Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Pagosa Springs, Colorado -> Grapevine, Texas...

I hit the wall.  I didn’t want to get out of bed and ride today.  The seat on Shamu, our BMW K1200LT was covered in frost again.  I struggled my way out of bed and over to the hotel restaurant for breakfast.  I put down a couple of over-easy eggs and some toast and fried potatoes.  I slammed some super weak coffee and walked with Farnham, a close friend for over half my life now, back to the room and packed the gear to keep on.  Far saddled up on my KTM and headed back north to his family in Vail.  I reluctantly got on Shamu, though I really just wanted to go back to bed.  I think that I was really hesitant because I knew that today I’d be leaving my beloved Rocky Mountains and heading into the hot flats of eastern New Mexico and Texas.

I took my time getting on the road so the mountain weather could warm up.  I fueled up at the end of town in Pagosa Springs.  My turnoff heading into New Mexico was only a stone’s throw from the gas station.  I wound up the motor and pressed south towards Chromo and then Chama before eventually heading across high desert to Taos.

Taos was in the midst of an annual art fair and the town was busy, and it was hot.  I got turned around for a minute heading up to the Taos Pueblo.  I thought perhaps that was the town center, but instead it was a replica of old Taos set up for tourists.  It looked neat enough but I was sweating in my mountain gear and had only one thing on my mind… cooling off.

I finally found Taos and all of its pale orange adobe.  I also found a street corner that was well shaded.  I pulled Shamu over and quickly started shedding gear there on the corner of US 64 and some residential side street.  An older guy checking his mail yelled over asking if I needed help:  Nope!  I’m all set.

Then the local US Postal Service lady came by in her little mail truck.  She chatted with me for a couple minutes while I was pulling liners out of my riding pants and jacket.  Wow people are nice here in Taos!

After losing some gear I was feeling much much better.  I followed US 64 east through some really cool winding mountain roads.  The roads were narrow and though the pavement was good there were no shoulders at all.  I was one car behind a group of motorcycles.  We swooped and swayed through the switchbacks.  On the last switchback before Angelfire, the last guy in the lineup ahead got too wide and put the front tire of his ElectraGlide into the soft gravel next to the road.  In a single moment he was on the ground beside his bike on his back.  Fortunately he went down as softly as possible with only minor damage to bike and body.  I pulled over and helped him lift his bike back up about the time his buddies had turned around.

It was a good reminder to check my speed.  I fueled up in Anglefire and rode south towards Mora and then caught a very small mountain road through the foothills.  NM 94 was paved well but incredibly narrow.  I almost felt like I was riding a very long driveway.

It was really hot when I got into Las Vegas, New Mexico and I wasn’t really sure where I was headed.  A guy yelled, “hey nice BMW!” from behind me.  I turned and looked to see a long-haired biker wearing a leather vest and some bug-eye goggles sitting on a Dyna Wide Glide.  I waved casually.

At the next light, he pulled up next to me and asked if I’d really ridden all the way from Alaska.  When I told him I left a week ago he just shook his head with a disbelieving look on his face.  I asked him how to get to the highway that heads to Tucumcari.  He told me to follow him.  It reminded me of so many situations in South America where this happened.

Once I got out of Las Vegas and started riding east, I was sad knowing that my mountain riding had come to a close for now.  The road was sadly flat and straight with nothing but expanse to look at.  I did get some incredible desert canyon riding for a while in eastern NM before crossing into the flats heading for Amarillo.

I found a motel off the highway in Amarillo about an hour after dark, got some grub and crashed out.  The ride to Grapevine was uneventful.  I was very excited to get to the Gaylord Texan Hotel and take some time off of Shamu.  And of course, I was super excited to be seeing my lovely Laura, who would be helping me buy apparel at the show.

Other than some lousy construction in the hottest temps of the ride, 95°F just outside of Grapevine, the ride on my last day was a minor 5.5 hours and uneventful.  The scenery is dry around this part of Texas.  I’m not really that excited to have to ride back through it all on our way out of here.  At least I’ll have a passenger, since Laura will be joining me back to Colorado.

Next up:  Grapevine, Gaylord, and Motorrad Aftersales OTF… 

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Vail, Colorado -> Pagosa Springs, Colorado...

At noon Farnham St. John and I rode out of Avon, Colorado heading for Minturn on Colorado Highway 24.  Farnham was riding my KTM950Adventure, the bike that I rode to Tierra Del Fuego, Argentina last year.  It is an incredible circle that has transpired.  I have now, aside from the haul road, ridden the length of North and South America.  It was pretty cool to be riding Shamu behind Gigante ripping over Battle Mountain Pass and past Red Cliff, Colorado.

Highway 24 from Minturn to Salida is an amazing winding highway that passes over Battle Mountain Pass and Tennessee Pass, which is over 10,000 ft.   We pass through Leadville, Colorado, the highest city in Colorado.

After Leadville we paralleled the highest mountains in Colorado, Mt. Elbert (14.440’) and Mt. Massive (14.428’).  And then a little later down the Arkansas river valley, we paralleled the equally huge Collegiate Peaks all the way to U.S. Hwy. 50.

At Hwy 50, we turned west and climbed over Monarch Pass.  The weather was just beautiful and actually the pass was a nice reprieve from the valley heat.  We wound along down the west side of Monarch Pass down into Gunnison.    We fueled up and pushed another 9 miles west to Colorado Highway 149.

Neither Farnham nor I had ever ridden this road before.  At a combined 25 years or so of exploring this state, we were both amazed.  This highway, a Colorado Scenic Byway called the Silver Thread winds around through sagebrush meadows and Aspen groves before winding down into a beautiful canyon. 

After several miles of valley riding we started climbing a beautiful pass through big bright yellow aspen groves.  The light was excellent.  The switchbacks were super tight and steep but perfectly paved.  It made for excellent riding.  We climbed over the summit of Slumgullion Pass, the highest of my entire route, at 11,361 ft.  On the backside it was 10°F cooler and the forest immediately changed from Aspen to Spruce and Fir.  The light seemed far away now that it was behind the mountains.  We rode over another pass, Spring Creek at 10,901 ft.   We both knew that this meant we’d be riding over Wolf Creek Pass (10,857’) in the dark to get to Pagosa Springs for the night.

All was well up Hwy 160 past Wolf Creek Pass Ski Area, one of my favorite ski areas in Colorado.  The temperature in South Fork was 53°F, at the top of the pass it was 41°F.  Almost all the way down into Pagosa Springs, I had a close call with a young mule deer.  Thank god for those Brembo brakes on Shamu.  All survived the incident, but not without a hell of an adrenaline rush.

We grabbed some excellent traditional Mexican food at Tequila’s and then headed over to the Pagosa Springs Inn to soak in the excellent hot springs there.  Early to bed early to rise… two more days to Grapevine. 

Teton National Park -> Vail, Colorado...

I decided that I wasn't going to get anymore sleep anyway so I might as well get up and get things packed up and hit the road.  The temperature had dipped well below freezing while I'd slept.  The cold made its way to my core throughout the night.  The 0° F rating on my down sleeping bag was no match for these Rocky Mountain fall nights.  The entire outside of the tent was covered in frost and Shamu was too.

When I'd finished packing up all my camping gear and fired up the LT, the thermometer read 28° F at 8:00am.  It made me wonder how low it had gotten overnight since the sun had already begun to crest the mountains to the east.

I rode out of the chilly campground with the seat heater and heated handgrips on their highest settings.  A group of buffalo munched on yellow grasses with Grand Teton looking over them.  I rode the quick ten minutes or so into Jackson and stopped off at JHOrganics for a smoothie and a breakfast burrito.  I'd been eating so many hamburgers and fries that I was craving something healthy.  The 'In the blue' smoothie was just the answer.  With loads of fresh fruit and a bunch of health supplements blended in, I'd be lucky if my system didn't go into shock.

I rode south on US Highway 191 heading first to Hoback Junction and then onward towards Rock Springs.  The sunlight was lighting Hoback Canyon nicely and some of the trees even were showing some color, the first I'd seen since the Cassiar Highway in British Columbia.  Sweet smells of autumn sage filled my nostrils as I rode through the high desert plateau.

I fueled up in Rock Springs, opted for a longer but more scenic route, heading west on I-80 for a couple miles and then rejoining US 191 south along the eastern side of Flaming Gorge.  The Uinta mountains are low and rounded and look more like foothills than mountains.  But the multicolored canyons in the area are spectacular.  As I made my way toward Vernal, UT, I descended down through layers of rock and time, crossed over the Flaming Gorge Dam and then climbed again through various layers of geology and the Earth's history that they represent.  When I got into Vernal it was downright hot.

I knew I had a long way to go before I'd be in Vail.  Once I got into the wide open sagebrush desert of Northwestern Colorado, I decided I'd open up the throttle a bit and make up some time.  I'd passed a couple of Wyoming Sheriffs back north of Rock Springs doing well over the speed limit and they'd paid me no mind.  I started wondering if Shamu was maybe invisible.  I'd already spent plenty of time imagining that I was riding a giant flying whale through the desert, but now it had evolved another level.  I was riding an invisible flying whale!  (What was in that smoothie anyway?)

So off I went flying along US 40 headed towards Craig and eventually Steamboat Springs.  I was clipping along between 100 - 120 mph enjoying the wide open expansiveness all around.  I could see for miles.  I scanned the roadside for animals and kept pressing on.  The big LT was as rock solid and steady as ever.  A virtual pavement crushing time machine.  I'd be in Vail in no time.

About ten minutes later it all went wrong.  Something had caught my eye in my mirror; I thought I saw headlights flashing.  Not the car behind me but the one behind that.  I thought for a moment that it could be the heat coming off the desert floor making the lights appear to be flashing.  That thought lasted only a second.  I physically turned my head to get a better look.  Nope they're definitely flashing, and there's some pretty blue and red ones flashing inside the windshield and radiator grille too.

Contrary to my desert driven delusions, neither does Shamu fly nor is she invisible.  At least not in Colorado.  I pulled over immediately.  I was off the bike with my helmet off before the pickup truck even made it around the car that was between us.  Sheriff Shock, no joke that was his name, jumped out of his pickup truck, hand resting on his handgun.  "Do you know how fast you were going?"

"No sir, I'm not really sure." I said, not lying totally. "But I'm willing to guess you do."

"Well I clocked you at 87 mph when I was coming towards you, and then I got you at 90 mph while I was chasing you.  It took me quite a while to catch up to you and I was moving pretty fast."

I'm sure he was ready for an argument or a denial of some sort and was probably wondering why I'd just pulled over when he was still a quarter of a mile behind me.  Plain and simple, I thought he'd got me when I was still well over a hundred.  "Thank god he only got me at 90!" was what I was thinking.

I apologized, tried to make some feeble excuses about how it was so wide open and finally I was somewhere where I didn't have to worry about tons of animals.  That didn't go very far.  He quickly informed me that I was in the best trophy elk hunting grounds in the nation.  He asked for my license.  I handed him my Colorado driver's license.  He squinted a bit looking at the license and then my Alaska license plate... then at me.  "So what's going on here?" he asked about my mismatched license and license plate.  I explained best that I could but it didn't really help, neither did the fact that none of my paperwork really matched the bike and that when he ran my license plate it didn't come up to this bike, or any particular bike either.  Lucky for me, Sheriff Shock was a rider himself, believed my story and let me go with a ticket for $167 for exceeding the speed limit by 10-19mph.  I thanked him for reducing the speed and handed him a business card with my blog address written on the back.  I told Sheriff Shock if he made it to Fairbanks he should pay us a visit.

"If you don't pay that ticket, I just might have to," he said with a smile and shook my hand before heading off the other direction looking for more people to 'protect and serve.'

Needless to say I spent the rest of the afternoon riding within 5 mph of the speed limit all the way down Colorado 131 to Wolcott.  I zipped up I-70 excited to see friends and family in the Vail Valley for the night.  Another incredible day.

I have to admit that I'm starting to wear down.  The last hour today seemed like an eternity.  These big mileage days are starting take their toll on me.  But with only a couple more days until Laura arrives in Grapevine, I've got lots of miles left to go.

Next up:  Vail, Colorado -> Pagosa Springs, ColoradoPagosa Springs -> Amarillo, TexasAmarillo -> Grapevine, TX

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Bozeman, MT -> Jacskon, WY

Sweet potato fries with eel sauce and wasabi-salt crust.  Deliciously unique.

I had to go back to Seven Sushi Sake, in Bozeman another night.  The food was so good on Sunday, I had to go back again before I left town.  Drew and Nick Chlebeck have a good thing going on there.  If you happen to find your way into Bozeman, check them out on Kagy Street.

Drew and Nick at closing time... So great to see these guys.
I talked Drew into riding out to Yellowstone National Park with me.  He agreed on one condition:  We have to stop for the best burgers in the world at Mark's In N Out in Livingston on the way.  And then he'd only ride to the park if we were going to soak in the Boiling River.  O.K. so 'two conditions.'  After passing on the commercial pools of Radium, back in B.C., I figured this all sounded great.

Lunch was excellent and with names like triple cheeseburger and super bacon cheese how could you go wrong?  This is a true roadside grill that has been around almost as long as Yellowstone itself.  Definitely worth a drive by for some good ol' Americana.  Off thru Paradise Valley and into the park from the Gardiner entrance under the Roosevelt Arch.

The Boiling River turned out to be spectacular.  It is probably the finest hot spring experience I've had in my life, which made it really easy to stay there soaking much longer than I should have.  This lead to a big push after Drew and I went opposite directions.  I saw a lot more wildlife including a bunch of bison and another huge bull elk.

It was an awesome way to spend the afternoon.  It was already getting dark when I entered Teton National Park.  I cruised along the pavement in the darkening light with my eyes peeled for wildlife.  Fortunately I made it clear to Jackson without worry.  It was late already and I needed food.  I saw a little place called 'Thai Me Up' that was packed and looked good enough to me.  The food was delicious.

I decided to backtrack north and rode 15 minutes from Jackson to the Gros Ventre Campground just inside the Teton National Park.  I set up my tent in the cold dark at nearly midnight.   Another great ride and super good to be rolling south again.

Next up:  Wyoming, Utah, a brush with the Law in Colorado and a night with my family in Vail.  Closing in on Texas bit by bit... or in this case huge chunk of miles at a time.