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[Part 1 of 2: Posting in two parts, because I exceeded the length]

I just got from a great 5-day trip to Colorado and back. On this trip, it was just me and my buddy - a couple of flatlanders from Minnesota venturing into the real mountains.

This note is a summary of our trip. (It’s mostly for me to journal the experience for myself. It gets a little long winded. I apologize in advance)

Day 1: Minneapolis to Colorado (approx 900 miles)
  • We rode cross country from Minneapolis to Colorado over-nighting in Loveland, CO. Loveland is at the foot of the mountains, on the route into Rocky Mountain National Park.
Day 2: Loveland to Leadville (approx 270 miles)
  • This day started with a run through Rocky Mountain National Park and ended with a wet ride to a hotel in Leadville
  • From Loveland to Estes Park – Route 34 is a fun road through a canyon with good twisties and rock walls.
  • Rocky Mountain National Park – The road through the park is the highest through paved road in the US (maybe all of North America?). The road includes twisty switchbacks up and down the mountains. The westbound switchback up the mountain includes long climbs, hairpin turns, and sharp drop offs. There are great twisties and big sweepers along the windblown, treeless mountain top. The ride down the mountain is forested with steep descents and tight hairpins. The entire road is in great condition and can be ridden aggressively, just not so aggressive that you run off a cliff.
  • Grand Lake – We stopped in Grand Lake for breakfast at Fat Cat Café. They had great pancakes. Grand Lake is a nice little town of shops and restaurants. It’s worth a stop if you are looking for souvenirs or a meal.
  • Grand Lake to Idaho Springs – We ran route 40 south from Grand Lake through Winter Park down to I-70 and east to Idaho Springs. Route 40 is a nice road. There are several small towns. The road includes open valleys and sweepers before Winter Park and a switch-backed descent south of Winter Park.
  • Mount Evans – BOY, Oh BOY! Whew! Mount Evans became a turning point on the trip. For anyone who has not been, Mount Evans is a 14,000+ peak on the outskirts of Denver. There is a paved road all the way to the top. I knew it was 14,000 feet. I also knew it was paved. That’s all that I knew when we set off. So far today we had been dry. Approaching the base of the mountain we could see clouds moving in. It looked wet, but not heavy. There is a fee station at the base of the Mount Evans road. The attendant told us there is a light rain coming down, and there is serious road damage at mile marker 9. With that information, we stopped to layer-on our rain gear. This was a wise, informed decision. Carrying on up the mountain was not. The ride up started fine with a good road, reasonable climbs, and mild curves. It started to drizzle about halfway up the mountain. About the same time, the road narrowed and became bumpier with more austere corners and great vistas that came with stark drop-offs. We got to mile marker 9 and experienced the road damage. There was also a rest area at mile 9The rain had picked up to a steady shower. The rain wouldn’t have been severe on flat ground, but it was making the ride up the mountain “interesting”. We stopped at the rest area to talk about the road and our plan. I am a moderate rider. My buddy is relatively new (this is his third season) to riding, and this trip was his first experience riding in the mountains. The road was challenging for both of us. I had some anxiety. My friend had more. After considering the options, we decided to press on. We should not have. Just beyond the rest area, the road steepened, narrowed further with sure-death drop-offs over the edge of the road, and became a continuous sequence of 10mph steep switchbacks. On a sunny day, this would be a anxiety filled road. In the rain, it was extreme. I was concerned about losing traction and/or momentum around every corner. At about mile marker 12, we pulled into a turn-out at the edge of one of the hairpin corners. My friend was done with his attempt to summit Mount Evans. The road and the conditions were just too much. We agreed he would wait there, or if the weather broke he would go back down to the rest area at mile 9. I (foolishly) continued to the top. There were only 2 more miles to go. How much worse could it be? And I had already almost made it to the top. Well, as I left the turn out and proceeded upwards, it did worsen. The clouds that had been dropping rain on us now moved onto the mountain. The next two miles were a nerve wracking crawl through limited visibility wet roads and switchback corners. I shouldn’t have been on that road. But once in that situation, I thought it may be equally dangerous to try to pull off or stop on the road with other drivers (in cars) navigating through the same conditions coming down the road ahead of me and up the road behind me. I did finally make it to the summit (thankfully). While I was there the rain and clouds broke (amazingly). I snapped a few pictures, breathed the thin air, and got back on the bike to take advantage of the weather break. I found my buddy at the rest area. He had made it down the mountain to mile 9 during the weather break too. We took a breather at the rest area and then proceeded slowly down the rest of the mountain without incident.
  • Mount Evans turned out to be a challenging experience. Had I known the true conditions, it is a road I would have skipped. Without knowing what we were getting into, we thankfully got through it safely. It could have been much worse. I would go back up Mount Evans again, but only if I was confident I had 3-4 hours of good weather to get up and back without incident. Even in good weather, Mount Evans is not for the faint of heart. Do not try it on a motorcycle in less than optimal conditions.
  • To Leadville – Once we were down from Mount Evans, we continued on to Leadville with an excursion on route 6 through Keystone to get off the interstate. Route 6 was fun, and the rest of the ride for the day was uneventful. We chose to stay in Leadville, because it seemed to be a reasonable stopping point for the day as we were planning the route from home. Leadville, it turns out, is not great place. The hotel was decent, but we both had an “unwelcome” vibe from the locals, although we had no incident and moved on in the morning.
 

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[Part 2 of 2]

Day 3: Separate Roads (approx 550 miles)
  • Debrief and A Fork in the Road - At the end of the previous day, we debriefed about the day’s ride. It turns out that Mount Evans had diminished my buddy's interest in mountain riding. He was interested in milder roads and flatter country. We agreed to split up. I wanted to continue on the route we had planned. He wanted some open road. Initially we planned to meet again in two days for our ride back to Minnesota. My friend rode south and east along route 24, 9, 50, and 115 to Colorado Springs. For those unfamiliar with Colorado Springs, it’s just east of the Mountains. Once you get there, you can stay on flat ground, if you choose.
  • Independence Pass to Aspen – I started the day early (6:30), and hit Independence Pass on route 82 up to Aspen. This run was fantastic. It was early. There was no competition for the road from other drivers, and the road is great! It has a good switch back climb to the continental divide followed by a fun descent and a tight ride through a forested and rock-walled canyon. This is the #1 or #2 run for the trip. I liked this road!
  • Aspen to Crawford – From Aspen, I headed to the Black Canyon of the Gunnison following routes 82, 133, and 92. 82 is a pretty basic four lane road out of Aspen. It is not noteworthy. The run down route 133 was fun. It combined a couple mild mountain passes along with top-speed sweepers and river canyon twisties. It was a fun run. Route 92 to Crawford is a relaxing open mesa run.
  • Black Canyon of the Gunnison – Route 92 through the Black Canyon of the Gunnison is a good mountain run with great vistas of a stark river gorge and winding road. It was fun and hot.
  • Scenic San Juans – From the Black Canyon, I routed through Montrose with my eye on the Million Dollar Highway. Looking at the map, I decided I would make a loop, starting with routes 62 and 145 through Telluride on the western side of the San Juan mountains. This was a great route with wonderful views and a nice road through forests and over mountains. As I was on this leg, the clouds opened up and dumped a pretty good rain on me. This road was no trouble in the rain, but it made me a little anxious knowing I had the Million Dollar Highway coming up.
  • Million Dollar Highway – After I came off route 145, I headed to Durango, the southern gateway to the Million Dollar Highway. From Durango, the clouds looked iffy to the north, but I decided to ride on anyway. I planned to take it very easy if the rain came. I lucked out. The rain held off, and the sun actually came out. I had heard a lot about the treacherousness of the Million Dollar Highway when I was planning the trip. Indeed, the road includes sheer drop offs and technical sections; however, I found it milder than the Mount Evans run of the previous day. I enjoyed the ride.
  • Montrose – I caught more rain coming out of Ouray and decided to overnight in Montrose after finishing the Million Dollar Highway. Montrose is a decent town with a number of hotels and restaurants.
Day 4: A Great Day! (approx 600 miles)
  • Route Change & Breakfast – In the morning I changed the routing for the last Colorado leg. I had heard great things about the Grand Mesa and I had really enjoyed Independence Pass outside of Aspen. I decided to string these together. I stopped for breakfast in Delta, CO just prior running the Grand Mesa. My buddy texted me while I was at breakfast. He was ready to be back in the saddle. We agreed to meet in Aspen, and work out the remainder of our route from there. And then we both set out.
  • Grand Mesa – Route 65 through the Grand Mesa National Forest is a fun road with panoramic views of mesas and mountains. The road is high quality and offers climbs, descents, twisties, sweepers, mountains, and forests. It’s great.
  • From Grand Mesa to I-70 – After exiting the Grand Mesa National Forest, the remainder of route 65 to the interstate is one of my favorite roads of this trip. The road follows a twisty path along a mountain stream with sheer rock walls on both sides. The road is in great condition, and there was no traffic. With no traffic, this road can be ridden aggressively. It was a ton of fun. In my experience, this segment vies with Independence Pass for the #1 or #2 spot on this trip. After this final run on route 65, I used the freeway to get east to Glenwood Springs and then south to Aspen. I waited for in Aspen, with periodic updates from my friend as he passed milestones on his run from Colorado Springs to Aspen.
  • Independence Pass and route 24 – When my friend arrived there were rain clouds threatening. We didn’t want to be at elevation in wet weather, so we just headed out back through Independence Pass the way he had just come. At this point, it was mid-day, so the traffic was much heavier than when I had done the run the previous day. Nonetheless, Independence Pass is a great run with sufficient “straightness” to get around slow moving campers and others. We stopped briefly at the Continental Divide and then continued down the other side to Twin Lakes. At Twin Lakes, we confirmed our plan to run south and east on route 24 to Woodland Park. This was redundant for Phil, but new for me. Route 24 is a perfect high country highway with great open space visibility, rolling hills, and fun sweeping turns. This was a high speed segment of open road. It was refreshing to have a long stretch of open road.
  • Route 67 and 126 – At Woodland Park we gassed up and decided on our final route. We chose to run up route 67 through Deckers and onwards to 126 to catch 285 into Denver. This turned out to be an unexpected gem. Route 67 and 126 are great roads. The roads are twisty with great pavement providing an opportunity for fun and aggressive riding. The is limited elevation change with sections through forests, along rivers, and passed picturesque farms. I would love to run these two roads again. They are very easy to reach from Denver or Colorado Springs. This segment was an excellent capstone to a great Colorado riding trip. At Woodland Park we had debated running through Colorado Springs and catching the freeway north to Denver to save on time. I am thrilled that we chose the route we did. It is a road that is worth the trip all by itself.
  • Heading East – At the north end of route 126, we headed east on 285 to Denver. Our original itinerary had us scheduled to stay near the Denver airport to be positioned on the eastern side of town for an early morning start back to Minnesota. We changed our plans and decided to pass all the way through Denver and continue on as far as we could for the day. We caught I-76 in Denver and made it all the way to Julesburg, CO, about 2.5 hrs east of Denver. Even though it was freeway riding, this section of Colorado is extremely peaceful prairie land. We were riding away from the sun on a pleasant summer night (running away from clouds behind us). There was a segment of freeway where we probably traveled more than 40 miles without encountering another vehicle on our side of the road. This was a great way to decompress from the technical riding of the mountains. And it also positioned us for a shorter ride the following day.
  • Great Day! – I rate this as my best day ever on a motorcycle (followed closely by a day I remember fondly from Mexican Hat, UT to Torrey, UT back in 2009). It was a great combination of scenery, roads, varying riding difficulties and conditions, mixed weather, and a sun-up to sun-down day in the saddle. Perfect!
Day 5: Back to Minnesota (approx 730 miles)
  • Last Leg – We were up early on Monday morning to get on the road. The ride back to Minnesota is all freeway. We made very good time, arriving in time to put the kids to bed.
I like to ride from the break of dawn to sunset with a lot of throttle and as many corners and climbs as possible*. This trip to Colorado offered all of this for three solid days. It was GREAT! My only regret is that I didn’t have more days to do the same.

Special Thank-You’s to everyone who helped with the route and offered words of wisdom!
-Nosaj

(*that riding style may bite me some day, but thankfully it did not on this trip)

(If you are interested, this link shows the route:

http://maps.google.com/maps/ms?msid=212162952670583075094.0004abd719c6bb0a24b93&msa=0&ll=38.961544,-106.98761&spn=1.40952,2.897644

)
 

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I'm adding a few pictures. For anyone who has not had the pleasure of riding in Colorado, my suggestion is "Do It!"
 

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Yes what a trip. You go straight into the HAT club. I am still trying to catch up with you, I can't even see your dust. Thanks for tour report, I will go through it more carefully later. Eric
 

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Thanks for the review, Now if you had just had a SPOT we could have rode with you. I have been over the road from Twin Lakes to Aspen via Independence Pass and although you thought it was interesting, I found it terrifying to say the least. But glad you had a good time and you were right about Leadville. Its not the most hospitable place around. Thanks...
 

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I love Colorado--can't wait to ride there again. Thanks for the report--looking forward to more pictures.
 

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Excellent report & ride. Glad all went well.
 

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great ride report. now that you two are back home how does your budd feel about the trip
 

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Thanks Eric.

I don't know what the HAT club is, but I think I can assume.

It was a lot of fun. If you ever make it to the US, I know there will be long line of us waiting to ride with you.


Yes what a trip. You go straight into the HAT club. I am still trying to catch up with you, I can't even see your dust. Thanks for tour report, I will go through it more carefully later. Eric
 

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I'm a mild-mannered person most of the time. But a bit of an adrenaline junky when I get on my bike. If I could ride a road like Independence Pass every day to work, I'd be a happy man.

I grew up on the flatland, and know that mountain riding is not for everyone.


Thanks for the review, Now if you had just had a SPOT we could have rode with you. I have been over the road from Twin Lakes to Aspen via Independence Pass and although you thought it was interesting, I found it terrifying to say the least. But glad you had a good time and you were right about Leadville. Its not the most hospitable place around. Thanks...
 

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Thanks for asking detdrbuzzard.

He shook off the stress from Mount Evans. We both had a lot of fun once we got back together and rode from Aspen to Woodland Park to Denver via routes 82, 24, 67, 126, and 285.

In the end, it was an awesome ride. He just needed a day to chill a bit in between.

great ride report. now that you two are back home how does your budd feel about the trip
 

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Great read and a fun trip. Me plenty jealous now!
 
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