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Online JMo

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Re: Trans-Am 500 - the seven year itch
« Reply #30 on: September 03, 2015, 07:41:22 PM »
Day 31: TAT day 5: Clarendon AR to Russellville AR.

Mileage today 233 (TAT 216)

Today was a minor milestone, in that having crossed over I40 this morning, I have now completed all the eastern sections of the TAT that I missed in 2009 due to the appalling winter weather (instead I did the tourist thing: The Jack Daniel's Distillery Tour - excellent! / rode through the city limits of Nutbush - 25 is no longer the speed limit ;o) / and donned my blue suede shoes to walk around Graceland in Memphis - it's smaller than you'd think...)

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But, hey, I'm getting just a little ahead of myself again...


I left Mom&Pop's place in Clarendon, topping up on fuel and water at the gas station next door (the girl behind the counter was really sweet and filled my camelbak full of ice too - very welcome!), and immediately rode over a stunning bridge, followed by a raised highway above the bayou:

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photo. View from a bridge (can't take any more...) - the old middle bridge is the railroad, and behind is the new highway bridge being built. Having paused for this photo on the old road bridge, I can see why - the whole thing positively shook when the trucks thundered past!

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There followed a quick succession of arrow straight gravel and grass roads - a warm up for what was to come in Oklahoma of course - and I crossed over I40 where just north there was a series of dedicated camping sites (worth remembering, and marking in my GPS for any future trip).

On the whole the sites had been left free of litter (although I ended up collecting a few items and donating a trash bag to one site - hopefully setting a good example), but I did wonder at who left these behind - and perhaps more importantly, why?!

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My recollection from the last time I was here was a series of dirt roads through shady woodland - and sure enough the trees were still here... But there seemed to be a lot more tarmac, and where that had run out, the trails were now wide gravel roads - and moreoften the large chunky type of gravel (not the lovely smooth and fast pea-shingle from yesterday), which tended to squirm under your tyres and required constant attention to maintain your trajectory...

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photo. This was the nice fast smooth stuff, but a lot of the trails had deep chunky stones on them instead, and the resultant ruts (from large trucks and farm machinery) making things rather more sketchy to ride on...

I have to say, for the first time on this trip I was disappointed. Not that it wasn't still fun of course - I'd really got the suspension on the CB-X dialled in now, and the thing positively rails in fast conditions like this (although today was also the first day where I could really have benefitted from a steering damper being fitted) - but that my expectations of Arkansas had been so much higher...

Last time I remembered creek crossings (and one particularly wide river that I wasn't prepared to try and cross on my own, so found an alternative way around), and rough(er) dirt tracks that meandered through the forests.

Six years on and it's as if the local authorities have embarked on some huge road development and bridge-building exercise? It's still pretty, but in all honesty, you could drive your car along these trails nowadays.

I would add that I am currently only about halfway through the Arkansas leg, and it is possible that my memory is not what it was, and the best of those trails is still to come (later today I hope!)... However, I do recall one section named 'Granny Gap Road' that I'm pretty certain was much more of a trail the last time I was here... I left a TA500 sticker on a new bridge that I'm sure used to be a ford!

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photo. A sense of deja vu. I'm sure I rode though this river on my Tenere!

I have to admit I treated today very much like it was one long rally stage - and certainly now I was deeper into rural Arkansas, the trails (well, unsurfaced roads) were almost constantly interconnected - punctuated by a short stretch of tarmac and the odd oddity:

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photo. This was someone's front garden... I was speechless!

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photo. And incredulous. This is the kind of ignorance we're up against people!


I stopped off at the Dunham Gas & General Store in Scotland (really?!), and continued north and westwards though the Ozarks... It had been 93 degrees F in Beebe (at around 300ft elevation), but up here, and later in the afternoon at least, it was 105 F!

The increasing elevation and tree cover offered some respite, and I seriously considered stopping here and camping in the forest - imagine waking up with that view!

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But since I felt the onset of a migraine, elected to continue to a highway and find a motel instead...

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photo. As the evening drew in, I made like Batman (on the Batcycle ;o) and headed for the comfort of another motel...

Ultimately, it was a 15 mile ride south to Russellville (where there are any number of chain hotels, plus the all important Starbucks ;o), on some beautiful backroads - and I have to say, was an utterly enjoyable end to the day to be back on a twisty highway onboard the Honda - I am so utterly in love with this bike now I can't tell you!

Jx

Online JMo

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Re: Trans-Am 500 - the seven year itch
« Reply #31 on: September 03, 2015, 07:44:50 PM »
Day 32: TAT day 6: Russellville AR to Van Buren AR.

Mileage today: 233 (TAT 185)


Having ducked off the trail a few miles south to find a shower and a comfy bed, I was delighted to find that now I'm a little further west, Motel 6 can still be had for around $40 a night, including free wifi (almost ubiquitous amongst chain motels these days, although some Motel 6 franchises still charge you $2.99 on top...)

This was perfect excuse to get on with some admin - and when I say 'admin', I mean upload some pictures to the photobucket - but primarily to upload a triple espresso into my system courtesy of Starbucks the following morning ;o)

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photo. En route to my morning fix, I'd picked up this hitch-hiker (on the screen bracket) - in fact it's quite possible he'd stowed away since the forest the day before!

Heading back north, I just had to stop and photograph this church sign that I'd spied the evening before:

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photo. Looks like Gollum did their spelling!

Soon I was back on the 'Trail, and enjoying some higher elevation riding on a winding rough road - a welcome change after all that tyre-shredding gravel from yesterday...

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I'd got the distinct feeling that this was the section in 2009 where I'd taken an excellent side trail which had ultimately ended in a wide river crossing (and I mean river width and depth, not just a creek), so was keen to see if I could find the other side of it once I'd hit the highway again...

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photo. I also left another TA500 marker at the end of the first dirt section - there is a huge network of trails in this area, and plenty of camping too!

Sure enough, I started to get distracted by a few of those 'beautiful people' in the Ozark bar I recalled when I passed this way before...

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photo. Looks like someone wasn't quite so lucky on this side trail...

However, all this flirting made me realise that on the whole they are fickle friends, that if you're not careful, are more likely to dump you - in this case, in a river:

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photo. I can't be certain until I check my GPS track from 2009, but I'm pretty sure this is close to the point that stopped me on the other side...

And that ultimately, all this whole experience had made me nothing but feel dirty and hot and sweaty... Ok, that's enough bad metaphors now - ed.


Early afternoon I stopped at the Oark Cafe for an excellent lunch (chicken quesadillas were the special, and very tasty they were too!)

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photo. I of course left a couple of stickers on there door too, and bought one of theirs for my bike...

Then with a full belly, but only a quarter of a tank of fuel (I later realised) it was back onto the trails with aplomb and to see if I could make the Oklahoma boarder before nightfall...


Into the woods...

I have to say, if it's interesting (and by that I mean slightly more technical riding) you're after, then the TAT really picks up after the stop in Oark. That is not to say there isn't plenty of alternative routes and trails already in this region, rather the main TAT route through here is primarily on well maintained gravel roads - great for making progress on (particularly if your bike is fitted with awesome suspension ;o), but not necessarily the challenge some riders might be expecting?

Certainly I recall taking much more time coming through here last time, but now I was breezing along, under the shade of the trees, catching the occasional glimpse of the valleys below as the trail once again wound higher into the hills.

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photo. I have to say, this was a particularly excellent deviation/option from the official TAT route. I saw on the GPS screen that this trail essentially led to the same highway as the TAT, just a couple of miles further north.. so having stayed on the TAT until the end, I returned to this point on the new trail, then rode it in the opposite direction just to prove it both ways. It is certainly worthy of a TA500 sticker!


Now one thing I have learnt when riding around the USA is that when a sign says 'Road Closed' they tend to almost always mean it, for one reason or another. Of course my desire to try and stay as close the TAT as possible (an unblemished record so far this trip) meant that I to cannot confirm or deny that I went around a particular gate - but would add that it was clear that some people already had, implying this particular route was still passable, by bike at least ;o)

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photo. This really was the only reason for the sign/gates. Goodness knows how long it will be until it is repaired.

I pressed on on the official route still, and sure enough, came across a less permanent, but far more ominous sign:

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And can confirm that just a few miles further on (after the trail crosses Hurricane Creek on a concrete bridge) that at the time of writing, the TAT is officially blocked by a landslide at N35 42'395, W094 01'641 - it's going to need a machine to move this little lot:

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photo. The eagle-eyed amongst you may notice that is my bike on the far side... I'm coming to that...

But not this machine - this is going to need a machine to clear it too!

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photo. I just hope the driver wasn't in the cab when the tree came down!


So having looked at every possible option (including zooming in using the Garmin TOPO maps in my GPS) to find an alternative route past, I had no option but to retrace my original route back past White Mountain (lovely view from the top btw.)

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And ultimately work my way around to the other side of the landslide, for the photo above. Therefore, technically I have personally covered every inch of the TAT route so far... and so has the Honda, less than about 100 yards ;o)

From here I was able to continue on the TAT, and as a fitting finale for the day, rode the absolutely corking Warloop Road section down into Mountainburg, close to I49.  I mention this specifically as there is a 'Dead End' sign at the start where it leaves the tarmac. They lie*

*Well, if you are on an all-terrain bike at least.

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I finally gassed up south of  Mountainburg - having almost been running on fumes (4.05 gallons), and considered my options now it was 7.30pm in the evening. The sun was still high enough for one more trial I thought, and that way I could at least finish the AR03 leg of the Arkansas TAT, leaving the final sector up and into Oklahoma in the morning...

More soon!

Jenny x

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Re: Trans-Am 500 - the seven year itch
« Reply #32 on: September 03, 2015, 07:47:52 PM »
Day 33: TAT day 7: Van Buren (Fort Smith actually) AR to Pryor Creek OK.

Mileage today 160 (TAT 124)


So being a creature of habit (and looking to preserve my budget as best I can now...) I rolled down the road approximately 11 miles from the TAT route, to the town of Van Buren where there are plenty of chain motels, intending to stay at the Motel 6 which tends to offer the best value...

Problem.

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photo. Unfortunately this particular example had burnt down a couple of months previously...

Fortunately I had 3G signal so looked for alternatives - but they were either fully booked or much too expensive. Ultimately I ended up riding another 20 minutes (in the dark now) further south across the Arkansas river to Fort Smith - ah well, it was clean and comfortable which is the main thing.

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The following morning the shelp north through the middle of town and back across the river to Van Buren was primarily to grab a breakfast at Starbucks... Unfortunately, similar to the previous evening's accommodation, when I arrived at my intended destination, all there was was an empty building in the process of refurbishment - twice denied!

I elected to press on north and rejoin the TAT, and put this sorry interlude behind me.


It was an enjoyable ride on minor roads and gravel trails again, although I was conscious that the past couple of days on all this harsh gravel had effectively destroyed my tyres - particularly the rear - and in all likely hood they would need changing again before my intended stop in Moab in about a week's time.

I was also wary that the chain was needing increasingly regular adjustment now (every two to three days, whereas I only needed to adjust it once on the west-east leg), and that the brake pads too were starting to show signs of some over enthusiastic riding this past week or so...

Finally, I was almost certainly going to have to perform the 8000 mile oil change once I got back to Colorado Springs - not that it appeared to need it (the oil in the sight glass each morning had remained at the same level, and the colour was still golden around the edges), nevertheless, I was mindful this was a borrowed bike and I ought to stick to the prescribed maintenance schedule in order to preserve its longevity. The motorcycle dealers of Colorado were going to be making some money out of me in the next few days I feared.

But back to Arkansas, and hopefully soon Oklahoma, as all this endless gravel was starting to get a bit tiresome - probably the lack of breakfast (and fundamentally caffeine) had already started to bring on a migraine, and I was starting to become both tired and irritable.

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photo. Good advice! - and something I was shortly having to pay heed to within 24 hours...


Oklahoma!

Crossing into Oklahoma lifted my spirits considerably, not least because the 'Trail became more narrow, winding and undulating, and well, simply more 'trail' like!

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I recalled the western half of the Oklahoma TAT is effectively one long high-speed blast along farming access roads, as much of rural OK is divided into effectively a grid: each a mile square, and often changing between sand, grass, dirt, gravel, mud, tarmac, grass, sand, mud, mud, gravel, tarmac, gravel, gravel - every mile, and every minute... like the different levels of some endlessly looping video game!

But here in eastern Oklahoma, things were far more interesting than I'd remembered - very pleasant tree-lined trails, affording welcome shade from the fierce midday heat (again something not helping my migraine I was sure), and all the while a sense of heading north and westwards.

I was also looking forward to meeting up with ADVrider ThrottleMeister (John), who lives just off the TAT route, and as a hugely experienced overland traveller himself, regularly hosts fellow motorcyclists needing a place to stay overnight.

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photo. The 'meister met me on his trusty XR in neighbouring Salina. "We're on our way home dear..."

I have to say, it was an absolute joy to spend the evening with this newly extended family (they have a six week old baby boy, who was an absolute angel all evening), and a few friends - chewing the fat about this and that (bikes, and breast feeding!), and generally not worrying to much about the following day for a change.

Despite not going to bed until the early hours, I actually felt very well rested, and eternally grateful for all their wonderful hospitality - it certainly was just what I needed after seven full days on the road, and ultimately helped to overcome that nagging migraine - thank you!

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photo. John's workshop is an Aladdin's cave full of weird and wonderful machinery, bikes, boats and even an RV (which I got to sleep in!) I left a TA500 sticker on the workshop fridge door - but you don't get a T-shirt for this particular one - since if you're lucky enough to see it, then you are almost certain to have already been rewarded with some excellent hospitality!

Cont.

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Re: Trans-Am 500 - the seven year itch
« Reply #33 on: September 03, 2015, 07:49:39 PM »
Day 34: TAT day 8: Pryor Creek OK to Ponsa City OK.

Mileage today: 236 (TAT 227)

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photo. A silly photo after a lovely breakfast, and some wonderful hospitality - thank you!

After dragging my heels over an equally enjoyable breakfast, I eventually had no choice but to brave the weather that was still distinctly damp after a heavy overnight downpour, pausing just once more briefly at their local bike shop Cycles Unlimited (again located just a couple of miles off the TAT, and perfect for tyres, oil and any other sundries you might need while passing by) to say hello to the owner: 73 year-old Eldon Rix - a real character - who was interested in seeing what had been done to the CB500X.

As I rejoined the TAT, I was initally concerned that the rain might again play havoc with my progress, much as it had in Mississippi - turning an otherwise hard-pack trial to an inch or more of slimy mud, and which would be utterly tedious if not effectively impassable, particularly with the amount of miles I had ahead of me today.

Fortunately, most of the rural dirt roads that interlink between the fields and pastures here are of the 'all weather' variety, in that they seem to drain well and have a mixed surface of dirt and compacted gravel that still offers plenty of grip, even when damp. Thank goodness!

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photo. This is the kind of dirt the CB500X Adventure loves! - fast smooth gravel roads, with plenty of grip - the bike tracks straight and true at fifty, even sixty miles per hour on the TracTive suspension, and handles very much like a big rally bike in such conditions - honestly, the ride is sublime!

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photo. Crossing over I44 on the Trans-Am Trial this morning, and the first TA500 sticker of the day...


However, while the dirt roads in general coped with soaking much of the rainwater away, in addition there had also been some extensive flooding in the region - with many creeks and rivers bursting their banks and spilling over the surrounding countryside, creating huge lakes in some places...

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Sure enough, I soon happened on this:

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I briefly considered wading in and checking the depth, as it initially only appeared to be about a foot or so deep - however, I also wasn't sure quite how far the flooded section stretched, and it if got deeper at all - certainly trying to turn around halfway across would not be feasible once committed.

Therefore prudence suggested the only option was to plot an alternative route around, and try to rejoin the official trail a little further along. In this particular instance I backtracked along the trail route to view the blockage from the other side, much as I had done with the landslide in Arkansas a couple of days previously...

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And similarly it was utterly clear there would have been no way though - in fact you can just see the bush sticking out into the road that was in the previous photo, meaning not only was this stretch nearly a quarter of a mile long, but the water on this side was flowing with much greater force.

Hoping that is was simply a one-off occurrence on a particularly low piece of land, I continued to follow the route north and west with a degree of optimism, as the dark clouds were breaking, and I could even see a little blue sky.

Unfortunately, this optimism was short lived, when faced with another closure - I didn't even bother to ride past and take a look at this one...

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Resigned to the fact that I was going to have to miss some sections of the trail out anyway, I soon decided there was no point in trying to ride to either side of the blockage, just to say I'd stuck religiously to the official route, as it would be both time consuming and ultimately pointless.

Indeed, Sam Correro himself suggests it is very rare (indeed impossible) for anyone to complete the TAT route inch-perfectly in its entirety, since inevitably a route of such length is going to succumb to various closures and blockages, while as this trip had already shown, even passage over an otherwise open section can still be very dependent on the weather at the time.

I took comfort in the fact that at least I'd been able to ride every part of the TAT right up until that landslide in the Ozarks, and fortunately, the grid network of roads and trails that cross Oklahoma means it is relatively straight forward to pick an alternative road/trail that still essentially shadows the original route.

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photo. Other delays are of a more temporary nature...

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photo. Although after a couple of minutes or more, you do start to wonder how long this damn thing is!

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photo. At last!

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photo. I elected to fill up with fuel here - ironic that it was currently surrounded by the stuff!


As the afternoon wore on, with the sun out and the trails drying, I started to think the worst was perhaps behind me...

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photo. A pretty spot for the photo that I feel really exemplifies this part of the TAT route...

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photo. ... so much so, I felt this one particularly deserved another sticker...


The TAT actually heads north west through the huge Osage Indian Reservation, but unfortunately it wasn't long before even the highways too were closed due to flooding:

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photo. This is not a boat ramp, there is a road under there somewhere - though goodness knows were it goes, and how long its been under water!

And another:

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Fortunately some of the trail route was elevated, so at least the water was either side of this one:

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photo. "Of course I remember when all this was fields..."

Soon followed by another damn flood!

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photo. It was almost as if Oklahoma is reverting to swamp!


I tried my best to pick up the official route again as soon as I could after deviating, But all too often had to turn and retrace my steps back and further along the grid... At one point I considered fitting neon lights to the wheels, as my GPS track-log looked like a scene from Tron!

As the afternoon drew to a close, I once again joined a tarmac section of the TAT, and ultimately made a bee-line for a suitable stop-over.

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Tomorrow is going to be a long day on the panhandle... But at least the TAT is resoundingly heading due-west now...

"Don't worry, we'll soon be back in the mountains again Piglet!"

"But then won't we have snow to contend with mama...?"

"Ah, quite possibly, yes..."


And no doubt that will be a whole new adventure in itself!


More soon!

Jenny xx

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Re: Trans-Am 500 - the seven year itch
« Reply #34 on: September 03, 2015, 07:51:02 PM »
Day 35: TAT day 9: Ponsa City OK to Liberal KS.

Mileage today: 299 (TAT 287)

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photo. Heading north on a traditional American Main Street through Newkirk after refuelling to rejoin the TAT route...


For the first time on this trip, the TAT route was starting to become familiar to me - at least I recognised some of the road names 'Bender Road' (how could you forget that one? - "Does Barry Manilow know you raid his wardrobe?") and the general straight-line nature of the 'Trail route between each square mile of farmers' fields.

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photo. As I rejoined the TAT, I was glad I'd made it this far yesterday - since this train was parked right across the trail route and going nowhere!

Inspired by the train, it wasn't long before I placed my first sticker of the day:

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... and no matter how many times I do it, I still get a kick out of crossing these un-gated railroad tracks (and particularly the more disused ones):

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Personally I don't mind the monotony of these Oklahoma sections - not when you're licking along at a good pace and fast smooth gravel. However, to mix things up a little, from time to time Sam seems to send you either north or south a mile or two to an alternative trail, and one in particular (Noble Road) was is far worse condition than I'd been riding that morning - rocky washouts and sandy mud - made sketchy by the recent heavy rain.

After fish-tailing through a couple of sticky sections (luckily I might add!), the trail started getting flatter and much wetter, and now I knew what to look for...

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... and quickly learnt that the best way to avoid dumping my arse on the ground was to hop off, and actually walk/jog the bike through using first gear on little more than tick-over to keep the weight of the bike moving forward.

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Fortunately on the whole each wet patch was separated with a nice dry (well, drier) section, allowing me to get back up to speed and fling the packed mud from the tyre treads...

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However, inevitably it became prudent to once again remove the low fender to avoid an untimely stop due to clogging:

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This was rapidly becoming not much fun to be honest. Not only was progress desperately slow, but the fear of dropping the bike and getting even more filthy picking it up was all the incentive I needed to try and find an alternative parallel trail west - good job I was in the Matrix!

Of course a number of the cross-trails get even less use than the main east-west roads, where at least I could ride in the compressed ruts of farm vehicles that had been before me; and it continued to be slow progress all the way to Wakita, where I took a welcome break for some lunch.

It was now getting distinctly hotter and drier the further west I was getting, where the afternoon sun and wind (a lot of wind) had seemingly dried the trail surface making progress far more surefooted and enjoyable.

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photo. The east-west roads tend to have names, the north-south numbers. I was pleased the TAT actually followed "500" for a while!

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photo. So much so that I had to mark the moment with another TA500 sticker ;o)


Having fuelled up again where the TAT passes though Alva (including embarking on a somewhat optimistic jet-wash of the bike in an effort to remove the pounds of mud now clinging to it everywhere), I really enjoyed the sector west of here that deviates from the arrow straight nature of the previous hundred miles, and winds its way though cattle pasture and remote ranches - in fact very much like a rally stage I thought!

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The elevation here (around 2000ft) was also welcome too, as it is both a little cooler and affords some lovely views over the plains to the north and south.

However, as the afternoon wore on, and the trail once again straightened out for the sprint down the panhandle, in the distance I spied something a little more ominous:

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Despite having ridden over two hundred miles already today, it was reassuring to see that a lot of roads still had the same names - and that fundamentally they are continuations of the same, and therefore remain ordered in the same grid format.

Once again I embarked on a little Tron-like navigation around the grid, in a effort to get south to a tarmac highway before the inevitable downpour came, and welcomed the road signs saying Logan, Leflore and Kiowa like they were old friends!

I made it to the highway (approximately six miles south of the official TAT route), to witness this storm about to dump exactly where I would otherwise have been riding...

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On both sides, as the 'Trail route actually crosses over hwy 64 and loops south:

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It was a surreal experience to effectively be riding right between two almighty downpours - grateful I'd elected to break for the relative safety of a paved road while all around me chaos ensued!

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Note. It was interesting that on these latter sections of the TAT I was often following a pair of motorcycle tyre tracks, both fresh and clearly riding together - and wondered if it was the two brothers I'd met in Mississippi who were now a little way ahead of me perhaps? - I just hope they didn't get caught on the trail (or even camping) in this brooding bitter storm.

I didn't manage to avoid a soaking completely, but it was mercifully short, and having passed through the worst, was optimistic that beyond (and certainly tomorrow) the TAT would continue to be passable at least...

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More soon!

Jenny x
« Last Edit: September 03, 2015, 08:42:16 PM by JMo »

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Re: Trans-Am 500 - the seven year itch
« Reply #35 on: September 03, 2015, 07:53:01 PM »
Day 36: TAT day 10: Liberal KS to Walsenburg CO.

Mileage today: 364 (TAT 349)

Kansas

By the time I rolled into Liberal in Kansas (rather than liberal Kansas, which is kind of an oxymoron), I'd ridden a sniff under 300 miles today, which illustrates just how straight and fast the TAT through the Oklahoma panhandle can be in comparison to the previous few days, and indeed the days to come once I get west of the Rockies.

It is actually a nice 'break' so to speak, and personally I feel has a charm all of its own razzing along at 50+ mph on the dirt and gravel roads, of which I knew there would be plenty more to come today before I reached New Mexico...

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photo. Liberal's one (and only) claim to fame is that this is where Dorothy started her trip to Oz from... Here is a bronze statue of a fictional character.

Note. Technically the Trans-Am Trail doesn't pass through Kansas itself, but it runs so close to the boarder, and Liberal is really the only place for miles that there is any accommodation and other services.


Oklahoma - again!

Back into Oklahoma and back on the trail, and things were rapidly becoming familiar now - ironic really when there were so few landmarks of course!


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photo. Some of the ruts were deep! Fortunately I'd been blessed with a few days of sunshine in western OK, and the trail had dried sufficiently to negotiate around the worst of them.

But other than the odd detour a mile either south or north on the grid, the rest of Oklahoma flashed by without incident, with a refuel in Boise City (recommended) before the long remote leg through New Mexico and into south eastern Colorado.


New Mexico

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photo. Crossing into New Mexico: "Look Piglet, there is a mountain in the distance!"


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photo. Approximately half way through the NM stage, just before the climb out of the valley through Long Canyon... I took a very similar photo back in 2009 of my Tenere in this same spot, only to notice through the lens that my rear tyre had gone flat. Would this photo jinx this trip too? - not today at least...

...tomorrow however, well, that's another story still to come ;o)


As luck would have it, when I got a puncture here last time, a pick-up came by and the driver who owned the farm in the valley below said I would be welcome to use his tyre machine in the barn there! However, since I'd installed a skinny front tube in the rear tyre, I'd elected to stay on the highway until I could get it properly fixed, and missed out on the TAT route to Trinidad in 2009 - so was keen to see what lay in store this time around...

I can confirm it was a joy - a nice mildly technical climb up the canyon side (which would be almost impassable in the wet I imagine), followed by more fast sweeping gravel roads all the way to Trinidad.

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photo. The scenery only gets better and more dramatic from here on!


Colorado

The Colorado TAT initially starts by heading due west just north of the NM/CO boarder. Again, I treated this fast gravel section very much like a rally stage (as I had been all day really, breaking each individual sector into a 'stage', and daydreaming that actually, in the right event at least, the CB-X could perhaps make a passable rally bike - moreso if it could go on a serious diet... Stop me now!)

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I passed by the Addams Family home on my way to find coffee in Trinidad, and was soon out the other side heading north now:

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photo. The sign had said 'Road Closed Ahead', but I took another gamble and it paid off this time...


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I have to say, without a doubt today was the best day of the trip so far - a sense of really travelling across the country (four different states today: Kansas, Oklahoma, New Mexico and Colorado), the bike riding perfectly in these dry, but not too dusty conditions, and the epic scenery unfolding all around me:

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photo. Always my favourite time of day to be riding...

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As the sunlight slipped away, I pressed on towards La Veta CO hoping to find some accommodation... The one halfway decent looking place was closed (there was also a nice looking B&B, but figured that would bee too expensive for my now modest budget), so elected to break from the TAT when it reached hwy 160, and head east for Walsenburg, where there would be more options.

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photo. Fortunately I got away with just a licence check and a ticking-off for going into the 55 zone a bit hot... an (ex)rider himself, we actually ended up chatted for about 10 minutes about bikes in general and the trip I was taking!

I took a punt on a quirky looking independent motel, and it paid off - lovely people, great value, and wifi of course... The perfect end to the perfect day!

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Jx

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Re: Trans-Am 500 - the seven year itch
« Reply #36 on: September 03, 2015, 07:55:02 PM »
Day 37: TAT day 11: Walsenburg CO to Colorado Springs CO.

Mileage today: 201 miles.


Walsenburg just kept getting better and better!

I'd had a great value meal at a Mexican restaurant last night, and excellent coffee and peanut/chocolate slice for breakfast at a local coffee house, and spied these little curios outside an autoparts store on the way out of town:

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photo. I didn't realise these were still made... 2015 model Rokon 2WD bikes! - now with front suspension too!

Back on the TAT, on another perfect sunny morning...

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photo. If you've ridden this section of the TAT, then you'll not fail to have noticed this lovely old church...

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photo. If you've not yet ridden this section of TAT, you totally should! - and I've even left a little marker for you ;o)


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As the trail climbed steadily towards the mountains, I was revelling in the scenery, and enjoying the cooling breeze after what had been some pretty warm days at lower elevation this past week...


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photo. I celebrated breaking the 10,000ft mark with a selfie-timer photo with Piglet... and hey, no snow!


Since the bike was now technically over-due it's 8000 mile oil and filter change, plus my rear tyre was pretty much down to the carcass again, I'd arranged to deviate from the TAT, and overnight in Colorado Springs (back with the guys at MotoMinded/Double-Take Mirrors) and fettle the bike.

The most obvious pause point on the TAT was at the Hardscrabble Ranch (junction of hwy 165/96) south of Canon City, were there was a lovely alternative trail heading north right into town (lovely camp spot at Oak Creek if you're passing through btw.)

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photo. The shame of a life on the road... But their real-fruit milkshakes are delicious - part of my five-a-day right?!

Being back in Canon City, and needing to head for Colorado Springs, meant the perfect opportunity to try the Shelf Road (CR-88) up to Cripple Creek that had been closed due to weather a couple weeks back...

It was open - yay!

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Unfortunately at about mile 20, the creek was in full flood - the photo really doesn't show the full force of the water here, but prudence meant I had no choice but to turn around... The alternative might well have ended in disaster!

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photo. It was only perhaps a foot or so deep, but it was an absolute torrent. A 4x4 ahead of me had turned around too. I've got nothing to prove by trying to walk a bike through something like this - but conversely everything to lose if it had got washed away...

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So, returning to the highway once again (it's a lovely road out of Canon City, but really, I'm getting a bit bored of it now!), I drove by the start of the alternative road (CR-67) up to Victor - yep, still closed at mile 5 - and thought I'd simply cut my loses and get to Colorado Springs in good time to make a start on the bike service, and not least get a new rear tyre fitted...

And how prophetic that turned out to be!

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photo. Yep. Thats a flat.

As I was heading uphill on hwy 115, I felt the power sapping away, and sure enough, going into a bend, the back end started walking unnervingly... I knew this feeling.

Not relishing the idea of changing a tube at the side of a major highway (or anywhere if I'm honest!), and particularly as I'd planned on getting the tyre changed anyway once I got to Colorado Springs, I elected to press on the twenty or so miles into town, gingerly riding along the hard shoulder on the now completely flat tyre:

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... it was a little unnerving, especially when traffic passed, but at the same time I was impressed how well the bike continued to ride on the fat flat tyre, and wide rim presumably also helping stability in that regard... and I was able to maintain a reasonable 30mph (and sometimes a little more, although again self-control was required in an effort to try and preserve the tyre from overheating and popping off the rim).

I'd phoned Chris at MotoMinded to explain the situation, saying I was happy to continue riding in, while he stepped up and arranged to have a new tyre waiting for me when I arrived at his local dealer Apex Sports*

*I mention these guys not because they fitted my tyre for free or anything like that (they didn't, I paid the going rate, plus bought oil, a filter and a new heavy-duty inner tube as the original was toasted after that ride in), but fundamentally as when I'd visited them last time, Steve the sales manager and I were chatting about the CB500X and the Rally-Raid Adventure conversion kit, when a customer came in... Steve told me the customer was so impressed he has subsequently bought a brand new 500 and is planning on fitting a Level 3 kit too!

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Suitably re-shod with a new TKC80 (mechanic Jeff Grace is a Pikes Peak hillclimb racer btw. and is racing his Triumph up there next week!), and it was time to head back to MotoMinded HQ and finish of taking care of the little CB...

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photo. This many dinosaurs died so I could bring you this ride report - I think we should thank them!

Tomorrow would be a big day - the Peak is open all the way to the top!

more soon,

Jenny x
« Last Edit: September 03, 2015, 08:48:19 PM by JMo »

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Re: Trans-Am 500 - the seven year itch
« Reply #37 on: September 03, 2015, 07:57:05 PM »
Day 38: TAT day 12: Colorado Springs CO to Salida CO - via Pikes Peak.

Mileage today: 229 (TAT 105)

It would appear that America's mountain is growing, or that the sea is receding, or that simply GPS and other modern forms of altitude measurement are more accurate these days...

Certainly when I was here last time in 2008 (and still according to the sign at the summit), the top of Pikes Peak is 14,110 feet above sea level; however increasingly there is reference to it being 14,115 ft on newer merchandise and printed publicity material - a cynic might suggest they will probably change the sign once all the old gift shop stock has been sold... ;o)

Either way, it's a bloody big hill that is for sure!

Last time I rode up here it was on my 660 Tenere on a crisp October morning, the last six miles or so still a gravel road, and the temperature at the summit around -10 degrees, with a wind chill far lower than that... Indeed, I recall my ignition barrel froze once I'd removed my key (not that there was anyone else up there to steal the bike anyway!), causing some concern I might not be able to get back down again - as it was, I was probably there for all of 15 minutes...

This time, I was here in the middle of June, a week away from the start of the annual Pikes Peak International Hill Climb, and although the weather was much warmer, there was ironically more snow on either side of the road than there had been for many years; and fundamentally the road is now paved all the way to the top, and populated by a steady stream of tourist vehicles (of which admittedly I was one of course...)

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photo. On the official start line of the PPHC course just after mile 7...


Fortunately most drivers of larger and slower vehicles (that is pretty much everything other than a bike then...) tend to pull to the side when they see you in their mirrors, allowing you to skip past (ahem) where appropriate, although technically apart from one two-hundred yard section I spied, the whole of the 19 mile road to the peak is double yellow lines... but hell, I didn't pay twelve bucks to stare at an SUV tailgate!!!

Going up:

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At the peak:

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photo. My GPS was still trying to get a fix, even this close to the satellites! (It eventually got to 14,083 - so pretty accurate ;o)

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It was also much warmer up here than last time - like a mild day skiing at the end of the season for example... In fact one guy rode his Goldwing up here in shorts and a t-shirt (no helmets required in Colorado either of course...) - he must have been bloody freezing by the time he arrived mind you, and I noticed he put a jacket on the ride back down ;o)


Going down... (Mr Tyler ?)

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photo. Despite lots more traffic on this beautiful summer morning, most of the time the ride was uninterrupted - perfect!

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photo. A token hay-bail to stop the Hill Climb racers firing off the cliff... Like the Isle of Man TT, you can't imagine this race would ever be considered today if it hadn't been going for a hundred years!

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Having stopped for two of my favourite food groups (coffee and ice cream), out of the four on offer (the others being pizza and wine) at The Winery at the base of Pikes Peak, I then foolishly detoured through Manitou Springs - a delightful resort town, full of funky shops, plentiful restaurants and copious amounts of stop-go traffic... When will they allow filtering in Colorado too?!!!

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photo. One of the original steam powered engines that pulled the train up the Pikes Peak COG railway.


It was now nearly 3.30pm in the afternoon, and I was still fifty miles from where I'd paused from the TAT route the day before. I really wanted to pick up from where I'd left off, and at the same time try and get back on some sort of schedule, as I had tentatively arranged to be in Moab UT by Friday evening (and would almost certainly need a new front tyre by then, which could only be fitted on Saturday morning, or else wait two more days until Monday...)

Although I had no fixed destination for that evening, at the same time, the only realistic stopping point on the TAT route would be Salida CO (another expensive town for accommodation), and even that might be a tad ambitious starting so late in the day...

It was time to get a wriggle-on Piglet!


Back on the TAT...

Despite the ongoing threat of an afternoon downpour, I managed to dodge the worst and was soon back on the TAT and up in the hills once more...

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photo. I'm almost certain these mountains were the inspiration for the Colorado licence plate background!

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The TAT south of Cotopaxi (on hwy 50) was primarily on fast and wide gravel tracks, allowing me to make good time; and once heading north again into more familiar territory, the trail started to climb into the forest, before levelling out on a high pasture platau and subsequently offer some fantastic views of the Rockies in the distance - it truly was a glorious time of both the day and year to be riding here...

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At one point I even witnessed two sizeable brown bears a couple of hundred yards ahead of me crossing the trail, and immediately ground to a halt and grabbed my camera (fortunately the tight turning circle of the CB-X was not necessary at this point) and I watched for what was probably less than a minute if I'm honest, before they ran higher into the hills...

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Pressing on again, I rejoined the section of trail that I'd ridden out of Salida a few weeks previously, and not wanting to retrace my steps unnecessarily, elected to take an alternative route down off the mountain and into the town itself - the ominously named: Dead Horse Gultch 4WD Road - and hoped this wouldn't turn out to be another 'Rubicon' moment...

It started off pleasantly enough, a winding narrow (Jeep width) trail through the trees - far more fun than the official TAT descent on another wide gravel road here - and before long became a narrow shelf road:

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Still no problem on a bike, even a 430lb one loaded with luggage...

As the descent continued, it started to become much more rocky, with the odd shelf step and loose rock that took all your concentration, particularly in the fading light. Fortunately these 'hazard' sections were punctuated with a more gentle and forgiving trail surface, and in turn afforded wonderful views down into the valley and over Salida itself:

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photo. The perfect end to another perfect day on the trails - I love Colorado!

As the evening drew to a close, I'd made it down unscathed, rolled into town, and hunted out the least expensive hotel I could find at that late hour:

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I wouldn't say it was the best, but they had a cool sign, the owner was a character, and they had a laundry on-site... and these things start to matter when you've spent forty days on the road!

The other guests were equally quirky - I so wanted to try and grab a candid photo of the old couple who were lodging next to me - he looked for all the world like Santa Claus in a Hawaiian shirt, and she, well, lets just say a black lace blouse, fishnet tights and six-inch platform stilettos were a sight to behold so early in the morning! It was nothing if not an experience. As Dan Walsh might say: These are days that must happen to you.

Jx
« Last Edit: September 03, 2015, 08:58:27 PM by JMo »

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Re: Trans-Am 500 - the seven year itch
« Reply #38 on: September 03, 2015, 08:00:14 PM »
Day 39: TAT day 13: Salida CO to Ouray CO.

Mileage today: 179 miles.


Salida is a great hub for all sorts of out-door activities, particularly trail riding/driving/hiking and mountain-biking (and is also close to some great skiing in the winter), and typically attracts a cool and laid back crowd who subsequently demand funky shops and good coffee.

I was also able to find a traditional bookstore (ie. one without a coffee counter!) that sold the ubiquitous hipster accessory - a Moleskine pocket notebook to replace my currently full original... Result!

It was also a joy to stop by and say hello in person to a couple of long-time internet friends Duke and Tami Sheppard - who are regular performers on the local music scene; and a shame that I was now in effectively such a hurry to make it across Colorado and into Utah in less than two days - with essentially the most technical sections of the Colorado TAT still to come!


Ch-ch-ch changes...

The original TAT route (that I rode in 2008) used to head north out of Salida, and cross the Continental Divide via Hancock and Tomichi passes. These days, those trails are not county maintained, and consequently have a relatively short window of opportunity in any case. Therefore the current TAT route now crosses further south, over the 10,842 ft Marshall Pass - and while it might have been fun to also ride the original passes, there was not even the option with so much snow still covering many of the peaks in the region.

And once again I have to say, Sam Correro really does know how to hunt out the nice trails! The latest TAT revision initially follows Poncha Creek, that itself was overflowing onto the trail:

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The climb itself up the pass was no less interesting either, and an excellent alternative that ought to be open for a lot longer in the season.

Crossing over hwy 50 at Sargents, the TAT then heads up the valley towards Tomichi Pass, before turning off to cross a lower elevation pass (Black Sage) and head south west for Lake City and the especially scenic Alpine Loop...

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photo. In general, Piglet likes to emerge from his papoose to pose for a photo at each summit...


En route to Lake City, the official GPS route led to a trail a few hundred yards off the main gravel road, but which turned out to be closed (presumably the county expects everyone to just stay on the main gravel road these days...). However, I felt confident to continue on an established two-track trail nearby that wound into the hills (and I could see by the GPS would join the TAT again a few miles further on) - and considered that this is exactly the sort of riding this particular bike inspires and encourages you to do - explore!

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photo. This trail is not on the official TAT, but an excellent scenic detour - I marked it in a suitable spot with a TA500 sticker of course!

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photo. Those big mountains were getting ever closer - a delightful location south west of Lake City.

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photo. Starting up Cinnamon Pass. Despite being one of the the highest passes in the region (at 12,640ft, the 2nd highest of the TAT route - just pipped by California Pass a few miles further west) and the residual snow, the sign at Lake City said it was open... Which certainly ought to bode well for the subsequent route west, I thought.

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photo. "Alan! Alan! Alan!"

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photo. "Oh, it's Steve..."

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photo. The snow was still pretty deep towards the summit - fortunately the county plough this route (and the northern Engineer Pass too) to try and get the Alpine Loop scenic (4WD) drive open as early as possible in the season.

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photo. "Hey Mum - we've been here before!" But going in the other direction last time, and on a mission to establish the rescue of a 4x4 that was stuck in a snow drift!

Certainly this section of the TAT was instantly familiar, and I'd made good time to the junction at Animas Forks, with plenty of daylight left to attempt the subsequent passes - California & Hurricane - that are part of the onward TAT route...

Unfortunately, starting up California Gulch towards Red Mountain, It was soon clear that my luck had run out:

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photo. You can just see where the snowplough has stopped ploughing...


Returning to Animas Forks, I had two options now: the first would be to head south down the valley on a dirt road to Silverton - not a bad option, as the town is close to the continuation of the TAT route; only there was a distinct lack of accommodation there as I recalled... and it would be dark in a couple of hours.

The other option was to head north towards Engineer Pass (that in turn leads back to Lake City as the continuation of the Alpine Loop), and take an alternative trail down to hwy 550 near Ouray, where there was plentiful (albeit expensive!) accommodation showing in my GPS.

For the second time today, my feeling I was on just the right bike to take a gamble meant I headed north of course ;o)

It started off gently enough, and fundamentally I knew the trail would lead downhill, and ultimately exit on a highway - so was confident there would be no 'Rubicon' moments here either.

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Pretty eh?

This is before it got a lot narrower, a lot steeper, and a lot more rocky! In fact in places it felt more like the Top of the World trail I'd ridden in Moab a few weeks before - rock steps, drop-offs, and loose rocks that had been kicked up by 4x4s coming up in the other direction... Oh, and the added bonus of numerous stream and creek crossings where the snowmelt was running down the mountainside...

And the Honda lapped it up!

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Confident I could find somewhere half-way affordable to stay, I rode a twisty few miles down the highway into Ouray, and spent the next hour desperately trying to find somewhere that was either a) open - all the cheap places were mysteriously closed... b) had vacancies - anything halfway decent and moderately affordable was fully booked... and c) Not $300+ a night - I know this is a trendy spa town, but some of the prices were ridiculous*!

*The cheapest place I found that didn't have a No Vacancy sign was $160 (plus tax)... But it was now almost dark and I resented paying anything like that much for what would only be a few hours sleep in any case now...

So, for the first time on this trip I can tell you I had no choice but to break out my tent (although I've used the air mattress and sleeping bag a few times of course), and pitch up in the town campsite.

It was actually more than acceptable to be honest, and not only saved me from a huge dent in my remaining budget (I still have at least 10 more days on the road I reckon), but fundamentally staying in Ouray set me up for an early morning ride up one of the best roads in the region: 550 - the 'Million Dollar Highway' (the switchback section over Red Mountain Pass being part of the TAT route), and which in turn might feasibly see me in Moab in less than 24 hours after all.

More soon!

Jenny x

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Re: Trans-Am 500 - the seven year itch
« Reply #39 on: September 03, 2015, 08:02:14 PM »
Day 40: TAT day 14: Ouray CO to Moab UT.

Mileage today: 273 miles.


One of the benefits of camping is that you tend to wake up with the sunrise (well, unless you've had a heavy night drinking beforehand ;o), and for the first time on this trip I was on the road well before 8am.

Of course I then found the perfect spot for breakfast (a new place 'Roast & Toast' on Main St. Ouray) that really set me up for what was likely to a long day on the trail - destination Moab Utah.

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photo. One of the more memorable breakfasts I have had on this trip, and for all the right reasons too - I can recommend the 'Hungry Hippie' sandwich - scrambled eggs, avocado and beansprouts on toasted whole-wheat. Topped off with a large espresso and cinnamon roll of course!

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photo. So long Ouray, you crazy little toy town!


Hwy 550 is one of those 'must ride' bike roads, and for good reason - not only is the scenery utterly epic on either side, but the pavement itself is a sinewy snake up and over a series of high passes that are a joy to ride on any bike - and can see why Sam felt it essential to route the TAT over Red Mountain Pass to give you an excellent taster*

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*I have also ridden the southern section of 550 heading north from Durango to Silverton in the past, and can utterly recommend you ride that sector too if you have time... and in turn Durango is also the start of one of the most epic stream railway journeys you can take in the USA, if not the whole world - as the train clings precariously to the side of a cliff hundreds of feet above the Animas River on an old mining route, all the way to Silverton and back.

Pausing at the pass to add to the burgeoning sticker collection on the county boundary sign:

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It wasn't long before I was back on the dirt, and heading up and over Ophir Pass.

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Ophir Pass is probably the least technically difficult in this region, however, due to it's elevation (11,789 ft) and remoteness, is often one of the last to be opened to traffic each year... and was certainly still closed when I'd passed through Colorado heading east only three weeks before.

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photo. Fortunately this pass had been ploughed the whole way through now, and the trail surface smooth and easy to ride.

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photo. Piglet was very much enjoying all this high elevation sunshine...

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photo. ...and dramatic scenery!

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photo. The view back up the pass from the village of Ophir - you can just make out the shelf road cut diagonally into the side of the mountain.

Ophir itself seemed to be a sleepy ski-town, full of (presumably) holiday homes... There was certainly no store or gas available here - and indeed this whole section of the TAT from Lake City west feels very remote - and it would appear your only options for fuel are a slight detour off the route at either Ouray or Silverton on 550.

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photo. Presumably a souvenir from a less than successful pass crossing at some point...


A short blast up a section of another corking bike road (hwy 145 over Lizard Head Pass) soon saw me back on the dirt again and heading resolutely west now - decreasing in elevation and the weather getting even warmer as I headed towards the Utah border.


Utah

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photo. I recall this view from when I rode this section of the TAT in 2008 - for me it defines that transition from the mountains and into the desert...

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photo. I have almost exactly the same photo of my Yamaha 660 Tenere here on the boarder between Colorado and Utah... I thought back then what excellent all-road travelling companion that bike had been; and similarly, the CB500X with the Rally-Raid Adventure kit has honestly already exceeded all my expectations as a true all-rounder...


The TAT here heads due west to the town of Monticello on hwy 191 (approximately 54 miles south of Moab), and is the perfect place to fuel up, grab a sandwich, and even a bed for the night depending on what time of day you arrive... I mention this particularly as although Moab is only about an hour away by road from here, the TAT route is actually twice the distance and a good afternoon's ride from here, and it would be a huge shame to miss out the ride through the La Sal mountains, and not least the spectacular view of the Moab Rim that you first glimpse through a break in the trees from around 8000ft.

The current TAT route follows an easy dirt road through the mountains across Geyser Pass, and I am familiar with this area as it is a beautiful alternative ride if you want to escape the summer heat of the Moab valley below... I was also pleasantly surprised to see the TAT turn off the main gravel road and onto what looked like a little used (but still totally open and legal) two-track ATV trail up into the hills - excellent choice Sam!

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photo. A pleasent surprise, this shady OHV side trail is actually part of the TAT route.

However, all too soon the route then reverted to the wide rocky access road that was rather disappointing in comparison to the interlude that had promised so much... On reaching a familiar track junction, I elected to ride some of the alternative OHV trails, and quickly realised that the original TAT route I had ridden in 2008 actually used these side trails as the main thoroughfare!

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photo. I recalled this view from the first time I rode here, and while the current TAT route does offer a similar glimpse from the main gravel road, I find this original route through the mountains far more technically and visually pleasing...

Having plenty of time that afternoon to explore, I continued to ride some of the alternative trails, and prove what was the original TAT route...

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photo. Back in 2008 this small creek was solid ice, and I had to tentatively walk my bike across... Now they've built a dedicated bike/ATV bridge - perhaps its time for Sam to reinstate the original route?


Personally, I prefer the La Sal Pass crossing to Geyser Pass (La Sal is slightly more technically challenging, and typically far less busy with day-trip 4x4 traffic heading up and out of Moab), and if you are in Moab for a few days, then it is a lovely day ride to loop through both, and incorporate some of the OHV side trails too.

As I descended out of the mountains, the familiar view of the Rim was slightly shrouded in haze:

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And I followed the last leg of the TAT into Moab on Sand Flats Road (that passes through the Slick Rock playground plateau to the east of the town), keen to cool off with a pint of Dead Horse Ale at the Moab Brewery, and celebrate the last 14 days' successful navigation of the Trans-Am Trail.

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photo. although Sand Flats Road is essentially a sandy through-route to access the trailheads (and campsites) on either side, it is also an impressive entrance into Moab in it's own right...

Planning to stay in Moab a couple of nights over the weekend would mean I would essentially get a full 'rest day' before the final big push west - which would include the completely new sections of the TAT through Utah and now Idaho too!

More soon, I guess I'd better get back on the trail eh?

Jenny xx

 


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