Every year a loose-knit group of Ural sidecar riders heads out to Moab, Utah in the Spring to ride trails and tell lies. Having been to Moab many, many times on two wheels and four, I'd never joined the group before. This year I decided to succumb to the temptation and ride out.
The morning of 21 April 2013 was crisp and a bit on the cold side, but sunny just the same. My heated jacket, gloves, and even socks were plugged in and doing their thing nicely when I arrived in Idaho Springs, Colorado at 8am. I live about 20 miles north of this old mining and hot springs town which straddles Interstate 70 about 20 miles west of Denver.
Our group had agreed to meet at this convenient location to begin our group ride to Moab. John Spatafora and his wife Cookie; Darrell Spitzer, his wife Piper and their son Licari; Tim Laughlin and I met up; fueled up; and ate-up at the McDonald's restaurant on the east end of town.
Here's the ride map for today. Approximately 325 miles.
John (Known as Spat) was riding his white Ural Patrol. Cookie drove the truck pulling the trailer with their two Suzuki dual sport bikes on it. Darrel rode his Patrol while Piper rode hers; Licari was riding shotgun in the cushy sidecar. Tim was riding his Patrol and I my Gear Up.
The climb up to the Eisenhower tunnel is steep and long. The tunnel is up at over 11,100 feet. Our Urals, sporting only about 40 h.p. each, were slogging up the road in the right-hand lane, accompanying the tractor trailers in the slow march to the summit.
Passing through the tunnel is always a demarcation point for me. From this point you are really in the Rocky Mountains. And as every motorcycle rider knows, the best roads are never the Interstate Highway, the best roads are small, forgotten back roads. I-70 for the next 125 miles is the exception to that rule. Even though the Urals are comparatively slow, the traffic is manageable and I-70 winds its way through some really spectacular scenery.
We were in for a bit of a shock as we were spit out of the west end of the tunnel. Although the sky was still sunny, the wind, mixed with what looked like a healthy snowfall from the previous night, conspired to make the steep 10 mile ride down the west side of the divide quite exciting.
The road was covered in deep slush. It didn't take more than a mile for me to regret not stopping to put on my rain gear. Myself and my bike were coated in a quarter inch of rime ice by the time I got to the bottom. The steep descent had us wending our way around tractor trailers which threw up nice big waves of wet slush. I must say this was not the way I wanted to start a week's worth of riding.
|Spat and Cookie discussing the conditions after they safely made it down the west side of the Continental Divide near Frisco, Colorado (Photo Tim Laughlin)|
Luckily, the conditions improved substantially and my spirit lifted equally. We endured one more steep climb as we chugged past Copper Mountain Ski Area at 9,712' and up to the summit of Vail Pass at about 10,600'. The west side of Vail Pass is even steeper than the west side of the divide, but now we had a much drier road.
From this point until we reached Glenwood Canyon, it was smooth sailing. Interstate 70 through Glenwood Canyon is one of the great road engineering feats in our state. This section of the Interstate was the last piece to be finished. Due to engineering problems and environmental constraints it wasn't finished until 1992.
The canyon opens up again at Glenwood Springs. Glenwood Springs is best known for its multiple naturally fed hot springs pools. The picturesque town has many building dating back 100 years or more and also has some interesting spelunking opportunities.
We continued on. The Interstate lives up to its more mundane reputation the further west we ride. Additionally, a bit of a head wind has me working hard to keep up with the group. I recently fabricated a mountain bike carrier for my rig. It seems that the added air drag of the bike is noticeable.
We rode the interstate most of the way. At Fruita, Colorado, best known to me as a mountain biking gateway and basically the last inhabited stop on I-70 in Colorado, we bailed and took old U.S. 6 across the border into Utah. U.S. 6 used to be the main east-west road across Colorado until the interstate highway was completed. Now the sections that are left mostly serve as local access along the interstate corridor.
The condition of the road clearly shows its status. West of Fruita just a few miles the road is these days used only for local ranch access. Consequently, I don't think they put too much money into maintaining it. Without gross exaggeration the road is more patch than original surface!
We took old U.S. 6 to it's terminus and dodged under I-70 to join up with the paved road that heads south and west toward the popular whitewater rafting put-in at Westwater. Just shy of Westwater we dove off the tarmac and onto the dual-track dirt road that is part of the Kokopelli Trail system. We followed that about 20 miles or so weaving up and down the undulations and washes.
Kokopelli's Trail dumped us out near Cisco, Utah. Cisco is essentially a ghost town. There are some signs of life, but not the kind of life I'd like to live. Cisco does have a claim to fame however. It served as one of the filming locations for 1991's Thelma and Louise.
Just west of Cisco a few miles Utah Route 128 starts to head south and west as it wends its way down to the Colorado River where the two cross at Dewey Bridge. Dewey Bridge was once the longest suspension bridge in Utah. Sadly, its listing on the National Register of Historic Places couldn't save it from a child playing with matches at the nearby campground. The bridge's wooden planking burned in 2008. Today, only the suspension cables and girders remain.
We continued down the winding and increasingly picturesque river road for about another 30 miles until it abruptly ends at an intersection with U.S. Route 191 at the northern end of Moab. Route 128 is a road that one must see in person to appreciate. I can't recommend it enough.
Our accommodations awaited us at the Archview Resort about 9 miles north of Moab on U.S. 191. Although the term Resort is a little bit of a stretch for Archview, it is clean and friendly and is situated perfectly for easy access to some excellent trail riding, not to mention Arches and Canyonlands National Parks. Like not-too-distant Cisco, Archview also has a Hollywood connection. Many scenes from the 1997 film Breakdown were filmed at the resort and on the surrounding highways. The resorts convenience store has an ample supply of memorabilia from the shoot.
Being fat and lazy these days, I bunked in one of their cabins. Our group had all four cabins in a row and this spot became "expedition central."
The cabins were comfortable. They had bunk beds; cooling and heating; and a little cube refrigerator All the comforts of home.
The First Day's Ride
Monday morning was our first riding day. Dana Williams (a.k.a Dirty DR) knew some folks in a large group of Honda CT-90/CT-110 riders. That morning eleven Urals in a row wound their way up Utah Route 313 to meet up with the CT'ers at their camp site off of Dubinky Well Road.
Those CT's are cool little bikes. They have a dual range gear box that allows them to climb like a mountain goat. The CT'ers joined us for the first part of our ride to Long Canyon.
The ride down long Canyon really begins in a narrow, steep notch in the edge of the mesa. The photos don't do justice, this was pretty freakin' steep. Everyone made it down fine however. Here's Randy Fritch, our local Colorado Ural Dealer leading a group down the slope.
At the first convenient view point we took a break.
I had to get at least one shot of the group with the banner I made.
From there we continued all the way back down to the Colorado River a few thousand feet below. This brought us out onto the appropriately named Potash Road. This paved road on the river's northern bank leads a parade of trucks up to the Potash plant a few miles up the road. We continued along and made another rest stop at the boat ramp that sits right below the start of the Shafer Trail.
The Shafer Trail winds it's way back up from the river at about 4,000' then passes into Canyonlands National Park and on up to the plateau high above at about 6,000'. The last 1,000 feet or so are done on some spectacular switchbacks.
For the most part, it's not difficult except for a few rough patches that include stepping the bike up and over some rock humps. Although a bit hair-raising, everyone made it over the difficulties presented. There are spectacular views and rock fortresses as far as the eye can see.
We stopped at yet another river overlook to allow the group to consolidate once more. These two veteran riders (Dana Williams and Dave Hooker) were our guides, mentors, and inspiration for the duration of this week.
|Dave "Mr Cob" Hooker and Dana "Dirty DR" Williams having another spirited debate.|
On the final stretch of the Shaffer Trail is where things got interesting for me. I've been up these switchbacks on both motorbike and mountain bike before, but they take on a whole new level of difficulty in the hack
|The scene of the crime|
These photos don't do justice for the switchbacks. They are steep and off-camber in the right-hand turns. Add to that the fact that the Ural is no power house. A rider has to keep up the speed to make it up the climbing curve. Too slow and there's not enough oomph to make it. Too fast and the side car reaches for the sky. In this photo, the lower switchback proved to best my skill. I came around too fast and the hack flew. Chopping the throttle did nothing and I headed off straight into the rock wall at the just past the apex of the curve.
I wound up with my rig sitting on its side stuck into the drainage ditch at the base of the cliff. Luckily I wasn't hurt. My head speared the rock wall, but I was wearing a helmet. Perhaps to save me some disgrace, no one took any photos of my rig until we got it back onto the rubber.
|I look like I'm laughing it off in this photo. In reality, I'm gasping for breath.|
Getting the bike out of the ditch proved more difficult. The first attempt was successful. I used 2wd and she tractored right out. Stupidly however, I left it in 2wd as I tried to pull forward and to the right so that I was parallel to the road. Instead, the Ural's desire to go only in a straight line when in 2wd put my front wheel back into the ditch!
We Ural riders pride ourselves not only on being able to get stuck in the middle of nowhere, but being equally adept at self-extricating. Dave Hooker's rig has an electric winch installed on it. Too bad he was already up the road while all this was happening. More than one of the riders today were carrying a Maasdam rope puller. However, at the most convenient moment. . .
. . .a benevolent Jeeper arrived on the scene. He was probably very happy to get the chance to use his winch. I was out post haste.
We Ural riders will never be able to boast about speed or power, but we can rely on Soviet over-building. You're hard pressed to find any plastic on a Ural. It was designed in the 1940's and still uses mostly 1940's materials. In fact, you can pick up the bike by the front fender. Luckily for me the Ural's massive steel front fender and grab bar met the rock face first and took the brunt of the impact.
The front fender and grab bar are both quite out of kilter. It was difficult to tell by just looking, but once I jumped back on the bike, she was ride-able!
|Takes a lickin' and keeps on tickin'|
|I left my mark on Moab!|
The bike handled fine on the rest of the ride out of the canyon. As soon as I hit pavement however, it was obvious that my front wheel was bent. It was a slow, ignominious ride back to the campground at 30 mph. That afternoon, I pondered what to do.
A stroke of luck hit me on that evening. I rode monkey with Tim Laughlin back into Moab for dinner. One of Moab's signature joints is Eddie McStiff's on the main drag. Tim and I were relaxing at an outside table when we heard the unmistakable whine/rattle of a Ural motor approaching. We were confused when we saw someone pulling into the parking lot on an old 1990's model Ural Deco. None in our group was riding such a beast.
The rider turned out to be Michael Hallberg, a recent Florida transplant and now Moab local. It really is a small world sometimes. Mike is a really eclectic guy doing everything from graphic design, to photography, to writing computer apps. He'd come to Eddie McStiffs to work on entree' photos for their new menu.
As we conversed and I disclosed my front wheel woes, Mike, through the powers of facebook tried to put me in contact with Chris Brunner, his trusted Ural mechanic and friend in Moab. Talk about luck! Amazingly, later that evening Chris took an unsolicited ride out to Archview to seek out our group and I made arrangements with him to see if he could straighten out my front wheel at his shop the next morning.
Tuesday morning I drove Dana Williams' road sofa, the Buick Road Master dinosaur into Moab to visit Chris' shop. Chris has an interesting past, spending his late youth in Germany gaining experience and taking advantage of a formal training and apprenticeship program. He's a master mechanic.
We discovered while examining by egg-shaped front wheel that the impact had actually broken the wheel bub at the place where one of the spokes mounts. This put an immediate end to the idea of straightening the wheel.
However, my luck had not run out. As soon as the damage to my front wheel was known back at camp the day before, Darrell Spitzer stepped up and volunteered the use of his spare front Ural wheel to me. In fact, Darrel remarked later that he'd been carrying that spare front wheel around for a couple of years hoping to get a chance to use it.
Thanks to Darrell's largess, Chris was able to simply swap my front tire onto Darrell's wheel and I was back in business! Thanks Darrell! I drove the road sofa back to the campground with a huge weight lifted off my shoulders. I'd be able to keep riding.
I didn't mention, but Randy Fritch, our local Colorado Ural dealer, had already agreed to make room in his trailer for my bike if it proved unrideable. He was willing to take it straight back to his shop in Colorado. How's that for more incredible luck? I'm happy I didn't need to take him up on the offer.
I returned to the camp ground, mounted the replacement front wheel and spent some time going over the bike to ensure that nothing was amiss.
That evening we all relaxed around the camp fire and swapped riding stories.
Sand Flats and La Sal Loop
The next group ride that I joined, we headed up Sand Flats road, past the famous Slickrock cycle trail and headed up to the base of the still snow covered La Sal Peaks.
|On Sand Flats road, just past the Slick Rock trail|
Along the way, I was bitten in the butt by another minor mistake. When I had installed my motor sump guard a week or so earlier, I'd never re-tightened the bolts that hold the in-board muffler to the bike. A day's ridding on trails and rocks loosened it up and set it free as I was riding this fairly smooth trail. A quick 10 minute pit stop and it was back in place.
The group stopped for a lunch break at a beautiful spot right on the sheer edge of the mesa. I'm not certain if this is still technically part of the Porcupine Rim, but it looks down into the bottom of Castle Valley a few thousand feet below. An awesome place to stop and a good excuse for many more photos.
|Here's Darrell Spitzer grinning the Ural grin.|
|What a great back drop|
|No stop is complete without a good bull session.|
Here's Walt and his wife (I'm so bad with names!). He's got a uniquely modified Patrol with lots of hand crafted do-dads. That's an Aprilia sport bike muffler grafted on there.
After the lunch break it was a wonderful ride up to the La Sal Loop Road and down into Castle Valley. It was interesting to note that only a few meters from where we broke for lunch, Kokopelli's Trail intersected our dirt road. At this point Kokopelli's Trail is a single track mountain bike/hiking trail. It's amazing to ponder the endurance necessary for riding it from it's origins all the way back in Colorado, up through these mountains and down into Moab. Awesome.
We continued higher until we intersected the paved Mountain Loop Road that skirted the still snow covered lower slopes of the La Sal peaks. It actually got pretty chilly way up there. The road is narrow and curvy and takes you from green alpine forest back down into arid Castle Valley.
We eventually met the Colorado River again as we merged onto Route 128. We took one last break at one of the boat ramps along the river then broke up into ones and twos and everyone went their own way for the rest of the day.
Arches National Park
Of course, no trip to Moab is complete unless a few more arch photos are added to the collection.
The next day (Thursday, I think) I took off into town to get my front tire balanced and then I rode into Arches National Park to revisit some of the places I'd been to in years past. It was basically a nice slow day with a leisurely ride into the park and a little hiking to grab some snap shots.
|I think this is Turret Arch.|
|North and South Window Arches|
Views of South Window Arch and the La Sal mountains in the distance.
OK, that's enough of Arches National Park. I headed back to the campground. This evening we had a group barbecue. A good time was had by all. Too good for me, I got no pics!
Willow Springs Trail
Friday morning I did my last ride with the group. We headed into Arches National Park again, but this time using the Willow Springs Trail to enter through the undeveloped portion of the park. This proved to be an excellent ride. One minute on deep sandy track, the next minute on a bone jarring rock trail ripped out of the ground by some sort of giant scraper as far as I could tell.
|Here's Ernie and Sandy from down El Paso, Texas way.|
|Richard and Cynthia, who live in Grand Junction, Colorado.|
Another obligatory group shot
|Left to right: Ernie; Sandy; Tim; Licari;Piper; Dan; Spat; Cookie; Darrell; Dana; Cynthia; Richard; Dave|
This is as close as we got to the developed part of Arches. That's the well known Balanced Rock formation.
From there we doubled-back a little and headed up a seriously fun, deep, sandy trail that challenged our abilities a bit. I didn't get any photos of that section (I know someone did. Where are they?) Some sections were very narrow, deep sand, hairpin curves where the bike's wheels were riding on one wall and the hack's wheel on the other. Priceless! This brought us out to the Eye of the Whale arch. I wasn't impressed with that one.
|On the way back, I sit contemplating the landscape.|
We stopped for a break at a section that had dinosaur tracks in the horizontal sandstone. They didn't look much more than nondescript indentations in the rock's surface to me, but who am I to judge?
|It looks like Spat and Cookie are deep into cow pie contemplation.|
Here's Ernie. Good guy who I bet has a lot of good stories from his days at the Cop Shop in El Paso. On the right is Sandy, Ernie's gal Sandy
Tim (left) and I shared one of the cabins at Arch View campground for the week. I think were still friends. . . Paul (right) rode his Yamaha TW200 all the way down from Laramie, Wyoming to join us for a few days. I love those fat wheeled bikes.
I sneaked a quick shot of the infamous Predator. I'd been warned not to divulge any IMWA prototype gear that might be in use.
Our last test of the day was driving up a steep deep sand trail out of low area. Gotta love that two wheel drive!
Everyone made it up the hill with seemingly little effort. Dave Hooker gave it the old college try using only single wheel drive. It took a few extra runs, but he made it up.
Dave really puts the Predator through its paces without a second thought. Just for kicks he dropped down into a dry wash on this slab. . .
Rode back out. . .
Then went back for seconds.
What a great week it was. Plenty of lie tellin' and hard ridin'
With a few minutes of introspection thrown in here-and-there.
On Friday evening we all gathered in town to dine.
|Clockwise from left: Licari; Cynthia; Paul; Dan; Mike; Darrell; Piper;|
Tim;Dana;Spat;Cookie;Ernie;Sandy; and Dave's legs.
This particular Friday evening features a procession of classic and hot rod cars parading down the main drag in Moab. There is a car show on this weekend every year. We had our Urals lined up at the curb in front of the restaurant and they garnered nearly as much attention as the loud motors and occasional burn-outs on the street.
My original plan for Saturday morning was to leave Moab and travel south, then east through Paradox Valley back into Colorado via Gateway. I stopped for gas in Moab and gave my wire, Zeng Yuan, a call. She asked me to try to be home on Saturday.
After having a week away from home while Zeng Yuan put up with more snow storms in Colorado, I could hardly argue. So my route plans changed and I basically back-tracked home via the same route that we rode out on.
For the sake of expediency I skipped the section of Kokopelli's Trail and suffered the badly patched section on Old U.S. 6 once again. The day was mild and sunny and a perfect day for a long distance ride. Too add to the pleasure, the majority of the ride was in very light traffic.
I made it home that afternoon at about 4:45p, exhausted but happy.
It was an awesome time. Thanks to everyone for the fun, camaraderie, and help when I needed it.