The Trans-America Trail, Unplugged

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

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

Now there are three: Vance on his DT400, me on Godzilla, and Dave riding Vance's backup Honda XR650L-a lowly four-stroke. Since the XR has been in relatively unchanged production since 1983 (except for making it even heavier), it qualifies as unimaginative, a word containing enough letters to spell v-i-n-t-a-g-e. On the TAT, we rationalize that which we cannot control.

Flying along at 60 mph through slippery mud, the bikes weave from side to side in a futile search for traction. My front wheel locks up, and Godzilla and I go down. Vance blows past for another 100 feet until his wheels stop turning and he joins us. We can't get up fast enough to warn Dave, and the Honda plows into the mud, carving a canyon so deep and wide that three donkey-tour operators open for business before we can right the bike.

The mud isn't deep, but it's incredibly sticky. We can't move. Our knobbies turn into underpowered mud pumps, stalling the motors. Working together, the three of us manage to push the Yamahas 10 feet at a time to the high road. The Honda is another story: With the additional weight of the mud, it's now so heavy that even light cannot escape its gravitational pull. It takes four hours to progress one mile. If we maintain this pace, we will die of natural causes before we get to Utah. Vance alters our course to the south and we log a mere 114 miles in 12 hours of hard riding.

Behind schedule, we cheat and ride 40 miles of pavement through Oklahoma. We get back on the TAT and put in 260 sweet, uneventful miles to our next stopover. Vance-who I suspect has not only kissed the blarney stone, but in exchange for a 75-foot aluminum crew boat and 200 cases of beer has had it removed from Blarney castle and installed in his prairie mansion, Greystroke-is laying the butter on our waitress this evening. She's impervious to mirth, however. Her parting shot, "I don't like biscuits and gravy," has us wondering what kind of food service Vance is suggesting.

Throughout this ride, I share motel rooms with Dave. We are complementarily cheap, so it works out great. Each night, we pound fistfuls of prescription meds. We're taking more pills than Kerouac ever did, but the only thing getting high is our blood pressure and cholesterol. Dave's snoring shakes the walls. Each morning, I have to sweep off bits of ceiling plaster and tufts of pink insulation to get out of bed. But to save 30 bucks a night, I'll sleep next to a howitzer.

We climb out of New Mexico into Colorado and my piston-port 360 starts losing power. At 6000 feet, I'm running in first gear to make the steep, rocky climbs. We go higher and higher until Godzilla is blubbering so badly, I change down to a #220 main jet. It's still too big, but it's the smallest I have. Vance tells me his 400 is running fine.

LaVita, Colorado, is our next stopover and Dave wants to barbecue. It takes four of us to figure out how to build the Chinese-made grill. Nick insists on using all the stuff in the package even though everyone knows they always include too many parts. I start tossing washers and plastic bits into the cornfield next door. We have the best meal of the trip.

After dinner, Vance stuffs a huge plug of Red Man into his lower lip and we shoot the breeze late into the evening. An oilman (spit), Vance is expansive on his previous petro-adventures in Africa (spit). Most of them cannot be repeated (spit) in this story (patooey), because the Geneva Convention rules (spit) are still being followed in some other, less progressive countries.

Sky-high, the old bikes pop on. Vance's reed-valve 400 has enough power to motor up the hills in fifth while I slip the clutch and row the gearbox. At 9000 feet my bike is geared wrong, piped wrong, jetted wrong, and I'm not feeling too good myself. I've been watching, and Vance has yet to put his foot down on this climb. My feet, my hands, my chin, even my liver and lower intestine have come in contact with the dusty surface, and we are not even to the high part.

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