Along the Trans-America Trail

Along the Trans-America Trail
After surviving the unexpected floods in the Utah desert caused by the most rain the area had seen in the last 60 years, Jeff and I are on to the next, and hopefully drier, state of our cross-country motorcycle adventure.

Goat Trail to Iceberg Peak

In the far northwest corner of Nevada, we ride through dry and barren lands, whirling up clouds of dust. The rocky trail cuts through a narrowing valley and eventually turns into a goat trail. Rising steadily, it follows the course of a creek that we have to cross several times. A glance at the map reveals that our assumption was right - we must have taken a wrong turn a while ago. We find ourselves lost near Disaster Peak, which we hope is not a bad omen. It is already late in the afternoon and high time to look for a campsite. Instead of turning around, we follow the steep and twisty slope up the mountain. Will it lead us to a good place with a panoramic view? The trail is littered with loose rocks. The boulders that lie between the deep ruts and washouts are the size of soccer balls. Riding our heavy twins, a KTM 950 Adventure and a BMW R 1200 GS, around these obstacles without losing our balance and keeping traction demands a great deal of concentration. Drenched in sweat, we reach a high plateau, which steeply veers off on three sides. Although this is definitely the end of the trail, the grand view from Iceberg Peak is worth the struggle. At our feet, there is a wide, sun-lit valley, framed by rugged peaks. The grass covering the mountainsides shines golden in the setting sun. The fluffy clouds hang low. No sound cuts the silence. The ground is so bumpy that it would not make any sense to unpack the tent and pitch it on the grassy humps. So we inflate our Therm-a-Rest mattresses and hope to get some sleep. It is a cold and starry night. A campfire would be just great, but there are no trees or dead wood.

When we review the day, my Canadian friend Jeff remarks that he has never seen mountains without trees on them. Falling asleep beneath the stars outdoes watching any movie. The temperatures drop down near the freezing point. The next morning, our sleeping bags are covered with a thin layer of ice. Actually, we have both had a terrible night's sleep. A hot cup of Turkish coffee prepared on our camp stove warms our aching bones before we ride back down the way we came yesterday.

On the way to Denio Junction in Humboldt County, we pass the occasional farm. There is an unwritten rule: leave things the way you find them. If you come to a gate that is closed you have to leave it closed behind you. And vice versa. Although we are both outdoor enthusiasts who like to be self-sufficient, it is great to get back to "civilization" from time to time to fill up our food and water supplies. We reach the intersection of Hwy 140 and Hwy 292. Denio Junction consists of a gas station, a handful of houses, and a pub, which in a remote place like this is usually the social linchpin, where everybody meets to socialize. We pitch our tent in the bushes along the road and cross the street to the pub. Nightlife is already in full swing. The walls are plastered with photos of hunters proudly displaying trophies of giant fish or deer. In between these photos, even stranger decorations are arranged: antlers, rattlesnake skins and stuffed deer heads. The barmaid puts two drinks onto the counter for us and asks where we come from. "From the bush," I reply. She laughs: "I thought that they only have bush in Australia." We reveal our nationalities. If the barmaid is to be believed, Jeff is the first Canadian and I am the first German to ever show up here. The men in camouflage clothing at the bar eat burgers and drink beer. Outside, a 4WD with a dead elk strapped across the hood complements the scene.

Westbound, we stop at the Virgin Valley Campground with hot springs in the midst of the desert. Soaking our rattled bones in the warm water, we get to know a rock hunter from Colorado. He is thrilled with the abundance of gemstones and petrified trees in the area. We learn that the rarest and most valuable opals are found here.

Later that day, we pass through the Charles Sheldon Antelope Range, north of the Black Rock Desert, noted for the world land speed records that are set here. The gravel road takes us up to Bald Mountain (7,190 feet). Would you believe it? A herd of antelopes runs across the trail in front of us.

The State Triangle and Disastrous Names

We are close to where the three states of Nevada, California and Oregon meet. The desert floor splits wide in Mosquito Valley, a spectacular red sandy pass road winding uphill. The views of the wide valley hemmed in by barren hills are grand and the wide-open basin is sprinkled with dry lakebeds. "Mosquito Lake" and "Massacre Lake" are names that remind me of Australia, where the early explorers had to bear many hardships crossing the outback. They named the places after the disasters they encountered on their way from coast to coast. Halfway up at Grave Spring, we sit on a rock overlooking the valley and eat our lunch. On we ride, on straight red cinder roads slicing through the barren plains covered with sagebrush. Being in low hilly cattle country we pass the occasional ranch. We watch a family of four on horses cutting cattle for auction or branding. I admire the skills of the father who catches a steer with a lasso.

We roll into Fort Bidwell. In search of water and gas we meet an old Native American wearing cowboy boots and a sombrero. He is feeding his horse in a farmyard shaded by trees. "Where do you guys come from?" Ralph wonders, looking curiously at us, two strangers baked in dust. We tell him about the Trans-America Trail. For water, he directs us to his neighbor's. We simply knock on the door, introduce ourselves, and get what we need. No questions asked.

From Fort Bidwell in California, a gravel road snakes north into the forested mountains of Oregon, the last state on our tour. The aromatic smell of sap is in the air. The grassy landscape is dotted with dark and peaceful ponds. We pitch our tent in a place called Dismal Swamps: gentle rolling hills framed by brightly colored trees. In a single day, we have covered 215 miles off-road and crossed three states. In just a few hours, the vegetation has changed considerably. From the desert in Nevada we have ridden up to high alpine valleys in Oregon. Now, the wind blows yellow leaves from the trees. It is chilly. This time, there is enough wood around for a campfire.