We had arrived in Pitkin Monday afternoon. According to the folks at the Pitkin general store, the weather news was not good. Tuesday (our planned Marshall Pass day) was calling for a 40% chance of rain.
However, the worst forecast was for Wednesday (our planned Cumberland Pass day): 70% and high at Pitkin in the 40's. This would mean the passes would be in the low 30's or lower.
Cold, we can do (we've done it many times). Wet, I can do. (I've done it many times... Honey Buns, not so many.) Cold AND wet: Not fun at ALL. The upside to this was that all day today at Pitkin had been mostly sunny and not a drop of precipitation. This on a 30% chance of showers.
Decision? Let's see what it's doing in the morning and decide from there!
Tuesday morning was dawning nicely... very few clouds in the sky. However, the temps were in the LOW 30's, with heavy frost all over the bikes... far different than at the lower elevation towns of Canyon City and Colorado Springs!
Here's a early morning view toward Alpine Tunnel from the back porch of our cabin...
See those white looking porches in the pics? That's heavy FROST. So thick it was slick, like walking on ice.
The sky looked promising!
We decided to go for it. Marshall Pass, here we come!
Today was to be one of our biggest rides. We would be leaving Pitkin and traveling over Wauntia Pass to near Waunita Hot Springs, then over Black Sage Pass to Sargents... then pick up Marshall Pass Road and run it to Poncha Springs. At Poncha Springs we would fuel and eat, then return via the same route. When the day would be finished, there would be about 130+ miles of riding, with only about 8 total miles of pavement.
This decided, it was time to wipe the frost off the bike seats, suit up, pack the stuff into my dual sport "fanny pack"... and get to it!
Waunita Pass was the bomb! There were aspens all along the route... already turning flaming bright colors. The pics will NEVER do justice to the actual beauty of the experience... but the pics are the best I can do in order to share it with you!
Here's Honey Buns on Waunita Pass during one of our "awe moments" stops...
One of the most amazing things about Colorado is how quickly the terrain changes. One minute you're riding amid aspens and spruce trees... then you round a curve... and boom: You're in black sage country!!
This is EXACTLY what happened descending the southern slope of Waunita Pass... we rounded a curve and suddenly the trees were behind us, and desolation lay before us! Welcome to black sage country! Plus, after twisting and turning and riding tight switchbacks... all of a sudden you're on endless straights that seem to go on into infinity! Here's pictorial proof!
After a few miles we passed by Waunita Hot Springs (and old hot spring spa was/is there)... and turned onto Black Sage Pass Road.
Oddly, I find that I also enjoy riding desolate looking country... it has a very unique "feel" to it.
For example, one's sense of isolation is more pronounced. (Again, oddly, I enjoy such feelings when riding a motorcycle. In 43 years of riding, I have yet to have any experiences that were too "backwoods" or too "isolated" for me.)
In fact, I remember being on a solo trip on a very, very, backroad aboard my Harley "Deuce" that I owned at the time.
I was heading across the New Mexico high plains. There was ZERO human habitation as far as the eye could see from horizon to horizon (and hadn't been for many miles). Neither were there ANY vehicles (to be met or otherwise). There, out in the middle of nowhere (literally), I pulled off to the side of the road, killed the bike, removed my helmet and just sat there savoring the experience.
Eventually, way out on the horizon a vehicle was coming my way. When it got near enough to identify, it was another solo Harley rider. (Most dirt bikers would have called him a "Pirate".) He slowed to a near stop and ask if all was alright. I replied that yup, it was MORE than alright and I was simply grooving to the experience. He smiled a huge understanding smile... and nodded in complete agreement. With that he throttled up and motored off.
Yup, I dig isolation!
Wait... I found a pic that I took during that above "isolation" moment. Here it is below. There was just as much nothingness behind the bike as there is in front of the bike! Awesome stuff.
However, I digress... back to the story at hand! Below is a pic looking back toward Waunita Hot Springs.
By the way... do you notice something grey in the last few pics??
Yup... you noticed: Clouds are moving in.
We had a bunch of miles ahead of us... so it was off for Sargents.
The town of Sargents used to be a Denver & Rio Grande helper town. Engines and crews were kept here to help freights over the 4% grades of Marshall Pass. Marshall Pass was a LOOOONG pass. From Sargents over the summit and on over to the bottom of the grade on the west slope near Poncha Springs, it was over 30 miles with VERY LITTLE along the way. That was a lot of lonesome railroadin' right there!
We made a quick stop at the Sargents General Store... and it was off for Marshall Pass. Soon, we were climbing among the aspens and spruce again. We didn't take as many pictures along the way... for given the way the clouds were acting... we both had a sense of "urgency" about us!
Somewhere on the east slope...
It really was a beautiful pass. We so wish we'd had bright sunlight and the typical Colorado azure blue sky to accompany us... but well... "you pays yer money an' you takes yer chances"!!
Here's a couple more poorly lit pics (one is a bit soft focused, even) that at least give you an idea of what beautiful country this is...
We reached the summit, and stopped momentarily for a quick pic or two. The elevation at this point was 10,847 feet. That's gettin' on up there and was our highest pass on bikes to date!
Just past the summit, there was a rest stop that we took advantage of. Nearby, there was an old railroad artifact that I have yet to identify...
From the same rest stop, looking back upgrade at the summit cut...
There was a lot of very cool stuff descending the east slope. However, that sense of urgency thing was really motivating us to get our butts to Poncha Springs and beat the rain!
Fortunately, it did NOT rain on the way over to Poncha Springs. We had a great meal at a small convenience store, fueled up, and almost ran non-stop back over the pass. It was getting REALLY cloudy... with some intermitten sprinkles even.
Then, as we neared Sargents, magically it cleared and the sun came out! I decided to explore and see if I could find some old railroad artifacts. Eureka! I located the old water tank....
From the railroad findings, it was back over to the general store at Sargents for a quick stop.
We were only at the general store for a few minutes, but when we came back outside... the sky was completely overcast again... and up toward Marshall Pass summit where we had just beenit it was dark, ominous, and was pouring buckets !
We decided it was time to BOOK IT and ride non-stop back to Pitkin. I remember turning north on Black Sage Pass road and looking back toward the Sargents area... it was now dark, ominous, and pouring there, too.
On we rode like madmen! (I guess Honey Buns would be a Madwoman?)
Finally, our cabin came into sight and we pulled in... still dry.
No sooner did we get off the bikes and started taking our helmets off... then the rains begin! We had beat the rain by about 3 minutes! That was CLOSE!
Seeing as the forecast was calling for RAIN now for the next 24 hours, I went ahead and pushed the bikes up onto the front porch so they could be under the porch roof. Yup, the forecast was calling for big time rains tomorrow... and we were SUPPOSED be going over 12,000+ foot Cumberland Pass to the old town of Tincup and onto Taylor Lake.
Hmmmm.... this ain't lookin' too promising!!!
To be continued.