A couple of years ago, with two friends, I completed Route 5 of the Oregon Backcountry Discovery Route (ORBDR), a 750-mile, north-south mostly off-road route from California to Washington through the central and eastern part of the state. The ORBDR is managed by the Oregon Off-Highway Vehicle Association (OOHVA), which sells paper maps of the various ORBDR routes. I bought the Route 5 maps months before our trip, and my buddy Paul spent a couple of hours every night for two weeks creating GPS tracks from the four sets of multi-page, flip-book-style contour maps (which cost $15 each).
The maps-to-GPS translation was good about 95 percent of the time. The problem is, the maps were made in 2002 and most of the route goes through national forest land that changes over time. Some roads are fenced off for grazing, others are blocked by boulders or fallen trees. The dead-ends and wrong turns, just like everything else that doesn’t go according to plan, is all part of the adventure. But, in several other western states, there’s a better way.
Since 2010, when off-road enthusiasts Bryce Stevens and Andrew Cull scouted and mapped a 600-mile north-south unpaved route through Washington State, from Oregon to Canada, four more Backcountry Discovery Routes have been created in Colorado, Utah, Idaho and Arizona. These efforts have been spearheaded by the folks at Touratech USA, with additional logistical and financial support provided by Butler Maps, Klim and other sponsors.
For each route, Butler Maps has created high-quality maps, Noren Films has created documentary DVDs and free GPS tracks are available. A Backcountry Discovery Routes non-profit organization has been established, “whose mission is to establish and preserve off-highway routes for dual-sport and adventure motorcycle travel…BDR works with the forest service, land managers, and agencies responsible for public land to keep trails and remote roads open for motorcycling. Through careful investment of funds and resources, BDR is able to map new routes, provide free GPS tracks and advice, create photo and video archives of the routes, and educate the motorcycle community about managed travel on public lands.”
Watching the documentary DVD about the Washington Backcountry Discovery Route (WABDR) back in 2011 inspired my friends and me to take on the Oregon route a couple years later. (Read my review of the Washington Backcountry Discovery Route DVD and Map.) We chose Oregon because it’s the original BDR, and it’s closer to California than Washington is. Now that we’ve done one BDR, we want to do them all, and we look forward to using the resources provided by the Backcountry Discovery Routes organization. Not only will the free GPS tracks save us lots of time, but the BDR website provides regular updates on road closures, route changes and other critical information.
Recently watching the documentary DVD for the Arizona Backcountry Discovery Route (AZBDR) has reignited my inspiration. Whereas the WABDR follows the spine of the Cascade Mountains and features thick evergreen forests and snow-capped peaks, the AZBDR is full of saguaro cactus, sandy trails and majestic canyons, starting at the Coronado National Monument and ending at the Vermillion Cliffs National Monument. (You can find short trailers for each BDR documentary on YouTube.) Both the DVD and the map break down each BDR into sections, each taking about one day to complete depending on weather and other conditions. The DVD brings the AZBDR alive, with stunning, well-edited footage and plenty of humor and useful tips by those on the expedition, while the map breaks it down into fine detail. Alternate routes are provided to avoid especially challenging terrain (sand!) and to visit the South Rim of the Grand Canyon.
If adventure or dual-sport motorcycling is your thing, then the entire Backcountry Discovery Routes project is a goldmine, a mother lode of bucket-list rides. In addition to the five BDRs already mapped out, others are planned for California, Montana, New Mexico, Oregon (an update of the original?) and Wyoming. You can support BDR’s efforts by becoming a member, or you can buy any of the BDR documentary DVDs and maps, which are sold through Touratech-USA. The Arizona Backcountry Discovery Route Expedition Documentary DVD is $24.95, and the Butler Motorcycle Maps – Arizona Backcountry Discovery Route is $14.95.
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