On The (Dirt) Road
Memorial Day weekend had arrived, the unofficial opening of summer pools sunburn and barbecues hit the road in the family sedan load up the supplies roughing it in the woods show the kids how it used to be when men were men and women knew their place in this world (just kidding honey) and let's hit the road and go somewhere sleep under the stars burn meat over an open fire. Hordes of middle-aged drivers kids in back seat converging on parks and forests to love the good life under the trees for three days with no thought of boss or job except I sure dread going back why is there so much traffic and we'll get there when we get there stop asking me. Don't make me turn this car around!
There amidst the waves of sedans and pickup trucks and Winnebagos there appear the Others, zooming by on two wheels on the same quest but feeling somehow above it all. No camper trailers and Coleman coolers for them just a bedroll and a tent and a hip flask full of liquid gold. Nowhere to go and all the time in the world to get there, the trip is the thing the reason for being on the road who cares where we end up we just need to go and we'll know where we're heading when we get there.
The unwashed, unshaven riding along on their motorbikes burning up unsustainable gasoline for no good reason other than the thrill of skimming along inches above the road at certain death speed four inch patch of rubber leading another six inch patch separating exhilaration from catastrophe. Such were the heroes of our story.
Tom and I left my house a little before 2:00 PM on Friday, heading for no place in particular. We had been planning this trip for a couple of months, and the more we planned the less we planned. We had started out with the idea of heading to the Four Corners area, then decided to shoot for somewhere a little closer, since we wanted to ride as much dirt road as possible, and that slows you down, considerably.
Eventually, we decided to just head over the Continental Divide, and ride until we needed to head back. Most people were confused when they would ask us where we were going, and we would just say, "West."
One thing that we did have to plan was where to cross the Continental Divide. We really wanted to go across on an unpaved pass, but we were unsure if the jeep roads would be clear of snow, yet. Late May and early June are the just the beginning of Spring, at that altitude. The final plan was to head for Jefferson, and cross the divide on Georgia Pass and head into Breckinridge. Since we were leaving later than we wanted to (Tom had to work a partial day), we knew that we would end up camping, the first night, on the east side of the divide.
From the house, we headed out of town to Deckers, then turned west. Not long after we had passed Deckers, we swung off onto a dirt road which led through the Hayman Burn area.
The road surface consisted of decayed granite, and the effect was that of riding on marbles. I had often wondered why the Scrambler riders on the net, who actually ride off-road, refer to the stock Bridgestone Trailwing tires as "Deathwings". I think I understand, now...
Burn areas are an odd thing. While it seems like terrible devastation, I know that periodic fires are the secret to the forest renewing itself. The only tragedy is how it affects us, and our desire to control our environment.
But, lack of tall trees does make for some impressive scenery:
Tom was my guide and my "rabbit" on the trip. He has ridden this area for years, and he is quite comfortable blasting down the dirt road on his XR-650 at speeds way beyond what I would consider if I wasn't following him. (This is not to say that I rode his speed and kept up with him, only that I forced myself to improve my skills in an effort to keep him in sight!)
Tom's XR is definitely a much more dirt-oriented bike than the Scrambler. At one point, we were talking about the modifications I have made to improve the off-road capabilities, and the mods I will be making in the future, and talk turned to suspension.
"I don't know if I should put another $1500 into this bike, to make it more of a dirt bike, or if I should just spend $1500 on a damn dirt bike..." I said.
In reality, if I had a dirt bike, I would probably never ride it. My fascination with riding off-road has less to do with the ride than it does with making the Scrambler live up to it's styling. I think that the shortcomings of the bike are what makes it so much fun.
Jefferson is only about 65 miles from my house, if you head straight up 285, over Kenosha Pass. The route we took ended up being 119 miles from my house to the gas station in Jefferson. Despite the fact that I was steering around the turns by spinning the rear tire, and rarely got out of 4th gear on the gravel, the Scrambler returned 62.5 mpg!
Along the way, we stopped at a back country saloon for dinner. Any place with two dogs wandering around the bar, an old cowboy telling stories of the 650 Bonnie he had in the 1960s, and guys playing really bad 8-ball on the coin-op pool table is all right by me.
After we filled up with gas, Tom led the way up Michigan Creek Road. Fifty miles per hour on an actual dirt (not gravel) road was fun, except for when the setting sun periodically got in my eyes and completely blinded me. We headed up the hill on a road which got rougher as we climbed, then turned off to the right into a camping area. After a bit of pretty exciting trail riding, including going down and then back up a short steep climb which made my heart race, in both directions, we found a nice camp spot just up the hill from the creek.
A previous camper apparently had a gun battle going with someone:
By the time it was dark, the clock was showing 9:00 PM, and we both decided it was time to hit the rack. So, Tom jumped into his hammock, and I crawled into the tent. Day One of the trip was over.
NEXT: Why Did We Camp So Damn High Up?