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Friday, August 28, 2009

Riding the Medicine Bow Mountains: Snowy Range, Day 3

Well, I guess road trips must end. We toyed with different routes to take back to Nederland. The very scenic but very much longer route via RT230 and then Trail Ridge Road through Rocky Mtn Nat'l Park? Back the way we came and have to endure the gauntlet of Ft Collins? We decided on a third route:

Take the dirt road (Ryan Park) to the Snowy Range Nat'l Forest, head back across the Snowies to Laramie, south on 287, then head West, yes West, up the Poudre Canyon (Rt 14), to an un-named turn off that goes south, then head West some more (Rt 34) to Estes Park. Skip around the edges of town, head south eastward on RT 7, then south on Rt72 Peak-to-Peak Highway to home. It took an extra hour... According to Google, all of our other choices (taking rt230 south from Saratoga) would have put us 2 extra hours.

Proof of riding on dirt

more scenic shots (and nice view of my jacket patch ... need to get a bbo patch too!)

It was a much cooler ride through the Snowy Range this day and a bit windy, which made the scenery that much more beautiful.

we decide to hike over a glacial mound to get a picture of the lake ... and I notice that Wolfram is hiking with his helmet on! What a nerd (i say this lovingly):

And we pass a magnificently built ... outhouse - built by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) in the 30's

Climbing down was a little tricky in motorcycle boots, but well worth it

effluent stream behind me ... leading west and south - but I don't know if it goes to the Platte River, mmm...

This is the other stop at the pass, same mountains, different view.

Watch out for the loose gravel at the edge of the road. Just sayin.

east of Centennial, I saw prong horned antelope in the distance. If you have never seen them up close, they are really beautiful critters and look like they should be on the African savannah. These pics are from another trip where there were pull offs

We pulled back into the Gunslinger for gas and to top off the air on our tires for highway pressures. We had let a little air out for biking the dirt and gravel

yes! be nice to your fellow travelers

You just never know what you are going to see!

no! we are not going that way!

we're headed west. And there's a ton of traffic headed east - white water rafters, tubers, motorcyclists etc. The road was nice and empty in the westbound lane.

And very nicely paved too

now up RT 34 through Big Thompson Canyon to Estes Park

We get close to Rocky Mountain National Park, and have no desire to enter the park. Its getting late, our bumms are fatigued, my hands feel like they've been buzzed, and we want to get home.

We do stop for a quick break at Lily Lake which is marginally less crowded than Estes Park. And then we ... blast our way home. Its that horses know which way the barn is and nobody was going to get in our way. Fortunately traffic was very light, and somehow the cars that were in front of us knew that we meant business, so they pulled off at safe passing areas. We're looking forward to taking other routes to get to this section of Wyoming; it is one of the most beautiful areas I've seen.

Thanks for hanging in there!

Road trip to the Snowy Range, Medicine Bow National Forest, Wyoming

Where to begin... our trek beings weeks, nay months ago; in the dead of winter. "I want to get out of town, and I want to do it on two wheels." became my winter whine. Wolfram rumbles. " Your scooter won't keep up and you don't have a motorcycle". "Yet...", I quip.

There's a really beautiful place just over the border in Wyoming, let's go there! Summer creeps upon us slowly,; I work diligently to gain the skills to ride a 200+ mile journey in one day. [echos of Rocky's theme with video clips of me doing crunches, one armed push-ups, learning to shift gears, carving the curves along Peak-to-Peak highway, Boulder Canyon, and Kingston Peak trail]... Finally by July after 1500 miles in 2 months, I feel prepared to branch out from our quaint mountain home.

We call to make reservations ... [sound of record scratching] ... what? No room until August? Well, that just gives us to more time to prep the bikes (and our wardrobe)! I smile... maybe we should get a map [packing list at end of post]

Fast forward: our bikes are in tip top shape, we're happy with our levels of ATGATT, the morning is crisp, we have our route picked out and decided where good spots are to rest, we're ready to go ... except there's one small bag left of tools. Wolfram is ranting that we have too much stuff, so I re-inspect the contents and manage to remove ... one zip-tie. So then I inspect all of our luggage and re-discover that Wolfram's side cases are wider at the bottom than the top, leaving a cylinder-shaped space that isn't being used. Quickly I split up the tools, distract Wolfram with "go check the cat" and slip the bags behind the clothes and we're finally ready.

OoOf, the bike feels a little stiff but on our dirt roads, it feels fine. We head out going north on the Peak to Peak. Its a beautiful Friday early-ish morning and no one is on the road but us. We carve our way to Route 7 and head down towards Lyons. The fresh morning smells are heady, the temperature is almost chilly in my mesh pants w/ only bicycling shorts underneath. I turn on my newly installed heated grips and go ahhh.

Then crap! This idjot from some other state looks at us approaching and pulls right in front of us, with trailer, on a curve. (@*&%#. We've been riding a half hour without meeting a soul and now we've got the taj mahal on wheels doing 25 mph and burning up his brakes every curve as we descend 3000 feet.

Finally, a 'passing zone' and Mr. Road Block is history. Reaching Lyons we're suddenly mixing with the Folk Fest crowd staggering their way to the festival grounds. They're cool, we're cool, Wolfram has me lead as I 'know' the route, so 'bye to Lyons and onto Rt 66 towards Longmont. Now I checked the state road conditions map, nothin' was listed, but here we are in a barrel-lined construction zone with wheel traps, tar worms squiggling, large and loud equipment throwing up dust, and very large trucks in front and behind us. We persevere for the 15 minute ride to Longmont and head north on US 287. It occurs to be that this will be the furthest from home I had ever been ...

"It's a dangerous business, going out of your door.
You step into the Road, and if you don't keep your feet,
there is no knowing where you might be swept off to." - J.R.R. Tolkien

All summer I have been daydreaming about cruising up 287 with throngs of Harley riders passing in either direction, wind in THEIR hair, smiles on our faces. Reality hits: its only 9am and no self-respecting HD rider is out this early (poetic liberties being taken - hey, its part of my daydream, OK?) and its rush hour to Ft. Collins, AND the road surface is gggg----rrrr---oooo---ooo---vvvv---eee---dddd. Oh goody, another first in a morning of firsts. We pukka-pukka our way up to the speed limit (another first) and get used to the zzzz-ing feeling, which isn't all that different from the normal riding buzziness of a F650GS beemah, just more constant.

We've seen very few riders so far this morning as we roll into Loveland with heavy morning traffic (everyone else probably knows another way around these towns.) Wolfram needs a friendly tree after all that jiggling and vibration; we find one, literally, behind a Taco Bell. I watch out for spectators and see a cluster of motorcycles, all shapes and sizes, ride by. Hi! Where are you going, I wonder?

We get back into traffic and make our way through the tensest riding I've done: close traffic, multiple lanes, gazillion lights. If I had kept a strict safety bubble around me, I would have been the hazard - Wolfram graciously rides point. I watch a Tastey-cake truck doing a zig-zag through traffic cutting cars off, cars careening across 2 lanes to make a turn, cell phone stuck to his ear - boy, those Ft. Collins folks must be in dire need of their treats! There's a 4-inch curb median to my left and I contemplate whether I can pop onto its lip if I get cut off...

After forever, we're headed into more open spaces, leaving the downtown behind. By now we've caught up with the gaggle of motorcycles and ride together until they head up Poudre canyon ... we continue north onto the plains.

[small text]Oh, and about all of these semi-blurry shaken photos? The ram-mount is awesome but I hadn't had time to test it before leaving and didn't realize that I need to some vibration-damper in the middle. The beemer is a buzzy bike. [/small text]

There's a wind advisory. For those of you who live in wooded areas, think of how wind picks up speed across a lake. The longer the fetch (the distance over which a wind blows without obstruction), the stronger the winds can be. Not only were there many miles of open land to our west, but the winds were picking up speed as the descended from the mountains.

Its my turn to ride point and it was exhilarating! Going 65+mph for miles and miles on a straight road (another first), lots of distance between vehicles, and I'm leaning into the wind like going through a curve but still going straight. Fortunately its just a steady 30mph wind from our port bow (front-left) with few gusts. No pic of me, but here's a similar shot - ha ha:

from http://www.motorcyclistonline.com/howto/122_0604_motorcycle_riding_tips_wind_gusts/index.html

This is what I saw:

US 287 is mostly two lane, so oncoming 18-wheelers pass closely and there wasn't a wind blast so much as a void from blocking the wind for a moment. And then the wind would suddenly be coming form the other side when leaving road cuts.

Beautiful rolling hills, buttes in the distance, cruising in the wind... We ride into Laramie and... our first interstate superslab! Yep, over 4k of riding and we get to wind out the beemers up to 75 (or so) mph... Wheeeee!

A few miles later, we exit to get fuel for the bikes and humans. The Gunslinger 66 gas station has thoroughly embraced the old west motif.

And we are not alone, another set of bikers are also fueling. They were denim jacketed with pin endowed vests and kind of scary looking; mothers locked their kids in the car as they walked our way, dads hurried inside, and ... they were the sweetest gents I'd ever met. "Goin to the rally?" (Sturgis) ...These guys were totaly psyched to get to Sturgis, buy their pins and then head back to Grand Junction, CO. After a few minutes of chatting, we parted ways with mutual smiles.

Finally. We're headed west to the Medicine Bow mountains. This time we're headed straight into the wind and while passing huge Winnebago with SUV in toe, throttle is turned to the max on my beemer; she's got no more umph but not to worry, we pass the movable homes with ease.

And now, suddenly we're through Centennial, past the last rolling road block, and we're in the mountains.

There's snow up there!

Wolfram has me take point since I have the cameras, just before the only switch-back of the ride. Up, up, up we go, stopping for scenic pics, and then we're at the pass! 10,800 feet, which is kinda low for the Rockies, but still quite brisk with the winds.

At the pass, all 10,800 feet of it, you can see krummolz clinging for dear life to this wind swept landscape.

Now we're gawking, cruising, and SEEing.

We point out dirt roads that go off into the woods ... maybe tomorrow!

I'm getting antsy to get to the Inn (Saratoga Resort & Inn) but we can't get into our rooms until 3:00 so we 'waste' some time and hang out watching the stream go by. Of course, I can't just sit still, so here are my Ansel Adams stream shots...

look at that reflection!


And we arrive at Saratoga Resort & Spa. It's a combination of rustic yester-year with more modern touches. I like it. Just as we arrived, a Shelby Cobra car club and a family of motorcycles were pulling in. Our room is cozy but easily fits our stuff.

After swapping out our hot, dusty clothes for cleaner, wrinkled ones, we headed to the bar and then to dinner. For some reason the family-group wasn't too interested in meeting other motorcyclists but we had a very nice time talking with a couple who had ridden up from Colorado on their Hogs; hey Chas! Dinner is very meat driven - while there was a vegetarian dish of some sort, the specialties leaned toward varieties of steak and ribs. We roll ourselves back to our room and then head back out to the mineral pool. Yes, they have a naturally heated pool and under the Teepees are smaller hot pools; different temperature at each one.

[images from last fall contributed by Wolfram - there was no snow in August!]

Eventually we are all wrinkly from soaking and its time to sleep. zzz.

chess anyone?

So, what did you look at first? that awesome Cobra? ... our motley bikes are in the background :)

Sir, you're ride has arrived ...

Ah, the color combinations were so classic!

This family of bikes ... never moved!

I call it the dead room:

Day 2 arrives and we're moving slowly. After a hearty breakfast and pouring over maps, I head outside to performance some bike maintenance. My coolant seems to disappear quickly and the site-hole on the bike is worthless. So to really check the coolant level involves taking off the seat, taking off the left-hand blinker assembly, and then the side panel. Before we had left for the trip, I'd purchased a driver and TORQs... it made the job go about twice as fast. About the time I reach screw number 6 (of 7), the distinctive sound of Pukha-pukha approaches! I glance back and a very pretty 2005 F650GS rides up. Stan, a local Saratogan septuagenarian, just happened to be doing a warm up lap before heading out for the day. He asks me why I have my bike torn apart ... and then is surprised because in ~14,000 miles, he has never checked the coolant level. Lucky guy. We discuss routes, particularly the non-paved variety, and wish each other well.

All of the other motorcycles, except the family [their bikes didn't move ALL weekend], cobras, and Bentleys head off to the west and Rt 230 - a nicely paved scenic road.

We go east onto Ryan Park Road, which starts off paved. We pass a country club (Old Baldy Club) and continue for a few miles until the road turns into a very well maintained rancher dirt road.

beautiful rolling landscape

lots of ranches

While the road is mostly well maintained, it is ranch land. So the occasional cow on the roadway is to be expected. I learn to cross the cattle guards in the middle of a solid section - do not, DO NOT, try to ride where two pieces of the cattle guard come together. That is a recipe for a wheel trap and ripped tire. In case you are wondering, this did not happen to me, nor Wolfram, but I thought about it.

where is this water coming from?

another open vista

After stopping at the National Forest sign for obligatory "we were here' pics:

And after stopping at the visitor's station again,:

We head back to the Snowy Range and choose another unpaved road, this time FS100. Yikes, this has been recently graded, turning it into a field of marbles. Slowly we gain more confidence and get up to 30mph, all the while hoping that a big critter doesn't jump out at us.

The swathes of dead trees was very sad to see

Thankfully we turn off onto a less-traveled FS261. If you like trees, then this is a nice route. There were some nice surprises, like cow #9084, who was chewing very contentedly on the wildflowers in the middle of the forest. No other cows, humans, or structures in sight, just cow #9084. And a few other sights.

[a bit processed pic, trying to get rid of the haze...]

After an hour or so of bopping along in the forest, not seeing a soul, we decide to head to open vistas. Yesterday I had spied a beautiful butte reflecting the afternoon sun, so we ride back to town on Ryan Park.

uh, cow on road ... what do I do? ... dang, this was NOT covered in the BRC! ... mooooo!


My favorite cow picture:

We head north out of Saratoga, and I watch the butte slide off toward the west .. the road is bending-the-wrong-way! But wait!

There's a turn to a public boat launch for the North Platte and of course, its dirt!

Rattle-rattle-rattle-rattle. This road is filled with washboards from side to side but I can see that we're getting closer to the butte. My plan had been to touch the butte - alas, this is the closest we can get:

By now its late afternoon and our plans to window shop are short circuited with the desire to get back into the mineral springs. We feel really lazy and don't even go to the other fine restaurant in town;

we just have a few drinks at the bar,
enjoying a dry one before dinner

the detritus of a good appetizer

eat dinner, read a little, then zzzz.

About Me

Join me in my adventures as I learn to ride a scooter and experience the world through two wheeled transport.