Dear readers, I want to apologize ahead for describing and complaining about the weather numerous times in my reports. While some might think motorcycling in the sun or adventures in the rain would be fun, it can also be extremely uncomfortable and challenging wearing full motorcycle gear on two wheels. My friend Tomas described riding through the Nevada desert in August was like having a blow dryer set on HOT blowing against you the whole time no matter how fast you go. When the motorcycle is moving, the airflow through the vents of my helmet, jacket and pants make the heat a lot more bearable. If stopped in traffic in 30°C heat, no matter how many vents I have open, sweat drips down your back and it doesn’t take long before you’re quickly soaked inside your riding gear. Of course, this is part of adventure motorcycling and I know that I’m lucky to be able to have this great adventure even if it gets a little uncomfortable.
Period Covered: August 12 – 16, 2013
Locations: Denver, Loveland, Leadville, Cortez, Flagstaff
The brain works in funny ways and random thoughts enter your mind when it has a lot of time to think. Sometimes, as I take a curve or see the edge of a cliff I wonder, “What would it feel like to go over the railing and fly off the cliff? What would it be like to go off the bridge and into the lake?” Ordinarily, I have no thoughts of self-harm so please don’t worry friends and family! I also don’t want to make light of a serious topic (depression and/or mental illness) but I mentioned these thoughts to Tomas and Breezy over drinks in Flagstaff, AZ. Breezy mentioned how morbid these thoughts were. Tomas, my friend who also rides a BMW F800GS, confirmed he also had similar random thoughts of going over a cliff to escape from motorcycling in the extreme heat. Perhaps, we need air conditioning in our riding suits? Maybe that would be a good business venture? Just need to find a way to slap a BMW (I’ve jokingly heard BMW stands for Bring My Wallet, Break My Wallet, and Big Mexican Woman) badge on it and charge any price we’d like.
After getting settled into my room at Sheraton Denver Downtown, I walked over to the gigantic flagship REI store. I spent a good two hours there going down my list of things which I still needed but unfortunately there were still no ski/snowboard socks. The thin dress socks I was using were not cutting it anymore and I would have to order it online and ship it to my friend Mauricio in San Diego. The REI had over three floors, a climbing wall and a massive inventory. I picked up a Leatherman multi-tool, belt, medium-size first aid kid, Cliff bars and energy gels, Exofficio boxer briefs, and an additional grey quick dry t-shirt.
Denver is known for their microbrews and I wish I had more opportunity to explore the different restaurants and brews. I had a great dinner at Euclid Hall and Kitchen (fried cheese curds, chicken and waffles washed down with Face Down Brown from Telluride Brewing Company). The fried cheese curds were the perfect appetizers and Euclid’s chicken and waffles was a very different take on the traditional southern breakfast dish. The chicken was in rectangular form and had lots of herbal flavours.
Day 6: I used my SPG Platinum status’ late checkout privilege (4pm) and left the hotel just before 2pm for the BMW of Denver Motorcycles. After chatting with Tomas, he mentioned contacting Alex from BMW of Denver Motorcycles about my coolant geyser since he had great service from them when he was in Denver. I exchanged a few emails with Alex and he was happy to help take a look at it. The techs diagnosed a malfunctioning radiator cap that wasn’t holding pressure hence the geyser from the overflow cap which has a pinhole. They replaced the radiator cap, flushed and refilled the coolant below the max line, performed a test ride and had me on my way in about 2 hours. I was glad they diagnosed the issue which BMW Toronto missed and I hoped I wouldn’t have further issues as I take windy roads at high altitude in Colorado.
The past few days I did some research on good motorcycling roads in Colorado. I decided I wanted to ride through Rocky Mountain National Park and specifically to Estes Park (2,293m) so I headed to Loveland, CO for the night.
Day 7: The ride from Loveland to Leadville through Estes Park (Rocky Mountain National Park) was the most scenic ride I’ve ever done. The road was windy and climbed up to 2,293m and the temperature dropped significantly. I enjoyed the crisp cool air which was a welcome relief from the heat. The scenery was gorgeous going from small valleys to the top of a mountain overlooking many peaks in the distance. I stopped a few times for photos and also played around with the GoPro Hero 3 which I recently mounted on my helmet. I took US34 from Loveland to Granby and continued west to Kremmling on the US40 before heading south towards Leadville where I would camp at Turquoise Lake at the recommendation of my colleague Casey. From Estes to Leadville, there were a few beautiful lakes and rivers with fishermen in the water. The landscape was so beautiful it made me consider taking up fishing but I’ve never tried it nor do I know if I have the patience for it.
After arriving in Leadville, I grabbed a camp site beside Turquoise Lake (part of San Isabel National Forrest) and headed to town for dinner at High Mountain Pies. This was bear country so I didn’t want to bring any leftovers back so I ate as much pizza as I could. Someone mentioned finding pizza at higher altitudes tastier and I don’t have enough experience to agree but I would highly recommend High Mountain Pies in Leadville.
Day 8: I’m not the best or most experienced camper but I enjoyed the change in scenery from hotels. I had an early night drifting off to sleep around 9pm (for those who know me, I’m a night owl and rarely go to bed before midnight). The temperature dropped to freezing cold temperatures which was uncomfortable under my supposedly -20°C rated “North Face” sleeping bag (not authentic and purchased for $40 in Kathmandu, Nepal for my Everest Base Camp Trek in 2009). At some point in the night, I dug up my “North Face” fleece for added warmth but really wish I had my “Marmot” medium grade long underwear with me to keep my bottom half warm. I would ask Laura to bring it down to me in Panama.
Checking the thermometer on the motorcycle in the morning, I realized the temperature dropped to 0°C and it was definitely a big change for me having ridden in 26°-36°C the last few days. Fortunately, the temperature warmed up to 8°C by them time I packed up and left the camp. While the temperature was a bit chilly overnight, the Thermarest made it much more comfortable than my experience in Gros Morne NP with just my sleeping bag on the ground. The views in the morning around Turquoise Lake was also exceptional and Casey mentioned being able to see many of the highest peaks of Colorado from there.
The weather warmed up quickly and by the time I reached Gunnison, I had to take off the inner jacket lining and open all the vents since temperature had risen to 33°C. Although there wasn’t any high mountain passes on this day’s ride, I enjoyed it even more than the ride through Estes because of the views of the mountain range and the abundance of lakes and rivers.
At Casey’s suggestion, I pulled into Telluride which was a touristy but picturesque town. I could see it being a great base for skiing and hanging out in the winter. I grabbed a bite at the famous local bakery and determined to push on for Cortes instead of staying in Telluride since I couldn’t find any cheap accommodations. I encountered a few construction zones stopping traffic for 10-15mins entering Telluride and exiting it but once I cleared it the ride to Cortes was beautiful. I especially enjoyed stopping to take in the views of the San Juan mountains and the Matterhorn peak off of CO145. There was very little traffic and in certain areas under the shade of the mountains it was much darker and colder than the highs of 34°C with temperature dipping down to 18°C. That’s quite cold when you’re used to the heat with all the vents open on the riding jacket.
I approached Cortes shortly before sunset. The views of Mesa Verde range in the distance reflecting the setting sun reminded me of Cape Town without the sea. I pulled into Rodeway Inn Cortes after a long day and checked into a room. I was entertained when the receptionist asked which State Toronto is in, I replied with “Ontario”. She then asked which country that was in and whether it was in the UK! I politely corrected her and said, “Canada”.
Since I arrived late and didn’t get ready for dinner until past 10pm, there was only one dinner option. I’m surprised it’s taken me a week to hit up the Golden Arches. When I travel, I do enjoy getting McDonald’s meals that can’t be obtained back home (e.g. McArab in Dubai, Maharaj burger in Mumbai). Go hard or go home right? Even though it was my only real meal of the day (only had a pastry snack in Telluride), I could only eat 11 of the 20 McNuggets but did finish my bacon habanero quarter pounder.
Day 9: Had a late start to the day since I didn’t intend on arriving in Flagstaff until later in the day to meet up with Tomas. I left Cortez around 11:45am and immediately regretted leaving so late in the desert heat. I enjoyed the change in scenery and stopped a few times to snap pictures of the desert landscape on the way to the Four Corners Monument (the point where Utah, Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico meets). I made a quick stop at the Four Corners Monument (part of Navajo Reservation) snapping a picture of me sitting at the point touching all four states. The temperature was around 39°C and when I got back onto the motorcycle to head towards Monument Valley and I noticed the engine 3,000 RPM higher than normal so I took it pretty easy. I also noticed that the side of the road in this area had a lot of trash and empty or broken beer bottles. Once I reached Bluff in Utah, I took a long lunch to escape the heat. I loved the scenery on the way through Monument Valley and only wish it wasn’t so hot so I could pull over more often and take pictures. Fortunately, I was able to snap a few videos and pictures from my side-mounted GoPro as I rode.
The 3 hour ride from Monument Valley to Flagstaff was somewhat gruelling. I was starting to tire in the late afternoon and I could also see dark clouds west of US160 as I was heading south. At one point, I could see lightning strikes in the distance and picked up the pace a bit hoping to miss the thunderstorm. As I approached Flagstaff, the road climbed up in altitude (Flagstaff is situated at 2,100m) and the temperature dropped once again to a low of 17°C when I was in a hilly forrest area just before approaching the city. As I entered the city proper, I saw a cop facing me make a u-turn behind me and I quickly slowed down. I was sure I was going to get a speeding ticket but it passed me and took a few moments to check on the Harley in front of me before pulling off and making a left turn at a light as I continued straight.
After a quick chat with Tomas (who was still riding his way to Flagstaff from San Francisco), I received instructions on how to find the spare key to the house. I found it easily enough but snapped the key as soon as I turned it. I had no choice but to ride down to the restaurant where Tomas’ girlfriend Breezy worked either get her keys or wait for Tomas who was still a couple of hours away. Fortunately, Breezy works at Diablo Burger which is an excellent burger joint so I introduced myself to her and grabbed a delicious burger. The DB house burger with a fried egg is easily one of the best burgers I’ve ever had.
Breezy was super friendly and lent me her keys so I could shower and change before meeting up with her at the restaurant and grabbing a drink. The shower and change of clothes feels especially great after a long hot day of motorcycle riding. I walked down to Diablo Burger to meet up with Breezy as they finished cleaning up. We then headed over to Mia’s Bar for a few drinks and to listen to a few bands perform as we await Tomas’ arrival. We seemed to have stumbled onto hipster central. I saw a guy wearing jorts (jean shorts), thick rimmed glasses, a grey cardigan, sporting a neck beard. Others wore flannel shirts and various accessories listed above. There was even a guy with long hair and sleeveless jean vest. The main band of the night was called “Custody Battle”. They played for over 20 minutes and I could only recognize two words amidst all the yelling/singing. Needless to say, the music wasn’t my style but I loved the experience. Tomas arrived around midnight and we shared a hug and a drink before heading back to the house. Both of us had long rides and I was absolutely knackered when I crashed on the couch. The next few days in Flagstaff will be a welcome rest from the last 8 days of constant motorcycling. I made it from Toronto to the desert of Arizona.