Life: Mid-Vacation Check-In

Hello from Moab, Utah. This is my 2nd night here and I’ll be leaving tomorrow for Colorado. Socially distanced vacations are really hard but I’m really lucky to be involved in a sport that doesn’t make things too awkward. I ride into town, I wear my helmet + mask to book a campsite (sometimes I book via my phone) and I setup a tent, then I heat up some dehyradated food from a bag, sip some whiskey and head out the next morning out into the desert or mountain peaks riding. That evening, I repeat the process. I’ve been to one bar so far, the riskiest part of this trip and sat away from everyone else with a mask on occasionally dropping it to sip my gin & tonic. My most personal connection point with others comes by the way of gas station fuel pumps and the occasional stranger asking where I’m coming from…and I quickly pull up a mask “don’t worry, I’m not sick” and I always reply, “I might be though” and that usually causes them to step back a few feet but still consider their inquisition on why someone from New Hampshire and out riding in the woods of Colorado and deserts of Utah.

I’m not alone though and that’s one of the only essential evils of this trip. I am paired up with 2 riding buddies who I’ve spent every other weekend with since May. Both locals and all 3 of us aren’t sitting close to each other or being as social as usual but all of us have tested negative before the trip. We took precautions then we isolate from everyone else and from each other and ride. The closest contact I have is when I pick up my friend’s bike so he can lube the chain and I already have my full suit and helmet on.

Like I said, this is a really hard vacation to take simply because the operation of it all is so restrictive but until I have a vaccine in my body, this is the reality of it all.

In Moab, I met a local woman who was a registered nurse and is here to take care of her parents but still calls Las Vegas home even though she’s born and raised here. We did get into an intense conversation when I learned she was one of the Las Vegas survivors of the mass shooting. She, like other survivors who had inflicted gunshot wounds (this one on her buttocks) has a matching tattoo signifying their eternal bond with each other. Nearly murdered but survived. That was quite a story. I LOVE those kind of experiences though. When I travel, I tend to hang out in coffee shops, diners and dive bars and just talk to people. I listen to their stories and ask questions. My girlfriend will prep her friends for the 21 questions (more like 100) as not a psycho-analysis session but I just like hearing about people’s pasts that brought them here to this present. I haven’t had that on this vacation except this one person. That’s the best part of travel…the strangers and their stories.

This trip came to be about 6 weeks ago when my riding buddy Harry mentioned wanting to take a trip to Colorado…no not Denver but southwest CO and the towns of Tomichi, Salid, Telluride and Ouray and a 2 day stint in Moab to see the amazing arches and mesas on our dual sport bikes. We took a 4 day journey of 2400 miles to get out here from central New Hampshire on 3 bikes, a KTM 690, 790 and BMW 1200GS. They insisted I bring my 500CC enduro but before I the day of, they decided to change the plan from park the trailers and ride everywhere and instead switch to a hub plan where we’d move the trailer between camp sites and unload. My R1200GS is setup for adventure touring. Not extreme enduro but with a full load of everything I need to live off the bike for 3-4 weeks at a time. I brought that setup with me and then learned we’d be leaving all of my stuff in the trailer and just unloading the bike every day. Sigh. Had I known that was the plan, I would have brought my Enduro since it really can’t carry much stuff but is exceptional on the kind of roads we were doing. In fact, it’s over-qualified for the job which makes the day tripping that much easier.

Since arriving, thanks to the ‘extreme’ adventure touring I’m doing, I’ve had some issues that will cost some money when i get home like my 5-day old knobby tires are already splitting due to the extreme horsepower I’m outputting on really sharp shale and clay with a 700 pound bike before rider. I’ve also broken a shift-lever, torn my pricey pants and destroyed one of my side-bags, how I did so is still a mystery since I didn’t drop the bike with the bags on it. In fact, I’ve only dropped the bike one time and that was because I climbed to a 13,000 foot summit only to see a mini-summit 400 foot climb single track and thought “I can do that” and got about half way up dodging rocks, sand, gravel and sharp stuff only to drop the bike at an angle that the wheels were above the engine (downhill) and my friends had to come up and help me get it down. “Don’t do that again” Harry said.

The most important thing I keep telling myself when taking a 700 pound bike up mountain passes is that I’m doing it. I’m slower than the KTM 690 which weights roughly 60% less and probably 75% less with rider and I’m making it up the same mountains he is. He’s always 10-30 seconds ahead of me when he comes to a stop but I’m really proud that I’m able to keep up with him. I have never written this kind of terrain before. I found this post before embarking on the trip and the author indicated Corkscrew and Tomichi to be hard to impossible on an R1200GS for that person who is local to Colorado and rides a lot and I consider a very good rider. I did both of these and on the Adventure spec of the same bike which weighs 100 pounds more and I considered those technical but not hard. Not really even challenging just you have to have your head screwed on tight and some caffeine in your blood to make it work but I did fine. I did break a shift lever though so I guess Tomichi won but I didn’t quit. Tomichi required 100% focus and Corkscrew it was raining so it was heavy clay but any rider with focus and good balance and properly tuned suspension can do that pass easily or at least that’s how I felt when I reached the summit. The local guide told me “you’re an amazing rider if you did corkscrew” which certainly made me happy to hear. I only started riding 4 years ago so this is all really exciting to take on these passes with relative ease.

One of the hardest routes on that guy’s list, Engineer Pass is what I’m doing in 2 days. We’ll see if I still feel as confident once that is done…I’ll either summit or I won’t. I know non-riders don’t understand how a mountain pass on a motorcycle can be hard…you don’t have to peddle! Yes but on a 700 pound adventure touring bike you need a great line (strategy, just like mountain climbers) and you need momentum because you can’t just come to a stop and twist the throttle and expect to have traction. Imagine parking a Jeep on a sandy hill at a complete stop. Regaining traction from 0 MPH is next to impossible and finally you need balance and great control of your bike. If you’re leaned to the left or right and don’t use your entire body and your body position is flawed, the bike will go down. Gravity will take it to the dominant side you’re balancing onto and you’ll go nowhere.

My impression of Colorado is ultimately positive. You have a very similar situation as we do in Vermont. You can locals who just want to be left alone but enjoy the revenue from Tourists that make up about 25% of the population then you have 25% people who just own 2nd homes or are transplants, aka Flat Landers and finally 50% of the population in these towns are weekenders like me who are there for a variety of reasons, primarily outdoors activities like hiking, fishing, off road driving/riding and hunting. I’m blown away actually how many of the plates were Texas and not other states. Turns out Texans are the primary tourists up here even though it’s a 12-15 hour drive. One of the towns we stayed in i was talking to the local councilmen who said Texans are there May – September and then don’t come back until next year. Many are staying longer to avoid COVID-19, aka Metro-Exodus.

Anyway, Colorado is full of really fantastic people. I found everyone wanted to tell you a story and open up to you and help you out. There’s a west-coast warmth even a thousand miles inland that I’ve never felt in New England. The northeast folk have a rule that unless you know someone they know, you’re not in their circle. Knowing someone is your in but if you don’t know anyone, you’ll never be “in” and the Colorado people who were born there or transplanted equally had the same vibe “you are welcome” and it made me feel like I was a part of a community on day one. It was very similar to the San Francisco vibe I miss a lot without the high home prices.

Utah is similar but I can’t really judge either state. We’re talking about one small town in Utah and a few small towns in Colorado that are off the beaten path. These old mining towns switched to tourism for income but the layout and design is very 1850s and it’s both quaint and old-timey at the same time. People cluster in these areas because 90% (or close to it) of the land is not usable because these are 10-14K foot mountain passes. You simply can’t build on them. Terra-forming is cost prohibitive so these communities are forced to be tight. Ouray has only 8 streets…you live on one of them or you live on the outskirts in a small mini-valley off the main road but the drive to your house requires a 4×4 truck or ATV and your land is mostly unusable due to being built into a mountain. There’s no expansion, no expanse no migration out into the suburbs. You either live in town or you live 1 hour away over a Jeep only mountain pass and you’re off-grid. The council man in Ouray told me they only have 18 lots left that aren’t built on then that’s it…no more houses. This exists because of the geography of their area and it works really well to keep things quaint. It also means that so long as people want to be outdoors, home values in these areas will continue to rise. The last lot in town will go for a lot of money and remain valuable for a long time.

The kind of riding here is really unique. The roads are very predictable. You see a big rock well in advance and the mud / clay spots are darker red so you know when to expect sand or slick terrain before you get to it. you can adjust your body position without being caught off guard. The off road crowd knows the rules of passing and oncoming traffic and right of way for uphill versus down and everyone participates so it’s safe and finally, there are federal laws under bureau of land management that require right of way for public on all roads so even if you buy 10,000 acres, the roads going through it must be open to public. You can gate it to keep your cattle in but you can’t lock the gate so we roll up to a gate, open it and close it back and ride through a pasture with cows in the road and the only rule is, don’t go off the road but these aren’t roads..they’re trails just wide enough for a Jeep and so you can ride all day through private land and not suffer any issues. This NEVER happens in New England. Up here, gates are locked, fences are taken seriously, people point guns at you if you accidentally roll up to their property and the terrain is unpredictable. There’s mud under this batch of leaves and you won’t know it until you roll over them and the rideable dirt roads in New England get smaller every year. Roads not on the list for paving will be moved to ‘unmaintained’ and in 20 years, will just be a memory unless people ride them which many don’t. It’s very hard to be a dirt rider in New England even up in Maine because half of the state is owned by forest companies which…have no federal law requiring right of way for public so half of Maine is basically un-rideable.

The last bit I wanted to talk about is the unplugging for 2 weeks. Heather and I have been in self-quarantine since the 1st week of March. We haven’t taken a trip together since a few weeks ago where, of course, we go camping due to COVID. No movies, no trips, no getaways and no going to canada for the weekend. We’ve been home and just with each other going out every 2 weeks individually to buy groceries. It’s been really hard and when I go back, I’ll be returning to quarantine with her. We don’t go back to our offices until there’s a vaccine so we’re home. This trip wasn’t really necessary but in taking this trip, I was forced to unplug from the day to day. I took PTO off from TomTom and timed the trip where I had no interns, the 6 I had phased out and the 3 I get in September won’t start until i get back. The property management work does not’s constant but all boards I work for (HOA Boards) have done a great job of leaving me alone for this 2 weeks which I appreciate but it means when I’m back, there’s going to be an onslaught of work that’s building up in a spreadsheet somewhere. YouTube videos, I had 5 queued up which are all posted but when I get home, I’ll have about 2 weeks of a self-assigned deliverable to compile 14 days of travel and put it into about 11 videos. I think 2 weeks is enough time working on this every night. I also have to rebuild my Synology NAS when I get back home before I can do any video work. That’s going to be rough and I hope all of my data is still there. Once photos are edited, videos edited, I can create my ride-report which is usually about 10,000 words wrapping up the entire trip complete with GPS logging, photos and videos for the ADVRider community and this blog. This is work worth putting in because it helps others who want to take a trip like this. September is going to be a very busy month. 4 big jobs to complete including onboarding new interns and getting that going oh and the huge work deliverable for a global blueprint of my intern project that I have to get done in September for a boss 3 levels up from me. It’s about 80% done but that last 20% is the hardest.

This post was long but I gotta be honest, I’m sitting at this bar on their WiFi uploading 152 photos / videos taken on the iPhone today. I like doing these daily WiFi uploads because it ensures that those data files are safely stored away. If my iPhone breaks, they’re safe. Doing 60 miles an hour through mud and rivers is high iPhone damage territory and when so much of my video now lives on the iPhone (in addition to the Drone, 3 GoPros and Canon 5D), these photos/videos need to be uploaded which requires WiFi. If the iPhone had an SD slot, it’d make my life a lot easier. Unfortunately, the WiFi here isn’t fast enough to get all of these uploads done in one evening. Bummer. I’m inclined to plug my iPhone in to a power Bank and leave it outside under a bush so the upload goes all night while I’m sleeping in my tent down the street. At least the Gin & Tonics are cheap here.

Signing off from Moab.

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