And one day, spring simply came. I’m not talking exclusively about weather.
Looking to the Crazies..
I found myself ill-prepared for it. Excursions into the sport of hockey over the winter had essentially taken most of my free “fun” time. Coupled with some other rather significant events, little time was to spare for the turning of wrenches and bolts. My motorcycles sat un-winterized and un-loved. The road grime from their last foray into the wild still clinging to the engine cases.
For the first time in my mechanized life, I didn’t stress over it. No midnight scrambles to get oil changed, valves adjusted or bearings replaced. I just rode. For three weekends in a row. Hours of trails, bumps, and tight technical turns.
The hockey skates are starting to collect some dust in the closet. I’ve got clumps of dirt on my garage floor. The moto goggles are speckled with run-off mud, and my riding boots are baked with it as well. Spring is here.
Kait’s been talking about riding since I met her. For any early birthday present, I decided to get her the gift of an MSF class. Two days spent sweating on the pavement and listening to instructors ramble on? Yes, I’m just a born romantic.
Here is the end result. Kait rides motorcycles far better than I did when I started out; clearly the MSF course teaches brand new riders the good stuff. To those of you guys out there with ladies who want to ride, be a man. Don’t try to teach her in a parking lot somewhere with your tricked out gixxer. Spend 175$ and have someone else teach her the right way, while you watch the MotoGP races on the couch.
Just don’t be upset when she starts riding better than you.
I am not a football fan. It’s simply not a sport that “clicks” with me. I’ve watched hockey for so long, that everything short of Asian ping-pong tournaments simply seems painfully slow by comparison. People like me are akin to singles without lovers on valentines day; We know something great is happening, yet we just can’t get in on it.
While sitting in my garage with a cup of coffee Sunday morning, gazing at motorcycles in various stages of winter hibernation, the realization hit me. If everyone else is watching the game, nobody is out on the roads/trails. No miles of dust to eat behind jeeps, or painfully slow miles behind minivans realizing they underestimated the ‘4WD Suggested’ sign.
I checked all the fluids in the Ural, careful not to trip on the coils of extension cords powering battery tenders hooked up to the other 3-season motorcycles. I checked the temperature; 46 degrees in Colorado Springs. I threw in my Hemingway “old-man” sweater, some extra oil and a map. Packed some water for the dog, and off we went.
We headed due west out of Colorado Springs, and right onto Old Stage Road. The road climbs very quickly and steeply through the drainages and canyons of the Cheyenne and Sugarloaf mountains. This is steep, twisting, washboarded dirt road. Occasionally I found some patches of ice in corners and shaded areas.
On the way up, some of the views of the city are pretty nice. We can back around Dusk and got to catch the city at twilight, just as the lights we’re coming on. The contrast of mountains and plains is incredible when viewed from up high. The change is so abrupt, its majestic.
At this point, the road levels off a bit, and picks up on Gold Camp Road.
Back in 1890, a railroad was created from Cripple Creek, CO to haul ore to Colorado Springs. The railroad was finished around 1901, at a cost of $40,000 per mile. The most expensive railway in Colorado at the time. Nine tunnels, many rock cuts were needed to get the standard-gauge line through to The Springs. After WWI, competitive railroads forced the company out of business. A local coal mine owner bought the bankrupt line for 370,000$ in 1920.
(You can read more about the CS&CCRD by clicking here)
The local mine owner tore up the line, and turned it into a toll road, as a tourist attraction. At its peak in 1926, the road made 400$ per day (1$ per automobile to travel the road). In 1936 the special-use permit for the land along the line expired, and it was absorbed into the Pike National forest. They changed the name from Corley Mountain Highway, to Gold Camp Road.
This is Tunnel #9. One of the last tunnels you can still drive through from the old line. Crews had to remove 300 tons of debris from the tunnel, reenforce everything with steel beams, and then replace the ORIGINAL wooden trestle work. Local legend says that some of these tunnels and parts of the road are haunted. The only chills I had came from the brisk 30 degree air. I flipped on the heated grips and they went away.
After the tunnel, the scenery opens up, and you get some great views of the peaks and rock formations.
Lola really digs riding along. I never had to train her in the hack, she just got in and looked at me as if to say “Now what?”. Couple miles later and she was leaning into corners and reading the road. She doesn’t like wearing her doggles very much though. I may have to find another solution.
There is a myriad of additional trails and more technical riding available right off Gold Camp Road. I took a few detours to check some of the routes out. Lots of rutted, rocky jeep trails. I’d ride them until I had to engage 2WD. Then I would calmly put it into reverse and turn around.
This trail was particularly fun. I came up behind a Jeep and a Dodge truck inching their way down. They let me around them. Probably one of the few times a Ural will ever pass another motor vehicle in motion.
Further along, I came across this shooting range. Targets still set up, and a whole lot of shotgun shells and 22 casings lying around. I’m an avid shooter, and I usually carry a piece on me when I ride. I had packed an extra magazine in the event some target practice presented itself, so I took the opportunity to put a few down range. I collected my casings, and left the targets up for someone else to use some other time. I think I’ll start packing a garbage bag with me though. Over 200 pink and red shotgun shells littered everywhere is no way to treat your forest. Police your brass people.
At the end of Gold Camp road, you can continue into Victor or Cripple Creek for refreshments and gambling. There are some excellent backcountry byways and dirt roads from Victor to Canon City. That is for another day. By the time I reached the intersection at County Road 81, it was already 5:00pm. Riding railroad grade with steep dropoffs in the dark is not my idea of fun, so we turned around.
All in all, from garage to garage, it ended up being about 100 miles. Others may argue with me, but I still think it was better than watching TV.
Sometimes I find myself in situations where I have to ask myself, “How did you manage to get yourself here?” At about 5:30pm on Sunday evening, I sat in a lay-by on the side of county road 67 thinking just this. The temperature was somewhere around 16 F, and large fluffy flakes of snow softly landed all around me with soft “plop” noises. I had been on the road since 6:15am that morning, when the temperature was a balmy 24 F. “Only an hour to go” I mumbled to myself wearily while I pulled my gloves off the cylinders of my Ural and quickly put them on to savior the radiant warmth before forward motion took it away.
It was Sunday, February 10th. I was on the return leg from the annual “Elephant Ride”, otherwise known as “The Elephant Mountain Conquest”. (more info about the ride available right here). The name is taken from Hannibal’s drive over the alps in the middle of winter (247-183 BC) with a number of his war elephants. Motorcycles like Elephants have no real place in snow. Russian sidecar motorcycles are a little more at home in the snow, though their owners/riders may find that the rig is much more comfortable in the weather than they are.
I was invited along to this annual ride by Dom, and this was my first group sidecar ride. I’ve ridden with a bunch of other moto folks, but never with a contingent of sidecar riders, and never in the winter. The staging point was about 75 miles from me, and with the time set at 8am, I was up early and out the door by 6:15am. Hurtling down the freeway at the highest speed I dared pushing the Ural (60mph), I met up with everyone at the gas station on time.
(Photo courtesy of Deana and Jay)
Normally, I’m leery of group rides. Quite often, its a grab bag of rider skills and equipment. In my younger years it would seem every other group ride I went on ended up either in a hospital (crash) or waiting for a recovery vehicle (grave mechanical sadness). This was not the case with this group. Everyone was so well prepared for the day, I was the one feeling out of place and slightly underprepared for the coming adventure. I hoped the group wasn’t regretting having me along already.
We rolled out with five rigs total and headed for Grant, CO to the start of the “Mountain Challenge” portion of the ride. Its a rolling 40 mile cruise out of the flatlands into the belt of the Rockies, just west of Denver, CO. The sun hid behind the clouds for the majority of the morning which did little to help my comfort as we climbed in elevation. The temperature fluctuated, mostly down.
Arriving at the staging area en-masse was fun. In the parking lot of the Grant Motel greeted our eyes with motorcycles and conveyance of every imaginable time. A few hardy folks crawled out of tents (!!!!) and immediately started gulping down cups of hot coffee. Trucks bearing motorcycles started to swarm in as well. In a short matter of time the activity came to a fever pitch, as engines we’re started and warmed up in the brisk 18F air while their riders donned helmets and winter garments.
We waited for the phalanx of motorcycle, scooter and dirt-bike riders to depart before us. I was advised that they tend to bunch up pretty good, and it was best to give them some time to make it up the mountain a ways before the sidecar rigs try. While the Ural’s are very capable machines, they are very heavy. Getting one of these 700+lb machines moving on a steep hill is hard enough, doing it in snow pack is another thing entirely. 2WD or not, the older 40 HP motor on these rigs can only do so much.
Guanella pass road starts off paved, and quickly turns to graded dirt. Further up it turns back to asphalt. A very enjoyable road, and something I will surely revisit in the summer either in the Ural, or on the GS. On the way up we passed a number of the vehicles we had started up for. Some of them just warming their hands, and others coasting back with mechanical issues. Passing “No Winter Maintenance” signs along the way, the snowpack on the road got progressively deeper.
(Photo courtsey of Deana and Jay)
The snow grew much deeper as we neared the top. Packed down tracks from trucks and cars helped with traction, but meant that we had to stay in those tracks. A couple times I tried to go around on fresh snow, but it was simply too deep and sucked me off the road. We also came upon some folks on dirtbikes and motorcycles having problems getting up the road. Even with studs, lightweight dirtbikes can only get so much traction, and the few without studs had some big problems.
We had our own problems. Deep rutted snow on a sidecar tends to push and pull you all over the place. Powering through with 2WD helps, though you are at the mercy of the tracks in front of you. The front wheel laughs at you when you try to turn the rig in powder, so you end up sliding the rear around to point the rig where you want to go. High winds drifted the snow into huge 3-4ft piles along the side of the road, and one had to be very careful not to wander too far out of the tracks, or you’d quickly sink.
We made it successfully to the gate, about 2 miles from the top. The Forest Service added the gate a number of years back to prevent hooligans from attempting the un-maintained road in the winter. While the gate stopped us in our sidecars, many motorcycles simply went around and attempted the top of the pass.
Below is a long video from Dom (redlegsrides.blogspot.com) UP and DOWN the southern side of the pass (the snowy bits). You can see the struggling motorcyclists trying to make it up, while we just cruise on by in 2WD. To be honest, it does kinda seem like cheating.
After some conversation and coffee (Jay & Deana brought a thermos of coffee), I vowed to forever keep a thermos handy in my trunk whenever I’m winter riding. That one gulp of coffee at the top was marvelous. We headed back down the pass, into Bailey, CO for some breakfast at the Cutthroat Cafe. As we pulled off into Bailey, a guy in a truck leaned out his window. “Are you guys headed back to Denver?” “If you are, you are in for it. They are getting pounded with snow“. As if to underscore his point, it started snowing rather heavily as we pulled into the cafe. I didn’t care; I had my heart set on some hot coffee and a big omelet with lots of toast.
After a warming brunch, and a nice conversation with the owner we ventured outside for the return trip. It was still snowing, only harder and faster now. It wasn’t white-out conditions, but visibility was greatly diminished. At this point, I started to get a little concerned. My duck / flannel-lined outer pants (a nice gift from my parents this christmas) are waterproof, to a point. Like the Belstaff waxed cotton jackets of yesteryear, at some point they start to let in water.
We rode but 10 miles out of Bailey, right into stopped traffic. Someone about a kilometer ahead of us flipped their truck, and both lanes of traffic on 285 ground to a halt. Ambulances and tow-trucks zipped by us, while we sat and waited in the snow.
(Photo courtesy of Deana & Jay)
After about 40 minutes and some inching as other cars turned around, we finally got moving again. Traffic was so congested, that speeds were very low. When we made it to Pine Junction, I made the executive decision to try and short-cut the traffic and the storm by riding CO 67 through Deckers and into Woodland Park. In hindsight, this is what the general population would consider a “bad idea”. The storm was tracking through the foothills of the rockies, and CO 67 took me right through it.
The roads were plowed, however a slick thin layer of fresh snow existed almost everywhere. Traction was deceiving through the multitude of corners, leading to some heart-in-throat moments as the front wheel understeered. Snow built up on the knees of my pants, and then froze into any icy crust I’d have to break off to regain feeling. I couldn’t feel anything in my hands, and I even double-checked the toggle switch to make sure the grips still worked. They did, it was just too cold to do anything.
When I finally rolled into Woodland Park, I didn’t care about warming up at Starbucks with a cup of coffee, or even stopping for gas. I was so cold, I knew the brief embrace with warmth wouldn’t do anything other than delay the inevitable. The snow tapered off and finally stopped just past Woodland Park. As I rolled through Old Colorado City, the snow picked up again, just as heavy. I pushed on, finally idling into the garage as cold as I have ever been in my life at 6:30pm. 12 hours on a motorcycle in February, what was I thinking?
I stiffly walked inside where Kait was waiting with a hot cup of tea. I left a trail of melting snow and clothing on my way into the scalding hot shower to warm up.