Thursday, June 25, 2009

There and Back Again

In late June of 2009, I packed up my motorcycle to ride to Colorado and back for an annual gathering of motorcyclists I know from online. The whole first day was spent on Interstates, so really Day 1 isn't all that interesting.  But I shot some pics anyway and I'll just let them tell what little story there is so far. Started out in Peoria, IL. Ended up in Council Bluffs, IA. My daily mileage was 392 The weather was great for Day 1, but it looked like I might have some thunderstorms for Day 2. I woke to a light rain the Omaha area. But rode out of it pretty quickly. Most of the rest of the day was spent on I-80 working my way west. I made a quick stop outside Lincoln, NE at an aerospace museum to snap a quick picture. In Lexington, NE I found a military vehicles museum. I was ready for a break from riding so I made a donation and wandered through their exhibits. A very cool place. Once rested it was time to hit the road again. Wow, Nebraska was wide. Soon I was in Colorado and once again it looked like rain. As it happens I only got sprinkled on a little.  I squeezed between a major storm to my north and a less severe one to my south.  The temperature dropped from the mid-80s to the mid-60s though. Since I didn't have a room in Gunnison where I was heading until Tuesday night, I decided to spend the night in Estes Park, CO. On the way there along US-34 I stopped in Loveland for coffee and to let the "rush hour" traffic ease up. And then finally I was approaching the Rockies for the first time on a motorcycle. US route 34 from Loveland to Estes Park was a wonderful road. It climbed up alternating sides of Big Thompson Canyon with several smallish waterfalls in the Big Thompson river along the road. Beautiful as a word does no justice to the scenery. I was heading to the setting sun, so only this short video clip turned out all that well. The rest were washed out by the sun. My daily mileage was 579 miles. I spent about 13 hours, including stops, on the road. My elevation that night was 7627 feet. And from the feel of the evening temperatures up there, I would need my heated gear in the morning. My next day started in a very cold Estes Park and I pointed the bike westward into the even colder mountains. My plan was to use US-34 to cross through Rocky Mountains National Park and then head south towards Gunnison.  It was to be a nice 5 hour ride. But when I got to the top of the pass, the road was closed. Apparently rocks had fallen on the road and road crews had yet to clear them. I waited around for about thirty minutes at 10,000+ feet of elevation in cool/cold temperatures, before deciding to turn around and head back the way I came. I was actually getting a little light headed up there. My daily route plan was shot, so I tried an alternate plan. I followed the foothills south to Boulder and then west into the mountains before turning south again towards Gunnison. This ultimately added a few hours on to my travel time and I got to experience a wide range of temperatures and altitudes. I think I had my heated gear and jacket liner in and out at least 8 times that day. And just because I think it is cool, here is a video of the Eisenhower Tunnel. Hey, I'm a flatlander and the idea of riding through a tunnel cut completely through a mountain is awesome to me. I eventually pulled into the Gunnison Inn. A Chili Man (the semi-official mascot of Sport-Touring.Net) sighting confirmed I was in the right place! Then it was time for the "official" dinner gathering. I know there were a few more people I didn't get pictures of.  My camera batteries died. The daily mileage worked out to 311 miles. But it was still a long day with about 10 hours in the saddle. The temperatures I experienced ranged from a low of around 35 to a high in the low-80s in Boulder. Next up is Day 4. I joined a group headed northwest into Black Canyon. We planned to ride both the north and south rims. This guy was driving this old Ford all over the place. He said he'd been to 48 states with it. We rode down to the base of the canyon too. Me. And then we had a little mishap. It's really Ed's story to tell, but I'll provide the spoiler that he was not hurt. Here he is in good cheer after we got the bike upright and pointed the right way. These are from the north rim on our way out of the canyon. I also shot a bunch of video during the day. These clips turned out OK. My daily mileage worked out to 437. It ended up being about a 10 hour day including a nice lunch in Montrose. We definitely had an "oh shit" moment. Oh sad day.  I left Gunnison in the morning and would soon ride away from the Rockies into the Great Plains. My route east took me over the Monarch Pass.  It was a cool ride, but not as cold as some other mornings in the mountains.  This picture is at the top of the pass and might be my favorite of the whole trip. Soon I was headed north-east towards Denver. South Park. Sweet! I took US-285 and as I approached Denver the traffic got thicker, but the scenery was still amazing. And then, all too soon, the Rockies were behind me. I had originally planned to visit relatives in Denver on my return trip, but due to some schedule changes we weren't able to get together. So I made my way through Denver and out the east side to start my journey across the plains. But first I stopped at a little diner for lunch. I got on US-36 and followed that lonely road east for a while. Then I turned south to get back to Interstate 70 in order to find a hotel. I'd made it as far as Burlington, CO.  The daily mileage was 394 with about ten hours on the move. The next day, I left the eastern edge of Colorado and plunged headlong into Kansas. From the look of the horizon the storms that the Weather Channel had been reporting on weren't far in front of me. I never did catch up to those storms, which I'm thankful for since they apparently got more severe as the day wore on. I checked the radar maps several times during the day and decided to stay close to the Kansas - Nebraska border to avoid the rain.   So I jumped off Interstate 70 and used Kansas 383 to cut diagonally up to Alma, Nebraska.   From there I got on US-136 and used it to get across much of Nebraska.   Red Cloud, NE is a nice little town that had brick streets in its downtown area.   Eventually I made it to Beatrice, NE where I turned north to get on Interstate 80 which took me to Council Bluffs, Iowa which is where I spent my last night on the road for this trip. So far I kept fairly close to my plan to return home via three 400 mile days.  That day ended up being 440 miles long, bringing my trip total to 2367 so far. My last day of this trip started in western Iowa. I made good time and arrived at Gina's BMW in Iowa City around noon. I had called to ask about that one day of oil consumption and was told to stop by and they'd get the 3000 miles oil change done. When I got there they were really busy, so they gave me the oil and filter I'd need to do it at home. I can hardly begin to express how cool everyone at Gina's is. Soon I was back in Illinois. More flooding in the fields from the recent rain.   And then I was home. The daily milage was 408, bringing the trip total to 2775. It got really hot and humid that last afternoon. So, I was glad to be sitting in the air conditioned house instead of grinding out any more highway miles.