Saturday, September 18, 2010

Silver Bob's Scenic Byway

"So put me on a highway
And show me a sign
And take it to the limit one more time."

 - Eagles, suggested by JG

When you have a Beast, every road is a Scenic Byway.  But most of today's ride was actually marked so on the official state map.  I strung several of them together for a Super Scenic Byway, most of which had "Silver" somewhere in the name.  

Call it Silver Bob's Scenic Byway.  I like the sound of that.

The ultimate reach was the Colorado National Monument at Grand Junction, and the "Rim Road" in the mountains above the city.  I started off at 10 am, about 20 miles north of Dolores on 145.  The road runs along the Dolores River up into Lizard Head Pass, and down the San Miguel on the other side.  I think "Dolores" translates as "Sorrows", which is an odd thing to call such a beautiful bit of rushing water.  Spanish is a romantic language.

Or maybe it's ironic, like calling a fat kid "Tiny".  Or the next town up "Rico".  

Rico may have been rich once, but that was long long ago.  In particular it is poor in places to get breakfast, which was my first concern.  I tried the hotel.  One Chinese girl folding towels inside.  She didn't seem to understand complete English sentences.  I tried monosyllables.


"Ah!", she replied, nodding her head up and down.  "No.  Cafe.  Down street."  She pointed.  I had already been there.  It was closed.

Lots of buildings with some reference to food on their weathered signs, but they were all closed.  After circling a bit, I went back to the edge of town and found a coffee shack behind the only business that looked open, a filling station.  There was a sign that advertised coffee.  And breakfast tacos.  It was open.  When I entered, the sole occupant was cleaning a grill behind the counter.

"Man, it's hard to find breakfast in this town!"  I said.


"Are you talkin' to me?"  she says.

I looked around.  One tiny room.  Nobody else there.  "How much are your breakfast tacos?"

"Six dollars.  If I had any.  But I'm out."

"Then I guess I'll just mosey on down the road."


And so, my stomach growling, it was up and over the pass and down into Telluride. Pity the fool trying to find a handmeal in Rico.  Or a handout.  Or a job.

The road down was treacherous to motorcycles, with ruts and heaves in the road.  A car might just feel them as bumps, but some of them were wide enough to grab a motorcycle tire and send it flying.  Fortunately this morning I could see them coming. At first I took them to be the result of too many heavy trucks, or frost heaves, but then I noticed they often extended continuously lengthwise down the road for a quarter mile or more, cracks two or three inches wide bisecting the right hand lane.  Weird. Subsidence?  But they continued in my lane even when it wasn't the outside lane.  I found these things all the way down to Telluride, and then periodically west half way to Naturita.  In my lane mostly, cracks down the length of the road, running for a hundred yards or more, reappearing every few miles.  Bad base?  Poor construction?  Drunken bozo on the grader?

Bad mojo for motos.  When I could afford to look up from the road, the country was gorgeous.  I stopped in a turnout viewpoint and got my picture taken with the Beast. The old mine behind me, said the sign, was the site of the first AC electrical generating plant in the USA.  Down there somewhere among the trees.

Bob tries to restrain the Beast

"O, that's beautiful!" the lady said, as she peered through my viewfinder at the Beast and me.

"I presume you are speaking of the mountain?"  Lame but engaging, that's our Bob.  

After she attempted to laugh, she said there was a Blues Festival in Telluride.  If I didn't mind crowds I could find breakfast there.  I nodded, but when I got down to the T, turned west instead.  Given the choice between hunger and crowds, I'll put up with hunger for a while.

Finally I found some eggs over easy and hash browns for 7 bucks on the balcony of a yuppie-looking hotel in Placerville.  At noon.  That ought to hold me.  Even prosperous looking businesses like this one have "For Sale" signs on them around here.

The surrounding cliffs turned from gray to red as made my way mile after mile down the San Miguel.  There were signs warning me to slow for construction, but then I'd ride a mile or more, and no construction.  Once I even encountered a guy with a sign stopping traffic, but after we went by there was nothing again for miles ahead but one bulldozer parked riderless on the side of the road.  Finally, just before Naturita, we got out of all that construction, and the country opened up into one of the grand agricultural valleys that Colorado is famous for.  Fine vista, but impossible to capture with any lens I had.  

I turned north on 141 to stay with the river, which gradually cut farther and farther down through sandstone until I was riding along the rim of a deep canyon.  I stopped to take a picture of the remains of the San Miguel Plume.

Sticks and stones can break your bones...

See all the little boards on the bare rock below?  In 1888, this was the famous Plume, which carried water for miles down the San Miguel, gradually growing more confined and building up pressure until producing a stream powerful enough to cut the face of the cliffs themselves, revealing ... well, not much.  The Plume was a wonder.  The mine went belly up.

How would you like to be the guy who crawled out on that ledge with ropes and such to anchor those boards 120 years ago?  Amazing that there is anything left to see, after so long a time.  The past is different, and yet so much the same.  Nobody building the Plume looked up into the night sky and saw lights moving from cloud to cloud, and knew that men were up there.  But some did dream such things.  What unlikely dreams of ours will some day seem so ordinary?

Soon after the Plume, the road descended to run beside the river.  The Beast was just loping along with his usual gutteral grace, when suddenly I saw some greenery at a turnout that piqued my interest.

What's this?

Looking closer, I found a Weeping Wall, where a spring comes right out of the cliff 30 or 40 feet up, descends as just a sheen on the rock, and collects below in a rock cistern for the refreshment of travelers.  There was an iron pipe in the bottom of the rockwork where water ran out.

I tried the water.  It was clean and tasteless.  People today probably think it undrinkable without an attached treatment plant and just zoom on past this thing.  But in decades past many a dusty pilgrim must've been grateful to the unknown samaritan who took the time to build it.  After decades of mining upstream, the San Miguel was probably suspect even then, when it ran at all, but water right from the rock face comes filtered by Nature Herself.

From there on, the canyon closed in colorfully around us.

We were coming around a corner at speed when the Beast came to an abrupt halt. What's this?  A Fellow Beast beset by vandals?

A Beast in Need is a Beast Indeed.

Only one part need fail.

It was a 1982 Honda 500.  Its rider, Brian, was nearby hiding his tent and other valuables.  Brian was not having a good day.  He had ridden his Beast all the way from Minnesota, only to drop it that morning and bust the front turn signals.  Then, he thinks, he got some bad gas at Gateway, and it stranded him here.  I told him there was nothing at all for 70 miles behind me, and it would be best if I gave him a ride back to Gateway and he could call a wrecker from Grand Junction.

He looked to heaven, but was not reassured.  He said he had to be in a meeting in Phoenix at 6 pm the following evening.  "My wife let me come on this trip...."   He looked off.  He was despairing.  

So we tried some things, and spent an hour emptying his tank and his carburetors (remember those?), fed it some fresh gas, and it started, but only for a few minutes at a time.  Finally he conceded that he probably wasn't going to make his meeting. He hid the rest of his stuff, grabbed the most valuable things in a small pack, and strapped them to the back of my Beast.   

We gave him a ride 11 miles to Gateway.  I let him off in front of a hotel at 4:10 pm.  

"You're my Savior!" he said, shaking my hand.  "Not me," I said, "your Savior is the wrecker you are going to call right now, an hour before he gets off on a Friday afternoon, and who decides going to drive all the way out here to bring your bike back in to Grand Junction where you can get it fixed.  And maybe a flight to Phoenix by tomorrow night.  You'd better get to work on that right away."

He nodded, said thanks again for "just having someone to talk to out there", and disappeared into the hotel.  

An hour later I emerged from the mountains a few miles south of Grand Junction at Whitewater, where Hwy 141 meets Hwy 50.  Here's a vista from just before that, coming round the bend:

It was 5 o'clock.  If I turned north, it was Grand Junction for the night, probably in a cheap motel.  No way to ride the National Monument and get back before dark.  If I turned south, I might just make it.  I really didn't want to ride that rough road up to Lizard Head in the dark, when I couldn't see the cracks and traps ahead of me.  But I also didn't want to do the roach motel bedbug macarena.

I could probably make it.  I turned south.  The fabled Rim Road would have to wait for another day.

I admit to breaking a few speed laws on that flat broad valley highway down to Montrose, and ate quickly at a Mexican restaurant.  "Amelia's", I think it was called.  A carnita chimichanga, about a gallon of water, and a couple of margaritas.  Somewhat restored, I then roared on down to Ridgeway, where I could see the mountains I currently called home in the distance.  

Where I have been, there I am going...

I got up into the saddle of Lizard Head just as it got full dark.  You know, when you cannot tell a white thread from a black.  And it was cold.  Like a fool I didn't put on my wind pants, mistaking numbness and tingling for residual warmth.  My legs became really dead cold before I got back into camp at 9, and I got cramps later.  But I slept almost 12 hours.


That's Bob's Big Ride.  Too much for even a game geezer.  And I didn't quite get to where I was going.  374 miles, 11 hours.  Magnificent country, but I had to ride too fast on the way back.  And next time I could be the one broken down instead of Brian. So I've got to restrict my rides in future to 250 miles round trip.  That's about when it stops being fun.  

More than that, and I just need to move the Daze nearer.

And never, never, never do I ever want to be self-trapped into riding mountain roads in the dark again.  I can see far enough at 70 with my brights, but I am only safe up to maybe 45 with my dims.  All the rest is cold and darkness.  Either I am blinding and being blinded by oncoming cars, or passed at speed by those behind me.

Night riding is too much like rushing to an appointment with Fate.  At my age, just being on time seems good enough.  Or even fashionably late, as long as I have clean underwear.  

There's a good chance, at speed in the dark, of finally finding that poor wandering confused elk who has my name stamped on his rump.  An elk of that ilk would be awkward indeed.

"I am for you."  You trekkies know what I mean.



Ed said...


From my Western Tour Bicycle Ride in 1991:

23 Jun: Cortez to Rico
Roads: US160 & CO145
Distance: 49 miles
Camp: A field or maybe town park
Today we went up the Deloras River valley to Rico rather than Telluride as planned. There was a Bluegrass Festival in Telluride that had taken over all the camping facilities. It was a very pretty ride, cool and startling blue sky all the way with about 2,600 feet of gradual climbing. Tomorrow will be 90 miles with two passes but that might be easier than today's planned 80 miles.

24 Jun: Rico to Montrose
Roads: CO145, CO62 & US550
Distance: 86 miles
Camp: Montrose High School
The two passes today were Lizard Head Pass at 10, 250 feet and Dallas Divide at 8,900 feet. I think the stop in Rico made for a better ride than Telluride; we would have been doing Lizard Head later in the day yesterday rather than early today. The worse thing about today was the heavy traffic on CO145 from the Festival, the road was narrow, little shoulder and almost constant traffic passing. The temperature this morning in Rico was below freezing, water bottles left on the bike were frozen, but it warmed up a lot from Ridgeway to Montrose. All in all , a good day!

25 Jun: Montrose to Gunnison
Roads: US50
Distance: 64 miles
Camp: Western Colorado State College
We had two tough climbs today; Cerro Summit, near Cimarron, and Blue Mesa Summit by Blue Mesa Reservoir for a total of over 5,000 feet. The last 26 miles were generally downhill which helped a lot. I had some great linguine in a good little bar/restaurant.

Pictures going over Lizard Head Pass:

eskimoblueboy said...

Fun story!

Aeagles said...

Fortunate that elk had other plans. :) Andrea E.

Anonymous said...

ok... after your last few posts i am begining to get worried about you, hoping you are alive and well!


Bob Giddings said...

Hi, Dan.

I'm sorry to have neglected the blog. I'm recovering from hand surgery, reduced to hunt and peck typing with my right hand. All is well, otherwise.

I got the bandages off today. Of course I've got to put clean ones back on, but perhaps I can catch up a bit before doing that.

I did make notes, but have to follow up before the writing process resembles archeology. :o)

Bob, with 14 stitches running up the back of his hand.

Anonymous said...

phew, glad to read everything is good - thanks for the update!