This trip was not off to a great start. I'd preloaded almost all the maps for the trip into my Garmin 60CS, but running short on memory, of course I didn't load Chicago - heck I live here!
And how hard could it be to find my friend's house in the cornfields and suburban sprawl that comprises the far edges of Chicagoland….I'd been there a few years (and many new gas stations, and mini malls) ago. Anyhow my memory utterly failed me - I had to use some more technology in my Bluetooth Sena system to call him - and literally have him talk me past all the new landmarks to his house.
OK, kickstand down - I have a new (ish) 2004 BMW K1200GT and my friend rides a late model BMW K1200LT. I quickly installed my other Sena system into his helmet - tested same and gave a two minute training to him - gulped a cup of coffee, unwrapped his wife's cats from my leg…. and we hit the roads heading West.
Unlike some riders I don't despise riding the Great Plains, like Persig I find riding across the prairies to be interesting - I like watching the transition in the land and forgotten prairie towns as we ride in a day… what took our forefathers weeks to accomplish with horses and wagons.
Lacking the frame of windows helps define these changes and thoughts.
Sticky hot as we blasted across Iowa, we got occasionally drenched by rolling thunderstorms and rerouted off I-80 to avoid accidents, we wound up in Omaha after 500 miles at their local KOA. You know it's hot and humid when you walk out of a McDonalds… and your glasses immediately fog up as the humidity hits you like a load of bricks.
Riding tips - we both had Camelbacks and would frequently reload them with free ice and lemonade. This is far better system than our previous trips where we would buy water at every gas stop and try to remain hydrated - usually a losing battle as the day wears on. Bike to bike Bluetooth communication is also highly recommended, miscommunication vanishes and we travel more efficiently.
The Omaha KOA was fine. We pitched our respective tents, recharged our Sena headsets, drank beers (to remain rehydrated) and hit the hay…. still in the sweltering heat and humidity.
Tomorrow… Colorado ("Colorado…." The waitress has wistfully repeated when she had handed us our bill at lunch…."I've never been to Colorado…"). Sorry lady, no room on our bikes for passengers!
When I travel by Motorcycle, I'm up, packed and at it early. This morning we were loaded and trying to find coffee by 5:15 AM. We were kick stands up even before the local Starbucks opened - so time to crack throttles and make time before the heat would return. Coffee would have to wait.
We accelerated down the entrance ramp and were soon making serious time, with the shadows created by the rising sun cast far in front of us. We covered 150 miles before breaking for fuel, coffee and food … in that order. Our goal that day was Vail Colorado - via a scenic route that evening - a 750 mile day. Nebraska disappeared in our mirrors when we left I-80 and hit the two lane route across Eastern Colorado.
Eastern Colorado… looks unsurprisingly just like Western Nebraska. But we are clearly out West here, the occasional small town is identified by towering Cargill or ADM grain elevators seen from 20 miles away on the straight two lane roads. Towns have WIDE streets, a few dusty work vehicles and sun bleached store fronts with faded signs. People here start random conversations with us - mostly along the lines of "My Brother-in-law has a Harley.."
We stopped for fuel, water/ice and coffee with pie at a little place in Briggsville, Colorado that seemed to have a local and dedicated clientele. The only pie they actually had to serve was a Banana Cream concoction as opposed the broader offerings on their decidedly more optimistic menu. The coffee was - well hot. Starbucks level caffeine in coffee hasn't made inroads in this town.
We wanted to be in Ft. Collins by noon and we were. When I was in college, a friend had gone to school here and I had many foggy memories of the campus and parties. But importantly for this trip, I had clear memories about heading up the Poudre River Road (14) and crossing that pass to reach Central Colorado.
A bit of dead reckoning (and stopping for directions once) got us onto this river road. What fun after a day and a half of flat straight roads!
14 got us up and over this range of the Rockies - tight turns and brisk riding on this twisting two lane road were fun - we stopped occasionally to take in the views and enjoy the rushing ice cold water of the Poudre River as trout anglers waded in to get just that right cast. As we climbed higher and higher the vegetation changed from the tans and browns of the lower elevations to the bright piercing greens of higher mountain forests, temperatures dropped, the air thinned and birds sang.
Yeah! This is fun riding. The low mountain pass led to the high valleys of North and South Park - sweepers replaced tight turns and our speeds crept up. 14 to 40 to 131 down to I-70 and a brief run to Vail where I have friends with a house we were allowed to stay at. 14 hours in the saddle, 750 miles and fully half of that in the mountains and high valleys of Colorado.
We were beat - the showers, beer and food were very welcome!
A 'base camp' day - we shed our loads and did a riding loop out of Vail over Centennial Pass through Aspen, Glenwood Springs and back. 24 to 82 and back on 70.
Both 24 and 82 are narrow, twisty roads that require composure, concentration and a quick throttle hand to ride quickly. On the way up 24 the Bike to Bike Sena communication came in handy - I was in the lead and moved quickly to pass a dawdling Toyota, as I cut back into my lane it became obvious that someone had spilled Diesel fuel all over the asphalt pavement - yikes! This is not a great combination for traction when you're on a bike moving at speed on roads that demand traction. I was on the Sena in an instant telling Thomas NOT to follow my lead until we had passed over this hazard.
When Thomas and I reached the summit we dismounted and took in the view, including a couple of Harley riders with sophisticated protective gear and full face helmets. This was a rather notable exception to the rest of the Harley crowd, all of whom seemed to be dressed like Pirates. These were a couple of middle aged German guys on rented Harleys doing the full American motorcycle tour. Thomas - who has had a number of interesting careers, at least two of which required being fluent in German - had an extended conversation with these gentlemen - neither of whom spoke a lick of English. Our guests were gracious and were really enjoying their American motorcycle vacation.
24 heading down into Aspen is a narrow, twisting road… seemingly made for a motorcycle. Larger vehicles would be challenged to navigate the turns and frankly the rock walls looming on the right side. This delightful road eventually turns into Aspen - still another Colorado millionaire's playground. We parked our bikes in a nicely located and marked 'Motorcycle only' free parking space near the town center and went walking around. Sadly, I noted that the recession has taken a toll here too; there were quite a number of vacant shops and store fronts. We had a late lunch, and bribed the waiter to bring an extra pitcher of water and ice to refill our Camelbacks.
As we headed out of Aspen, past their Airport, I pointed out the dozens of private jets parked on the tarmack - there is an economic downturn….. but the rich guys still fly to Colorado to play.
At one point this day Thomas and I traded bikes. It is really interesting to see what a different bike the K1200LT is than the K1200GT. Apart from the difference in weight and mass, the engines seem to be completely different. Certainly the magic of computer mapping has allowed BMW to tailor and tune these engines to the different riding and performance demands of these distinct bikes. Neither is better or worse, just markedly different. My GT has a sharper and quicker throttle, and seems to rev higher, the LT offers a broader torque range and likes to cruise along. Interesting.
As we approached Glenwood, I could smell the sulphur springs - we passed by the famous Glenwood Springs pool and spa and I was able to share those parts of the history of this natural attraction with my riding companion on our bike to bike Bluetooth Systems as we accelerated out of town and East onto I-70.
I-70 East of Glenwood is often regarded as one of the most beautiful stretches of Interstate in the US. Squeezed into a narrow valley, the East and West bound lanes twist and turn and are sometimes suspended over thin air, each other and the tumbling river - long, cool and very dark tunnels are frequent. We could see white water rafting parties spinning and tumbling over and through the sparkling rapids as we flashed past.