Hooray! We’d arrived at our destination so we didn’t have to set an alarm to get up at a certain time! It was worthy of a celebration and sleeping in. Unfortunately, my body has now been programmed to wake up between 5:30 and 6:30AM and sleeping in a tent I’m even more inclined to this timeline, as the sun comes up and it gets light (and I have to put on clothes and shoes and wander off to the pit toilet to pee, instead of having the convenience of a bathroom just a few steps away) so by 6:30AM, I was wide awake. I tried poking my phone, but cell signal in Lake Granby is, unsurprisingly, sparse… so I laid there for a while, and then wandered off to where the early risers were starting to gather.
Morning chat ensued, and eventually the idea of breakfast came up as more people wandered over. Breakfast? On a day with no schedule and nothing on the agenda but to ride around beautiful mountains? Sure! Off to breakfast at the Chuck Wagon with a bunch of the guys, which involved us gearing up and loading the dogs into the Ural and riding our bikes over while the rest of the guys just piled into cars so as to not have to gear up (or because they didn’t have bikes because they’d flown in, etc.) Fortunately, they patiently waited for us so they could show us where to go.
Breakfast was tasty, and gave me a chance to chat some more with the guys I was sitting near. Kay had stayed out to make the dogs comfortable in the Ural while the rest of us were seated, so he was on the other end of a table with like 9 or 11 of us and we were each having our own conversations. Amusingly, we each ordered some tasty breakfast meats for the dogs – I ordered a side of bacon, and he ordered a side of sausage. Happy dogs!
After breakfast, we headed back to the campground to see where people were riding. Someone had wisely brought a map which included some dirt roads, which made Kay’s eyes light up – he loves riding dirt. I looked a couple of spots and thought we might try Ute Pass south out of Parshall, but first we should stop at the gas station back in Granby and try to pick up our own Colorado map. We did, but discovered that none of the dirt roads we’d seen back in camp were on our newly-acquired map. Yikes! I picked out an alternate paved route for us that would take a nice loop, and we headed off down 40 toward Kremmling. When we got to Parshall, I remembered the name of the road and caught a sign for it, so I quickly told Kay to turn off and we were starting our dirt adventure!
The first several miles of the road weren’t dirt at all, and I was starting to get disappointed for Kay that we weren’t going to hit dirt. But it was still beautiful. It’s hard to go wrong in this part of Colorado. Pick a direction and you’ll see something beautiful. It wasn’t the same awe-inspiring beauty of the massive high peaks we’d seen yesterday in Rocky Mountain National Park, but it was still beautiful. We were happy.
And then – we hit some dirt! It was flat, hard-packed and so nice we could run along at around 45-50MPH on it, so it barely qualified as dirt… but it was unpaved! There was a bit of loose gravel now and again in some of the turns, but it was easy to avoid on the straight bits and I had absolutely zero stress about it. That’s one positive thing about riding Routa 40 in Argentina – the mild stuff really doesn’t bother me at all any more. A little slipping around on loose gravel isn’t a big deal at all. I enjoyed the ride, and we took in the sights.
Kay commented that he loved this road because it felt like unspoiled land. There were a few houses now and again, and dirt roads branching off in different directions, but for the most part, things seemed untouched. Only toward the end of the road did we start seeing signs of human encroachment… some big industrial development company had been laying natural gas pipelines, had a big holding pool for… something and had some massive plants. And we saw a bunch of signs that said something along the lines of “hunters are no longer welcome.” It made me wonder what they were doing that they felt that all of a sudden they had to keep hunters out. It was kinda sad to see the massive industrial complex… but soon enough we left it behind again with only the occasional logging scars to mar the scenery.
At the end of the road, we caught up with 9 and had a pleasant ride up to Kremmling, where we opportunistically gassed up the Ural and grabbed some caffeinated beverages. We’ve been short on sleep for a while now, since we started getting up before sunrise to make miles before it got too hot, because we’re typically up late doing ride reports, uploading photos and taking care of all of the minutiae of life on the road. Last night, we’d been up late chatting with the F650 guys. So the lack of sleep and the early rising was catching up with us, and we were tired. The caffeinated beverages helped, though, so I picked out another loop for us – up to 134 across to Toponas, and then up 131 through Yampa and Oak Creek up to Steamboat Springs, where we could gas up again and pick up lunch.
Heading out of the gas station in Kremmling, we had stowed our rain gear – I’d insisted that we stop and put it on somewhere on Ute Pass because it looked like rain, but we’d gotten fucking hot and no rain had happened, so we said “screw it” and put the rain gear away. Which, of course, invoked Murphy, because we got rained upon. I didn’t care. I’d rather be wet than too hot.
The riding was beautiful. The day was beautiful, in spite of the rain. Temperatures were comfortable and it was a pleasure to be out riding because we wanted to ride, not because we had to make miles to get somewhere. The pace was whatever we wanted it to be. This is the kind of riding we truly love.
The only drama came when we paused for a moment on 134 a few miles out from Toponas. There was a really cool looking rock that we wanted to photograph.
Kay pulled the Ural over on the side of the road, next to an embankment, and I pulled behind him on the F650. I didn’t even bother to put my kickstand down because it was supposed to be a quick photo stop, so I’m standing there holding my bike up. Kay takes a photo, and then walks a bit further down the road to get a shot without a telephone pole in the frame. He’s walking back toward the Ural and he’s almost there when I suddenly see the Ural starting to roll forward and right… right down the embankment! It was probably 20 feet down a very vertical slope, with lots of prickly little bushes and scrub grass and a barbed wire fence at the bottom. And the dogs were still strapped in!
I yelled something over the headset – I can’t even remember what – and Kay dashed toward the bike. I remember thinking by the time he reached the bike that the momentum was too great and there was no way his body weight would stop that massive thing from going down the embankment, but Kay had a stroke of brilliance – instead of grabbing the bike and trying to dig in his heels to keep it from going over, he grabbed the handlebars and turned the front wheel back uphill. The bike skidded to a stop a few feet away, on the edge of the embankment at a very unpleasant angle but still upright and thankfully, blessedly stopped. The dogs seemed unaware of their averted brush with disaster.
This all happened in just a few seconds, during which I put the kickstand down on the F650 and had dismounted and was dashing toward the Ural myself. I grabbed the little bar above the fender behind the seat, although I dunno what I thought my body weight was going to do if the thing decided to take a header – and tried to steady it while Kay hopped on and invoked 2WD in the gravel, loose dirt and scrub brush to get the thing back up onto the road. It was our first time using 2WD, but it worked like a charm! (Although it was a little difficult to disengage it when we were done.)
*Kay’s Note:* The 2WD did *not* want to engage. You have to get the gears in just the right position to make it slip in, and it was not there. Eventually, I was able to move it enough in 1WD to get it to let me push it in, with some elbow-grease. As for my “brilliance”, my first thought was actually more along the lines of “Where’s the brake on this side?! I’ll stomp on it! Where is it?!?!? Fuck! Turn the Handlebars.” There is, of course, no brake on the left side of a motorcycle.
Phew. That little adrenaline blast saw us quite a way down the road. I just kept thinking about what a disaster that could have been – I dunno how we would have gotten the Ural up the embankment again if it had gone down, although it probably would have involved a tow truck or potentially even a wrecker – and no idea what would have happened to the dogs if they went down with it. I think it would have rolled down, gathering speed as it went, and tangled abruptly with the fence when it hit the bottom, which probably would have involved stopping with sudden force… the dogs may have been fine, but they may not have been.
Either way, I was just really, really grateful for Kay’s quick reflexes and quicker thinking that saved the day. Otherwise, what had started out as a very pleasant day could have turned ugly very fast. If I’d been the one closest to the Ural, I don’t know that I would have had the presence of mind to turn the front tire uphill. I probably would have just grabbed it and tried to stop it with brute force, which wouldn’t have worked… so I’m glad it was him.
So public service announcement, Ural owners: if you’re ever parked anywhere remotely near a hill, use the parking brake! Even if it seems stable when you walk away from it! Oy.
Eventually, the adrenaline rush faded and I was able to go back to appreciating the scenery, and being thankful that I could share it with someone I love and our dogs. We’re really lucky to be able to travel like this, and that near brush with disaster just reminded me of exactly how much so.
The rest of the day passed rather uneventfully, although it was still quite beautiful. We made it to Steamboat Springs and had lunch – an assortment of sliders – on the patio so the dogs could hang out with us instead of waiting in the Ural. Then it was back on the bikes and heading south again back to the campsite. It almost rained on us when we were sitting on the patio at the restaurant – we were watching the sky and refrained from ordering more food or dessert because it was starting to sprinkle – so when we headed out this time, we donned our rain gear again and closed up the sidecar so the dogs wouldn’t get wet. Which was definitely called for on this occasion, as we got poured on when we headed south out of Steamboat Springs.
For the first time I can remember, my helmet visor got really obscured; I kept swiping fingers across it to try to clear some of the water but it didn’t seem to help. At one point my visibility was complete and utter crap, and I could barely see the road and the turns. I tried flipping up my visor but the rain stung on my face and made me close my eyes, which didn’t help… so it was back to partially-obscured visor. I just kept following Kay’s taillight and was riding more by feel than by sight, but eventually we made it into a heavier rain that for some reason helped to clear my visor, a bit, and I could see again.
*Kay’s Note:* For reasons I can’t explain, I was having no visibility problems. There was plenty of rain on my visor, but I was still seeing fine. Not sure what the difference was.
We rode in the rain for probably 20 minutes or so, but then came out of it and managed to skirt cells all the way home. We saw rain all around us – at one point there was rain in front and rain off to the left and there was a little spot of light in between them where there wasn’t any rain, shining down on the mountains like a spotlight. It was truly spectacular. As we were nearing Kremmling again, we got to watch an awe-inspiring electrical storm off to the right that was slowly moving across our path. I’ve never seen anything quite so impressive as this electrical storm that was moving across the mountains, and I grew up in the midwest – I’ve seen plenty of good storms. There was frequent cloud-to-ground lightning, and the clouds were dark, ominous masses, but the light was absolutely amazing and the color was just fabulous. We kinda wanted to stop and set up with the good camera so we could watch it roll in, but we were both tired and just wanted to get back to camp… and tiredness won out. But it’s right up there with the storm we encountered in Bolivia on our way to La Paz. Maybe it’s something about the altitude that makes these storms so spectacular? I dunno, but I’d love to see it again.
Luckily, our path continued to go right between the cells. We unloaded the dogs and hustled them into the tent and started charging our headsets right as the rain struck camp. And it rained. And rained some more. And kept right on raining. We made it over to the shelter where the rest of the crew was trickling in after their respective rides and dinners, and traded stories and BSed. A couple more guys showed up in the midst of the rain – I felt bad for them until I found out they’d gotten a hotel in town. With a shower. And a place to hang up their wet stuff. Bastards.
Had another enjoyable evening hanging out with the crew, although the rain prevented us from seeking dinner, and the tiredness sent us to bed before 10PM. I got up at some point to make a visit to the pit toilet in what felt like the middle of the night, and some of the guys were still going strong. I’m sorry I missed out on the time to hang, but we were exhausted. It was time to pass out.