When I was a kid my Grandma showed me a picture of her at “Four Corners”. She and Grandpa had taken my Mom to Colorado for a vacation. My Grandpa, a New England native, was no doubt missing mountain life after moving to Missouri. He also probably wanted my Mom to see what it was all about.
I remember being surprised at how young Grandma looked. Her face was beaming and she was so pretty. I remember telling her I’d get there someday. About a dozen years ago, my Mom took Grandma back to Colorado. My mom was an amateur photographer. I was already a young hot-shoe. I told her to include some pictures of the roads. She did. I was astonished, by both the natural beauty and curvaceous pavement. I promised myself I’d get there someday.
More recently, the reminiscences of my friend and co-worker Meghan (native “Colorodoan”) and my sister Dana (Grand Junction transplant) had me wanting to get there even more.
To know me is to know I am a work-a-holic. I’ve spent the last three years of my life
renovating the club…..moving earth, laying pipe, growing virgin grass…..working insane hours, pulling my hair out. I’ve also had the pleasure of enduring my ankle injury. So I’ve spent the last few winters either in pain, on crutches, or both. I also gave up the hard-core stuff and hung up the racing leathers.
To say I needed a little vacation excursion would be a bit of an understatement. All work and no play had made GDJAM a dull, dull boy. I decided that no matter what, sometime in September I would load a bike or two and travel out there. I bought my FJ in the Spring with an eye towards this trip. When my departure came closer, I hit my buddy Steve up for his HD Ultra-Classic. I loaded them up like Sardines and headed out .
I had no real plan or itinerary, not even a map. But I had a Garmin. And I did have the following agenda:
Ride with the Rockies as a back-drop
See White Caps
Get my picture at Four Corners
The night before I left, Mandy did some research for me on the net, mapping out a bunch of potential routes.
I left on a Tuesday afternoon. I made it to Ohio and crashed in my truck, then got up and drove to St. Louis. There I spent the night with my cousin Chris’ boys, Kyle, Drew, and John. They might be the three cutest little kids you’ve ever seen, each unique in his own right. They were fascinated with my intentions and really impressed with the motorcycles. They buttered me up and made me promise to come see them on my way back to New Jersey. The next day, Thursday, I left St. Louis late morning and vowed not to stop until I made it to Canon City, CO. I traveled across the plain states and enough farm land to feed the world ten times over. I was working the phone and set up a few excursions. Rick, my friend’s father, was available for a run on Saturday. Justin my WT buddy, was available on Sunday. Surely the motorcycling gods were looking upon me with favor!!! When you cross the Colorado border, you still think you are in Kansas for the first third of the state. The plains continue for many miles. I didn’t make it to Canon City (pronounced “canyon”) until late at night, so I could only see the silhouette of the mountains. The next morning I awoke to an eyeful.
The Rockies are very abrupt and immediate. They jump right out of the ground. Keep in mind that the “foothills” of the Rockies would scoff at what many of us east of the Mississippi call “mountains”. But there is no build up. No crescendo.
I set off on my first day of riding. MotorcycleColorado.com told me to head west of Canon City on Co50 towards Monarch Pass. My ride up was my first taste of all the beauty and grandeur that is the Rocky Mountains. This time of year, the Aspens and Cottonwoods turn yellow and speckle what is already such amazing scenery. I marveled at all the muscular, ancient rock formations, endless stands of Spruce, and cool babbling streams that ran along the edges of so many roadways. The feelings of isolation and insignificance against this hulking back-drop were so powerful I almost weaved off the road on a few occasions.
The rate at which one ascends/descends was also impressive. Monarch isn’t the biggest Mountain in the chain, but it is quite steep and commands respect. As I got near the crest my visor was getting pelted with a little precipitation. My Spidey sense told me what was rain when it hit me, was snow moments before. I stopped at the lodge at the top of the crest. The locals inside told me to expect “some nastiness” if I continued West. A real man might have kept going. I decided to turn around and “out-run the weather”. For all the “oohing and aahing” that I did on the way up, the best way to label my afternoon descent would be “High Speed Mountain Pass”. For all its natural beauty, Colorado has some seriously tasty pavement. I put the hammer down and wrung the poor FJ’s neck. It was all 3rd and 4th gear stuff, 5th (top cog) on the exits. Seriously high speed stuff. Over a decade of anticipation culminated in a ride the likes of which I hadn’t experienced since I buzzed the Smokies with Heath and Brent. Yes. I was in that zone of Turtle legend and lore. It felt so damned good. I was flying.
Incidentally many of you on the receiving end of this have been to the Smokies, some of you, with me. The best way I can compare them is like this. If the Smokies are a nice little 8 oz. Angus Filet, then the Rockies are 24oz. Kobe Porterhouse.
All you can eat. 10 pound minimum.
I out ran the weather with such efficiency and was so euphoric that I ran a ways up the mountain again…..twice. It was too good to pass up. On the way down I stopped in Salida for some tacos. Someone once told me that the Tex/Mex is better in these parts. It turns out that’s true. On my final descent I stopped at Royal Gorge and snapped this.
I’d done it!!!! I’d finally ridden the Rockies!!!!!
I called Rick and set up a meeting with him the next morning. We were going to head West of Denver which would require me to re-locate. I drove up to the Denver ‘burbs and found a hotel.
The next morning I rolled out the Ultra-Classic and met up with Rick. He had plotted a nice run that would have us hit Mt. Evans, “The Highest Paved Road in North America” with a few tasty tidbits along the way. Rick set a nice relaxed touring pace that was perfect given the day’s agenda. Relaxed except for when we were in “Deer Creek Canyon”. This road had some serious character and I saw the floor-boards on his big Road Star coming dangerously close to touching down. It was a sight to see!!!
First we stopped at Red Rock Park and Amphitheatre. The theater is the sickest out-door theater you’ve ever seen. It was built in the 30’s as part of the New Deal. All I could think was that I would have loved to see a Yes show here, because the surroundings look like all that crazy psychedelic Roger Dean cover art they had in the 70’s & 80’s .
Here's a look down at the amphitheater
We got this pic taken….the brain bucket is for photographic purposes only
We continued up the mountain and stopped at a lodge where I inadvertently ate Rick’s Bison Burger. It was pretty good. It tasted just like………..burger. We decided to finish our trip and head on up to the summit, another 3k feet, maybe 9 miles. Rick started to put on all kinds of cold weather gear and I got nervous. Thank God I’d packed my full-face helmet in the HD’s big luggage bags. As we continued up the scenery got more and more majestic. We got above the timberline and the competition for supremacy among the peaks was quite fierce at this elevation. Fortunately for us, in this neighborhood, Mt. Evans won outright. I have to tell you that there is a big difference between looking up at the mountains and looking down from the mountains. Both bring you close to God. The higher elevations just bring you closer. This was perhaps my most “epic” ride to date.
We got to the top, and what was already a windy day in Colorado was severely amplified at 14,000 feet……it was pretty cold too. When we pulled in I noticed that the lake at the base of the Summit was churned up pretty good. I heard Rick laughing and looked at him. He was having a good guffaw and pointing at the lake.
I glanced back at the lake and saw a huge gust sweep down on the lake, then across a small plateau towards us. You could see that it had picked up a ton of moisture and was now gathering dust and gravel as well. It hit us with so much force that it was all I had to hold up Steve’s $20,000 Harley. Rick was struggling too, as I began to lose the battle…. Fortunately, some nice guy in an SUV saw our problem and pulled up to block the wind. Thanks buddy, wherever you are!!! It peppered our bikes with so much stuff that the left sides looked like we were trail riding.
The snow wasn’t plentiful, but it was there. I could now check one off my list. I had seen and even ridden
a snow-cap. We couldn’t stage a proper picture, because we were afraid to walk away from our bikes!!!!!!! This is all we could muster….. proof I was there
We came down the mountain carefully as the wind continued to howl. We hit a few old mining/now gambling towns on the way back. When we got to the hotel, the whole town was a buzz because CU had knocked off #3 Oklahoma. I’d met a few Okies in the morning that rode to the game. Boy did they have long faces. I had a good laugh. I love a good home dog. Me and Rick parted ways after I thanked him profusely. He had helped me realize a dream. Thanks again man!!!!
By now I had a hot date with Justin up in Fort Collins so I took off further North. The next morning we hooked up and he took me in to the Poudre Canyon. We followed Co 14 due west and again, the Rocky Mountain magic began to unfold. Justin is a mild mannered South Dakota boy…….until he gets a little bit of clear road in front of him. For me, one of life’s great pleasures is to ride with another confident, mature sport-bike rider. Justin’s pace was the
pace….spot-on as far as I’m concerned. And the great thing about riding here is that whenever you get snuffed out by a bunch of traffic, you just cool off, fall in, and soak it up. We did plenty of both. We turned around when some locals warned about some black ice up higher. We stopped at Sleeping Elephant Mountain
On our way back we took a detour off 14 on to Co 27 and 52E. To say these roads had character would be unjust. Nestled between open range and the high canyons, directional changes were immediate, outshone only by the severe changes in grade. Just watch out for the cattle guards! We had stopped at just the beginning, chewing the fat and letting some traffic breeze by us. We saw a few guys on bikes, who we would later see apprehended by the Po-lice. More proof that the motorcycling Gods were in my camp. We gave a little nod and I shook my finger at one of them. I don’t think he appreciated it. Our journey took us to The Horse-tooth Reservoir. We parked and chatted above it and I just sat there in amazement. The reservoir was somewhat low and there were rings of sedimentary color all along the outside. I know the reservoir is man-made, but the last time I had such reverence for a body of water I was looking at Hanauma Bay in Oahu.
When we decided to call it a day we went back to my hotel and met a very unusual character. Tadahito Suzuki was actually a dignitary from Honda, over from Japan. He spoke broken English, but we managed to surmise that he was here inspecting various and sundry Honda plants. He was traveling by motorcycle (a little Rebel 250!!!) and had come from Marysville Ohio to ride the Rockies before he returned to Alabama, South Carolina, and eventually Japan. He pointed to his odometer and claimed all 8700 miles showing. He told us he would ride for 70 days. His skin was dark and leathery and it honestly looked like he’d traveled 87,000 miles on his journey. But he was a sweet old man and obviously quite the warrior. I knew his story was legit when he pulled a camera from around his neck, just like any self-respecting Japanese tourist would. We did a big Round-Robin of photos. Here’s Justin and Mr. Suzuki.
When we were back towards civilization, my celly was blowin’ up, The Phillies had won the NL East. Cool beans. Me and Justin promised we’d do it again sometime…. (Where do I sign up bro?). My list of friends in Colorado continues to grow.
I decided to stay in Fort Collins because the Eagles were playing that night, and I was also pretty happy and enjoying the riding and scenery where I was at. The only drawback was that my trip to 4 corners was becoming less likely. My schedule was to be back in St.Louis to see the boys on Wed. It just didn’t leave much room. I’d figure it out in the morning. That night I pounded some (lost count!) Captain and Cokes and watched the Eagles get their butts kicked. It didn’t matter. I was in Colorado on vacation.
On this day I decided to do some of the more “Touristy” spots. I plotted a course through Big Thompson Canyon on Co 34. I would hit Lake Estes and Rocky Mountain Nat’l Park. It was again a nice ride but I got a late start (I think it was about 8 rum and cokes) and some of the roads were closed. This would later turn out to be a blessing as time was of the essence. I did have a chance to get a few more choice pictures. Here’s the FJ above Lake Estes. I actually snuck into some guy’s back yard to get the Snow-caps!!! Don’t fret, I watered one of his bushes as a pay-back.
I also got this just outside Rocky Mountain Nat’l Park. I was impressed by the yellows in all the Aspens:
I wrapped up the days ride, packed the trailer, and had a decision to make. It was now Monday afternoon around 2:15. I needed to be in St. Louis by 4:00 Wednesday. Home on Thursday. Four corners was a couple hundred miles in the other direction. I called Mandy and hashed it out. I decided to go for it. Go look at a map and you will see just how ambitious this is. Not impossible, but ambitious. The first problem is that there was no real interstate to get me from Ft. Collins down to Four Corners. I plotted a course with the Garmin. It would have me shoot down I-25 for a while and from there it was all mountain passes. It seemed easy enough. It was not my brightest moment.
I started cranking out miles. I jumped on 285 and got to Park County just before night fall. I was glad I did. I came around one last turn and had a heart pounding moment when I saw such a beautiful sight. It was a vast prairie surrounded on all sides by distant, massive mountains. I wondered if the first settlers ever to stumble across this divide were as impressed as I was. The quality of this shot is bad, but it gives you an idea.
There was enough land in those prairies to fit 5 million people. I don’t know what the census would tell us about Park County, but the population felt closer to 500.
After passing through Park, I was committed. Muja-Hadeen
committed. I made it a ways further, shooting across Co 285 to Co 50. It was now nightfall and the temps were dropping fast. I had “black ice” on the brain and was really plodding along. 50 would dump me onto Monarch Pass again. So now I was traveling, at night, in the pitch black, with a truck and trailer, on the same mountain pass that I had chickened out on in the broad daylight last Thursday!!! I sallied forth, and would often travel 30-45 minutes without seeing another car!!!! Needless to say, I was a little scared. A mistake on one of the roads I was traveling would certainly be catastrophic
I made it as far as Ridgeway, where I just ran out of steam. The stress of driving had taken its toll on me, even though I was probably only averaging about 25 MPH. It’s the risk and white knuckles that did me in. I pulled over to the side of the road and slept just north of the Uncompaghre Nat’l Forest. I cursed the stupid Garmin for bringing me this way. I was still a good clip from Four Corners and St. Louis was in jeopardy. A gulley washer pounded on the cab of the truck and I struggled to sleep. I finally passed out, still not sure if I was on a fool’s errand.
I awoke stiff and tired and wondering what I was up against. It was still dark and I headed south on Co 550. The Garmin’s “direct” route wanted me to go from there to Co 62 and 145. I didn’t have much of a choice anyway. This would take me through “Lizard Head Pass”. My original plan was to download the Harley somewhere and head south, but I soon realized this wasn’t an option. First, I wouldn’t have the time. Second, last night’s rain would have the mountains wet, possibly even snowy. I was certain it rained pretty hard because all the creeks and streams were on the boil.
I started getting higher again and the scenery got as bountiful as I’d seen on the whole trip. It seemed like the further south I got, the more abundant and enriched everything became. The greens and blues got greener and bluer. The Yellows were complemented by low-growing shrubs with colors of brown, a touch of orange, a hint of auburn. I patted the Garmin on its little head, “Good Garmin”. The snow caps became more jagged, and more frequent the further I went. I passed one bend and saw twenty cars lined up. I was shocked because I’d barely seen a human for 2 hours. It was a bunch of photographers, waiting for some low clouds to dissipate so they could get that “perfect shot”. The sun was finally starting to crest over the mountains and I was sure they’d get their chance. As I passed snow cap after snow cap it finally dawned on me.
The Rockies are
This was my moment. The one nobody could ever take away from me. The one I’d waited for my whole life. God was tapping me on the shoulder, saying “Hey, look what I did. I did this for you.”
I succumbed to His call and stopped a few times, at my own peril. Please enjoy and realize that I’m not a very good photographer.
It’s just that the subject was so good…….
By the time I got to normal elevations, things began to change drastically. The terrain started to flatten out a little bit and the roads became very straight, very non-descript. I was now on a mission to get to Four Corners and was happy to make some time. I made it there at about 10:30 AM. For all the build-up and effort it was a very “Griswalds meet Grand Canyon” kind of moment. I was there for only a few minutes. I got this photo.
When I walked back to my truck I lost my composure a little bit. I said a short prayer for my Grandma. I knew that she and Grandpa were up in heaven, smiling down on me. They’d both be real proud of me. They were both mountain people for sure.
I’d kept one promise and completed my list. Now it was time to keep another. God knows I love a scenic tour but I was up against a deadline and was jonesing for some Interstate. I decided to drop down to New Mexico and jump on I-40. Save my left foot, I’d never been to New Mexico anyway. It was actually very pretty with Canyons of a different flavor. The high mesas are quite beautiful. They look almost like they were carved by hand. Pink and Green isn’t exactly my favorite color combination, unless mother-nature splashes them together. You could almost hear the guitars and coyotes.
I shot across New Mexico, along the continental divide, on through Amarillo TX , into Oklahoma. I stopped near Oklahoma City for some rest. I slept in the truck for the second night in a row. At this point it was probably a good thing that I can’t really smell anything. Dunno how I smelt but I know I sure felt
I got to St. Peters, with time enough to get the oil and tranny fluid changed in the F-250. I hooked up with the kids and even had time to play billiards, do a homework collage, and tuck them in. Could you say no to these faces???
I left that night and drove to New Jersey straight through. I pounded Monster Energy drinks like water. I was also emotionally charged to get home. Monster is a powerful Energy Drink. It is also a powerful diuretic. I figured I’d lose more time sleeping than stopping to tinkle. I got back to Jersey around 1:00
Boy, am I lucky. I am truly blessed. I did the whole trip. I arrived unscathed. I had a blast. Everything worked. My truck, the bikes….even the old FJ performed well. No Cops. Epic, religious moments. Good Company. Logged about 5,000 miles. The only thing I’d change is to tack on a few more days.
But I just can’t believe my good fortune. Everything fell into place for me. Even my mishaps turned out well. I felt like the Good Lord was riding shot-gun with me on the whole trip.
If you ever get the chance, please visit this wonderful place. So many people think they have to travel far and wide to see amazing things. I’m telling you that the greatest gift you can imagine is right here between these borders.