COLORADO - PART II

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7/5/2007  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.

7/6/2007  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! 

7/7/2007

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.     

7/8/2007 

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.

7/9/2007  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.

7/10/2007  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 day! 

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 chasing us. 

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

Unfortunately my 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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