So this Easter I undertook my first mission to the highest roads in the world, starting with Colorado, USA. Colorado means ‘Colour red’ and rather aptly named by the Indians for the abundance of red rock in the state. But the bright glowing rock isn’t the only geological feature in the Rocky’s, there are also massive sand dunes and plenty of granite bed rock that holds the water, filtering back up through various minerals to create hot springs. Now the highest paved road is on Mt Evans which is the 2nd highest peak in the 14ers (there are 58 mountains that are all above 14,000 feet) however it was too early in the season to get up to the summit as most of it was still ice and snow! Not even all of Pikes Peak was open or the Estes Park Pass so we had to play on other roads.
Lesson 23. Find like minded people and use social networking for good!
However this adventure doesn’t start here, it starts with a motorcycle group on Facebook known as ‘Motorbike Ladies’ where female riders can ask for help, post pics and generally talk bike related business. I posted up asking if anyone knew any nice roads and rides in Colorado. Within a few minutes Simi, one of the admins, had tagged various riders in the post, within a few hours I had a bike, somewhere to stay and group of cool women to show me around for a week. As it got closer to the trip one member had a job interview exactly the dates I was there so was unable to come out or lend me the bike, so I looked in to rental and the Harley Sportster was the cheapest bike I could find but it still worked out at $150 a day, eeek! After watching Sons of Anarchy I did start to worry that I would go all Jax on people’s arses, wearing white t shirts and shooting shit. I felt that the tassels, chaps and open face look was not for me, not yet.
It was fine and I was coming to terms with this clear change in my riding style in my head and planned on getting a few busses to various towns and riding for 4 days. Bex, one of the ladies advised me not to hire anything yet as she might be able to help out being a Motorcycle Instructor. I sat it out and just waited to get to America before deciding too much apart from riding and visiting hot springs.
I watched numerous thunderstorms from the plane window across Nebraska, Iowa and Illinois appreciating the aerial show on a massive level as the view in the dark with the sky lighting up was simply stunning. After some pretty epic turbulence I arrived in Denver close to 10pm and it was snowing! possibly not the best weather conditions for riding in but was glad that Lee and Bex had a four wheel drive to collect me in.
It was a slow journey south to their home with very little visibility, when the lights were on high beam it made everything look like we were going into hyper drive. We drove past a biker and all winced a little and felt even more snug in the car. On the journey we got to know each other and joked about trying to suss out if either of us were actually murderers as both of our friends had been wary of visiting and welcoming a stranger in to their home. I was not a serial killer and neither were they, so game on! We sat downstairs and had a cup of tea and some light refreshment when we started talking roads and routes.
Now people that know me, know I love a good map! Googlemaps has been great to search out various routes but there is nothing more satisfying than fingering the map over a coffee or breakfast looking for interesting roads to ride on. So to be invited upstairs into the study to this sight was simply wonderful. The entire state was blown up on to a wall nearly 8ft high. I really did feel as if I had come home! We studied the wall with a angle poised lamp and searched out the best places whilst getting a feel for the topography of the area.
Day 2. Monument to Colorado Springs
As it was snowing and we were waiting for altitude sickness to kick in, we drove down to Garden of the Gods and went for a short hike. The rocks were amazing and the sky classic Colorado blue. As we climbed the steps up to the summit we were both a little short of breath, was this the sickness? Nah, just unfitness!
At the top of the stairs we celebrated with a few other climbers and got our breath back! We looked out at Pikes Peak which dominates the view for many miles around.
We went to see a few members of the Pikes Peak MOA club including the rather fabulous Helane who has been riding for over 50 years, I shan’t disclose her age as that would be rude, but she is a total bad ass! She had a house full of model motorbikes and an old BMW in the garage that she rode until recently. She had already ridden over the Ladakh Pass (highest road in Asia) and had a great photo of her in a line up with 5 other guys in India. She was a real inspiration and proves that you can do what ever you set your heart on.
We drove around Manitou Springs and she told me about the history of the town and state. Because of the great air it was known for treating tuberculosis and became quite a large hospital state. We saw another large hospital in Glenwood Springs that is now a haunted hotel that Jean had stayed in where the lift didn’t work and a room smelt of cigars, creepy.
Day 3. Around Monument, Castle Rock and Colorado Springs
Instead of hiring the Harley I took out a 1999 muscle bike, the Kawasaki ZRX, it was a fantastic ride and just the right height for my shorter stature. We rode around the local area to Castle Rock to get a feel for each other before embarking on the trip with the MOA down to Taos, New Mexico.
It needed new tyres before going on a long haul ride so we popped down to Colorado Springs and met up with Jay, another member of the PP MOA who fitted them.
Day 4. Monument to Taos and on to Pagosa Springs.
The trip down to Taos was with the local BMW group, I did feel like a bit of an outsider riding the Japanese bike however the people in the group were so friendly. It was an early and rather cold start to the day leaving at 7.45 to get to Pueblo for 9am. The I25 was an easy ride but blowy and pretty cold, especially as I am particularly soft and used to riding with heated grips even in the summer! I had layered up with marino wool, t shirts, hoody, bike jacket, leggings, jeans and leathers! It’s amazing that I could even walk let alone cock my leg high enough to get it over the seat with the rucksack strapped on the back! We then took the 160 West and the 159 South.
We made it down into New Mexico without a hitch and stopped for lunch at a Mexican diner. I noticed some liquid coming out the bottom of the Kwak, it wasn’t oil and it wasn’t fuel, it was coolant. We went in and ate then decided what we would do to try and fix the leak. The waiter bought over these large doughy triangles called Sopodilla that you ate with honey or syrup. It was carb heaven and clearly a few of the ladies had come across these before and declined for the sake of their waistlines! I on the other hand rather enjoyed the first half (then it got a little greasy!) It was cool to meet Crystal, Jean and Dawn, all of whom ride.
After a nice meal Eric and Bex had a closer look at the bike and it turned out the water pump was leaking again – it was a problem that had been fixed before but the ride down to NM had obviously unsettled it again.
We tried to limp on but it dumped a load more coolant out at the petrol station and poor Lee (Bex’s husband and owner of the bike) was called to come and trailer it back the 200 miles we had just ridden, in order to save the engine. Not only was it leaking but it was also going on the back tyre making it rather slippery, basically it was an accident waiting to happen. So we were heading back to Monument rather than to Pagosa Springs or the intriguingly named Million Dollar Highway.
Not to be down hearted we looked around the artisan town and popped in to various shops hauling all of our luggage about, possibly not the best move in tiny little stores with lots of precious niknaks and stones! There were some pretty cool sculptures though in the town and these bright red chilli decorations hanging up.
So we waited… it’s a 4 hour drive from their house to Taos and not even the litres of McDonalds Diet Dr Pepper could contain us so we sat with the bikes watching the sun going down. Did you know that they put slits in their apple pies to cool them down? What a great idea, perhaps it could be adopted in the UK to stop the molten filling from burning every surface it comes in to contact with!
Lee came just as night fell and we loaded the trailer to go back. The journey gave us time to chat again and find out more about each other as well as formulating a plan for the next few days. It looked as if I was going to have to hire after all, so we got in touch with a nice guy at Colorado Tour Bikes who agreed to meet us at 9am Sunday to maximise the days I had left.
Day 5. Denver to Buena Vista
He had a Triumph Tiger 800 with a lowered seat so that was my new ride. After taking the Kwak out it was very light and wide in the handle bars, I declined on the hard panniers and went with a top box and my trusty rucksack bungeed on to the rack. I like that fact I’ve had that pack since I was 18 and it is an item that I can really vividly remember buying, even all that time ago!
Lesson 24. Don’t be afraid to ride ‘on the other side’ of the road – try not to ride into on coming traffic though!
The bike itself was very economical but it was a little ‘meh’ in comparison, much like the FZ to be fair and after riding the hooning VTR and the muscle it just felt a little lacking in balls. Anyway, we decided that I would go up to Mt Evans whilst Bex went home and prepared for our new and modified ride. It was nice to be on my own and I felt perfectly comfortable too riding in a foreign country. I know people post on the forum from time to time about the fact that they worry about riding on the ‘wrong’ side but it’s really easy on a bike because your visibility is much better than in a car. You do need to be cautious of looking the right way before pulling out of junctions and going the right way around roundabouts, this is not a problem in the US as there were very few roundabouts, in fact I only saw 2 in over 1300 miles!!!
I rode up to Mt Evans and it was closed however there was a lovely road that headed to Evergreen that weaved through the mountains so I took that. When I got to the end I then realised that I had no photographic evidence so had to ride all the way back 😉 by the time I returned it was snowing and rather grey looking compared to the blue skies from earlier along the pass.
By the time I got back to Monument, Jean had arrived and Bex told me that she was coming out on our ‘Gypsy Tour’ too 🙂 Fabulous!
We set out along Highway 24 that goes from Colorado Springs round the back of Pikes Peak and across to show the collegiate mountains. We stopped off at a visitors centre and walked up the closed carpark to the most outstanding view, my first real sighting of the vastness of the land and the relationship between the other 14ers.
We were heading to Buena Vista where we were staying at the Cottonwood hot springs. The road was nice but then straightened out across a plateau where it was pretty windy and chilly, we tucked down behind the screens and just rode looking at various animals and a few rocks! Buena Vista itself is a pretty funky town that looks really old but in fact was mostly built to house the white water rafting tourists that flock to the town in the summer. We stopped off at the Eddyline Brewery and ate dinner, I treated myself to a River Runners Pale Ale and it was the start of more brews over the week! In fact I developed quite a taste for a citrusy, hopsy pale ale! The food was nice and company good, it was the perfect time for Jean to see how we were! We talked about language differences especially when she mentioned a growler (a large volume bottle with a handle) and an insulated growler, of course she didn’t know what that was slang for in the UK and we chuckled, mostly when we saw said growlers at various outlets and left cackling!
The hot springs were lovely and sat in a valley, there were 4 different pools ranging from VERY hot to cold. It was dark out and most enjoyable watching the stars from the hot water. There was a great mix of people from young locals from the next town to a pair of older ladies who were visiting from Kansas. The minerals in the ground are mostly lithium so they make for a very relaxing bath and it made a change from the sulphur eggy smell that I had encountered in Europe. We slept well and prepared for the next leg.
Day 6. Buena Vista to Glenwood Springs via Black Gorge Canyon.
Now it was cold in the morning! like teeth achingly cold, I had to ride with my tongue over them to stop them from hurting! We saw a few deer on the verge and a fox ran across the road, a good omen I thought. I was glad when we stopped at the Evergreen Cafe to start the day with a good breakfast. I talked to a few locals who were interested in my accent and to find out what I was doing in Colorado. He rode a BMW too and showed me pictures of his bike with a push bike strapped to the back of it, he was right, I had never seen such a spectacle before! They wished me luck on my highest roads mission and we set off.
Once we had got down to Salida there was another very long blustery straight to Gunnison. I had to add even more layers, this time waterproofs that act as windproof layers. I wanted to be nice and toasty ready for the next leg of the ride which was around Lake Mesa and up the Black Gorge! These are the sorts of roads I like! The curves were sweeping with fantastic views of the mountains and water on each side. We stopped for a few photo opportunities at Lake Mesa before heading up into the gorge itself.
From the reservoir we went upstream to the picturesque Black Gorge Dam and Canyon. These roads were narrower and not as populated by cars but mostly deer and rocks that had fallen from the cliff sides. Now I felt like we were getting in to the heart of Colorado, the sense of emptiness and openness was clear with well weathered roads and scenery that was just starting to bloom after the winter months. Snow was still evident on most of the faces of the mountains and even patches that had been blown across the plains. The roads meandered through the alpine and shrub landscape rather than being carved in one straight line across it.
Lesson 25. Don’t ride like a dick on roads you don’t know
The roads were great (apart from the rocks) and I was having a rather super time feeling rather confident as it was similar to many of the Spanish and Andorran roads I had ridden last summer, it was all fine until I overshot a left hander straight into the path of a 4×4. Luckily he swerved so I didn’t come off. It was bloody close though, in fact my first close call that I had ever had. It was about 5 minutes later when I entered a corner to hot and scrapped by footpeg and straightened up in the apex, my fate was finally sealed and I came off after my back tyre lost traction on some gravel and I spun round on my arse on the floor, dancing with the bike as it travelled on its side, grinding up the road. It was all very quick and to be fair not as bad as I imagined ‘an off’ to be. Worse though was the fact that I had put down $1500 as a security bond for the bike that had gouged out some of the Colorado road as I scrapped across it. I also had a flash back to the track day where Dale had told me “Slow down or get your arse off the seat.” Well funnily enough I had actually been leaning over and getting off the seat, just not on this corner, over cooked as it’s known.
At least it went in to the road and not off the road. The bike hire owner told me that he had been running the company for many years and it took him a couple of them to realise that accidents do happen. He had loaned out a whole fleet of bikes to a group and they were going up the Mt Evans road when a guy lost it and rode over the mountain, dropping down, with the bike caught in a barrier but written off. He was amazed the rider didn’t die so I felt more humbled for my experience. Was I lucky that Mt Evans was indeed closed? Maybe I will ride it more considered now.
The whole experience was quite surreal and I guess really helped by the fact I didn’t break anything or injury myself apart from a few bruises. Having the girls there with me was amazing as they just jumped in and helped, we were like the A Team: dynamic, operated with military precision and most importantly, no drama. Being stranded on a mountain in the middle of nowhere would be pretty damn rubbish! Even worse if I was surrounded by flapping birds!!
Video here: https://youtu.be/lOI-if2bxcQ
Lesson 26. Get up, get the bike up and keep riding – if you can!
We limped the bike on for another 25 miles to Paonia in 3rd gear as the gear foot lever was bent up and very difficult to change combined with the clutch lever being so overly misshapen but somehow it hadn’t snapped! We got to the garage and borrowed a hammer so the girls bent the pedal in to a more manageable shape whilst I went to the toilet. Still wearing what can only be described as waterproof chaps (after they had the arse ripped out in the slide) I got all hulk on what was left and literally ripped them off!
The bike was grazed and the indicator had stopped working, it was a funny orange bulb rather than a clear bulb in orange plastic, that would have to be something that Bill would fix, although it now meant I was without a front signal.
Now I’m not saying that ride was easy, I suffered from terrible point fixation for miles! Point fixation on a bike is where your eyes take you, if you are looking at a rock you will drive into the rock, if you are looking at the apex of a corner that’s exactly where you will ride so you have to keep your head up and eyes on the horizon in the direction of where you want to be. I challenged myself to overcome this as it makes for a more nervy ride, however these are just skills that you need to refresh yourself in… my mantra in my head was “look up, look round” and it comes back to you. It’s actually easier to ride when you’re not over-thinking the corners but letting them flow with a good feel for them.
I had been so busy riding that I had forgotten to get any pictures since Blue Mesa as I was just enjoying the road, however after Paonia the landscape changed again from Shrub and alpines to snow and aspen’s with their silvery bark much similar silver birches in the UK. They were bare of leaves in the mountains as it was too early but down in the lower warmer regions they had started to green up. Then it went into the red rock and then yellow sand stone before following the river along to Glenwood Springs, there was so much variation in 150 miles!
I really liked the variety of mail boxes too, there was one section where there must have been 20 or so in a row all different shapes. I caught these on the road from Redstone to Carbondale
Finally we arrived at Glenwood Springs and the girls had booked a hotel, we ended up with a free upgrade to 3 queen size beds and use of the pool until midnight. We went out to a little restaurant and ate weird food and drank artisan beers and ciders. My tipple for the evening was the ‘dirty hippy’, it was very mild tasting, nothing like dirty hippies at all! There has been a tradition for ‘googly eying’ objects for some time and I always have a few spare sets kicking around in my handbag. After dinner I found these beauties. We’re not quite sure how they ended up on this fabulous picture. Many thanks to the waitress for unwittingly framing the picture so well lol! Superb.
Day 7. Glenwood Springs to Monument via Leadville, Fair Play and Tarryall
If you look on a map this is probably the most convoluted route you could take as it does a big W up and down across various passes. The beauty of this was that each of the areas had its very own characteristics. The first part along the I70 was interrupted when we got pulled over by a cop, what had we done wrong? The speed was good but not suspiciously slow, everyone had paperwork, what was it? Now bearing in mind I knew my indicator didn’t work, I didn’t want to highlight the fact with the double time flashing it does when a bulb is out, so I pulled in after his car and waited to see what he said to Bex. After he looked at her documents and gave her a print out about her year and month of license being the wrong way round on the number plate he came up to me, shades and hat on. “Hey Maam, you need to use your turning signal, even if your friend is signalling and you’re following her, you need to use them too.” he said. Yes indeed I did, however I didn’t want to tell him that I purposefully wasn’t using them to avoid a penalty notice! I nodded and pleaded British ignorance and we went off on our way. No tickets issued 🙂
The road to Leadville was very scenic with big bridges and sweeping snowy curves. I drove past this place and had to stop. It was incredibly quiet and the most heavenly place I have every experienced. The photo really doesn’t do the frozen lake justice.
We arrived in Leadville which is the highest city in the USA. It was an old mining town and hub on the 285 road that leads back down to Buena Vista. We couldn’t resist a photo by the massive sign on the entrance to the town.
Then we weaved back north up the 91 over copper mountain, to Frisco to then headed south down the 9 through the snow sports centre of Breckenridge to Fairplay – the home and inspiration for the animated comedy series South Park. It is said that all the characters are actually based on people who live in the town. http://www.oocities.org/pocius8/real.html
After a spot of lunch we travelled back northwards to Jefferson and took a turning off onto a newly paved road that went past the Tarryall reservoir. This place was pretty lush with a powerful, blue cloudy sky and clear blue water. I was so envious of the people that had set up a caravan and camp next to the water. It reminded me of my youth when we would rock up in the Merc and camp anywhere, the world was our oyster.
The landscape here was green grassland with the occasional rock mound but through undulating hills and sweeping round bends. It reminded me of a drier and more sunny Wales in a weird way – if such a place can exist in your imagination!
I really wanted to get some pictures of the balanced rock at Garden of the Gods, so Bex and I split up from Jean and said our goodbyes. We went and had a giggle taking silly pictures holding the rock up etc. It was massive and it’s only when you see it next to the bike or a person that you can start to comprehend the stature of these magnificent stones.
The final night we went out for dinner and ended up at the Pikes Peak Brewery where they brew and can their own beers. They had a super chalkboard menu that compared colour, taste, alcohol % and price of a range of beers. I was lucky to have Jenna to show me round and explain about the different casks they use to develop different flavours.
Night fell and I needed an early start to return the bike and see what damage had been done. We sat downstairs in the bar and chatted, reflecting on the crazy week that was action packed but incredibly cool. Even when things weren’t going to plan it was just cool, and there was no drama. I hope that they enjoyed opening up their home and showing me parts of the country that they are clearly both very proud to be part of. The tiredness hit and we went to our beds a little merry but I was also gutted that the time was coming to an end.
I didn’t unpack my bags so it was easier to get ready in the morning, just a shower, coffee and to layer up. I had become quite used to this now after playing in the altitude. I arrived at the hire place and Bill seemed OK about things and took me to the airport.
We mapped out the various routes that had been taken over the week and plotted them on a rather well travelled and crumpled up map! There is still so much to do! Looks like I will have to go back and this time Jas wants to come with me 🙂
Lesson 27. Never give up – you’re the only one in charge of your own future, so dig deep!
After a long flight home with no sleep I arrived at Heathrow exhausted from the adventure. I found my bike in the carpark and tried to start it. The damn battery was flat. There was no slope even on the ground to bump it but there was a flyover coming out of the terminal 2 carpark. I looked about for help but there was no one – typical! I actually had a little swear, the first time in the whole damn trip and I was close to tears. Not today though, I was certainly an independent woman so I needed to act like one, so I loaded her up (yes I refer to the FZ as a female! do you personify your bikes?) and set to push the bike with all the luggage up the flyover ramp. Bearing in mind that I was still VERY layered up, thermal leggins under my kevlar jeans, multiple base layers with coats etc I was bloody hot in the UK. The bike was heavy and I just had to dig deep and power it up the hill with my carves feeling the strain. Still no-one came, a man did walk past the bike carpark but I was already half way up. Busses went past, taxi’s, car’s people tired after getting off a plane, but no-one stopped. I had a flashback to a video I had watched about people pulling massive trucks along flat ground, is this what that feels like? I thought. Clutching hold of the brake lever to stop the bike and al my stuff rolling back down the hill I would brace and push up slowly further, gasping for breath and trying to avoid lactic acid from killing my stretching, burning calves. Finally, sweating like a pig I reached the top. At the bottom were traffic lights so I needed expert timing to bump down the hill with minimal traffic and a green light at the end. Shazzam! it worked and I revved down the M4 to get on the the M25.
Now in America you can’t filter, you simply have to sit in the traffic and wait it out. The drivers seemed more erratic over here but the morning jam on the M25 was no bother as I slipped up the lanes. A rule that separates the cars from the bikes in the UK.
When I think about my favourite view of the trip this has to be one and it was on the way to Lee and Bex’s home. On the way down you could see Pikes Peak just opening up, framed by the trees down the side of the road, and on the way home you could see it in the wing mirror. Double pleasure whichever direction you are travelling in.
All in all an amazing Easter time adventure made possible by my sister for having my son, Bex and Lee for their hospitality and work for giving me some overtime!
Until the next one…
Ride on 🙂