Rawhyde Adventure (Graduation test)

It was 10pm on Sunday night as I zipped up my rain gear. To the northwest, a storm grew and lightning struck in the distance.

Sunday's Storm
(For many reasons, I don’t have pictures of the stormy ride home, so these are shots I took from Rawhyde’s Colorado base.)

It had been an exhausting weekend, but with the knowledge I learned and the thought of sleeping in my own bed with my wife, gave me the energy to ride the 3 hours home.

IMG_2338_edited

Raindrops hit my visor and windscreen and I started my bike and turned off the ABS. I had become a pro at turning it off, and skilled at riding off-road. Even today we took a fun ride through the slickest mud I’ve seen since my first epic fall in the mud trying to complete the southern Colorado section of the Great Divide Trail.

IMG_2304_edited

If you peruse my past ride reports here (at least those on two wheels), you will see the recurring theme is of me falling, or trying not to fall, and for quite a few years now I’ve been lamenting not being able to take a class that would teach me how to ride my GS off-road.

IMG_2327_edited

Sure I’ve known of the Rawhyde classes, but I wasn’t going to travel all the way to California to enroll. I simply didn’t have that kind of time or cash. But when they opened up shop here in Colorado I had no excuse but to save my pennies. I even thought of the class as a way to save money from not buying all the parts I might break on my bike in the myriad of falls I take (this is still only a hypothesis, so don’t quote me on that!) Plus, I want to upgrade to the 800 GS soon, so getting some skills and confidence are high on my list of “upgrades” I’d like with a new bike.

I kicked my 650 into first gear, revving the engine and slipping the clutch. Since I spent the entire weekend without loaded down panniers, the bike responded sluggishly and I had to add more throttle. I crunched out over gravel, rode through the gate and into the darkness.

IMG_2289 edited

Naturally the rain started right up. Big drops indicated towering cumulus clouds above. I switched between high and low beams, wishing I had an auxiliary light. But I kept the speed slow and my upper body loose as I stood on the pegs, taking the turns back to the main county road.

IMG_2334

When I got to Country Road 53, the rain came down steadily and since I stood, it ran down into my gloves. I flipped on my heated grips and kept riding. What else could you do? The smartest thing would’ve been to stay the night.

IMG_2270

Lightning flashed in the distance, briefly illuminating the landscape and reminding me of the storm scene in All the Pretty Horses. A rabbit, caught in the side beam of my headlight raced toward my front tire only to veer away at the last moment. Way too quick do one of the panic stops we learned that day.

IMG_2324

I kept riding. More lightning, more rain in my gloves, and more miles passed below me. The road varied between washboard gravel, hard packed mud and just slick sections with puddles, but my training served me well. Every once in a mile there was a wobble and a slight meandering of the bike, but I stayed upright and didn’t worry, even smiling at some of the small challenges that cropped up.

Once I hit the highway, I turned the ABS back on, and lit out for home. The rain had stopped and eventually the roads would dry out. I crawled into bed after midnight and even now as I write this, I am looking forward to my next off-road adventure. Maybe the road to Moffat Tunnel. Now I just have to find the time.

IMG_2313_edited

It had been a short but packed weekend, but that final ride in the rain felt like my graduation test. And I feel I passed with flying colors.

Advertisements

Great Divide Fail. Days 1 and 2.

For once I got to have a lazy Saturday morning before our trip, as we would ride only as far south as Santa Fe to stay with some friends. Dezso showed up around 1 and with loaded bikes we took off down I-25, wanting to make good time.

Near Walsenburg, Dezso said his Scala rider intercom system had come off, the sticker portion having finally worn away.

Image

We pulled off at a no name exit and made it secure with a little JB Weld. It held for good.

Image

The rest of the ride to Santa Fe was uneventful aside from a deer that ran out in front of Dezso around dusk. We stopped for a 6-pack, then zipped over to our host’s place for a dinner that awaited us. Best meal of the trip.

Image

I had agreed to wake up early on this trip, due to concern about afternoon thunderstorms bogging us down. I struggled awake at 6:30 each morning, groping for coffee until my mind was relatively clear.

Image
(My vice. I’ll always stop at Whataburger.)

We loaded up and talked about dual sport riding and our Beemers with Dave and Faith, noticing the same glimmer in their eyes that I had before I bought mine. Sure enough, not even an hour down the road, Dave had emailed that they were looking at GSs in their area. They are not strangers to motorcycles, having ridden Harleys since their teens. Dave has always been a font of information to help me when I’m ready to pull out the Emergency Roadside Dynamite (patent pending) for a more permanent solution to something I can’t figure out. But I believe this was the first time they’ve been tempted by dual sport riding.

South of Albuquerque things (yes things) crawled across the road. I thought they were tarantulas as something in my brain remembered something about those hairy little monsters being prevalent down here. I mentioned it to Dezso who rode for about 50 miles with his feet on his handlebars (in full disclosure, I’m even worse when it comes to snakes. I just hate those little bastards). At some point we realized they weren’t hairy, crawling death, but monster sized grasshoppers (locusts? I don’t know,)

Image

Image

We passed through Hatch, NM and could smell the roasting chiles in the air. Each restaurant featured red or green chiles on their store front, and I wished I could’ve picked up some for the trip. We pushed on, passing a border patrol checkpoint before fueling up in Deming.

As we filled up a red mustang with Minnesota plates pulled in too. The driver got out and asked me what that checkpoint was all about, which kinda amused me. There’s quite a different border up north.

We made it to Segar and jumped on the Great Divide Trail. Light gravel made it easy for Dezso to zip off in front, but it had been awhile since I had been on anything other than pavement and I took it slower, still remembering the highlights reel of my greatest slips and spills.

Image

I still put Dezso in the lead when it comes to off-road riding as I like the warnings of what’s to come. In the washes and gullies, the sand was thick and deep, so we both took it slow in these areas, speeding up for stretches of road that were on high ground.

In a surprising turn of events, Dezso was the first to go down. He made it through deep sand in a dry creek bed, but his balance got thrown off bumping up the other side. Two wobbles later and he went down, somehow getting his pants leg stuck on his pannier and giving it a good whack. I rode over slowly and made it without falling before helping Dezso pick his bike up. He limped around on his leg, trying to work out the pain. Nothing felt broken and no ligaments seemed torn, so he’d probably just end up with some bruising.

Image

A few more turns, and we got to the next sandy creek bottom, this time with river cobbles as well. Dezso made it through, and I took a spill, pinning my ankle under my pannier (I am SERIOUSLY thinking about getting soft bags!). You know the calcaneus?

Yeah, that was the contact point with the pannier.

“Dude,” Dezso said. “Did you just face plant?”

“Yeah, and I can’t get up. I’m pinned under the bike. Come help me.” I was face down and couldn’t twist around to lift the bike off of me. I tried using my free foot to dig out from around my pinned foot, but it didn’t work as I intended.

I bet we made a funny sight: me, face down kissing America, and Dezso hobbling over as fast as he could to help get me out from under the bike. Me, cursing in pain because of the pannier, and him cursing in pain because of the weight he put on his leg.

Once again, we got the bike off of my ankle and onto its kickstand to assess the damage. The mirror had twisted loose and once again, battery acid leaked out—I really hate this function of my 2001 F650 GS: the open cell battery. As many times as I fall over, there’s always battery acid leaking out, and from what I’ve been told, I can’t put a closed cell battery in! (Someone who has one please tell me I’m wrong.)

We rode for a little while longer, stopping for Dezso to walk out his leg and to take some photos. I looked down and noticed my handlebar weight was now missing. I guess the drop had loosened it enough to vibrate off. And where my hand rests on the grip and my arm angles up, I couldn’t have seen it drop off anyway. I rode back for about a mile to look for it, but I couldn’t find it.

Image
(Never seen anyone actually put the “no pants” part of this sign. I wonder if they actually had people come in sans pants.)

We rode into Silver City, NM and stopped at a gas station. A truck blasted Tejano music which put Dezso in the mood for Mexican food. (To be fair, the wind changing direction could put Dezso in the mood for Mexican food.) I got on Yelp and found a few places, but as we rode around town from one restaurant to the next, it became clear that this town shuts down on Sundays. We ended up at a bar and grill on the main highway with fairly tasty food and a cute bartendress to boot. We got a hotel room so Dezso could ice his leg and we could decide if we’d hit the trails or go to the ER in the morning.

They never warned us about the grasshoppers! Part 2 of the COBDR

We first awoke at 4am, courtesy of some large diesel truck rumbling through the park. We had no idea what he sought, but it certainly was annoying. I lingered awake only long enough to pull my keffiyeh over my head for the extra warmth.

The next time we awoke, it was dawn, but the sun hadn’t hit our tent, and the air was still chilly. Since this was vacation, we rolled over again until a “reasonable hour” had been reached, i.e. when the sun had warmed things up.

Image

We had a quick meal of coffee and granola bars before loading up and getting back on the BDR. We passed a sign that said Steamboat Springs was only 29 miles away. I had plenty of gas, having filled up from the jerry can. What I didn’t realize is that the BDR takes a few turns before reaching Steamboat, taking to all points west and possibly even close to the Pacific Ocean.

Deana spotted a side trail off to our right and wondered aloud about where it went. I turned around to find out. The path went up a slight hill before ending at a campsite. Cross beams lashed to trees indicated it must’ve been used for hunting, and the fire pit was large enough to warm quite a party, but the best part Deana spotted first.

“There’s an office chair over there.”

“What?” I asked and pulled over.  Sure enough an office chair sat sublimely in a sunbeam beneath the aspens. We took a few photos before returning to the BDR.

ImageImage

We passed through the town of Columbine, stopping to read a plaque telling the story of a mine there and how the owner of that mine chased his wife with a butcher knife to the town because “The voices in his head told him that her ghost would lead him to the gold.”

15 minutes later we rode past Steamboat Lake State Park. Okay, so we hadn’t been that far when we stopped for the night, but judging by the crowds, we did alright camping in the national forest. Houses dotted the fields around us as we twisted and turned in a direction that always seemed to be away from Steamboat Springs. Some houses looked like summer homes, and others looked lived in year round. Regardless, many had For Sale signs on them.

Image

Two hundred more turns and we rode past an elk farm (I wonder if they’d sell you a steak right before you camped for the night? If so, that’d be my plan for the next time down the BDR). Then there was farm and ranch land, and then—holy shit—the Valley of the Grasshoppers. I’m not talking about a few skipping merrily across the road. They jumped and flew everywhere—into the hack, all over Deana and me, our luggage, and yes, they even wedged themselves into the cooling fins on the cylinder heads.

Image

Deana set about removing the ones from the sidecar, no longer leaning in the turns because the little hoppers seemed to aim directly for her helmet (another great reason for ATGATT. I’d hate to see what would happen should one of those little buggers hop their way up your sleeve and commenced to bounce around your armpit!) Hazards like this should be marked on the map!

What felt like 28 days later we pulled up in Steamboat for gas and Deana continued to evict grasshoppers from our rig where birds made quick work of those that didn’t get away fast enough. As we were leaving, we got a text from Dezso.

“I know it’s short notice, but I’m going for a ride. Want to come?”

“We’re already on the BDR. Ride to Gypsum, then head north. We’ll meet you along the way.”

We continued south on paved roads until we reached the end of pavement marked by a sign that read “Impassable when wet.” Being on the Ural, I liked that! But as there were no rain clouds in the sky (yet) we couldn’t test that theory. As we rode down this road, I could guess at the meaning of the sign. From side to side, the road opened up in varying sizes of potholes. Fill those up with water and you just might have some hazards.

Image

We passed some cyclists, then some hikers and fishermen. Apparently this was a popular trail. When we stopped for some photos we noticed a roasting smell. It wasn’t quite bbq, but it wasn’t quite hamburgers grilling either. It turned out to be all the grasshoppers stuck in the cooling fins. I grabbed a stick and proceeded to flick out as many as I could reach.

Image

We passed Stagecoach State Park, not having realized there was such a large body of water up here. A couple of boats and jet skis dotted the water and it looked quite pleasant. We rode around the lake, hitting some pavement and some dirt roads.

Image

Now it started to look like rain. Dark clouds rolled past and we hoped we’d dodge the worst of it. I debated rain gear, but just ended up pulling on my jacket.  Lightening cracked overhead and it started to drizzle as we rode through more ranch land. Aspen covered slopes stretched up on our left, and pastures with a stream meandering through opened up on our right. It was definitely gorgeous up here.

Image

We passed a few trailheads and a semi rest area with bathrooms and an informative moose sign so we stopped for a coke and trail mix whilst we read the sign. Then we passed Hwy 134 and instead of going around, I took Deana down to see the stagecoach stop and the deep water crossing that I (somehow) crossed back in March. I knew it was too deep for the Ural since the air intake is under the seat and exhaust pipes are even lower than that.

Image

We returned to Hwy 134 and rode east to pick up the BDR on the other side of the water crossing, hoping we hadn’t passed Dezso somewhere within this area. The route dipped back into the forest mingled with cows grazing (always, there are cows grazing!) It looked like lots of beetle kill befell this area as many trees had been removed, scraped up into piles, or burn scars marked where they once stood. But aspens still grew tall, and it even looked like they popped up in areas where the pines once lived. Rain clouds kept pace with us, although little actually fell.

The road twisted and bucked its way through the folds of the mountains. Our sight was limited only to the heavy rain clouds and how much of the forest that had been left standing. Sometimes we could see across a small valley, sometimes it was only up to the next bend in the road. We had a few inclines (That usually start right after a horseshoe turn) where we had to shift down into first gear to make it up.

We broke out of the trees to the great Colorado River Valley, just above Radium. Below us bales of hay sat in fields and our view finally opened up for miles. Rafters, campers and kayakers stretched along the river banks.

Image

We crossed the Colorado, heading south on Hwy 11, finally meeting Dezso coming up the road. We stopped for snacks and to discuss our plans. Deana and I wanted to get dinner in Leadville, but since it was already well into the afternoon and we hadn’t even reached I-70 yet, we decided to cut out the next portion of the BDR, and head straight to Gypsum on paved roads.

Image

In town, I pulled over at the first gas station I saw. A Colorado State High Patrol pulled in next to us. He mentioned a huge storm was headed our way and to be careful. We could clearly see the storm he spoke of, and we didn’t want to get stuck on Hagerman Pass in what could easily turn into a snow storm at that altitude—that’s no way to get press for Ural motorcycles. As if we hadn’t already made up our minds, it started to pour as we finished gassing up. So we turned around and rode up US 6, then up US 24 to Leadville.

We outran the first part of this storm, then caught it just past Minturn it started raining on us. Due to the steep grade, I slowed down to between 30 and 45 mph, and we rolled through Leadville and found a commercial campground near town. In fact it was the first campground I came to. Usually I’m not interested in these, but it was getting late and I was ready to set up our tents and get over to The Grill for the best red chili enchiladas in the state. We bought a bundle of wood and set up our camp next to a nice family from Indiana.

It rained pretty hard during dinner, but held off enough to us to ride back to camp and stay up a while longer. Unfortunately our wood was damp, but we managed to light it with the coercion of lighter fluid. It gave a half-hearted attempt to burn while we chatted with the family next door. Eventually we gave up and went to bed. It rained all night and as the air leaked from our air mattress, I thought we might have had better luck in a motel room.

Are you wondering about the above photo? Did I sink or swim? Read on.

Dezso had texted me to see if I was interested in riding another section of Great Divide Trail. I was in the middle of packing for a week-long work trip followed by another week of camping. Needless to say I was quite busy.

“Sure,” I texted back, showing my first lapse in judgment.

“7am at the Conoco in Morrison.”

“Really!? Freak. Make it 8.”

“7:45.”

“Fine.”

The rising sun and I are rarely on the best of terms, but I had to concede an early departure would mean an early return to packing for my trips. It would be a simple ride up I-70 to Frisco where we’d head north on the trail to Kremmling. I consoled myself that there is a great coffee shop there.

So I strapped on my still banged-up pannier, loaded my tank bag, and filled my jacket and pants with their winter liners (Colorado has become cold in the mornings). It seemed like no time had lapsed from laying my head on my pillow to cursing my alarm at 6:30. But I had my first cup of coffee and was on the road by 7.

As if the cool, dense morning air was the best thing in the world for Aunt Bee, my F 650 GS Beemer, she responded quickly to the throttle and we jumped onto C470. In no time we found Dezso waiting at the gas station. He had already been accosted by a seemingly homeless political pundit ranting about conspiracy theories, so he practically leapt onto his F800GS in order to flee. No place is safe or sacred during an election year.

Although the sun struggled to keep pace, we climbed and dove through mountain passes, dodging slow climbing trucks and avoiding sporty cars intent of getting ahead. We filled up in Frisco, and just north of town we found Ute Pass Rd, riding into the hills. The road was paved up and over the pass due to some industry’s factory that had settled on the backside of the mountains.

But soon enough we hit dirt and had to slow down due to spotty patches of gravel that always sends your front wheel wobbling. We skirted William’s Fork reservoir before hitting pavement again and heading a mile north into Kremmling for a late breakfast and coffee at Big Shooter Coffee. We made quick work of their homemade turnovers and green chile breakfast burritos.

Having satiated our appetites but not our craving for adventure, we headed back down Hwy 9 until we found County Road 1 and followed it westward. By now the sun shone brilliantly and in no time I was ready to remove my winter liners. We stopped by the river, watching rafters drift past, content in their lazy pace and shooting water into each other’s boats.

Just down the road, we turned north on County Highway 11 (A misnomer to be exact as the road was a 1 lane rocky and rutted back road.), heading over the railroad tracks and river, climbing up a smaller track that took us into a high altitude desert of pinion and sage. The road wasn’t near as bad as in New Mexico, but I had to remain alert enough to pick my path through the rutted road. Farther on we hit what used to be a pine forest, but had been mostly clear-cut due to the beetle kill. Cows grazed on either side of the road as calves raced across the road in front of us (why is it always in front of us?) if only to reach the other side.

We reached Hwy 134 without incident and pulled over to discuss the plan. To the left was another portion of the Great Divide Trail that had the deepest water crossing the Trail had to offer. To the right was a comfortable paved road that used modern technology such as bridges to skirt potential disasters.

Dezso, already having once forded this water feature let me decide. Still showing all signs of bad judgment, I chose the water crossing. “If only to look at the stream,” I reasoned to myself.

The road took us through sage covered plains and gently rolling hills that followed a seemingly innocuous stream. That is until it ended at a beaver dam.

What seemed like a pleasant creek crossing (willows wisping in the breeze, gurgling water, 70 degree weather), now turned into fear and trepidation at the leviathan in the proverbial room. Just how deep was that crossing?

When I had arrived Dezso already probed its depths. “It seems shallower today,” he offered. “Why don’t you go and I’ll film you?”

“Like hell,” I counter offered. “Why don’t you go and I’ll film you.”

We settled on that and after picking a line of attack on the downstream edge of the crossing, Dezso got on his bike and I pulled out my camera.

He made it look easy, but I was critical. I saw the submerged rocks rattle his arms, saw his rear wheel slip left and right and saw the silt he kicked up. But he made it through with no problems, looking like he was completely in control the entire time. Safely on the other side, we discussed my options.

I could turn around and meet Dezso on pavement. Or I could just plow through and see what happens. Or I could just nullify this friendship right here and return home, locking the garage door behind me.

“What if I followed this line?” I asked, pointing to the middle of the road.

“Too deep. You’re better off following my path.”

The stream gurgled merrily as if eager for the show it was about to see, and I reviewed the facts: I should be packing. I should’ve gotten up much later than 6:30am on a weekend. I was still skittish from falling in the mud two weeks ago.

“All right, I’ll do it,” I decided, keeping up my streak of bad decisions. Dezso set up his camera to record such an event (I’m pretty sure he wanted to see me take a dip as that would get more reviews on YouTube than me just making it across.) and waded into the water to help me.

Help me somehow.

We didn’t really discuss what “helping me” would entail, but it was enough to know he was there. I mean, what could possibly go wrong? I could lose my bike to the river nymphs. I could drop it and call for a tow back to Denver. I could spend a few hours by the side of the road, clearing water from my cylinder. Or I could just make it through and be proud of such an achievement.

I opted for the latter.

I climbed aboard the S.S. GS and rode down the road in order to have a running start at the crossing. Seriously, why was I doing this!?

I came at it, picking a line that followed Dezso. I could see the river cobbles below the surface, then the dark muddy area that revealed no indication of what was on the bottom. Cold, still water waited.

I hit the water, throwing up a wake from my front wheel. Just past midway the nose took a dip and I sat down in hopes of better stability. The rear wheel slipped left, but I put out a leg to steady the bike. I twisted the throttle and shot forward, amazed that water crested at my knees. The rear wheel slipped right and I now pointed toward Dezso as he yelled, “Go! Go! Go!”

The bike lurched. There was so much water. How was I still upright? Dezso was beside me somehow and I twisted the throttle again, shooting up and out on to dry land. How had that happened? Somehow I had made it! My grand experience of river crossings had been stamping through puddles as a kid, or riding through streams only inches deep.

I picked river debris off my bike. Bits of grass, branches and leaves that were stuck in various places on my bike, making it resemble Luke Skywalker’s X-wing fighter in Degoba Swamp. I poured about a gallon of water from each boot and managed to wring another half-gallon from my socks.

But I felt better. Since wiping out in the mud a couple of weeks ago I still felt a little fearful of going down again. How much more damage could I do to myself and my bike? I know riding in fear is not the answer, and I know building on your skills is. Sure I hadn’t crossed with finesse, but I had managed to stay upright and that is one of the crucial skills of riding a motorcycle.

We pressed on, passing a stagecoach station where we stopped for a few photos. There were a few artifacts across the road: broken glass, pottery, and rusted cans that had been traveler’s meals at some point. A Jeep passed us, heading toward the water crossing and I was tempted to turn around to watch.

Once again we hit pavement at Hwy 134 and discussed our plans. Neither of us wanted to get stuck in traffic on I-70, so I suggested a circuitous route that would take us over Independence Pass. The Colorado River Road that followed (surprise!) the Colorado River would lead us cross-country to Dotsero where it was a simple jump over to Glenwood Springs.

Dezso readily agreed and soon enough we followed the river on thick and thin gravel roads. Other cruising bikes came from the way we headed so we reasoned it couldn’t be that bad. We passed more river runners. Canyon walls closed in and let out, varying from light to dark red rocks dotted with Pinion Pines. Then we were out, entering into Glenwood Canyon on I-70 and stopping for gas in Glenwood Springs.

From here it was a slow ride down Hwy 82, stopping literally at every traffic light between Glenwood and Aspen. But soon enough we passed through Aspen and steadily climbed the narrow road.

Independence Pass is closed during winter and I was reminded why as we rode: a steep drop off into a canyon over what could barely pass as a two lane road that continued for a majority of the ride up. Pull-overs, trail heads and swimming holes offered the only wide spots. Being on bikes, we could squeak by the RVs and trucks, but I couldn’t imagine 2 SUVs meeting along some points of this road.

As we climbed the temperatures cooled, giving us a much-needed respite from the heat. Aspens gave way to Pine and Shrub Oak until we broke out above tree line and crested the pass. By now it was 5pm and we were both sore in the saddle and aching in our shoulders down to our fingers. A nice hike would’ve done us good, but we had to get back home. And that destination was still two hours away. No more dirt roads and passes. We wanted smooth rides from here on out.

We coasted down into Buena Vista, enjoying the view in the valley and observing the other Sunday drivers on the highway. Fortunately for us, most of the traffic drove west and we had our lane to ourselves.

We turned up US 285 which is a straight shot to C470 in Denver. Fortunately we got behind a truck that was intent on making good time staying 5 mph over the speed limit, so we had no desire to pass. Dusk fell and we finally drifted onto the plains, entering C470 and looping around the perimeter of Denver Metro. We ached. Our shoulders ached, our butts ached, and our hands ached. Even my highway pegs weren’t cutting it anymore. But traffic was light and soon we exited the highway, not even a mile from home.

We have nothing fancy for a garage. I’ve always gotten off my bike and walked up the drive to manually raise the door, but I could’ve promised to do the dishes, lawn, and laundry for eternity when I saw my wife had already raised the door so all we had to do was ride in and throw down our kickstands (Fortunately she isn’t aware of this feeling, so we still share the tasks). After 13.5 hours of riding, we were home. Seems like we’re pretty close to attempting the Iron Butt challenge.