Sunday, August 12, 2012

2012.08.12 - Black Hawk - Guanella Pass - Black Hawk Loop

Today was a beautiful day to get out on the new Ural Gear Up. I've only had the bike for about two weeks. I regretted selling my last Ural, the 2003 Patrol, back in late 2010. A few months ago I started thinking about it. Last month I started searching seriously for a good used one. I found it two weeks ago, and I've been riding it nearly everyday since.

Today's Route.  A hair over 100 miles.

There's nothing like a warm Summer day in the high Rockies. My house sits at 9,160'. It's always cool when Denver (Just 25 miles away) is sweltering way down at 5,280'. It was a little breezy today, making the mesh riding jacket I chose not the best choice. You know how it is, you start the ride, feel a little cold and waste brain power trying to decide to keep riding or pull over and add a layer.

I chose to keep ridin'.

The ride down Peak-to-Peak Scenic Byway (CO Hwy. 119) is very nice, but as this is one of my commuting roads, I ignore what others might see. It's not until I take the steep climb up out of Black Hawk towards Central City that I start to feel invigorated. At the edge of Central City, I peel-off left as the main stream of traffic heads its way to the right and towards the Central City Parkway. That's the most efficient way to get out of town. But efficiency is not my goal.

I choose Virginia Canyon Road, A.K.A. Oh, my God! Road. This dirt road passes the remnants of a multitude of now defunct gold, silver, and tungsten mines as it first climbs up, then descends down to the south and into the town of Idaho Springs. There are many, many smaller dirt roads shooting off in every direction from Virginia Canyon Road. Seemingly chaotic, but no doubt all following old dreams to some erstwhile mine.

Along the steep drop down towards Idaho Springs, it is easy to understand this road's colloquial moniker of Oh, my God! Road.  One can see straight down a few thousand feet all the way to Interstate 70 and Idaho Springs. The sharp, blind curves always keep you wary for the errant duffer hogging too much of your side of the road. No guard rails here. If you go off, you're going for the ride of your life.  I've been down this road many times, so there are no surprises for me. Down close to Idaho springs, I stopped to take a look at a piece of random road art. Whimsical and practical at the same time, it appears that the creator placed it there to hide the natural gas pipeline and regulator that is behind it.

After dropping down to Idaho Springs, I followed the winding and relaxing service road that more-or-less parallels Interstate 70 as I ride to the west. My original plan was to ride up to the top of lovely Loveland Pass and then loop back down I-70 towards Denver. One look at the eastbound traffic on I-70 changes that plan immediately.

Bumper-to-bumper and 10 miles per hour for as far as the eye can see. As I ride in and out of visual range of the Interstate, I smugly imagine harried travelers growing a smile on their face when they see me puttering nearby on my "antique" sidecar motorcycle. I feel a bit childish as I know I bought this bike in part for its "wow" factor, and I'm enjoying it.

As riding on the interstate holds no joyous prospect, I ponder my options. There are a few different ways I can head off, but I choose to continue on through on the service road and putt through Georgetown. Guanella Pass is the host road for the annual February "Elephant Ride". It's a motorcycle free-for-all that winds its way up the pass road from Grant, Colorado to the south and up to the top of Guanella Pass at about 11,600' above sea level. The last time I did the ride, Guanella Pass was still unpaved and unmaintained in the Winter. It's a fine sight to see a menagerie of motorbikes Slip-sliding on their way as their riders compete to see who can reach the top of the pass through windswept ice patches and choking snow drifts.

But today it is Summer, and I won't have any of those obstacles to overcome. I secretly expect to dislike the ride now that the road is fully paved. I do notice that traffic is higher than it used to be when dodging potholes was the norm. However, I soon come to realize that at my feeble 35 miles per hour, it is a graceful, curving byway. I also notice that it seems some thought was put into the construction as there are numerous turn-outs for slow vehicles and parking. As the road wends its way through National Forest land they've done something that I find quite out of character, they've paved a number of deep pullouts where people can camp nearby along the roadside. Normally, camp grounds are the only option, and roadside camping is less than hospitable. I make a mental note of quite a few good camp spots that I'll have to come back and take advantage of.

Nearing the summit of the pass, there are a few hairpin turns that force me to remember what it is like to pilot a sidecar rig around sharp right-hand curves. Setup your entry wrong and the consequences can be an excursion into oncoming traffic. I inadvertently lift the sidecar wheel midway through one curve and the hair on the back of my neck instantly is up. Piloting a "hack", as we sidecar riders call our rigs, is nothing like riding a motorcycle, nor is it like driving a car. It is a whole 'nother animal. When you get it wrong, it can be scary. When you get it right, not too many things give you more satisfaction.

At the summit of Guanella Pass, I do come to find one of the down-sides to having the road paved. I've never seen so many cars, trucks, and campers parked at the top. This area has always been a popular weekend spot as the pass hosts the trail head for Mt. Bierstadt, one of the coveted "14'ers". At 14,264', it is one of the 54 Colorado mountain tops that is over 14,000' above sea level. Making it especially popular is the fact that it is an easy hike from Guanella Pass to the summit.  Crowded or not, it's still a beautiful spot. I pulled over for a few minutes to snap a few pics.

The view from Guanella Pass towards the southeast.  Mt. Bierstadt is the peak almost visible on the left.  Lower Mt. Sawtooth is the serrated peak near the middle.  Sawtooth is lower, but a more difficult climb.  Been there, done that.
In every direction the view is very nice.

The view to the northwest.  I can't remember the name of the peak in the background.  Beautiful, nonetheless

I continue on after a few minutes of photography and relaxation. The road from the summit of the pass back down to Grant shows it's age and alpine environment. The effects of sun, ice,  and time have taken their toll. Large portions of the road are a complete mosaic of patches, none level with the next. This plays havoc with the small amount of suspension travel offered by the Ural. Piloting a sidecar on such a path induces yawing, lurching, stuttering, and a little bit of handlebar head-shake that have to be modulated by the rider lest they get out of control. As usual, the Ural is happiest at a leisurely speed, and I meander about skirting potholes, frost heaves, and the occasional flattened forest inhabitant at a moderate 35 miles per hour.

Partway down the canyon I once again make note of a few nice camping spots. These little gems will be explored in the future. Past a beautiful roadside waterfall, a side road catches my eye, and I make the effort to stop and turn around so I can check it out.

The stream that caught my eye.

The road leads just a few dozen meters off the side of the road, but it is on the uphill side of the road and thus less visible to the passer-by; pretty much hidden by trees. The roughness of the first few yards up the road leads me to believe that not too many passenger car types venture up this way. The road quickly smooths out and I find a vacant and idyllic camping spot. It has all of the required amenities: It is flat; it is right next to a rushing stream; it is surrounded by trees. Most importantly, whoever arrives here first, wins, as there is only room for one group to camp there. No annoying, noisy neighbors. This one earns a special way point in my GPS. I will be coming back here.

From here, the road soon gave way to a few miles of unpaved gravel. I usually enjoy gravel and dirt more than pavement, especially potholed and patched pavement, but there was no joy today. I suffered the double-whammy. While stopped to take photos, a convoy of caravans slowly drove by. I quickly caught up to them as I continued on.  While choking on their dust cloud I was serenaded by the rhythms of the washboard road.

Luckily, it was only a couple of miles until we once again reached relative civilization. Grant, Colorado has its name on the road map, but can hardly be called a town by most measures. A house or three and a roadside restaurant are all that greet the casual observer. Grant sits on U.S. Highway 285, and it is here that I begin the homeward bound leg of today's ride. Anyone whose ridden this mostly two-lane road road will remember it fondly the very first time. It is scenic and winding and passes through hill and dale and over stream.

Anyone who has been over it many times will curse the traffic and impatient drivers who are hell-bent on approaching Denver as close to warp speed as possible. This makes U.S. 285 a less-than-friendly Ural road, but I am helped out by a tail wind and a mostly downhill trend for the fist 20 miles or so. Any Ural rider knows how joyful it is when you hit that sweet spot in your choice of gear and throttle for any given stretch of road. I was feeling it for a good number of miles before I hit some of the steeper uphill sections.

I generally wish a slow and painful death to all tail-gaiters, but I was spared the worst of it by some thoughtfully placed passing lanes in some of the really steep parts. The remainder of my journey back home, while still a collection of delicious up-and-down hills, left-and-right hand curves is so ingrained in my brain through repetition that I found myself turning off the highway back onto the well-worn dirt road that leads to my house before I even knew it.

Few things are as satisfying to a man of a certain age as a good motorbike and mountainous terrain. Today was one of those days. Let's hope there will be many more.

I don't know art, but I know what I like.  This is just freaky. . .

No comments:

Post a Comment