On Thursday, I attended a retirement event in Denver for my closest Accenture friend, August Geise. About 60 folks attended. These things sometimes have a tendency to go out of control; but not this time. His wife and three grown children attended and had an opportunity to see the love and friendship August enjoyed, and to glimpse the impact he had on many many other lives. It was a beautiful tribute. Glad I went on many levels but won’t elaborate further, here.
I’m glad I went for two other reasons.
Reason 1: I had an opportunity to meet one of my teammates from our World Photo League championship team face to face for the first time, Dennis Heckman. (You may not remember our team won the entire championship. There were three of us from America, a Canadian, an Italian, an Israeli, and a South African. I hope to meet them all face to face some day. Two down, four to go.) Dennis and I had a nice breakfast at the Table Mountain Inn Friday morning, talked about photography, our families, business, our teammates … until we were pretty much talked out. Great fun!
Reason 2: One of my friends at the retirement event, Dale Carson, invited me to borrow his spare Triumph Bonneville motorcycle and ride some of the Colorado Rockies with him Friday afternoon and Saturday. And now, as Paul Harvey used to say, “page 2.”
My regular ride is a two-year-old BMW K1300S. This is a 1300 cc, 175 horsepower, 560-pound (wet) fairing-ed rocket; a sport bike in a tuxedo. The Triumph, by comparison is an eight-year-old 800 cc, 62 horsepower, 550 pound (dry) naked Classic. I can tell you I was looking forward to riding the Bonneville and curious to see how it rode differently. More on that later in the story!
Dale led the ride and demonstrated wisdom beyond his years as we started out. We took back roads from Boulder to Loveland. I suspect they were more interesting than the highway we could have taken, but they let me get the feel of the bike before I had to ride it in earnest through the mountains. And it let Dale figure out what kind of a rider I was before he turned his pride and joy over to this interloper. I guess I passed the test, or else my next words would have been, “The End.’
From Loveland, we rode 32 miles through Big Thompson Canyon to Estes Park. ColoradoInfo.com calls this “one of the most beautiful drives in Colorado.” The road follows the Big Thompson River as it twists through the jagged canyon it had cut through the granite. In the sunlight, reflections from quartz and mica stabbed at our eyes. Aspens lined the riverbed and pines, sometimes tall and stately but sometimes as twisted as the canyon itself, climbed the canyon walls. The smell of the hot forest was in our nostrils.
From Estes Park, we took Trail Ridge Road to our first high pass. Milner Pass is at 10,758 feet. For the last couple thousand feet we were above timberline in a high tundra landscape. It reminded me of passes I know in the northern Rockies. I love this kind of country.
As we planned the ride, forest fires were burning in Colorado. We were afraid some of the roads we planned to ride might be closed due to fire. (That didn’t happen but more on that later.) As we climbed above timberline we could see a smoke column from the fire on the far side of mountains to the north. It looked like the mushroom cloud from a small nuclear device. (Like I’ve ever seen a mushroom cloud from a small nuclear device! Well it looked like pictures I’ve seen.) As I write this, the fires are not contained and the forest service is saying nature will have to put them out … maybe this fall.
Closer and closer to Milner Pass, the winds began and were soon gusting hard enough to blow us around on the road. Many of these roads had no guardrail and fell thousands of feet just beyond the shoulder. We hugged the centerline and our anxiety declined as we descended toward Grand Lake and Granby. Fuel for the bikes, ice cream for us and we moved on.
After Granby, we followed US 40 over Berthoud Pass at 11,315 feet toward Winter Park. I’m getting the feel of ‘Bonnie’ and learning to cope with 62 horsepower by using lots of RPMs. At the high end of the tachometer, it has plenty of torque to keep up with Dale’s K1200LT. Its 98 horsepower is pushing 800 pounds (wet). At normal riding speeds the two bikes are a good match. In a passing situation, he can accelerate from 60 to 80 with a flick of the wrist. I can accelerate from 60 to 80 with full throttle, hunkered down behind the windscreen, if the passing lane is long enough, and if I plan ahead. But if I fall behind, I have to work at it to catch up.
A number of people along our ride stopped us and asked about the Bonneville. Not surprising, really, since it was named one of the top ten motorcycles of all time and defines the classic street bike! I felt great on it! But I digress. Dale’s a disciplined rider and considerate about not running away from me. I chose to be disciplined, to practice my lane etiquette, and most of all to not fall behind.
After Winter Park, we briefly join I-70 eastbound past Idaho Springs and exit to Central City, and Black Hawk. This is where the first real gold rush started in Colorado in 1859. Black Hawk and other mining towns have fallen into disrepair that the State of Colorado has chosen to defeat by allowing casino gambling. Gambling -> Taxes -> Rehabilitation. So while it is an authentic mining town, it now has the feel of an authentic mining town done by Disney. Everything is clean; everything works including the air conditioning, the Internet, and the slot machines. Dale’s wife likes to play the slot machines here, so we reserved two rooms for the night, had a very nice dinner at a restaurant called Farradday's at the Isle of Capri Casino.
Day one ended with 183 miles on the odometer … a mere warm up for our 313-mile day two where we alternated between fire and ice.
No gambling for me because we decided to be “kickstands up” at
Oh Six Hundred. What does the Oh stand for? Oh it’s early!
As we left, the temperature was in the upper 40’s. This was important because it was supposed to top 100 degrees. We took the back roads from Black Hawk through Evergreen, Aspen Park, Pine Junction, and Buffalo Creek to the little settlement of Deckers on the S. Platte River. This is a curvy, scenic route that passes the scene of the Hayman Fire. It was interesting to see the devastation up-close and understand how slowly re-growth is happening in the high country. The present day fires were on my mind.
As we departed, we made a mental note to watch for deer, elk and mountain sheep along the road. And we saw some, including an elk that collided with a car at highway speed. Both were totaled, the road a bloody mess. We renewed our attention to scanning for wild life along the road.
At Deckers there is a tiny general store and cafe that is usually crowded with motorcyclists. Since we didn’t have breakfast at the Isle of Capri, we ate a quick breakfast here on the warm, sunny deck in the chill air.
From Deckers we took 67 to Woodland Park. The first part of the route was wonderfully curvy until just before Woodland Park where the road straightened and passed through a nice ponderosa pine forest.
It was along here when we went around a pickup pulling a flatbed trailer carrying a submarine. I know how unlikely that sounds but it looked like a miniature trident class sub that was maybe 20-30 feet long. (Like I know what a Trident Class sub looks like! Well, actually I do! As a guest of her captain, I have been in and around the SSBN Michigan, a Trident based at banger, Washington.) Just one of the bizarre little twists awaiting the curious rider.
At Woodland Park we switched to 24 for about 10 miles and switched again to 67 to Cripple Creek, another mountain mining town. Dale says the aspen along this stretch of road are spectacular in the autumn. We stopped at the Cripple Creek historical museum, just outside the town. The exhibits showing how gold was discovered and extracted here were interesting. We struck up a conversation with three quilter-ladies of dubious age selling raffle tickets – ‘win this beautiful quilt!’
We must have presented an unlikely picture – two aging and a bit scruffy bikers chatting with three aging and demure quilters. I told them my wife was a quilter and was back home working “Shop Hop.” “Oh, we love Shop Hop,” they said, “and we’re selling six tickets for just $5.00.” As they say, they had us at ‘hello.’
By now I was beginning to doubt the submarine sighting, but shortly after we left, we again passed it along the side of the road. It must have gone by while we were in the museum.
Sanity confirmed, we began our next leg through rolling countryside to the little hamlet of Guffy. At Guffy we turned north on 9 through South Park to Hartsel. Dale claims the creators of the animated TV show, South Park, came from around here and that’s why it’s named South Park. Who knew? I’ve never actually watched South Park. I certainly didn’t know. At Hartsel there’s a truly authentic cowboy / motorcycle bar. When we stopped for lunch, it was about equal parts cowboy and biker. Green Chile and fries for me. Buffalo burger for Dale. There were dissonant anachronisms in the bar, a giant flat screen TV and an Internet Juke Box. The 21st century has begun the invasion.
We continued along 9 through Fairplay, another high altitude mining town, through Alma over Hoosier Pass (11,599) and then plunged down into the ski town of Breckenridge. There were a number of 15 mph hairpin turns but I resisted the opportunity to scrape the pegs.
Breckenridge was crowded and we didn’t make time to stop. Passing through town, we took the cutoff to the Keystone ski area and joined US 6. Passing Arapahoe Basin ski area, we climbed over the Divide at Loveland Pass (11,990). There were also lots of 15 mph hairpins on both sides of the pass and no guardrails – stimulating.
We picked up I-70 just east of the Eisenhower Tunnel, back through Central City and followed the Peak-to-Peak Highway along the Boulder Creek and back to Boulder. The road ran past a number of big pools in the river. In the pools were hundreds of young people seeking relief from the 105-degree day. Swimsuits optional, anyone? For the record, the official high was 102. But the thermometer in my rental car to the airport at 6:00 PM said 105! In any event, this tied the highest ever temperature in Boulder.
Back to Paul Harvey for, “the rest of the story.”
On Saturday a fire started in Estes Park near the Beaver Meadows entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park, where we entered. If we had traveled through there on Saturday, we might have been stopped or detoured. It burned 23 homes there. According to the local fire chief, "It was the most-extreme fire behavior they've ever seen - how fast it moved from building to building." Investigators say the fire started when a power line rubbed against a pine tree during heavy winds. Many of the homes have been with families for generations. I don’t know how long the link will be up but here’s news coverage of the Estes Park fire: http://www.9news.com/video/default.aspx?bctid=1708341405001
On Sunday, A forest fire consuming 2,000 acres was burning near Woodland Park just past Deckers. By Tuesday this fire had expanded and causing extensive damage and forcing the evacuation of the Air Force Academy. Several fires have broken out in and around Boulder and much of the town was on pre-evacuation alert on Tuesday afternoon and evening. I don’t know how long the link will be up but here’s news coverage of the Waldo Canyon fire: http://www.9news.com/video/default.aspx?bctid=1708281150001