Heading Home: Part 3 of our trip down the CO BDR.

There’s a point in the morning where the sound of drizzle hitting your tent no longer matters because your air mattress had lost 90% of its air and you are essentially resting on the ground. Does one get off the uncomfortable but dry floor of the tent, or get up and go outside to face the damp day? At least there’s coffee to look forward to.

While watching the weather on our phones, we loaded up, and rode into town for gas. Dezso expressed an interest in heading out to the Twin Lakes for some photos so we altered our plans to include a side ride.

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The rain continued to pick up and by the time we reached the turn for Hwy 82, my engine had lost significant power. My speed went from 60 on the downhill to 40 and I had to downshift to keep it at that speed.

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We pulled into a parking area near the lake and tried to troubleshoot the issue.

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This was the first time I’ve had such a problem and I wondered if it might be bad gas or water in my carbs (turns out that due to the day and night of wet weather, then riding out in the worst of it, my coil and plugs had gotten wet-but I didn’t know this at the time). We didn’t have many options: We could head south on US 24 to Buena Vista, then head up US 285 to home, or head up and over Weston Pass to US 285 and head home. The former route would be more populated in case I broke down, and the latter, would be in a harder to reach place, but I wouldn’t have to worry about any speeders rear-ending me for going too slow in the rain.

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Cell coverage wouldn’t be great, and Dezso was concerned about riding through mud on two wheels. But with these power issues I felt it best to take Weston Pass. I lead the charge, linking our intercoms so I could warn him as to when any mud or soft sand leapt out from the road in an attempt to sabotage his ride.

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And to Dezso’s credit, he didn’t seem to have any trouble—which kinda pisses me off. Why can’t I have that kind of skill on my GS? I am forever slipping and falling over—sometimes even when I come to a complete stop!

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The road comprised mostly of larger rocks sticking out of sand. There were little bits of mud, but Dezso didn’t have any problems.

I had problems on the more bouncy portions of the road and there were times when we all got off the Ural and pushed it up to the next flat area. I think I’m due for the new and improved clutch.

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The clouds parted near the summit and we had a good time getting to Fairplay, enjoying the sudden lack of rain.

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Getting to the top: A reenactment of how we did it.

To the west we could see storms descending off the mountains as they dumped on the continental divide. We gassed up and suddenly my engine ran better—sometimes even reaching 65 mph which also led me to believe it had been bad gas (but when I got home, I checked with a variety of people and forums and the consensus was that it had been the rain that caused the problem).

We rode up to Bailey and stopped for a late lunch, hoping to dodge some of the worst weather. The rain caught up, then passed us as we lingered over fries and cokes. By the time we got outside it only sprinkled.

There wasn’t much more rain and we mostly dried out on our way home. As with all Sundays in Colorado, we did get stuck in traffic as Denver returned home in preparation for the Monday work day.

Overall, the trip was a success. The air mattress was a nice addition, but we knew going in that it was on its way out. The next time we get stuck in that much rain, I think I will suck it up and get a hotel room, just so our stuff stays dry. I will also spray my coil with WD-40 to keep the moisture off, and with a new and improved clutch plate I will be ready to tackle the larger passes on the COBDR. I can’t wait till next year!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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