I’m currently in the aisle seat of a Delta flight from LA to London. It’s been two full days since I climbed down from the KTM 1190 Adventure R that carried me halfway across the USA. I’m undergoing a condition informally known as ‘Post Epic Ride Societal Reintegration Depression’. The transition from ripping across the empty, stunning landscapes of Utah into the crowded, angry sinkhole that is the LA traffic system hit me hard.
Ignorance and a lack of knowledge is a brilliant way to travel. The less you know, the more amazed you’ll be. Traveling without prior investigation brings its problems, but the heightened explosion of awe is worth every hurdle that needs to be clambered over. You’ll miss things, but the sights you see, the smells you absorb and the trails you ride will be exponentially more immense. The intensity of riding into Zion National Park without knowing there was even a cliff in the area is enough to drive a man crazy upon the return to civilization.
The USA has never been a place that I particularly desired to explore. It’s so close to home and wholly similar in culture to my upbringing that I was inherently put off. I’ve always grown up with U.S. culture in front of me; it feels like home. I couldn’t have been more wrong. What no one ever bothered to tell me is that the United States of America is epic. The scenery is huge, the riding as fun as anything you’ll find and despite its gentile western culture, it’s geared for being outside.
Riding from Deadwood, South Dakota to Los Angeles, California, (on paper at least), is an odd decision. Attending KTM’s Adventure Rider Rally and returning the bike to their headquarters is a better way of putting it. South Dakota, Wyoming, a slice of Colorado, a big ‘ol chunk of Utah and a dash past Vegas was the core of the plan. Justin had the whole route dialed into Rever, that was as far as my questioning went.
Wyoming sucked for us. I’ve no doubt that it’s a great place, brimming with mid-western hospitality, but my experience wasn’t that. It was something far more like this: straight road, 35ºC, 50mph wind from my right-hand side, a bad burrito from a gas station, more wind from the right, more heat. Slight bend in the road. More heat. More wind from the right. Flat scenery. Dog on a Harley. More wind. In fact, the wind blew from the right regardless of our orientation. Oh, and we found a fireworks shop that had dial up internet and a crazy, endearing old lady owner. It was 500 miles I’ll never get back.
The further from Wyoming we traveled, the more the world changed. Slowly the flat lands transitioned to rolling hills, and as the dirt squeezed together, the altitude climbed, and everything became more pleasant. Eventually, our path turned to dirt, and around the Utah border, the scenery exploded upward in a jagged, brutal, glacier eroded formation.
The road across the state border had been primed for us by the heavens. The dust was acceptable and the grip fantastic. We hunted each other for 25 miles of flowing dirt road, ripping on the throttle the whole way. And then we met the bull. Cows and bulls don’t typically strike fear into a Euro. We have cows everywhere, and they’re not angry. They’re placid, perpetually pregnant and full of milk. Moving quickly and taking shots at blokes on bikes isn’t high up on their list of things to do. The three bulls sat in the road, with no intention on moving, and pretty damn keen to let everyone in the valley know about it.
Two angry bulls screaming at each other made us nervous. We edged closer before backing off. Some 20 minutes passed with us sitting just up the trail from them, waiting for a gap to appear. It did, as one bull decided to shout in the ear of his mate just off the track. That left us with an opening. A car width gap off the trail from the big bloke of the group. I went for it, scaring the crap out of myself the whole way.
I nipped onto the grass shoulder. The Ol’ Bull stared me down the whole way. I was swift. I felt pretty calm until I was alongside the thing. HOLY… It’s horns were the length of swords. The thing was massive!
The bright red sandstone view began to distract me from the road. The epic winding mountain pass over the border had been made slick by the dousing of recent rain. Sketchy roads eventually opened up to the sights of Moab, Utah. It was a special moment. Moab and the surrounding area is unlike anything else. The ground is hard, ancient and brutal. The boulders are the size of buildings. The Jurassic rock has outrageously high grip levels, and the landscape stretches as far as one can see. When you’re surrounded with incredible riding, it would be foolish not to dabble.
Heading out into the slick rock trail is an awesome experience. Riding on the bare rock, crawling up outrageously steep climbs and working your way to the top of the world is one of the most enjoyable experiences you’ll ever have on a big bike. The trail weaved across the cuttings in the rock, marked by lines of paint and touched with the golden glow of the afternoon sun.
As the sun closed out, epic clouds took over. Flashes of lightning lit the sky. It was a grand backdrop to an awesome day. Fire. Marshmallows. The comfort of a warm tent. Epic.
Green River and the Desert
The beauty of Utah is the ever transforming landscape. 100 miles can move you from a land that looks like the moon, to jagged and powdery high desert. Another 100 miles will see the earth thrust from beneath, pushing upward aboard primordial, weather-beaten profusions.
The high desert is an experience that every person must enjoy at least once. The rugged and grueling beauty of a land where it does not rain is unique. The sand, dust, rock and sprigs of life that cling on are magical. The purple hues of the Utah desert, the 100 mph rocky, dirt roads and the brutal 20 mph single track are a joy to behold. It’s all legal, all marked and all fantastic. We chased the horizon for hours, skipping through rock fields, smashing clumsily through sand whoops and hopping over groundhog holes. I do love the desert.
Hidden in a valley, in the middle of what feels like nowhere, you’ll find a designated UHV area with a flowing, vivid sand dune oasis, peppered with trees and cradled by slick rock. In the basin runs a river that no longer flows. Fresh rains had made for magical conditions. We rip around the dunes for 20 minutes, fully aware of our luck with the weather. Beef Jerky under a tree completes a fun day.
Late that day, a long way from the high desert we’re flicking through a pine forest. I constantly push to sit as close to Justin’s tail as possible, hunting him like an excited dog chasing a car. I can’t see the trail; plumes of dust mask the lava rock, and the setting sun blinds me. The adrenaline pumps, the speedo climbs to north of 60mph.
It’s bloody awesome. We’re hauling. At this point in time, I am a hero. The 1190R is holding the ground with poise and confidence; my focus is absolute… CRAP! DEER! I brake hard. Justin brakes harder. The deer brakes too.
The deer realizes his mistake and hits the gas. My heart rate maxes out. The terrified deer and a petrified Justin avoid being a yard sale by centimeters. Moments don’t come any closer to not being moments. We slowed down after that!
Rain, Pine and Castro Canyon
When it rains in the desert, the soil binds together. It’s a special thing to experience. There is no better time to be there. You’ll never feel more heroic on a bike. When it rains in the forest, the soil falls apart. Unless you ride mud regularly, it is a nightmare.
As we headed out to ride some well recommended trails, the heavens opened. We took refuge, watched the direction of the clouds and prayed it stayed away from our full water absorbent kits. For the first hour of riding, we stayed clear of the water. The ground was still dry and dusty; Justin was still happy.
It had rained in Dixie National Forest. It rained hard, and we found the aftermath. Around one corner, in a grassland track full of cows, the grip gave way, and a smile spread across my mud riding, grease-loving, sadistic mug. The grip coefficient plummeted, forward progress became an art in rolling off the gas, and the giggles began. Justin is not a mud rider. He left the track twice and fell off at precisely 2mph. It took us around 35 minutes to do a couple of miles. It was tremendous.
The mud ordeal was relatively short-lived and gave way to a less slippery but very epic single track. Castro Canyon is one of those trails you’ll seldom find by accident. The trail weaved in and out of the river bed for the better part of 45 minutes, breaking into small sections of fast 4x4 track and rock dodging, tree bashing single track. The sun shone on the freshly dampened ground. The sand stone formations burst from the ground, and the serenity was only broken by the purr of a KTM 1190R. If you ever find yourself in Dixie National Forest, Castro Canyon is a must.
Dixie National Forest is a pretty special place, hiding gems among the pines. On our second to last day we climbed and scrabbled over loose rock to the top of a hill. The ever present fear of punctures gave way to a walking trail scattered with frogs and pine needles. A lookout point sat high above the ground, the landscape stretching 40 miles south. Off in the distance we saw a white cliff: our final destination. We rode on winding dirt roads through Strawberry Point until we reached the spectacular area of Zion. There should have been a sign at the entrance that read: “You’re about to be hit by a massive sensory explosion!” It’s one of the most incredible places I’ve ever seen. It’s huge, awe-inspiring and the biggest surprise is that it almost appears out of nothing. The huge, smooth, explosive rock forms are amazing.
We decided to camp under that beautiful mountain. After starting a fire, taking a splash in the river and heading into a tremendous sleep under a thunderstorm, our trip was complete. I will forever be in love with those mountains.
We smashed out the 400+ miles back to L.A. by lunch time, returned the sturdy 1190 R and spent the evening in an AirBnB struggling to assimilate the week we’d just had. How do you return to reality after such an amazing adventure?
The WP Factory Services KTM 1190 Adventure R
KTM’s 1190R is a great bike from the crate. It’s easily one of the best ADV bikes on the dirt, and it always puts a huge smile on my face. But it isn’t perfect. I’ve always wanted to see what could be done with a little time spent fettling the internals of the suspension. The fork has always been a little soft, and WP factory services have done something about it.
WP loaned us two of their bikes for the trip. They’ve changed the springs and valving on both ends of the bikes, and it made a huge difference. It stayed higher up in the stroke and dealt with big hits and multiple bumps far better. The most confidence-inspiring development was actually evident on the pavement. Instead of diving heavily under braking, it was more controlled. It also made the balance between the fork and shock far easier.
Over the week we fiddled with clickers and continuously wound more preload into the shock to deal with our 100kg backsides and the luggage on board. The bike got better and better, and we did as well. It struck an awesome balance between appropriate stiffness for riding fast on dirt and not losing comfort on the road. WP FS could have sprung the 1190 to be a beast on dirt, but it would have been shockingly uncomfortable on the pavement.
If you fancy having the upgrade done to your bike, you can contact WP Factory Services through their website by clicking here. If you’re outside the UK contact your WP distributer and ask them to speak to WP FS.
Thanks to everyone at KTM USA and WP Factory Services. You were crazy friendly and a lot of fun. Also, thanks to Justin for dragging me along for a week and for all of your sarcastic humor. Thanks to Mr. and Mrs. Dawes for your hospitality and the bed at your lodge.