Airhead Ambling

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It was a dark and stormy Sunday. What else to do but grab your bike and go for a ride?

Once again, thanks to global warming, temperatures hovered in the mid-to-high fifties today—in mid-January. The only downside was the downpour and high winds, which made the Southport and Westport beaches pretty dramatic.

The riding occasionally so, too.

 

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A few observations. First, crash bars really work. I dropped the airhead, but through no fault of my own. Left her idling in the driveway and ran inside to get my helmet. When I returned, she was lying on her side, un-running, with gas dribbling out of the carbs, kind of like a drunken sailor with an open bottle, splayed out and happy. Either a gust of wind tipped her over, or some low-idle cylinder shudder kicked her off her stand.

Whatever the case, I picked her up, adjusted the mirror, and went on my merry way. Not a scratch or ding in sight. (Note to self: you need crash bars on your Super Ténéré.)

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Second, the newish Michelin Pilot Sport Activs are pretty good wet-weather tires. Comfortable, stable, and not a single slip. Great traction accelerating, cornering and braking to avoid the odd tree branch that had fallen into the roadway, and shattered into a blast of wood pulp and bark.

Third, the robots are getting pretty good. I discovered an app called Magisto that lets you dump a bunch of your raw video footage and photos onto their site, along with an uploaded song of your choice, and then it “auto-edits” a video for you. Whatcha think?

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It isn’t going to win any “Editor’s Choice” awards on Vimeo. But thanks Ray Garland and John Coltraine. I couldn’t decide on a track, but Indecision seemed to fit the bill just right.

Uh oh. Starting to rain again. Gotta get going…

2015: The Year in Rear View

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‘Tis the season of the 5″x7″ personalized state-of-the-union address.

Rejoice!

Unless you happen to have a mild Grinch-streak and unlimited-space motoblog, in which case you’re rejoicing at the opportunity to dissect the holiday card phenomenon while you simultaneously indulge in it. (I may be a hypocrite, but at least I’m self-aware and honest).

So here’s the thing. Every December, our mailbox—probably like yours—fills up with cards that look like this:

J. Crew family courtesy of TinyPrints

Perfectly art-directed tableaus of your friends’ perfect families, often with religiously-neutral seasonal messages. Note to Christian friends: it’s okay to send a Christmas card and to call it one, since that’s what nine-tenths of Americans actually celebrate. Nice if you remember to wish “Happy Hanukkah” to your Jewish friends—you have eight chances not to forget, but if you do, no one cares. The Kwanzaa thing seems to have come and passed, but if you celebrate it, I’m happy to wish you a happy one.

The funny thing about these holiday cards is that, in the age of Instagram, they’re like a more permanent status update. But even more considered, since you’re committing to actual ink, creating a sort of suburban family tattoo. You have to decide if you’re going with the hero shot of the kids in their scrubbed, hair-sculpted glory, or making your statement with a montage of smaller family victories—ski vacations, teen tours, the sailboat, the dog.

I have mixed feelings about the whole thing. On the one hand, I really do look forward to receiving these appealingly cheery moments of our friends and their kids. Some of them I see all the time; some I haven’t laid eyes on since a soccer tournament three years ago, and it’s wild to see the kids change (and the parents age). I also really do appreciate the ritual well-wishing and holiday tidings, and the fact that we’re on someone else’s mailing list besides Hammacher-Schlemmer, AT&T, and J.Crew.

But then there’s the neo-Rockwellian staginess of it, and the fact that so many of the cards look like literal outtakes of a J. Crew catalog right down to the cool typography and merry witticisms. Sites like TinyPrints, Shutterfly and Minted have democratized stylishness (and IMHO sapped originality) to the degree that everyone’s family winds up looking beautifully, homogenously generic. Like the Crate-and-Barrelfication of the American family.

We seem to be in the minority in not sending out a holiday card. This is mainly because we’re lazy and discombobulated, but also because getting our teenage kids to cooperate with any kind of photo-taking (other than selfies) is an exercise in frustration and futility. They’re good kids, just bad photo-cooperators. Then again, maybe we ought to try because our card might look refreshingly, awkwardly imperfect.

But that doesn’t mean Mr. Grinch here doesn’t have a two-wheeled family to pose and primp to his heart’s content, and then subject the internet-at-large (ok, maybe a dozen blog visitors?) to a holiday roll-call of this year’s rides.

So since you won’t be getting a card from me, here’s my 2015 Holiday “Year in Rear View.” Oh, and Merry Christmas from my bikes to yours (only the Vespa is Jewish).

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APRIL

After the Mother of All Winters (snow in the Northeast hung around until frigging June), I seized the first thaw-day to unplug the Ténéré from its electronic teat, roll it out of the garage, and take it to the bridge in Cornwall, CT. New England bliss. Brisk, but bliss.

MAY

Back to commuter-scooting (or is it scooter-commuting?) When I first fired-up the Vespa after winter hibernation, I noticed tufts of hay and what looked like horse-hair poking out from the side of the front cowling; I think the scoot was home to a few shivering mice for the winter. I understand, fellas—it was a rough one.

JUNE

Initiated a new tradition to break up the commuting week: summer f#ride#days. On the last day of the work week, I ride my Ténéré to a more distant train station than usual, just for some extra saddle joy. Work feels a lot less like work when you ride to it (even if you have to ride the rails afterwards).

I also squeezed in a Sunday Mass run through the Litchfield hills and into Massachusetts. My version of church on Sunday.

JULY

My riding buddy Jonah and I met in Salt Lake for our long-planned Utah BDR ride. We covered 1,300 miles in four days—about half off-road—doing a southern swing from SLC down to Torrey, across Capitol Reef State, up to Price and Heber City, and eventually into Wyoming.

Best part? Riding Skyline Drive in a full-on hail storm.

Worst part? Eating dirt in the slick Utah clay, and doing a number on my ankle. You can read the whole shebang here.

AUGUST

After flying home from our (completed) Utah ride, the only place I rode to was the orthopedic surgeon. If you’re going to play, these are the breaks.

Still, I had to get my late summer moto fix, so I drove to the 30th annual Brit Jam 2015gimping around a sea of vintage bikes in lovely Haddam’s Neck. You can see the bikes (and read my drool) here: British Jam and German Toasters.

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SEPTEMBER

After the Brit Jam show, I was bitten by the vintage bug hard. Somehow, the gods smiled and the Craigslist planets aligned, and I found myself the new owner of a not-so-new ’74 BMW airhead, after lusting for one for years. Here’s the skinny on my R75/6.

OCTOBER

Fall meant less riding & more tinkering while the ankle healed. Used the time to get acquainted with the airhead; I did some clean-up work on my own, but sent her off to MAX BMW in Brookfield, CT for some new tires, carb work, and professional TLC. Also commissioned a guy on Etsy to make a replacement tool roll for the bike, and it came out sweet.

NOVEMBER

Thanks to global warming (or el Niño or la Niña or whatever the hell it is), the New England weather remained freakishly warm through Thanksgiving. Which made rides like this to Roxbury possible. I know, it’s only global warming. But I like it, I like it, yes I do.

Even went to the beach a few times this fall. Not quite warm enough to get your toes sandy, but still.

DECEMBER

I went for a 160-mile exploratory loop up through western Connecticut (lunched in Kent), where the daytime high hit seventy degrees. In New England. In December. Bad for polar ice caps and Vermont ski resorts. Good for kooks like me (and apparently fly-fishermen, too).

Also celebrated Hanukkah with the help of my trusty Vespa menorah. Always fires up on the first try.

NEW YEAR’S EVE DAY

On the last day of 2015, I road tripped up to Wethersfield, CT to make my airhead an honest woman (she’s been un-plated until now). The DMV’s website indicated that to register any vehicle more than 20 years old in CT required an inspection at the main DMV office. So I rented one of these things for $14.95, and up to the altar we went.

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Turns out no one asked to see the bike or inspect anything. I didn’t care because it was our special day. Here’s our marriage license. Does this mean we’ll be honeymooning in Hawaii?

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And that’s my 2015 on two wheels. Hope yours was equally ridey. Mahalo for reading, Happy New Year, and here’s to another year of interesting rides…

Ich bin ein Luftkopfer

Well, I done did it.

After about a decade of web-surfing, forum-lurking, Craigslist-checking, and general Beemer-fantasizing, I finally did it. I took the plunge and got myself an airhead (luftkopf in German).

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I’ve tried to find the artist to credit this, but his site—punyearthlingwear.com—is shutting down, I’ve emailed the owner, and can’t find hide nor hare of him or her…

For the uninitiated and to be clear, airhead does not refer to a bimbo trophy wife, at least not here. While airheads do inspire a peculiar brand of mid-life obsession and covetousness (much like vintage Porsches or teak-trimmed catboats), they are far less expensive and complicated, and your present wife and kids will still talk to you after you get one.

I mean, how can anyone get upset with you for falling in love with this?

In this case, “airhead” refers to a particular sub-genre of BMW motorcycles known and loved for their two-cylinder engines. Each cylinder head protrudes horizontally from the bike “opposing” its twin, with their contained cylinders punching outward, perpendicular to the bike, kinda like this.

The engine was designed this way so that its cylinder heads—like the rider’s—would have unobstructed views to the oncoming rush of air, which efficiently cools the valves and cylinders, while it simultaneously slow-roasts the rider’s legs and feet.

But shin-warmth aside, the airhead “boxer” engine has proven to be an incredibly durable piece of industrial design. And it bears more than a passing resemblance to another favorite piece of industrial design which also stirs the soul, but in different ways.

BMW produced motorcycles with airhead engines for more than seven decades, from 1923 to 1995. Although (as far as I can tell) the term “airhead” itself seems to be reserved mostly for bikes made from 1969 to 1995, with the legendary 247 motor.

So how did this gearhead come by one?

Well, on an aimless Saturday morning a few months back, I just so happened to check Fairfield County’s Craigslist to see what kind of two-wheeled metal was for sale. I, like many other machine-crazy web-lurkers/searchers/fantacists, have done this at least a thousand times before, partaking in a sort of one-man motorbike variant of fantasy football:

How about a…(insert vintage Japanese enduro single here)
But ya know, I’ve always kinda wanted a…(insert obscure Italian sportbike here)
Hey lookeethat! What’s about a…(insert oddball sidecar hack here)

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During this itninerant fantasizing, I’ve seen maybe one or two bikes of lukewarm interest. But nothing has ever been so tempting that I’ve actually clicked the “email seller” link.

This time was different.

After searching under “vintage BMW motorcycle, the first thing that popped up was an ad posted that very morning. It was for a listing just a few miles south of me. The bike—a 1974 BMW R75/6, 39,000 original miles, second owner—belonged to a guy in Darien, CT who had possessed it for a quarter of a century, and who only rolled it out of his heated, spotless garage for typically-hard Darien duty. You know, stuff like morning runs to Dunkin Donuts for coffee,  or trips down to his boat. (This pattern of abuse was later confirmed when the owner opened the side bags, which were crammed with telltale cardboard coffee trays and brown Dunkins napkins.)

So after some hasty (and probably over-enthusiastic) emailing, I offered to drive down to meet Don, the owner, and check out the bike.

When I pulled in,  Don was kneeling on the freshly-hosed tarmac of his immaculate driveway, a tube of Flitz in one hand, the other polishing the bike’s tailpipe. He was flanked by a shiny Jeep Wrangler and a trailered, well-kept Boston Whaler.  As we bullshitted about bikes, I learned that Don owned multiple Beemers (including several airheads), and was in the process of “toy-shedding”—a close cousin of down-sizing, which often accompanies empty-nesterdom, and the move south to warmer climes. (Don was moving to Florida where his wife, boat, and other bikes were waiting for him.)

Anyway, Don fired her up on the first try, I fetched my helmet from the car, and went airheading for my first time. Within 11 seconds, it was game over. Hook, line and sinker love.

I toodled out onto Mansfield Avenue in Darien, and spooled her up. The bike churned smoothly,  pulled strongly, and rode shockingly well for a 41 year old machine. It was almost comically low to the ground compared to my Super Ténéré, with an equally low center of gravity, giving it the comfort and easy rideability of (dare I say?) a scooter. But with way more mechanical presence and heft.

The whole boxer experience was also fresh and unique. At idle, like at a stop sign, the bike jiggled noticeably side-to-side, shifting its weight and following the momentum of its horizontally-opposed “boxing” cylinders. But roll on the gas, and that sideways mechanical motion was transferred through gearbox and driveshaft to produce hummingly perfect, almost gyroscope-powered forward motion. Riding the airhead was super mechanically involving, from shifting to throttle to brakes, which required considerable effort, but adequately hauled the bike down from speed.

The only noticeable quirk (forewarned by Don) was a touchy, clunky shift into second; but simply preloading the shifter with pressure from your toe made it thunk in smoothly.

So back in Don’s driveway, and after a little gentlemanly bargaining, she was mine. I consider it one of the great deals of my lifetime, as the delight-to-money ration was and is totally off the charts.

Here’s Don, a gentleman, indeed, dropping the bike off at my house the following weekend. How’s that for service?

It took a few weekends to noodle and get aquainted with her, and to decide where she needed some improvements. Here she is on her inaugural third-owner photo shoot:

At Don’s recommendation, I bought a tube of Flitz, and flitzed the shit out of her. On chrome, paint, or bare metal, that stuff worked its magic.

There are one or two minor cosmetic imperfections, which I may (or may not) address over time. First, there’s a noticeable crack in the front fender.

And second, there are a few rusty spots around the battery box.

In both of these instances, and in a very liberating (but uncharacteristic) way for me, I’ve decided to do nothing, and simply not give a shit.

Don delivered the bike with a Clymer’s manual and a milk crate brimming with miscellanea and spare parts, including the original manual and toolkit.

I decided that such a sweet vintage machine deserved an equally sweet tool roll (the original was vinyl and kinda threadbare), so for $35 I commissioned a guy named Randy (via Etsy) to make a replacement. He crushed it, in duck canvas and leather:

(Notice anything else new? Hint: tool tray gasket). The bike also came with its original handpump…

And various bibs and bobs, including extra spark plugs, fuses, bulbs, hoses, fork oil, engine oil, filters…

Oh, and the original Krauser bags, emptied of their coffee detritus.

The one area of obvious, immediate need was tires. They were largely unworn, but pretty dry and crackly.

And while Don had clearly taken care of the bike (he changed all fluids annually and had installed a modern, sealed battery), I still wanted to get a professional “once over” before starting to ride her in earnest.

So I sent her off to Max BMW in Brookfield, CT, where she was admitted into the care of Phil Cheney, one of their resident airhead master mechanics. Ironically, Phil had worked on the bike about 25 years earlier (and had remembered it) when he was a mechanic at Lindner’s Cycle Shop in New Canaan, CT.

Here’s the key chain that came with the bike. How’s that for kismet?

Phil oversaw a minor tip-to-tail overhaul, from new tires (Michelin Pilot Sport Activs) to new stainless steel brake lines to re-routing the clutch cabling, cleaning and adjusting the Bing carbs, replacing the gas lines, adding a few new seals, new plugs, replacing all fluids, and road testing her.

Phil’s post-overhaul recommendation? “Ride the wheels off it.”

Here’s my little black kitten, purring…

Since then, the only thing she’s missing is a marriage license in the form of plates and registration. It turns out that in the great State of Connecticut, any vehicle 20 years old or older is required to be towed or trailered in for inspection at a sole location in the state: Wethersfield, CT. So until this spring (or unless I rent a U-Haul and take a midweek, midwinter run up I-91), she’s relegated to garage queen, with only occasional autumn leg-stretching around the block.

But man, isn’t she lovely? Isn’t she won-der-ful?

 

British Jam & German Toasters

A perfect New England August Sunday. The banks of the Connecticut River at Haddam’s Neck. Dollar-corn-on-the-cob. And a shit-ton of vintage bikes, mostly British, but plenty of Euro and Japanese candy, too.

I mean, how could you resist? I couldn’t.

So on this fine August Sunday, I took a (car) ride up to the 30th annual Brit Jam 2015. I skipped riding my Super Ténéré since my busted ankle—from my Planet Utah ride in July—is still in bone-knitting mode. Not quite the same arriving on four wheels as it is of two…but those are the breaks.

Brit Jam is sponsored by the British Iron Associaton of CT, which is not about well- pressed Saville Row shirts any more than “Brit Jam” is about quince paste. The former is a well-established club dedicated to the preservation and appreciation Triumph, Norton, and BSA motorbikes, while the latter is the annual gathering of their faithful. In truth, the event is open to aficionados of all vintage bikes, regardless of their provenance.

But here, the United Kingdom still rules…

One of the afternoon’s crown jewels was this Skye-blue-and-chrome BSA Super Rocket.

Its immaculate tank-decal was only to be outdone by another piece of graphic beauty…

This:

I have to admit that I never actually knew that:

1) BSA stands for the Birmingham Small Arms Company Ltd., which manufactured not just bikes for gunning, but guns for shooting; and

1) BSA was once the largest manufacturer of motorbikes IN THE WORLD.

I thought the old phrase was “guns and butter,” not “guns and putter.” Who knew? And speaking of putter, next I spied this:

I approached what I thought was an old beater Vespa, or maybe an overly-round German Heinkel, but was surprised to see that “British Iron” also includes…scoots. And not just by any manufacture; by the venerable Triumph marque. no less.

Is that a little retrograde gender bias I detect in the model name? Or just some opportunistic market segmentation? Maybe Triumph was just trying to make a splash with Mod girls. In any event, it was an unusual and cool example.

As you’d expect from an event entitled Brit Jam, there were many (Imperial) tonnes of heavier British iron to ogle at—the kind which would’ve appealed more to Rockers than Mods. Dozens of vintage Bonnies, Tigers, and Thunderbirds (BTW, maybe the Tigress was maybe meant for the girfriends of Tiger owners?)

But with all due respect to the British Iron Association of CT (and all the attending Brit-bike aficionados), to me many of these bikes just seem like well-patinaed versions of Triumph’s line of modern classic bikes that any jamoke can buy today. In fact, and in my very humble opinion, it seems like Triumph has been so successful at capturing the gestalt of their 60s and 70s machines with modern, fuel-injected, disk-braked homages, that it kind of takes some wind out of the carbs for me. The vintage offerings are cool…but they just seem like older versions of the newer offerings, which I park my Vespa or Ténéré next to at the train station.

I know, I know. I’m not of the faithful. I probably just don’t get it. It’s just that—for me—these bikes don’t hold the same rare-bird appeal as something like this sunny-side-up ’69 BSA 441 Victor Special.

Or this British period piece, a splendid, exotic, belt-driven 1923 Douglas.

It’s a period piece, literally. As in Douglas. Period. (How can you not admire a punctuated brand name?)

Besides the hand-sewn leather tank guards and picnic panniers and a wicker “top box,” the coolest feature was a primordial brass head lamp, essentially an enclosed acetylene lantern with a concave mirror to “throw” a beam generated by—quite literally—an open flame. This, accompanied by a hand-activated rubber-and-brass horn, which I guess was used to shoo errant sheep from the Bristol roadways…

Still, if the majority of bikes were British Sopwith Camels and SPADs, there were also plenty of German Fokkers and Albatrosen in the mix. Which spoke loudly to my Teutonic affiliation (even though I’m currently an ex-Beemer guy). Like this Red Baron, an über cool R75/5—not even a part of the show, but an attendee bike spotted in the outer parking grass (if the owner ever sees this post, email me. I’ll buy it!)

Inside the show, I ogled an actual BMW entry bike, this shadowy R- 90 cafe racer. Unusual for the “DCI” initials in the thematically-smoked Roundel as well.  I tried googling around, but couldn’t locate its origins. A smoker nonetheless.

There was plenty more German stock to be found. Ironically, most of them were scattered throughout the parking field, and not part of the show. I especially enjoyed the collection of airhead “toasters” out there, so nick-named for their evocative tank shape.

After all, what goes better with Brit Jam than German toast(ers)? Like this handsome R75/6.

Or this older R50/5, seemingly missing its rubber side grippers…

Or this blueberry toaster…

But my favorite bike of the whole afternoon was this crisp, mid-eighties R80 GS. GS was/is BMW-speak for Gelände/Straße, or “off-road/street”), and it is the grand-pappy of the ADV-bike genre so popular today—bikes like my own Yamaha Super Ténéré.

Only in this case, MUCH much skinnier. Maybe ADV bikes are part of the whole obesity epidemic? Here’s a comparo between the GS and my zaftig bike…


The old GS isn’t just skinnier. It’s way simpler. Here, ultimate in cockpit simplicity, including an analogue BMW quartz clockI hope the Germans make changing the clock battery less abstruse than the Italians—doing it  on my Vespa requires total head-unit surgery.

And speaking of Italians, there were a few Mediterranean supermodels in the mix. Like the “Italian GS,” this super slick Moto Guzzi Stelvio…

And its sibling, the Guzzi V7 Classic. It’s a super-appealing bike in the flesh, much more so than on the Internet…so much so that I was tempted to straddle it (but didn’t).

And then someone rode to Brit Jam on its flashier cousin, the V7 Racer, which with its crimson metal frame and seat stitching, honking chrome tank, and vented aluminum side panels (there’s also a number plate, but kinda hard to ride with that and not feel a little tool-ish) is either vulgar, or gorgeous, or both. I’ll call it…vulgeous. (Wait—that sounds kinda wrong…)

Finally, the only Ducati I spotted was this optically-related cousin to the V7 racer, but a chromed antique. I don’t know the exact model or provenance—it just looks badass, like one of Deus Ex Machina’s custom bikes.

Last in the chrome department (but certainly not least) was a 1966 Honda 300, sort of the “son” of the Honda Dream. It confirms that white, red, grey and black (in no specific order) is the perfect colorway for any two-wheeled machine. 

The Japanese may have knocked off the German toasters…but the toast is nicely done.

  
For 10 bucks and an idle August afternoon, Brit Jam was a little slice of New England heaven. Next year, I hope I get to ride either my Ténéré or Vespa GT up to Haddam’s Neck. And if it’s as hot as it was this year, I might even consider this…

Mission Planet Utah: Stage 2

Ground Control to Major Tom….Ground Control to Major Tom….

Take your protein pills…

and put your helmet on…

Ground Control to Major Tom (Ten, Nine, Eight, Seven, Six)

Commencing countdown, engines on (Five, Four, Three)

Check ignition and may God’s love be with you…

On Tuesday, we awoke in Sector Torrey to a motel room like a space wreck.

A chaotic detonation of helmets, boots, straps, cables, cameras, gloves, goggles, hydration bladders, maps, GPS navigators, bike tools, protein bars, rescue kit, and rain- and sweat-soaked gear. All of which would have to be reassembled, airlocked, and mounted to our waiting craft.

Unfortunately, atmospheric conditions weren’t particularly favorable; the satellites were calling for astral rain.

Still, it was time to get moving. Today was Stage Two of our Mission Planet Utah, and the great high desert beckoned. We’d logged nearly 400 miles the day before, but much of it—with the exception of our high-altitude traverse of Skyline Drive—on plain old road.

Today would be our day of Curiosity, our Mars Rover Mission, a journey into, onto and through terra indomita. We’d be riding through the rocky spacescape of Capitol Reef Park and the San Rafael Swellout of radio contact and into the void. Here’s our route, from the Basecamp waypoints.

Jonah and I had done some desert riding years before, but with a professional guide and chase truck. Today, we were on our own. Whatever carried us in would have to carry us out—bikes, arms, legs, water, fuel, tools, and tiny bit of fortitude.

Some preflight fueling.

Jonah had pulled into Torrey the night before on literal fumes, sputtering and balking his way into the parking lot. So he added just enough reserve to get him down the road to the Texaco on Route 24 for a proper fill-up. We also took advantage of the deli/bakery/donut shop in the back of Austin’s to caffeinate and fill our bellies, two space cowboys mingling with real cowboys, truckers, French tourists, and the local staff. (BTW, not a bad cup of coffee for the middle of nowhere.)

Our flight-plan called for a short blast east from Torrey on Route 24, then south on the fabled Utah Route 12 towards Boulder, climbing up to 9400 feet. The riding was wet and winding through a cool, strangely alpine eco-band, but gorgeous despite the rain, with thick stands of alternating evergreen and birch. Much of the ride was through open cattle range, and we found ourselves pausing to eye-check the roving herds; every now and then a few cattle would meander onto the roadway, as if they wanted to see what all the fuss was about. I don’t normally associate cattle with speed, but a few times, a cow and its calf broke into a run. Those beasts can move, and I really wouldn’t want to hit one. You’d be the road steak, not them.

Doing the alpine slide up Route 12.

And near the top.

Utahnauts.

At Boulder, and after temporary loss of visual contact (I went left, Jonah went right, and without any cell coverage, it took about 40 minutes to locate each other), we fueled up here at Hills & Hollows before breaking from Route 12 and heading east on Burr Trail Road.

Not quite Devil’s Tower, but the start of desert otherworldliness.

Burr Trail was a fantastic winding ribbon of road through the increasingly lunar landscape. It started with low Navajo Sandstone cuestas and outcroppings…

which give way to Martian-red petrified dunes.

We had to stop and climb one.

One small step for us…

One giant step for ADVenture-kind.

The only thing missing was a flag to plant. But that would have been hard without a power drill and masonry bit. It wasn’t just rock; it was petrified.

Here’s an out-of-breath Utahnaut describing the scene (maybe my air-exchange system wasn’t functioning properly, or maybe I’m just pathetically out of shape).

The view in 360…

With the Martian rock conquered, we returned to our spacecraft and pressed on.

About ten miles in, we approached the rim of—and descended down into—Long Canyon, a mind-blowing red-rock slash in the Utah desert. Long Canyon has an EPIC road threading through it (it’s actually a continuation of Burr Trail) which takes you on a horizontal roller-coaster ride for seven miles, caroming between sheer stone walls that tower hundreds of feet above either side of you. The optics and riding are spectacular.

Here’s the start of Long Canyon, where we paused to marvel.

A low-res reconnaissance video. Not the best quality, but what a ride…

Two observations (beyond shock and awe). First, it was threatening rain (or drizzling) during most of our Long Canyon ride. And although we made it through unscathed, in hindsight it’s become clear how dangerous it was to enter a desert canyon before any kind of storm. Canyoneeringusa.com has this to say:

• The storm drops a very large amount of water over a small area, in a small time. These storms commonly drop up to 4″ of rain in fifteen minutes. The desert soil, baked by the summer heat, does not absorb much of anything, and the water runs off. 
• Runoff collects in gulleys, which lead to washes that lead to canyons. Because water runs faster when deeper, the water collects into a bit of a leading wave. Downcanyon, we hapless hikers are trapped in the narrow canyon when the water reaches us, concentrated by the narrow canyon walls. Death or discomfort occur. (Credit and © 2015 Canyoneering USA.)

We obvioulsly lucked out. We weren’t equipped for a tidal wave.

My second observation is that while the road was paved, in many places (as you can see in the video) it was covered with earth from previous washouts. So two-wheeled riders should spool-up with caution: just around that next red rock corner there’s often a carpet of sketchy red sand. Pilot accordingly.

After Long Canyon, Burr Road finally gives up all domestic pretensions and yields completely to dirt.

It does so here, at the front door of Capitol Reef National Park, a 400-square-mile treasure of out-of-this-world geological wonder, right here on our own earth.

To be fair, I’d heard of Capitol Records, but hadn’t even heard of Capitol Reef before we’d ridden it. But it’s up in the league of the Grand Canyon for spectacle and glory. The National Park Service couldn’t have said it much better:

“Located in south-central Utah in the heart of red rock country, Capitol Reef National Park is a hidden treasure filled with cliffs, canyons, domes and bridges in the Waterpocket Fold, a geologic monocline (a wrinkle on the earth) extending almost 100 miles…”

Much of which, I might add, is best explored from the seat of a dualsport.

Burr Trail in the park concludes with a series of spectacular switchbacks that take you down several hundreds of feet, and through some incredible rock formations. Here’s the view from Google Earth…

Screen Shot 2015-07-20 at 10.24.32 AM

And part of the ride down on my KLR.

The switchbacks spill you out on lower, flatter ground, where we picked up the Notom-Bullfrog Road. We enjoyed hammering it after picking our way through the earlier muddy washouts. Great speed, making good time, with spectacular vistas. But no sight of Major Tom…

Here’s our best Charley Boorman/Ewan McGregor imitation:

The clouds finally yielded for a bit as we rolled into Hanksville for some food and fuel at Stan’s Burger Shak.

Kind of funny placing a fast-food order in a space suit. Still, while they were grilling (chicken sandwich, Liebe) I went back outside to de-gear and soak up some warmth.

The ride after Hanksville was probably the wildest and most aggressive of our trip. The sun was finally out, with puffball clouds and achingly bright Utah skies—for the time being, no threat of rain. We headed north on a freshly-oiled Utah 24. If you have to ride pavement, man, you wanna ride like this.

A ways north, we peeled off again onto the dirt, for a mad scramble around Temple Mountain. For the first time on our ride I found myself wishing for a roost guard. Jonah can really ride off-road, with much credit going to his mountain bike racing. I’m much slower (all I have is skiing to lean on, but it’s a useful MX reference— alot of the same balance and physics and instincts). We blasted around Temple mountain, spraying scree, sliding, hammering the uphills and dancing around the downhills—literally having the time of our lives.

When the trail flattened out, so did something else. Ruh-roh.

We’d been on a high speed groove for a couple of miles, getting up on the pegs through rocky, rutted sections. But after a while, my front started to meander. So I stopped, had a look and voila: pinch-flat in the desert.

The wounded mule. But a helluva picturesque spot to get a flat.

Thankfully we’d prepared for this, carrying everything from spare tubes to the right size axle-nut wrenches for both bikes to a Slime air pump. So while I balanced the KLR on its kickstand and back tire…

“DR” Houston performed surgery. Glad we watched a few YouTubes in preparation for this…

Axle nut off. Axle bolt off. Axle off. Brake caliper and speedo cable out of the way. A little bead breaking and pulling, and we’re on our way. Jonah, thanking the Flat Gods that he sprang for 3 tire spoons instead of 2…

In about 25 minutes, we were back, aired up, and on our way. Thanks for levering, Brother J. The rest of the afternoon was just one stunning outerspacescape after another. Buckhorn Draw Road…

the dramatic Water Pocket fold…

Interstellar, man. Simply interstellar.

Abstract sandstone Mount Rushmore. See whatever face you’d like. It sort of looked like a clustered pride of lions to me.

Then came the clouds again…

We pushed forward. And near Buckhorn Draw, we encountered this little pebble.

It felt like we felt pushing against this crazy weather…a Sysyphean effort.

It was begining to look a lot like Christ-what-the-hell-is-happening-above-us-mas.

Faster, Utahnauts, faster!

Even though the weather was really rolling in (again), we couldn’t help but to stop and dismount to admire the incredible, ancient Buckhorn Wash pictographs, painted on the canyon walls over 2,000 years ago.

They were created by ancient Indians called the “Barrier Canyon People” But I have a secret theory that they were actually Jewish. I call this one “Lighting Menorah on 6th Night of Hanukkah.”

Oh shoot. Here comes the rain again.

Canyon rock on Oil Dome Road. We hightailed it out of here.

Um, brother J, do those skies look kinda threatening to you?

We had about 40 miles or so to make before Price, but it became clear that we were never going to outrun the storm. So we stopped on a section of Oil Dome Road to put on our rain liners, just before or the skies unleashed. Biblically.

The next twenty miles were pure white-knuckle terror riding across the flats; we could see lightning, and on this final stretch we were easily the tallest objects around. On metal. Compounding this was the round, wet, widely-spaced gravel on the road, which was way sketchier than riding grooved pavement. The bikes took on a mind of their own, and even at 20 or 30 mph, it was hard to keep them tracking straight, and not wobbling, floating or slipping sideways. I kept watching the miles tick down on the GPS and telling myself “don’t fall…don’t fall…no mistakes…don’t fall.” Oh, and “don’t get hit by lightning. Please don’t get hit by lightning…”

After an hour of this, with my neck and limbs stiff like kevlar, the rain finally let up. The road ahead was drying, my shoulders relaxed, and we picked up a bit of speed.

But 20 miles outside of Price, despite a mostly dried dirt road, we started hitting random patches of wet adobe clay. It is legendary among Utah riders, and lethal. Adobe is just like the clay used to spin shapes on pottery wheels; add a little water, and it is slick as snot. Against knobby motorbike tires it is no more tractable. Like the mug you’ll soon become, you just hit it and spin.

My first patch of this was completely unnerving—instant loss of traction, violent sliding back and forth, and a battle just to stay upright. I rode it out, probably because I was tipped off first; Jonah was in lead, and I saw him hit it and power-wobble. So I had a moment to back off the throttle and try to finesse it out, but barely.

Then, a a few hundred yards later, my adobe luck ran out.

This time I didn’t have the same visual lead, since I’d slowed down and let Jonah ride further ahead. He hit it and almost bought the farm when he simultaneously course-corrected to stay upright and avoid hitting a surprise deer. (Surprise, Dear!)

I hit the same patch moments later, around 35 mph, and was quickly thrown into a violent tankslapper, pitching back and forth until gravity, physics, and the slime did its thing. This ended as all bad things do, sideways, in the earth.

Looks like karma just took a space-poop on you, Astroboy:

I bounced up pretty quickly, but in the flailing tankslapper I think I dragged my left foot at speed, torquing it nicely. Ouch. But other than this and having my bell rung, I felt reasonably okay. GIANT props to my Leatt neck brace. I felt my helmet hit the mud but remember it actually feeling not unpleasanant—the Leatt keeps your head from moving more than a few degrees in any direction other than side to side. Worked like a charm. Also, a shout-out to my my excellent boots (Sidi Adventures) which couldn’t have prevented the twisiting, but otherwise took incredibly good care of my legs and feet.

When I tried to climb back onto the KLR, it became clear that I’d done something to my ankle. most likely sprained it. I had to mount from the right side, and once in the saddle, couldn’t upshift with my left foot. So for the next 20 miles I improvised, using the little plastic bump on the inside heel of my boot to up-shift. It wasn’t pretty, but it worked. (See the SPOILER ALERT at the very bottom if you want to know what ultimately happened to my ankle.)

Thus, after about 280 miles and most of the day on dirt (total orbit now close to 700 miles), these two Utahnauts churned through their reentry sequence back to civilization, but Mission Planet Utah: Stage Two came to a bathetic end: lumping into the Price Holiday Inn Express in rain and pain.

Jonah did a hero’s job with the bikes and our space-kit, and even hooked me up with a WalMart ankle brace and a chicken pot pie (thank you, Brotherman). I just hobbled to the elevator, got to the room, peeled off my spacesuit…

…Took a hot decompression shower and 800 mg of ibuprofen, licked my metaphorical wounds, and reflected on the moons we’d just visited. Oh, and I had a small dose of mankind’s oldest medicine.

Though I’m past one hundred thousand miles 

I’m feeling very still…

And I think my spaceship knows which way to go

Tell my wife I love her very much (she knows)

I have to say that I had second and third thoughts about calling Liebe (my awesome wife) and sharing anything about this little stumble.  But I did call, and it was great to hear her voice, chat about the kids, and mention “a little ankle twist” —she just weighed in with her usual sane, level-headed refrain: be safe, have fun, and don’t push it too much. I told my wife I love her very much. She said she knows.

Looking at my ballooning ankle, I hoped I’d be able to resume our Mission again tomorrow, even with compromised systems. But Planet Utah has a way of urging you on.

SPOILER ALERT: after riding for the remainder of the day (and over 500 miles during the next two days to complete our trip), I redeyed home on Friday and went straight to the orthopedist. Managed to gimp through two airports with luggage, and drive myself to the doctor (in an automatic), but here’s the breaking news. Minor fibia fracture (hairline, really), 4-6 weeks to heal. Those are the breaks, astronaut.

Mission Planet Utah: Stage 1

Image: Creative Commons

“Whether it was the ergonomics of the planes, the isolation, an individual person’s psychology, or the perspective of being up so high, break-off sometimes seemed to produce emotional extremes in pilots and others being prepped for space exploration. Some not only felt separated from Earth. They also felt like they had detached from reality.” — from The Break-Off Effect, Fast Company


“Mock Mars Mission Starts Saturday in Utah Desert.” — from Space.com, February 2015

There are road trips, and there are bike trips, and then there are…space trips.

This ride report resembles the latter, because after riding 1,200 miles through the great state of Utah—much of it in the southern Utah desert, Capitol Reef Park, and a lot of it up around 10,000 feet—I’ve had a hard time consolidating and describing the experience. Martian? Lunar? Interplanetary? Out of body? Kind of all the above.

Road trips—any kind of travel—can be transformative. This one went a little further. Maybe it was riding in the isolation chamber of a dual-sport helmet for 10 hours a day through otherworldly terrain and bipolar weather, while an old friend was doing ths same in his own space bubble, a throttle twist away. Or maybe it was the relentless psychic pressure of staying upright, especially across unnervingly remote, speck-in-the-desert miles: “Don’t make a mistake…don’t make a mistake…because if you make a mistake…you’re so beyond f*cked. Or maybe it was those disassociating moments of calm, hands still twitching and ears still ringing, trying to commune over bourbon and Cliff bars with my fellow astronaut about the day’s wonders and awes before sleeping it off and doing it all over again, for days straight without pause…

Whatever it was, this journey was transfiguring.

So if you’re curious about our deep-space riding mission on the good ship enduro as we set out to explore Planet Utah, I hope you ride along…


If—like me—you’re at all into dual-sport motorbiking or ADV-riding, you might have heard of the growing number of Back-Country Discovery Routes (or BDRs) that cover some of the most remote and beautiful parts of (American) earth. There’s a Washington BDR, a Colorado BDR, and an Idaho BDR. And then there’s this:

10140523416_d8ef5b74bd     UTBDR-cover

Like the others, the Utah BDR is an ambitious, sprawling, self-guided, mostly off-road route mapped through America’s western backcountry (thank you, Butler Maps) and designed to maximize scenic beauty as viewed from, well, the dirt.

In the case of Utah’s BDR, this encompasses 871 miles of the Beehive State’s finest sand, mud, clay and uranium tailings, from Arizona all the way up to the Idaho border. But what makes the UT BDR so special (IMHO) is the breathtaking variation—and otherworldliness—of its “spacescape.” You can ride through mushroom-capped sandstone valleys, across hours of Mad Max-ish, post-apocalyptic high desert, down into Martian-red canyons…and then up through the more earthly (but no less specatcular) Wasatch Front, enjoying the views from over 10,000 feet. The UT BDR is kinda outta this world.

Besides its creators’ intended designation, I’ve also discovered that “BDR” can also stand for several other things:

Big Diameter Rocks

Brotrip Done Right

Bourbon, Donuts, Ribs

Blustery Downpouring Rain

Blacktop, Dirt, Ridgelines

Backwheel Doing Razzamatazz

Boots Defending Respectably, and, umm…

Breaks Do Result. 

Yes they do, and thank you Curtis—but “these are the breaks” and those curious tire tracks above will all be explained later…

So this, then, was our Mission Utah, our take on the UT BDR, riding a lot of the Beehive State (and even a little bit of Planet Wyoming) in four rocket stages, some on dirt, some on road, some across mountains, and even a short distance on my ass.

Allow me to break it down for you, starting with this.

STAGE ONE: LIFTOFF—SLC TO TORREY

So me and my fellow UVM/Utahnaut brotherman (aka Jonah Houston) have been doing our “middle-age-going-on-16” adventure series for years now, even before we were actually middle-aged.

We’ve surfed Costa Rica and ridden Baja (the subject of a previous post), but this time we decided on a Stateside ride—cleaner water, legit law enforcement, and a vastly lower risk of encountering narco-mules in the middle of deep space desert.

I searched the web for ADV bike rentals in the Western US, but was surprised at how slim the pickings were. There were a gazillion outfits hawking Harleys to German Easy Rider fantasists, so they could get their kicks dressing up like pirates and discovering “die Zoul auf America” on Route 66. (It’s a lot easier to drive to Walmart, amigos).

Screen Shot 2015-07-13 at 7.41.00 AM

But there was shockingly little in the way of dual-sport rental offerings, despite the sport’s booming popularity. I suppose part of the “adventure” of adventure riding is riding your own bike to the far corners of your imagination—including Utah. But for those of us with jobs, families, mortgages, and time constraints, it’s better to ride there than to ride to there.

That’s why I was happy to stumble across this site:

Screen Shot 2015-07-12 at 10.39.43 AM

No pirates? Check. No fat, belching, bedazzled roadchrome? Check. No overwrought appeal to self-discovery through leather, gas, endless horizons, and tassels? (For chrissake, who decided that tassels should be attached to machinery? Who?! Why?!) Check.

Great Rides Utah is a fledgling ADV-rental operation out of Salt Lake City (West Valley City, to be precise), run by a pair of enterprising young friends—Patrick and Raphael. It’s conceived to serve ADVenturenauts just like us. You can fly into SLC with your space suit, take a 12-minute taxi to their shop, load up your bike, and be riding out to the desert or mountains as soon as you can buckle your helmet. (Just take it out of the bag first, J).

Great Rides Utah rents a number of two-wheeled, all-terrain exploratory vehicles: Suzuki DRs, Kawasaki KLRs, Triumph Tigers, and a BMW or two, as well as Wolfman soft luggage and Garmin GPSs. At home I pilot a Yamaha Super Ténéré, which I suppose you could consider the Fat Boy of ADV bikes. For a rental, I opted for a KLR because I’m fatter than Jonah, and wanted some mechanical weight to better convey my body weight. (Alas, unlike in outer space, in Utah space you’re still subject to the laws of gravity). Here’s my spacecraft:

Jonah, on the other hand, flies a sprightly KTM 690 at his home in NorCal. So he opted for the lighter, more lissome Suzuki DR. But what it achieves in off-road ability it significantly sacrifices in exploratory range; the DR holds about a teaspoon of gas, so you have to carry extra fuel in a tail-mounted rotopack. (And an MSR fuel bottle, if your co-pilot is kind enough to schlep one for you in his pannier.)

The Wolfman soft panniers take a few minutes to figure out, but once you get the hang of them, they’re great. They hold ample bikecrap, and form a perfect space-seal. I can attest to this after dragging the left one some distance through Utah dirt and clay on the only lowside of the trip (again, more on that later).

Here’s Rafael, one of the Great Rides owners (and a super guy) helping us batten down the hatches. Note the double-sheepskin for extra-strength buttitudinal prophylaxis; in space no one can hear your ass scream, but it will still most definitely hurt. The Kriega tailbag is my own (truly excellent kit, too), and carried an ample first aid kit, along with t-shirts, extra riding shorts, and our re-entry parachute.

We filled out insurance forms (a good idea whenever you leave the planet), left our duffels and other earthly belongings in a corner of their shop, suited up, shook hands, and headed out.

It felt a little weird to don full ADV-suits for a 1 mile ride to the Staybridge Suites where we were overnighting before early AM liftoff. But there was no other way to portage them. Halfway into this shakedown flight, we landed at Chilis for some dinner. (Did you know you can get gas at Chilis, too?)

Guess which one of these two Utahnauts had the longer (originating) flight?

After gassing up on beans and cheesy artichoke dip, we cruised to Staybridge for some pre-ride route consultation, a nightcap, and sleep.

A note about navigation: while we both had (and had been studying) Butler Utah BDR maps, our friends Raphael and Patrick were kind enough to pre-load our GPS units with 4 days’ worth of exploration, based on our discussions leading up to the trip. I wanted us to cover a good part of the BDR, but with a few qualifications:

TIME  Given our work and family obligations, we had 4 solid days of riding time (in addition to the 2 days we needed to get to and from SLC)—which is still ridiculously tight for a Utah BDR run, especially if you encounter weather. And you will encounter weather.

DISTANCE  The BDR runs South to North from Utah’s border with Arizona to Idaho. So in order to just get to a starting point (like Mexican Hat in the south) requires a 360 mile ride—a lot of it on slab. That’s an entire day’s “pre-ride.” No time for that.

GNARLINESS  Much of the BDR is totally rideable, even by modest off-road standards—well-graded dirt or gravel roads that allow you to make fairly good speed across huge distances. But some of the BDR sections can be pretty technical. I told Raphael and Patrick that I had no problem with a little mud or some scrappier trail riding, but no single-track or deep sand for me. I wasn’t interested in increasing the odds of a medical adventure.

So Raphael prepared a nice dirt and back road route for Day One, which would get us to our first overnight spot down south, in Torrey.

First, we helped ourselves to our STAYBRIDGE SUITES FREE BREAKFAST! prepared in part with technology used on the International Space Station. All I know is someone’s getting a Nobel Prize for this.

Then we packed up…

Sacked up…

And suited up in search of adventure. Liftoff at 0740.

Now, I happen to have the same Garmin Zumo navigational device on my bike at home that Great Rides uses, so I was pretty familiar with the technology. I simply tapped in “ROUTES,” twisted the throttle, and started following the first one that came up on the screen.

It took us down some spectacular roads leading to higher elevations, including Utah’s own beehived-variant of Route 66.

Pretty soon we’d climbed into the mountains, and stopped at this a scenic vista. A nice older couple in an immaculate Austin Healey offered to take our picture. As the gentleman commented, “we’ve all got our toys, haven’t we?” Amen, earthling, amen.

Spacemen with space toys. Mountains and rayguns not included.

Now, partly due to either Day One adrenaline or altitude euphoria—but more likely to my own stupidity —we were following a route that was taking us north, despite the fact that our destination was decidedly south. For some odd reason (uh, idiocy?) this had failed to register with me, even though the GPS, road signs. and rising eastern sun clearly indicated that we were travelling in the exact opposite of our intended direction.

I recognized this navigational error somewhere around here:

Screen Shot 2015-07-13 at 9.59.48 AM

Oh. Gee. Ogden. Oops.

After a quick call to ground control (Raphael), it became clear that I was following a route, but not the route. He’d stored our waypoints under the My Trips app on the unit…but I was following some random route leading us north. Upon entering the proper Day One coordinates, it became obvious that our Mission was already critically behind.

It was 10 o’clock in the morning when I realized the error; and at this point, Raphael’s GPS route (which included quite a bit of dirt) would be getting us to Torrey at close to 11 pm, over 400 miles later. We’d just added 100 extra miles to the day.

Spacemen, improvise!

So we found our way to I-15 and then headed south on the hot slab, back through the entire urban sprawl of Salt Lake City, intent on making up time. But we got stuck in construction traffic for a good hour just south of Salt Lake, broiling in our spacesuits, and watching the hours trickle away. When the traffic finally eased, we made some better time, but hopped off at Spanish Fork to get gas, and forge a new plan.

While we gassed up at Texaco, we sought the counsel of this earthling known as CC, aka “Crazy Cow,” a local trucker who also works part-time at the fuel station. CC knew his roads, but more importantly knew the times and epic distances of southern Utah.

CC’s counsel? Scrap the GPS route, and take Route 6 down to Tucker, where we could pick up Skyline Drive—a 100 mile off-road route along the ridge of the southern Wasatch plateau, at altitudes between 9,000 and 11,000 feet.

Screen Shot 2015-07-12 at 8.38.36 AM

We figured we could head south on Skyline for as long as seemed reasonable, then peel off from the mountains down to “oil road” in order to make better time towards Torrey. So we thanked CC, filled our tanks and Camelbacks, and headed out.

Route 6 takes you up and into the Manti-Lasal National Forest and ultimately to the Skyline trailhead.

A little bit of our ascent.

By the time we reached Skyline, the skyline was looking kind of like a solar death storm.

But we were up, and there was only one way out— south, along the trail. So off we went. Being a dirty snowpile enthusiast, I must say that it warmed my heart to see this patch of frozen filth at the outset of our Skyline journey…

A bit of video from the start…

As you can see, we were riding into some kind of weather event. For some crazy reason, every time I’m doing something with the Brotherman, we seem to wind up dodging electrical storms. We’ve surfed in electrical storms, ridden Baja in electrical storms, and now here we were at 10,000 feet, doing our best to have fun without being reduced to a pile of smoldering cosmic dust.

The calm before the storm.

The good news (I guess) is that when the skies finally unleashed, it wasn’t with lightning, but with hail. Dime-sized hail, pelting our helmets and tanks like little frozen asteroids. The hail didn’t seem to collect on the trail, though. It just melted, which only made the riding muddier and wetter and more…adventurous?

It also didn’t help that we had no time to put on our rain liners, so we got soaked, and were starting to freeze. I didn’t anticipate needing winter gloves for this ride, but my hands were quickly turning to ice blocks. After about 43 miles of Skylining it (at a ginger 20 mph pace), we decided to descend to lower elevations.

On the way down through the atmospheres, beautiful Utah wildflowers…

We popped out in a small town called Spring City, named after the fresh mountain spring in the center of town. Down here it was warm and delightful.

We washed up and filled up. Every ten minutes, another carload of locals stopped at the public spring to do the same. Jonah, supplicating before the Water Gods.

One of the locals approached to ask how our journey was going, and offered to provide us with directional assistance. How can you turn down a man who’s wearing a flying saucer on his head?

I can’t remember his name, but he was hoot—sort of a local goodwill ambassador for Spring City, and he certainly earned ours during our chat.

We met some other friends along the way down into the valley, too. Sadly, his one didn’t make it through reentry.

So it was gas up, wipe up, and suit up for the oncoming rain. As you can see, I shifted to a one-sheepskin setup because they start acting like giant man-pons in the rain, attracting and retaining water and I was sitting in a cold wet pile of sheep.

Since it was already late afternoon, we hopped on 89 to make some better space-time towards our destination. We headed south through Ephraim, and then Manti. South of there, I saw my front tire clip something as we motored along, and went back to check it out. It wasn’t one of those squiggly road tar snakes; it was an actual snake-snake (by my Googling, a gopher snake). Still alive and moving, although part of him clearly got clipped. I picked him up and put him back in the grass where all snakes belong, and wished him Godpeed.

We proceeded through Centerfield and ultimately Salina, where we switched over to Route 24…the final flight to Torrey. Around Burrville, we stopped to check out this collection of spacerocks.

The marker commemorates a meeting between Brigham Young and Chief Pah-Ga-Ne-Ap in 1873, establishing a peace between the Mormon settlers and local Indian Tribes. It was sealed with a handshake, and the peace was never broken. Why doesn’t that degree of simplicity, intention, and agreement ever seem to happen on earth these days? As Jonah would say with one of his verbal emoticos, “sad face.”

Finally, after nearly 400 miles in the saddle (100 more than we’d expected), and enough rain to reconstitute a sheepskin into a living, breathing sheep, we rolled into here—Austin’s Chuck Wagon, General Store, Bakery, Deli…

Motel…

Cabins…

and showers…

But mostly motel.

Which, if you don’t mind me pointing out, has a faintly scatalogical logo (it was really an incredibly clean and friendly place…why have branding that makes it look like a neon dump?)

Since it was 50 degrees and still raining, Jonah needed some head cover other than his space helmet. So he opted for a Utah Route 12 cap in KTM Orange. A little matchy-match, but I guess he’s a brand-loyalist.

When you’re travelling by motorbike and arrive at your destination after 400 miles in the soaking saddle, de-helmet, unsnap, unzip, de-Velcro and peel yourself out of your waterlogged riding kit, and take a hot decompression shower, the last thing you want to do is get back on the bike in search of dinner. I’d sooner eat sugar packets from the in-room coffee service.

So we donned civvies, reacquainted ourselves with gravity, and hoofed it up the road to the Capitol Reef Cafe.

One thing you can say about the menu art—it’s honest.

Not the greatest dining optics; half the restaurant opens up to a gift shop filled with bad earth-toned sweatshirts, dream catchers, and “tribal motif” tchotchkes.  But the chow was fresh and delicious. Look, Liebe! Like Dr. Steve Brule says, “For your colon health!”

After dining with Southey, Travis & Dusty, we shuffled back to Austin’s in the wind and rain, made sure our spacecraft were securely tethered to Austin’s hitching post, rolled out our spacefoil motel bedrolls, reflected on the day’s ride by the light of our handheld electric campfires, shared shots of Bulleit from a gravity-resistant Nalgene travel flask, and fell into a saddle-sore, deep-space Planet Utah sleep.

Little did we know that we’d wake up to Goblins, moonscapes, a red clay planet, and something other than dawn breaking…

Next up, Planet Utah, Stage Two.

Sunday, Mass

Well, the riding planets aligned on Sunday. Liebe and the kids were either occupied or dispersed—one in NJ for soccer, another at home studying for finals, and the third—my son—in bed with laptop, recovering from an acute case of the Senior Prom…

So combined with a perfect June day, it was the perfect excuse to go riding.

But first, some human-powered two-wheeling to get the blood flowing (and earn a moto-trip without spousal reproach for not exercising). 22 gorgeous miles into Easton, CT. (And I’m grateful for the motivation, Liebe…)

Then, I suited up in my other riding kit, and headed out.  I rolled up the Merritt Parkway to Route 8, then straight (actually curvy) up through the Connecticut River Valley, past Ansonia and Naugatuck, past the urban-knot of Waterbury, then up through Thomaston, Harwinton, Torrington, and Winsted, until Route. 8 becomes Colebrook River Road, and you glide into The Commonwealth of Massachusetts. 

Hey, it’s Sunday. Your supposed to go to Mass. 

A delicious, uneventful, early summer ride, logging about 175 miles. A few observations:

1) Great CT weather attracts riders like moths to a flame. There were literally dozens of other riders out, although I’d estimate that three-quarters of them were on Harleys (or their ersatz Japanese counterparts.)  I saw only one DP bike and maybe one or two ADV bikes. 

2) At least half the riders I passed (or rode behind) wore no helmet (way to go, Connecticut!), no gloves, and no jacket. Usually just a t-shirt, sunglasses, and hiking boots or sneakers. In two instances, I saw guys smoking cigars at speed. 

3) The other half of riders that did sport some semblance of riding gear usually had the pirate thing going on—black leather jacket or vest, bandana, and a cereal-bowl-sized half helmet covering their kepis.These must be highly effective at protecting the integrity of the top third of your skull while the rest of your head gets cheese-grated by the pavement.

4) In (gross) contrast, I must’ve looked like a cross between a spaceman and Señor Safety: fully armored jacket and pants, full-face helmet; armored riding gloves, MX boots (I’m breaking in a new pair of for a trip to Utah in July), plus a Leatt neck brace. I got this for our Utah trip as well, and wanted to get used to riding with it. It’s a little snug in the chest area over my jacket, but within 5 minutes, I completely forgot I had it on. 

5) The Ténéré seat is good, and even better with an Alaska Sheepskin. But I do think I’ll have to undertake seat-leveling surgery; even though it’s mild, I don’t like the way the seat slopes towards the tank, enouraging nut-crushage. It gets progressively more annoying the more miles you ride (and good thing I already have kids).

6) I was really ambivalent about adding Bluetooth to my helmet, because I didn’t want riding to become another over-connected, iPhone-tethered techno event. But now I absolutely LOVE it. It’s great being able to listen to music on the move. I’ve decided that early rocksteady like Delroy Wilson or Derrick Morgan is the perfect soundtrack for putting you in a riding mood…

Straight-up jazz is also a great riding companions. Nothing like charging up Colebrook River Road to Coltrane.

7) I frigging ❤️ my Ténéré. It’s comfortable, stable and so so solid. Superb on the highway. Even better secondary roads. Low center of gravity and sane seat height make it so easy to maneuver around gas pumps and subway sandwich shops. 

8) The “Northwest Corner” of CT (as it’s called) is a mixed bag. Beautiful, lush Litchfield hills, but beat-up old mill towns with empty storefronts (or weird/sad retail like wig shops, thrift stores, or smoke shops).

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9) Nevertheless, riding through New England in summertime may be my single favorite thing to do on this lush green earth. Until I go to Utah…