Riding out to the 2013 CZAR

(For those of you who aren’t in the know, CZAR stands for the Colorado Zidecar Annual Rally.)

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“We need a time to meet,” Darrell had posted for the CZAR (Colorado Zidecar Annual Rally).

I know the mentality of the group brain—where indecisiveness reigns undefeated. But more importantly I know my sleep patterns and I know I ride with a group of people who rise for the day right around the time I go to bed.

“9 am. We should definitely meet at 9am.”

“Will that be enough time to get to the campground?”

“Absolutely.” And to my credit, it was.

This year’s CZAR took place near Taylor Park Reservoir in the Gunnison National Forest. My initial idea was to ride Weston Pass, then over Cottonwood Pass, but Darrell suggested riding part of the Colorado Backcountry Discovery Route, so I pulled up the GPS waypoints and plotted our route.

Now I regret to inform you that I’ve ridden down US 285 from C470 to all points west so many times that it is hardly worth a mention. To sum up there are, in no particular order: cops, twisties, canyons, RVs, mountains (and their associated passes), rivers, and places to stop. And it is all quite beautiful with my favorite being Park County. As you come off Kenosha Pass and the valley opens up in front of you, it looks like time forgot about this area. Pasture and farm land slope up to aspens, pines, and rock outcroppings.

We gassed up in Fairplay where Piper discovered an issue with her clutch: It wouldn’t disengage when she squeezed the lever. Darrell fiddled with it with mixed success, but enough to get us rolling again.

Just before where US 24 connects to US 285, we turned right onto Salt Creek Rd. And once again I rode through new territory. The ride was gorgeous—more specifically the road was a standard mix of hard pack, sand, and gravel, and the view won the award for easy on the eyes. Grass pastures mixed with tall pines and distant mountains. Luckily I rode in the lead (Lucky because I forgot to pack my air filter and we kicked up a bit of dust).

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There were many campsites along the road, places to pull off, set up a tent or trailer, and cast a line in the stream burbling through. Beaver dams created ponds, but we saw no beavers (Never have either. Perhaps they’re nocturnal.) The land was so abundant with nature going on that I even saw a raven hop away with something that looked like a hamster. I saw no lost signs for Mr. Fluffers, family hamster at large, so perhaps it was just a prairie dog.

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One issue with Urals is how fast the clutch overheats. Rumor has it there’s a new clutch coming out for it, but until I get one of these fabled creatures, I have to be careful with packing heavy loads and/or passengers. We were all loaded down, and coming over a few passes on the way had started working on our clutches. We had to downshift more frequently and I can’t imagine what Darrell had to deal with using an intermittent clutch.

The roads we traveled were forest service roads that branched often, leaving me to pause frequently to consult my GPS, but we managed to stay on course. The road changed often, and knowing I’d return on 2 wheels later this summer I took mental notes. Initially things looked fine: Sparse gravel on hard packed dirt. Then larger rocks and potholes. Okay. Still manageable. This was followed by up and downs, rocks and dumps. Well….Okay. Sure. I can make this work.

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Then we happened upon our first water crossing. At the bottom of a hill I pulled up short. Not the best place to stop, but I couldn’t justify riding full throttle through a water feature where I couldn’t see the bottom. Remember my inaugural post?

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Darrell and Piper pulled up next to me and we plumbed the depths by sticking long branches to see how deep the creek really was. The worst we found was about a foot deep so we made our decision to plow through and I handed over my camera to record the glory or embarrassment. Turns out glory was in our hands!

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I splashed through with no problems until I started climbing up the opposite side. I made it to the bend in the road with high RPM, parked, and took over the camera. Darrell forded the stream next, then Piper (note how near perfect her technique is). Both of their rigs paused on the upward climb out and we had to push them up the hill a little ways before their clutches caught enough to make it to the top.

Now there are two schools of thought on going through water, demonstrated by Darrell and Piper. The proper way:

and the correct way:

Yep. She went so fast that I didn’t have time to capture the entire splash through. Note the scream of excitement, the timber in her voice as water soaks in everywhere. Brilliant. A group of ATVs and dirt bikes came around the bend and just ploughed through the stream throwing up a wall of water so tall that I’m surprised there is still a drought in Eastern Colorado. Oh well.

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Once Piper and Darrell got their rigs up the hill, which required a sharp left turn over ruts, soft sand and rocks, I found I had gotten my rig stuck in 2 wheel drive. I tried the normal tricks to kick it out, but nothing worked so I rode up the hill with the sidecar wheel engaged. With a little more room at the top, we were able to pop it out of 2 wheel drive and I could continue riding normally.

It was right around this area that I would’ve started crying on my F650 GS. The road, with all its dips, and twists, changed into sand, then deep sand. My Ural Patrol slipped through the deepest of sand traps and I tried to find paths through that would be the best on the Beemer—paths that would be long gone by the time I returned. If I ever thought the Utah Backcountry Discovery Route had deep sand and silt, this took my issues to a new level (Please stand by. I’m sure I’ll blog about riding the CO BDR on two wheels toward the end of summer.)

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Darrell’s clutch continued to act up so we rode straight for Buena Vista, got gas and headed up Cottonwood Pass. The sooner we got to the campground, the sooner Darrell could poke around to see if his clutch was fixable.

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The eastern side of Cottonwood Pass is paved all the way up to the 12k foot summit, making it accessible to everyone. Cars that came up behind me passed when it was clear, despite the 35mph speed limit—which turned out to be perfect for my loaded down Ural. Darrell and Piper slowly dropped behind me (I had a lighter load). I pulled over at the summit to make sure there were still with me and to snap some photos.

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Now it was all downhill from here. Literally. We forewent the rest of the Colorado BDR along our route and stuck to the main road in case the clutch completely failed on Darrell. But we got stuck behind a road grader, and despite snacking along the route on homemade beef jerky and granola bars, what I lacked was caffeine. I felt like I could doze off at any time, so I stood on the pegs, sang into my helmet, and kept myself alert until we pulled into our campground.

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Craig and Julie had long since made it in, and when they offered coffee I felt an insurmountable joy that only the caffeine addicted can truly feel. Darrell tinkered with his rig and we (The “royal we” as I just sat and watched since I don’t really understand the clutch assembly) tightened bolts, tested the clutch and threw out all sorts of hypotheses we felt we could test in a campground without the luxury of a garage and all its tools.

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I understand the frustration that comes with not being able to fix your bike on a ride. You want things to come off perfectly with issues that aren’t insurmountable. I feel it all the time when I fall over on my GS (I do it often enough), and with every piece I break, or which suddenly stops working and I have no idea why. With every odd sound I start to worry about what could be wrong and whether I can fix it on my own, or if will it be another expensive trip to the dealership. Fortunately I don’t have this problem with my Ural since 1. It is newer, and 2. I have yet to fall over on it.

The rest of the trip has been well documented by both Dom and Darrell, but to sum up, food was eaten, coffee drunk, hero’s made, and other characters rescue in only the most heroic of settings. With each year (okay, so there’s only been two) the CZAR gets better, and I can already tell you the games we have planned for 2014 should not be missed! Mark your calendars now!

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