The next target was another difficult route north. The extremely tight passages require precise maneuvering. Often we had to plant a foot and hit the throttle to pivot the bike and power-slide the rear wheel around a sharp adverse turn. We diverted to a natural phenomenon on the way up. It wasn't an easy path and involved a demanding section of large, embedded rock en route to our objective. A key to off-road riding is evading obstructions whenever possible, but when there's no way out, you hold on tight and take them head on.

We finally reached the crest of the desolate gorge where, over the centuries, enormous jagged boulders have broken off the cliffs and accumulated in the valley. After taking a few pictures, it was back to the trail--and something unexpected. The upcoming area had recently undergone a forest fire, and firefighters had been able to contain it before it destroyed more than 10 acres, thereby preventing the fire from reaching the highly ignitable blow-down region. Glen and I attempted to cut several trails through the blackened debris. In turn, we discovered a severe lack of traction in nearly a foot of pure ash. After efforts at every angle failed, we reluctantly returned to the cabin.

The adventure was ending as Bob and Glen headed back to California. Steve and I took one last pass around the nearby peaks during our final hours on the trails. The aches, pains, and exhaustion were setting in as riding skills seemed to diminish. We quit early and packed for the return trip to Dallas. It felt good sliding into the contradictory comfort of the Eddie Bauer Expedition as we pulled away from the small town. We'll no doubt finish our run at the Continental Divide next year. TT

Caution Equals Safety
Off-road motorcycling requires a lot of practice before tackling heavy terrain--it's dangerous however well you ride. We recalled one of the crew getting "some air" not long ago. This means becoming airborne after hitting a dirt ramp at the right speed and making a good jump out of it. He landed with the front wheel in an eroded gully at the center of the trail and the rear wheel in an adjacent gully to the right. The bike twisted and went down on impact. A cracked rib suffered in the fall took some time to heal. The bike damage consisted of bent handlebars and a foot peg.

Last year, a serious, off-the-wall injury put a damper on the trip. Our friend was riding at a good clip down a wooded trail. Out of nowhere, a jagged branch, protruding from a log at just the right angle, pierced his leather motocross boot, went completely through his foot and out the other side of the boot. As the branch pulled back it ripped him off his Honda like a rag doll. It was a project transporting him to a hospital (and his XR back to the cabin) after getting the bleeding under control. The bike was okay, but the surgery kept our buddy out of action for quite a while.

Another rider took a decent fall this time around. While riding at a high rate of speed and taking a turn over exposed roots, the front tire washed out from under him without warning. The bike went down hard, and his helmet and shoulder hit the ground simultaneously. The result was a slight concussion that took a few miles to ride off. The real damage was the bent tail section of the XR's frame and a banged up exhaust pipe.