Sunday, September 19, 2010

Road Trip 2010, Part 1

On Wednesday, September 8, I set out on my first long motorcycle trip of the year. I've been doing so much cycling and so little motorcycle riding, I'm pretty sure up until this trip I had put more miles on the bicycle than either motorcycle in 2010. I had originally planned on leaving Tuesday, but I wound up having to do something Wednesday morning, so I left as soon as that was done. It's just as well I had to wait, the whole region was getting lashed with rain on Tuesday from Tropical Storm Hermine. I rode just to the corner station to fill up with gas and check that the bike was running well, and got wet even with my rain gear on. It was a lot milder in the morning, but I still got rained on steadily from Austin to Lampasas, then off and on for the rest of the day. I went through a few areas where it was actually sunny, and as soon as I thought that maybe the rain was done and I could take my rain gear off at the next stop, I would hit another patch of rain. My rain gear didn't do the best job of keeping me dry, the top and bottom of my shirt and the bottoms of my pants got wet. The sunny stretches allowed my shirt to mostly dry out, but my pant legs, and worst of all, my socks, stayed wet the entire day. I finally stopped in Guymon, Oklahoma and got dry and a decent night's rest. On the positive side, I did ride through 7 Texas counties and one OK county I'd never ridden through before.

I got packed up and moving on early on Thursday, and got to the Kansas line right around sunrise. I headed north along the western end of the state to its highest point, just east of the Colorado line. The biggest challenge in getting to the highpoint was riding on gravel roads, but that's not exactly anything new. It was the Fat Boy's third actual highpoint (NE and OH the others), so at least that's something. While I was there a man and (I'm guessing) his two sons drove up, who were fellow highpointers. I took a picture of them in front of the highpoint marker, which is kind of a neat metal sculpture, including a sunflower (the point is called Mount Sunflower, even though it's not a mountain). I rode a gravel road from there to the interstate, and headed west to Denver. The weather had been pretty pleasant, but it was hot in Denver. I went to the Capitol, but there was no place to stop for a picture in front, so I had to get one around back. I parked and went inside for a look around. I climbed up into the dome just as the woman was getting ready to close it down for the day. The view was really nice and the breeze up there was great. I hit some traffic on my way out of the city, but fortunately it was just rubberneckers, and not the multi-car pileup in the other direction. The temperature dropped, from quite nice to downright chilly, as I climbed into the mountains, and then it would warm up again descending from the mountain passes. As I have previously, I went through the Eisenhower Tunnel, the highest (and longest) in the US, at over 11,000 feet above sea level. On the way down, I was chasing a semi that seemed to be on fire, as it was spewing foul smoke. I eventually got off of the interstate and headed to Leadville (the highest city in the US). I gassed up and headed just outside of town toward the Elbert trailhead. I found the turn I somehow missed when I was there in 2008, and found myself a campsite in the National Forest campground. I would have just stayed put for the night, but what I didn't realize at first is that the campground was effectively closed for the season- the restrooms (pit toilets) were locked, but there was no fee at least. The manual water pumps (if they were operational at all) had had their handles removed, so there was no water. I set up camp and rode back to town to get water, and I also picked up some cookies and other carbs for the hike the next morning. It was starting to get dark as I made my way back to camp, which is exactly what I wanted to avoid. That wasn't the real problem, though. I realized, after it was already dark and I had no interest in going back to town, that the batteries in my headlamp were nearly dead. I also searched everywhere and didn't have a backup flashlight anywhere. I used to keep a mini-maglite in my backpack as a backup, but I probably took it out to fly somewhere. Of course there was no moon out at that point, and after a little while the headlamp was putting out only slightly more light than the stars. I managed to prepare and eat dinner, and did find a lighter for emergency lighting. On the positive, I did see more stars that night than almost any other time in my life.

It was still dark when I woke up Friday morning. I fumbled about for a while getting stuff sorted out for the hike. It started getting light as I was packing the bike back up, and the sun was rising by the time I got to the trailhead. The toilets there were not locked, so I availed myself of one. There was a pretty big group of guys of various ages (mostly 10+ years older than me) that left a couple of minutes before I did, but I caught up with them in less than 10 minutes. I passed most of them before catching up with the youngest at the front. He must have thought I was with his group at first, because he seemed surprised when he turned around and looked at me. After a little ways, there was a flat traverse section, and I decided to jog a little bit. In retrospect, I probably should have saved my energy, but I was feeling strong. I passed an older guy by himself just after the trail started climbing again. He caught up to me when I stopped for a 10 minute break not long after, and he said he was from Nashville. I think he must have turned back before the summit, because I didn't see him again. It was only about 15 minutes after my break that I reached tree line (around 12,000 ft), and took a quick break to put on sunscreen and sunglasses. It started to get steeped from there, and the air was definitely getting thinner. I met a couple coming down who had been at the summit for sunrise. The air was getting really thin by the time I got to the first of several false summits around 14,000 ft. I would only go about 50 feet before having to pause for breath, and every time I restarted from a stop I got a head rush. Fortunately, the trail from 14,000 to the summit (14,440) was not very steep. The wind, which had been blowing pretty good all the way from tree line, was particularly strong at the summit. Thankfully, there are several low rock walls for shelter. There were two people at the summit when I got there. I had them take my picture before they started back down. I didn't stay very long at the summit, mainly because it was cold and windy. I passed a number of people on their way up as I was descending. Some of them were not exactly thrilled to hear how much further they had to go. I passed the big group I had passed in the beginning just before I got back to tree line. I was feeling pretty tired when I stopped for a break just below tree line. I took my boots and socks off for a while, ate something, and relaxed for a few minutes. I was a bit more energetic after the break and clean, dry (but thin) socks, but it wasn't long after that I was feeling pretty sapped again. I pushed myself for a while, but ultimately decided that I didn't really have to rush and took my time. Ultimately, it took my almost 3 hours from the top to the bottom, and it had only taken me 3 and a half from the bottom to the top. I had to do some rearranging of the bike before I could head back down the gravel road toward town. I rode south and then west to the town of Gunnison. For whatever reason, the first chain hotels I tried were full (or only had an expensive room available), so I wound up staying at a small family-owned motel. It wasn't much and the room was very tiny, but it had what I really needed- a shower. I had dinner at the place the clerk recommended, but it was not very good and the steak prices were significantly higher than Austin's. After dinner I used the motel's curious hot tub in a little wooden house in the middle of the parking lot. It felt pretty good nonetheless, and soon after I was socked out in front of the TV.

It was very cold Saturday morning- the local weather was saying 26 degrees, which was pretty much confirmed by the frost on my bike and the several other bikes in the parking lot. I brushed the ice off and packed the bike anyway. I had breakfast along with the owners of some of those other bikes. We chatted a bit about our rides in the area until I finished and got geared up for my morning ride. I had every piece of warm riding gear with me on, and I was still freezing. The temperature had started to rise, but I had not yet begun to thaw when I got to Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park about an hour away. I started to warm up in the visitors center, and moreso when I walked down to a view point and back up. Since a ranger program was starting soon, I rode down to the river to the East Portal ranger station. The road down might just be the steepest paved road in the US at 16% grade. The bike wasn't entirely happy, it was backfiring the whole way down. I found the talk interesting- it was about the Gunnison Tunnel, which at the time of its completion was the longest irrigation tunnel in the world, and is now a National Civil Engineering Landmark. Unfortunately we didn't get to see the tunnel itself, since it is still in operation, providing water for the area's fruit trees and other crops. After the program, I rode back up the steep road and checked out the vistas along the canyon rim. It was pretty impressive- very tall and quite steep. I don't have a great fear of heights, but there was one view point in particular where I had a hard time getting the proper perspective, and it kind of made my head start to swim. At another view point, there were rangers who were checking up on two rock climbers who were coming up just across the way (but still on the same side of the river). That was pretty impressive to see, but even more impressive would have been to climb the Painted Wall, which at 2300 feet is not quite El Capitan, but is the tallest in Colorado. It had warmed up by the time I headed out of the park around noon, and since I still wanted to go a pretty good ways, I got back on the road. The sun was getting close to setting as I was riding pretty much due west into Capitol Reef National Park, so I was having some trouble seeing, but fortunately there was very few other cars. When I got there, the park's one campground was already full, so I went on 10 miles further west into the town of Torrey and got a site at a commercial campground. I had a nice little campfire going and had even picked up some new batteries for my headlamp, even though I didn't need it nearly as badly as I had in Leadville, since there was a big artificial light in this campground.

Sunday morning, I had some breakfast, packed up, and headed back into the park. Since my legs were still sore from Elbert and I wasn't really geared for hiking, I mostly just rode to the various view points, even a couple that were down dirt roads. The one hike I did do was to a natural bridge. It certainly wasn't Arches NP with its dozens of arches and bridges, but it's always cool to see those weird formations. I paid the $3 and took the scenic drive, which honestly wasn't that much more scenic than the main road through the park, but it did offer some spots to pull over and take a few nice pictures of my bike. I headed out of the park around noon, and passed through lots more beautiful landscapes. I particularly enjoyed passing through Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, which is rated as one of the most scenic roads in the country. I would definitely agree, it was pretty spectacular. It would have been nice to be able to explore it some, but that will have to wait for another trip. I did stop and check out Kodachrome Basin State Park, mainly because of the name and that once I saw it on the map, I couldn't get the Simon and Garfunkel song out of my head. It wasn't a particularly large park, and I didn't think the formations looked all that different from the others I had passed, but it was still a nice place. It sucked to pass right by Bryce Canyon NP and Zion NP and not have enough time to stop, but I have already seen them and really want several days to explore them some day. I headed east toward Page, AZ as the sun was setting, and was treated to a typically gorgeous desert sunset. The hotels in Page seemed to be pretty full and while I might have found a better deal elsewhere, I checked in to the Best Western. After dropping my stuff, I went out for food. For as many foreign tourists as there were in my hotel, the town seemed to be pretty dead. I had a pretty good dinner, then headed back. It wasn't too late, since I had gained an hour by crossing the UT/AZ line, so I went for a swim. The heater for the hot tub was broken, but the pool was open. The air was cool and the pool wasn't especially warm, but it was fine once I eased my way in, and I started swimming laps despite it being an irregularly shaped pool and the lights (in the pool) being off.

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