Motorcycle riders and travelers have always been the superstars I have looked up to. My father had me riding a 50cc Honda before he even removed the training wheels off my bicycle. I fondly remember seeing groups of Harleys rumble through our little one stoplight on the highway town I grew up in. Leather clad, black machines, with weather worn riders with knives dangling from their belts would glare over at me sitting shotgun in a Chevy Scottsdale pickup emblazoned with Fox Racing logos. These guys were cool.
Now being closer to a responsible grown adult, my kids look up to me with this same hunger in their eyes. The motorcycle is a transformational machine. With a kiss from my three year old, I handed him his bag of donuts and Josh and I rambled down the driveway to embark on our mission; to ride our GSs to five different mountain bikes trails in five different states and do it all in five days. The highways and gravel roads would be our companions for the majority of the daylight that lived in a day. The mountain bikes would be our reprieve from the 70+ mile an hour windshield time that we lived between yellow empty gas lights flashing on our dash boards.
Josh rode a new GS 1200 that had all the bells and whistles one could imagine. Cruise control electronically kept his bike at a consistent speed as he fiddled with his radio on his helmet. Maybe Nirvana wasn’t cutting it, or maybe he was on the phone, but he looked at home behind the handlebar on that large machine.
I have never been a huge fan of liter bikes for dual sporting. Maybe it is my affinity to dirt bikes, maybe it is me liking to jump the perfectly shaped drainage ditch on my commute to work, or maybe I just don’t want to spend the money. My 2013 GS 800 has always been enough bike for me and remains nimble enough to get a little wilder off road when the calling happens.
Pulling into the first gas station I knew right away we were onto something special. A woman putting fuel into her Subaru noticed the bicycles suspended off the back of our road hogs. Her excitement was contagious as she asked for us to have our pictures taken next to the bikes that perched upon our motorcycles. We off course obliged. This would be the theme of every gas station along the way. The conversations our bikes sparked encouraged people to that time long ago when they had a bmx bike that they jumped and crashed their way through childhood. Or stories of a motorcycle trip that these individuals had taken in life that they have etched fondly in their souls. People related to the journey we were on and the combination of motor bike and pedal bike made the differences between us as humans much less noticeable.
Rain is a bitch. No matter what you say it adds a level of complexity to motorcycle travel that is just a bear to overcome. Highway speeds following a convoy of semi-trucks carrying empty tankers through North Dakota made the rain we encounter that much more complicated. The highways are evenly covered with mud that was dragged from the side roads these diesel belching machines brought with them for the journey back to where they came from. Slowing down was a must.
The Maah Daah Hey trail on the border of North Dakota and Montana was the first stop and mountain biking destination on the trip. A 26 mile reddish dirt road that had been recently graded and tamped down with the day’s rains guided us to our camp. I ride TKC 80’s all year for this reason solely. Letting the rear end dance a little in the corners made all that pavement worth the effort. The colors from the sun that drained down into the landscape rinsed my soul and tightened the bond between Josh and me.
The mountain bike ride ended and the road trip to Sturgis began. Hot sun, dry roads, and a more scenic journey led us to the Harley promise land. The closer we got to our gated campground, the more motorcycles we encountered. Strange looks and many thumbs up were directed our way as we passed folks with our bike on bike situations. It also could have been our “space suits” that we were dressed in against the bikini clad ladies and shirtless men that clattered their way down the highways. “Was this a good idea?” is the question that continued to repeat itself in my mind.
We rolled into camp and the picture taking and storytelling continued just as before. No one cared our bikes were made in Germany. No one cared we wore “space suits” for riding gear. Motorcycles were the common theme and we were all in one place to celebrate that.
I have actually owned a few Harley Davidson motorcycles in my day. In 1999 I actually attended Sturgis on one. Things have changed. Many things have evolved. I don’t know if it was the police pushing things out of town, if it was the bar owners figuring out how to live on the income of a month, or just the need for people to be able to park their enormous toy haulers and campers, but Sturgis felt more commercial than ever. I don’t say that as a bad thing. It actually was nice to go, park our bikes, and camp with a beer or two and to be able to do our own thing at our own time. Meals, beers, and showers were all within our gates. We were happy. Well… until the town party goers came back to camp at all hours. With their loud pipes announcing they were home.
Day three’s mountain bike ride was just down the road 17 miles from where we stayed. After another great ride with a little pushing, we headed south to Wyoming. Curt Gowdy State Park houses some of the best single track we encountered on the entire trip. The amenities were amazing with beautiful camping and hot showers close to the park gates. Wyoming highways however brought a new level of pain to me. Speed limits pushing past 80+ miles per hour blasted us through the state. My wrist started to understand the real pleasure a cruise control could offer. A sharp cramp developed in my forearm that radiated all the way up to my elbow. Gripping was weak, and trying to control the throttle with my left hand was only attempted once before I realized just how bad of an idea that was at these speeds. Or hell, any speed.
Coming from bikepacking, loading gear for the trip was easy. The space two side bags gives you is amazing. I added a duffel to the back just to keep my essentials in like clothes, TP, my tent, sleeping pad, sleeping bag, camp shoes, and a Jet Boil stove with a few dry meals. The left side bag on the motorcycle consisted mostly of tools and tubes to change a flat or do on the road repairs. Also a few lights for my helmet and for camping. The right side kept all of my mountain biking gear. Shorts, jersey, socks, shoes, helmet and hydration pack. I kept a cable lock in my side bag to lock any loose gear to the bike that didn’t have a lock itself. In more public areas that we had to leave our motorcycles, we actually took our duffels into the woods and locked them to trees that were well off the beaten path. Josh had a two gas cans on his bike for the chance that I may have ran out of gas due to the size of my tank compared to his. I relied on my iPhone for GPS and Josh used a Garmin. It was nice to have both since one worked sometimes and the other worked other times. The music however was a God send.
The fourth day we awakened to horses neighing and folks getting ready to hit the trail. We did the same. This day was considered the tough one. We had to ride 20 miles of single track in the morning, a ride on our motorcycles to Buffalo Creek, Colorado, and then another 20 miles of single track at night. Big day!
In the middle of our ride to Buffalo Creek, we stopped in Fort Collins for a burger and cool refreshment. Road 34 is a bike shop/restaurant that holds a fond spot in my heart so that is where we decided to refill our bellies. While we waited for our burgers, I frantically called every BMW shop in the state looking for a cruise control. Lakewood, CO just happened to have what I needed.
We left the shop and the rain continued down again. Two hours to camp on wet and winding roads. At this point I was a happy camper and pushed the bike to see what she could do in the rain. Six miles down the muddy access mountain road was the official camp. There were free camping spots all along this road that were completely filled with folks standing under tarps and hiding from the afternoon storm. They cheered, they pointed, and they talked amongst themselves to the site of us soaked to the bone rolling through the mountain.
As we pulled into camp we also noticed the number of folks that occupied the campsites. One pass through showed us no open spots. Josh happened to see a smaller road and took off with fingers crossed to find us a spot. One left! We nabbed it and quickly started setting up a shelter to get us out of the rain.
Not even 15 minutes later the sun peaked out and dried up all the rain. I was scurrying to hit the trail but Josh wasn’t having it. He wanted to sit and eat a little Backpackers Pantry dried dinners while taking a moment to relax. I am not built that way but I obliged as I could sense the tension getting high.
We strapped headlights on our helmets and took off on our mountain bikes. Footprints of wildlife kept our blood pumping and pace high. All in a day’s work.
The last day was upon us. From west of Denver to central Kansas, we took off. Having been born in Missouri, Kansas was always the flat and windy land that laid in the middle of the MO and CO borders. However tucked away in Wilson Lake is a large number of mountain bike trails that do everything but stay flat. The park ranger visited us with admiration of our journey and our set ups.
The ride was over and we were on the road to end in Kansas City, Missouri at Josh’s house. A super moon light the four lanes of I-70 and made it a bitter sweet end to an amazing journey.
For more information on the mountain bike side of the trip please visit Salsa Cycles.
Justin and Josh. Two fun havers.
About Justin Julian: I am lucky enough to be the General Manager of Salsa Cycles. I hail from central Missouri where the hills hide some of the most fascinating treasures. Moonshine being one of them, great singletrack being the second. Bikes have been an important part of my life from the ripe ol’ age of 3. I have raced, rode, crashed and enjoyed motorcycles for going on 34 years now. The bicycle has been a critical part of my motorcycle career (loosely used) in terms of training, enjoyment, rehab, and escape from the day to day. Both of these two-wheeled contraptions are the reason I exist. They are very much part of my life and being. Cycling and motorsports are also a strength and bond that connects my wife and two boys. Live to ride, ride to live!