Monday, September 6, 2010

Unleash the Beast!

Nothing but dust behind, and blue skies ahead...

After a couple of interesting days visiting and sharing ideas with Andy Baird (including Movie Nights on Andy's 27 inch Mac monitor - Thanks, Andy!), I determined to head on up into High Colorado and unleash the Beast on some true mountain roads.  After lunch and a few housekeeping chores in Chama, during which I once again misjudged my clearance for a U turn in the highway, coming face to face with a railroad crossing sign during the circle, and briefly stopped traffic in both directions on a major highway, I got straightened out and made it into Pagosa in the late afternoon with few regrets.

Pagosa is one of my old skiing destinations, and there is a motel right on the river in town that has an interesting basement pool served by a really HOT spring.  109 degrees, as I remember. Some of the old Indians that come there can take that calmly, but I can only stand it for 15 minutes max.  They give you giant flannel sheets to wind yourself up in and sweat and cool, and there are couches to lay back on.  A nap there is not impossible.   I was looking forward to reacquainting myself with that pool.

As I approached the middle of town, though, I noticed there was a LOT of traffic, and after I made the turnoff toward the motel I realized there would be no parking even close to it.  I proceeded on, having little choice.  In my distant memory of the road, there was plenty of room at the end to turn around.

Not today.

Like a slowly developing photograph, it became increasingly clear I was caught up in a crowd heading for some sort of music festival in the fields at the end of the road, and all the cars were being funneled into tightly controlled and crowded parking areas.  The police were a definite presence.

Just that quick, I was trapped.  This is a dark secret of motorhomes, which can't escape their size.  Story of my life.  I couldn't back up into the crowd behind.  Ahead was a narrowing neck.  So I stopped dead, and uttered a few expletives.  A Sheriff's deputy approached.  We had a tense but clarifying discussion.  He directed me to turn left the wrong way into some one way streets by the Post Office.  By a miracle I met no one, passing between the closely parked cars.  Pointed out of town once more, I was relieved I hadn't run over anyone, and presiding officialdom hadn't simply decided to pave over me and start again.  I found sanctuary at the foot of Wolf Creek Pass, in West Fork Campground.

Waking up in a new world the next morning, like any respectable goose, I unlimbered the Beast and headed east toward Wolf Creek Pass, South Fork, and ultimately Lake City.  This is one of the most beautiful drives in the country, however you do it.  Hinsdale and Rio Grande counties were once, and may well still be, the least populated counties in Colorado.  Basically the road skirts the eastern and northern perimeter of the Weimenuche Wilderness.  When I first travelled this road in 1967, it was loose gravel, and the descent from Slumgullion Pass was fairly hairy, especially when wet.  One was constantly reminded that Lake San Cristobal was formed by a giant landslide from that very pass.

But it's all paved highway now.  Quite civilized.  I'd take the Daze up there.  And of course to the Beast it was nothing much at all.

It was such an intoxicatingly beautiful day as we started out from West Fork.  The sunlight was strong on the road, in high contrast to the deep black shadows in the ditch and woods on my right.  It was mesmerizing.  I was going about 50, and sensed a car coming up on my left, and looked into that mirror.  And at that precise instant a mule deer doe as big as the Beast emerged from the darkness of the ditch and crossed right in front of me, maybe 50 feet away!  I couldn't turn left into the car, so I headed at a shallow angle for the ditch, meanwhile trying everything I knew off to slow down without going into a sliding skid.  There wasn't much time to make a plan.  Fortunately Bambi's Mom didn't hesitate.  That would have killed us both.  When our paths intersected I was going perhaps 20, and I have an indelible memory of her delicate rear hooves in the air a couple of feet in front of my leading tire.

The car would have hit her, I'm sure, but he must have seen the dance I was doing and slowed way down.  Everyone survived, for the moment.  All's well that ends well.  Whew.

About 10 minutes later I got a chance to get off at the end of that first rise, and took a picture of the valley below, and the stretch of road where I nearly died.  Doesn't look so dangerous, does it?

The Valley of Death?

The rest of the ride into South Fork was mostly uneventful, though I had to stop and put on warmer clothing.  I kept getting passed by a bunch of German motorcyclists, who would roar on up ahead, then stop and smoke cigarettes.  Hurry up and wait.  Twice I saw their Fuhrer pass cars into blind corners, and the lot of them followed dutifully behind.  That is just suicide in these mountains.

But happily not today.  Or not while I was watching.

Just past Creede, I saw this dead horse in a field.  But when I stopped to render aid, he miraculously recovered.  It was that kind of day.

Need help?   Neigh.

After that I let it out a little, and didn't stop again for 20 miles or so, when I reached this beautiful turnoff with a view of the Weimenuche.  I really wanted a picture of that country, but the Beast kept jumping in the way.

A passing motorist clicked this pic of me trying to restrain him.  It wasn't as easy as it looks.  Pictures sometimes lie.

Later on, as we got up around 11,000 feet, the Beast got his comeuppance.  He began to flag in the thin air, and begged for a breather.  It was all right with me, but he was a little embarrassed to be passed by this elderly recumbent bicyclist:

After that there was no stopping him until he roared over Spring Creek and Slumgullion Passes, and began to ease down into Lake City.  Here's a pic of some of the mountains around.

There's the distinctive hook nose of Mt. Uncompahgre, a "fourteener".  When my stepson Sean was 5 years old, he climbed that mountain, along with his mother, me, and his brother Cory.  Well, his mother carried him part of the way.  The little guy seemed to take fire as we got higher, though, and then it was him telling her to hurry up, Mom, come on, come on, come on!

Aaah.  At last.  Here's the eponymous Lake St. Cristobal.

We got a late start from West Fork, around 11 am, and it was now 3 pm, so there  wasn't much time to fool around in Lake City itself, if I wanted to get back to the Daze before dark.  I stopped by the bakery and got a couple of flaky meat pies.  And here's where we ate them, at one of my favorite campsites, in the Wupperman campground, on a bluff above the lake:

It was a delightful ride back, the aspens just beginning to turn golden in Slumgullion Pass.  I'd have enjoyed it more, though, if - darn it! - two young deer hadn't run right out in front of me! Again!  What is it with these guys?  There's nothing but empty road behind me, more of the same ahead, but these guys wait until I am almost on them to rush out across the road!

Fortunately this time I was watching for them, and it wasn't quite as hairy as on the ride up. A short hundred miles or so and a couple of beers in Creede later, I pulled into camp right at 7 pm.

A 300 mile day.  I was a little tired, but entirely satisfied, happy to be alive.  And the Beast was simply purring.



Anonymous said...

all's well that ends well - stay safe Bob!

Bob Giddings said...

I'll try. But what's safe? I thought working for the Fire Department for 30 years was safe.


PS: If ya'll don't mind, I wish you'd put a name in your comment, so I can sort out who is who. You can't all be called anonymous... that's too much of a coincidence. :o)

Anonymous said...

that's a good question... hmm, let me think on that for a bit - ok, i think i've got it, reacting diligently to potentialy dangerous situations?


Anonymous said...

I think what is meant is "try to stay safe". It is a statement of concern rather than a challenge of definition.
I choose to remaiin anonymous as I do not want my identity released into the vast ethernet.

Anonymous said...

slightly off the mark there i fear anonymous, as trying to stay too safe can cause you to miss out on many of the things life has to offer. it was meant more in the spirit of the saying made durring hill street blues just before the officers went out to their beat- 'be careful out there'

-Dan (try to find me based on those three letters)

Bob Giddings said...

A: Well, of course, there's no need to use your real name. But some sort of tag would help me keep the vast masses of commenters sorted out. And give me a focus for reply, as well.

I appreciate the well wisher, whoever you are.