We started out the day at about 8 am. We headed west into and thru Salida after fueling up and having "breakfast". Breakfast on this trip (for me) consisted of 2 or 3 cans of V8 Hot and Spicy...or 2 or 3 bottles of V8 Fusion. These would also be my lunch for the most part as they were widely available at the places we gassed up. Thing is, it was hot out and the altitude/dry climate on this trip sucked moisture out of you, so it became a habit with me to simply "drink my breakfast/lunch" so I could hydrate and get some healthy stuff into my system at the same time. It became a habit for me to drink real juice or vegetable juice the entire trip and it really helped extend my 2 liters of water I carried in my backpack. But I digress.
We had great weather this day and enjoyed a very nice ride going up Marshall Pass. In fact, this 10 miles or so of climbing/descending Marshall Pass would be one of my favorite sections of the entire trip. I don't know if it was because it was a beautiful, clear day, or the fact that the climb was gentle and easy...or perhaps it was the dirt roads thickly lined with Aspen trees all the way up to the top. I could not help but say to myself, "This is cool"!...as we cruised past all those beautiful Aspen trees, winding our way gently up the pass. Before we knew it, we were at the top...whoa, that was quick! We stopped for the obligatory "Marshall Pass photo”, and headed out...enjoying more of the same scenery.
We fueled up in Sargents, CO before heading out into some very open “Ranch Country” as we made our way west. There was a lot of scenic vistas with high distant mountains and huge puffy white clouds against a perfectly blue sky. We road more gravel than anything at this point and we passed plenty of Cattle. (and quite a few calves) It took me a little while to get used to running at 45-50 mph hour on this gravel that would move your bike around try as you might to carve a straight line. Certainly had to slow down in the corners! It was a bit different than the sharp edged gravel I am used to riding in WA.
After an hour or two of this we climbed a bit and found ourselves in one of those “big puffy clouds”. It got cold and wet, veryyyy quickly. Now, Randy had warned us that there had been “Lightning/Thunder Storms” in the forecast and he said, “you don't want to be up on top of a mountain” during one of these storms. He mentioned someone had recently been killed after being struck by lightning in that very situation. At the time, I dismissed the possibility, thinking it would be rare to find yourself in that situation. Well, as we rode thru the rather drizzly, misty rain atop one of the tall hills/mountains, we saw a flash of light and an IMMEDIATE clap of thunder that was shockingly loud! This would occur a couple more times, and on one occasion we literally saw the lightning strike the ground not at all far from the road...I mean, it was like something out of a storm chaser video. I admit, it was scary. I pulled over, Jim rode up and said, “we need to get out of here”. I agreed and we headed down the mountain post haste. Strange thing about it, it wasnt as if this was a widespread storm etc. It was like a single dark cloud hanging over a single peak...and we would encounter a couple more of these “isolated” Thunder Storms as we rode up and down the different peaks in Colorado. We would ride into and out of a couple of these...in just a matter of 5 or 6 miles!?
We ended up hitting a “Stagecoach” checkpoint and stopped for a bit, reflecting on the storm(s) we had just gone thru. The old stagecoach road was pretty cool, and we could not help but think how easy we have it compared to the old miners/settlers that came over and thru that road. Geesh.
The terrain leveled out at this point and we made our way thru a wilderness area as we made our way towards Lake City. The sun was out, and we were back to blue skies and it felt good. We stopped along the road to check out a Moose that was wading in a small marshy area before we headed out down the road again, only to have the road blocked by a couple of deer/elk. We took a few pics, waited them out and were on our way again. We stopped at a lookout point and took a break from our torturous seats...ouch.
It was really a spectacular view into the Colorado Rockies. Tough to photograph the 270 degree view we took in as we hydrated and grabbed a snack. (my snack of choice was “Lara Bars”)
We mounted up and descended into Lake City, where we fueled up and ran into more rain.
We were hoping for sunny weather for the ascent up Cinnamon pass, but this was not to be. We started out for Cinnamon Pass and found ourselves soaking wet from the rain after about ten minutes....went from hot and dry to wet and cold in about 15 minutes. We maintained a casual pace as we climbed toward the pass...alot of rocky bumps both loose and embedded stuff. Nothing crazy...just jostled you around a bit as you rode. We passed several folks descending in large ATV's...waved/said hi...kept motoring. The last part of the run up to Cinnamon Pass became a “creek climb”, as it was raining hard enough that there was a constant stream flowing down the trail that we literally rode all the way up to the top! It made it a bit slicker, but again, nothing too tough.
I should mention a couple things at this point. First, we had swapped out tires prior to this trip and our tire of choice was the Pirelli MT-21. I wont bore you with details, but this was an EXCELLENT choice! The tires were good in the gravel, great on this wet “creek climb” and just plain “grippy” throughout the trip. I recommend them highly. Second point, especially those of you with Super Sherpas, there is a significant power loss that seems to kick in at about 8,000 feet. It is a bit worse at 10,000 feet and above. I stayed with the 130/20 jet sizes (Up from the stock 127.5/17.5) as I wanted to make sure my air cooled motor wouldn't run too hot in the desert areas etc. I also figured that leaner jetting might keep the bike from “loading up”/fouling a plug, but it was NOT going to help the power situation as there is only so much air at 10,000 and 12,000 feet. So, I stayed with my jetting...the bike ran great, never fouled a plug...it just felt a bit anemic at altitude! If I had to characterize it...lets just say...it was tougher for me to get into 3rd
gear and maintain power on a steep climb, unless I really got the rpm's up in second gear before I shifted to 3rd
gear. Hope that makes sense.?! Otherwise, the little Sherpa handled the climbs at altitude no problem. Just don't think you are going to lug the bike in 3rd
like you would at sea level. Lastly, as I write my observations about the Sherpa, keep in mind I am 5' 11”, 205 lbs...220 lbs with riding gear on...with a bag on the back that weighs 25 lbs , a backpack that weighs 15 lbs and a spare fuel bottle that weighs 2.5 lbs. Again, I digress!
A couple more turns, several splashes and wet rocks later and we are at the top of Cinnamon Pass. It feels good to have made it. It is a bit surreal as I realize that 24 hours ago I was in Tacoma, WA?!?? Crazy. We take in the view..the cinnamon colored slopes that paint the surrounding mountains...the HUGE valley off to our west. We comment on not having brought rain gear..(nope, we didn't...I decided last minute to leave mine with Randy back in Colorado Springs) we take a few pics and I record on video (more for the sound than anything else) the threatening, rolling thunder that we have been hearing during the ride up. Lightning is out in the distance, not terribly near, but the thunder rolls thru and echoes throughout the surrounding mountains like a distant artillery barrage!
We ride west into an enormous valley, still getting pelted by rain. We curse the sky and try not to think about how cold we will be if this rain doesn't let up. Neither of us really complains about it, we just hope sun is around the next bend. It isnt long before we find ourselves descending into Animas Forks...a deserted old mining town that looks exactly like you would think an old, deserted mining town would look! We ride down into Animas Forks, and go into one of the small buildings to get out of the rain for a bit. As we take a break, the clouds move off, and the sun comes out! Nice!! Heck, we even get treated to a rainbow as we look west onto a picture perfect scene of the Rocky Mountains that moments before had been invisible!
We spend a little time exploring and looking thru the deserted town...we imagine what it might have been like there all those years ago. Everyone does this I suppose...these places just draw on your imagination, compelling you to contrast today with yesteryear. Jim loves this old stuff.
As much as we like checking this place out, reality soon hits you that you have a schedule of sorts to keep. We head out again towards California Pass. It isn't long before we find ourselves in a lush, green valley that you swear is Scotland! This valley is simply enormous. I slow down to take a photo or two, and when I catch up to Jim a few minutes later, he has a quizzical look on his face. I take off my helmet and I hear strange sounds..like a low “moaning” that I can't place. He says, “what is that”?? We look out into the valley...and finally see a few sheep that are only about a hundred yards or so from us. We take another look out into the valley and we realize that the tiny little spots that we initially didn't think much of....are all moving. It was sheep...hundreds of sheep!? The entire valley echoed with their “baaaaaah's”! Jim tells me there is a guy standing on a rock a bit further up the trail. ( I look, I see him) He is whistling...we look a good ¾ mile into the valley below...there is a dog down there herding the sheep and responding to this guy's whistling!! I can barely even see the dog...how the heck can he even hear the whistling commands?! Crazy. I try to get a photo of the whole scene, but the sheep are like pinpoint dots! I record the sound so my daughter can hear it, lest she not believe what I am saying. We ride off thru the valley to the fading sound of hundred of sheep, it was awesome.
A few miles up the trail, and we see California pass. Its a gentle, yet steep climb and Jim has the KLX up top before I make the final turn to summit the pass. The air is so thin, that I have to wind out the Sherpa in 2nd
to make 3rd
gear work well enough to climb. I slow down and go with 2nd
gear...there's no hurry... It is a nice, picturesque climb as I look back down to the valley on my right, and on my left is another mountain...Jim is already soaking in the 360 degree view at the top. As I roll up and dismount my bike, I see a group of 4 or 5 riders on big BMW adventure bikes starting up the last hill towards us. I wonder what they will think when they see my tiny Sherpa..haha.
We take a good long break at the top of California pass. We grab a few photos..and we contemplate where we will stop for the night etc. We figure we will head to Silverton, CO and get a motel for the night, as we are really tired again. We started the day 40 miles out of Salida, so we put in over 220 miles today, and we felt it. We were still wet and it rained off/on the whole way to California pass. We had some sun breaks to help us out though, so all in all, not bad. The Super Sherpa kicked butt all day...
We arrive in Silverton, CO about an hour later.
As we settle into our room (that had the heater stuck at 90 degrees.. I swear!!) we consider how much we had seen that day, it was amazing. We grabbed a bite to eat at a local tavern (great Burgers!) and headed back to our room. It was smoking hot in the room, the windows were all nailed shut...(Hotel California??!!?!?) and I got the worst headache of my life. Did not have one all day, just now. I never get headaches. The other thing that was strange, was my heart rate was unusually fast? I layed down to get some sleep. Jim had 2 beers at dinner, so he was out like a light. (the next day he would tell me he had a splitting headache as well) I just lay there..heart racing, with a pounding headache. I literally had to concentrate on getting my heart rate down by measured breathing and not moving. The damn sauna we were in did not help...It was pretty strange/spooky as I am in good shape/physically healthy. I chalk it up to the altitude?! After a couple of hours of this I fall asleep for an hour or two. Worst night of the trip.
More to come