This year for my July 4th ride I decided to do a big chunk of the Utah Backcountry Discovery Route (UTBDR), a mostly offroad route that extends from Monument Valley up to the Idaho border. In preparation for this trip I replaced my rear tire with a new D606, and I took it easy for a week to help break in the new tire. I knew I didn’t have time for the full UTBDR so I decided to ride what I could and head back in time for work on Monday, which gave me 7 full days (Monday - Sunday).
The plan was to leave at 6am and get to Phoenix by 6pm, but I ended up leaving at Noon. I was making good time on I-5, and just before Santa Clarita Google Maps suggested I take route 138 through Lancaster to save half an hour, but this detour ended up being the worst part of the trip. It’s a 2 lane undivided highway with big oncoming trucks driving very fast. Something felt a bit off with my bike’s handling.. The back tire felt squirrelly and would drift sideways, almost like it was going flat. One of the trucks blasted past me and the air pressure was so strong my nose immediately started running. Also a lot of these trucks were carrying loads of hay, so they shot clouds of sharp hay particles at any exposed skin.
When I stopped at Littlerock to get gas I happened to look at my back tire and noticed several knobs had been ripped off.
I texted Kevin in Phoenix and told him I would be even more delayed. Google maps said there was a Cycle Gear open til 7pm in Victorville which was about 30 minutes away. I called and they said the only 17" rear tire they had in stock was another D606 (d’oh!). I asked them to hold it for me and carefully rode over to Victorville, bought the tire, and installed it in the parking lot. The girl at Cycle Gear said that she had never seen a D606 shred knobs like this. I took it easy for the first 150 miles or so to help break in the new tire. I noticed my right heel was stinging a little bit, probably from a blister.
I also noticed that my chain master link clip had fallen off, and I had accidentally brought a crimp-style master link instead of a clip-style, whoops.
At this point I should point out that I don’t normally carry a tire pressure gauge. I usually judge my tire pressure based on feel as I’m pumping them up and I aim for 20psi or so, and I’ve been riding D606s front and rear for 10 months or so including some long trips with mixed asphalt and dirt with no problems.
My next break was at Chiriaco Summit. I got gas and a sandwich, and as I was eating I noticed a guy with an old DR650 sitting in the corner of the parking lot. We started chatting and he said that his bike was a 1991 DR650 with 6000 miles on it that he bought a month ago for $1200. He said that he has trouble with the compression release when he’s kick-starting it (I have the same problem with my 1991 DR350), and he said he works at the Chuckwalla Valley Raceway near Desert Center and he invited me to come check it out next time I’m in the area. He said that he had never ridden with anybody on the highway before, so we exchanged numbers and decided to ride together for the 20 miles until Desert Center. By this time my heel was stinging pretty bad so I asked him to wait a minute while I put a bandaid on. I pulled my sock off expecting a raw bloody mess, but the skin looked totally fine, and I felt a bit silly asking him to wait while I put a bandaid on nothing.
Next gas stop was at Salome AZ. As I walked out of the gas station I saw 3 cars in a row with their hoods up. I was standing by my bike resting and one of the drivers came over to me and asked if I knew about “security locks”. I told him that I don’t, but I offered to help. His Mazda 5 had power, but it would refuse to crank, and a little security icon would blink on his dashboard. He said it was working fine, and he had gone in to wash his hands and his key had gotten wet. A bit of Googling and looking through his manual, and the most likely problem was that the security transmitter in his key was broken. We used the tools that I had with me to try to get it to start. He had previously been an auto mechanic so he suggested we apply 12V directly to the starter relay while the key was turned. Unfortunately that didn’t work, I suppose because the anti-theft lockout mechanism is able to override that.
The second car with its hood up could turn over but wouldn’t start, and it was getting a jump from the 3rd car beside it. The driver mentioned that it had sat for a while without being driven, and I suggested that it might be worthwhile to try putting some new premium gas in it, because that had solved a similar problem I had years ago with a car that had sat for months without being driven. They couldn’t get the car into neutral to push it over to the pumps and the gas station didn’t have Jerry cans for sale (what the heck?), so I managed to borrow a Jerry can from someone else at the gas station and we used it to put some premium gas into the car. In the end it didn’t end up fixing his problem, but I was glad that I tried to help out. I normally have pretty bad social anxiety but when I’m on these trips I get a lot more outgoing and friendly with strangers.
At this point my right heel was stinging pretty bad, and I bought some more bandaids and added them to the existing stack. The blister had gotten pretty gnarly and I wasn’t looking forward to the next few days of riding..
I got into Phoenix just before 5am and went straight to Kevin and Jess’s new place. Once I was off the highway I noticed the bike felt a bit squirrelly on the surface streets, especially right turns at intersections. When I got to their place Kevin said that he had been following my realtime progress on Google Maps for the last hour or so.
Had breakfast with Kevin and Jess at a mexican place in Chandler. We smoked some “Lemon Faderade” beforehand so it was a very giggly meal. Then we played charades at their place.
They were leaving at 2pm to drive to Huntington Beach for a few days and watch the July 4th fireworks, so we said our goodbyes. As soon as they were gone, I happened to check my rear tire and noticed that it was missing 8 knobs (even worse than the day before!). At this point it was around 2pm and super hot in Phoenix. I rode to a smaller repair shop but they said they didn’t have 17" rear tires. I’m starting to think I should rebuild my rear tire to be 18" diameter to make it easier to buy tires. I bought a pressure gauge from them and recorded the tire pressure: 17psi, a bit lower than I expected but basically in the ballpark. I guess I’ve been a bit lazy when pumping up my tires.
I rode to another Cycle Gear and explained my situation. They said the same thing as the shop in Victorville: they’ve never seen D606s shred like this, and lots of people take these tires on long highway trips. The manager said I should aim for 30psi for long highway segments, and that was probably what was causing it. At this point I was hoping to just switch to any other tire for the rest of the trip, but once again the only 17" rear tire they had was a D606.
Fool me once shame on you.
Fool me twice shame on me.
Fool me three times shame on me.
The managed offered to mount the new tire for free, and normally I like to do my own bike maintenance but it was so hot at this point that I was glad to avoid the work.
I had to take a call with an overseas vendor so I found a starbucks to cool down and use wifi. By the time I was done it was already 8pm or so. I rode to Flagstaff AZ, and got very cold in the mountain pass just south of town. Yelp said there was a Jimmy John’s that was open til 3am, but by the time I got there just after midnight they were just closing up shop. I considered waiting in the McDonalds drive-thru line across the street, but I decided to go find a hotel and order Uber Eats. I got a room at The L Motel, and even though it showed several places available for food delivery, once I got to the checkout screen Uber Eats would only display “Sorry, this service is not available”. I guess there were no active drivers, although I think the app should have showed me that to begin with dangit. I ate some trail mix and fell asleep.
Woke up, ate Jimmy John’s.
Rode towards monument valley. Filled my water bottles up at a gas station in Tonalea AZ (my Nalgene and 6L MSR dromedary bag). This water becomes important later.
Got to Bluff UT, got gas, and started the first dirt section of the UTBDR. Nice well-graded dirt road with some small bumpy sections, riding through small secluded canyons. So far I’m really liking the UTBDR. Google Maps keeps forgetting the GPS tracks that I’ve imported, but luckily I also loaded the GPX tracks in an app called Open GPX Tracker that works great. Some small water crossings here. I set up camp at a beautiful spot in Manti-La Sal National Forest at (37.6590,-109.7096).
This is the first trip that I’ve only taken a magnesium fire striker as a fire starter. I was hoping to be able to strike sparks onto my MSR Whisperlite International gasoline stove and have it ignite, but I’m striking with the weak metal handle of my spoon and the sparks aren’t really spraying far enough to ignite the stove. I carve some pieces of magnesium into a small pile with some bits of wood on top, but that doesn’t work either. Finally I get a flame by taking a thin stick dipped in gasoline and holding it up to the striker as I scrape it with the nail file on my Leatherman micro pocket tool.
Woke up nice and early. My blister had matured overnight into a real doozy that made it hard to wear my right boot. I took inspiration from Joe Motocross and used my boot sole and a Voile strap as a basic sandal.
At this point I had probably 4L of water still from the day before. This section of the UTBDR was absolutely stunning. Up and down and along the sides of mountains with huge views stretching out everywhere.
Riding a long steep downhill on the side of a steep hill I came across a mama deer and two baby deer in front of me. I turned off my engine to avoid scaring them, but they just stood there staring at me and eventually I would have to get past them. After she lost our staring contest mama deer herded the kids in front of her and they all started trotting downhill to get away from me so I coasted downhill a little ways behind them. After a minute the two baby deer were ahead of her down the road, and suddenly she saw an opportunity to jump up the slope into the brush on the left. Oh crap, now the baby deer are still running downhill, mama deer is long gone, and I’m coasting behind them hoping someone will come up with a plan. Finally after way too long, the cliff face on the left of the road becomes less steep, and the two baby deer luckily run off the same direction their mama had gone. I got a bit of video just before the baby deer made their escape.
More riding up and down and around. I guess I didn’t take enough photos of this part of the trip. I come around a corner and I’m face to face with a mama cow and two baby calves. Give me a break. This section slopes upward so I need to keep my engine running as I slowly chase them up the road. Finally the road opens up a bit so I give her a wide berth and sort of squeeze past them on the other side of the road.
Got to (37.8143,-109.4867) and found a locked gate. Hmm, the UTBDR FAQ said there shouldn’t be any locked gates. The most recent fork in the road was at least 20 minutes ago and I didn’t want to have to backtrack so early on so I went around the gate, wondering why it was locked. This bit of road went up and up to a viewpoint, but it looked like it was currently under construction and there was a bunch of heavy machinery sitting around. Well it was July 4th so at least I wouldn’t run into any road crews.
On the other side of the summit I saw a snowbank on the road. I tried riding over it but it was softer than I expected and I got myself stuck. As I tried to lurch the bike out of its rut I ended up tipping it over into the snow and it was a pain to get it back up because my boots were sinking into the snow too. Once I got it back up I discovered that it wouldn’t start, probably because it had sat on its side for a minute and the carburetor was flooded. I also noticed my tail light had gotten smacked and was hanging on by its wires.
With sticks to wedge and stones to fill ruts I managed to roll out of the snowbank, and as I peeked around the next corner I found another enormous snowbank blocking the road with several more visible farther down the road. Ah, that’s why the gate was locked. There wasn’t enough space to pick up momentum and roll-start the bike, so I decided to deal with the dangling tail light and give the bike a few minutes to calm down. I tried to strap the light back in place with zip ties but I guess my zip ties were old and brittle because they snapped off as I tightened them.
Luckily my small zip ties were strong enough and they did the job. I made a mental note to replace my zip ties and order the DR350 tail light kit from Procycle when I got home. I took my gear off my bike to lighten the load so I wouldn’t sink into the snowbanks quite so bad. Once I had the panniers off I was able to start the bike. I walked ahead carrying my panniers and stamped a path through the next few snowbanks so I would have a more solid line to ride, and then I had a much easier time riding over them. The trail went downhill a bit more until it hit another locked gate, and then the path ended at a paved road. Looking at the GPX tracks I couldn’t really tell how much asphalt there was before it turned to dirt again and I didn’t want to shred my new D606 by riding below 20psi on asphalt. Of course I also didn’t want to pump up my tire to 30.0psi only to find out that the road turned to dirt around the next corner. So I opted on the side of laziness and decided to risk the asphalt for a few minutes, and if the path didn’t switch back to a dirt road within 15 minutes or so I would pull over and switch to proper asphalt tire pressures.
This section of road had beautiful views of Canyonlands National Park. I knew the next section of the BTBDR was called Lockhart Basin and that it was a tricky section. Actually it would have been logistically easier for me to ride the UTBDR from North -> South except I had heard that Lockhart Basin is a hard ride, and it’s much easier to ride it South -> North. I also knew that people recommend getting fuel and water at Needles Outpost but I misread the map and took the Lockhart Basin turnoff without really thinking about it. By the time I realized that I had passed Needles Outpost I was already several miles into the trail and since I still had around 3L of water I decided to just continue through Lockhart Basin and then resupply at Moab. This turned out to be a bad idea because I needed more water than I expected for Lockhart Basin.
Lockhart Basin is an awesome ride – fun riding, remote trails, beautiful scenery. I think the fact that I had just been stuck in snow gave me some mistaken confidence that it wouldn’t be too hot, or that I’d be able to find some shade somewhere. It also didn’t help that for the first 5 or 10 miles I wasn’t watching the map very carefully and I had to turn around a few times to get back to the proper route. I saw the sign that says 33 miles to Hurrah Pass and I made a mental note of my odometer value.
At some point among the rocky scrambles and steep washes as I went over a drop my front fender smacked my tire and my spare tube went flying up into the air. Ok, now I’m getting hot and thirsty so I strap it back on and continue on. On another especially big drop I let my right foot come off the peg and felt my blister pop as my foot tapped the ground. Opa! Now I’m counting the miles on my odometer and regretting my decision not to get more water when I had the chance because I haven’t seen any people or any sources of water, and I know I would be having an amazing ride if I wasn’t distracted by my limited water. I did have a GPS emergency beacon in case things went south so I was still ripping down the trail and having lots of fun. At some point I started getting so hot that I remember thinking.. if I run out of water and activate my emergency beacon then they’ll definitely charge me for the search and rescue helicopter because I was dumb. But if I get lucky and break my leg I can probably avoid the rescue bill.
I left myself about a liter of water as survival water, and I paced myself with the rest of the water. At some point here I noticed that I had cracked my Nalgene that I keep strapped to my handlebars but it wasn’t leaking. My spare tube flew off my front fender 2 or 3 more times and eventually I moved it to my rear rack with my water bag. I had the Beach Boys song “Cool Cool Water” stuck in my head.
The trail got gnarlier and gnarlier as I got near the end of the basin, and after the last section at Chicken Corners I found a rocky overhang that offered a bit of shade and took a long break. After that grand finale of Lockhart Basin the road turned flat and calm with some deep sandy pits, and in the distance I could see the Colorado river full of delicious water. I’ve heard different opinions on how to deal with deep sand but the technique that works best for me is to stand up, hang off the back of the bike, lift all the weight off the front tire, and sort of “jet ski” across the surface. After a few more miles I came across a couple in an ATV wearing shorts and flip flops who looked like they couldn’t have been riding around for more than 30 minutes. Behind them, an old couple smiling in another ATV. Don’t they know I’m on death’s doorstep? Up and over Hurrah pass and after a few more miles I found an RV campground with a water pump, and I drank like an elephant and then refilled my water stores. Through a small canyon and I was in Moab, where I stopped at the first McDonalds I saw and ordered a large soda and a Big Mac to regain my strength. I think that’s probably the most dehydrated I’ve ever been. Damn, I wish I had seen how yellow my pee would have been.
I decided to get myself a motel room in Moab and take it easy. I had a dinner of pizza and beer at a pizza buffet place called Zax. A middle-aged Dutch couple came up to me when I was sitting on my bike and started asking me all kinds of questions. They said they’re fans of the Youtuber “Everide”, and that they’re getting back into motorcycling. I watched the July 4th fireworks in the 7-11 parking lot in Moab.
Here I decided to skip a chunk of the UTBDR and ride the interstate up to the dirt turnoff at (38.987959,-110.244840) because I wanted to be in Salt Lake City by Saturday (day 6). I didn’t want a repeat of the water incident from the day before so I made sure to fill up my dromedary and Nalgene to the brim before leaving the hotel. I wanted to hit Arches National Park on the way up but there was a big congo line of cars waiting to get in so I skipped it. I’m planning to be in the area again for the DR650 Rally in LaSal UT from Sept 5-8 so I can check it out then.
This part of the UTBDR follows a power line access road for a while, graded gravel road with some dirt sections and some small washes. Once again I was making great time and blitzing through the washes, but I hit a deep wash a bit too hard and I heard a big “sploosh!”. My MSR 6L dromedary had bounced itself loose from the back of my bike, gotten dragged under by my rear tire, and was wedged between the tire and the frame. I carefully pried it out and noticed that somehow the cap had come unscrewed and almost all the water had spilled out.
There was still about half a liter of water inside it mixed in with a bit of sand, but I quickly drank that down to make sure I didn’t lose it too. I found the cap a few meters back beside the road. I checked the map and I was about 1/3 of the way to the next gas station at Wellington UT. Against my better judgement I decided to press onwards since I still had the water in my Nalgene and I don’t like learning lessons too quickly. I made a mental note to keep an eye out for sources of water, potable or not.
After another 10 miles or so without seeing any water I got a bit more desperate. Luckily I came across a solid rock wash that had a little pool of water full of tadpoles and cowpies. Finding water was a relief regardless of how dirty it was because I had plenty of fuel to boil water. I filled up my dromedary from the pool, trying not to collect too much silt and fly carcasses.
Eventually I made it to Wellington UT, had some lunch and cleaned out my dromedary with plenty of soap. Once I strapped the dromedary down to the bike I saw that it had a small leak. I tried to fix it with duck tape but it didn’t want to stick to the wet bag. It wasn’t leaking too bad so I just ignored it for the rest of the trip, although the leaking water constantly trickled down my seat and made my butt wet.
The road heading north out of Wellington was paved so I stopped to pump up my tires. This section of road through the canyon wasn’t very nice because it was grey cement covered with blotches of grey sand that were hard to see. Then it was across a dirt road into Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest and through the Wasatch Mountains. I didn’t bother airing down my tires because the road and trails were in pretty good shape. Entering into Timber Canyon the road was washed out in a few places. The first few washouts were pretty small, and soon the washouts were getting beefy enough that I had to get off my bike to figure out where the path continued on. After a few more miles the water crossings got deeper and I had to stash my sleeping bag inside my jacket so it wouldn’t get wet. There were some ATV tracks on the banks of the washouts so it wasn’t too hard to find a suitable spot to cross.
At the base of the canyon at (40.1155,-110.8126) there were some road closure signs blocking the entrance to the road I came from, and the intersection of the two canyons had turned into a big lake. I met some people on Polaris SxS machines who were surprised that I had tried to go up the same way I came but got blocked by some of the washouts. They told me they lived a few miles north and that the canyon had severe flooding earlier in the year, and the water was already several feet lower than it was a month ago. They helpfully explained where there was a higher path through the water that would rejoin the road around the next bend. I continued on to Fruitland hoping to find a secluded spot to set up camp, but every little road I turned down ended in a driveway or a gated community. I rode back to The Big G in Fruitland and got myself some dinner and a rest in the parking lot. My headlamp has a red light mode so I zip tied it to the back of my bike to replace my broken taillight since I would be riding on the highway with lots of speeding semis and it was completely dark out. I continued north on the interstate looking for a hidden place to camp and ended up finding a short dirt road that went up a hill to a cell tower. Apparently it wasn’t an AT&T tower because I didn’t get any cell reception.
Woke up, rode to Heber City. Did you know Karl Malone owns a car dealership in Heber City? Had a big breakfast at Hub Cafe, then rode to Provo and had ice cream at the BYU creamery. I happened to remember that the Youtube channel “The King of Random” is filmed near Salt Lake City so for fun I decided to go check out the neighborhood where it’s filmed. Then I rode to Antelope Island and played with the brine flies in the baking heat. Ok, enough stalling. Time to find a parking lot, fix up my taillight, and start heading home. The bulb filament was also broken in my taillight so I went to a hardware store for a replacement bulb and some replacement nuts and bolts to reattach it. While I was working on the bike I noticed a suspicious crack had formed on my brand new rear tire.
Ok, now that’s really enough stalling. After passing the Bonneville salt flats I entered Nevada. Time to start wearing my helmet again, ha ha.
I normally whistle to myself while I’m riding on the highway because it’s loud enough to overpower the wind noise, but I had whistled so much over the last few days that my lips were chapped and raw because of the dry wind blowing through my helmet. I did have a chapstick with me but I kept forgetting to use it when I was stopped. During this section I wanted to whistle all the way from Bonneville UT to Wells NV but my lips got so dry, I had to force myself to keep my mouth closed and hum instead.
I ate dinner at Bella’s Restaurant in Wells (great food, huge coffee mugs!). I saw a stolen Google Bike in the parking lot. Then I rode towards home for another hour and set up camp in a field near Deeth NV.
Making good time on the freeway. Stopped in Battle Mountain NV for lunch at Port of Subs. I’m a big fan of Port of Subs because it’s hard to find a place that will sell you 2 feet of food. Suddenly I stopped mid-chew. Is that a knob missing from my tire again? What the fudge?
So I stuck to 75mph for the rest of the trip back, grumbling the WHOLE way. Had an amazing sandwich at Raley’s in Reno, and then one more Jimmy John’s in Livermore to commemorate the trip.
Final odometer reading: 2690mi.