Friday, August 20, 2004

Day Two

Start: Beaver UT (18581)
End: Wheat Ridge CO (19119)
538 miles

I get a kinda late start this morning too. I had been too keyed up to sleep last night and didn't put in a wake-up call. By the time I wake, get geared up and am ready to ride, the sun is well up in the sky. I think I am at some altitude here in Utah since it's still a little on the chilly side. It rained more overnight; I clean off the bike and get everything dry that needs to be. Hmm, bike is low on oil. Gotta watch that.

The pavement is still wet in places. I take off in the direction of Salt Lake City, but only twenty miles down the road is the junction for I-70, the road that will take me east. Now I ride squinting into the morning sun, crossing low mountains on the wide-open highway. The road is good. It's just me and the long-haul truckers and cars with tourists heading to some other destination. No one lives out here. Every offramp is signed "Ranch Exit." There are many miles between each one.

This is country where you really have to watch your gas. You do NOT want to get stranded by an empty tank out here! First tank of the day is near Richfield UT (had I known what was coming, I would have waited.) Ten miles father down the road, many signs announce that this is the Last Chance For Gas for 110 miles. Oofdah. That's going to be cutting it a little bit close. I can go 120 miles on a full tank in good conditions, no problem at all, but if I run at 80 mph or get a headwind or have to climb any significant upgrades, I go over to reserve at 100 miles or earlier. Quick mental calculation tells me I'll make it, but I decide to take it easy over this next stretch. Won't hurt to back off the throttle and enjoy the day, anyway.

After bypassing the Last Chance For Gas (which is Salina UT, by the way) I pass out of the mountains and into some of the most beautiful country I have ever seen. Stark, austere, completely gorgeous, I travel through the empty red rock mesalands of middle Utah, awed by the magnificence and hugeness of every vista. In spite of my gas worries, I stop and take lots of pictures. I have happy travel conversations with someone at each stop. There's the older couple, on their way to visit their daughter's family in Colorado Springs. "You're from Los Angeles?" they ask. "What part? We live in Glendora." I laugh, "No kidding! I'm from Sherman Oaks." Later, at another stop, there's a college-aged couple, he's taking pictures & she's perusing the blanket-on-a-sidewalk wares of someone selling cheap crap jewelry. He shyly says "Nice bike," and is perhaps surprised when I turn out NOT to be a badass biker & happily pose for him so he can take a picture of The American Traveler. He is from Peru, she is from Austria. This is the first time they've both been in the United States, and they are on their way to Arches NP, then Las Vegas, and eventually Los Angeles and Disneyland. (Of course.) We chat for a while; neither of them have great English but I don't speak more than a few words of Spanish or German, so we manage. Nice folks. I move on, wondering how they met, and what they will think of the neon excesses of Vegas after seeing this wondrous isolation in Utah.

I do make the next gas stop without any problems, in Green River UT. In fact, I only put in two and a half gallons, so I wasn't even close to running on fumes. Talk to a couple riding on a Gold Wing with a sweet trailer setup. They ask me if I got caught in the hail earlier. Apparently, golf-ball size stuff was falling south of us. I've been lucky so far with the weather. I press on, storm clouds chasing me through eastern Utah. At one point, there are massive black clouds on both sides of me, and I see lightning to both my left and right, but I am riding in a slot of sunshine, fighting the rising winds, praying that I won't get caught in the bad weather surrounding me. I swear I hear music. I decide that I might as well enjoy the audio hallucination and the music resolves itself into a perfectly clear violin piece, fast and tense, which I name "Chasing Thunderclouds." I have no skill as a musician but I wish I did, so I could write this music down. Strange things happen in your head on the road sometimes.

I cross over into Colorado and have lunch in Fruita. I park next to a church-group van with California plates, and I notice the license plate frame says "Glendale STAR." Heh, that's where I get my car serviced. The church group turns out to be a bunch of Asian teenagers. I ask one of them, "You guys up from Los Angeles?" He smiles and asks, "How did you know that?" I told him the license frame tipped me off, and that I work for Nestlé in Glendale.

Heading eastbound in Colorado, there's no line of demarcation that tells you when you've passed out of tablelands and into the Rockies. The hills become steeper, gradually, until you suddenly notice you are surrounded by some serious mountains. The signs for each city in Colorado proudly announce the elevation of the town in letters as large as the name of the town itself. I am traveling at 6,000 feet ... 7,000 feet ... 8,000 feet. The bike is still running OK. I was expecting the carburetor to give me a little trouble at high elevations, but so far, so good.

Rain finally catches me outside of Eagle CO. For the first time, I engage in that old motorcyclist's ritual of putting on the rain suit underneath the freeway overpass. (I am sure I looked like a complete spaz doing it, too. I should have practiced earlier! Heh.) It's not a heavy rain yet, but it is c-o-l-d. Oh, hell. Should I keep going, or stop early for the day? Miles are important to me at this point, so I tell myself to press on, but stop if conditions worsen or if I feel unsafe. I am now entering the highest part of the Rockies. Even though it's an interstate, the road is pretty steep and twisty in parts. There's a lot of road construction, too, which just makes everything worse. My goodness, conditions like that will sure focus one's attention on the road! One bad spot in particular, a few miles before the Eisenhower Tunnel, challenges me. There's a sweeping right curve marked with a big yellow sign saying 45 (right arrow) where the top layer of pavement has been stripped off by that pavement-chewing machine, leaving the surface bumpy and rutted and holding the rain like raingrooves on steroids. All I can do is grit my teeth and ride through it, chanting to myself, "Do it right ... head and eyes ... slow look lean roll." A little dicey, but I make it. Actually, high Colorado is charming, I pass through many small towns folded between high mountain peaks, the scenery reminds me of Switzerland. The rain is heavier in places, then lets up, then comes down harder again. I start dropping down out of the highest parts of the route, and begin looking for a likely hotel. The first one I stop at is full for the night, so I keep going. There's a very steep drop and many large yellow signs warning truckers of the steep grade as you come into the Denver metro area. I am fighting traffic as well now, and the rain is really coming down. I wipe my face shield with my gloved hand every few seconds, and ride in the slow lane, looking, looking. The sun has gone down and I am chilled to the bone and I just want to be off the road. I spot a Comfort Inn just off the highway in Wheat Ridge CO, and that's the spot for the night! I feel like the Michelin Man, waddling to my room in my raingear. I am happy to shuck it all off, set out everything to dry overnight, take a hot shower and settle in for the night.

Tomorrow I'll meet Jeanne in Kansas, looking forward to that.

Next: Day Three

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Great so far Boo! You write so well. Loved the violin segment. I am looking forward to the rest of the adventure.