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Western States Ride - Part 2

By Colleen First

June 17 th ~ July 3 rd 2005

Total Miles: 5,491 miles, 17 days
Seattle, WA to Montrose, CO and return
Tickets: 1
Mishaps: 0
Puckers: 0

CLICK HERE to read part 1

Day 4 � 249 miles
I had less than 250 miles to ride and all day to do it in. I was in no hurry today as I looked over my Wyoming map and planned my route. Custer is located almost directly east of Buffalo, WY, reachable by I-90 to the north or various major secondary roads to the south. The topography on my map didn't show any major mountain ranges to cross, or canyons to plumb, so it looked like a brief, uneventful day of riding. Then I saw it: the gray squiggle. This is the reason I wanted the GS: to no longer look at a gray squiggle on the map and hesitate, wondering if it was paved or in what kind of shape it was in. The GS would get me anywhere I wanted to go. Perhaps a bit slower than the interstate, but it would be a heck of a lot more interesting.

The gray squiggle on my map merely chopped a corner off in reaching the southern secondary roads towards Custer, but any chance at adventure was not to be scoffed at! I efficiently packed up the bike and rode quietly out of the campground to find the fabled "Road to Sussex" ("Sussex" being the town at the other end of the gray squiggle). A short jaunt down I-87 led me to the unmarked exit that would � in theory � lead me to the gray squiggle, and therefore, Sussex. It was called Trabling Rd on the sign, and the next sign I saw proclaimed this as a Stock Trail. As evidenced by what was left all over the road at frequent intervals it was apparent that the sign was not in error. Fortunately it looked as though it had been some time since the stock had been herded down this road and there was nothing threatening by what they had left behind.

The road was paved but narrow and unpainted. A few ranches dotted the landscape but other than that it was a green and treeless expanse of land that lay before me. In fact, I was just noting the lack of trees when I saw them: all three of them, huddled in a draw. There were actually four trees there, but one sported no leaves, so I didn't feel that I should include it in the count. More trees eventually showed up along this route, but they were definitely in the minority. The ranches disappeared behind me and no more came to take their place in the view before me. The road turned sharply to the left, with a dirt track continuing forward. No signs to confirm which was the way to Sussex, so I put my logic to work and followed the pavement. A couple of pronghorn answered my question of why they needed to put No Hunting signs up on the fences. The few cows that I did see regarded me with suspicion on a scale that I had never seen before. I honestly doubt that any of them had seen a motorcycle before. Either that or the deer whistles really do work.

The pavement ended a few miles later, with the road continuing along in a charming mix of loose gravel and soft dirt. I slowed down to 30mph and took my time negotiating corners and enjoying the feeling of being completely alone and � quite possibly � lost. Churning through the dirt at this relaxed pace I noticed a small dark shape in the middle of the road ahead of me. As I approached, it stood up and flew away. It was a mallard duck, here in the middle of Nowhere, Wyoming, with nary a body of water for miles.

After stopping for some pictures of the road and the scenery I noticed a pickup truck in my mirrors, some distance back. I waited for him to reach me and then flagged him down. He politely turned off the motor of his truck and his dog watched attentively as I asked him if this was the road to Sussex. He looked at me for a moment and then in a slow drawl, replied "Well yeah. You can get to Sussex from here". He said it in such a way as to let me know that no fool would chose this way to go to Sussex, let alone want to go to Sussex, when there's a perfectly good interstate not more than a few miles to my right. He then proceeded to describe the road, with the Y turn and when the pavement began and then met up with the highway and Sussex. I thanked him for his time and the information and let him lead the way. Not wanting to choke on his dust I made no effort to match his speed and instead tooled along at my previous unhurried pace. Sure enough, I found the Y (more of T, but who am I to argue the alphabet with a local?) and just as foretold, precisely 16 miles later the pavement began again.

The road was now following another river and the trees grew in profusion along the banks. More houses and ranches dotted the landscape. I had stopped at an old wooden bridge and watched a hawk soar above me while sparrows darted in and out of the trees. Everything was very green. I had been informed that Wyoming had a good snow pack and had also gotten a lot of rain recently which was evident in the high rivers and green fields. Eventually the pavement I was on met up with the major secondary road that I was anticipating. I passed three or four houses when I came upon a herd of cattle on the road with four cowboys looking like they weren't quite sure what they were doing. I stopped, realized that neither the cowboys nor the cows were moving, and proceeded to thread my way carefully along the side of the road furthest away from the herd. The cowboys gave me no indication if I was doing the right or wrong thing so I just kept on going, gave them a polite nod as I passed them and waited an appropriate time before returning to normal highway speeds. And somewhere in that mess was the town of Sussex.

The remaining roads to South Dakota didn't have a lot to offer. I spent the time traveling over the wide-open spaces guessing how many miles to the next landmark, or looking for raptors, or anticipating passing the next vehicle that came into sight. But it was all beautiful country and I really loved the palette of colors with the red road, green hills and blue sky. I eventually reached South Dakota and familiar territory. The route to Custer passes through dry pine forests, some of them fairly recently burned, and follows the contours of the hills and valleys leading to the Black Hills. It was noon when I arrived in Custer. I found the campsite Jean-Francois had reserved for us, set up my tent and went back into town for lunch. Unbeknownst to me, it would be another five hours before Jean-Francois would show up. I settled down with a book and relaxed in the pine scented forest of Custer State Park.

Jean-Francois arrived later that evening; we set up his tent and then went into town for dinner and a walking tour of Custer. We stayed up well after dark and attempted to read maps by candlelight and had a pathetic fire in the fire pit. We talked about our rides to get to Custer and what we had seen on the way. Eventually we retired for the evening in anticipation of exploring the Custer area in the morning before heading to Colorado.


Day 5 � 534 miles
As I was waiting for Jean-Francois the previous day, I noticed that the tread on my rear tire had worn down considerably since leaving Seattle. When I had started on this trip I knew that I'd need a new tire by the end of it, and quite possibly sometime during it, but I was surprised by how little tread was on it at this time. Ah, Colorado wasn't that far, and there was a BMW shop in Grand Junction if no one in Montrose was able to help me. Jean-Francois and I packed up the campsite and headed out for a leisurely tour through Custer State Park, Needles Hwy and Iron Mountain Road. We both felt it would be a shame for him to ride all this distance and not partake in the tight twisty roads of the park, view Mt. Rushmore, or see the buffalo along the road. He was suitably impressed.

Not to be completely digitally isolated, we returned to Custer for breakfast and a brief dabble on the Internet. It was then that I found out that a good friend of mine, Doug, was planning on joining me in Moab, UT, to tour the southwest with me. Yay! My Alaska riding partner was going to be able to partake in at least part of my adventure. Jean-Francois and I finished up our business in Custer and headed to Wyoming, where we rode south for mile after mile on Route 85, avoiding I-25 as much as possible. Near Cheyenne we again avoided the interstate by following Route 210 through Medicine Bow National Forest, which surprised me with its unusual rock formations and the return of trees to the landscape. After a brief jaunt on I-80 we exited at Laramie for a backdoor entrance into Colorado.

By now my rear tire was worrying me slightly as I was noticing a serious decline in performance. Stupidity or naivety kept me riding, however, always believing that I'd make it to my destination. We were climbing into the mountains and soon found ourselves in a wide valley between two ranges of snow-capped peaks. The weather was cooperating nicely, although a bit of rain threatened to fall as we were about to cross into Colorado. At Walden ("Moose Viewing Capitol of Colorado") we headed west on Route 14, where we continued to follow the wide valley. A young oxbow river fascinated me, with its banks looping back almost on itself over and over, the water threatening to break through the earthen walls at any minute.

We came upon a sign proclaiming that we were at the Continental Divide. What I didn't realize at the time, however, was that we were at a turn of the divide where the Pacific drainage actually pointed east, while the Atlantic drainage was heading west. And here I thought that the State had gotten the sign wrong� Rabbit Ears Pass had some snow along the side of the road but for the most part wasn't terribly dramatic. It held some long sweeping curves as it gently descended west towards the skiing mecca of Steamboat Springs. Jean-Francois had mentioned dinner and for the first time that day I realized that we hadn't eaten since leaving Custer. We both had a hankering for Pizza Hut, which I somehow managed to spot among the camouflaged storefronts of the tourist town, and we pulled over for dinner.

From here we had a choice: we could continue west towards Craig, where there was a known campground but few towns between here and there, or we could head south, where there were more towns but unknown accommodations. It was getting late and we knew that we wouldn't be able to reach Craig by nightfall � what to do? I asked our waitress for her opinion, including road type, speed and accommodations for either direction. She suggested that we head south, as there were some nice cabins in Yampa, about 45 minutes away. That would put us there in the dark, but we decided to try it anyway. I'm not sure how slow she drives; Jean-Francois and I were there in less than 25 minutes (although we did see some deer and kept our speeds down accordingly).

On the way to Yampa we passed through Oak Creek Canyon, a former mining site that is just now enjoying the last few stages of cleanup and restoration. It was interesting to see the remains of mines, buildings and the couple of towns that are struggling to hang on as their livelihood changes from industrial to quite possibly tourism, serving the patrons of nearby Steamboat Springs. As we pulled into the town of Yampa I was dismayed. Main Street was a dirt road divided by a lamppost boulevard. The liquor store was cute, but located next to a junkyard of parts and well, junk. The "cabins" were in a gravel lot behind this junkyard and the front was overgrown with weeds. We parked the bikes by the office where a dry erase board directed us to check in at the liquor store next door for cabin rentals. We did just that, with the young man behind the counter obviously new at the whole cabin rental job. He quoted us a price of $60 for a cabin with two beds � I was floored by the price. Sixty dollars for this hole-in-the-wall? But split two ways, and it being late at night and at high (read: cold) elevation, I agreed to it, as did Jean-Francois. We took the key and moved our bikes to the front of our cabin.

I opened the door and my eyes grew wide: it was beautiful!!! The cabins were well-constructed, the beds covered in thick featherbed blankets, a wood burning stove stood in the corner, a dorm-sized fridge and microwave oven took up a little space next to the door. Useful hooks were placed on the walls. The main light source was an antler chandelier. It was all very tasteful and charming. And then we discovered the bathhouse: a full sized hot tub, ready to go. New and modern showers and bathrooms, decorated in the same manner as the cabin rooms. Even the towels were thick and soft, not like those sandpaper bits you get at commercial motels. I was impressed. And the hot tub was very nice.


Day 6 � 216 miles
The tire was getting worse. Fortunately this was to be a short mileage day for me and although it was difficult to resist the lure of the corners, I took it easy through the canyons. The roads were all perfect, with excellent surfaces, scenery to distract you and enough curves to keep me off the worn center of my tire. We hopped on I-70 through Glenwood Canyon and found that this was no ordinary stretch of Interstate! Some engineering masters were hard at work when this section was built. Stacked lanes, lanes carved into the sides of the canyon, lanes that curved far out over the river below� it was all amazing and well thought-out. And it was also over quickly. We exited at Glenwood Springs where we then followed Route 133 over McClure Pass and down toward the Gunnison River. It was at Hotchkiss that Jean-Francois and I stopped for lunch and parted ways. My tire decreed that I take the most direct route to Montrose, while Jean-Francois's sense of adventure required him to go through the Black Canyon of the Gunnison to get there. I think he got the better end of the deal.

I took the shortest, and therefore dullest, route to Montrose and rolled into the parking lot of the hotel at 12:30pm. There were a few STNers already there and it was fun to watch everyone else roll in by ones and twos. The hotel was set up well for our event, and I was lucky to find a motorcycle shop with tires for my bike literally one mile from the hotel. I made the appointment for the next day, knowing that once again I was going to be at a Meet and not be able to go on the local rides. But this was as good excuse as any: my tire was bald to the point that the cord was showing and it wouldn't hold air. I could go no further on this shoe.

The dinner that night went over well, although it was a bit late in getting started. There were lots of prizes to raffle off, and some bad news circulated about a few downed riders (all of whom are well on the road to recovery as of this writing), and I think everyone had a pretty good time. After the meal the group did the usual "stand around in the parking lot and look at bikes" sort of thing. Riders discussed their routes to the Meet, their plans for the next day's ride, the latest additions to their bikes or even the latest bikes themselves. It was just what we enjoy doing when we can't ride.


Day 7 � 2 miles
There would be no riding for me today. I did take the bike one mile to the shop at 8 am that morning, in anticipation of it being done "sometime in the afternoon". I walked back to the hotel, caught a ride into town with some other STNers, found that Montrose doesn't have a lot to offer and went back to the hotel to sit by the pool and read. I did a load of laundry and took a dip in the pool and hot tub. I basically relaxed for a day � it was weird.

Other riders eventually trickled in from their rides and I got the call that my bike was done. I walked back down to the shop to pick it up and then rode the one mile back to the hotel; nothing like high-mileage days to keep a sport tourer happy� The group eventually headed to the Backwoods Inn, the restaurant next door to the hotel, for an informal dinner and afterwards we wandered back to the hotel for more bench racing. The night ended earlier than the previous night, as many riders planned on leaving early the next morning for their return trips home.


Day 8 � 236 miles
Three of the riders who went down on the way to the Meet were at St Mary's in Grand Junction, CO. A small group of us decided to pay them a visit on our way home and headed in that direction. Being true sport tourers, we couldn't take the direct route there and instead detoured through Grand Mesa National Forest. This was a pleasant road that wound its way gently up to the top of a large mesa, giving out views of the valley we had just left. I'm not sure of the elevation, but there was snow at the top and groves of fresh young aspen. It was these aspen that gave some other motorcyclists quite a bit of trouble. A small group of Germans had just passed me as I stopped to take some pictures and by the time I got back on the bike and caught up with them, one of them had struck a deer that had darted out from the trees. The rider had a broken leg, but otherwise was okay. Emergency crews had already been called and I had nothing useful to offer them, so after deliberating for a few minutes I continued on down the other side of the mesa to wait for the rest of my group. We eventually regrouped, took a break before finishing off the last bit of canyon riding before we hit the super slab that would take us to Grand Junction.

After lunch in the cafeteria, which was surprisingly good, we said our good-byes and went our separate ways. I continued west on I-70 into Utah, where it tried to rain on me a little bit. I thought that the southwest was supposed to be dry? At Cisco I exited onto Route 128 for the "back way " to Moab. Behold the wonders of Utah! Red sandstone, deep canyons, bizarre rock formations� it was as though I went through a door into another universe instead of just crossing a state line. I was mesmerized the entire way to Moab. The mesas, the cliffs, and the headwaters of the Colorado River�it was all new to me and foreign to my Pacific Northwest sensibilities. And it was hot. But this was to be another short day, so I left my secret "it's too hot" weapon in the side case of the BMW.

I arrived in Moab and, after a bit of hunting, I finally found the Riverside Oasis Campground that Doug had chosen as our meeting place. Once again I was early and had plenty of time to set up the tent and relax with my book. After a few hours, Doug pulled in on his GS � he had just ridden for two full days from Victoria, BC, to Moab, UT, to explore the southwest with me. We set up his tent and then headed into town for dinner. We made a short night of it as he was tired and sore and we had all of Utah to discover the next day!

...Continues to Part 3
 


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