My Tour of the Western States
A group of motorcyclists hold an annual “Meet” at various locations throughout the country each year. This year’s Meet was to be held in Montrose, CO. Not one to waste an opportunity, I saw that I could easily expand this trip to take in almost every western state. I would ride some amazing roads, see some amazing sights, and still attend the National Meet, all within just a couple of weeks.
June 17th ~ July 3rd 2005
Total Miles: 5,491 miles, 17 days
Seattle, WA to Montrose, CO and return
Day 1 – 203 miles
Quitting time was officially 5pm but my coworkers were sympathetic to my plight and encouraged me to leave early. I was about to embark on a journey through the Western States, as well as attend the 2005 Sport-Touring.net (STN) National Meet in Montrose, CO and I was eager to get started. By 4pm I was geared up and the bike, which I had ridden to work fully packed, was waiting for me in the parking lot. Good byes were said, a couple of pictures were snapped and I was soon making my way east through Seattle’s quaint neighborhoods. I was on the road and feeling good! I had managed to travel about 3 miles when my journey stopped abruptly: I had hit Seattle’s “rush hour” traffic. Sigh. I slowly made my way through the city, weaving through cars and trucks, suffering in the heat in my full gear. I knew that this would be temporary and sure enough, I was soon rolling east on I-90 towards the beauty and cooler temperatures of the Cascade mountain range.
Ready to leave from work
The back of the GS
I was surprised at the amount of traffic over the mountains, but it was light enough not to impede me and I was able to enjoy the ride, feeling the power of the BMW 1150GS beneath me. It handled well even fully packed and with a full tank of gas. My new Aerostitch was comfortable and I felt ready for anything, including the rain that started to spit down on me as I crested the pass. The rain was hard but brief and I was drying out shortly afterward, but not after being quite chilled by the precipitation. I considered stopping to put on a sweater but was too lazy (a common trend you’ll see) and just braved the chill, figuring that things would warm up as I neared my night’s destination: Prosser, WA. This was to be a very short day, covering only 200 miles in 3 ½ hours. But it would give me a great head start on the next day’s ride, getting me further east earlier in the day on my not-quite-planned route to the STN National Meet and through all but two of the western states.
Mark, a fellow STNer, was kind enough to put me up for the night and I easily found his house in the quiet town of Prosser. It was after 8pm by the time I pulled into the driveway but both he and his wife and two of his kids were there to greet me. Some delicious chips and hot salsa was offered and the conversations ran on late into the night. We all eventually headed for our prospective beds and I soon fell asleep to the sound of wind in the eaves and crickets in the grass
Views of central Washington
Day 2 – 605 miles
Mark and I discussed my day’s route over our non-breakfast and I decided not to go over Lolo Pass but instead to take an unknown route through Idaho and visit Craters of the Moon National Park, a place I had long been curious about. It didn’t take long to pack the bike back up and I was waving good-bye to Mark by 8am. I took the easy way east through the metropolis of the Kennewick/Pasco area and finally found peace in the secondary roads of southeastern Washington. Here the landscape undulates with vast stretches of wheat fields, some green in their newness and others golden with heavy ripe seed heads. There were fluffy clouds overhead and traffic was light. I was starting my first full day of what was going to be a 5,500-mile, 17-day trip through every western state except Montana and New Mexico. Life is good!
Then I got nailed for speeding. A State Patrol car, just outside of Dayton, WA, crested the rise coming toward me and reported that I was doing 74 in a 60. Personally I thought I was going faster, but I felt it prudent not to argue with him. He handed me the ticket to sign and stated that I had 15 days to respond. I informed him that I would not be back within 15 days, when he politely told me that as long as I contacted them, one way or another, within 15 days it would be ok. I tried to be calm, thinking of the countless times I hadn’t been stopped, but this really put a damper on the beginning of my trip. I felt hunted, as though a State Patrol lay around each bend and behind each bush waiting to snare me again. It took almost a full day to get over that feeling.
Entering the Palouse
Miles of fertile farmland
Riding through the Hell’s Canyon Recreation Area in Idaho helped a lot. It hadn’t taken me long to put the rolling hills of the Palouse behind me and enter the deep canyons and lush tree-covered hills of the Clearwater, Payette, Boise and Challis National Forests in Idaho. The road, Route 95, turned south shortly after crossing into Nez Perce country in Idaho, where it followed the merry course of the Salmon River. Roads that follow rivers are always good choices. They have lots of turns and good scenery, although this combination can often make for bad traffic situations where it’s difficult to pass. Fortunately, traffic was very light and I was able to stretch out the legs of the GS in brief spurts. What held me back most on this section was the weather. Remember those fluffy clouds back in Washington? Well here in Idaho those innocent-looking clouds were taking turns dumping rain onto the road. Every so often I’d come around a bend and find the rain coming down in sheets and a cold wind whipping it across the road in visible waves. I almost felt bad for the cruisers heading the other way, their faces scrunched up in grimaces of discomfort, holding onto their handle bars as though trying to absorb any heat from the bike itself into their own unprotected bodies.
Hell’s Canyon is a fairly well respected recreation area but I was still surprised by the number of little touristy towns along the way, ready to cater to the outdoor enthusiast and river rafter. I saw many trailers loaded with commercial river rafts and hip young people walking along the streets of towns that appeared to serve no other purpose than the tourists’ pleasure. I saw very few bikes parked in town, and most of the bikes I saw on the road were those of helmet-less, unhappy looking cruisers. I had the road to myself. Along one stretch there was a large grassy area to my right where numerous small personal aircraft were parked. Underneath their wings huddled tents and tarps while people mingled on the airstrip. I imagine it was some type of fly-in and I smiled at the fun that they must have, flying into different areas and camping out beneath their winged steeds, chatting with like-minded souls who shared their passion. They were like the airborne version of an STN Meet.
Entering Hell’s Canyon
As I turned east at New Meadow to follow Route 55 along the east side of Lake Cascade I crested a pass that surprised me with hail. At first I thought it was just another hard rain, but then I saw the small white balls of cold bounce off my tank bag and sleeves and realized that it was hail. No sooner had I come to this conclusion than the hail became sleet and large patches of my vision were blurred as the wet snow-like substance stuck to the visor. This would be a good time to mention the beauty that is known as a Gerbing Heated Jacket. My BMW came equipped with an outlet that allowed me to plug in the equivalent of a heated blanket. Heat radiated from the jacket under my ‘Stitch, enveloping me in a dry warmth that made me smile and tingle with pleasure. Let it snow, dammit – I was ready for it! Just as quickly as it started, the precipitation stopped and I admit to feeling an inkling of disappointment. To compensate, I stopped in McCall for soup and salad. There were two fully loaded KTMs in the parking lot and while the owners gave me a brief smile when I walked in, neither appeared interested in conversation. I ate alone, wrote in my journal a bit and was soon back on the road.
Before leaving Prosser, Ol’ Rocket had suggested that I take a detour through the Sawtooth Mountain Range. Again, not having any real route planned I had agreed and I was now on my way to the snowy peaks that pierced the clouds. The road followed another river, this one the South Fork of the Payette. The river had carved a nice canyon and I was gaining elevation quickly as I rode through infrequent towns. The Sawtooths were indeed beautiful, but I confess that I am spoiled. Many times a year I ride through the North Cascades in Washington State where I am presented with high peaks, jagged cliffs and lush trees whose spires compete with the mountains for the skies. The Sawtooths, while beautiful, were competing against some spectacular ranges and I think that the Cascades won. This isn’t to say that I didn’t enjoy the ride. On the contrary, it was pleasant to ride through unknown territory, never quite sure what the next bend would present me.
Crossing the 45th Parallel in Idaho
The GS in the mountains
More Idaho Rockies
The Sawtooth Mountains
Heading out of the Sawtooths
The weather was fickle and cool until I started to come down out of the mountains and entered the flat lands of southern Idaho. It was getting late and I could see my shadow falling further across the road with each mile. I was hoping to reach Craters of the Moon that night for camping, but the dusk that was falling made me question whether or not I’d make it. I wasn’t sure what type of road led there, nor exactly how long it would take. And setting up camp in the dark isn’t exactly fun. Add to that the possibility that the campground could be full and I decided to take the next spot I found for my tent. That turned out to be Carrey, ID.
I had passed a sign that read “Motel/RV parking”. I circled back after realizing that I had essentially already ridden through the town and there were no other options. The “motel” was actually three small rooms facing a gravel parking lot next to a bar, and the “RV parking” was a chain linked fenced-in grassy area behind the motel. There were some derelict trailers there, and one man was playing with his dog outside of his. I asked him who was in charge of the “RV parking” and he directed me to the bar. I wheeled the GS back out to the street and after carefully parking it on the gravel I walked into the bar. There were a few locals inside and the TV was playing mindlessly in the corner. The waitress finally responded to my summons and informed me that camping was $15 for the night. It seemed steep for a patch of grass, but it was late and I was ready to stop. I asked about bathrooms and she motioned to the restrooms at the back of the barroom. I then asked how early they’d be available in the morning and she said that the bar opened at 11am. I must have looked dismayed because she then pointed to the convenience store across the street and said that they open at 6 or 6:30 in the morning. Satisfied, I went outside, circled back to the “RV Parking” and selected my spot. The tent went up quickly and after listening to the town’s dogs bark at every shadow, I eventually fell asleep.
Home for the night
Day 3 – 567 miles
The first plane took off from the local airstrip at 6:30 am. Not to be deterred, I stayed in my tent for another 15 minutes before I realized that the rising sun was going to bake me unless I got up and got moving. I walked across the street to the convenience store only to find it conveniently not open. I had to pee and nothing else was around so I ducked behind one of the empty trailers and took care of things. The bike was packed and I was soon heading into the sun. Destination: Craters of the Moon.
I have always seen Craters of the Moon National Monument on maps and wondered just what it would look like. It looked like nothing I expected. One minute I’m riding along, surrounded by the arid vegetation of southern Idaho and the next minute I know there’s nothing but rocks. Dark, jagged rocks scattered for as far as I could see. I came upon the entrance to the Monument and saw a pleasant campground full of trailers, RVs and tents. The entrance booth was still empty (it was before 8am) so I rode past and began my own tour of the park. Wildflowers abounded in the seemingly desolate ground and plaques marked important historical and geographical locations. After taking pictures that would not do the flowers or the harsh landscape justice I exited the park. By then the park ranger was there to check my National Parks Pass and cheerfully gave me the standard issue map of the park before I left.
Craters of the Moon National Park
Summer flowers in the park
Landscape of the park
Truly desolate looking ground
It should be mentioned that my route was not entirely unplanned. I had made arrangements to meet with Jean-Francois, an STNer from Ottawa, Ontario, sometime on Monday in Custer, SD. Therefore, I had two days to cross two states and enter the third. No problem. I decided to gas up in Arco, ID and was pleased to learn that Arco is known not only for being the first city to be powered entirely by atomic power, but it is also the home of the Glow In The Dark Toilet Seat! I was sorely tempted to buy one (there was one hanging behind the counter at the gas station) but the prospect of hauling around a toilet seat for the next 12 days did not appeal to me, although I’m sure it would have made for some interesting conversations.
Arco’s claim to fame
After chatting with the locals in Arco I made a beeline for the Wyoming border. This is not a difficult thing to accomplish, as there’s very little to get in the way except for the city of Idaho Falls. I somehow managed to miss the turn off for the side road I intended to take and I spent a bit of time meandering other side roads in search of it. Being in no hurry, this caused no problems other than the fact that it was getting warm out. I eventually made it to Swan Valley, ID where I chose the northern route to Jackson, WY and crossed over Teton Pass (elev. 8,429’). At the pass I stopped for a photo of the back of the Grand Tetons and talked casually with some cruisers who were on a grand tour of their own, coming back to Missouri (?) from a trip to California. After taking my leave I passed through the bustling town of Jackson and continued north. The road runs parallel to the massive Tetons, whose snowy peaks reflected the brilliant sun of a warm June day. Crowds of vehicles were trapped behind RVs as tourist stared at the extensive and seemingly perfect line of the mountain range. I had hoped to make it to Yellowstone on this trip, but seeing this line of traffic and knowing that it would only get worse once I entered the park (and on a weekend, no less) I was pleased with my decision to instead explore the inner sanctum of Wyoming. I’ve seen Yellowstone before, and I’ll see it again someday.
The eastern side of the Grand Tetons
At Morton Junction I turned away from the hoards and the sentinel range that guarded the horizon and headed southeast. I wandered through graceful curves and tree-covered hills. The occasional rock formation would appear from behind a nearby ridgeline, startling me with its bareness and colorful rock layers. I stopped in Dubois for a bite to eat and found two other riders that had just arrived. Like the KTM riders in Idaho, they smiled at me but invited no conversation. I ate alone again while pouring over maps and my journal, content with my own thoughts and plans. After lunch I continued southeast until I reached Riverton where a bank sign was kind enough to inform me that it was now 96 degrees. I turned north to examine the Wind River Canyon, a road and place that had been suggested by others as “not to be missed”. And it wasn’t! Amazing geological history, high canyon walls displaying various layers of rock types and colors, a fast, sweeping road that followed the rushing Wind River; it was all there. It was also hot. By now it was after 5pm and I kept waiting for the sun’s powerful rays to diminish, but they wouldn’t. I pulled off at a small park to wait out the heat but to no avail. It was actually a good excuse to relax and enjoy the beauty around me and I wasn’t really that concerned about the heat. In due time I geared back up and finished the last of the canyon’s curves before breaking out of the gouge in the earth and returning to a relatively flat landscape. I had been over Big Horn Pass a couple of years ago and decided to take a new route towards South Dakota. I turned right at Worland (now 99 degrees at 6:30) and followed Route 16 through a charming town called Ten Sleep. There are a couple of versions of how the town got its name, the most interesting being how many nights, or “sleeps”, an Indian party stayed at this spot after a hunting and raiding party returned.
The western side of the Grand Tetons
A line of mountains, stretching into the distance
Grand Tetons, Wyoming
Rock formations along the way
A river running alongside the road
A line of mountains, stretching into the distance
Wind River Canyon
Wind River Canyon – lengthening shadows
After passing through Ten Sleep the road climbed quickly through a deep canyon and into high tree-filled mountains. It was a welcome chill that came over me as I crossed over Powder Horn Pass (elev. 9,668’) and I continued to put the GS through its paces through the corners. The road first climbed up one side and down the other of the Big Horn Mountains, eventually bringing me to Buffalo, WY. The sun was setting as I pulled into town and found a welcome sign of cabins and tent space. The proprietor was extremely friendly: she called me by name after our introductions, offered me route suggestions in Colorado (she used to live there) and welcomed me to hot chocolate in the morning. There were laundry facilities and limitless hot showers on site as well. It was a very cozy atmosphere and I felt immediately at home. The clouds caught the sunset just as I finished setting up the tent and I couldn’t resist taking pictures of the amazing shapes and colors. I slept very well that night, with only the neighbor’s puppy whining to be let in to disturb the silence.
Evening clouds over Buffalo, Wyoming
Camping for the night
Day 4 – 249 miles
I had less than 250 miles to ride and all day to do it in. I was in no hurry today as I looked over my Wyoming map and planned my route. Custer is located almost directly east of Buffalo, WY, reachable by I-90 to the north or various major secondary roads to the south. The topography on my map didn’t show any major mountain ranges to cross, or canyons to plumb, so it looked like a brief, uneventful day of riding. Then I saw it: the gray squiggle. This is the reason I wanted the GS: to no longer look at a gray squiggle on the map and hesitate, wondering if it was paved or in what kind of shape it was in. The GS would get me anywhere I wanted to go. Perhaps a bit slower than the interstate, but it would be a heck of a lot more interesting. The gray squiggle on my map merely chopped a corner off in reaching the southern secondary roads towards Custer, but any chance at adventure was not to be scoffed at! I efficiently packed up the bike and rode quietly out of the campground to find the fabled “Road to Sussex” (“Sussex” being the town at the other end of the gray squiggle). A short jaunt down I-87 led me to the unmarked exit that would – in theory – lead me to the gray squiggle, and therefore, Sussex. It was called Trabling Rd on the sign, and the next sign I saw proclaimed this as a Stock Trail. As evidenced by what was left all over the road at frequent intervals it was apparent that the sign was not in error. Fortunately it looked as though it had been some time since the stock had been herded down this road and there was nothing threatening by what they had left behind. The road was paved but narrow and unpainted. A few ranches dotted the landscape but other than that it was a green and treeless expanse of land that lay before me. In fact, I was just noting the lack of trees when I saw them: all three of them, huddled in a draw. There were actually four trees there, but one sported no leaves, so I didn’t feel that I should include it in the count. More trees eventually showed up along this route, but they were definitely in the minority. The ranches disappeared behind me and no more came to take their place in the view before me. The road turned sharply to the left, with a dirt track continuing forward. No signs to confirm which was the way to Sussex, so I put my logic to work and followed the pavement. A couple of pronghorn answered my question of why they needed to put No Hunting signs up on the fences. The few cows that I did see regarded me with suspicion on a scale that I had never seen before. I honestly doubt that any of them had seen a motorcycle before. Either that or the deer whistles really do work.
The pavement ended a few miles later, with the road continuing along in a charming mix of loose gravel and soft dirt. I slowed down to 30mph and took my time negotiating corners and enjoying the feeling of being completely alone and – quite possibly – lost. Churning through the dirt at this relaxed pace I noticed a small dark shape in the middle of the road ahead of me. As I approached, it stood up and flew away. It was a mallard duck, here in the middle of Nowhere, Wyoming, with nary a body of water for miles. After stopping for some pictures of the road and the scenery I noticed a pickup truck in my mirrors, some distance back. I waited for him to reach me and then flagged him down. He politely turned off the motor of his truck and his dog watched attentively as I asked him if this was the road to Sussex. He looked at me a moment and then in a slow drawl, replied “Well yeah. You can get to Sussex from here”. He said it in such a way as to let me know that no fool would chose this way to go to Sussex, let alone want to go to Sussex, when there’s a perfectly good interstate not more than a few miles to my right. He then proceeded to describe the road, with the Y turn and when the pavement began and then met up with the highway and Sussex. I thanked him for his time and the information and let him lead the way. Not wanting to choke on his dust I made no effort to match his speed and instead tooled along at my previous unhurried pace. Sure enough, I found the Y (more of T, but who am I to argue the alphabet with a local?) and just as foretold, precisely 16 miles later the pavement began again. The road was now following another river and the trees grew in profusion along the banks. More houses and ranches dotted the landscape. I had stopped at an old wooden bridge and watched a hawk soar above me while sparrows darted in and out of the trees. Everything was very green. I had been informed that Wyoming had a good snow pack and had also gotten a lot of rain recently which was evident in the high rivers and green fields. Eventually the pavement I was on met up with the major secondary road that I was anticipating. I passed three or four houses when I came upon a herd of cattle on the road with four cowboys looking like they weren’t quite sure what they were doing. I stopped, realized that neither the cowboys nor the cows were moving, and proceeded to thread my way carefully along the side of the road furthest away from the herd. The cowboys gave me no indication if I was doing the right or wrong thing so I just kept on going, gave them a polite nod as I passed them and waited an appropriate time before returning to normal highway speeds. And somewhere in that mess was the town of Sussex.
Leaving the pavement behind
Meandering through the countryside
Rustic wooden bridge
The remaining roads to South Dakota didn’t have a lot to offer. I spent the time traveling over the wide-open spaces guessing how many miles away the next landmark was, or looking for raptors, or anticipating passing the next vehicle that came into sight. But it was all beautiful country and I really love the palette of colors with the red road, green hills and blue sky. I eventually reached South Dakota and familiar territory. The route to Custer passes through dry pine forests, some of them fairly recently burned, and follows the contours of the hills and valleys leading to the Black Hills. It was noon when I arrived in Custer. I found the campsite Jean-Francois had reserved for us, set up my tent and went back into town for lunch. Unbeknownst to me, it would be another five hours before Jean-Francois would show up. I settled down with a book and relaxed in the pine scented forest of Custer State Park.
Jean-Francois arrived later that evening, we set up his tent and then went into town for dinner and a walking tour of Custer. We stayed up well after dark and attempted to read maps by candlelight and had a pathetic fire in the fire pit. We talked about our rides to get to Custer and what we had seen on the way. Eventually we retired for the evening in anticipation of exploring the Custer area in the morning before heading to Colorado.
Wyoming surveying at its finest
Camping in Custer State Park
Day 5 – 534 miles
As I was waiting for Jean-Francois the previous day I noticed that the tread on my rear tire had worn down considerably since leaving Seattle. When I had started on this trip I knew that I’d need a new tire by the end of it, and quite possibly sometime during it, but I was surprised by how little tread was on it at this time. Ah, Colorado wasn’t that far, and there was a BMW shop in Grand Junction if no one in Montrose was able to help me. Jean-Francois and I packed up the campsite and headed out for a leisurely tour through Custer State Park, Needles Hwy and Iron Mountain Road. We both felt it would be a shame for him to ride all this distance and not partake in the tight twisty roads of the park, view Mt Rushmore, or see the buffalo along the road. He was suitably impressed.
Pigtail bridge in Custer
Our bikes at the bottom
Not to be completely digitally isolated, we returned to Custer for breakfast and a brief dabble on the Internet. It was then that I found out that a good friend of mine, Doug, was planning on joining me in Moab, UT to tour the southwest with me. Yay! My Alaska riding partner was going to be able to partake in at least part of my adventure with me. Jean-Francois and I finished up our business in Custer and headed to Wyoming, where we rode south for mile after mile on Route 85, avoiding I-25 as much as possible. Near Cheyenne we again avoided the interstate by following Route 210 through Medicine Bow National Forest, which surprised me with its unusual rock formations and the return of trees to the landscape. After a brief jaunt on I-80 we exited at Laramie for a backdoor entrance into Colorado. By now my rear tire was worrying me slightly as I was noticing a serious decline in performance. Stupidity or naivety kept me riding, however, always believing that I’d make it to my destination. We were climbing into the mountains and soon found ourselves in a wide valley between two ranges of snow-capped peaks. The weather was cooperating nicely, although a bit of rain threatened to fall as we were about to cross into Colorado. At Walden (“Moose Viewing Capitol of Colorado”) we headed west on Route 14, where we continued to follow the wide valley. A young oxbow river fascinated me, with its banks looping back almost on itself over and over, the water threatening to break through the earthen walls at any minute. We came upon a sign proclaiming that we were at the Continental Divide. What I didn’t realize at the time, however, was that we were at a turn of the divide where the Pacific drainage actually pointed east, while the Atlantic drainage was heading west. And here I thought that the State had gotten the sign wrong… Rabbit Ears Pass (elev. 9,426’) had some snow along the side of the road but for the most part wasn’t terribly dramatic. It held some long sweeping curves as it gently descended west towards the skiing mecca of Steamboat Springs. Jean-Francois had mentioned dinner and for the first time that day I realized that I hadn’t eaten since leaving Custer. We both had a hankering for Pizza Hut, which I somehow managed to spot among the camouflaged storefronts of the tourist town, and we pulled over for dinner.
Your truly at Medicine Bow
The road into Colorado
Riding south of Walden, CO
Flowers at the Divide
Heading towards Steamboat Springs
From here we had a choice: we could continue west towards Craig, where there was a known campground but few towns between here and there, or we could head south, where there were more towns but unknown accommodations. It was getting late and we knew that we wouldn’t be able to reach Craig by nightfall – what to do? I asked our waitress for her opinion, including road type, speed and accommodations for either direction. She suggested that we head south, as there were some nice cabins in Yampa, about 45 minutes away. That would put us there in the dark, but we decided to try it anyway. I’m not sure how slow she drives; Jean-Francois and I were there in less than 25 minutes (although we did see some deer and kept our speeds down accordingly). On the way to Yampa we passed through Oak Creek Canyon, a former mining site that is just now enjoying the last few stages of cleanup and restoration. It was interesting to see the remains of mines, buildings and the couple of towns that are struggling to hang on as their livelihood changes from industrial to quite possibly tourism, serving the patrons of nearby Steamboat Springs. As we pulled into the town of Yampa I was dismayed. Main Street was a dirt road divided by a lamppost boulevard. The liquor store was cute, but located next to a junkyard of parts and well, junk. The “cabins” were in a gravel lot behind this junkyard and the front was overgrown with weeds. We parked the bikes by the office where a dry erase board directed us to check in at the liquor store next door for cabin rentals. We did just that, with the young man behind the counter obviously new at the whole cabin rental job. He quoted us a price of $60 for a cabin with two beds – I was floored by the price. Sixty dollars for this hole-in-the-wall? But split two ways, and it being late at night and at high (read: cold) elevation, I agreed to it, as did Jean-Francois. We took the key and moved our bikes to the front of our cabin. I opened the door and my eyes grew wide: it was beautiful!!! The cabins were well-constructed, the beds covered in thick featherbed blankets, a wood burning stove stood in the corner, a dorm-sized fridge and microwave oven took up a little space next to the door. Useful hooks were placed on the walls. The main light source was an antler chandelier. It was all very tasteful and charming. And then we discovered the bathhouse: a full sized hot tub, ready to go. New and modern showers and bathrooms, decorated in the same manner as the cabin rooms. Even the towels were thick and soft, not like those sandpaper bits you get at commercial motels. I was impressed. And the hot tub was very nice.
The GS engages in some horse play
Parked in front of our cabin
Jean-Francois shows off the wood stove
Ultimate feather comfort!
Day 6 – 216 miles
The tire was getting worse. Fortunately this was to be a short mileage day for me and although it was difficult to resist the lure of the corners, I took it easy through the canyons. The roads were all perfect, with excellent surfaces, scenery to distract you and enough curves to keep me off the worn center of my tire. We hopped on I-70 through Glenwood Canyon and found that this was no ordinary stretch of Interstate! Some engineering masters were hard at work when this section was built. Stacked lanes, lanes carved into the sides of the canyon, lanes that curved far out over the river below… it was all amazing and well thought out. And it was also over quickly. We exited at Glenwood Springs where we then followed Route 133 over McClure Pass (elev. 8,755’) and down towards the Gunnison River. It was at Hotchkiss that Jean-Francois and I stopped for lunch and parted ways. My tire decreed that I take the most direct route to Montrose, while Jean-Francois’s sense of adventure required him to go through the Black Canyon of the Gunnison to get there. I think he got the better end of the deal.
I took the shortest, and therefore dullest, route to Montrose and rolled into the parking lot of the hotel at 12:30pm. There were a few STNers already there and it was fun to watch everyone else roll in by ones and twos. The hotel was set up well for our event, and I was lucky to find a motorcycle shop with tires for my bike literally one mile from the hotel. I made the appointment for the next day, knowing that once again I was going to be at a Meet and not be able to go on the local rides. But this was as good excuse as any: my tire was bald to the point that the cord was showing and it wouldn’t hold air. I could go no further on this shoe.
The dinner that night went over well, although it was a bit late in getting started. There were lots of prizes to raffle off, and some bad news circulated about a few downed riders (all of whom are well on the road to recovery as of this writing), and I think everyone had a pretty good time. After the meal the group did the usual “stand around in the parking lot and look at bikes” sort of thing. Riders discussed their routes to the Meet, their plans for the next day’s ride, the latest additions to their bikes or even the latest bikes themselves. It was just what we enjoy doing when we can’t ride.
North central Colorado
Cool and refreshing waterfall
Racing slicks on a GS?
Day 7 – 2 miles
There would be no riding for me today. I did take the bike one mile to the shop at 8 am that morning, in anticipation of it being done “sometime in the afternoon”. I walked back to the hotel, caught a ride into town with some other STNers, found that Montrose doesn’t have a lot to offer and went back to the hotel to sit by the pool and read. I did a load of laundry and took a dip in the pool and hot tub. I basically relaxed for a day – it was weird.
Other riders eventually trickled in from their rides and I got the call that my bike was done. I walked back down to the shop to pick it up and then rode the one mile back to the hotel. Nothing like high-mileage days to keep a sport-tourer happy… The group eventually headed to the Backwoods Inn, the restaurant next door to the hotel, for an informal dinner and afterwards we wandered back to the hotel for more bench racing. The night ended earlier than the previous night, as many riders planned on leaving early the next morning for their return trips home.
Day 8 – 236 miles
Three of the riders who went down on the way to the Meet were at St Mary’s in Grand Junction, CO. A small group of us decided to pay them a visit on our way home and headed in that direction. Being true sport tourers we couldn’t take the direct route there and instead detoured through Grand Mesa National Forest. This was a pleasant road that wound its way gently up to the top of a large mesa, giving out views of the valley we had just left. I’m not sure of the elevation, but there was snow at the top and groves of fresh young aspen. It was these aspen that gave some other motorcyclists quite a bit of trouble. A small group of Germans had just passed me as I stopped to take some pictures and by the time I got back on the bike and caught up with them, one of them had struck a deer that had darted out from the trees. The rider had a broken leg, but otherwise was ok. It was startling to come around the corner and find a person waving frantically to slow down just as I saw the cruiser lying at the side of the road and other riders looking around anxiously. Emergency crews had already been called and I had nothing useful to offer them, so after deliberating for a few minutes I continued on down the other side of the mesa to wait for the rest of my group. We eventually regrouped, took a break before finishing off the last bit of canyon riding before we hit the super slab that would take us to Grand Junction.
Colorado near Grand Junction
After lunch in the cafeteria, which was surprisingly good, we said our good-byes and went our separate ways. I continued west on I-70 into Utah, where it tried to rain on me a little bit. I thought that the southwest was supposed to be dry? At Cisco I exited onto Route 128 for the “back way “ to Moab. Behold the wonders of Utah! Red sandstone, deep canyons, bizarre rock formations… it was as though I went through a door into another universe instead of just crossing a state line. I was mesmerized the entire way to Moab. The mesas, the cliffs, the headwaters of the Colorado River…it was all new to me and foreign to my Pacific Northwest sensibilities. And it was hot. But this was to be another short day, so I left my secret “its too hot” secret weapon in the side case of the BMW. I arrived in Moab and after a bit of hunting I finally found the Riverside Oasis Campground that Doug had chosen as our meeting place. Once again I was early and had plenty of time to set up the tent and relax with my book. After a few hours Doug pulled in on his GS – he had just ridden for two full days from Victoria, BC to Moab, UT to explore the southwest with me. We set up his tent and then headed into town for dinner. We made a short night of it as he was tired and sore and we had all of Utah to discover the next day!
Entering Utah for the first time
Following a river through the canyon
Utah – a state like no other