Life is Good

Me in Coal WashI had quite an interesting weekend– I rolled my ATV off a 100′ cliff. Traci and I (and Torrey) had left home early Saturday morning while her parents watched our kids, and we were planning on spending the day in the San Rafael Swell ATVing and playing some GPS games, and then meeting up with some friends later in the day. We parked the truck just off the Moore Cutoff Road shortly after sunrise and unloaded the ATV, then set out riding north to find a couple of game pieces for a game that we were playing. The first game piece was in the bottom of Eagle Canyon, and the trail dropped sharply down a narrow ridge leading into the bottom of the canyon. It’s a north-facing slope, so there were areas that still had a considerable amount of snow on them. The last 30′ of the trail leading into the canyon was very steep and rocky (though luckily free of snow), with a ledge at the end where people had stacked up rocks in order to get over it. I expected that part to be difficult to ride back up when we eventually came back over the same route later in the day, but I wasn’t going to worry about it until then.
We found the first game piece after a short hike from where the trail entered the canyon from the south, then we returned to the ATV and rode it for about three-quarters of a mile east along the canyon bottom. The trail then left the canyon and climbed up another ridge to the north, but it wasn’t nearly as steep as the southern trail. These two trails in and out of Eagle Canyon are the only place where you can cross for many miles in either direction, so we knew we’d be returning the same way.
Arch near Wood HollowWe continued north until we reached the Coal Wash junction, then rode down into the main Coal Wash and then into the north fork, where we found another game piece. By then, we had been riding for several hours and were already tired of it, so we decided to skip the last game piece in that area and started retracing our tracks back to the truck. We stopped briefly for lunch, then on the way back we saw the only other people we’d seen all day, a pair of Jeeps deep into the north fork of Coal Wash, and later a couple on an ATV near the Devil’s Racetrack turnoff. We were making good time, so we decided to make a brief stop at a natural arch near Wood Hollow. After that, we were nearing the difficult crossing of Eagle Canyon, and though I wasn’t looking forward to it, I wasn’t dreading it either.
When we reached the bottom of the trail leading out of Eagle Canyon to the south, we stopped and I made some improvements upon the rock pile at the first ledge. Then I hopped on the ATV and started the ascent while Traci stood by and took video. My first couple of attempts were no-goes, but on the third try I took it very slow and made it past what I thought would be the very worst of the climb out.
After a couple of steep and snowy (but otherwise smooth) sections of trail, we came to the last big hill before reaching the top of the plateau. Traci again got off and started taking video, and I expected to make it to the top without any problems–I had climbed hills like this before with even more snow on them. I made it nearly to the top before the tires started spinning and I lost all forward momentum. For some reason, as I kept the throttle open, instead of moving forward, the ATV kept trying to go sideways and climb up the slight slope to the right of the trail. The front-end came off the ground and for a second or two, I held it like that before the front tires finally touched earth again and I grabbed the brakes and managed not to roll backwards. Phew! I slowly released the brakes and let the ATV roll backwards so that I could straighten it out and point it back up the trail, then I eased into the throttle and tried making it over the top of the hill. The ATV did the same thing–instead of going up the center of the trail where the front tires were pointing, it went toward the right edge of the trail. I once again braked to a stop, rolled backwards slightly and then eased back into the throttle. This time, it started to tip over again, and though I let off the throttle and gently squeezed the front brake lever, the rear wheels were also braked because I was in 4WD and the ATV kept tipping backwards. I had to jump off in order to keep my weight from pulling it all the way over backwards, and the front-end quickly touched back down again. However, with only one hand on the handlebars and holding on to the brake lever, it wasn’t enough to keep control and slow the machine’s backward momentum and I quickly lost my grip. It careened backwards out of control down the hill, went off the left side of the trail, rolled a couple of times, then dropped straight down a cliff into the bottom of the canyon. I kind of chased after it at first before it reached the edge of the cliff, but I didn’t think I could grab it without being pulled down with it. I didn’t actually recall all of the minute details of the incident right after it happened, but I was able to piece the above together after watching the video (see below) several times.
ATV in Eagle CanyonAs I first approached the edge of the cliff and peered down, I expected to see bits and pieces scattered everywhere. However, the ATV came to rest on all fours in the canyon below us, and it was surprisingly intact. After a few choice expletives (from me), Traci and I gathered our faculties and started the hike down the ridge into the bottom of the canyon to survey the damage. It was a third of a mile following the trail to where the ATV landed, but I was running almost the entire time and made it there very quickly. There were small pieces of our gear all over the canyon floor, but the ATV itself stayed pretty much whole. The entire rear was smashed in, and there was obvious minor damage everywhere else. One rim was badly bent and the tire was flat, but otherwise it looked like it might have been driveable. The engine had stopped upon impact, and I couldn’t get it to restart.
We knew that we would need help getting ourselves out of there, and luckily our friends were planning on meeting us somewhere else in the Swell that same evening. We picked up all the gear that we could carry, including the cargo bag that had been torn off the rear rack when the ATV hit the bottom, and began the steep hike up to the top of the ridge on the south side of the canyon. From there, I was able to get good enough cell service to call Craig and Georgia, who were only about 15 miles away from us (as the crow flies) on I-70 near the Wickiup/Sinbad exit. My GPS got ripped from its mount on the ATV handlebars on the first roll, so it didn’t make the 100′ drop and was unharmed, and I was able to give them my coordinates and the coords to the turnoff where my truck was parked along the Moore Cutoff Road.
While we waited for our rescuers, we gathered up our stuff that was scattered about and piled it up in one location, and I placed a geocache nearby to commemorate the occasion. After what seemed like a long time, but what was probably only 45 minutes to an hour, a blue Jeep appeared on the horizon! It was just Craig–he’d unloaded some of their gear and left Georgia at our truck so that we’d be able to fit Traci and me, most of our gear, and Torrey in the Jeep. We were quickly on our way back toward where the truck was parked, while the wrecked ATV was going to have to remain in the canyon at least overnight. Even after our ordeal, we still weren’t quite ready to head home. We followed Craig and Georgia to Green River and met Jean, Jay, and Chris at Ray’s Tavern for dinner. Then we headed back to Price, picked up the kids, and went home.
The next morning (Sunday), I started making preparations to retrieve my ATV. My plan was to load Traci’s ATV onto the trailer and haul it out there from the north side, then tow the wrecked ATV out of the canyon using our one good machine. I didn’t know if I could even get the truck and a trailer very close to where the ATV was, but I was sure going to give it a try. I didn’t think we’d need any assistance and I was reluctant to ask for anybody’s help, but while I was at the store picking up a hitch for Traci’s ATV (to use as an attachment point for the tow rope) and a new snow shovel (since our old one had been crushed in the fall from the cliff), Traci had called Craig and Georgia and Chris. By the time I got back home, Craig and Georgia were already at the house, and Jean and Jay and Chris were on their way from Green River to Ferron, where they were going to meet us.
We convoyed south and collected the rest of the support/recovery crew in Ferron, then headed into the Swell. Dutch Flat Road was in good shape, but upon reaching Coal Wash and trying to climb up onto the plateau that parallels the wash as it runs south, we ran into some trouble. I was in the lead, but the truck was having a hard time getting up a steep north-facing slope. Pulling a trailer wasn’t helping matters. I eventually powered through the snow and up the hill, only to reach a section that was partially washed out on the left side as the road curved to the left. People had gone around it to the right, but the road was sloped down to the left there and with all the snow on the road, my truck kept sliding downhill and dangerously close to the washout. I had to take the corner wide in order for the trailer to clear it, but taking it wide meant that I had to drive farther up the slope to the right. After mulling it over, we decided to shovel all of the snow off the road. Problem solved! After about 10 minutes of three guys shoveling, we had it cleared and I was able to drive without sliding off. After that, Craig suggested that he take the lead just in case I got into trouble again, then he could use the winch on his Jeep to get me out of it.
ATV on trailerIt was a long, arduous, and bumpy drive to Eagle Canyon. We had to leave the road altogether and drive cross-country a couple of times to avoid snow drifts across the road where nobody had driven in the past several weeks since our last snow storm. At about 3:00 p.m., we reached the top of the ridge leading down Eagle Canyon’s north rim. I unloaded Traci’s ATV and Chris and I hopped on it, and down into the canyon we went while everyone else remained. I parked Traci’s ATV next to my wrecked one, and we hiked up the opposite side of the canyon so I could retrieve the rest of our gear and Chris could sign the logbook in the geocache I’d left the day before. When we got back down to the ATVs, Craig was just getting there on foot, and I just assumed that he’d walked the entire three-quarters of a mile. I hooked up the tow rope and pulled with Traci’s ATV, Chris rode my machine, and Craig helped push it up the difficult spots. About halfway back to where the truck and trailer were waiting, I rounded a bend and spotted Craig’s Jeep sitting there–he’d driven it down the narrow winding ridge that I didn’t dare take my truck down. He hopped in the Jeep and followed Chris and I to the bottom of the ridge, and at that point we all knew it would be best for Craig to pull the ATV the rest of the way out with his Jeep. He hooked up his tow rope and made easy work of the one part I don’t think I could have done without his help.
We reached the top amid cheers from the rest of the crew. I loaded Traci’s ATV into the truck bed, then we all pushed my ATV onto the trailer. Jean had made some excellent chicken sandwiches while we were loading, so we paused long enough to enjoy them and have something to drink, then we set off on the rough, snowy, muddy road back home. Traci and I couldn’t have retrieved the ATV by ourselves, so we’re very grateful for our friends’ help.
Damaged ATV in the drivewayI left the ATV on the trailer when we got home well after dark, but the following morning (yesterday) I unloaded it and gave it a very thorough inspection. The rear rack and frame are bent badly, all of the plastic on the rear (including the tail light) is crushed, the rear axle is bent, the left-rear rim is crushed and the tire has a small gash in it, the rear fenders are mangled, all of the body plastic is misaligned (even in the front, indicating a twisted frame up there), the front wheels are misaligned, the handlebars are half an inch too far to the left, and the seat is torn. Since the engine won’t start, and I can’t get the seat off the inspect anything under the plastic body panels, I’m sure there’s a lot of damage that’s not visible. An insurance adjuster stopped by today to look at it, and not surprisingly he said it’s completely totaled. The bad news is that, even after my $500 deductible, I’m still going to have to take a $450 hit in order to pay off the remainder of the loan. On top of that, I’ll need to buy a new drop basket and cargo rack for the next ATV that I buy. The insurance company actually gave me high NADA book value for the ATV, but it’s depreciated so much since I bought it that I owe more than it’s worth. But I’m just happy to be alive, and I think I’ve learned a lesson or two about riding, and about life.
Wow, I’ve almost written a novel here. Perhaps I should sum it up with this link to the photo gallery from the weekend, and this video:

5 thoughts on “Life is Good

  1. Glad YOU are OK, Dennis. The ATV can be replaced, but YOU cannot. Sure, the pride is beat up a bit, but that’ll heal and you’ll be the wiser for the ordeal. Geocaching friends rock, too! Especially when they have a capable 4WD Jeep to help you out. Nice write up on the whole thing, but again, glad YOU made it through physically unscathed.

  2. Damn, that sucks to hear about your atv. Glad to see no one was injured.
    After watching your video, it didn’t look like there was anything you could do to keep it from rolling. On the positive, you got some good friends that helped you recover your four wheeler.

  3. As indicated, it could have been far worse if you went over the edge with the machine. ATV’s (although painful and expensive) can be replaced, but people aren’t so expendable.
    Thanks for the Blog posting and sharing of photos and the video.

  4. That’s hard watching that I will have to admit. I am glad your Ok . Hope your wife wasn’t too scared. Good that you wear your helmet. Next time bring a parachute huh. Seriously though that cliff came out of nowhere glad your allright.

  5. I’m getting in on this kind of late, but holy shit! The video was kind of eerie to watch, but I’m glad you’re okay! Glad to see you got a replacement and hopped back on so quickly.

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