The Worst Pioneers: Scouting the Oregon Trail

Discussion in 'Ride Reports - Epic Rides' started by DrPayne, Oct 12, 2021.

  1. DrPayne

    DrPayne Not a doctor

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    I was pretty hesitant to even bother with this as my first ever RR because what will follow is the description of a bumbling and underwhelming vacation through our back yard. This thread existing amidst multi-year threads of international journeys that constitute entire life phases seems like a waste of time, but while it may be dwarfed by what many contributors here do on a regular basis, it represented many firsts for us. We were pioneers of our own small worlds, exploring the frontier world of motorcycle travel that we had only heard about in bed time stories. We also were doing something that I really didn't see much of a precedent for on the internet and while I now see there is probably a good reason for that, I still think it was (and continues to be) worth doing and documenting.

    The game is simple: travel the Oregon Trail. I could not find a route or gpx file or really any record of anyone attempting to do this (feel free to flood my inbox with links to everything I missed), so I set out to create the route myself. The goal of this trip was to verify and validate as much of the route as possible. The map and satellite data available is staggering, and, as we would come to learn, even more unreliable than I had expected. This will be an ongoing project, and this trip was just the first part.

    It was also our first motorcycle trip. We are experienced champion road trippers with a car, but not many of those skills translate. We didn't really know what to bring, how to pack, how to ride 8 hours a day, where to sleep, all the things that are totally different from car road trips. We also had excruciatingly limited time: 2 weeks, 16.5 days if we left after work on Friday, and at least 4 of those days would have to be wasted trucking the bikes to and from the trail. 12 days to get 2200+ miles and back? Probably not. And as if that wasn't enough, we had no one to watch the dog. We couldn't afford to pay someone to watch her for what would be the worst two weeks of her life since we have mutual separation anxiety issues, having never been apart for more than 5 days for the entire 9 years of her life. Guess we're taking the dog too!

    YouDied.png
    Spoiler alert: We didn't make it.

    So here we go. Three years after waking up from a dream and wanting a motorcycle, after spending more time recovering from a broken foot from riding off-pavement than actually riding off-pavement, and in the middle of an already overwhelming time in our lives, we head out for a half baked adventure through states we'd never seen except from the interstates and ski resorts, with a dog in tow who had no idea what she was in for, as if we had any idea ourselves. What will follow will be mildly entertaining at best, but it happened and it may prove of some value to someone someday. Therefore I'd like to commit it to the internet, for better or for worse.
    #1
  2. DrPayne

    DrPayne Not a doctor

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    Cast and Crew:

    DSC_0502a Me and Ellie.JPG
    Me via DR650, Ellie via Kuryakyn Grand Pet Palace

    DSC_0489a Maddie driving.JPG
    Maddie via XT250 with somehow more luggage than me
    #2
  3. ricksax

    ricksax Been here awhile

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    Plenty of books on The Oregon Trail and they will explain that there was no single route, but many, many alternate routes. You should read the one by Rinker Buck, "The Oregon Trail" done with a three-mule wagon. He was able to go places where a motorcycle would not be welcome. And, he gave up at Baker, Oregon, thus failing to trace a route to Oregon City, Oregon. Still a good piece of information.
    #3
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  4. DrPayne

    DrPayne Not a doctor

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    Of course, though there is A route that we were trying to follow that is outlined by the National Park Service. I took comfort in the fact that as far as we had to deviate from it, chances are we were still following in the footsteps and wagon tracks of someone who made the journey all that time ago, and it wouldn't be entirely inaccurate for me to use my imagination to put myself back in time there. Still, there are some obvious remnants of what must have been very popular parts of the trail that are simply not reachable nowadays, so it did get pretty disappointing in places. On the other hand, those remnants wouldn't be around very long if we were all rolling our knobbies over them. Still, I'd like to get closer. My imagination needs some help sometimes.
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  5. ricksax

    ricksax Been here awhile

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    Rinker Buck notes that there were times 1) when the local town folks were eager to help with the mules and the wagon; and 2) when private land holders were eager to shoot him from crossing their property on the Oregon Trail, even though he was on a wagon pulled by mules. Neither of the those situations really work to the advantage of us motorcyclists.
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  6. DrPayne

    DrPayne Not a doctor

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    Prologue: Independence, MO to Guernsey, WY

    Having such a limited amount of time, we decided to maximize the quality of our riding time by pretty much skipping about half the trail by doing it in the truck. Given that we can do 1000 miles a day in the truck and barely 200 on bikes, the farther out we took the truck, the farther we could get on the route.

    This can absolutely be seen as an indictment of this route. I mean no offense to the Midwest, but it's not the most exciting part of the country. It will remain in the route because this is where the trail goes, and had we more time, I think would have enjoyed multiple days of putting along through gravel roads through corn fields, but choices had to be made.

    Day -2: We began the trail here, bright and early in the morning. A small park with an overlook, nothing really notable. It's almost easy to miss. This is, however, where the NPS trail begins.

    DSC_0327a Wayne City Landing.JPG
    An underwhelming start.

    The trail goes through what is now the greater Kansas City, MO metro area. If you forgot anything before setting off, don't worry, you will pass a store that sells it. Strip mall after strip mall seemingly for hours. I thought about editing the route to avoid that, but the alternative would just be residential area after residential area unless I wanted to go hours out of the way. At least this way you can get off to a pretty safe and comfortable start.

    There wasn't much to see before Nebraska. There are occasional historical markers to see, but it's pretty much pavement for all of MO and KS. A good warmup, I guess. You'll start questioning just how accurate this route is until your occasionally reminded that yes, this is the right area.
    DSC_0328a Oregon Trail Road sign.JPG
    Yup, still on the right path.

    DSC_0337a Historic Trail Signs.JPG
    These signs frequently remind you you're on track.

    At about noon, we finally find the end of the pavement in Nebraska. Thus began the zig-zagging through the world's supply of corn and soybeans on washboarded gravel roads. Again, coming from the land of twisty roads walled in by trees to the point that you need hiking boots to get a line of sight longer than a mile, I did enjoy driving through the nation's farmland, but not as much as I knew I was going to enjoy what was ahead...

    DSC_0336a Nebraska Dirt Road.JPG
    There were a couple actual dirt roads mixed in with all the gravel

    Little did I know, I was following the pioneers in more way than one. A pattern seems to be developing with me over the last few years where at the beginning of every two week road trip, I depress my immune system with worrying about preparation, pushing myself too hard at the wheel, and not leaving enough space behind the seat to recline it so I can get enough rest. It's hard to tell the difference between exhaustion and illness, but when I woke up at a rest stop early on Day -1, it was pretty obvious.
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  7. DrPayne

    DrPayne Not a doctor

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    Day -1:
    Maddie drove most of the rest of the way, and it was largely the same. Traveling along the Platte River is actually fairly pretty if you can see through the farms, but I didn't feel too bad about keeping my eyes closed for a lot of it to avoid agitating my headache. We took a break mid-morning for some Covid tests, a PCR and a DIY each. We both got negatives on the DIY and we figured the PCR would confirm in 2-3 days considering only I was sick and I don't think catastrophic headaches and kidney pain are typical only symptoms, but we wanted to be sure. Feeling at least like we could continue the trip without endangering every small town we stop in, we continued along the trail as it got more and more real.

    DSC_0349a Chimney Rock.JPG
    Yup, this is the right trail.

    This was probably the first landmark I was truly disappointed we were still in the truck for, but there was no way I could be trusted to balance a motorcycle at this point. Life is tough, amirite 1848? They know what I'm talking about.

    Day 0:
    On the upswing, we finally pulled into Guernsey, WY. We stopped at Register Cliff on the way in hoping to see some more well preserved history than we had been seeing, but much like how the asphalt and gravel covered most of the trail to this point, it was very difficult to see the history here as well.

    DSC_0370a Register Cliff side.JPG
    I didn't realize I was supposed to bring my own chisel.

    DSC_0368a Register Cliff name.JPG
    History does persist, though. Just look for the serif.

    I had called ahead to the Bunkhouse Motel to make sure they had a room, were cool with dogs, and might be cool with me leaving the truck there for a few days while we took off on the bikes. Not only were the answers to all of those questions an easy "yes", Gordon seemed almost eager for us to arrive to talk about our plans. This guy...he's just one of those people. If you need a vacation and you don't know what to do, go get a very affordable room at the Bunkhouse in Guernsey, and let Gordon offer you some suggestions. He pulled out a collection of BLM maps and began completely overwhelming me with things to see, some of which were on our intended path, but most not. Nonetheless, I couldn't help but brave the searing pain still plaguing my head to hear him out on what we should see if we could find the time. He's a Harley guy and he loves to get out there, and in a state that has more than its fair share of nothingness, he knows where to go. This would really come in handy as our goals became compromised by lack of planning and lack of gear to deal with the elements, and I'd say we probably doubled what we got out of this trip just because we happened to pick this particular motel in this particular town. Oh, and breakfast burritos and giant cinnamon rolls are included!

    We rested well that night, and I rested with purpose. I had to get back to normal. We had burned too much time already, and thanks to Gordon, there was even more to see than when we left home.
    #7
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  8. jna

    jna Been here awhile

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    Is there more coming?
    #8
  9. MotorcycleWriter

    MotorcycleWriter Vis ad locum

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    I've been meaning to get up to the Oregon Trail Museum in Montpelier. It's not too far from where I live. Lots of bits and pieces of Oregon Trail and Great Western Trail out here!

    Daring time of year to try anywhere in the northern West. Here in Northern Utah we got a foot of snow last week. It's all melted in the valley now but there's still a lot in the mountains! Good luck!
    #9
  10. DrPayne

    DrPayne Not a doctor

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    Sorry, crazy times. I have a growing tendency to overcommit myself, so it's been tough to find time to sit down and write. I'm doing this all from memory, so I'd better hurry up before I lose it! On to day 1!
    Day 1: Guernsey to Casper
    We didn’t set out until a little after noon. My head was still fragile, but it had to do. There was no more time to waste. We packed up the bikes, said goodbye to Gordon, stuffed his stack of maps into my top box (he insisted I take them with me), and headed out onto the gpx route.

    It wasn’t long before we got onto gravel and civilization fell out of view. The weather was great and we were heading north which kept the sun out of my eyes, so I was about as comfortable as I could be inside my helmet. This part of the ride was fairly easy. Wide roads, easy terrain, a good warmup for the ride ahead. It was a great introduction for Ellie to what we were getting her into, and she seemed to be tolerating it as well as I was hoping. She kept her head down most of the time except for when we stopped, but she wasn't squirming or whining or trying to climb out like the first time she experienced the box. I was feeling pretty good about our chances of having her with us the whole way!

    DSC_0372 Ellie Train.jpg
    This train escorted us out of town as Ellie's adventure began.

    DSC_0376_resize.JPG
    The roads were flat, and so was the land. Not much to see, but a pleasure to ride.
    The surprise of the day came when we attempted to take the left turn just past I-80 onto what may or may not be Old Douglas Highway. It was gated and locked. It looked like a given from the map, but no roads should really be taken for granted out here. The only logical detour was to the south, down Spring Canyon Road into 20 something miles of ranch land. We were a little behind schedule so I didn't stop for pictures, but this was actually a fun road through some ranch land. It added a nice touch on the day, but it took up the last bit of sunlight and placed us in Casper just before sunset. We had to choose a place to sleep quickly, and we picked the closest place that would allow dogs. Unfortunately, we accidentally chose the worst motel imaginable: the Evansville Super 8.

    Now I've spent nights in $6-$10 hotels in Ecuador that offer nothing more than a bed, a shower, and a toilet, so don't think I'm any kind of hotel snob when I say that this place is unforgivably bad. I spoke my peace on google reviews (possibly my first ever review, I was that inspired) about this dilapidated pit of despair with a tarp for a roof, no locks on the entrances, and doors that do lock but are barely held closed because of missing pieces of door jamb from the last time the door was kicked in, so I won't go into our experience with late night prostitutes who can only work with 70's funk playing, children covered in vomit, or even the third-hand smoke that you can literally feel. Just know that if you are looking for a place to sleep, you'd be better off behind a gas station next to the interstate. I was still sick, and this night did me no favors.
    #10
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  11. DrPayne

    DrPayne Not a doctor

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    Day 2: Casper to Alcova
    I woke up early given the night before, maybe around 6am, and despite being barely rested I could not go back to sleep. All I could think about was getting out of that motel. It took until noon to prepare the bikes. We were still developing a routine, and it wasn't made easier by the lingering illness, exhaustion, and frustration.

    We set off south down Oregon Trail Road towards Alcova which is actually a slight detour from the route, but Gordon highly recommended it. It's not a far ride from Casper and offered cheap camping, so it sounded really appealing given my state of being.

    The route out of town didn't really matter. There is a marker on the map for Fort Caspar and the Mormon Ferry, but it is still fairly deep inside the city and I just wanted to get back out into nowhere. Once outside Casper, the scenery quickly grows blank and vast. The terrain is relatively flat, gradually rising to scenic hilltops before dipping back down into shallow valleys. Some really nice roadside views here.

    DSC_0395a Roadside cows.JPG
    As the hills started growing, the fences disappeared. Cattle become an integral part of the trip.

    DSC_0398a Cow album.JPG
    Tell me this isn't the cover to a late 90's/early 2000's alt rock band...of cows.

    DSC_0402a Nowhere hill Casper to Alcova.JPG
    Oregon Trail Road is fairly well maintained and occasionally crests a gentle hill to overlook wide, shallow valleys.

    Towards the end, where Oregon Trail Road takes a right to split from County Road 319, a pretty interesting obstacle is found. Oregon Trail Road, which seemingly is the original trail, crosses the creek that parallels the road. The creek has been crossed here by two methods. The more recent method seems to be an old metal culvert pipe, nearly completely uncovered and mangled presumably by tires and cow hooves alike. It seemed like it could still hold the weight of a bike, but we didn’t test it.

    DSC_0412a Creek crossing.JPG
    The route goes this way, but we weren't sure we could follow it.

    The older method is a wooden bridge made from heavy beams and thick nails. I can’t be certain, but I’d like to think it was used by the pioneers. The other side of it was completely reclaimed by sage brush, all the way to the point where it would meet the more modern crossing.

    DSC_0416a Old bridge.JPG
    It sure looks old. Held my weight though.


    DSC_0415a Old bridge.JPG
    This bridge is very, very closed.

    I don’t know how long it takes a trail like that to disappear back into nature, but there was no trail left that I could see between the bridge and where the culvert crossing leads. I couldn't even really make out the ruts through the dense brush. The trail beyond the crossing is a two-track road, not well worn. The scene was completed by a full bovine skeleton which thankfully had also not been used in some time because the skull was a good distance away from the rest of it. Real classy, coyotes.

    DSC_0419a Trail beyond creek crossing.JPG
    The continuation of Oregon Trail Road. More Oregon Trail than Road.

    DSC_0421a Ellie sniffs bones.JPG
    Ellie's mind being blown. She didn't know they made bones this big.

    Alcova is just past the Pathfinder Reservoir, which is a sight and destination in and of itself. The loop down Lakeshore Drive and back up Cottonwood Road to Alcova is worth the detour. We stayed at the Black Beach campground where most sites come with a shelter on a concrete slab which is absolutely luxurious. It overlooks a section of a reservoir which you can drop your boat in if you have one, but our bikes didn't quite have the towing capacity.

    DSC_0424a Alcova day.JPG
    Sites aren't as secluded as we're used to with all the trees in New England, but these little shelters made for a really relaxing night.

    I rode out to the Sunset Bar and Grill for some take-out and stopped at the gas station on the corner for a couple beers, and just like that we were set up for a nice little night. And it was, for the most part, aside from being awoken some time late at night by some screeching animal that I concluded had some kind of run-in with a passing truck, and later by an antelope wandering through our site. Nonetheless, I finally woke up the next morning feeling normal.
    #11
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  12. DrPayne

    DrPayne Not a doctor

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    Day 3: Alcova to Jeffrey City
    We wake up to the peaceful silence of a fairly empty campground, but even before noticing the serenity of our surroundings, the first thing I noticed was the peace that had finally come to my head. I'm pretty sure it was the flu, but whatever it was it came with a headache that I'd describe as a college hangover meets a mild concussion. This was the first time in days that I could move my head without feeling every tap of my brain against my skull as a sharp, searing pain. I was so freakin' happy, it was like Christmas morning.

    DSC_0439a Ellie finds ball.JPG
    Ellie was the only one to find a present though. A dirty old ball under the Christmas brush.

    Being first time motorcycle campers, we decided not to try and be motorcycle chefs too so all we brought for a kitchen was an alcohol stove and a pot for boiling water because there is one luxury I felt we could afford out here: morning coffee. We didn't even bother bringing cups. We just took turns sipping from a pot of instant coffee along with a couple energy bars to get us started. Even though the temperature drops a lot lower at night than we're used to coming from the coast, it warms up quick once the sun comes up. Once that morning chill turned into T-shirt weather, we shifted into gear.

    We estimated we could get pretty far down the trail today, possibly as far as Atlantic City which was actually another detour suggested by Gordon back in Guernsey. It's an old mining town up in the mountains which sounded awesome because up until this point, there was very little in the way of tangible authentic history. Sure, we were following the trail pretty closely according to the map, but there wasn't much visible evidence of that (bronze plaques don't count). Even though Atlantic City had nothing to do with the Oregon Trail, I was pretty excited to see some old junk.

    It wasn't a definite goal though. The trail from here didn't feature many good stopping points, or at least points that we felt comfortable stopping at. There were very few towns between Alcova and Atlantic City, especially with places to stay. Heck even gas had to be factored into the plan since we were both sporting stock tanks and only carrying an extra quart each for emergencies. We weren't sure really where we'd end up today, so we figured we'd make that call at the next checkpoint which would be Jeffrey City.

    It wasn't long before we hit our first obstacle. In fact, it had been waiting for us since we took the detour to Alcova. As soon as we got back onto the GPS route, it took us under the gateway to the Pathfinder Ranch. It's of course obvious if you look at the map, but the road had a name so I thought it would be ok. I still don't know for sure, but it was a two-track that didn't look like it got used much more than the ones that follow along fence lines. We called a number I found and got no answer, and even stopped some hunters that were passing by to ask their opinion. They did the same thing we were doing which was look at a GPS map with a land ownership overlay and assume the road was private. We figured we'd play it safe and skip this part, which I think I regret.

    DSC_0442a Trail on pathfinder ranch.JPG
    Oregon Trail Road on the BLM land just before the Pathfinder Ranch. It takes a sharp left just ahead.

    So we got back on WY-220 and went to the next meeting with the trail right across the street from Independence Rock. Not sure why I didn't stop for a picture of it. It's a big, rounded rock that looks totally out of place, making it easy to understand why it was used as a landmark. If the emigrants didn't make it here by the 4th of July, they shouldn't expect to make it the rest of the way before winter shut them down. Thank goodness for dual sports. If they did make the deadline, they'd head across WY-220 and follow the Sweetwater River. We, however, would not. I can't remember why though. This was early on in our experience with gates and signage, when we were still taking things at face value. Maybe the gate was closed, or maybe there was a sign that scared us away. I regret not taking this road as well. Iunno, maybe not. It does eventually appear to go straight through someone's ranch complex. Whatever, we went around this too.

    The next turn was just up 220 towards Devil's Gate. This one we did take, and not 5 minutes later were we faced with another obstacle. This time, I really just wasn't having it. The gravel road turned to crumbling pavement and crossed the river at a bridge that had clearly been closed for some time. It wasn't closed enough though. I was not spending all day on 220, so we made our first act of defiance and crossed this bridge to the Mormon camp on the other side.
    DSC_0443a Devils Gate.JPG
    Oregon Trail next to Devil's Gate. I had had about enough of this.

    The Mormon's camp was closed and I believe that blocked their section of the Oregon Trail, or maybe we just over-cautiously assumed so. Getting frustrated, we were dumped back onto 220 for another few miles as we looked longingly into Martin's Cove, and in it the trail that we were supposed to be on. We turned right again onto Turkey Track Road in one more attempt to get back onto the route. We just couldn't accept that the map was accurate, that all the land immediately surrounding the Sweetwater River, right were the trail is, is owned by somebody. A few minutes later we once again ran into gates and signs, this time belonging to the Sun Ranch. As frustrating as this was, it would only get worse from here. A half mile or so back there was a turn we could take. The road wasn't named, but it stayed on public land. The map was proving to be accurate in that regard, so we figured it was worth a shot. Worst case, we hit another gate, right? Mmm, depends on your definition of "worst case".

    DSC_0450a Sun Ranch two track.JPG
    Just south of the Sun Ranch, the road continues through public land along this two-track. We were tired of pavement, so we took it.

    Maddie had a GoPro, but barely used it. I wish it was running for this section so everyone could see what bumbling dopes we were wandering into the desert totally unprepared, at least skill-wise. It was maybe only 10 or 15 miles, but we spent most of the day in there. This road is brutal and is often deeply rutted, washed out, buried in 4 or so inches of sand, or more often a combination of those things. I had decent tread left on my Shinko 244's and Maddie's XT should have eaten this crap up, but we were loaded down and completely unexperienced in sand. The only saving grace we had was that it was the middle of the desert and there was no one around to see us make total fools of ourselves. Maddie fell a lot, and my legs were noodles from catching myself before I fell which I was successful at all but one time, where Ellie found herself quite annoyed at the 45 degree angle the bike was laying at. Thank goodness for those ruts!

    It wasn't a particularly beautiful section of the desert and being exhausted from fighting the bike (and picking up Maddie's), I didn't really get any good shots of what we were going through. It was just sandy desert. There wasn't much to look at, but I did get to enjoy another of my senses. The sage brush was pretty green from recent rains, and before long I was purposely running my boots through it because the smell it releases became the only enjoyable part of this slog. I'm sure most of you out there with more off road skill would love these few miles, and frankly I did enjoy the challenge, but Maddie was getting really frustrated so we were just trying to get out of there.

    DSC_0453a Two track sandy.JPG
    Deep sand makes nowhere much more interesting.

    We finally bailed out onto US-287, sweaty and tired. There was another turn up ahead, but the map wasn't convincing that we'd be able to cross the private land, and we were thoroughly beat up, so we skipped yet another section (heading towards Three Crossings, whatever that is). Instead we just stayed on the pavement straight to Jeffrey City. It's a modern ghost town that was built up around a mining operation. Uranium, I believe. Anyway, the abandoned buildings aren't the typical sun-bleached wood that I think of when I hear the phrase "ghost town". It's aluminum and vinyl siding, multi-family houses and small apartment buildings. It's a different kind of eerie, probably because it seemed like people should still be living there. Another failure by me not taking pictures. This whole trip I struggled between staying in the moment and documenting it for later, often opting for the former which makes for a terrible ride report...

    We gassed up, got some lunch at the cafe while Ellie hung out with the bartender's dogs, and seriously evaluated our situation. It was maybe 2 or 3 in the afternoon and we had a tough choice: either stop here or try and make it to a campground in Atlantic City. Indecision made the choice for us, and we sealed the deal by ordering a beer. We'd stay down the road at the Green Mountain Motel which is bare bones, but comfortable. We went to bed feeling pretty defeated by private land and deep sand, but no less ready to get up and do it again tomorrow.

    A quick note about Jeffrey City, and why I loved the place. The gas pump is just outside the cafe. I paid for the gas inside the little convenience store which is attached to the cafe. The young woman who I paid for gas also walked us into the cafe (really more like a bar) and was also our waitress, cook, and bartender. I seriously don't think anyone else was working at the time (though it was early afternoon in a 50-person town). The motel owner (Lisa, I believe) was also our waitress and cook in the cafe in the morning. Having one person take care of everything you needed was somehow a strange experience. It was like staying at someone's house, except their house was the entire town. They really made you feel that way too, like guests instead of customers. It was such a treat to get to talk to people like fellow people, not the usual cold transactional exchanges we usually have in our normal lives. Out there though, that is normal. What a world...
    #12
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  13. DrPayne

    DrPayne Not a doctor

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    Day 4: Jeffrey City to Atlantic City...and back
    We were getting better at packing each day. We went to the cafe for breakfast and were back and ready to go by 10, just as it started warming up. The GPS route ahead followed the Sweetwater River along roads that often had no name and weaved in and out of public land. That's two strikes, and I don't even think there is a third. Maybe if we had planned better and had more time to explore, or maybe if we had more backup plans or better ability at finding safe places to sleep, we could have stuck to the mission and tried to find a reliable way along the Sweetwater River. But at this point, after what felt like a disproportionate amount of work and effort for the amount of enjoyable riding we had, we became more concerned with enjoying this trip than sticking to the trail. For this reason, we once again found ourselves on Gordon's route instead of the one that I had spent nearly a year trying to map out.

    Atlantic City is not on the Oregon Trail. It's not a huge detour, but it was a clear departure from the route. There was pretty much nothing between us and there. There were no towns or gas stations, the roads were dotted lines, but we were at least pretty sure the roads were public. We didn't know how long it would take so once again, we headed out with only half a plan. Maybe a quarter.

    We took US-287 west into a relentless headwind up to Atlantic City Road. We followed it onto Prairie Breeze (breezy indeed) and met back up with the GPS route on Lewiston which took us to Rock Creek Hollow campground. The Mormons apparently have a short season because like Martin's Cove, this one was closed too. Not sure what closed means to a small campground like this, but we weren't interested in it anyway. We needed lunch.

    DSC_0456a Atlantic City Road.JPG
    Heading up into the hills. Are those original ruts on the left? It ain't on the map!

    DSC_0459a Atlantic City Road.JPG
    Roads varied from easy gravel to jagged rocks, but at least there was no deep sand.
    This was actually one of the more fun rides we had. The roads weren't too demanding, nor were they too straight and flat. The landscape was undulating, though plain, but it did begin to pick up some color the closer we got to the mountains in which Atlantic City was situated.

    DSC_0486a Color on AC road.JPG
    The occasional aspen grove offered a much appreciated dash of color to the drab desert landscape.

    DSC_0489a Maddie driving.JPG
    This wasn't exactly the plan, but we were enjoying it nonetheless!
    We got to Atlantic City around 1pm and stopped at the legendary Miner's Grubstake for lunch. Unfortunately they no longer allowed dogs inside, so we had to eat outside in the obnoxious wind. Equally unfortunately, it was time to make a decision. I still don't quite understand how this made sense, but because our second to last day, the day before we had to be back at the truck in Guernsey, was going to be a cold one, we decided we could cover more ground if we turned back and got the truck now, and then brought it further up the trail. I don't know, maybe it was the altitude, but somehow this plan seemed like a good idea, so we bailed on camping outside Atlantic City and headed back for Alcova.

    The ride back was arguably even better. The sun was behind us, and so was the wind. Again, this wind was relentless. Steady. Continuous. Non-stop. And it was strong. It was really wearing on us on the way out here, but now it was a tailwind. Once we got back onto US-287 and got lined up with the wind heading west, this lent to one of the strangest sensations I've ever felt. We had been keeping our speed down for everyone's comfort (mostly Ellie's), but now that we had 30mph of wind at our backs, 60mph felt like 30mph, and with the already thin air up there at 6,000-7,000 feet, it was like we were barely moving. I couldn't get over it. I just kept waving my hands around, feeling almost no drag, thinking this must be what it's like to ride a motorcycle on Mars. Let's go Musk, where are we on that?

    We got probably the least cool site in Alcova for the night because we booked it late in the day on a Saturday, but whatever. It was $10, and it was peaceful. Again, still not sure what we were doing there, but somehow it made sense at the time.

    Oh, and why are there no pictures of Atlantic City? Well they really restored the hell out of the place. I mean it looks almost like a small ski town. It was pretty, but it didn't feel very historic or inspiring. Then again, we didn't explore much because we were so unsure of what the heck we were doing. Ugh, we'll have to go back some day.
    #13
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  14. AHRMA17L

    AHRMA17L Long timer Supporter

    Joined:
    Sep 29, 2006
    Oddometer:
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    Location:
    Corvallis and Dundee, OR
    My brother and I did this in 2017 on KLRs, following our family's migration from Burlington, Iowa, to Shedd, Oregon in 1847.

    We used primarily this augmented with a couple of other maps. It is excellent. 16353102251826774977409428614255.jpg 16353102799903777759388559383213.jpg

    [​IMG]


    [​IMG]
    #14
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  15. DrPayne

    DrPayne Not a doctor

    Joined:
    Jun 3, 2019
    Oddometer:
    78
    Location:
    CT
    That would have been great. I'm gonna have to gather more sources to create a more reliable route. Did you run into any trouble following the maps you had? Were all the roads accessible?
    #15
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  16. AHRMA17L

    AHRMA17L Long timer Supporter

    Joined:
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    The maps were fine, particularly the large map book by Franzwa. The problem is that the original route wasn't subject to the modern plat map grid and private ownership that has been imposed on it today. It some places the best we could do would be 2-3 +/- miles north or south of the trail due to private land.

    What is amazing we found though, is that so much of it is wide open with no attempt at preservation. It is great to be able to be literally on the trail, but almost unsettling that one can stand in the ruts or climb all over Independence Rock, for example.
    #16
  17. DrPayne

    DrPayne Not a doctor

    Joined:
    Jun 3, 2019
    Oddometer:
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    Location:
    CT
    I have the same conflicted feelings about this. What a thrill it is to be able to ride the ruts of history, and I even want to publish a good usable route so others can do the same...but at the same time I know that if we all did, these trails would eventually become just another two-track torture test. In a way, I'm kind of glad that a lot of it is inaccessible due to private land, but on the other hand I don't like that only the ranchers and their cows get to enjoy large parts of it. Maybe I'd just like a modern track to parallel it? Dunno. Either way, I still very much enjoy all these parts of the country even if we are just riding in the same general area. Yeah, even you Nebraska!
    #17
  18. DrPayne

    DrPayne Not a doctor

    Joined:
    Jun 3, 2019
    Oddometer:
    78
    Location:
    CT
    Day 5: Alcova to Seminoe State Park
    Stuck on the plan to go get the mothership and move it further west, today's target was another campsite at Seminoe State Park. But first, it was laundry day. The nearest place we could find was back up in Casper, so we packed up and headed back north. We were getting really efficient at packing and we were up and outta there by 9:30, but still we were about to burn half a day for laundry. We can't be doing this right.

    We hit up the first laundromat we found in the south end of town. The woman working there was super nice and curious about our trip, and she showed me to a faucet I could use to load up on water. Everyone is super nice out here. Not that people aren't nice back home too, but I guess I just don't appreciate it as much. While we were waiting outside in the shrinking shade of a building next door, the owner of a storage facility around the corner stopped to chat with us about our bikes and our trip, and of course our passenger. People everywhere get a kick out of seeing a dog on a bike. I feel guilty every time and always immediately gear up to get defensive about how unnecessarily risky it is, but so far no one has approached it that way. Everyone thinks it's awesome, and a couple people even got inspired. Part of me thinks that's great that I opened someone up to the idea, but at the same time I get a feeling like I just gave someone their first cigarette.

    We had officially abandoned the trail at this point, but we were still looking for a good time. The road to Seminoe State Park did not disappoint. The road took us right past Alcova for the third time, headed south another 40 or so miles. It started out with the usual plains and ranches and gently rolling hills, but it eventually dived into a canyon that brought a refreshing change of scenery. It was narrow and winding (relatively, at least) and lined with bright yellows and greens and oranges. We took our time rolling through it.
    DSC_0527a Seminoe Canyon.jpg
    Holding a DSLR with a manual focus lens at 15mph, I tried for at least 15 minutes and this is the best I could get. So many skills to learn!

    DSC_0538a Seminoe overlook.JPG
    Seminoe Reservoir. Our campsite is just ahead, on one of those peninsulas down there.

    This park also offered sheltered campsites which we were really growing to love. No need to worry about rocks under the tent or wind or rain, just plop it down and chill out on the picnic table.

    DSC_0545a Seminoe Overlook.jpg
    The overlook from our site. The water was really low. It took quite an effort to rinse out the coffee pot.

    It was another windy day, but it died down at night. One thing I haven't mentioned that I love about being out here is the stars. My dad taught us kids to appreciate the night sky from as soon as we could open our eyes to see it, and coming from sea level we appreciated how much more we could see with the thinner atmosphere at elevation.

    DSC_0570a Stars higher ISO.JPG
    I always wanted a shot like this.

    I spent good while stargazing before turning in for the night. Tomorrow we'd head back for Guernsey. Another day away from the trail, but whatever, we were out here on our bikes having fun!
    #18
  19. DRONE

    DRONE Dog Chauffeur

    Joined:
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    Oddometer:
    10,246
    Location:
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    That's hilarious. Being somewhat older I can confirm that it could also be a 1970's era band.

    Whosnext.jpg Who's Next by The Who, released 1971
    #19
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  20. DrPayne

    DrPayne Not a doctor

    Joined:
    Jun 3, 2019
    Oddometer:
    78
    Location:
    CT
    Day 6: Seminoe to Guernsey
    Seminoe was pretty empty. I think there were maybe 2 other sites we could see that were occupied. It made for a nice quiet morning, which is something I really appreciate on a trip like this. Being noobs to motorcycle travel of any kind, let alone poorly planned motorcycle travel and underequipped motorcycle camping, this trip was work. I find a peaceful start has a cascading effect and can make an entire day of challenges feel like much less effort. We enjoyed an hour or so of jacket weather, and packed up in T-shirts. We were outta there by 10.

    We went back up through the canyon, then took a quick right onto Hanna Leo Draw Rd. We headed for the town of Medicine Bow for gas, and then back up into the plains to the south of Laramie Peak until we got to Wheatland. The roads were pretty wide and straight. Our path approached the mountain range close enough to give us somewhat varying terrain, but it was still pretty easy and fast.

    DSC_0576a Color near Laramie.JPG
    Little splashes of color here and there. A lot of hunters out here too, adding a bit more orange.

    DSC_0592b Road in valley near Laramie.jpg
    Maddie rides on ahead into the valley. No big thrills, just a 100 or so miles of enjoyable gravel.

    We got back into Guernsey around 3:30pm, plenty of time to relax and plan what the heck we were going to even do with the truck. None of the route ahead looked particularly promising. The weather wasn't really going to be that much better out there. I believe it was here that I realized we had probably just wasted a bunch of time racing back here so early, but it was a bit late now. We chatted some more with Gordon about where we'd been and where we'd still plan to go, and of course he broke out the maps again. He highly recommended the Snowy Range in the Medicine Bow National Forest to the south. It was way out of the way of the Trail, but it was more or less on the way home so I filed that away for the return trip.

    We loaded the bikes on the truck and got some dinner from the joint next door. I spent the rest of the waking hours that night studying the map. Maybe the section around Granger? What is that at the end of Texasgulf Road? Well, worst case scenario where we can't find a launch point or a section to explore, at least we have a safe place to sleep.

    Attached Files:

    #20