Once the route is created, BDR volunteers continue to ‘manage’ the route in perpetuity. This work involves staying on top of road closures, providing alternate GPS tracks and workarounds, communicating with the public, the forest service, and other public land managers about route issues, crowd-sourcing and promoting local lodging and food businesses along the routes. 2021 was the first time in 11 years that BDR did not release a new route due to the travel restrictions in 2020. Instead, the organization published a film highlighting the history of the BDR with a documentary titled: Ride BDR, A 10-Year Retrospective Film (free to view on YouTube). With a year of pent-up wanderlust, we made late summer plans to enter the “BDR Bubble” again, roll up our sleeves, braap our engines and finally make the 11th BDR route happen in Wyoming.
THE RED DESERT - FIRST BDR-X
A small crew met up at the Butler Maps office in Eagle, CO to ride and film in the Red Desert, a fascinating destination in Southern Wyoming that can be done as an overnight trip prior to the start of the main BDR route. This 155-mile loop is not an official section of the WYBDR, but rather the first installment in the BDR-X series of routes, a new concept that BDR is introducing in 2022. BDR-X routes are envisioned as 2-3 day loops off the existing BDRs or stand-alone loops in notable backcountry riding areas around the country. Already, a number of BDR-X routes are planned for release in the next few years, expanding the BDR-style riding options for the ADV community beyond the official BDR routes.The BDR-X Red Desert Wyoming loop was the perfect preview of the vastness, remote isolation, expansive views, and outstanding riding in Wyoming.
Having remained lesser-known as a travel destination, the Red Desert welcomed us with ‘National Park’ quality scenery and inspired riding. There are many incredible factors about this place, like the fact that it’s one of the last high-desert ecosystems in North America and the home to Killpecker Sand Dunes, the largest living dune system in the United States. It is also home to the world’s largest herd of desert elk, and hosts the largest migratory herd of pronghorn in the lower 48 states.
It was also an absolute blast to ride through. With a varied landscape of buttes, dunes, sagebrush steppe, mountains, and rocky pinnacles, the riding was fun and technical, a mix of sand, rocks, rocky ledges and ruts added in for good measure. It’s remarkable to think that these were the same views and trails that hundreds of thousands of pioneers on the Oregon Trail experienced as they made their way toward Oregon, California, and Washington. This side trip with overnight camping in the desert is a must if you have a couple days to spare.
NOT A ONE MAN BAND
The WYBDR’s mastermind is BDR Co-Founder and Board Member Bryce Stevens. He is the man who had the idea to create the first BDR route (the WABDR) back in 2010, and is the architect of a number of BDR’s.
After his initial route contributions, Bryce was sidelined with Lyme Disease for a number of years, which limited his BDR activities. Now, fully recovered, Bryce was back to ride with us, having worked on this route for the last four years.
One might wonder, what goes into creating a BDR route? Put simply, it takes hundreds of hours from a very dedicated group of volunteers. The team peers over paper maps identifying potential roads, consults with local ADV riders, studies tracks by ’flying over’ them in Google Earth, and then actually rides the tracks on dozens of scouting expeditions. Then there’s the process of verifying the legitimacy and public status of the roads, plus organizing and stitching the tracks in GPS software, until eventually all of this hard work is distilled down to a single line on the proposed WYBDR track.
Then, the BDR team takes the inaugural ride on the route to film the expedition documentary and test the tracks with a variety of bikes and rider skill levels before releasing the tracks to the community.
THE EXPEDITION TEAM
After filming in the Red Desert we met up with the rest of the WYBDR expedition team in Baggs, WY, the official start of the route. We stayed at the historic Boyer Ranch overnight and headed out on the first official day of the WYBDR the next morning.
The WYBDR expedition team included our four-person production crew: BDR filmmaker Sterling Noren, a second camera man, a drone operator, and photographer Simon Cudby. In addition to the ‘route boss’ Bryce Stevens, the riders on the team were some of the usual suspects: Paul Guillien, BDR President who has been on all 10 previous route filming missions; BDR VP and Creative Director Tim James; and myself, the organization’s Executive Director.
Our special guests on this trip included Jocelin Snow, the ADV powerhouse, former AMA racer, BMW International GS Trophy competitor, a long time BDR Ambassador and newly elected BDR Board Member.
Wendy Naessens (also known as @WendyInMotion), was a special guest from BMW Motorrad, the route’s presenting sponsor. Wendy is a Junior Instructor in Training at the BMW US Rider Academy, BMW Performance Center in Spartanburg, SC, and was an ADV rookie as far as long-distance, multi-day, fully loaded, technical, off-pavement motorcycle expeditions go. She definitely shook off her novice status by the end of the trip, and will have a wealth of experience to draw from when training her students at the academy.
DOING THE LEG WORK
Wyoming was a tough state to tackle in terms of creating a continuously enjoyable route that would offer great riding, highlight the state’s natural beauty, and offer access to gas and lodging. The state’s topography is dominated by several large basins and the ranges of the Rocky Mountains that border them.
After careful consideration, Bryce made the decision to start the route in Baggs, WY, just 2.6 miles north of the Colorado border. The route traces the mountain ranges to the east through the Sierra Madre and Medicine Bow Ranges, crosses west to the Wind River Range, then goes back east and north through the Bighorn Mountains, eventually ending at a remote Wyoming-Montana border.
Remote and rural (the word Wyoming is derived from a Delaware Indian word meaning “land of vast plains”), is the perfect description of the state’s spacious natural environment, which is home to nearly as many pronghorn antelope as people. The state’s geography includes areas of arid desert, semiarid steppe (short-grass prairie), and alpine climates - all of which you can experience on the WYBDR.
The riding is consistently outstanding but almost always moderately technical. A few alternate Expert Sections are offered for those who want to turn it up a notch. The technical riding on this route is fast paced, and enough to keep you on your toes, but never too scary. It’s the perfect amount of risk to fun ratio, day after day, after day. We even dubbed this fun endless riding the WYBDR’s #MadFlow.
TURN-KEY SOLUTION FOR MOTORCYCLE TOURISM
To make the WYBDR happen, BDR has partnered with Wyoming Office of Outdoor Recreation and tourism boards of seven counties along the route who supported the project financially.
Wyoming offers unparalleled outdoor recreational opportunities, but its economy is heavily tied to agriculture and mining & extraction industries. WyoRec and its local tourism partners understand the importance of growing the tourism industry. Having a BDR route in their state will bring thousands of out of state visitors to Wyoming over the next decade, and not to the usual tourist hot spots, but to the most rural parts of the state, making a significant impact on local economies. Traveling motorcyclists directly support small businesses that offer groceries, dining, lodging, fuel, supplies, power sports sales, rentals, service, and more. In turn, local businesses become our community’s advocates helping to keep the roads open and preserve backcountry trails for adventure motorcycle travel.
This route will help Wyoming’s rural communities move toward a more diversified economy, and this new form of tourism will ensure a positive future for motorcycle recreation in the state.
THE ADV GEMS OF WYOMING
The route begins with beautiful expansive valley views in the vast treeless region known as Wild Horse Basin. Blissful tracks with sagebrush and aspen trees lead riders through an unmistakable “Aspen Alley”, a photo opp must. The first optional expert section goes over the Continental Divide Trail and Bridger Peak (elev. 11,004 ft) on the way to Encampment (pop. 443).
Heading eastward toward Rob Roy Reservoir in the heart of Medicine Bow Range, you’ll descend to the historic town of Centennial (pop. 308), and then ascend into the Snowy Mountains area of Medicine Bow-Routt National Forest. This spectacular “cut-across” through the majestic Snowy Mountain Range leads riders past pastoral meadows and awe-inspiring mountain peaks.
A rugged scenic track below the Snowy Mountains is a place for watching moose, which frequent the small lakes along this road. After an optional expert section with an advanced level water crossing, the track offers a 6.5 mile long side trip up to the summit of Kennaday Peak (elev. 10,810 ft). From the top of Kennaday Peak there is a breathtaking 360-degree view of the surrounding mountains, including Medicine Bow Peak in the Snowy Range, and the vast Platte River Valley.
As the heavenly two-track meanders through a shallow valley with sage hills covered in natural grasses and few trees, you will find yourself riding past old rock walls that still stand from the abandoned mining town of Carbon (circa 1881). Old foundations, roads, mine ruins, and the cindered roadbed of the original line of the Union Pacific Railroad may be found in the town today. The town’s substantial cemetery can be found on the west side of the road.
Riding through the Shirley Basin you approach the fantastic Shirley Mountains. With a top elevation of over 9,000 feet, the Shirleys tower over Central Wyoming. You’ll enjoy a variety of different landscapes in this area, and the riding is fun and technical.
The highlight of the route for me was the Beaver Rim. It was on the longest day of our trip where we attempted to ride and film over 250 miles in one day (not the best decision we ever made!), and by mid-afternoon half the team decided to take the bail out option to the hotel.
The rest of us continued over the rolling roads of the rim. The sun was setting, and while we were all exhausted, we were almost squeaking from enjoyment as we rode a fast-paced grassy double-track with grippy surface, but also sneaky ruts, loose sand, round rocks, slippery puddles and everything in between. In the beautiful hero light, it felt like we were gliding on the surface of the plateau. That magical evening was one of those BDR moments of riding with your friends that stays in your memory forever. At the end of this grueling section you’ll end up in historic Atlantic City (population 39). A stay at Miner’s Delight Inn is a must (book well ahead!).
A great historic discovery on the route is South Pass City, once a bustling gold mining camp, and presently one of the best-known ghost towns in Wyoming. At some point around 1868, South Pass City boasted over 250 buildings, 1,000 people, and hundreds of claims. Its great boom didn’t last, and by 1872, the town was occupied by only a few hundred people.
These days it’s an active outdoor museum, where you can walk around and peek into the restored buildings to see how residents lived there 150 years ago. You can even do some gold panning yourself in the stream that runs through the town.
The route then crosses the south end of the Wind River Range. You’ll pass by several lakes and enjoy epic sweeping paved switchbacks that will take you to Sinks Canyon State Park. Here, the river disappears underground in one place, and in another 1/2 mile down the road it “rises” in a calm pool full of hungry fish (you can feed them for a quarter).
After Lander, the largest city on the WYBDR, you will head towards Ten Sleep, a lively town with a bustling main street, great food and lodging options. Grab a pint at the Ten Sleep Brewing Company — the owner is a motorcyclist who just happens to be a contributor to the Wyoming route and makes a guest appearance in the film.
The route then ascends into the Bighorn Mountains, a sister range of the Rocky Mountains, and enters the Bighorn National Forest. The rugged roads will throw all sorts of obstacles at you, and the diverse landscape offers everything from grasslands to alpine meadows, clear lakes to glacially-carved valleys and rolling hills to sheer mountain cliffs. This is scenic forest riding at its best!
Another expert option on the route is a 22-mile track of tough roads over remote Woodchuck Pass (elev. 9636 ft) with a couple of creek crossings and steep loose climbs and descents.
One of the final destinations on the route is the Bear Lodge at Burgess Junction where you can get food, fuel, and a room for the night. In the morning, at the lodge’s restaurant, appropriately named “Moose Landing,” we saw an adult moose and its offspring hanging out right outside our window as we were having breakfast. We ran out to snap photos as they walked past the main hotel entrance seemingly unbothered by all the commotion and excitement from googly-eyed hotel visitors.
An out-and-back adventure to a remote fence at the Wyoming-Montana border marks the end of the WYBDR. This high elevation 17-mile long road passes by Sheep and Duncam Mountains (both approx. 9800 ft) with grand views most of the way
READY TO GO?
Having the lowest population of all 50 United States and the 10th most extensive land size, Wyoming is the perfect state for backcountry motorcycle exploration and recreation on public lands.
When you want to escape from it all and experience true solitude, connect with nature and the land, see wildlife and awe-inspiring landscapes, go to Wyoming and find a true backcountry adventure on the WYBDR!
The route was officially be released in February of 2022, with free tracks and travel resources available on the RideBDR website.
The WYBDR Butler Motorcycle map will accompany the tracks and is a recommended supplement. The dealership film tour will start in February through the end of April.
WYBDR QUICK FACTS
Total Mileage: 900 miles, with 155 additional miles for the Red Desert. The main route is divided into 8 sections and can be done in 7 days.
Best Time of Year: WYBDR has a short riding season, July to September, depending on lingering snow-pack and early snow in the fall.
Skill Level: Intermediate to intermediate plus, with expert options. Some sections may become impassible when it rains.
Riding Terrain: Gravel roads, steep grades combined with rough surfaces, sand and silt beds, ruts, mud, embedded rocks, water crossings.
Wildlife: On this trip we saw more wild life than people. Expect to see antelope, wild horses, elk, and moose