Jeff Gerbing and Fernando Belair on a trip through OR, ID, UT and CO.
Photos of the trip (39)
The Plan, The Prep, Liftoff
We do a lot of product testing up here at Gerbing's. And we have product testers who've been contributing input to the company from other parts of the globe for years. But when the opportunity came to take some new product prototypes and combine them with a long-distance ride, I jumped at the chance.
Fernando Belair, our Director of Sales & Marketing, was going to Utah to spend a couple of days at a gathering of internet-based riding friends from all around the country. I decided to put some prototype items on his back as well, and we turned the trip into an R&D function, for which we'll be duly punished on our return as reams of paperwork, observations, measurements, fitment, functionality, and other things will have to be filled out in triplicate, and given to the Gerbing's Product Development Team for evaluation. But I couldn't be concerned with that. We were headed off on a nearly 3,000 mile adventure.
Prep just took browsing the internet forums and learning what to do to my ST1300, which unfortunately I hadn't ridden as much or as often as I'd like as we grew and relocated the company, and then grew it some more. I added a trunk to ST, took the seat to Rich's up in Seattle who built me a beautiful saddle and added a couple of extra inches in height to accommodate my 6-4 frame (he installed one of our heat pads as well). Handlebar risers helped retain the bar/seat relationship, and helped move me back about ¾ of an inch as well. A bar-end Throttlemeister would help with the hours of miles on the slab. I went for a 4-hour pre-ride after the modifications and decided that I was set to go.
Gerbing's is located in Tumwater, next to Olympia, the state capitol. We're also about 2 hours north of Portland, so an early departure was called for in order to skirt the Rose City ahead of the morning commute. “Early,” in this case, meant 4AM as the weather called for rain all day, and it would probably take more than two hours to clear Portland. I'm usually up early, but ready to ride at 4AM was pretty much new to me. Still, Fernando met me at the office around 3:45 and after a few small items were taken care of, we were off just before 4:15. We'd figured we'd probably leave a half hour late, so already we were making good time. And we needed to.
A Wet Start, But It Got Better
Riding at night in the rain is no fun for me. Lane lines on the freeway disappear in a flurry of blinding reflections from oncoming cars. So I just tucked in stagger a few seconds back of my riding partner and followed his taillight and the reflective off his bike and his gear. Fortunately, traffic was sparse.
We knew that water would try to work its way into our helmets. But we'd taken care of most of that with a masking tape seal between our faceshields and our helmets. It only allowed for one or two “clicks” of opening, but that was all we needed to keep the fogging at bay. The masking tape along the upper edge worked to channel the rain down the sides of the helmet, so only the occasional micro-spritz of road spray made its way in. In all, it was a tough ride, but comfortable. And the Hybrid LT Jacket I was testing was keeping me warm and dry, while a pair of our XE Pants did the same for my legs. I'll talk more about the Hybrid LT a little later, as it's a very special jacket and a big technical advancement over anything else on the market.
The sun was already rousing roosters to the east and the rain had eased up a bit as we departed our beloved Interstate 5 (the only unobstructed path along Washington's wet side) and took Hwy 205, skating around the northeast section of Portland and heading toward the Columbia River Gorge and onto I-84, which would be our home for the next 24 hours. The Gorge was damp, but not windy, which is a good thing as they can whip up pretty strong down that funnel. A quick breakfast at our first gas stop and we were back on the road.
Over The Mountains and Zipping Across Idaho
Through The Dalles and onward into central Oregon, our path followed the beautiful Columbia River, with cliffs rising to the south and the water to the north. We broke southeast as I-84 bent away from the river toward Pendleton, and continued on that trajectory for a while. The rains came back just as we began climbing toward LaGrande and Baker City, the asphalt serving as a backbone over the Blue Mountains dividing the Wallowa and Umatilla National Forests. Wetter and colder with each ascending mile, our gear kept us dry and warm, again me in my Hybrid LT and XE combo, and Fernando in his Roadcrafter with a new-concept prototype liner underneath. Both of us had heated gloves. I had a pair of T5's keeping my hands warm while my BMW-riding partner stayed toasty in his G3's.
I know the beauty of the state of Idaho as I've spent recreational time in the upper 2/3rd of the state, and Fernando knows it well, having lived in Sun Valley. But I-84 along its southern spread was made for just getting through. And that's what we did. Fortunately, with it being spring, the normal Marine Corps crewcut of scrub growth along the highway's surrounds was showing far more green than usual, a five-day Chia Pet's growth sporadically adorning the roadside. That, the snow-capped Sawtooths in the distance to the north, and the fact that we left the last of the rain a few hours behind us in Oregon, made the miles far more tolerable. And Idaho's 75mph speed limit made miles easy to click off. Additionally, Idaho's State Troopers must have had the day off, as literally none were encountered (or else they hide really well). Besides, we were on good behavior.
Day One Is Done
We ended the day in Twin Falls, ID, a town separated from the interstate by the expanse (plus substantial geological safety margin) of the Snake River Canyon that Knievel once tried to clear. We bridged over Evel's folly (my riding partner claims to have been there for the event back in his misspent youth, covering it for Cycle World) and rolled into the first place that offered free Wi-Fi and a hot breakfast. Interestingly, the clerk at the hotel told us that Kneivel's son, Robbie, had recently been in town and reportedly had met with city officials, so make of that what you will. Rumors abound.
Total miles for our first day was about 680. We'd taken plenty of stretch breaks, so it took us about 14 hours which means we averaged just under 50mph. With stretching, food, fuel and bathroom visits, that's pretty fair. We schlepped our stuff to the rooms they gave us at the far end of the hotel (at least they let us park the bikes under the hotel's front overhang), took showers and met down at the lounge for nachos, beer/wine and some loud conversation about the day.
Why lounges feel they have to make their patrons scream at each other over really bad music is beyond me. But we were too tired to complain. After about a half hour, each of us gave up on the remaining chips and headed off for a little TV, a check of the next day's weather, and a night of rest.
Admittedly, nearly 700 miles is just about my longest day ever. And I was surprised the next morning when nothing hurt except a bit of arm pump on my throttle side. I guess I'd been gripping a bit too hard. I should let the Throttlemeister do more of the work. Still, it just goes to show you that when you get your bike set up right for your body, you can ride and ride without straining much.
Fired Up and Filled Up. Utah, Ho!
A full breakfast came with each room, so after bacon, sausage, eggs and a splash of fresh fruit, we stuffed our bag liners into our saddlebags, put on our helmets, plugged in our gear, and took off at a chilly 6:30. False start. Filling up your gas tank the night before sure makes hitting the road easier the next day. Wish we'd done that. We would from now on.
Some electrical tape strips across the tops of our faceshields did battle against the rising sun. But the closer we got to Utah, the less of a problem the sun was as I-84 curved more and more south until it merged/shared with I-15 at Tremonton, UT. It finally surrendering title to its larger, four-lane sibling around Brigham City.
The rolling hills north of the Salt Lake Basin were to be our last respite of relaxed riding, as once we neared North Ogden it would be nearly two hours of construction breaks, reduced speeds, heavy enforcement, and the other cut-and-thrust realities of urban traffic. Keeping each other in sight was a bit tricky sometimes, as a traffic break for one didn't always equate to two, nor is checking your six often all that easy to do when any more than a two-second following distance from the car in front of you merely surrenders your lane to the next signal-less dive bombing cager on their cell phone. But we managed to get it together enough to get through most of it before we pulled over for fuel and a snack in American Fork. There we met a SLC city patrolman on his day off, out for a ride on his new Kawasaki C-14. Nice guy. Good conversation. Told us how far it was to our turnoff at Spanish Fork (ugh, another half hour of battle).
UT-6 at Spanish Fork is where the fun really starts. Traffic lightens as the road shares space with UT-89, a two-lane that breaks due south at Thistle and connects all the way down to Zion National Park, about a half a gallon north of the AZ state line. We weren't going that far today. Just to Fairview, and then up over Huntington Canyon on UT-31. This a beautiful road that ceilings out at nearly 10,000 feet across a brief mountaintop expanse before releasing us into a serpentine freefall of beautifully maintained sweeping corners that border lakes, reservoirs, and a rushing stream with rocky waterfalls. There's still plenty of snow at the top and even though it's midday, the temp gauge on my ST1300 suggests that water might not stay water if left out too long. Fortunately, we ratchet up our Temp Controllers a click or two and things are warm. . .until. . .we stop for pictures. At the first stop I disconnect from the bike and switch to the Hybrid LT Jacket's optional battery, so my body stays warm. But I also take my helmet off. Mistake. Head gets cold. Helmet gets cold. All pictures from that point onward will NOT involve taking my helmet off. You'll just have to trust that it's me under that black Shoei.
As we descend, we pass quietly and somberly by the openings to the Huntington mines where a few years ago both miners and rescue teams lost their lives in some terrible cave-ins. It never hurts to reflect on one's good fortune, and to be grateful for what we are enjoying. The fact that Memorial Day was less than two weeks away also enters our thoughts. We need to focus on the road in front of us, but we cannot ignore a passing nod to those who've come and gone, as well as those who gave their all for us. May they rest in peace.
UT-31 headbutts into UT-10. We head south across this is simple, high-plains road until it crosses under I-70. There it becomes UT-72 which is another of those incredibly panoramic roads with sweeping corners and vistas that just don't quit. The northern part of the road is littered with tar snakes, UDOT-sealed road repair patches that get slippery when hot, so we had to be careful. But about 1/3 of the way down its 36-mile length, the road changes to fresh chip seal, which is like riding on Velcro. If you want to feel like a two-wheeled superstar, chip seal will help. Not far from that was our destination of Torrey, UT.
As you approach from the west on UT-24, you quickly see that the green farmland of small towns like Loa, Lyman and Bicknell transforms into the multi-strata of colorful sandstone at Torrey. It's the gateway town to Capitol Reef National Park, a beautiful, serene and narrow trough in a geologically magical southern half of the state.
Home Away From Home
Our reservations were waiting for us at Randy Austin's Chuckwagon Motel, a thoroughly gracious venue given the incredible hospitality we enjoyed from Randy, his family, and his longtime employees. With a pool/jacuzzi, a fully-stocked general store, bakery/deli (specializing in homemade Danish in the morning and some tasty Mexican dishes during the day/evening), plus a complete laundromat all on the premises, the place, the location, and the people just make you feel like you're home. You really don't want to leave.
Nevertheless, we left the next day for a quick ride up the 9600-ft. mountain toward Fish Lake. Beautiful vistas, bitter cold and a lake that was thawed only at the shoreline greeted us. The evergreens were plentiful, but so were the aspens, stripped bare of their colorful foliage last fall, and not yet ready to produce this spring's leaves. At the end of the riding season I'll bet this area is awash in colors. I'm going to have to come back and see it.
A quick 120-miler and we were back in Torrey in time for a warm and sunny lunch on the patio at Chillz, the local favorite for burgers, pizza and incredible shakes. A while later, back at the Chuckwagon, we got to greet more new arrivals, mingle and make dozens of new friends.
We met so many great people, some from as far as Chicago, Virginia and even Florida, who ride here twice a year to gather with their internet friends, to put faces with “screennames” and share scenery and roads that are exclusively Utah. The sense of camaraderie is intoxicating. I wasn't “Jeff Gerbing” to these folks. Just Jeff, a rider from Washington on his ST. Loved it.
As the afternoon wore on, I asked Fernando where we might ride the following day. He suggested a loop that included a very scenic and diverse UT-12. But it was “only” 220 miles. And after a day of relative relaxation, I was feeling restless. “What else ya got?” I asked. So he pulls out his maps and shows me UT-95 down to Blanding, then UT-191 up to Monticello. At that point, we'd be just 17 miles from the Colorado border on UT-491, so we might as well poke our nose in there, ride a bit and then come back to Monticello for lunch. “Besides,” he said, “Karol (Patzer, our Midwest Regional Sales Manager) is vacationing with her family about 70 miles north in Moab, and I'll bet we can talk her into riding down and meeting us for lunch. Our total ride should be about 450 miles. ”
UT-95, CO and Back. Beauty and the Wind Beast
I don't know if there are words to describe the Glen Canyon section of UT-95, not that the rest of it isn't breathtaking as well. But these canyons have the most blood-red sandstone I've ever seen. And it just goes on for miles. Additionally, pulling off at the Hite Lookout is a must. The beauty, the vistas, and the sandstone erosions caused by the river on its way to Lake Powell and beyond, are breathtaking. If we hadn't made an appointment for lunch with Karol and her family, I would probably still be down on UT-95 taking pictures.
Lunch was enjoyable, mostly for the company and the chance to meet up with our Midwest rep (who's based out of Minneapolis), all the way out here in Utah. It's a big country. And then again, sometimes it's not. But this lunch wouldn't come without a price. As soon as we stepped outside, the winds hit us. And they were fierce. We said our good-bye's, suited up, and headed back the way we came as Karol and klan motored north with a good tailwind. We, unfortunately, were headed the other direction. From Monticello down to Blanding and a bit beyond, things where whipping up pretty good. Eventually we dropped back into the canyon lands that UT-95 calls home and, now heading north, the winds subsided quite a bit. This made the ride back much easier through the more beautiful sections of the road. But once we cleared all that and had to cut due west on UT-24, the winds hit again . . . hard, fast and relentlessly. We kept our speeds down but the gusts still forced us to ride as close as we could to the center line so we'd have enough time and space for course corrections when we got blasted.
We made it back, and figured it had been just short of 450 miles, as predicted. But the last hour felt like 4 hours all by itself. There was an abundance of conversation back at the motel, shared ride tales with others who'd taken different routes (the merciless wind was the predominant topic), and even welcomed more new folks who had arrived during the day. But bed would come early as the battering we survived, and a good Chuckwagon enchilada dinner (plus a glass of wine or two) took the remaining starch out of my legs.
That Moment of Realization
There's true magic in places like Torrey, like Big Bend NP in Texas, in the CA/NV Sierras, The Smokies, upstate NY, and in places like this all across America where riders go to leave the rest of the world to its battles, to be rejoined later . . . in a week, perhaps two. Hopefully, two. A couple of times I realized that the nearest business meeting I'd normally be attending was a thousand miles away, the nearest banker likewise distant, all of the stresses and distractions of everyday life virtually gone. I hadn't signed a check in days, hadn't had to meet with the Chamber of Commerce, and for just these days I really didn't have a care in the world except to ride, see, ride, inhale, exhale, ride, eat and relax. Oh yes, and ride. I don't know what my blood pressure was, but I doubt my doctor would believe it could drop that low. Aaaaaahhhhh. . . . . . .
Of course, all such beautiful experiences do have a time limit. The flip of the calendar inexorably comes, and things must be packed up. And finally, we must leave.
A Cold Start Home
The morning of our departure was the coldest temp we'd experienced to date. It was freezing and at 70mph I don't want to know what the wind chill was. Some farmers were irrigating, but their fields were iced over where the water landed, and what hit their fences hung in sheets and icicles through which the rising sun played refractive games. Still, with the heated gear, the slow warming of the morning and a moderate pace, we were out of the cold, down off the highlands, and onto I-5 headed for that great SLC basin in a couple of hours. Breakfast came at a Mickey D's/truck stop, which was actually quite nice, I must say. After we ate, though, we got on our bikes, put our heads down and started to just “make miles.” We pushed past our agreed-upon rest breaks, signaling to each other that we felt fine. The first gas stop came at 240 miles, and we just rolled in, gassed and powered out. Finally, at the second stop, we quit for about 20 minutes. There was a wooden bench with my name on it, a 10-minute movie playing on the inside of my eyelids, and that was all she wrote. Fernando took a dive onto a grassy knoll at a rest area on the way down, and I've got a picture of that one, so it wasn't just me who occasionally pooped out (gotta add that).
I awoke refreshed and ready to get back on the road and do battle. So we did, once again finding a good riding rhythm and rolling into Ontario, OR, on the ID/OR border just as the sun lost its strength, but not its light. Buffalo Wings to go, lots of napkins, and the last-ever episode of Lost, and it was pretty much a night for me.
Last Day On the Road. First Day Wanting To Go Back
Again, morning came early as we scooted out at 6AM, knowing full well that within the first hour we'd cross back into the Pacific Time Zone and pick up an hour. With any luck, that hour would help us get back to Olympia by 2PM, assuming the winds in the Columbia Gorge didn't decide to test us. Frankly, I'd had enough winds for a while, and once again the ones in Oregon were graciously on vacation (probably in Utah!), so it was a relatively uneventful ride home, punctuated by our last road meal.
We pulled into the office a tick past 2PM, to lots of wide eyes and inquiring faces. “Hey, you made it!” “How'd the bikes run?” “Did you have any problems?” And many other caring curiosities from our great staff at Gerbing's.
It was good to be home. It was sad to be home. I owe my bike a gentle, warm, soapy bath, some fresh oil, and a quiet time in its corner of the garage. I owe our team at Gerbing's a big Thank You for looking after everything while we were gone. Nothing fell apart. There were no crises. Everything ran just the way it's supposed to. From our COO, Chris Haffly, all the way down, we have really, REALLY great people. If you've ever had to deal with them, you already understand. They love what they do and who they do it for (our customers).
As for all of the testing we did, we've got lots to report to R&D. The Hybrid LT works great, needs a tweak or two, and it'll be ready to go late this fall. And so will I. If I can get away, I really want to see what those aspens look like as the season fades. I'll bet they're spectacular. Now, what products do we have coming up that I can test? Hmmm. . .