Saturday, November 30, 2013

120mi of sand, silt and rock later... the Grand Canyon from Toroweap with The Saints of Saint George

The Grand Canyon from Toroweap Overlook
Despite how much I love Roel or he loves me, life on the road can get a little lonely. And despite combined body heat, it can be cold. And smelly, given our preference for camping in the wild because the price is right. So from time to time, when these hazards of life on the road get to us, we consult one of our favorite motorcycle forums to see if there is anyone along our "intended route" who has offered tent space in their backyard. 

Though the idea of staying with strangers was a completely foreign, and to be honest, somewhat disconcerting, concept to me not long ago, I've found that this is actually a brilliant way to make new friends that you otherwise wouldn't have met, have experiences that are completely new and wonderful, AND, learn new recipes that make me salivate when I think back on them. Our experience with the family we stayed with in St. George, Utah far surpassed our expectations for throwing up a tent in someone's backyard, and though it wound up costing us an extra day, a slight bend in my left pannier and a sprained ankle, if we had it to do over again, we wouldn't have done anything differently. 

Roel and I enjoyed much needed hot showers, reveled in the luxury of soft sheets and a comfy bed and were thoroughly spoiled and fattened by the culinary creations of this wonderful family in Southwestern Utah.

Logan, Dave, Kim, Tyler, Kenadee, Chloe and Us
Dave, his wife, Kim and their lovely children Kenadee, Tyler and Logan, welcomed us so warmly into their beautiful home that we felt like we'd arrived in some version of Pleasantville, only real, not a Hollywood aberration. The kids are awesome - really good kids, super personable and extremely entertaining. Dave is a firefighter who commutes to LA for work so that his kids can grow up in this safe and trusting community and Kim runs their home and family with a level of calm and good humor that I would be thrilled to
attain as I am now (without a home or children). They are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, and given that Roel and I have had limited exposure to this religion, we really appreciated how open Kim and Dave were about their beliefs and faith. We also visited the stunning white St. George Temple and information center to learn more, and came away with an appreciation for and a much better understanding of this often misunderstood church.

We had planned to head back East a bit to Vermilion Cliffs National Monument, making a stop at the Grand Canyon "on the way." Dave had recently been out to a portion of the Grand Canyon, called Toroweap, that is quite unique as you can actually dangle your toes over the edge of the Canyon, AND it can only be accessed by 60 miles of dirt road - it was such an awesome ride that he offered to bring us there and convinced Kim to ride along on the back of his V-Strom. 
We packed up the bikes, paired our intercoms with Dave and Kim's and set off along a scenic route in the direction of Colorado City, where we would find the turnoff that would bring us to the Toroweap. Aside from a patch of sand in the beginning, which we all rode through without incident and a section of the road that had pretty bad ruts, the road was actually in excellent condition and with Dave leading and communicating road hazards
through the headsets, it was a really fun and easy 55 miles at speeds around 45mph/70kph. The scenery leading to Toroweap was nice but nothing spectacular, which I was grateful for, as I really needed to keep my focus on the road. I've been on a few basic dirt road rides, but still wouldn't consider myself a confident dirt rider, especially not as packed up as I was riding that day. And it didn't help that we had forgotten to remove my windscreen extension, so in order to see well over my dusty extension I needed to remain standing during any remotely rough areas of the road.

If you can't see me, I can't see you
Eventually, we made it to the ranger station where we stopped to check in and took the opportunity to suck down water, shed some layers and rid our face shields of the dust they had accumulated while following Dave's lead. The rangers warned us that the next few miles of road leading to the overlook were not maintained and would require technical riding. They showed us some photos of slick rock, which didn't particularly concern me, but I wondered just what else would appear on the road before me once Dave's dust cloud cleared. 

The road was fine for about a mile and then we rounded a curve and the fun began with a loose scattering of gravel and sharp rocks. Dave continued calling out obstacles and advising sides of the road to stick to. His calm directives helped to calm me and I just kept my focus as far ahead as I could in order to find the path of least resistance... or in this case, the path with the least obstacles and the fewest tire threatening rocks. There was a particularly nasty section where there was no "path" so to speak... the road curved to the right, revealing an incline the went up about 4-5 meters, and was riddled with grapefruit, watermelon and pumpkin sized rocks, before the road curved to the left again at the top. Dave didn't really have much to offer in the way of recommendations for that patch of road, and though Roel had yet to see this portion of the road, he was coaching me from behind, saying, "take it easy, high throttle." And so with a deep breath (that I held) I began the ascent. I stayed to the left of the road, trying to hug the bank which was less rocky and which I hoped the side of my tires had enough profile to cling to. I was doing alright, but was definitely rather terrified... Roel eventually rounded the corner below me which finally gave him a view of this bit of the track, and he let out an involuntary "Oh shi+," a fraction of a second before I began to slide off of the bank towards a sharp pumpkin rock which would definitely damage me and my bike, should I not manage to keep the shiny side up... Hearing Roel's admission of "this is serious ish" sent adrenaline surging through my veins... I was determined... so I twisted the throttle, keeping the speed low by feathering the clutch and standing on the rear brake and I let my knees absorb the bumps the aforementioned watermelons and grapefruits caused... and I made it. I stopped just around the corner, and exhaled, a big smile spreading over my face as I hyperventilated a bit. I was just putting my foot down when I heard Roel's engine rev, followed by a crash and a muffled curse. I looked back to see Roel already struggling to pick up his fully packed bike. Once I knew Roel and the Africa Twin were OK, a little involuntary feeling of pride seeped in (which I knew would probably be short-lived), but with that pride came more confidence that helped me get through the next 4 miles of silt, gravel and small boulders. We had almost made it to the overlook... literally, only 30 meters more to go... but the road curved to the left and descended 2 meters over large, treacherous patches of slick rock. I looked down to try to determine the best path and that was it... I went where my eyes had... trying to put my foot down was hopeless... Given that in the best of circumstances, I only JUST touch the ground, there was no chance of catching myself. The bike and I were unharmed, although I was beyond annoyed with myself. Roel helped me pick up the TransAlp and I rode the next 30 meters mentally kicking myself before the view that opened up at Toroweap wiped my mind clean.  

Toroweap Overlook

Our pants used to be black like Dave and Kim's... Thanks Dave!
We gave Dave and Kim some flack for their perfectly black riding suits (ours were now shades of gray and brown, thanks to Dave's never-ending dust cloud). The four of us climbed up slick rock and around bushes to get to the very edge of the Grand Canyon. 

Aside from the fact that there are barely any other tourists willing to traverse the tricky road, what makes this portion of the Grand

Canyon so special, is that there are no barriers so you can get as close to the edge as your stomach will allow. It was a breath-taking view, especially when you looked down 1000s of feet to the river below. As it had taken much longer than expected to get to the overlook (probably thanks to my need to "take it easy"), Dave and Kim needed to get back on the road soon to get home to their kids. Roel and I were contemplating camping there, but
also wanted to get closer to Vermilion, as we were hoping to enter a permit lottery early the next morning to hike to Coyote Butte. So we decided to all ride out together, also figuring that there is always safety in numbers, and with the sun setting, safety had to be a priority. 

I had thoroughly enjoyed the day, despite having set my bike down one more time in the very same-frigging spot as before, and falling victim to my inexperience, fully inflated tires and speed in a pit of silt. It was an amazing way to gain experience with dirt and having a leader like Dave really helped me to focus and be confident. But on the way out, Roel was leading, and somehow, the Africa Twin seemed to be throwing up even more dust than Dave's V-Strom. We needed to maintain a speed of about 35mph/55kph in order to not feel the corrugations too much, but between Roel's dust cloud, my high windscreen and the dark that was closing in, I was really having difficulty seeing... and my legs were getting tired - I'd been standing up to get enough vision for 40mi/65kms by that point. As I took the lead, Roel said to be aware that there had been another rough spot in the road in the beginning, but after successfully avoiding the ruts that had been disconcerting before, I thought we were home-free, so I maintained the 35mph/55kph speed. Until I hit the patch of sand I had completely forgotten about because it had been so easy to navigate earlier in the day. My front wheel began a nice wobble and I was so shocked that I inadvertently let off of the throttle for a moment. Since 35mph is an awkward speed for my bike (too high for 3rd and on the brink of too low for 4th), my RPMs dropped so low that when I went to twist the throttle to pull myself out of the wobble, there was nothing there and all I had to do was hang on for life and limb as my beloved bike went down and spun around in the sand, seeming to pivot on my left pannier. Everyone always says these moments seem to go in slow motion, and this one really did - before my bike came to a rest, facing the direction from whence it had come, I thought to myself that this was a rather graceful fall as far as my falls thus far have gone. 

Once the bike came to a stop, I extracted myself out from under it, and waited for Roel to come running over to help me lift it up. Poor guy... he certainly got a workout that day. Fortunately, Roel had a tie-down strap that we could use to temporarily secure my beat up box to my bike, but my left foot peg had bent 90 degrees. Though I was still able to ride, Roel didn't think it was safe to continue on to Vermilion. Additionally, while wandering around in the sand to ensure nothing had come off of my bike, I discovered that my ankle was slightly sprained. So, we decided it was best to return to St. George with Dave and Kim, as they had kindly offered that we could regroup and go from there. 

The rest of the ride home was cold. Bone chilling cold, as the sweat that had built up as we worked our way out of the dirt began to cling to our bodies and cool. We made it home and Dave and Kim's wonderful children welcomed us back (the eldest, Tyler, had hacked his Dad's SPOT account and had been tracking our journey as we were several hours later than expected), Kenadee had made us a Hootenanny for dinner (like a cross between a popover, a crepe and a pancake) (breakfast for dinner = my favorite!) (Hootenanny's are my new favorite breakfast!) and little Logan (who reminds me of Dennis-the-Menace to a T) was just curious about our adventure lingering in the garage as we dismounted from the bikes and looked for other damage that hadn't been visible in the dark on the road. 

I was a bit sore the next day and was grateful for a break from riding until I found out it would take between 3-14 days to get a new foot peg in. Dave and Roel set to work on the foot peg, and thank goodness for strong men and good tools...

Dave was able to bend my foot peg back into a workable/safe position and Roel was able to hammer out the graceful curves my pannier had developed during it's spin on the sand, to a point where it at least gave the appearance of sealing with the lid, once again. 

We had fun showing our appreciation to our St. George Saints later that evening by contributing a few of our favorite dishes to dinner and enjoyed one last evening with that amazing family before heading West to Vegas.

And for the recipe for Hootenanny's, click here or read below:

1/2 cup butter or 1/2 cup margarine
6 eggs
1 cup milk
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup flour

Preheat oven to 425 degree F.
Put entire stick butter into a 9 x 13 inch pan.
Put pan with butter into the oven until butter is melted.
Beat the eggs, milk, and salt until frothy.
Add flour.
Beat until mixed.
Pour over melted butter.
Bake for 25 to 30 minutes.
Serve with syrup or jelly.

1 comment:

  1. What incredible people Azure and Roel are. We had the most Amazing time hosting them in our home. It will be an experience we will never forget. My kids still talk about you all the time. Your welcome in our home anytime. Good luck on your journey together.. Dave Guymon