What ever made me think THAT Goldwing was getting up THAT hill?
Tempus fugit brothers and sisters (again kids, that's pronounced 'few-git'). Another Sturgis rally has come and gone marking the speedy progression of another season and another approaching winter. This is the time of year when the shop begins to wind down and all good little marketing geeks start winding up for our annual print literature. Yeah, Time Flies.
After two weeks separation from the trio of Chuck-lettes, I was more than ready to watch the sunrise in the rear views and head west post haste. Sure it meant a return to the office, but we were also coming to the grand finale! As usual, Chance and Mike rode out to Sturgis together and there would be a motley assortment of us joining them for the ride home. In a word, "YeeHaa!" This year the journey began with seven of us, but that's a story for another day.
The consensus was clear, all involved wanted to beat feet and make the trip in two days instead of three. Mike wisely cautioned that it would involve consecutive 800-mile days. Sufficiently lubricated by a visit from our pal Jack Daniel compounded with a week of tomfoolery and we (perhaps UN-wisely) concurred, "That's a fine idea!"
Now friends, there is something you should know about Mike Corbin... He is possessed of an indomitable spirit and a relentless approach to everything he does. It is this very trait that has kept unemployable hacks, like yer pal Chuck, gainfully employed lo' these many years. Knowing this trait is one thing, knowing the depth of this behavior is something we're still discovering. Yet, I digress.
O'dark-thirty, Sunday morning and storming at every point of the compass... Time to hit the road. Some of you may scoff at a "meager 800 miles", but consider we spend virtually ZERO time on interstates. Everything is back roads and "interesting" bits of two-lane. This takes a bit longer and makes the ETA at our yet-to-be-determined overnight spot around 7:00pm.
Most of the morning is uneventful despite the inhospitable weather. At our first fuel stop, one of the boys belatedly discovers he does indeed have a heated seat. Most of us feel this is information that would have served him well over the prior 98 miles and proceed to inflict a brutal round of jests at his expense. Baa-Hah! Bruised ego or not, the tush heater made the rest of the wee hours more enjoyable for said Corbinite. At this point I feel compelled to insert a shameless plug for a great Corbin idea, Heated Seats Rock! (Trust me on this.)
Another important discovery: one of the bikes only has a range of 90 miles before it does an impersonation of a paperweight. Note to self: Fuel Starvation- bad. Progress is impeded, but a one-gallon gas can in each saddlebag solves the problem handily. Several obscene fuel charges on the Amex later and we've left the wet weather behind and are winding our way across Wyoming. This particular area is surely destined to become a national park of some sort as it boasts the single largest collection of roadkill in the Western US.
A word to the wise for potential travelers of Wyoming: You can't throw a dead cat without skipping it over a flat-jacks or road-jerky. The ex-critter population was preposterous. One can't imagine there are so many suicidal varmints in the world, so logic dictates they didn't do this to themselves. With that in mind, smart folks like you will keep your eyes open and stay aware. Alright?
In lieu of a proper epitaph, I offer this short sidebar for a hawk that passed into the light rather abruptly under the wheels of the FJR. To the bike's credit, the cushy suspension of the big FJ ate up the spontaneous speed bump without so much as an arse wiggle. This was good news for Chuck and bad news for Tweety (not to mention a testament to the skill of the engineers that designed the suspension). All jest aside, if there was something I could have done to avoid it, I would have... I swear.
The miles go rolling by as the clocks on the speedo's mark their uneventful passage. From wide-open stretches to winding canyon roads we roll through beautiful weather and ever closer to the Utah border. As always, Mike personally takes the helm and chooses our course. Having Mike in charge of operating the map is tradition. We do this not in deference to his position (although he IS our boss) but because of his knack for finding great roads. Besides, he's got a GPS!The Plot Thickens:
We spend the day traversing some fine ribbons of asphalt and eventually cross into Utah. Traveling southwest along the Wasatch mountain range (I think), we change highways a couple times and find ourselves running on decreasingly smaller roads. By the time we're heading due west again and climbing the mountain, roughly 14 hours have elapsed and it's close to 7pm. Sporadic morsels of nourishment consumed along the way are wearing thin and we're all ready for some grub and a wee toddy to wash it down.
Trying to remain sharp (relatively speaking of course), the brain can't help but wander a bit. With visions of charbroiled beefsteaks dancing in my head it takes a moment to register the text on the road sign that just zing'd past. Quickly spinning around for a double-take, as if I'll be able to magically read it from the back, I would swear it said, Pavement ends 11 miles. "Well now," says I "This is going to get interesting."
Judging by this road's size and state of disrepair, I don't reckon we'll be turning off onto a larger byway until we reach the other side of this here mountain. Well, a little bit of road construction couldn't be too bothersome... Probably just slow things down a bit. Given the current lack of focus that's not necessarily all bad either. Sure enough, eleven miles on the dot and that convenient blacktop is gone and we're one layer closer to Mother Earth.
I'm sure you've all spent time on decomposed granite before and it's really not the worst thing in the world. In fact, it's a damn sight better than some construction materials we've unwillingly navigated in prior years. Just be smooth on the gas, keep your hands off the front brake, don't fight with the bike and everything's coolio presuming you maintain a mellow pace.
A gradual degradation of the surface over the last eleven miles and this road has really become quite a turd. In hindsight it's easy to pinpoint the exact spot where it slid from "kind of crappy" to "downright dog feces" but at the time it was all just crappy road. As a result we just kept going and going and going like masochistic Energizer Bunnies. Mike was in the lead and seemed to have the Goldwing well in hand. Behind him came Tom, Erik, Bricker and Donnie who are all trying to coax heavy cruisers through mud bogs and over what appear to be jumps (no kidding). In the rear, Chance and myself take up a sweep position. Chance because of his skill and experience, me because I can lift heavy objects should they flop over.
Every time I see Erik slide the Roadking sideways out of the mud, or watch Don bounced literally out of the seat of his Bagger, I consider the jibes I plan on hurling at our beloved CEO when we get through this. You may have noticed, Chuck is rarely without an opinion. Even in complete ignorance, I will quickly grow an opinion and feel compelled to share it with others. In the Queen's English I believe the word for this type of person is "Lout".
Well, given the last three or four miles of Daniel Boone trails that we've dealt with and you can bet there's an opinion. Likewise, I could likely be coaxed into sharing it. A few more whoop-de-do's later, another mud bog and our scout pulls up to a stop with the rest of us filing in behind him. Before the helmet's even off, a map is sprawled over the fuel tank and he's punching buttons on the GPS.
Now I'll admit that I may not always be the most colorful cherry on the sundae, but I do have enough self-preservation instinct to see that leaving this one alone may be prudent. At least for now. After all, wasn't it Confucius who wrote: "Man who poke sleeping bear draw back bloody stump"?
So instead I seize the opportunity to burn a Marlboro (filthy habit) and attempt to make some of the other guys nervous. Although preoccupied with the maps, Mike proves to be very adept at this and adds, "If we have to spend the night up here we can stack against each other like logs for heat and circle the bikes around us to keep the bears out."
Tom adds, "Yeah dad, but don't they have mountain lions up here? I'll bet those could come right over the bikes."
"...and don't try spooning with me Chance!" I chime in.
This is all met with much laughter (of the genuine and nervous variety). As Tom and Mike confer over the map and GPS we mostly just mill about and discuss the recent excursion. Someone is selling the idea of turning back so we can find pavement before it gets dark. At this point I know beyond doubt there's no way Mike would backtrack down the hill. This epitomizes the drive that has helped him to create the company and pretty much guarantees that we'll be heading west regardless of rain, sleet, snow or dark of night.
Hang In There:
Head west we do (in theory anyway) over hill, over dale and slogging through areas not meant for streetbikes. It makes me wish for some of the magic tires they had in Mission Impossible 2. If you missed this movie (no great loss) there are scenes where a Triumph ridden by Tom Cruise's stunt double magically grows knobbies on demand. Then just as magically it transforms back into a street tire. We weren't supposed to notice this, of course, but I'll tell you something; if you invent them I'll be your first investor.
Strung out along the trail so we don't run each other over should someone drop their bike, we come to a grinding halt. Up ahead through the trees we can see the rear end of the Goldwing still upright but not moving forward. At a closer bend in the train I can see Tom on the Stratoliner dip down and out of view and pop back up just a little further along. Then he too stops. After a brief pause, Chance and I dismount and go ahead on foot to investigate.
A CREEK CROSSING?!
Oh, this is getting rich! Alright, let's see what's up with the Chief. On the other side of the creek Mike is about 15 feet up what I can only describe as a Hill Climb. Rough torn up hard-pack with boulders jutting from it, rises at a rate of about 30 degrees. This would be easy pickin's for an XR400, but it seems that we're all fresh out of dirt bikes at the moment. The fact that the 800+ pound Goldwing has made it to this impasse is really quite remarkable and says a lot for Mike's ability to handle the bike. Regardless, the odd aroma wafting from the clutch basket tells us everything we need to know... at least one bike in this group isn't going THAT way.
Turning the bike around on the hill takes four of us: Mike, Chance, Don and myself. Since the trail is only as wide as the bike is long, things get really cute when it reaches the 90-degree point and we have to run the wheels off the side. Standing on the downhill side, one of my jobs (other than pushing and pulling) is to make sure the bike doesn't flop over this way. Given that it will land on me if it tips, I'm fully confident I'm up to this task. Ten or fifteen minutes of this and we're all back on the starting side of the creek and heading off to find the turn we obviously missed. Fortunately for us, the clutch in the ‘Wing still seems to work now that it's cooled down. Things could be worse.
Heading the opposite direction we come across three "rustic" gentlemen in a 4x4 and ask them if they know how to get out of here to the west. "Hell no! We're trying to find highway 31."
"Safe bet it's not back that way. In fact, you'll probably want to back up while you still can and find a place to turn around."
And off they go completely ignoring our advice. Thinking it best we put some distance between us (so we don't have to help them turn the truck around) we make tracks. A few miles going back through the same slop we just traversed and we discover a turn off to our right. Hidden by some brush a post tells us that we are just leaving a Blue trail suitable for quads and dirtbikes. Unfortunately there is no indication of what we are about to enter nor where it will eventually lead. This one is facing due west (finally), so the choice is clear.
Finally The End:
Darkness falls and our current trail is notably lacking water crossings and jumps... that's a good sign in my book. Although it is still a far cry from pavement, a much smoother surface that resembles a road gradually takes shape between the boulders and potholes. We're still climbing and headed roughly west as we continue for another ten miles. At the top of the hill we actually encounter another vehicle (albeit a four wheel drive one), but more importantly... A ROAD SIGN!
Sure, it's dark and there's no pavement but at least we made the summit and found the road again. Victory is short lived as the eye picks up another road sign: Road Construction Ahead. That one is followed by: Steep Grade and Prepare to Stop, then Slow Curves, Loose Gravel and Deer Crossing. Did you ever feel like you were having one of those days?
The next eleven miles are measured off by a string of downhill, 15mph switchbacks swathed in loose gravel. Sixteen hours in the saddle and now we're crawling down the hill at a snail's pace. Despite the fatigue, all daydreams of a fat steak and a tall drink are set aside for matters of greater import (not crashing). Each switchback is met with a stream of profanity that reaches no ears except my own... full face helmets are good like that.
Eventually we find pavement again and come down off the mountain, landing on the southern side of Ephraim, UT. Since we ended up in a residential district, tooling around yeilds no clue as to which direction we should go. Fingers crossed for luck we pick a direction at random... the wrong one. At least this leads us back to an honest-to-goodness highway and just a few more miles down the road we stop in Manti. At the first available fuel station we're informed that the only food souce open this time of the night is the very gas station at which we're standing.
"Oh, and by the way, if you're looking for a place to say, you're best bet is to get back on the highway and head north to Ephraim."
"Great. Just freakin great."
Finally we come to the anti-climactic ending of this too-long tale. The seven of us head north in search of lodging and (dare we dream) some chow. 824 miles and a little over seventeen hours have passed since the day began. Although everyone is weary, there is little doubt that each of us have sufficient reserves to take verbal jabs at Mike's pathfinding skills. Some of us *ahem* have actually been holding onto a few for awhile now.
As we dismount in the motel parking lot, the team seems a bit sluggish. Mike, nearly always ahead of the game, is the first to park and get his helmet off. Before the rest of us can light him up with a few witty remarks, he exclaims, "What ever made me think THAT Goldwing was getting up THAT hill?"
But you knew that part already.
Hey, I warned you it was a boring story.C-ya,