KTM 690 and know it is much better that the KLR in the harder sections.
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  7. txmxrider

    txmxrider Been here awhile

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    I can't speak about Imogene Pass because we rode the red route (Black Bear pass) but I don't think you'll have any problems with Engineer pass on a KTM 690. It's relatively light and nimble compared to say a BMW GS 1200. There are plenty of videos on Youtube that'll give you an idea of what it looks like. If you've been riding off-road for a while it won't be a problem.
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  8. txmxrider

    txmxrider Been here awhile

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    It depends on which "hard stuff" you're referring to. I didn't say it can't be done, I'm just saying that most people, if they plan to ride all the blue trails and some red trails, are going to have a much easier trip if they stay 500 cc and below. And I'm saying that unless your name is Graham Jarvis or David Knight you'd be crazy to take a KTM 690 or a KLR on the three red trails in gpsKevin's section 29 and 30. Did you do those on your KLR? After you get past CO and UT the blues and reds get a lot easier but there too I think most people would have more fun on something light and fast rather than try to flog a big, heavy bike through sand and silt and up and down hills strewn with loose rocks.
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  9. wbbnm

    wbbnm Long timer

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    We used Sam's tracks. So don't know if we did Kevin's hard stuff. About the hardest thing I remember was getting up the sandy ledgy hill out of Eagle Canyon in Utah. We were all on KLRs and everybody made it with no problem.

    I certainly that riding a lighter bike in harder stuff is more fun than a heavy bike. But loading it down with camping gear would defeat that advantage for me. I also have a KTM 500, but prefer the 690 for TAT like trips. After doing the TAT I started planning my own trips and like them much better because I can do loops instead of one-ways.
    #9
  10. ButchCoolidge

    ButchCoolidge Adventurer

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    Last year I unintentionally did the red 29 on my Rally Raid 690 in the rain at night. I made it, but it wasn't at all fun. The problems with riding the hard sections of the TAT isn't as much with the bike as it is with the load on the bike. For the user that was asking about doing Colorado on the 690...The passes were a breeze on the 690.
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  11. txmxrider

    txmxrider Been here awhile

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    You have my utmost respect. If you aren't already you really should be on the US ISDE Trophy team!
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  12. Dorzok

    Dorzok Long timer

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    :lurk
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  13. ButchCoolidge

    ButchCoolidge Adventurer

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    LOL believe me it wasn't an ISDE level performance. More then once I had to unload the the bike so I could pick it back up. Rode until somewhere around 11pm when I found a place that was level and clear enough to camp.
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  14. eakins

    eakins Butler Maps

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    Sam's track is easier than Kevin's hard stuff.
    Kevin took Sam's concept (some would say stole) and expanded upon it.
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  15. eakins

    eakins Butler Maps

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    Great info thanks!
    Post this thread here so others see it.
    https://advrider.com/index.php?threads/cdr-tat-adv-routes-master-thread.763745/
    #15