5 days and 1,000 miles on 40 year old motorcycles through the mountains and deserts of Utah - that was the Western Vintage 1000.
It was our fourth year participating in the Vintage and the first year it was held out west. In the time leading up to the ride we had lots to do to get our bikes prepared. We had a 1978 Yamaha SR500 & a 1981 Honda XL500S on our hands and 1 week. We love waiting until the last minute. Some routine maintenance, carb work, and dropping the engine for a fresh head gasket were on the list, but we got it done. Jared and I were only able to put about 40 miles on the bikes before having to leave, but for those 40 miles they ran great!
While we were beyond stoked to hit the Utah landscapes and start riding, we first had to make it out west. We gave ourselves 2 days to make it the 2,000 miles from Atlanta, Georgia to Salt Lake City, Utah.
Our buddy Andrew drove down from Chattanooga in his 1995 Chevy G20, a fitting tow vehicle for the Vintage, but somewhat of a gamble to see if it would actually make it the entire way. We had 5 motorcycles we needed to haul out west, so we wasted no time loading and hooking up the trailer - and we were off, sights set on Utah! But then, not even 20 minutes from home, Andrews transmission blew up in his van. Unsure of what to do next, we scrambled to find another truck. It was 1am on Saturday and we were supposed to be in Salt Lake City the following day by 7pm for the pre-ride meeting.
Our buddy Micah ended up saving the day and offered up his Tundra. By 2am we were once again hitched and loaded up, back on our way out west. It was down to just Jared and I + 4 bikes, the plan was to now drive nonstop for the next 36 hours to make it in time.
We continued through the night relying on loud music and lots of caffeine. We made sure to swing by our buds Blip Roasters in Kansas City for some fresh coffee and motorcycle hangs before trucking on. The road trip continued as day soon turned night, the highway seemingly stretching on forever. We eventually hit Wyoming as mountains started growing out of the plains, and with it came intense thunder storms, even snow. It was another night of nonstop driving through wind and rain to make it into SLC by late morning. After a much much much needed nap, the remainder of our day was spent on any last minute bike preparations and packing for the week ahead.
We left Salt Lake City first thing in the morning, riding in a group with Julian, Harrison, and Mike. Our day was slated for just under 200 miles, the recent snow storms had closed some of the mountain passes originally on our route, so a few last minute changes were made. We hit dirt by mid morning and were soon met with incredible views of the surrounding snow covered mountains. I wasn’t really sure where we were - or even where we were headed. No GPS allowed on the ride, navigation is solely roll chart, so it’s difficult to get an accurate gauge of where you actually are the entire time. Hours of exciting routes continued and towards the end of the day we began climbing in elevation on our way into camp. Nearing 9,000ft the bikes were definitely gasping for air, barely chugging along. Few folks made carburetor adjustments, the bikes were running well enough, so it was a slow and scenic ride in. We were doing great for time, a relatively short and unproblematic day of riding, with a quick stop at a nearby lake to snack and take in views. Not much later we arrived at camp and after setting up our tents the sun dipped behind the mountains and temperatures quickly dropped. We gathered around the fire to share the days stories and ready ourselves for tomorrow.
No one told us it was going to be this cold…. The following day we woke up to frost on our bikes. Temperatures had dropped to freezing overnight, camping at nearly 9,000ft the air was thin and sharp. After defrosting ourselves and the bikes, we kicked ‘em on, cruised down the mountains, and headed for the heat of the desert. Trees disappeared as sand and dust filled the landscape. Open roads and vast scenery occupied the morning, how exciting it was to be ripping these vintage bikes through the desert. Our excitement was soon interrupted by Jared popping a tube. No problem though, thats what this ride is all about. Luckily we found some shade, quickly swapped tubes, and were on our way. About 2 hours later Jared popped another tube… well that’s bad luck. No problem though, between the few of us we had a few tubes. No shade this time, our landscape now looked like Mars. By this time it was getting really hot, sun high in the sky. Swapped the tube and on our way again. By late afternoon we were nearing the back entrance of Arches National Park when all the sudden - Jared popped tube # 3. We had one tube left, threw it in there, and crossed our fingers as we finished out that day and headed into camp just outside of Canyonlands National Park. Jared ended up securing a fourth and correct sized tube and put it in that evening, with a fruit leather between the rubber for good luck. Must’ve worked, didn’t pop a tube after.
Day 3 may have been my favorite. It was really when the adventure started kicking in. It was slated to be a shorter day, but technical. Our morning started with the famous Shafer Switchbacks. I have ridden this road a few times and every time it is an adrenaline rush. It is one of the most exciting roads, the tight turns mixed with steep falloffs and an insane view to top. Today it was the Florida crew; myself, Julian, Anna, and Mike all originate from south Florida. They don’t have anything like this in Florida… Our morning continued through the crater like landscape, as we hugged the Colorado river into Moab. A burger and fries was just what we needed when we stopped for lunch. The heat was catching up with us, we also probably weren’t drinking enough water. We gassed the bikes and our bodies, it was time to carry on. We soon hit some challenging sections - large rocks, loose rocks, sand, steep climbs, quick descents. We had a couple spills but nothing major. It was late afternoon and exhaustion was hitting, but we still had about 40 miles to cover. It was just as golden hour started that we hit the Kokopelli Trail. I’m still in awe when thinking back to this road, I was saying “wow” around every turn. Ridge roads that climb the orange mountains, canyons that cut through the rock and hug rivers, even creek crossings - this trail had it all. At one point I had to stop and give Adam (the ride founder and route planner) a high five because of how good this riding was. As the sun started setting we finished up dirt and arrived at camp, equal parts exhausted and stoked after an adventurous day of riding.
We were back in the desert again, surrounded by heat and sand. And dust, lots of dust. We spent all morning riding through the barren landscape. Every once in a while rocks would jut out of the earth, then back to blank desert. A river soon ran alongside the trail, grass and trees appeared, then vanished as quick as it appeared. It was around noon when we were supposed to meet up with the support van. Today’s route had us going through some really remote parts of Utah and gas was about 170 miles apart. Even with carrying spare fuel, most of the bikes could range up to ~100 miles, so the van was on gas delivery duty. Unfortunately a wrong turn took the support van in the opposite direction and was now 3 hours away from where we were. Nearly all the bikes were out of gas, the others had enough to make it a few miles down the road but nowhere near the remaining 70 miles to the next gas station. We were now stuck in the middle of the desert. Luckily we had stopped at a roadside pit bathroom that provided a few square feet of shade. A few riders further up weren’t so lucky, so resorted to building shelter out of clothes and blankets. Some suntanning and naps made time pass and within a few hours the support van arrived. We gassed up and got out of there, it was now late afternoon and we still had a lot of miles to cover, but were now 3 hours shorter on daylight. We trekked on, most of the remaining miles were off-road, passing through winding valleys. We had climbed back out of the desert, temperatures had dropped but with it came trees and greenery. We passed fields of horses and cattle along the way as the the light started fading. We caught a beautiful sunset along the trail but soon after the sky turned black and we raced to camp. The headlights on these bikes don’t do much, a headlamp strapped to your helmet honestly does a better job. After 2 more hours in the dark we finally made it to camp, cold and exhausted from the days ride.
We awoke to a beautiful view this morning. We hadn’t realized it last night when getting in at dark, but we were perched atop a hill overlooking the mountains and lake below. It was our last day on the Vintage 1000, it’s always bittersweet. Exhaustion mixed with adrenaline, ready to finish but also I could probably do this for another week straight. But who knows if the bike could. I hadn’t realized it but the prior day my bike had been burning oil. Well honestly all these bikes are burning and leaking oil, but mine a little much. It was puffing lots of white smoke which is never a great sign… time for a new top end? Who knows how long I rode with not enough, if any oil? Eh, it’s hard to kill these old Hondas anyway. We had an easier route slated for today as we headed back to Salt Lake City. A few mountain passes to cross and some forests to rip through were on the agenda. With a close eye on our dipsticks we took off with a slow and steady pace, and a handful of wheelies. Dusty trails and blooming aspen trees provided most of the days landscape, catching glimpses of lakes below and snow covered mountains in the distance. And smoke, lots of burning oil. A couple quarts every once in a while was all we needed to get us the remaining miles to the finish. The landscape of Utah is beyond compare, it truly feels like another planet. And there’s nothing quite like experiencing it on vintage motorcycles. What an adventure the past 5 days had been, really the past week including the nonstop driving we did to get out there. And now it was time for us to load up the bikes and do it again back to Atlanta.
How many days until the next one?