Galloping to Gallup

Yeah, I bet that title has never been used before.

This was the first real ride of the season and I was anxious to stretch the legs of the proverbial pistons in my F 650 GS. Dezso had started out a couple of days before me as I still had work left to do. He departed from Cortez as I left from home with an expectation to meet in Montrose for a late lunch.
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My route took me over Monarch Pass on US 50 which I don’t remember having done on the GS before (I’ll have to consult my maps). Weather was near perfect and I started out to partly cloudy skies and 60 degree temps. Leaving the house after rush hour let me leap onto the highway and ride at highway speeds on C470, getting me into the mountains a whole lot quicker than normal.

I didn’t stop until Monarch Pass for a photo op. Out to the west I could see storm clouds building and dumping. I tried to consult weather maps on my phone, but was surprised to learn I had no cell coverage on top of Monarch. Well, it wasn’t like I could take an alternate route to Montrose anyway.

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I gassed up in Gunnison, sending texts to Deana and Dezso and letting them know my status. The clouds continued to build, but they appeared to move southward and in the end I stayed dry. Dezso was already waiting for me at Don Gilberto’s Mexican restaurant and a storm built up just to the west of town. We expected rain and got a few drops as we rode out, but the storm also moved south and we ended up chasing it to Ridgeway.

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I had this plan to ride over Ophir Pass near Telluride as a little off road practice. From Ridgeway I had wanted to stay on US550 to catch Ophir Pass, but construction had closed the highway down until 6:30 that night and that storm looked ugly from where we sat.

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Instead we turned west on HWY 62 toward Telluride. Outside of Ridgeway Dezso realized he had needed to gas up. But neither of us really wanted to turn around and a quick consultation of my mental map reminded me of a gas station outside of Telluride where we could stop.

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We finally hit rain on our way into Telluride, which ruled out any chance of attempting Ophir Pass from this side. So we pressed forward on pavement.

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Near Lizard Head Pass the off-and-on drizzle finally left us and we dried out quickly.

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Hwy 145 is a nice winding road that takes you from mountain passes and aspens, down into the high desert lands in the Four Corners region.

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Dezso had camped at Mesa Verde the previous night (turns out the campground has wifi), and since I’ve been there many times including mapping, I didn’t feel the need to stop in again.

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In Cortez we had to make a decision. Since we couldn’t attempt any off road riding here in Colorado, we decided to ride part of the Arizona BDR tomorrow. With that in mind, we decided to push on to Gallup. We had every intention of camping (honest!), but we traveled through Native American reservations and there aren’t any opportunities for camping. Dezso even went so far as to ask in Shiprock, NM. But the woman shook her head and said, “You don’t want to camp here.” I got online and booked a hotel room in Gallup.

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We rode the remaining part of the ride in the dark, switching to mp3 players to pass the time. Despite the rain spoiling our off road ride, it was a good day back in the saddle. And since there was no dirt, at least I wasn’t falling down. (Dezso and I signed up for the Rawhyde off road course in Colorado in July, so we’ll see how much that’ll help my riding.)

Trial Run of the Colorado Backcountry Discovery Route. Part 1

We had this idea that we wanted to ride part of the CO BDR this year and test out our Ural camping skills to boot. Usually we are of the car-camping style of people, having done our fair share of backpacking, etc. and now enjoy a more comfortable style of camping. Think British Safari of the early 1900s. And yes, we’ll take our quinine with our gin and tonics. No more building our beds out of pine boughs (too pointy and scratchy) nor eating freeze-dried meals in a bag!

On the plus side of camping with our Ural is that there’s extra room for gear. Granted there’s extra room for people, but I like to think that the luggage rack holds more gear than Deana displaces. We whittled down what we would bring until it fit in the trunk, the rack, and a bag at her feet. And by fit, I mean I packed it so tight that nothing could escape from under the trunk’s lid. We risked losing an eye when we popped the trunk that evening.

Having safely stowed our gear, we had two options to get to the Northern end of the BDR: North over Rocky Mountain National Park, or more west, through Winter Park, Steamboat, and Craig. We chose this option since neither of us had been this way in a while.

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By Thursday evening we had our bags packed, and Friday morning (at a reasonable hour) we loaded our Patrol, rolled down the garage door and hit the road. However, due to our “reasonable hour” we needed lunch by the time we hit Idaho Springs. A quick Yelp search found us an excellent sandwich spot called “Two Brother’s Deli.” It’s well worth a stop.

Having fueled ourselves up, it was a quick run on I-70 to US 40. We stayed in the right lane to let others pass us up the pass. As loaded down as we were and with Deana helping to lean in the turns, the sidecar had no chance of flying around the right hand turns! I think half the fun of learning to drive a sidecar rig is estimating how much lean is required from my monkey to make the turn as smooth as possible. Deana has this down to a science: sometimes a tilt of the head, and other  times, it is a full body lean with her arm hanging out the side (usually with camera in hand).

On the way up, I noticed the bolt for the gas tank had shaken loose. This was lucky since I usually only notice parts that had dropped off a long time ago and is probably stuck in some unsuspecting driver’s tire. We pulled over at the summit to tighten things up and check for anything else that might be trying to break free.

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As we coasted down the other side traffic piled up. When this happens it is because of gawkers and rubber-neckers and this time was no different. People who won’t leave the sanctity of their cars as they marvel at nature.

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This involves parking your car in the middle of the highway and snapping photos. Today’s traffic was brought to us by moose grazing on the side of the road, and I understand the interest to stop for moose since I rarely see them around here. Fortunately for me, I had Deana taking photos as we rode by and the road cleared up after that.

We gassed up in Kremmling, then Steamboat, and finally Craig, all the time watching the sun race toward the horizon. I had hoped to have made it a fair ways down the BDR, possibly even to Steamboat Lake State Park, but it became clear that wouldn’t happen.

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“What time is sunset?” I asked

“8:30?”

It was 7pm and I didn’t want to admit I lacked a plan b. The map didn’t show any campsites nearby. The only other option was to ride into the national forest and find a nice spot.

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So we continued on as the sun set, crossing into Wyoming and turning east on Hwy 70. This was the time that game appeared for their highway-side dining. Antelope and deer sprang from seemingly nowhere and I had to ride more cautiously.

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We turned onto Snake River Road and the scenery became more rural.

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We passed houses, farms, and ranches, and now had to add avoiding bovine. Riding near calves can be a little nerve-wracking. They’ll stare at you for a while, then bolt as they decide you’re evil. Larger cows usually don’t make such an effort as you ride pass.

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Farms and ranches gave way to aspen forests where we saw 2 porcupines crossing the road. I pulled over and Deana chased them with her camera, glad to have all her riding gear on. They were nonplussed and showed their gratitude by raising their quills in a most inhospitable manner. We rode on.

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This was the twilight hour (No, not those damn werewolves and vampires)—the hour when the light is just perfect for photography. Golden light filtered through aspen leaves. Far away clouds had scalloped edges tinged in tangerines and pinks, and Deana took photo after photo.

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I think this best describes one of the many reasons I love to ride. Not only am I outside in the elements unlike driving in a car, but I’m also seeing a lot more than if I were just hiking. Hikes are fine and we all need a little more exercise in our lives, but I enjoy going a little faster and seeing a little more of the world around me.

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The sun had disappeared behind the distant mountains by the time we rode through the “Entering National Forest” sign.

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We followed the BDR for a few more trails, each one decreasing in size until we bounced along on a two track in dwindling light. It was hard to see the road and what lay over the next bump so we decided to call it quits. A sign read “Small Red Park: 2” and we turned down the side road and found ourselves a campsite.

Campers already had their fires going and we pitched out tent in the beam of the Ural’s headlight. We ate dinner, then lay back with a glass of wine and watched the stars. A meteor, brighter and longer than any I’ve ever seen streaked across the sky in all of three seconds, but the image is burned forever in my brain. It was the perfect end to the perfect day.

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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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.