Friday, July 19, 2013

Wandering the Cowboy Country of the Western U.S. - Chapter 1: Wrangling The Final Utah 1088.

Preamble to the 2013 Utah 1088.

One of my longest, if not the longest ever series of entries in my motorcycle ride journal, of a little over a week spent in the saddle wandering the Cowboy Country of the Western United States. So please, by all means grab a seat, top off that beverage and/or light up that cigar and settle in for a read and I promise to try and keep it stimulating.

It would seem there is no purpose to riding all half day across an endless desert, but that's how the journey started. The supposedly loneliest highway isn't so lonely, if you know where to stop for some refection. Like almost an year ago to this date, an used up Honda and it's rough and tumble rider (and self proclaimed people person) had joined me, but unlike last year it was only for part of the journey. 

We had a leisurely start, just because we were riding to an endurance rally event didn't mean we needed an endurance ride to get there. After all, who wants to run a half marathon to get to a half marathon? Also, I like to eat good while I am on vacation, so I had already planned our food stops for the ride to Utah. The first one being a brunch stop at the Middlegate Station on Hwy 50 in Nevada. The owner's wife is a phenomenal cook and the breakfasts and lunches here have certainly been worth the mention. We were looking for breakfast, but unfortunately we had miscalculated and brunch was lunch menu only. Which wasn't necessarily a bad thing. The Western Bacon BBQ Cheeseburgers here are to die for. Lunch it was to be! 

Middlegate station used to be an overland stage station that was used by the Pony Express in the 1800's. There is a lot of history associated with this place and it maintains an old west charm, rustic but not entirely run down. I walked around for a few minutes, glad for some time to scour for photo opportunities, as we were the first customers to drop in for lunch and had to wait a bit for our cook to appear. 

I found plenty to photograph, including an attractive, young cowgirl in tight jeans and cowgirl boots and a button down tie top, a fellow shutterbug who was on her own road trip (albeit with her guitar strumming boyfriend). I know what you are thinking (pictures or it didn't happen), but we don't always get what we want, so here are some other photographs of that stop. 

The cow may have jumped over the moon, but I loved how this horse jumped over our rides! 

Middlegate has a gas station, a motel and an RV park. None of which I have any personal experience with. The food at the bar/restaurant being the extent of my (good) experiences here. There were a group of Harley's parked outside when we first pulled in, who had miscalculated their gas stops by counting on filling up at the gas station here. Unfortunately for them the pumps were dry this day, they didn't have GPS and were at a loss where they could find the nearest gas. The answer we provided was go back west to Fallon, where they had came from, for about 47 miles, or go east for about 64 miles to Austin. They decided to head east and since after lunch we didn't come across them sitting by the side of the road, having run out of fuel, I assume they made it into town to refuel. 

Idle cowboy gas station attendant. Don't count on filling up here folks. 

However, you can count on enjoying a free game of horseshoe pitching! The bar at Middlegate gets a lot of patrons and business from the nearby naval base (and the Navy's top gun school, which has moved here from San Diego). The designed to make it hurt implementation of the sequestration has of course made a significant dent on their business. I was glad to spend some of my tourist dollars here. 

We were soon on our way, we didn't venture on the fun detour of Hwy 722 to Austin, but we did enjoy and make quick work of some fun few miles of twisties east of Austin on Hwy 50. 

I love the painted skies of eastern Nevada. This is very high desert and most of the times I have been through here, I happen to find afternoon weather systems moving through, I have ridden through some more severe than others, today it was just some very pretty clouds. 

Our stop for the night was Ely, NV. Every other year on even years, this eastern Nevada town is the base of operations for Cognoscente events. I had participated in the last two of them, namely 'Wild Wild West' (Link1) and 'End of Days: Zombie Apocalypse'. There is another event in the works for 2014, but that announcement and details will come from Warchild, so stay tuned! 

Ely has an affinity for art with an old west theme. Cattle drives, Basque sheepherders, the Pony Express and more. The July 4th weekend was approaching, so today I chose to photograph the Liberty Club in Ely. One nation under God. Indivisible, with liberty and justice for all! 

The Old west theme doesn't just permeate through the murals in the town, but it also extends to the sculptures. Such as this one of a Shoshone woman gathering Pine nuts. The Pinyon pine or White pine is the main species of tree in the Nevada mountainside. The Shoshone woman is harvesting pine nuts while tending her baby on a cradle board slung over her shoulder and carrying a basket whilst knocking the pint nuts off the tree with a beating pole. 

"The pine nuts are their main dependence - their staff of life, their bread" - New Mexico artist and sculptor Joe Pachak describing his sculpture.

The sculpture of the Shoshone woman is on the grounds of the White Pine county courthouse. It was built in the early 1900's during a copper mining boom, hence the copper domed cupola on top.

The courthouse grounds also houses the war memorial honoring the 124 White Pine County residents who gave their lives in wars ranging from the Spanish American war to the Vietnam war. Some of you might recognize this location as it has been featured in past Tour of Honor rallies. 

It was getting late for dinner. You have to remember that we were now essentially counting ourselves being on Mountain time, since that is where we were headed the next day. It helps if you can adjust yourself mentally to the different time zone a day before you are in that zone. I get a text from Brian who was at the hotel smoking his cigar as I walked around town, so I start to head back, but stopped to photograph the brewing late afternoon weather system in the east. For Ely, this is pretty much the norm. Very pretty for small town Nevada.

Remember when I had mentioned that I had already scoped out places to eat along the way? The place below was one of the options. I have heard it is pretty good, but this isn't where we had dinner. Saving this for another time. :)

Dinner was at the Jailhouse. Our bikes looked like they were speeding just parked in the hotel lot, so we were bundled over to the Jailhouse ..... hotel and casino and were soon occupying a cell in the Cell Block Steakhouse. The menu of infractions, misdemeanors and felonies is quite extensive here, and the staff very attentive and helpful. They do their best to help you make the most of your (doing) time, as you sit in your cell block and determine what your offense is going to be. Two thumbs up!

This is a top notch steakhouse. Brian and I both ordered the Prime Rib and I ordered some Newcastle in a chilled glass to wash it down. That steak was ginormous! :P

We had a 7AM Mountain time start the next morning. Our destination for the day was Salt Lake City, so we didn't have far to ride this morning, but we wanted to get to SLC around noon so we could get ourselves checked into the Utah 1088 rally before it got to be 100+ degrees outside. 

It was a beautiful morning to enjoy eastern Nevada, which in itself is very pretty and the roads very amenable to triple digit speeds, not that we did, or we might have but do not recall. Who knows?

You can see Wheeler Peak in the distance in the picture below. Great Basin National park is one of the more beautiful national parks I have been to. It's not as well known nor is it quite as breathtaking as Yosemite for instance or Crater Lake, it's beauty is a bit understated but still very eye catching. At 13,065 feet Wheeler peak is also home to some ancient Bristlecone Pines who grow in a tortured, gnarly fashion in the rarefied environs at that altitude, albeit it does grant them an extremely long life!  We didn't visit Great Basin National Park on this trip, even though it was on our path, believe me I wanted to, but I will have to wait till 2014 when I revisit this area during the Cognoscente event in Ely. 

The 2013 Utah 1088: A summary.

This was the final running of the Utah 1088, marking an end to 22 years of a Long Distance riding tradition. In recent years there have been 3 flavors of the Utah 1088 endurance rally. A 3 day event, a 24 hour event and a 12 hour event. I had initially considered the 24 hour event and had planned to run it with Brian, but I confess my deer scare last September still has me a bit leery of riding in the dark. The wilderness of Utah not lacking for a multitude of wildlife, I decided to run the 12 hour daylight event instead. It is what I was mentally comfortable with doing at this time and since these endurance rallies are more of a personal challenge than proving anything to anybody - I stuck by that decision.

We had arrived in Salt Lake City at the Holiday Inn Airport West a little after noon. We wanted to check in with the rally staff and get our odometer checks out of the way before the afternoon heat started, but alas that was not to be. Rally check-in wasn't going to start till after 2 pm. Which meant that by the time we were done with the paperwork, the odometer check would be in the sweltering heat. Oh well, we were going to get some practice in the Utah heat after all. 

The odometer route was simple enough in reality, the directions just looked complicated on paper. A graphical map would have definitely helped here - it was basically making a series of turns to get on the freeway going west, exit, and then follow a road running parallel to the freeway next to the Salt Flats back to the airport area and then make another series of turns to get back into the hotel parking lot to stop your odometer run. Like I said it sounded more complicated on paper than it was. Although we did pull over to the side of the road a couple of times to check for directions, we were able to finish the check in one try. 

I am going to leave most of the details of the riders' meeting out of this summary report, as has been the norm lately riders got their rally packs with bonus listings the eve of the rally instead of the morning of the rally, we had been hoping for this, so we didn't have to do a rush job of planning our route on the clock in the morning. 

Routing options for 12 hour riders were pretty straightforward - that is if you just wanted to ride around a bit and have some fun. Follow the basic route outlined by the Rallymaster, or run the alternative route to Jackson Hole, WY and back - there was a big enough bonus in Jackson Hole, but you wouldn't be picking many other bonii along the way, so it wasn't a winning or even a high placing route by any means. 

Or, you could modify the basic route so you would have more points and a better chance at finishing in the top half and this is where the routing genius called Brian R. worked his magic. We knew it was going to be a very hot day the next day with temperatures in the 106 range, and we wanted a balance of fun and points and we were happy that the final route we (mostly he) came up with was going to provide us with both. 

The morning came with another riders' meeting in the parking lot before the start - and then we were off. We ran west to collect a bonus near the Salt Lake Marina but then ran into a snag. Brian geared up with additional armor underneath his riding gear wouldn't fit through the very narrow gate, but yours truly could. 
There were other riders at that bonus, who got there a couple minutes before us. One of them teased Brian "If this isn't an advertisement for Weight Watchers, I don't know what is." Brian took the ribbing in stride. Fortunately, the bonus didn't require a picture, instead requiring an answer which could be gleaned from reading the information signs at that location. First one in the bag! 

The second bonus was the shooting bonus and there was a line. The going was a tad slow and we started to get worried that this was going to put a spike in our "Golden Spike" bonus - big points and our big detour from the main route for a higher placing. So, we took our shots in somewhat of a hurry and unsurprisingly didn't shoot that well and just got the hell out of there. 

We picked up a BMW shop bonus next - picking up their signed business card. Those guys were great and ran up and handed us the cards as we parked and walked in. Perfect! 

We spiked it hard from here to get to the Golden Spike. We found several riders heading this way, a few were 12 hour riders the rest seemed to be in the 24 hour group. Once we got off the freeway, we really could wind up our bikes on this remote stretch of road. It was a smart thing to do, to go here still early in the morning as this location deep in the desert really starts cooking to some astronomical temperatures later in the day. This was the location where the Union and Central Pacific railroads joined their lines, making for the first transcontinental railroad. The "Golden Spike" which forged the destiny of our nation. Once again no pictures required, just an answer determined from reading the informational plaque. 

It was a mad rush from here to get to the mid-rally Checkpoint near Price, UT picking up another Q&A bonus along the way. The CP was where the heat was starting to get to people, riders were soaking themselves with cold water on their LD comfort garments for relief from the heat. Brian's words - "It is heat like this which will start to separate the field."

We dawdled here a bit too long, talking, munching and drinking water, but finally got on our way - heading towards the San Pete valley on UT Hwy 31. This is a fantastic road, if you ever have the chance to ride it, put it high up in your list. The road climbs significantly in elevation. There was still snow up there - a very nice break from the sapping heat of the valleys. We did stop once to give me a chance to take some pictures, but they didn't really turn out as "scenic" when taken with my rally camera, so I have nothing to post. 

This road is also when we caught up to a Sportster rider and fellow Rallyist (didn't realize it at the time) heading the same direction. He was riding a little slow in these twisties for my taste, so I passed him as he described later "like I was standing still..", after I got around him something competitive must have stirred in this Sportster rider. Brian who was riding behind me and hadn't passed this guy, said the rider picked up pace and was doing just about all he could do to try to catch up to me, Brian was actually getting concerned for the rider's safety because he could tell just how hard he was pushing himself and his bike, just to keep me in sight. Never a good thing in my opinion and I had even slowed down a tad bit, to keep them in my rear view, hoping Brian would pass him and join me so we could run. 

The bonus stop in the San Pete valley was a cemetery just outside of Moroni, UT. Big points once again and that's why we were here. Cemetery bonii always makes us tread carefully, making sure we don't step or walk over any graves and walk only on designated paths instead. A little respect for the dead is a good thing, and one reason why Brian as a rally master for other rallies loathes to send riders to cemeteries for bonus collection. Once again this was a Q&A bonus, so no picture. I was beginning to think that I brought the rally camera for no reason at all. :)

We headed back towards the barn after this bonus, intending to pluck a couple more bonii along the way back to Rally HQ. The first one of these two was a picture - (yes finally a picture!!) of the Bridal Veil Falls north east of Orem, UT. 

Yes, that's me proudly holding up my rally flag, I made it myself during rally check-in. Still smiling, but just a tad beat up by the heat. :)

As for the second bonus, well once we took the Falls picture, Brian and I had a conversation - do we torture ourselves in this heat to go pick up that bonus somewhere on Hwy 92, it's location was described in the rally pack, but it appeared hard to find without an accurate marker, or do we go have some ice cream. We decided we were doing pretty well already and since we promised ourselves a balance of fun and rallying, we headed off to have some ice cream instead, before heading back to the hotel. :)

We were back at the hotel with two hours to spare, the last hour or so in the heat felt brutal. I had been doing fine all day, but combined with a hydration system failure that I was experiencing late in the rally, that last hour gave me quite the pounding headache and possibly some dehydration. There was still one last big points bonus challenge to conquer when we reached Rally HQ. It was the "Slow Ride" and not the take it easy kind. The rally staff had marked off two lines on the pavement and we got two shots at crawling our bikes between those two lines for at least 60 seconds. If we dab our feet on the ground, or tip over, or go across two other lines running parallel to the course we DQ (not Dairy Queen, Disqualify). This challenge at the end of a very hot rally ride, when riders are sapped for energy would further separate the field, it was very important to get this in the bag for a good placing.

It was harder than it looked, much harder - the first try I was looking pretty good till...dang it dab and I am out, I immediately went back for the next and last try, this went much better - I made it 68 seconds, the rally staff could have waved me through as soon as I hit 60 seconds, but they let me sweat it out for 8 more seconds, after all we are also here for the rally staff's entertainment. :)

Our rally was done, 547 miles in about 10 hours including stops and what not, so not bad at all! It was time to submit the rally and bonus paperwork for scoring and then get showered, changed and hit the restaurant and bar and follow the 24 hour and 3 day riders' SPOT trackers. The rally banquet wasn't until the next day, when the 24 hour  riders and the 3 day riders would return. Time for a good night's sleep, which I didn't really get, as I was up late watching the riders' SPOT tracks!

The other riders started returning the next morning. Everyone had made it to the roost safe and sound, and scoring was in full swing. The finishing banquet was in the afternoon and there were some good groceries to be enjoyed, before long it was time to announce the rally standings, Steve (the rally master) started up from number 10 on up, the 12 hour rally is extremely competitive, one mistake and you get knocked out of the standings, so when number 4 had been called and my name still hadn't been - that meant I either made the podium or I screwed it up. It turned out that I indeed made the podium. Third place finish in the 12 hour rally behind Brad Warwick who finished second, and Allen Cain who took first place! Congratulations on your great riding gentlemen! :)

I got to take this hardware home! Many thanks for a tremendous rally by the rally master Steve Chalmers, the rally staff, and of course my fellow riding buddies! Thank you for a very fun and rewarding  adieu to the Utah 1088! :)

Thank you for reading! More wandering in Chapter 2. Coming up next. :)

Story continued in Chapter 2.


  1. Great post with beautiful pictures. Love the big white clouds.

    That jailhouse restaurant looks quite unique too. Very cool.

  2. Thank you! I always appreciate your very thoughtful and kind comments.

    One of these days on a trip to the PNW. I would love to meet you and Troubadour! :)


  3. Congratulations on your 1088!! I am still amazing at this endurance stuff, but have some serious respect for those of you that ride it! I love your photos of Ely. I have always been a huge fan of the desert in NV and UT and appreciate all the amazing sky shows of color and clouds. I think it's gorgeous, but others never take the time to really look. Great Basin is some wild country and I can't help but imagine what it much have been like in the time of the cowboy roaming the distance, seeing jack rabbits, coyotes and other wild life, especially the wild jackalope. ;) Thanks, Sam, for an awesome post!!

    1. Thanks Donna! The 1088 was a lot of fun. You would have liked a 12 hour event like that, some great friendly fun! :)

      I take it you are back from the BMWMOA. Would love to see your post when you have it up on your blog.

      I wrote Chapter 1 and 2 of this trip pretty fast, but I have not had the time to jot down anything for the last chapter. Soon I hope!

      See you around! :)

  4. Great photos and RR. A good story teller's mission is to prompt action on the part of his or her reader. You've prompted me to want to recross Nevada on 50 yet again. It is a beautiful ride!

    That said, I would submit that the Lonliest Road in America is not US 50 across Nevada; rather it is US 395 in Oregon from Lakeview to Riley. If you like sage and REALLY distant horizons, this is the ride for you! :)

    1. Thank you! :)

      I haven't been on 395 north of Lakeview. I will probably do that in Sept (if I can get away from work) on my way to Yakima to see some friends. As for US 50, I would really like to visit Great Basin National Park the next time I am in Ely, which will probably be in July next year. It's a great little park!


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