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Erik Trautman

“Everything you can imagine is real.”
-- Pablo Picasso

Idaho From Top to Bottom

Idaho was always a wildcard in my book; I just didn't know what to expect. There aren't really any feature destinations like national parks yet there are dozens of well known motorcycling routes that criss-cross the state and the region is full of winding rivers and deep forests. Our route back to Irwin, ID (where my girlfriend had left her car) gave us three full days to explore Idaho all the way from the Canadian border to where its southern edge hits Utah.

The ride south from West Glacier, MT took us past the long and scenic Flathead Lake. The air smells like apples and there are roadside stands selling sweet cherries by the pound every quarter mile or so (some of the best I've ever had). The air wasn't warm but we were well bundled up so it actually felt quite refreshing.


The Longest Ride Down The Loneliest Road

The first bit of my ride from Irwin, ID to Salt Lake City covered familiar territory (which I usually hate to do) along the Palisade Reservoir but I found virgin road on 89s soon enough. That part of the ride passed little subsistence farms and decrepit farms amidst gently rolling hills. Then the hills gave way to hot flat expanses of parched plains cupped by mountains. Once I turned onto 16, the land again began to rise and I started seeing hints of the jutting red rocks that I'd come to Utah to experience.

More unexpected were the smells of New England that accompanied the birch forest which hugged the side of the mountain as the climb continued. Eventually this gave way to evergreen as the highway twisted along the pass. Forest fires again kept visibility limited until I got into Salt Lake City.


California Bound

I first rode through California on my 2010 trip to explore the Pacific coast from San Diego to Seattle. This time it felt a lot different. I guess knowing that I'll be moving there in a couple of months really shifted my perspective from just being an explorer to sort of taking ownership of the countryside. It went from "that's really beautiful, I need a picture" to "I'm definitely hiking that, when can I make that happen..?"

The ride into the Sierra Nevada Mountains began in Reno and looped south on 395 through Carson City. Where everything east of Reno was pretty much desert, heading southwest almost immediately revealed a much greener countryside. I was glad to finally get into the Sierras if only to avoid all the casinos, which were absolutely pervasive along the road from Reno to that point.


Initial Impressions of San Francisco

It would have been difficult to have had a less favorable impression of the city of San Francisco than my girlfriend and I did on our first excursion into town. We headed in looking for lunch and decided to stop off in the Mission, the first point of interest on our list of things to see. We started somewhere near 21st and Van Ness and walked up Mission Street looking for a nice cafe to sit down and grab some food but it became quickly apparent that we weren't in the right location for that. We wandered through several sketchy blocks and grabbed a hasty meal at an overpriced and underwhelming Mexican restaurant before jumping back into the car to see if we could find the awesome San Francisco that we'd heard about.

We drove for three hours, covering neighborhoods from the Marina to Sunset to Height. Every time, we managed to miss all the interesting stuff and only drive by the low rent or completely residential areas. I realized after a while that all I wanted to see were some bars to give some indication of life in a city that otherwise appeared to consist of nothing but homeless people or sterile rows of townhouses. I counted four bars in three hours. Needless to say, we were pretty discouraged by the end of it.


Yosemite National Park

I got a nice taste of life in San Francisco during my visit there and it took a lot of miles to bring myself back from Planning Mode to Exploration Mode. It didn't help that the last morning in the Bay Area involved an early-AM trip to the airport, a last-minute post office run, a car swap, and even some bike luggage repair. I think my hands were clenched a little too tightly on the handlebars (and only partially due to the terrible California drivers) almost all the way back to the the Sierra Nevada Mountains.

I finally began to settle back in my seat and breathe easy once I was again amidst the idyllic yellow hills and perfectly rounded trees of rt 120 heading towards Yosemite.


Death Valley to Las Vegas

The ride from Bishop, CA to Death Valley National Park began with a long, slow descent through a hilly valley flanked by tall, sharp mountains. When I got started at around 8am, it was cold enough outside for a neck warmer and a heavy fleece. An hour later, I had to stop to strip off some layers. The mercury had begun to rise.

The terrain was pretty desolate. Towns were few and far between and tended to cluster around the little creeks and washes that meandered their way down from the mountains to either side. The descent continued and the heat continued to rise. When I was already forced to soak my shirt at each stop and it was still over 3000 feet of elevation, I started to worry about the heat on the valley floor. Blasts of it occasionally fanned across the road, giving me goosebumps and causing me to blink dryly.


The Valley of Fire

I've been to a lot of national parks so far but I haven't had much time to check out the state parks along the way. Through pure random chance, it was recommended to me that I check out the Valley of Fire State Park on my way from Las Vegas to Zion. Boy am I glad I did -- if it was just bigger, I'm sure it'd be up for a national park designation. I figured I was just going to ride right through the park, which is in the middle of the desert and just a little over an hour outside of Vegas. I ended up sticking around for hours to ride, climb and photograph throughout its boundaries.

The first thing that struck me about the ride in were the rocks. I had yet to make it through Utah's red rocks country, so this was my first sighting of anything of that kind. Valley of Fire looks like some fiendish hand forced the bones of the desert up through the ground, leaving behind scarred formations of boulders and dirt colored somewhere between a deep rust and vibrant tangerine.


Zion National Park

Several years ago, when the seed of the idea for this kind of trip had just barely begun to germinate, I already knew that I had to find my way to Zion. It's long held this sort of mystique as a hidden and mystical gem that people are more apt to describe with a shake of the head and a sigh than any particular turn of phrase. I would have been jittery and excited even had I not drank a 1/3 cup of coffee the morning I went to visit the park (a whole lot for me).

I awoke before dawn and hit the road, trying to get into the park and on the first shuttle bus from the visitor's center at 7am. Zion rightly attracts millions of visitors a year. I'd pored over TripAdvisor looking for the best ways to experience it and one consistent piece of advice was to get there early to avoid the crowds.


Bryce Canyon National Park

I left Zion amidst intermittent bursts of sun showers. There is a long tunnel at the eastern end of the park which is like a wormhole to a very different type of scenery. From the sheer sculpted cliffs of the canyons before, you emerge into a landscape of sloped and shifting sandstone shale dotted with the few trees hardy enough to find purchase.

Once the shale had been left behind, the 90 miles to Bryce Canyon passed through some surprisingly green countryside. Cliffs and mesas of reddish rock, however, loomed ever closer on the horizon. The road finally turned and it wasn't long before I'd rounded a bend and found myself surrounded by minarets the color of a blushed tangerine, called Red Canyon. I stopped and scrambled up the fractured rock and dirt hillside for a better view of the strange spires. It was a neat and surreal world, where the towers looked like they would crumble to the ground at the slightest provocation, leaving nothing behind but piles of rubble.


The Road to Capitol Reef and the Most Beautiful Place Ever

Route 12 didn't start out looking like much. Maybe I was already getting biased after what I'd seen over the past few days, but I wasn't terribly impressed when I started heading north towards Capitol Reef National Park. I rode for miles alongside small canyons, short mesas and lightly forested countryside under a dreary sky.

I slowly began to notice the smells. Anyone who's been reading for a while knows how important it is to me for a place to have inviting smells. Utah, up until that point, had been almost strangely devoid of any particular odor. Perhaps all that time spent out among the desert sands had overwhelmed my olfactory senses, but I definitely noticed it when we started getting into a more agriculturally inclined patch of countryside. It washed over me like a refreshing warm rain and immediately made me feel more connected to the land around. Shortly thereafter, the ride improved markedly.