Packed and ready to go

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Day 22: Niagara Falls to HOME!!! 382 miles

Home again...home again...

There's no place like home. Truly the best part of any adventure is rolling down your own driveway and parking in your own garage. I'm so happy to be home despite the laundry and dust (inside) and the weeds (outside).

My journey was an awesome experience. I don't want to call it the trip of a lifetime because I hope it's not. I've got some firm plans and some vague ideas about places I want to travel on my motorcycle.

Some statistics:
Total days - 22
Total miles - 7,635
Best miles per gallon - 71.3 (Natchez Trace)
Worst miles per gallon - 50.9 (70 mph interstate)
Longest day - 641 miles (across SD and MN)
Shortest day - 10 miles (Santa Fe if you don't count the 50 mile bicycle ride!)

Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Day 21: Milwaukee, WI to Niagara Falls, NY 424 miles

My morning started so long ago, I scarcely remember it. I was awake before 4am, earlier than I needed to be, but that's not unusual for me. I left a little before 5, as I just had a short, 10 minute ride to the ferry terminal. I had a reservation on the 6 am crossing of Lake Michigan, from Milwaukee to Muskegon, MI, and we were supposed to be there 45 minutes early. As I was waiting at a stop light a couple on a BMW R1200RT rode past. Since I never got their names, I'll have to refer to them as "the RT couple". They were also headed for the ferry and I was just in line behind them. Small world story: the security agent who checked me in saw where I was from and said he'd spent many summers in Northampton with relatives. He wanted to go to school in Amherst, but for financial reasons had to stay in Milwaukee.

The RT couple struck up a conversation once they noticed I was also on a BMW. We ignored the Kawasaki guy behind us. They were quite nice and helpful, suggesting places around the Great Lakes I ought to ride someday. One of them was from Wisconsin, the other from Michigan, so they were very familiar with the Lake Express Ferry and the region. They had come over last Thursday and wanted to go home yesterday, but couldn't get a reservation on either crossing (there are 2 per day until July and August when there are 3). The ferry holds 15 to 18 cars and up to 20 motorcycles. There were only the 3 motos this morning. The ferry company is holding a special "motorcycles ride free" promotion which the couple mentioned hadn't been available before this year. A sign of the poor economy, I guess.

I got on the ferry without incident. I've only been on the Nova Scotia ferry and the deck there was pretty slippery. I was a little intimidated this morning, but needn't have been. I managed to secure my motorcycle with the provided tie downs. I was pretty nervous during much of the crossing as it was pretty rough, and I wasn't sure I had done a good enough job stabilizing the machine. Passengers aren't allowed back to the auto deck once the ferry is in motion, so I couldn't go check.

Otherwise, the crossing was uneventful. I was glad I was there early as the ferry actually left the dock around 5:45. Apparently all reservations were accounted for! I got a few views of Milwaukee as we pulled out into the Lake. It was much too windy to spend time on the viewing deck, so spent the crossing reading. I never did see the RT couple again on board. There is a "preferred passenger" area (more expensive tickets), so I'm assuming they were in there.

The ferry arrived in Muskegon right on time. The crossing is about 2.5 hours and with the change back to the Eastern Time Zone it was almost 10am when I was on the road again. The Michigan side is much less developed. There were some pretty sand dunes before we entered the harbor channel. A few people were out walking on the path that edges the lake in this area. It looks like a nice area to explore one day. Once we were allowed back downstairs, I was relieved to see that my motorcycle hadn't budged during the roughness. The RT couple rematerialized and offered to show me the fastest route to I-96, my desired road heading east. It corresponded with the way my GPS was routing me, but I appreciate their thoughtfulness. I enjoyed their escort for a few miles until they turned off for home.

Meanwhile, I was cold and getting colder. The temps were in the low 60's, the sky was quite overcast and it was windy. After about an hour of shivering, I stopped and changed into my heated gear. Even then, it took me quite a while to feel warm again. It's funny how 60's with bright sun feels refreshing and 60's with gray skies is cold! I had a very boring trip across Michigan on I-96 and I-69. It's flat with a lot of farmland, the same as I have been seeing for the past several days.

My only excitement came at the border crossing into Canada at Port Huron and again back into the US at Niagara Falls. Why are border agents so humorless and ask such dumb questions? Both times, after studying my passport which clearly states my address, I was asked where I was from. Then I was asked where I was coming from. I had to bite my tongue to keep from asking in return, "At what point in time?" An hour ago? This morning? Last week?

Monday, June 28, 2010

Day 20: Rochester, MN to Milwaukee, WI 320 miles

I had planned a shorter day for myself and was glad to have a more interesting route to ride. I started out on I-90 east again, but only for about an hour. I got off just before the Minnesota/Wisconsin border at LaCrosse and took US-14 south, crossing the Mississippi River into Wisconsin. I knew I was approaching the river from about 10 miles out as the landscape changed rather abruptly. All of a sudden there were trees, big ones, and quite a few of them. We were also descending pretty rapidly. The Mississippi River is already very wide and placid this far north.

From US-14, I continued along the east bank of the river on WI-35 to the town of Prairie du Chien. What little I know about the prairie comes from "Little House on the Prairie" (both books and TV show) and Garrison Keillor's "Prairie Home Companion". WI-35 has numerous historical markers, many of which I took the time to stop and read, as well as two Army Corps of Engineers Lock and Dams. The engineer nerd in me had to stop and watch a large barge go through Lock No. 9 and learn about traffic on the river system. I then turned east on US-14.

While still in Prairie du Chien, I passed by a huge Cabela's retail store. The best hiking boots I ever had came from Cabela's and I was tempted to stop in and try some on. I need some new boots, but decided I really didn't have room to bring them home. Not too much later, I passed through the town of Spring Green, known mostly for Frank Lloyd Wright's Taliesin. I hadn't realized it was on my route, or I would have made plans to visit. Instead, I had a destination in mind, and that was the very nice garden in Madison, Olbrich Botanical Gardens.

Olbrich is small by Denver standards, but very nicely laid out and attractive. They feature lots of roses and mixed borders. There is also this very unusual Thai pavilion. The interpretive sign said that it is the only Thai pavilion outside of Thailand and was given by the Thai alumni of the University of Wisconsin. (I had a tour of the campus as well as the government center, courtesy of my Zumo). And yes, the pavilion really is gold. It wasn't reflecting sunlight because there wasn't any sun. The darkness of the sky made me rush through my visit a bit and get on the road to

I took what I though would be the fastest route, I-94, straight into the heart of Milwaukee. I doubt it was the fastest way because as soon as I got on, traffic ground to a halt due to construction. They had all three eastbound lanes reduced to driving on the shoulder for at least 10 miles at the start of rush hour. Needless to say, it wasn't very fast. I doubt I averaged 5 mph for those 10 miles. But I still got to my hotel at a decent hour. I'll be up very early tomorrow to catch the 6am ferry across Lake Michigan.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Day 19: Hot Springs, SD to Rochester, MN 641 miles

Today wasn't the kind of day that made me fall in love with motorcycling, but it got me where I needed to be to enjoy tomorrow. As I knew would happen, once Paul flew home yesterday, I'm anxious to be home, too. I miss him and our cat, house, and gardens. And so I did long boring miles today, mostly on I-90 in order to be that much closer to home. I did take time first thing this morning to ride through Badlands National Park. It is eerie and beautiful at the same time, definitely awe inspiring.

The Park is chiefly known for three things: as a protected prairie ecosystem, as unique geology containing mammal fossils, as containing a wide range of wildlife. I did see a prairie dog running across the road. It was much smaller than I thought it would be.
To get to Badlands from Hot Springs, I took SD-79 north, then SD-44 southeast to the Park entrance. This zigzag allowed me to escape the worst of the early morning sun in my eyes.

After I exited the Park, I hopped on I-90 heading east for what seemed like endless miles in South Dakota. There was very little traffic. Oddly, hardly any of the license plates were from South Dakota. The majority were from Minnesota with a few from Washington state in the mix. I gave up looking after awhile. There's not much else to look at other than hay fields, hay bales and the occasional cow. At least there were construction zones to break the monotony.

I was interested in passing through Oacoma, SD which is just west of a series of lakes formed by the Missouri River. For those familiar with "our" stretch of I-90 through the Berkshire town of Becket, you'll recognize that there is a sign that indicates that the next highest point on I-90 west occurs in Oacoma, SD. Sadly, there is no mention of Becket as being the highest point when headed east through Oacoma.

I was glad to finally leave South Dakota and ride into Minnesota. There really isn't much difference except it gets gradually flatter the further east one travels and there is more corn grown as opposed to just hay. The speed limit also reduces to 70 from 75. The traffic also increases, but drivers are quite courteous and not once did I find someone hanging out in the left lane. Based on my small sample, Midwesterners are more like Canadians in that respect. They drive in the right lane unless they are passing. It made for a much more pleasant experience for me. The final 50 miles of my day were brutally windy. I hope someone can explain to me why regardless of my direction of travel during this trip, the wind has always been on my left. I think I'm even starting to walk leaned to the left!

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Day 18: Silverthorne, CO to Hot Springs, SD 512 miles

Another big day and I'm back on my own. We took our time getting going this morning as Paul wasn't due back at the motorcycle rental shop until around 10 and it would only take us a little over an hour to get there. We took the same route we did on Friday, I-70 out of the mountains to US-6. We got there a little early as Paul needed to change out my radio mount for another GPS mount. My Zumo died 4 days before I left when we rode through a torrential downpour during the Minuteman 1000. I have been using Paul's Zumo for my trip. It worked fine until a little ways out of Santa Fe when the audio quit. Since then it has totally died twice, but we managed to get it to restart by taking the battery out and doing a "hard reset" (but still no audio). Obviously, it can't be depended on to navigate, so I also have a little handheld unit and I have backup in the form of old fashioned paper maps.

Paul got organized and packed and took a cab to a shipping place to send his gear home. He then got himself to the airport to find his flight was delayed 1.5 hours. Fortunately, they held his connection in Chicago, and last I heard he was in the car on the way home from Hartford.

I meanwhile, was riding north and a little east. I had figured out that it was only a little over 300 miles from Denver to Mount Rushmore, so early this morning I found a place to stay near the National Monument and made a reservation. Hotels in the surrounding area are very full on this Saturday night. I drove through northern central Colorado and into Wyoming on I-25. There is a very nice statue of a buffalo set on a hill as you cross the state line. The southeast part of Wyoming starts out quite flat, but eventually the rolling hills start. I turned off on US-85 and continued to head north, then east on US-18. After crossing into South Dakota, the terrain becomes very pretty, with miles and miles of rolling hills which are very green right now. The area is very sparsely populated, but the ranches and homes along the route look quite prosperous. There is a good amount of cattle ranching, but also horses. I turned north on SD-89 which became US-385.

I was passing right by the Crazy Horse Memorial, so couldn't resist stopping by. It consists of the Monument itself, started in 1948 with hardly any progress to date, the Indian Museum of North America and the Native American Cultural Center. The monument is being carved out of Thunderhead Mountain, in the same area as Mount Rushmore.

It's only a short ride further to Mount Rushmore. I had debated whether it would be more crowded Saturday around dinner time or Sunday early morning. I'm glad I chose the late Saturday for my visit. There were still plenty of people around, but the monument has been designed to accommodate hordes of visitors. You can't see the actual statues until you walk down a long, paved, corridor. There is a good visitors center at the start of the corridor and a very good museum and bookshop set below the viewing pavilion. The statues are very impressive in person, especially the eyes. The technique used to carve them makes them appear very life-like. The National Park Service took over the Monument in 1933 when it was still under construction and the neighboring towns have grown to accommodate about 2 million tourists a year. The ones I passed through are filled with "tourist traps", billboards, and neon signs luring visitors. The monument is terrific, the kitsch isn't. I ended up in Hot Springs, far enough from the Park to have less tourist traffic. It has recently become known as the location of the world's largest mammoth research facility.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Day 17: Frisco to Silverthorn via Denver and Rocky Mountain National Park 283 miles

Today started out rather tense, but we still managed to find some fun and humor along the way. We were up and out early. I checked the pressure in my damaged rear tire and it seemed to be holding, so we set off for Denver a little after 7am. The Foothills BMW/Triumph in Lakewood didn't open until nine. The GPS calculated that it would take 1:20 to get there and we figured given Denver traffic, it might take twice that. We got lucky and had very little traffic and made it in just over an hour. We took I-70 which is scenic, but hard to admire with the early morning sun in our eyes.

We were getting ourselves organized outside the service bay when the service advisor came out and asked if I was there for service. I explained my predicament of having a chunk of metal in my rear tire, so he wrote me up and got my moto in by 8:30. Unfortunately the tire wasn't repairable, so $325 and about an hour and a half later, we were ready to go again. I really appreciate the prompt service they gave me on an emergency basis.

We decided we still had time to drive through Rocky Mountain National Park, so we headed back west on US-6 to CO-93 north through Golden and then CO-72 and CO-7 to Estes Park. We had to endure very slow drivers as I was scrubbing in a new tire and didn't want to take any risks. Estes Park is the eastern entry to the National Park and was very congested early on a Friday afternoon. US-34 is the route through the Park and was also very congested, especially on the eastern half. Almost every pullout was full as were all the picnic areas and hiking trailheads. Two stretches of construction forced us to wait in line for 20 minutes or so and then creep along at 10 mph. Both sections were about 8 miles long, the first was scarified pavement, the second was very bumpy, dusty, muddy hardpack.

We crossed the Continental Divide yet again at Milner Pass (10,756). I love how the Park is a condensed version of so much of what one sees exploring western Colorado. It is a great introduction to Colorado, or in our case, a terrific recap. In about 50 miles one can see wildflower strewn meadows, snowcapped mountains, tundra, beaver created wetlands, ponderosa pine forests, aspen forests and lots of wildlife.

From the western exit of the Park at Granby (too late for Ian's Mountain Bakery goodies!), we followed US-40 west to CO-9 south to Silverthorne. We ended up back in the same area we started out in this morning.

Day 16: Durango to Frisco 368 miles

Today was filled with some highs and some lows. We were trying to cover a lot of ground to be able to ride through Rocky Mountain National Park early on Friday.

We left Durango pretty late, around 9am, and it was already starting to get quite warm. No need for electrics this morning. Paul's rented RT gave him some difficulties starting, so he was reluctant to shut it off unless we were stopping for a while. We retraced our same route as yesterday, up by Silverton and Ouray on US-550. This shows the descent down into Ouray.

At Ridgway, instead of turning south, we continued north on US-550 which becomes US-50 at Montrose. We were in a very flat, very hot area. At one point, Paul's moto computer thermometer read 100 degrees. We took CO-82 east for a few miles, then CO-54 north. Our goal was Cedaredge, the town where Paul's paternal grandmother had grown up. It is very much a farming area with lots of orchards growing cherries and apples. It appeared that things only grew with supplemental irrigation though. It was hot and dry. We got lunch in Cedaredge, with the worlds's second slowest waitress. We had the slowest one later at dinner.

We backtracked from Cedaredge and turned east on CO-92. Here's where I experienced the first of any mechanical difficulties. Even though I had plenty of gas, my engine sputtered and stalled a couple of times. Once when I was trying to cross onto a busy highway. Another time when we were being herded through a construction zone and I had a huge truck tailgating me. Both times I managed to coast out of danger and get restarted, but it was distressing. We stopped and filled up at the next opportunity and put in some gas additive. About 20 miles later, the engine seemed to be running more smoothly.

CO-133 took us over McClure Pass (8,755 feet). We took CO-82 east which leads through Aspen. The area sure is pretty, but it was so busy and congested. I hadn't expected it to be quite so popular in the summer. But on we went, up Independence Pass (12.095 feet). There was still plenty of snow around at the top. From there, we descended still heading east through Twin Lakes to the junction of Us-24. We headed north, back through Leadville again, and north on CO-92 over Fremont Pass again.

We took a short hop on I-70 east to the town of Frisco where we got dinner and found a room for the night. It was while ascending Independence Pass that I had my second "mechanical" problem. All along, I have felt very confident with my machine's handling and the performance of the tires. Therefore, it was very disconcerting when I slipped a couple of times, not going particularly fast in a corner. I wasn't on the painted line and I hadn't noticed anything in the road. It made for a slower journey for the rest of the day.
When we got to our hotel for the night, I took a good look at my rear tire and noticed a pretty sizeable piece of metal embedded into the tread, but also protruding out a bit. I know enough not to pry it out. So instead of our intended plans for Friday to ride through Rocky Mountain National Park, we will be heading into Denver to the dealer to see if the tire can be repaired or replaced.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Day 15: Durango to Durango via San Juan Byway 252 miles

Today I fulfilled the second of my "must dos" in Colorado. It was a full day, as most of them have been. We were up early and went to a local bagel shop for breakfast, then on the road just after 7am. Our route was the scenic San Juan Byway which loops around the San Juan mountain range in southwestern Colorado. The San Juan's are the location for 14 of the states 54 peaks over 14,000 feet, so the scenery is dramatic. This range is also rich in silver, and most of the towns were originally mining communities.

Back when we had first moved to Tucson, Paul and I went to Cortez over Labor Day weekend to visit his father who had a summer place there out of the Phoenix heat. We had our bicycles and decided to ride from Durango to Silverton. This route is a famous bike race known as the Iron Horse Classic, because it was started to race the narrow gauge railroad. Paul's Dad offered to drive along with us, leapfrogging from spot to spot. He would stop and have coffee or read a bit of the newspaper until we went by and then pass us and find another spot to stop. Even though it was early September, it was quite chilly, and we weren't prepared for the temperature at elevation. Still, all was going well with the leapfrogging method until we approached the final climb, Molas Pass. Paul's Dad figured we were all set, and he went ahead to Silverton to wait for us there. Meanwhile, it started to rain and then the rain turned to snow. We were okay climbing, but then there is a 10 mile fast descent into Silverton and we were hypothermic by the time we finished. I've read that a true adventure sucks while you are having it, so I guess our ride ranks as an adventure. We laugh about it now.

On motorcycles, and with heated gear and no rain, the ride to Silverton was positively delightful. We followed US-550 from Durango north and stopped to take pictures at Coal Bank Pass (10,640 feet) and Molas Pass (10,910 feet). The route continues through Silverton and the town of Ouray. The descent into Ouray was very twisty and fun. At Ridgway, we followed CO-62 west over Dallas Divide (8,970 feet). CO-145 south took us toward Telluride. We took the side trip into the village of Telluride, a very good example of a Victorian Era mining town, now also known to me as the home of the $4 bottle of juice (8 oz bottle). The ski area of Telluride is a few miles outside of the village. From there we continued south over Lizard Head Pass (10,222 feet) and down into the Dolores River Valley. We continued on into Cortez to pass by the old family summer place and then stopped in town for lunch. US-160 east took us back to Durango.

For dinner, we had arranged to meet my friend Julz and her husband at a local restaurant. Julz was one of my very best teammates when I was seriously into bicycle racing. She is smart and fun to be around. I sort of lost touch with her when we left Tucson in 2005 but had heard she had moved to Durango and was getting married. Thanks to the power of the internet, I found her email address about a year ago and we've been in sporadic touch since. So I was delighted that we got to spend a few hours with her and her new husband, Sean. They are building a house just outside the village of Durango and we got a tour through that. Julz has very good taste and is an architect by training. Their house is beautiful. It should be ready for them to move into in a month or so. We'd love to come back and visit with them again.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Day 14: Gunnison to Durango 233 miles

We needed a shorter day, and today presented the perfect opportunity. Paul has been fighting a cold since arriving Saturday, and it was nice to give him a chance to relax. We also wanted time to visit with his Aunt Gerry who had offered to drive to Durango from her home in Cortez. She was happy to have an opportunity to shop at other than Walmart, Walgreens, Safeway, or one of two dollar stores.

We left Gunnison and headed a few miles further west on US-50. From there we took CO-149 south. This was one of the most fun roads I have been on this trip. The road twists and turns and goes up and down, but they are mostly higher speed, sweeping curves. We passed through Lake City where there actually is a lake, formed when a large part of a mountain slid down and blocked the Lake Fork Gunnison River. We were able to see the mountain that is missing part of itself when we crossed Slumgullion Pass at 11,361 feet. Next came Spring Creek Pass at 10,901 feet.

CO-149 joins US-160 at South Fork, and we took US-160 west over Wolf's Creek Pass at 10,850 feet. Paul's favorite story of Wolf Creek Pass is that he had a roommate his first year of college who decided to ride his bicycle home from Tucson to Wisconsin. Leaving in June, the roommate still got snowed on going over the pass. We didn't get snowed on today, but it was quite chilly (50's) and very windy. We had to be quite careful on the descent not because of the curves and steep grades but because of the wind. It was good to get down into the valley. The route passes through Pagosa Springs and leads to Durango.

Durango is a railroad town, now best known for the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad. The train at one time served to haul ore out of mountain mines to the smelter located in Durango. The railroad is currently a major tourist attraction, along with fishing and rafting on the Animas River. We are in Durango for two nights.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Day 13: Granby to Gunnison 303 miles

We got a good, early start, around 6am, wanting to get up Mount Evans before there was much traffic. It was about 34 degrees, so we were suited up in our heated gear. We did make a stop for breakfast just a few hundred feet down the road from our lodging. Ian's Mountain Bakery in Granby was awesome. We were greeted by Ian himself, a very loquacious guy who is a magician with pastry. He offers breakfast burritos, breakfast pockets and a number of different types of pastries. We sampled his heartier fare and then shared an apple turnover. We also got a blueberry scone "to go" for a snack later. It was about a three hour ride to Mount Evans, down US-40 through Fraser and Winter Park. Then a short hop on I-70 east to Idaho Springs, and onto the start of the Mount Evans ascent, CO-103. Once we turned onto CO-5, the Mount Evans road, there is a ranger station. The fee was $3 each, paid to a very friendly, helpful ranger who seemed truly happy to be doing his job. Then we did the 14 mile Mount Evans climb. The road is tortuous in places, especially near the top, and the pavement isn't always in great shape, owing to avalanches and landslides, no doubt. We were quickly above tree line with snow in many areas still present. There are numerous 1st gear hairpins.

I had hoped to see the famed mountain goats, and sure enough, there were several of them hanging around the parking lot and climbing on the walls surrounding the lot. They don't seem particularly tame, but are not intimidated by people, either. We hung around for a while, taking photos and trying to identify mountains off in the distance. It was pretty hazy. Supposedly one can see 200 miles on a clear day. We couldn't even quite make out Denver, about 40 miles away. I started to feel lightheaded from the elevation, so we started down.

We retraced our route back to I-70 and headed west through the Eisenhower tunnel and then south on CO-91 toward Leadville. We crested Fremont Pass just before the mining town of Climax where the main product is molybdenum. We went on through Leadville, a classic western silver mining town. Leadville is the highest elevation city in the US at 10,152 feet and is near the headwaters of the Arkansas River. We were headed for Gunnison, but were way ahead of schedule. On a whim, we decided to take a whitewater rafting trip.

We continued south on US-24 to Buena Vista, a town I had passed through on Friday on my way to Denver. We chose at random the first rafting company we came to, Kodi Rafting Tours. They had a 3 hour tour leaving in 30 minutes, so we signed on. After a quick change out of motorcycle gear and into rafting gear, we were ready. We became clients on one of the decrepit school buses I have mentioned in a couple of previous posts. On the bus ride to the launch site, we were told all of the grizzly safety details. In reality, the trip was quite tame. It was supposedly a class 3 (of 5) river, but there was only one short section that was exciting. All in all, it was fun and great to get off the motos and on the water.
After returning to the tour company base and getting dried off and redressed, we continued south on US-285 to US-50 west. We crossed one more major pass, the Monarch Pass, which marks the continental divide in the southern part of Colorado. This is the view looking south from Monarch Pass. We rode on to Gunnison, home of Western State College of Colorado.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Day 12: Fort Collins to Granby 267 miles

We spent the morning on a pilgrimage of sorts. I only had two "must dos" for Colorado, and we took care of the first one today. Several years before her death, Lucinda spent a summer at the Shambhala Mountain Center in Red Feather Lakes, CO. I mentioned in my opening post that my sister was a practicer of Tibetan Buddhism, and the SMC is one of only a few places in the US where Buddhists can live immersed in their practice. I wanted to see where she had been so happy, and to visit the Great Stupa of Dharmakaya that is there.

Red Feather Lakes is about an hour northwest of Fort Collins. We followed US-287 to CR-74E. A few miles shy of the village of Red Feather Lakes is a good dirt road which leads to a Boy Scout Camp and then to the Shambhala Mountain Center. This area is a broad intermontaine meadow, made colorful with wild flax, iris, lupine and others. We parked and took the approximately 30 minute hike up to the Great Stupa.

The Great Stupa of Dharmakaya is one of only a few examples of sacred Buddhist architecture outside Asia. It is supposed to represent the body, speech and mind of the Buddha. The building took 15 years and is still ongoing. There are many symbolic features to the building. The only ones I remember are the four entry ways that represent the four elements: red=fire, yellow=earth, blue=water, green=wind. There is an immense statue of the Buddha inside. Buddhists sit and meditate. There are also relics important to Tibetan Buddhism. It's a beautiful building even if its full meaning is lost to me.

We left the SMC and retraced our route back out to CR-74E to US-287. From there we took CO-14. We'd gone about 60 miles after leaving the SMC when we saw a sign, "Shambhala Mountain Center, 5 miles". The sign directed us onto the other end of the dirt road we had been on over an hour ago! At least our ride was scenic! CO-14 follows the Cache la Poudre river for miles. This is another river heavily used by rafting companies. We didn't get behind any decrepit school buses, only very slow moving cars. I had to keep reminding myself not to stress over the slow car, there would only be another slower one up ahead. We finally got clear road and made our way to Walden.

Just before Walden we stopped at an interpretive site for the Arapahoe National Forest. The signs explained how the land was settled, first for mining then for ranching and logging. The land is very fertile but the growing season is only 44 days, so there is no agriculture other than some haying. I felt like I was on top of the world except off in the distance you can see even higher mountains. We were at over 10,000 feet here.

From Walden, we continued southwest on CO-14 and took US-40 west for a few miles. This took us over Rabbit Ears pass which marks the Continental Divide. We backtracked the few miles and continued on US-40 south and east to Granby. The motel we chose, Trail Riders Motel, is small but caters to motorcycles. Upon check-in, the proprietor gave us cloths to clean our bikes and told us where to find small plywood blocks to prevent the kickstands from sinking into her soft pavement. We are here along with 6 or more Harley riders. We are planning to leave early, hopefully before they do, so we don't have to endure their noise!

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Day 11: Denver, Co to Fort Collins, CO via Estes Park 177 miles

The Colorado portion of the adventure has begun!

Paul wasn't due in until early afternoon, so I spent the morning at the Denver Botanic Gardens. This was high on my priority list of gardens to visit. I was not disappointed. This particular garden incorporates both local and regional native plants as well as those that survive in Denver's unique and challenging environment. Very little rainfall (about 6 inches per year), altitude, temperature extremes and punishing winds means plants must be tough to survive. I was surprised at how many plants I am familiar with from my own garden are also suitable to Denver.

In addition to the wonderful gardens and displays of plants, there was also a special exhibit of the work of Henry Moore, a British sculptor who was inspired by the natural environment and derived pleasure from seeing his works in a landscape setting. There were 20 huge works spread throughout the gardens.

Paul and I had agreed to meet at the motorcycle rental place, Colorado Tourbikes. He was going to take a series of city buses from the airport to get there. I arrived early and was sure we weren't in the right place. I was in a neighborhood, just houses, surely no businesses. I called Paul to warn him, but he was just five minutes away on the bus, so got off where he planned. I rode one block over to meet him. It wasn't exactly the reunion I planned on, but I was still glad to see him! I called the company only to be told that their actual location is somewhere else (fortunately only a couple of miles away). I was able to ride over there and Paul set out to walk, carrying his luggage. I dispatched the rental owner's wife to retrieve Paul. Never did they communicate that we should go somewhere other than where we shipped Paul's gear. Oh well!

At least the motorcycle was available as promised and we got Paul geared up and packed up. He is renting a BMW R1200RT which is a little different from the R1200GS he owns.

We set off across Denver on city streets then onto US-6 to CO-119. CO-119 climbs and descends various mountains. Most of the time there is a slow moving car in front, but we occasionally got clear road and enjoyed it! At the town of Nederland, we took CO-72 to CO-7 which forms the eastern edge of Rocky Mountain National Park. We passed through Estes Park which is now more than just a crossword puzzle answer to me.

From Estes Park we took US-34 which descends down the eastern flank of the mountains into the valley at Loveland. From there it was a quick ride up I-25 to Fort Collins.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Day 10: Santa Fe, NM to Denver, CO 362 miles

I had a great visit with my brother in Santa Fe. Wednesday night we were able to do a little hike up into the mountains. We could see smoke from the wildfire currently burning up near Los Alamos. On Thursday, John spent the entire day with me when he should have been working (he does custom cabinetry and furniture, absolutely museum quality work). By begging, borrowing and renting, he was able to gather enough equipment for me to be able to go on a bicycle ride with him. I had on my own glasses, shorts, socks, and sports bra. The bicycle and helmet were rented, the shoes were borrowed from a friend of John's and the jersey and gloves were John's.

We did a 50 mile route north to the Pojoaque Indian reservation and back. Now, I could make all kinds of excuses (I live at sea level and we were riding at 7000+ feet elevation, the bike didn't fit me right, the shoes were flexy, I haven't ridden for 9 days, etc., etc.,) but I was slow and I suffered! John very graciously waited for me and constantly rode in front to block the wind. I loved being out getting some exercise, but it was painful. Despite drinking far more water than I would ordinarily, my legs were heavy and I cramped badly. But I would do it again in an instant.

I had dropped off my motorcycle at BMW of Santa Fe in the morning to have the oil and filter changed. They had it done when promised and it seemed to run better on my short ride back to John's. The moto has been doing great the whole trip. It doesn't burn oil and the tires I had put on just before the trip (Michelin Pilot Road II's) haven't lost air pressure and have performed beautifully.

After saying a teary goodbye to John (seeing him reminds me that we are only two now instead of three), I headed north on US-285 toward Colorado. The high desert terrain is pretty stark. There are several native american reservations or pueblos in northern New Mexico and eking out a living in such a landscape has to be very difficult. Early on I did cross the Rio Grande, a river I usually associate with Texas.

Almost immediately after crossing the New Mexico - Colorado state line, the mountains become visible on the horizon. Despite some haze, one of the first things I could see were the white caps of the higher peaks. It's hard to fathom there is still snow this late into June when the valley floor temperatures are in the 90's, but it's also hard for me to fathom 14,000 foot peaks! I stopped briefly in Alamosa, the first town of any size on my route. There is a good visitor's center there very well stocked with maps and tourist literature. From Alamosa, I took the shorter CO-17 which rejoins US-185 further north. Everywhere I looked was worthy of a postcard. Unfortunately, there is nowhere safe to pull off the road to take pictures. Hopefully some of the smaller roads we will be on in the next week will have less traffic.

Around the area of Poncha Springs, traffic really started to bog down. There are numerous rafting companies in the area, taking advantage of rapids on the Arkansas River. They use decrepit school buses towing trailers full of rafts to take clients to the launching point. They also seem to have a maximum speed of 30 mph. It was around this time that I noticed how many RV's were on the road and of the remaining vehicles, only about 1 in 10 was a "car" not a pickup or SUV. The pattern continued as I got closer to Denver.

US-285 eventually turns more east. I stopped one more time about 30 miles outside Denver for what I thought would be a quick turn around. I only needed water. One guy started talking to me before I had even shut the engine off, admiring my moto. Another one inside the store carried on for the longest time about all the places outside of Colorado I should ride. When I finally got back out, a third guy stopped to ask me about my motorcycle. I'm glad it attracts so much admiring attention, but I just wanted water and to get back on the road!

These last 30 or so miles descend and descend down to Denver. The temperature rose about 1 degree for every 2 miles. A good distance and what would have been the most fun part of the descent was on grooved concrete road. They must do this to improve water run-off, but it made it a little sketchy on two wheels. Safely down, I slogged across the suburbs of Denver to my hotel. Paul arrives tomorrow and I am so looking forward to seeing him.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Day 8: Lubbock, TX to Santa Fe, NM 389 miles

I'm in Santa Fe, staying with my brother John and his partner Cathryn. The major mission of my journey is complete, with Lucinda's ashes safely delivered. There have been tears along the way, and surely more will follow, but I'm so happy I've made this journey on my motorcycle.

I took my time leaving this morning, rolling out around 8am. For a small city, Lubbock has a surprisingly extensive freeway system. Fortunately, the Zumo guided me through several sets of on and off ramps and set me headed due west on a farm road. Initially, I thought this might be a notorious GPS trick, leading me astray to dead end at a cattle watering tank. But in reality the road was pretty decent with a 70 mph speed limit and almost no traffic. I was able to stop on the road and take some photos without being in danger of impeding anyone else.

Fairly early on after leaving Lubbock, I started to smell oil. I was looking for a place to pull off to see if the moto was leaking when I noticed the oil rig. Pretty soon there were many oil rigs. Sometimes they are in undeveloped fields like the one above. Sometimes they are right in the middle of crops. The air was pretty pungent for a number of miles.

After a while I lost all signs of life, no cattle, no oil rigs, no agriculture. This is west Texas, just before crossing into New Mexico on US-380. New Mexico quickly turned less green, more desolate and hotter, up to 95 degrees.

I decided to stop in Roswell, sight in 1947 of a supposed UFO crash. There is a museum and "research" center which is kind of hokey and kind of interesting. They attempt to lay out all the known "facts", including eyewitness testimony. There is enough information to turn believers into skeptics and skeptics into believers. The "official" story is that debris found was simply a weather balloon. This picture shows my favorite humor. It's a little hard to read here, but identifies everything as a "weather balloon" except the weather balloon which is identified as "swamp gas".

I took the time in Roswell to get an early lunch, my first Mexican food of the trip. I also bought a few postcards and got them written and mailed off. From Roswell, I took US-285 almost all the way to Santa Fe. There is only one town, Vaughn, which comes at about half distance. From here north, the wind was crazily strong coming from the west, and temps were in the mid-90s.

Tomorrow is a rest day. The moto is going to the good folks at Santa Fe BMW for an oil change, and I will hopefully get some exercise in the form of a hike or bicycle ride with my brother.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Day 7: Hot Spring, AR to Lubbock, TX 600 miles

What a difference a day makes! I don't have any pictures to share today, because I could never find a good, safe place to stop to get out the camera. I'll have to try to describe all that I saw.

I was awake early, so decided to skip the hotel breakfast and head out. I was on the road before 6am. I figured since I was there, I might as well check out the Hot Springs National Park, the oldest in the national park system. There is a 3.5 mile loop road that climbs up within the park. I was hoping for some sunrise pictures. So up I drive, make the very sharp right turn onto the Park road and slam on the brakes. The road is gated around a blind corner. The road is too narrow to turn around in, so I very gingerly start backing down. Meantime 5-6 cars have had the same idea as me and are in the same predicament. Finally, we all get out and I head back through town, happy to leave Hot Springs behind. It was already 85 degrees, so I was worried about how far I could get today.

As soon as I got out of the city, heading west on US-70, the temperature dropped almost 15 degrees. It stayed cool until after noon, and then only got to 85 late in the day as I neared Lubbock, TX. I again chose to stay off the interstate and am so glad I did. Route 70 passes through many small towns where the speed limits are slow, but between towns, the limit is 70 and I encountered very little traffic. I had not looked forward to my crossing of Texas. The solution for me was to travel in Oklahoma instead!

There are subtle differences that I observed that indicate I was heading west. Through western Arkansas, it is heavily wooded with rolling hills. This continues in eastern Oklahoma where I was travelling through the Choctaw Reservation. For a portion, US-70 is marked as the Chocktaw-Chippewa Trail of Tears Memorial Highway. I'm sure there is a blot on our history there. Pretty rapidly, the trees thin out into what is properly called chaparral in a region referred to as the southern plains. I crossed over the immense Lake Texoma and many miles later the Red River which serves as the border between Oklahoma and Texas. Once into Texas, the road straightens out, the chaparral thins out to true prairie and the farms are more properly called ranches. I finally turned off US-70 which had been my companion for about 500 miles. I headed south and west on US-62 to reach Lubbock.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Day 6: Tupelo, MS to Hot Spring, AR 367 miles

I headed out under sunny, but already warm (80 degrees) skies. I jumped back on the Natchez Trace Parkway for another 60 miles or so. I noticed on this weekday that some people seem to use it for commuting, only staying on for a few miles. Without stoplights or other impediments, I can see why it could be a nice route to work.

From the Parkway, I headed west on US-82 to Greenville, MS. I had this major obstacle in front of me known as the Mississippi River. Strangely enough, and maybe because the river is so wide, there are very few places to cross it. I had the choice of going north almost to Memphis, or south to Greenville. This is a picture looking south, from the west (Arkansas) side of the river at the Lake Chicot State Park. There is a very nice visitors center there.

My route then took me north on US-65 and west on US-270. My destination for the day was the Garvan Woodland Gardens, just outside Hot Spring, AR.
Garvan was started by one woman who had the dream of turning her 210 acre wooded plot on a peninsula on Lake Hamilton into a world-class botanical garden. Realizing her dreams were beyond her means, she donated the project to the University of Arkansas School of Architecture, but oversaw the gardens until her death. The University carried out her wishes and the public gardens opened in 2002.

After a long, hot day of riding on uninteresting roads, my visit here was delightful. Although still hot, being in the woods with a light breeze and hearing the cooling sounds of running water was incredibly enjoyable. There are many native species here as well as a large selection of Japanese Maples, Camellias and more too numerous to list. The garden is worth a visit in any season.

After walking the grounds, I stopped in the Visitor's Center to cool off and get some water. A volunteer started asking me questions including where I was from. I said "Massachusetts" and he said he had been in Boston and somewhere else. After a moment or two he said "Bolton, I played golf there". So I had to tell him that Bolton was my home town and he must have played at The International. We had quite a chat after that. It truly is a small world.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Day 5: Sweetwater, TN to Tupelo, MS via Nashville 376 miles

I tried to get an early start this morning because it was already 78 degrees at 6 am and forecasted to be in the 90's with the heat index over 100. My main goal of the day was to get to Cheekwood Botanical Gardens in Nashville by the time they opened at 11am. I got going before 7, and gassed up right next to my hotel so I wouldn't have to stop until I was in Nashville. I continued west on US-68 that I had been on yesterday. This was an easy ride, with virtually no traffic on a Sunday morning. At one point I passed over the Watts Bar Dam, part of the TVA works. All on one site is the dam producing some hydroelectric, a nuclear powered plant, and a coal fired plant. It was interesting and eerie at the same time. I hopped on I-40 for the next 100 miles or so to Nashville. There wasn't much traffic until about 20 miles outside of the city. All of a sudden, everyone was slamming on their brakes. About 20 cars ahead of me there were 3 state cruisers straddling all 4 west bound lanes. They proceeded to parade us at 10 mph for over 10 miles, then pulled over and let traffic resume. I'm totally puzzled as to what the purpose of that was other than to give brakes a good workout.

I made it to Cheekwood around 10am. Prior to the trip I had been worried about how I would secure my stuff while I was away from the bike. I ended up deciding to use my disc brake lock and cable. I ran the cable through a jacket sleeve, through a leg of my pants and around the chin bar of my helmet and then locked the cable to my fork. I don't have any way of securing my boots, but I tucked them under my pant leg somewhat. Paul had gotten me a very lightweight bag with shoulder straps to stick my tank bag into so I could carry that around. This all worked great except there was no shade in the parking lot and it was now 95 degrees. I was going to have some very hot clothes to put back on. I wandered a bit and then went to wait for the visitors center to open up so I could pay my admission. I waited until a few minutes after 11, and the doors were still locked and I couldn't see any activity. It took me a moment to realize my strategic mistake. I had at some point in the morning crossed time zones, so I had another hour to wait until opening.

I've failed to mention that there is a special exhibit going on at Cheekwood, called "Chihuly at Cheekwood". I didn't know this when I first put Cheekwood on my list to visit, but learned it when checking out the website a few days ago. I was fortunate to stumble on Chihuly a little over a year ago when I visited the Phoenix Botanical Gardens when we were there for Paul to attend a conference. We had attended an Arizona Diamondbacks game the night before, and the people behind us kept saying something about "Chihuly" and were raving about something they had seen. It wasn't until I got to the gardens that I learned what all the fuss was about.

Dale Chihuly is a glass artist and creates the most fantastical creations. Much of his inspiration comes from nature and his most recent works have been installations at botanical gardens. The pieces are huge, but are incorporated into the existing gardens in a way that seems totally natural. I've only shown a couple of the sculptures because the pictures are taking forever to download. They don't even begin to capture the magic of seeing this in person. The glass has incredible iridescence and depth. I'm so glad I got to see this installation at Cheekwood. Cheekwood itself is a wonderful garden, a huge property very nicely laid out on what had at one time been a private estate.

So, I couldn't help but wander around before opening time. I felt very guilty, I'm not so good at breaking rules, but in this case it was worth it. I made sure I was first in line to pay my admission though.

After thoroughly enjoying my garden tour I headed south to the start of the Natchez Trace Parkway, just a few miles south of Nashville. The Natchez Trace is a 444 mile long road through 3 states, totally unimpeded by intersections or anything else. For most of the way, the speed limit is 50, but almost all of the little traffic I encountered was going 60. The Parkway passes through great scenery and historic areas. The original Trace was the footpath used by men who had taken cargo down the Mississippi River then needed to get back north. Boat traffic only went downstream, so the upstream trip was made by horse and foot.

I stopped at this Meriwether Lewis Memorial and at a site where you can see sections of the original Trace. I came a little less than halfway, stopping at Tupelo, birthplace of Elvis Presley. Paul and I stayed in Tupelo when we were moving back across the country in 2005. We had our bicycles with us and did a couple of rides on the Parkway. It's more fun on a motorcycle!

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Day 4: Asheville, NC to Sweetwater, TN 243 miles

I took a relative short day today. I chose to spend most of the morning in Asheville, including an early stroll around the Botanical Gardens of Asheville where I took these pictures.

The BGA emphasizes native plants and unfortunately doesn't do a good job of labelling things, so I've no idea what these are with the exception of the prickly pear. As seems to be the case on this trip, my visit was too late to see the azaleas and most rhododendrons and too early to see many of the wildflowers.

I took a chance on going to the gardens relatively early. Their website says they are open from dawn to dusk, but I didn't know how to interpret "dawn" on a day that was totally overcast and fogged in. I arrived a little before 8 am and had the place to myself with the exception of a photography class that was just finishing. As I was making my way out over an hour later, a lone runner came by on one of the paths.

I've seen prickly pear on 3 continents and in many areas of the US including my own yard currently! It has to be one of the most adaptable cacti.

I got underway a little before 11am and headed south again on the BRP. Shortly after Asheville there is currently a detour. I knew about this in advance, so was prepared with the route, but the detour signs were all in place and I was never in danger of getting lost. One of the detour routes, US-276, is a very fun motorcycle road except I had the misfortune of being behind a group of Harley and Gold Wing riders who were incredibly tentative. The last rider in line practically came to a stop in a few of the curves, forcing me to do likewise. We all made it safely up to rejoin the BRP and they pulled off shortly after.

Paul reminded me that I needed to avoid Cherokee, especially being Saturday. Cherokee is the only east side entrance to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and is overrun with tourist "attractions". I chose to get off the BRP on US-23 and head southwest. From 23 I went to US-19 and 74. US-19 meanders through one of the premier locations for rafting in the US. The Nantahala Outdoor Center and numerous others do a booming business all summer. I wanted to get pictures of the rafts coming down the river, but there was never a good safe place to pull over. There was mist over the water and it was interesting to see the rafts "emerge" through the trees and mist. US-74 is named the Great Smoky Mountain Expressway. After all my miles and hours on slower speed roads over the last few days, it felt really strange to be going fast. It felt like I was falling out of the mountains as the road descends for miles from where I joined it. I stayed heading west on US-64 and then north on NC 68 which leads into Tennessee. Route 68 is also part of motorcycle lore, forming part of a loop that encompasses the Cherahola Skyway and the Deal's Gap area. I passed many motorcycles that were headed south on 68.

I finally hit the high heat today, and it is expected to stay this way all week. The heat index (actual temperature plus humidity) was pretty close to 100 degrees. It was good to pull in early and get in to air conditioning. Hopefully I'm getting acclimated.