Monday, August 31, 2009

2009.08 - Back Roads and Passes Colorado

Back Roads and Passes Colorado

A Mild Adventure

So, I've had my F650 since the middle of May. I've been experimenting since with this big beast on the dirt roads near my home in the
Rocky Mountains of Colorado. Mostly though, I've been getting used to her on my daily commutes of 110 miles. Picked her up
with 950 miles on her and just got the 6,000 mile service done a couple of weeks ago. The miles are adding up, but the percentage
of dirt is probably no more than 10%. Given that I bought this bike for that express purpose, I set out to increase the dirt
percentage this weekend.

I scheduled Friday as an off day so that I could enjoy three days of riding. I spent Thursday evening getting things sorted and
packed, so I was all set when my head hit the pillow on Thursday night. The first hiccup came when my alarm failed to go off at 6am
as I had set it. Of course, the stupid on/off button had somehow mysteriously moved into the off position while I slumbered.
Luckily, my retarded Labrador retriever, "Monk", disturbed me at his normal time, so I woke up only about 30 minutes late.

A quick look out the window uncovered hiccup number two. It was raining!. Now, as a general rule, I will always start a ride no
matter what the threat of rain might be. However, if it is raining before I start, I often bag it. This morning I was
disappointed, but decided to see what happens with the weather as I slowly showered, dressed, and perked the morning's pot of

Things never cleared up, but the rain abated, so around 10am I decided that moisture be damned, it's time to go. A quick check of
the weather showed that Colorado was in for an unsettled mixture of wet and unseasonably cold weather for the next day or so. On
top of that, the weather radar seemed to show everything coming from the northwest corner of the state. That was pretty much the
direction I intended to go. Regardless, I stoically pushed ahead.

I often times come back from a trip with a dearth of good photos to give evidence that I actually removed butt from couch, so this
time I determined to take my time, forget about passing anything that comes up in front of me, and to take the time to actually
photograph the things that catch my attention as I ride. Now I get to use the wonder of the internet to force you all to look at
the results. Good or bad, I pretty much stopped and photographed any and everything that I could along the way.

So, before I started, my lovely wife Yuan took a moment to document my departure:

I'm only 5' 7" tall. Look! My feet are flat on the ground and my knees a little bent. I love this bike!. However, her svelte dry
weight of 387lbs is nothing but a memory as I crammed every bit of creature comfort I could carry into those bags. Off we go!

This photo is the view looking south along Peak-to-Peak Highway (CO 119) which runs from Estes Park , CO (Rocky Mountain National
Park) down though the gambling/historic mining towns of Black Hawk and Central City on to Golden, CO, home of the Coors Brewery and
the first territorial capitol of Colorado. As you can see, the day is a bit gloomy:

Continuing south, I first passed through Black Hawk and Central City. Most folks in Colorado only know them because they are two of
the three towns in Colorado where gambling is legal. When the entire state first voted to allow gambling in these three towns, the
first rule was that it would be allowed only if historic preservation were paramount. That turned out to be a very subjective term.
In Black Hawk, some very well preserved examples of Victorian architecture were picked up, lock, stock, and barrel and moved to a
"preservation" zone and put on display. (So much for historical context). In their stead now stand multi-story gambling halls
where the white noise of Vegas replaces any semblance of historical relevance. We even now have a 34 story tall Casino in the tight
canyon. Don't get me wrong, I'm not against the gambling, or its effects on these two towns at all. My property taxes are very
low, and the county tax revenue goes to make life better for us Gilpin County residents.

Black Hawk does make an attempt to "class-ify" the place however. Some public art and a few parks are the fruit of their efforts.
Here's a small park on the main road:

There is an historical preservation Committee also, and they strive to keep the existing buildings in both towns in an
historical-correct condition. Here's a peek at the main street that heads up the hill into much more historically preserved Central

Central City is less than a mile up the hill from Black Hawk, but has suffered from both its location and its decision to be more
true to historical preservation. As a result, the town is much more intact and representative of how it looked in the 1880's than
its northerly neighbor. On the flip-side, it stands a distant third in gambling revenue behind Black Hawk and Cripple Creek.
(Cripple Creek is located about 40 miles southwest of Colorado Springs in the shadow of Pike's Peak.)

Central City's welcome sign explains its raison d'etre:

Indeed, Central City produced a sh*t load of gold and silver in its heyday. To this day, Central City sports an opera house which
is nationally acclaimed.


Heading further uphill from Central City is the Virginia Canyon Road. Looking down on Central City, one can see the level of
preservation that's taken place. A little difficult to see in this photo I guess. Take my word for it.

Here's an example of Central City's erstwhile industry. This mine enjoys a commanding view of the town from the hillside above and
is one of the mines that open up again every time the price of gold rises above a certain threshold:

The Virginia Canyon road runs some six dirt miles from Central City down to Idaho Springs. A few thousand feet lower in elevation,
Idaho Springs was both a gold mining town and regionally renowned for its hot springs. Unfortunately, it suffered the same fate as
not-too-distant Eldorado Springs (Which hosted presidents and international dignitaries) as the waters slowly began to cool in the
20th. Century.

The Virginia Canyon road is locally known as "Oh my God!" road. Although pretty tame by the standards of those who might be used to
shelf roads with no guard rails and steep drop offs, the canyon is a favorite for tourists and a good shortcut for the residents to
shuttle between Idaho Springs and Central City. It doesn't really get fun until it snows however. I drove my Subaru down that road
one morning after a three foot deep snow storm and it was quite a "puckerer" as the snow came up over the hood to obscure the road

Here is a view down the canyon from near the top. That's Interstate 70 way down at the bottom:

Down in Idaho Springs, one can find examples of its heyday. Here’s one of the city’s old fire stations:

Along with more dubious achievements of American industry. Regardless, it’s a cool car:

Continuing west from Idaho Springs, there is a great, winding road which basically parallels Interstate 70. The road follows the path of Clear Creek down the valley that houses I-70. No traffic and much more interesting than the super slab running alongside. Of course, there are more examples of Colorado’s mining industry to view along the way:

(I should warn the reader now that if you’re already bored of the repeated images of mine buildings, you’d better switch to another story now)

Following the winding road and crossing over and under I-70 a few times, one comes to the a parking area where the Clear Creek county Sheriff stores their vehicles. I’m guessing that maintenance occurs in the building on the left:

Originally, I intended to head north and west up into northwestern Colorado, southwestern Wyoming and then over to Utah taking as many dirt roads as I could find. At this point I veered north on U.S. 40 to head up and over Berthoud Pass (11307 ft./3446 m) with the intention of continuing north. As I headed up the pass, the gloom and rain intensified. In the twenty or so miles before arriving at the fog shrouded, cold and wet summit, my plans changed. Semper Gumby! (Always Flexible!)

I remembered the weather radar view that I’d checked this morning which showed all the weather coming in out of the northwest and my new plan formulated as I pulled into the parking lot at the summit of Berthoud Pass. This area was once and many failing times a commercial ski area that catered to the more hearty skier types who enjoyed playing in the high winds and avalanche prone terrain that falls steeply off all sides. I was lucky (unlucky?) enough to have skied the area one time before it closed for the final time back in the mid-1990’s. All I remember is a lot of flailing and falling down. . .

So, I headed back down the way I came until I met up with the road that parallels I-70 and I headed west into Georgetown. Guess what. Yet another mining town, but one that survived intact past its roots to become a thriving bedroom community to folks who brave the long commute down into Denver and those who manage to find a living within its boundaries. I mostly remember it for the stripper-then-Mayor who led the town into turmoil a number of years ago.

Georgetown is the gateway to the road that runs up to Guanella Pass. This might strike a chord with some in the ADVRider community as this is the road that hosts the Colorado “Elephant Ride” every February. It’s a ride for hearty souls who have nothing better to do on a cold February day than to try to get their bikes up the unplowed road to Guanella Pass summit at 11669 ft/3,566m. The Elephant Ride actually comes up the other side of the pass. I’ve done the run two times, once on my Ural hack rig with the driven sidecar wheel (Too easy) and once with my Yamaha XT225 (too hard). Made it to the top both times, but I still don’t know why I subjected myself to it.

Unfortunately, I’d forgotten that the local powers-that-be had decided that life would be better for all Coloradans if they paved the Guanella Pass road. Subsequently, I had to put up with multiple one-lane roads stoppages including one that had me stewing for more than 30 minutes. I had to keep reminding myself that this was a ”leisurely” ride.

Luckily, all was quickly forgotten as the last bottleneck was passed and the way to the summit was just filled with the usual slow moving tourists. Oh well. After spending some time passing a large number of cars on the slippery magnesium chloride coated road surface, I couldn’t bring myself to stop at the top for a snapshot. So , here is one from the last time that I rode the Elephant Ride in 2006:

The higher peak in the right background is 14,060 foot/ 4,285m Mt. Bierstadt, one of the more accessible of Colorado’s 54 mountain peaks in excess of 14,000’/4,267m high at the summit.

Once down the other side, the pass road ends at U.S. 285. This paved, two-lane road winds its way back up to Kenosha Pass at 10,001 feet/3,048m. The wide expanse of level ground at the summit makes for an anti-climactic pass climb, but will be more than made up for in just about 4 weeks as the Aspen trees will begin their spectacular fall metamorphosis and explode into colors. I didn't bother to stop for a photo and continue down the west side of the pass into South Park, Colorado. Many folks might remember the name South Park from the animated television series of the same name. Although forever linked in popular-culture as the home to Cartman and the forever suffering Kenny, the reality is nothing like the fiction. South Park is actually just a really, really big flat bottomed valley that stretches on as far as the eye can see as one heads down the west side of Kenosha Pass. In fact, if you ever see the word “Park” on a Colorado map, you can probably safely substitute the phrase “Large, flat-bottomed, lightly forested valley” in its place and you’ll probably be correct.

At the bottom of South Park is my next turn-off. Como, Colorado is these days just a little stop on the tourist trail, but is also the former eastern terminus of a narrow gauge railway that ran up and over Boreas Pass (11,481 feet/3,499m) to the west and then down into Breckenridge, Colorado. Breckenridge is of course a familiar name to anyone who’s strapped two long sticks to the bottom of their feet. The town of Como these days is filled with some very interesting old buildings that are still inhabited.

Today came to pass as I expected. Little tourist traffic revealed itself as I wound my way up the miles of dirt road that mostly follows the old narrow gauge rail bed. Things will be very different in about four weeks when the trees begin their annual leaf-shedding. At the summit of the pass, there are a few original buildings remaining from the passes heyday as a whistle stop.

The buildings have been restored and are open to the public at times when the Forest Service folks are around.

I continued down the west side of the pass towards Breckenridge. The western slope is decidedly different than the east side. The east side is much more arid as the moisture in the air pushed up the west side dumps the “white gold” on the west side. The result is a much lusher, green area of meadows, trees, and other vegetation, not to mention a world-class ski area across the valley. Here’s a shot from about 2/3 of the way down looking across the valley:

You can see the ski runs of Breckenridge Ski area on the east facing slopes across the valley. At the bottom is Goose Pasture Tarn, the lake that supplies some of the snow making power in the fall.

Continuing on down, there is a history museum just at the bottom of the pass road as it meets U.S. 9 at the edge of town. Time doesn’t permit a perusal, but sitting out front is a prime example of the type of railway snow blower that was used in the Rocky Mountains for many years:

I made a quick stop in Breckenridge for lunch. I’ll spare you all any photos of the restaurant, and the stop only bears mention in that it saved me from a torrential downpour that only began to disperse as I emerged from the restaurant. Of course, the clouds began to part just as I finished donning the last stitch of my rain gear. I decided to leave it all on however as I’d be spending the next fifteen minutes steadily climbing U.S. 9 as it wends its way south and up toward 11,539 foot/3,517m Hoosier Pass summit.

This road is a wonderful motorcycle road with a good series of switchbacks that are just tight enough so that one can lean over like Valentino Rossi. This particular day, my ride up the pass reminded me of the Twilight Zone television program from the early 1960’s. Anyone else out there as old as me remember the episode about the bookworm who survived the nuclear (Nucular?) annihilation of the world only to have his single pair of eyeglasses smashed just as he began to settle down to spend the end of days reading all his beloved books? Well, this was my hell: A series of motor homes, tractor trailers and such that refused to use any of the turn-outs on the way up! That’s one of the reasons that I never carry a gun. I’m afraid I’ll use it!

In record slow time I still managed to make it to the top. Here I decided to snap a couple:

Continuing down south, I turned west once more at Alma, Colorado with the expectation of traveling over 13,188 foot/4,019m Mosquito Pass and down the other side to Leadville, Colorado. I innocently headed west. The road leading out of town was much rougher and rockier than I expected, but after the first mile of steep climbing the road leveled off and I found myself on “just another dirt road” for the next 7 or 8 miles. Finally, I reached the high alpine area where the valley begins to choke off at its head at just over 11,500 feet/3,657m. This is a view to the west:

Of course, it wouldn’t be Colorado if there weren’t a defunct mine operation in the area:

Up ahead the trail took a sharp turn to the left as it began to switchback up the southern side of the valley wall towards the pass:

Now, at this point, I have to issue a parental warning: The following sequence is not for the faint-of-heart or shiny-bike crowd. Please view at your own discretion.

I continued up the trail and successfully maneuvered around the first of the sharp switchbacks. As I looked forward to the path ahead, I was greeted with what looked to this novice off-piste rider’s eyes to be a boulder-strewn obstacle course. I swallowed hard and kept the throttle open as I successfully maneuvered over, around and between the first few meters of rocks. Then came the moment of truth: I zigged; I zagged; then my front wheel went not where I wanted it and it was all over in the blink of an eye. The world was no longer vertical. I no longer felt the surging vibrations of that great lump of a motor between my legs. Worse yet, I was lying on the ground a few feet from my prostrate steed!

The Cherry had been broken!

I quickly jumped up and hit the kill switch to end the pathetic lurching of the rear wheel as it jerked under no load. I took quick stock and only my ego was bruised (Luckily, my alter-ego is still quite arrogant and confident). The poor F650 looked ok, but was now sans one left-side forward turn signal. Alas, the mighty BMW plastic succumbed to its meeting with the Earth.

Amazingly, the obstacles that had just recently dismounted me seem to have shrunken markedly in the photos of the aftermath. I wish I’d gotten my camera out more quickly before they morphed into those inconsequential pebbles!

I actually didn’t have the presence of mind to take any photos until after the second fall. Yup, you read that right. Luckily, I’d previously seen that famous video of the 90lb/41kg woman picking up the fallen 900lb/408kg Honda Goldwing, so after my heart rate had settled down from the first tumble, I put my back to the beast, grabbed the handlebar and the rear passenger rail and more easily than I expected I lifted bike from its prone and sorrowful position. Once sitting steady, I surveyed the situation. I walked up the trail about 30 meters and it didn’t look like it would be any worse, so I decided that I would unload all the gear from the bike and give it another go.

Hence, the second tip over.

I made it up the trail another few yards, but barely managed to keep the rubber on the rock three or four times in that space of time. So, once again I stopped and pondered my course of action. In the end, sanity prevailed, and I began to rock the bike back and forth in an attempt to walk the front end across the slope and eventually have it point downhill. I got it around OK and started down. Unfortunately, I once again suffered the front wheel having a different direction of travel than intended and came off the bike for the second time. For good measure, this time the bike landed on the opposite time than the first fall so that my Touratech fairing protection bars could receive an equal dose of that certain “patina” that tells no lies. (BTW, those bars did their duty and no damage occurred to the bike’s plastic panels.

It was at this point that I noticed the casualty of the first fall. The sad, left-side front turn indicator dangled limply from its wires, but was still operable. Interestingly, the indicator was undamaged, but the silver plastic fascia plate that attaches it to the bike snapped at the connection point. Did I mention that the second fall put the tires higher than the handlebars? It was also fun trying to pivot the bike around to get the tires on the downhill side. So, for the second and hopefully last time I used the he-man bike lift procedure to right the bike. At least at this point I’d already removed everything, so she was decidedly lighter.

Oxygen break:

I checked the bike over and I was pleasantly surprised to find that the only damage was the sacrificial turn indicator and some scratches on the Touratech fairing guards. Imagine that, I bought a product that actually did what I had hoped it would do! I was able to re-fasten the turn indicator to the bike with some expertly applied black electrical tape. Once I’d piled my gear back on, she looked pretty dirty, but no worse for wear than earlier in the day.

So, I ingloriously headed back down the pass road whence I came. As it was now getting fairly late in the day, I decided to jump back onto U.S. 9 and follow it south to where it connects with U.S. 285/U.S. 24. A few miles before it arrives in the Buena Vista area (And for some reason, the locals insist on pronouncing it BYU-NA instead of BWAY-NA) there is a KOA campground that will provide me refuge from the cruel world for one night

Safe haven:

Although safe, the KOA campground was hardly relaxing. As in the stereotype, I was sandwiched between a group of young rednecks, who on my left side, spent the evening playing a version of the “Quarters” drinking game as the slowly dimming headlights of their 4x4’s shined across their picnic table and onto my tent. On the other side, I had the proverbial young family with the overwhelmed mother of three small children, any one of which might seemingly solve this nation’s energy problems by serving as a dynamo.

Luckily for me, the liquor store in the nearby town provided me with a couple of 20 ounce/.6 liter bottles of some local micro-brew so I could easily withdraw into a cocoon of my own. That and a few recorded hours of the “Sons of anarchy” television program and I was pretty much out like a light by 10pm. I awoke around 1am to hear the patter of raindrops on the roof of my tent. I hate packing up in the rain, but quickly fell back into slumber. When the first light of day arrived at about 6am, I had no intention of getting out of the sack, even though I could no longer hear any rain hitting the ground. Alas, my 48 year old prostate conspired with my bladder to force me up, so I gave in. After my morning constitutional, I made breakfast and started packing up while the rest of the campground’s inhabitants began to slowly rouse.

The weather seemed to be unsettled as I packed up:

Sure enough, I’d wasted enough time while deciding to get out of the sack that the clouds found me and it began to rain. There’s nothing like starting out the day all hot and sweaty while hurriedly packing up while wearing all your riding gear to keep it dry under your so-called “Breathable” rain gear. No sooner had I completed the task did the roving band of renegade clouds move on to some other poor sucker somewhere across the wide, flat valley. Of course, a quick glance to the west revealed that my first destination for today, Cottonwood Pass, which is about 20 miles west of Buena Vista was completely shrouded in. I pondered just heading south along the nicely paved U.S. 285, but that, I decided would defeat the purpose of owning this ostensibly “dual-sport” motorbike, so I steeled myself to some more bad weather and headed out.

The road heading west out of Buena Vista is paved all the way to the summit of Cottonwood Pass (12,126 feet/3,696m) and then is a graded dirt road down the western side. It was a pleasant ride toward the pass as the weather seemed to be breaking around me.

The closer I came to the pass, the curvier became the road. Normally not a problem, but a little concerning as the roadway became increasingly wet as I rode. The infamous “Tar Snakes” were everywhere, and it was pretty cold to boot. Still, I soldiered on. When I was within the last mile to the summit, a wonderful break opened in the clouds and the sun streamed in for a few short moments. It wasn’t enough to reveal the fog shrouded summit, but gave me a few moments to snap some pics:

This “sucker hole” (As we used to call them up in the great northwest) only lasted a few moments and then vanished as quietly as it came.

A few minutes later found me dismounted at the summit. Visibility was only about 100m at the top, but I had the summit to myself.

On the west side of the pass, I found myself immersed in another of those two-wheel conundrums. It was a beautifully graded dirt road, but was covered in a thick film of slimy magnesium chloride and mud. My inexperience in the non-paved world made me extra cautious, especially in those sharp switchback turns. Luckily, the lower I went the better the road condition became as the moisture content lessened. I started to feel pretty good until some wise guy on a BMW R1200GS blew by me like I was an unwanted speed bump on his road to adventure riding glory. I knew he must be an adventure riding god as he has one spare TKC-80 strapped to each of his panniers. I marveled at his mastery of the slime (While I was able) and could only wonder “When will I be like that. . .”

I continued on, chastened by my inexperience, but riding on two wheels nonetheless. I stopped for a few moments at an overlook.

It looked like there was a break in the weather down in the valley ahead:

The closer I came to Taylor Reservoir at the bottom, the finer it looked:

By the time I reached bottom, it had opened up to this view:

When it’s good, it’s great, in Colorado.

When the morning began, I had a vague idea that I would ride on through to Crested Butte, CO (Another vaunted Colorado ski town) and then up and over Kebler Pass, but I’d done that just last Fall, so I pulled out the map to look for somewhere I hadn’t been before. (BTW, one thing I have learned over time is that GPS units suck as a tool for deciding which way to go while you’re sitting at the side of the road. Zoom out to see the big view and all the roads you are interested in disappear. Paper maps rule for this purpose)

I saw on the map a dirt road that runs to a little out of the way town named Tin Cup. Don’t know the history, but it sounded interesting, and I’d never been there. So off I went, actually heading back east for a while until I arrived in Tin Cup. Let me mention here, that if your idea of a good time is to have ATV’s piloted by pre-pubescent children buzzing around you like flies, this is definitely the place you want to be. It seemed like there was some sort of teenage ATV Woodstock going on in that area. I stopped just long enough to snap a few pics n Tin Cup and then continued on my way:

A few miles outside of Tin Cup I started to hear a new rattling noise coming from somewhere on the bike. Of course, my first dreaded thought was that yesterday’s off-bike excursions had caused some until now hidden damage and for which I was about to pay the price--in the middle of nowhere. I pulled the bike over and spent a few minutes looking things over. At first, I didn’t see anything amiss, which actually made me feel worse as I suspected some deep, mysterious engine issue. To my great relief however, I finally spotted the culprit:

I guess that after so many miles of rocky and wash boarded dirt roads, even the most loyal bike parts begin to revolt and try to part ways with the bike. It seems that my pre-ride inspection this morning wasn’t good enough as I never noticed that the two bolts which hold the chain guard to the swing arm were now AWOL and the chain guard was rubbing on the chain. So, off came all the gear from the bike again, as the silly little Torx tool that I needed to fully remove the chain guard and its accompanying mud flap was stored under the bike’s seat. A few minutes later, the chain guard-ectomy was complete and the offending parts were quite insecurely fastened to the top of my gear pile with bungee cords. And off I went. . .

The rest of this portion of the ride, I must say, was the most enjoyable of the trip. I’d never been on this road. The weather was by now sunny and getting warmer. Although I didn’t know what the terrain was like on the road, and I soon realized that I was climbing up to another pass (That was not marked on the map), everything just seemed to be clicking at this point. My anxiousness was relieved a little when I passed a group of three Jeeps on the way up. They nicely pulled over to let me pass, but in my mind I was just thinking “They may come in handy if I fall over again up the road somewhere.” No such thing happened however.

Although there were a few rocky switchbacks that had me standing on the pegs and gingerly going around, the road was in pretty good shape, and before long I found myself on the top of Cumberland Pass.

The ride back down the other side was pretty steep at the top, but became more gradual toward the bottom. Fairly soon I was riding swiftly though a quite alpine forest and knew I was approaching civilization as I spotted the first few vacation cabins tucked into the woods by the roadside. I soon arrived in Ohio City, CO, which seemed quite busy for a little burg in the middle of nowhere. I could see that the town folk were blessed by the dollars brought in by the tourists, but cursed by the dreaded ATV. There were quite a few signs around town reminding folks that ATV riding on town streets was verboten! I slowly rode though town admiring the eclectic mix of many modern, beautiful log homes, restored 1800’s log cabins, and the odd ramshackle mobile home. Heading out of the only paved road, I was greeted by a good road and no traffic:

I was lucky that my strapped on parts had not fallen off the bike as I headed out of the hills. I decided that I would swing into Gunnison, CO to find a hardware store where I could purchase some ersatz bolts to fasten my rebellious parts back into their rightful place. As they say “Ace is the place” and I soon found the Ace hardware store. Actually, it wasn’t that soon, as I spent about 15 minutes riding around in circles trying to find the TrueValue hardware store that Garmin insisted was right on the main road.

Ace truly was the place and they were nice enough to allow this mud-encrusted wanderer to go in and out of the store a few times as I test fit some bolts on the swing arm. Eventually I found the right ones (6mm, 1.0 thread BTW) and went to the task in the broiling hot, black asphalt parking lot:

A few sweaty minutes later and I was rewarded with two shiny new bolts to spiff up the bike:

Sweaty and hungry, it was now time to find some chow. I was very tempted to just run into the McDonald’s which was a few hundred meters down the road, but I fought the temptation and decided to just ride round the town a little bit to see if I could find a good little mom & pop. I was rewarded shortly as I found a nice little Mexican joint with outside seating. The food was nothing to write home about, but one of the locals spied me studying the map and asked me where I was riding to. I responded “I don’t know, that’s what I’m trying to decide”. The one road that looked good on the map was not recommended by this gent. He told me it was steep and rocky near the top and probably would need a 4x4 to make it. So I scratched that one off and went back to attacking my humongous burrito.

Surprisingly, a middle aged mother with three small children had overheard our conversation and chimed in with a suggestion to ride up the Ohio Pass road. She gave it a good recommendation, and after finding it on the map I saw that it was a road I hadn’t been on before and that it eventually connected with the Kebler Pass road, which I had been on before and enjoyed. Her suggestion was accepted with thanks and after downing my Coke and ruminating for a few minutes, I was off toward what would become my last two passes of the weekend.

The paved road heading toward Ohio Pass was a nice, curvy one with vistas fit for Colorado. Whether to the left:

To the right:

Or straight ahead, one couldn’t find a bad view:

Just before the pavement ended, I saw this house sitting a few hundred meters down a spur road. I swung back around to take a closer look:

If Hollywood’s supposed creation of the American myth is a truth, then this might be the house that the rest of the world thinks of when they think of American and the Old West. A teepee and buckboard wagon in every yard. . .

The dirt road up to Ohio Pass was a little rough in spots, but easily do-able. Some good views were had as I approached the summit:

Ohio pass itself (10,093 feet/3,076m) is fairly non-descript as it is one of those type that are very broad, and in this case low enough in altitude as to be forested. It was a cool, dark respite from the strong sun on the way up. I didn’t stop for a photo here as there was nothing of note to snap. Less than a mile down the trail, Ohio Pass road merges into Kebler Pass road and I turned north and west to go on over:

It was now about 2pm and as I headed down the lee side of Kebler Pass my mind kept me busy trying to decide if I would continue on somewhere for another day, or start to head east and back home. My back and shoulders were a little sore after so much dirt riding (And maybe those bike-presses added to the soreness. . .) so as I merged back onto pavement at CO 133 near Paonia, CO, I decided to head for home and up and over the last and lowest pass of the weekend. CO 133 is another of those wonderful Colorado roads that begins a tortuous journey down in a river canyon and then wends its way up through forests and ranchland eventually to alpine meadows and small stands of Aspen trees. My last pass, McClure Pass (8,763 feet/2,670m) is the only pass that I went over on this roundabout ride that was lower than tree line, and in fact, lower in elevation than my own home.

I didn’t stop to snap a photo at the top of McClure. This is one pass that’s no slouch for beauty, even though it’s low on the elevation scale. Here’s a photo I snapped a few years ago as the Fall colors started to get into swing:

The road back down the other side is another not to be missed smorgasbord of curves as one is lead lower and lower and eventually deposited into the wide Roaring Fork River valley at Carbondale. I stopped for gas and headed north on CO 82 which connects the luxury of Aspen to the working class homes of Glenwood Springs. I’d intended to connect to Gypsum, CO via another dirt road that I’d ridden in the past, but a sudden deluge of wind and rain helped to cause me to miss the turn-off, so I decided to continue north to Glenwood Springs and merge onto the I-70 super-slab.

There’s not much else to say. 2 ½ hours later I exited I-70 at Idaho Springs and finished off this wonderful ride on the same dirt track that it had begun the morning before. Virginia Canyon and “Oh my God!” road was the perfect, sunset-lit end to this great ride.


Dan K.


  1. Dan, Nice report. I'm inseam challenged and love my '03 F650GSLA for the same reasons you probably do. It'll go pretty much anywhere I want it to and I'm not a single track sort of rider. My blogs (links at my website show some of the fun I have on it). The Griptwister report is the most current.

  2. Cool report of your cruise. I'm amazed that you drove with that many miles. Isn't very heavy while driving? It seems that you have your whole room with those stuff at the back of your motorcycle?