By Aaron Estep
For this Tales from the Trail, Aaron Estep and Dustin Nere took Overland Expo’s Ultimate Overland Motorcycle 2022, Yamaha’s Ténéré 700, through the Wyoming Backcountry Discovery Route. The Ténéré 700 has been a part of other storytelling throughout the year. Follow the Ténéré 700’s adventures on its official landing page.
Often, when we travel, we are restricted by time or roads. For me, this is like going to an art gallery and being able to admire a beautiful landscape but being held back by a velvet rope. I long to know what is going on inside the painting: what adventure awaits just beyond that mountain peak or just around the bend in the road.
Thankfully the BDR (Backcountry Discovery Route) organization has done an amazing job mapping routes across ten different states to get you out beyond the velvet rope, allowing you to become an active participant in the painting that is America. Come ride along with three companions as we explore the newest BDR across the wonderful state of Wyoming.
Our trip began on Section Eight of the Wyoming BDR at the Montana and Wyoming border near a fence line that marks the boundary for the Crow Indian Reservation. We rode the route north to south, ending in Loveland, Colorado, at Overland Expo Mountain West. After a few quick photos, we were off, full of anticipation as we had been planning this trip for months, and it was finally time to begin the journey.
Were we ready? Were the bikes ready? These are the kind of questions that go through your mind as you take off into the backcountry. Those thoughts seemed to drift away after the first couple of miles as I settled into the saddle of the 2022 Ultimate Moto Build Tenere 700, a truly impressive machine. Section Eight was an amazing section to get our feet wet with nice fast-flowing gravel roads and a few hill climbs that weren’t too challenging.
The section ended in Burgess Junction, where we found the three essentials of the trail: food, fuel, and lodging. The sun began to fade slowly, and it appeared that rain would find us soon, so we decided to fuel up and find camp for the night before we got wet. We located a great spot just up the road from the Owen Creek campground and settled in for the night. After watching mule deer and the occasional moose wander by camp, we crawled into our tents as the excitement of the first day gave way to sleep.
I awoke the next morning, nearly unable to curtail my excitement for the day and ready to get back on the bike. I seemed to be the group’s alarm clock (every group must have one) with the deflating of my mattress at 6 a.m.; I’m sure they appreciated the courtesy wake-up call.
The expert section over Woodchuck Pass would be the first real test for our group. The previous night’s rain weighed on our minds, but the route started easy enough on a graded gravel road that meandered up through the pines. The aromas of the forest seemed to awaken all the senses as we headed up into the hills. The rain that we had been worried about seemed to have been thinking of us as well, and it added just enough moisture to the ground to give the dirt the perfect amount of traction, allowing everyone in the group to let the bikes have their heads and power up the first part of the pass.
After the first part of the ascent, we emerged onto Woodcock Road, flanked by an old structure resting in the river. Intrigued, we decided to investigate and discovered it was an old splash dam constructed by Starboard and Hall logging company in the early 1900s. It had been used to store water upstream while cut timber was dragged or rolled into the riverbed. When the time was right, the logs would be flushed downstream by the water released from the dam. As we stood there listening, it was as though we could almost hear the cutting of timber as pioneers worked to make a living in this wilderness so many years ago.
We resumed the ride and came to the first creek crossing of the trip, a small stream with a good rock bottom. We forded this obstacle in a matter of minutes, and we were on our way up Forest Route 226, a two-track road, climbing up to 9,618 feet. We began our descent and came upon a large dried-up creek crossing scattered with large rocks and boulders. Not one to be slowed down, I went straight for the middle and quickly found a two-foot-deep hole behind one of the larger rocks. I admitted defeat and gently laid the bike on its side. With only a few glances that questioned my judgment, my travel companions helped me right the bike. Once I was safely across, we better assessed the crossing, and found a better line to the far left of the crossing. But, we were at the mercy of the wilderness, and no one in the group had luck on their side. Everyone experienced at least a small tip-over in the boulder field.
The remainder of Section Seven did not disappoint and kept us on our toes, throwing every imaginable type of riding at us. In just one day’s ride, we were met with rocks, sand, mud, and ruts. With around 50 miles to go and the day quickly coming to an end, we discovered that two bolts had backed out of the luggage rack on the bike I was riding. We were able to find some fencing wire on the side of the road, and we used it, plus some rope, to fashion a temporary fix for the pannier. For the next few miles we kept a conservative pace, hoping the repairs would hold, but before long our desire to arrive at Ten Sleep Brewery before they closed overpowered any concerns about the pannier. We made it to the brewery at 7 p.m., and after eleven hours on the trail, our group of weary riders felt like the cold beer and food truck was some sort of mirage. To top it off, there was a shower available for three bucks, complete with a cup holder for your beer. What more could a rider want?
The next morning, I awoke with a little less enthusiasm than I had the morning before. Thankfully Section Six was a nice, easy 103-mile ride from Ten Sleep to Shoshoni. We rolled into camp in the early afternoon and spent time swimming in the chilly Wind River before dinner and some time around the fire.
Soon, we were on the road again with plans to tackle Section Five and some of Section Four, hoping to get to a wild camp on the Beaver Rim for the night. This meant we would have to keep up a quick pace for the day, but it was nothing the Yamaha T Seven couldn’t handle. Section Five gave us fast-flowing roads for the most part, with some fun two-track mountain roads thrown in just to keep things interesting.
After passing through Sinks Canyon State Park, and stopping to admire the massive trout that call the Middle Pops Aggie River home, we made a pit stop for fuel in Atlantic City. Even at $10.00 a gallon, we were happy to have peace of mind as we were about to start Section Four. This section would take us through 150 miles of some of the most remote landscapes of the trip.
We pulled into camp at 5 PM that evening. After the 219-mile day, we appreciated the breathtaking view as we set up camp and prepared dinner.. The sun faded as quickly as the day’s scenery had passed by us, and the stars began appearing, one at a time, until the whole Milky Way was on display. We sat, gazing up at the sky like grade school kids on their first trip to the planetarium, amazed at how small we really were.
After a wind-blown night, I poked my head outside my tent, where I was greeted by wildlife all around: a herd of wild horses and a few scattered pronghorn antelope were not far off enjoying their breakfast. We intended to finish Section Four and drop into the town of Alcova, where we had a cabin and hot shower waiting for us. But first, we had to tackle the dreaded section of deep sand ruts that we had heard about from fellow travelers going in the opposite direction. This section was deep, loose sand, but with the right technique of peg weight and power, our little band made it through without much fuss.
After a restful night at the cabin we were able to keep a good pace for most of the morning and put Section Three behind us in just a couple of hours, bringing us into the town of Elk Mountain just in time for lunch. We found a restaurant operated out of an old general store, by a character of a man named Ken. After an extended visit with him and his wife we continued on to finish Section Two.
We arrived at our camp at dusk, and we set to work getting tents up, and firewood gathered. We were camping above 10,000 feet of elevation, and it was sure to get chilly at night. This was the coldest night of the trip by far, and we awoke to a thin layer of ice on our tents. After a quick breakfast, we rode into the town of Centennial and gassed up before heading out on our final section.
After passing through the town Encampment, we ran into three men who were on the side of the road trying to air up the front tire on a new BMW GSA1250. It was quickly discovered that the rim had been bent beyond holding air, and they had no idea how to repair it. After a quick lesson in the art of rim bending, we had them back on the trail, hopefully with a little enlightenment of how quickly things can go wrong out in the backcountry and the need to be self-sufficient to overcome the obstacles encountered along the way.
The rest of Section One faded behind us, and we finally reached the end of the route in Baggs, Wyoming. This picturesque ride had been full of excitement and adventure, just as I had imagined it would be, and it has left me longing for my next opportunity to sneak behind that velvet rope, disappear, and truly experience all that the artist has created. Until then, I can look back on the memories, continue to share the stories of this truly epic adventure, and keep my inspiration alive.