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Blog – Moab 2016

Moab – May 2016
Our program for INTA had gone well this year in Orlando Florida and after two and half days I was ready to move on to Moab in the bottom right-hand corner of Utah, known as ‘The Four Corners’ as four states connect at this point (Utah, Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona) and famed for its scenery.

After my massive red-neck meal, a net full of fish n chips, the pig I am I had to finish it, I spent a very short uncomfortable night. Up at 0300 hrs, to get my dozy self to Orlando Airport in time to check in by 0430 hrs. The previous night I parked in a valet parking spot nearest the lift and thankfully my Chrysler 200 was still there. I had booked the cheapest hatchback and refused to pay for an upgrade, especially as it had taken 45 mins to get to the Hertz counter and check-in. When I got to the parking bay, I found I had been given a mid-sized car anyway.  The usual story, I couldn’t check in online for the flight, so wanted to be at the Terminal a bit more than an hour ahead.

All went well at check-in and I went on to the security line, which despite being at 0430 hrs was enormous. Once I got to the first check, I was told I had been pre-cleared and was sent to an empty line, so I walked straight to the X-ray machine while hundreds of panicky people were corralled within the ribbon barriers next to me. Feeling guilty, nope!  Thankfully I had an aisle seat pre-booked, it was a full flight. A family with small kids arrived and asked if I would take the window in the row behind so they could be together, I did. The little boy was very generous, every now and again, his hand would poke through the gap and deposit a wrapper or bit of a sweet on my knee. As with most people on the flight, I managed a snooze and four hours later we landed at about 0830 hrs in Salt Lake City, so most of the day was still left to explore. An airport cab took me to the one junction along the freeway to Easy Rider. It was notable for two points, one, it was like a zombie movie, there was no one around and secondly, it’s a flat fee from the airport, so my less than five-minute ride cost USD $25, possibly the least value taxi rider ever.

As I walked in there were three other people on my side of the counter, who were hiring a Harley Trike for a woman and an Electra Glide for what was probably her son and his girlfriend. They too were heading for Moab to spend a week touring. The girlfriend was driving their car down with their luggage, so they were to be quite a convoy. I asked the chap checking me in how busy they were and was told only three today, so that was it, he had it all wrapped up by 0930 hrs.

While they were going over the handover I went to kick a few tyres in the garage and was immediately drawn to the size of my bike, gulp! It looked blooming enormous and so very red. I already knew it was deceptive, as it was the same weight as our usual steed a Harley Street Glide. At Eagle Rider in SLC, Harley Davidsons have a capped mileage and at 6c per mile surcharge over the allowance which was 600 miles, my route was 700 miles excluding the day touring in and around Moab. This bike however could be had on an unlimited mileage basis. I booked it as the online reviews were all positive, it is an $18k Honda F6B, a sort of stripped-down Goldwing, the main difference is no sofa at the back and upside-down indicators. They look OK to me, it makes me think the normal Goldwing’s must look silly. It has an 1800 cc flat 6 engine, so more than enough power for little me. The most important aspect is that once again it matches my red jacket, no doubt this will amuse Mark who’s always wanted one, he’s often stuck with rather dull black bikes. The first issue seemed to be power for my Garmin sat nav, there was a long bendy arm like an old fashioned railway station announcer’s microphone, but on the end, it looked like a HiFi plug. There was no traditional cigarette lighter-style socket, although we did find a USB in a pannier, this was too far for my little cable. Mike the Eagle Rider man found me a much longer one and I was impressed with his cavalier attitude, when in answer to my question ‘how could we route it through?’, his answer was to just slam the pannier shut on it, well it was his cable! A fine idea, but the Garmin just thought it was attached to a PC and refused to cooperate. So the back of a business card was hastily used to scribble the route on and then I jammed it into a small cubby next to the fuel tank flap. Mike confirmed the tip from for me to continue on the freeway from the obvious route into Moab, for a longer but much more scenic route in. From Florida’s 80 degrees it was now decidedly nippy in Salt Lake City. Mike said going up over the mountains would be windy and wet so I put on my waterproof top over my mesh hot weather jacket. Having had to show a bit of aggression to the Harley pannier liners, they reluctantly fitted the Honda’s integrated hard cases.

Mike said he had ridden this very bike over from Denver and reassured me that once moving it would be a puppy. Unsure at this point if he meant playful, or uncooperative and unpredictable. I paddled it out of the garage, took a deep breath and flicked the starter and was surprised by an instant chirp and thrum of the engine ticking over. A Harley in contrast feels as if it needs a battery the size of a coffee table as it strains to turn the engine over with a final thunk of metal like a blacksmith hitting an anvil. The contrast continued, as we are used to having to give them a bit of wellie to bog down and stall. Using the same technique on the Honda and I almost wheelies across the car park, I’ve never been so shocked on the bike before. Like the proverbial rat out of an aqueduct, the power and low gearing meant it was in launch mode, I still can’t believe the almost superbike acceleration from a standstill, thankfully I managed to cling on. Having scared myself silly I poodled around the deserted trading estate trying to get the feel for it. This was very disconcerting, no sooner was the big red loco moving it felt like it halved its weight and so my inhibitions disappeared.

After about forty minutes south on the sparsely populated freeway the route had me turn left towards the mountains. The most interesting point was the main Harley dealership which looked like a huge factory made of rusting corrugated iron, it seemed to me like something that Disney would build. The road up into the mountains was nice and twisty but the weather was grey and miserable and I was a bit cold and stiff, but I had a much had a betting feeling for the bike by now, it’s silky smooth engine had me in top gear almost all the time. The only irritation was that the screen was fixed and was normally just below my eye line, but as the road goes and down and you lean into corners, the screen edge is constantly crossing your vision, I, therefore, was moving up or down in the saddle, which I got used to but was rather irritating. I came up to Soldier Summit a big fat splat hit the windscreen, then thwack thwack thwack and it was sleeting, I had my goggles and pulled up my buff. Not quite the desert driving I had envisaged. Added to this the road up here had extensive banding, where they lay tar in the cracks and these were very slippery. Our previous ice skating incident on the previous trip to Utah has made me unconfident about these tar strips. It was chilly, this was not pleasant and the road crossed a number of peaks, so lots of downhill corners, so I wasn’t feeling that comfortable at this point on a new bike I was not quite used to. After around an hour, it was brighter and dry, but I was still quite cold. The road plunged down into a strange canyon as if part of the rock had been split for the road and on the left was a large mine head. This was the town of Helper, signs showed it still had a historic centre looking like a movie set, but once out of the canyon, there were rows and rows of rail shunting yards.

A few minutes south was Price, pretty much halfway to Moab and it was now 1230 hrs, Mike had suggested heading for the old town, but immediately off the freeway ramp was a petrol station and my favourite Wendy’s, by now I had the shivers and after two hours also needed a pee. So went straight there, passing the line for the drive-in all lining up for Sunday lunch. At this point, I saw the other three vehicles from Eagle Rider heading back onto the freeway. Once in the warm and without considering the consequences I ordered a Baconator burger and a coffee, the latter warmed me up nicely and the former kept me entertained counting up the bacon strips, I’ll tell you how many later. Well ok, it was 8. Clearly, a frequent chomper at Wendy’s was the lady in the line next to me, resplendent in a Barbie pink tent of a T-shirt exclaiming “Blessed by god, spoilt by my husband”. I spent the rest of the next two days trying to find one of these tops for Mary.

After an hour I set off for the next leg. This was noticeably more warm, not very exciting straight roads, but following along a cliff face a mile off to the left. It was an hour down to the intersection with the next freeway and Mike’s forecast of winds at this point arrived, with a few sharp gusts making the ride a bit tense. Once on the next freeway and heading east the wind arrived in force, I’d never ridden in such strong winds before and was soon sweating nervously, with the bike leant right over into the wind, it had me going around the sweeping bends very cautiously. Thankfully the Honda’s faring is fixed to the bike, our usual Harley bat wing is fork mounted and notoriously bad in crosswinds. Passing trucks was hard, approaching them I was leant over, but as soon as you came into their lee and with the wind pressure off, I lurched towards the truck. As I came in line with the cab the full force hit me again and the bike swung across towards the barrier. In the end, I had to crawl past them at only a couple of mph above their speed to try and mitigate the pendulum effect. I was to go past the usual Moab turn-off, so had about half an hour extra of this constant crosswind. Having misread the turn off I ended up at a truck stop and needed a wee so headed for the John, there was only one, but I was the old only customer at that moment. It wasn’t that long, but it would appear a whole coachload of people had been teleported in, when I opened the door there was a huge line staring at me. It reminded me of the lines at French petrol stations on the way to skiing holidays. Perhaps I’d been longer than I thought, or perhaps it was that most people on bikes in America are fully logo’d up with HD stuff and I was not. There was some reason they stared so much?

I eventually found the right road and a cracking sign saying ‘lots of twisty turns for the next 45 miles’. Selfie sticks seem to be the simplest tools to use, but I fumbled for ages with Katy’s selfie stick( red so nicely coordinate with my outfit and the Honda), I was making such a sorry mess of it that two people stopped to ask if I needed help, I dared not admit my cack-handed manipulation. This area was the site for many John Wayne films. I was so relieved about getting out of the wind on this new routing. After a few hills and then across Deweys Bridge, I was immediately on a road running parallel and adjacent to The Colorado River of Grand Canyon fame, we were also in a canyon with walls probably 500-600 ft high. There were no real pull-offs, just gravel lay-bys,  I have some bad form with this type of thing, both slippery gravel and gentle slopes. With no Mark around to both take photos of me or help lift up the bike, I was dead cautious. One I did stop at was flat, but when I came to leave it had quite a height difference to get back up on the tarmac and I stupidly came at it at with too shallow an angle and scuffed along not getting up the ridge. My immediate thought was not again, I’ll never lift this, but after much sweating and revving I did finally get it up to the roadway without tipping over, it was not pretty and I vowed never again. It was a great ride, with not much traffic so I took it at my own pace, there were some smashing campgrounds and a very plush resort called Red Cliffs. The most notable point was a really nice separate cycle trail that in places was like a balcony to the road, when it was flat against the rack face, the trail then went all the way into Moab, perfect for a family cycle ride.

As you come into town there is a rock shop with loads of rusting traction engines and mining equipment and opposite are lines and lines of all-terrain vehicles and Jeeps for rent. There are lots of motels and hotels, but also a few bars, lots of restaurants and plenty of shops, a few tacky tourists, but some nice boutiques and craft shops. It’s a really nice town for a few days. Most visitors seem interesting too, no doubt due to the outdoorsy pursuits on offer. There are so many things to do you could easily spend a month and do a different thing each day. Those I spotted were white water river rafting, hiking, rock climbing, canyoning, kayaks, canoes, self-drive ATVs and jeeps, motorbike scramblers, and mountain biking. Having now seen some of the nearby National Parks, I bet an overflight would be spectacular too!

The Gonzo Inn sounded great to me and on arrival, it didn’t disappoint, plenty of character and plenty of reptile base visual gags, quite a classy place all around, I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it. Having procrastinated for a day or two before booking, the price had gone up, what I didn’t realise was that I ended up with a ground floor suite rather than a regular room. This had a king bedroom and a separate lounge in the L shape, but it’s all about location and this was located next to the pool entrance and side gate. The combination of pedestrian traffic and windowsills at knee-high, meant a few nervous occasions I was darting around and hiding behind the dresser in my pants or a towel. I am sure one startled dog walker peeked a buttock. I sat by the pool and called around a few places that offered excursions, I wanted to spend the full day seeing Arches and Canyonlands National Parks, but also wanted to experience something else too. The early morning 12-mile downhill mountain biking trips were not running due lack of bookings, so instead I went for a sundowner Hummer trip instead, which should still give me time to see the parks in the daytime. My ride down was just under 300 miles so I was somewhat stiff and a quick swim beckoned with a dip in the jacuzzi to round things off. Having ascertained I was English, I was soon interrogated by a retired couple who had driven out from SFO, they turned out to be charming and I bumped into them on a few occasions.

The previous night’s monster fish feast had put me off a hearty meal and despite the couple’s strong recommendation I couldn’t face a Mexican, so I went for a walk to find inspiration, it came in the form of a whiff of garlic. Not a faint whiff, as I got it about a block away. I sat outside the pasta restaurant and had a cold beer and some monster ravioli which was just what the doctor ordered, although by the end of the meal it was quite chilly. I was also warned it would be cold on the hummer ride the next evening. I was not equipped for cold nights, so toured the tat shops looking for a cheap top, they didn’t have any, only horrid hoodies, so I bought and not very cheap nicer one.

I had every intention of making an early start, but the previous morning’s 3 am alarm meant apathy ruled, that and going through my work emails at a relaxed pace. I sauntered into breakfast at 0900 hrs to find everyone leaving and the food being cleared away, grappling with the kitchen staff I claimed a bowl of porridge, hid a bagel in the toaster and secreted about my person a banana, and an apple and a Danish pastry for lunch ( both my mum and Mary would be so proud). By the time I had fuelled up and headed a couple of miles north, it was 1000 hrs as I joined a massive bloody queue for the entrance to Arches NP. Half an hour of grinding my teeth and cursing that I’d not been so sluggish. The road went almost straight up this thousand-foot red cliff face, but glory be, the lookout points were proper, so no nervous shuffling and dropping of bikes. The scenery was just so massive, huge great blocks of rock. Some seem so familiar from the westerns. There are also some bizarre balancing ones that you think with one small gust they would topple, lots of arches to see too. I visited the three main points, but there are numerous other viewpoints. The mid-way must-see is a delicate arch and is the one pictured on Utah’s licence plates, but this was a 1.5 miles hike uphill, so you needed at least two hours and I didn’t have the time, as I needed to still see Canyonlands NP and be back in Moab for 1800 hrs. I had my stolen lunch on some rocks in the sunshine, all very agreeable with the temperature in the mid-seventies. With nominal stops, I was in there for three and a half hours. It’s not really a motorbike park, but the views are gobsmacking and one of the most delightful aspects is that on the way out you see everything from a different angle, at the start(and so also the finish are some of the biggest and best views.

On leaving the park (Arches) it was 1330 hrs and I was dead tight for time, so headed 9 miles further away from Moab. The climb up from the main road took you to the top of a plateau, easily confused with gateaux for us dyslexics. My first stop was Dead Horse Point, I went to the cliff-top visitors centre for a wee. The views from here were impressive and I was about to turn tail, but there was a titchy sign as I left the car park for Dead Horse Point, I had assumed that was it. The real DHP was only a mile onward but they had recently resurfaced the road with grit and the middle bit between the car tracks was like marbles, that first corner was buttock clenching. My progress uphill was slow as I could feel the bike slide both at the front and back. Dead Horse Point is like a cliff-top island with a small arm that connects it to the main cliff, you drive on and park here, it is large, with views of the valley floor 1000 ft below, then another canyon below this. It was a good contrast to Arches NP. I then headed into Canyonlands NP itself and went to Grand View, this was extraordinary with just layers and layers, thousands of feet below, with the Green River like a very convoluted snake. It is such an amazing view, it almost looks false. I stupidly shot past the Green River overview on my way out, with not enough space to turn around, or time. I was back in town about 1700 hrs, we were not due back from the Hummer trip until after ten, so I scoffed a chicken burger and had a quick shower and was next to the big read Hummer parked just across the road for 1800 hrs and rather knackered once again.

The party was made up of me and two separate retired couples, one woman was already bloody loud before we even left and for my own sanity, I ignored her. The truck was a civilian H1, with the usual doors but no roof, instead they had mounted a speed boat’s sun awning a foot and a half above the normal roof line, an ingenious way of keeping the sun off and letting the breeze in. Much of the interior is taken up by a transmission tunnel, it’s like a reverse tardis, not really that much room inside for such a huge truck. I rode shotgun, there was a second row, but mounted on the transmission tunnel was a bench for three kids or two adults. Then out the back and raised up was another bench for four, so it could take eleven in all. We drove at a sedate pace to the town’s outskirts, into a car park and stopped at a wall of rock, this was clearly the town’s 4×4 playground.

The driver was also called Mike and he pointed out a big slope called Lion’s back, this was famous on U-tube for a white Ford Bronco whose brakes gave up at the top and it rolled its way to the bottom, the passengers were shaken and stirred. As we came up to the ranger station there was a group of buggies, two-stroke golf buggies on steroids with roll cages, knobbly tyres and cool whippy aerials with flags on, just like my brother Adrian’s Raleigh Chopper. They started crawling up a rock ramp, far too steep for the Hummer. We then lined up with an almost vertical slab that must have been 10 ft tall and Mike then deflated the tyres from a button on the dashboard, to 18 and 20 psi. We moved forward and an almost imperceivably slow pace, the approach angle the truck managed was amazing, it was almost like it had suckers on the wheels to drag it up the smooth rock. The couple who I met by the pool had been told by someone that they had been on a Hummer trip that drove along a spine of rock and had freaked out as it was only as wide as the truck and if you looked straight down the drop was hundreds of feet, the women had been outraged with how dangerous this was. I was clearly on the same trip, following the parallel black tram lines of the previous vehicles, that wound up and down the rocky hills into the distance. The six-and-a-half litre engine didn’t roar it was at a constant chatter, it was very smooth with an automatic gearbox, and no drama other than the seemingly precarious route. We followed the same tracks as the buggies took. At the top, we jumped out for an orientation and were shown dinosaur tracks. The buggies were parked here and it turned out the first was the tour leader and the other two were just following, if I was in their seat it would have been quite a shock to have traversed those ridges. Having spent the day at the previous two parks where you could not walk off the footpath, it seemed such a contrast that they permitted trucks, jeeps and bikes to buzz all over the place. The scenery was made up of huge rock hills as far as the eye could see, with quite a bit of vegetation between them. The state has the trails marked out with discrete pale yellow V’s sprayed on the rock, but the black tyre marks were a lot more obvious. There are about forty trails, with four that are used most often, some for vehicles, some mountain bike routes and some mixed. I was told the rock was very unforgiving and cycle crashes tended to end up in limbs broken rather than cuts and grazes. We zig-zagged our way around, meeting up with the odd jeep, clusters of buggies, buzzing scramblers and pairs of mountain bikers in low gear making painful progress uphill or pushing their bikes. It was serious terrain to be on two wheels. We climbed onward and went down what seemed like impossibly steep rock faces. The progress was slow and not especially jarring, it was the perfect time of day, I thoroughly enjoyed this and it was the third type of terrain I had viewed on the same day. We ended up overlooking the Colorado River, where I had come along the previous afternoon, the shadows were long and golden, bronzing up the rocks well. In contrast, we came across a flat area with some very squiggly trails and thick sand, Mike charged down these, each corner was a high bank and the truck drifted around these, it was great fun. I shifted to the back row, being perched high up and with no doors, it was much nicer and more dramatic, the return route was in darkness and I was glad of my new hoody. It was a fabulous trip, more enjoyable than I would ever have dreamed, we got back at about 930pm.

The next morning it was grey and overcast and I could see the wind blowing the trees, so I layered up, fuelled up and left at 0800 hrs to head north towards SLC. The traffic was light, and it soon started to drizzle, so I stopped and put on over trousers, it then stopped, and this became a pattern throughout the day. The slog to the freeway was an hour, and then I took a short kink along it, which was posted at 80 mph, so I cruised comfortably at 90. The next leg was also an hour, I arrived once again at the town of Price rather cold with stiff and sore shoulders. Again half a tank gone so topped up, popped some paracetamol, had a coffee and was delighted to see the sun poke its head out. At this point, I realised I had left my phone back at the hotel, doh! From Helper onwards the road got interesting, this time without the rain, sleet, wind and traffic, it was a really nice climb. In the distance, I saw another bike and I soon caught up, it was a big BMW GS with tin boxes and a rasp as he gunned it into the corners. He was my new BFF until two lanes came down to one and his sluggish manoeuvre had me stuck behind a pickup for what seemed a quarter of an hour of nice twisties, a bit of a shame I couldn’t enjoy them. After an hour in the mountains, I was on his tail again as we joined the big freeway north towards SLC. I hadn’t realised bikes were permitted in the express lanes, so we cruised past the pretty heavy traffic at a steady and relaxed 80 for the next 45 mins. When I passed him I noticed he had both hands on his lap, what a show-off.

Just south of the airport I cut left and headed along the bottom of the Great Salt Lake going west towards Westover and the Bonneville Speedway on the salt flats. It was to be a three-hour round trip, I couldn’t resist it, being so reality close. I was warned that there are no fuel stations for 70-odd miles, my fuel gauge suggested I had just about the range to get there, I hadn’t seen a fuel station since joining the freeway, so had my fingers crossed. As I re-joined the freeway west towards Nevada, lightning flickered across the nearby hills and it got darker and darker. There was a dyke for the Great Salt Lake to my right, the road was a dual carriageway that ran along a causeway with traffic in the other direction on their own causeway about 100 years to the left. In between these were whiffy brackish ponds, or salt looking like yesterday’s chicken korma. I was in a bit of a daze focusing on the cars in the distance when a Highway Patrol and the Sheriff charged past with lights flashing. Their wailing made me jump, thankfully I was doing 80 in an 80 zone. A few minutes later as I approached a bridge over a waterway a squall must have just passed, the road was wet, with the distinct smell that summer rain has. As I came over the top there were the two cop cars and an ambulance to the right, plus a little red 1980s sports car up to its doors in the lemon tort-like sludge between the opposing lanes. The driver was an older chap and was being talked to by the cops, he seems fine. I assume he lost control as he came down the bridge.

A bit further on I came across a petrol station, so stopped for a pee and to buy some painkillers. It was now 5 hours since I left and I had only the 10-minute stop at Price, but it’s an hour and a half from SLC to Bonneville and I had to drop off the bike before five so my schedule was tight. With another full tank, I was now a bit more relaxed, but dead bored with the drive. To add to this there was the M3’s twin sister, an 11-mile construction zone, thankfully it was 65 and not 50 mph. Just outside Wendover, I stopped at the Bonneville Speedway sign for some photos, I must have flicked the kill switch as I couldn’t start the bike, another motorcycle arrived and we took photos of each other and left our separate ways, me having spotted the knocked switch by this point.

Off the freeway, a solitary road aims out across the salt marsh parallel with the mountains, after four miles it comes to an abrupt stop. It was overcast and the salt flats were very wet with lots of puddles, but it was still a beautiful place. I walked out a few hundred yards, it was spongy and I got my socks wet. I snagged a small bag of the salt, it’s made up of very large grains and is crunchy, grip a ball of it and it hardly compresses. I was here for about thirty minutes with three other cars at one point. When the sun poked out it was beautiful, but the wind was getting up. The steel sign with the Bonneville story and map etched into it has been shot at numerous times. I had stolen the same food again from breakfast, so feasted here. As I came off the causeway at Bonneville, there were a couple of big black cars charging around the sands on the mainland side of the road.

The way back was long and I was very tired, I had been riding for 7 hours with just two 15 mins breaks and the stop at Bonneville for lunch, and I was in no mood for the trip back. After half an hour the wind picked up more and I had a horrid time of it, this time it wasn’t a steady bow, but very strong gusts, I was all over the place. Again it was stressful trying to pass the slow-moving trucks, I had no option but to grit my teeth and continue as I had a flight to catch that evening. I am very glad I did go to Bonneville but hated the extra three hours. I managed to miss the road that links the two freeways south of the airport, I knew roughly Eagle Rider’s location was but not sure how far down from the airport it was. Ten miles further on from the missed turn-off and I sailed past the airport and then found them quite easily despite a traffic jam. Arrived around 1630 hrs well ahead of their 1700 hrs shutdown. Not having dropped the bike this year, it was a smooth check-out. Replacing the kit back into my suitcase took the longest time. A bit of confusion with the deaf lady Uber driver they had called, but in the end, they paid her and off we went. The freeway was now gridlocked in the direction I had previously come, so my timing was perfect.

As ever I had been unable to check in for the flight in advance, but all went well and the flight was half full so has a couple of seats to snooze in, naturally, I slept well.

I’ve now found that Boutique Air flies from Salt Lake City to Moab, so the 4-hour slog each way isn’t now necessary. Moab is just a fab place to spend 5-7 days, it’s a smashing and lively base, with so much to do. I would strongly recommend it.