Category Archives: 2012 UTBDR

Utah Backcountry Discovery Route, or UTBDR, is a back road driving route down the state of Utah, from Idaho to Arizona. 871 miles of mostly un-paved backroads passes through Moab, Valley of the Gods, the Abajo and La Sal Mountain Ranges, Nine Mile Canyon, and the northern Wasatch Mountains. The UTBDR exposes you to some of Utah’s most iconic locations and incredible driving experiences.

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A Utah Backcountry Discovery Route Photo Retrospective

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Shortly following a rain storm, somewhere east of Le Grande, Oregon.

Back in July 2012, I (Other Paul) took a ten-day off-road adventure through the Utah Backcountry Discovery Route (UTBDR) with my friend Paul (LGRT) and (then) new friend Brad.  (Paul and Brad had gone to college together and yet somehow remained friends. This is perhaps more surprising given that the two had shared a vehicle the previous year retracing the route of a recent Baja 1000.  Another of their collegiate friends, it turns out, is married to a woman who, at the time of the UTBDR off-road adventure, was my manager at work, which made for some interesting conversations in the office — and on the trail.  But I digress. Paul and Brad later rejoined forces in 2013 for the 25th-annual TLCA Rubithon on California’s famed Rubicon Trail. Against many odds — or perhaps because of them — they remain friends.)

Paul was driving his well-equipped, smurf-blue FJ Cruiser (a.k.a. the Blue Bunny), with Brad doing his herculean best as navigator to keep Paul on route. (By ‘well-equipped’ I mean that in addition to the usual camping, recovery and field repair kit, Paul’s rig was stuffed to the gills with video, photo and computer gear, leaving Brad the space nearly the size of a small shaving kit in which to stow his things.) For myself, I spent the better part of two weeks sucking FJ Cruiser dust in an old 1995 Rover Defender 90, with an occasional intermission courtesy of the rain or sleet or hail that found its way under the 90’s surrey top.

The trip itself is extensively chronicled through the Utah Backcountry Discovery Route off-road adventure.  One of my assignments on the off-road adventure was determining where to make camp each night. This was a job at which I fared poorly. Fortunately, there was plenty of dispersed camping along the nearly 900-mile route, which we ran “backwards”, north to south, departing from Bear Lake at the Idaho/Utah border. I had set another goal for myself, however: to make friends with a new camera, the wonderful (and sometimes maddening) fixed-lens Fuji x100. Some of the results of those halting first efforts appear below. No doubt I would do many things differently now, but shooting with the x100 isn’t one of them. And although I’ve recently sold it, the x100 (now in its third iteration) is perhaps my favorite digital camera.

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The promise of good weather to come.

pop-n-pins bowling alley building

My route to Bear Lake to meetup with Paul and Brad went through Preston, ID, in which the film Napolean Dynamite was both set and filmed. Preston is home to the Cuttin Curral (Napolean: “I already get my hair cut at the Cuttin Curral”) and the Pop’n Pins Lanes.

gas can fj cruiser roof rack

Fueling up in Bear Lake. Somehow distracted, I left the fill cap to the D90 on top of a pump, which I didn’t discover until after we finished the first leg. Fortunately, the Rover part for the NAS 90 is a rebranded Stant cap, which made replacement a snap.

UTBDR gravel road toyota fj cruiser

No winter maintenance. Just into Utah on the north end of the UTBDR.

Storm clouds over utah mountain rest stop parkin lot

An empty parking lot at a turnout overlooking Kletting Peak along Utah State Highway 150 (near Hayden Pass).

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Strawberry Road forever. Near Strawberry Pinnacles, Duchesne County, Utah.

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Reservation Ridge was littered with burn piles of (presumably diseased) trees.

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Aspens bore the unfortunate marks of previous travelers.

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On Argyle Canyon Road, skirting along one edge of the Church Camp Fire, shortly after the area was reopened.

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Along Nine Mile Canyon.

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Petroglyphs in Nine Mile Canyon.

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Unexpected traffic exiting Nine Mile Canyon on Soldier Creek Road, heading towards Wellington.

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The Blue Bunny posing outside of Green River.

utah bone dry mud land rover defender

Ice cold in the north, burning hot in the south end.

no access to moab sign dirt road

Damned lies. There is access to Moab this way, if you know the way.

setting up camp in moab

Paul and Brad setting up camp in the Sand Flats Recreation Area, just outside of Moab.

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Prayer flags flying over the rigs in Sand Flats.

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Hung out to dry. Camp laundry in Sand Flats.

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Paul setting up for an early morning video shoot in Sand Flats.

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Paul making a new friend outside a hotel in Idaho.

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Hazardous conditions have never stopped Paul before. Stopping for a swim on the way home.

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Off-Road On The UTBDR

This is the off-road adventure story of three men who set out to explore the Utah Backcountry Discovery Route (UTBDR) looking for challenge but found so much more.

Every off-road adventure is filled with ups and downs.  How the team deals with adversity says a lot about them and on this off-road adventure, the men of LGRT faced extreme adversity.

The Off-Road Adventure Unfolds Day by Day

fj cruiser on baby lions back moab

Baby Lion’s Back the Video

Moab is an amazing area for off-road adventures filled with giant fins of earth rising to the sky.  Originally called slick rock by the pioneers, who’s horses found the rocks very slippery in wet conditions as they made their way west in covered wagons.  But when dry, slick rock has a sand paper texture that allows tires to grip and allows rigs to take on a spider like attitude and crawl up nearly vertical fins.

While in Moab we camped under the shadow of Baby Lion’s Back, a lazy little earthen fin that everyone seems to use for their 4×4 photo opt. Not to pass up a good video opportunity, we decided to take advantage of the early morning sun and run our rig up and over one of Moab’s iconic land marks.

barbed wire wrapped fence post

Growing Older, Not Up – UTBDR Day 9

creek bridgeLike you, I’m often asked my age: at the doctors office, on-line forms, at boarder crossing, at the arraignment… um we’ll just skip that one.  The fact is I don’t know.  Yes I know my birthday and yes I can do math but it never works out to a number that feels right.

I firmly believe it is important to nurture the child inside. Each time we lay on the ground, stare at the stars, catch fireflies in a jar, act a little silly, or unleash a heart felt laugh at our self, we let our little kid run free and turn back the clock a notch.

Many of my friends and family will tell you the Last Great Road Trip is my mid-life crisis. Others will tell you I have PPDS (Peter Pan disorder syndrome). All I know is I no longer dream about what I will do… someday.  Someday is now. Even though most of my hair has gone south, my metabolism has all but abandoned me and my knee aches when it is cold out, I’m a kid at heart… How old am I…  I am young enough to get out and explore… experienced enough to avoid most trouble… and have obtained a credit rating to cover the rest.mossy cement pond

Remember back on day one of this off-road adventure when we accomplished the other big thing? Do you really or are just pretending so you can get through the intro? Well back then I told you there was one big thing I was planning to do… Well we finally did it!

Everyone is feeling good this morning, well rested, re-hydrated and despite another free hotel breakfast buffet, eager to get on the road. Leaving Twin Falls we are all back in our own rigs making good time. The sky is blue, the sun is warm and the breeze is at our back. The day can’t get much better…

Billingsly Creek is a fly fisherman’s wet dream. Cool, crystal clear water with predictable hatches and lots of wary trout. And just off the creek is a hatchery. And on that hatchery is a quiet little settling pond.swimming hole

We took the exit that put us on an old, worn out, blacktop, farm road meandering past cattle and corn fields, leading to the hatchery turnout. To look at it you would think the old hatchery was abandoned. Muskrats, moss and frogs now occupy several of the large cement ponds that once held brood stock. An old railroad-tie bridge leads down to a few active concrete runs, full of eight inch rainbows that send the water into a boil each time the pellets fall from the automatic feeders to the jostling hordes of trout below.

jumping into swimming holeBeyond the concrete runs and office trailers, a quarter of mile down a dirt path is a swimming hole (aka settling pond). The pond that Boy and I had swum in, on a hot summer day, four years earlier on day 10 of FJ Summit adventure.

As Brad, Other Paul and I walk toward the swimming hole I could tell they clearly were looking at me like I’d lost my mind for dragging them down here. It was exactly as I remembered. Deep, cool, glass like water with a babbling creek entering at the far side. I kicked off my Keens, tossed my towel aside, stepped back and made a running leap that broke the water’s still surface with a belly flop that clearly deserved 10s from the judges.

swimming in the swimming holeWater still raining down gin clear droplets from my entrance, I swam to the bottom then shot to the surface for a gulp of air, like a baby expanding its lungs for the first time. As if swimming in a giant martini, I drank in the feeling of weightlessness, felt the burdens of life dissolve and watched the clock turn back several decades in the baptismal waters of this magical swimming hole. Feeling reborn, I quickly climbed out, toweled off and grinning ear to ear, announced it was time to get back to the rigs and head home.  The one big thing…  jumping into the fountain of youth… DONE.

mt hoodWe put several hundred more miles between us and Billingsly Creek before approaching the junction that Other Paul would turn north while we continued west. It is funny how everyone has rituals and before we parted ways, Other Paul asked that we join him for his road trip ritual. “We’ll have two cheese burgers, fires and a soda.”  Yeah a McDonalds cheeseburger at the end of an epic trip…  Why Not. We sat under the Hamburglar’s sinister grin, chatting about places we’d seen, the dirt roads we’d driven, stories we’d tell others and the ones we wouldn’t mention. Each of us, in our own way, thanked the others for making this off-road adventure another memorable experience to tuck into the mental rolodex.

hula betty in the sunAfter saying good bye and wishing Other Paul safe travels, Brad and I chased the setting sun back to Portland. Nine days earlier we’d set out for an off-road adventure. Now we part ways with new memories that will last a lifetime and a few more experiences that will keep the door of our youth wide open. Young is… as young does.

Next: Utah Backcountry Discovery Route Photo Essay

three men in front of trucks

No Man Left Behind – Day 8 UTBDR

baby lion backAfter yesterday’s off-road adventure excitement, today’s leg was going to be an easy stretch that ends in Ouray, CO., where hot showers, cold beer and good friends were waiting. But if there is one thing I’ve learned from all this crazy mid-life crisis, it’s that change is constant… flow with it… or die.

While Brad and I woke relatively rested, despite the winds endlessly howling through the night, Other Paul’s body was still coming to grips with too little sleep, never ending need for water and a lot more heat. Too hot to cook, the morning team meeting was held once again at the Wake and Bake Cafe. This time, the discussion over breakfast tacos and espresso was not about wheeling. When you take guys on an adventure, their spouses expects you to return them in the same condition as you borrowed them and no amount of security deposit will cover giving back a broken guy. Other Paul had put his life in danger to help me out of a jam and he paid a price. Now it was our turn to step up and get him home.

idaho welcome signWe decided the best approach was to change up drivers and rigs as we turned the team toward home. Brad would drive the Blue Bunny with Other Paul keeping him company. Together they would ride in cool air conditioned luxury. The Defender was mine to captain.

First let me describe the heat that engulfs you in a D90. Your ass is cooking… I’m not being figurative here. I think my ass is still scorched from the experience. There is only a thin sheet of aluminum, wisp of horse hair stuffing and a bit of leather separating you from the 182 horsepower inferno. Driving through Salt Lake, six lanes of asphalt reflecting the noon day sun, chewing on diesel fumes from our 18 wheeler escort and the Defender’s internal combustion furnish blasting at my feet, gave me a new level of respect for the 1,500 some miles Other Paul had endured on this adventure. But I must tell, you despite the heat, driving a D90 is an amazing experience that is worth any minor inconveniences. I’m driving a legend.

Yellowstone road trip

Circa 1980 something. Last Great Road Trip broken down on a god forsaken backcountry road in Yellow Stone National Park with no hope of redemption. Only bear and moose for miles.

Back in the 80’s, on one of the first, last great road trips, Brad and I drove across the West (yeah we’ve been at this a while). On that trip we came across an exit sign announcing two little towns: Burly and Paul. On that trip, giddy as a school boy on the last day of class, I made him stop along the highway in the really late (or really early) darkness.  On that long forgotten night I pulled out a little Kodak Instamatic and Brad snapped my picture, along side the highway, in the dark, in front of the sign. The more things change, the more they stay the same. We pulled our little convoy off to the side of the highway as I ran up to stand in front of the Burley Paul exit sign for my photo opp. Like so many years back, I gave it my best burley paul idahovictory dance and thought to myself, this is what separates us from the lower primates; the ability to make friendships that last, friends who stick with you, who don’t mind your flaws, who stand beside you no matter what and who after more miles and years than I can remember still don’t mind a little foolishness in front of a road sign… Oh and that opposable thumb thing too.

We began the day in Moab and pulled off for the night in Twin Falls, no where near where we thought we would be 24 hours earlier. We’re just flowing with the change, letting it wash over us and having the adventure of our lives.

Next: Utah Backcountry Discovery Route Day 9

man carrying recovery gear

It’s People Over Stuff… – Redux Day 7 UTBDR

paul and other paul in moabIt’s hot. Hot hot. Hotter than a sheriff’s pistol, my dad used to say. “It’s not hell,” he might have added, “but you can see it from here.” It’s hot and I’m getting hotter. I can’t seem to get my mind or hands to shorten this rope. Crap. I can hardly stand. I’m fading fast…. When did I become too stupid to live?

Stand on a bridge before the cavern of night
Darkness alive with possibility
Nose to this wind full of twinkling lights
Trying to catch the scent of what’s coming to be
~ Bruce Cockburn, “World of Wonders”

We arrived in Moab, descending from the La Sal mountains along Kokopelli’s Trail, with much anticipation. The many days — and nights — of driving behind us have lead us here. It’s been Yet Another Long Day on the trail, and so after making camp in the shadow of Little Lion’s Back in Sand Flats and getting our bellies comfortably full, Brad and I leave Facebook, scorpions and the cavernous night to Paul (the Other Other Paul).

The morning air was warm but comfortable. Comfortable, at least, until the sun crept above the slickrock. Now it’s hot and sticky and unpleasant. And so we quickly pack up for the day and head into town in search of Paul’s Next Mobile Office: some place that’s cool, brews good coffee and has free wifi. (If there’s a good power source, this might be our lunch stop, too.) After a couple of stabs, we land at the Wake and Bake Cafe, which proves to be a fantastic spot on this mid-week morning.moab cafe office

Fueling up on some wicked good breakfast tacos, I turn my attention to trail selection. I’ve been staring at the business end of an FJ Cruiser for what seems like weeks, eating its dust. Now we get down to different sort of wheelin’! Honestly, I don’t really have much experience in Moab, and we don’t have much time as the schedule has us finishing up this leg of the Utah Backcountry Discovery Route tomorrow and scooting over to Ouray, CO to meet up with our friends from Metal Tech. I settle on Strike Ravine, a middling trail south of town that has a couple of more challenging sections and some interesting scenery and other points of interest — including several old uranium mines — as it loops its way through Area BFE. (Red Rock 4-Wheelers rate the trail a 5 on their scale.) It’s not a trail that screams Moab, but I’ve run it before and it should provide a slower, more technical counterpoint to much of the driving we’ve done to this point (which has also been a blast). Time permitting, we can get some slickrock driving back towards camp.

The most significant obstacle on Strike Ravine — the Big Ugly — comes up fast: a long, steep, rocky climb on a thick bed of loose dirt. Keeping a solid footing while walking the Big Ugly can be tough enough; you can expect that pushing two or three tons up the same surface won’t fare much better.

We slide pretty smartly through the first half of the Big Ugly with just a touch of rear locker. And then the Blue Bunny got stuck. Not so much stuck, really, as poised expectantly for good old-fashioned, wholesale, better-prepare-the-missus carnage. Midway through the upper half of the Ugly is a good-sized boulder, maybe three and a half feet tall and a couple of feet around the middle, roughly bisecting the trail. The most viable line (without going off-trail and off-camber) is on the downhill side, though another cluster of decent-sized rocks ahead on the downhill edge of the trail sits waiting to thwart progress of the left front tire of vehicles that swing too wide of the boulder.

defender 90 on big uglyThe narrow stance and short wheelbase of the D90 allows it to scoot through without putting slider to rock. But the FJ Cruiser is wider, and with a long-travel front end, the Blue Bunny is wider still. It’s no surprise, then, that the Bunny starts by swinging wide and finding that cluster of rocks on the driver’s side. A couple of additional attempts and a clutch mishap later, Ol’ Blue has come to rest not so nicely on our boulder, squarely in the center of the passenger side door.

And then things went sideways. I thought I’d been keeping hydrated. Doubtful. I thought I was taking things slow. Nope. I’ve already bounced down and up this hill a few times. Now I’m lugging recovery gear and trying to get things in place to get Paul clear of this stupid rock while he keeps control of his rig and Brad is pinned in. Before I know it I’m fading like a bad memory. There’s a conspicuous absence of shade, and though I try to rest, I soon find that I’m having a hard time staying upright. Brad climbs out of the window (more Dukes of Hazard than Jeff Gordon, perhaps, but still a fine feat) and I crawl off the trail and under a scraggly Utah juniper. The guy doing the vehicle recovery now needs to be recovered himself.

This might be a good time to write about proper hydration and energy conservation in the heat. Maybe, but not today. The real problem here, I think, stems from a lack of solid situational thinking, in at least two ways. The first has to do with advanced preparation. This is clear 7Ps territory, focusing on the full extent of the trip, which in this case has covered multiple climates. This isn’t so much living in the moment, but keeping the moments to come in clear view, so that those situations don’t take us by surprise. This needn’t become incessant, paralyzing (over) planning for its own sake. But I likely should have spent as much time planning for ways of handling the Moab heat (in a truck with non-optionally heated seats) as fussing over which top to use and how to stay dry.

Of course, preparation is one thing; actually applying that planning — or otherwise thinking clearly — in the moment can be quite another. Having water isn’t the same as drinking it, or tracking intake. Even developing a good stuck assessment on the fly doesn’t imply that one will pick an appropriate recovery plan for the situation at hand. Hand winching with a farm jack might be cool and all, but a straight-line pull with a winch would expend a lot less human energy, especially when conserving the latter is important. In that case, slowing down enough to make a good survey of available equipment and options is crucial. Who knows? Maybe there’s an access road leading off the trail that wasn’t initially apparent on first glance that would provide more interesting avenues for recovery. Stop and look!

looking over kamp karma in moabThere’s much more to be said here, but let me end with this: Surround yourself with good people. People with skills, no doubt, but also heart. I can’t begin to say how fortunate I am to have been on this trip with Paul and Brad, both of whom stepped in deftly to help keep me from going nose down. Together they helped me get myself together, off the trail and eventually home safely. Of course we got the Bunny out of harm’s way as well, and while it’s always a clear goal not to wreck the trucks, at the end of the day, it’s people over stuff. I hadn’t really known Brad before this trip, so I’m very pleased to have spent some good times with him on this trip (among many other things, botching camp fires, eating some questionable food and sharing a nice, air-conditioned ride out of Moab on the first leg home), and hope to see him on the trail again soon. And while I’ve spent a decent bit of time wheeling with Paul, I’ve never been more impressed (or proud) of him than I was here. I should tell him that, even if he roots for the wrong college football team.

This story is Other Paul’s perspective on our Moab off-road adventure day-7. It was a very complicated day and a story that you deserve to hear in his voice.

Next: Utah Backcountry Discovery Route Day 8

camp laundry drying on posts

99 Problems – Day 7 UTBDR

moab morningMoab in July can be summed up as… Hot! It’s dead calm, barely morning (by our standards) and we’re considering where in town to grab breakfast.  As long there is air conditioning, we’re not all that concerned about the food.

Around the table of some little hippie cafe we’ve spread out maps, trail guides and coffee as we debate which of the 30 some 4×4 trails we’ll run…  Fins and Things, Elephant Hill, Poison Spider, Lockheart Basin… We’re looking for a challenge without being gone all day and we’d like to avoid carnage if we can.moab slick rock

We discussed the various 4×4 trails over breakfast tacos that were chased down with shots of espresso and lots of water. The Utah Backcountry Discovery Route has amazing views and covers all sorts of country, but today we want to test our driving skills with some serious off-roading and settled in on Strike Ravine.  Strike Ravine, rated a 4 out of 5 by Trail Damage is known for steep hills, loose rock and big boulders more reminiscent of the Sierra’s than than Moab and its famous slick rock. This seemed to be exactly what we were looking for.

13 miles south of town, we were pulling off the highway and readied the rigs for a day of 4-wheeling.  Airing down to the teens and checking that everything was lashed down, we took a few more swallows of water and headed down the two track.still prayer flags

Around a bend, past a rocky area and we came to the Big Ugly.  Big Ugly is a major obstacle, a long rocky hill climb filled with loose shifting rock and nasty boulders in all the wrong places. Barely 10:30 a.m., sunny, 90 degrees out and we’re about to start wheeling.

I may seem carefree about wheeling when we go on these odyessys but there is a method to my madness.  I try to put together a solid, well balanced team to hopefully cover any scenario.  A lot of careful thought goes into what each member brings to the table.

As much as I kid Brad, he has navigation skills.  Not a lot of wheeling under his belt but when it comes to managing the route and keeping us on schedule, few will match up. Just as important is his positive attitude and willingness to do what ever is needed. Setting up and tearing down camp, humping gear around or helping with repairs Brad pitches in with a smile. But most of all, I know I can count on Brad… He is one of the few guys I trust with my life. And as a bonus he has an eye for a great photo too.policing camp

The Other Paul, as I affectionately refer to him, is one of the best 4-wheeling guys I know.  He has wheeled around the northwest, the Sierra’s, Moab and other parts unknown.  The Other Paul’s experience includes time behind the wheel of an FJ Cruiser, his old 60, and his latest rig, the legendary Land Rover, Defender 90.  To keep honing his skills, Other Paul regularly goes out with Bill Burke, adding to his bank of knowledge. There is no one I trust more when it comes to making sound off-roading decisions or spotting me through a tough obstacle.

And when these two guys get going…  It is hard not laugh as their tall tales, 80’s movie quotes and bad jokes pour out.  They may not may not be pretty and no they can’t put up a three-pointer from half-court but this is my off-road adventure dream team.prayer flags 4x4 trucks

The Other Paul took lead, gracefully maneuvering his D90 up the first half of Big Ugly. Hopping out of his rig, he provided some general spotting guidance on the best line up the first half of the long climb.  Finding a flat spot, I pulled up to let Brad, who’d been filming, hike up the 200 yards of loose rock and gravel, we’d just driven as I sat watching the D90 motor up the last half of the long steep obstacle.

100 feet from the top was a large boulder right center, cliff on the left and another boulder further up, on the left.  The line is hang left defender 90 4x4(no too left, remember the cliff), pass the first boulder then come back right while keeping forward momentum among the loose rocks. That is the line…  That was not my progress.

Not keeping far enough left and coming around right too soon put my rear passenger tire into the boulder, stopping forward progress.  Other Paul was quickly on it, evaluating the situation and ready to spot us out of trouble.  The idea, come forward than use the sliders to rotate around boulder and we’re back on our way… its a good plan but not a lot of room for error.  That is the plan…  That was not my progress.defender 90 rear bumper

Poor clutch management had  us slipping down hill and now the Blue Bunny is pinned against the boulder. When we say pinned, think slider holding the lower half of the boulder at bay while the top half of the crooked boulder is kissing the passenger door. Not yet denting the door, but like lipstick on a collar, there is a little blue on the boulder where it shouldn’t be. We Are Stuck.

D90 on Big UglyIf you’ve not been stuck before…  here is the drill.  Driver stays put, maintains control of the rig while the spotter works out the options.  Brad is pinned in by the boulder so he and I lament our position in the world, careful not to shift the weight of rig, while Other Paul develops the plan.

I followed instructions to turn the wheels passenger, turn them driver, bring them straight. Other Paul studied the truck’s lifting and lowering as the wheels turned, keeping a careful eye on the point at which the boulder touched the rig.  He calculated the position of the boulder, the force of gravity and my desire to get out of this without putting the body shop owner’s kids through college.

The plan is to use the hi-lift to winch the boulder away from the rig enough to drive off and get away with all our parts intact. It was either that or power through it and replace a couple of doors and quarter panel…  We opted for hi-lift approach rather than the bull in a china shop idea.

recovery gearBrad and I sat tight as Other Paul bounded up and down the 40 some yards to his truck several times.  The pile of recovery gear next to us grew with each return trip: strap, hi-lift, shackles, extensions…  He put a strap around the rock, anchored a line to a leaf barren tree perpendicular to the rig up the hill.  Plenty of winch extension but without any chain, Other Paul would have to remove all the slack with several bytes on the rope before the hi-lift could begin to pull the boulder away. Dragging gear here and there, setting up for the pull, Other Paul was getting ready.

We interrupt this story for an important PSN: Heat exhaustion is a illness that may occur after you’ve been exposed to high temperatures. The most common signs of heat exhaustion include:fj cruiser against rock

  • confusion
  • dark-colored urine (which indicates dehydration)
  • dizziness
  • fainting
  • fatigue
  • headache
  • muscle cramps
  • nausea
  • pale skin
  • profuse sweating
  • rapid heartbeat

Although heat exhaustion isn’t as serious as heat stroke, it isn’t something to be taken lightly. Without proper intervention, heat exhaustion can quickly progress to heat stroke, which can damage the brain and other vital organs, and even cause death.  And now back to our previously scheduled story…

4x4 stuck against rockAt 5,000 feet in 100 degree heat, Other Paul appears to be showing the on-set of heat exhaustion.  And in what seemed like a blink of an eye, his health started to slide.  This is no longer about getting the rig unstuck.  Kill the engine, set the brake, secure the rig in gear and we’re outside to check on Other Paul.  Pale and unsteady he is making his way to the only shade for miles, beneath a scraggly juniper bush. Getting a water bottle to Other Paul and soaking a t-shirt that he can rest on the back of his neck to get his body temperature down, we make sure he is safe and comfortable. Weak but coherent, Brad and I take turns sitting with him, making sure hydration continues and to ensure he doesn’t slip into heat stroke.

An hour and several quarts of water later, Other Paul is feeling stronger.  As he recovers we discussed options to get the blue bunny unstuck and while Other Paul rests, we rigged up the plan.  Don’t fool yourself, it’s easy to misjudge the effects the heat has on you…  we’d talked through everything I’d do in the rig and the line I’d follow as the boulder was winched out of the way…  Hot and tired, I forgot about half of what I was going to do as the boulder fell clear from the rig.  prayer flags in the windI forgot to release the e-brake and knocked into a couple other rocks as I lugged forward, somehow managing to climb to the top of Big Ugly with nothing but a small scratch where the boulder had kissed the rig.

We’d spent three hours on the trail and barely managed to cover 400 yards. It was time to get out of the heat and take care of ourselves before something went seriously wrong.

Back in town we made a bee-line to the Moab Brewery, an air conditioned oasis where we grabbed a bite to eat, considered our good fortune and hydrated with lots and lots of H2O. We sat in our little corner booth for hours, teasing our waitress, who clearly had a great sense of humor, and stared out the window as a storm violently blew.  Eventually, feeling we’d properly hydrated, having made several trips to see a man about a horse, we packed up, tipped our waitress generously and made our way back to camp.recovery bag

The storm that was blowing tourist off the sidewalks in town is violently attacking Kamp Karma.  Prayer flags blown into the trees, Other Paul’s tent lying kittywampus on its side, our Noah tarp flapping wildly, held up by a single pole and sand covering everything. This is not the worst problem of the day but definitely not how we wanted to spend the next hour.  We worked at securing camp by doubling up on the guy-lines as well as piling rocks onto of the stakes and anything that wasn’t nailed down.  The noise of tightly stretched ripstop nylon getting beaten by the wind echoed off the slick rock and filled Kamp Karma.

moab breweryStill hot and now being sandblasted as we sat around camp, we recalled that the Moab Brewery menu spoke of root beer floats… and air conditioning.  Frosty mug…  foamy top… and creamy root beer goodness makes the worst day a little better.  Considering we hung out for several hours, well past dark, we should probably have paid rent on that booth.  When we finally left the brew pub for good, the wind hadn’t settled down much, dry lighting flashed in the distance and a thick cloud cover obscured the stars.  Laying in my bag, listening to the tarp abuse itself in the wind, I thought about how quickly life changes…  in a matter of hours we’d seen highs, lows and everything in between.  But despite it all, the dream team got through it and was hunkered down safely for another night, ready to face whatever the next morning will bring.

Next: Utah Backcountry Discovery Route Day 7 (a different view)

toyota fj cruiser and land rover defender 90

New Definition of Red – Day 6 UTBDR

defendor 90 abandon cabinI finally broke my slumber, rolled out from the hug of a soft bed and wondered down for the free motel breakfast…  You know the one, rubbery scrambled eggs, greasy bacon, biscuits and grey gravy the consistency of runny jello with a thin yellow fj cruiserfilm gleaming under the glow of heat lamps, tubes of sugar disguised as breakfast cereal and the crowd pleasing make your own waffle station.  The guys had been down there for hours discussing my pied piper tendencies and their inexplicable desire to accompany me fj cruiser d90 in canyonalong this journey, regardless of how ridiculous it might get at times.

Well into the central Utah section of the back country discovery route, the threat of rain is gone and sun is smiling down on us.  Ninety degrees in the shade, if there was any shade and we were still  two hours away from reaching noon. bone dry dirt road Leaving behind a short stretch of highway, the route returns to dirt entering the canyons where breeze is forbidden as we enter the oven.

Even in the 100 degree heat, life abounds. Lizards, snakes and turning the corner a pair of big horn sheep dance from ledge to ledge on the canyon walls. This land is hard to describe. The landscape feels foreign and familiar at the same time. Hostile and welcoming but mostly unbelievably hot.  I have a desire to just sit and stare in an attempt to make sense of the canyon’s confusing power…  big horn sheepBut Moab remains a long ways away calling our name.

The route that once twisted and turned through the canyons has now stretched out straight as far as the eye can see.  Yes our FJC has air conditioning, but standing in solidarity with the Other Paul in his D90, we left the windows down and embraced the hot breeze that streamed in as we moved down the trail.  Dust devils dance across the land and the smell of sage filled the cabin as we drive the route.

red cliff rockThe Utah Backcountry Discovery Route takes you to places you will be hard pressed to find on your own.  The route brought us through the flat sage, over several sets of hills and into another amazing canyon. The scene turned from brown to a Christmas red.  Floor to ceiling the dirt and walls were a new shade of fire engine red. Not the dull brick red that I knew from Oklahoma, but a crimson that puts a Dexter blood spatter scene to shame.  We motored along slowly soaking in the brilliant color. A small creek that meandered through the length of this red paradise seemed to lower the temperature with water showering the side of the rig as it crossed our path every 1,000 yards.defender 90 coming around corner

We made camp in the heart of Moab.  Soft sand surrounded by large slick rocks defined the camp ground with only a single, roofless outhouse that made no distinction between men and women.  We set up camp knowing this would be home for two nights. With time and the early evening sun on our side, we pulled out all the stops to display our colors as we established Kamp Karma.  The word “slickrock” was derived from early settlers whose metal-shod horses found the expanses of barren rock slick to cross. Off roaders, mountain bikers, and hikers find just the opposite since when dry, Kamp Karmathe naked sandstone is as coarse sandpaper and easily climbed.

The day’s heat had taken its toll on the team.  After cleaning up our dinner mess, the guys decided to leave me and an armada of  dive bombing bugs circling the lantern, for the comfort of their bed rolls.  While the guys snoozed in their racks, I worked deep into the night: editing photos, recording notes on the day and posting a few highlights on Facebook to let everyone know we were still alive, despite a close encounter with a very large black scorpion only minutes earlier.moab prayer flag

Work complete, still wide awake and looking to put some distance between the scorpion, I hiked up one of the slick rocks behind camp to take in the night stars.  Stretched out on my back, the taste of midnight and a fine cigar still on my lips, the texture of her voice the loudest sound in my head and a million points of starlight pricking my skin.  I laid there contemplating my place in a universe spread out before me in the dark. Life is a series of small moments that we cannot hold onto but this night, like so many before, will be carried forever in my heart.moab slick rock

Walking back down to camp in the dark I felt the rush of knowing tomorrow we’ll get a chance to test steel and skill.  Tomorrow we wheel Moab.

Next : Utah Backcounty Discovery Route Day 7

open range cattle by dirt road

Cowboy Up – Day 5 UTBDR

utah canyonWe were saying good bye to Currant Creek Camp sometime around 10:00 a.m. A new personal best.  This clear morning, the sun is out strong and the temperature climbing as we make our way around the reservoir, up to the Utah Backcountry Discovery Route trail.

fj cruiser in canyonsThe Utah backcountry discovery route is filled with unique visual experiences.  We found ourselves motoring off-road though the hills, where teams of loggers were actively working the stands of Ponderosa Pines and ranch filled valleys with magnificent green pastures.  But around noon we came to the truly strange and beautiful.

There is a reason this is called a discovery route…  we found ourselves rolling through an isolated canyon that put us in the heart of an alien land.  Canyon walls towering hundreds of feet directly above, giant slabs of rock littering the floor to remind us of the cliffs’ fragility. Limestone spinnakers shooting up to the heavens with alternating yellow, brown and white bands as the clouds sailed by. Although we would experience other canyons in the days to come, this was our baptism to a new world of the canyon floor.rock pillar

Leading up to the start of this off road adventure the news was filled with stories showing Colorado ablaze.  Towns and resorts evacuating, smokejumpers building firebreaks and  waterbombers attacking the treetops.  The news failed to mention Utah’s Church Camp fire which burned over 4,000 acres. Unbelievable desert heat, bone dry trees and kindling for ground cover it is easy to understand how fire quickly devours everything in its path.

This stretch of the route skirted along the edge of the still smoldering, charred remnants of the Church Camp devastation. rock slabsRavaged by fire and defined by steep cliffs, driving through the narrow valley brought concerns of flash floods erasing the path we’re on.  We kept one eye on the distant clouds as we gave witness to the devastation of past floods.  Scarred cliffs were water had cascaded down the removing everything in its way. The route through the valley was carved up with swales designed to funnel the floods from one side of the trail to the other with minimal damage.  For the next twenty minutes the swales presented themselves like Tijuana speed bumps to our little convoy.  We’d go from 30 mph to a 5 mph as the rig’s dove in and then climb up the other side of a swale every mile or so.

defender 90Coming around the bend in valley, we ran square into history. When our first ancestors wanted to express themselves, they didn’t use paper and pen.  Prehistoric people scratched their history on the valley rock.  The Utah Backcountry Discovery Route winds through Nine Mile which has several significant petroglyphic sites.  Not tourist traps with souvenir shops, t-shirt stands and little petroglyph shot glasses, just cliffs adorn with ancient rock carvings on the side of the off road explorerroute, allowing you to pull off and explore rock faces, as well as the more recent abandon homesteads.

Today we experienced the flatter, hotter, stranger side of Utah before finally rolling into Wellington, the end of the day’s leg and found our way to the Cowboy Kitchen.  Dirty, sweaty and parched (not the worst looking patrons in the bar) we ambled into the cool, air conditioned room and grabbed a table.  I  have been to the Great Wall of China, I have seen the Pyramids of Egypt, I’ve even witnessed a grown man satisfy a camel. But never in all my years have I nine mile petroglyphwitnessed something as improbable, as impossible, as what we witnessed here today, a giant basket of greasy, undercooked fries with hair!  Dinner was not the highlight of the day.

Around the table the conversation turned to where we would rest our heads tonight, peppered with memorable quotes from Stripes, Dodge Ball, Animal House and a half dozen of the off road photographerclassics.  We may be the only ones laughing out loud but clearly we’re not the only ones in the bar as locals through odd glances of disapproval our way.  But we’re loud, proud and heavily armed so not much was going to stop us from celebrating our day of wheeling.

The little town of Wellington is not overrun with camping or hotel options.  After ruling out the Pillow Talk motel, we double check our iPhones and found Green River filled with options.  Only 30 miles as the crow files and the next fuel stop on the Backcountry Discovery Route. A little wrangling back and forth, and we decided to cowboy up to Green River, even though it was approaching the nine o’clock hour.  Tonight…  We Wheel!

utah back road fence lineLess then 20 minutes down the route from Wellington and the sun is gone. The only light as far as the eye could see is coming from our rigs and the stars above. Motoring easily on a comfortable, wide, straight, well graded gravel road, cruising speed, 40 mph. We’ll be bedding down in no time. Then the route turned left.

Apparently, we had not accounted for this section of the route turning into a 4×4 trail.  Flat desert at night on 4×4 trails presents a unique challenge.  No markers to follow, no reference points or land marks visible in the dark old trucknight, navigation was limited to tracking our progress against the GPS waypoints. Each turn, fork in the road or disappearing two track was checked against the GPS.  Pick a trail, go 50 yards, and see if we’re still on track or turn around to try another direction. We opened and closed cattle gates, drove through washouts, climbed in and out of swales and crossed land bridges where our wheels brad at dinnerhung over the edge.  We drove on, into the sage brush, as we made our way through the desert night.

The crow may fly a straight line to Green River but the Backcountry Discovery Route meanders back and forth to keep you off the concrete. In stead of 30 miles, we’d already logged 60 miles of sand, gravel and 4×4 trails…  and we were pointed away from Green River.  This is where you separate the men from the boys, the wheat from the chaff, the awkwardly feminine from the possibly Canadian.  Did I mention we were on movie quote roll.

Desert nights are cool, still, dark and full of sound.  We were stopped at another sunset on 4x4 trailcattle gate, passing from one ranch to another and we could feel the sense of adventure we’d taken on. Driving off road in the dark is like taking a trip down memory lane.  You can’t see anything outside the glow of the lights and your brain starts to fill in the blanks.  Memories of past road trips, long lost thoughts of a child’s first step, your embarrassing high school date and fallen friends filled the dark shadows beyond the reach of the rig’s lights. Closing the gate behind us and saddling back upcattle gate at midnight in our rigs, we knew we could cowboy through whatever else there was between us and Green River.

Sometime around 2:30 a.m., six hours and 87 miles from when we started, the glow of Green River came into view.  Driving by the state camp ground and up to the Holiday In Express we bargained with the front desk in order to get the, you know we don’t have a reservation, AAA, its your last chance to rent these rooms to anyone rate.   Hot showers, soft beds, electricity to charge up batters and WiFi to check in…  not a bad way to end the longest day of this off road adventure.

Next : Utah Backcounty Discovery Route Day 6

rough road autos not advised sign

Road Hard, Put Away Wet – Day 4 UTBDR

morning breakfastThe sun came up and the air went out. Laying there on the cot under a shadow of doubt… Not knowing what time it is but certain I’m late…

We’re not greeting this morning well.  Tired and still chilled…  The drug of choice, caffeine.  We shuffled slowly about camp,  steam rising from our tin (ok titanium) coffee cups.  Breakfast was the left overs from dinner.  Sleep still stuck in the corner of our eyes, we are communicating through grunts and groans when from behind the trees we hear, the silence of the lambs.

sheep in the morningCellophane wrapped chops in your butcher’s freezer make a slight squeaky sound as the white Styrofoam bottoms scratch against one another.   An entire flock of sheep descending on your camp as the sun rises over the hills makes an incredible racket. Rams snorting as they mingle, the dams grunting and blatting to their lambs who respond with the familiar bleating at the same volume a two year old uses to express their unfulfilled desires at 2:00 am.  All around our camp the forest is alive.  Sheep everywhere advancing like an army taking the high ground.  We’re awake now.wroking in the morning

If you follow our adventures…  and you’re here so you must…  then you know, we may be up early…  but get going occurs sometime after 9:00 (ok 10:00) am.  That may have to do with not wanting to leave this beautiful spot but more likely it’s the hassle of packing up camp.  We keep experimenting with different shelters and sleeping configs looking for the perfect compact, lite weight, easy up, easy down combo that barely separates us from elements.  The current Noah tarp, bivy sack, down bag and supper compact cot seems to be easy enough but that’s still 20 minutes we’ll never get back.

The day before we pulled 30 some extra miles so this should be an easy day on the trail….  But math doesn’t work that cruiser CV check

Toyota built the FJ Cruiser choosing to use a independent front suspension (IFS).  The weak point on the IFS is the CV joint.  A CV joint is a collection of bearings and cages that allows significant axle rotation and power delivery on a number of different angles but requires vigilance on an off-road adventure. Checking the shafts on the rig’s morning walk around, it became apparent one of the inner boots protecting the CV was oozing lube.  Grey joint grease was escaping from the boot because of a loose retainer.

Now we have choices:

  1. pull the half shaft and replace it with the spare in the rig (don’t wheel an IFS rig without carrying a spare!!!)
  2. bandage it up and hope the leaking stops

The grease was utah mountain medowfresh so we probably caught it early but there was a bunch of it. No chirping sounds indicating metal on metal grinding of the CV. Until Moab we don’t expect too much stress on the CV.  Deciding on the first aide approach, we grabbed a trash bag, zip ties and duct tape.  The idea was to wrap the leaking area with the plastic trash bag, zip tie it and the boot where the lube is oozing and than secure it all with duct tape. Now keep a close eye on it and hope for the best.

mountain pondThe route this day took us back into the higher elevations.  Through the ponderous pines, aspens and up above treeline cresting somewhere around 10,000 feet.  Until now the rains had always been off in the distance but as we approached the top, the clouds unloaded. Thunder and lightning announced Mother Nature’s anger as she lowered the boom.  The temperature plummeted to 40 degrees. Rain fell like a cow pissing on a flat rock.  The sound of hail hitting the rig resounded through the cabin like gravel tossed on a tin roof.  Mud immediately mountain rain stormtook on a consistency of slippery goo as we serpentined along the mountain’s edge. This was the first time we engaged four low to ensure  everything stayed under control as we kept going at a snails pace to avoid sliding off the mountain. Through all of nature’s furry we stat dry.  The Oher Paul is experiencing this storm in his Defender 90 with only a canvas top for protection as the water blew in the sides. An hour later we had moved off the mountain, left the rains behind and found the Other Paul mostly dry as we took a break for lunch and some free WiFi.Other Paul

This is why we love Metal Tech 4×4  Somewhere in the eye of the storm I devised a longer term plan for the leaky boot.  Having a little cell coverage in a clearing, I quickly sent a text to Metal Tech asking if they could get a half shaft or boot kit over to Ouray, CO where we planned to meetup for their party.  A couple of texts back and forth, and Mark was running over to pick up a boot kit that he would drag with him across the country cows on trailfor us…  Yeah lots of shops are helpful but I don’t know any shop who truly cares about customer the way Mark and LT do…  And we’re not the only ones with a Metal Tech story like this, one includes Mark pulling a shock off their truck and handing over to a customer so they could make it back home a couple hundred miles away.

After we’d eaten, dried off and put a few more miles behind us, the adventure began to transition back into a lazy romp through hills filled with cattle and the occasional dear. The miles seemed to karma truckseffortlessly roll by as we made our way to where we would call home for the night.  The sun was high in the sky and the ground bone dry as we dropped off the route heading down to Currant Creek Reservoir to find a camp site.

Sitting around a camp fire with friends has to be one of the best things in life.  With summer in full swing and the fire danger set at beyond extreme (Colorado is on fire) we’ve been sitting around the camp lantern at night.  But this evening we were having a fire (approved by the working at campcamp host in designed fire pit).  Before this adventure, Brad and the Other Paul didn’t really know each other well.  However by the time the fire and whiskey were just about done, we were all peas in a pod. I sat by the glowing embers with a smile knowing this off-road adventure was already a success, now as the two of them teamed up to direct their sarcastic wit in my direction. Something about my spelling, arbitrary punctuation and random missing words…  but they still keep reading the my stories…  I personally like to think my “writing style” allows the reader to fill in the blanks and create their own story.

cresent creek ReservoirCurrant Creek Camp sits right on the reservoir at 8,000 feet elevation tucked into the hillside. Still early in the night, the long day had us ready to hit the bunks.  The Other Paul headed into his tent while Brad and I crawled into our bags under the stars. Earlier we’d decided to doubled down and test our luck, deciding to go without tarp above us so we could now drift off under the twinkle of the stars.

Next : Utah Backcounty Discovery Route Day 5