By Paul Berglund
Rivers and hills make for curvy roads. So when I want to ride my motorcycle for fun, you’ll most likely find me near the Mississippi or Saint Croix River valleys. But sometimes hills aren’t enough and a fella needs a mountain. Every September I try to get out to Colorado with my trail bike. I am filled with joy and wonder every time I make the trip. Last fall I didn’t get the chance. Then the cold, dark misery of another Minnesota winter descended upon us. You may have noticed, this past one was horrible.
Rather than sinking into despair, I banded together with some fellow riders to escape to Utah in late February. Between us we had a trailer for the bikes and a truck to pull it. It only took two days of driving. We left on Saturday morning and were out on the trails on Monday morning. We rode all week and drove back to Minnesota the following week end. We shared hotel rooms, split the gas and tried to eat at as many Waffle Houses as we could. So the cost of this mental heath saving trip was kept to a minimum.
I highly recommend you try it. The Horribleness that is Minnesota in winter dissipates as you go south. We are surrounded by six to eight hundred miles of boredom. You could unload the bikes and ride as soon as southern Iowa, but why would you? Keep that pedal to the metal and aim for the Rocky Mountains. You may hit some bad weather in Colorado (like we did) but you’re from Minnesota so you can handle that. Once you’re in Utah the weather will be fine. The daytime highs were in the 60s the whole time we were there. It can rain in southern Utah, but it’s more or less a desert.
One of our group had friends in Saint George, Utah. They let us stay with them for free. There are hundreds of miles of trails in South West Utah, and the riding was fantastic. If you have a friend you can stay with, go for it. If you don’t have someone to mooch off of, may I suggest you go to Moab. The small town of Moab, Utah is a tourist town from end to end. What kind of tourist? Off-road tourist. The crazy part is, most people come out to Moab in the summer when it’s really hot. So when you show up in February the whole place is on sale. Hotel rooms cost half of what they do in the summer; most of them have truck and trailer parking. You have dozens of restaurants to yourself. Everyone is glad to see you and in the center of town is a Tourist Info outlet that sells maps. Fantastic maps.
The trails around Moab are jaw-dropping beautiful. You can ride out each day in a new direction and return to your hotel that night with great stories and pictures to share with your riding buddies. Here are some tips on how you can do
Trail riding takes skill and a trail bike. You should have a street-legal bike with knobbie tires. (Not enduro/dual sport tires, you want DOT knobbies) You can get all the skills you need by riding trails right here in Minnesota. Nemadji State Forest , Snake Creek Trail and Trout Valley Trail will provide you with a good education. Take some classes, read some books and make some friends who know how to trail ride, then get out there and ride. Recruit your street-riding friends to go with you, they will thank you for it. If you can handle the hard parts of our local trails, you can handle Moab trails.
You will need riding gear. Street riding gear will work off road, but you may want an off-road helmet, so you can use goggles. It get’s dusty in Utah. You have lots of bikes to choose from but the lighter it is, the easier it will be to ride. On our trip one guy had Yamaha YZ250 that he put a street kit on and got it plated for road use. He had the least experience of all of us, but he had the lightest bike, so it balanced out. The other bikes where a Suzuki DR350, a KTM 640 Adventure and a Suzuki DR650. All worked out fine. The hard part is knowing how much stuff to bring with you and how to carry it on your bike. That’s part of your training. Work out what you need in the way of tools and inner tubes, food and water. Bring lots of water.
Once you have the skills, the bike and the gear, hopefully you should have your friends converted to trail riding. It’s not hard to make converts once you get them out on the trails. If your friends don’t want to ride, make some new friends. Seriously, it’s worth it. Trips like this are more fun, safer and less expensive when you do them with your friends. Again, that’s part of the training you’ll be doing on local trails. If you can’t stand your buddy John for the car ride up to Nemadji, then don’t ask him to drive to Utah with you. If your buddy Peter can’t ride in sand and cries if there are rocks on the trail, don’t bring him to Utah. Not all of your friends will get along all the time. Did I like how Juan turned every story or discussion we had while we were in the truck into a Juan sex story? NO! It was creepy as hell. Once we were out on the trail, I couldn’t hear him any more and all was forgiven. A good rider with a well-prepared bike will be cut some slack.
I own a trailer. That makes me very popular with the off-road crowd. If you have a bike and the skills to use it but you’re having a hard time finding friends to ride with, consider buying a trailer. Most all of my friends have a truck or an SUV with a trailer hitch. Truck guys are valuable, but replaceable. If all you have is your trail bike and a Toyota Prius, good luck making friends. It’s a dog eat dog world out there and riding in a crew cab truck with four guys for 1,268 miles is bad enough. If you’re a Prius owning, sex-story-teller, you and your bike will get left at the first rest stop.