Ride West: Day 28 HOME
Despite Hurricane Isaac’s efforts to slow my pace, I made it home about 2 hours ago, 28 days and 8, 843 miles after I left. As anyone who has been reading the blog knows, it was a great trip. But it’s good to be back.
Yesterday was a dry day. I went about 700 miles from Wichita to Tupelo, Mississippi (birthplace and boyhood home of Elvis). A pretty easy ride. I was careful to follow the posted speed laws in Oklahoma. Arkansas and Mississippi were, of course, a different story. Today clouds from Hurricane Issac were overhead from the time I left Tupelo until the time I got home, but I didn’t see any rain until 10 minutes after lunch; then I had rain or wet roads the final five hours. I kept going through the outer bands of the circulation from Issac. In Twisted Rider speak that’s known as “punching through.” But I stayed dry inside my rain suit and got home safely.
This will be the last blog post for a while. When I ride again, I’ll start it up and try to let everyone know.
Thanks again for following along and letting me share my experiences.
Ride West: Day 26 A Summary
I’ve had a couple days while visiting family in Wichita and trying to plot a route through what will be a hurricane soaked South to consider the August days that made up the Ride West. If anyone wants a recap of the locations I visited and the roads I covered, I suggest just going back to the daily blog entries from Day 1 to Day 25. The summary in today’s blog will be more a reverie of various thoughts that occurred as I contemplated the past month’s activities: the things I’ve seen and done, the people I rode with (and didn’t ride with) and people I met along the way.
The Ride West reaffirmed my belief in several things.
Belief #1: This country is beautiful. Other parts of the world are beautiful also, of course, but the Western United States has a unique beauty unparalleled anywhere. In many ways, it’s a perfect place to ride a motorcycle, whether cruising at sight-seeing speeds or careening through colorful canyons and topping high mountain passes at speeds that preclude much more than a brief glance at the rugged scenery and the dangers that lie therein. Geology, history, pre-history, culture, nature, wildlife: the West has it all. I recommend to all my friends (riding and non-riding) that you visit as much of the West as you can as soon as you can. I saw more evidence of dramatic and rapid changes that bode ill for future rides like this one. Very little snow in the mountains and disappearing glaciers. Green trees turned brown by a pernicious beetle supercharged by changing temperatures. Lakes and reservoirs drying up. Charred remains where gigantic forest fires have blackened the verdant landscape. If the 95% of climate scientists who say climate change is real and deadly are right, the land I saw will grow less hospitable as the years progress. And I believe they’re right.
Belief #2: Riding a motorcycle is an experience like no other. Those who ride know what I’m talking about. And it doesn’t matter what brand of bike. Pick an adjective: Exhilarating, exciting, stimulating, dangerous, daring, joyous, intoxicating, liberating, invigorating, exalting, inspiring, emancipating, spirited, exuberant, formidable, precarious, intimidating, rewarding, frustrating, powerful. Motorcycle riding is all these and more. I wouldn’t go so far as to say it’s a religious experience, but it is clearly a sensual, life-affirming, mind-altering experience. You cannot, I think, ride thousands of miles through the widest varieties of weather on hundreds of different roads with thousands of different scenes racing past you, coming in contact with hundreds of people and not, when you put the kickstand down and climb off, be a different person than you were when you first fired up the engine. It will change you. And for the better.
Belief #3: People are basically good. Almost without fail when I’m riding a motorcycle the people I meet are friendly, curious, helpful, accommodating, interesting–in short: good. Of course there are exceptions. But once again on this trip I was reminded repeatedly of the good. This was only my second motorcycle trip with my younger brother. It won’t be my last. A good person. I reconnected with old friends who, in short order, reminded me why we are friends and will stay friends. I rode with new friends whose backgrounds and experiences may be different from mine but who unfailingly welcomed me into their midst, made me feel like one of their own and made me a better motorcycle rider. Good people. Other travelers listened to my stories and shared their own. Waiters, waitresses, hotel clerks, limo drivers: all willing to give helpful advice that made the trip more enjoyable and memorable. Small town residents who went out of their way to make sure the trip was pleasant and whose suggestions added to the incredible menu of opportunities from which to choose my course. Good people.
Belief #4: There’s no place like home. Since I’m writing from Kansas, I thought I’d throw in the cliche from L. Frank Baum’s Wizard of Oz. But it’s true. I miss my friends from home who share with me some of the same passions I have for the freedom afforded by motorcycle riding. And, most of all, I miss my wife who puts up with and even joins me in some of my motorcycle craziness. She is my best riding buddy who has been with me on some pretty rough roads. I look forward to dragging her off to the Alaskan wilderness next year.
Belief #5. I can’t wait to get on the road again. I started the Ride West blog by quoting Willie Nelson. Although I’m ready for a (brief) break from cross-country riding, it won’t take me long to recharge my batteries and get on the road again, making (road) music with friends, seeing things I’ve never seen, going places I’ve never been, a road gypsy with good friends. I strongly recommend it. Retire and ride if you can. Just ride if you can’t retire. But get on the road. Again. And again. And again.
Thanks, everyone, for following along. I’ll post once again when I get home to let you know how wet I got. And then the blog will probably go silent. Until I’m on the road again, of course.
Ride West: Day 25 in Wichita
I had planned to write a trip summary today, but ended up spending two hours at the Harley-Davidson dealer getting a new tire and new rear brakes. The tire had no tread in the middle but enough rubber to get me home. But since I’m heading into Hurricane Issac, I thought it might be a good idea to replace the tire before riding through heavy rain. For some reason, I wore my brakes out riding in the mountains. Must have been all the “Holy Crap!” hairpin turns I tried to take with the BMWs, Yamaha, and Gold Wings.
Looks like Brian made his Iron Butt 1500 miles in 36 hours on his way home to Florida today. Congrats.
Will try again for trip summary tomorrow before setting out on my final two days back to Florida.
Ride West: Day 24 to Wichita
Not much to say tonight. I rode with the Twisted Riders from Westminster to Salina, Ks, where we parted ways as they continued on their ride home to Indiana, with an overnight stop near Kansas City.
Rode through some light rain in western Kansas and some heavy rain south of Salina. The spray sealer Curt sprayed on my rain pants seemed to work. No leaks!
Going to bed early for a change and will work on a ride summary tomorrow.
“I can’t wait to get on the road again.”
Ride West: Day 23 to Westminster (again)
Today marked a day of high points.
After leaving Breckinridge under cloudy skies and temperatures in the upper 40s and devouring a huge breakfast in nearby Frisco, we rode several state highways and a little Interstate before arriving at the foot of Mt. Evans, the fourteenth highest peak in Colorado at more than 14, 200 feet. More importantly for us, Mt. Evans boasts the highest paved road in the United States. At about 10 a.m., at 10,500 feet, we prepared ourselves for temperatures in the mid 30s at the peak (according to the digital readout at the ranger/fee station) and began our climb under still cloudy, but rain-free, skies.
The 14-mile road to the peak began as a fairly gently climb with interesting but not challenging curves. As we went higher, the panoramic views of the surrounding mountain range became more spectacular and the road became more challenging, dominated by tighter turns and more severe drop-offs. With a treeline at about 12,000 feet, much of our climb was done in a rugged, rocky terrain that starkly attested to the powerful geologic forces that lie within the earth, creating mountains and then bringing them down again. The occasional critter (pikas?) scurrying across the road broke our concentration from time to time but the unseeable but always present chasms on the downhill side of the road consistently refocused our attention. By the time we passed the road construction at mile marker 9 (frost heaves had severely damaged the road), the temperature had dropped considerably and the road had definitely become more challenging. Steep grades and tight hairpins reduced our ascent speed to 10 mph or less, a pace which we had rarely seen all week. CB chatter was terse. “Sharp right, sharp left, sharp right, sharp left. Car coming down. Clear. Clear. Clear.” The climb continued with each hairpin teasingly but falsely offering the “final” climb until, finally, we reached the blustery summit at more than 14,200 feet where car-bound tourists shivered in their hiking shorts and hastily donned sweatshirts.
With temps in the upper 30s and wind blowing steadily on numb fingers and cold cheeks, we stayed long enough to capture a few pictures, take a lasting look at the rugged and awesome Rockies from one of their highest peaks, and headed down. A couple of us spotted our first mountain goats (we had already seen big horn sheep) of the trip near the top of the peak just before the first hairpin on the way down.
Down was the easier direction, except that for much of the downward trip the right lane hugged the edge of the drop-off and parts of the road had, in fact, dropped off. (The Park Service did, however, mark the road collapses with cute little orange cones, which would have been of little help keeping us on the road had we had veered a foot or two closer to the edge.) I believe Brian referred to this stretch as the “White-Knuckle, Butt-Cheek-Pucker Highway,” though most of us found the views inspiring and uplifting. All depends on perspective, I guess.
Back down at the 10,500 foot level, we rewarded ourselves with lunch. I, naturally, had cherry pie and coffee as a tribute to my pie-laden Ride West. Pie is a good lunch at any elevation.
For the rest of the day, until we reached Westminster and our hotel, we rode at a fairly aggressive pace through the remaining mountains and foothills, when traffic allowed, despite suiting up once again for the afternoon rain that seems to be an indispensable part of the August Rocky Mountain experience. But the quick pace was a mixed bag. On one hand, the adrenaline-producing exhilaration of diving hard into a turn was hard to resist. On the other hand, we knew in our hearts that the faster we rode, the faster our time in the mountains would end. And we didn’t want it to end.
I said this was a day of high points. Clearly, Mount Evans was the highest elevation of our trip and thus a “high point.”
But another, and for me, more meaningful high point of this trip was being part of the Twisted Riders. Steve, Curt, Gary, Dennis, Brad, Scott, Ron, Brian and Kevin have in many ways over the last six days made me a better motorcycle rider. I wrote in the first blog of the Ride West that I expected to make new friends. I have. I’m very appreciative of their friendship and their willingness to include me as one of the band of Twisted Riders. It’s been a great ride, a great experience and a great adventure. Thanks guys. I look forward to many more miles and many more laughs.
Extra Note: On our first day of the Twisted Riders adventure in Colorado, I noted the hot air balloon send off. Tonight when we arrived safe yet weary back at our starting point, the kind folks of Colorado had apparently arranged for an impressive airshow as an F-18 went through its gravity-defying paces, aerobatic planes danced in the sky, and formations of planes trailed a smoky “Welcome Back” salute in the skies over Westminster. The Welcome Back was finished off with a pyrotechnic display that dramatically lit the sky after dark. This state is REALLY bike friendly. (On the other hand, it’s possible that the airshow MIGHT have been planned without any knowledge of the Twisted Riders’ presence in the Rocky Mountain State and that it was just a coincidence. You be the judge.)
Tomorrow: We all head east. I will split off at Salina, Kansas, to visit family in Wichita and keep an eye on tropical storm/hurricane Issac headed for Florida. I will offer a summary of the Ride West in the next day or two on this blog and I hope you’ll check back for that. Please feel free to leave comments about what you think of a bearded wild man who flees West to eat pie at unexpected times and terrify local wildlife by roaring through their world on a tw0-wheeled roaring steed.
Thanks, everyone, for letting me share the Ride West.
Ride West: Day 22 to Breckenridge
If you’re looking for more pictures of Colorado’s geologic wonders or tourist Meccas, you can stop now. There won’t be any in today’s blog. Because today was not about sight-seeing. It was about riding. Motorcycle riding. Of course we saw mountains. I mean, we are in Colorado. We saw beautiful countryside, rich farmland, national forests, the scars left by a forest fire and a llama ranch. And we ended up in Breckenridge, which is a tourist destination of the highest order for summer hikers, winter skiers and shoppers of kitsch and “I Went to Breckenridge” t-shirts in all seasons
Months ago, Kevin Rasmussen, one of the Twisted Riders, had carefully plotted today’s route, studying maps and scouring various forums for advice on which area roads would guarantee a challenging ride. Good job, Kevin. Without trying to re-create the route, suffice it to say that we rode a good mixture of US highways (50 and 285) State Highways (9) and several well-maintained hidden gem county roads that offered some of the best riding of the day. From broad sweepers to 180 degree hairpins, these county roads provided just the challenge these skilled riders were looking for.
Not all the roads were twisties, of course, and when we ran on straight roads we generally cruised at the posted speed limit (well, maybe slightly above). But once we hit the twisties all the riders knew the time had come for five or ten minutes of quick, throttle-twisting riding up, down, and around the mostly small mountains, leaning hard into the curves, straightening the bike back up, then racing along a short straight stretch before gently tapping the brakes and leaning hard again into the next curve. To the Twisted Riders, this is “pace” riding and it’s why they ride. When a mountain or valley had been conquered, we settled down to a more acceptable speed until the next challenge sent us careening through rock-wall-hugging curves once again.
Several of the Twisted Riders told me that today’s ride was more like their normal rides, which often occur in the mountains of West Virginia, Virginia and North Carolina. For them, it’s generally the road and not the sights that bring them to an area to ride. However, I must admit that they, riding almost effortlessly, found time to casually comment about the beauty of some of the mountains we passed or crystal clear streams we followed while I, on the other hand, with the pucker factor fully engaged, was focused intently on keeping the motorcycle in front of me in sight and staying in the 12 foot zone delineated by the white line to my right and the yellow line to my left. Pace riding with the Twisted Riders is challenging, exhilarating and life affirming. Hell, it’s just great fun.
Relying on a friend’s advice, Kevin took us to Zoka’s Restaurant and Bar in Pine, Colorado, far from the beaten path on Country Road 126 in Jefferson County. Run by a husband and wife and a professional chef, they make all their own sauces, smoke all of their own meats, and even brine their own corned beef for their outstanding Rueben sandwiches. The service was attentive and quick and the owners gracious and helpful. It was a perfect lunch stop on a great riding day.
The weather for the morning ride, which began at 8:30, was cloudy and cool but no rain, even though we could frequently see sheets of water shroud distant mountain peaks in sheets of gray-white mist. After lunch, that changed, and the rain, which seemed to be all around us, kept coming closer and closer. We thought for a while we might be able to carve a path through the isolated mountain storms to Breckenridge, but at a gas stop in Fairplay, only 25 miles from our destination, we were forced to once again climb into protective rain gear for the final ride up to and over the 11,500 foot Hoosier Pass. The higher we climbed, the more intense the rainfall, and by the time we reached the summit, we had ridden through the hardest rain we had seen all week. Shortly after cresting the pass, though, the rain slacked off and almost stopped and all we had to contend with was wet, slick hairpin turns as we descended 2,000 feet to the collection of t-shirt shops and sporting goods stores known as Breckenridge.
As we checked in at the old but comfortable Wayside Inn, there were smiles all round from Twisted Riders who knew they had done what they love to do best: Ride hard with good friends.
Tomorrow: An assault on Mt. Evans should be in the cards.
Ride West: Day 21 To Salida
How much fun can you squeeze into 11 hours of motorcycle riding? A lot. Even when several of those hours include riding in the rain at 47 degrees along a mountain pass where the outside edge of the road on which a white line should be painted has crumbled into the canyon 5oo feet below.
Yes, it was 11 hours plus a few minutes from the time we pulled out of our Grand Junction motel until we rolled in to the motel parking lot in Salida, still exhilarated from our ascent and decent of Monarch Pass (elevation 11, 300 feet) on US highway 50. I’m not sure if it was because we were anxious to get to Salida or everyone just wanted a chance to let it out after proceeding cautiously in the rain earlier, but the summit ride was done at “pace” (i.e. considerably faster than the local gendarmes would allow if they had witnessed our nefarious motoring activity).
Back to the beginning. Of the day. The first 60 miles was an easy ride down a relatively straight US highway 50 flanked by dun colored mesas on our right and gray mountains on our left. This was ranching country in the valley between the two geologic uplifts and cattle, horses, and the occasional cowboy and cowgirl watched us with little interest as we motored steadily south.
As we passed through Delta again and on to Montrose, the gray skies under which we had been riding were turning darker and the occasional raindrop was becoming more common. We dug into our packs and attired ourselves in rain gear as a precaution. Good thing, because we were headed south on the “Million Dollar Highway” (aka US Route 550) and precautions there are a must.
By the time we got to the novel town of Ourey, we had been in and out of light rain several times, so we stopped to take a look around and to prepare ourselves for the assault on the looming mountains. Boasting 1,000 happy citizens, Ourey is an interesting little town with lots of shops, including candy stores which are open early in the morning and which sell tasty hard candy and delicious almond and pistachio chocolate covered toffee which sticks to your teeth and makes you wish you had a good cup of strong coffee to wash it down and melt it off your teeth and warm you up a little bit if its 52 degrees and sprinkling. But I digress; this is about motorcyle riding.
Immediately on leaving Ourey on US Route 550 and climbing several hundred feet, an awesome view of the town and the surrounding colorful crags offers itself, but we could only glance for a second or two because the rapidly rising and twisting highway demanded our full attention. Ouray sits at about 7,800 feet and we were about to climb more than 3,000 feet to the Red Mountain Pass over a road that requires constant attention from highway maintenance crews. The Million Dollar Highway has an inopportune habit of collapsing in chunks large and small to the valley below. The mountain on which the road was constructed responds like all things to the law of gravity and the second law of thermodynamics and has a tendency to seek a lower level, even if there is a highway in the way. Indeed, as we rode through, two separate road crews were responding to the collapsing road, shoring it up, even if only temporarily.
The view from the Million Dollar Highway (named for its cost per mile), for those who chose to look at something other than the road, was stupendous. Huge, soaring, steep-sided, red and salmon-colored mountains, flush with verdant conifers, rise above and a rushing, cascading, russet-colored stream flows below. It’s views like this that bring flatlanders like us to Colorado and that cause us to say repeatedly: “Holy crap. Did you see that? Wow!”
Red Mountain Pass is named for several red mountains (duh!) that dominate the skyline and which were and are the site of mining activity due to their high iron content. Even in the dull light of a rainy August morning, the red mountains make us, for a second, take our eyes off the road and wonder if we’re seeing something unnatural in nature. They were, in short, hypnotically beautiful. But we see them only for a second because the race down the other side of the pass toward Silverton is on and the 10 mph and 15 mph wet hairpin turns on the mountain sides once again focus our attention on the ride. Chasing down the mountain, we emerged, finally, in Silverton, frazzled yet stimulated and ready for lunch.
Lunch is always a big part of each day’s ride. Today’s location had been visited recently by Guy Fiere of Drive-ins, Diners and Dives fame and seemed like a good bet for good food. Thee Pitts Again BBQ joint’s bright pink exterior and it’s equally bright pink delivery truck caught our eye and the choice was not regretted by anyone. Great food, and great service from 11-year old “Blaze” who’s probably the hardest working 11-year old in Silverton. We didn’t ask why he wasn’t in school as he hustled to and from the kitchen bringing trays of barbecue, chili and cornbread.
With barbecue sauce dripping from our thankful lips, we dressed again in our cold-weather and rain gear for the ride back north on Route 550 in the 47 degree light rain. The trip back was, of course, similar to the trip over. Great views for those who cared and wet, slick roads for everyone. This trip through Ouray resulted in only a 60-second stop for a brief costume change and then back to Montrose and Highway 50.
Fortunately, as went north the rain abated and the sun tried desperately and sometimes successfully to break through the hoovering clouds to warm us up. I say fortunately because the next leg of our trip involved the Black Canyon of the Gunnison, which we probably would have skipped if the chilling precipitation had continued.
The Black Canyon of the Gunnison, about 20 miles east and north of Montrose, is a sheer-walled canyon carved by the Gunnison River over tens of millions of years as the geology of the area went through dramatic changes. Most significant for tourists such as us, was the chance to view the largest cliff face in Colorado at 2,300 feet. As the National Park Service interpretive sign at the site informed us, you could stack two Empire State Buildings in the canyon and they still wouldn’t reach the top of the canyon. We toured the top of the canyon, breathlessly taking in several breath-taking views, and then took another road (less traveled?) which led to the bottom of the canyon in a switch-back filled, three mile decent that, as the WARNING signs said, had a 16 percent grade. Next time you’re on a road and a sign warns of a 7 or 8 or 9 percent grade, you may get a sense of how steep this road was. All of crept down the road in first or second gear and the flash of brake lights was commonplace on the trip down. The trip up the canyon road was a little more fun as we put our bikes through their paces on a tough course.
Safely out of the canyon, we headed for Salida. You’ve already read the highlight of that Monarch Pass leg in the second paragraph of today’s blog, so I’m done. And tired.
Tomorrow: Hmmm. Let’s see. How about more mountain roads with an ending in Breckenridge.
Ride West: Day 20 To Grand Junction
Occasionally on an adventure such as this a day unfolds like a multi-course meal at a fine restaurant. Today was one of those rare days.
We started with an appetizer that took us a brief distance up the aptly-named Frying Pan Road. An appetizer should pique one’s interest but not fill one up. This ride did that. We only went a few miles up the road, which followed the stream that ran behind our hotel, and then turned around and came back to our starting point. A couple of easy curves, some nice scenic views of impressive rock formations and one gorgeous look at a mountain in the distance. But it was a tasty beginning to the day’s menu.
For our next course, a salad perhaps, we rode west on Colorado Highway 82 along a valley filled with mountains rising on either side of us, funneling us toward Colorado Highway 133, where we banked south. Pulling over to stop for a clothing change to accommodate rising elevation and dropping temperatures, we found ourselves at the historic Redstone Coke Ovens, which are currently being restored. Dating back to the late 19th century these ovens converted bituminous coal to coke for use in smelting iron in foundries. Redstone had, in fact, been created as a company town by the owner of the coal mines and the coke ovens.
Continuing southwest with massive mountains poking their treeless tops into the clouds, we crested Highway 133 at McClure Pass (elevation 8,500 feet) and began a descent that ended in Hotchkiss and a trip to the Cowboy Collectibles store, which turned out to be both a tack and saddle store and a collection of artistic cowboy items, including a beautiful, hand-tooled saddle.
Hotchkiss sits at a little over 5,000 feet and between there and Delta where we stopped for lunch at Wilson’s Barbeque and Beans, the countryside is dominated by orchards, wineries, and farming operations of many varieties. But the area also contains desert-like landscapes where nothing green met the searching eye. At less than 5,000 feet elevation, Delta was the lowest point on the Twisted Riders trip since we left Denver.
And now for the main course. Backtracking slightly after lunch at Delta we headed north on Colorado Highway 65, climbing steadily through the Grand Mesa National Forest to more than 11,000 feet. The Grand Mesa, bordered by the Colorado River to the north and the Gunnison River to the South, is a rugged, forested table-land that, at its edges, offers spectacular view of the valleys below, whether looking to the south back toward Delta or to the west toward Grand Junction.
Even from the top of the mesa, however, the mountains to the north towered above our position. The ride up and down the mesa was exhilarating, as all climbs and descents are, and the winding roads through the forest added their share of excitement. Once down from the mesa, it wasn’t far to Interstate 70 and Grand Junction and our hotel.
But the meal wasn’t over. We required dessert. And for dessert, we chose the Colorado National Monument, the same ride Jon and I took on Day 11of the Ride West. Brad Dykes, my roommate for this week, had been to the Monument several times before and both he and I tried to prepare the others for the treat that awaited their palates.
But they were still surprised by the awesome views of the multiple, shear-sided, red-walled canyons that awaited at the top of the Monument and by the 24 miles of twisting road that hugged the precipitous drop to the canyon floor below. The most common comment was: “Wow!” It was, I think a great way to end today’s moveable feast.
Tomorrow: More Colorado Wonders to our south and east
Ride West: Day 19 To Basalt
Cloudy skies loomed overhead as we packed this morning and prepared for a 250 mile jaunt through Colorado’s bike-friendly mountainous terrain. But the ride would have to wait until we first visited the Glory Hole. Few things could possibly start a day off with greater promise than an early visit to the Glory Hole. From the outside, the Glory Hole may not look like much, but once you’re in the Glory Hole it’s a different story.
The Glory Hole, as some of you have guessed (and the rest of you have dirty minds) is a restaurant in Hot Sulfur Springs with great food, better service and a fascinating fishing/outdoors motif. Everyone filled up on omelets, biscuits and gravy and “really good” French Toast. Now we were ready to ride.
We headed west along gently twisting US 40 to Kremmling at a solid but not overly aggressive pace. Soon after passing Kremmling, we had our first splatter of moisture as a cold, misty rain began falling lightly, a condition that dogged us for most of the rest of the day. Whether the temperatures were in the upper 50s or, more often, in the mid to low 40s, we ascended and descended various mountains roads along our path.
After a brief sprint east on a rainy I-70, we shot south on US 24 and climbed steeply to Leadville whose lofty position at more than 10,000 feet makes it the highest incorporated municipality in the United States. Lunch at Leadville at a cafe was good, but the highlight was being served by a waitress from Nebraska whose previous job had been as a police officer in Leadville, a job which lasted until she got her face smashed in breaking up a bar fight and then found little solace or support from her colleagues on the force. We’re glad she left law enforcement because she was a great waitress.
From Leadville to Aspen and then to Basalt, our cold and soggy route took us up the precipitous incline to Independence Pass at slightly more than 12,000 feet. The trip to the top was breathtaking, for those who cared to take their eyes off the slick and winding road and look over the side to the stream-carved valley several thousand feet below. It was raining at the top and we didn’t pause for pictures, but during a near-break in the constant drizzle that was only about 10 degrees shy of solidity we paused long enough to take in the rain-soaked beauty that surrounded us on today’s ride.
Passing through Aspen the clouds finally parted–hallelujah–and by the time we got to Basalt, about 15 miles west of Aspen, we were under blue skies and more than ready to shed our rain gear and cold weather gear in the 80 degree heat. Much superior to last night’s lodging, the Aspenalt Lodge in Basalt was an excellent choice for ending the day. With a cliche-like babbling brook flowing just outside our doors and picnic tables which held a variety of libations, we settled in for an affable evening of camaraderie.
Today’s entry wouldn’t be complete without mention of our lobster-fest. Curt, scouting the area near our hotel, discovered a hidden culinary treasure in an outdoor seafood take-away stand that tendered a Monday night half-price special on lobster. Like a shepherd gathering wayward sheep, Curt herded us to the peculiar and apparently nameless stand where we dined on $10 lobsters and other assorted seafood offerings at outdoor tables that presented views of downtown Basalt framed by the the Rockies above. The proprietor, overwhelmed by our eagerness to enjoy discounted crustaceans, was nevertheless thrilled that the Twisted Riders apparently eliminated his lobster stock.
Tomorrow: Off to Grand Junction and the Colorado National Monument (which Jon and I thoroughly enjoyed a week ago)
Ride West: Day 18. To Hot Sulphur Springs
As we left Westminster (Denver) at 8 am under a brilliant blue sky with the majestic Rockies looming before us, the good people of Colorado gave us an appropriate send-off as a half dozen colorful hot air balloons rose above the city to, I assume, wish us “Good Riding.”
The ten bikes that make up this year’s Twisted Riders Tour passed through Boulder, the holy site of my nativity, but we didn’t stop. The manger was probably gone anyway.
The ride up Boulder Canyon was good but it was Sunday morning and the road had more than enough cars on it to keep us at the speed limit. We headed for Estes Park and the entrance to the Rocky Mountain National Park where I once again broke out my senior pass and saved another $10.
The Park shows off the mountains to great advantage and all the Riders remarked repeatedly on the awesome beauty that literally met them at every turn. We stopped briefly at a visitors center, despite having its entrance road under construction and completely torn up.
On the way back to the main road Brian got caught up in some soft dirt on the shoulder and ended up in the ditch about three feet below the road surface. He kept his bike upright but the soft dirt wouldn’t allow for an easy return to the road. Four helping hands and a little Harley torque lifted the bike and it’s rider back to the road. No harm done, except to Brian’s pride. And it did give me something to write about.
We headed west through the park on US 34/ Trail Ridge Road, which goes over a pass at 13,200 feet, making it the highest paved through road in the United States. The road, built in the early 1930s to improve tourists’ visit to the Park, climbs 4,000 feet to its highest point. We stopped briefly at a visitor’s center near the top where the wind was blowing and the temperature was somewhere in the mid to upper 40s. Great views, though, because we were well above the tree line.
We went at a forced, leisurely pace down the mountains to the western side where we were still at 8500 feet when we stopped at the picturesque Grand Lake Lodge for a nicely done Sunday brunch. A short ride after lunch brought us to our hotel in Hot Sulphur Springs by 3 pm. Half an an hour later, seven of us were racing on the road at a much more aggressive pace up to and then down from Berthoud Pass (elevation 11,300 ft). I discovered pretty quickly that the 96 cubic inch Harley was not going to keep pace with the Hondas and BMWs but I didn’t lose too much ground. Today’s second ride definitely got the adrenaline flowing.
Tomorrow: Off to Basalt, south of where we are now.
“I can’t wait to get on the road again.”