Monday, May 14, 2012

Colorado Road Trip

My friend Valek and I had been planning a road trip to Colorado for the last several weeks.  We typically take two or three road trips each year and for the last few years one of those trips is usually in May after my busy work schedule lightens up a bit.  We've ridden to Colorado together once before and vowed that we would do it again as soon as possible.  The beauty of Colorado needs no description, but in addition to the mountains and breathtaking vistas, Colorado has great motorcycle roads.  And for those of us living in Kansas, it is one of the closest destinations for great riding and camping.

We only had three days to complete this trip so that meant one to get there, one day to ride as many canyons and mountain passes as possible, and one day back home.  Since mid-May can still bring frozen precipitation to the higher elevations, we decided to use the Pueblo, CO area as our initial destination.

Getting to Pueblo form north eastern Kansas would take us diagonally across the state, northeast to southwest and passing through some areas of our state that I have never before visited.  For me, this is always an adventure in itself.

Dodge City, Kansas was a first for me and definitely someplace I would like to spend a little time soaking in some Wild West history.  We really didn't have time to explore, but we were able to snap a few shots of the historic district.

El Capitan

One of the things I didn't appreciate about southwestern Kansas was the number of feedlots that exist in this part of the state.  There are hundreds of them.  They are officially referred to by the U.S. EPA and USDA as Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs).  You can see them from miles away due in part to the color of the ground, normally sandy in this part of the state, the CAFO has a much darker ground due to the high concentration of manure, also the presence of large grain storage and deliver structures, and, if the wind is in the right direction, the smell.  I've always had the opinion that cattle manure is not an unpleasant odor, but the smell coming from a cattle CAFO is something altogether different and unpleasant would be an understatement!

The number of CAFOs, or CDROs (Cattle Death Row Operations, as I call them) would confirm the fact that there are more cows in Kansas than people and in Ford County (Dodge City) the ratio is well over 100:1!!

I thought that Dodge City was somewhat remote, in part because it took us half a day to get there, but also the fact that there is just a whole lot of nothing in that part of the state.  I said "thought" because by the time we got to Garden City, I had already formulated a new definition of remote!  But then, I had yet to see Bethune, CO and a dozen other small towns in the high plains area of eastern Colorado (but I am getting ahead of myself).

Our first night was spent at the Pueblo County Reservoir and State Park, just west of Pueblo, CO.  What a great find!  The lake was beautiful and being early in the season, there were plenty of open camp sites close to the lake.
Bikes at the campsite

Sunset over the Lake Pueblo
As beautiful and tranquil as the lake setting was, we were hit in the middle of the night with 30 mph winds and 50 mpg gusts!  Our tents were almost blowing away and the deafening sound of wind-blown rain flies and pelting sand ensured that we hardly slept at all that night.

At dawn we broke camp early, loaded the bikes and headed west on US50 for Royal Gorge still in windy conditions.  Leaving the outskirts of west Pueblo we were hit by 40 mph cross winds for the first 15-20 miles.  I thought if we had to ride in that all the way to the Gorge we would be in serious trouble.  But as soon as we hit the foothills west of Pueblo, the wind subsided and the remaining ride was relaxing and beautiful, especially the approach to Can~on City  (con un enye and pronounced Canyon).  Despite being the "Penitentiary Capitol" of Colorado, Can~on City was beautiful, in fact, I have decided that if I ever have to be incarcerated, I am putting my bid in for Can~on City!

Royal Gorge Junction is just a little west of Can~on City, CO and well worth the price of admission for the park.

Valek on Royal Gorge Bridge

Continuing on US50 west we headed for Salida, CO.  This was one of the best decisions we made since this stretch of US50 was absolutely spectacular!  For the most part, the road followed the deep canyon carved over millions of years by the Arkansas River.  The tight twisty curves and sweeping high speed turns made the next 50 miles the highlight of the trip!  Moreover, this has inspired me to make a return trip and follow US50 all the way to Gunnison, Cimarron and finally Montrose before heading to Grand Junction, circling back on I-70 though Glenwood Springs, Vail and Golden.  We considered this route for our trip but decided that we would be too far west by the end of the day to make it back to the eastern side of the state before nightfall (in retrospect, our decision to head north at Salida to Leadville turned our leisurely trip into a near nightmare!

LD Out on the highway

Heading north at Salida we rode along CO291, US285 and US24 to Leadville.  I've been through Leadville before but I forgot how cool this 19th century mining town is, what beautiful historic buildings that this little town has and also the elevation (10,152 ft.).  We were going to pull over to snap a few pictures but as soon as we pulled into town we were hit by a pretty severe thunderstorm that at 10,000 ft translates to hail, sleet and snow.  And we got it all!

We headed south as quickly as we could trying to get to lower elevation but we were followed by pretty heavy snow.  We ended up riding almost 100 miles (Leadville to Woodland Park) in the snow.  We were forced to stop several times due to lack of visibility.  Fortunately the air temperature never dropped below 32 F so despite accumulation of snow on the surrounding countryside, the road was only wet with some slush as we crossed Trout Creek Pass (9,345 ft).

By the time we got to Florissant (population 110) we were pretty exhausted from the ride.  We pulled into a service station/cafe for fuel, a bite to eat and a chance to thaw out.  After a couple of pulled pork sandwiches and coffee we were feeling better and the snow had stopped!!

We were planning to spend the night in a motel in Colorado Springs and at this point in the road we were only about 35 miles out!  I could already feel the hot shower and motel bed!

About 3 miles outside of Florissant, I was riding along, feeling really good that we were out of the snow, and within and hour of a warm dry spot for the night, when I checked my rearview mirror and did not see Valek.  I kept staring into my mirror as I rode, but still no riding buddy.  I pulled to the shoulder put on my flashers and stared into my rearview mirror hoping to see Valek at any second.  Instead a woman in a minivan pulls beside me and asks if I am riding with a friend, I said yes, to which she replied "Well, he's completely out on the highway"... (my heart stopped!)... then she continued... "pushing his bike across the road"... I breathed a sigh of relief!  At least he hadn't gone down as the woman's first words might have indicated.    I turned around and sped back up the road to find Valek standing beside his Goldwing.  Diagnosis, an electrical malfunction, probably an alternator issue.  After some discussion, I rode on into Woodland Park (~15 miles) looking for a battery.  I found one after a few stops, but none that was charged and charging was going to take several hours.  I then got the numbers for several tow companies and a local motel.

We had the Goldwing towed to a local motel and planned our strategy.  Valek rode my RT to the local Wallmart to get a battery charger to charge his battery overnight.  We decided that we would test the charging system in the morning but be prepared to truck the bike back to Lawrence if the bike's alternator failed to keep the battery charging.  

Come morning we discovered that the battery would start the bike but without a functioning charging system, disconnection of the battery resulted in the bike dying.

We located a UHaul truck in Colorado Springs (20 miles east) so we road 2-up on the RT to get it.  When we got there we discovered that the 10 ft truck does not have a ramp to load the bike!  So, we headed back to Woodland Park and while Valek made another stop at Wallmart to get tie downs, I headed to a local ATV shop to see about borrowing a ramp.

Getting the half-ton Goldwing into the truck was a bit sketchy, but we were successful!  Once loaded, we immediately left for the 600 mile, 11-hour ride home.  We had gotten all all our running around completed by 10:30 a.m.

The ride home was uneventful, cold for most of the ride, but at lease dry despite threatening weather the entire way.  I pulled into my garage at 9:30 p.m., really ready for a shower, a shave and a hug from Elise!

Woodland Park, CO... My new favorite city!

For a trip that seemed to be dominated by the aftermath of bike trouble, there were several bright spots that made this a wonderfully memorable trip. Not in any particular order:

  • Woodland Park is a beautiful city and several of its residents expressed their help and concern for two stranded motorcyclist in a number of thoughtful ways.
  • The road from Woodland Park to Colorado Springs is an awesome, beautifully scenic 20 mile ride that I have done before and on this particular trip we made it 3 times!
  • The 50-mile ride from Royal Gorge to Salida that follows the Arkansas River canyon is worth a repeat trip all by itself!
  • The next trip to Colorado is going to include an extended ride along US50.  What a beautiful  road!
  • The number of CAFOs (CDROs) in southwestern Kansas is alarming, not only because corn-fed beef is unhealthy for human consumption but the practice is toxic to the cattle themselves and in part, responsible for the emergence of E. coli O:157H:7, the life-threatening "hamburger-borne" variety of E. coli.
  • Unlike the cities in most states that are proud of their residents and celebrate them by citing their population statistics on their city limit signs (Elgin KS, population 71), Colorado cities seem to take greater pride in their elevation (Leadville, CO Elevation 10,152).  Perhaps it's an economic issue for the citizens to not feel compelled to replace the signs each decade when new census data is reported.  The geologic timetable for elevation changes is such that those signs will never have to be replaced by the citizens of Leadville, or any other CO city!
  • The long and lonesome ride across the high plains of eastern Colorado and western Kansas has a simple and quiet, yet compelling beauty that must be ridden by motorcycle to completely appreciate.
  • The Worlds Largest Prairie Dog in Oakley, KS was somewhat disappointing.  If that critter is SO big, why isn't he visible from the highway??
  • Hardships make friendships grow deeper and stronger.  I am extremely thankful for, and blessed by, my friendship with my riding buddy Valek Voronin.  Love you Valek... and get a new Goldwing... better yet, get a BMW!!
  • As always with road trips, as great as they are... there is nothing like getting back to loved ones and sleeping in your own bed!

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