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Old 05-26-2008, 07:08 PM   #1
vaara
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Southwest tour, part 2 (CO-CA)

On Tuesday, May 20, I lounged around the lodge, took a few pictures, and wrote up part 1 of this trip report.

The Bunkhouse Lodge, contrary to what I had thought, is in fact located in the middle of a big gravel pit. Construction trucks come and go all day long, and everything -- including the bikes -- got pretty dusty.



But the views are nice.



During ski season and hiking/biking season, it's pretty busy here. But on the night of 5/20, I was the only guest.



I also made a short trip to the unfortunately-named town of Frisco, which looks like this:



Here I had lunch, bought some booze for later as well as a multi Allen wrench tool for those frequent windshield removals, and briefly looked into the Purple Lotus tattoo shop. I saw a design I quite liked, but decided against entrusting my epidermis to a pimply 19-year-old, who seemed to be the only employee on duty that day.

On the ride home, I daringly rode 8 miles without my helmet on, just to see what all the fuss is about. I didn't like it -- it was noisy, the wind made my eyes water, and I was constantly being pelted by little pieces of sand and grit. I'm all for people's right to ride helmetless; I just don't understand why anyone in his or her right mind would want to do it.

That evening I obsessively checked the weather sites, trying to determine my route back home. I tentatively planned to ride to Montrose, in western Colorado, then ride the fabled Million Dollar Highway to Durango, but the weather wasn't looking too good down there. So I slept on it -- alone, alas.

Last edited by vaara; 05-26-2008 at 09:30 PM..
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Old 05-26-2008, 07:35 PM   #2
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On Wednesday 5/21 my R&R came to an end, and I struck out for southwestern Colorado, the Four Corners, and the scenic wonders beyond. It was a cool but dry morning, so I suitably belayered and beGerbinged myself to prepare for what I knew would be a chilly ride. Fun fact: I didn't plug in my electrics at all during the first half of the trip; but during the return trip I used them almost the entire way -- such was the massive U-turn in the weather.

Just a few miles south of Breckenridge, through some nice but bumpy twisties, Colorado highway 9 crosses the Continental Divide.



About 30 miles later, the highway joins US 285 at the town of Fairplay, which has a small neighborhood called South Park. It doesn't look anything like the real South Park -- there isn't a Tom's Rhinoplasty or anything.

As I wended my way southwestward on 285, it started getting windy. But of course. I still had the shield on, but adjusted to the lowest position. It was still pretty tough going. Outside Buena Vista, I entered Chaffee County, whose slogan is "Now this is Colorado!" Indeed.



On I went, through ever-increasing winds. It was not fun. I struggled down the last stretch of US 24 to Poncha Springs, where I uncurled myself from the question-mark shape I had gradually assumed during the ride.

Look what the wind did to this metal horsie's mane.



I had lunch and dawdled for a while, waiting for the wind to subside, which of course it didn't, so off came the shield again. An elderly couple from Louisiana warned me about the winds up on Monarch Pass, so with a well-practiced sigh I mounted my trusty Strom and pointed myself west down US 50.

Monarch Pass was, as expected, very windy. As in, "holy ever-loving mother of Buddha, make it stop!" windy. I checked wunderground.com later, and learned that it had been blowing a steady 45mph when I went through, with gusts to 60. You will, I hope, excuse the lack of a photo of the Monarch Pass butterfly sign under the circumstances.

I got to Gunnison and made a beeline for the first coffeeshop I found that had wireless Internet access. There were a couple of other riders around, but neither seemed inclined to share information, so I relied on the interweb to guide me. And the news was not good. Snow and rain along US 550 between Ouray and Durango, and a chance of snow in Ouray overnight and the following day.

I continued westward anyway, reasoning that I could spend the night in Montrose if things looked too bad to the south. The road took me through a beautiful canyon, up a fairly high pass (a few spatters of rain here) and down to a little general store. I asked this guy for directions, but he wasn't very helpful.



And that was about it for the day. I got to Montrose, saw that the sky to the south was gloomy and foreboding, and checked myself into a motel.

Total mileage for day 5 (5/21) - a pathetic 213.
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Old 05-26-2008, 07:57 PM   #3
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Thursday morning, 5/22. It was spitting rain in Montrose.



And the sky toward the south looked even worse.



So I did the only reasonable thing under the circumstances, and headed in the opposite direction. Toward Grand Junction, where I intended to have a late breakfast at the Black Bear Diner. I got there and couldn't find it, so blasted clear through town and got back on I-70, which I had ridden in the opposite direction a few days earlier (this would be the first of 4 times I would cross my own path during the ride home).

I-70, just inside the Utah line.



Here I briefly chatted with a 2-up couple from New York, who were touring the West. They had been in Breckenridge too, and said it was snowing there now.

Onward to Green River, where I once again stopped for a meal -- in this case, more Mexican food, which was becoming a bit of a theme on this trip, along with wind, of course, and (for some reason) the ECVs aka "Clampers," whom I kept running into in the oddest places.

Once again the weather looked better to the north than to the south, so rather than ride down toward Moab, I headed north toward Salt Lake. It had been almost an entire week since I had enjoyed any metropolitan excitement, and Salt Lake is about as good as it gets, at least in Utah. Just after Green River, I hopped on US 6, which I would eventually follow almost all the way from here to California.

Going over Soldier Summit outside Provo, I stayed dry, but it had clearly snowed here very recently.



So I quickly proceeded down the canyon into the vast Mormonopolis that covers the area between the lakes (Utah and Great Salt) and the Wasatch Range. After a brief stop for hot chocolate in Provo, I blasted up toward Salt Lake in the carpool lane on I-15, and checked into a ridiculously expensive downtown hotel.



I soon repaired to the Sky Bar on the 13th floor and enjoyed the world's smallest vodka gimlet, followed by a ridiculously expensive dinner. The restaurant shares a space with a "private club" (which the rest of the world outside Utah would refer to as a "cocktail bar"), and the constant parade of exotic-looking, scantily-clad, and pneumatically enhanced hostesses gave the place the ambiance of a Russian Mafia hangout. Which is not quite what I expected to find in Utah.

Total mileage for day 6 (5/22): 360.
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Old 05-26-2008, 08:21 PM   #4
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Overnight, I finalized my plans for the rest of the trip. On Friday the 23rd I would ride back to Baker, Nevada, and spend the night at the Silver Jack Inn. The following day I would meet up with my friend Tom in Bridgeport, California, where we would spend the night, and then we'd head over Tioga Pass on Sunday.

One of the reasons I chose that hotel in Salt Lake is that it was nearly across the street from a Starbucks. So on Friday morning, May 23, I went there on a desperate search for caffeine. It turned out to be a brand-new Starbucks that wouldn't open for another week.

So when I left the hotel, I was crankier and more irritable than a Frenchwoman with PMS whose married lover is out of town. First I drove across town to a coffeeshop that had been recommended by Yelp, and that -- crucially -- had wireless Internet. Then, instead of heading down the boring freeway, I went west, because I figured there was little point in going to Salt Lake if you don't, like, see the lake.



This picture tells only half the story, for directly south of I-80, there were big menacing snowy-looking clouds parked over the hills. I proceeded down toward Tooele on Utah Highway 36; the wind picked up more and more, and it was getting colder and colder. Here I stopped for lunch at Arby's -- yum! -- and waited a while for the weather to clear. Which, amazingly enough, it did.

Down Highway 36 I went, all the way managing to thread the needle between all the rain/snow squalls. After a while the road rejoined US 6. I stopped for a pee/smoke break, and noticed that every single vehicle that passed was a southbound truck or RV towing a trailer bearing various other motorized vehicles. Oh yeah -- this was Friday of Memorial Day weekend. Duh.



The scenery varied from sagebrush to grassland. Just short of Delta, in the hamlet of Lynndyl, I took another long break at a gas station/market, waiting for a squall up ahead to dissipate. Again, I managed to avoid getting wet, for the most part. I got to Delta, gassed up, and prepared myself for the long 87-mile stretch between there and the Nevada line.

Here I was back in basin-and-range country -- a few miles of fun twisties followed by 20 or 30 or more of arrow-straight road through completely desolate terrain. Here, too, I started noticing what seemed to be a slight wardrobe malfunction: my Gerbing liner didn't seem to be producing any heat. The further I went, the cloudier and colder and windier it got; in the last pass before the state line, I got a bit wet, which of course only made me colder. The only thing keeping me going was the relentless countdown of the mile markers.

I was shivering pretty hard by the time I got back to Baker and rejoined my outward route again. I defrosted myself with a nice hot shower, and went to the dining room, where I was seated at a communal table. I noticed that the two people -- father and son -- next to me were speaking Dutch, so I let them babble for a while and then asked them, in Dutch, where they were from. I love doing shit like that. We had a nice chat about their trip, my trip, the US, how fat everyone is, how beautiful it is, etc.

Total mileage for day 7 (5/23) - a measly 249.
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Old 05-26-2008, 09:01 PM   #5
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Saturday 5/24 I awoke in a rather spirited state of mind, because I knew that by the end of this day, I would be back in California and -- more importantly -- in the company of someone whom I like rather a lot. So after a very nice omelet at the Silver Jack Inn -- and allow me, once again, to urge you to go there before it changes ownership -- I set off at the uncharacteristically early hour of 9:30 am. But not before checking the connections on my Gerbing and figuring out that I just needed to plug it into a different one. Doh!

Even at this early hour, it was already windy.

I retraced my steps as far as Ely, where I got caught in a little graupel shower. (Google "graupel" if you don't know what it is.) I restored myself with some hot chocolate and chatted with a grizzled old Harley rider who said this was some of the worst weather he'd ever ridden in.

Then, between Ely and Tonopah, there are 168 miles of almost completely uninhabited highway 6 to negotiate.

It got windier. And colder. And every time I went over a pass, I got rained on. Clearly my weather luck had turned. In fact, each night I turned on the TV on this trip, the big L on the weather maps, which had been lurking over Colorado on my last day there, seemed to have moved over the state where I currently was. Mother Nature is such a bitch sometimes.



And just to make it even more fun, as I rode through a couple of these rain squalls, I noticed with some alarm that the road surface was covered with some sort of weird white stuff. But I quickly realized it wasn't snow or slush, but rather some kind of chemical residue; it looked like soap suds. Weird.

I did stop once during the interminable emptiness between Ely and Tonopah, at a little gas station in the middle of the middle of nowhere, where I talked to a Valkyrie rider who was planning to ride all the way to Colorado Springs that day. He thought it was about 500 miles. Um, not.

Finally I got to Tonopah. What a dump. There was some more graupel here, too.



For a change of pace, I had Mexican food for lunch. Then I gassed up and got back on Highway 6 for the run into California. But not before talking to Tom -- this was the first place since Salt Lake that I'd had cell service (fucking Sprint) and he said that all the Sierra passes were closed, and that he wouldn't be joining me in Bridgeport after all. Frowny face. I decided to press on to Bridgeport anyway.

It got windier. Much windier. For a while, US 6 shares an alignment with US 95, and since I didn't feel comfortable going more than 60 or so, I got passed by several cars, RVs, trucks, scooters, electric bicycles etc. But soon it split off and I had the road to myself.

The last section of US 6 in Nevada is quite a ride. It goes up Montgomery Pass, where some optimistic entrepreneur in times past built a series of hotels and casinos up at 7500 feet. They're all abandoned now.

Finally, home sweet home!



Still, the weather was sucky.



I rode down to Benton, then took one last picture of the pretty mountains before heading east on 120.



This eastern section of 120 is a blast. It starts out almost immediately with twisties (watch out for tar snakes) then segues into a straight stretch with lots of dips, where one could easily, if one were so inclined, become airborne. Repeatedly. Then it winds up to Sagehen Summit, at 8100 feet, where I encountered a few flying flakes. And then finally down to the south shore of Mono Lake.



Right after I took this picture, it started raining. And this time it wasn't fucking around. I was seriously wet by the time I got to 395, so I went straight to the Tioga Gas Mart's Whoa Nellie Deli for a cup of lumpy hot chocolate and a warm-up. Even though I had only about 20 miles to go before Bridgeport, I was a bit apprehensive about those 20 miles, because they go over another 8100-foot summit.

Riding through Lee Vining, I saw that contrary to what Tom had found out prior to his (now aborted) trip, most of the places in town did have vacancies -- probably due to the inability of Bay Area people to get to the eastern Sierra, since all the Sierra passes south of 50 were closed. But I pressed on.

At Conway Summit, sure enough, it was snowing. And, stupidly, I had neglected to put my clear faceshield on; it has a Fog City insert, and would have been ideal for these conditions. So in addition to watching the road surface intently for any sign of snow or ice accumulation, I had to constantly wipe snow off the outside of my faceshield, and condensation off the inside.

I stopped just long enough to take a picture of my snow-encrusted windshield, because I knew that you bitches on BARF wouldn't believe me otherwise.



Finally, at around 6 pm, I rolled into Bridgeport, checked in, and enjoyed a surprisingly good (if expensive) dinner of fish 'n' chips. And beer. As I retired, I noted that it was still raining, and getting pretty cold...

Total mileage, day 8 (5/24): 401.
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Old 05-26-2008, 09:28 PM   #6
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Sunday morning, 5/26, and I was almost home! But first I had to figure out how to get over the Sierra. I also had to deal with this:



I hung around a while, and by 9:30 I decided it was warm enough to leave. I headed up 395 north, intending to make my way over to Lake Tahoe and then US 50.



But actually the road was OK, just a little wet. In fact, Monitor Pass was actually open; I almost took it, but the low clouds and low temperatures convinced me not to.

I crossed back into Nevada and stopped at a Starbucks in Gardnerville for another weather check. I paid the $9.99 to sign up for T-Mobile wireless access, but the system wouldn't let me log in. Expletive expletivey expletive. Once I had drunk my coffee, I felt better anyway, and the weather over the Kingsbury Grade was clearly improving.

I rode the Kingsbury Grade, NV 207, over to South Lake, re-entered California, and yet again rejoined my outbound route, at least for a few miles. I again took Pioneer Trail through South Lake to avoid the US 50 traffic, then, at Meyers, got back on 50.

And then it started to snow. Hard. I was wiping my faceshield (the clear one, this time) every few seconds. There were a few small patches of slush on the road, but the main problem was visibility. Fortunately, this only lasted for a few miles, and soon the snow turned into heavy, relentless rain. For about 40 miles, to Pollock Pines, it rained non-stop. I developed a craving for chili, which I indulged at the Fresh Pond store. Someone there is apparently a huge fan of Boy George, because during the time I sat there eating my chili, they played "Karma Chameleon" no less than 7 times. Maybe that's their way of keeping kids from hanging out there; it is no less effective at driving away paying customers.

Finally, somewhere before Sacramento, the rain stopped and it suddenly got warm and sunny. Here I realized I was finally "home" when I was nearly clobbered by not one, but two Priuseseses. At a gas station in Sacramento, I pulled over one last time to make a couple of calls, and to lube my chain... my chain lube ran out about halfway through the process, and I neglected to re-bungee one of the cords fastening my bag to the passenger seat, so I had to make a somewhat panicked stop right on I-80, in the middle of a tangle of freeway ramps, to refasten it. Doh!

One last stop outside Vallejo, with the Bay in view at last.



Suitably enough, the last stretch on I-80 was pretty windy. So I was pretty glad to get home.

Total mileage, day 9 (5/25) - 282.
Total for the entire trip (includes "day off" miles in Colorado) - 2896.
Crashes: 0.
Tickets: 0.
Temperature range: 36-100F.
Wind: too fucking much.
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Old 05-27-2008, 06:34 AM   #7
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yep, love the 'whoops' on 120 :-)
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Old 05-27-2008, 07:05 AM   #8
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Yep, You can't call that a trip, that was an adventure

I hate riding in the wet and cold, it sucks! Glad to see that you came through it all OK. Great job on reporting. Just hearing about a long road trip almost sends rivers of anticipation down my inseam....
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Old 05-27-2008, 08:31 AM   #9
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Now I'm rethinking my trip.
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Old 05-27-2008, 08:54 AM   #10
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<---Jealous!

How long was this entire trip?
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Old 05-27-2008, 09:17 AM   #11
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<---Jealous!

How long was this entire trip?
A few posts earlier he said Day 8 was Saturday, and he got back on Sunday, so 9 days.
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Old 05-27-2008, 12:15 PM   #12
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great pictures and love the commentary!
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Old 05-27-2008, 05:34 PM   #13
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Awesome trip. Thanks for sharing.
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Old 05-27-2008, 07:59 PM   #14
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Nice trip report and pics!

I'm sure this trip will make you appreciate good weather more than ever.
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Old 05-27-2008, 08:54 PM   #15
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Nice trip report and pics!

I'm sure this trip will make you appreciate good weather more than ever.
Yep. I'll never complain about really hot weather again. Until the next time it gets really hot.
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