Rocky Mountain Retrograde: Wandering Colorado

Well, my trip into Colorado was totally unplanned, so I had the advantage of no expectations (except for cooler weather) and the disadvantage of not knowing where to go, where to stay, or what to expect. My previous excursions into the Rocky Mountain State were to race the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb or as a camera-bike pilot for the Veterans Charity Ride. Both of those meant where I slept and what I saw was dictated by outside factors.

In my previous post I already explained my first days in Colorado, but now I was doing something I rarely do: heading to a major city. My close friend and former sidecar racing partner Gina had moved to Denver recently and there was no reason to miss a visit with her and Mark, my friend/former roommate as well as Gina’s partner. They had a second bedroom being used as an office but it had a Murphy bed and I was welcome to use it, so I wandered on down, smack into the center of Denver.

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Gina and Mark live in a near-new high-rise apartment that’s so downtown that when I zoomed in on a map they are right where the word “Denver” is. On the plus side the place is well-appointed. It’s like being in a CIA building with the security. Keycards operate all the elevators and doors, and even residents can only access the garages, their own floor, and the floors with common areas…and common areas they had in spades.

There was a pool, outdoor parks fir walking your dog or playing some shuffleboard. There were grills and a gym with a sauna and rock-wall for climbing. There were pool tables and a lounge you could rent out for parties that was like a small nightclub. If I lived there I probably would never leave except to get groceries. I’m a home-body in general when I’m not on the road, so being able to work on the balcony of my 16th-story corner penthouse or poolside, or in the small bar or downstairs in the lobby means I wouldn’t have much need to change my surroundings. On the plus-side, it’s only 30-60min to be up in the mountains and exploring one of the most picturesque states in the Union.

I used most my time to get some work done and order a new tire for the trailer. I got it mounted for $15 by finding the first Spanish-sounding tire shop, knowing a crew of Mexicans just wanted to do work and get paid, instead of dragging me through a convoluted process, taking two-hours, or outright refusing to do the job because of some corporate policy.

I also had enough time to find a campsite near Frisco, CO, meaning I’d have cell service and access to the amenities of a town, while also being right on the water. This would be a great place to enjoy cooler weather and explore the surrounding areas. The fact that their water was recently shut down also meant it would be the least-popular campground in the area, and hopefully the least full.

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I went straight there using I-70, which is probably the interstate with the best views in the entire US. It winds its way through the Rockies, having to use long bridges over rivers for miles on end, massive up and downgrades, and quite a few tunnels. Abandoned mines and small towns that feel untouched by times are right off the freeway, along with many a fancy resort town.

I arrived at the Prospector Campground midday and had plenty of time to set up, cook some food, and fill up the cooler with beer, ice, and more food for the days I’d be here. without a bear-box though I was forced to hang the cooler from a tree branch, which was no easy task given how young the pines were nearby: the branches bowed down and the tie strap I was using would walk out from the tree trunk until the young branch simply couldn’t hold it.

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Tacos in Silverthorne, CO.

My first day of exploring saw me in Sliverthorne on the north side of the lake, grabbing some decent but expensive tacos. I then took off east in search of mountain passes. Randomly I saw Georgetown down below me while I was on the interstate and decided to check it out. That was a good call. The town managed to keep its historical feel without feeling like a kitschy tourist trap. Places like Tombstone or Oatman, Arizona or Virginia City, Nevada could take notes. Georgetown had the advantage of being associated with a famous time but not famous people, but it was right on the interstate so was clearly a popular destination.

 

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Georgetown, CO.

Nearly every building in the downtown was adorned with a plaque stating its historical significance. It was pristine despite being full of traffic on the roads and sidewalks. Even the Post Office was in on the vibe, having been a stagecoach stop and store back in the 1800’s. I walked around and took in the sights, but chose to avoid the crowded restaurants despite being a little hungry. The town was quiet if you got away from the main drag though, so locals could live in peace if they just stayed away. I could imagine spending a few months there, renting out a room above one of the shops and just letting the world happen around me.

Guanella pass happens to also be next to Georgetown, and it is one for the ages. The road mostly has no centerline so it’s not something you would want to take a high-speed run on, but the views were good enough that I’d rather take my time and soak in the views instead of dragging foot pegs on the tight corners. It immediately climbs and give a view back to Georgetown that is like you’re in a helicopter.

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The summit of Guanella Pass.

I was enthralled as I climbed higher and higher, passing houses, cabins, reservoirs and streams, climbing further and further until the road had to make a zig-zagging “W” or two in order to keep climbing.  Looking up at the trees above and down at the trees below could give you vertigo if you looked too long, and I’m sure it’s a big area for avalanches in the winter. The continual opening up of a new vista made me feel like I should have been on a bicycle, and the 20mph speed limit was about all I could manage and still take in the panorama around me.

Down the back-side was equally amazing, but you are looking down into  a deep river gorge, sometimes with the river right next to you on the road, other times with it expanding out below you. I stopped several times  simply to feel my smallness on a planet so full of wonder and surprise, remembering that each tree and blade of grass was also a living thing. In a universe so empty, to see this much life around me and to be a part of it inspired a sense of vastness within me. Guanealla pass might be the most beautiful stretch of road I’ve ever been on.

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On my return to Frisco I rode hwy285, dropping into mountainous grassland, then fields of horses grazing, with a mountain range of cumulus clouds floating around, seemingly level with my eyes. I dodged rain, went through South Park, Colorado, which had nothing to do with the cartoon on television (it was all about its 1800’s history with replica and original buildings), and wandered around the reservoir road and back into camp.

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I repeated the same thing the next day, heading west this time in search of passes. The weather was less compliant though, with storms in cells moving from east to west, making them harder to dodge since I was traveling in the same area. I ended up in Vail, CO but one look at the high-end tourist trap had me back on the freeway, heading for Shrine Pass, which turned out to be a dirt road. The only vehicles up there were UTV’s, ATV’s, and a few dual sport bikes, but the road was good enough that several people had pulled their camper trailers up and were dotting the roadside primitive camping spots. 

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I went down Hwy 91 next, hitting Freemont Pass by the sight of the old Climax Mine. I was gaining quite a bit of altitude at this point and the rain was growing steadier, but I only had my summer riding gloves. I turned the heated grips to maximum and carried on, turning just before Leadville so I could hit the Tennessee Pass on Hwy 24. It was too damn cold up above 11,000ft elevation though, and I wasn’t outrunning the rain anymore. The views were starting to show distant, snow-covered mountains that looked far too level with my line-of-sight.

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Clear skies in one direction, and gray storm clouds behind me.

Returning to camp was prudent– I had seen enough awesome views for the day anyway. Back down at only 9,000ft elevation, the skies were clearer and the campground seemed suddenly full of these extremely fit soccer moms walking around in yoga pants and sports bras. It was like a convention had taken over the campground. My site was right next to one of the toilets too, and I kept meeting insanely attractive women who needed to cut through my site. It is normally nice to see a pretty face, but knowing they were all there with their husbands just reminded me that I was alone, and how impossible it is to date when you are a nomad.

I have plenty of friends who don’t mind taking home bar flies, or who say “any port in a storm,” but I generally need some kind of connection before my attraction gets that deep. That means almost entirely my dating life has consisted of friends from my social circles, or someone’s wife or girlfriend playing match-maker and trying to pair me up with someone. Out on the road none of that exists, and swiping left or right on Tinder is not exactly “making a connection” in the sense I’m speaking of.

Back Into Denver

After soaking up the glory of life at 9,000ft (in the summer), I had to get the 10,000mi service done on the bike, so I made an appointment with the Indian dealer in the south of Denver. Around this time and old friend got in touch saying he was just outside of Denver and he had a full service shop in his garage. It was too good to pass up: several whiskies to try, stay as long as you want, we’ll knock out the service for your bike here in the garage…who can pass that up?

This is the first time I’ve seen a Tombstone in a Post Office parking lot.

I rode into town the long way, going south from Idaho Falls and hitting Echo Lake, then Juniper and Squaw Pass. The heat came back immediately as I descended into Denver, but I grabbed an oil change kit at the dealer and made my up up to Mike and Karen’s place. They were both members of Crash!club, a loosely formed group of motorcyclists that rode together in Southern California. They had both been in Colorado for about 15 years though, and it was great catching up.

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We ate well, drank our fill, and when it was time to knock out the service, it took almost an entire day. The main problem was a part of the rear suspension  called the linkage pivot pin. It’s a big steel dowel one-inch in diameter and the top of the shock absorber pivots on it via a linkage. It goes into the aluminum frame and after only 8,600 miles there was noticeable play between the pin and frame.

As you can guess, the aluminum frame was the wear point, not the steel pin. There should be no play: perhaps 0.003″ at most. We measured 0.020″. The only solution without major machining tools and disassembly was to make a shim to take up the gap. Mike did a supreme job. Using a feeler gauge (a thin, flexible piece of springy steel used to slide into small gaps to measure clearance), he cut a piece to the exact diameter of the holes in the frame, then pre-bent it so it would follow the round shape of the pin holes.

Making and installing inserts for the rear suspension pivot pin.

We could have used a 0.010″ piece and brought clearance to zero, but I was afraid we’d never get the pin in, so I chose a 0.007″ gauge, which would take out a total of 0.014″ and bring our gap closer to the 0.005″ maximum our engineer friend said was more common. Now, that’s a lot of math, but you should get the idea that now there isn’t a bunch of slop, and the steel pin is riding on steel shim material instead of an aluminum frame, which should reduce future wear. Indian could have avoided this all together by making the hole in the frame bigger, then pressing a steel insert into the frame for the pin to ride on.

In the end, the bike was back together and happy, though the trailer’s other tire now needed replacing. This meant a few more days in Denver, but then I was finally ready to travel east to my next rendezvous: Omaha, Nebraska.

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