Mid-Life Crisis Blamed for Lapse in Judgment
Two and one-half years ago Bill Thompson and Bo Johnson were out one spring day fly fishing. Late in the day Bill put down his rod, looked at Bo and said, quite out of the blue, that when he turned fifty he wanted to take a month-long motorcycle trip and tour the west. Bo put down his rod, thought about it for maybe 10 seconds and replied that unless Bill wanted to go on the trip alone, he could count Bo in. Idle talk, and big talk at that. Or so it would seem.
Recognizing that mid-life crises are natural, and therefore to be warmly embraced, we registered for the beginners motorcycle class at Nashville Tech. After passing the course with flying colors we soon received our motorcycle licenses. We then began shopping for appropriate bikes. We talked to several friends who had extensive motorcycle experience and they all said basically the same thing, “learn on a small bike and buy something bigger when you get some experience.” It was free advice so we felt free to ignore it. Soon our garages were graced by 1100cc BMW motorcycles, which were way too big and way too fast. Perfect for the mission!
Now, 27 months after that fateful conversation, the trip is a happening thing! Bo’s fifty, Bill is closing in on fifty, and the journey rapidly approaches.
We depart Nashville on September 3 for 25 days on the road. Our planned route takes us through parts of west Tennessee, Arkansas, a little bit of Missouri, all of Kansas and then into Colorado. Our goal is ride as much of Colorado as we can. Our return will take us back into the mountains of eastern Oklahoma and the Ozarks in Arkansas where we plan to trout fish on the White River.
An undertaking such as this truly demands an audience, which is the primary reason for this blog. For those with time on their hands and an interest in observing close up a mid-life crisis of epic proportions, we will publish a daily (hopefully) web-based update, complete with thrilling narrative and stunning photography.
Check it out, beginning September 3:
Sorry for the delays. We have had multiple computer problems and have been unable to update our blog.
Day 1 was 320 miles of rain and 70 miles of blue skies. We made it to Alton, Mo, where we rented an entire house for 40 dollars.
Day 2 was great. Sunny, no humidity and great roads.
We've done 620 miles so far.
See you tomorrow
Hopefully, our computer problems will be behind us tomorrow.
Look forward to
Wednesday, September 3, 2003
Nashville to Alton, Missouri
We said we were going to make this trip, come Hell or high water. Hell can wait 'til another day but did we ever see high water. Rain, rain rain! We left Nashville at 8:30 am in a downpour. We drove through White Bluff, Charlotte, Erin and Dover in the rain. Once we hit Kentucky, the rain became intermittent. It remained that way until 5:28 pm when we hit clear blue skies in Poplar Bluff, Missouri.
Landmarks crossed during the day included the Tennessee, Ohio and Mississippi Rivers, Land Between the Lakes and the Mark Twain National Wilderness.
Bill met a guy named Larry in Alton, Missouri, who used to own a Harley Sportster. His old lady got it in the divorce. According to Larry, she's in prison now. He wonders what happened to the bike. That's a lot of living for a 20 year old.
We were told to call Daisy Simpson in Alton in order to rent a cottage. While not actually a cottage, it is a three bedroom house, with two full baths cable TV and a complete kitchen - all for $40 a night.
Thursday, September 4, 2003
Alton, Missouri to Joplin, Missouri
708 total miles
So far this web site has been clearly less than advertised. We've grappled with poor phone service and a busted iBook power adapter. But now we're ready to roll.
Day 2 started late. Your travelers were beat after 300+ miles in the rain the day before. After sleeping late and eating a fine country breakfast in Alton we took off for the Mark Twain National Forest.
It was a day full of sunshine, no humidity and wonderful rural Missouri roads. Although our goal is Colorado, we wasted several hours in some great twisty back roads. The Ozark foothills were a surprise. Southern Missouri is a pretty place.
Once back on track, we headed to Joplin. Somehow, we got lost (we have maps, GPS but no spouses to help us out). We ended up in Oklahoma and then back again in Missouri.
No one in Joplin would rent us a house for $40 so we ended us in your basic by-the-interstate hotel.
We would have told you this yesterday but we had no working computer.
Friday, September 5, 2003
1002 Total Miles
Another day of sunshine. And facing us, the plains of Kansas, over 500 miles of not much. Not or so we thought.
Although farm fields, loooong straight-aways and flat terrain are not most Tennesseans idea of beauty, southern Kansas has been great fun. The people are nice to strangers, the natural beauty is subtle and the roads are great. By the way, I don't think we've mentioned that we are avoiding interstates whenever at all possible.
LOST IN KANSAS?
Ever seen a map of Kansas? It's just one big grid laid out across the plains with a pauciy of curves & diagonals. It looks like you would have to work hard to get lost if you had a map & could see the sun.
Well, that also assumes you never look a road markers because in Kansas they tend to hurt more than they help. Take a look at this fine example of KDOT work.
We were forced into a two hour detour into Wichita in order to buy a iBook power adapter. Funny, but there are no Apple Computer stores in rural Kansas. While stopped for gas, we tried to call the computer store. We couldn't get service and were walking to the pay phone when Sarah, an early 60's Kansan pumping gas next to our bikes said, "You need a cell phone? My husband and son are bikers." That's been typical of the trip. We've yet to make a pit stop without having an involved conversation. "Nice bike." "I used to ride." "Where are you going?" "I wish i had a job I could leave for 25 days without being missed."
Yes, we got lost briefly today but recovered nicely. We spent hours on K160 going across the southeastern part of the state. It is surprisingly beautiful & made for a fine ride. Everybody, even LOL's, drives fast out here. Our motoring day was broken up by a detour to Wichita & a WalMart stop to replace Bill's too tight boots. The sun & heat really take it out of you on a bike. The fatigue at day's end is real.
THIS IS WHAT IT LOOKS LIKE FOR 500 MILES!
Saturday, September 6, 2003
1377 Total Miles
Wellington, Kansas to Lamar, Colorado
Another day in paradise. We got the full Kansas. Miles and miles of never-ending straight-aways, strong winds coming off the plains and lots of agriculture. Our route took us through the southern part of the state. By sticking to secondary roads, we see a lot of small towns. And again, lots of agriculture.
Is this Kansas or North Dakota?
You may not notice it while traveling in a car, but while on a motorcycle being downwind from a huge cattle feed lot is a not a good thing.
Bo flees the feed lot smell
Kansas farms are incredibly big - a house every five miles or so with massive fields spreading out in every direction.
Our travels took us by Carrie Nation's home, the Dalton Gang hideout and onto the Santa Fe Trail.
The Dalton Gang Hideout Museum is in Meade, Kansas. Susan, who runs the museum, was glad to see us. She enthusiastically detailed the life and final days of the Dalton Gang. I think we were her only visitors of the day. She mentioned that Meade had lost a lot of population lately. We hear that in almost every small town we pass through.
Susan loved telling Bill about the Dalton Gang
In Ulysses, Kansas, a fellow named Tim told us that water rights are the big issue on the Kansas/Colorado border. Tim lived in Clarksville, Tennessee, for eight years. He likes Kansas but misses Tennessee.
We celebrated our exit from Kansas with a soft drink at another convenience store. In many ways, our trip from Tennessee to Colorado has really been a c-store tour of Tennessee, Missouri and Kansas. We stop about every 90 minutes for gas or a pit stop. The coffee varies in quality quite a bit.
This is physically much harder than we imagined...plenty of sore muscles and newly discovered aches and pains. Ibuprofen resides in the tankbag now. We stayed in the Cow Palace Motel in Lamra Saturday night just because they had a hot tub. It was great this morning!
Day 5 will take us from Lamar to Pueblo, Colorado. It's only about 150 miles. We're tired and need a short day. It looks like another day in the rain.
By the way, the photo yesterday of the luggage was not a joke. That pile of luggage is really piled on our bikes every day and then shlepped cross-country.
Lamar, Colorado to Pueblo, Colorado
1505 Total Miles
It was a late start today as the Cow Palace Inn was too comfortable to leave. Actually, we were beat and decided to make it an easy day.
We departed Lamar at 12:00 and drove a total of 128 miles. But they were good miles.
As we mentioned in our last post, rain was in the forecast. And for once, the weatherman was right. We've got the right gear so it was no big deal.
Bill unpacking at the fort. Note the rain gear.
Once underway, we resettled into our on-the-road routine. Bill loves to navigate, so he takes the lead. Bo serves as wingman, which means he does little but enjoy the drive.
Shortly after leaving Lamar we saw a sign for Fort Bent, a reconstructed fort from the old west run by the National Park Service. We were spoiled by the Dalton Gang Museum but knew this would be a letdown. But we decided to make the detour anyway and check out the fort. To our great surprise, it was great. Apparently, it was a privately run fort that served as a trading center and, according to the guide, "the western version of a five-star resort." Complete with billiards table, casino, bar and restaurant, it may well have been the inspiration for today's Ritz-Carlton.
Room service is a bit slow here.
If you want to know more, then click http://www.nps.gov/beol/home.htm
After Fort Bent, it was clearly time for food. La Junta, Colorado, boasts a genuine chinese restaurant on the court square. It was....ok. Road food has been a disappointment. You pretty mcuh have to take what you can get and pickins' has been slim at times.
We've been saved by vending machines more than one time!
As we approached Peublo, CO we raced an incredibly ugly thunderstorm off ot our east that kept getting closer and closer. THe mood was tense. At the last minute the road turned west and led us away from the storm as the foothills of the Rockies began to appear on the horizon. It truly was an omen of good things to come. We offer thanks tonight and plan some type of sacrifice.
Back to the luggage picture: we have too much stuff. Tonight we decide what we each can live without and tomorrow we mail it home.
We're in the Wingate Inn tonight. Much to our pleasure, it has a broadband internet connection in each room. That makes the task of writing and posting this much easier.
Tomorrow, after a short trip to Mailboxes, Etc., we depart for Gunnison, Colorado. On the way we plan to take a detour over some fine scenic, twisty Colorado roads. After the Ozarks, the straight roads of KS have us longing for curves and dips again. Several weeks before we left we took a motorcycle racing/riding course at Road Atlanta. It was very challenging and helped both of us tremendously in terms of our riding skills. Motorcycling is a blast on the twisties. We are in a fabulous place for that.
Pueblo, Colorado to Almont, Colorado
1780 Total Miles
Our day started out with a quick trip to Mailboxes, Etc. to send home a few unneeded items. This is our first extended motorcycle trip and we packed like it was a car trip. Five days on the road gave us a good idea of what we could do without. About 20 pounds of assorted electrical gear and clothes left our bikes a bit lighter and our luggage easier to pack.
We left Pueblo on Highway 50, which took us through the last bit of plains leading up to the foothills of the Rockies. After over 1500 miles, we had finally arrived.
We begin a fairly rapid assent up the Sangre de Christo Mountain Range. The roads were as advertised; twisty and lightly traveled.
Bo on the wrong side of the road posing for a picture
Bill on the high plains. Check that background!
At this point Bo noticed that his right highway peg was missing. Not necessary for driving, the highway pegs are a second set of pegs placed toward the front of the bike. They make for comfortable riding when cruising on long, straight roads. A replacement is necessary before we reenter the plains states on the way back to Nashville.
We turned onto Highway 96, which took us through a number of small Colorado towns. We stopped in Silver Cliff, a pretty little town that appeared to be thriving. Which brings up a point: we have been through well over 100 small towns on our trip. We've talked to the locals, toured some of their attractions and gotten a real feel for their character. We have each remarked how much more connected we feel to the areas we've traveled through than on any other trip either of us has taken.
Spectacular vistas were the order of the day
We then took Highway 114, which gave the most spectacular ride yet. Amazing vistas were found at every turn. We drove through a high plain (about 8000 ft above sea level) that was incredible in its scale. What a panorama!
The horizons and sky merge in a way found only in the West
On the way to Gunnison, Colorado, we drove through the Gunnison National Forest, crossed the continental divide in the San Juan Mountains and drove over North Pass, elevation 10,189 feet.
Our best stop of the day waas at a combination Radio Shack and hardware store, a duo not usually seen. Bill allowed as to how this was his ideal in terms of retail sales. Everything you need in one place!
At Gunnison, we drove to Almont, Colorado, and spent the night at Harmel's Resort, a trout fishing camp on the Taylor River. At Harmel's we rendezvoused with a couple of college friends, Jim Cato and George Wright, and a friend of theirs, Paul Rosenblatt. Bo finds himself the only non-physician of the five. If he's gonna get sick on this trip, now is the time.
If Tomorrow we plan to catch a few Rainbow Trout.
A cabin on the Taylor River in Almont, Colorado
1780 Total Miles
A pleasant night at Harmel's Resort was followed by a fun, yet unproductive morning of trout fishing. Could it be that we have neglected our fishing over the past year? Has our motorcyclemania become so obsessive that we have let our fly-fishing skills deteriorate? We chose to think not. We fault the weather. That's our story so believe it.
Harmel's is a nice place. They offer fly-fishing on private water, horseback riding and good and plentiful food. It's run by a very accommodating guy named Steve. He is a San Diego Charger fan and was thrilled with the Titan's win over the Oakland Raiders.
Rain started late morning accompanied by decreasing temperatures, so post-lunch was devoted to reading and napping.
Bo on the porch of our cabin
The storm caused a power outage so dinner was by candlelight. We both would have preferred having a candlelight dinner with our spouses, rather than with each other!
We played pool after dinner and then watched a DVD on the iBook. Cape Fear (the new one) is intense stuff to watch during an electrical storm.
George Wright and Bo checking out the forecast online
Jim Cato shooting pool poorly
Paul Rosenblatt setting up
Harmel's has been fun, but we miss the open road. Our minds are on motorcycling, not fishing. We plan to leave tomorrow. Our destination depends on the weather forecast.
Harmel's Resort to Gunnison
1855 Total Miles
Ok, every day can't be wonderful. As a matter of fact, today was a not so good.
We awoke to steady rain. The temperature was down to 42 degrees and the weather report called for snow in the high passes. One look at our map made it clear that there was no escape from the Gunnison area without crossing a pass in excess of 9,000 feet. So we decided to take a chance and try Highway 50 back to Pueblo. The only obstacle would be Monarch Pass, which tops out at 11,312 feet.
The donned our rain gear, packed our bike and departed Harmel's.
The first 10 miles or so we fine. As we continued on the temperature kept dropping and the riding became terrible. We were about 30 miles out of Gunnison, our hands were freezing (we didn't think we would need our winter driving gloves on this trip) and it started snowing. We decided not to be heroes (or fools). We turned around and drove back to Gunnison. By the time we reached Love's (a c-store chain) we were totally miserable. Cindy, who ran the cash register at Love's, said that she didn't mind us dripping all over her store as we desperately downed hot cups of coffee. She suggested the new Comfort Inn near downtown as a good place to hole up.
We found a motorcycle dealer and purchased warm, waterproof riding gloves and Bo found new highway pegs. So the day wasn't a total disaster.
Threatening skies kept us holed up in Gunnison
So...as we write this update, we are safely ensconced at the Comfort Inn watching an old Burt Lancaster movie.
We had dinner at Serrano's Mexican. We asked the four guys at the table next to us is they knew anything about road conditions. We talked a while and they asked where we were from. It turned out they too were from Nashville. One of them owned a cabin in Gunnison and knew the area well. We talked a lot with J.R. Spencer of Faairview, Tennessee, who owns a Harley and tries to make it to Sturgis every year.
JR and Bo
Not the day we hoped for. But we're in Colorado, dinner was good and we're not at work, so we're not complaining too hard.
"W" on Gunnison hillside for WCU
It's expected to warm up tomorrow. Wish us luck.
Gunnison, Colorado, to Buena Vista, Colorado
251 magnificent, spectacular miles
2006 Total Miles
Yesterday we said that not every day can be wonderful. Well, today was just that, and more.
We broke out of our two-day doldrums in a big way.
First things first. The weather. In a way, we have become at one with America's farmers. Like them, we live by the weather. We look at every weather report on TV, we check the papers and we are always scanning the skies for threatening clouds. Here in the mountains the skies are always complex and cloud patterns are constantly shifting.
After an early departure from the Gunnison Comfort Inn, we stopped at the Perfect Blend, a combination coffee shop/outdoor clothing shop. Not an intuitive combination, but apparently it works. Bo was able to find a fleece jacket (like the one he has at home but didn't need for the trip!).
Blue Mesa Resevoir outside Gunnison
From Gunnison we took Highway 50 and then hit Highway 92, which follows the northern rim of the black gorge of the Gunnison River. The views were incredible, as they were all day. On this stretch of the road we enjoyed a dizzying array of twisty roads that continued to climb to higher altitudes. The lack of guard rails and the prospect of a 1000 foot drop from any given hairpin curve kept us under control.
This is SPECTACULAR! Thanks to Jerry Cassidy!
More Black Gorge views
We keep repeating this, but the views were breathtaking. Which cuts both ways. You want to enjoy the view but you don't want to wander off the road (see prospect of 1000 foot drop in paragraph above). But it's like TV. When it's on, you cannot keep your eyes off of it. We pulled off the road a few times, we slowed down a bit and we stayed on the road.
We crossed McClure's Pass at 8,750 feet, which was only a prelude for better things later in the day.
In Hotchkiss, Colorado, we saw a crude hand-lettered sign that read, "Elk Meat for Sale." Fifty feet away was a sign welcoming us to Hotchkiss put up by the Benevolent Protective Order of the Elks. Somebody was lying. Sorry we didn't have our cameras.
We stopped in Carbondale, Colorado, for lunch. We had never heard of Carbondale but it was a very tony community. Fancy shops, nice houses and expensive cars were everywhere. We stopped a police car to ask directions and he flicked on his blue lights while he talked with us. We got a lot of respect in town after that!
After Carbondale we rode Highway 82 through Snowmass and Aspen. We looked as we drove through Aspen but didn't see anyone famous.
Aspen area views
After Aspen came the highlight of the day, Independence Pass. Although the roads were clear, Independence Pass, at 12,500 feet, was covered with snow and offered the best views we have yet seen. The road up was twisty and often narrowed to less than two lanes. On the way down we had to negotiate turns that were covered with sand (their version of road salt). Sand is not considered a preferred motorcycle road surface. Once past the sandy curves the road opened up and we enjoyed a great decent on winding roads.
COLD UP HERE!
Check the snow. This was intimidating!
We ended up in Buena Vista, Colorado, a little town located in the middle of a massive high plains and surrounded on every side by towering, snow-capped peaks. We plan to stay at the Motel 8 for two days so tomorrow requires no packing. A luxury indeed. With no luggage, we will also be riding much lighter bikes.
Buena Vista, Colorado to Buena Vista, Colorado
2366 Total Miles
Eight hours of eye candy. Have we mentioned yet that the vistas are beyond belief? We know this isn't news to anyone but we have to mention it...repeatedly.
We decided to make a 260 loop that began and ended in Buena Vista.
We climbed out of Buena Vista on Highway 285 which took us through the San Isabel National Forest.
The view to the West as we headed East
We then reached Wilkerson Pass, elevation 9600 feet. We stopped there to visit a scenic spot with a view of over 20 peaks, all over 13,000 feet elevation. We met Roger, who grew up near Memphis and has parents in Jackson, TN. He lives out here now and came over to visit after we stopped. Nice guy.
While descending from Wilkerson Pass, we stopped at the Florissant Fossil Beds, which contains the fossil remains of a 35 million year old lake. Also of interest were huge fossil stumps from ancient sequoias. Most interesting at this stop was Harr Burman, a Wisconsin retiree who spends the summer seasons working at the fossil beds for the National Park Service. Burman has become an expert on the fossil beds and gives talks to touring groups several times a day. Retirees staff positions like this for the National Park Service throughout the nation. We've met a couple of others who do this and it seems quite fulfilling.
Harr of the US Park Service
Bo and one of the petrified stumps of ancient sequoias
After touring the fossil beds, we drove through some great mountain roads and arrived in Cripple Creek, Colorado, for lunch. To our surprise, Cripple Creek is full of small casinos. We didn't see many motels and wondered where the gamblers came from. After lunch, we were putting our gear on in the parking lot when the waiter came out and suggested that we take the road to Deckers, which would take us through woods that were severely damaged by last year's major forest fire. Bill's wife, Laurel, was here last year during the fire working with the Red Cross. She spent several days in Cripple Creek.
Main Street Cripple Creek
We drove through the area and the damage was impressive. Yet further down the road was a stretch of forest that was recovering well from a previous fire.
The last part of the day took us over Kensoha Pass, 10,000 feet elevation. Upon decending from the pass we came upon the best view of the trip yet, a high plains area that stretched for miles and miles. We hope our photos give some idea of what we saw.
View at the top of Kenosha Pass
This is the real South Park!
Tomorrow it's on to Westminister, Colorado, which lies between Bounder and Denver.
Buena Vista, Colorado, to Westminster, Colorado
2501 total miles
Both of your earnest motorcyclists were looking forward to weekend visits by our spouses. Bill's wife Laurel and Bo's wife Fifi were scheduled to fly into Denver and spend a couple of days with us visiting Estes Park and other Denver area attractions. Unfortunately, Fifi developed a respiratory ailment inherited from their teenagers and was unable to make the trip.
So, when we left Buena Vista, Bill was determined to make it to Denver. Domestic tranquility demanded as much. The problem, however, was one we've talked about over and over again: the weather.
Our journey to Denver took us back over some of yesterday's route, including Kenosha Pass. We left Buena Vista in 50 degree, rainy conditions. By the time we reached Kenosha Pass, the temperature had dropped to 40 degrees and the rain continued to fall. The conditions were miserable, to say the least. At one point the rain briefly turned into light snow, but since the roads were still well above freezing it presented no traction problems. Once over Kenosha Pass we stopped at yet another c-store and downed yet another cup of stale coffee.
We arrived in the Denver area just as we began smelling burning oil from Bill's bike. As luck would have it, we turned a corner and there was Foothills BMW Motorcycles, the nation's third largest BMW Motorcycle dealer. A quick visit with the service manager assured us that Bill's bike was OK. Apparently going rapidly up and down in altitude can cause this to happen. After that free information we proceeded to drop a few dollars on various toys for our bikes.
We then drove on to Westminster, a small Denver suburb.
We are now at the Westin Westminster. Laurel arrived at six o'clock. Bo then faced a dilemma. For 11 days he had grown accustomed to two wheels. Then, in a matter of minutes, he became a third wheel. After visiting with our new arrival for a few minutes, he bid the couple goodbye and disappeared into Room 627, for an evening of college football and room service.
Tomorrow we plan to tour Estes Park. The weather, by the way, promises to be excellent.
As this trip journal has developed we have generally divided the duties. Bo does most of the writing and Bill serves as the photo editor. Note that today's report has no photos.
Westminster, Colorado to Westminster, Colorado
2758 Total Miles
We assembled at 10:00 in the hotel parking lot. The skies were crystal clear and the temperature was moderate. It looked to be a great day for riding. Today would be a little different because Bill would be carrying a passenger, his wife Laurel.
The three stooges?
We hit the road at 10:30 and drove to Golden, Colorado on route to Estes Park. From there we took the Golden Gate Canyon Road through the Roosevelt National Forest. In Estes Park, we ate a mediocre lunch at Nicky's Restaurant. After Estes Park the ride got really interesting. We soon arrived at the Rocky Mountain National Park. The national park annual passes we purchased from Herr Burman at the Florissant Fossil Beds a couple of days ago came in handy.
Father photographing his daughter, a future Cosmo cover
The park road featured a series of severe switchbacks and, as a result, we gained altitude quickly. Heavy traffic made the ascent a little slow but the scenery was some of the best we've driven through. We continued to climb and climb. The view got better and better (we're running out of words to describe the views). It was another case of the scenery being almost too good for our own good as we tried to watch the road while driving our motorcycles up a very twisty, very scenic road. Once again were had no guardrails and the drop-offs were deep. We were on the Trail Ridge Drive, the only road that crosses the entire park. It is the highest paved road in the United States.
Views from Trail Ridge Road
We negotiated switchback after switchback, each one revealing another incredible view. The air became noticeably cooler until it dipped to the mid--30's. Finally, at 12,200 feet we reached the crest. Well past the tree line, the terrain was a monochrome of tundra and rock.
A hidden valley on our way down the mountain
We began descending rapidly and the switchbacks were now all downhill. This was challenging riding for two guys who have been on motorcycles for only 16 months. Bill faced the additional challenge of carrying a passenger, something he rarely does.
Shortly after leaving the park, we stopped for gas. That's when we learned the tragic news that the Colts beat the Titans 33-7. After a moment of silence in honor of Steve McNair's dislocated finger, we gassed up. It was a good stop, however, since we met Lloyd Curry and Larry St. Clair from North Carolina. They've been riding buddies for 11 years and have logged thousands of miles riding together. Bill and Bo thought it took them only a short time to drive from Tennessee to Colorado until they heard that Larry and Lloyd drove from North Carolina to Colorado via New Orleans in just five days. These guys are real road warriors.
Larry and Lloyd with thier bikes
We said goodbye to Larry and Lloyd and drove on through Winter Park, Colorado, which like Aspen and Snowmass, is busy in preparation for skiing season.
It was then time to return to Denver. By this point we were back to a bit over 10,000 feet. Our route downhill took us through the Arapaho National Forest, which contained tremendous stands of Fir which led up to a treeless ridgeline. The road, Highway 40, was a newly paved four-lane, with a wonderful series of twisties and long sweeping curves. It was an unexpectedly fine ride.
Our last 40 miles or so were uneventful and we arrived back in Denver at 7:30.
Although she never protested and was a trooper all day, Bill and Bo probably gave Laurel more of a ride than she needed on her first day in Colorado.
Married with children
Cruising the West
Westminster, Colorado to Westminster, Colorado
2864 total miles
Another day of perfect sunshine!
We decided to give Laurel a break and make it an easy day. Our agenda included a trip to Boulder, Colorado.
Power poles painted the same color as the mountains ouside Denver
The route took us past a mysterious Department of Energy facility isolated on a large piece of expensive Colorado land. We thought about taking a photo but decided not to. A few months ago during a trip to North Carolina, we drove into a nuclear power plant site thinking it would make a good picture. The guards, with automatic weapons thought otherwise. We figured that if we tried it again black helicopters would swoop down and take us to Washington for a sit-down with John Ashcroft.
In Boulder we would tour of the Celestial Seasonings factory, have a late lunch and then a couple of hours of light riding through the foothills of the Rockies on our sweep back to Denver.
But first, we thought it might be a good idea to tell you a bit about our motorcycles.
Bill drives a 1998 BMW R1100RT. This is a touring bike, with a plastic fairing covering the front of the bike and the engine. It has a twin cylinder 1100 cc engine delivering 85 horsepower. It is equipped with two hard side cases and a tail case. It weighs roughly 650 pounds fully gassed without rider and luggage.
Bo drives a 2000 BMW R1100R. This type bike is called a standard. It has no fairing and is not actually designed for touring. It has the same engine as Bill's but is tuned for 80 horsepower. Two hard side cases, a tailcase and a windshield have been added so it tours well. It weighs 530 pounds fully gassed without rider and luggage.
The bikes have anti-lock brake systems, which gives us both a lot of confidence on the road. The bikes also have five-speed transmissions connected to a shaft drive.
Both bikes are equipped with Autocom voice-activated radio communications systems. We can talk back and forth quite easily while on the road. We each have Apple iPods connected to our Autocoms. Each helmet is fitted with a microphone and we each have earphones custom made to fit our ears. The earphones also serve to block out wind noise, which can be very loud when at highway speed. Even at highway speeds the quality of the music through this system is as good as either of us have had on our home stereo systems.
To make ourselves more conspicuous on the road, we have each added modulators that make our headlights pulse, rear flashing brake lights and front fork mounted motolights that, coupled with the headlight, creates a big triangle of light.
For comfort, we have each added custom seats, a second set of foot pegs that are located about a foot in front of the regular pegs (used to stretch out a bit when on a long highway run - they were a blessing in Kansas) and a device that allows us to rest our throttle hand a bit while on a long highway run.
Now, back to the journey.
The ride from Westminster to Boulder was only about 18 miles. Boulder, home of the University of Colorado, is a typical college town. UC has a large campus, so students on bicycles were everywhere.
Bill used his GPS to take us directly to the Celestial Seasonings corporate offices and factory. The factory, which is not all that big, produces every bit of the Celestial Seasonings products sold worldwide.
Everyone taking the plant tour was required to wear a hairnet. Those of you who know Bo will recognize the irony in that. The tour started with a short video which detailed the history of the company and also engaged in some not-so-subtle salesmanship. After the video, our tour guide, Cherie, asked the group which Celestial Seasonings tea was the biggest seller. Bill raised his hand and answered, "Sleepytime." Cherie was pleased and Bill won a book on herbs authored by the founder of the company.
Cherie at the tour's start (before the book)
One of the best things about the tour were the smells. Herbs and spices from 35 countries are stored in the factory. The smells were overwhelming, but very nice. We then entered a sealed room called the "peppermint room." They store peppermint and spearmint separately because their strong smells would cause the other spices and herbs to acquire a peppermint and spearmint flavor. Within seconds of entering the room our eyes were watering and we were literally breathing peppermint. No one who works in the peppermint room has a sinus condition. We lasted about a minute in there. The production floor relied heavily on robotics. The plant floor looked like a great place to work. We couldn't help but notice the music blaring over the loudspeakers: Sweet Home Alabama.
After the tour we enjoyed their herbal tea tasting room and were then on our way.
Our next stop was Lucile's, a local cajun restaurant. The food was really good and the homemade ketchup was a real highlight (when living on road food the little things - like homemade ketchup - have added significance).
We exited the foothills via Clear Creek Canyon, a beautiful steep walled rock canyon through which ran by a beautiful fishy looking stream. The repeated tugs at our fly rods seem to be consistently overpowered by the allure of gasoline and rubber. We keep riding. We'll fish later...maybe.
Clear Creek Canyon
For dinner we went to a really good mexican restaurant owned and operated by three generations of an asian family. The teenagers were waiting tables, the parents were working the cash register and the barefooted grandfather was sitting at a table working on a laptop computer and bouncing his happy baby grandchild on his knee. Only in America.
Tomorrow we head for southwest Colorado and the San Juan Mountains.
Sunset from our hotel's deck
Westminster, Colorado to Grand Junction, Colorado
3184 total miles
We neglected to mention it because it is so painful to think about, but yesterday marked the half-way point in our epic journey. At 12:00 noon on September 15, while enjoying homemade ketchup at Lucile's restaurant in Boulder, we both realized that the rest of the trip is downhill. It was such a sobering thought that we quickly put it out of our mind.
Today is the first day of the rest of our trip. And it was a fine day.
Bill said goodbye to Laurel and we loaded up our bikes and headed west.
We broke one of our major rules when we set up today's route: avoid the interstate. However, the only way to reach the western part of Colorado quickly, which was our goal, was to take I-70 out of Denver.
We avoid interstates for a simple reason: we don't like sharing the road with 80,000 pound trucks. It worked out OK because the route took us up and down extremely steep grades. The trucks stayed in the inside third lane creeping up the mountains and slowly burning out their brakes while descending. The other two lanes were open for cars and smaller trucks and, most importantly, motorcycles.
I-70 took us along the edge of the Arapaho National Forest and through the White River National Forest. The Glenwood Canyon Section of the White River National Forest was among the choicest drives we have taken. This narrow canyon contained a double-layered interstate (the east lanes below the west lanes), railroad tracks and the Colorado River.
We drove through several tunnels, the most impressive being the Eisenhower/Johnson Memorial Tunnel. Naturally, we blew our horns in every tunnel we encountered.
We exited I-70 near Vail, Colorado. After a fine lunch at a local deli, we headed to McClure's Pass. We crossed the pass a few days ago going in the other direction. Once we reached the 8,755 foot crest, we began a descent that rated among the best roads we have driven yet. It was a 30 minute downhill full of sweeping curves and tight twisties.
Vintage Mercedes 300SL north of Vail
We stopped at Hotchkiss, Colorado, (which has a big H emblazoned on a hillside, a Colorado phenomenon that we don't understand). Bo noticed a little oil on his right saddlebag. A closer inspection revealed a slow oil leak from his right cylinder head. The bike's oil level was still within factory specifications so we continued on to Delta, Colorado. We stopped in Delta to check on the oil leak and saw that it would need professional attention. Since we were in the middle of nowhere, this could be a major problem. Maybe not. Your faithful travelers were lucky. Grand Junction, Colorado, only 30 miles away, is the home of AllSport Honda/BMW Motorcycles.
So, rather than turing south toward Telluride, we turned north to Grand Junction. We are now in a nice hotel and plan to visit the BMW dealer tomorrow morning. Let's hope they can fix Bo's bike, and fix it fast.
Fabulous arid scenery south of Grand Junction
We've run out of superlatives to describe Colorado so, in the interest of good reporting, we now plan to head for eastern Utah. There we plan to visit the Arches National Park and the Canyonlands National Park. Hopefully, we will spend tomorrow night in Moab, Utah.
It all depends on the mechanics at AllSport Honda/ BMW. Let us pray.
Grand Junction, Colorado, to Moab, Utah
3393 total miles
Our prayers were answered.
At 8:55 am we arrived at AllSport Honda/ BMW and sought out service manager Bill Davis. He looked Bo's bike over for a minute and asked that it be driven into the service area.
29 minutes and $29.33 later Bo's bike was repaired and we were once again on the road. It turned out that the highway pegs on Bo's bike, which are connected to the cylinder head covers, caused a washer connected to a bolt to come loose and allow oil to leak out, At least that's what Bill Davis said. What could have been either a very time consuming or expensive disaster turned out to be no big deal.
Jim Davis at All Sports Honda/BMW in Grand Junction
We took Highway 50 out of Grand Junction and then turned onto Highway 141 to Naturita, Colorado. This was our first experience driving through canyons. The roads were extremely twisty. The winds were also extremely fierce. These were by far the strongest winds we have faced on this trip. It was often hard to enjoy the ride because we were concentrating so much on dealing with the wind.
Stupendous Dolores Canyon
As usual in this part of the country, be went up and down several steep grades. The views were different, however, as we entered an area that was more red rock and craggy mountains than the heavily vegetated areas of previous days.
More of Dolores Canyon
A highlight of today's trip was a high altitude stop to view an old mining flume that was built in the 1800's. Stretching over 13 miles, the flume was built by workers who were literally suspended by ropes over a 500 foot drop-off. The flume, made of wood, was able to handle 2.4 million gallons of water a day. Parts of the flume remain on the mountainside.
While viewing the flume, we met Chuck, from California, who was on his way back home from an extended motorcycle tour. He offered helpful information about road conditions.
We drove through Bedrock, Utah, but only came within a mile of Paradox.
We reached Moab, Utah, mid-afternoon and decided to check out the Arches National Park. After Bill entered the park, Bo stopped at the gate to show his park pass. After doing so, he put his bike into gear and was immediately hit by a 30 mile per hour plus wind. The wind pushed the bike two feet toward the edge of the road and gave both riders reason to believe that the park would be best viewed on another day. We immediately returned to Moab, where shopping and dinner were our new agenda.
The fatigue of two demanding driving days hit us hard once we returned to Moab and checked into the motel. After securing gifts for the families, we had a quick dinner and an early evening.
Bill outside Moab
The winds are expected to be just as strong tomorrow, so we might rent a jeep and tour both the Arches National Park and the Canyonlands National Park.
Moab, Utah, to Monument, Valley, Utah
3724 total miles
We mentioned a couple of days ago that we were leaving Colorado because we had run out of superlatives with which to describe the scenery. Yesterday an email arrived from Bill's 18 year old son Andrew. He was concerned that we took to the road for extended travels without carrying a thesaurus along. To help us out of this jam, he listed several superlatives we have not used in our previous reports. We dedicate today's descriptive passages to Andrew.
Day 16 was our most ambitious to date. Under sunny skies with mild winds, your intrepid travelers covered two national parks, 320 miles of road, successfully completed our most demanding mountain descent yet and cruised through the center of Monument Valley, Utah.
Our day began with short drive to Arches National Park, which is located only three miles from Moab. We decided not to rent a jeep. The park ranger told us yesterday that the strong winds don't pick up until the afternoon and that a morning motorcycle tour could be done without anyone being blown off the road. Although potential high winds might preclude an afternoon visit to Canyonlands National Park, we decided one park on a motorcycle beats two parks in a car!
THe "3 Gossips" formation at Arches
Arches is one of America's smaller and least publicized national parks. It is accommodating for motorcyclists, however, as it is bisected by a 20 mile road. The views are exquisite (thanks again, Andrew). The park was full of impressive rock formations that were the result of millions of years of wind and sand erosion.
At Arches we met John and Margaret Templeton of Santa Barbara, CA who were touring by car but just completed a 1200 mile motorcycle trip on John's BMW K1200RS. They wished us well and commisserated with us about the difficulty of motorcycling through such substantial winds.
John and Margaret Templeton
After Arches, we drove back to Moab and checked out of our room. We drove south on Highway 191 for about 30 miles and then turned off onto the road to the south side of Canyonlands. This 34 mile road was a real keeper. Newly paved in portions, it combined twisties with a tree-lined valley. The ten miles before the park may well be the most inspiring, picturesque, magnificent and unforgettable drive we have taken (Andrew strikes again). The three-mile wide canyon was filled with the most Impressive bluffs we have seen. We hope our photos do it justice.
Impressive cliffs at Canyonlands
Bo at Canyonlands
Afternoon high winds did not develop so we were able to tour Canyonlands. The park was impressive but it actually paled in comparison to the entrance road. The park has few roads and the most striking parts are primarily reached by hiking. Two wheels for these boys; not two legs!
We left the park and and drove back through the awesome entrance road. Bo crested a hill onto a fabulous view just as the Byrds song "I can see for miles" started up on his bike-mounted satellite radio. What a 60's moment!
We continued south and took a chance on Highway 261, which was marked "scenic" on our map but would entail a much longer day's journey. It was well worth it. It was also newly paved, twisty and replete with miles of rugged, southern Utah scenery. We crossed the San Juan River and drove through the Grand Gulch Primitive Area.
We begin climbing Cedar Mesa. It was a relatively steep grade and we soon reached the top. At that point, we turned a corner and, stretched below us for as far as the eye could see, was Monument Valley. Shots of Monument Valley are in almost every western film.
Monument Valley from the top of Cedar Mesa
Ah, it gets better. In order to reach the valley, we must descend a 10 degree grade for three miles on a serpentine road that hugged the mountainside with no guardrails and a 1200 foot drop to the bottom. And, oh yes, it is unpaved! Our bikes are not made for offroad. They love pavement, preferable new pavement. We stopped for a few minutes prior to our descent, updated our wills, confessed our sins and wrote letters home.
The sign that strikes fear in the heart of asphalt warriors
Before any of our loved ones get too worried, our saving grace was that you cannot get it too much trouble descending at 3 miles per hour. After what seemed like an eternity, we reached pavement and all was well. We each immediately recanted our confessions of sin.
Check out this road - unbelieveable!
The 20 mile drive through the center of Monument Valley was stunning. Again, we hope our photos do it justice.
We arrived at Goulding's Trading Post and Lodge just before sunset. The lodge, located in the Navajo tribal lands, is owned and operated by the Navajo Nation.
So ends day 16. It was a full day that left us exhausted. Tomorrow we anticipate a shorter, less ambitious outing. We plan to visit four corners (where Utah, New Mexico, Arizona and Colorado share a common border; or maybe it's a common point), complete part of the Million Dollar Highway and finish in Ouray, Colorado.
Monument Valley, Utah, to Placerville, Colorado
3973 total miles
We awoke for Day 17 still tired from a couple of demanding days. Our plans included a trip to Four Corners and drive on the "Million Dollar Highway." Our destination for the day was Ouray, Colorado, a quiet little town nestled in a box canyon in the San Juan Mountains. Ouray is known for its' hot springs and vapor caves.
After packing up our bikes, we did our every-other-day tire pressure check. Bill discovered very low pressure in his front tire and found a small puncture. Not to panic. Your wanderers are well equipped for such a thing. Within minutes, Bill plugged the puncture and inflated the tire to 34 psi.
Under beautiful sunny skies we then set out on Highway 163 on the way to Four Corners. After about 30 miles we turned east into Arizona on Highway 160. The ride would have been impressive had we not seen what we've seen in the last 16 days. The visual competition is just too stout. The terrain is best described as high desert, arid and flat with a smattering of mesas.
High desert in Najaho reservation
We reached Four Corners and turned into the monument area. Frankly, it was about as cheesy as humans could make it. The site was ugly and the parking lot was gravel (we hate gravel). It was like a little slice of Panama City dropped on the desert. Surrounded by little booths selling all kinds of tourotrash, the monument does provide the opportunity to defy the laws of quantum physics: being in four places at one time.
So, we dismounted our bikes and waited our turn to have our pictures made while standing simultaneously in Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and Utah.
Bo at 4 corners
Once this obligatory bit of tourism was completed, we headed into Colorado en-route to Cortez, where we hoped to find a new front tire for Bill's bike.
We reached Cortez, Colorado. Your lucky travelers immediately spotted the Gene Patton Honda/Suzuki dealership. We turned into the parking lot and hoped aloud that they carried tires that fit a BMW. Our lucky streak continued. They had a tire that fit, and mechanic Shelby Buffington (truly a name for a champion yachtsman rather than a motorcycle mechanic) installed it within a hour.
Shelby Buffington - Thanks, Shelby!
Now well behind schedule, we had a late lunch and plotted a new course. We decided to continue on as planned, but stop at Telluride, Colorado, rather than Ouray.
It was great fun returning to Colorado's back roads. The "Million Dollar Highway," a name growing less and less impressive as inflation erodes its' value, is a 225 mile loop that clings on the mountainsides of the San Juan Mountain chain. The twisty road first followed the Dolores River and provided us another a striking ride. As we gained altitude, the views, of course, became spectacular.
Those wonderful Colorado mountains and views
We soon reached Telluride. An old mining town newly discovered by the skiing world, Telluride is lovely but just plain expensive. With two-bedroom log cabins selling in the $1.2 million range and rooms at the Hotel Telluride going for $200 per day (up to $475 during skiing season), Telluride is a place for the rich and famous. We drove carefully on its streets to make sure we didn't run over Robin Leach.
We hopped back on our bikes and exited Telluride. We were riding an isolated area and it was getting late. Where to stay? What the Hell. Rather than obsessing over our need for lodging, your noble riders decided instead to concentrate on the twisty roads ahead. As luck would have it (and we've had a lot of it on this trip), we soon zipped by a busy establishment called the Blue Jay Restaurant and Lodge in Placerville. We turned around and found splendid lodging for the night. Their restaurant is first-rate and the day ended on a high note.
See you tomorrow.
Placerville, Colorado, to Durango, Colorado
4193 total miles
Day 18 continued our fine streak of sunny skies and mild temperatures. Although we've whined annoyingly on occasion due to rain, wind and cold temperatures, we have enjoyed great weather during this trip.
On our route today we planned to make a short visit to Ouray, Colorado, finish the "Million Dollar Highway," tour the Mesa Verde National Park and finish up in Durango, Colorado.
We left Placerville fairly early and veered toward Ouray. The ride to Ouray was unchallenging but fun. The terrain was wooded and the steep ups and downs were at a minimum. We arrived in Ouray within an hour and decided to stop for a cup of coffee. We found a combination chocolate shop/expresso bar/cybercafe on the main drag in downtown Ouray. There we each enjoyed a double latte and few minutes surfing the web on a broadband connection (something we've missed with motel dial-up connections). At this time I must make it clear that your peripatetic riders have lived on manly, c-store sludge-like coffee for weeks. This foray into the world of latte is temporary and out of character!
Downtown Ouray surrounded by mountains
We left Ouray and continued on toward Durango. Within minutes the "Million Dollar Highway" proved that it has kept up with inflation. We negotiated 30 miles of endless switch-backs, each taking us to higher and higher altitudes. This section of the San Juan Mountains is rugged, with snow-capped peaks well beyond the tree line. It is fall in these mountains and the trees are beginning to turn. Bright yellows were everywhere. In a couple of weeks the bright yellow glow of the aspens will join the display. The views in this section of the mountains are spectacular.
Early fall colors in the valleys
Corvette gathering outside Ouray
The Colorado Department of Transportation maintains a fine set of roads. They are able to do this because all of their highway budget must go to maintaining the road surface. None of it goes for guardrails! After a while you quit obsessing on the lack of protective metal between you and the abyss. Nonetheless, it is something you cannot quite forget.
After an exhilarating ride, we arrived in Durango. We stopped for gas and headed for Mesa Verde National Park, which was 35 miles away.
We reached the park, flashed our park passes and started up the mesa. The 15 mile drive to the park's visitor center was another Colorado spectacular. Switch-backs opened up views that reminded us of those seen from an airplane. Valleys stretched on forever from every side, framed in the distance by high mountains.
Valley views from Mesa Verde
Mesa Verde occupies part of a large plateau rising above the Montezuma and Mancos Valleys. It is the site of hundreds of cliff dwellings built over 1000 years ago by the "Ancestral Puebloans." You've never heard of the "Ancestral Puebloans?" Neither had we. Apparently they are the cliff dwellers formerly known as the Anasazi. Modern archeologists decided the Anasazi needed a new name and that's what they came up with. These people are the ancestors of several modern tribes, among them the Hopi, Zuni and Navajo.
Cliff Palace at Mesa Verde
Anyway, we took a really good tour guided by Suzanne, a charming and knowledgeable park ranger. Their dwellings were amazingly intricate and built to last. They had among the most advanced civilizations of the ancient North American people. This was one of the most interesting parts of our trip.
While at Mesa Verde we met four guys from Minnesota who were touring on their bikes. They were all in their mid-fifites and had started riding after their fiftieth birthdays. Apparently we're not the only examples of our species.
The 4 Amigos from Minnesota
We returned to Durango for the night and began to plot a course for our final week of travel. We plan to take Colorado roads east for a while and then dip into New Mexico. From there we will cross into Oklahoma, en-route to southwestern Arkansas. After touring the Ozarks, we plan to take a ferry across the Mississippi River and return to Tennessee.
We have a week left. And we plan to make the most of it.
Durango, Colorado, to Cimmeron, New Mexico
4484 total miles
Day 19 brought such sweet sorrow as we made our final jaunt out of Colorado and crossed the continental divide for the last time and began heading east. Colorado roads exceeded our wildest expectations and the scenery was unforgettable. But before we grow too morose, let's remember that the last week of this journey is not simply a return trip, it is another opportunity for adventure.
Our departure from Durango was delayed for a bit as Bill worked diligently to fix a problem with the satellite radio. Motorcycle travel exposes everything on the bike to intense vibrations. The radio audio and power connections kept working loose, which can be intolerable when you lose the last few bars of Led Zeppelin's "Stairway to Heaven."
While working on the radio in the motel parking lot we met Larry and Paul, two Bostonians who flew west and rented Harley's for a week of mountain riding. They told us to be sure to take Highway 64 into New Mexico, which they described as full of twisties and highly scenic. An older man came by and also advised that we take Highway 64, although he said to watch out for cattle loose by the side of the road. He also said he loves to ride his son's sport-bike, which he described as "too damn fast for me but a lot of fun."
Bostonians on rented Harleys
The radio was soon fixed and we began the day's drive. Our first stop was Pagosa Springs, Colorado, where we stopped for breakfast. Our drive to Pagosa Springs was unchallenging but typically pretty.
Curious barking dog near Pagosa Springs
Hispanic roadside memorials are big in the SW
We left Pagosa Springs and soon reached the New Mexico border. Highway 64 was proving to be everything it was advertised to be. Full of broad sweepers and tight twisties, it took us through high plains surrounded by rocky mountain foothills. The high plains were full of beautiful cattle ranches that stretched out for miles. And, also as advertised, we came across several cows having lunch by the side of the road.
Southern Colorado cattle ranch
On one long stretch of road we noticed three other bikes hot on our tail. We were a five-bike caravan for several miles. We came to a highway construction site and were forced to stop for about 15 minutes. Our three new co-riders joined us at the stop. They were from Albuquerque, New Mexico, and were out for a couple of days of travel. One of them has family in Ducktown, Tennessee, and recently enjoyed a week of bike travel in southwestern Tennessee.
Fast Hondas outside Taos
It bears mentioning that the motorcycle community is quite different than its' stereotypical image. No matter where we have been, our fellow bike travelers have been friendly and helpful and always eager to talk about shared experiences.
We passed through Chama, New Mexico, where Bill and his family had visited years ago for skiing and snowmobiling.
Outside Chama, NM
We soon reached the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge, which is said to be the third highest in the USA. It's a drop of 1200 feet from the bridge surface to the river below. We walked to the center of the bridge to take photos. While there, we met Dan Yoakum, who recently retired from the United States Army. Dan and his wife plan to ship a bike to New Zealand soon and travel around for a few months.
Let us know how the RT works in NZ, Dan.
The road took us next to Taos, New Mexico. If you are a fan of southwestern art, Taos is Mecca. Art galleries dotted every corner. The downtown sidewalks were full of tourists and a parade was working its way through the busy streets. After a hot 30 minutes working our way through these busy streets, we exited Taos for the day's final destination, Cimmeron, New, Mexico.
Beautiful Canyon outside Eagle Nest, NM
The route to Cimmeron took us through a tight valley of very twisty roads that followed a small stream. The stream was full of anglers, which again conjured up our internal struggle between biking and fishing. Once again, biking was the winner.
We reached Cimmeron, but not before taking a short side trip down Highway 21, which takes the path of the mountain part of the Santa Fe Trail. We passed by Philmont Scout Ranch, the famous Boy Scout retreat. Bill received his 50 Mile hiking badge there when he was a teenager.
We settled into the Kit Carson Inn for the night after a meal of fried chicken (you can take the boy of out the South...) at the inn's restaurant. We hooked the iBook up to the television and watched a DVD of "The Wild One" starring Marlon Brando. Truly inspiring stuff.
Cimmeron, New Mexico, to Woodward, Oklahoma
4853 total miles
The Kit Carson Inn in Cimmeron is the closest think to the Bates Motel (remember Anthony Perkins in Psycho) we've stayed in yet. Aside from a generally dingy aura, lumpy beds and the lack of a working heater, the TV was manufactured before the advent of the remote control. It actually had a volume dial. Your travelers are spoiled. No doubt.
We now realize that there's always a price to pay for the good things in life. Do you remember the mountain passes, gorges, mesas, canyons, sweepers, twisties, high plains, switch-backs and vistas we've raved about for weeks? They came at a price. It's called the Oklahoma Panhandle.
After leaving Cimmeron, we began our descent into the great plains. The final 100 miles of New Mexico began the process. The mesas became smaller, the open spaces became larger and the roads became straighter. After a brief, 20 mile foray into Texas (just so we can say we went there), we turned into Oklahoma. By then we were out of the old west and into modern farm country.
Been there. Done that.
Millet ready to harvest in OK
At one point, we drove an 80 mile stretch that required us to actually steer our bikes a total of three times. We don't mean turn our bikes - we mean steer them through a slight curve.
Now this is flat. The road goes on forever!
Neighbors here can keep an eye on each other. If you lived here, you could step out on your front porch and look over and wave at your neighbor. The thing is he would probably be 20 miles away. It is flat land with little on it. Kansas looks like downtown New York City in comparison.
If you look at the map, you'll notice that the panhandle is a long, narrow rectangle that sits atop Texas. It had no interstate and no major roads. This land is as isolated as anything we've seen short of Alaska.
We decided to face the mind-numbing straight-aways head on and put some serious miles behind us. The 369 miles we did on Day 20 gave none of the joy of Colorado. We did enjoy, once again, being on our bikes driving down the road.
Interesting collection of 50's cars inside a NM truck stop.
Today we plan a short, 200 mile trip to Oklahoma City, where we plan to visit the Oklahoma City Memorial and the National Cowboy Museum.
Woodward, Oklahoma, to Ada, Oklahoma
5117 total miles
We neglected yesterday to tell you about our dinner on the night of Day 20. It was our great fortune to stumble onto a motel that boasts the chef who won the Woodward, Oklahoma, catfish cooking competition three years running. Bo thinks it was the best catfish he had ever tasted, with the exception of that served by Country & Western Restaurant in Camden, Tennessee. Your travelers do know how to live!
Now is also a good time for us to go over a few trip stats. Day 21 marked a couple of milestones: we've been on the road for three weeks and we've driven over 5,000 miles. While riding our bikes 20 of the previous 21 days, we have averaged 256 miles per riding day. Less than 175 miles of this trip have been on interstate highways. Prior to this legendary 21 day march through the west, we had never driven more than two 200 mile days in a row. For two newbies, we feel pretty good about our endurance. We've growing just cocky enough to be intolerable to those with real motorcycle experience.
Let's get back to Day 21.
We began the day by cleaning our bikes. Miles of dust, tar, bugs and other road stuff had turned our gleaming steeds into rather unsightly things. The night before we had raided the mega-superstore across the street in search of cleaning implements. In the aisles of Walmart we discovered a new trend in consumer product packaging: pouch-filled wipes. Once the sole province of baby's bottom, wipes are now made for cleaning practically everything. We found wipes specially made for cleaning windshields, wheels, leather and painted metal. We literally wiped our bikes clean. It was inspiring in a modern, consumer sort of way.
No Bad Dogs!
We mounted our gleaming two-wheelers and continued on our voyage. After the desolate solitude of the Oklahoma Panhandle, the drive from Woodward to Oklahoma City was a small relief. Rather than 60 miles of nothingness punctuated by an occasional town, we now enjoyed 30 miles of nothingness punctuated by an occasional town. We don't want to be unkind, but this part of the country just ain't no fun.
It must be big bug season in Oklahoma. To ease the growing boredom, we often communicated back and forth to relay the size and color of the latest monster bug to smash into our helmet shields.
We soon reached the outskirts of Oklahoma City, where our trip odometers showed that we had attained the magic 5,000 mile point. We had originally planned to visit the National Cowboy Museum and the Oklahoma City National Memorial. We know you're disappointed, but time constraints precluded a visit to the Cowboy Museum.
We did visit the Memorial and it made a powerful impression. The memorial honors the victims, survivors and rescuers of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building bombing that took place on April 19, 1995. We spent two hours there, visiting the outside memorial and the chronological, self-guided tour inside the Memorial Center Museum. Among the the many touching things we saw was the Field of Empty Chairs. The 168 bronze, stone and glass chairs, one for each victim, were made in two sizes; large for adults and small for the children. There were 19 small chairs.
We drove out of Oklahoma City. We didn't talk much for a while.
After Oklahoma City we began our drive to Ada, Oklahoma. Fans of the Tennessean crossword puzzle will recognize Ada from the clue, "City in Oklahoma." The terrain shifted from desolate and boring to grassy, wooded, hilly and familiar. It's just like the rolling terrain of middle Tennessee. We felt at home for the first time in weeks.
We soon arrived in Ada and checked into yet another motel.
Tomorrow we head for the only mountains in Oklahoma and then into Arkansas, where we plan to attack the Ozarks.
Ada, Oklahoma, to Mena, Arkansas
5407 total miles
Today's travel exposed us to something we never knew existed - the mountains of Oklahoma. Don't laugh. They're real mountains and they're quite pretty.
The Oklahoma mountains did not disappoint!
We left Ada with diminished expectations. Naturally, after the incredible mountains of Colorado, we expected to be severely underwhelmed by Oklahoma's Ouachita Mountain area, which also includes the Kiamichi, the Jack Fork and Sansbois mountains. Located in the southeastern part of the state bordering Arkansas, this area of OIklahoma turned out to be a real sleeper. The views were lovely and the roads were full of great sweepers. All in all a fine way to deal with the post-Colorado letdown.
What can you say? Found in a store next to Sardis Lake in OK
We also managed to explore two of Oklahoma's state parks. And we don't mean just old regular state parks. These parks had no gold courses, no marinas and no swimming pools. What they had was a singular focus on a specific phenomena.
Our first stop was Robber's Cave State Park, located off Highway 2 near Chili, Oklahoma. Robber's Cave State Park gave your friendly biker's an opportunity to explore the very same caves that once served as a hideout for Jesse James and his sidekick, Cole Younger. Apparently other, less infamous, outlaws used the caves on occasion to hide from the law, but without Jesse James, no one would have turned it into a state park. If there is a moral to this story, it's if you're gonna hide an outlaw, make sure it's a famous one.
Bo at the cave
8 inch centipede in the cave
Our next stop is a bit more controversial. The Heavener Runestone State Park requires the visitor to engage in what Hollywood calls a "willing suspension of disbelief."
A large rock discovered by a Choctaw hunting party in the 1830's near Heavener, Oklahoma, is inscribed with runic characters that were allegedly carved by Norse visitors to Oklahoma during the period of time between 600 A.D. and 800 A.D. The latest translation of the runic characters, done in 1986, indicates that the inscription says, "Valley owned by Glome." Glome is apparently a norseman who made his way from Norway to Oklahoma. We don't believe it either, but it was all very interesting, and unique.
We continued on our way, crossing into Arkansas on the Talimena Scenic Byway, which took us through the Queen Wilhelmina State Park. The Byway ran along a mountain ridge line that offered spectacular views and great riding. No, we don't why Queen Wilhelmina has a park named after her in Arkansas. We're not even sure who she is.
Mike and Brenda who are Model T enthusiasts and were staying at our motel. We learned a bunch about the cars. 1 million left on the road today.
We ended our day in Mena, Arkansas. We had dinner at our Motel, the Limetree Inn. Their restaurant was named restaurant of the year by the Mena Star newspaper. Once again, we know how to live.
Bo's cylinder head is once again leaking a bit of oil. We plan to visit a BMW dealership in Bentonville, Arkansas tomorrow. And tomorrrow we also ride in the Ozarks.
Mena, Arkansas, to Branson, Missouri
5693 total miles
We began our day worrying about the slow oil leak on Bo's bike. Our initial plan was to drive the bike to a BMW dealership located in Bentonville, Arkansas. We decided that before committing to this major adjustment in our route, we would get some expert advice. We called Scott, the mechanical wizard at Bloodworth BMW Motorcycles in Nashville. We described the problem and Scott put our minds at ease. His advice was simple: if it slowly leaks oil, stop periodically and add oil. He said that engine oil leaks are never as bad as they look. Since Scott knows what he's talking about said what we wanted to hear, we followed his advice to the letter.
After breakfast at the motel restaurant, we walked back through the parking lot admiring several finely restored Model T automobiles brought to town by the Tulsa Model T club. We noticed that the Motel T owners previously standing around talking about their cars were nowhere to be seen. We turned a corner and there they were, standing around discussing the two BMW motorcycles parked outside our room. They had as many questions for us as we had for them.
Model T and Bo
They were an engaging group of seniors, some in their late seventies. One of them invited us to step into his car trailer, where he had a fully-restored, red 1923 Indian motorcycle with sidecar. It was a good start to the day.
By the way, it's great being in Arkansas, back with people who don't have an accent.
We left Mena still in the Ouachita Mountains and headed north on Highway 29 on route to the Ozarks. We wound our way up to the top of Mount Magazine, the highest point in Arkansas. In spite of being only 2500 feet above sea level, Mt. Magazine provided us a view that brought back memories of Colorado.
Inviting wildflowers on AR7 thru the Ozarks
By early afternoon the grind of 22 days on the road caught up with us. For the first time on this trip, we needed a serious mid-day break. We stopped in Russellville, Arkansas, to pick up sandwiches and soft drinks and get directions to a local park. We found the park, pulled over and had a quick lunch. Bill found some shade and took a nap and Bo read his first newspaper in 10 days. An hour later we returned to the road, rested and marginally better informed.
Now running on our second wind, we hit the Ozarks hard. We took Highway 7 between Russellville and Harrison, Arkansas. Highway 7 is known in the motorcycle world as one of the nation's better roads. It lived up to its' reputation. It offered sweepers and twisties that rivaled anything we have ridden yet.
What an invitiation for twisties hungry cyclists
We both notice that the closer we get to Tennessee, an almost magnetic effect pulls us toward home. While on the road we talk more about family, friends and work and less about the latest roadside attractions.
This is real!
This trip has been scheduled in a minimal fashion. Each morning we set a general direction and a preferred destination. But nothing is carved in stone. This has made the trip flexible and more of an adventure. We mention this because at no time have we ever planned to stop in Bransom, Missouri. We're a little suspicious of Bransom. We believe all jobs related to country music should be held by Tennesseans.
On Day 24 we plan to ride Missouri's Highway 125, perhaps our last great road of our trip.
Branson, Missouri, to Sikeston, Missouri
6017 total miles
We approached Day 24 with a great sense of trepidation. After all, the last couple of days of any trip are days of new karma. Thoughts turn to arrival rather than the trip itself. Would Day 24 be that way? Would we no longer live in the moment as our thoughts turned to home?
No way! Not your totally self-absorbed road warriors.
Today, believe it or not, was one of the best days of the trip. Day 24 was, in many ways, a microcosm of the entire trip. Bill managed to find some fabulous roads. We met the most memorable person of the entire journey. We faced mechanical problems. We took a ferry trip. We reached 6,000 total miles. And we had a great lunch in a restaurant located on the court square in Mountain Home, Arkansas.
We left Branson (if you've ever been to Branson you know that's the best part) early in search of good roads. Bill, who enjoys a long visit with a detailed map, pointed us toward Missouri's Highway 125. We found it quickly and just as quickly found ourselves in heaven. If you ignore the scenery, the altitude and all the other sensory attributes of any given road, and focus solely on the road and the bike, Highway 125 was the best of the trip. It was replete with incredible twisties that throughly tested our skills as riders (which are admittedly intermediate, at best) to the fullest. We began in Sparta, Missouri, and followed the road into Protem, Missouri. It was a roller coaster on two wheels and we had a blast.
Riders in North Carolina like to brag about a section of Highway 129 known as the Tail of the Dragon. It is reputed to be probably the best motorcycle road in America. We've ridden both, and we disagree. We'll take Missouri's Highway 125 any day.
Views from Missouri's highway 125
In Protem, we took a ferry across Bull Shoals Lake. While riding on the ferry, we couldn't help but notice its name: Toad Suck. Now, if you're even a mildly curious person, you cannot let something like that slide by without an explanation. Bo talked with one of the two-person crew, William Grasis, in search of that explanation. According to William, the ferry was originally used to cross the Red River near Toad Suck, Arkansas.
Bull Shoals Lake Ferry
The Toad Suck
After our passage on the Toad Suck, we drove to Mountain Home, Arkansas, for lunch at Linda's Restaurant. Located on the court square, Diane's is a prototype of the small town meat and three diner. We feasted on BBQ, macaroni and cheese, slaw and cornbread.
After lunch, Bill found another unexpectedly fine road. We hit Highway 142 in Thayer, Missouri, and found it to be wonderful. It was a beautiful 60 mile run. Highway 142 had all the key ingredients; low traffic, smooth road surface, sweepers, twisties and hills. And it ended with another unexpected pleasure.
We stopped at a country store in Doniphan, Missouri, for a soft drink and a short break. While sitting on folding chairs on the porch of the store sipping on our classic Cokes, an elderly gentleman ambled up and asked if those were our bikes. We replied in the affirmative and he offered up, "I ran an Indian motorcycle into the ground in 1935." Our new friend, 90 year old Truman Robinson, owned an Indian motorcycle that he bought right after getting out of the U.S. Army. Warming up to his new friends, Mr. Robinson informed us that he was one of 11 children (7 girls, 4 boys), that his brother survived the Battle of the Bulge and fell in love with a German woman (neither ever married and they still correspond) and that Hall of Fame baseball player Enos Slaughter once hunted with him on his farm. He was charming and spry and only the lack of an extra helmet prevented us taking him with us. Of all the people we've met on this trip, Mr. Robinson is, without doubt, our favorite.
From Doniphan we took Highway 160 on route to Poplar Springs, Missouri. It was another enjoyable Missouri road. While nearing poplar Springs Bill noticed that his rear tire was not behaving well. We stopped at yet another c-store to take a look. Normally inflated to 38 pounds of pressure, it was down to 12.5 pounds. The reason soon became clear: a puncture.
Bill's tire repair kit was not getting the job done and we soon generated a small crowd. Within minutes, we had Missourian Jim Fassell, one of the store employees, a Missouri Highway Patrolman, and an employee of BMW Motorcycles of Little Rock all standing by to offer advice. Dennis, a local Kawasaki rider, stopped his car to offer the name of a local mechanic who reputedly does good work. With that much help the tire was soon patched. Unfortunately though, the patch is only good for a 100 miles of so. Tires to fit a BMW are not readily available and a little concern was evident. We discovered that Cape Girardeau, Missouri, boasts a BMW Motorcycle dealer. A quick call to the dealer established that he has a tire that fits. We took off in that direction and ended the day in Sikeston, Missouri, only 30 or so miles from Cape Girardeau.
Tomorrow, we get a new tire and we drive back to Nashville.
When we planned this trip, we subtracted September 3 from September 28 and came up with 25 days. But, then we realized that September 3 and September 28 and the 24 days in between add up to 26 days and we felt foolish and barely literate. We also realized that a 25 day trip puts us back in Nashville on September 27.
And, as we mentioned yesterday, the closer we get to home, the more the magnet pulls us that way.
So, if all goes well tomorrow, we'll be back home.
The day finishes
Sikeston, Missouri, to Nashville, Tennessee
6252 Total Miles
All good things must pass. But not without a fight.
Although Day 25 marks the end of this wonderful journey, we decided that the adventure wouldn't end until we reached Nashville.
As the day began we faced a big decision. Do we make an out-of-the-way trip to the BMW Motorcycle dealer in Cape Girardeau and buy a new tire for Bill's bike or do we take a big chance and drive on to Nashville? We drove on to Nashville. After all, this is an adventure.
So we packed up our bikes for the last time and drove away from the last motel. In a way, we were limping our way back. Bill rode gingerly on his gimpy tire while Bo's bike began its third day of leaking oil. By this time in the trip, Bo's right motorcycle boot was totally covered in motor oil, which made it a rather slippery perch with which to support a 550 pound bike at traffic stops.
Bill packs his bike for the last time.
We rode into Missouri's Mississippi River delta country - flat farmland planted in soybean and bordered by levees. The farms are dotted with neat little houses. Several are accompanied by smaller dwellings that house the hired hands. Other than the mini-plantation setup on some farms, it reminded us somewhat of our drive through Kansas. The presence of abundant water was also a major difference.
Speaking of water, we soon approached the Mighty Mississippi itself. At Dorena, Missouri, we boarded the Dolores II, a ferry that crossed the river into Kentucky.
Before boarding the ferry, we spent several minutes discussing farming with Wendell Choate, a 1941 graduate of Vanderbilt who planted 500 acres of sweet corn this year. Needless to say, we offered Mr. Choate little new information about farming. He grew up in the area, went to Vanderbilt and graduated with a degree in Business Administration. He then returned home to farm. His choices in life would be a bit unusual today. Not many people return to the rural life after they leave. He appeared to be a happy man who is satisfied with his life.
Bill explains the finer points of farming to Mr. Choate
The ferry ride across the Mississippi was fun and as close to a Huck Finn episode as either of us would ever experience.
The Dolores II
We were in Kentucky for only a few minutes when we approached a sign that read "Welcome to Tennessee."
After 25 days, we were back, almost home.
We took Highway 22 in Union City and drove to Huntington. From Huntington, we took Highway 70 to Camden, Bo's hometown. In Camden, we stopped to see Bo's mom, Rose Johnson. She deserves special mention. Bo wrote her an email after the miserable day in the rain and snow in Colorado and asked her to pray to St. Jude for better weather. Over the years, her children and grandchildren ask her for this special help whenever something important is hanging in the balance. Her intervention successfully saw Bo's sister through her first court date as a fledgling attorney. Let it be known that Bo and Bill drove in only good weather after that email was sent. Today her help was more basic; plenty of hugs, fresh coffee and a danish.
Mrs. Johnson is glad her baby boy is home safe.
We left Camden and stayed on Highway 70. We grew quiet as Nashville grew closer. Our thoughts were of home. Would the dogs great us with abandon or would they bark at the strangers walking through the front door? Would our families let us assume our usual roles as authoritarian paterfamilias (what a joke) or relegate to a secondary role? What about work? Has everyone figured out that we're not as irreplaceable as we would like to believe?
Ninety miles later, we reached Nashville. And just like that, this once in a lifetime adventure was over.
We traveled for 25 days and drove 6252 miles. Of these 6252 miles, only 175 were spent droning down the interstate. The remainder were spent on small roads and in small towns. We traveled through 11 states and hundreds of towns and villages. We met countless people, and not one of them was obnoxious. We hope the people who met us can say the same thing. We saw the beauty of this country and its people up close and in a very personal way.
We began this journal by inviting you to follow the meanderings of two 50 year old men out for a lark in honor of their mid-life crisis. We hope we've entertained you and provided at least a vicarious experience that has brightened your days.
As this comes to an end, we want everyone to know that we deeply appreciate being allowed to do this very special thing. We say "allowed" because that's the way it is. We couldn't have done this without a lot of support from our families and the people we have the pleasure of working with. While we've reveled in living a life that totally revolves around ourselves, they were in Nashville, feeding the dogs, meeting with clients, going to school, cooking meals, treating patients, going to the laundry, doing our work for us, picking up the kids, et cetera, et cetera.
We'll miss the road but it is truly a joy to be back home, where we belong.
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