Ride Report: “Tom Milan Wants Me Dead”

Okay, Tom Milan does not really want me dead. I think he’s fond of me. Maybe a better title for this ride report would be…

“Tom Milan Wants Me to Be Completely Awake and Yet Totally Exhausted and to Stop Eating Meat and to Lose Weight and to Get Healthier and to Consider My Packing and Bike Choices More Carefully.”

Yeah, that’s it.

To give you an idea of what I thought would be some of the terrain we’d be facing on this ride, check out this email exchange between me and Tom during final the planning phase of the trip.

Tom — 12/12/13 10:21 PM: We will… leave Canyon Lake mid to late morning on the 27th, ride as much dirt as possible to Anza (gas and water stop) and then into the Anza-Borrego State Desert Park to ride Coyote Canyon to Bailey’s Cabin to camp… There is about a mile or so of deep sand on the way out and back but two-wheeled pickups make the drive; so it is doable for pretty much all bikes.

Hank — 12/13/2013 1:54 PM: A little concerned about your idea of “doable” sand — especially when taking my 530 lb. (BMW R1200) GS into consideration.* Define “pretty much all bikes.”

Tom – 12/13/13 3:20 PM: Another guy is going to ride his KTM 950. If things get nasty you guys can snuggle up together. (Uh, what?) There really is somewhere near a mile or so of cell bottom sand that could give you problems. We have enough guys to get you thru if necessary. I might have pics of the area to send to you. 


*It turns out the actual weight of my bike, fully loaded with gear, fuel and a soft-sided cooler full of beer was 637 lbs. I did the calculation using a scale when I got home. That’s about 60 lbs. heavier than a fully loaded Harley-Davidson Sportster 1200. Jeeze…

December 27

My son, Daniel, decided to join us on the ride. After the drama in Utah (bad weather, me crashing into a mud-filled rut, hunters who were probably poachers, an unplanned visit with the Wasatch Search & Rescue Team, etc., see “Smoothtah” Ride Report), it was comforting to know I’d have Dan along in case things got hairy. He’s dependable in that way, having hauled my busted-down ass out of the Wasatch Mountains.

We trailered the bikes to my niece’s home in Corona, unloaded, geared up and left the truck and trailer behind. We rode the last 20 miles down Interstate 15 to Tom and LindaMilan’s (space between first and last name purposely left off – that’s how we, including Tom, say her name) home in Canyon Lake, which is just south of Lake Elsinore.

Canyon Lake is an interesting community in that the Homeowner’s Association banned any and all motorcycles being operated within the community. Too much noise, I guess, from big-bore, straight-piped street cruisers and local “bros” whipping around on yappy two-stroke dirt bikes. We met the ride crew outside the front gate. There were other bikers meeting up at the front gate, too, revving engines and all. I figured it would suck to own the house next to the gate.

Along on this ride, in addition to me, Daniel and Tom, were Dave, Steve and Gersh. All are experienced riders, which is always a relief. At the end of the day, I was probably the least capable and competent. But nowhere near the oldest. Steve and I are about the same age. Gersh is a little younger. Daniel is 18 (so the hell with him). Tom and Dave are, chronologically speaking, seniors, but the kind of seniors who can pull a bus using a rope. With their teeth.

But anyway…

Five of us departed Canyon Lake shortly after 10am, expecting to meet up with Gersh later down the road. Tom was in charge of route planning for this ride. Having recently led the Smooth Crew through Utah and committing numerous navigation errors that nearly resulted in (or did—depending on your viewpoint) disaster, I was only too happy to buck this gig to Tom. I really had only a general idea of the areas we’d be riding through over the next three days. After a mile or so from the departure point, we turned on to a dirt road and the adventure began…

No it didn’t. The road was a dead end after a half-mile. So we turned around and rode back out to the pavement. Having been in the navigator seat, I kept my mouth shut. A few turns later we accessed a dirt trail that runs along the San Jacinto River, which at this time of year, and due to the recent drought, could be defined as the San Jacinto Sand Wash.

Sand. I hate sand.

I took the trail slow and easy on the big GS, as I’m still recovering from dumping the bike on my ankle in a muddy rut in Utah two months earlier. More on the ankle later. I was bringing up the rear, also known as “riding sweep,” which was just fine with me. The other guys, with the exception of Steve on his KTM 950, were all riding much lighter dual sport bikes.

Daniel and I were in constant communication by intercom using our Scala Rider comm systems. He was a couple of hundred yards ahead of me, calling out small rocks and ruts. Little did I know at the time how critical his eye for the trail would become later that day.

Along the trail there were neighborhoods in the distance and power lines overhead, but what I noticed most was that this little bit of wildlife refuge was a gigantic used tire dump. Tires were strewn everywhere. Hundreds of ‘em. I’ve said it before, humans are messy. From the saddle of my bike, I’ve seen tons and tons of crap dumped in and around living spaces throughout the US. Kind of a bummer.

We got back on the pavement and met up with Gersh, who took over “sweeper” duties, as he was familiar with the area. It was at this early point in the ride that Dan called out to me on the intercom, “I forgot to pack my sleeping bag.”

“Oh. Do you wanna stop at a store and get one,” I said, trying to sound like a concerned father.

“Naw. I’ll be fine.”

The low temperature at where I thought we’d be camping (altitude 1,500+/- feet) was predicted to be around 55 degrees. Dan also decided he didn’t want to carry an air mattress to sleep on. Tough kid, I guess. Me? I’m all about comfort and warmth when I’m out in the open. Pretty sure he’ll be rethinking those packing decisions before the next ride.

After vectoring on dirt access roads through farmland for a couple of miles, we picked up Stanley Road. We just blasted along, climbing into the foothills and past oddly isolated homes. It was the perfect dirt backroad for the big GS…

No it wasn’t. After a few miles of bliss, we came upon a dead-end gate with a sign that read something like…


Violators will be SHOT!



Tom was shaking his head, looking at his planned route map. Again, I kept my mouth shut. We turned around, rode all the way back and picked up Sage Road, which was a little more rocky, rutted and isolated. The homes tucked away along this road had the kind of fences you see surrounding prisons. There wasn’t a sign of life anywhere, which I attributed to the locals being busy out back, making meth or something. From there, we connected to Wilson Road and, eventually, Highway 371, which is a paved, twisty mountain backroad. Seriously fun riding.

At a fuel stop in Anza, we loaded my soft cooler with beer and ice for the campsite. Beer is considered “comfort food,” right? “Home free, baby,” was my thinking at the time.

A couple of paved road vectors later, we picked up a dirt road called Coyote Canyon. As I approached the climbing part of the road that would ultimately deposit us at our camping destination, Bailey’s Cabin, the big GS was already slip-sliding on the sand-filled road.

Sand. I hate sand.

I looked at the rapidly deteriorating “road” in front of me. No sand, thankfully, but that was because it was a rock-filled, rutted nightmare. Gersh rode ahead to check out the conditions. When he returned, he just shrugged his shoulders in that, “Well, you might die or not,” kinda way guys do with each other when they don’t really know the answer.

To his credit, Tom said we could bypass this trail and go somewhere else to camp if I wasn’t comfortable riding Coyote Canyon. Tom’s cool like that. It was getting late and the sun was heading down. I did that twisting and cocking thing with my neck and head, like Dirty Harry did just before he uttered the line, “So do ya feel lucky, punk?”

I looked at the group and said, “Oh, dear fellows, I’ll just buck up and give it my very best.”

Okay, what I really said was, “WTF,” but without using the abbreviation.

Three riders, including Dan, went ahead of me. Two stayed behind me, in case I needed help picking up the now-637 lb. bike, including 20 lbs. of beer and ice.

It was a harrowing ride. Good word, “harrowing.” Dan was a hundred yards or so in front of me and was calling out obstacles over the intercom, like, “Huge sand rut! Boulders in the middle of the road… stay right! You gotta climb a step-up rock section ahead—not good!”

Stuff like that.

I climbed about a mile and then I descended for three miles of hell into what I supposed was Coyote Canyon. I stayed on the bike and didn’t crash, but I had to stop repeatedly to make adjustments and plan how to ride the next section of nightmare. I could smell the clutch burning and felt the beer cooler pressing up against my backpack. Up to that point it was the hardest, most difficult section I’ve ever ridden on the GS. I was exhausted when we stopped at the bottom, where were greeted by a long section of deep sand.

Sand. I hate sand.

A couple of the guys rode ahead to see what was in store for us on the approach to our proposed campsite at Bailey’s Cabin. They were back about the time my heart rate returned to normal and were shaking their heads. Deep sand and hidden rocks ahead. Crap. That was it. I was done for the day. The rest of the crew seemed okay with that and we pitched camp at the bottom of the hellhole called Coyote Canyon.

I like to camp. I also like luxury hotels. I have the right equipment for motorcycle camping, like a lightweight sleeping bag, a medium-weight tent and a really cool collapsible camp chair (all purchased at considerable expense from REI, or as Bird and I call it, “The Mother Ship”), all of which tucks away neatly in a waterproof bag on the tail of the bike. My clothes fit in my backpack, and my food, water and cooking gear are stored in the panniers on the bike, along with a tool kit and a first aid kit.

And I had 20 pounds of beer and ice.

But anyway…

The camaraderie of the campsite is very appealing to me. You’re independent and self-reliant, yet supported by guys with the same objectives. I’ve never served in the military, but I imagine this is one of the elements of that bond I hear about. Except no one was shooting at us. Respect.

Once camp was set up and the sun went down, it started to get cold. Really cold. Turns out, we weren’t at 1500 feet, it was more like 2800 feet. And, believe me, that can make for a big difference in climate and comfort. Gersh brought up the fact that it was illegal to have a campfire in this area and that he’d already paid a $500 ticket to the Forest Service once as part of that learning experience. We observed the no campfire law for about 90 minutes and then made the decision to split the ticket if it came to that. Dan just kinda narrowed his eyes at me during this discussion. $500 divided by six guys is about eighty-three bucks each. That’s a lot of party dough when you’re 18. We made a fire ring surrounded by 40 feet of sand as a fire-break and lit up to keep warm. We figured any ranger crazy enough to drive down that canyon road in the dark deserved his five bills. And we’d have plenty of time to see him coming.

Great conversations around the campfire that night with the crew. These are interesting men, most of whom have made a good living in manufacturing and using their hands. I respect that and hoped that Dan was listening. He has the natural hand skills I wish I had.

We got to bed early. I covered up Dan with every available piece of clothing or material I could find. He did bring his camping pillow, so that was something. He fell asleep almost immediately, which he can also do in a crowded room – while standing up. Youth, frankly, is annoying.

Me? I lay awake for hours freaking out at the very real reality that I had to ride the GS out of Coyote Canyon the next morning. I was truly rattled. I was also feeling an odd, yet continual pain in my ankle and foot from the Utah crash. The ankle was supposed to be only sprained, however, a recent MRI revealed that it was, in fact, a hairline stress fracture of my fibula. I got the results two days after I returned from this ride. I’m writing this report while wearing an orthopedic “walking boot” on my right foot and ankle. Fantastic.

On the upside the beer was gone, so the bike now only weighed about 617 lbs. By comparison, Daniel’s Honda XR 650 weighs in fully loaded (including mat and sleeping bag) at around 375 pounds. Can’t imagine why I was worried.

December 28

The next morning, we had breakfast and packed up our camp. The guys quietly watched me stare at the ridiculously vertical, twisting, rock quarry path in front of me. I was very nervous, to say the least, and expected to be down on the ground shortly and often. I mounted up, did the “Dirty Harry” move with my head, applied throttle and released the clutch.

At a hundred yards up the trail I was already out of breath when I suddenly remembered to actually… breathe. We used the same ride positions as the way in: three in front of me, two in back and Dan calling out obstacles on the intercom. My focus was so intense that I finally asked Dan to stop describing the crap-storm of rocks ahead, as I needed to concentrate on the road 10 feet in front of me. I was working hard to get into a rhythm, like from my desert racing days on crappy trails like this. On a 250 lb. racing bike. It took a while – and damn near every ounce of strength I had – but I made it out. At the mountain’s peak, we ran into a group of mountain-bikers headed down into the canyon. They shook their heads at my dumptruck-sized motorbike, shrugged and blasted down into the maw.

After a short rest at the exit out of Coyote Canyon, we vectored to Cooper Cienega Road and that day’s part of the adventure ride began…

No it didn’t. We headed up and down a number of neighborhood/meth lab dirt roads until Tom gave up on his map and GPS and decided to ask for directions at a gas station in Anza.

Now here’s the irony of the day. I spent the first part of the morning on the hardest ride of my life, wrestling my big-ass bike up a mountain without stopping, or dumping it over a cliff with me attached. After fueling, I rode to where the guys were forming up, leaned the bike into the left side mounted kickstand, which I had forgotten to extend, and promptly laid the bike down. On the pavement. With the motor running. In front of everyone. As Bugs Bunny would say, “What a maroon.”

We finally accessed Cooper Cienega Road, AKA for some reason, Cooper Cienega Truck Trail. Hard to picture large trucks driving over this rocky and rutted road. Maybe if you’re a bootlegger. It was a great 25 mile ride and we could see the summit of Mt. Palomar in the distance to the southwest. While not as difficult as Coyote “Hank is Totally Screwed” Canyon, it offered a challenging ride that kept me riding slow, steady and very awake.

We got back on the pavement at Highway 79 and stopped at Sunshine Summit for lunch. It was there that Tom quietly mentioned to me that tonight’s camping destination required traversing a canyon similar to Coyote “Holy Hell” Canyon.

A man’s gotta know his limits. My limits include only one life-threatening-scary-as-shit trail per day on a 600+ lb. adventure bike. I told the guys that Dan and I would pass on this one and stay instead at a local motel in Borrego Springs nearby the campground. Then I sat there for a bit, totally exhausted, and thought, well, we’ll get to the motel at 3pm and sit there until tomorrow morning at 9am when we meet up with the guys and ride back to our starting point. Nope. We decided to bail and ride back – on paved highways – to our truck and trailer rig, drive home and sleep in our own beds that night.

My ride ended there. Tom will need to fill in the details of the remainder of the ride, but I know they all got back safely.

So, you ask, where are all the photos detailing the ride? I’ve included a couple of shots, but, the truth is that there were three things preventing me from taking many photos.

  1. Speed. Most of the time we were on the gas, which is a blast, but didn’t provide a lot of time for setting up shots. I’d like to point out that those old coots ride pretty fast for old coots.
  2. Terror. As mentioned, I was hanging on for dear life up-and down-and-up Coyote Canyon. On the few occasions when I stopped to gasp for air, I was exhausted and hanging over the handlebars like a wet rag.
  3. Evidence. I have a decent amount of life insurance. As I was climbing out of Coyote Canyon, the occasionally rational voice in my head was telling me that the insurance adjusters might consider riding that “road” on a 600+ lb. bike to be suicidal and would likely deny the claim. Photos wouldn’t help.

So, here’s what I’ve got to show…

Daniel, Gersh, Dave, Steve and Tom checking out the local homes/meth labs/sex dungeons/cult compounds tucked away along Sage Road overlooking Murietta

Daniel, Gersh, Dave, Steve and Tom checking out the local homes/meth labs/sex dungeons/cult compounds tucked away along Sage Road overlooking Murietta

Camaraderie around the (apparently illegal) campfire. It’s a little burry because my hands were shaking as I took the photo, thinking about the next day’s ride out of Coyote Canyon.

Camaraderie around the (apparently illegal) campfire. It’s a little blurry because my hands were shaking as I took the photo, thinking about the next day’s ride out of Coyote Canyon.

Yeah, kinda anti-climactic photos after reading this long report, so I’m including photos of kittens. Everybody likes kittens. They get into all kinds of hilarious mischief. Except even a kitten would avoid riding a fully-loaded BMW R1200 GS into Coyote Canyon.

Oh, you little rascals!

Oh, you little rascals!


OMG! I mean really, wow… so cute, right?

OMG! I mean really, wow… so cute, right?

It was a long, quiet drive back to the house. I spent most of it thinking of the various ways to reduce the weight of my ride profile. Instead of beer, carry whiskey in a flask? No, wait. I had already that in my backpack. Smaller, lighter camping gear? Smaller, lighter bike? Smaller, lighter Hank? Good stuff to ponder and I’ll report back on what happens.

Overall, it was a great ride, on great trails (depending on your particular viewpoint) and with great guys — short of the part where Tom Milan wanted me dead.

Look for more HANKWENTTHATAWAY posts coming in 2014. I’ve got some great rides lined up and I’m happy to have you along for the ride!


Ride Report: “Smoothtah”

Dear Readers,

Slightly different format for this post, as my buddy, Bird, and I tell the story in tandem. Warning: There’s some more than usual adult language used in this post — what Dee refers to as my “Camp Voice.” Apologies in advance to Sister Myra, Sister Brid and Sister Michele. (Yes, I think about who might read this stuff).

The Setup

Bird: Our plan was to sneak in a 4-day late-summer/early-fall adventure bike ride into Utah, following the Utah Backcountry Discovery Route, making a large loop that started and ended just outside of Salt Lake City. We got a little more adventure than we bargained for.

This was a unique trip from the start. Our patriarch, Tom Milan, had recently broken his wrist in a mountain bike accident and had to back out. His fill-in was the youngest on the squad, Dan Shaw, Hank’s son, who had recently purchased a Honda XR 650 L. Garth, Scott and I were going to fly into Salt Lake City where Hank and Dan would pick us up and take us to the condo in Heber City. Unfortunately, the night before our flight, we were alerted that Hank’s truck (with bikes in tow) had broken down outside of Las Vegas.

The breakdown delayed Hank nearly seven hours. Luckily, there were several bars and a movie theatre in Park City that held our attention that afternoon and we all got to the condo late Friday night and prepped for the coming days.

Hank: If you wanted to avoid the details and jump to the end of this report to see how it all ended, the two words you’d read would be, “Shit Happens.” That’s a good metaphor for life and an even better description of our adventure. So, with that in mind to set the stage…

Shit Happens #1: Yep, Tom broke his wrist 10 days before we departed for Utah. Crashed on his mountain bike. I’d like to point out that Tom Milan is 69 years old and a certified Badass. I’m 14 years his junior and won’t ride a stationary bike in front of the TV. The implications of not having Tom along were big. Tom, being the senior man and all, is our unofficial, unelected leader. More importantly — and this plays into “Shit Happens” starting around #4 or #5, Tom is the crew’s secondary navigator. I do the route planning and mapping. Tom carries the backup GPS device, plus 69 years of not-getting-killed-experience, so we rely on Tom. We missed him before we left.

Shit Happens #2: The alternator on my truck — the one with the trailer hauling the five bikes — decided to melt down about 20 miles east of Las Vegas. Dan and I had stopped in Sin City to do required maintenance: refuel, down Red Bulls and, well, shoot machine guns at Guns n’ Ammo Garage. It’s a guy thing. Dan had no clue that this little side trip had been carefully planned out on the schedule for the day. I had set it up with Bird in advance. What made it even sweeter was that for the last hour of the drive into Vegas, Dan was harping on me about how it was actually possible to “shoot real machine guns” in Vegas. Thank you, outdoor advertising. I just played dumb and responded with dad-like lines such as, “My goodness, that seems ridiculous and dangerous!” And, “Who’d want to do something as pointless and wasteful as that?”

I would, for one.

I could barely contain my snickering glee. I’m not known for containing testosterone outbreaks. I planned it so we’d stop for fuel next door to the shooting range. As we drove past, Dan pointed it out and I slowed the truck. Then I stopped suddenly and said, “You know, Dan, you’re right. Let’s do this!” His jaw dropped. We went in, selected our weapons of choice and then blasted away with dangerous fully-automatic weapons at targets so close Stevie Wonder couldn’t have missed. The smell of cordite on our hands and clothing was so strong that we probably caused a security lock-down at McCarran Airport just by driving past. I gotta admit, as a father-son bonding event, spewing 30 rounds of hot lead in five seconds is right up there.

"You talkin' to me?"

“You talkin’ to me?”

On our way out of town, the truck started acting up. No advance warning or starting problems, just a swift and complete systems shut-down. At sunset. In the desert. 20 miles from town. Awesome. I pulled off the freeway just in time to watch everything go dark on the panel. After fiddling with stuff for 10 minutes, we called AAA and had the truck and trailer towed back to Vegas to a shop recommended by the tow truck driver as capable of pushing other customers aside and getting us out early-ish the next day to meet Garth, Scott and Bird at SLC. We found a hotel off the strip that was mostly populated by “People of Wal-Mart,” if you get my drift, and bedded down for the night, smelling of cordite and testosterone.

The next morning my definition of early-ish conflicted with the repair shop’s, but we finally hit the road for the six-hour drive to SLC. The guys arrived on time and, true to form, were eventually located outside a bar in Park City. We made it to my buddy, Jimmy’s, borrowed condo in Heber City after a quick stop for, wait for it, more beer.

Day 1

 Bird: The morning started great for the first mile. Then Garth’s bike was having obvious problems. We rode into nearby Heber City to fuel up and assess the situation. Luckily, the gas station was next to a Yamaha dealer that was able to re-jet Garth’s bike and that somewhat fixed the problem. At least enough that we could continue. We rode out of town and picked up the off-road trail, trying to make up some lost time. The fall leaves and smooth roads were great. Somehow in the enjoyment of it all, we missed our turnoff and ended up adjusting our plans and camped at a small lake with great views. It was great to be camping again. The first time for most of us since Idaho.

Day 1 - "Naw, man. According to Weather Underground, this is the only snow we'll see."

Day 1 – “Naw, man. According to Weather Underground, this is the only snow we’ll see.”

Hank: One of the many things I like about riding with this crew is our adaptability. Things usually go right, but when they go wrong, nobody whines about it. We assess the situation, develop a plan, get consensus and execute.

Shit Happens #3: Garth’s fuel problems weren’t #3. That got mostly fixed in Heber City. #3 turned out to be the first of our navigation errors. I say “our” errors, but what I really mean is “my.” The Utah Backcountry Discovery Route — from here on called UTBDR or just BDR — is a well-mapped route created by ADV riders for Butler Motorcycle Maps. Currently, there are four published BDRs, with six more under development. A feature of the BDR series is the ability to download the map tracks directly into a GPS device, like the Garmin Zumo 550 I have mounted on my BMW R1200 GS.

I don’t think it’s a good practice to rely solely on electronic devices for navigation. The ability to read a map is critical. That said, I left my copy of the UTBDR on my desk at home and also failed to download the map routes into the Zumo. Instead, I opted to write down directions like, “Turn right on FR094, then left on FR437,” and put those slips of non-waterproof paper in the map case on my tank bag. Old school. Like Donner Party old school.

Day 1 - Bird, Houston, Garth and Dan at Currant Creek Reservoir

Day 1 – Bird, Houston, Garth and Dan at Currant Creek Reservoir

The end result was I knew where we wanted to go, which general direction to head and where to turn (assuming there was a sign post, like in Idaho, which there wasn’t), but I didn’t know how far it was to each turn vector. So I missed a key turn on Day 1 that put us 30 miles off course and missed our target destination. By 5 pm we were three hours behind schedule, tired, hungry and thirsty. We decided to camp near Duchesne, UT at a place called Starvation Lake. Again, Donner Party old school.

Day 1 - Camp at Starvation Lake near Duchesne, UT

Day 1 – Camp at Starvation Lake near Duchesne, UT

Day 2

Bird: Although the weather was cool, the day started out great. We locked onto the trail and took off into the countryside… only to find out we weren’t on the trail. It was more of a cow path. So we turned around, and looked for the real trail. After about an hour or so, we got on the real one and headed into the mountains.

Day 2 - Garth blasting by at 60 mph -- on the wrong trail. Again.

Day 2 – Garth blasting by at 60 mph — on the wrong trail. Again.

Hank: Shit Happens #4 – See Shit Happens #3

Bird: We had some AMAZING views in front of us. The fall colors on the trees, the sun hitting the mountains, etc. etc. etc. It was awesome.

Hank: It was awesome and it’s called Timber Canyon Road, a major section of the UTBDR. There had been some rain earlier and we hit a few ruts and puddles. It’s always good to get a little mud on the bike and boots so people don’t get the wrong idea about ADV riding being all cushy.

Day 2 - The hills are alive with the sound of... motorcycles!

Day 2 – The hills are alive with the sound of… motorcycles!

Bird: After several miles, we reached a small summit just as it started to snow. We all rejoiced. It was gorgeous. The weather wasn’t even cold. My thermometer registered 35 degrees. We knew, however, that motorcycles and snow don’t mix, so we were anxious to get to the next point. The road was a T at the point, and we went right, as the GPS said the next town was 7-14 miles away.

Shit Happens #5

Hank: I did not rejoice. I was struggling with navigation at this point and looking for our next turn when I saw the heavy rain clouds in front of us. We monitor weather using web-based services like Weather Underground and had been proceeding under the (now) mistaken assumption that the rain was supposed to hit well after sunset, when we were either safely in our tents or at a motel 25 miles south of our current position on Strawberry Mountain. We (I) made a wrong turn and we (we) headed into Shit Happens #6.

Day 2 - "Hey, it's starting to snow! Awesome." No, not really.

Day 2 – “Hey, it’s starting to snow! Awesome.”
No, not really.

Bird: About a mile down the road we ran into trouble. Hank’s front wheel slipped off the path and folded on him. His 600 lb. bike came to a stop…in a deep mud puddle with his right leg under it. We parked as fast as we could and ran over to get the big bike off him. He got out from under the bike, full of mud, able to stand. However, his ankle was pretty hurt. He shook off the pain, as we righted the bike. The snow continued to fall harder and harder. After several minutes, Hank manned-up and we pushed on, knowing the roads were getting worse with the heavy, wet snow falling.

We immediately started running into trouble. The roads had already started to turn bad. It had hardly been a half hour since the start of the storm, but that’s what it was – a storm. Some could even say a blizzard. And we were solidly in it.

We traveled about another mile, slipping, sliding, cussing and contemplating. Finally, we reached a point where Hank had to stop because of the pain, and we both had to stop because of the problems with traction. (Hank and I have the heaviest bikes, which don’t do well in muck and slick conditions. And they are heavy as hell when they fall!)

The storm was in full effect. Hank’s ankle was hurting. After a tough conversation and decision, it was decided to make the call to the Wasatch Sheriff for a Search and Rescue (SAR) team to come get us. At the same time, Scott and Garth, whose bikes were still nimble and moving, made a run for the next town. Shortly after they left, they returned to let us know that an elk hunter’s camp was just around the bend, about 300 yards up the road. Dan walked up to the camp and convinced one of the hunters to come get us in his side-by-side. Eventually, the three of us (Dan, Hank and I), made it up to the camp and warmed up around a blazing fire. We were told it would be about three hours before the SAR team would arrive. There was nothing to do but relax, stay warm and hope that Scott and Garth made it out, or were at least safe.

Day 2 - "Just choose your line and pin it!"

Day 2 – “Okay, just choose your line and pin it!”

As the time wore on, the well being of Scott and Garth became worrisome. Somehow, we had cell reception in the area, but we didn’t know if they did, wherever they were. Finally, after a full two hours, they arrived back at camp. (Ironically, right after I sent them a text, telling them that they may have to bed down for the night – we all carried our tents and camping gear – and we would send SAR after them once they arrived at the hunter’s camp).

After three hours and near dark, Wasatch SAR arrived in two side-by-sides with six people. After getting Hank organized, they agreed to take all of us down the hill. Since we had five people, this meant some pretty cramped quarters. Everyone but me went with Hank in the first side-by-side. Scott had the craziest ride, as he was seated on the elevated back seat, where the paramedic would normally sit next to someone if they were using a stretcher. I’m sure it was the ride of his life, all bundled up and sitting above the center of gravity for that vehicle.

I went down with our gear in the second vehicle that held three people. Unfortunately, we had four. We were so cramped, I had to have a guy sit on my knees, cramped against the front window. Ironically, this same guy was the mechanic that fixed Garth’s bike a day before in Heber City. And as it turned out, we were lucky he was a mechanic, because our vehicle broke down…twice.

Day 2 - The welcome sight of Houston returning to the hunter's camp following failed recon.

Day 2 – The welcome sight of Houston returning to the hunter’s camp following failed recon.

But wait, there’s more….

The side-by-side also turned over… twice. This was a 22-mile trek out of the mountains, during a snowstorm, through VERY rough terrain. It definitely wasn’t a high-speed rescue. At one point, after the first breakdown, we started a fire, because we thought that a Second Response SAR team was going to have to come get us. The guys in the first vehicle could hear the radio calls of us breaking down and were probably wondering what the hell was going on.

Eventually, we did get down off the mountain. It was about a three-hour ride in all. From there, we had to get back to the condo and then get Hank from the hospital, as they had transported him there by ambulance once off the hill.

After we retrieved Hank, we swung by 7-Eleven for beer. (Side note: it was Sunday night at 11pm, we were very concerned there wouldn’t be any, even if it was 3.2% alcohol.) While checking out, a 20-something kid came in and announced to all inside, “Do NOT go up Strawberry Mountain. There is a huge storm up there! We just came down from there and it took us forever!”

We felt validated.

Hank: It’s hard to add to Bird’s account of the second day— he pretty much nailed it — other than to say three things.

1. My day was over when I went down. I knew it the minute I tried to put weight on my right ankle. It was sprained pretty badly, but not broken (at least I didn’t think it was broken). More to the point, I knew my ride was over. After trying to ride a few hundred yards I could feel myself flirting with going into shock, which called for fluids, sugar and calm. Making the call to the SAR team was hard, but not as hard as the call I made to Dee back home. It went something like this:

Dee: Hi!

Hank: Hey! So, ah, what ya doin’?

Dee: Shopping. How ‘bout you guys?

Hank: Hm. Well… I’m okay and Daniel is okay. (Pause) Repeat back to me what I just said.

Dee: You’re okay and Daniel is okay.

Hank. Right. I’m okay and Daniel is okay. I’ve crashed my bike on the top of a mountain in a snowstorm and hurt my ankle. I can’t ride. We’ve called for Search & Rescue. We have winter gear, shelter, food, water and emergency equipment. Might be stuck up here for a while, but… we’re… okay! Repeat back to me what I just said…

Dee: Uh…

At that point in time, we didn’t know if SAR would make it there before dark, or even risk jumping into the storm. What I did know was that we were prepared for the conditions and safe at the hunter’s camp. They showed us their recent hunting “kills” and seemed a little concerned when we said the sheriff’s SAR crew was on the way. Concerned in the way poachers would be concerned if they had a few too many kills stored in camp.

To help with mobility, I fashioned a cane — more like a staff — from a fallen tree branch. I would hold it up and bellow, “You shall not pass!” I thought it was hilarious. I brought the staff back home as a souvenir.

Day 2 - Hunter's camp in a blizzard. Hank: "You shall not pass!" Bird: "Shut the %!@# up!"

Day 2 – Hunter’s camp in a blizzard.
Hank: “You shall not pass!”
Bird: “Shut the %!@# up!”

2. I won’t make the same navigation mistakes again. Ever. I’m committed to learning from this (mis)adventure and sharing what I learn with the Smooth Crew. I hate the idea that I put my guys in jeopardy because I didn’t do enough prep work. Yes, they’re adults and chose to take the risks. I can’t control the weather and we had the proper equipment and training to survive in adverse conditions. But I committed us to three wrong turns, which could’ve been avoided by better planning and situational awareness. Lesson learned.

3. Choose wisely. I remind Bird, Scott and Dan — the three single guys in our crew — about this General Rule when it comes to seeking long-term romance (Garth, Tom and I are married). But for me, it  applies to riding partners, as well. These guys, and that certainly includes Tom, have my back, as I have theirs. We operate as a team — and it was truly gratifying to see my son, Daniel, step up and carry his weight — and the weight of his busted-up old man. The very nature of motorcycle adventure travel requires competence and trust. I trust these guys with my life because… Shit Happens.

I chose my friends wisely.

Bikes recovered off Strawberry Peak. The Smooth Crew, minus 1 (Tom) , near Soldier Summit, UT. 10/15/13

Bikes recovered off Strawberry Peak 2 days after rescue. The Smooth Crew, minus 1 (Tom) , near Soldier Summit, UT. 10/15/13