Wow! What a wild 72-hours it has been from Tuesday evening until this evening! TMI might bore readers so I'll be as brief as possible. Tuesday across NE was great - I enjoy seeing farm country in extreme form, and even more enjoyed the amazing wide open spaces of SW NE. Camping at a small park near McCook, NE, under a massive cottonwood tree that surely had seen Indians camped under it 200 years ago - it was huge! I was awoken around 2:00 a.m. by an extreme pyrotechnics show, with lightning flashing non-stop in every direction, thunder rolling from every corner, and the wind picking up significantly. Not wanting one of the tree-sized branches crashing down on me, and not wanting to be picked up by a tornado or whatever this storm was going to brew, I decided on discretion rather than bravery; I loaded up my valuables (phone, camera, etc.) and headed to a small but clean cement block washroom/ shower. In less than 5 minutes all hell broke loose, and it remained until after daylight. Fortunately there was a wood bench to sit / lay on, but mostly I stared out the door into the frey and after it ended I packed up and left. The tent survived fine, and what I had left in it was mostly dry, but I just wanted to get out of there ASAP.
Got to Colorado Springs at the end of Wednesday. Had a very successful 2 hours in the library and just as I was leaving the skies opened up again with a vengeance - same kind of storm as the evening before. I had hoped to camp outside of town but hustled to a nearby Motel6 and took everything inside to spread out on the floor to dry.
Thursday morning dawned bright and blue - and the TV news at 6:00 said it would be nice until afternoon thunderstorms reappeared. I got an early start and headed to Seven Falls State Park to view the falls and get a picture in the same spot that certain ladies did in 1916, whose trip I am recreating to a certain degree to document what they did and where they went. Arrived at the locked gate at 7:30 - - sign said the park opens at 8:30! I didn't want to waste an hour of blue sky so I headed west a few miles to Pikes Peak, and decided then and there to climb to the top. And the adventures of the day thus began. I was one of the very first vehicles on the road for the day, which was both good and bad.
It's about 18 miles to the top, and the lower one half of the road is paved, though fairly narrow and of course curvy. But it was delightful; a typical mountain road. The only problem was a great deal of gravel had washed onto the road as a result of the heavy rainstorm of the night before. I arrived at the unpaved, dirt, portion of the road, which, based on many pictures I have seen of the road as it looked ca 1920, it hasn't changed much at all. Following the heavy rains it was muddy with significant washout along the route. The road becomes much more precipitous at this point. There are many muddy tight curves and for 90% or more of the route there is absolutely nothing separating a motorist from a 2,000 foot fall; no walls or rails of any kind, simply road edge and then oblivion!
I encountered quite a lot of heavy road equipment working on the road, repairing damage and also obviously upgrading certain stretches. The mud, loose stones, fairly deep ruts, and squeezing by heavy equipment with a couple feet between them and the cliff was interesting to say the least! Near the top there is blacktop again, in the areas of very tight hairpin curves (they were called The W's in the early days of the road - the road has the shape of several W's in a row in that stretch). I arrived at the 14,110 summit cold and relieved, except when I went to stop and discovered I had no rear brake at all! The front brake worked fine, but no rear at all. I checked things out, assuming a rock or rut damaged the system somehow, but couldn't see any damage. I took a few pictures while I puzzled in my mind what to do. The road down was 18 miles of steep grade and no margin whatsoever for error. I decided to go for it based on two factors; I would be in first gear all the way down, with some engine braking at work, and on a motorcycle the front brake provides 75% of braking power, and my front brake was still working. It was a white knuckle trip down to say the least, but I made it. I couldn't go without rear braking for the next couple thousand miles so I rode back to Colorado Springs to the local Harley dealer. They took the bike right in. The service rep said they see this on a fairly regular basis; the trip up to the thin air at 14,000 trip causes air bubbles in the brake fluid, which makes hydraulic brakes worthless. No one there knew why this happened, but my theory is that some of the constituent fluids in the chemical make up of brake fluid go to the gaseous form when atmospheric pressure is below a certain point. My theory, until somebody proves me wrong. The dealer washed my filthy bike, tightened the rear drive belt a bit, and I was on my way again. I retraced my ride for the second time yesterday out past Pikes Peak to Woodland Park - a very nice stretch of road. In the meantime the sky had blackened and the wind picked up dramatically. I pulled into a gas station, put in about 3/4 of a gallon of gas to look like a paying customer, as the skies let loose once again. A sign across the street said 59 degrees. Ten minutes later two other bikers slid under the canopy, followed by a fourth a few minutes after that. He said he had been caught in hail just east of town. The wind changed directions and we all noted that it was getting cooler - the sign now read 54 degrees. Almost two hours later the sign read 46 degrees and it was cold, rainy, windy and quite miserable overall under the canopy, having run out of fun things to talk and think about. We spent enough money overall on various snacks and such that the gas station manager had no complaints of us staying there. Two hours later it was 46 degrees and when the rain slowed to a drizzle we went our various ways, with me heading west into the high mountains. When the clouds lifted a little I saw snow on the slopes just a little above the road, and soon there was a little snow right next to the road. The temperature had to be around 40 at most. The 75 miles to the point I stopped finally were difficult to say the least. It started raining again, only this time it was only a few degrees above freezing and the rain above 8 or 9 thousand feet was mixed with snow.
Friday (this) morning dawned cold and clear - 43 degrees where I was, 33 degrees in nearby Leadville, which is perched a bit over 10,000 in elevation. But the sky was blue so I rode! The road and scenery were fabulous - but I was kind of frozen in place so couldn't appreciate it as much as in normal temps. By 11:00 I started dropping in elevation and the temps were becoming more normal, and by the time I reached the Vail area and I-70 things were great again. I got some pics of snow covered mountains along US 24 - a fabulous road!
I-70 runs through Glenwood Canyon, which is incredible; have to do / see it to fully appreciate. Had another successful research stop at the library in Grand Junction, CO, where I topped off with fuel and water, having seen the sign saying No Services for the next 60 miles, and it was very hot and dry there. Between Grand Junction and Green River, UT it is starkly barren - no sign of life, nor could there be. West of Green River (where a warning sign said No Services for 110 miles) are some of the most fabulous rock formations imaginable. Impossible to describe but worth the 2,000 mile trip just to see them up close.
And here I am in Salina, UT, doing laundry and finally finding some wi-fi that works, even though my netbook is giving me fits (as is Google Blogs, which keeps kicking me off their network about every 5 minutes, causing me to go through a lengthy sign in process to get back on - very frustrating, dear Google folks!!!) Threat of more bad thunderstorms tonight so no camping - a motel to work in and get ready for the ride across Nevada tomorrow.
Today was great - cold start but the scenery and fabulous roads and incredible countryside can't be lessened by simple heat or cold.
Tomorrow across Utah and into Nevada - maybe all the way to Reno - on the loneliest highway in America - US 50, which also happened to be part of the Lincoln Highway - the Main Street of America from 1913 through the 1950s.