Sunday, June 06, 2010

Lead South Dakota to Estes Park Colorado

It was June 6th today so I took a moment to remember the brave Allied soldiers who stormed the beaches of Normandy on this date in 1944.  They risked all and some sacrificed all on our behalf.  D-Day should never be forgotten.

Mel made breakfast for us this morning.  It was a concoction of eggs (Eggbeaters, actually), turkey sausage and a whole lot of other stuff baked together and was a perfect way to start the day.  We got the gear packed and the bike loaded and I moved it down to the street (not a lot of level places in Lead) so I could get it on the centre stand and check the tires.  We were ready to go right on time at 8:30.  Many thanks to Jamey T. and Trouble for taking us in and feeding us.  We left the toilet seat cover with them in favour of the new sheep skin.

The view from Jamey and Melanie's yard (note the ski hill)

Sandy's ersatz seat cover from WalMart

It was 10C and overcast as we headed south out of Lead on US 85.  We passed the place where we stayed for the Aztec Rally and continued through the winding canyons.  I left the bike in fourth gear and just cruised along at 50 to 55 MPH, enjoying the rhythm of the road and watching for wildlife.  I did brake hard for two deer, causing Sandy to slide forward into me hard enough that her intercom cord unplugged.  Maybe I should get her a harness or something.

By the time we reached the Wyoming border, where the terrain flattened out and the speed limit picked up to 65 MPH, we had only seen two other vehicles.  We continued south on 85 to Newcastle where we stopped for our first hourly break, pit stop and coffee.  We talked to a Yamaha V-Star rider from Gillette, Wyoming who had been on a poker run yesterday that went from Gillette to Devil's Tower to Spearfish Canyon and beyond.  That is one serious ride.  He said they raised over $17K to help a disadvantaged child.  Good for them.

From Newcastle, I called ahead to the Super 8 in Estes Park and reserved a room for tonight.  It's a big tourist area and, while there would likely be lots of vacancies, why take a chance.

We continued south from Newcastle on much straighter roads, still under the overcast but looking at blue on the horizon.  Now I know what a horse following a carrot on a stick feels like.  We got a few light drops of rain, but nothing serious.  About now, we started seeing pronghorns.  A pronghorn is not a true antelope even though they are often referred to as such.  They say there are more pronghorns in Wyoming than people, a claim I can easily believe because it seemed that we were always in sight of at least one of them.  I like them because you almost never see roadkill pronghorns.  The deer and the antelopes may both play here, but the antelope are a lot smarter.

The little white dots near the pond are pronghorns

At Jamey's suggestion, we left US 85 north of Lusk and followed Wyoming 270 west to Lance Creek.  In this small gathering of buildings that time seems to have forgotten, the road turned due south.  Before the bend, we passed several old cars either driving or being towed the other direction, suggesting there had been a gathering somewhere.  Then, after the bend, we didn't see another vehicle for 30 miles.  We were all alone and had finally caught up with the blue sky.

One characteristic of this area is that the fir trees, probably some type of pine, only grow on the hills.  It gives the terrain a unique look.  Maybe someone can explain to me why this happens.

Trees growing on the hills

Old homestead along Wyoming 270

About six miles before we got to Manville and US 18, we rode over a range of hills and stopped at a turnout just past the crest for hourly break number two.

Formation on Wyoming 270

US 270 - the fun bit

Sometimes I show up in a picture

Just before Manville, we had to stop at a railway crossing as a pair of Union Pacific diesels with another as a pusher crossed the highway with a long string of empty coal hoppers.  In Manville, we turned west on US 18 and passed the train as it climbed towards Keeline, which the sign said was 5,377 feet above sea level.  On the other side, we met a loaded coal unit train climbing the other way towards the summit.  It was working a lot harder.  And in Shawnee, we saw yet one more unit train about to start the climb.  I have to wonder how many thousand tons of coal move over the rails every day?

Hauling empty coal hoppers across Wyoming 270

The same train heading upgrade to Keeline from the east

Loaded coal train climbing towards Keeline from the west

A short note to Jamey as to why we turned on US 18 instead of continuing on Wyoming 270 towards Guernsey.  First, there were signs on 270 at Manville that said there were eleven miles of road work to the south.  Second, the GPS told me to.  As we talked about, when you look at the GPS route and compare it to what you would choose on the map, there are often great differences.  It is hard to get a good overview from the little screen.  Anyway, I was looking for fast access to I-25 and, as you will see later, it's a good thing I did.

We followed US 18 to Orin Junction where I fueled and we had BLT sandwiches with real, thick local bacon that I only seem  to find in this area.  Then we turned south on I-25 and dialed it up to the speed limit of 75 MPH.  We had a tail wind and it turned out later that, even at 75, we got an exceptional 43.2 MP(US)G.  By the time we got to the rest area at Chugwater, the temperature was up to 28C so we  stopped and stripped the jackets down to mesh.

From Chugwater, the skies got interesting (read scary).  First, there was a dark cell showing heavy rain to the west.  Then there was one ahead of us that moved to the east by the time we got there, leaving only a damp road and a few sprinkles.  This kept on all the way to Loveland with the only heavier precipitation occurring for a five mile stretch south of Cheyenne. We tucked in behind the fairing and, putting my trust in the new tires, I cranked the speed up to 85. Strangely, a few times we looked in the mirror and the sky was black.  I don't know how we got through all that.

Heavy rain to the west

Black sky in the rear view mirror

We just missed that one, too

First view of snow on the mountains

The final cell slipped just east enough to let us get into Loveland dry.  When the sun came out around Fort Collins, the temperature, which had dropped to 19C after the Cheyenne, climbed to 30, 31, 32, 33 and 34C.  It was warm.  We fueled in Loveland with only 30 miles to go and started up Big Thompson Canyon.

Beautiful classic car in Loveland

Big Thompson Canyon is a great road except for more flatlanders who have never seen anything like this before.  The drive ten to fifteen MPH under the speed limit and ride their brakes a lot.  As we moved up the canyon, we could see a dark black cloud to the left ahead of us.  There was blue sky to the right.  As we kept turning back and forth, my expectations became somewhat schizophrenic.  We're OK.  No we're not.  Yes we are.  Regardless, I figured we were in a race with the weather and used every passing lane to get around the slow movers and makes some miles before catching the next slugs.

Big Thompson Canyon

More Big Thompson Canyon

Still more Big Thompson Canyon

Climbing to Estes Park

Following more slow movers (note the sky ahead)

Finally, as we entered the outskirts of Estes Park, the first rain drops fell.  I was stuck behind an out of state bozo doing 30 in a 45.  He didn't care because he had a roof and wipers.  Then I overshot the Super 8 driveway and had to pull into the next one to the left.  As I turned and pulled up the 20% grade to the street, big drops started in earnest but I couldn't get back out on the street because a long line of vehicles were meandering up the hill in the right hand lane.  Finally, I got a small break in traffic, pulled out and dove into the Super 8 lot right under the overhang in front of the lobby.

We checked in and waited for the rain to ease before getting stuff out of the bike. When we got into the room, the TV was blaring severe storm warnings including reports of ping pong ball sized hail for most of the area we covered this afternoon.  The weather radar showed that there was no way we should have been able to avoid the storms.  But we did and that is why I am glad I took the route we did to I-25.  Timing and dumb ass luck are critical strategies.

When the rain stopped, I dried the bike and, after the air had taken care of the final drops, I covered it.  Good thing, because another boomer hit soon after.  This time it was heavy rain and hail.

Me unloading the bike

View from our balcony

The second thunderstorm

Hail on the ground

Rather than go out, I ordered a large thin crust Domino's pepperoni pizza delivered.  It came right after the second storm so we ate and then I dedicated the rest of the evening to getting the blogs caught up for yesterday and today.  Since Sandy has gotten back into the picture taking mood (130 shots over the last two days), I have a lot more work to do as well.

Weather forecast looks good for tomorrow as we assault Rocky Mountain National Park and Milner Pass.  We'll stop for breakfast at the Fat Cat Cafe in Grand Lake (I hope it is open this time) and then head down to Malachi's in Silt where we will join forces for the ride to Cortez.

Today's Route (377 miles):

View Larger Map

No comments: