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Old 06-02-2011, 05:26 PM   #1
sckego
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Enough with the freaking snow already! - Motocamping from TX to CA



Are you wondering why I have that annoyed, almost pissed-off look in my eyes? Thatís because, for the third time in two weeks, itís snowing on me. Itís not like Iím way up in the mountains of Colorado this time, either; Iím in southern Nevada, barely an hour from Las Vegas, and June is only three days away. It should be sweltering here. But, no, instead Iíve managed to stumble into yet another late-May winter snap, and now Iím getting snowed on. Again.

ENOUGH WITH THE FREAKING SNOW ALREADY!

The idea for a cross-country trip started coming together a few months ago, when Victoria got a nice promotion at work that required us to move from DFW to her company HQ near San Jose, CA. She grew up in the area and still has family there, and weíve been wanting to move back for some time now, so things worked out nicely. I was unable to find a new job in CA before our mid-April move, so I just quit and am now unemployed, which isnít all bad. We trailered the Ninja 250 out to California with us when we moved, and Iíve had lots of free time to ride it out and explore the numerous twisty roads surrounding the Bay.

Anyways, the FZ1 got loaded up with camping gear and parked in a friendís garage prior to our leaving Texas. She waited there for a few weeks until Vic and I flew back to DFW for another friendís wedding, after which Vic would fly back to CA and I would hit the road. I had sketched out a rough route and noted the locations of various campgrounds, but nothing was really set in stone. I had certain roads on my to-do list, like 550 and 141 in Colorado, and US-50 across Nevada, and I wanted to visit a bunch of the national parks through CO and UT. I had no job to rush back to and had all the time in the world (well, as much as Vic would let me be away for), and so my goal was to take my time, enjoy myself, not miss anything along the way.

And with that, weíre off...

Day 1: Sunday 5/15/11
272 mi - Map
Euless, TX to Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge, OK

After a few glasses of water and some aspirin helped chase away the hint of a hangover from the wedding party then night before, Vic and I set off for my friend Blizzís house, where the FZ1 was stored. After getting everything squared away and secured on the bike, we all headed off for a group lunch with my good friends from FWMR at Hard Eight BBQ in Coppell.

The FZ1 (with topbox) crammed into the back of the garage. George and Blizz have *a lot* of toys.


Loaded up and ready to roll. Odometer reading at departure: 24040.


Hard Eight: Mmm, BBQ.


A group shot with the contingent of FWMR who were able to make it out to lunch.


We stuffed ourselves silly and wasted a few hours BSíing over lunch, and then it was time to leave. Vic and I had our goodbyes, and she headed off for the airport for her flight back to CA, while I jumped on the freeway and headed north for Oklahoma. Dave (giving the Versys a last-minute shakedown in preparation for a cross-country trip of his own) and Nick (on that *other* naked bike) rode with me for a bit up to the Red River crossing.

Dave and Nick at a gas stop in Decatur.


The first bridge spanning the Red River west of I-35 is the Taovoyas Indian Bridge. The roads heading north to it from DFW are fairly entertaining, and the bridge itself is way out in the middle of nowhere on a 2-mile straightaway dropping down into the river valley. Needless to say, everybody who goes there obeys the posted speed limits at all times.



At the bridge, I said goodbye to Dave and Nick as they turned back south. My destination for the night, the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge, was still another 100 uneventful miles into Oklahoma. Once there, I detoured off the main highway for a few miles to ride to the top of Mount Scott, a small peak that rises some 1,000 feet above the surrounding plain.

A section of the paved road that climbs to the summit of Mount Scott.


View of Elmer Thomas Lake from the summit.


Oklahoma Hwy 49 winding through the prairie. I had to dodge some longhorns in the road shortly after taking this picture... hey, it is a Wildlife Refuge!


I made it to Doris Campground, at the edge of Lake Quanah Parker, at about 6PM. After unloading and setting up camp, I sat down to record the deeds of the day, and as I was typing the date into my phone, it struck me: May 15. Momís birthday. Check phone - no service. Crap! I could run back to Lawton, 20 miles away, and call her from there. However, just south of the campground is a small peak called Little Baldy Mountain, and the campground map shows a hiking trail leading to it. Crossing my fingers, I set off. Arriving at the summit a short time later, I check my phone again, and thankfully I have a few bars of reception! Iím able to call Mom to wish her a happy birthday and avoid the dreaded ďbad sonĒ label.

Looking up at Little Baldy Mountain. Thereís cell phone service up there!


After calling mom (and Victoria!), I sit down to admire the views of Lake Quanah Parker at sunset and eat the Subway footlong that I procured at my last gas stop.






I was able to scramble back down the mountain and back to my campsite before it got too dark. Full and tired (we had partied until closing time after the wedding, and I didnít get many hours of sleep last night), and happy that Day 1 of my trip went pretty much as planned, I climbed into my tent and passed out.
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Old 06-02-2011, 05:28 PM   #2
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Day 2: Monday, 5/16/11
412 mi - Map
Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge, OK to Cimmaron National Grassland, KS

A great, restful nightís sleep was followed up with a fresh cup of coffee from the Moka Pot to start my first full day on the road.


The lakeshore was only a short walk down from my campsite.


Waiting to be packed up.


I got on the road at around 8:30AM and continued west through the rest of the WMWR. A short ways up the road I came across a large prairie dog town.


Lots of little critters running around.


A few miles farther along, some bison were grazing within sight of the road. There are also elk on the reserve, but I didnít get to see any of them.


My route through southwest Oklahoma wasnít the most exciting ride, but it was a very relaxing one through the calm, cool morning air.

Random piles of boulders just donít seem like they belong in the middle of the great plains.


Passing through the Black Kettle National Grassland, I stopped at the site of the Battle of the Washita, an 1868 engagement between Custerís 7th Cavalry and a camp of Cheyenne Indians under Chief Black Kettle.


A short time later, I crossed back into Texas.


Hey look, a county courthouse! Hemphill County Courthouse, Canadian, TX.


This one, on the way out of Canadian, is for Nick. I think you can actually see Stan in that diagram on the right.


I cut through the northeast corner of the Texas panhandle and back into Oklahoma, where I stopped at the Beaver Dunes State Park. I did a short 1-mile hike through the park, which wasnít that great, but it was a change from the hours of straight-and-flat riding. There was also an off-road vehicle area adjacent to the park for sand dune fun.


Heading west through No Manís Land, the 170-mile-long strip of plains that nobody seemed to want back in the day. It wasnít until 1890 that this area was tacked onto Oklahoma Territory to form the panhandle. You still see a lot of references on signs and business names to ďNo Manís Land.Ē


Nowdays itís just miles and miles of agriculture.


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Old 06-02-2011, 05:28 PM   #3
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I passed through the town of Hooker (Beaver? Hooker? Oklahoma, whats with your town names?), and turned north for Elkhart, Kansas, checking yet another state off my list.


Just north of Elkhart is the Cimmaron National Grassland. This area was a major stop along the historic Santa Fe Trail from Missouri to New Mexico. The “Point of Rocks” overlooking the Cimmaron River was a very recognizable landmark, visible from miles away.

You know you’re in the flatlands when this qualifies as a major geographic landmark:


The Point of Rocks overlook is accessible from the highway, about three miles down a dirt road, and offers a nice view of the river valley below. I was planning on camping around here, but it’s very exposed, and the desert scrub offers no protection from the constant cold wind. I think I’ll try find somewhere else.




On my way back down the dirt road, I see a sign for the Middle Spring picnic area. Middle Spring was the one reliable, year-round water source for miles around. A hundred years ago, this area would have been trampled to a muddy bog by hordes of travellers, horses, and livestock, but today it’s been restored to a pleasant woody oasis along the small stream fed by the spring. It looks like a good place to stop for the night.


I set up my tent down near the stream, where the trees and rushes deflect most of the wind.


A fair-sized porcupine ambled by as I was setting up.


I warmed up some canned soup over my camp stove and watched the sunset and moonrise before heading off to bed.


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Old 06-02-2011, 05:44 PM   #4
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Very cool ride and report!
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Old 06-02-2011, 08:13 PM   #5
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Day 3: Tuesday, 5/17/11
470 miles - Map
Cimmaron National Grassland, KS to Lake Isabel, San Isabel National Forest, CO

I was up early with the sun and planned out a route for the day before loading up and heading off.


Shadows in the morning light.


I remembered hearing about a rally up in this area that consisted of a ride route passing through five states. I thought it would be fun to copy the idea, and try and hit KS, OK, TX, NM, and CO all in one day. I started the day in KS, and less then an hour later I was back in OK, basically following the Santa Fe Trail southwest.
http://i71.photobucket.com/albums/i1...l/DSC00225.jpg

I stopped for breakfast in Boise City, OK, where I came across this roundabout at the Cimmaron County Courthouse. There are *seven* different US and State routes that intersect here, nevermind the local road names on the street signs. Jeez.


Continuing southwest, I crossed into New Mexico, and a short while later just clipped the very northwest corner of Texas.


Still on the Santa Fe Trail. This historical marker was erected more than 80 years ago, to commemorate wagons crossing here more then a hundred years before that. Still, I get the feeling things didnít look much different around here, even back then.


Little House on the High Desert.


Capulin Volcano National Monument, a well-preserved cinder cone that speaks to the volcanic history of this area. You can see a road winding up itís flank to the summit.


View from along the road up Capulin. Sierra Grande peak is visible in the background.


I did another short hike around the rim of the crater. It had some nice views (including my first glimpses of snow-capped peaks on the horizon), but was very cold and windy. I was surprised to see this guy out and about on the trail. Thomas, identify!


Leaving Capulin Volcano, I passed through the town of Folsom, which is known for being the site of the earliest evidence of human activity in North America. There is a small museum here (closed when I came by) dedicated to the nearby discovery of manmade arrowheads embedded in bison bones that date to 9,000 BC.


I continued west along NM-72, a somewhat poorly-maintained backroad across the high mesa to the city of Raton.






After lunch in Raton, I headed north through the Raton pass and into Colorado, state number five for the day (and for the trip). Instead of sticking to I-25, I split off on to Colorado Scenic Route 12, the Highway of Legends, which took me west into the Spanish Peaks. Finally, after hundreds of miles of plains and prairie: real mountains.




Hwy 12 climbed through several small towns, but once those were past the traffic dropped off and speeds picked up. It was a terrifically fun ride up to the crest at Cucharas Pass.




After winding my way back down the somewhat sandy north side of the pass, I kept on north to Pueblo, where I stopped to refuel and snack. The day was growing somewhat late, and I needed to find a place to stay. I didnít feel like succumbing to a motel quite yet, and there was a decent-looking state park just west of town. However, a check of my list of forest service campsites showed one at Lake Isabel, some 40 miles away up in the mountains. Hey, Iíve still got an hour before sunset. Letís go.

Google Maps said to get back on I-25 and head south, the way I just came. To me, the more fun route looks like CO-78 down into the Beulah Valley, then up the windy-looking bit into the National Forest to the campground. Who needs navi, anyways? The ride into the valley is very scenic and very fast, and then transitions into some nice twisties as I hit the base of the mountains. And then - wait, what? Why is the road turning to dirt? I pass a sign: ďGravel Road - Next 9 Miles.Ē Iím kicking myself for not trusting the all-knowing Google, and I know I should probably turn around and head back to that state park. I donít want to get stuck on a deserted dirt road up in the forest, on a streetbike, in the dark. This is not wise. I continue on anyways.

The road isnít muddy, really, but it is damp and slippery, especially on the Michelin street tires I have mounted (PP2CT front, PR2 rear). I remind myself several times to slow down and take it easy, because if I go down here and break something, I could very well be stuck here till morning; I havenít passed another car in miles. Still, itís hard to go slow when the sun has already disappeared behind the mountains and the light is fading.





Finally - pavement!


I make my way back down along CO-165 to the campground at Lake Isabel and get set up before the light fades completely. Itís cold up here, and Iím very tired after a long day of riding, but I did my 5-states-in-a-day and have made it to the mountains. I remind myself that Iím supposed to be taking my time and enjoying myself, that I donít have to do banzai runs into the mountains at night to make that next campground, that it is OK for me to stop for the day at 5 PM instead of 8:30. I resolve to take it easier for the rest of the trip, and hit the sack looking forward to a great day of mountain riding tomorrow.
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Old 06-03-2011, 01:20 AM   #6
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Very cool!! Enjoyed the pics and the write up as well.
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Old 06-03-2011, 12:45 PM   #7
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Day 4: Wednesday, 5/18/11
247 mi - Map
Lake Isabel, San Isabel NF, CO, to Buffalo Pass Campground, Rio Grande NF, CO

It got pretty chilly overnight, to the point that I wiggled into my Olympia Phantom suit liner for a bit of additional insulation. My sleeping bag is rated down pretty low, but the REI Half-Dome 2 is a three-season tent and isn’t that great at keeping warm air in. Wearing the liner also made climbing out of my bag in the morning much easier.


The small stream that feeds Lake Isabel ran just behind my campsite, and I wandered down there with my coffee to wake up. It was cold enough that I had pulled on my riding suit just to walk around.




Ready to ride.


Only a few miles up the road from Lake Isabel I came across Bishop Castle. A friend had been here before and suggested that I stop by to check it out. It wasn’t on my must-do list, but since I was so close, might as well, right?


Well, I’m glad I stopped. This place is nuts. It was built entirely by it’s owner, Jim Bishop, over the past 40+ years, and is still a work in progress.


You hear “some guy built a castle up the mountains,” and you think, OK, he built a house that looks like a castle. No. This is a *castle*. It’s huge. That main tower is over 160 feet tall. The main hall is cavernous, with intricate wrought iron supporting the ceiling and stained glass windows letting in light.




As I climb slowly up the endless spiral staircase, I can’t help but think: This place was built by some crazy mountain man with rocks, concrete and wrought iron. There was no architect double-checking his plans, no analysis done on how sturdy this thing is. You’d have to be nuts to go all the way up there--right?






Right. Boy, was I out of breath by the time I reached the top.


Notice the deathgrip on the iron bar.


That’s my bike next to the top of the tree.


It is just amazing that one guy could build this by himself, even with forty years to do it. Really a cool stop, one of the highlights of the trip.


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Old 06-03-2011, 12:49 PM   #8
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Continuing on my ride, I found some pretty nice twisties dropping down out of the mountians.


Turning west on CO-96 towards Westcliffe, I find myself heading straight for an awesome sight: The Sangre de Cristo Mountains, a 80-mile long string of 14,000-foot peaks stretching north to south as far as I can see. It’s hard to keep my eyes on the road with such scenery in front of me.




Reaching US-50 at Texas Creek, I stop at Barry’s Den for some breakfast and more coffee to warm up. I rode through some light rain and hail a bit earlier, and talk in the restaurant is of worse weather moving in from the west. Uh-oh.


I head up to Salida, a nice mountain-resorty-type town where decent cell service allows me to follow up on the weather forecast and decide what I should do. It looks like there’s a large front just west of Monarch Pass on US-50, slowly moving my way. Not going over there, and I don’t want to go back east, the way I just came. To my north is the Collegiate Peaks Scenic Drive, which follows along another grouping of 14k-ft peaks and eventually ends up in the historic town of Leadville, CO. To my south is the San Luis Valley, a flat, boring-looking agricultural center. North it is.


The scenic drive isn’t nearly as scenic as it could be, with the mountain peaks wrapped in heavy clouds. Some miles along, I come across the town of Mt Princeton, with its hot spring-fed baths. Ooh, a relaxing hot soak sounds great. I could just stop here for the night... it would be a very short day of riding, but that’s OK. There’s a small campground a bit past the town, farther into the foothills, so I ride up there first to check it out. As I get farther up, a light, steady rain starts, then transitions to light snow. Hmm, maybe this isn’t the best idea. I’ll hold off on setting up camp, have my soak, then come back and see what things look like in a few hours.


At the hot springs resort, I call Victoria to chat for a bit and let her know of my plans. She pulls up a weather map and says, “Uhm... I think you should head south. Like New Mexico south.” Looks that bad, huh? Damn.... Stopping for the day is sounding really good, though.


After we hang up, as I’m pulling out my change of clothes for the hot springs, three buses pull up and disgorge a horde of chattering teenagers, who funnel down the stairs to the springs. One of the chaperones pauses and comments: “Nice bike!” “Thanks... so what is this, some kind of school trip?” “Yup, senior class trip, just before graduation.” Great, I’m thinking as he disappears down the stairs... if I stay, I’d get to ogle a bunch of barely-legal teens, but then I’d have to listen to them the entire time, too.

I decide that spending tonight at Mt Princeton is just not meant to be, and trade the chattering hordes for the more relaxing sounds of wind roaring by my helmet. I could keep heading north, but I don’t think that Leadville (el. 10,152) is a very good place to spend the night with a storm heading in. Per the usual, I figure that Vic is right, and turn back south, and speed off in the direction of New Mexico to try and get around the bottom of the storm.

Crossing Poncha Pass on US-285. Still getting light showers of rain and snow here and there.




Dropping into the San Luis Valley, I found myself riding along the western edge of the Sangre de Cristo range--the same mountains that I was on the eastern side of this morning.


The wind was gusting hard, stirring up large dust storms in the valley. The lack of wind protection on the FZ1 was really putting a strain on my neck. At one point, I passed a guy on a dual-sport who looked to be having even a harder time with the wind then I was. His left pannier had been blown open by the wind, and I signalled to let him know before continuing on... hope he didn’t lose anything important.


About a mile from the intersection of US-285 and CO-17 is another hot springs resort called Joyful Journey Spa. $12 for a relaxing soak and shower? Yes please. $40 for a crappy tent site with no protection from the wind? I’ll pass. I spend about two hours here and then head for the town of Saguache.




At Saguache, I stop in at the Public Lands office to figure out a place to spend the night. I was thinking I’d keep heading south towards Del Norte, and stay somewhere along Hwys 160 or 149, but one of the rangers advised against it. He said that there was a large storm to the south and that everything down there was getting soaked with rain. Instead, he recommended a campground called Buffalo Pass, which was west along CO-114. “You’ll probably get a bit of snow, but the worst of it looks to be passing north or south,” he says. This sounds like my best option; let’s go check it out.

I head up 114... and up... and up. How far is this campground, anyways? I’m gaining a lot of elevation here; where the heck did this ranger think he was sending me, with my rinky-dink 3-season tent? I’m looking at my map, thinking I can’t be more then a few miles from the Continental Divide, when I reach the campground.


The place is deserted. Twenty-some sites, all with freshly-poured gravel on the driveways and tent pads, and it’s pristine. I walk around the entire campground, and I’m leaving footprints on the loose gravel everywhere I go... I think I’m the first person to stay here this year. The silence is almost eerie. I’d better pick a lucky site to get me through the night.


It’s calm up here, a welcome change from the constant wind of the valley. A light snow starts falling as I’m setting up camp. Brr.




However, once I’ve got my fire going and sit down for dinner, the clouds and snow blow off into the distance and blue sky appears overhead. It turns into as perfect and pleasant an evening as you could ask for, save for the cold. (Checking a map later, I learn that I was at 9,200 ft, less then four miles from the Continental Divide. Yeah, way up there.)


I kick back with some hot chocolate while waiting for the fire to burn down, before heading off to bed. I didn’t make it that far today, or have nearly as much fun riding as I’d hoped for, but with luck the storm will blow by overnight and I’ll have clear skies tomorrow.
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Old 06-03-2011, 01:10 PM   #9
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Old 06-03-2011, 03:54 PM   #10
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No Words...great...very rarely came across such a great writeup, and pics.
Whats up with that wooden beads on the seat.....got in from India..!!!
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Old 06-03-2011, 04:18 PM   #11
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Old 06-03-2011, 04:30 PM   #12
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Really nice ride report. Can I suggest that you post this over on Adv Rider. I'm sure the guys over there would love it. It looks like you're already a member on there with only 3 posts.
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Old 06-03-2011, 05:11 PM   #13
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This is a really great ride report! Weather seems to always play a part and that's what makes these rides fun and challenging.
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Old 06-03-2011, 06:25 PM   #14
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Originally Posted by Karbon View Post
AWESOME.
Thanks, man! Didn't you just do an X-C trip of your own? How did that go?

Quote:
Originally Posted by Mouli View Post
No Words...great...very rarely came across such a great writeup, and pics.
Whats up with that wooden beads on the seat.....got in from India..!!!
Hah! Yeah, I got quite a few comments on the beads. I normally don't ride with them, but on a trip like this where I'm riding for days on end, they do make it more bearable. They help when it's wet as well, as it prevents the whole sitting-in-a-puddle situation.

Quote:
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Really nice ride report. Can I suggest that you post this over on Adv Rider. I'm sure the guys over there would love it. It looks like you're already a member on there with only 3 posts.
Yeah, I lurk over on ADV sometimes, but I've never really got into posting there. Besides, my rides are on (primarily) pavement, and don't quite fit in with the ADV motif...
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Old 06-03-2011, 06:26 PM   #15
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Name: Kegan
Day 5: Thursday, 5/19/11
289 mi - Map
Buffalo Pass CG, Rio Grande NF, CO, to Fruita, CO

Holy crap, was it ever cold the next morning--mid 20’s, maybe. It didn’t snow overnight, but the low-hanging clouds started up with light snow flurries again as I was breaking camp. I decided to head up to Gunnison for breakfast, and then maybe down 149 to the Slumgullion Pass, then back west to Durango and US-550. I was really looking forward to today’s ride.

A few miles up 114, I crossed the Continental Divide at North Cochetopa Pass, el. 10,135.


The ride to Gunnison was cold, but pretty dry. Things were looking up!


This is how Colorado does breakfast. Hells yes.


Pulling up the weather radar on my phone, I saw that the storm that was blocking my path yesterday had moved on to clobber Denver and would no longer be an issue. However, yet another storm had come along and was now hovering over the entire southwest corner of the state. I checked the road conditions from the CO DOT page. Highways 550, 149, 145: Slushy with icy spots. US-50 was claimed to be clear, but the storm was covering Montrose completely, so I didn’t want to go there. There was more snow to the north, along the road to Crested Butte. I’m surrounded.

From Facebook: “Breakfast in Gunnison, CO. Weather shows snow all around. Where to go?” My friend Steve: “Back to bed?”

A wonderful idea, Steve, save for the fact that bed was forty miles ago and is now rolled up on the back of my bike. Part of me wants to just find a cheap motel and hole up till all of this blows by and the roads clear off. Dammit, 550 was supposed to be THE highlight of the trip, and I can’t ride it. The people in the cafe telling me, “you should have been here last week, the weather was perfect!” aren’t helping things, either.

Looking at the radar again, it appears there’s a narrow clear path to the northwest, towards Grand Junction. I can run west on 50, then turn north on CO-92, and split the pair of snowstorms to the north and west. It might work, and worst come to worst I can turn around and get a room in Gunnison. I finish breakfast and head outside to hit the road. There’s a wet snow falling as I gear up.

Remember: Adventures are never fun while you’re having them.


The snow intensifies as I head west along US-50. Visibility sucks, and I’m having to clean off my visor with my left hand every five seconds or so. The roads are still clear, and while part of me hopes it will stay that way, part of me wishes it would turn to slush so that I’d *have* to head back to Gunnison.

Eventually the weather slackens off a bit, and I stop for a stretch and to take some pictures.




By the time I reach the turnoff for Hwy 92, the precipitation has stopped and the roads are dry. I’ve finally hit that clear spot I saw on the weather map. Sweet!

Looking down from the Blue Mesa Reservoir Dam at the start of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison.


CO-92 heading up from the dam. Things are looking up.


Unfortunately, it’s not long before I’m back in the clouds with snow falling steadily. CO-92, while not nearly as busy as US-50, is a much more technical and demanding ride, especially in these crappy conditions. The snow goes on for miles, and I’m wondering whatever happened to that clear spot I was supposed to be in.

I eventually reach a “scenic vista” point (all I could see were clouds) at a crest, and stop to talk to a truck driver who had come up from the other direction. He told me that the rest of the way I’d be dropping down in elevation and that the roads were pretty clear. He also mentioned that for the past two miles or so I’d been riding along the edge of a 2,000 precipice, and that the views were awesome on a clear day. I’m almost glad that I had no idea it was there.




Past the crest, the snow lets up a little, and I’m able to relax a bit more and take in some of the scenery. It is simply beautiful up here. The way the snow clings to the trees makes me feel like I’m riding through a winter scene postcard. Today’s ride has been a bit ridiculous, but I feel like it’s all worth it for these few miles through this winter wonderland.





__________________
Kegan -- '12 MTS1200ST -- '15 CB500F -- '09 WR250X-SM -- IBA #41999 -- AMA #3283468 -- AFM #895
My Ride Reports! -- BARF Terms of Service

Last edited by sckego; 06-04-2011 at 06:25 PM..
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