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

In Salida, Colorado, we meet Vance's old friend Rodney. From the start of this ride Vance has been telling us, "Wait 'til you meet Rodney-he's unreal." Rodney accompanies us on our ride over Marshall Pass on his '77 Honda CB750 equipped with a Windjammer fairing and king/queen seat replete with sissy bar. Locals tell us Marshall Pass is washed out. Unfortunately for us, Marshall Pass is the Trans-America Trail. The pass is gone 60 feet across and 40 feet deep.

Rodney bushwhacks an alternate route up a steep, rocky hill, through close-set aspens, down a slippery grass slope, across two streams and then a final sharp, muddy climb to the roadbed on the other side of the wash-out.

Vance tackles the bypass first and gets within 5 feet of the other side. I'm next and clear the lip with 6 inches to spare. Vance and I sit on the road sucking wind, and I can't believe what I'm seeing: Rodney is smashing the big Windjammer fairing through the aspens. The trees shiver in his bow wave as he rumbles down to the streams, and with the CB750 wailing like it's on the Daytona high-banks, he powers his way up the muddy hill onto the road. On skinny street tires. With a thermos of hot coffee in the fairing.

Dave is tentative about attempting the route, but Rodney's display of dirt prowess seals his fate. He works the 650 hard until the front wheel edges onto the road. With less than 2 feet to go, the ruebenesque Honda slowly topples over.

"Well, boys, I didn't come here to BS," Rodney exclaims as he starts down the pass. Dave, Vance and I busy ourselves excavating our jaws from the roadbed. What if he had a dirtbike? It doesn't bear thinking about. I give chase on the RT, taking full advantage of the downhill slope and the high-rpm power of its Bassani expansion chamber. Godzilla and I are cooking, power sliding both wheels through the turns, redlining in fourth on the straights. About 5 miles later, I catch Rodney at the bottom of the pass. He breaks out his thermos and I spend my time waiting for the others genuflecting before his greatness.

After Rodney leaves us, the passes become higher. Some ascents are too steep. I jump off Godzilla and run alongside, pushing the gutless 360. I'm stopping. I'm dying. We are 2 miles high and I have no air. Dave gives me a push when the RT is too weak to get moving. Vance, on the other hand, has yet to put his foot down and his DT is running fine. There's no end to my disgust. In slow, rough sections I slip the clutch mercilessly in first gear, the engine internals graunching in complaint.

The final day, Vance lets Dave and me navigate. The night before, we take the maps into our motel room and study them. It's way too complicated. I confide in Dave my embarrassing mental handicap: I can't think. Dave works on the maps while I watch Pirates of the Caribbean on TV. We miss the very first turn-off and Vance takes over navigation again. This was my plan all along.

The TAT saves the worst for last. The final passes from Lake City to Monticello, Utah, are all but impassable. Twelve-foot snow canyons greet us as I shove the asphyxiating Godzilla along, 2.25 miles above sea level. Our final descent is a mélange of boulders, ice and snow, but at least I'm not pushing. Dropping back below timberline, we encounter the first of many downed trees blocking the trail. Dave singlehandedly lifts the mass of branches as Vance and I shove the trunk off the trail. Dave dumps the cetaceous Honda down a 10-foot vertical drop and crushes his right foot. It smacks of work, but our chat mob is the first since last fall to bust through these trails.

We are running the two-strokes so hard that Vance runs out of injector oil. After priding himself on using nothing but Yamalube since his DT was new, he dumps a half-quart of dirty, old Honda crankcase oil into the injector tank. Dave is grateful for any weight reduction on the big Honda and suggests draining all the oil to further lighten the beast.

The altitude drops and Godzilla starts feeling friskier. We have a small moment of truth near the end. The TAT runs roughly parallel to the main highway for the last 30 miles. No one would know. Our arms are falling out of their sockets. The asphalt is Teflon-smooth. After a grueling 13 hours, gimpy Dave says no way to the highway; he's finishing the damn trail. We reach our final destination, Monticello, Utah, just in time for a beautiful purple sunset.

There's more to the TAT, but I've had enough. I'll keep an eye on my inbox though, and if a random pattern of ones and zeros arrange themselves into an offer to ride the Utah-to-Oregon portion, I'll sell three or four hundred pairs of my wife's shoes to finance the trip. Because while the planning stages may be digital, the Trans-American Trail is some of the most enjoyable analog riding in the country.

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