There Is A Map – Day 3 UTBDR

You would think with two different maps and the GPS waypoints we could find the trail. It’s obvious once you know… but it wasn’t until the third drive by that we made the correct turn to start the Utah Backcountry Discovery Route.  So lets talk maps…

If you are going to drive the Utah Backcountry Discovery Route please purchase the map and show your support! The map sales help to keep these BDR projects going as a sponsored, community driven effort. When you receive the map, look at it…  smell it… frame it and then leave it at home.  This is not a good map.  An entire side of the map is dedicated to the state while the route takes up a small portion along the eastern edge of the state. The detailed sections are not that detailed and you can not fold the map into any configuration that will align the state view and the detailed sections together.  The road numbers don’t jive with the DeLorme Gazetteer or the forest road signs along the trail. It appears their scheme for assigning forest road number is based on the lottery’s quick picks. Don’t count on the map for route finding.  Absolutely download the GPS waypoints.  The waypoints are dead on, extremely detailed and free. Before you start the Utah Backcountry Discovery Route, grab a Gazetteer, overlay the route with a yellow highlighter and load up the waypoints into a GPS. Now you have the tools you need to find your way.  Still, buy the map…  it is pretty and it comes with nine pounds of dual sport gear catalogs that you’re bound to find a use for…  even if it is only as a wheel chuck.

Blue sky, fluffy white clouds, 70 degrees.  You would be hard pressed to have a better start for any off-road adventure. The northern most leg is wide, easy, graded and graveled forest road allowing us to casually shed the tensions of the 900 miles of asphalt that brought us this point. Heading south on FR056, we passed lines of pickups hauling trailers back from a weekend of family outdoors. As the miles passed, the road thinned down as did the parade of rigs and quads. Soon the luxury of gravel gave way to rock, hardpan and potholes filled with the water from yesterday’s thunderstorms but we had the forest road to ourselves.

Utah, like most states in the west, is large. The terrain depends on where you are within the state. In the north, picture mountains, evergreens, stands of aspens and open sage brush. Back home in the northwest we have tight twisty trails through dense forest. Here we’re treated to open views above tree line. When we drop into the forest, it is open mixed with meadows, the smell of sage and pine filling the rig. This is an adventure for all our senses.

We motored through this leg effortlessly, spotting humming birds, eagles, prong horned antelope butterflies and a pallet of wild flowers.  We also saw countless free range cattle and sheep.  We were driving between eight and nine thousand feet above sea-level. At this elevation the temperature remained cool even in July.   And while the puddled trail and darkening sky threatened to dampen the day, the rains remained across the valley while we enjoyed the drive.

The Utah Backcountry Discovery Route is intended to be driven south to north so this leg is expected to be an short, easy last leg.  For us starting out…  a little too short. Before we knew it we were done. As we fueled up in Evanston, two things became apparent. The Other Paul had left his gas cap back at Bear Lake and we still had lots of day light in front of us.  A quick trip through the isles of Walmart solved the first issue.  Guys are goal oriented. Attain one goal and then they’re off on the next one. We’re no different. Continuing down the second leg we took advantage of all that extra day light.

These adventures are about finding the unusual… the different…  the little things you wont see driving 75 mph on the tarmac.  Coming around a corner stood a small stone marker.  Nothing special and I’m sure we’d of blown by if not for a long forgotten memory that fired off in the recesses of my brain.  When I was 14, I went on a road trip with Dad across the country.  Somewhere around midnight on that trip we stopped at Four Corners to see the spot where Utah, Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico come together.  On that night under the stars I stood in four states at once. (sorry I’m back)  While this marker only defined the edge of Utah and Wyoming, I found myself hopping between states like a giddy school girl who’s name was just called out for prom queen…  “I’m in Utah…  I’m in Wyoming…  I’m in Utah… I’m in…”.  No way for a grown man to act, but this is Ferris Bueller’s day off.

Up to now the route took us through  state forests and BLM land.  The trail now started to carve through private ranch land. The public may have easement, but that doesn’t mean the ranchers have to like it.  Crossing the cattle gate you are visually accosted by signs that scream “Stay on the road.  Do Not get off the road.  Do Not hunt, fish, hike or camp.  Do Not do anything but drive through and stay on the public easement.”  And those nice gravel roads…  this is a road in name only.  One lane, unmaintained, rocky, muddy and traversed by more cattle than cars.  The reward of this track through the ranch land…  Unbelievable vista’s and complete solitude. This is a big…  big ranch. The route went on for miles, carving through the mountains, exposing view of valleys and the mountains beyond.  Angus beef on the hoof often stood in our way, challenging us in a game of chicken as we inched forward encouraging them to give passage.

The sun was beginning its long decent as we finally reached the other end of the ranch, several hours later.  Marked by another cattle gate and stream we were now free to look for a place to call home for the night. We hadn’t seen a soul since Evanston until when we came across a sheep herder rounding up his lost flock just beyond the ranch’s boundary.  This is working BLM land with men who live with their livestock.  Modern times has them in trailers instead of old canvas bedrolls but they still work their herds on the back of horses and their tanned leather skin has the story of the west written in their sun dried wrinkles.  Gruff at first but when we swung back to let him know we’d spotted some sheep up ahead, the old guy immediately warmed up and was eager to chat.

I enjoy dry camping and that is exactly what we found…  a spot under the trees 100 yards off the trail. Dry camping means you have to bring everything you need (and hall it back out). No water, no outhouse, no manicured walk ways.  For this minimalistic flat spot under the trees you avoid the RVs with their generators, satellite dishes and families trying to stay connected to the coconut telegraph.

The lantern and headlamps illuminated camp as we fixed dinner and talked over the day.    The middle of July and we’re bundling up in layers and beanies as we crawl into our sleeping bags exhilarated and exhausted from 100 plus miles of dirt roads through an amazing section of the county.

Next : Utah Backcounty Discovery Route Day 4

All About Getting There – Day 2 UTBDR

Let me start right here… if you came back to read about the other thing, then please look away while I quietly hang my head in shame and prepare to symbolically attempt to disembowel myself with a dull camp spoon. We tried… We found it. We walked up to the abyss and looked over the edged. But the gods were not smiling on us this day and we decided we would do the other thing on the way back.

Guns and ammo go together on an adventure like PB&J… We have one and were low on the other. Driving through Idaho offers a plethora of choices when it comes to outdoor shops that sell ammo… In fact I’m pretty sure that Starbucks has a box or two hidden behind the 43 different selections of travel mugs emblazoned with corporate logo. But Cabela, the grandaddy of all outdoor stores, was there calling to us like Homer’s (not Simpson) sirens.

Standing in front of the eight shelf high, 30 foot long, isle of handgun ammo, we were immediately asked if we had a Cabela’s card. Usually I just respond no thank you… but as the words started to form in my head, I heard the sales guy finish his sentence with, and you get a discount and $20 off your purchase. Shifting to the calculator app in my head; a train traveling west with two guys carrying two new Cabela cards and two boxes of ammo at $40 dollars off… “Yes, we’d love to sign up for a card”.

After being ushered to the credit desk, two young outdoor outfitters (yes that is how they are addressed) who I’m pretty sure have seen more tanning booths than deer stands, started us down the process. Name, address, income, blah, blah…

Ok let me be the first to tell you I chat up retail folks… I worked retail… I know how pain in the ass customers can be… And I know most clerks are doing their best… So when I have an opportunity in line to break their monotonous routine, I jump in, with both feet. Since the card printer was down for a few minutes (turns out 40 minutes was the number) I started to chit chat.

I’m sure at first they thought creeper… but they came around. Did you know you can’t buy Everclear in Idaho but you can make a 15 minute to Ontario Oregon and buy it. Apparently you can also get good medical marijuana there too (not sure if Idaho only had bad) pot. We also learned about the pecking order of Cabela retail floor politics, who was dating who and plenty more about the stuffed moose head above then you could ever imagine…

We left Cabela’s with our 13 cent boxes of ammo… yes after all that each box still cost us 13 cents and an hour of our lives we will never get back… but I’m cheap, the company was good and we spent more time laughing then not… I’d call that a win.

We caught up with the Other Paul camping a little past the Logan River. But not before make a couple more wrong turns and spending an eternity in a fast food line with the intention to grab a quick snack.

We made it. Brad, Paul and the other Paul, the band, set to drive UTBDR… Three guys, two trucks and one big sense of adventure.

Next : Utah Backcounty Discovery Route Day 3

Hillbilly Hand Signaling – Day 1 UTBDR

I’ve been thinking about this adventure since arriving back from the last off-road adventure. High mountain desert, red dirt, canyons and wide open sky. But between here and there is more than 900 miles of asphalt.

After bouncing off walls at work for the better part of the day it was finally time to cut out and pick up the navigator… I can drive but I’ll be the first to admit I’d drive around in circles on a highway overpass without someone to point the way. And while Brad can navigate, apparently the science of telling time completely escapes him. It wasn’t until 4:30 p.m. that we finally had his gear packed and were on the road, just in time to sit in Friday night traffic as everyone in Portland made a brake from their 9 to 5 five lives heading into a weekend.

I enjoy road trips and driving late into the night is a bonus when you have a friend by your side. Brad and I haven’t gotten together much since our Baja way off-road adventure, but without missing a beat we picked up where we left off, chatting, laughing and bickering like an old married couple.

There are two things I absolutely want to do on this trip… One we’ll do on day 2 (I know the suspense will be devastating… but you’ll just have to come back to find out that one). But the other must do thing, presented itself to us at two thirty in the morning as we pulled off the highway and headed into the little city that sits on the border of Oregon and Idaho known as Ontario, Oregon.

Urban legend talks about it. But until you experience it, you really can’t understand the true joy that hilly billy, white trash red necks find in setting up camp in the Walmart parking lot. I’m not kidding here, throwing down carpet on the asphalt parking lot below the pale yellow glare of sodium lamps atop 30 foot poles as bugs dance to their rhythmic hum is the thing I just had to do. And I’m not alone in this quest… easily a dozen campers, horse trails and popup tents fill the back edge of the parking lot as shoppers continue to come and go 24 hours a day.

Don’t ask me why… I don’t even really know why, but to experience camping, not trailering, in a Walmart parking lot was on the list…

Tomorrow we meet up with the other Paul around Bear Lake, the starting point of our Utah Backcountry Discovery Route  off-road adventure. We’ll also get to the first thing on the list. However the adventure unfolds, tonight I have a grin that I can’t explain and feeling that this is going to be another epic off-road adventure.

Next : Utah Backcounty Discovery Route Day 2

Before the next big thing

The week before an off-road adventure is always hard.  Finding all the gear, packing, rig maintenance, loading waypoints, double checking maps and the never ending prep that seems to go with readying for an adventure.  It is all part of the fun.  I spend a lot of time prepping for an adventure…. I know my rig and its noises and after what we’ve been through, I’m pretty sure the rig knows me. All the prep is what allows me to shed any worries on the trail.

For me a big part of the adventure becomes letting go…  letting go of the route, the schedule or just about any part of the prep I’ve spent week on..  It’s a zen thing.  But all the prep and knowing the pieces lets me adjust and move them around as Karma works her own way into the adventure making it into what she wants.

Our plan is to road trip from Seattle to Bear Lake just a few miles from where Idaho, Utah and Wyoming come together.  The dual sport bike guys have stitched together dirt roads and off-road trails into a route that runs the length of the Utah top to bottom (that’s about 550 miles of middle of nowhere).  The route explores the uinta-wasatch-cache national forest, wasatch national forest, Moab and countless stretches of BLM land.  Known as the UTBDR, the route provides adventure, solitude and the opportunity for us to explore a new part of the country.

If all goes well we wont complete the whole route. Just prior to the last leg we’ll turn east and find our way to Ouray, CO and arrive in time to enjoy the annual Metal Tech 4×4 party at the FJ Summit as well as explore a couple of the San Juan Mountain trails before racing back to civilization.

The team on this adventure includes Brad who navigated on the Baja off-road adventure and Other Paul who joined us on our Washington Backcountry Discovery Route adventure as well as countless wheeling weekends.

In a few days we leave. Like all our off-road adventures we’ll post our story as they unfold. I don’t know what this adventure really holds for us but we will get through it together.

If an off-road adventure happens and no one shares it… did it really happen?  Make sure our adventure happens by following us mile by mile off-road through satellite tracking, check our Facebook adventure posts and read our stories here.  Only you can ensure an adventure.

Next: Utah Backcounty Discovery Route Day 1