Another trip. Another story.
Another rider. Another view.
... return with us now to those thrilling days of yesteryear. Ooops,
wrong show. This time it isn't the lone ranger. It is more like the paired
arranger, having finally convinced his 'significant' to leave civilization
behind (at least for a vacation) and scour the West in Wanderlust style.
Last year after I raved again about the consistently best BMW rally in a small town, Rebecca agreed to ride her bike along with me to the Top Of The Rockies in Paonia, Colorado. Plans were planned. Reservations were reserved. Registrations were registered. Maps were mapped. Who said this isn't spontaneous? And, finally, it is time! Because this is her longest road trip yet, we are taking it slowly, but not much more slowly than one of my solo wanders.
Both her R65 "½RT" (big windshield, no fairing), and my K75RT made their homage to master mechanic Scott Jenkins for full service before conquering the continent. Just when all is ready and the schedule is full, guess what. Rebecca gets permission to attend a professional conference. In Boston. Which starts the day the rally ends in Colorado. Hmmmm.
No problem! She books a flight from Denver. I arrange to park her bike for the week, and now her two week vacation just happens to span three calendar weeks. What would you do if you found yourself waiting for a plane for a week? Me, I'm going to wander Wyoming. We both win.
I've been on so many motorcycle trips now that packing for three weeks on the road is a 15 minute chore. Funny how you get used to what you don't need. Three plastic bags and a toiletries case slide into the saddlebags, the pc is strapped onto the seat, the GPS is plugged in, and I am ready to roll. Saying nothing about the differences of *what* women pack versus men, Rebecca had to go through a number of iterations of "how much space do I have" before she finally winnowed it down to what she needed. Then after all was packed, horrors, she found there was extra space! That girl learns fast and well.
You've been with me on a trip like this before. Come again and let's see what changes when I am not the only one riding solo.
A fine frizzle fell on San Francisco this quiet Sunday
morning. "Frizzle" is fog drizzle. It was cool enough to require medium
jackets as we set out for the desert. Such an anomalous dichotomy this
city is. The bustle of Chinatown belies the fact it is Sunday. The only
obvious difference around the crowds seeking that perfect bundle of bok
choy is the lack of parking control officers gleefully ticketing parked
cars. Whereas in the financial district only blocks away Sunday means you
could roll a bowling ball down the street and hit nothing until it stopped.
No, make that - until it disappeared into a ubiquitous pot hole.
The fog stays with us until it gets chewed and chopped in the windmills of the Altamont Pass. Here I notice the summit sign saying 1009 feet. It is most amazing that before the day is out I know we will almost add a zero to that number when we crest Sonora Pass. The familiar extremes of California pass quickly as we aim due east. The central valley with its abundant fruits and nuts (not referring to the people) makes me wonder who eats all this stuff. Then past the tomato fields rises the Campbell's plant and the answer comes in soup cans. Another extreme is the foothills where brown grass gives way to green schist and red dirt. The heat bakes the Jamestown mine, still fining gold, and the shimmers in the air above the rocks whisper "there's still gold in them thar hills". The last extreme is the carapace of the Sierra high country. Bald granite hugged by stands of surprisingly fragrant pine and douglas fir. The hills are alive ... with the smell of Pine Sol :)
We stop for a break in Oakdale and a pre-teen boy in the back of a car yells "Nice bike!" to Rebecca. She enjoys the comments and especially the looks of young female children who are obviously awed that she is on her own bike. The Grey Dog (silver paint) runs well for an old hound and easily keeps with me.
Up through the Stanislaus Canyon we pass the campground at Chipmunk Flat, and I am sorry to say I see many that are. Flat chipmunk, that is. I really would like to hear the thoughts going through a chipmunk brain as it gets half way across the road and decides ... what?
One of the changes to my riding style on this trip
is accommodating someone else's rest needs. I am used to measuring hours
by tanks (of gas), but then I've been doing LD rides for years. She likes
to unbend the knees every hour or so. Just like a real person. So we stop.
No problem. (For the non-motorcycle readers: It is very difficult to find
someone you can ride long distance with. It is not like being in a car
where everyone experiences the same time and place. Each rider is in his
or her own head and rarely do the moments coincide. Finding someone you
CAN ride with is a special joy. It helps if you like each other too, but
the latter does not guarantee the former.)
Stopping for a break at the top of Sonora showed me something new. A history plaque tells Sonora Pass was cut as a toll road in the 1850s and is the second highest of the Sierra passes. Feeling the 'altitude sickness' of anoxia just by walking around at nearly 10,000 feet, I can't imagine the work it must have been. "Grizzly" Adams used to lead the emigrant wagon trains through, and a round trip across this one pass took three weeks! Lordy me, in the last hour we covered seven days of wagon haul.
Taking our time to enjoy this scenery gives phenomenal mileage. My fuel reserve light didn't come on until 190 miles, and the R65 delivered mpg in the 50s. Coasting down the 27 degree slope of CA 108 probably helped, but thin air, no traffic, and the first day of a new trip that seems to stretch forever made us take it easy.
Rebecca's observations for the day were: California freeway rain grooves make riding too squirrely and are so deep they should have canyon names, brilliant and varied color wildflowers hiding on the talus slopes, skimming the alpine tree line on the mountain ridges, enjoying the quail races that took over after we descended from chipmunk country.
Always when I wander I remember wisdoms written by other riding writers. A recent memoir of truth Bob Higdon found in himself comes to me again. "No matter where you are you want to be somewhere else." I feel that, but in a less melancholy way. He may want to be there; for me, getting there is the fun.
San Francisco I580 I205 CA120 CA108 US395 Lee Vining
Cool breezes bring the song of a mountain jay, and
a spectacular vista of Mono Lake with the tufa towers off in the distance
lies outside the window. Not a bad way to start the day. Lee Vining is
scenic, but otherwise sparse. It is a transient town of motels at a crossroads.
That the crossroad is the entrance to Yosemite makes it an Expensive town.
But location is everything.
I kept trying to figure the name of the town, thinking it had something to do with vines in the lee of the mountains? Two locals I asked said they didn't know. Then I found the E. Clampus Vitus plaque explaining how Leroy Vining started the town after an Indian battle nearby. E. Clampus Vitus is actually a more interesting story. It is a very loose organization that likes to drink, likes to put into plaques local history stories (whether they are true or not), and likes to drink. The Clampers are all over California. So are their plaques. I'll drink to that.
One more interesting thing about Lee Vining, the town. Being at 7,000 feet and on the dry side of the Sierra, reading a newspaper here has the same effect on the paper as being in an airplane. By the time you finish, it is wrinkled and brittle from the low oxygen and very very dry air.
CA 120 east traverses the shore of Mono Lake and glides past the Mono Craters, volcanic vents from long ago that spewed almost crystalline gravel. Entire hillsides are absent vegetation from the layers of pumice and gravel. It is otherworldly. Then suddenly a pine forest jumps out of nowhere and the road squiggles between the trees. Add to this the whoop-de-do dips as the road follows the natural cant of the alluvial fan erosion plain, and you have a most memorable road. I highly recommend it. Fill up before, though, because there is no gas until Tonopah, 150 miles away. I remembered a casino and station near the Coaldale junction from my last passage a few years ago. No more.
Nevada, land of the mindless miles. See the desert. See the sage. See the greasewood. You've seen it all, and there are still hours to go. One can only scan the empty horizon so many times before the scanners turn off due to lack of stimulus. Then you are left again with whatever is in your head. This is a place to think. There are not even the distractions of curves. Straight roads seem to beget straight thoughts. I review myself and decide I've done "ok" for my slice of humanity's time. Playing on the words of the old Geritol commercial, 'my life, I think I'll keep it'.
The only real fun comes after a construction road stop. Although you rarely ever see another vehicle while on the road, when traffic is stopped a surprisingly long line forms. We are behind 7 cars, 1 bus, and 1 truck when the convoy clears the work zone. Then one by one we pick off each 70 mph snail ahead of us. High speed in the open desert just doesn't seem fast.
After lunch in Tonopah, we said we'll stop for a
rest "somewhere" about an hour down the road. Well we did stop. But that
somewhere was nowhere, just a pullout. Another town has disappeared. Currant
is definitely non-current. 165 miles to Ely with only one store in between
In an earlier trip I wondered why anyone would live in any such remote area, and whether it was by choice or chance. Jerry McCumby read my questions and recommended a book by Dayton Duncan - Miles From Nowhere: Tales From America's Contemporary Frontier (Penguin Books 1993 ISBN 0-670-83195-6 ). I read it and found it fascinating although it really doesn't answer the question. It is a series of observations based on interviews with residents of some of the 132 US counties where the population density is below the "almost uninhabited" level of 2 people per square mile. This part of Nevada is one of those. If you like to travel through 'the middle of nowhere', like I do, you may enjoy this book.
Not long after The Extraterrestrial Highway peals off toward Rachel, US6 rises through the Pancake Range in eastern Nevada and suddenly the terrain changes. It becomes pine and cedar forest over watercut canyon rocks and it follows twisty ridges incongruous with the scene of the last hours. Ely itself is nestled in one of these tight valleys and is in the right place for a restful night before the great basin of Utah. My favorite place to stay is the quaint and kitschy Nevada Hotel, a 1929 boom-just-before-the-bust building refurbished in the 1990s. Many rooms have memorabilia of some famous person who may have stayed in the hotel. (And the Wayne Newton suite is really where he stayed when he got his start performing at this very hotel.) We are ensconced in the Tennessee Ernie Ford room.
Agh. We may travel well together, but I see we have an impasse. It takes a couple hours to layout and refine these little stories. That is time during which I can not also be sociable. In order words, I am not much fun if I am going to write. I'm sure we'll find a way to resolve this, but it may cost a day between these segments.
Rebecca's observations for the day: CA120 was almost
mystical and the ride was eerily quiet with nothing but the sound of the
wind. She could not even hear her motor, just the wind. Even the mind radio
that is usually playing songs in her head was turned off. (She found the
peace of disassociation I often try to describe on rides like this.)
Her own experience with deceiving distances came as we approached Tonopah. She said you could see the town out there on the hill right in front of you. Then the miles kept clicking away, and half an hour later you look up and the hill is still apparently just as far as it was. The miles stack up but the distance doesn't change!
304 miles (but they seemed longer)
Lee Vining US395 CA120 US6 Ely
"Oh boy. I get to get up an hour earlier on 'vacation' than I do for work."
Sarcasm can be so rich in the morning, but once the
truth is out in the open it is much easier to deal with. Rebecca is not
an early grouch, but the joy in her voice this day was unavoidable. Fun
awaits! I mean, how can a day go bad that starts with six large heads of
Tennessee Ernie Ford staring at you from all angles? And the next thing
you see when stepping out of the elevator is a full-blown casino ca-chinging
away. Ely is a place like no other. Thank goodness.
She got a nickel change from a purchase and said 'what the heck, may as well leave it here' in a slot ... ca-CHING! Nickels to go.
How bad can a day be that starts with breakfast in a flower shop? Uh-huh. The Espresso/latte and pastry is on the left side, and on the right are the wedding/funeral bouquets . . . Ely is a place like no other.
Now on US 50 east of Ely, the Loneliest Road is indeed
lonely, but it is lovely too. Going downslope into the Great Basin we follow
one dry wash after another, and I comment later that you can't get more
old west than this. As I lean into each curve, I not only look ahead for
nonexistent traffic, I keep an eye out for a stagecoach lurching out of
the hills. Let yourself accept the desert will be hot, and the scenery
can be startling. Yes, even after as many traversals as I have made.
But hot is relative. The air temperature is around 100, give or take a few. Preferring warm over cool, I remain comfortable in my flannel shirt - which I *always* wear, even here. (Laugh all you want. Flannel holds sweat and evaporates well. It feels better to me when traveling in hostile climates than a T-shirt.) Rebecca, on the other hand, has been known to say "no human alive should have to suffer temperature over 78 degrees". Ahem.
In preparation for this, I convinced her to buy a MiraCool Cool Vest. It is bright orange "state road" worker vest with a series of ribs filled with water absorbing gel. When they swell, they hold what felt like a gallon of water - to be slowly evaporated in the wind. A swamp cooler. It soaked in the tub before we left, then it soaked her for several hours. She is still alive and congenial, so it must have worked!
Our now normal routine of riding for an hour then
stopping for a 'knee break' is stymied by Utah. Between the border and
Delta there is a hundred miles of ... nothing. The stop beside the road
in an alkali flat at Skull Rock Pass is incredible in two aspects. The
air temperature is noticeably hotter near the ground. Wave a hand in a
circle above your head and below your waist, you can feel a 10 degree difference
easily. The other aspect is the silence. With no wind, the heat seems to
close your ears. Nothing moves. Nothing lives. Let's get outta here!
Delta is a green crescent in central Utah, with fields seeming out of place. The water from the blue puddle in the middle of the drying white lake is called the Sevier River. Undoubtedly the crops are salt tolerant. So must be the local residents, who all appear 'scrubbed' and robust and healthy.
Our course takes us over a break in the Wasatch Plateau and the shimmering heat plays tricks with mirages. On one long rise there is a notch in the hill ahead. The thermal refraction of the mirage catches the cloudless azure sky and it appears the road climbs directly to heaven - earth and ether indistinguishable beyond the mountain. But of course, it never gets closer. And eventually it falls away to the San Rafael Reef - a vast arid erosion of impossible shapes and neck twisting vistas. Travel by motorcycle is special for what it exposes that you might never otherwise notice.
Rebecca's observations for the day: It seemed like we went downhill for 30 miles when we got on I70. (She is right, but the drop was only about 3,000 feet.) You have to be much more alert when leading. (She spent a lot of the day in front and realized that lane positioning, traffic awareness, and road surface scanning is more than just casual involvement.) Riding a motorcycle is more work than driving, but it is more rewarding in kind.
From New York City to Hartford, Connecticut, is approximately
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to Washington, DC, is about 109 miles.
Salina, Utah, to Green River, Utah, is 109 miles.
All three routes are served by a direct Interstate road. But at the entrance to I70 in Salina is a simple sign: NO SERVICES next 109 miles. Not a gas station, not even a house, only sand and stone and wind and sun. And strata of rock formations that are impossible to believe. This is the area of Utah just above the canyonlands. It is a few hundred million years shy of being spectacular. It is only incredible.
Ely US50 I70 Green River
Eternal vigilance is the price of contentment, too.
As I have mentioned before, it is prudent to frequently
check your bike for anything out of ordinary. Big problems often start
as small clues. I had been checking the bikes by walking around them and
taking in the whole scene without studying anything in particular. Everything
was normal when we covered the bikes last night.
This morning I stepped out and removed the covers. Then my eye caught an anomaly. There was a series of drops of yellowish fluid directly beneath the front disk brake. It is human nature to react before acting. What sorts of thoughts race through your mind when panic tries to grab hold? Fear and futility rise in a rush. Gag. We're 150 miles from the nearest dealer, if I lose front brakes will I lose the rear too, how far can I go with only engine braking and not stopping ... wait. Wait just a second. Investigate. Analyze. The brake housing is not wet. What's that smell? It's not brake fluid.
Woof! The answer came from the end of the building. Woof! And the pawed perpetrator of panic trotted away.
Precisely at the Colorado border, the lay of the
land changed as though a different crayon was used to color on this side
of the line. The land went from flat and red to rumpled brown with spots
of green shrub. The hills of the Rockies were beginning with the crystal
line of the Colorado River.
Rebecca was leading again, and precisely at the Colorado border a left fist thrust triumphantly into the air. Another state claimed, and success of the journey was easily at hand.
So, of course, we take a detour. From Fruita, I led into the Colorado National Monument. A two lane road climbs several thousand feet up to what I call the Swivel Neck Mesa, but on the map is the Uncompahgre Plateau. "Uncompahgre" is probably an Indian word for 'incomparable'. To truly enjoy this road you must be able to turn your head more than 90 degrees in either direction. While riding. Lizard Canyon, Wedding Canyon, Monument Canyon, Ute Canyon, Red Canyon, Columbus Canyon, and (I kid you not) No Thoroughfare Canyon make the 30 miles force you to consume an hour in passage. This is drop jaw beautiful. If you haven't seen the Grand Canyon, this is excellent practice for the wow factor. Rebecca called it Riding the Rim Rock.
Another quick jaunt on the Interstate and we jumped
off at CO65 to climb up up and up through the aspen forest to the 11,000
foot top of Grand Mesa. It seems most if not all of Delta County is visible
from the crest, and I could point to the mountain above Paonia.
Soon enough we were at the foot of that mountain, and the sparkling little town of Paonia was ours to enjoy in the quiet before the rally. Paonia is small enough to not need a stop light on its three block main street, yet it is large enough to have a movie theater playing first run shows. Like many small towns, the number of churches is approximately equal to the number of bars (are drinkers denominational?). But it is the city park which makes the rally special. Two full square blocks with hundred year old trees shading a lush lawn beside a ball field and a grandstand. Perfect for motorcycle camper gatherings.
Named by marble mouthed miners for the peonies which abounded nearby, the entire town of Paonia gets involved in the rally. The American Legion provides food and beer, the high school sells lunches and washes bikes, the middle school has a bake sale table. Even the local businesses participate by being designated stops for a 'poker walk' instead of a poker ride.
We find an outstanding quality local restaurant and settle in to rest, weary but pleased. The biker lady has earned her rally pin.
Rebecca's observations for the day: The water swirl marks 1000 feet above a cliff floor are humbling to make you realize how long time can last. A sentinel rock guarding the canyon opening looks like it is waiting for what must eventually come - whatever it may be, it is patient. The deep red of the polished rock surface is a more striking color than one expects from the earth.
Green River I70 CO340 I70 CO65 CO92 CO133 Paonia
Steve Anderson (West Coast) once asked me why I never
write about being at the rally or about the 'hub' rides I take from a central
point, like the rally. The answer to the first is because you can't describe
the taste of water. It tastes like water. People who like water know what
I mean. People who never touch the stuff couldn't care less.
Years ago, when I first suggested attending a rally, Rebecca asked what it was like. Believing in bludgeoning with the truth, I said it is mostly a bunch of old farts sitting around taking about their rides. She went to one anyway and was surprised to find the other aspect of a motorcycle gathering. We all become temporary family. And the surprise is it is not a dysfunctional family. Sure we have our crazy uncles, like Steve (NM), and our bossy aunts like Helen (MI), but mostly we get along. Why don't I write about a family reunion? Because it is a family reunion.
The second answer about hub rides is simple laziness.
On the road I am driven to capture the fleeting images of the day. On a
local ride, I am just enjoying rather than observing. In the last two days
we have done two rides from Paonia. Both were to show Rebecca the scenery
and visit the places where I led tours when I was a tour guide for Edelweiss
a couple years ago. We went down the Black Canyon of the Gunnison (4 stops:
at the power lines, the scenic overlook, Pioneer Point, and the Blue Mesa
On the way toward the canyon we were facing the sun with swirling cirrus clouds not very high overhead. I stopped in the middle of the road to point out the only "rainbow cloud" I have ever seen. The ice crystals in the cloud were refracting a rainbow of iridescent pastel colors simultaneously brighter and more subtle than the normal hue of a rainbow arch. It was like Miami Vice in the clouds. Most amazing.
One pleasant surprise happened for us at Pioneer Point. As we dismounted I nodded hello to another motorcycle rider who was getting ready to leave. Then I said, "Rebecca, do you want a drink of water." At that the other rider said "Rebecca? ... Would you be Sam? I've been reading your stories - ". Thus we met Mark, from Kansas, who was also on his way to Paonia and glad to be out of Kansas.
On the way back we had an ice cream break at Joe Cocker's Mad Dog Ranch Cafe in Crawford. If you tell them you came on a motorcycle, you get a free souvenir (a pin or a bandanna). It was our mistaken belief that Joe is the rider. Nope, wife Pam has three bikes. She pushes the biker hospitality.
Our second day ride was over McClure Pass to the Redstone Valley and the tiny quaint town of Redstone where the Redstone Inn was built in Teddy Roosevelt's time as a hunting lodge. Sad to say the "hunting" was arranged for Teddy by running a herd of elk past him across the lawn so the shots could be taken from the front porch. Redstone is a bit more civilized today. And they have a superb place to bring a tour for a snack - the Pie Plate Cafe ... where we, uh, sat on the front porch and shot our forks at what they ran before us.
So that's what our 'off' days are like. Now, if you don't mind, I'd like to rejoin the family old farts. See you again when we leave the rally for Denver.
The end of a rally is a study in dissolution. Like radioactivity being cast off of fissionable material, elements of the composite that is a rally imperceptibly depart the total mass. The earliest outriders leave before dawn. By the first warmth of the sun, a steady, if singular, stream of riders departs the town. Even with these quiet (mostly BMW) motorcycles, the steady whine of an engine climbing through the gears echoes off the hills surrounding the town. The rally isotope decays further. The remaining cluster is smaller, but still a critical mass of fun and friendship until some unpredictable moment when 'the rally' is over and only memories remain. The last rider glides away and the history books sigh as they fondly close this chapter.
After four restful days, we awoke with anticipation
for the next stages of what are now two separate trips. Rebecca has a plane
to catch, 250 miles away, so we saddle up and join the early outflow. North
again through Redstone and continue beyond to follow the Crystal River
which looks like any advertisement you've ever seen of the "perfect mountain
cascade" racing beside cliffs and tickling the roots of trees. Even in
July, here the morning shadows keep the cold night air in the tight walled
valley and our motorcycle heated hand grips are a welcome indulgence.
We pass near Marble, where a now abandoned quarry produced the marble stone for the Tomb of the Unknown. I believe no other stone was taken from here, so that monument is unique in its construction. Marble is also the end of the road which leads to Schofield Pass. Although some maps do not show the road going through to Crested Butte, it does, but not before it crosses several cosmic black holes and reality vortexes. More than a few dirt riders who have been lulled by what are unpaved highways through the Rockies have been humbled by Schofield. It is 'not recommended' even for 4-wheel drive.
We are content for our off road adventure with the three miles of gravel where CO133 and the North Fork of the Gunnison River argued. (The river won, and the DOT is trying to make friends again.) There is always one unexpected, unavoidable dirt road in every trip I take ...
Quick breakfast in the Glenwood Cafe warms us after
our exit from the shadowed canyons. The great heated springs mineral pool
of the Colorado Hotel in Glenwood Springs is crowded with splashing children.
Once long ago, 'taking the waters' was considered to be medicinal. Now
they largely act as an analgesic respite for harried parents.
I70 through Glenwood Canyon is one of the few sections of the Interstate system that is both scenic and fun to ride. The 18 miles of curves are tight enough to really need the 50 mph speed limit - that is, if you are also trying to enjoy the views of the dozens of rafts paddling through the rapids. The inflated rafts are passionate pink vinyl with screaming yellow paddles and stand out garishly against the swirling green water, yet somehow they do not disturb the serenity of the canyon. The sunburned pink paddlers screaming from the chill of splashed water are another matter, however.
Just west of the town of Eagle I believe I see an eagle soar out of a field near the road and swoop on the thermal currents toward a stand of trees. Too large to be a hawk and too light colored to be a raven, it may have been a young namesake for the town. It eyes us briefly, then glides away. We glide on.
It has been three summers since I've come this way, yet it seems that Vail has grown again by half. What happened? Wild yeast explosion? Or has the old American equation established itself here: commercialism begets itself. To my eye, Vail is losing its charm as 'charming' new 'rustic' developments are erected.
Finally east of the divide we begin the rapid descent
to the flatlands. From the Eisenhower Tunnel through the continental divide
to Denver, we will drop further in elevation than Denver is above sea level.
As I child I heard Denver was the "Mile High City" and envisioned this
tall pillar with a city on top. Such disappointment to find not only no
pillar, but that the city isn't even in the mountains. It is on the flat
of the Great Prairie.
One last amusing juxtaposition comes at the exit to Lookout Mountain on the ridge above the city. To the left: Buffalo Bill's Grave Monument. To the right: the Buffalo Herd Preserve. Both the native ruminant of the prairie and its greatest scourge have been relegated to the high country - not on the plains where their drama played.
With the magnificent Front Range in our mirrors,
we arrive in Aurora to park Rebecca's bike in the graciously offered garage
of friendly LDRiders Brad and Wanda Hogue. Apparently not many travelers
arrive at major airports by motorcycle. As I drop Rebecca at the tented
castle of Denver International, we get strange looks from waiting passengers,
and an airport policeman 'casually' strolls by for a closer look.
Rebecca comments that the day has gone quickly and smoothly. I laughingly remind her that not long ago she balked at the idea of more than 200 miles in a day. Now she does that before noon and laments not being able to ride further with me. Motorcycles can do that to you.
At the parking toll booth exit, the sign on the gate says "cars only. no motorcycles or bicycles". Woulda been a better idea to put it on the entrance ... eh? But I ignore it and still get a smile from the toll girl. Yes, it has been a day worth smiling.
Paonia CO133 I70 US6 I25 I225 Aurora
Hey?! This was supposed to be Wander Rockies. How
did it become Wander Endless Open Arid Plains? Sheesh. Who moved the mountains?
We tend to forget that the Rockies slew diagonally from north west to south east. A longitudinal line drawn from the 'upper left corner' in Idaho would intersect San Diego, and the 'lower right corner' in Texas lines up with the central Dakotas.
So I pounded out almost 400 diagonal miles and ended up with a front range about the same distance away as when I started. In Denver it was Mt. Evans, in Riverton it is Wind River Peak. But in-between it was flat flat flat (except for one side road).
Meanwhile Rebecca is in Boston on business. Does
she miss following the bounce of my white helmet the same way it seems
strange for me not to see a headlight in the mirror? This has been a eye
opener for the distinct differences between solo and group riding - even
if the group was only two. I realize now how much time I spent looking
in two directions when I was leading the parade.
Speaking of 'parade', I forgot to mention the rally in Paonia has a motorcycle parade through the town every year. It is led by the police and fire department, then the first motorcycle carries a special guest passenger. This lady has been riding every year. Last year she rode in a sidecar, this year she was on the back of a R1100RT. What is special about her? ... next weekend is her 102 birthday.
After the parade we walked back to drop off our poker walk forms. What a sudden and delightful surprise it was that evening to hear the announcement of first place prize in the poker walk go to ... Rebecca! (Full house, Aces / Jacks)
Ok, getting back to today and the change in traveling
alone again, I was conscious of how more relaxed I was for not always 'watching
my six'. In fact, the feeling of being off duty was so prominent I felt
too tired to ride. After only 100 miles I checked into the Iron Butt Motel
(a picnic table at a rest area) for a refresher nap.
It wasn't until after I woke up that I noticed I had chosen the Robbers Roost Wayside Rest in the non-town of Virginia Dale (named for the wife of the stage stop owner). Seems the owner was in cahoots with the robbers who roosted in the hills about where the roost area - uh, rest area is now. He eventually gave up the charade and became a bandit until the vigilance committee convinced him to stop. Permanently. Don't know what happened to Ginny D.
I was wakened from my unwary rest by the wayward Wyoming wind. A strong push from just over the border reminded me I should push on, too.
Wyoming is the land of the 85 mph pickups. I don't think I have ever passed a pickup in Wyoming. Even in these open spaces I prefer to hold to a speed that lets me watch the scenery without having to watch for enforcement, i.e. 10 over. But these pickups seem to be programmed for 10 over my 10 over. Strange, though, they never seem to be in a hurry, just going fast.
Crossing the border raises thoughts of rigidity in
our society. Now that we have set the boundaries of states, counties, etc.,
we expect everything to stay put. Including rivers and mountains, hah.
How did the nomadic tribes that crossed this land before us establish the
bounds of their territory? Was it a rigid demarcation (unlikely), or did
the imprecise line cross that valley "somewhere". The flexibility probably
varied with the relative friendships between the tribes, but since they
did not claim to own the land, it probably didn't matter so much. If you
could see the openness of these plains, you would agree (unless you are
Wyoming uses any excuse to call a spot a 'town'. A trading post marks the spot where the railroad once stored wooden ties. It is called Tie Siding. There is a refinery (and nothing but a refinery) at the spot called Sinclair. Of course, it is the Sinclair Oil Company refinery. The spot called Sand Draw is an oil field. One small building, no residence. And the single house at a spot in the Great Divide Basin qualifies for the sign "Lamont, Population 3".
The one exception to flat travel today is crossing the Medicine Bow Range from Centennial to Saratoga. The Medicine Bow Mountains were a place of strong spirits for the plains Indians. From the top of Snowy Range Pass, you can clearly see the high point of Trail Ridge, 70 miles away. The spirit of the mountains is strong. I clearly see the spirit of a loved one playing by Mirror Lake. There is only one cloud in the sky above. It changes shape. It changes again. It forms a likeness of the face of the loved one, long gone. It changes, and the spirit is gone.
Forty miles later I approach an unavoidable segment of Interstate 80. From more than six miles away across the plains I can see the truck bodies slowly drifting across the horizon on the yet invisible line of pavement. I think to myself: land clouds.
Aurora I225 US36 US287 WY130 US287 WY135 Riverton
Now THAT'S what I call Rockies!
What a difference a day makes, or in this case, 54,725 days. Yesterday I crossed and followed for a while both the Overland Trail and the Oregon Trail. One hundred and fifty years ago, the migrating settlers would have greatly preferred not to have to cross the mountains. Thanks to today's technology, I seek those mountains to play.
Trick question: What river runs through the Wind
River Canyon? Obvious, no? No. The Big Horn River. (Not the Little Big
Horn, by the way, the big Big Horn.) Izzat clear? Ok, then through what
mountains is the canyon carved? Strange, but the Wind River Range is about
60 miles away. So how did the Owl Creek Mountains get that canyon? Such
mysteries of seemingly unrelated naming can be found on almost any Indian
reservation, as in fact this is.
Whatever its name, the canyon is magnificent. The view and the road rank on the scale of the Feather River Canyon in Northern California. Thirty two miles of sheer (as in cliff) beauty cavort between rock and road and railroad from Shoshoni to Thermopolis. This *is* worth going out of your way to see.
And as long as you are out of your way already, you may as well stop and see the world's largest mineral hot spring in aptly named Thermopolis. The spring cascades down a hill and forms a multi-hued stalactite cliff into the river. You can lay in different pools as the water perks downward. The pools are labeled with their temperature, starting at well above scalding. Occasionally someone ignores a sign and spectators are treated to the thrash dance of the human lobster.
All along the Wind River Canyon are signs naming the outcrops of rocks by their archaeologic age, starting from 500-600 million years down to the mere babies of 200 million years. Kinda gives another view of the adage "this too shall pass".
It is easy to become philosophical in the presence of such visual wonders. I am tempted to ask myself, as you have no doubt already done, why do I do this? Why do I spend days and days just riding. It is not about 'freedom', for I am free to do it. It is not 'escape' because there is nothing to get away from. It is not to be in 'control', because there is no one to control but me. Some people believe if you are not doing something useful, then you are wasting time. I think the end answer is that by putting you into the environment, riding makes you experience through motion the passing of the time you are using. Traveling is useful for where it gets you. Riding is useful for how you get there. Especially when "there" is just the starting point for the next ride. A Volkswagen commercial says "In life there are passengers and there are drivers." Little do they realize. There are vehicle occupants and there are riders. I ride.
The view from Dead Indian Pass is stunning. Wave
after wave of the Absaroka Range of mountains ripple off into the distance
to form the east flank of Yellowstone. Squint your eyes to edge out the
green valley below, and you can imagine the waves moving like terrestrial
ocean breakers. In a sense, they are the 'storm surge' of a tectonic tide.
Now open your eyes and follow the amazing WY296 (incredibly, *not* marked scenic on AAA maps!) down what could honestly be called the American Grossglockner. This is the Chief Joseph Scenic Byway, following the trail the Nez Perce used to try to escape to Canada. How they made it over this pass on foot "in secret" to elude the cavalry, I'll never understand. The paved road, safe for a neighborhood on wheels (RV), is treacherous enough. (By the way, the sign just before the summit says: Grizzly Area. Special Rules Apply.)
But sigh. It ends, as all roads must. But where does it end? At the bottom of the Beartooth Scenic Byway, perhaps the longest alpine passage above the treeline I've ever ridden. On this clear and bright day, at 2 pm at the top it is cold enough to need a heavy jacket (and I consider using the electrics even after roasting on the plains way back there at noon). Wildflowers in the alpine meadows, racing to spend themselves in the short summer, veritably shriek their colors to the sky. Yellow, pink, purple, orange, and red highlight every corner, like the frantic highlighting in a textbook by a student cramming to study every significant item of wisdom. If this test is for beauty, the flowers pass! (pun: with flying colors :)
Just a few miles beyond Red Lodge I detour to try
to find Bob's MotorWorks in Roberts, Montana. Bob has been active on the
motorcycle mailing lists and since I'm "in the area" I thought to say hello.
Unfortunately, the girl in the one gas station in town has never heard
of Bob. When I stepped outside to the bike, I met Terry Funk, a member
of the Montana BMW Riders, who happened to see my bike and came over. We
performed the appropriate secret handshakes and rituals of biker meeting
biker (i.e. chatted about rides in the area), then he told me Bob's was
indeed only a couple miles distant. Meaning, 3 miles up a dirt road. Sorry,
Bob. I've had my fill of dirt for this trip.
So instead I head off toward Bozeman on a wonderful little side road with the attention stealing visage of the Beartooth Mountains as window dressing. Tempting as the view was, I've learned that's when you can't afford to be distracted. Had I not been diligently doing my SIPDE before and after glancing at a Farm For Sale sign, I might have 'bought the farm' in a different way. A medium brown fur moved in the brush. Day deer. A buck jumped on the road from behind a tree. Not even close - but it was because I was paying attention.
Montana's motto may be the 'last best place', but it is also the land of convolution. I tried to buy a drink and pre-pay for gas with a card at a station, but they did not have pre-authorization - you have to pump before paying to add anything to the total. Then I stopped at a cafe where the menu (seriously!) said: T-bone 2.95 (with meat 8.75). And at one motel the big sign outside said "Smokers Welcome" but the office door was marked "ALL rooms non smoking". This same place had another sign "NO cats, but tell us if you have a dog. We have special rooms for them."
And yes, Virginia, there really is a Big Sky, Montana.
Riverton WY789 WY120 WY296 US212 MT78 I-90 US191 Big Sky
Twenty one years ago I declared the Gallatin River
Valley to be the most lovely part of America I had seen. Of course I had
not yet seen much of the West. Now there is not much of the West I have
not seen, and the Gallatin Valley is still among my favorites. It is not
an especially grandiose motorcycle road, it does not have the highest mountains
or the steepest cliffs, but it does have all the right elements in a fine
balance. And a river runs through it. This part of Montana is still enticing,
even if it is the gateway to the RV Home Planet, Yellowstone.
I have never seen so high a concentration of RVs to cars as around (and in) Yellowstone. Talk about 'signal to noise ratio' ! Just maintaining a steady road pace, regardless of what speed it was, required swooping and passing like a hungry fly buzzing around a town picnic. Sometimes a "challenging" pass can be fun, but 4 RVs nose to tail in a 100 yard passing zone takes precise timing. The good news, at least, is that most Montanans still look askance at the 70 mph speed limit posted even on roads where you can't reasonably go that fast. Except on a motorcycle. :)
I have now ridden the mountains all around the perimeter
of Yellowstone Park, which was the intent of this loop, but I am not going
into the park this time. Been there (in an RV, no less !! :). Wow, consider
that Yellowstone is just slightly larger than my native state of Connecticut.
I can not imagine anyone back there riding all around the state just to
avoid going through it. It is beyond absurd. Yet it seems perfectly reasonable
here. Moma, this boy needs mental help.
Cruising down some thinline Idaho backroads, I kept getting closer and closer to a pair of dark clouds on the windward edge of the imposing Grand Teton Range. One was draping a veil over the Teton peaks, and the other nestled on Thunder Mountain across the valley to my right. After 30 miles of only an occasional raindrop, it looked like I might be able to thread between them. But just as I passed the historic marker for Pierre's Hole, the two clouds pounced like cats springing a mousetrap. The cloud over the Tetons cascaded into the pass toward Jackson and the mountains disappeared in minutes. Seemingly simultaneously, the other cloud erupted into consecutive lightning flashes that peppered the ground near the other pass out of town. Both exits were blocked, I took the hint. This was Mother Nature's way of saying it was time for a snack. So I waited it out under the awning of a gas station in Victor. As I got ready to leave toward the now sunny pass to Swan Valley, a Harley rider pulled in to the station from the direction of Jackson.. He was not a happy rider, but then few Harley riders dress for the weather. "F'n hail f'n stings, man!" was all he had to say. Idaho and Wyoming do not require helmets, so he made that choice. I can't imagine. Wind in your hair is one thing ... but hail?
The rest of the day was unremarkable. There was a
delicious mix of mountains, passes, valleys, and plains. Just your average
day of travel in the west.
I passed though Afton, Wyoming, where a sign proclaims World's Largest Intermittent Spring. Ok. Why would the size of an undependable water hole be significant? Eh. Before I can solve that there is another sign: World's Largest Elk Horn Arch, and I pass under its span across the highway. Then another World's Largest ... but I am distracted by a turning truck. At times like this I would like to sneak a new sign up on the city limits: Afton - World's Largest Collection of "World's Largest" Self Made Unnecessary Achievements.
Lastly, I stop for a road construction delay in the town of Smoot. It reminds me of the measurement of the Harvard Bridge between Boston and Cambridge. Many years ago an MIT engineering fraternity inducted a frosh whose last name was Smoot. They tied him rigid, laid him on the sidewalk at the Boston end, and flipped him end over end all the way across the bridge, marking it every 10 smoots. I don't remember the final count, but I assure you that distance was longer than it is through the town of Smoot.
Big Sky US191 US20 ID47 ID32 ID33 ID31
US26 US89 ID61/WY89 US30 Frontier
First a little catch up. In an email from Rebecca
she says the biggest difference she notices back in the business world
is the feeling of being hermetically sealed indoors. After the great outdoors
and the open horizon, breathing nothing but conditioned air is stifling.
Well, she has about 1400 miles of open air waiting for next week.
And several people wrote to correct me on the Wind River. Jerry Forney says it is the Wind River in the canyon, but becomes the Big Horn when it exits the canyon. DeVern Gerber gets closer to the real story. He reminded me of the "Wedding Of The Waters", an old legend of how the Wind River had to give up its stream bed and was 'wedded' to the Big Horn to join it in its bed. Whatever you want to believe, it is the first river with an identity crisis I've ever crossed. The road is still lovely.
Southwestern Wyoming is more arid plain. Just when
I was mumbling I had enough of this, the road crested a rise a few miles
south of Blazon Junction. The world from Wyoming to Colorado to Utah was
spread before me. And what a spread. The long view to the distant mountains
held the promise of cool, of climbs, and of curves. I could wait. Wyoming
412 and 414 are a beautiful way to approach Flaming Gorge if you happen
to find yourself in that isolated area.
I've written so much of the isolation, what must I and my motorcycle look like in this scene? To the rare car approaching me, am I an sudden apparition summoned from the depths of a gully? Does the apparently unmoving mannequin positioned on the bike even look alive? Do drivers think it is strange to see a lone motorcycle clearly hundreds of miles from the 'tourist' spots? Do drivers think at all?
The land here grudgingly gives way from the plain and becomes a rising series of plateau buttes. Each butte begins at a level outcrop from the fold of the foothills, and ends in a precipice, as though bookends were slid against the mountains to keep them from falling into the valley. What is most unusual is the color of the buttes. They are a grayish green, similar to tarnished copper but not quite as bright - somewhere between dull teal and smoke. The muted tone gives the hills a soft look, as though these are textured, comfortable rocks. It is a welcome difference from the prevalent red.
Deep near the Wyoming/Utah border is a spot with a name called Burnt Fork. It has a historical sign proclaiming the location of the "great mountain man rendezvous" where the trappers would congregate for their summer vacation and, um, business convention. This is the *third* place I've seen in three days to stake that claim, albeit each for a different year. Riverton claims the 1838 rendezvous and holds an annual reenactment. Red Lodge claims to be the 'original' rendezvous. And Burnt Fork lays claim to 1825. What I want to know is - without the Internet, how did they notify everyone where the meet was each year? Get the message wrong and you could end up several months away by foot. :)
Vernal, Utah lived up to its name. It was 103 degrees
when I passed through around noon. I must be getting used to being in the
desert. When I saw the bank sign I said it didn't feel that hot. Flannel
serves me well up to about 110, after which it needs external soaking in
addition to the soaking I expel. Seemed downright cool later under a thundercloud
when the temperature fell all the way to 78.
By now I have really had enough of mountains and plains for a while. I was ready for a good river run and decided to follow the Yampa River across the northern third of Colorado on US40. It is a scenic wandering series of valleys, just the sort of change I needed.
Stopped for an ice cream in Steamboat Springs, I glanced at the map and smiled smugly at the thundercloud drenching the mountain at the edge of town. It looked like my road went down that valley to the right and I would miss the storm. I should have looked closer. Five miles out of town, the road turned left and climbed over Rabbit Ear Pass, right into the storm. Had it not been for my dumb luck in ordering two scoops, I would have had my first rain event on this trip. As it was, I rode through coursing rivulets coming down the roadway, but I was right on the tail edge of the rain veil. Technically, still a dry ride at 3,000 miles and counting.
Christmas tree green.
Every now and then, the magical forces of motorcycling and the environment converge to cross the wires of your sensory perception. Something stimulates you and instead of hearing, seeing or smelling, you get the right stimulation in the wrong sensor. You may hear an aroma. You may see a sound. You may smell a color. That's what happened to me.
After the storm, with the ruffled winds still swirling about and the fresh heavy dampness pressed against the earth, I rode though a pocket of sensation near a stand of pine trees. What I inhaled did not come through as a smell - it was the aroma of the color green. It particularly smelled like the color of christmas tree green. Not like a tree, but like its color.
Motorcycling is a drug that can twist your senses by enhancing them beyond traditional reality, not by impairing them. If you don't ride, maybe you should try ... you might like the flavor of what you see.
Frontier US189 WY412 WY414/UT43 UT44 US191 US40 Kremmling
(In the truly quaint 1930s Eastin Hotel with cowboy rooms and bath down the hall.)
The best laid plans of mice and riders.
Planned: Breeze into Denver, retrieve her bike, meet
at the airport, roll west.
Unplanned: storms that screwed eastern air traffic schedules.
Unplanned: playing tug of war with a parking ticket machine.
Oh heck, let's start in Kremmling again. The Cowboy
Espresso shop was packed to the doors. Say what you want about the yuppification
of the old towns, but this was the only business that was busy early this
morning. Even the "plain old coffee" (as it was listed) was anything but
plain. People want what they are used to, and many are used to a quality
that is raising standards where they go.
My experience with getting Internet connected last night is an example. The old and very charming Eastin Hotel does not have phones in the rooms, so I politely asked if I could use the office phone to make my computer call. Perhaps because Rudy, the house dog, enthusiastically liked me, the clerk said yes. While I was composing my story in the lobby another traveler came in to ask for a room. She huffed and heeled away when told there were no phones ... "We get ALL our needs on the Internet! Humph!". The clerk just shrugged. But I suspect the Internet is not something that can be shrugged off for long.
Although I am using a GPS, I still carry paper maps
for the occasional 'big view'. It is unfathomable to me what formula is
used to decide when a route is to be marked "scenic". Yesterday I wrote
about the enjoyable ride along the Yampa River from Craig to Steamboat
Springs. That is not marked scenic, but it is. Today I took the not marked
CO 9 from Kremmling to Dillon, and thought it was more scenic than the
marked route from Hot Sulphur Springs to Winter Park. The message here
is don't take maps as gospel - you have to ride your own ride.
Still thinking I was on schedule, I wandered through west Denver and eventually met IBMWR President Dr.Bob for a wanderlunch. (Thanks Bob.) Shortly after I found Rebecca's planned 3:30 arrival might turn into an overnight in Ack!Run! (Ackron), Ohio, but instead it meant I was waiting curbside at the terminal at 12:30 am. On the way in, the ticket gates played a game with me. At first they sensed the bike and pushed out a ticket, but before I could grab it they decided the signal wasn't strong enough and slurped the ticket back into the machine. I rolled back and tried again. Pitooie/slurp. Rolled back and tried a different gate (thankfully, there was no traffic at midnight). Pitooie/slurp. Ok, enough of this game. I rolled back a good 50 feet and gunned it. Slipped into neutral and stuck out my left hand while braking. Pitooie/grab/attempted slurp/tug/slurp/yank/slurp (damn I musta looked dumb see-sawing with a robot) one more yank and out came ... two tickets. Denver airport is not accommodating to motorcycles.
Kremmling CO9 I70 Denver
Come morning, refreshed and ready, we circled the
city to visit Rocky Mountain Harley Davidson. WHAT? You say? Thot youse
guys was on Beemers? Yes, but Colorado Jeff told us RMHD has a fully restored
WLA on display. Rebecca's father was a sergeant of the motorcycle motor
pool during WWII and had a fleet of WLAs. She had never seen one other
than in pictures. This was complete, down to the leather foot guards, the
bivouac shovel, and the Thompson submachine gun in its front rack (a real
one, btw!). Quite an eyeful.
Finally we turn west and begin the long climb off the plains. At the entrance to Turkey Creek Canyon, four horses stand on a hill and seemingly point the way. Three chestnut browns stand nose to tail and a paint stands angled as an arrowhead on the shaft. The canyon is the perfect combination of colors and terrain. I think this is the best way to or from the southwest of Denver.
Lunch at the old Fairplay Hotel and Restaurant threw in unexpected entertainment. It was Burro Race Days in Fairplay, the jackass Iditerod. It might have been fun to see how many jackasses had two feet instead of four, but miles called - and I was concerned about the clouds over the divide. In the hazy heat, the humidity was casting a blue gauze across the distant ridges. As we climbed, the mountains off toward Pike's Peak looked remarkably like the eastern Blue Ridge, only higher. While we drifted along the high plains, broad shafts of sunlight split the clouds and glanced off the Collegiate Peaks (Mt. Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Antero ... Antero?) and Rebecca commented with the brilliant sunplay these must be like the Shining Mountains of Indian lore.
Wanderlust rain luck was with us again, and we made it over Monarch Pass only minutes after the downslope had been drenched. From there the dreamy ride across the Gunnison plain and again along the Black Canyon was enough to wipe out that 'sealed inside' feeling. All through the valley with the continental divide to the left and the Black Mesa to the right, we did the dance of the rain veils, occasionally getting sprinkles but never wet. If there is a better way to cross central Colorado, I don't know it.
Today was Rebecca's birthday. She said her present was one of the most beautiful motorcycle rides she has ever taken.
Denver CO470 US285 US50 CO92 CO65 Cedaredge
In all of the United States, possibly the most diverse
change of terrain from lush to lost occurs between western Colorado and
eastern Utah. An easy motorcycle ride.
The hot and relatively flat Uncompahgre Plateau lies at the foot of the Rockies. Delta, Montrose, and Ridgeway sit in this bowl. It is open land and fast travel, but a notable comparison to the path that follows. Heading south and west, you have two choices. The Million Dollar Highway heads through Ouray toward Durango. (A million dollars was still a lot when the road was built through the toughest mountains yet attempted. These days a million dollars *a mile* is considered cheap for road construction, even in flat Florida.) The Million Dollar Highway is twisty and rugged, but it is also the more direct route and every RV in Colorado responds to its magnetism. If you've never ridden this on a motorcycle, it is a worthy ride, but save your sanity and try to do it on a weekday.
The other choice is my favorite. CO62 leads up the tight and narrow canyon of the San Miguel River to Telluride. Just before Telluride, CO145 begins the spectacular climb over Lizard Head Pass. This section of the Rockies could easily be mistaken for the Sawtooth Range, except some of the teeth are missing. To me it seems this road is both closer to the edge and exposes more of the mountain angles and elevation. And there are fewer RVs. CO145 is a proper road for a motorcycle. The curves are tight enough to require real leans but open enough to still let you see scenery (if you keep your head up and look through the curve like your MSF training taught). As there is on the Silverton side, there was an old narrow gauge railroad to Telluride, but this one was removed after the mining boom. The old Galloping Goose engine looks remarkably like a school bus with a cow catcher. It now resides at the rail museum at the bottom of the pass in Dolores. While the view from the top is not as panoramic as some, it is still awe inspiring for the red, copper, green and grey color strata lining the mountains like decorative wainscoting.
The storm door slammed shut behind us.
Sometimes there are moments in nature when you just feel a change. We had been climbing toward the clouds since passing the horse whisperer's (Monty Roberts) corral in Ridgeway. I sighed relief after we began the descent and the roiling clouds were still only dark gray instead of black. The winds were at out back going downslope until we reached Stoner, then in an instant the wind changed to upslope and smelled damp. Looking back confirmed what I already knew. The separate clouds had closed together, turned black, and claimed the pass. A thunderstorm had been born. I would not want to be up there when that happened. Wanderlust rain luck snuck by again.
Cortez marks the end of the lush. Within only a few
miles on the road to Hovenweep, the land becomes too rocky and too dry
for anything but sagebrush. This lost land is, of course, typical of what
the government uses to solve a problem - it becomes a reservation. In a
strange play on words, the Ute reservation is in Colorado and ends at the
Utah (land of the Ute) border, where the Navajo begin.
About the same time, any semblance of comfortable temperature ends also. From mid 70s on the pass, temperatures steadily increase toward the San Juan Plain, and we are now soaking ourselves to try to counter
It may be crazy to be here on a motorcycle in July, but even in the heat the magnificence of the ride past the Valley of the Gods into Monument Valley is worth it. On the bank of the San Juan River, the sandstone cliffs are all red. This is an entire world away from the forest green of the upper Colorado, yet we have traveled only
Cedaredge CO65 CO92 US50 US550 CO62 CO145
US160 county-G UT262 US163 Mexican Hat
Today's route is the second major purpose of this
trip. After the rally in Paonia, I wanted to share the crossing of Utah
I enjoyed so much during my April trip. I can't better describe it now
than I did in that segment (Wanderlust
2000.19), so I'll make this short with other observations.
Some correspondents on the motorcycle mailing lists say you can never repeat a route and expect anyone else to get the same thing out of it that you did the first time. Of course even you can't get the exact same experience yourself because time of day, weather, traffic, and the position of the Milky Way in cosmic time are different. But sometimes the scenery is consistent enough to impress anew. And impress it did.
The UT261 climb up the Mokee Dugway is less challenging
that it looks. Take your time and swing wide in the switchbacks, and the
three miles of good gravel don't seem enough to cover the distance from
the valley floor to the top of the rim. However, if you rush and spend
too much time looking at the eye catching view ... well, eleven hundred
feet straight down does bad things to a motorcycle. Still, the most impressive
aspect of this road is to stop at the bottom before (or after) the climb
and look where you can't see it is possible for a road to be.
What a wonderful canyon Glen Canyon must have been before the dam. A snippet of how it might have looked is still presented in the Narrow Canyon crossing, but the rest has been lost to the entertaining waters of Lake Powell. Beyond the lake it seems so very strange to be riding through such an arid desert and have every other approaching vehicle be towing a boat or watercraft. Boats in the desert are one of those anomalies we have come to accept without thought.
The southwest is 'bearable' in its current heatwave. We are mentally and protectively set for the 100+ temperatures, so it doesn't really affect our travel. These days there are many more motorcycles on the road than when I came through here in April. Most of them are Harleys headed east and likely on their way to Sturgis for "the event". Without being judgmental, we can't understand how someone can spend all day, several days in a row, in this sun with only a tank top and sunglasses for protection. Can you say roasted?
Rebecca's comment in passing the crimson rocks of the North Wash of the canyon was that it reminded her of a red rock bakery, with dough holes in the swirling walls. I'll bet some of the riders will look just as red at the end of their day.
A few miles before Fry Canyon there is a round rock
protrusion several hundred feet wide and about the same height rising from
the flat plain. It has a layered cropping with a button ball on top. Its
name is Cheesebox Butte. For its appearance, it is fitting - that is if
you know what a cheese box looks like. Which shows me again how technology
is changing or has changed our perception. Who has a cheesebox these days?
This is an 'old' name for an even older rock. I like rides that make me
Then there are some things that are unthinkable. In previous travel stories I commented about how local road signs represented the 'open range', i.e. cattle on road. California signs show a cow. Nevada signs have a steer. Texas signs clearly present a longhorn. So why does Utah silhouette a bullcow? It took a few passes before I recognized what didn't seem right. This animal has an udder and horns. Udder nonsense if you ask me. Utah does not seem a frivolous state, so is this a government sign designed by committee?
Once again, I want to say that the central part of
Utah - the part between the parks, is scenic in a way that begs involvement,
that requires observation. Now there is a theater in Springville, Utah,
where you can 'experience' the grandeur of Bryce Canyon without having
to do all that nasty stuff ... like going there to see it. Standing at
the top of the Escalante Staircase and seemingly looking down on the world
is something that can't be duplicated in a theater seat the way it can
be felt in a motorcycle seat. See it for real, it is worth the heat.
We end the day with an unexpected treat. In the Cowboy Smoke House barbecue restaurant in Panguitch (pan-gootch), a guitarist and a pedal steel player pump out traditional cowboy trail songs. Ah, the nostalgia of every western TV show and movie we grew up with ... but then it occurs to me, we are perhaps two of the only people in the place other than the staff who understand the words in these songs. It is summer in the west - if you want to converse with the average tourist, you must speak German.
Mexican Hat US163 UT261 UT95 UT24 UT12 US89 Panguitch
(Truth in story telling: this is sent a couple days behind actual time. We were so wracked by the heat, I fell behind and never caught up.)
Ah, morning in the mountains, or at least near the mountains. The chill air reminds us the hottest part of the trip is yet to come. Temps in the lowland deserts from St. George to Las Vegas have been in the hundred-teens, and even for a heat lover like me, that is not a pleasant thought. But first up is REAL tongue twirling cccooofffffeeeee at the Buffalo Java in Panguitch. And though this coffee smells fine, if you've ever smelled a buffalo up close you'll know this place is rightly named for the strength of its brew.
Ok, before everyone writes in about 'buffalo' versus 'bison' ... let me remind you I was not brought up on a farm. I don't know why it is, but whenever I mention cows, I get the most responses. Several many have corrected, clarified, and educated that cows do indeed have horns, unless they are polled, which means they have been dehorned. So if horns are removed from a motorcycle, does it also become a polled vehicle? (Please, don't.)
Another item that brought friends out of the woodwork
was my reminiscence of "smoot". Mark was the first with the precise
measurement of 364.4 smoots plus 1 ear, but Junji even provided a photograph
of the end measurement on the bridge. Such attention to my simple thoughts
is indeed humbling.
And I may as well dispatch one other dangling thread. After mentioning our fun 'family' of vagabonds, I received a good natured email from one who saw a
"KRT roll by going east... recognized the stupid flannel shirt! <G> Thought for a moment about scooting east for a minute to give you hell in person about the above mentioned comment, but decided against it... that would only add more fuel to the fire... who knows how you'd distort THAT encounter!"Distort? Granted my observations are unilateral, but I do take a little latitude with the longitude of my mercurial mercator meandering. How can any personal view be accurate? Oh heck, let's ride.
Last April I wanted to ride through Cedar Breaks,
but the road rises to almost 11,000 feet and was still closed by snow.
This was my first pass of the pass, and while some, including Rebecca,
will say this road is very scenic, I referred to it as Cedarbust. The one
view from the top of the cathedral spires formed by the erosion 'breaking'
the north slope is certainly vertigo inducing, but after the wonders witnessed
in the last week it didn't seem much. Maybe the coffee was wearing off.
Down hill, down hill, down hill, the more we went the warmer it got. In less than an hour, the change was half again the ambient temperature, from 60s to 90s. In Mt. Carmel, I laughed to pass the smallest motel I have ever seen. Just off the east side of the road is the diminutive log cabin and a sign for the Mt. Carmel Motel Room. Notice, singular.
Repeating my visit of earlier this year, we stopped
at Best Friends Animal Sanctuary for a tour. 650 dogs, even more cats,
200 plus rabbits, 40 horses, some burros and a pig have been rescued from
various fates to bring meaning to the word 'humane treatment' and, in turn,
to bring a fair amount of karma to Kanab Canyon.
Finally, facing the inevitable, we saw there was no way to avoid the blast across the desert - or the desert's blast of heat. At least we did it on our terms. Calculating the time to sunset (to be out of deer country) and playing a game between balancing heat and miles, we left Kanab at 7 pm, were whipped by the evening-risen wind until St. George, where the day's furnace of 109 had cooled all the way to 103, then roared down the Virgin River (remember, down means heat) to Las Vegas where the numbers had been a balmy 118. It was 10:30 pm when we arrived. It was 101 degrees.
Panguitch UT143 UT148 UT14 US89
US89A AZ389/UT59 UT9 I15 Las Vegas
Too little sleep, and still too hot. At 6:30 am it
is 84 degrees. But lo! For the first time in a month there are showers
in the valley. As we roll north west, we chase and eventually catch a thunderstorm
that barely sprinkles on us with rain evaporating before it hits ground,
but it does cool the air. Wanderluck is with us. In what I expected to
be a neck baker, the clouds remain all the way to Beatty. Along the way
we pass the Indian Springs gunnery range and I see the strangest small
plane vectoring for landing. It is obviously a drone, maybe 20 feet long,
with inverted V rear stabilizers, and eerily graceful. Shortly after, we
stop for a stretch break at the turn off to the Mercury test site. There
is no one at the entrance, but I can't help feeling we are being watched.
Where's that drone?
The hidden treasure of the Owens Valley is Westgard Pass and CA168 which runs between Big Pine and - well, nowhere, which is why it is undiscovered. Even if you do not take the 10 mile side trip to visit the Ancient Bristlecone Pine forest - perhaps one of the most thought provoking rest stops anywhere - the view of the seeming impenetrable Sierra Nevada eastern flank is something that will make you wonder how anything as small as a human could have come so far and traveled so easily. Here near the foot of Mt. Whitney and the backbone of Kings Canyon, there is majesty and an aura of permanence. Even if the mountains are still moving.
A quick run up the valley and it seems we, like the mountains, rest for the first time in an eon. She doesn't realize she just rode over 500 miles in 2/3 day.
Las Vegas US95 NV266 CA168 US395 Mammoth Lakes
Travel is a window for some, a mirror for others.
In the best of compromises, it is a reflective view port through which
one captures memories by introspection. For me through most of this trip,
like many trips before, seeing the world from the unbounded prow of a motorcycle
cutting its swath through an ocean of air, and feeling the wake of that
invisible passage, has turned my thoughts to the to the flow of circumstances
that place us each where we are.
No one mentally capable of riding a motorcycle could possibly ride this particular route without thinking beyond the immediate. Warm sun at your back on a cool high mountain morning. A two lane path of paved pleasure tenaciously grasping the rise and twist of the terrain racing before you. Granite cliffs soaring on the left to ragged ridges still covered with snow in early August, and the contrasting flat face of Mono Lake on the right smiling bluer than the sky in its twinkling waves. You may not see god on US395, but you will see some of god's favorite places. (P.S. Don't miss the sign for High Sierra Shrimp Company just north of Lee Vining. Mountain shrimp ... now there's another thought provoker.)
After a leisurely morning and a well deserved rest from the heat, I urged us both to stay mentally focused. The trip is not over yet, and it is too easy to fall to the trap of "things to do when home ...". The good traveler does not end the trip until it is over. There are still the Sierra, the foothills, the valley, and the coast - this little thing called California that others would crave to see. It is still a day trip I enjoy.
We decided Tioga Pass, through Yosemite, would be
too much of others, of crowds, craving, so we chose again the road less
traveled and went the extra 20 miles to Sonora Pass. Weather wise, with
Wanderluck it turned out to be the right decision. The entire Range of
Light was draped with dark clouds which ended at Hanna Mountain, just south
of Devils Gate Summit. Despite the rambling, rumbling thunderstorms, the
sky remained clear above us as we negotiated the 27% climb up the east
face (a big reason why few RVs go this way).
By noon in Pinecrest, at the altitude where the temperature was still pleasant, we were challenging California to give us its best. We took on Utah, we beat Nevada, c'mon Cal, throw it at us. Through little towns with big image names, Mi-Wuk Village (Indian tribe), and Twain Harte (authors Mark and Bret), by the time we reached Confidence I was confident it would be an easy day - barely even sweating weather in Sonora at 103. :)
Last night Rebecca asked why one would be so tired
at the end of a day's ride when the day itself didn't involve much movement
and seemingly no exercise. Response? Oh, yes, there is plenty of exercise.
I call it isometric attention. Once under way, the bike may do all the
work, but the rider is on constant alert and moving 100% of the time. Don't
think so? Even on a straight, flat road try closing your eyes and see how
high you can count before attention deficit panic kicks in. Your body's
survival reactions won't stay quiet long. And moving? Those who have a
throttle lock know that no fixed position matches any road. There are small
but frequent adjustments necessary to keep 'steady'. We won't even talk
about interspersing scanning for danger while absorbing scenery. Even on
a relaxing ride you never rest.
So stare intently at something for several hours while holding yours hands out in front of you. Tired? As fun as it is, riding is work. And I love my work.
At last the familiar twinge of fog cooled air creeps into the tactile pattern blasting past us at insane freeway speeds, faster in some cases just to keep up than we rode in unlimited roads of the open desert. And then over the last coastal rise there is the white layer of natural air conditioning, reminding us this is a perfect place to live. And since it is the end of the continent, not a bad place to end a trip, either.
Mammoth Lakes US395 CA108 CA120 US205 I580 San Francisco
Rebecca rode 3,363 miles total, an admirable achievement for two weeks.
My extra week while wandering Wyoming worked me up to 5,161 miles.
Sam Lepore, San Francisco
... from Rebecca:
Sam's been after me to supply some of my observations to be included.
It's kind of like cooking for Julia Child but here goes...
First of all, I can't thank Sam enough for the wonderful vacation. He took on a lot in planning the routes, places to stop, places to eat, etc. And all I can say is that he is the most wonderful tour guide. Throughout the trip he never seemed to mind that I had to stop frequently to unbend my bad knees, or that I hate heat. And he knows all the best motorcycle roads.
The canyons, rivers, creeks, mountains, meadows, flowers, rocks, trees, smells, mountain passes, dips (whoop-dee-doos), the quiet, etc., were breathtaking in the extreme. Being outside the whole time on a motorcycle showed me just how stifling sealed buildings can be. Chief Seattle said something about the longer man (and woman) is away from nature, the harder their heart grows. No one could finish a trip like this with a hard heart. America is such a beautiful country.
The Colorado BMW Riders and the town of Paonia surely do put on a fun rally. The best restaurant award goes to The Casa in Paonia and their friendly staff. Being from San Francisco and therefore slightly spoiled when it comes to restaurants, this one is still worth a side trip if you find yourself anywhere near Paonia in the future.
We saw a few women riders and that's an increasingly good sign. (BMW AG listen up! - not every rider is 6 feet tall.) I must confess that I especially enjoyed the looks on the faces of several young girls when they realized I was riding my own bike.
But my favorite part of the trip was riding my bike behind Sam up and down the swooping mountain passes. That was a riding course all its own. He was probably throttling it down to a speed that suited me, but following him along those roads I felt the freedom to just enjoy the roller coaster ride without worrying too much about the sharpness of the curve, the condition of the road, etc. And enjoy it I surely did! I even got to ride beside a rainbow. Leaving Mammoth Lakes after a thunderstorm, and on a 4 lane road, a car passed me and was kicking up water from the still-wet road surface, and a rainbow appeared in its wake - a full-fledged rainbow about ten feet long. Riding along encompassed by a rainbow was a magical feeling indeed.
Riding a motorcycle is the pot of gold.