Northern eXposure - gold roads, wilderness trails, and bacon.

Discussion in 'Ride Reports - Epic Rides' started by JMo (& piglet), May 23, 2017.

  1. JMo (& piglet)

    JMo (& piglet) Unicorn breeder

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    Day 23: Wednesday 5th July - Tofte MN to Wawa ON (652km = 408 miles)

    "Beach bummer..."

    I'd had an absolutely fabulous time with Noah and his family, and after three weeks on the road, had really enjoyed not having to get on my bike for a whole day...

    However, I was also aware that taking a break so close to my next commitment - the Overland Adventure Rally which is held each year just outside Toronto, in Campbellville Ontario - meant the rest of this week would require a couple of long days if I were to arrive before the official start on Friday... with the venue still almost* a thousand miles away if I were to take my intended route around the top of Lake Superior.

    (*979 miles according to Google)

    As usual it took far too long for me to say goodbye - waylaid by pancakes and coffee and the sweetest send-off from the family - and I rolled back onto the highway intending to get the hammer down...

    Fuelling up in Grand Marais (conscious that fuel was going to be cheaper here in the US than once I'd crossed into Canada again), the road ran right alongside the shore at this point, and I was momentarily distracted by what I felt would be a great photo opportunity, and a fond farewell to Minnesota:

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    photo. It seemed like a good idea at the time...

    However, having ridden down the shale bank and posed the bike on the pebbles, I soon found myself in a bit of a predicament:

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    photo. I'd already removed my luggage, but the full tank of fuel was not helping matters either!

    I've been in similar situations before with a big bike (I'm thinking back to my Tenere in the Mauritanian desert), but typically this is almost always on sand, and this was a LOT worse... No matter what I tried, the bike would simply dig-down with the merest touch of the throttle - and this burrowing was compounded the moment I tried to point the beast up hill...

    Backfilling the hole as best I could and using all my strength to almost drag the bike round parallel with the water, I set it on the side stand and walked back along the beach to see if there was a slightly more gentle slope I might attempt - clearly the only really chance was to try and get enough of a run-up on the more level beach, and use momentum to carry me up any incline.

    Ultimately I must have tried three or four times - both running alongside the bike (in an effort to have it effectively float on top of the stones), and also seated to try and gain a little more speed - and each time the bike either bogged before the climb, or else dug-in on the diagonal the moment the front wheel started to climb - despite having aired the rear tyre right down. After what must have been half an hour or more, I admit I was pretty much exhausted by now, and there came a point that I even contemplated phoning Noah to come and give me a hand... but knew that to a fellow solo adventure rider, that was a lame option - and one that I'd never hear the end of ;o)

    Of course I eventually escaped the clutches of the shale - stripped down to just my boots, a t-shirt and jeans - I extended my run-up, jumped back on the bike, slipped the clutch like a drag racer and managed to snick second before it dug-in again, and held on for dear life as I fishtailed up the slope in a shallow diagonal direction - not letting up until the front wheel crested the bank, stones spitting like gatling gun from the rear, and the tarmac was in sight at last!

    Whether the original photo was worth all the massive effort was something I would contemplate for much of the rest of the day...


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    photo. Canadian border crossing - a very different and far more congenial experience to the last time I was heading north near Vancouver, in the traffic and the rain...

    Despite getting delayed on the beach earlier, I was confident I'd be able to make it approximately half way today, find somewhere to stay, and press on early the next morning to arrive in good time by the following evening...

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    photo. Canadian hwy 17 is particularly scenic - skirting the Lake Superior shoreline from Thunder Bay to Heron Bay, before it starts to head inland...

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    photo. It's not real... if it was, at this size it would be terrifying!

    I rolled into Wawa on the west side of the Lake just as the sun was setting, shamed myself in Tim Horton's with a sticky bun, and made use of their free wifi* to try and find a hotel...

    *My UK cell-phone provider allows me to use my bundled minutes and data when I'm in the USA, but not in Canada - so I had to remember to switch off my data roaming once north of the border... It's ironic really (what with the Commonwealth and all that ;o), and especially since cell phone coverage in Canada seems to be much better than the US in general!

    ...unfortunately it appeared every hotel in town was fully booked - what? on this, a Wednesday night? A quick ride up the main drag confirmed this with a succession of No Vacancy neon, and I had no choice be to continue south until I found a motel that appeared to have rooms available.

    The lobby smelt of weed and $110 CAN smarted, but what other option did I have? It turns out there was massive road construction going on all along the highway south of here, and the road crews had booked pretty much every room in town.

    cont.
  2. LeMaitre

    LeMaitre Been here awhile

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    Consider your self lucky getting off the beach. Each year cars think the accessible beaches are gravel and have to be towed out.
  3. JMo (& piglet)

    JMo (& piglet) Unicorn breeder

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    Day 24: Thursday 6th July - Wawa ON to Campbellville ON (946km = 591 miles)

    "The final push..."

    I'd set my alarm for 6.30am - there was no chance of breakfast at this joint, so made do with a Jet-boil coffee and crunch bar in the room.

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    photo. This made me laugh... it was about as far away from the Marriot Plaza as you could get - both literally and metaphorically...

    Hitting the road just after 7am, my GPS was optimistically suggesting I'd arrive at the Overland Adventure Rally venue by about 5pm (using the fastest not the shortest route - which would actually take longer), with the best part of a thousand kilometres still to go - yes, I'd not made it quite as far as halfway yesterday as I'd originally hoped...

    Initially I was riding in thick fog (Wawa is actually pretty close to the edge of the lake again), and coupled with the broken roadway, cones and construction traffic, this made for an interesting introduction to the day.

    The miles simply flew by, punctuated by coffee and fuel stops, and the odd contra-flow and road-works pilot-car parade. In fact the only really memorable moment from today was once I'd started heading due south towards Toronto (still around 300kms out), having not bothered to top off my fuel previously as I'd factored there would be plenty of fuel stations on this main route...

    I was wrong. The trip meter clicked over into the reserve zone, and still there was nothing... another 20 miles went by and I tapped 'find fuel' into the GPS, and it said there was a fuel station 35 miles ahead - that's OK I thought. The reserve count-down continued - 0.3, 0.4 - I'd never gone further than 0.4 in what I'd always thought was a half gallon reserve.

    0.5 yikes... then, 0.6 - I rolled to a stop opposite where the fuel station was meant to be. A general store all boarded up and abandoned. The next fuel (in my GPS at least) was another 40 miles further south. Shit.

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    photo. CB500X owners will be familiar with the reserve count-down trip meter. But I trust most of you have not had the misfortune to see this number!

    I dismounted, crossed the highway, and looked across the empty forecourt. To my utter relief there was a 'We've moved!' sign attached to the chain link fence, and their new location was a campground a couple of kilometres up the side road - I just hoped they'd moved the fuel tanks too...

    Sure enough, it was a shiny new facility - I topped off the bike, and topped off myself with an ice cream and sugary soft-drink to celebrate this close call*!

    *I say close call, but in actual fact I still only managed to get 16 litres into the purportedly 17.5l tank...

    The rest of the ride was uneventful, and I rolled into the Mowhawk Inn & Conference Centre in plenty of time to meet the organisation team, get a bite to eat, and enjoy a few beers with those who'd arrived early as presenters and traders.

    I'd been scheduled to present my slideshow from the Trans-Am 500 trip on the Saturday evening, so Friday would be about having some fun - and the offer of a Montesa Trials bike (to ride on the permanent trails course the venue has hidden in their woods) was all the incentive I'd need to get up early again tomorrow morning!

    As I retired to my room, I considered that the 'Northern Exposure' element of this trip was now technically over - from here on, I'd basically be heading south and west to get back home again. Since leaving San Jose I'd already ridden nearly 7000 miles (in the last four days alone just shy of 2000 miles) - and experienced a whole new side to North America.

    Throughout this journey I'd taken the opportunity to renew old acquaintances and make new friends - visited locations I'd only ever seen in photographs, or as the backdrop to some of my favourite TV shows and Movies - and in between ridden some world-class highways and explored some epic trails... all the while revelling in the magnificence of the scenery, embracing the wilderness, and the sense of freedom that a life lived away from the big cities, crowds and traffic allows.

    Of course there was still going to be a little more riding in Canada before I resolutely had to head back home - I was especially looking forward to the main Saturday trail-rideout, where I'd get the chance to ride the CB off-road without luggage for a change. There would also be a whole host of faces which I could finally put to names, and online friendships to be strengthened out here in the real world.

    This is exactly what I'd hoped to achieve from this trip, and so far, everything had exceeded my expectations...

    More soon!

    Jenny xx
  4. JMo (& piglet)

    JMo (& piglet) Unicorn breeder

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    Day 25: Friday 7th July - Campbellville ON (0 miles on the CB, maybe 2 miles on a Montesa 4RT...)

    "Lay-low Sanz"

    Turns out I'm not as good on a Trials bike as I thought I might be... To be fair, it's the first time I'd ever ridden a pukka Trials bike (with it's gear lever somewhere near the front tyre - what's that about?!), and I was riding it over some pretty technical obstacles too - the kind of stuff you usually ride around on an ADV or dual-sport bike. But this is something I'm going to need to practice a little more I think...

    I do love Trials bikes though!

    Otherwise, the first day of the 2017 Overland Adventure Rally (hosted by Lawrence Hacking - legendary Canadian Dakar Rally racer) was a surprisingly low-key affair - primarily focussed on the vendors and bike importers/dealers setting up their booths, and the early birds getting a few hour's rider training in - hence the opportunity for me to borrow one of their Trials bikes and have a play in the woods ;o)

    However, as the afternoon arrived, so too did an increasing number of attendees - and by the time the evening presentations began, the hotel car-park was full of all manner of motorcycles - including (in no particular order), a CB500X with a huge guitar amp attached, a KLR with a pair of canoe floats attached, and a KTM 690 with a dog attached (well, technically just laying along the tank - that's how he travels!), interspersed amongst the largest number of [new] Africa Twins I have ever seen assembled in one place... move over BMW, your rein (in Canada at least) is over! Certainly I think Lawrence needs to change the design on his event T-shirt for next year!

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    photo. Canadian singer-songwriter Cassie Tyers (www.cassietyers.com) was the dinner entertainment each evening - she arrived on her CB500X with all her sound gear strapped to the bike! (I think we need to come up with a bespoke luggage set-up for you ;o)

    From a personal perspective, I finally got to meet a long-time email and internet buddy Patrick Trahan - another [French] Canadian Dakar rider, who more recently has been championing the Honda CRF250L as a viable budget rally bike (see www.crf250lrally.com) - initially with his own conversion, and earlier this year successfully campaigned the Hellas Rally in Greece on the new official CRF250L 'Rally' model with only minimal additional preparation.

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    photo. working closely with Honda Canada, Patrick Trahan was onboard a new Africa Twin as his 'company wheels' this weekend...

    Patrick was the headline presenter on the Friday night, and despite some tech issues with his slide-show, in true rally-rider style this didn't phase him at all, and instead he kept us all captivated with a charismatic tale of his first rally experience back in 1998.

    cont.
  5. JMo (& piglet)

    JMo (& piglet) Unicorn breeder

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    Day 26: Saturday 8th July - Campbellville ON loop (177 miles)

    "Red rockets"

    The format of the Saturday ride-out was simple enough - there was a choice of route (with optional more technical off-road sections) to a lunch stop and back again, available as a GPS track download. Easy! Some participants chose to ride their route in groups, others alone or in pairs... there were no hard and fast rules.

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    photo. Lawrence hosted the ride-out briefing after breakfast... yes, that's Oliver 'Brokentooth's KLR canoe in the foreground (with a CCM GP450 on it for the show).

    Patrick and I had chosen to ride the 'hard' route together - primarily as I think we both fancied having a go on each other's bike...

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    photo. Patrick is a huge fan of a smaller bike in general, and it was the first time he'd ridden a LEVEL 3 converted CB500X...

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    photo. That's a frame-grab of me on the Africa Twin - I didn't realise Patrick had pressed record on my GoPro during the ride!

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    photo. The Saturday ride route took in a mix of minor paved roads, gravel tracks and some fun two-track and more rocky trails...

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    photo. Throughout the weekend my CB was often referred to as the 'little brother' to the Africa Twin... can't think why... ;o)

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    photo. A guest of honour this year was Alfonso 'Poncho' Alonzo from Baja California - who has been instrumental in getting the annual Baja Rally up and running in recent years, and someone I'm proud to call a personal friend.

    We'd had a real laugh all day - ragging our own bikes and each others (where appropriate of course), and at one point I even hit a personal best of 135kph (85 miles an hour) on dirt... The lunch stop was a relaxed affair, with a couple of 'riding challenges' laid on to amuse the assembled throng, and an opportunity to earn extra raffle tickets which would be part of this evening's entertainment...

    I would also play a small part in the Saturday schedule - being on at 8pm I was effectively the 'warm up' act for Lawrence to host the prize giving, before our headline guest for this year - the charismatic Spanish round-the-world adventurer and Youtube blogger Charly Sinewan (who'd been frantically putting together a summary video [in English] throughout the weekend!) - took to the stage to entertain us all to the end...

    A bunch of us then retired to the bar, and quite honestly, I don't know exactly what time it was I eventually headed to bed... all I know is it had been a fabulous weekend!

    But of course in just a few hours, it would now be time to head home again...

    More soon!

    Jenny x
  6. JMo (& piglet)

    JMo (& piglet) Unicorn breeder

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    Day 27: Sunday 9th July - Campbellville ON to Youngstown OH (329 miles)

    "A [Lake] Erie goodbye..."

    The journey towards Niagara Falls was tedious. Three lanes of traffic crawling around the bay, and coming to a standstill at every intersection.

    Charly (Sinewan) and Poncho had planned to spend the Sunday sightseeing, and as I was heading south in the same direction, elected to join them - riding along behind their car through the Sunday lunchtime traffic - as I quite fancied seeing what all this waterfall fuss was about too.

    However, after an hour or more of stop-start riding in the midday sun, I pulled alongside, waved an apologetic goodbye through the window, and made a bee-line inland for the hills, following my GPS for an alternative route away from all this chaos.

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    photo. hwy 20 turned out to be a far more appealing route towards Niagara Falls, rather than sitting in the traffic on the Queen Elizabeth Way around the edge of Lake Ontario.

    I have to admit, I fear in the past I must have always confused Niagara Falls with Victoria Falls (doh, wrong continent - ed)... I imagined this huge waterfall in a remote location, surrounded by forest, with few tourists and plenty of opportunity to take all the time you like in contemplation of the power of nature and our comparative insignificance in the world... but it turns out Niagara Falls is like a shabby Las Vegas with a huge hole in the ground.

    Of course I'd subsequently googled Niagara Falls prior to starting this trip - and when I realised how close it was the Overland Adventure Rally venue (and the US border) quickly incorporated into my ongoing itinerary - so I was aware that there were effectively two huge cities on either side of the river... but still I wasn't prepared for just how 'touristy' it turned out to be.

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    photo. I'm not sure how many people bother to photograph this side of Niagara Falls!

    Yes, I realise that once again I was visiting a major International tourist attraction on a Sunday afternoon at the hight of summer - but this was ghastly. Countless coaches jostled for position on the parkway, and there was certainly no stopping anywhere other than the official car-park, which would then relieve you of twenty-two Canadian dollars for that dubious pleasure.

    Being on a bike I did mount the verge briefly (to snatch that photo above), but actually facing the falls there was no photo opportunity whatsoever, unless you were prepared to make a day of it, park and then walk of course...

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    photo. The falls themselves are certainly impressive... the overall ambiance slightly less so though.

    I resorted to a couple of ride-bys with my helmet cam in an effort to snap some pictures, but if I'm honest, I'd pretty much lost enthusiasm for the whole endeavour by now, and just wanted to get the hell out of there...

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    photo. This was a fun surprise (in a touristy kind of way) - an old London Routemaster bus, a long way from Oxford Street!

    Since the traffic was gridlocked heading north (towards Rainbow Bridge and the closest US border), I ended up abusing my position as a motorcycle rider by bumping over the concrete central reservation and speeding off in the opposite direction...

    I really didn't want my last afternoon in Canada to be like this - hectic, frantic and frustrated. Fortunately redemption was found a little further down the Niagara Parkway, away from the madding crowds:

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    photo. There are some very nice houses along this stretch of the river, and fortunately they are all situated on the opposite side of the road - leaving the bank itself and the associated view clear for everyone to enjoy.

    I took a deep breath, prepared for the worst at the Fort Erie border crossing, and was pleasantly surprised how efficient and hassle-free it turned out to be!



    Chapter 3

    Over the weekend I'd had a quick noodle at both Google and my paper maps - plotting an outline return-route back across the country. I didn't have a fixed schedule now, other than I wanted to be back in San Jose by the end of the following week, and felt the time in between would be the perfect opportunity to ride some new trails, mixed in with some old favourites - particularly once I'd got a little further west...

    It was certainly my intention to take in a few more of the high passes in Colorado (which I figured ought to be clear of snow by this time of year) - and particularly those which I'd had to forfeit during the Trans-Am 500 ride a couple of years before. I also wanted to embark on a more southernly route though Utah - again, to complete a couple of long-distance trails [at elevation] that had also been out of bounds during previous trips. Staying high up in the mountains once I'd got to Utah would be a sensible decision anyway, with temperatures in the desert around 100°F or more at this time of year.

    In addition, Google had revealed that the distance between Buffalo NY and Colorado Springs CO was 1566 miles. Having effectively warmed up towards an Iron-Butt ride with a series of high-mileage back-to-back days during the previous week, I briefly considered knocking off a 'Bun Burner' (which is 1500 miles in a maximum 36 hours), which in turn would get me that much closer that much sooner, and therefore maximise the time available in Colorado and beyond.

    But it was such a lovely afternoon I could help but continue riding, and effectively forfeit that particular window of opportunity. Instead I elected to abandon the Interstate as soon as possible, and head south and west on a far more scenic route through the New York and Pensilvania countryside, allowing the road to simply unfold before me...

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    Highway 62 was absolutely food for the soul. Traffic free and swooping though small towns and villages, winding alongside rivers and rural farmland. It reminded me of riding though south western France, and believe me, that is no bad thing! A particularly memorable moment was seeing a group of small Amish children playing together by the roadside; and not long after, I overtook a horse and carriage with a family on board, their children in bonnets.

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    photo. I considered it was probably time to lube my chain again (having forgotten to do it before I'd leave the hotel this morning), and this roadside stick was the perfect prop!

    It was almost dark by the time I hit I80, and I admit it was a relief to be once again back in the land of the sub $50 motel.

    cont.
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  7. JMo (& piglet)

    JMo (& piglet) Unicorn breeder

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    Day 28: Monday 10th July - Youngstown OH to Sweet Springs MO (768 miles)

    "Indy 500, and Illinois and Missouri..."

    OK, so I might have hustled you a bit yesterday ;o)

    It honestly wasn't my intention to ride the Bun Burner, but having woken in good time that morning, I realised that if I were pick up I70 at Columbus and take it all the way to Denver before heading south for Colorado Springs, I'd actually still cover 1516 miles - and that ought to be more than enough margin to allow for any odometer inaccuracies.

    Some essential online admin meant I was not ready to leave until after 10am, but I figured it would still be worth a shot - particularly as I'd have to stop and try and get some sleep at some point in the next 36 hours; and let's face it - there would be little else to motivate me to ride across the great plains in these next two days.

    Because this was an impromptu attempt, I didn't have any paperwork with me - so simply collected a series fuel receipts as I went along - for mile after mile after mile...

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    photo. There comes a point when you think you'd probably better stop... in this instance, after dark, and 768 miles.

    cont.
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  8. JMo (& piglet)

    JMo (& piglet) Unicorn breeder

    Joined:
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    Day 29: Tuesday 11th July - Sweet Springs MO to Colorado Springs CO (754 miles)

    "Fan-assisted oven"

    I had rolled into the Super-8 parking lot just after 10pm the evening before, factoring in that they ought to have laundry (which they did) and would almost certainly have a waffle machine for breakfast too - so that would save time and provide some reasonable sustenance in the morning. Best of all, this turned out to be another $50 joint too!

    I set my alarm for 5.45am, was eating waffles by 6.15, and on the road again by 6.45am - fuel tank brimmed at an exceptional $1.88 a gallon!!!

    I did need to negotiate the morning rush-hour around Kansas City which was a little tedious (but hey, the diversion all added miles to the total), and as I recall I clicked over the thousand mile mark once back on I70, just short of Salina KS.

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    As the odometer continued to increase, so did the ambient temperature - by the time I reached Colby in western Kansas mid-afternoon, it was 97°F and getting hotter!

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    I'd calculated that by staying on the I70 until the outskirts of Denver, then taking the ring-road south to avoid the worst of any evening rush-hour traffic, I should roll into Colorado Springs just after the 1500 mile mark...

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    My final fuel receipt was a stones-throw from the Moto Minded HQ - 1516 miles, in just under 34 hours (which included stopping for 8 hours overnight)...

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    photo. Honestly, I really don't need to do that again now - although breaking the journey in half meant I was not actually as tired as after riding 1000 miles straight in 2015.

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    photo. I thought I could do with a new rear tyre once I'd arrived at the Overland Adventure Rally, but it turns out it wasn't quite dead after all... It certainly is now though - 8960 miles on a rear TKC80, that is definitely a record for me!

    Ultimately I had no choice but to book into the cheapest hotel I could find (and that wasn't cheap, nowhere is in this town) a few further miles up the road, and finally decompress after the past couple of days... I'd already lined up a fresh set of tyres to be fitted at a local dealer in the morning, plus the bike really was over-due for an oil change now - so the plan was to catch up with Chris at Moto Minded to discuss, amongst other things, an high-power headlight upgrade for the CB500X; and avail myself of his workshop facilities to ensure the CB was back up to full strength again, in preparation for the homeward stretch.

    More soon...

    Jenny x
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  9. JMo (& piglet)

    JMo (& piglet) Unicorn breeder

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    Day 30: Wednesday 12th July - Colorado Springs CO (7 miles)

    "Fresh meat"

    It wasn't cheap getting a pair of TKC80s fitted at a dealer, but if I'm honest I didn't much relish the prospect of changing them myself, and it was the perfect excuse to grab some breakfast at a nearby diner with Chris Vestal from Moto Minded.

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    photo. the Kings Chef Diner is a bit of an institution in Colorado City - this is actually the smaller of their two venues, although [having eaten the following morning at their larger more traditional establishment in town], I actually preferred the quaintness of this tiny kitsch castle!

    Chris not only runs the LED headlight company Moto Minded, but he is also the founder of the Pikes Peak Makerspace - a community resource for independent engineers and designers to prototype and small-run produce high tech products, with [machine] training available as required.

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    He also has his own personal studio and workshop in the building, which meant I had plenty of space to service the CB, and also the opportunity to use a proper computer keyboard and finally catch up on this ride report (see post #105 onwards on page 6).

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    photo. This is where it all happens!

    As I was writing about my experience in Montana (and how I'd effectively ended up piecing together a 'Trans-Montana Trail' on the fly), it got me thinking about what I might do for the remainder of this trip...

    For the last nine days (and over 3000 miles) now, I'd been riding almost exclusively on tarmac - save for a hundred miles of trail-riding during the Overland Adventure Rally, plus that ill-conceived excursion onto the beach back in Minnesota ;o) - and I was itching to get back on the dirt.

    The fact I'd been able to string together a significant number of dirt-roads and trails in Montana as a continuous journey prompted me to dig out my GTR maps* of Colorado and Utah which I'd had the forethought to stow away in the bottom of my luggage.

    *I mention and highlight these specifically, since I personally feel they are an excellent resource for route planning on unpaved roads and trails in their respective States - pretty much anything on that map is a guaranteed public/through route, and navigable by a bike like my CB500X at least...

    I still had more than a week left before I wanted/needed to be back in California, so with a few strokes of a highlighter pen, I sketched out what I was confident would be a cross-country route almost entirely on dirt roads and trails - from effectively the highest 'motorable' road in the USA (Pikes Peak) to the lowest (West Side Road - Badwater Basin, Death Valley).

    It was a rather grand notion perhaps, but I considered this "High to Low" ride would effectively be a more southerly alternative to the Trans-America Trail west of here... I would use my previous experience and knowledge of the regions I would be pass through to incorporate what I felt were some 'must ride' and 'must see' highlights, and over the next few days would to try and thread a 'definitive' route together with the minimum of wrong turns, dead ends and potentially wasted time*...

    So it looks like I had a new challenge after all!

    *Key to the success of this route would be an entertaining and challenging series of trails, but nothing that couldn't be ridden carefully on a loaded Adventure bike... well, as long as it was no bigger or heavier than the CB500X with a Giant Loop Coyote of course ;o)


    More soon... I bet you can't wait eh? - I know I couldn't!


    Jx
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  10. agplant

    agplant Ride Fast Travel Slo

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    High Level, Alberta
    No we can't. :lurk
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  11. JMo (& piglet)

    JMo (& piglet) Unicorn breeder

    Joined:
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    Day 31: Thursday 13th July - Colorado Springs to Poncha Creek CO (174 miles)

    "Trail Bonanza!"

    Before leaving town, I indulged in another helping of French toast and proper chunky bacon (not this silly streaky stuff you usually get in the USA) at the larger of the Kings Chef Diners, finally paid in my left-over Canadian dollars into my US account, and bought a new pair of jeans to replace my current ones that had got covered in oil when servicing the bike yesterday (yes, I actually only had one pair of pants with me this trip, plus the lightweight waterproof over pants stowed in my jacket rear pocket).

    I wasn't in any particular hurry today - I'd arranged to stay over with some friends in Salida (less than two hours away directly by road) the following evening, and see them play at a local music venue in town - so the next 36 hours would be about riding and reccying a few trails between here (effectively the bottom of Pikes Peak Highway) and Salida itself - which is a hub for any number of the high mountain passes nearby, and of course also directly on the Trans-America Trail route too.

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    photo. So far this trip, this had proved to be the case - and I hoped it would remain so for the rest of the journey...

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    photo. Colorado Springs in the distance, from the start of Old Stage Road to Cripple Creek.

    In 2015 when I detoured from the TAT to Colorado Springs to ride Pikes Peak, I'd wanted to continue my journey west via the Old Stage/Gold Camp roads up to Victor and Cripple Creek (if you followed that journey you may recall that on my way east the roads from the other side were closed too due to bad weather), so it was a delight to finally get to ride them in dry and warm weather...

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    photo. Gold Camp Road is an easy graded dirt road (you could drive a car along it if you wanted), but nonetheless a both scenic and spectacular route through the mountains, climbing to around 10,000ft.

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    photo. Grassy Valley Gold Mine is vast - the operation so impressive that they even built a public viewing platform!

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    photo. Just on the other side of the hill, how it used to be done...

    I stopped off at the tourist town of Cripple Creek for a coffee and bun, then headed south for Canon City down the CR-88/CR-9 dirt road - the one that I'd had to turn round on in 2015 due to a torrential flood across the concrete ford.

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    photo. The dedication of some people - building a three story house literally on the side of a cliff!

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    photo. You can see why though - Shelf Road (CR-88 & 9) is another stunning route through the mountains...

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    photo. The flooded ford from 2015 - dry as a bone now!

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    photo. Similarly this gate was locked last time - Country Road F25 through the Red Rock Park is excellent, with a few technical spots making it a proper 'trail' in places!

    I hit highway 50 just west of Canon City, and elected to take a minor paved road to join the official TAT route a few miles south west, where it crosses hwy 69 just south of Cotopaxi (a traditional food and fuel stop on the TAT). Gulch Road is a delight - remote, twisty and almost traffic free, and passes close to the Royal Gorge Suspension Bridge and Park - should you wish to be relieved of quite a few dollars to cross one of the highest suspension bridges in the world!

    Of course it turns out I'd also chosen to dovetail with one of the few sections of the TAT in Colorado that is actually paved, and rolled into Cotopaxi hungry for a bite to eat - fortunately their deli didn't disappoint!

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    photo. As I sat outside in the sun, eating my sandwich, I noticed dozens of eyes staring at me... bug eyes!

    From Cotopaxi, the TAT actually continues north, but I had spied an alternative route south of highway 50 that looked promising... and like the sandwich earlier, ultimately it didn't disappoint either!

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    photo. Hayden Pass that crosses the Sangre De Christo Ridge is often overlooked, but a great alternative [to the TAT] if you don't plan to stop over in Salida...

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    photo. Just be aware that compared to the reasonably gentle climb up from the east, the west side is a lot steeper, rocky and straight down for a good distance - a little nerve-wracking on a loaded ADV bike for sure!


    Having hit the highway (285) at Villa Grove late in the afternoon, I could now either head north on pavement and find a hotel in Salida (expensive), or else continue my exploration and elect to camp at some point along the trail instead - especially as I intended to ride some of the high passes to the west of Salida tomorrow anyway, before my rendezvous with Duke & Tami.

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    photo. Continuing on a minor paved road that soon turned to gravel at Bonanza, the wiggly trail ahead on my GPS screen looked very promising indeed - despite the odd hazard to be negotiated.

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    photo. Just over 11,000 ft here on the Toll Road Gulch trail.

    [​IMG]

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    photo. This is one of the best trails in the area; and even with the odd patch of mud, creek-crossings, rocks and roots, it's still perfect as a big[ger] bike route.

    The trail once again dove-tailed with the [new/current] TAT route at Poncha Creek, and as it was getting dark now, again I considered heading for Salida and a warm bed somewhere. But hell, I'd had such a good day today, I really wanted to crown it off with a proper wild-camp somewhere - and knew there would be plenty of opportunity for dispersed camping along the creek...

    [​IMG]
    photo. Crossing over Poncha Creek on the TAT route - it was nice to see my marker from 2015 was still here ;o)

    However, I soon realised that at this time of year a lot of other people had had exactly the same idea, and nearly every established spot was full of a camper, or SUV and tent/s...

    I continued along the creek (the TAT route actually follows the water course for a short distance here) and eventually found a quiet and remote spot up a short side trail, complete with a babbling brook nearby (for washing in), a fire-ring of stones, and a suitably level spot for my small tent.

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    photo. With the tent erected (got to get your priorities right), as the daylight started to fade I returned to the main trail and gathered some firewood.

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    photo. I also sacrificed a strip of my old oily jeans (yes, I couldn't bare to throw them away earlier that morning) as kindling for the campfire.

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    photo. My first wild-camp of this trip, and at over 9000ft no less!

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    photo. I brewed a cup of coffee, ate half another Clif bar, and finally fell into a deep and peaceful sleep.

    More soon!

    Jenny x
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  12. visualizerent

    visualizerent Raconteur

    Joined:
    Mar 26, 2013
    Oddometer:
    680
    Location:
    Nevada City, CA.
    BWAHHHH- "....in fact the only saving grace was the prospect of breakfast waffle machine... indeed had it been out of commission I am confident the Super-8 in Sheridan would have been burnt to the ground for the good of all travellers coming behind me."
    CLASSIC! Juan
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  13. JMo (& piglet)

    JMo (& piglet) Unicorn breeder

    Joined:
    Apr 1, 2007
    Oddometer:
    8,608
    Location:
    California
    Hee hee - I don't ask for much, but I do like my waffles as you know ;o)

    Jx
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  14. JMo (& piglet)

    JMo (& piglet) Unicorn breeder

    Joined:
    Apr 1, 2007
    Oddometer:
    8,608
    Location:
    California
    Day 32: Friday 14th July - Poncha Creek to Salida CO (104 miles)

    "Old Friends"

    If you are paying any attention to the headers of each diary post, then you'll probably think 104 miles today sounds a bit lame? - however, this is because I had previously arranged to stay overnight with friends in Salida this evening, so today was going to be all about having some fun in the mountains!

    I'd slept surprisingly well (probably the thin air ;o), and perhaps most surprising of all was how warm it had been last night, out here in the forest at over 9000ft elevation -perhaps I could get into this summer camping lark after all?!

    Typically I'd woken at sunrise (around 5.45am here at this time of year) - pottered about a bit, made coffee using the last of my Camelbak water, and eaten the other half of my last remaining Clif bar - planning on a proper breakfast once I'd cross over Marshall Pass and down into Sargents (again, another TAT stop on hwy 50) at the Tomichi Creek Trading Post. Despite this relatively leisurely start and the increasingly warm sunshine, my tent fly was still damp as I broke camp, so elected to strap it to the top of my luggage bag - hopefully to dry it out a little more as I rode along.

    The run up to Marshall Pass was uneventful, and much as I remembered from my TAT ride two years previously. However, in not paying proper attention where a number of trails diverge at the summit, I started off in another direction before realising I wasn't actually on the TAT route anymore:

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    photo. Turns out my wrong turn was part of the Continental Divide trail, which is open to hikers, horses, bicycles and most importantly motorcycles too (just not those pesky ATVs and larger 4x4s)...

    Now I was aware that my primary intention this week was to thread together a continuous trail from Colorado to California, but at the same time, this would be a great opportunity to poke around and see if there was a more 'technical' alternative to the main TAT route...

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    photo. Sure enough, the trail started to show signs of less regular use [by powered vehicles at least] although fortunately someone had cut suitable bike-sized slots in a series of fallen trees that otherwise blocked one particular section.

    Despite my GPS hinting there might be an alternative trail that would rejoin the main TAT route further down the mountain, the reality was that after a few miles, it was clear that the only obvious trail [that was open] now led almost due south, in essentially the opposite direction to that which I really wanted to be heading - ie. breakfast.

    The trail opened up across a huge alpine pasture, and climbed steeply to over 11,500ft, before dropping back into more forest:

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    photo. It was here that I finally elected to turn around and retrace my steps... ahead of me was a hundred yards or more of wet, muddy, rooty single-track - that led who knows where...

    I don't like to give up, but a little voice was saying pancakes "Know when to quit...", and I have to say at this elevation, on a bike with almost a full tank of fuel and loaded with luggage, I didn't much fancy getting properly stuck I can tell you - especially when it was clear by now that this trail would not join up with the actual direction I wanted to be heading...


    Back on the TAT, I remembered that the sign for Marshall Pass is actually a little further on from the summit coming up from Poncha Creek (it's actually where the easier Marshall Pass Road converges), and once again Piglet emerged from his papoose for a photograph:

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    photo. We've been here before Mama!

    The downhill from the Pass is smooth and wide gravel and dirt, and you can bop along at a fair old lick here, so we did! Rolling into Sargents (more food and fuel is available here), I was keen to indulge in what would now be effectively Brunch - although ultimately I had to make do with vending machine hot chocolate and a restock of energy bars, as it turned out the restaurant chef had not turned up for work today... Denied!


    The current TAT route crosses over the main highway here, and starts up the wide valley either side of Tomichi Creek, before crossing west over Black Sage Pass. However, I had other plans - not only did I want to add Old Monarch Pass to my tick-list, but I also wanted to revisit Tomichi Pass and Hancock Pass, which I first rode back in 2008 on my Yamaha XT660Z Tenere, when they were still part of the original TAT route.

    note. In recent years, Sam Correro has essentially abandoned Hancock and Tomichi - they were usually ridden in that order, heading west from Salida - since they are not county maintained roads [and therefore not ploughed]; and coupled with the fact that there has also been a huge increase in 4x4 and SSV traffic, parts of both these trails are really quite chewed up and technical now - especially for TAT bikes with luggage.

    I factored that if my CB500X (with luggage) could be ridden over Tomichi and Hancock without too much trouble, then it would categorically prove [to me at least] that what John and I had developed with the LEVEL 3 kit, effectively matched or even surpassed the off-road ability of the Tenere... well that was my motivation anyway!

    [​IMG]
    photo. They are not kidding - Tomichi Pass has a number of sections that are strewn with baby-head rocks, a number of creek crossings and loose rocky sections that can easily catch out the unwary two-wheeler - especially heading in this direction [north/uphill].

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    photo. This gravestone at the tiny Tomichi Cemetery was particularly poignant - cause of death: killed by explosion.

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    photo. My first snow - just before the summit of Tomichi Pass (11,985ft).

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    photo. The view from the top, north east across the valley towards Hancock Pass.

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    photo. The scree slope on the north side of Tomichi Pass... not a lot of room for a Jeep these days...

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    photo. It had actually started to rain here (in fact it rained the last time I was here too as I recall), and I did pause to consider the initial climb up to Hancock... it is pretty steep, with more wet, loose, rocks.

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    photo. But I aired down, bit my lip, and the CB made it up of course!

    The Far side of Hancock Pass was actually a LOT more chewed up than I recall from 2008 - a couple of sections actually reminded me of such hard-core trails in Moab like Pritchett Canyon and Top of the World. I was certainly glad to be heading downhill now, especially in all this rain.

    [​IMG]
    photo. Heading out from Hancock to St. Elmo - I'm pretty sure everyone takes a photo of this old collapsing building!

    It was a little after lunchtime and the rain was really coming down now - so much that I had no choice but to stop and put my waterproof over-trousers on again, even though my jeans and gloves were already soaking... I paused briefly outside St. Elmo to mark a GPS waypoint at the turn for Tincup Pass (I'd be coming back this way tomorrow to continue my 'High to Low' route track-logging), and fortunately it was only about 30 or so miles into Salida from here.

    I arrived to a warm welcome at chez Sheppard, showered, laundered, and later that evening followed them downtown to the Boathouse Bar & restaurant - a regular venue for the Country-Americana duo:

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    photo. It was fantastic to finally see these guys playing live - especially after regularly listening to their latest album on my iPod this trip.

    Pint & a Half are Duke & Tami Sheppard... (their names listed in size order ;o) Long-standing ADVrider inmates will be aware that Duke is actually the forum moderator Hayduke on here, and that his company Fat-Tees have supported a number of privateer Dakar racers over the years, most usually with the moto: Safety Third!

    Rock and roll!

    Jenny x





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  15. Wind_Rider

    Wind_Rider Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Mar 6, 2006
    Oddometer:
    953
    Location:
    Idaho
    Great story and pictures told with your keen British vocabulary and singular sense of humour. (spelling intentional)
    Keep it going, really enjoying this thread!
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  16. Patobez

    Patobez Adventurer

    Joined:
    Sep 20, 2016
    Oddometer:
    75
    Location:
    Edmonton, Alberta, Canada
    Wow, Jenny you are a brave soul to be doing these passes alone and in the rain. A real testament to your experience and the awesomeness (is that a word?) Of the L3 cb500x. Great job!
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  17. OHjim

    OHjim Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Aug 12, 2009
    Oddometer:
    966
    Location:
    KC
    You must have been pretty tired. I thought it would have said "waffles". :photog
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  18. JMo (& piglet)

    JMo (& piglet) Unicorn breeder

    Joined:
    Apr 1, 2007
    Oddometer:
    8,608
    Location:
    California
    Ha, thanks Pat' - it was an educated guess since I had already ridden Tomichi and Hancock in that direction before (although it's been nine years since I last rode them), so was aware of what potentially lay ahead... However, as I mention above, parts of Hancock Pass particularly have deteriorated significantly from what I remember - although admittedly the last time I was there the whole place was covered in ice and snow too, which added yet another dimension to the proceedings!

    [​IMG]
    photo. October 2008

    [​IMG]
    photo. October 2008

    Jx
  19. JMo (& piglet)

    JMo (& piglet) Unicorn breeder

    Joined:
    Apr 1, 2007
    Oddometer:
    8,608
    Location:
    California
    Day 33: Saturday 15th July - Salida CO to Lake City CO (184 miles)

    "Divide - conquered"

    Having only ever been through this part of Colorado slightly out of season (either a little too early on the Trans-Am ride, or a little too late as above), I was keen to ride as many [more] of the high passes as I could this time - especially as despite the harsh and prolonged winter, the past couple of weeks had seen a huge thaw in this region, and I was confident that even the highest crossing would now be free of snow...

    I returned to my GPS mark from yesterday, so that I might thread a few more of these passes together as part of my ongoing route west. It's a steady climb from St. Elmo towards the historic goldmine town of Tincup, although the trail does deteriorate into rocky sections either side of the pass itself.

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    photo. It's easier on this east side, rougher on the far side - but at least I was heading downhill then...

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    photo. Aha - you see what I did there?

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    photo. Mirror Lake (on the way down towards Tincup) is at 11,000ft still... a popular fishing spot, with a campground nearby too.

    Although the trail was rough in spots, on the whole going via Tincup is a far more pleasant option for ADV size motorcycles (compared to the Hancock/Tomichi pairing) if you're heading west - if anything the scenery is even more spectacular, while the town itself seems to have found a new lease of life these days as a rental ATV/SSV destination, with a number of bars and restaurants serving a good selection to hungry off-roaders...

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    photo. It's worth remembering that people actually live in Tincup too...

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    photo. Frenchy's looked like the best of the bunch... and I'm a sucker for a wooden bridge.

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    Photo. I ordered an al fresco lunch and watched the world go by - my 'Packmule' Sandwich a mountain of different meats and cheese in fried bread.

    I wrapped the other half of my huge sandwich in some tin-foil and stuffed it into my backpack - as there would be little opportunity for food or fuel now until I reached Lake City - still a good distance away...

    Tip-tapping on the GPS screen, it appeared I had two* options directly south of Tincup. According to my Garmin maps, Napoleon Pass was a through-route, and being appreciably higher that neighbouring (and far more popular being well-maintained) Cumberland Pass, I factored it was also likely to be the more challenging option - so started up there, perhaps a tad optimistically...

    *actually three as it turned out!

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    photo. Initially the trail passes the old Tincup cemetery, then wiggles around an abandoned mine...

    The trail started out easily enough - there had been a couple of entertaining creek crossings already, but as the trail started to climb into the forest, sections were now a little deeper underwater, and in general the surface became a lot more rocky...

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    photo. Most of the time there was a suitable 'bike line', but it soon became tedious...

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    photo. To be honest the trail would not be especially difficult on four-wheels, but on a bike it was tricky to maintain momentum in places.

    After a couple more miles of this [apparently] not getting any better, I elected to call it quits... Not only was I way too full of fatty meat and melted cheese to want to battle the baby-heads; but the altitude (again over 11,000ft at this point) was compounding the amount of exertion required, and doubly so should I have the misfortune to actually have to pick my pick up.

    Fundamentally though, since my goal was to plot an entertaining through-route all the way to Death Valley, I had to concede that this particular pass in this direction was not something most* people on an ADV size bike (especially one loaded with luggage) would actually enjoy...

    *from a personal perspective, it is my intention to come back this way and try it in the other direction instead ;o)



    Return to zero (the trip meter)...

    Bumping back down the trail towards Tincup, Cumberland Pass was now the obvious route south towards Pitkin (and subsequently Waunita Hot Springs, where I planned to rejoin the TAT route again) - something I didn't particularly relish as the dirt road is like a highway here, with a lot of four-wheeled traffic that consequently kicks up a fair amount of dust.

    Fortunately, Garmin came up with the goods again - initially directing me up what appeared to be minor side trail, but which turned out to be an excellent OHV route all the way up 'Tincup Gulch' that climbed sharply but steadily through the forest, and ultimately joined Cumberland Pass Road just before the summit. Definitely one to add to my list!

    [​IMG]
    photo. The general store at Pitkin (for food and fuel) - complete with a trio of genuine good ol' boys!

    Compared to the majestic passes I'd been riding these past couple of days, Waunita Pass (10,266ft) is blink and you'll miss it - I blinked and I did. The trail here is a well-graded gravel/dirt road through the forest, and I was breezing along and not paying all that much attention - so I can only imagine if there was a sign, it was masked by a parked vehicle at the side of the trail.

    A few miles further south I dove-tailed with the current TAT route (coming down from Black Sage Pass), and before long I was crossing over hwy 50 at Doyleville and making good time on the wide open gravel road. Not far ahead was an entertaining alternative trail that I'd found during the Trans-Am 500 ride, and wanted to incorporate into this current itinerary, so selected my previous track-log in the GPS to use as a guide....

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    photo. The official TAT route just west of here is a wide gravel road - however, this side trail is an excellent alternative... If you're ever planning on passing by, don't pass - take it!

    I'd forgotten just how good the Razor Dome route [CR 3120] is - a twisty winding two-track that follows a creek, climbs through woodland and then descends back towards the TAT across open meadows, and offers plenty of places to wild-camp should you wish.

    This detour had buoyed my sense of adventure, and as I crossed over hwy 114, zoomed into the GPS screen to see what other treasures might also lie in store nearby... again, I was amazed how much dirt-road detail is included in the Garmin City Navigator maps in this area (and all over the US to be honest), and I was soon diverting once again up into the hills away from the main gravel through-route...

    However, what I was confident ought to have been another simple detour loop off the main TAT route actually turned into a proper mini adventure... Poison Gulch sounded promising, and climbed steadily into a dense forest. However once amongst the trees, the obvious/shortest route in the GPS back to the TAT was fenced over - and clearly had been for some time... The alternative (still in the Garmin I'd add) ended up being a convoluted and seemingly never-ending two-track through the forest, and at one point there was no option but to cross a huge peat-bog, that fortunately [having got off in good time and walked it first] was dry enough to support the weight of the CB - although it was still touch and go in places!

    The weather was also looking pretty ominous - the wind had picked up now, there were dark clouds directly ahead, and it then began to drizzle once I'd emerged from the trees. Fortunately my GPS route eventually coincided with a wide forestry road, which doubled back and down towards the main TAT route, away from the worst of the storm ahead.

    [​IMG]
    photo. Back on the TAT - I thought I was going to get properly wet at some point this afternoon, but fortunately the wind kept the storm moving away from my chosen route.

    It had been a fun hour and a half or so, but also the perfect illustration of why Sam [Correro] chooses the trails that he does to make up the official TAT route. Ultimately there has to be a balance to keep you moving forward, while also trying to incorporate as much entertaining [trail] riding as you can, and on the whole I think the Trans-America Trail does a pretty good job of that. Certainly there are any number of alternative [and potentially more challenging] trails that could be incorporated all along the official route, but conversely that would mean you end up spending forever trying to cross the country, and most people simply don't have the time of course. Indeed, while some people feel they ought to stick resolutely to the official route instructions, even Sam himself suggests that the purpose of the TAT is more as a guide, and that there is nothing to stop you adding to or taking away certain sections to create your own personal adventure.


    Certainly that is what I was doing on this particular section, and even though I've ridden across Los Pinos Pass a number of times now (in both directions), I never remember it being quite so scenic and dramatic as it was this early evening - the sun starting to slip down behind the San Juan Mountains ahead of me, the long shadows and recent rain bringing all the colours vividly to life.

    I rolled into Lake City really rather later than ideal to find a hotel - and ultimately (this being a Saturday night) everywhere that wasn't already full was terribly expensive for what little it looked like you were getting... At least Lake City seemed to be a lot more busy than the last time I was here - admittedly in mid-October, 2008 - when everything had effectively shut down for the winter. Nowadays, Lake City is another bustling hub of tourist activity - with many more bars and restaurants (and hotels!) than I recall; and at this time of year the streets are overflowing with bikes, 4x4s, side-by-sides and other OHV vehicles.

    I fuelled up, and decided to forfeit the opportunity of a warm bed, and instead continue a little further on my chosen route:

    [​IMG]
    photo. Engineer Pass is part of the 'Alpine Loop' that links Lake City to Animas Forks/Silverton further west - Cinnamon Pass being the southern return.

    There is a huge network of trails in the San Juan Mountains between Lake City in the east, Ouray and Telluride to the west, together with Silverton a little further south down the Million Dollar Highway (hwy 550) - another of those 'Gold roads' on the Butler maps of course, although riding those had not been on my mind particularly during these past fews days almost exclusively on dirt.

    The official Trans-America Trail heads west on Cinnamon Pass, via Animas Forks and then over California Pass, Hurricane Pass and CorkScrew Pass all of which are in the region of 13,000ft. Those of you who followed my Trans-Am 500 ride may recall that while Cinnamon was open (the Alpine Loop tends to be ploughed early in the season, as it is so popular with tourists), I couldn't get through California (or subsequently Hurricane and Corkscrew) due to snow:

    [​IMG]
    photo. mid-June 2015. California Pass (12,960ft) was still blocked... and I had to route north down Engineer Mountain Rd to Ouray as an alternative.

    Being here almost a month later, I was confident I'd finally be able to ride that particular trio, along with Engineer Pass - another that had so far eluded me.

    But first, I had to find somewhere to sleep tonight. The road to Engineer Pass leads due west straight out of Lake City, and all along it's length in any suitable camping spot were parked vehicles. I continued a good way up the valley, and eventually found a side trail that led to a clearing in the forest, complete with a series of make-shift fire-rings and some suitably level ground. This would do - far enough away from the road, but close enough to those others camping that hopefully any bears would be discouraged from visiting in the night. I had no food anyway to be honest - that mouldy left-over sandwich from lunchtime having long been devoured earlier in the afternoon.

    More soon!

    Jenny x



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  20. HighLifeGuy

    HighLifeGuy Mountain Biker

    Joined:
    May 6, 2015
    Oddometer:
    108
    Location:
    Colorado Springs
    85 MPH on dirt - that's a nice number. Were the tires even touching the ground? You realize that you need to make a pass at that speed in both directions for it to qualify as a record:-). I was inspired by your experience to see how fast I could get my CB500X going on dirt this past weekend. I touched 70 a few times but that last 15 MPH wasn't going to happen. You gotta watch out for any crosswind gusts at that speed as you don't have a whole lot of lateral traction.

    Loving your ride report - entertaining and educational as always!
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