Thursday, May 5, 2011

Motorcycling - from Bluff, Utah to Capitol Reef N.P.

Panguich, Utah

I made it here to Panguitch late yesterday afternoon after another great day (2 in a row) of motorcycling. Southern Utah has to be one of the prettiest places I've ever been. I'm going to skip over the trip from Show Low to Bluff because again, it was one of those I'd rather forget-- it was basically a slog through a cold day with a ton of wind buffeting the bike almost continuously. We got up early and found that the temperature was only 29 degrees. Ooops, I reckon there's no need to leave right away. We had coffee, looked at Google Maps and the weather north of Show Low trying to come up with a plan and a destination that would avoid the cold weather that continued to plague us. Finally we decided to head to Bluff or maybe even Torrey, near Capitol Reef National Park, if the day proved favorable. With that in mind we set off heading north through Navajo country on Arizona Rte 77.

By the time we got to Bluff it was late afternoon. It had been a hard day on the bike (252 miles in 5 hours in the saddle) but the evening here in Bluff was shaping up nicely with blue skies overhead and a temperature of about 70 degrees. I was all for stopping but Donna was feeling the draw of her home and husband in Sacramento and wanted to press on to Torrey another 2-3 hours away. I told her to go on ahead. I was finished for the day. I wanted nothing more than to get some chow and pack it in. We had talked about splitting up at some point so I could do some camping. And now that we had finally reached our elusive goal of southern Utah, I was really wanting to take my time. It was great traveling with Donna but our pace on the road is slightly different. She likes to rip along at speed whereas I like to dawdle. Part of the reason for that is my inexperience, part is that my bike isn't as well suited as her Bandit for racing along on these big western straightaways. Nothing but kudus go to Donna - she frequently reminds me "always do your own ride. Don't do anything that you are uncomfortable doing. I'll be waiting up ahead." I'm grateful for that and for her vast storehouse of knowledge about biking in the southwest. She made it an exciting and interesting trip through some of the nicest territory on the planet. I owe her many thanks.

Donna refers to me a "returning rider" because once upon a time I had a bike, a 4-cylinder Honda CB750. But I never drove it on roads like these and I didn't fully understand the mechanics of driving a motorcycle back in 1975. It was fast, sure, and I had a good time with it but touring like we're doing is fairly new to me. My travels in Thailand taught me a few basics and reminded me of the joy of being out on the open road on a bike but the reality of my situation is that I need to go slow while gaining mileage, and experience. I had a few close calls in Thailand -- curves in which I went in too hot and had to drift into the opposite lane halfway through. Luckily traffic was always light and our speeds low -- nothing bad happened. But here in this open country I'm cruising at speeds the old Phantom can't even get to let alone maintain.

So it was that the time came to say goodbye to my traveling companion for the past two weeks. Donna made for Torrey and I looked around for a place to camp. I ended up in a little RV campground right in town. I set up my tiny 3 lb backpacking tent, distributed my gear inside it and then walked to a nearby restaurant for dinner.

It was a fitful night. It got down to 39 degrees and I didn't sleep well. I was chilly despite the fact that I was wearing everything I had with me. I never had trouble sleeping in a tent before -- I guess I've gotten too soft, too used to a big bed with a warm girlfriend beside me. Plus, the dry air irritates my nose and gave me a headache, neither of which helped my sleep situation. Along about dawn I did catch a couple of winks because when I woke it was 8:30 and the air had warmed up some. I walked over to the Comb Ridge Coffeehouse for breakfast. Had a very good quad latte, very unusual in these parts, and a helping of blue corn pancakes. Afterward I packed up and headed off to Capitol Reef National Park. The roads Donna suggested were fabulous and the day a fine one, at last.

Scene along U.S 163 just west of Bluff

Donna had suggested taking a road called the Moki Dugway (Utah Rte 261) even though I had to go out of my way a bit to do it. I went and I'm glad I did. It starts with a switchback gravel road that climbs up onto a plateau. Fortunately, the switchback turns are paved. I would never have driven it were that not the case.

The Moki Dugway
The plateau above was nice road and good riding. And totally without traffic.

Utah Route 261
After Rte 261 I turned onto Arizona Rte 95, perhaps the most scenic highway I've ever driven on. I include in that comparison one my favorite roads from Alaska, the Seward Highway from Anchorage to Seward. Beautiful surely, but different. Here the colors are vivid and varied, the rock exposed and weathered, the vistas practically endless, the sky overhead a brilliant blue.

Along the highway - Utah Rte 95
I don't have a lot of pics of 95 - my jaw was hanging open and I just couldn't decide which scenes could best communicate my sense of wonder at what I was seeing. I'd run up over a rise in the highway and when the view ahead opened up I'd say to myself, wow, wow, this is what it's all about. I took a break at a coffee shop in Hanksville and then turned west onto Utah Rte 24 and Capitol Reef N.P. The wind on 95 had been very moderate, almost not noticeable, but now a strong headwind battered me once again. But the roadside scenes were sublime and the sun full out making the colors jump out at me. I just slowed down to 45-50 mph and took it easy. Before long I found I was entering the park. The road runs along the Fremont River. I stopped to take a couple of photos.

Fremont River - Capitol Reef National Park
Fremont River - Capitol Reef National Park
I arrived at the campground soon afterward and asked what the prediction was for the night's low. The campground host said they were calling for about 40 degrees. I decided to stay but this time I'd go ahead and use the rain fly. Not for rain, because it seldom rains here, but to add a few degrees of warmth. Last night I foolishly left it off thinking I'd be warm enough. Wrong! I drove into nearby Torrey for supper, bought a Caesar chicken wrap and a couple of beers. I took this photo on the way there. You can see the highway to the right side of the photo.

Utah Rte 24 - Capitol Reef N.P.
After supper, and after writing in my journal, chatting with my neighbors, and finishing my setup work for the night I hit the sack. As it turned out, it never got below about 50 degrees that night. How do I know? I was awake most of the night even though I was plenty warm. Go figure.

My tent in Capitol Reef N.P. just before sundown
The ride to Panguitch along Utah Rte 12 was, once again, utterly spectacular. The day started out chilly but it soon warmed up and the biking was excellent. I'm out of time this morning so I can't write about it now but I'll try to get to it tonight. I'm headed to Ely, Nevada today where I'll again spend the night in a motel. This trip is coming to an end. Next day I'll bolt through Nevada to Winnemucca and then turn north into eastern Oregon. In a few days I'll be back in Eugene