June 26-28, 2014
For some time I have wanted to try a multi-day motorcycle adventure ride, camping along the way. It took a lot of research and experimentation to find a good way to carry all of my camping gear on my small dirt bike.
I teamed up with seasoned riders Ross Vellinga, Scott Connors, and Danny Lunt. Our plan was to spend three days and two nights out in the Uinta Mountains in eastern Utah. We planned routes that would avoid the crowds of the Rainbow Family Gathering and the Ragnar race. Our route is shown in this image. Each day is indicated with a different color, with yellow representing routes we planned on taking but did not.
My dirt bike does not have a strong metal sub-frame on the back and I don’t have a rear fender rack. I therefore had to find ways to carry my gear without such a structure. The bulk of my gear fit inside a water resistant Giant Loop Coyote bag. I also had a Giant Loop Fandango tank bag, Giant Loop Pannier Pockets, and a blue Sea-To-Summit dry bag for my tent.
With so much gear on the back of the bike, I am unable to swing my foot over the rear of the bike, so I have to lift my foot directly over the seat. Being old and stiff, this is challenging – especially with a 39” seat height. This turned out to be a good indicator of how tired I was getting.
Day 1: Sandy to Murdock Basin
It was sunny and hot when we met at the mouth of Big Cottonwood Canyon shortly after 4:00 PM on Thursday. We rode up Big Cottonwood Canyon, over Guardsman’s Pass to Midway, and on to Jordanelle Reservoir where we stopped for a short break. They let me lead the way since I was the rookie and had the smallest bike. I found that my bike handled pavement just fine up to about 60 mph.
While taking our break it was obvious that we had a storm moving in. We hurried on to Kamas and stopped for gas. It started to rain just as we finished up at the gas station. It gradually began raining harder. When we stopped to pay our entry fee for the Mirror Lake Highway, we discussed our options for finding our camp. We considered camping at a lower elevation camp, but decided to press on with our original plan to Broadhead Meadow. We could feel the temperature drop as we climbed in elevation. We eventually turned onto the wet Murdock Basin dirt road. Luckily, the trails in Murdock Basin are really rocky – not muddy and slippery.
We found an absolutely beautiful place to camp right on the edge of Broadhead Meadow. There were two Moose there to greet us.
It stopped raining about the time we got to camp, so we were able to set up our tents and cook our dinner in decent weather with just a few pesky mosquitoes.
Ross quickly got a fire going so we could cook up our steak and potatoes. Dinner was fabulous.
We enjoyed sitting around the campfire during the evening until it started to rain once again at about bed time. It rained throughout much of the night. I was pleased that my new tent kept me nice and dry. It got a little chilly during the night since we were at 9500’ elevation.
Day 2: Murdock Basin to Upper Stillwater Reservoir
We woke up to a beautiful sunny day. I tried out my small camp stove and some freeze-dried breakfast and hot chocolate. It wasn’t too bad. My compact camp chair worked out pretty well too.
Our tents were wet from all of the rain, so we decided to explore some of the trails in Murdock Basin while we let our tents dry out.
We first rode down to the east end of the Duchesne portal that takes water from the Duchesne River and diverts it over to the Provo River. I brought my family here many years ago so I knew it was a rocky road. I was surprised with how well my bike handled with all of my camping gear except my tent. I could hardly tell it was there. Of course, if I got into a sticky situation I am sure the extra weight and bulk would become very obvious.
On my last visit I did not realize that there is a beautiful waterfall about 100 yards down river from the tunnel in-take. Little Deer Creek Falls is really spectacular.
Just downstream from the falls is Cataract Gorge, which is also very scenic, but we did not have time to explore the gorge.
We then took the fun ride out to Echo Lake, and then returned to camp to fetch our tents and eat lunch.
On the first day I found that my tent interfered with my backpack, so I decided to move it behind the Coyote bag. I was worried that it might slip and get damaged on the exhaust pipe, but this new arrangement worked very well.
Just as we left camp it started to rain again and the temperature fell rapidly. A cold front had obviously moved through, and it looked like we were in for a long and wet day. I was sure glad I bought a waterproof set of riding pants and jacket – they worked great!
We sought shelter near the outhouse at the parking lot for the Provo River Falls. We stayed there for about an hour hoping the storm would pass.
The storm finally let up a little, so we rode down the canyon to the Soapstone Basin turnoff. When we got there, the sun was out and it was much warmer at this lower elevation.
Our original plan was to explore Soapstone Basin and ride out to Lightning Ridge. With a massive storm system in the area, we decided that wouldn’t be a very wise thing to do. So we quickly rode over Soapstone Pass to the Wolfcreek Pass highway. Luckily we never encountered any more rain.
As we approached Hanna, we turned onto a dirt road that climbed over a mountain pass at about 10,000’ elevation. The view going down the other side was incredible. Unfortunately I didn’t take the time to take pictures, but you can see it in my video.
This brought us to Upper Stillwater Reservoir. We were hoping that the water was still flowing over the spillway, but it was about 2’ too low.
We found a decent campsite a few miles down the highway from the reservoir (~7800’ elevation). It wasn’t as nice as our first camp, but it had a nice stream where Ross was able to catch a few Brook Trout.
Day 3: Upper Stillwater to Daniel’s Summit, American Fork Canyon, and home
We were quite a ways behind schedule due to the rain, so on the morning of our final day we considered all of our options. My bike has a smaller gas tank than the rest of the group, so that had to be carefully considered. Luckily, Danny was carrying an extra 1 gallon of fuel.
Our original plan was to ride down Farm Creek Road, but we learned that we would likely have our bikes confiscated if we rode through the Indian Reservation. We considered taking the pavement to Duchesne where I could get gas, but I didn’t want to ride too many miles on Hwy 40 on my small bike.
We also considered returning to Kamas, but knew we would run into the Ragnar race. And the shortest route back to Heber would have taken us right through the middle of the Rainbow Family Gathering.
So, we decided to stick with our original plan and ride to Daniel’s Summit via the Red Creek road. To do so, we had to return to Hanna the way we came.
The Red Creek road is in a very remote area that is seldom visited, so we were not sure if we could even get all the way through. We feared we would encounter private property or banks of snow since the trail went over 10,000’ in elevation. If we did, I was in serious jeopardy of running out of gas. This is an adventure after all.
Red Creek was a fairly rugged road, but it was really fun and incredibly scenic. It offered spectacular views in every direction.
After following the ridge lines for many miles, we dropped down towards Currant Creek Reservoir. We stopped for lunch at a nice spot that was sheltered from the cold wind.
The roads from Currant Creek to Daniel’s Summit were not as fun as most of the trails because they had recently been graded. There were lots of loose, jagged rocks all over the road. We also encountered hundreds of motor-homes and campers in the area. I have never seen so many campers in such a small area before.
We were still running behind schedule, so once we reached Hwy 40 near Daniel’s Summit, Ross decided to head for home. Danny and I rode up to Daniel’s Summit Lodge to buy gas (expensive).
We originally planned on taking the dirt road to Wallsburg, but to save time we decided to ride down Daniel’s Canyon. For me, that was not fun. My bike can go comfortably on pavement at 55 mph, and it isn’t too bad at 60 mph, but 65 mph is really pushing the bike and the knobbie tires. Luckily we got behind a large tanker truck that could only do 65 in the long straight stretches.
After reaching Heber, we turned south towards Deer Creek Reservoir, and then west through Charleston where we encountered the Ragnar race. We didn’t realize the race went that far south. Luckily the traffic was light and it didn’t take long to reach the road to Cascade Springs.
The Cascade Springs road is pretty rough and wash-boarded, so it wasn’t too fun.
After reaching Cascade Springs, we rode up over the Alpine Loop, down American Fork Canyon to Alpine. Scott separated at this point while Danny and I rode over Traverse Mountain to Draper, and on to home.
My odometer showed 297.5 miles for the three days, almost half of which was on the final day.
This turned out to be a great test for adventure riding. I thoroughly enjoyed it even though we encountered some bad weather. I was able to validate my water proof riding gear, luggage, and tent. I was also able to evaluate the bikes handling and stability on pavement, dirt roads, and rocky trails. I learned that I need to make a few minor adjustments on how I mount the Coyote bag, but otherwise my gear worked perfectly. It was a very enjoyable experience.