COLORADO - PART II|
On the road again
We spent half the day
finishing last minute bike maintenance and repacking our gear.
We left Boulder in the mid-afternoon and headed north on sealed roads
along a winding river and mountains that continued to grow in elevation.
We found a free camping spot in a wilderness area along a dirt road.
It was obviously a popular spot for ATV riders.
A little rain passed as we cooked sausages for dinner.
After a week off from sleeping in our tent, it was surprisingly
comfortable and relaxing to be back on the road.
The tent and all our sleeping gear has become ‘home’ and it was
actually nice to be back in the familiar bedding.
It was the realization that this way of life was ‘normal’ for us.
A blessing and a curse – while we want it to be comfortable, we are
also carefully trying not to take this trip and our lifestyle for granted.
We are both forever grateful for the opportunity to be traveling in
this way and want to appreciate every moment.
Rocky Mountain National Park
We packed up slowly and
headed toward Rocky Mountain National Park. We
entered the park on the east side at Estes Park and were instantly impressed
with the amazing scenery. Passing
through valleys with meandering rivers and steep mountains.
Trail Ridge Road is the main corridor through the park and reaches
elevations of 12,183 ft. We
stopped at a scenic overlook near some Harley Davidson riders to take photos
and have a short break. When we
were ready to leave my bike did not want to restart in the high altitude.
Darren rode it down the road and, after many failed attempts, he was
able to start the bike. We
passed by some great scenery where we wanted to take photos, but were
hesitant to stop again in high altitude.
Darren was feeling some negative effects of the altitude and
dehydration, so we stopped in a campground to get more water, eat a quick
lunch and take a rest. The fee
to camp was $20 and we decided to exit the park to look for cheaper
accommodation. We rode out of the park to look for camping, but even the
National Forest Areas were $16 to camp.
As we were riding out of
the park, there was a line of cars backed up on the left side of the road at
a small gravel pullout. Darren
used the bike2bike communication to tell me that it was a moose that the
other tourists were checking out. By
the time we got off the bikes and joined the crowd by the roadside, the
creature had moved further back into the brush and we were only able to get
random peaks at the enormous rack of antlers.
Even those slight glimpses were incredibly impressive…
After riding a while we
asked a camp host at one of the campgrounds for advice on backcountry
camping and he referred us onto a county road that runs through the Never
Summer Wilderness. We were
lucky to find a free camp spot that was fabulous.
It had a log fence around the site with a huge rock fire pit and
plenty of space to spread out. It
was close enough to see from the road, but down a short steep driveway that
allowed us to see approaching vehicles before they could see us. The best part of this spot was a load of wood that was left
from the previous campers!
We decided to enjoy the
great campsite for another night and ride back into Rocky Mountain National
Park to explore the park in a more relaxed fashion.
I adjusted the idle before we headed off (thanks to a little advice
from Chris Jones) and had no problems with bike this time!
We rode slowly back along Trail Ridge Road, enjoying the views from
yesterday in the opposite directions. The
views we found most impressive were the snow-covered areas in high altitude
– especially those near ponds. We
stopped at the top and hiked up to the lookout – past a few elk that were
grazing. These animals were so
comfortable around the tourists that there was no concern of them going
anywhere while we snapped our photos.
We spent lots of time
stopping at the roadside overlooks, taking photos and chatting with other
motorcyclists. It was a nice
day of relaxed riding with the knowledge that camp was already set for our
return. We had a not-so-successful meal (hey, not every camp meal can
be fabulous) and enjoyed watching the campfire burn into the night.
Both of us agreed that it
would be a mistake to leave the park without taking a proper hike.
We had a fabulously free camp spot (albeit no shower or bathroom
facilities) and plenty of firewood to last.
So we headed back to the park and headed up Timber Lake Trail.
We never planned on making it up to the top, but once we started, we
just couldn’t stop. The
hike was all uphill – although it was a gentle climb, we gained 2,060 feet
in the 5.3 mile hike. In the
end we were rewarded with the most inspiring finale that either of us had
ever experienced. Timber Lake
is a glacial lake that is fed by the melting ice on the mountain. We located a rock near the lake and crawled on top of it to
relax a while and refreshed ourselves with some snacks. We were so excited to spot a marmot
on the opposite side of the lake!
Neither of us had ever seen a marmot before. It was frolicking
around a rock and checking us out from its safe distance across the water.
As we headed back along the trail it began to rain.
We moved quickly through the forest, grateful for the canopy of the
trees. About halfway back
I realized that I could not remember if I had closed the fly on the tent.
I made the mistake of mentioning this out loud to Darren and the
conversation quickly spiraled into a scene of raised voices and a hurling
water bottle (not at me). By
the time we reached the trailhead where the bikes were we had regained our
senses and the rain had slowed to a light drizzle.
We rode back to the camp to ensure our tent had not been flooded and
found that I had indeed left the fly open but the wind had been on our side
and it had not gotten the inside wet. We
rode back to Grand Lake, the touristy town on the outskirts of the national
park and ate at a little pizza shop for dinner.
It had been a long day and we were quite tired, but it was really a
great day. After taking a walk through town and checking out the few
shops that remained opened after dark for the tourists. Then we headed back to camp and built a huge fire that we
could not possibly muster the energy to watch until it burned itself out.
Knowing we would be heading off in the morning, we used our remaining
water supply to douse the fire.
Rancho Del Rio
We set off toward Hot
Sulphur Springs the morning. Our
guidebook had referred to this town as deserving of a stopover with free
camping and a resort that allowed non-guests to pay a mere $6 to use their
Hot Springs and shower facilities. It
sounded like just the thing to sooth our bodies after our long hike
yesterday. Unfortunately the
price for a dip in the springs had gone up considerably – now nearly $20
for the luxury. We stuck around
the town to do some laundry and use the Internet.
It was early afternoon when we hit the road again.
We took a scenic route on partially paved county roads that followed
along the Colorado River. There
were posted signs warning that it may be impassable in winter.
It was very warm and we were both feeling tired when we came upon a
little settlement alongside the Colorado River called Rancho Del Rio.
It had cabins, but they looked like full-time residents lived in
them. The road around the area
was hard-packed rutted sand. There
were a dozen or so campers that also appeared to be permanent residences –
some with elaborate makeshift rooms built onto them with tarps and pieces of
wood. There were also a handful
of tents. There was a sign
indicating a charge of $2 per person to camp.
Everywhere you looked there were rafts, kayaks, etc.
We found ourselves a sandy camp spot by the river and everything up
as we fought off a strong wind that whipped through the valley. We were
definitely very curious about the neighbors and Darren decided he would go
chat with a group of guys drinking at a nearby tent site while I started
dinner. It took less than ten
minutes before they were enthusiastically encouraging us to drink with them
and take a ride on their raft down the river the next day.
We quickly ate our camp meal and walked over to the camper where the
crowd had gathered. These were
actually all local river guides and they were all pretty hardcore
alcoholics. We hung out that
night at Kevin’s place – which was actually a big van with the side door
opened and a good sized room built out from it using a collection of tarps,
boards, pipes, etc. This space
was his living room, dining room and kitchen.
Kevin was a heavyset man in his late 40’s.
Another man was also there the entire night. Unfortunately I cannot remember his real name, but everyone
called him Sharkhunter because he was into scuba diving and carried a dive
knife with him. Sharkhunter was 55 years old and the river guide that offered us the free
trip on his raft. He had told
me that he had a wife somewhere that was ill but they weren’t getting
along, so they had separated. Later
in the evening he told us that he had not yet received his license to run
tours with the raft, but he was working on it.
Regardless of this, he spoke with confidence and we felt that he was
serious about wanting to be a safe - yet fun - raft guide.
We sat and carefully drank with them - knowing that there was no way
we could keep up with their alcohol intake.
They were working on a cooler of beer while passing around a large
bottle of tequila. A variety of
people came and went from the little hut, drinking and chatting. Toward the end of the night a blonde fellow in his mid 30’s
came into the tent. His name
was Leslie. He seemed to be a
bit more sober than everyone else and he said that he would come along on
the river trip also. To my
surprise, he had lived in the Atlanta area growing up and had moved west to
work in a variety of jobs – ski instructor at Vail in the winter, rafting
and hiking guide in the summer. A
carefree lifestyle with seemed to fit his nature.
He spent time at Rancho, but did not live there.
He said he had been visiting the place for a few years and found it a
great getaway from real life. In
the short time we had been there, we could see his point – none of these
people seemed to be living in reality.
It wasn’t a particularly late night, but it was definitely eventful
and unexpected. We finally
stumbled off into the dark to find our tent, wondering if the rafting offer
would actually still be there in the morning.
Colorado rafting and Vail
As soon as we emerged
from the tent Sharkhunter drove up in his pickup truck to arrange our
rafting trip. Apparently this
thing was really going to happen! It
was a little disconcerting to see him taking drinks from the remaining
tequila bottle at 8:30 in the morning, but he seemed to have everything
together, so we agreed to be ready to go in about 30 minutes.
Sharkhunter was living in a couple of tents just a few hundred feet
from our tent site. After
stocking up on beer, coke and a huge bottle of vodka for the huge cooler, we
rode off in his truck with an old tattered whitewater raft strapped down to
a trailer in tow. At the
drop-in point there were huge tour groups with matching life jackets and
sharp-looking rafts preparing for their trip.
We were a sharp contrast in our duck-taped raft and cooler of beer.
There were 5 of us on the trip – Darren and I, Sharkhunter - our
fearless river guide, Kevin and Leslie.
A local had ridden in the truck with us to return it to Rancho Del
Rio for Sharkhunter.
Before we had even left
the bank, Kevin was cracking open a beer.
We were on the water about 9:30.
The first stop was at a natural hot spring that was right beside the
river. It wasn’t terribly hot, just a lukewarm bath, but
considerably warmer than the cold Colorado River.
After relaxing for a short while in the spring, we carried on.
Joking and drinking our way down the river.
There were a few good rapids – this was a Class 2 or 3.
My only previous rafting was on the Nantahala (Class 3) and Ocoee
(Class 4) in North Georgia/ Tennessee area.
This was Darren’s first rafting trip ever and he was really having
a ball. We stopped by the ruins
of an old building that was apparently the remains of original settlers of
the area. There was a railroad
that also followed alongside the river and we watched quite a few trains
pass by - mainly carrying coal. When
some unlucky tour groups passed us, they were often rewarded with a view of
Kevin’s backside – as he seemed to gain enjoyment from mooning people.
Eventually we came to a jumping cliff that was at least 30 feet high
over the water. Kevin was quick
to climb up an take the first plunge. Then
Darren followed him up for a jump. After
a while, I knew that I would regret it if I didn’t take the opportunity,
so I decided to try it. I tried
to jump straight down (pin-drop style), but my legs were lifted and I landed
on my rump in the water. The
water was pretty cold, but very refreshing in the heat of the day.
Then Kevin took another plunge with a beer in his hand.
Darren taking the jump!
We stopped for lunch at a
great camping spot that could only be reached by water.
We each had sandwiches and relaxed for a while before heading back to
the water. It was after noon
and all the fellas on the raft were quite drunk.
Since I am a light drinker, I only had a couple of drinks and was the
most sober of the group. Everyone
was easygoing and Sharkhunter was a good raft guide.
He was constantly bantering with Kevin about when to paddle and which
direction to steer the raft. It
was good-natured bickering and entertaining.
Leslie invited us to go with him and a girl he had been seeing
(Lindsey) to Vail that evening for a free concert.
We accepted. We stopped
to see dinosaur tracks in the rock of a mountain and found that some of the
rock looked like it had been cut away – probably taken to a museum
somewhere to be shown off. When
we emerged from the trail that led to the dinosaur tracks, we saw Rancho Del
Rio on the opposite bank. We
were back at camp – and in one piece.
It was about 3:30 in the afternoon and we had already had a great
We pulled the raft in on
the bank at Sharkhunter’s tent site and found his tent had fallen over in
the wind. We tried to help him
get it upright again and began helping him unload the raft.
Then he found a poorly written letter on the window of his truck.
It said something to the effect that he owed $200 for camping and was
accused of stealing something from another camper.
He was being evicted and they wanted him out of Rancho immediately.
He was furious and visibly upset - saying that he had not taken
anything but some chairs that were left behind after a camp party had left
them behind. It was a touchy
moment and I just wanted to get away from the situation.
Darren was trying to help defuse the situation and invited
Sharkhunter to come along to the concert in Vail with us – which was
really not his invitation to extend, but he was showing his caring side and
trying to help. Everyone agreed
that the owner of Rancho was being unreasonable in leaving a note like that
and Sharkhunter should have a conversation with him to work things out.
A few hours later, after
cleaning up a bit, we met up with Leslie and Lindsey.
Lindsey was only 21 with long blond hair.
She lived in Rancho Del Rio with her mother in a camper and seemed mature beyond her years.
Leslie and Lindsey sat in the front seats while I was squashed
between Darren and Sharkhunter in the back.
We had not planned on
going to Vail while passing through Colorado – expecting it to be too
touristy for our tastes and overpriced - but we didn’t want to pass up any opportunities and were happy to
be invited. We stopped at a Taco Bell for a quick dinner and picked up a
fresh bottle of liquor for Sharkhunter – which he mixed with a sport drink
with the hopes of being able to carry it into the amphitheater.
The concert was Johnny Lee Hooker Jr. – just my style! I
love the blues! We were late
and entered during the intermission. Of course Sharkhunter was unable to get
his drink in, so he and Darren took turns chugging it down at the gate. I tried one sip and it was so strong that I could not bear to
have another. We found a spot
on the lawn and tried to relax. Sharkhunter
kept trying to point out famous people in the audience.
I had a couple of glasses of wine and enjoyed the music.
At the end of the show we moved down the stairs in front of the stage
to dance with the last song.
Then we walked around the
touristy streets of Vail. It
was nicer than I had expected - very well manicured and tasteful.
I suppose I expected it to be cheesier – like Disney World or
something. We walked in to a
few bars, but
decided it was smarter and cheaper to drop by the liquor store and head back
to Rancho to drink.
When we arrived back in
Rancho, it was immediate drama. One
of Sharkhunter’s two tents had been broken down – on purpose.
The exterior poles of the canvas tent had been broken and bent so
that it was impossible to fix in the dark.
His other tent, the one he slept in, was missing.
It was completely gone – including everything that was inside.
He was furious and very drunk. I did not want to get involved and knew it could turn very ugly very
quickly. Darren continued to
try to calm him down. Sharkhunter
was rummaging through the canvas tent, saying that he was searching for his
gun. I told Darren that I was going to go with Leslie and Lindsey
to build a campfire up the hill. Lindsey
hung around with us for a while and then chose to go home. Darren finally joined us, saying that he had finally given up
trying to convince Sharkhunter to sleep in his truck and deal with things in
the morning. We all sat around the
campfire chatting about what a good day it had been and how grateful we were
for the generosity of the people in Rancho Del Rio for sharing their lives
with us so freely. We both truly appreciate the experience they gave us.
7/11/2007 Meeting Irish
We knew that we had
experienced the best that Rancho Del Rio could offer and it was time to move
on. We headed southwest through
Glenwood Springs and down Highway 133.
We were pleasantly surprised to find this scenic highway to be a
great ride, following a river on the left and passing through tunnels and
deep canyons. We continued
south toward Ouray on Highway 550. There
was a big storm brewing to our right and we seemed like we were running from
the rain, catching strong winds and the occasional sprinkling of water.
Highway 550 also became a wonderfully scenic ride once we passed the
town of Ridgeway. The road
passed over high elevation along the edge of the mountains with views of the
canyon below and the mountains all around us.
Riding through Red Mountain Pass (elevation 11,008 ft), we finally
arrived in Silverton, Colorado – just ahead of the rain that had been
We pulled into the first
big camping, RV resort in town and saw two KLR’s parked outside of a
rental cabin. Darren
immediately began chatting with one of the owners, an Irishman named Wayne.
He was a tattoo artist who was living in Montana and was also there
to attend the Horizons Unlimited (HU) meeting.
He had met his traveling partner that morning along the road and
agreed to share the expense of the rental cabin.
Darren and Wayne hit it off immediately – making wisecracks about
all the other tourists in town and sharing a sense of humor that most
Americans find crude. Of
course, I am used to this and have developed the occasion crudeness in my
humor as well. We set up our
tent beside the cabin and walked through the touristy town.
The town is a tourist destination for those taking the passenger
steam train that runs from Durango each day.
It looks like a town one would see in a Clint Eastwood western. The main street was paved, but many of the side streets
remained dirt and you could imagine a horse-drawn wagon to pull up at any
time. The buildings all had
wooden walkways along the streets with wide overhanging roofs to cover the
walkway. We had dinner and a
few drinks before heading to bed.
7/12/2007 – 7/14/2007
Horizons Unlimited Meeting
We found out that the
campground we were staying in was not the actual site of the HU meeting and
we would have to move. We
packed up to move less than a mile down the road to the field outside of a
large building at the base of a ski chairlift.
It is impossible for me
to recount all the people that we met and everything we did.
Darren went on some day rides with Wayne and some other riders while
I stayed at the camp and listened to presentations. It was great to see the presentations of Simon and Lisa
Thomas (2ridetheworld), who have been riding around the world for 4 years
through some impressive challenges. Chris
and Erin Ratay also showed a presentation of their 4 years of riding around
the world. Both left me feeling
like our little adventure was just the beginning.
It was nice to spend a few days relaxing in one spot and meeting so
many other travelers with varied experience levels and advice.
I would recommend an HU meeting to anyone who is considering
traveling by motorcycle and needs some advice or even just encouragement.
7/15/2007 A new friend
motorcycle’s battery died again during the off-road basics course that I
was attending the day before. We
decided that we would get a new battery at the next opportunity, which would
be in a few days in Utah. We
went to breakfast and hung around saying goodbye and watching everyone else
ride off. We noticed a fellow
who was camped near us that seemed to be procrastinating packing up - just like
us. We had not met him at the
meeting – there were so many people. His name was Paul and come to find out, he was also an
Australian! Paul was traveling
from Alaska to Argentina as well, although probably a bit faster than our
slow pace. He rode a Suzuki
DL650 V-Strom. He needed to do
laundry and so did we, so we hung around chatting together while our laundry
was being taken care of. We
decided to travel together into Utah. We
all took showers and hit the road riding west on highway 145.
Paul was a very good rider and seemed very patient riding our slower
KLR highway pace. We took hwy
90 and began looking for a camp spot near the town of Paradox.
Riding around town we took a dirt road up onto a mountainside
overlooking the small town. We
found a camp spot off the side of the road and pitched our tents.
It was very dry and sandy and had a great view of the valley below.
Darren and Paul enjoyed motorbike talk all night long.
Paul had spent most of his life working with bikes as either racing
in Australia or as a bike mechanic on race teams.
He had also traveled extensively on different bikes all over the
world. We thought it was
very funny that we had been camped so close to one another all weekend for
the HU meeting and never even spoke. We
were all glad to have gotten together!
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