Samantha’s front wheel shoots skyward as the bike bucks her off the back. Both bike and girl settle back to earth. It isn’t the first fall of the day but it’s the most spectacular. We picked up the trail in Green River. It turned to dirt right out of town but then lead us back to highway 70, that cement behemoth that stretches from Florida to California. It’s very odd to go from a winding dirt trail and then suddenly take an onramp to the freeway. The speed seems impossible. The bike is eager, there are whole sets of gears I haven’t used in days, but I am not. At 60 the wind is roaring and my helmet buffets from the force. Then the trail goes dead. It’s only happened to us a few times but we are stumped. We just crossed the San Rafael River and the trail should be right here, on it’s western bank. We decide to ride up the shoulder of the highway, perhaps turn around, when we find an open cattle gate leading onto a dirt road. We turn our backs to the highway and follow it to its terminus, under a dead cottonwood. The trail is deep sand. We wrestle the bikes around and shoot spires of sand as we totter back through. Then we spot just the hint of another way. We follow that and finally we meander back onto the Trans America Trail, the same one we’ve been following since Tellico Plains, Tennessee.
We are about to ride the worst section of the trail. Our friend Jason wisely bowed out of this part of the trail so it’s just the two of us again. The map says in classic Sam Correrro understatement, “It you are on a big heavy bike you should take [the] bypass. This will avoid very deep sand, big rocks and a nasty uphill climb.” After one of Samantha’s numerous spills she jokes, “remind me to punch Sam in the face.”
The trail starts tamely. We curve between dirt hills and come across an Airstream Trailer, gleaming in the desert sun. It reminds me of a movie, I’m not sure which, or a dream or a life I want to live out here, in that relic. Suddenly I develop an affinity for vintage trailers that lasts the rest of the trip. Probably because any form of shelter seems desirable compared to the little spot of shade offered by a motorcycle on its side stand. A spot if shade that we will use often over the next few days.
The challenge for this section is not only is it technically difficult riding but it is also remote. That means the bikes are heavier than usual with water and extra gasoline.
We enter a narrow slot canyon. The red walls rise up around us as we ride the wash. I pray it doesn’t rain somewhere up stream. Then Samantha and I have a bit of a tiff. Unusual for us. It’s hot and I hide in the shade of a huge rock. Our voices echo off the canyon walls, mocking us, making us sound absurd and we realize it. I apologize. I’ve been off since yesterday afternoon. We are back on track. We need to be a team, especially for this desert crossing. The same indomitable spirit that enables Samantha to ride this trail also insists on respect and love.
We ride on, motorcycles echoing in the canyon. The trail follows the creek bottom through loose gravel, sand and boulders.
Eventually we clear the canyon and ascend into a great, sloping meadow. Pinyon and Juniper follow the slopes and then trail off in the basin. It’s enchanting. Low mesas rim the valley. As we ride on we realize it’s not just one perfect valley but mazes of valleys. After the stiff rock walls and boulder strewn canyon it’s a welcoming place. It reminds me of the African Plains and perhaps it appeals on some primordial level. I want to live here, safely tucked in these little valleys. Protected from the vagaries of humanity by these stone mesas, sentinels against the rising tide of a frantic world.
We take a break crawl under a group of pinyon pines for shade. The ground is a soft bed of pine needles. Far off to the north we see the castles and spires of red rock country, like a fairy tale. What an improbable land this is. I remark that we are here at the perfect time. To try to cross these empty spaces in the heat of summer would be unthinkable. It’s hot even in late September.
Back on the bikes the road is smooth and fast. It feels as though we are flying across these meadows. We throw the bikes into swooping turns and the tires dig in. We are in the middle of nowhere and having the time of our lives.
The sound of the motor on my WR has matured into a steady growl. It’s as if it’s come into its own. It feels more powerful than when we started. It’s louder, grumpier, and rides like an unruly horse. It likes the top end of each gear where the power band spins the rear tire into a fit of rocks and dirt. But I’ve found sweet spots where I can settle her down to a content whistling hum.
Samantha and I are riding better and better. After almost two months of constant riding we are at home in the saddle. And that’s a good thing because we are quickly dropped into some of the most challenging riding the Trans America Trail has to offer.
We descend into more red rock canyons. The challenges are familiar but harder. Deep sand, but deeper, rocky climbs but steeper. The climbs are the real bear. The trick is to try to understand the whole obstacle in one glance, quickly pick a line and then focus on the particulars of each stone step and ledge. I usually start in the saddle, picking my way up and finish standing, throttle close to wide open, just to be sure to leave the obstacles behind me. I fall over several times, so does Samantha. At one point we cross under highway 70. We imagined that if we needed help, gas, water, the highway would be there but now looking hundreds of feet up sheer canyon walls at the steel arches of the highway bridge we realize we are truly on our own down here. No matter we are having fun. Surprised at what the bikes can accomplish. At one point we start in a deep sandy creek bed, gun it up and out of the sand and then immediately into a set of rock steps, up, up, up again, knees flailing for balance, throwing the bike towards the only way out and then we are on top. We’ve had enough for the day. We park the bikes on the side of the trail and find rocks to support the side stands in the sand. We find a ledge that hangs over a canyon. A perfect rock spire is visible to the north and then more and more canyons and ledges to infinity. We pitch the tent right on the ledge. I get a fire going. Samantha makes dinner away from our tent site. As the sun turns the canyon into a glowing red dreamscape we kick back by the fire eating dehydrated black beans and sipping warm water. We are less than half way through, and a little short on water but we feel good. Happy to be out here rather than in there. We stoke the fire and climb into our tent. The firelight flickers on our nylon walls. We lay flat on our backs staring up into the star filled universe.