Tuesday, May 22, 2007

The Ride from Hell

(This is a long post. Get a cup and settle in.)

So. SN1 and I arrived safe and sound in Layton just after noon today; we left Fort Collins around 0830 hours yesterday morning. OK, Ricky…I suppose I got some splainin’ to do…

The title of this post should give you a clue, but the ride out from Fort Collins was both the best of rides and the worst of rides. Ever. Let’s start with the best.

SN1 and I decided to take the long way home. The quick way home would have been up I-25 to I-80 and a long drone of a ride…about seven hours…on the super-slab. Fortunately, there was an alternative two-lane scenic route. We took it.

Cache Poudre Canyon - One
Cache Poudre Canyon - 2

We left Fort Collins and followed Colorado Route 14 through the Cache La Poudre river canyon. The weather was great at this point in the ride, the road was simply meant for motorcycles (or sports cars), and the scenery was more than magnificent. The only drawback at this point in the ride was the posted speed limit (35 mph in most places, a maximum of 45 mph in others). SN1 and I held our speed down to a reasonable level…say 55 - 60 mph. Most of the time.

There was another drawback, as well, if one could call it a drawback: too many “photo ops.” We didn’t stop at every photo opportunity, because if we had…we’d still be in the canyon. I had to keep reminding myself that we told my daughter–in-law that we’d be home by nightfall. So we limited our stops and pressed on.

Joe Wright Reservoir

We got a harbinger of things to come when we stopped at the Joe Wright reservoir to take a couple of pictures. The reservoir was still completely iced over and there was a lot of snow on the ground. And it was cold. We wrote this off to the altitude: nearly 10,000 feet. Took the pictures and motored on, we did.

At Walden, CO... just before it all went downhill, figuratively speaking.

We motored on across Route 14 and stopped at Walden for gas and a drain and refill operation. During the pit stop we met and talked with a group of three BMW riders who were traveling east. They asked about the weather and road conditions; we did the same. We gave them a glowing report; they warned us about high winds and rain from Steamboat Springs to Walden. Those guys described the winds as “hellish.” They weren’t wrong, either, but more about that…later. We spent about 20 minutes talking to those guys…genuinely nice people on some genuinely impressive machinery. And we shot pictures of each other…although it didn’t occur to me at the time to take a picture of those guys. I really, really should have.

So. On to Steamboat Springs. We left Colorado 14 and picked up US 40 just outside of Walden. We got pretty wet about half-way between Walden and Steamboat when the bottom dropped out, the wind came up, and the hail came down. The storm passed quickly, however, and we pressed on. (Side note: hail hurts when you’re on a motorcycle doing 65 ~ 70 mph. Not recommended.) We ate lunch in Steamboat, went to Wally-World where Buck bought rain gear and I picked up an additional sweatshirt, and we pressed on. By this time the wind had picked up considerably and the temperature dropped.

Our next stop was in Dinosaur, CO, where we decided to put our rain gear on, permanently. There were two reasons for this: (a) stay dry…as the skies looked rather ominous to the west of us and (b) stay warm, as it was colder than the proverbial witch’s tit (or well-digger’s ass: you choose) by that point. And it was getting late, too…1700 hours or so, at that point. Buck called Erma and readjusted our ETA to “sometime after eight.” And we pressed on.

The ride deteriorated from that point on…getting progressively worse. It was the wind, and the wind was fierce. Fifty miles per hour fierce. I dropped my speed to about 50 ~ 55 mph from Vernal, Utah all the way to Duchesne, Utah. And I thought we’d never get to Duchesne. The wind was whipping the trees like I’ve seldom seen, ever. Even in P-Town. We finally got to Duchesne, where Buck needed to gas up. It was 1900 hours at that point and the wind showed no signs of abating. That’s when I told Buck I’d had enough…I wasn’t going to fight it any longer and if he absolutely, positively had to be home tonight to press on and I’d follow in the morning. He agreed we should stop. So stop we did, in a sleazy motel the likes of which I hadn’t seen since my misspent youth. But hey…it was a bed, it was warm, and it was out of the wind. We asked the lady at the motel desk if she had any idea what the wind speed was and she said she thought 50 mph. It was that, at least. And then she told us it was “gonna get cold tonight, but it’s supposed to be beautiful tomorrow.”

It was beautiful out when we awoke: clear skies, light wind, and chilly…about 45 degrees or so. We walked to a convenience store, grabbed coffee and exchanged war stories with the lady in the shop. She claimed the wind was gusting to 70 mph the previous evening and was incredulous that we had been riding in it…while entertaining us with other horror stories. We took our coffee back to the motel, packed up, loaded up, and hit the road at 0800.

US 40 climbs about 6,000 feet outside of Duchesne, culminating at around 10,000 feet at Daniel’s Summit. It also got progressively colder, and colder, and colder as we motored up the mountain. I lost the feeling in my fingers about 30 minutes out of Duchesne; by the time we got to Daniel’s Summit my hands were numb. Fortunately for us there was a beautiful lodge and general store at the summit, and we stopped. Just in the nick of time, as it were. It literally took me five minutes to take my helmet off as I couldn’t feel the strap and d-rings with my (literally) frozen fingers. We walked in to the restaurant and were shown to the gas fireplace where we warmed our hands and had our first cup of coffee. Warming our hands was a painful process…in between trying to be manly and refrain from crying I worried about permanent damage to my fingers. As I said…it was painful. It was at that point we learned the temperature outside was 28 degrees.

We stayed at the Summit for about an hour, enjoying a wonderful breakfast and just generally warming up. We also bought additional cotton knit gloves at the general store, which we layered under our leather gloves. And we were off, again.

We made about 40 miles before we had to stop again…because of the cold. At that point in time we were three hours out of Duchesne and had only made 90 miles. Slow going, to say the least. Buck chatted with a couple of Utah State Patrol officers and asked about the weather between our stop and Salt Lake…a distance of about 50 or 60 miles. The troopers told Buck it had snowed in the place we were standing less than 20 minutes ago..flurries only…and recommended we head straight to Salt Lake via I-80, instead of cutting north towards Ogden via I-84 as we had originally planned. We took their advice.

And we were off yet again…and ran into snow flurries crossing the last pass before dropping down into Salt Lake. And that was the last of the bad weather…Thank God!

It was a relative cruise after we dropped down into Salt Lake…we ran about 80 – 85 mph the rest of the way into Layton and got to SN1’s house just after noon. Mission accomplished.

I don’t ever want another ride like that one again. Ever. As I said at the beginning: it was the best of the rides (the first 25%) and the worst of rides. And this coming weekend is Memorial Day, no less. Who’d a thunk the weather would be so bad, eh?


  1. Wow, Buck. That was some ride. I'm glad you arrived safe and sound and are now warm again. Great pictures, too.

  2. Too bad about the weather, sounds like it would have beed a great road trip in decent times. Bye the way, I had trouble with blogger the other day also. Spacing issues and font size issues. Have a safe trip my friend.

  3. I can vouch for the beauty along Colorado 14. I did some backpacking up in that neck of the woods a few years ago. The descriptions of the altitude cold and snow has me licking my chops even more about the climbing trip out there that I've got scheduled for after Field Training. I'm a big fan of anyplace where you hafta put on pants and some fleece in the mornings in July.

    Anyway, glad to hear you had a safe (if eventful) ride.

  4. Thanks for the kind comments, all y'all. It was definitely "eventful." Makes for good war stories.

    Mike: I gotta question your taste, Bud! But then again, I suppose it's a function of age... but I have "issues" with fleece in July! :-)

    Thanks for the heads-up, Dan. I'll have to mosey over to your place and check you out!!

  5. Further... all y'all gotta get over to Dan's place and read the goat story. The rest of the post is good (e.g., testing the F-22), but the goat story is great!!

  6. I've been checking your blog like a mother hen. I'm glad to read that you are safe and well although the ride was not so good. Being so cold that you are in pain is the worst. I've been caught in some snow storms while skiing that made me rethink the whole sport. I love the pics - you guys look so cool (no pun intended)! I have often wondered how you put pictures where you want them. My blog only seems to let me put them at the top.

  7. By the way, Mike, Northern NM has some great hiking - Wheeler Peak is the tallest mountain in NM and is guarnteed to have some snow and definitely fleece wearing weather even in July. With the heavy snows from the winter, the whitewater rafting will also be a real treat.

  8. Buck - um...wow. That is SOME story and I'm relieved at the positive conclusion.


  9. Lou said: I have often wondered how you put pictures where you want them. My blog only seems to let me put them at the top.

    I post the pictures using the button in the "compose" window... then I highlight the pic I want to move and cut it (CNTRL-X), move the cursor to the point in the in the body of the post where I want the pic to appear and paste (CNTRL-V). Works on MY computer every time...doesn't work on SN1's computer. I can "cut" just fine...but when I go to paste...nada...the pic is just GONE. VERY frustrating!!

  10. Great pics, glad you made it safely.


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