- Rockies tour ’22
Welcome to my least-organized tour to date. I am setting off on Saturday (July 9th) for a weeks tour of the Rocky Mountains, and instead of my usual extended period of planning, I have a rough structure in place, some hotel nights booked, and not a lot else. Usually by this stage I have mapped days, mileage charts, equipment lists and a bunch more. And yet this time, I haven’t even thought about packing yet – I set off in 2 days.
We have lived up in the mountains for the last year and a half. I have done a bit of riding locally, but nothing major. I have my comfy armchair bike, which has a sound-system that is better than many of the clubs in Denver (not that I have actually been to ANY of those, but indulge me), and this bike is itching for some challenging mountain riding.
My life – both work and personal – has been quite hectic for a while. We were far too comfortable and settled at home, so we decided to get ourselves a puppy at the beginning of April. Luna came into our lives at that point, and has brought much joy and love and a distinct lack of sleep. It didn’t take her long to get fully crate and house trained, but she is awake and in need of a comfort break before 6am daily. She also needs a fair amount of activity, so we have been walking and exploring and socializing, and this keeps us quite busy.
Likewise, work has presented lots of good opportunities to keep me rather stretched, and so between the dog and the job and some summer activities, I am ready for a break.
I plan to disconnect significantly from the world, and criss-cross the Rockies for a week, traveling to places I have not been, and riding some steep and twisty passes that would make a mountain goat think twice.
As usual, I will keep a record here of my trip, so that you can follow along if you wish to – and so that in years to come, I can read these pages and be reminded of the details that have since escaped my ever-fuzzier brain.
I can’t wait!
Here is my approximate map for this adventure:
- The night before the morning after
So – it is 5:30pm on Friday evening. I have wrapped up work and studies, set my out-of-office email auto-reply, and stopped my work apps from syncing and notifying on my phone. I am slowly starting to switch off from the world, and turn my attention to my trip.
I am about to start packing and faffing with gear. I love this part of my trips – it feels like I am making sure I have everything I need for a good and successful adventure when my bike is loaded and my bags all packed. It is a very satisfying feeling to be ready to roll, and I hope to get everything I can done this evening.
There will always be last minute panics about “OMG did I pack my thingy”, and there are also things I can’t pack til the last minute – toothbrush and deodorant, sunglasses and my water flask, and similar. However, I am now going to make the lists that I would normally have been creating a tweaking for a few weeks by this stage.
Once the lists are done, I am going to attach my new toy to the bike. New for this tour, I bought a GoPro camera to film a bikes-eye-view of the travel. There will be hours of footage to trawl through, and this is a new tool for me so there will probably be a few days of fiddling and tweaking before I get the settings right. But, my hope is to put together a video of the tour.
Anyway – here is a little more detail on the plan for the trip. See y’all on the road
- Day 1 – Bailey, CO to Delta, CO – 248 miles
And we are off. Well, I am. This is a solo tour, which is what I wanted, but I guess we can count both the bike and me, so yes – we are off and underway.
Lena was up early as she was headed into Denver to do a 5k race. BTW – she did really well and got a great time – under 30 minutes for a 5k. Anyway, it meant that I got up early too, so did some dog things, observed my sacred breakfast rituals, and then was free to faff with the bike and my packing. I got the bike mostly loaded and ready, then took Luna for a short walk, before completing my prep, and heading out into the great wide open.
The first couple of hours were very familiar – though still pretty.I joined Highway 285 a couple of miles from home, and rode southwesterly through Fairplay to Buena Vista, where I refueled. After Buena, I broke new ground, and turned north for a couple of miles, before turning west towards Cottonwood Pass.
Buena Vista is just below 8000 ft altitude, and the climb to the top of Cottonwood, which is at 12,126 ft, was spectacular. Just the right combination of sweeping bends, amazing views, and tight hairpins, the ascent was rewarded with a stop at the top to experience the majestic scenery. Cottonwood Pass straddles the continental divide, so that water that falls on the east side runs to the Atlantic, and the West to the Pacific. A standard National Forest sign indicates the divide
I met a fellow biker at the summit of Cottonwood Pass, who had ridden from LA, and was headed in the opposite direction to me, ultimately destined for Ohio. He was a film-maker, and we chatted briefly about his GoPro setup. I got a GoPro for this trip, and have hours and hours of video already captured that I need to figure out. Once I do, I might post some video here – or a link to Youtube with any videos on there.
I rolled down the other side of the pass, and again enjoyed the twisty road and views. At the lower end, I turned SW once more, and made my way along to Gunnison. Here, I stopped for a late lunch and to have a break from the heat and the saddle, and had a chicken sandwich and a rather decent lemonade.
Gunnison sits on a river of the same name, which has been dammed a little further west, and has created a spectacular set of features and beaches. The dam is called the Blue Mesa, and is the largest body of water in Colorado. A lovely ride along the water took me as far as the dam wall, which I crossed by leaving the popular route, and headed up the Black Canyon road which sits very high above the river on the north bank.
This part of the ride was another highlight of my day. Very quiet – I did not see many vehicles – it offered lovely, steep and twisty roads and amazing views. I rode high above the canyon for an hour, and stopped at a couple of scenic viewpoints along the way.
The last hour of the day was somewhat boring in terms of scenery and road-enjoyability. Long, straight roads led me north to Hotchkiss, and then west to Delta. I arrived in Delta around 6:30 in the pm, and stopped to fill up my bike to I can start the day tomorrow without worrying about a full tank. It was 37c (thats 98f for those of you in metric denial – and yes, I know I am logging the days progress in miles), and I was rapidly melting. My hotel was only a few minutes way, but by the time I got here, I felt like heat stroke and sunstroke were almost upon me. I managed to stagger off the bike, scoop up some key belongings, and checked in. Fortunately there was a water fountain with cold water in reception, so I drank a couple of gallons and filled up my waterbottle for good measure.
When I say hotel, I mean that on the loosest possible sense. When doing bike tours, I tend to favour ‘cheap and cheerful’ accommodation. Not always, but usually you arrive pretty tired, need a shower, a beer and some food, and a bed – and then you set off again early the next day. No point in spending money on a place with lovely facilities and good service when you are not really going to take advantage of said service and facilities. Anyway, my room is pretty basic, the aircon took about 3 hours to cool the room down, and I think the furniture has been in this room since the early 80’s – but it is functional, clean and I am going to sleep like a king no matter what, so there you go.
Supermarket next door provided me with a salad and 2 tins of cold beer, so that I could type this, and not be distracted by the many highlights of Delta, CO. Who knew? Anyway, Dearly Beloveds, I am going to post this, and then go and try to figure out all the video that (hopefully) was captured on my GoPro camera today.
See ya tomorrow.
Here is a link to the map of todays route, if you are so inclined.
- Day 2 – Delta, CO to Moab, UT – 206 miles
OMG! OMFG! My mind is officially blown! The ride today, and the scenery it presented to me, outstrips any superlatives I could reach for. I use a set of maps from a company called Butler, who produce said maps for motorcyclists, on a State by State basis. They do 2 sets – off-road and road-only maps, and grade the rides, with the gold-level grade as the top recommended rides for motorcyclists in that particular State.
I purchased the relevant maps, and used them to plan out this trip, which stretches across Colorado, while also slipping in some forays into Utah and New Mexico. Today, my plan had included 3 “Gold” standard rides – The Grand Mesa Scenic Highway, Rimrock drive through the Colorado National Monument park, and the Colorado River Scenic Byway in Utah. Not only do I approve of the gold ratings for each of these three – and each were very different – but the scenery they presented were stunningly spectacular.
When I left Delta this morning, I wouldn’t say I was in a particular hurry, but there is no reason to hang around there. Heading intially East for a bit, the road up to the Grand Mesa Scenic Highway turns north pretty quickly. About 20 minutes on the road brought me through Cedaredge, where I stopped at Connies Family diner for breakfast. And a jolly good breakfast it was. The daughter of the lady who runs the place was about 9 years old, and she was my server. The place was tiny, and to start with I was the only one there. The young lady was very on the ball, and very confident for a young’un, and I enjoyed her stories. She (mostly) talked about the food they make there, and how much she loves it. Anyway, she was pleasant company, and I enjoyed my American breakfast.
From Cedaredge, route 65 climbs up a wonderful and windy road, through cool forests, past the Mesa lakes. I saw a few deer, and stopped here and there for some views, enjoying the cool. Eventually the road topped out, and started to descend towards the high-plains and the oppressive heat. Down the big climb the road turned pretty much due west, and took me to I70 – the big Interstate Highway that runs from Baltimore on the East Coast, to a place somewhere in the middle of Utah. It was strange to be back on a big fast road, and it took me a little while to get used to it. I stopped at Palisade to get some water and cool down for a few minutes in a gas station shop, then rode a few miles more to Grand Junction.
Dropping off the I70 at Grand Junction, I rode through the town, and then turned onto Monument road, which takes you to – well – the Colorado National Monument. The first couple of miles or so of Monument rd had very recently been tarmac’d, and it was oily as hell. No issue for most people, but on a bike you are rather susceptible to slipping, and so I rode quite carefully until normal order was returned. I reached the gate to the Eastern entrance to the park, which surprised me.
I had read the map, and decided Rimrock Rd was for me, but had overlooked the fact that it was inside a National Park. Anyway, I was intending to purchase an annual pass for the National Parks next month, ahead of my parents visit. We are taking them to Arches, and the Grand Canyon, so seeing as though our existing pass had lapsed, I had planned to get one in August. However, I had to pay $20 to get into the Monument park, so just bought the annual pass anyway. $80, for a year, to enter any 0f the national parks, is a total bargain.
Anyway, duly armed with my new “America the Beautiful” pass (yes, really), I headed into the park. It was ridiculously hot here in the (relative) lowlands, and the speed limit in the park was low, so I was slowly boiling to death. I ride with a lightweight, quick-dry shirt under my biking jacket, and so I wet this and let the wind dry me while cooling at the same time. It doesn’t really work, but I think it makes a difference psychologically, and it helped today.
Not knowing what to expect, the road climbed fast and in a very convoluted fashion, until suddenly I was presented with spectacular views of a major canyon, with high red walls towering hundreds of meters above the valley floor. I am tired after a long day baking in the sun, but even at my sparkling best I don’t think I could do the scenery justice. The road does, indeed, run along the rim of this magnificent canyon, presenting views that are breathtaking. It is not comparable to the Grand Canyon for scale, but unlike the canyon you ride along the very edge of this wonderful scar that Nature has carved out of the rock.
These pics will not convey the searing heat, nor the scale of what I experienced, but I hope they will do some justice to the landscape.
As is my wont, I chatted to various folk at the numerous stops I made along the rim at some of the viewpoints. Three lovely chaps from Mexico – one of whom now lives in the very Delta where I had sojourned the night previous – kept popping up at the same stops as me, and we exchanged chats and smiles along the way.
The descent from the rim back down to the floor of the high-plains was wonderful, and probably threw the tightest and most concentrated set of hairpins I have encountered so far on this trip. A couple of the switchbacks were actually cut through rock, which produce short but thrilling tunnels.
Down at the bottom I stopped at the first town for a break, to cool off and drink and eat. While on these road trips, I make it a policy not to eat at chain restaurants. Not only are local restaurants invariably of higher quality, but the folk you meet there are always genuine and interesting. I stopped at a shiny place for lunch, which was called the something Grill (can’t quite remember). Anyway, it was a chain place in disguise. Well, I say disguise because I didn’t recognise that the place was a fast food joint – but probably every American would have recognised it as a Dairy Queen. Once inside and realsing that it was a chain, I still decided to give it a try as I had never been into a Dairy Queen before. Suffice it to say, I will never venture into one again. Nuff said. Actually, one more thing – I left my MacBook charger there, so now I am trying to figure out how to get a charger in the wilderness.
After my highly delicious and nutritious (uh – not!!) lunch, I hopped onto the same I70 highway, and blasted west for about 35 miles. I crossed into Utah, where the speed limit went from 75 to 80 mph. So, these Mormons can handle some speed! I left the highway onto State road 128, and immediately wondered if I should have. Long, straight, not a soul in sight, the road shot through what looked like an alkaline desert. Nothing lives on the dusty land, and there was not a soul for miles. The road was not great either, and I was beginning to doubt my plan.
Suddenly, the long, straight path through the land of the dead turned into a road along the Colorado river. Broad and brown, the water was running pretty fast.
One of the reasons that I bought this particular bike is that it has a great sound system. I can control my Spotify app through the bikes entertainment system, and I have a playlist for biking trips that is (currently) 40 hours long. I love having some good rockin’ music to accompany my rides, and as I neared the Colorado river, the Doors song, “Riders on the Storm”, started playing. The weather had been overcast for a while, but literally as the song started, so the rains began.
Big, heavy and intermittent drops splashed me in the face. I didn’t mind as it was cooling, and didn’t last very long. The road alongside the river turned into a canyon, with the walls swiftly rising until they were hundered of feet high on both sides. The river did not run straight, and the road and rock walls meandered for miles, creating amazing views and giving a stunning sense of the work a river has to do over millions of years to carve a pathway out of the stone. The rock is red and obviously rich with iron, and the afternoon sun lit the walls in wonderful contrasting highlights.
Eventually the canyon opened up, and brought me to scenery that was straight out of a traditional Western movie. High Mesa rocks with carved fingers and steep walls contrasted with a broody sky. I had to stop and just take in the expanse and alien nature of the beauty beholden. Once more, words are not sufficient.
About 25 miles along more windy river canyon road brought me to Moab. It is a well developed town, serving the needs of the many many people who come for the scenery and outdoor activities that the area provides. The obligatory fuel stop preceded arriving at the nights budget hotel. A few folk were milling around outside the office, and informed me that they had been there for an hour, and could not find anyone to check them in. We waited about 20 minutes, while I continued to melt in my riding gear, at which stage I called the online travel site I use for my bookings, and had them cancel the hotel reservation and find me an alternative nearby.
The aforesaid establishment was a 1 star hotel in the middle of Moab – well located, and (as I explained yesterday) not expected to provide much in the way of comforts and facilities. Serendipity would have it that the alternative that the agency found me, which was two blocks away, was a well appointed 3-star place, complete with swimming pool. I was feeling much like a boiled lobster by the time I checked in, so I threw my gear into my (pretty nice) room, and headed to the pool, where I cooled off and floated happily for half an hour.
Across the road is a Smokehouse, so a nice meal of BBQ’d ribs, coleslaw and fried was accompanied by a large frozen margarita. A great end to a wonderful day. I am very ready for bed, so g’night y’all. See you tomorrow.
A map of todays ride can be found here
- Day 3 – Moab, UT to Aztec, NM – 259 miles
So these days are very full. So much so , that by the time I get to my chosen accommodation each evening, I have to look back at the map to see where I have been. Today showed me more incredible roads and views, and I am yet again even more deeply in love with this beautiful land.
I had breakfast in my hotel (free with the room that cost a ton) on their upper deck, which provided lovely views of the surrounding cliffs and rocks. It was pretty early (around 0730) but the sun was already very hot, and I had to keep moving to stay out of the direct rays. Breakfast was acceptable, and once concluded I proceeded to faff and pack up the bike in readiness for another day of adventuring.
I set off down Moab Main street, which heads generally southwards. After 20 miles or so, I hung a left towards La Sal, which put me on yet another forsaken road to nowhere. It was hot, and I rode through the desert without much to enjoy for a while. Suddenly, we dropped into a rocky canyon, and my dayily dose of twisty roads and lovely views began.
I descended the hairpins, until suddenly I found myself in Colorado. By coincidence, I clocked 500 miles on the trip shortly after having crossed back into my home state. The road took a wonderful route down more canyons along a river, and then dropped me into Paradox Valley.
According to Wikipedia, “The dry, sparsely populated valley is named after the apparently paradoxical course of the Dolores River—instead of flowing down the length of the valley, the river cuts across the middle”. And dry, sparse and bloody hot it was. A long straight road pulled me along the valley, with thinly crusted sand on either side of the road, for miles and miles. I tend to drink a lot, especially in such hot weather, and at some stage had to make a stop by the (pretty much desert) roadside to relieve my poor bladder. The earth soaked up the liquid in seconds!
I made it through the Valley of Death somehow, and passed through Naturita, Norwood and Placerville. I could tell that I was back in the Rockies, as the land rose, and green forests reappeared. Soon enough, the spectacular peaks of this region hove into view. Mt Sneffels (I LOVE that name), Mt Wilson, Whipple Mountain, Last Dollar peak and other such lovely names made my heart sing in appreciation and love for things Alpine.
The valley was very Swiss indeed, and the Sneffels Peak that separated this side from Telluride as I rode southward. Stunning views and verdant greenery abounded, and I reach the beautiful mountain town of Ouray. Pronounced You-Ray. Hooray indeed. Lots of traffic congested the little place, so I passed through, and the road immediately began to climb steeply.
I had entered the Million Dollar Highway. Not sure what to expect, this is another of the Gold standard rides that my Butler maps had recommended. The road climbed hard and fast, and somehow clung on to the the side of the mountain – though it is difficult to see how (or why) it was built. There are no guardrails, and the drops are often many hundreds of feet. The hairpin bends (switchbacks for my American friends) are super tight and steep, and you have to take some of them at 5-10 mph.
Adrenaline is a wonderful thing, and it enhances most experiences. It certainly added a bit of spice to the ascent of the highway – for which there are many disputed origin stories around the name. Some say there are $1m worth of gold ore in the rock used to create the road. Others that it cost $1m per mile to build. The locals told me (in Silverton, at the far end of the highway) that they would turn down an offer to pay them $1m to drive the road – which takes you over the San Juan Mountains, BTW – in snow conditions. Anyway – whatever the origination, the drive and the views were superlative.
Climbing all the way to the top takes you over Red Mountain. And it is very red. Iron ore abounds, and the place was mined for both iron and silver back in the day. The rock is oddly coloured, and maybe stands out more because it is surrounded by such green forest.
Anyway, I survived the ride somehow, and trundled down the other side of the San Juans to Silverton (other towns hinting at the mineral history include Ironton and Anvil Mountain). Silverton is a pretty little town with a busy (for a Monday) high street sporting lots of eateries and souvenir shops. I stopped at a Harley Davidson shop which claims to be the worlds highest. It only sold apparel – but that was OK, cos I needed a new pair of summer riding gloves. My current pair, which I bought years ago in the UK, have split and my fingers are poking through.
Harley D does some things really well – including having the thumb very heavily on the scale when pricing anything. The gloves probably cost a 3 bucks to make (well, I am sure they pay the Chinese kids 10c per glove), but cost me the best part of $50. They are comfy and breezy, so I am happy with the investment. The lady in the Harley shop recommended an eatery – but that was sporting a queue with wait times of almost an hour, so I opted to try a nearby pub instead. Pizza was fine, and their iced water was among the best I had all day.
Upon leaving said establishment, the heavens had opened up and I experienced a downpour for the first time on my trip. My next stop was Durango, over another pretty steep pass,and upon checking my trusty Apple weather app I understood that the rain was going nowhere, so I zipped up my jacket and hit the road.
The rain was not heavy, and though I have no wet-weather gear with me this trip I did not really get soaked. It has been so hot, so the cooling effect and the cloudy skies were very acceptable. Unfortunately, the steep and curvy road over the Coal Bank pass which led to Durango was undergoing roadworks, and to the surface was quite slick in places. Steep descents along slippy roads in rainy conditions do not make bikers happy, and I aged a year or two in the space of an hour – but didn’t lose it anywhere.
At one stage, I had to find a level-ish and solid place to pull over and make a pit stop. My bike weighs 900 pounds unladen, and when you add the weight of 5 gallons of fuel, a few pints of oil, my luggage and road gear, and (of course) a couple of hundred pounds of me along with a leather jacket, boots, helmet and my armani undies – the two wheels making contact with a couple of inches of road are bearing a lot of weight. If I stop somewhere, I have to plan ahead and assess the position as I cannot reverse the bike, nor can I keep it upright if it tips over by a few degrees beyond my control points. Add wet conditions, and you can understand why I need to focus and be quite careful in how I ride and where I stop. Anyway, I did find a suitable place to glide off the road and park up for a quick wee. Having done the deed, I was about to remount – (and bear in mind that it was around 3pm) when I got a text from one of my parents (who shall remain nameless to protect his identity), basically saying “hey – where is the day 3 blog?”. The cheek of it all. Almost makes me not want to post this now (but it is 5 to 10 at night and sleep beckons. Whatever. Needless to say, I made it down the other side in one piece after the rain and parental distraction.
Durango is a sprawling town in southern Colorado. I didn’t expect much, but actually the downtown area had a nice vibe. I stopped there to spend far too much money on a new charger for my laptop, the previous charger having been abandoned somewhere between Colorado and Utah the day previously. There were motorcycle parking bays downtown, and I had to pay the princely minimum sum of $1 for 2 hours of parking. I only needed about 10 minutes worth, but even for 10 minutes, by London standards it was cheap.
A few miles beyond downtown was another Harley shop. This time, a bona-fide dealership selling actual bikes and a whole lot more. I bought a cup holder, which attaches to the handle bars. This is a very necessary investment – it is so goddam hot and dry most of the time, and I need to drink a lot. Each time I want to have a drink I need to stop the bike, open the luggage and have a swig of water. I now have my own cup-holder to take advantage of – but now I need to find a water bottle that has a straw type nozzle so that I can drink while riding without endangering myself or anyone else. Picture to follow.
Unusually for a Harley dealer, this place also had a sale on the go, so I bought a couple of local T-shirts for a total of 21 bucks- not bad at all for anything Harley. The final haul from Durango to my evenings accommodation took me though the border with New Mexico. Crossing into the next state on my world tour coincided within a few miles of the 700 mile mark on my tour. I am now at a total of 713 miles thus far on my tour.
I find myself re-thinking my “cheap and cheerful” accommodation policy. I turn 60 next year, and I reckon that I might just be too old for this shit. I am staying at decent place, but it is on an industrial estate a couple of miles from town, behind a Pepsi bottling plant. I kid you not. There is nothing walkable from here, so I had to hop on the bike again once unpacked, and ride to Safeway to get some food and beverage provisions. I think that in future I might be willing to invest a bit more and fund some reasonably located, half-acceptable places to lay my weary head to rest each night.
Once again, upload speeds and compute power means I don’t have much of a set of rich media to share with you. I know it adds additional dimension to the blog, but come back in a few days and hopefully I will be able to embroider the sparkling verbiage with better visual accompaniment.
Night night all.
Link to todays map can be found here
- Day 4 – Aztec, NM to Santa Fe, NM – 245 miles
So for those of you keeping score, we are 48 miles short of our 1000, which will pass by tomorrow morning sometime. Thats a lot of miles to sit in the saddle. Fortunately, the saddle is pretty comfortable, and has become even more so over the past few days as I have really gotten to know this bike and how to handle it.
Well, today was yet another atomic day. For maybe some different reasons to previous days, but we will get to that. I had a pleasant nights sleep behind the Pepsi bottling plant, and when I awoke I once again found no good reason to hang around. I packed and loaded, and then rode all of about 10 minutes or so to Bloomfield where my American breakfast was provided by the good people at the Roadside Restaurant.
As a biker, one wants to spend as little time as possible on motorways. Long, straight, boring and too fast. But, motorway miles are the price you have to pay in order to get to the special roads that criss-cross the country. Today began with a significant tax to pay, and the first 140 miles of the day were in payment to the motorway gods.
I used the cruise control option for the first time on this tour, and sat at a steady 60 (the speed limit was 70, but I was relaxing and not gonna push it) for most of the way. It was damn hot, but the speed kept the wind steady and so I didn’t overheat much. I also put a bottle of cool water in my new cupholder, and so I could take a sip from time to time.
I finally reached San Ysidro after a couple of stops for cold drinks and urifications. Here, I hung a left off the 550 highway that had kept me company for the first part of my day, and joined Highway 4, which ran east towards Jemez and beyond.
It was still very damn hot, and the speeds on the new highway were very limted (mostly about 35mph). After a few habitats, the terrain went from yellow desert to dark red stone, rock and canyon. The first hour of this segment of the journey was very twisty and hot and red, weaving in between walls 100-200ft high, punctuated by the odd settlement. I saw few cars, and fewer bikes. I guess I am the only idiot riding the Pajarito Mountain pass today.
The hot, red desert landscape slowly rose higher and higher, and imperceptibly became cool green forest. The road climbs slowly from 5500 ft to 9500 ft. The cool green forest was hosting a rain party, so I got quite wet and enjoyed the cooling effects of the drizzle. At the top of the pass is the Valles Caldera – a 13 mile-wide meadow sitting in the caldera of a long-forgotten volcanic eruption. The contrast of the lush green expanse to the red rock and tight canyon below was breathtaking.
Over the top and down the other side I went, as the weather slowly dried out. the descent was fun and provided just enough adrenaline. At the bottom of the road, I hung a left onto NM 501, and pretty quickly came to a gate with a military person stopping traffic. The scenic route suggested by my mapping peeps took me right through Los Alamos.
Those of you with even a slight sense of history know that Los Alamos is where the US government provided a well-protected location for the University of California to conduct the work they had mutually agreed in a secret contract. Led by Robert Oppenheimer, the facility and people were responsible for developing the first successfully deployed atomic bomb.
Today, this is not a secret location, but there is still a lot of secret and not-so research located here. I was scrutinised by Johnny marine, and told that I could pass through – but “not to stop, and not to turn right under any circumstances”. No-one told me to stop my GoPro, so I probably have some innocuous film of the traverse. I rode the couple of miles through the complex, with the cross-streets bearing very recognisable names, like Bikini Atoll rd, Eniwetok Drive and more.
Through the facility i passed, then onto a highway which was kind of pretty, in a desert/scrub/rock kind of way. I rode the last 30 miles or so the Santa Fe through this kind of terrain, The most exciting part of the last stage was the fact that I joined US Highway 285. This is the very same road that brings us up our very own mountain from Denver to Bailey. US 285 runs from Sanderson in Texas to Denver, passing only a couple of miles form our humble abode. It also passes through Roswell, NM, which is where all the aliens dwell (apparently).
I visited the local Harley store on my way to todays final stop, but alas found nothing to spend my $$ on. I did ask the tech folk there if they know how to control Apple carplay volume from the bike, but the did not. One of the few – and very minor – niggles of my bike.
My hotel is the Guadalupe Inn. A small and private place tucked away on a cute side-street, it is very reflective of the local architecture. I am no expert, but everything here seems to be Adobe style housing. Everything is red/orange/yellow, and the neighbourhood is very pretty. The room is good, too.
Nearby (about 5 minutes walk) is The Cowgirl, a BBQ/smokehouse. I realised I did not stop to eat any lunch today, so was very ready for an overdose of meat for supper. It was very good.
I have to be up early to join a call at 0700 (I am attending a 7-week online course and have to attend and submit course-work weekly), and have a long day of riding too. I am going to re-pack all my gear now, and get it mostly ready so I can wake up and prep, then do my call, grab some Continental breakfast from the Inn, and hit the road.
As you have come to expect, a link to todays route can be found here
- Day 5 – Santa Fe, NM to Pagosa Springs, CO – 294 miles
Not much remarkable about this morning. I had set an alarm to make sure I was ready for my 1 hour webinar for my course, and tried to get as much ready around that as I could. Call over, I had my continental breakfast in the Inn, and set off. Once again, the morning was largely spent getting from one nice road to another – about 100 miles or so of hot highway.
In another carriage-way coincidence, the highway I rode this morning is the I-25, which is a main north-south route through Denver. I headed south from Santa Fe to get around the mountain range that runs north to siuth just east of the city. Around the southern tip I navigated and stayed on the I-25 as it made its way north, but after some mileage, I turned off at Las Vegas. No, not that one.
The route took me through pretty but unremarkable roads up a series of passes and forests until I reached Taos. Taos is the basin for a number of ski resorts, and the town is very well geared towards visitors. I had a quick lunch on a local tavern, and walked the town square as I ate my ice cream. I had hoped the ice cream would cool me down, but no such luck.
Back on the bike to hit some more hard miles, and 10-15 miles or so out of Taos I crossed the rio Grande gorge – which was grand indeed. Very impressive. I didn’t stop to walk back to the bridge for pictures, as parking was a good few hundred yards past the bridge, and I was already overheated in my bike gear.
Not long past the bridge over the Rio Grande, I passed a number of buildings that were strange to behold. I hope the GoPro camera captured some of these. I notice that the signs referred to Earthship Biotecture. I will stop now to do some reading about these odd buildings and dwellings
OK – not much wiser on the matter. It seems like the place I went past is the HQ for a community that builds sustainable dwellings. They have a visitors centre, and seem to like to construct these buildings with a very science-fiction-ey feel. Take a look here if you feel so inclined.
The roads improved after entering the final frontier. Bigger mountains, prettier forests, and even a deer that tried to kill me by running across the road just in front of my bike. Fortunately for both me and the deer, we did not collide. I somehow slipped back into Colorado without paying much attention – but I can tell you one thing; there was very little population almost anywhere the whole afternoon.
I got to my evenings destination around 6pm. Pagosa Springs is a pretty little mountain town, permeated by a light smell of sulphur. There are hot springs everywhere, including the motel which is providing me a roof for the night. I did not go for a soak as I ran out of time between planning and blogging and going to grab some food, but I might do so in the morning before I head out. I have quite a big day planned tomorrow – 50 miles more than today, which was in itself the longest of the tour so far. Twisty canyon roads and steep ascents and descents are not quick miles on the bike, and Google maps suggests I have the best part of 8 hours riding tomorrow. Todays guesstimate as 5hr40. Anyway, I might skip the hot springs.
See ya next time, for my final and exciting night in Glenwood Springs. TTFN
By popular request, todays route can be found here.
- Day 6 – Pagosa Springs, CO to Glenwood Springs, CO – 342 miles
Gosh-darn-dang it. I had my top 3 rides of this trip all sorted out in my head- and then today happened. Today was a long day – 48 miles longer than the next longest (yesterday). And a lot of those miles (in fact, all of them today) were not highway miles — so I was not riding at 60mph. I also found my ”word of the trip” – more on that to come, as well.
I hit road reasonably early – before 0730 – and tackled the Wolf Creek Pass straight away. I was travelling north-ish from Pagosa Springs to South Fork, and the pass lifted me up a great climb, with magical early-morning views.
At South Fork. I stopped at Candies Firehouse, for the best breakfast I have had for a very long time – maybe in all my American sojourn. I ordered a usual breakfast (sausage, 2 eggs over-easy, and potato) plus a side of bacon-chorizo. Was not sure what to expect from the latter, it turned out to be a hash of chopped bacon and chorizo, fried so that it was not crispy, but almost so. Anyway, everything was very good. Candy and her Firehouse are highly recommended
After my lovely breakfast, I headed for my next pass. this time, Spring Creek Pass was on the agenda. I was headed via Lake City, and this pass was there to be traversed. As with most US mountain passes that I have experienced, this one crossed the continental divide. My fellow ’Merkins love themselves a good divide, and the continental one is no different. Signs abound with ”Pacific Ocean this way, Atlantic Ocean that way” references. I crossed the divide (politically and geographically) many times today, and on this tour.
Back down Spring Creek and I passed a viewpoint which gave a view onto the headwaters of the Rio Grande. Further trundling took me to the next pass on the way to Lake City (which, by the way, is anything but a city). And here, I met my favourite word for a very long time, as I ascended Slumgullion pass.
Quick Digression – I get obsessed by words. There is no particular criteria, but if I don’t know how to pronounce them, and they are unwieldy or non-English or unusual, then they get stuck in my head, sometimes for days. One of these words was Usnurceva – the surname of my (then unknown to me) current wife. I was responsible for the finances for the small festival at which me and Lena met, and I saw all the bookings as they came in.
I saw her surname, and I could not, for the life of me, figure it out. I played with it for hours in my head, trying to work out how to pronounce it. Not that I had any intention of anything in terms of relationship with this unknown person, but I wanted to work out the name. Oddly enough, not too long after we met and formed a couple, Lena told me that she was impressed when we met because I was the only person in the UK that she knew that could pronounce her surname. So anyway, that worked out pretty well for me. The lesson here, children, is that it pays off to be obsessed with interesting words.
So – Slumgullion Pass. I must have repeated the word Slumgullion a thousand times in my head today. Apparently named after Slumgullion stew, the nearby yellowish landslide caused by weak volcanic activity in the area reminded early settlers and miners of the aforementioned stew.
Slumgullion – in my head, it could be one of two things: a surname or establishment from the Harry Potter world, or a word that Jonny Depp would use in one of the many attempts at an English accent he makes in a few too many of his movies. Whatever the origin, I LOVE the word.
Lake City was small and unremarkable, other than perhaps there were more All Terrain vehicles there than maybe every one I have seen before this day. Still, it was in a green forest and was nice and cool – even had a few drops of rain. Just after Lake City, I hit my second of about 5 seriously disruptive roadworks of the day. You know the type – you queue for 20 minutes while you wait for a pilot vehicle to lead you through a single lane of the roadway you are trying to pass. I bet these roadworks added 90 minutes to my journey time today.
Whatever. More nice road took me north from Lake City to Gunnison. You might remember the name from our previous greatest hits, namely day 1. Today, I did the reverse of a wonderful part of day 1 – Gunnison via Cottonwood Pass to Buena Vista. Re-read day 1 for details (but read them from the bottom of the page to keep it real). Cottonwood Pass was superb once again.
At the bottom of Cottonwood Pass, before I began the ascent, there was a large Moose stood in a pond, doing his thing. Many folk were stopped or trying to get a good view – he was unmoved, and very focused on eating whatever it was he found in the pond.
At Buena Vista, I turned northward and followed the valley made by the Arkansas River for about 20 miles. Lena and I rafted the Arkansas in this very stretch last year – not once, but twice. At Highway 82, I swung a left, and headed for the hills. Mount Elbert is visible very quickly, and is imposing. It is the highest summit in the Rockies, and the highest point in Colorado too, at 14,439 ft. At the foot of this towering peak is Twin Lakes, a town set on a very picturesque set of conjoined lakes.
Through this pretty land I rode, and soon began to detect a familiar set of signs indicating a significant mountain pass is approaching. Vehicle-length restrictions, speed limits lowered, and a bloody great mountain looming large in the immediate foreground. The pass from the Arkansas river which runs over the mountains to Aspen is called Independence Pass.
Typical of the best passes I have ridden this week, there are sharp hairpins, major drops and stupendous views. Oh – and of course, there is a continental divide sign so we can, once more, celebrate our differences. I mentioned that I was now struggling to identify my top 3 rides of this tour, and Independence Pass has well and truly muscled its way in to contention for the top prizes. At the top I chatted with various folk, including a Scotsman from Edinburgh, who took a few pics of me at the summit.
A bit of rain on the way put a dampener on this (LOL), but I didn’t get too wet. The road leads to Aspen, playground of the rich and famous. You can smell the money long before you arrive, and the place is obviously a suitable haven for those who don’t want to live in the real world -and can simultaneously afford not to.
The last 40 miles of the day took me towards Glenwood Springs. All was well, until the last 40 minutes, when traffic slowed to a crawl. It was effing hot (90f, 33c), and on a hot bike, wearing all my gear and being baked by the sun, the last miles of the day were not my favourite.
I am staying at the most “motel-iest” of my weeks accommodations, but it is my last night on the road, and I am somewhat exhausted by the day, as well as the week on the road, so I will sleep the sleep of the righteous.
I have absolutely loved this tour, and it ain’t over yet. Tomorrow, I am going to ride Guanella Pass, which takes me almost directly back home. We have been over the pass in a car, but the anticipation of the bike ride excites me.
I have learned a lot as a rider on this tour. My bike is big and heavy and unwieldy to manoeuvre at low speeds, and I have already written a bit about this. I have to be strategic about where, when and how I stop the bike, so I can be sure to be able to set off again. For example, if I stop on a down slope, I can’t reverse or push the bike back up the slope – it weights a literal ton. I have become much more confident in handling these situations.
However, when thinking about what I am learning about biking, I think that my many hours of practice have made me a much smoother rider on twisties and steep curves. It can be a bit scary to take the bike around a hairpin bend while climbing steeply and watching the road surface because it is wet and slick and also watching the oncoming traffic which often crosses the middle line of a very narrow roadway. Oh – and there is a sheer drop of many hundreds of feet about 2 yards to your right.
Not unreasonably, I have often been quite ”on-edge” in these circumstances. But – having done quite a number of high mountain passes this week, I observed my techniques and rhythm, and made some adjustments. And with these adjustments, I am much more confident and smooth in riding a big bike up and down the passes that would make a mountain goat think twice.
G’night, gentle people. See ya tomorrow as we wrap up this lovely week together on the roads through some of the most beautiful scenery and experience you could imagine. TTFN
Todays map can be found, in its full technicolor glory, here.
- Day 7 – Glenwood Springs, CO to Bailey, CO – 156 miles
The final day is here. I woke up with a vague plan in my head to grab some breakfast about an hour down the road, head over Guanella Pass, which ends about 15 miles from Chez Levin.
Last night, I walked across the lovely bridge that spans the Colorado River to the right side of town, and found a little boulevard of restaurants and bars. I chose the Co. Ranch House for the last supper. It was an outdoors eatery, and the weather was pleasant, as was the meal. I treated myself to a decent steak and good cocktail (margarita, as it just about always is). Suitable wined and dined, I ambled back over the river – the stylishly-lit hot springs facility looked great
I packed efficiently – by the time a road trip ends, I am well organised and effective with how I pack and load the bike – and saddled up to ride. I had chosen a diner in Vail as my breakfast stop, and so I set my google maps destination, and trundled off into the day.
The motel was about 3 minutes off the I-70, which is the main highway running East-West across Colorado and beyond, and had been host to me a few days prior. Generally highways are efficient and boring – but the section that runs from Glenwood Springs to the east is wonderful. It runs along the Colorado river, and takes you through superb canyons and up and down steep mountain passes. The ride was lovely, if a tad fast for my sensitivities.
I left the I-70 at Vail to find my chosen breakfastery. Vail, like Aspen, is a playground for the rich and famous, and is one of the most desirable ski resorts in the country. Again, you can sense the $$ and privilege. The place is pristine, everything is neatly ordered and well marshalled. I found my diner, but could not find suitable parking. I did a few circumnavigations of the block, to no avail. There are designated tourist parking areas, but none near my chosen spot. I decided to pick a different spot a little more out of town, but alas my experience there was similar.
It seems you can come to Vail, and park in a designated area, but don’t think about going anywhere they don’t want you to. The place was filled with the beautiful people, jogging, walking their dogs or golfing. You get the sense that if you stopped somewhere for more than 25 seconds, 4 suited and sunglass-ed Secret Service fellows would pop out of a bush and suggest (very politely but firmly) that it might be time to move on.
I moved on, and chose a new breakfast destination about half an hour further on down the highway. A few months ago, Lena had been camping out this way with some friends, and had told me about a lovely cafe and baker in Frisco – so I headed there. And it was indeed lovely. Frisco is a cute little town, still geared towards tourists, but seems very welcoming. Anyway, breakfast was great, and I had a full tank of energy for my final stint.
Another 25 minutes along the I-70 in our familiar easterly direction is the little hamlet of Georgetown. A Victorian town, it nestles in the bottom of a steep valley. It is another spot that looks worthy of a future visit, but today I was on a mission. Georgetown is the home to a scenic railroad up Mount Evans that we have yet to ride, but plan to in some distant utopian future.
Meanwhile, in the present, Guanella Pass awaited. It terminates in Georgetown, and rises immediately and steeply before the towns houses even stop. The pass runs between Mt Evans and Mt Bierstadt (which is visible – peeking out from behind Rosalie Peak – from our house). Very tight hairpins greet you, and push you upwards. There is a decent sized hydro-electric plant part way up the climb, at Cabin Creek.
There were not too many folk on the pass. Like many of the passes I have crossed in the past week, this one closes in the winter when the snows start. There are various trail heads and camping sites along the pass, which descends into the town of Grant, and joins our old friend Highway 285.
Hang a left along the valley which hosts the North fork of the South Platte river, and 10-15 miles later you arrive in Bailey. A few minutes more, and I was turning into our driveway. Luna (the now not so small puppy who joined our family at the start of April was snoozing on the front deck when I landed, and she got very excited to see me. Despite her size (she is now about 45 lbs), she is less than 6 months old, and so does the puppy thing a lot. The puppy thing includes doing wees at time of great excitement (and when you are a puppy, a lot of things are exciting). Anyway, we did a lot of licking and cuddling and wee-ing, and Lena came to join the fun.
It took a while to off-load, unpack, get the laundry going, put cables and toiletries and laptops and gloves and jackets and helmets and things away in their place – but normal order has been restored, I am home, and all is good in the world.
This tour has been amazing, and I hope you have enjoyed it with me. I rode exactly 1750 miles in the week, which is an average of 250 miles a day. I will probably post a couple more related updates in the coming days, and I will hopefully get started on figuring out the videos that I have captured so I can get a video together of the tour.
See ya on the road next time……..
Todays map, which very sadly brings this series to a close, is here.
- And the final scores are in!
From To Start Finish Miles Day 1 Home Delta 1735 1983 248 Day 2 Delta Moab 1983 2189 206 Day 3 Moab Aztec 2189 2448 259 Day 4 Aztec Santa Fe 2448 2693 245 Day 5 Santa Fe Pagosa Springs 2693 2987 294 Day 6 Pagosa Springs Glenwood Springs 2987 3329 342 Day 7 Glenwood Springs Home 3329 3485 156 1750
For those of you who are statistically minded, here is a table of the mileage logs. Day 6 was the longest, Day 7 the shortest. I averaged exactly 250 miles per day. I am working on an awards ceremony, and will share the results when they are publicly announced. There are some very close categories, and the competition is stiff. Watch this space.