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May 07 2014

Moab Book 1: Getting There

It began with the forging of the Big Rings… three were given to the mountain bikers. (sorry, I couldn’t resist some LOTR-esque start once I decided to make this a 3 part tale).

This trip was certainly an adventure, nothing like the trip Frodo went on though as I didn’t see a single dragon, troll or elf along the way. And the landscapes of New Zealand holds the images we’ve all come to see thanks to the Jackson movies, not the scenery of middle America and the western deserts. It exceeded my expectations, and I had high hopes about the impression this trip would make on me. I’m only home a few days but will quickly say that I’ll go back again. Gladly.

But to start at the start…
I didn’t really feel prepared as it’s the first time I’ve tried something like this and I didn’t get much practice last year so Babe wasn’t already “stocked” with the usual gear. I also had to make sure I had all the important cycling gear for both me and Andrea before I left. She would be able to bring small things I forgot but not anything major. Now that I’m back I can say that nothing major was overlooked and the things I asked Andrea to bring were minor (and in some cases not actually needed as the weather warmed up!). I do continue to forget some kitchen staples though, not unique to this trip but a recurring theme. Salad dressing, mustard, honey and jam are examples… the number of different mustard jars we have at home because of this is an example of the impact šŸ™‚

I did leave Toronto (on April 9th) earlier than I usually do on a big trip, in part because I felt the need to get rolling and in part because I thought I was all packed and ready. A solid stint of driving and around 9 hours got me across three state lines (and one province) and had me bunked up in a motel just past Fort Wayne IN. The “Three States ” theme was something I found myself repeating a number of times on the trip… in this first book it includes:

  • Michigan, Ohio, Indiana
  • Indiana, Illinois, Missouri
  • Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma
  • Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico
  • New Mexico, Arizona, Utah

This TSL theme reoccurs in the next two books as well… there were only a few days when I was on the road that it was less than 3. And I much prefer the days when I didn’t even have to fill the tank because I was riding rather than driving! Those don’t show up until book 2 though…

To start day 2 I had a nice leisurely morning, savouring the fact that the trip had started. I made my way west but elected to take secondary roads rather than expressways and this resulted in me finding myself on Route 66 through part of Missouri (which has been on my “Places To Go” list since I started this blog, it’s now ticked off as accomplished!). This was one of the few blog entries I got online during the trip so I won’t repeat myself… here’s a link to it.

Keeping with the secondary roads, I went along the bottom of Lake of the Ozarks (MO) and then wandered south-west through Kansas toward Ponca City. This was a scheduled stop, one of the few places I had firmly pinned onto my map before starting the trip and It was a great evening, with delicious food and lots of conversation. Again, I did write about it a little so I’ll just include a link to that blog entry rather than repeat myself. I will include a photo of my camping spot for the evening though šŸ™‚

A westy-sized parking pad, Ponca City OK

The blog entry about this visit hints at the day of driving that followed but I didn’t have the energy to write about it back then. It was another day of lingering; more great food, comparing campers and talk of travels and places. When I did get on the road it was a beautiful but windy day with a strong wind from the west (yes that makes a head or cross-head wind for me). I stayed on secondary roads as I made my way toward the Texas panhandle. Once I got there, I had my first, but definitely not last, experience with tumble weeds. Yes, all you folks out that way probably take them for granted but I’d never seen them except in movies. And all the VW bus owners can relate to how exciting it can be driving one of these vehicles when it’s really windy, particularly ones who don’t have power steering.

One thing leads to another

This was probably the worst fuel consumption I had on the trip. However the wind wasn’t the only reason. When I’d left Larry & Maggie’s place I had noticed some liquid at the rear, at the time I assumed it was condensation that had dripped down overnight / in the morning. I noticed it during the day as well and puzzled over it but didn’t figure it out until the next day. My plan was to enjoy a day in Santa Fe, I was armed with a list of great places to eat and explore. What I did was entirely unplanned, but it’s good that I took the time. Friends on Facebook will recognize this photo as I posted it there.  It was a Sunday so I knew there would only be auto parts shops open, not repair shops, so I found one and parked in the corner of the lot. I then proceeded to unload the bikes and shift all the luggage, bedding and “stuff” from the back so I could get into the engine compartment. I found the fuel leak was the result of an end cap on one of the injectors that was aged and cracking. I say aged… it would be 3 years old or less. One of the good things about a diesel is that a fuel leak isn’t going to cause a fire the way it would with a gas engine. So… a small thing to fix.

More importantly though, looking around the engine compartment I noticed that a coolant hose was being rubbed by the alternator pulley. This would be the result of the coolant change I had done before starting this trip… the mechanic wasn’t as careful as he should have been in re-connecting this hose! Thanks to the little rubber piece, I caught this before it became a serious problem… it was only leaking a little and not enough to leave a puddle under the bus so I might not have seen it until it was too late.

The hose was easy to replace and I travel with a little extra coolant so I could replace what I lost while making the repair. The rubber end cap was another matter though… the auto parts shop didn’t have anything I could use. I do however travel with some spare fuel lines so I used a short piece, put a stainless screw into one end and used a hose clamp to make sure it was plugged. Worked like a charm for the entire trip but when I go to the mechanic next I’ll get it replaced AND get a spare.

As for lunch, let’s just say it wasn’t one of the places on my list and it was closer to dinner time by the time I ate.

I did take the scenic route from Santa Fe up to Farmington on 550. This too didn’t go quite as planned… the first part of the drive was through a sandstorm. This was followed by a rainstorm when I got up to around 5,000 feet and then it turned to snow at 6,000 feet. Once I crested the high point, the sun popped out. Quite the day.

Shiprock

Monday (the 14th) was cool but sunny as I headed toward Shiprock and then north toward Bluff UT. The scenery had gotten more and more interesting once I got near Santa Fe and it just kept getting better. I didn’t take as much time as I would have liked to explore as I’d made some plans with Bob to meet up in Moab later that day… my second pin in the map. Bob had mentioned a few places to keep my eyes open for along the way and the drive up from Bluff through Blanding on the way to Moab is incredible.

Just some rocks šŸ™‚

And then there’s Moab! I had heard it would be busy as it was Easter Jeep Safari, which is a huge event there bringing thousands of off-road vehicles and filling up all of the motels and campgrounds for miles. Bob had picked out some potential campsites that were off the grid though and once we got our supplies (food, fuel, propane and bike maps) we headed off to one near Dead Horse Point. You’ve seen the full moon photo, it was taken from this campsite. A beautiful spot with lots of character. Like the tight spot in Puckers Pass… Bob has driven it in his Syncro but I didn’t have the courage to give it a try.

In front of Chile Pepper Bike Shop, Moab
Puckers Pass

 Then it was time to ride… after breakfast on Tuesday we went to Dead Horse Point to check out the new trails there and got 3 hours of riding in during the afternoon. And then off to a new campsite, this time just near the back of Arches National Park at the end of Willow Spring Road. This isn’t a road I would even consider in anything but ideal conditions with a two-wheel drive vehicle but Bob knew the route well and the conditions were perfect. Babe made it without a problem but it was a bit of crazy driving to get there. And totally worth it!

Tuesday night’s campsite

We had a nice relaxing evening, with a second campfire, and watched the full moon rise over the mountains again. Not as spectacular as the night before but still nice.

Wednesday was my day to head down toward Vegas to make sure I’d be at the airport Thursday morning to pick up Andrea. But not before a little more riding, this time in Klonzo. The trails there are a lot of fun, I highly recommend them. Bob was going to stay put in the campsite for one more night so he had time to squeeze in a little more riding and hiking. I on the other hand, got into Babe after saying how much fun it had been and how delighted I was to have finally met him in person, and with that I closed the first book of this trip.

Next up… Vegas, Moab, biking, and more.

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