MotoUSA Utah Dual-Sport Adventure

October 9, 2009
Steve Atlas
Steve Atlas
Contributing Editor |Articles |Articles RSS

Professional-grade speed and an attitude to match, Steve Atlas is the new blood at MotoUSA. Atlas has AMA racing creds that are even more extensive than his driving record.

Utah Dual-Sport Adventure
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Our week-long adventure kicked off at Miller Motorsports Park, host for Round 7 of the World Superbike series. Our Digital Media Producer, Ray Gauger, Kawasaki’s Jeff Herzog and I took in the sights as American homeboy Ben Spies showed the world how it’s done, easily winning both races, starting our trip off on the right foot. But while watching the Texas kid win, we sat in anticipation of our five-day dual sport ride that Herzog had planned months in advance.

Our “mega” adventure was about to embark, and it was mega in more ways than one. For the first couple days it was “mega fun” and the last couple were “mega long,” but all were mega, no doubt!

Day 1

Park City  Utah. Home to the uber-wealthy and a great place to stop in for a quick lunch.
Park City. The Hollywood of Utah. Beautiful town and it hosts the annual Sundance film festival.

We packed up our saddlebags and hopped on KLR650s just outside Salt Lake City. A short jaunt down the freeway and we were quickly climbing the Wasatch Mountains en route to Park City, the Hollywood of Utah so to speak. But we took the “scenic route” to get there, which started by jumping a gate and proceeding up the “closed” dirt road that leads directly over the top of the mountain. Closed to cars due to the amount of snow still on the road, but for bikes like the KLRs it would be easy as pie. And, for the most part, it was. With the exception of briefly getting stuck in a snow drift, the Kawasakis tackled the fire road without a second thought, and the view was absolutely amazing of the entire Park City valley and ski resort.

From here it was down the mountain partway into the city itself, which, with its amazing location, epic ski resort and annual film festival, is loaded with multi-million dollar homes that we suspect sit vacant for most of the year. It’s now become the Hollywood snow bunny retreat for the who’s who and it’s easy to see why. And I’ve got to be honest; if I won the lottery I would be shopping for a Park City house myself. It’s an amazing place.

Utah Dual-Sport Adventure
The first week of June is still too early to expect the snow to be gone in most of Utah’s higher elevations. Make sure to dress for major temperature swings as we experienced below freezing conditions in the upper altitudes.

But from there we would be venturing off to the ultimate juxtaposition to the high-class city. This night would be spent in a secluded cabin on the highest lake in Utah, Moon Lake. This couldn’t be further from the posh Park City, but at the same time it was nice to get away. No cell phone reception and a fire pit for cooking our own dinner was just what the doctor ordered. Some R&R was a welcome retreat from the usually go, go, go lifestyle. Not to mention the fire roads getting there provided a fun and entertaining way to venture off the beaten path. And it was well worth the trek. The view was stunning, our little log cabin sitting 100 feet from the lake with the mountains behind us. We didn’t have much more than basic amenities but the surroundings were staggering to behold.

Some fire-pit cooked steaks and baked beans, plus a few hours of bench racing, capped off an awesome day. I could have easily stayed there for longer but the journey must go on. Not to mention the thought of a hot shower was starting to sound really good…

Day 2

This looked to be the biggest adventure of the trip as our planned route had two options and, of course, we opted for the harder of them. Option 1 was to take freeways (boring) out and around the eastern side of the canyon and Indian reservation which lay beneath us, or Option 2 was to wing it and try and make it the entire way off-road, going straight south and navigating dirt trucking and fire roads through the canyons, reservation and wilderness with only a vaguely detailed map. So, off-road it was… They don’t call it an adventure for nothing.

Utah Dual-Sport Adventure
‘I thought we were here?’ ‘No way… I think we’re over here’. Ah, the fun of the adventure…

The goal was to reach Moab for the night, where we would spend the following day exploring the famous red rock area. But first we had to get there. Not easy when you have little to no idea where you are going.

The pavement quickly ended once we got onto the Indian reservation and mining lands. This was initially made up of a series of dirt highways just big enough for tanker trucks to get back there to pick up their load. We aimed for what looked like the correct thin brown line on the map and headed straight south, hoping we went the right way. We did take one turn a bit too early, but an extremely helpful trucker we flagged down got us pointed in the right direction and off we went.

Kawasaki’s KLR is made for these kinds of dirt roads, easily blitzing through them at 60-70 mph without problem. It was like hauling down the freeway, only now I’m getting roosted by loads of dust and grime from Herzog in front of me. Even in the chopped-up braking-areas made by the trucks there wasn’t the slightest need to roll out of the throttle – just lean back and soak it up with your legs. They did bottom out on occasion, hitting the frame rails, but this did little to slow them or us down.

Utah Dual-Sport Adventure
The Paiute trail made for some of the best fire road riding of the entire trip.

The dirt highways then bled into fire roads up and over the mountainous terrain we had to cross, where things got a bit more difficult. You see, the dirt highways had at least some trail signs to keep the truckers on track, but down here it was nothing but man vs. wilderness. There was no question we would get lost, but considering how fun the riding was and the amazing view which accompanied it, none of us really cared.

We proceeded to blast up and over several mountain ranges, elevation constantly changing – climbing and dropping, climbing and dropping. Eventually we made our way to the base of the final set, crossing some fun small streams and mud washes along the way. But where were we? Who knows? We knew we had followed the compass heading relatively south the entire time and couldn’t be too far off. But then again…

Much to our astonishment, as we crested a left hand gravel sweeping turn I spotted a rundown house followed by a sign in the distance. It looked like a highway mileage sign. As we got closer it came into focus: 15 miles to I-70. We did it! We were right on track and didn’t take a single wrong turn. Considering all the opportunities we had to mess up, this was nothing short of a miracle. As Herzog put it: “I’ve been off-road riding KLRs for 20 years now and this is the first time I haven’t got lost at least once or more the entire day. I can’t believe it!” There was a bit of a scare just as we got to the highway, as Ray’s bike quit working for a moment, but once we reconnected the carburetor vacuum line, all was good again.

Utah Dual-Sport Adventure
The Kawasaki KLR650 is an amazingly reliable machine. The occasional small issue is understandable considering the terrain it had just covered. Not to mention, what kind of an adventure would it be without a few small hurdles to overcome.

This now meant it was back onto the freeway to Moab. While it was only 90 miles to Moab, compared to the 200-plus we had just done off-road, it felt like it took three times as long. There’s something about venturing off the beaten path that takes one’s mind off of the time.

The beautiful Red Rock Lodge was our host for the night and, I must say, it’s the ultimate outdoorsman’s getaway. If the sound of a posh room with an amazing view of the Red Rock Canyons in a rustic atmosphere sounds nice, look no further. It may not be the cheapest place in the Moab area but it’s definitely worth the money; it has to be one of the most awesome hotels I’ve ever stayed at.

Day 3

Moab was the third day of the trek, and the highlight was, without a doubt, Slick Rock. It was the first place we went after breakfast and what was supposed to be a quick visit turned into a half-day of madness.

Now they must call it Slick Rock as a joke – like in the movies when the big fat guy is nicknamed Tiny – as the rock formations are as tacky as 100-grit sandpaper. One can ride up walls nearly vertical and traverse ledges at crazy 60-plus degree angles. The grip far exceeds that of even the most coarse tarmac, and once acclimated the amount of obstacles we were able to conquer on our KLRs was bind-boggling; even scary at times as a fall would have been horrific, yet still so much fun.

Utah Dual-Sport Adventure
Slick Rock in Moab is the ultimate off-road playground. Another place you want to make sure that you schedule plenty of time to see all the sites.

The trail is shared with mountain bikers and rock-crawling Jeeps, and unlike those in California, everyone is polite and gets along, waving and moving for those with the right-of-way. Amazing what a bit of common courtesy can get you – all you Cali mountain bikers pay attention here. If you are ever out in Moab with any kind of off-road vehicle you must go to Slick Rock. We could have stayed and explored for days, but it was getting late and the next town was calling our name; time to hit the open road (highway) once again.

You see, by themselves the single-cylinder KLRs will only do 80 mph pinned in top gear, making getting anywhere fast a tough job. This is where Herzog and I put our road racing experience to good use. With the upright seating position making the bike and rider a giant sail, slowing us down, it called for some full-tuck drafting to get our speeds up. Once pinned and playing leapfrog with each other’s draft we could just tip 90 mph consistently. Not to mention it was a laughably good way to pass the time on the oh-so-boring freeway. Luckily, the following day would be mostly off-road.

Day 4

The Paiute trail was the name of the game and the goal was to stay on it as long as possible. It’s one of the largest motorcycle, ATV and UTV trail systems in North America and they actually welcome off-road vehicles to use the town’s paved streets, making car transportation unnecessary at all inside the city limits.

Utah Dual-Sport Adventure
The backcountry awaits…

For this part of the adventure we met up with Ray’s old boss from his former ATV TV show, who actually loved the place so much that after shooting a few episodes on the Paiute he moved there for good. It really is an off-road enthusiast’s dream, as there’s no need to ever own a car. Sprawling some 200 miles in total, it goes all the way down to St. George, Utah, which sits at the Utah/Nevada border and was where we wanted to end up as our night stop was to be Mesquite, Nevada. So, trails the entire way to St. George it is. Or so we thought…

We followed Ray’s old boss and explored some tilled up rocky gravel roads and trails trying to find our route for quite some time. A good number of the passes were closed due to snow still on the mountain peaks so we had to take a few detours. Eventually we landed on the main trail, leading us through amazing wooded sections and up the side of boulder-laden cliffs. The variety of terrain was astonishing and quite fatiguing at the same time. It’s easy to see why this is such a trail-riding Mecca. It features every kind of terrain one can imagine and a variety of routes that suit all skill levels.

Utah Dual-Sport Adventure
Slick Rock proved to be some of the most challenging and adrenaline-filled fun of the entire trip. We could have stayed for days.

We continued on the main trail for as long as our bodies could take, but by mid-afternoon my back had given up the ghost and the rocky roads were doing a number on me. Barely able to sit upright, we finished our 100-plus off-road miles that led back to a small town and decided on some smoother, but still fun, paved roads that took us winding and weaving over the mountains to St. George. In fact, we got so far up in altitude that the temperature dropped from a solid 70 to below freezing. Quite the drastic change. Thankfully the road wound itself down just as quickly as it went up and we were in St. George before we knew it.

From there it was another couple hours of the drafting game down the I-15 to Mesquite, Nevada, where a much-needed hot shower awaited. Making things a bit more interesting were the blistering 30-40 mph crosswinds that had the three of us blowing around like rag dolls on the relatively light and upright-seating KLRs. This made the last 50 miles feel more like 500, but we got through it without getting blown into a ditch. Some mandatory gambling (we were in Nevada after all) in the form of roulette and blackjack that night eased the pain as I pocketed $100 before falling into a mild coma and getting some rest.

An amazing journey though the wild landscape that is Utah.
Who knew what an amazing journey though the Utah wild landscape that this would become!

Day 5

All that was left was of our mega adventure was some serious freeway miles to get home – 350 of them to be exact. Once again, the typical Nevada crosswinds greeted us as we hopped on the I-15. So, we tucked in, pinned the throttle and made headway home.

In fact, we made it all the way to Baker, California, on one full tank of fuel without stopping. We grabbed some lunch and did exactly the same thing all the way back to sunny SoCal and Kawasaki’s Irvine headquarters. We did make a quick stop to top off the fuel tanks in San Bernardino, but that was it. We were home by 2 p.m. … but we were hammered. While 350 miles may not seem like much, on a bike that will only do 80 mph tapped-out and is a sail in the wind, it’s a lot of work; we were absolutely knackered!

What a great adventure! From camping in a cabin in the wilderness to vertical rock climbing in Moab to the sight of seeing Kawasaki’s parking lot after doing 1296 miles in five days, 680 of which were off-road – it was an adventure none of us will soon forget. And judging by the dirty and “well-used” looking KLRs, neither will the bikes.