Trucks X Trails

Trucks X Trails

Words by Andrew Villablanca, Photos/Video by Samson Hatae & Andrew Villablanca

I squinted towards the neon lights of the Robber’s Roost motel sign as we rolled into town. It was only 8:30pm, but you’d think it was 2am based on how quiet the little town of Green River, Utah looked. Not a soul in sight with only the neon lights of the motel and welcome sign to guide us in. After driving the strip in search of food, we settled on a little spot called Ray’s Tavern. Choices are easy to make when you’ve only got one.

We snuck in just before closing and asked for three cheese burgers. Anything is good after 13 hours of driving, but that cook whipped up some mean patties. You could tell it was a local’s hang out. The well worn furniture and a bar edge polished by years of elbows almost begged to share stories.

This was our last stop in civilization before heading into the unknown. After paying the bill, we rolled out of town and hit the dirt. With heavy rains the previous weeks, the dirt roads were rutted and the low spots filled with dried mud flows. Crossing our fingers, we hoped soil conditions would be good for riding despite the ruts. The temperature was falling fast so we made quick work of setting up camp and getting to sleep. Our friend Austin was driving separately and supposed to be rolling in soon, but we decided to hit the sack and hoped he’d find us in the dark.

Trucks X Trails

It’s hard to sleep when you’re cold, and even with a pretty decent sleeping bag and a down comforter, I was definitely shivering in my tent. My fruitless attempt to sleep was interrupted at 3am by the ringing of my phone. It was Austin, who was supposed to have rolled into camp hours earlier. “Did you get my text? Not sure I’m going to make it tonight… or at all,” he said.

I looked at my phone and saw a photo of his truck disabled on the side of the road, resting on his front brake rotor. His fender was smashed upward and into the door. “You lost your wheel?” I asked. “No, I found it eventually,” Austin said. “It went through a ditch and into a horse corral near the highway. I’m getting towed a few hundred miles away from you to a Ram dealer. My wheel passed me while going 80 down the highway. I’ll call you in the morning and we can figure things out.” This wasn’t the way the trip was supposed to start.

The rising sun woke us from our fitful night of sleep and we each crawled out of our icy tents to convene in the warmth of the morning sun. Around us, a lunar landscape began to light up. Like our bodies, the grey soil bathed in the warm light. Just looking around, I could already see the lines. My excitement was dampened when I remembered what happened last night.

“Where’s Austin?” asked Sammy. I filled Sammy and Tommy in on Austin’s situation. Naturally this made things a little more complicated since Austin had all of our food, two bikes and our cooking supplies. The plan had been for him to drive out separately and meet us, but after the night’s adventures that was becoming doubtful. We decided to call him to figure out what to do next.

On the other end of the phone, a clearly exhausted Austin responded that he had spent the night in his truck which was left beached on three wheels in the service lot by the tow truck. Afraid someone would steal his stuff while he slept, he spent the entire night awake. The dealer happened to have the parts in stock to get his truck rolling again, but even after the new hub and font brakes Austin’s mood was down. “I’m just going to drive home after I sleep a bit. Come meet me and get the food,” his voice crackled in the phone. That meant a 5-hour round trip detour south and away from the riding zone we had already set up camp at. It would be an entire day of riding lost. After talking with the crew, we decided there was way no way around it. If Austin didn’t want to come, we had no choice but to drive south and meet him.

Trucks X Trails

We drove to his GPS pin and found him asleep in his tent in a dirt lot. His truck was mangled, but still drivable despite the rough appearance. We all secretly knew our main goal of driving south wasn’t to get the food though– it was to rally Austin to join back on the trip. Without him, we’d be a one truck crew that was originally supposed to be three. We’d already lost one before we even left LA! Going off-road alone is never something I like to do so we gave Austin some time and pepped him up. After a sandwich, some sleep, and a bit of peer pressure, we had Austin’s mood turned around. With a bunch of high fives, and freshly filled tanks we headed north back to Green River, Utah.

This time we headed to a different spot. After talking with local ripper Erik Henrickson during the planning stages of the trip, he pointed us to a zone called Blue Castle. Judging by the satellite imagery, it looked to be a bit more extensive than the first spot so we took a gamble and drove straight there. Rolling in with low afternoon light, the upset of losing a day to a mechanical failure was immediately forgotten.

Our pin led us down a farm road that meandered away from the little town and back into the hills. The flat farm land began to rise up, and the soil turned grey. As we hammered along in the trucks, we could see the zone from the satellite maps emerging in the distance.

Trucks X Trails

Our eyes lit up.Tommy and I instantly started pointing out lines. Our group decided to set up camp and then explore, and we probably set a new world record for getting the roof top tents set so we could check everything out. The zone was a wonderland of lines. It was like nothing any of us had ever seen or ridden before.

At the center was a towering formation, with steep chute lines that branched out into finger like ridges at the bottom. Jumps and previous hits from bike movies I grew up watching dotted the landscape. It was so surreal to ride a place normally reserved for the pros as an average Joe. By the time we were done scouting, it was after dusk so we quickly headed back to the trucks to fire up the Skottle to cook dinner. It’s a good thing we went back for Austin, because he came carting a gourmet buffet of food for us. With full bellies we crawled into our sleeping bags.

The next morning it was game on. We geared up, anxious to cross things off the list and get some shots in the bag while riding dream lines. We’ve watched enough videos to know you don’t just ride here without a learning curve. Everything is bigger and way gnarlier than it seems at first glance. Features that looked small as we walked around the day before were actually 20-30 foot gaps when you walked up to them. Like a mirage in the desert, lots of lines looked rideable from a distance but up close were bordering on suicidal.

Trucks X trails Trucks X Trails
Trucks X Trails Trucks X Trails

Cashing in on our adrenaline high, we decided to hit a few jumps. On the last run of the day, we rode a big fade away step up on the way out of the zone and back to camp. As I crested the hill after the jump, I turned to watch Tommy hit the same feature. Instead of a sweet whip, I was treated to Tommy flying through the air sans bike, and tumbling down the hard landing. Right away we all knew he wasn’t going to be okay.

Tommy hobbled his way back to the trucks and sat down in a chair. After pulling back his sock, it was clear he wouldn’t be riding the rest of the trip. In a few minutes his ankle had already swollen up and started changing color. At this point, we were feeling pretty down as it just seemed like we couldn’t catch a break. The Utah desert may be pretty, but it isn’t always friendly.

The next morning, Austin cheered us up with some of the best breakfast burritos I’ve ever had. We cooked chorizo, eggs and hash browns and topped it all with salsa and guac. Pro tip: if you ever do a camping trip, invite a friend that has a portable fridge set up! With Tommy left to lounge at camp, Sammy, Austin and I took to the hills in search of more lines. We had big plans ahead of us to get the rest of the video and photos needed for the story, and I had some plans for lines I wanted to ride. Of course having Tommy down meant that there was one less rider, so our filming goals were looking overly optimistic, especially since we didn’t factor in hiking time, which was quite a bit more than we expected.. It’s hard to be down for long though when you’re in a riding paradise.

We decided that after spending a few days at the front of the zone, it was time to explore the back. Though we had only seen them from afar, there were several promising ridgelines that grew from a steep central face under a bright orange cliff. I quickly learned that everything out in Green River looks a lot less steep than when you’re actually standing at the face of it. But, once you’ve called out a line, there’s no going back. Sammy and Austin made sure of that.

Two lines in particular caught my eye. The first was an incredibly steep spine that led into a long ridgeline. After scouting it out, I knew it would be doable but officially the steepest line I’ve ever ridden down. The second was a ridgeline that led into a double drop with an impossibly narrow take off. The double drop line had been haunting me all week. I knew it would be gnarly, but wanted to push myself. Sammy cued up the drone, meaning it had to happen.

Hiking up the first line was so steep, there were parts that actually made me worry about falling over backwards carrying my bike. I ended up having to use it as a climbing device. The drop in spot was small, but had just enough room for me to comfortably rest before it was go time. Locked in and committed, I let off the brakes and rolled forward. There’s no easing into lines like this, so I held on tight and let the 160mm Auric do its thing as I carved my way through the soft earth and onto the fast ridgeline. Though I walked it before, riding at speed means you have to read the terrain a lot faster, being sure not to misjudge fade aways and corners that will send you into nasty places you don’t want to be. To say it’s exhilarating wouldn’t do it justice. This was the coolest terrain I have ever put my tires on.

Trucks X Trails

Once I had successfully dropped that line and several more, it was time to tackle the big one: The double drop. After taking more more chicken runs than I’d like to admit, I told myself I’d send it on the next run. There’s always an odd feeling when you push yourself to do something you know is right on the edge of your comfort zone. In 30 seconds time, you can either be in a world of hurt or at the bottom celebrating with your friends. I told myself that the difference was in my hands.

Taking a deep breath, I rolled in and used my body to force my mind off the two drops. I don’t think I breathed again until I let out a giant victory yell as the high fives went around. I breathed a massive sigh of relief, and we headed back to the trucks for a final dinner before heading out. There’s no better feeling than leaving a riding spot knowing you hit every line you wanted to send, and successfully pushed yourself in the process.

With the riding in Green River checked off the list, we set our sights for the next camp spot– a waterfall near Zion National Park. Austin had been before, and told us endless tales of how perfect it was. The drive in was supposed to be fun too, with miles of rough roads and plenty of chances to stretch the trucks’ legs.

Carli Suspension
Trucks X Trails

We fueled up in town, grabbed some more fire wood and headed back out to the wild. Austin led as we climbed the road up to the falls. While a few sections were open enough to let the trucks run at 40+, most of the trail was technical and rocky. Four wheel drive was mandatory for a few sections of eroded rock slabs. Behind us, a perfect sunset lit up our dust and made for some incredible views. The road dropped downward, and the shrubs grew denser. As we emerged from a cluster of trees, we were greeted by the sight of a picture-perfect waterfall. The best part? There wasn’t a soul in sight!

We made quick work to pop out the roof top tents, and took a beeline for the falls. After not showering with running water for a week, a dip in the creek sounded perfect. We also welcomed the warmer weather, basking in the 70-degree temps opposed to the low 30’s in Green River. Our crew was pretty sure life couldn’t get any better.

We whipped up a feast of spaghetti and meatballs on the skottle and discussed what we were going to do the next morning. Sitting around the campfire, we planned out our last big breakfast of everything left in the fridge, and a day spent hanging out in the sun by the falls. Though we had planned to leave in the morning to head home, we made a group decision to stay until the afternoon because the falls were just too nice to leave behind. We all hopped in our tents and enjoyed the sound of the falls putting us to sleep. This was set to be our best night yet.

Mother Nature had other plans though. It started softly, but soon I was woken up, my whole truck shaking violently from side to side. The rain fly on my tent whipped around. I stuck my head out the zippered door and was smacked with freezing wind and clouds of dust. I could barely make out Sammy’s sleeping bag flying sideways, with him in it. In a matter of minutes, our tranquil scene had been shattered by an intense wind storm. The forecast had warned about winds, but we figured deep in the canyon we’d be safe. Boy were we wrong. The night dragged on forever as the winds howled and tore through camp, by morning the group probably got a cumulative 30 minutes of sleep. Covered in dust and yelling over the wind and flying dirt, we all agreed to hightail it to town for a warm breakfast inside a walled building.

A small hole in the wall breakfast joint answered the call as the steaming food and coffee lifted our spirits. While we were all bedraggled from the miserable night, we opted to make the most of the day and head to Sand Hollow for some fun in the trucks. Having just finished my suspension build, I was excited to give it a proper high speed break in on some sand.

Trucks X Trails

Utah’s incredible landscape once again blew us away when we saw the bright red sands of Sand Hollow Park. A dedicated OHV area, we flew over miles of double track road and sand dunes. Even with the trucks fully loaded with gear and bikes, we couldn’t resist the need to flog them as we flung sand into the air. Pushing hard, we hit highway speeds over the soft sand roads, floating from side to side and throwing the trucks sideways any chance we got. The howling wind wasn’t a bother inside the cabs, and made for one hell of a show with the sand.

We eventually found the perfect curved dune, and took turns throwing the trucks into the massive banked corner. Coming down the straight away at full throttle, we’d carve up and onto the dune as sand flew over the roof of the trucks. Hitting it over and over, we tried to see who could get the biggest spray of sand roosted up. Poor Sammy on camera duty took the brunt of the hits. After spending most of the day flinging sand around, we decided it was time to head back to home.

With sore bodies, a hurt ankle, a busted truck, and a million good memories, we hit the road. Few things on the trip had gone according to plan, but sometimes you have to just scrap the playbook and embrace the adventure as it comes. Sure we were a little busted up, but while driving back and reflecting on the trip we all agreed it was one hell of a time. It’s always a bit daunting trying to organize an adventure that far from home, but with the help of a few friends it usually works out just fine. As we drove south towards SoCal, radio chatter quickly turned to plans for the next trip. I guess we didn’t get enough. Then again, that’s probably why we ride mountain bikes.

We want to say a massive thank you to everyone that made this trip possible, including Erik Henrickson for the invaluable advice and location guidance.

We also want to thank the brands that participated in this trip and provided our gear. Please support them and let them know you enjoy our stories so we can keep planning some more. Words are free but they’re invaluable to us!

Fuji Bicycles
Carli Suspension
CJC Offroad
Yakima
Tembo Tusk
(Use code “wolfpack” if you want 5% off anything on the Tembo Tusk site)