The team and I have been grounded longer than usual this year. It’s not all bad. Some of us actually enjoy being with our family, and it’s given us time to complete those long-standing projects around the house while simultaneously creating new ones. That said, it’s only a matter of time before the antsy feeling of wanderlust starts to creep in. Nothing quite satiates a much-needed break from the day-to-day (especially the day-to-day of 2020) like a lil’ camping and a lil’ motorcycle riding.
At this point in time, my wanderlust was far past creeping in. I was irritable, annoyed, and no doubt a general pain in the ass to deal with (more so than usual, right Evans?! [You’ll find out during your annual review. – EB.]). I needed a break, and I think those around me agreed. It just so happened that the stars aligned in my favor between two press bikes, a press truck, friends riding in Colorado, and a rare opening in my schedule. Who was I to dismiss what was obviously meant to be?
I re-jetted the carb on the 2021 Beta 300 RR press bike for the impending altitude and loaded it and the 2020 Husqvarna FE 350s loaner (no carbs to re-jet, thanks, fuel injection) into the CarbonPro truck bed of a brand new GMC Sierra Denali (more on that in a future story). After folding up the rear seat and stuffing all of my camping and riding gear in, I set off on a 12-hour trip to the southwest portion of Colorado.
One of the great things about our big ol’ country is just how big it is. Even though most of us have had to cancel our international travel plans, we’re fortunate that there’s such a vast array of land to be seen responsibly within our own 3.8 million square miles. Using a motorcycle to see it is an additional perk, and with a dirtbike, you’ll get to see much more of those hard to reach miles than others.
As you make your way out of the LA basin, the landscape opens up to big beautiful blue skies scattered with wispy clouds and a vast display of desert scenery in hues of beige. No matter how desolate the California desert can sometimes seem as one drones on for hours on Interstate 40, it never gets old to me. Probably because it’s such a stark contrast to the cornfields I grew up in the middle of back in the Midwest.
The further east you go, out of California and into Arizona, the colors become bolder. Moving up in elevation, the light tan of the low desert becomes a deep rich reddish brown dotted with green sagebrush and pinyon pines. When I used to drive home to Illinois every Christmas, the first place we usually saw snow was Flagstaff – understandable since it sits at nearly 7,000 ft.
Continuing down the road into the sprawling Navajo Nation, one is rewarded with stunning views of striped mountains and mesas flaunting a history so many years in the making that it’s hard for us to fathom. Incredible rock formations one thought to only exist in old westerns and sci-fi movies are spread throughout the reservation’s 27,000 or so square miles.
It’s worth noting that while the scenery can leave you speechless, many of the shacks on the side of the road where locals sell trinkets of all sorts – some made in China, some handmade in the closest city – are run down to the point of nearly falling over. It’s a grim reminder of the socioeconomic issues plaguing many Native American communities throughout the U.S. It lends a somber tone to a place with such rich cultural history. A place that is unsurprisingly the setting of so much enchanting and otherworldly Native American lore.
Just south of Monument Valley and its famous buttes, the grade flattens slightly as you pass Four Corners Monument – the site where Utah, Arizona, Colorado, and New Mexico touch tips. Passing into Colorado the desert landscape remains the same, but not for long as the road meanders northeast into the San Juan National Forest. Dotted with picturesque old towns like Telluride, this area of the Rockies has an industrious mining history. Miners were pulling everything from silver and coal to uranium and gold out of them there hills, and it was here that I left the road for the backcountry.
Somewhere around 10,500 feet up in the San Juans’ lush green mountains we made camp. Four days of rigorous testing and equally rigorous relaxation would ensue.
I remember when I started riding dirt bikes I came home and told my wife, “We rode these motorcycles up trails I wouldn’t even want to hike,” in utter disbelief of the machine’s capability. Using a dirt bike as a means of exploration also slakes my unrelenting impatience. I love hiking, but you get to see so much more even quicker atop a motorcycle. Not to mention that grabbing a handful of throttle as you drift through a corner or send it over a bump in the trail is an ever-rewarding activity.
A few hours into the first day of riding I thought to myself, “Is this 12-inch wide trail on the side of this mountain ever going to end?” The answer was, not for a while. The trail, that my friend later referred to as Sidehill-a-Palooza, was aptly named. Seemingly endless single-track where just a few inches in the wrong direction you were guaranteed a painful death. Such harrowing trails often bring with them incredible views, that is, if you’re able to stop and look.
Had you asked me at that moment if I was having fun I would have answered with 50% fun, 50% stressed. Turns out that is just what you should expect in the area we were riding. So, I just got used to looking as far ahead as possible and weighting that downhill footpeg. There were less stressful sections and trails, like one that had really great flow to it through a dense forest of Birch trees where you could really pick up some speed compared to a lot of the technical riding we had been doing. That less stressful trail was also lined with cut trees and branches, so if one was to have a mistake, the landing would be messy. The member of our crew who referred to that as a “chill” trail also ended up changing a tube trailside due to a pinch flat.
Looking back now, it was incredible riding and having the chance to experience something aside from my normal California and Nevada trail rides was a real treat. It also helped me to sharpen some skills I don’t get to use as often. It’s always rewarding when you feel yourself becoming more comfortable in certain situations over the course of a few hours.
After four days of exploring with both two-strokes and four, I wasn’t bummed to head back to California, I was recharged. It didn’t hurt that I would be driving back in one of the nicest trucks I’ve had the opportunity to spend that much time in either.
I’ve traveled much of this route before, or something similar to it, more recently when I rode the 2019 BMW F 850 GS back from the press introduction near Gateway, Colorado. That was a different kind of trip, but was equally as rewarding – even if I had to cover 1,000 miles in two days. There’s something invigorating about motorcycles and the outdoors.
Four hard days in the saddle of two really fantastic machines left my body tired and satisfied. Days spent overcoming challenges on the trail followed by nights around the campfire will do that to you. If you manage to bookend those days and nights with a nice road trip, you’re bound to be ready to grab life by the horns when you get back. This trip was just what I needed.