Spirits were high and, despite a warning from an elderly couple walking out of the Burger King complaining of their exorbitantly high prices, my stomach was fed. I was on my way to Canyonlands National Park, a place I had looked forward to visiting for weeks. After reading numerous ride reports others had written about the area, gawking at photo after photo, to say I was excited for what was to come was an understatement.
I turned off of 191 onto Potash road, passing a group of cyclists as I did and he same thought crossed my mind once more: cyclists are crazy, pedaling their way across the landscape. A few miles later, I saw several groups of rock climbers in various stages of their ascents up the canyon walls. An odd thought struck me. The idea of clawing my way up the side of a cliff seemed as fun and exciting to me as a cross-country motorcycle trip. Maybe the cyclists weren’t the crazy ones after all.
The paved road soon faded to gravel, and from gravel to dirt. Before long, I recognized myself on the very roads that just weeks ago had seemed a whole world away. It was rougher than I had expected but I was excited and my bike was light, all of my gear stashed in my room. I turned and started going a small hill, my speed slow enough to keep me in control. After my Death Valley experience, I was a little cautious about using speed to power through difficult terrain.
My back tire slipped on the rocks, and I put my foot down to catch the bike. I stopped to appraise the route ahead. These weren’t just small rocks, they were marbles in a sandbed. With each attempt to inch forward, another roostertail of dust was kicked up behind me. Another inch, another slip, and the bike began to lean to the right. I caught it with my leg, but it was over extended on the uneven ground, giving me no leverage to work with. “You. Will. Not. Fall.” I grunted, finding some sort of strength that allowed me to restore the bike’s balance. I blipped the throttle once more, another roostertail rose up behind me, and my back tire slid out from underneath me. The bike fell to the ground, on its left side.
I lifted the bike back onto its wheels, and saw something laying on the ground. My shifter. The weld had failed. With my vice grips at the hotel with the rest of the gear, I knew I wouldn’t make it further up the road. Instead I would turn around and head back the way I came. After all, I had traversed that terrain once and I could do it again. But first, I had to get turned around on a hill of loose rock.
Slowly, I managed to get the bike turned little by little until it was perpendicular to the inclined road where it fell once more. Tired and frustrated, I cursed at the bike and began to lift it up once more. In the distance I saw the dust trail of a truck coming towards me. I sat and waited for a couple of minutes for him to get closer. It turned out to be two trucks, and they stopped to ask if I needed help. I told them my predicament, and asked if they could help get me turned back downhill. The men pulled their trucks off the main trail, freeing up the road for anyone else who might pass by. I felt a little better when one of the trucks started to slip on the same rocks I had, sliding backwards some until he engaged his 4-wheel drive. Between the three of us, we lifted the rear end of the bike up off the ground and walked it over to where it needed to be, the bike pivoting on its front wheel until it pointed downhill again. I managed to make my way back down the hill and, stuck in second gear, slowly worked my way back towards town.
As I traveled back the way I had come, the road felt longer, more rugged, and seemed to have deeper pockets of sand. My confidence had been shaken. Eventually dirt became gravel, and gravel became pavement, and I felt myself start to relax once more. I built up a little speed, and could feel the engine as it worked in its higher RPM. I tried to keep the bike in a similar range as it would’ve been on the interstate, but without a tachometer I had no idea how close to the redline I was. With my engine screaming and shaking, I passed the same group of cyclists, now on their return trip, and more climbers tethered to the rock face.
I managed to make it back into town, where I stopped back at my hotel. Not only did I want a place to rest while I tried to find a welder, but I wanted my vise grip. I pulled out my tablet and started my search. Being such a large off-road destination, I expected to find a large number of bike and Jeep outfitters. Surprisingly, that wasn’t the case, and the few I did find all seemed to be run from someone’s garage. Unfortunately it was a Sunday, and with Utah being a conservative religious-based state, nothing I found was open. I would try again tomorrow.