Rocky Mountain High – Colorado

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This story is an excerpt from Ed’s Book, “A Casual Traveler

I had been following a storm in the middle of Nebraska, so the roads were a still a bit wet in spots. I came upon a barricaded bridge that was impassible. The problem was I didn’t recall seeing any previously posted detour signs; I had no choice but to turn around.

I retreated all the way back to the previous town and took the first crossroad, figuring I’d out flank the bridge by crossing the river further west. It was a lovely detour through cow country, but it brought me right back to the same closed bridge. Crap!

I formulated plan B and headed east along the river until I found another crossing. The road eventually veered away from the river, but then I came across a good road heading in the right direction that looked big enough to have a bridge on it.

Before long the road took a few turns, going into the middle of nowhere. Then I saw a sign that said, “Paved road ends ahead.” No biggie I thought, as I slowed to the appropriate speed and continued on the gravel. I thought I could see the river ahead and I hoped for a bridge.

 Just when I was getting comfortable riding on the gravel, it disappeared and the road became dirt. It had been raining earlier in the day; you know what happens to dirt gets wet—it becomes mud.

I’d never ridden on a mud road before, but I had little choice. I immediately tried to gear down, but dared not brake; I was already sliding in the mud and doing a low-speed wobble. The front wheel only plowed and the wobble got worse. I knew I was going down; it was only a matter of how hard and where.

I slid closer and closer to the big creek on my left; that’s the way the road sloped. There was a grass shoulder, where I thought I might get some traction, or at least have a softer landing. I really didn’t want to crash in the creek.

I slowly veered toward the grass shoulder and my front wheel started to grab the edge of the grass. My new problem was that my rear wheel gained momentum and slid up to the right. I though it was the time to dump, so I let the front wheel grab the grass and I engaged the rear brake to bring the bike around sideways.

I let the bike flop down on its left side and we slid in the deep mud; I was able to use my left foot as a rudder until the bike came to a stop. I opened my eyes and took a deep breath, thankful that I was still alive. Upon exhaling, I shouted out loud, “Yeah!”

When I stood erect I couldn’t see my feet; I was ankle deep in the thick mud. The bike had sunk to the frame, but I didn’t see any visible damage. It was a perfect slide, if there is such a thing.

It wasn’t nearly as much fun trying to get myself and the bike out of the mud and back on to dry pavement. I pushed and slipped and wobbled my way to freedom. Back on the road, my wheels spewed up chunks of mud for the next 50 miles.100_4493

Riding into Denver I didn’t notice the change in elevation; the road just gradually worked its way higher. I’d heard athletes complain about Denver’s altitude and how the thin air made it difficult for maximum performance.

A fact that I wasn’t aware of is that one of the steps of the Colorado State Capitol Building is exactly five thousand, two hundred and eighty feet above sea level. That is precisely one mile, for those of you who were brought up on the metric system.

I found Colorado Ted at one of his local watering holes—coincidentally, the same way I’d originally met him. He introduced me to his drinking buddies. I joined the group and downed a few cold ones to wash down the road dust.

Ted wasn’t the same man I’d met in Asia; his buddies informed me that he’d fallen in lust since I’d last seen him. Accordingly, he chose to spend more time with her than me. His buddy Ron acted as a stand in, while I was in town. He was a fellow biker. We planned a ride into the mountains the next day, while Ted was off doing his own riding.

That night Ron introduced me to downtown Denver, where we did some bar hopping and settled on a cool jazz club.

The next morning we met at a greasy spoon for steak and eggs. After breakfast we headed for the mountains via Boulder then Estes Park, working our way up into the Rocky Mountain National Park.

I had previously traveled through the northern Rockies in British Columbia and Washington, where roads were limited and the terrain rugged. The Mountains in Colorado are greener. There are small villages and beautiful homes scattered around the slopes and valleys. The Alpine scenery is spectacular. It was difficult trying to keep my eyes on the winding road and not the sights.

The loop Ron planned took us across mountain tops that were over ten thousand feet. While we were on top of the world the weather had changed—as it often does in the mountains; it got much cooler. A light drizzle made the roads a little slick, but traffic moved slower and we managed to stay on the road.

100_4505Another temperature drop brought on a summer snow that made visibility a joke. The inclement weather dropped the needle on my fun meter and we couldn’t see any of the scenery around us.

We headed back down the mountain to Granby, where the sunshine invited us to shed our rain gear and enjoy the grand scenery.

The mountain weather fooled us once again, about ten minutes from Denver, when the sky clouded over and dumped on us with no chance to take cover. We just arrived home soggy. The ever-changing mountain weather wasn’t my only surprise that day; Ron told me he was seventy-two years young. Cheers Buddy!

 With Ron’s practice mountain ride behind me, I said my goodbyes and headed south to Colorado Springs. I had heard and read about the height of Pikes Peak and it’s road that allowed you to ride all the way to the top. It sounded like a good idea and I love a challenge.

I found my way to Manitou Springs, a cool little town at the base of the mountain I wanted to conquer. It was a great walking town, with shops and streams and boardwalks; great for strolling and exploring.

In the case you don’t want to drive up the mountain, there is a cog train that takes you to the summit. It’s the world’s highest cog railway. Regardless, I wanted to take my bike up.

While spending the night in town I heard mixed reviews about the weather up top. I

Pikes Peak Road
Road to Pike’s Peak

headed for the mountain and Pikes Peak, in the morning. On the road to the gate a cocky, younger biker and his bitch whizzed by me on curve, like I was a slow moving farm wagon.

He had ape-hanger handlebars that showed off his tattooed arms. I caught up with him a short time later, when we pulled up to the park gate. The Ranger explained how the road was only paved about two-thirds of the way up the mountain, but it could be done by car or motorcycle.

She also said they had just sprayed the road with calcium to keep the dust down and it would be slippery if it got wet. According to the Ranger rain was expected in the afternoon—as always. No one in town bothered to tell me that. The young biker dude chickened out and turned around. I guffawed.

The road up the mountain was only 17 miles, but the Ranger told me it would probably take an hour to drive. I thought about that for a minute, calculating the time I’d spend on top, the trip back down and the afternoon rain shower. What the hell, I thought; it was a once in a lifetime opportunity and I wasn’t about to turn around. I paid my entrance fee and off I went.

The ride starts about eight thousand feet above sea level, so it didn’t take long for the trees to thin out, showing more rock. The road weaved its way back and forth up the side of the mountain with one hundred and eighty degree switchbacks and no guard rails.

100_4523That really didn’t bother me until I got above the tree line and could easily see the sheer drop, off the side of the road. I wondered to myself if anyone would ever notice me missing or find me if I accidentally drove over the edge.

The traffic was light, but the gawkers made driving difficult for me. I rode in low gears going up hill with steeply banked turns; a motorcycle can only be driven so slow, before you lose your balance and fall over.

I felt the air cool and it got foggy, but I realized I was up so high I was  riding through the clouds. I had to stop and put my rain gear on but it never did rain. I knew exactly how high up I was when snow banks started to appear on the side of the road.

The pavement was long gone, but the hard-packed stone road was decent to drive on. Once I cleared the clouds I felt my ass cheeks tighten; it was a little scary, to say the least.

The alpine views were spectacular; my eyes were drawn out into the great expanse. For some strange reason I recalled and  started to recite what I could remember of the poem, High Flight. I once had to memorize it in grade six. Perhaps it was the surreal place I was in, at that moment in time.

I made the turn in one last bend in the road and I reached the top of Pike’s Peak, fourteen thousand, one hundred and fifteen feet in the air. That’s damn high in miles or meters.100_4542

I parked the bike and walked around for a bit, feeling a strange heaviness in my chest. It was my first experience with the effects of thin atmosphere and high altitude. I saw the Cog Train that had traversed the opposite side of the mountain; the road and train tracks never meet.

The panoramic views in every direction were awesome and overwhelming. Standing there, I understood why Pike’s Peak is the spot where Kathy Lee Bates got her inspiration for her song, America the Beautiful.

From the different looking faces and license plates, it was evident to me that people from all over the world go to the top of the mountain for inspiration.

Taking the road up the mountain is not for the faint of heart. I overheard a group of other bikers talking about the ride up and a couple of them refused to ride back down. They wanted to take the train down and have their buddies come back up for their bikes.

The ride down was a bit dicey, I had to use the engine and the brakes to keep my speed in check. The brakes on some vehicles can overheat and seize or catch fire. There is a brake inspection lane at the bottom of the hill so the Rangers can check your vehicle before you leave the park.

Pike’s Peak was easily one of my most challenging rides.

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