Preparing to Ride in the Desert

As I am planning for a Crazy-Awesome adventure with my buddy “S”, riding Harleys through the The Mighty 5 Great National Parks of Southern Utah (Arches, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef, Bryce Canyon and Zion), and also being quite the preparedness planner, I have thought through our plans, including the riding gear and boots. Wanna know what “S” and I are planning?

At first, I was going to tell “S” that due to the heat, I was going to learn how to ride naked, and only wear sunscreen and boots. But, uh… nobody wants to see that. So yes, I will wear clothing, but will adjust it to accommodate the conditions.

1. Weather — Riding in Heat

Southern Utah is in the desert. Nominal air temperatures during the day average in excess of 100F (38C). In fact, this year, temperatures have broken records.

My friends tell me, “don’t worry, it’s a ‘dry heat’.” Yeah, right, hot is hot, even without humidity.

The temperatures at the start of our day may be in the low 70s (22c), but by 1300, will reach peak.

We have figured out our ride plan such that we will be astride our heat-engines in the morning when it is coolest (comparatively). We should arrive at our park destinations to walk around, take photos and videos, and otherwise enjoy the experience by mid-day. We may park the bikes to let them — and us — cool (-ish, again, comparatively speaking.)

2. Weather — Gear for Heat

I have chosen riding gear pants similar to what I wore when on duty in the desert back in my active-duty military days. They make that gear for a reason. It is durable, light-weight, easy to pack, dries quickly if it gets wet, and is exceptionally functional and forgiving. Lots of pockets — and for us “older gents,” expandable waistline (LOL).

I have also selected layers of shirts. The temperatures at the start of our day will be lower, in which case I will chose long-sleeves over short-sleeve shirts. I intend to wear UV-blocking long-sleeve shirts as long as I can during the day so I don’t burn to a crisp. No worries, however, I also will apply sunscreen regularly, even under my clothing.

What boots will I wear? I am planning only to have two pair: 1) my Chippewa firefighters whilst riding. Durable, comfortable, lug-soled boots that are protective and easy-on-the-feet. 2) desert tactical boots by Belleville. I do not have any of my old military-issued desert uniform boots any more, so I am choosing Belleville USAF desert boots instead. These USA-made boots are very lightweight and have a sole that is more suitable to wear whilst walking or hiking, compared with the Vibram 100 “big lug” soles on the Chips that are less flexible. They also have a steel toe, so I may wear them alternately with the Chips.

Will I have a ballistic nylon jacket? … yep, I found one on a close-out (only US$44) made by Aerotek especially for hot-weather riding. I will try to wear it as long as I can; however, if my body overresponds to heat by sweating myself into potential dehydration, I may not wear it all the time while on the motorcycle.

I also have a “boonie hat” that I still have from my desert deployment, and will wear that when walking or hiking around the parks while off the bike. Wide brim covers the neck and hat protects the head. Especially important these days now that I am almost hairless.

3. Weather — convection

That is, thunderstorms and lightning. This part of the United States is well known to have some powerful thunderstorms. These storms, if they occur, are part of the “North American monsoon” (info here). The storms happen in late afternoon and involve heavy, drenching rain and lots of lighting.

As part of our trip planning, we will complete our lengthy point-to-point riding before an afternoon thunderstorm may roll in. But to be thoroughly prepared, I have also identified “storm safety dodge locations” where we can take cover if we’re out on the road and a storm brews up. This area of our country is so desolate and barren that finding cover can be very difficult because it is spaced widely apart.

Last thing we want to have happen is be astride the ultimate lightning rod (iron horse) during a storm with lots of lightning. Fortunate thing, these storms usually don’t last more than an hour.

4. Weather — hydration

As they say, “it’s a dry heat.” Riding, walking, or any prolonged exposure to an arid environment will dry you out. We plan to drink lots of water, regularly and often, even when we don’t feel thirsty. I would rather have to pee often than experience fatigue, blurred vision, and muscle pain from dehydration.


There is a lot that goes into planning a 1,000-mile motorcycle ride in the desert, but I have spent probably about 50 hours thinking through and planning for it. We will be safe, comfortable, and happy.

Life is short: plan for your ride.

2 thoughts on “Preparing to Ride in the Desert

  1. Thank you for the defined agenda regarding weather and clothing. You are amazing. 😊

  2. Hope you guys have a great trip and ride. I’m looking forward to seeing your photos from this adventure.

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