Los Angeles, CA to Hurricane, UT. 415 miles.
The plan was to make St. George, UT and call it a day. I ended up going further than that — made it to Hurricane, UT.
It was normal LA traffic until I’d been on the 15 for awhile. North of Apple Valley and Victorville it started feeling more like I was on a trip instead of just a long ride around town. Outside of Barstow there was a huge traffic jam — miles long, bumper to bumper. People were out of their cars, talking, looking, hanging, waiting. One guy in his mid-20s was standing on top of the concrete divider and pumping his arm in the classic “blow your horn” motion to 18-wheelers going the other way. He had one taker as I went by.
Me, I didn’t wait in the traffic backup. I rode mostly along the breakdown lane on the right, did a little bit of lanesplitting just for variety, but it was much easier on the side. I rode on the inside breakdown a little too (that’s where the horn kid was) but it was asphalt there instead of concrete and there was a lot of debris. I was afraid I’d hit a nail or something and get a flat, so I bailed out of that pretty quickly.
I finally came to the head of the backup, where a Land Rover Discovery had gone under the side of an 18-wheeler’s trailer. A helicopter was landed there waiting, but it was obviously going to be a long wait: they had cut the engine and the rotors were still. I got some pictures of it as I went by — the fire crew was still trying to extricate the victim. It looked pretty bad.
After clearing that, I stopped in Barstow for lunch, at a funky little mexican restaurant that had stuffed animals EVERYwhere. Tigers, zebra, bears, gazelle, etc. It was odd. Food was good though — but I hope the flautas really were chicken and not something from the wall.
When I got to St. George I found some kind of convention was going on. They place was crawling with sales types — all in dress slacks, white shirts and power ties. I think they would have been in full suits but it was too hot. Some were, though. And they were EVERYWHERE. Crossing the street, blocking traffic, just crawling everywhere like ants. And it turned out they were all convening on the convention hall at the Hilton where I was trying to get a room on points. Hilton was booked solid — in fact they said the whole town was booked and that I’d be better off continuing on to Hurricane or Springdale.
I stopped in Hurricane because the girl at the desk had given me the address of a hotel there, but I wish I had pushed on to Springdale. I made great time and could have kept going. I decided to stop because tomorrow’s plan calls for going through Zion National Park and I didn’t want to be doing that at dusk. If I hadn’t had that planned I probably would have pushed on for another hundred miles or so. I was a little worried that I was being too ambitious in planning 500 mile days but I see now that that isn’t going to be a problem — 500 miles is a piece of cake … at least on Day One.
I’m holed up now in a Super8 motel room that I think I paid too much for — $65, when their advertised rate is $38. The clerk said that’s the weekend rate, but I think I probably could have gotten that rate if I’d really tried. Next time. And since I’m in a motel room, it’s time for the ever popular View From Here shots:
Had dinner at the JB something-or-other next door, took a dip in the pool, and now I’m getting tired. I think I’ll go to sleep early and try to get an early start tomorrow. Tomorrow’s planned route calls for a stop in Torrey, UT which is now only about 4 hours away since I got further today than expected. I’m probably going to push on further — maybe to Rifle; that would be pretty cool. It’s about 500 miles, which I think is doable depending on how “scenic” the early part of the day is.
Hurricane, UT to Glenwood Springs, CO. 517 miles.
I was up by 7 am, packed and out the door by 8. I headed east and 20 minutes later I was entering Zion National Park. It was beautiful. As I was planning this trip, one of the areas I wanted to ride through was southeastern Utah because I love the desert landscape there. Zion had everything I was looking for without having to detour half a day out of my way to see it. It was well worth the $12 entry fee.
Riding through Zion was the big plan for the day. I didn’t know how much time it would take, so I planned a short day that would end at Torrey, UT — about 200 miles away. I got through Zion pretty quickly, actually, and then enjoyed the back country on the way to Torrey.
As motorcycling days go, this was one of my top ones. At one point I had Barenaked Ladies “If I Had A Million Dollars” on the stereo, I was singing along at the top of my lungs, and smiling from ear to ear. Everything came together this morning and in that moment, everything was just perfect. The fact that Utah is a no-helmet-law state may have had something to do with it, but I’ll never tell because Beth would have a heart attack if she thought I wasn’t wearing my helmet. But I’ll say this — feeling the wind in your hair on a motorcycle feels decidedly different when the last time you felt it was 20 years ago and you still had hair.
I ended up making Torrey by 1 pm. I stopped there for lunch (breakfast, actually) and to take a much-needed break. One thing I’ve noticed about these long trips is that I start getting goofy as I get tired — I start riding like a rookie and making stupid mistakes. Target fixation in the twisties instead of looking through the turns, duck-walking through gravel parking lots because I feel like I’m going to drop the bike, starting from a stop really slowly and wobbly — stupid stuff that makes me mutter at myself to quit being such an asshole. I was getting into that zone when I reached Torrey, so I knew I needed to get off the bike and take a break.
After lunch I started feeling better so I hit the road again with a new plan: Rifle or bust. Since I’d already made my planned miles for the day I decided to take care of some of tomorrow’s so I’d have some flexibilty. I looked at the map in a convenience store (three of them, actually, and at such length that I think the counter girl was about to make me buy them) and calculated that I could definitely make Grand Junction, CO by dusk, and maybe even Rifle if I made good time. So with that plan I got back on the road.
The great thing about the route I took today up to that point is that it wasn’t super-slab riding — I was on state highways, not the interstate. Interstate riding isn’t about *riding*, it’s about chewing up miles and spitting them out. There’s no finesse to it, no beauty. But on the little 2-lane highways — now that’s riding. So taking highways 89 and 12 and 24 made for a great day of riding.
I was going to have to take I-70 into Colorado, which I wasn’t looking forward to for the reasons noted above. But I needed to make some miles and it was the quickest route, so I did it anyway. But I was pleasantly surprised. I-70 through Utah was pretty much what I expected. Sure, the desert landscape is pretty, but the highway is sterile and very much separate from the desert around it. But once I crossed over into Colorado it started feeling more like a state highway. It actually wasn’t too bad.
It was only about 4:30 or 5:00 when I got to Grand Junction so I decided to push on to Rifle, which was 60 miles further. As I approached Rifle I put my spanky new Zumo GPS to work and told it to find me the nearest hotels. I found a Hampton Inn in the list and knew I could get a free room with my frequent flier points, so I told the Zumo to get me here. It was in Glenwood Springs, another half hour up the road, so I passed through Rifle and stopped in Glenwood Springs. And here I am now, in the Glenwood Springs Hampton Inn.
Mileage total for the day: about 500. I’m only about 200 miles from my final destination in Colorado, so I think I’ll use that flexibility I gave myself and take an especially scenic route tomorrow. Where I’m going is in the Rockies midway between Loveland and Estes Park and I was planning on coming up through Loveland, but now I think I’ll come in via Estes Park. I’ll take Highway 34 through Rocky Mountain National Park aka. the Trail Ridge Road, the highest paved continuous highway in the United States. It tops out around 12,000 feet, so the view should be incredible.
And now… Off to bed. Pictures to follow, maybe, probably. I’ll probably just go back and edit them into this, but in the meantime you can go check out my flickr set with all the pictures from this trip.
Glenwood Springs, CO to Estes Park, CO. 205 miles.
I got off to a late start today because I knew I didn’t have that far to go, so there was no reason to push. Besides which, I knew I had to talk to the Hilton HHonors desk to make sure my room was covered with points, and I had to call the motel I was trying to stay at between Loveland and Estes Park — the Two Eagles Resort — to see if I could get a room.
The 2 Eagles is directly across the river from where my dad’s restaurant used to stand and I wanted to stay there so I could be, as goofy as it may sound, close to the spirit of what I was there for — memorializing my dad on the anniversary of the ’76 flood, and by extension memorializing my friends who died in it. The hangup was that I only wanted the room for two nights but the proprietor required a 3 night minimum, and we’d been going back and forth for weeks about letting me have the room for less than her minimum. Long story short: she agreed to rent me a room for 2 nights.
So. I got up at 8:00, made my phone calls and sorted everything out, farted around for a little while, and finally packed up and hit the road by 10:00. Since I was ahead of schedule and had given myself the flexibility to explore, I decided to take a scenic route to my motel. My original plan had me taking the interstate up through Loveland and approaching from the east, which was going to make for a boring ride (by Colorado standards, at least — it’s still a decent ride even with the superslab). My new plan had me riding a series of county roads in the high plains, going through Rocky Mountain National Park on the Trail Ridge Road, and coming in through Estes Park. Much more scenic, and about the same mileage and time. Go figure.
My first leg took me to a wide spot in the road called Toponas. I gassed up at the general store and continued on, heading east across the high plains on a small county road.
Probably half an hour in I came across some major roadkill: a dead elk at the side of the road. Skid marks told the story: it had been hit by a car or truck. Judging by the size of the skid marks I’d say it was a truck, and judging by the size of the elk I’d say it fucked the truck up good. Naturally, I took pictures.
A few miles further on, I started scaring the shit out of myself. As I mentioned earlier, when I get tired I start riding like a newbie and start making stupid mistakes. I was well-rested today, but something had gotten into my head and I was nervous and tense about the day’s ride through challenging terrain, and so I started riding like an idiot early.
I was being way too tentative going through the turns, braking hard for no reason, riding the rear brake (very much not indicated in a turn), going too slowly, weaving through my line, etc. And then the icing on the cake came on the nice easy right-hand curve that I target-fixated on and ended up crossing over the yellow line and into the oncoming lane, where I would have been splattered if a log truck had been coming.
That scared the piss out of me. I started yelling at myself and cursing and generally getting pissed off — not that it helped. I didn’t make any more boner moves of that caliber on the day, but I definitely wasn’t riding up to my usual standards. I don’t know what the deal is but it’s really bothering me.
Aaaaanyway. I stopped for lunch at a little Mexican joint in a small town called Kremmling, then continued on to the high point of the ride: going through Rocky Mountain National Park.
The park wasn’t quite what I had expected. It was beautiful and spectacular and I don’t mean to take anything away from the experience, but I was expecting something more … challenging. First of all, looking at the road on Google Maps, it looks like a maze of switchbacks and looping turns and precipitous drops. Then, reading the hype about how it’s the highest continuous paved road in the US, well that makes it sound pretty extreme too. So these things made me think it would be like Beartooth Pass in Montana, which was a pretty intense ride. And it was like that in terms of scenery and the alpine environment, but as rides go it was pretty smooth. It certainly wasn’t worth all the heebie-jeebies I gave that made me try to get myself pasted by a truck.
So, bottom line: really pretty ride, but pretty easy too. Oh yeah, except for that bit at the summit where they’re repaving it. There’s a stretch about half a mile long that’s just dirt and gravel, and mostly uphill from the side I was coming from, which makes for a slightly hairy ride on a Harley. But that was the worst of it and even that wasn’t that bad. So I’m just a geek.
Exiting the park put me into Estes Park and just a few miles up the Big Thompson Canyon from my final destination. So I decided to stock up on groceries on the way since I knew there wouldn’t be any easily reached restaurants in the canyon. So I had the Zumo tell me where the nearest supermarket was, and on the way to it I stumbled across Stephen King geek heaven.
Now, I’ve always known that the Overlook Hotel from The Shining was in Estes Park, and I’d sort of had it in the back of my mind that if I had time I might go looking for it on this trip — but it was waaay in the back of my mind and I didn’t think I’d really do it. But then I saw it from the highway. And so of course I had to go.
I parked my bike and practically scampered to the courtyard, where I whipped out my cell phone and called Beth. I was in full geek excitement mode as I told her “Guess where I am! I’m at the OVERLOOK HOTEL!!!” Beth’s response was decidedly lackluster: “What’s that?”
Oy. But I didn’t care. I corralled some random tourist to take pictures of me standing at the entryway, then I went inside and looked around in the lobby. I looked into one of the ballrooms and imagined Jack Torrance talking to the ghosts of the Overlook in there and talking about how “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” and chills went down my spine. It was full-on geek alert, let me tell you. I was as excited as an 18-year old virgin at prom, and believe me when I tell you that I have personal experience with just how excited that is — both at the Overlook and at prom.
…and now I’m in my motel room and trying to sleep. In fact I was already asleep, but then the people in the next room arrived at 11 pm and proceeded to make as much noise as is humanly possible. It woke me up, so I decided to get up and start writing this, and about halfway through it they were making so much noise that I had to go knock on their door and ask them to pipe the fuck down.
I don’t know what was going on in there, but it sounded like either someone chanting prayers or a weird kid singing to himself while playing videogames or I don’t know what, but it was loud. And now, thankfully, they’ve shut up.
So now I can go to sleep. Again. I have a big day ahead of me tomorrow: I have to scatter my dad’s ashes in the river and try not to cry.
Estes Park & Loveland, CO.
Today was an emotional one, with a lot of it ambushing me and taking me by surprise.
It started quietly enough — or not. There’s a couple staying in one of the other cabins here who are fellow Harley riders and they’re using this motel as their base of operations as they spend their days riding in the area. They hit the road at 7:00 this morning and their motorcycle firing up is what woke me. So fine, I got up and started my own day of riding.
Ah, but you’re looking for the View From Here, aren’t you? Here’s the room:
…and here’s the view:
And now, on with the story. I got up and set out in search of breakfast. There are precious few restaurants here in the BigThompson Canyon; instead it’s overrun with campgrounds and hotels. I knew there was a restaurant a few miles upriver in the town of Drake, so I headed that way. But as I arrived in Drake (and by arrived I mean “didn’t blink and miss it”) I was distracted by a shiny fork in the road with a sign indicating another small town called Glen Haven down the road that-a-way. I’d read something online about the general store in Glen Haven having cinammon rolls “as big as your head,” and since I have a pretty damn big head I figured I’d better go see that. So to paraphrase my close personal friend Robert Frost, “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I — I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.” Or something like that.
So I detoured up the road to Glen Haven and immediately regretted not bringing my camera with me. I saw many sights worth photographing, which is what always happens when you leave your camera behind. What usually doesn’t happen is that you go back and get your camera and do it all over again, but that’s what I did, so I have the pictures after all.
There were a few road signs scattered about advising that the area was “Free Range,” which meant that you might encounter cows lounging in the road. I didn’t see any, but I did see a house whose owners obviously don’t own any cows. I knew this because of the big sign by the road that read “COWS NOT MINE!!!” I got a picture of it, too, but it’s so out of focus that you can’t even make out the sign, let alone read it.
Further on in I encountered highway workers laying down fresh tar on the road. Out in the middle of nowhere, free range country fer fucks sake, and I get stuck in a traffic jam. Go figure. At least I wasn’t stuck behind the bicycle…
When I finally got through the traffic jam I nearly got pasted by the tar truck. The whole line of cars (and bicycle) was following the tar truck down the one open late and they were going about 5 miles an hour. I decided to pull off and wait for them to get ahead, rather than riding my clutch and inching along with them all. I stopped, got off the bike, took some arty nature pics, then I got back on and headed up the now-clear road again. Only trouble is that I took so long to get going again that the tar truck had apparently turned around and was coming back my way, because I came around a blind curve to find him coming at me in MY lane. He swerved and missed me, fortunately, but I took a moment to reflect on my recurring theme of going wide on turns and crossing into the oncoming lane. At least this time it was HIM doing it rather than me — not that that would have made any difference if he and/or I had been going any faster.
Anyway… When I finally got to Glen Haven I found that this is a town with an insecurity complex of some kind.
It’s not enough to tell you that they’re Glen Haven, they had to add the not-Drake distinction. (For what it’s worth, I liked Glen Haven better.) I also found the General Store, which unfortunately was out of cinnamon rolls. So I had a sandwich for lunch instead. (Yeah, I know — I was supposed to be looking for breakfast. Remember, please, that I went through this whole thing once without my camera, then went back to do it again with it. That took me past breakfast and into lunch.)
The emotional ambushing I mentioned earlier started at the general store. In the store window was a flyer for the 31st Year Remembrance Service for the victims of the Big Thompson flood I’ve mentioned here before. It was happening today, in about six hours, and I knew I had to be there. So now I not only had my dad baggage to deal with, I also had Martin and Frances and Adam too. More on that later…
Aaaanyway. Continuing on, I followed the road out of Glen Haven to Estes Park. It was your nice, classic country road, but it had two nasty back-to-back double uphill hairpin turns. Negotiating those while staying in my own lane without dumping the bike was a nice challenge, but I was up to it. And my reward was this:
Just a hundred yards after the second switch-back, you come over a rise to see this, the whole Estes Valley laid out in front of you. This picture doesn’t do it justice, so trust me when I tell you that it’s spectacular. It may be one of the most beautiful landscapes I’ve ever seen. I think I’d kill to own property there.
Later on I met met my half-sisters and scattered my dad’s ashes, then still later on I attended the flood memorial service, but right now I’m tired and I want to go to bed and that’s a lot of heavy stuff to write about, so I’ll post the rest later.