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.