Flyover Country

Part 5: California or bust

Tuesday, 11 June 2019

Two days in the urban mayhem of downtown Denver is enough big city for me. I set out south-westwards on highway 285 towards Aspen. Beyond Aspen the road climbs to over 3000 metres and heads off to Independence Pass. They have a pushbike race up the pass, and hundreds of people participate. I know that the gods love foolish people (why else would they make so many of them?), but riding a pushbike up a steep pass in these elevations is insane. If these people were comfortably sitting in a Cessna aircraft instead of working their guts out on a pushbike they would be required by law to wear an oxygen mask. At least they have placed a few ambulances over the pass - I am certain they will be needed.
I have made some video footage of the pass which I will include in the final video after the end of the ride, but I have also shot a few pictures elsewhere, so here are today's impressions:

A view near Twin Lakes

Crystal River near Carbondale

Highway 133 near Placita

So far I have to give Bob 5 out of 5 points for his route selection. The ride today was fantastic and I end after 450 kilometres at the small village of Paonia.

Wednesday, 12 June 2019

The redneck coal miner next door starts his eight-cylinder dinosaur from Detroit at 0530 and lets it idle for 30 minutes outside of my room before setting off. I am obviously going to have an involuntary early start into the day.
I suddenly remember from my ride in 2007 that it is possible to have a decent morning coffee in America if your room has coffee making facilities; simply follow the instructions on the coffee pack, but only use one third of the water recommended on the pack. Of course everything is disposable, coffee pack, cups, creamer, stirrer - in Europe the Eco Mafia would go bonkers.
By 0800 I am on the road. At Hotchkiss I take highway 92 southwards into the Black Canyon. At the end of Crawford it becomes very obvious that Bob once again picked a fine route for me:

The road ahead appears not to be overcrowded...

Here is an impression of the Canyon:

The Black Canyon

At Sapinero I turn north again at the Blue Mesa reservoir onto highway 50 - by now I greet highway 50 like an old friend whenever I reach this fabulous road again.
The one problem is that the road is going downhill all the way to below 1400 metres at Grand Junction. The temperature hits 34 degrees in that town.
Here Bob has added a detour through the Colorado National Monument. Bob has already warned me that here also the highwaymen of the National Park Service are waiting. 15 dollars entry fee for the Park, but at least the altitude goes back to 2000 metres. Here are two pictures from the place:

Colorado National Monument 1

Colorado National Monument 2

Afterwards I have to ride a second time through the furnace that is Grand Junction to catch highway 141 southwards. This highway climbs upwards and it gets much more bearable, but after about 30 kilometres I find a Lollipop man, i. e. one of these road building guys with his "Stop/Go" contraflow control boards. A number of cars are waiting and people have set up sunshades, deckchairs and drinks coolers. I know that these building sites can sometimes take a while to change direction, but this looks like an extreme case. Lollipop man explains; apparently a machine has broken down within the building site and is blocking the entire highway. Not even a motorbike can get past. They are waiting for a mechanic to come and fix the machine. I enquire how long that might take. Lollipop man calmly says "a couple of hours, providing that he can fix the fault."
That is no good. The idea was to ride a circular route that would lead through a number of scenic areas, but I won't wait "a couple of hours" for them to clear the road, so I turn around and do a third ride through burning hot Grand Junction to catch highway 139 northwards instead. That road climbs upwards towards Douglas Pass, where the heat is bearable.
The entire 100 kilometres to Rangely are an uninhabited, remote semi-desert. Here is an impression:

Douglas Pass

After more than 9 hours and 570 kilometres in the saddle I reach Rangely and call it a day.

Thursday, 13 June 2019

I leave Rangely at 0900 on highway 64 towards Dinosaur. Readers of my 2007 ride along this road may remember that nearby this village my front tyre blew out. I check out the Bedrock Depot cafe, but it is closed today - I had hoped that my rescuer Leona from 12 years ago might still work there.
At Dinosaur I turn west on highway 40 and into Utah. After passing through Duchesne my road finally heads for the mountains on highway 191 - which is good as it starts getting very warm again. The road winds up to 2600 metres, but there are black clouds ahead. I get some rain and the bike once more looks very filthy.
Unfortunately what goes up must come back down, and once I have reached the town of Spanish Fork I am back below 1400 metres and the temperature is 34 degrees. Spanish Fork itself is full of blocked roads and building works, so I am hot and sweaty by the time I am on my way again. The small hump near Eureka with just under 2000 metres helps a bit, but afterwards the elevation goes down to 1400 metres and the mercury hits 36 degrees. There are also a lot of thunderstorms around, and by the time I arrive in Delta the mountains all around are crowned with storms. So I stop after 475 kilometres at a motel that offers protection for bike and biker:

Old-fashioned motels are my favourites

The weather forecast predicts five degrees less for tomorrow, let's hope that they are right.

Friday, 14 June 2019

By 0830 I am on the road heading westwards from Delta on highway 6. On leaving the town I find a sign "No gas for 83 miles". I like that. This entire area consists of a plateau that is about 1400 metres above sea. The plateau is interspersed with mountain ridges which rise a few hundred metres higher. On reaching such a ridge the road climbs to about 2000 metres. In fact the next refuelling point is Ely again, where I already stayed overnight in part four of this narrative. Here is a scene from this morning:

Road between Servier Lake and Eskdale

There is a group of Shoshone kids at the petrol station cleaning the pumps and the stations kit. They also offer to clean the cars of the stations patrons. I enquire about cleaning the bike. For ten dollars they get going:

Indian kids giving the Marsupilami some TLC

For three dollars at a pressure wash I could have probably gotten a better result, but I like their industriousness - and before you ask "shouldn't those kids be at school?", no, the Shoshone school only teaches Mondays to Thursdays.
On leaving Ely I am greeted by a sign saying "No gas next 167 miles". I like that even better. The ride on the flat plateau followed by a few twisties when traversing the mountain ranges continues. Want another example? Here you are:

Halfway between Warm Springs and Tonopah

For the traversal of the town of Tonopah I have been advised by Bob that the local Sheriff is on a mission of epic proportion to fine traffic offenders. I make certain that I obey all rules to the point and manage to leave the town with a full tank but zero traffic fines.
I stop for the day another hundred kilometres down the road at Hawthorne. The place is probably the largest ammunition dump on earth (read the Wiki article if you want to find out more). For me it is just another sleepy Nevada Town with a gambling problem. As the hotel has a casino attached, the rooms are cheap. For an extra three dollars (for a total bill of 81 dollars) I can upgrade the room to a suite, which proves to be a luxurious place with lounge, kitchen, bathroom and bedroom. I suppose after those 700 kilometres on the road I deserve a little bit luxury, especially as the last 300 kilometres were in 32 degrees. It wasn't as infernally hot as yesterday, but it certainly was very warm.
Here is another topographical map with today's ride (the thin red line):

Topographical view of today's ride

Saturday, 15 June 2019

We all have these moments; you open your eyes in the morning, and you think "I should not leave this bed all day". I have this thought because the air conditioner, set to 22 degrees, starts humming at 0600 hours to cool the room. By the time I leave Hawthorne at 0930 it is 31 degrees.
As a precaution I am carrying my pre-soaked evaporator jacket in a plastic bag ready for use. These jackets can absorb more than a litre of water, which then evaporates, thus cooling the biker. Of course these jackets only work in dry heat. In humid, hot conditions they are useless, but out here the air humidity is less than 25%, so these jackets are ideal. After two hours they have dried out again, so you stop at the next river or petrol station and re-soak them with water.
Because of the heat I have planned a small diversion from Bob's route; I head south-westwards on highway 359. This route gets me quicker into the hopefully cooler and higher up roads of California.
It is exactly 100 kilometres to drive on highway 359 - and I meet exactly three oncoming vehicles during that ride. Here is how that looks:

Approach to Mono Lake

West Walker river on highway 395

Near Lake Topaz

But when I reach highway 395 the situation changes; this is a busy north-south leading highway, heading towards Lake Tahoe. I realise that I am in a weekend warrior area; thousands of cars and trucks pulling boats or quads, fifth wheelers pulling giant campers plus loads of RV's - the warriors are out in force.
This means traffic, overpriced motels, difficulties in finding any accommodation at all and general mayhem. And I am not disappointed by the warriors; there is a six kilometre traffic jam where the road joins highway 50 at Meyers. There is a bike lane next to the road, and as no pushbiker is in sight we motorbikers use it to get past the chaos. The ride through South Lake Tahoe is a nasty affair with road works, red lights and heat. When I am nearly through the chaos I spot a "Subway" sign at a shopping arcade. I ride around the entire arcade - no subway. I ask someone about it; "Oh, they put the sign up a year ago, but haven't yet started to kit out the shop". Obviously even Subway has second thoughts about this hellhole.
The ride around the lake isn't much better due to the heavy and very slow traffic. Sure there are scenic views:

Lake Tahoe

But I have to share each view with dozens of other warriors.
After seven hours I reach the town of Truckee. This was only a 350 kilometre ride - half the distance in nearly the same time as yesterday. A few enquiries show that my suspicions were right; the good cheap motels are all booked on weekends well in advance. "Cheap" in this sense means that they might charge twice as much as on weekdays. Truckee has an interstate connection, so I check out the motels there and manage to find a decent room for 240 dollars. Out of curiosity I ask what that room will cost tomorrow night: "149 dollars" is the answer.
Then I ride over to the Subway they have at the intersection. I had to take this picture (at 1630 hours), because I know my readers wouldn't have believed this:

I kid you not...

I should have stayed in bed indeed this morning. At least the pizzeria next door is open and offers an eight inch "pizzetta", which for once can be handled by yours truly completely.

Pizza time

This was not the finest day of the journey, but one has to take the good with the bad.

Below is the usual map with my GPS tracklog.


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