Whew… 650 miles today. I went from KS to western CO the long way, sort of. Starting out this morning in Quinter, I hopped on route 70 for about half an hour. My plan had been to cross over into CO and then take 24 to Colorado Springs, but once on 70 I was faced with 40-50 mile an hour winds blowing north to south across the highway. I had to duck down behind my fly screen and pitch the bike at about a 20 degree angle just to go in a straight line. This got pretty exhausting, so when I had the option to take route 40 in Monument, KS I did, figuring that heading southwest would be easier than due west. It was, but only a wee bit, and I fought the wind for another hour, crossing over into Colorado. Just past Kit Carson the wind began to pick up again, and I drove through a couple of dust storms created by dry prairie fields combined with the wind. I continued west, and began to see lightning strikes and heavy clouds off to my right (the north).
I stopped for gas, and put on all my leathers (I had been wearing a vented jacket) including my heavy jacket and chaps, as well as a thermal hiking shirt under the jacket. The temperature had dropped steadily as I headed west, and was now no more than 60 degrees. With a full tank and relatively warmer, I started west again.
The clouds continued to gather, but I seemed to be about to pass by without actually hitting the storm. Then I looked up and saw an errand arm of the clouds directly overhead. With this came some light raindrops; nothing worth stopping for (and there aren’t any bridges to stop under anyway!) I figured I’d keep going as long as the rain stayed light. At least the high winds throwing drops of water around killed the dust, and seemed to drive away the swarms of bugs that insisted on plastering themselves on my bike and helmet’s faceshield.
Then the hail started. At first I though an especially large bug had hit my windshield, leaving a white splatter a couple of inches across. This would have been a first, since most bugs seem to be bright (as in neon) yellow inside. Why is that? I quickly figured out it was hail when centimeter sized balls started to pelt me in earnest. Even through doublethick chaps and heavy carhartts those suckers hurt, and the sound of them bouncing off my helmet was pretty wild. I crouched back down behind my flyscreen and kept going. There wasn’t any place to stop, and at least I was going in one direction with no twists and a constant speed, so the rain/hail wasn’t going to impair safety (for those of you who don’t ride motorcycles, a bike can handle almost any conditions if it’s not asked to change speed or direction). My stubbornness was rewarded; after only about 10 minutes of this I emerged from both the hail and the drizzle, and within another 20 minutes I was back under sunny skies. By this point I was well into CO, and had planned on cutting west on route 94 to Colorado Springs. I took the turn, and immediately saw a sign that said “No Services Next 70 Miles”. Damn, I only had about 50 miles of gas left in my tank. I turned around and got back on 40, and took it up to Limon, CO where I caught route 24 back down to Colorado Springs. Somewhat of a zig-zag, and I probably added around 50 miles by doing this, but at least I was in Col Spgs (that’s how the smaller signs show it).
Once there, things started to warm up, and I was revitalized after a rest stop, so I hopped back on 24, to follow it up over the Rockies. The next 3 hours were some of the most difficult and exhilarating riding I’ve ever done, as I climbed thousands of feet up through winding turns. For the bikers out there, you know the frission of almost fear as you hit one tight turn after another, being forced to concentrate on planning and executing lots of flicks left and right on mountain roads. Now combine that with soaring peaks and sheer drops all around and you will begin to get an idea of what crossing the Rockies is like.
I stopped after the first set of peaks in Florissant, at an elevation of around 10K feet. At this point I was starting to get a wee bit altitude sick, which meant shortness of breath, a headache, and some general mild dizziness. I ate some lunch and practiced slow, relaxed, and deep breathing and the symptoms faded so I could continue. I though that the highest point was behind me, as the next hour was spent crossing high plains of winding but mostly flat country given over to huge tracts of ranchland.
This is pretty typical of those areas:
Towards the end of this high plains section the elevation dropped down to about 6K feet, and I felt just fine.
After the high plains, however, the elevation started to climb again, and soon I was in a second set of peaks craggier than the first and with tighter switchbacks. I hung in there and after another hour I made it to the Continental Divide.
Whooo!!! 11K feet and change.
The altitude sickness came back a bit, but not nearly as bad as the first time, so I pressed on, figuring that downhill would be easier.
Was I ever wrong.
I spend the next couple of hours winding down a 7% slope of tight turns and amazing scenery. I didn’t take any pictures here, as I was concerned about not driving off a cliff, and wanted to get down the damn mountains, already. Finally, as I neared Buena Vista I hit a relatively lower altitude, and figured I was out of the bulk of the Rockies. Of course, now I was heading into another storm, but as luck would have it I turned south on route 285 just as I hit the edge of the storm, and quickly left it behind with only a few sprinkles.
This was taken looking back at the storm after I passed down and out of the bulk of the mountains:
The next hour or two was spent traveling down the rest of the way to Montrose, which involved some pretty amazing curves and scenery again, but by this time I was a pro at mountain roads and enjoyed it immensely.
Check out the pictures of the Blue Mesa Resevoir. I was traveling along it for a while during this stretch.
This row is looking East, South, West, and North
Further along I stopped to look at some amazing rock formations – these are loaded as larger pictures to give you a better idea. Don’t click on them unless you want to load some large files 🙂
This is looking North from Hwy 50, across the water:
Through all of this driving I’ve become somewhat itchy to actually get to Los Angeles, so I’ve decided to follow my original route of Montrose to the Petrified Forest, stopping there to see Lillith and Jonathan, but I am not going to stop at all the places along the way. Even then I’ll be on the road for 7 or 8 days, and I just don’t want to deal with the 2 or 3 additional days it would take to see the sights between here and Jonathan and Lillith’s. I figure that I’ll be living in the southwest now, so I can always take a week and come back up this direction.
Well, tomorrow I’m off heading down through Four Corners and through the Petrified Forest to visit some Animated Humans.