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Discussion in 'Ride Reports - Epic Rides' started by BigKahunaBurger, Aug 13, 2019.
May I ask if the pics of the stars at night were taken with a cell phone?? GREAT stuff
Wow, thanks. Those pics are amazing. I’m heading out that way in a week and hitting many of those sites. This thread has got me so stoked. Really, thanks for posting this.
Most of the pics are from an iPhone, but those star shots are from a small micro 4/3s camera on a tripod. I needed to keep the shutter open for 30-50 seconds.
Hey thanks! Glad to hear it. You’re going to love the sites and this part of the country!
Wednesday was a great day of riding! We had over 400 miles to put behind us on the way to our hotel in Cortez, Colorado. As such, we woke up before sunrise, packed up our camping gear, split a breakfast bar, and hit the road shortly after 7 am. We were sad to leave our campsite behind, but excited for all that was ahead (including a nice hotel room). A neighbor chatted us up about the bike while we put on our gear and stuck around to see us off.
It was a cold morning at elevation. We took it slow coming down Highway 143 on the way to Panguitch, but saw only a pair of deer on the 30 mile stretch of highway.
Just south of Panguitch, we took the same stretch of Utah Highway 12 east that had brought us west on Saturday. Let me tell you, it’s just as inspiring a ride going this direction.
I particularly enjoyed the stretch between Escalante and Boulder (“the million dollar road”), riding more aggressively and savoring the purr of the big parallel twin engine as I cracked on the throttle through ascending curves. What a treat.
In Boulder, we stopped for a delicious breakfast at the much-written-about Hell’s Backbone Grill. Really cool place ostensibly in the middle of nowhere.
The food was darn good too.
By 11 o’clock, under an oppressive sun, we were back on the bike and setting off on the Burr Trail!
Named after John Burr, who established the route in the late 1800s to drive cattle between winter and summer ranges, the Burr Trail runs through what was once a difficult area to explore, connecting Boulder in the west to Bullfrog in the east.
Today, only 16 miles of the trail within Capitol Reef National Park remain unpaved. Included therein is one of the more difficult sections of the route: the Burr Trail Switchbacks.
Last summer, we rode up the Moki Dugway switchbacks. It was remarkably easy, with the Super Tenere just tractoring up. Coming down the Burr Trail switchbacks, on the other hand, was a bit more difficult. We were two-up and fully loaded with our camping gear, so there was a lot of weight to get pointed in the right direction. Luckily, the trail was in pretty good shape and we had it all to ourselves. Unfortunately, we don’t have any pics on the switchbacks themselves. My heart was beating too fast to stop and Stef’s was beating too fast to snap a shot while in motion. I think this selfie says it all.
Someone is happy to be at the bottom of the switchbacks
Unfortunately, the riding challenges were not entirely behind us. A few miles east of the switchbacks, the trail turned sandy, with a couple inches of fine silt covering the hard-packed earth below. I told Stef to prepare for a little rear end wiggling, and occasionally it did wander. At one point, the front tried to wash out. Instinctively, I cracked the throttle and we powered through it. I complimented Stef on her willingness to hang on for the ride, and I think she secretly dreamt of the ice cream and/or pie that must be waiting for her.
By the time the trail turned back to pavement, we were both able to breathe easier. Without another soul in sight, I opened the throttle and we raced over the cracked and bumpy road. Eventually, Lake Powell appeared in the distance.
By this point, we had both convinced ourselves that the difficult riding was behind us. After all, we had completed the 16 dirt miles of the Burr Trail. It came as quite a surprise, then, to find a shallow water crossing at Bullfrog Creek.
Decided I better check it out on foot first.
It was shallow, barely moving, a piece of cake even on the loaded Super Tenere.
My photographer wasn’t too happy about her unexpected hike back to the bike.
Phew, surely now it’s time to blast off on easy pavement and cool off, no?
After a sprawling, desolate section of Highway 276, we hooked up with Highway 95 south toward Blanding. For some reason, I thought both 276 and 95 were listed as “lost highways” in my Butler map. Boy, was I wrong.
Highway 95 is an incredible canyon road, winding along and crossing over both the Dirty Devil and Colorado rivers. We met a number of other adventure bikes on this route, and clearly we were all having a blast.
We stopped for gas in Blanding and Stef got that ice cream she was undoubtedly dreaming (and deserving) of.
By this point, we were both ready to put behind the last 80 miles of pavement to our hotel in Cortez. Unfortunately, we ran into construction on US 491.
Even still, I was able to muster a smile after one incredible day of riding. When we got back on the bike, I had to thank Stef for being such a great pillion and joining me for a day of serious riding.
After checking in and cleaning up, we walked to J Fargo’s Family Dining and Micro Brewery. Though the price was right, the beer could use some work. Still, our BBQ dinners hit the spot.
Needless to say, we had no problem falling asleep in the comfort of a hotel room after a great day of riding. Tomorrow: another chance at Valley of the Gods after striking out last year.
Great report for sure! Really cool and can appreciate your 2up Adventures especially the knarly stuff you encounter. We also hate the sketchy sand sections or major downhillls!! I hope you can go out to Muley point to the left of the top of Moki Dugway after the Valley of the Gods! Must see! Cheers!
Thursday was planned to be more of an easygoing half day. All we had on the agenda was a stop at one of our favorite restaurants from last year’s trip (Twin Rocks Cafe in Bluff) and a second attempt at riding Valley of the Gods road after we got rained- and graded-out last year (here’s the post from last year’s ride report).
But first: breakfast.
The Hampton Inn had a fantastic spread, complete with Greek yogurt fruit smoothies. Their light roast coffee was also surprisingly fresh and delicious.
After a relaxed start to the morning, we were on the bike around 9 am and on our way to the Valley of the Gods!
The ride on McElmo Creek/Ismay Trading Post Road and Highway 163 was an absolute treat.
By 11:30 am—saving Twin Rocks Cafe for a larger appetite—we parted ways with US 163 and set off on the Valley of the Gods Road!
At the very beginning, I was happy to see that the water crossing that stopped us last year was dry. Wahoo! Let’s do this thing...after a quick bathroom break, that is.
As you can tell from the pictures, the road was in great shape—well graded, hard packed, and seeing a fair amount of traffic (we met about three cars during our half-hour journey over the 17 mile road).
Stef was having a blast, can’t you tell?
Actually, Stefanie was more than willing to jump off the bike for a hot second and take a few pictures of me riding through one of the many dry water crossings.
Okay, clearly I am having a blast.
Not far after these glamour shots, the road leveled and straightened out, and we completed the final few miles in short order. At the intersection with Highway 261, we had a decision to make: head straight back toward Bluff for a bite to eat, or make a longer loop through Monument Valley on our way to Bluff. Not wanting to stretch the ride into an all-day affair, we elected to ride straight back to Bluff. Fine by me. I was riding high on the joy of completing Valley of the Gods.
It felt great to get off the bike and out of the gear for a lunch break at Twin Rocks Cafe. Inside, Stef ordered the blue corn pancakes and I ordered the Navajo taco. We ended up sharing them both: mine first, Stef’s for a sweet second course. Both were delicious!
A shot of espresso made for a fine digestif.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: stop by this unique gem if you’re ever in the area!
After lunch, we elected to jump down to Four Corners Monument via a backroad running south out of Montezuma Creek. It was wholly deserted, so I rolled on the throttle and we made great time.
Shortly after 3 o’clock, we paid our $5 per person entrance fee, parked the bike, and walked to the underwhelming selfie station.
Yep, a bit of a letdown after all we’d seen on the trip so far. Oh well.
It didn’t take long for us to return to the bike and complete our loop back to the hotel. We were both happy to keep the miles to a minimum for the day, and we enjoyed a bit of air-conditioned comfort before walking to the nearby Tequila’s Mexican Restaurant for dinner that night.
YUM — somehow I had room to devour this entire plate
On the walk back to the hotel, Stef and I talked about how lucky we’d been to have had such a great trip. Though the majority of the trip’s highlights were behind us, we still had two ahead: a quick stop at Great Sand Dunes National Park on Friday, and a full day relaxing and taking in downtown Denver on Saturday (complete with dinner with friends!).
Stay tuned folks, there’s still more to come :)
We carried the dry bags with us and loaded the bike before indulging in hotel breakfast Friday morning. The Hampton Inn had a phenomenal spread once again.
We hit the road around 8 am and were on our way toward Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve!
The morning air was crisp and cool, and it wouldn’t warm much above 70 until early afternoon. Still, the minor inconvenience of chilly air beats the unbearable afternoon heat we’ve dealt with elsewhere on the trip.
Even though our morning ride was on busy US 160, the views were incredible as we skirted the San Juan and Rio Grande National Forests.
We stretched our bladders as far as we could but ended up stopping for gas and a restroom break just west of Del Norte.
I had a coffee shop and cafe in Alamosa pegged as a potential stop, but we both decided we’d rather book it to the dunes to avoid the day getting away from us. After rerouting, I realized there was a more direct route to the dunes anyway.
The route took us through some beautiful farm country. Eventually, we caught a glimpse of the dunes nestled in beneath the Sangre de Cristo Mountains.
Getting closer now
We first stopped at the visitor center for a park sticker and a bag of snack mix (good enough for lunch). I snacked at the bike and perused the park brochure while Stef ran back inside to change into different layers.
Next stop: the dunes parking lot for a quick (otherworldly) hike.
Here at the Great Sand Dunes parking lot, I again marveled at the versatility of my camp sandals. Here’s a better view of how I strap them on the back of the bike.
Unfortunately, they stayed at the bike as the Park Service recommends wearing full shoes or hiking boots out on the hot afternoon sand.
A few hundred feet from the parking lot, the vegetation gave way to this incredible, otherworldly view.
What a unique landscape we walked into.
Running into the downhill sections was quite fun.
For a hot second, we debated hiking all the way to the top of one of the distant dunes. Put a challenge in front of us and I guess we have a hard time backing down. But then we made note of the time and our lethargic sand-slowed pace thus far and decided we better snap a few final shots and head back to the bike. We were both hoping to get to the hotel at a decent time for a low key pizza night.
Not quite as fun hiking up the hill
Though I originally planned to head to Denver via I-25, Google Maps told me that a route via US 285 was only 4 minutes slower. Figuring that would be much more scenic, we opted for it.
Unfortunately, it looked like we might ride through some rain this way.
Thankfully, we hit no more than a few drops during one brief stretch.
Somewhere in here, we met a cop during a downhill section. My heart fell to my stomach as he pulled to the side of the road and quickly spun around. I wasn’t riding aggressively by any means, but we were probably doing about 10 over in a 55, easily cruising down from a pass in sixth gear. I immediately set the cruise at 55 and watched my mirrors as we continued to descend. To my surprise, the truck ahead of us pulled to the side of the road and came to a stop. Sure enough, the cop pulled in behind him. I thought for sure we were hosed. I guess this guy was even more. Phew.
Still shaking from our close encounter, I missed the right turn I needed to stay on 285 north. Oh well, it was an easy turnaround up the road, and it didn’t add near as much time to our ETA as a traffic stop would have.
As we got closer to Denver, I started playing the MPG game, trying to figure out how far we could stretch this tank before needing to stop. Ideally, this would be my last gas stop until I was well out of the Denver metro area on Sunday after dropping Stef off at the airport.
The miles to empty section of my trip computer read “Lo” for about 20 miles as we coasted into Bailey. There we filled up with the trip odometer indicating we put on 251 miles since our last stop.
Shortly after Bailey, the westbound lanes grew noticeably denser with weekending traffic leaving Denver. Boy was I glad we were going the other direction. At one point, we passed a state trooper set up with a speed trap for the westbound traffic. A few miles later, I tapped on my helmet as we met a group of fast-moving adventure riders, hoping to keep the good karma flowing.
We got to the west side of the Denver metro right before five o’clock, and soon I-70 was at a standstill. The stop and go traffic would continue for the next 30 minutes, all the way to our hotel in the Stapleton neighborhood, about 10 miles east of downtown.
After a laborious check-in process, we unloaded the bike and settled in to our 5th floor room. I ordered a large pepperoni and pineapple NY-style pizza from a local shop and we ran to a liquor store across the street while it cooked. Back at the hotel, we settled in for a comedy double feature: The Perfect Score () followed by Pitch Perfect 3 (). The comforts of modern civilization were fully felt Friday night.
The only riding we did on Saturday was on Denver’s A line to and from Union Station. Still, we had a great day in downtown Denver. After years of avoiding the city on motorcycle trips, I finally found time to visit. And to be honest, we were both quite excited for it. We had a handful of eating and drinking stops planned—which is really probably our favorite thing to do on vacation
But first, mediocre continental breakfast at the Holiday Inn:
Coffee wasn’t nearly as good as the Hampton Inn. No fruit smoothies either.
Good thing we fueled up, our trip downtown started with another hike! Such diversity of trails we’ve had on this trip.
After getting off the train at historic Union Station and perusing the Saturday morning farmers market, we made our way to our first stop: Little Owl Coffee.
Good coffee, conversation, and people watching was had here.
From here, we built up an appetite and walked across the South Platte River to My Brothers Bar—the old (serving drinks since 1873) watering hole frequented by the beat poets Jack Kerouac, Neal Cassady, and Allen Ginsberg. Here, we settled in for a JCB (jalapeño cream cheese burger) and a combo of fries and onion rings. My glass of Liquid Mechanics’ HOPACITY was well paired.
Before leaving, I hit the restroom and checked out a copy of Cassady’s infamous letter written to a friend from the Colorado Reformatory. It reads, in part, “I believe I owe [My Brother's] about 3 or 4 dollars. If you happen to be in that vicinity, please drop in and pay it, will you?”
Before crossing back over the river, we swung through the Denver REI, located in a 90,000 square foot building originally erected in 1901 to house boilers and engines used to generate electricity for the Denver Tramway Company rail system.
Like at all REIs, we were sucked in with little ability to walk out empty handed. Stef found a shirt she couldn’t live without. Little did we know we’d need to embark on the most crowded hike yet before we could leave.
By this point, it was time for ice cream. The Milkbox Ice Creamery within Union Station had just what we needed.
We both loved their Space Junkie: a blackberry ice cream with chunks of brownie and marshmallow.
From here, we walked to Tattered Cover Bookstore (the Lodo location, not the smaller store within Union Station). Stef and I have a habit of visiting a local bookstore while on vacation and picking up a fitting book or two to remind us of the place and trip. Though we browsed for awhile, we settled on Kerouac’s The Dharma Bums, King’s The Shining (though we stopped by The Stanley Hotel on last summer’s trip), and a used copy of a road trip guide with color photography by Jen CK Jacobs.
By the time we emerged, we had a couple hours until our dinner reservation with Brady (a friend I hadn’t seen since college, despite his open invitation to visit each summer I’ve been riding to/through Colorado) and his wife Lauren. Perfect timing for a flight of beers at Wynkoop, Denver’s first brewpub opened by former Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper.
Unfortunately, the beer was pretty mediocre. Stef enjoyed her mojito.
At 6:15, we met up with Brady and Lauren and walked to dinner at nearby Tupelo Honey. Their southern grub hit the spot. Stef and I split the sweet potato pancakes with fried chicken, and Brady and Lauren graciously shared the deliciousness that is their cathead biscuits. We also enjoyed the warm conversation—the most we had had since Joy and Chris and Colton visited us a full week ago.
Though we were all stuffed, the conversational topic of ice cream somehow arose, and soon we found ourselves at Milkbox once again. All was not for naught: they had their signature salted Oreo in stock this time!
After a brief ride on the A line, we said our goodbyes to Brady and Lauren. Stef and I got off at the next stop and speed-walked through some dimly lit sidewalks on our way back to the hotel. After organizing a few things and loading the panniers on the bike, we settled in for bed.
Sadly, the end is near. On Sunday morning, we sat down for one last continental breakfast together before loading up the bike and setting off for Denver International Airport. Stef’s flight home departed at 9:30 am.
The ride to the airport was uneventful, a mere 15 minute jaunt from our hotel. By 8 am, Stef’s gear was loaded up on the pillion pad and we said our goodbyes. As was the case at pickup over a week ago, we got quite a few looks from other passengers. I guess it’s not all that common for a motorcycle to pull into the arrivals and departures areas.
I rode the first couple hours of freeway without any music or podcasts streaming to my helmet. Instead, I appreciated a hundred-some miles of quiet, alone with my thoughts.
By 10 o’clock, however, I fired up the first episode of an REI-produced podcast called Wildfire that I had discovered and downloaded earlier this morning at the hotel. The six-episode series covers the past, present, and future of wildfires by specifically chronicling the 2017 Eagle Creek wildfire near Portland, Oregon. It made for a fascinating listen over the course of my two days riding home, and it was a natural compliment to the book I’m reading (The Big Burn by Timothy Egan).
At 11 am, I stopped for gas and broke out the first of two pieces of leftover pizza I had stuffed in my tank bag. It was the perfect serving size to suppress my appetite and hold me over. I washed it down with a caffeine mint and hit the road.
About an hour later, the skies darkened and it looked as if I was about to ride into some rain. I pulled off at an exit and covered my tank bag with its rain cover.
It ultimately looked worse than it was, however, as I rode through no more than a few sprinkles.
My next stop for gas came at Lexington, Nebraska. It took me three gas stations before I found one with 91 octane premium. Note to other travelers: skip all of them and go straight to the Gulf station on the west side of US 283.
Time for that last slice of pizza.
My stop for gas came not a moment too soon. I had seen in my mirrors that our dry bag containing the tent was loosening and falling off the back of the bike. I made sure to cinch it down real good before hitting the freeway once more.
I rolled into York and checked into my budget motel just before 4 o’clock. That gave me just enough time to take a quick shower, fill up with gas, and pick up some beer to enjoy with my fantasy football draft at 5 pm. I pulled out the desk in my room and broke out the cheat sheet I had printed before the trip began. The old landline phone just adds to the impression of the time-sensitive sports decisions that were about to be made.
It was also nice being able to keep an eye on the Tenere out the window. This hotel was pretty sketch.
By 7:30, the draft was finished.
My work here is done
I walked across the parking lot to pick up some Arby’s and settled in to watch another preseason NFL game.
Though tomorrow’s forecast wasn’t looking great (i.e. rain for the vast majority of the ride), I went to bed unencumbered with worry. After all, a day of riding beats a day of humdrum routine—even if it’s a day of riding in the rain.
Hotel breakfast started at 6 am on Monday. I woke up then, only to hear the sound of a torrential downpour assaulting the roof of the place. I looked out the window. It didn’t look great.
At breakfast, The Weather Channel was on TV with the host discussing the severe thunderstorms rolling through Nebraska. I could have mistaken it for local weather coverage—but no, this was the national broadcast. He said something about 60 mph winds, hail of less than an inch in diameter, and their proprietary lightning counter technology identifying over 500 strikes thus far. Can’t say I was all too eager to head out into this mess.
I’m in York—guess which way that purple blob is moving
I topped up my styrofoam cup of coffee and walked back to my room to debate my options.
Though The Weather Channel switched their coverage to Tropical Storm Dorian, a banner on the bottom of the screen informed me that the severe thunderstorm warning in my area was in effect until 7:30 am. As much as I wanted to hit the road and get home at a decent time, it really made no sense to leave in the middle of the storm, riding with it on my way east toward Iowa. Instead, I elected to wait it out for an hour or so, hoping that perhaps the worst of it would get out ahead of me and I could ride in calmer air.
Around 8 o’clock, the rain subsided. I checked the radar and decided to hold off another 30 minutes to let the cell move further east. At 8:30, I loaded the bike.
This is the beautiful hotel lobby/pool area I had the pleasure of walking through on my way to and from the equally-sketchy parking lot. Nice place, ain’t it?
By 8:50, the bike was loaded, the skies were gray but without rain, and I was on my way home.
Miraculously, I stayed dry all the way through to the Iowa border and my first gas stop in West Des Moines. The last three episodes of REI’s Wildfire podcast kept me company as I stretched my tank of gas nearly 240 miles. Though I had planned on taking two gas stops, I thought I might be able to stretch it all the way home to Minneapolis with a little help from a southerly wind. Knowing that I was at risk of getting to the Cities at the start of rush hour, I grabbed a quick bite to eat, scarfed it at the bike, and hit the road.
A few episodes of The Dirtbag Diaries carried me most of the way home. I did eventually hit rain near Albert Lea. I would slog through it for my final hour of riding. (Not bad at all, considering I was fully prepared to be stuck in a torrential downpour all morning.)
With enough dirty air impeding my gas mileage on I-35, I did need to make a second stop in Owatonna. I gassed up quickly, without leaving my gear or running inside to use the restroom—I still wanted to beat that Twin Cities rush hour.
Thankfully, I made it through the metro before traffic grew too thick, pulling into my garage right after 4 o’clock.
Like that, a 12.5-day, 4,278-mile trip was behind me. It was my longest yet by 2 days and about 950 miles. I could have stayed out west riding and camping for another week or two, easily.
Though it was good to be reunited with Stef, it was hard to get back into the swing of things at home and work. Though I did beat rush hour, I didn’t get home as early as I’d originally planned. Weeknights were busy the rest of the week as we rushed to put things away, clean up around the house, run errands, and catch up on coffee roasting (another hobby of mine) before hosting family for the Labor Day weekend.
A good week and a half on the road is good for the soul, no doubt. I guess maybe a bit of a routine is too—at least that’s what I’ll tell myself until we get the opportunity to ditch routine for good some day. (Cheers to all you who are retired )
Am I ready to give up motorcycle trips for the foreseeable future as Stef and I prepare to embark on our greatest adventure yet? Yes and no. I’m at peace—and perhaps even a little excited—with the thought of continuing to explore the West in a car rather than on a bike. There are certainly comforts of a cage—room for a cooler, a heat and air-conditioned environment, the ability to bring along backpacks for a different sort of off-the-beaten-path adventure, etc.—and there have been times on our last couple trips that these comforts would have been appreciated. We’ve also though of taking our parents along to see some of the beautiful sites we’ve discovered out West—something that would be much easier with the extra seating of an automobile. But at the same time, there’s something about motorcycle travel—I’ve written about it extensively in my dual sporting book I published a couple years ago—that just can’t compare to travel by car.
Still, I’ve learned to appreciate the ample riding opportunities that exist within an extended weekend’s trip from home. Last October’s dirt riding in northern Minnesota gave me plenty of opportunities to appreciate the beauty of my home state, as well as the Super Tenere’s ability to tractor through all kinds of terrain. (This reminds me, I still need to finish that ride report! Stay tuned, it would be a good winter activity.) There is even more great riding in northern Wisconsin and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, both of which are equally close to home. The joys of motorcycle riding can be fully felt in day trips as well, provided one has the right mindset.
Moreover, Stefanie and I have recently come to embrace many alternative forms of adventure. Earlier this summer, we bought a used Wenonah Spirit II. We hope to sneak up north for a quick canoe camping trip yet this fall, and a proper boundary waters trip is on the docket for next year.
Giving up—or perhaps more accurately, setting aside—one form of adventure is much easier when you have countless others to look forward to. With any luck, there will be many—both planned and unexpected—on our horizon.
At the end of the day, however, nothing is guaranteed. This is probably part of the reason we’ve so extensively traveled in our young lives, and it’s certainly why we are both so grateful to have had such a great trip again this year.
So with that, I can absolutely say that I’m looking forward to all the adventures ahead.
Thanks for riding along,
Well Done! and Thank You for taking us along!
Thanks for sharing the journey!
Thanks for the ride along!
Great RR! Enjoyed the ride!