Still programmed for sunrise, morning came early for me. Despite a soft bed with warm blankets, the urge to ride to new lands overwhelmed that of comfort and luxury. Not Lola though; She didn’t move from her spot on the bed until I started loading up the Ural.
I changed the final drive oil in the motel parking lot, capturing most of the dirty oil in a soda can. I wasn’t sure how much dust and dirt made its way in, and I didn’t want that dusty mess wearing the whirly-bits prematurely.
Walking around the parking lot in the morning, I came across this Twisted Throttle truck, on its way to the BMW rally in Oregon. My friend Jane works there, and I believe I will start petitioning her to have them make some accessories for the Ural.
Our bellies stuffed with motel waffles, and our hearts pumping a couple cups of mild dishwater-flavored coffee through our veins, we set out on Rt 71 towards Colorado.
Despite 14 days of riding and staying in new places, Lola has not lost her zeal for a long day in the sidecar. I’m sure she wishes we had a few more naps during the day, or stopped to pee on more things. I told her I’d honor her requests when she starts paying for gas, and she gave me this face.
Route 71 continued onto Sage Creek Road, which was another wide dirt superhighway. It slowly snaked through creeks and hills toward the Medicine Bow National Forest.
Zina gave the enthusiastic sweep of the arm; a universally understood motorcyclist gesture. Beautiful, empty scenery and roads so smooth, you could play pool on them.
Wayne only put his hand up because he needed some armpit adjustments. I’m glad Zina was around for this smelly task.
The further south we rode, the size of the cliffs and buffalo jumps grew. The earth has a very red tinge to it here. Even though green shrubs and brush grow over just about every surface, the red background bleeds through.
Up and around a few more cliffs, and right into Medicine Bow. The change in scenery is so dramatic, you feel like you must have driven through a portal. Only a half-mile behind this photo, is the wide open land landscape we had been in for a day and a half.
Our path narrowed slightly as it started to wind sharply through the forest. Large piles of fallen trees and brush dotted some of the turnouts and lay-by’s. The NF crews must be busy burning up brush.
The road surface seemed to vary as we rode closer to Colorado. Big washboards and ruts would pop up in weird random sections of straight road. The Ural handled most of the heavy bumps with grace, while clicking along at an even forty mph.
Remember on a Ural, loud valves are happy valves. If your Ural starts to sound more like a sewing machine, and less like a dryer with a handful of fender washers clanging around in it; STOP. Something may be terribly wrong!
Rounding a bend into this walled tunnel, I immediately recognized this as the “Aspen Alley”. While its very picturesque, I found myself a little underwhelmed. I’m sure I’d be singing a different tune in the fall colors, but for this time of the year I was content to roll through.
Sage Creek Road dumped us out on RT-70. Smooth, cambered and paved, we rode along at a (relatively) spirited 55mph through the curves. Large clumps of aspen along the side of the road provided vivid contrast against the lush green forest floor.
Leaving the national forest land, clear-cut meadows and farmland greeted us, revealing the contour of the land we were now in. The extreme differences in the terrain a mere 40 miles north is absolutely astonishing to me.
Leaving RT-70 for Snake River Road, put us back on a well-loved, hard-pack dirt road. Ignore the “Road Closed 16 Miles Ahead” sign; We believed this is left-over from a large faux-ranch construction, and is now only there to deter folks. There is no winter maintenance, but its in great shape.
Snake River Road threads along the CO/WY border for while, before dropping south, deep into the Routt National Forest. Bright green fields of grass sprinkled on in open meadows, with happy cows turning fields into poop, milk, and cheeseburgers. Some of the high-plateaus looked as if someone sliced the tops off with a sword. A unique blend of both the rocky mountains, and the buffalo jump cliffs we’d been riding through all morning.
“The weather is cool, the sun is shining, and the roads are not re-arranging my insides. Lets go man!”. Ok dog. Dust-goggles on, speed set to “Ural”.
Absolutely amazing roads through the Routt National Forest. The kind of roads that you lose your sense of time and mileage while navigating. Banked and twisting through a forest that grows directly up on the edge on all sides. Visibility through many of the corners is not great, so watch your speed, lest you become a hood ornament.
We burst out of the gravel and the national forest at Placer, where CO-129 begins into Steamboat. Shortly after we stopped, a large group of Harley Davidson riders gingerly worked to turn their big and shiny chrome-laden rigs around, right at the point where the gravel started. One of them took a photo of Lola and I in the sidecar, but otherwise didn’t want to talk to us. Maybe it was my scarf?
We followed a long, long line of traffic down the paved CO-129 into Steamboat Springs. Preoccupied with cell phones, finding their favorite songs on the radio, or trying to eat lunch, drivers kept varying their speeds wildly, from 30-50mph. On a Ural in hill country, momentum is everything. I muttered foul language while repeatedly downshifting to regain speed.
This Taco Cabo off US-40 was one of the first places we saw as we rolled into Steamboat Springs. Shaded outdoor seating, and tacos; perfect for a lunch break after a great morning on the trail.
We all ordered different burritos, and each one was exceptionally good. The dogs sprawled out comfortably underneath us to catch any errant scraps that fell to the floor. Over mouthfuls of beans, chicken and cheese, we concluded to be at the halfway point (mileage-wise) on our trip. No better meal to celebrate a trip halfway to mexico, than with burritos.
After our meals, the owner (Kent) came out to chat with us about our rigs, dogs and our trip. He shared some of his story with us too, which I found particularly inspiring. He started working in housing development, making a very good living doing it, until the housing market went downhill. After losing his wife, most of his business and possessions, he started over completely on a new path. Let me tell you, for a guy that built houses most of his life, he makes one of the best burritos I’ve ever had.
He also puts together some pretty unique combinations. He brought out some of the filling used in his “421” burrito for us to try. Macaroni & Cheese, fresh chorizo, pistachios, cilantro and spices. It sounds weird, but it tastes absolutely decadent. Conveniently situated next to a medical marijuana dispensary, one can roll up a doobie while they make your order (if desired). Guns, weed and burritos; Let freedom ring Colorado!
Kent is a great guy with a great business, and big dreams. If you like mexican food and are passing through, stop in. His Taco Cabo is a very dog and human friendly place, and worth checking out on your way through.
We motored out of Steamboat Springs on US-40, before splitting off on CO-14. Large, angry clouds started to billow into formidable dark isolated pockets as we continued south. With the afternoon storms that are frequent in Colorado, we hoped to stay at or below tree line to mitigate the possibility of getting struck by lightening.
I noticed Wayne and Zina increased their gap a little bit too, trying to distance themselves from the rolling lump of ferrous mass that is the Ural. Russians don’t believe in plastic.
The pavement ended at a small, narrow forest road with turn-outs. Large potholes and rutted sections meant low speeds and erratic maneuvers on the Ural, trying to save my posterior (and Lola’s joints) from the big bumps.
Fattening back up again, the dirt smoothed out on CO-18, as we paralleled the shoreline with Stagecoach Reservoir. Lola and I tried to race a boat around these curves, and lost. We got the final laugh though, as he ran out of water and had to turn around while we motored along with a smile and a wave. Wheels: 1, Propellers: 0.
Sagebrush Trail Road does not live up to its namesake. Smooth and hard-packed, it doesn’t offer up any problems wet or dry, and seems absent of the hazards that usually demark a “trail”. Spoiled after so many dirt superhighways today, I even found myself critiquing the road over some little bumps which I wouldn’t have even noticed in my shell-shocked daze two days ago.
Lots of ranching along to road opens things up quite nicely, providing good line of sight through the sweeping corners, as well as the forest beyond. Occasionally we’d ride through damp sections of road, the air heavy with the moisture of a recent shower. It would seem our good fortune in weather may finally run out today.
Despite the constant threat of thunderstorms, partings in the sky and tree line offered up some truly majestic views of the terrain around us.
More wildflowers in bloom up here, which neatly adorn the forested meadows. The ruby-green color you see everywhere is a great sign for Colorado. Early this year things were looking very grim, and close to confirming the prophecy old-timers in crusty bars would share with you over a Budweiser. “Yeep, god is punishin’ us wicked! Dees whole state is going up in flames!” (And it almost did).
While temps were very steamy in Steamboat Springs, up here in the mountains its wonderful. Since Lola’s mouth-radiator isn’t wide open, I know she agrees with me. Unlike our gold-coast comrades, Lola and I are built for cold weather. I’m sure Lola still wonders why I thought riding to a hot-spot like Mexico was a good plan.
Right at the intersection with Rt-134, we met up with these advrider.com members doing a portion of the COBDR. Just past the intersection at 134, there was a large creek crossing (the biggest and deepest of the trip). While I don’t remember either of their names, I do remember their sage advice.
“Take the bypass” the KTM-saddled rider said matter-of-factly. “Don’t even bother trying to go through there, we just fooled around in that area for a couple hours before we got out”. The rider on the DRZ silently nodded his head in somber agreement with the struggle they had just endured.
The Yellow arrows represent the original route through the water crossing. The red is the pavement alternative we took. There wasn’t any argument in our camp for taking the bypass. Discretion is the better part of valor, and past a certain age I do believe common sense outweighs bravado.
A good thing we decided to take the pavement around the crossing. A storm pocket washed right over us (and the creek crossing we would have gone through), soaking Lola and I throughly. Its amazing how no matter what motorcycle you ride, any rainfall always collects at your crotch. Just as all rivers flow to the ocean, all rain flows to a motorcyclists crotch.
After a couple turn-arounds, we finally found CO-11 off Rt-134. It should be noted that my 2011 Garmin Topo maps are way off for the entrance to this road. The road finally connects back up with the GPS properly after a couple miles, you just have to trust that it will happen.
Further up, the road dried up for a spell, though the fast-moving skies only promised more rain. Speeds on some of these sharp bends are pretty low, as mistake would send you over the edge to the valley floor some 500-600 feet below.
Deeper into the forest, the road quality quickly declines. Damp earth and loose surfaces made for some pant-crapping slides on the steep downhills. Too much front-brake while going downhill on the Ural causes the whole rig to slide suddenly and sharply to the left.
Things started to get much more interesting here. Several mucky and loose uphill sections revitalized my faith in the Duro 307’s, propelling us up sharp grades in 1WD without much slippage. Many of these turns and descents are at first gear speeds, especially when wet. Standing water and slick swarths of wet clay are always lurking around bends and shadows, ready to dispatch Ural, rider, and dog alike down the mountainside.
Despite threatening skies, the colors in this patch of wildflowers are vivid even in this grey light. They seem to spring from almost every available surface in clumps. In an afternoon dominated by green grass and dark skies, these dramatic changes in color are worth a stop and a good long look.
The sporadic rain showers and storms racing across the skies only made this view of Sheephorn Mountain more dramatic. The road quality and width increased as we left Routt national forest, and entered BLM managed land.
The Denver Rio-Grande Western railway scribbles along the Colorado River here. The length of some of these trains, and the power required to get them over some of these passes makes me wish I paid more attention in physics.
Rather than ride into Kremmling to find a campsite, we headed to a BLM site right along the Colorado River at Gore Canyon. Lots of float/rafting traffic at the boat put-in, but little in the way of campers. We got a spot at the end of a cul-de-sac, which prevented any large R.V. tour-buses from setting up shop next to us.
Our dogs invariably will attract other dogs into our camp, which is great since we love dogs. This nice guy is Marley, and he was very interested in the Chili I was cooking for dinner. Simon did his best to give Marley some sexual-healing, but he found Marley too tall.
I finally convinced Zina and Wayne to take the Ural for a spin. After a quick rundown on where things were, how to shift, and not to end up sideways in a ditch, they were off!
Smiles all around. It seems to be the prevailing facial expression of choice for those riding a Ural. Wayne commented how much harder it was to steer than he expected. Simon seemed pretty excited about forward progression without his normal backpack prison.
Zina took it for a spin with Simon on her lap slowly to get the feel for it. More smiles.
I asked Zina if she wanted me to “fly the chair” with her in it. Once I explained how I’d ride around in a circle with the sidecar in the air like some weird carnival amusement, the answer was a resounding: “YES!”. For those of you attention-to-detail folks, those are OSHA approved flip-flops.
Lola was very unhappy about the Ural in motion without her, and made sure to run around after us voicing her disapproval. Zina raised her hand in a triumphant fist while firming holding the built-in “oh-jesus” handle the Russians were kind enough to include. Yee-haw!
After dinner I walked over to the dumpster to dispose of our camp trash, and (finally) throw away my Duro 308 road tire. Just as I was about to throw the tire in, I noticed the trash scurry around. Quietly and calmly, a momma raccoon slipped out of the dumpster through a pried-open hole in the grating. Little buddy raccoon had some problems letting go of the grate on the dumpster, and needed some coaxing from his nervous mother to finally let go.
I don’t blame them for their hasty retreat, large white men with wheels have generally not dpme exceptionally good things in this part of the country.
As the last rays of sunlight disappeared over the banks of the canyon, Wayne and I talked long into the night trying to solve the worlds problems. Words and thoughts flew fast in the growing dark while we changed and evaluated ideas. By the time we came to a mutual understanding, it was close to 11:00pm at night.
In small pockets many miles away, it must have been thundering and storming fiercely. In the quiet of the night, we could hear the volume of the Colorado river fluctuate from the rain run off from faraway storms. Dull, distant flashes of light behind the peaks around us were the only indication of the storms happening further east. A silent fireworks show in the middle of the night, and a swelling river the only measure of its intensity.
Days Mileage: 204 miles
Total Mileage: 2,502 miles