The Trans-America Trail, Unplugged

Cross-Country From Oklahoma To Utah On Vintage Two-Strokes

By Joe Gresh, Photography by Dave Decato, Vance Hunter, Joe Gresh

Where's Mark? Twelve miles into a six-day dirtbike ride and we've already lost one rider. At least it's not me this time. I normally ride alone, so it's kind of cool having someone else to blame. Vance mashes the red button on his left handlebar and the speakers inside his helmet cackle with the sound of our chase-truck driver, Nick, telling him he's loading Mark's Yamaha RT360 onto the trailer. One down, four to go.

It started with a digital missive. Baotiger, a.k.a. Vance, was going to ride the Trans-America off-road trail from Oklahoma to Utah on a vintage two-stroke. Did anyone want to come along? Yamahaenduro.com is deluged with 5000 responses to Vance's query, but digital attrition is heavy. In the end, five of us convene at his home in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma. Joining Vance, grand master funk of ceremonies, is Gary, who busted his collarbone just weeks before; Dave, titanium-kneed metal-masher extraordinaire; Mark, moto-boy wonder; and me, thesaurus function junkie. A Chat Mob motorcycle gang.

With Mark safely in the chase truck, we get back underway. Gary's and Dave's bikes are running an aftermarket fuel-delivery system with an adjustable mixture dial. Their 400cc two-strokes are getting astronomical fuel mileage-nearly 40 miles per gallon versus Vance's and my 30. One of the 400s begins playing up. Gary kicks his DT 20 or 30 times to get it running. I watch him lunge on the start lever, expecting his freshly knit shoulder to garishly separate from his torso like that liquid-metal cop in Terminator 2. Two hundred miles in, his bike won't start at all. I stab my right foot onto Gary's tailpipe and bulldog the DT up to 30 mph using my 360, lovingly nicknamed Godzilla, before his bike builds enough compression to light off. Eighteen miles from the end of our first day, Gary's bike seizes. We begin calling the adjustable fuel system "Dial-A-Seize." Vance tows the locked-up DT to our motel.

I love my newfound Internet brothers as much as I can love anybody I've never met before. Instead of an eHarmony relationship, we have an eVolumetric Efficiency connection, as all of us have checked the Stinky Old Two-Strokes box as our number-one turn-on.

The other guys' bikes are lathered with high-tech video cameras, radios and GPS plotters. Tangled umbilical cords stream gigabytes of data to quick-release multi-pin plugs on their helmets. Everything happening is being recorded, tracked or talked about. The boys try to rig my bike for radio communication. The '71 RT360's immune system rejects the 21st century technology. No outside voices will be inside my lonely head as it rocks to and fro atop my body for the next 1300 miles of off-road nirvana.

For a judge sporting a broken collarbone and a burned-out bike, Gary is in surprisingly good spirits. Working in the motel parking lot by the oversaturated glare of auto headlights, he removes the melted 400 top end and installs a spare piston and cylinder. The bike fires off around midnight, rattling our motel-room windows. Surround sound with smoke effects.

Five vintage bikes hit the trail this morning. Mark tinkered with his bike yesterday and has his 360 up to 50 mph. We rip along the TAT sounding like a steroid-juiced band of lumberjacks. Six intoxicatingly glorious miles later, Gary's 400 sticks again. A few miles more and Dave's 400 stops dead. Dial-a-Seize is working its special brand of magic. Crippled two-strokes litter the trail and Nick has to work double shifts to ferry the locked-up bikes back to civilization. Mark's 360 is running slower and slower. He throws in the towel and putts back to town shadowing a trailer loaded with dashed Dial-a-Dreams.

We stand and wait on the trail while this bike shuffling sorts itself out. An Oklahoma cowboy sporting a perfectly waxed Rip Torn moustache stops to ask if we need help. I hold my tongue. It is moist with a slightly rough texture on the upper surface.

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