July 07, 2003 GMT
Installment 3

I left you in Trinidad on a Sunday with a free day ( waiting for a clutch spare). I was sitting in the library with a bit of a sore head typing up as much as possible of the last few days riding and shopping fiasco's. I have had a few complaints regarding the 'technical content' of the last posting. I apologise for this, but in my defence would just say that I write about things that are happening to me at the time. At that time my head was full of bike bits and pieces! I wished that the riding was more straight forward and that I could just enjoy the trail a bit more!! As it happens that pretty much how the lasty four days have been, so I hope this will be a little less bike orientated and little more country and culture information!

On my day off on Sunday I went out for a scenic road ride to see some of the eastern Colorado Mountains and check out some of the local history. The whole of this area is pretty crowded with great place names centred around the late 1800's and the mining, cowboy trails, and ranches that dotted the area. I say 'dotted' but a ranch running from arizona to canada is perhaps a little larger than dotted! theres nothing like a 5 million acre back garden!! The scenery has suddenly lifted itself from high flat plain to typical mountain pine scenery and with the riding comes a wonderful cool pine smelling air flowing around rider and bike. A great relief from the baking and dusty plains. I chose a simple scenic 70 mile loop all on the road and got a guide sheet from the local library. A little rain didnt cause to many problems, except a welcome cold feeling, and the first half of the trail took a little over an hour and was really quite enjoyable. As usual I couldnt leave the route alone and decided to make a small 'modification' to allow better view of some of the higher alpine meadows. Within 10 minutes the scrumpled piece of newspaper I was using as a map deteriorated in the rain, but the scenery drew me onward. One hour later I topped a 12000ft pass in perfect sunshine and stopped. The bike was pretty unhapy in the thin mountain air and misfiring badly. I was beginning to feel the familiar ache in the top of my head which tells me I'm at altitudes I'm not immediately designed for, and my breath was decidedly short. The views were stunning and I was delighted to be back in the mountains and off the plains. I was glad the bike had made it to nearly 13000ft and could now tell Jon and Stef that the 13000ft extended Tomichi pass (due in a few days) was at least possible on unmodified bikes.

Sadly, I was now pretty lost and had to switch on my GPS to guide me in rough directions back to Trinidad and food!!

Jon was not so lucky. A quick trip to the grand sand dune national park had resulted in a ride home through a severe rain/hail strom. He was so cold on arrival that we had to put him in a warm shower for 30 mins to stop him shaking. Minor hypothermia was diagnosed and calories were stated to be the only cure, more food ensued!

Monday

11:15 saw the clutch part arrive. I readjusted my valve clearances to try and kill some of my engine rattle and dismantled the top end of the bike. My suspicions were directed toward a broken valve spring, cam chain fault, or decompression problems. Either way there was going to be no fixing it here and onward was the only way. At least I would have a clutch!!

30 mins later and we bid goodbye to our odd motel keeper, left him a tip to try and fund his $40000 sex change operation and headed west into the mountaiuns. That day we road as fast as we could to try and complete our prescribed 250 mile ordeal. The first few hoursd were quick and stunning as the trail took us around the mountains I had crossed the previous day on open sandy trails. The classic mountain ranches and farms were all around us as we climbed and dropped and the views opened up to show us our first true range of snow covered mountains.

Although we rode as fast as we could we were trying to complete 250 miles in a single afternoon. The last part of the route was over a piece of ground known as the rainbow trail and we knew that this would be hard, technical, and exposed riding. At 6pm we rolled over a low pass and dropped into a huge glaciated valley. We could see it run as far north/south as the horizon, and opposite us was the barrier known locally as the rain mountains. This range rises consitently to 14000ft and formed what looked to uslike an impenetrable barrier to our westward route. It was clear that the ranbow trail crossed this range and the chances of us hitting the days deadlines were not great.

Prudence was called for and a motel loomed into view. We stopped in an exposed village, there were no trees to be seen in any direction. Behind us lay a low range of hills, to each side down the open green valley lay small farms dotted at 15 mile intervals and ahead were the huge snow capped peaks. Out of our motel window perfectly framed lay a dirt road running west into the mountains as far as we could see. This was a BIG valley!!

The town turned out out to be a great place to stop and buffalo burgers from locally grown stock provided an unusualy tasty tea.

Tuesday

The Rockies started seriously today! The first few miles of the route led to an uphill boulder field which was the feeder to the Rainbow Trail. We stopped at an impossibly small trail leading into the woods wondering where the trail began. A mile further up the boulder strewn track we were given the happy information that we had stopped next to it 1 mile earlier!

The trail turned out to be difficult, dangerous, and a lot of hard work. The temperature was still fairly low, but at the cost of altitude and thin air. It was often no wider than 18 inches and wound through a mixture of forest and open mountainside. Numerous river crossings, 1 in 3 boulder slopes, and hideously tight switch backs cut into our days ride time condsierably. Caution was definately the word of the day as 2 and 3 thousand feet drops pulled our wheels into the moutain side and drew our gazes from the job in hand. Two hours and 15 miles later we emerged battered and exhilerated onto on open flat track. Stef used all our luck for the day when he came off and dropped his bike off the trail and down the mountain. He threw himself off the bike and onto the small track fully expecting not to see his bike again. He was lucky when it caught and stopped!!! Although the language he used to describe his efforts to get the bike back on to the route was non to sweet, we were to glad to see him alive!

12noon saw us filling up with fuel. We had covered a non to impressive 38 miles and were all pretty knackered. We were now 1/'2 a day behind schedule and had todays 180 miles to cover in a single afternoon. Inital speeds gave us high hopes for success as we sped down the valley out of a small town with one ouf our four mountain crossings behind us.

We were now ringed by mountains and our GPS told us that ground level here was at nearly 8000ft. It was clear we were going to pass over a second set of mountains fairly soon and that this time they were going to be rather high.

A left turn off the main highway directed us toward a side valley and wound steadily upwards following old mine workings and pine forests. To our right a huge gorge dropped away, carved by the melting snow waters and clearly still rather to full for comfort. We had been forced to ride the trail this time of year and endure the desert and plains heat for one reason. We had to have the high moutain passes of the Rockies open and snow free. The amount of melt water suggested that melting was still very much in progress and gave us some cause for concern. As we rode higher the directions on our road book became ever more vague and the landscape ever more wild. As we crested a rise we came out of the forest and a high alpine plain stood before us surrounded by huge scree slopes and snow covered peaks. The bies were all down to less than 50% power, and the XR400's were suffering misfires paticularly badly. It was 2pm.

It took us nearly 1 hour of technical riding and getting lost to locate the small track switching back off the 'main' (3ft of rocky river bed) trail. By 3:20pm we were past our point of no return for the day and knew that reversing our route would not be possible before dark. Altimeters and bad headaches told us we were well over 12000ft and we hoped that we were nearly over the first pass. We crested 'Hanson' ten minutes later, stopped briefly for a photo and dropped into a remote valley. We could see no signs of life except for trees, and the odd bird of prey circling miles overhead. The trail wound downward and was as tight and twisty as the rainbow trail in places. Sitting back over the bikes luggage racks was essential to prevent toppling over, and in this position 'lock to lock' turns over steep drops were not popular. We soon hit the bottom of the track and began the climb up to our next pass. The Tomichi.

Within a few hundred meters we met our first snow patch crossing the track. It was clear that vehicles had been up to this point but the track looked unkept and partially missing further up the mountain. Jon initally tried the direct approach, but soon discovered that riding over snow on bald knobbly tyres inst really possible. He did crash quite spectacularly trying though! It took three of us to haul his bike over the 10 meter section and then we formulated aplan. Jon would ride ahead to see what other problems there may be whilst stef and I would try to rebuild and clear the track for more heavily loaded bikes and vehicles. At nearly 13000ft it was exhausting work just walking especially as we were no acclimatised at all. After 15 minutes Jon reurned with bad news. There were two more fields of snow that he could see, the first possibly crossable, the second possibly not.

We could see the top of the pass only half a mile ahead and knew that any snow would be be on our side of the pass as it was north facing. We had a choice, try to ride 70 miles back to the last road over rough terrain in the dark, or push onward hoping to break throught the snowfields and cross the pass knowing that a road lay only 12 miles over the mountain. We gave ourselves a two hour dealine of 5:30 pm and move the bikes over the first of the snow fields and onwards towards the second.

The second field was crossed fairly easily by jumping off the bikes with the engines running and pushing. This would have been hard at sea level, but up at this altitude, uphill, over 50 meters the effect was devestating. We all crossed but colapse was pretty enevitable. As we each took our turn there was usually someone on their knees rasping for breath, eyes bulging. The stupidity of the situation caused many attempts at laughing, usually cut short by a lack of breath!

The final north side snow field was an altogether more serious affair. It lasted 'forever', and pushing the bikes accross was NOT going to be an option. The snow was soft, and sinking knee deep I crossed looking for harder patches of snow. I wished we had crossed earlier in the morning when there may have been a crust of harder snow known as neve. It would certainly have made life a lot easier.

Stefs bike was first accross, it took three of us 30 minutes of lung wrenching effort and we were exhausted by the time we had finished. I took the bike while stef and Jon rested, keen to see the summit and check for further problems. The top was a welcome site, the snow field on the other side was not! It was short tho', and mostly downhill (albeit at an angle of around 70 degrees!). I decided upon a strategy of one problem at a time and returned to find unloaded bikes ready to cross. Jons KTM was a BITCH. 200kgs of bike with a 7 gallon tank nearly killed us all. It took over 40 minutes to heave accross the snow and at any given time there were at least two of us gasping and rolling around like exhauted fools. At this point I stongly considered Tenerife and a beach holiday next year.

The good point about hauling the KTM was the development of a limited form of technique which we then used to drag the final Honda across rather more rapidly than the first. It was 5pm, we had one snow field to go and 12 miles of technical riding...........

The final Tomnichi summit called for a Photo befoe a before a new riding technique was pioneered. It is called. 'droppingyourbikedownabigsnowslopewhilstsittingonit beccauseyourtooexhaustedtodoanythingelse'. Possibly the name wont catch on, but the technique certainly works!!

Some rather unsual photos later we rode down a track which earlier in the day would have had us decidedly worried. At this point we really didnt care!! 6:30 pm and were eating snickers bars and drinking gallons of cold liquid at a bizarre mountain store at only 7000ft. 8pm and Jon and I sat in a jacuzzi thinking about just how much better it is travelling in America than the deserts of Africa. Problem was, we had a restaurant booking for 8:30......so we couldnt stay long.............

I am now only a few days behind the full story and hope to catch up when I next find an internet cafe.

Hope you are all well,

Dave

Posted by David Lomax at 09:42 AM GMT
 


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