It’s the fourth day of our adventure in Utah. We skip breakfast to get an early start as meteorologists are calling for thunderstorms in the afternoon. Highway 40 takes us out of Midway past Heber City and Daniels Summit Lodge toward Strawberry Reservoir. The low sun provides warm light. The water, along with the mountainous background, offers a perfect photo op. I turn on my right signal, get in the turning lane, and shift down into … wait a minute, why don’t I feel my shifter? I glance down and see a demoralized shifter barely hanging on by its last aluminum thread. It finally gave up.
My girlfriend, Sarah, has been working a corporate 7:30-to-5 since she graduated from the Ohio State University. With her standard vacation time of two weeks, it has been difficult to spend time together. We have been planning a trip to Utah for quite a while, and as fate would have it, we met George Toelcke on RoadRUNNER’s Five-Country Tour in Europe. He invited us to his backyard in central Utah. Sarah and I saw this as the perfect opportunity to combine her vacation with my work schedule. George suggested routes while I looked into accommodations and securing a motorcycle capable of dual-sport duty. We didn’t want to be limited by asphalt and wanted to look for adventure and scenic views that only off-road riding can offer. Ted Fedoruk, another Five-Country Tour alum, decided to join us for the first two days before he split and headed toward Nevada.
Sarah and I are on a Triumph Tiger Explorer XC, George brought along a Suzuki DR650 and Kawasaki Versys so he can pick the most suitable machine for the day, and Ted has his Yamaha Super Ténéré.
Motorcycle & Gear
Triumph Tiger Explorer XC
Helmet: Shoei Hornet DS, Bell Vortex
Jacket & Pants: REV’IT! Defender GTX, Olympia AST Ladiesjacket, Promax Ladies pants
Gloves: Racer Short Sport, Alpinestars Stella
Boots: Sidi Canyon GORE-TEX, Sidi Jasmine Rain
We forego a pricey breakfast at the hotel and venture out on SR 32 to SR 35. Wolf Creek Pass gives us the first taste of what’s to lie ahead. Open sweepers, no traffic to speak of, and scenery that reminds me of the Alps. No wonder the Swiss were the first to settle in Midway. Our planned breakfast stop is in Hanna, and with a few photo breaks it’s already 10 a.m. It’s a perfectly good excuse to indulge in bacon, eggs, and pancakes. We’re not the only motorcyclists with this idea. More than half of Hanna Café is filled with leather and GORE-TEX clad men in their 50s and 60s. It is a weekday, after all.
A short jaunt past small towns and a triathlon in progress brings us to our descent into Timber Canyon. From here, we start our off-road part of the day. It is well-packed gravel, but it’s also extremely dry, which makes us spread out considerably. George is leading as he’s the one with the plan. I’m riding in the middle, and Ted is the trustworthy sweep. Strawberry River Road takes us alongside its namesake stream and past Strawberry Pinnacles, the towering sedimentary formations shaped by erosion. As we manuever between water on our left and the steep cliffs to our right, the sun reflects from the pale rocks and roasts us like rotisserie chicken. There is so much sun that the thought of rain never crosses my mind.
Ten minutes later, we turn left onto Reservation Ridge Road, and a huge black cloud is now right in front of us. I’m no meteorologist, but that doesn’t look good. Somewhat unsettled, I glance at Ted in my mirror looking for any kind of reaction. None. I watch George for a sign of doubt, but he opens the throttle and takes off. I tell Sarah it’s about to get interesting. Not even five minutes later, I take a closer look at the mud while Sarah practices her somersault. The front tire lifts off an inch-thick layer of muck, which gets stuck between tire and fender and ceases wheel movement, causing the tire to slide to the side. Luckily neither Sarah nor I am hurt. George is somewhere ahead, and Ted is helping me get the bike upright again. He talks me into taking Sarah for a short stretch on the back of his Yamaha for which I’m glad because 20 feet farther I’m on my face again. The rain is turning into hail, and lightning bolts are cracking too close for comfort. We have to get off this ridge. Now. As riding the Tiger is impossible, Ted and I wrestle it down a short slope into an aspen clearing where George is waiting. He insists that within 15 to 20 minutes of the rain stopping, the road will be somewhat dry again. It does dry up amazingly fast, but we see another dark cloud approaching so we press on. It’s still squirrely and soft in some areas, but overall we continue to the quickest way to pavement. My shifter is bent out of shape (along with some cosmetic damages), so we head into Duchesne to look for help. A machinist bends and welds it back to functionality. It looks like it’ll hold up, so it’s well worth the .
It’s already 7 p.m., so we head straight for Midway. At least we missed another storm cloud and can enjoy the warm evening light.
I wake up groggy and sore; I didn’t sleep well. My mind is full of the previous day’s events. Of course it bothers me that I dropped and damaged a bike that isn’t mine, but my biggest agitation is that Sarah was on the back. I’m supposed to be her protector, defender, person she can fully trust, and I put fear and doubt in her mind. There’s only one way to make things right again and show her she can trust me—a full day of dual-sport riding.
We start the same way as the previous day except we get breakfast at Hub’s in Heber City and then ditch SR 35 for a cut-off (Soapstone), which takes us by Mirror Lake (no, not the one at OSU, Sarah). We hit pavement again on 150 for an absolutely beautiful cruise. We crest more than 10,000 feet in the Uinta National Forest. As in most parks, traffic is considerably heavier, so again we choose a cutoff (Whitney Reservoir) that will lead us to the top of Chalk Creek Canyon. The gravel starts out wide enough for four semis but quickly turns into a double track with plenty of rocks, ruts, and washes. There’s even a stream crossing. The Tiger’s suspension isn’t set up for this kind of journey, and Sarah is very vocal in communicating this to me. At least I’m not dropping bikes or girlfriends today.
Numerous turnoffs show us how important it is to have George with us. It’s easy to get lost out here.
Almost at the end of this long off-road section, we are rewarded with a magnificent view of the valley and the surrounding ranges. There is not a house, vehicle, or highway in sight.
We trek to Coalville and follow the route beside I-80. Sarah and I notice that even the interstates are beautiful in Utah. In Morgan, the trip leads south again, but first we go on even farther north to Huntsville to enjoy a burger at the famous Shooting Star Saloon, Utah’s oldest continuously operated establishment.
After an adrenaline packed morning and a long afternoon without caffeine, we chase the undulating sweepers back to Midway.