After a fairly restful night of sleep, I woke up after the sun had already risen. I took a few pictures of our campsite, then started heating water for our cereal, hot chocolate, and coffee.
One map I had showed a road going out of Torrey that was gravel and went around the north side of Capitol Reef. We tried locating it but came up empty. While going through Torrey I noticed a Forest Service office and stopped there for info. The lady was very helpful and did not recommend the road I was looking for since we were on motorcycles. She didn’t even recommend it for 4x4s. She instead recommended taking either the higher or lower routes through Cathedral Valley. She did warn us that the road could become impassible during storms because the clay soil became very muddy. She also mentioned a water crossing at the end but she knew we were on bikes so I was thinking it would be something minor.
We went back up 24 through Bicknell, and back through the 30mph construction zone that I was going to hate by the end of our trip. We then took 72 through the town of Fremont and about 10 miles past that we found the turn off for Cathedral Valley.
This finally felt like the trip we intended. The storm was behind us, blue skies were ahead of us, the red rock and green trees added to the color, and the road was great fun. I started of leading but after a while Blake mentioned that the dust I was kicking up was hard on his contacts, so I let him go first and fell back a bit so I wasn’t eating his dust.
A few miles after that I came around one corner to find Blake’s KLR on it’s side, way off the road. I was wondering how he managed to crash so far off the road when he explained he pulled over to grab a map from the info sign when his bike fell over in the soft dirt. I guess he forgot to deploy his nifty carbon fiber kickstand protector. The maps in the bucket turned out to be the one we already had picked up in Torrey, so it wasn’t worth dropping the bike over. Fortunately no harm was done to the bike and we lifted it back up. Not before I got the requisite photo though!
Back on the bikes we were having more fun and we pulled over at the Upper South Desert Overlook, which provides a spectacular view of the valley behind the Capitol Reef. The view was so nice that I unpacked the professional camera instead of just taking a snapshot with the Pentax point and shoot. One part of the bluff that I really liked looked like an old stone castle perched on a cliff. It even had a window.
We both commented how much fun we were having. Blake was feeling great on the bike, probably as much due to ditching the Annakees he favors for commuting. I was having one of those days where it was hard to decide whether to ride or stop and take pictures, but either way I was very happy.
Done with my pictures, we saddled up again, with Blake once again leading the way. I was far enough behind to keep him in view but not so close that I was getting choked by dust.
Then on one very benign flat straight section of the road it happened. I was probably about 100 ft behind Blake, going about 40 mph on a well graded gravel road when Blake’s KLR suddenly started fishtailing. I saw about three violent fishtails before the KLR disappeared in a cloud of dust, followed shortly by Blake appearing through the top of the dust cloud minus the KLR. For a short time Bug Boy was flying, but gravity outdid his superpowers and he came crashing to earth.
I immediately began slowing down expecting to see some type of hazard in the road. I got up to where Blake’s KLR lay across the road and didn’t notice anything nasty.
I dismounted, and rushed over to where Blake landed. He was concious, but appeared to be in a lot of pain, and from his position on the side of the road and what I observed of his landing, I could tell he came down hard.
I went into EMT mode and my first question to him was, “Can you move your fingers and toes?” I hadn’t really seen him move yet and I was definitely worried about his neck and back. His answer came out sounding like a “no”, although he later related to me it was a groan because he had really gotten his breath knocked out of him and he was still concentrating just on breathing.
But misinterpreting his answer, all I could think was, “Shit, shit, shit!” We’re out in the middle of nowhere and he’s paralyzed.
I continued with my EMT questions and grabbed his gloved hand and asked him if he could feel that. Fortunately by then he had recovered his breath enough that he could muster a “yes”. I was deeply relieved the injuries weren’t as bad as I first thought. He also began to move so I helped him into a position that was more comfortable. He landed on his left side and he said he had broken his collarbone. Since Blake had broken collarbones twice before, I took him at his word. I removed his helmet, disregarding proper EMT procedures for spinal protection because there wasn’t a second person around. Had there been another person I would have had them hold C-spine, but there were other more immediate problems to deal with.
Next I helped him out of his jacket and the armored t-shirt he was wearing so I could get a better look at his injuries. There weren’t any compound fractures, and other than a few slight abrasions on his left side, there wasn’t much physical evidence that he was injured. He was complaining of seeing stars in one eye, but the ears were both clear.
I knew the biggest priority for me was going to be going back for help, and we knew that was going to take some time so we had to get Blake into some shade. There weren’t a whole lot of choices but one shrub up on the hillside offered a few hours of shade potential. So I helped him climb the hill and then went back down to get some of his bags to make it easier for him to sit with some support.
Between his first aid kit and mine I found enough supplies to ice pack the shoulder and then splint and demobilize the arm. Several more trips up and down the hill were made to retreive a hat, water, food, and his cell phone. I knew we didn’t have cell reception out there because I had already checked, but I wanted to make sure that if help arrived before I got back and he was gone that we would at least be able to contact each other later.
I then went back to his KLR and tried to get it upright but since all the luggage had separated, the bike was lying on its side with both wheels in the air making it a total dead lift. With his huge gas tank nearly full, and the KLR’s heavy weight I couldn’t get the bike lifted and since I was just getting my back in shape after injuring it a couple of weeks ago I wasn’t going to try too hard.
I did walk back to where I could see the accident started and finally figured out what happened. In the middle of the road between the two tire tracks, there was a ridge of deep gravel. It almost looked like the edge of a new layer of asphalt as it is being laid down. Since it was noon the edge didn’t cast a shadow and it was really hard to notice even standing there but it was just enough to catch his tire and prevent him from either getting away from it or crossing over it. Apparently it started an oscillation that ended up in a tank slapper.
His bike was leaking fuel and earlier I had turned off the petcock which stopped it for a while, but since California bikes have a gas tank vent routed to a carbon canister, the fuel was running into that and eventually started leaking again. Other than that the only damage appeared to be his speedometer lens was smashed and both mirrors were broken. But everything else appeared to be in running order. I was hoping I would be able to get a ride back up with someone so I could ride his bike back down.
So with Blake as comfortable and well supplied as possible I started back. I told Blake I was going to take it easy on the way back because if I crashed we’d both be screwed. My first plan was to go back to the turnoff that went up to a ranger station. So I started back and I was actually surprised how much just getting back on the bike calmed me down.
About 10 miles down the road I met up with a car coming the other direction, the first other vehicle we had seen on the road all day. I flagged them down and told them that my buddy had crashed his motorcycle up a ways and that I was going to get help. I asked if they could keep and eye out for him while I was gone. The lady in the passenger seat said she was a retired nurse and they would certainly do what they could. That relaxed me a lot knowing that someone would be there with him, especially someone with medical training.
A few miles later I got to the turnoff for the ranger station and started up that road. About a mile up the road there was a low tree branch arching over the most of the road and in order to dodge having my head removed by said branch I was forced to aim for a large rock instead. I braced myself and fortunately made it over the rock, but I was glad I had installed the skid plate. A bit more up the road and it was getting very steep and rocky. I came up to one section that was littered with coffee can sized rocks. It was too steep and narrow to turn around so my only choice was to proceed through it. I carefully negotiated from one boulder to another, and by the time I made it through that 20 foot section I was exhausted. I paused for a bit on the other side wondering if I should just turn around, or if that was the only bad spot and I should continue on. I tried continuing on for a bit more but I could see the road was getting worse again up ahead and by this point I was really wondering if there was a ranger station there and whether there would be anybody there or not. The road just didn’t look like it was getting regular use.
So I decided to backtrack and go back down to the main road and then go back into Fremont for help. That meant going back through the rock field, which fortunately was a lot easier in the downhill direction.
Back on the main road I found myself relaxing again, even enjoying the scenery that we flew by on the way in. My only worry was that it had started raining, and the park ranger’s comment about the road becoming impassible stuck in my head. I had reset my odometer when I left so I could give directions back and when I hit highway 72 I knew that Blake was 20 miles up the road.
From that junction it was about 14 more miles to get back to Fremont. I rode around Fremont for a bit trying to locate either a fire station, police station or even any kind of commercial building that might have a pay phone or other phone. No luck, and stopping to check my cell phone, I found they didn’t have any service there either. I remembered seeing a guy out in his yard washing his ATVs so I went back to his house and asked if I could use his phone to call 911.
I spoke to the operator and explained the situation. At this point it started hitting me emotionally. She said to go back to the turnoff to the gravel road and the sheriff would meet me there.
I started back up 72 and the rain started again, heavier than before. Just as I was approaching the turnoff I noticed the sheriff behind me approaching with his lights on. I pulled into the turnoff, got off the bike and looked around for the sheriff. He was hauling ass up the highway, apparently not realizing I was the motorcyclist he was instructed to meet. I guess from the back, my KLR just didn’t look like the kind of bike he expected to be on a dirt road.
So I jumped back on and started giving chase to the sheriff. Now I really feel I’m pushing the KLR to do 70mph and generally the most I ever take it up to is 75mph. But I was doing 80mph trying to catch the sheriff. I had made up about half the distance when I could see a wall of water coming down ahead. Great, things are looking up, I thought to myself. As I got closer to the sheriff I started flashing my headlights trying to get his attention. Finally he noticed me, and pulled over. I pulled along side and he asked if I was the motorcyclist who called 911. I said yes and that the turnoff where I pulled over was were my buddy was.
We both turned around and went back to the turnoff. I was totally expecting that he would give me a ride back to Blake, but he wanted me to wait for the ambulance. I pulled out Blake’s GPS which he had set for Man Over Board, but neither of us really knew how to use it. I tried describing where Blake was but the sheriff didn’t have a map so I couldn’t remember the names of the areas. I did my best to describe the route we took and landmarks that we saw. He took off in search of Blake, leaving me standing in the downpour waiting for the ambulance.
I stood around for about 5 minutes getting drenched when I decided to at least put my rain gear on. About this time the thunder started and I was really getting worried that not only would the road close, but the airlift possibility was going to get shut down too because of the electrical storm.
The ambulance arrived, followed shortly by a search and rescue truck. I was still struggling to get into my rain suit but went over to talk to the ambulance crew. They didn’t have a map either but I told them they weren’t going to be able to get the ambulance up there in the present conditions. One of the crew took a look at the GPS and got Blake’s coordinates but due to the mountains, wasn’t able to relay the info to the sheriff.
The ambulance medic also thought about maybe going back to his house and getting his 4×4 so they could transfer some equipment to it and head up in it. I thought I might try the search and rescue guy to see if he could give me a ride back up the hill but he kept looking at his watch like he had to be somewhere and that this was a really inconvenient time for all this to be happening. I was getting more and more nervous and frustrated with the whole effort when a private vehicle with three people pulled up and asked if we needed any help.
I jumped at their offer and explained that my friend crashed up on the mountain and I needed a ride back to him. They gladly offered to help and in trying to make small talk I found that they were wilderness guides and knew the area quite well. Our luck was starting to turn. I also asked them their names and while I don’t remember the two guys’ names, I do remember the woman’s name, Angel. How appropriate.
We started back up the hill making the turns where we needed to. At one point I started trying to make sense of the GPS unit and wasn’t paying attention to the driving. When I gave up on the GPS the route didn’t look familiar anymore. We went back to the last turnoff and the other road didn’t look right either. So we went back the way we were going. I wasn’t sure if it was just being a passenger that I was noticing things I hadn’t noticed before, or if we really were on the wrong road. I was really worried I had lost the way back when I noticed a burned hillside that we had seen earlier, but from the other side. That’s where my wilderness guides saved the day. They knew then what road they needed to be on, and also knew how to get there.
A few minutes later we were back on familiar territory, but I knew we were still a ways away from Blake. After what seemed like an eternity, we finally arrived at the crash scene. The couple I had flagged down, Hans and Francis, a retired couple visiting from Holland, had moved Blake into their vehicle so he was more comfortable and out of the rain. Shortly after we arrived the sheriff showed up with another sheriff in his truck. He had been driving around looking for Blake and he finally remembered that I said we had been to an desert overlook and figured out what road we must have been on. He also informed us that we were closer to the end of the trail and that another ambulance would be waiting there for us. He was going to go back down to the Fremont side and release the ambulance waiting there.
With the help of the two guys who drove me up, we were able to right Blake’s bike and I took a short test run on it, testing the shifting and brakes. Remarkably, everything worked, even the turn signals and headlight. Pretty amazing when there were scratches on the top of his trunk!
So we hatched the following plan: Hans and Francis would drive Blake back, I would ride Blake’s bike back, followed by the Angel truck. Knowing that Blake was going to have to travel slowly because his ribs were really hurting we gave them a head start.
We packed up the rest of Blake’s stuff that hadn’t made it into the car with him and put it in the KLR’s trunk, and then we started off. The first dry creek that we crossed was a pretty rough one and the trunk flew open, launching several items, including his camcorder, and spilled them across the road. Angel asked if I wanted to put the stuff in their truck and I was going to do that but as I went to get the rest of the stuff that hadn’t flown out I remembered how the trunk latch worked. I thought maybe I just hadn’t closed it properly. So I put everything back in the trunk and tried closing it. Nope, something definitely got tweaked and it wasn’t latching. So I took every thing out again and carried it over to the Angel truck. Then I got back on the bike and turned to see if they were ready to go.
What I saw horrified me. The Angel truck had parked just shy of the dry creek crossing, and in trying to cross it they didn’t have enough momentum and the truck was stuck, digging a nice hole with the rear tire. They tried rocking it back and forth to no avail, and I could hear the tranny being forced into 4 wheel low. A bit more rocking back and forth and they were finally able to free it. We all laughed in a big sigh of relief, hoping that nothing else would go wrong.
We were making pretty good time going back and soon caught up to the car with Blake. When I got the chance I passed them and then soon the Angel truck passed them to. Without any mirrors on Blake’s KLR it was tough knowing if they were still behind me but when we would go around corners I could turn my head to see that they were still there.
We then got into the Bentonite Hills section which I wish I could have stopped to take pictures of. This area was so different geologically from anything else I’ve ever seen. It was one of those areas where you could use it as a standin for some other planet in a sci-fi moving, it was that weird.
At one point we were passed by a sheriff going the other way who was looking for Blake. I told him they were in an SUV somewhat behind us as they were traveling slowly so as to inflict the least amount of pain as possible. I explained I was riding his motorcycle out and that the crash scene was clear. He asked where my bike was and I explained it was out on the Fremont side on 72. He gave me his business card and wrote their dispatch number on it and said to give them a call when I was settled and they’d send someone out to give me ride back to my bike. I was very impressed with that level of service.
We dropped quite a bit of elevation and bits of the trail were pretty challenging. There was one point were I came around a corner and it just appeared the trail vanished into a cliff face. I looked around and finally noticed where the trail went up the mountain side and was grateful the KLR has a lot of low down grunt.
Around another corner I found the water crossing that the ranger had told us about. I was expecting a little water crossing. This was a 30ft wide water crossing. I couldn’t tell how deep it was. I couldn’t tell what the bottom surface was. It wasn’t a straight across route, and the road actually crossed at an upstream angle. And finally as if all that wasn’t enough to scare me, the approach wasn’t straight either, as you had to hit it as you were still coming around a corner.
I was so exhausted mentally and physically by this point that I just didn’t think I even wanted to attempt the crossing. Visions of crashing Blake’s bike in deep water just seemed like a way to make an already bad situation much worse. The other option of course stunk too. I knew that the Angel truck folks needed to get somewhere soon so they didn’t have time to backtrack the 60 miles to Fremont with me. I didn’t think I even had the energy to do that myself. I was thinking about throwing the KLR in the back of their pickup and having them drive it across. I thought I should at least have them drive across so I could guage how deep it was.
They agreed and pulled around me and started across. The first thing I noticed was that the right edge of the bank where they started was very muddy, and I could see the tires were blocked up with the mud. Mental note, start from the very left side of the road. The depth seemed ok, not more than 18″ or so at the deepest. If I do it right, my feet won’t even get wet.
Still, I sat there not having the courage to start when yells of encouragement came from the Angel truck. So I finally figured it was like jumping into a cold swimming pool, I just had to do it. It did no good to sit there and think about it.
I took off, hitting my mark on the left edge of the road, and once in the water, turned the bike upstream, gassing it hard but even. The bike bounced across the creek bottom in a blur, and before I knew it I was almost to the other side. Except that I was having a hard time getting lined up with the road exiting the other side. A little more body English and I just made the left edge of the road and climbed the bank, letting out a huge “Yeehaw” as I rode past the Angel truck. Right around the next corner I found the second ambulance waiting.
I parked the KLR and went over and chatted with the ambulance crew who offered me a warm Coke. In the confusion of changing into my rain suit I had left my Camelback on my KLR so I hadn’t had anything to drink for several hours. Yes, I’ll take that warm Coke please. It also reminded me that I hadn’t had anything to eat the whole day other than a bowl of hot cereal back at the campground.
I needed some time just to unwind so I walked back down to the creek to wait for Blake. They must have been really back there so I went back to talk to the ambulance crew some more. The Angel truck folks had to leave so I said goodbye to them. I wanted to get their names and addresses so I could send them a big letter of thanks, but they weren’t concerned with that. So I simply gave them hugs and a big thank you and sent them on their way. I really wish I could have done more for them though. Truly they were good samaritans, and it was very reassuring to know that there are people out there like them.
I think it was about 5:30 or so before Blake finally made it to the ambulance. The crew got him packaged, while we transferred all of Blake’s stuff to Hans’s car. Then we left with Hans and Francis driving in front so I could see them. The plan was that the ambulance was going to stop at the clinic in Bicknell and I would find a motel in Bicknell and drop all our stuff there. Then I was going to take Hans and Francis out to dinner after stopping by the clinic to see Blake.
It took us about an hour to get back to Bicknell where we pulled into the Aquarius motel which we understood to be one block shy of the turn off for the clinic. I got the room and then we put all the stuff away, and waited outside for the ambulance, figuring it would have to drive by the motel on the way to the clinic.
Well once again my drive by plan failed. We waited and waited and not wanting to keep Hans and Francis waiting any longer, I decided we should go ahead and eat and I would catch up to Blake after dinner. So we headed on over to the cafe that was on the motel grounds and picked a booth. The waitress comes over and states that she’s not really a waitress but she was walking by and they needed help and so here she is. (I was hoping at this point that she was at least someone the cafe owners knew, and not just some random person they found walking the streets of Bicknell.) Then she goes on to say that due to the recent Labor Day weekend, there’s a few items on the menu that they are out of.
She scratches out the filet mignon, the prawns, and continues with just about every other dish that I was hoping to offer Hans and Francis. When the list grew quite lengthy, we all looked at each other and simultaneously asked the waitress if it wouldn’t be easier to tell us what they did have.
About the only thing interesting on the menu that hadn’t been blacklisted was Fish and Chips. All three of us ended up ordering that. Which sent our wonderful waitress scurring back to the kitchen to double check on the supplies for that dish.
A few minutes later she came back to inform us that they did have the Fish, but they were all out of the Chips, could they substitute French Fries instead. Again, all three of us just looked at each other wondering how stupid can you get. I thought about giving her a hard time and objecting that French Fries were incompatible with a traditional English meal. Didn’t have the energy and I was too hungry though.
While we waited for our Fish and French Fries dinners to arrive, I had a great conversation with Hans and Francis. They first came over to the states in ’64. They toured through Utah and fell in love with it and have been coming back every year since to explore more of the area. We talked about photography, and about being in the right place at the right time, but also how you just need to get out there a lot.
The food arrived, and while it wasn’t anything Blake would have raved about, it was food and it was very welcomed. After we finished dinner I got their address and said goodbye to them, thanking them for taking the time to take care of my buddy Blake and I apologized for ruining their day. I left them with the words that I thought they were in the right place at the right time.
I then walked the two blocks to the clinic to find it closed for the evening with no one around and since it was only a clinic, Blake must have ended up going to the hospital.
I walked back to the motel, it was now past 8pm. I called the dispatch number to inquire if they knew where Blake had been transported. The dispatcher said that they had stopped at the clinic but the injuries were serious enough that they then transported him to the hospital in Richfield. That was a good hour from where my bike was but at least in the same general direction. I also mentioned that the deputy, Douglas Bliss had mentioned to have me call when I was ready to go get my bike and that they would send someone by to drive me out there. She looked up who was on call and said he’d be there in about half an hour. About 8:20 I went to sit outside to wait for the sheriff to arrive. Shortly after 8:30 a tow truck pulled into the motel parking lot and the driver looked like he was looking for someone. So I went over to him wondering if the dispatcher had gotten confused thinking my bike needed to be towed. Turns out he was a sheriff but he worked at a garage as a second job and that’s where he happened to be when he got the call. His name was also Matt and I told him the whole story of my day on the 45 minute drive out to pick up my bike. I told him that Blake was in Richfield in the hospital and my plan was to go see him, but as I kept yawning I wondered aloud if that was a good idea. Matt talked me out of it, noting that Richfield was an hour away, and it was still raining. I also wasn’t sure if I got to the hospital at that hour whether I’d even be allowed to visit Blake. And if by some miracle Blake was getting some well needed sleep, I didn’t want to bother him.
So I decided to just go back to the motel. We got to where I left my bike and fortunately everything was just where I left it, nothing even blew away or got soaking wet. I started back towards Bicknell and Matt was kind enough to follow me to make sure I got back ok. When I noticed I was heading towards Loa I realized I missed the turn to Bicknell, so I pulled over, asked Matt where the turn was, and he got me pointed in the right direction. It was about 11pm by the time I finally got back to the motel.
I had a few minutes to think about Blake, hoping he was ok in the hospital. Then I fell asleep, totally exhausted from the events of the past 11 hours.