Sunday, October 04, 2009

Natasha does the "Oh My God" Road and Empire Pass

Natasha and I tried for some mountain roads today. Boy, did we get what we wished for....

I left the house around 08:20 AM and by 10:00 AM I was in the town of Idaho Springs. My route out of the city involved County Line Road east to US85 which I took north to US6. US6 then got me to US40 which I took westbound, paralleling the I-70 Super Slab. Poor Natasha prefers two lane roads such as US40 instead of the super slab. I doubt she could maintain over 55mph going up the steep grades that mark I-70 at this point!

So we sedately, figure about 50 mph, cruised up past the foothills and into the eastern edge of the Rocky Mountains. Traffic was light on US40 and the temperatures were not too cold, mostly sunny and not much wind. Perfect conditions in other words for our first foray together into the mountains.

My standard shot just after getting past the foothills

You can see why they call this spot the "Buffalo Overlook"

Once I was past the Buffalo Overlook, Natasha and I went on a brief "high speed" sprint on I-70 till we got to the Floyd Hill exit. Just a few miles and then back we were on US40, at a more sedate pace. US40 eventually dumps you on US6 which I took westbound back onto I-70 for another brief "high speed" run till I was able to get off at the first Idaho Springs exit. Not too bad, and Natasha did great, although we were passed by everyone while on the slab!

I tanked up in Idaho Springs, and checked in with my loving wife. We then proceeded up the town's main drag and soon turned right onto Virginia Canyon Rd, aka the "Oh My God" road. The road was a bit rough at the start but not bad, just had to learn to stand on the pegs when hitting the washboarded sections!

The first safe place one can park while ascending the Oh My God road

A view of the way the road hugs the side of the mountain

It's about 6 miles to the top of the road, with the last mile being paved of all things. Not sure why its paved since it turns to dirt soon after you start heading down towards Central City.

I turned around instead and headed back down the "Oh My God" road. Gravel and sand is no longer an issue when riding I have to pay attention to where my sidecar's wheel is! No sense getting too close to the edge of the cliff eh? I took things nice and easy since I was still getting a feel for how Natasha rides on dirt. I did turn up the steering damper's pressure on the front wheel so hitting rocks would not wrest my grip from the handlebars. Nice feature.

While heading back down Oh My God road, a small view of the twisting roadway

A view of the distant mountains, already snow-capped

Back down in Idaho Springs, I was getting more comfortable with dirt and so decided to head west out of town and towards the town of Empire. This involved another brief sprint on the I-70 super slab, not for long though and I made it safe to the exit for US40 and Granby/Empire.

My objective was Empire Pass, a rock-strewn and steep pass south of the small town of Empire. This pass has stopped me just by its looks when I was on Maria, my 2004 1150RT and then again when I was riding Brigitta, my 1987 R80 Beemer. Today was the day we'd break that impasse!

You can see Georgetown's lake in the distance, Empire Pass is off to the right and up

This picture does not really convey the rocky conditions and slope one must negotiate

Slowly and a bit nervously, I rode Natasha up the above roadway. Lots of feathering of the clutch and high revving of Natasha's poor engine. Still, we made it past the big rocks and crevices on the road! Woof, I thought the worst was behind as I parked Natasha at the top of the pass:

At the top of Empire Pass, finally!

Looking back north from the top of Empire Pass

I proceeded on, the road was not too bad and I was taking it slow. The road took a turn to the right, away from the cliffside which I thought was where it should really lead. I should have consulted the map at this point. Turns out Old Georgetown Road apparently disappears and I ended up on what I believe is Bard Creek Road.

courtesy: Google Maps

Things got gnarly really fast less than a quarter mile later! The road narrowed, became full of big rocks sticking out of the dirt surface and became full of sloping surfaces.

I continued on, at times feeling like the rig was going to start tilting sideways due to the sloping surface of the road. One time, I slowed too much and the engine died on me. Holding tightly onto both brakes, I caught my breath and gingerly press the starter button and the motorcycling gods smiled on me. The engine caught and I continued onwards. The last stretch made the initial rock-strewn path to Empire Pass seem reasonable!

I tried to stay as much as possible standing on the pegs both to allow me to lean into the slope and use my knees as shock absorbers. It was tough going at times.

Still, Natasha got me through safely and I stopped at a small clearing that was level to catch my breath, let Natasha's engine cool off and steady my nerves.

This was as far as we got

As I was resting and both of us cooled off, I spied a guy coming down from up the pathway on a small dirt bike. His engine appeared to be off and he was just coasting down the path, neat as you please.

He stopped where I was and we chatted for a bit. He had stopped to tell me that it'd be better if I turned around at this point, because things got really bad further on up the mountain! He described it as rock filled roller-coaster conditions where he'd seen 4X4s get stuck before.

He departed on his way down the mountain, I walked up a bit and saw the trail continuing to climb out of sight. I had reached the border of the national forest at this point and decided to turn around.

The return ride down the mountain proved just as nerve-wracking as the way up, only now I had Mr Gravity making things much more "interesting". Lots of standing on the brakes and forcing the front wheel to go where I wanted, not where the sloping surfaces were trying to lead the rig! I think it was harder going down than up and was glad I'd turned around where I did.

Finally, I got to where I had turned right and rested again. Here's the view from the cliffside near where I parked Natasha:

A view towards Georgetown from the south side of Empire Pass

Having caught my breath and no longer feeling like my arms were burning from holding onto the handlebars; we proceeded on through Empire Pass once again. Going back down the pass proved a bit challenging, I felt like I was sliding forward from my seat most of the time!

Again, the motorcycling gods took pity on me and I made it safely back to semi-level ground. Woof!

I made my way back down towards the town of Empire, feeling defeated since at this point I thought I'd not made it to Empire Pass. Turns out, I crossed it twice. : )

I stopped south of Empire across from Minton Park and got this picture of Natasha with what I am sure is part of the Continental Divide in the background:

The view I had while lunching

Ate my pop-tarts lunch and had some water, reveling on being back on relatively level ground once more. I won't be trying Bard Creek Road anytime soon, Empire Pass maybe, but not till I get more off-roads skills and confidence on the rig!

After checking in with the family one more time, I then made my way back east. I retraced my way back to Idaho Springs and slabbed it to where US 6 junctions with I-70. A bit of a death-merge here as you have to be in the left (fast lane) for a bit in order to turn off onto US6. You really cannot take the safe way and stay on I-70 as it climbs steep for several miles and I didn't think Natasha would be able to go faster than say 50 mph!

I got on US6 and shortly afterwards was back on US40 which I managed to take all the way back to Bergen Parkway. I must remember that's how you avoid the super slab along this particular stretch.

I took US40 all the way back to the Denver Metro area with just a brief sprint past the Chief Hosa recreational area. The rest of the ride was retracing my way on US6, taking Kipling Street instead to get south to US285. I took US 285 north further into the metro area and then it was I-25 slabbing briefly to I-225 and from there a sprint to the Parker Road exit.

More sedate city traffic speeds and I was soon home. About two hours is what it takes to get back from Empire, CO to my house. Good to know and not much in terms of having to deal with super slab riding.

Home safe, got a pic of Natasha in the neighbor's driveway next to a nicely colored tree

Natasha did awesome, though I could tell she does not like going much about 55mph for long stretches. There would sometimes be a harmonic sound along with her normal engine noise which I believe was her telling me to either gear down or slow down....not sure. I must get a tachometer for her someday. Then I'll know for sure if I am taxing the engine or not.

A great first foray for the both of us together into the mountains. Good confidence builder for me in terms of trusting her on long runs, and now I've a taste of how she handles on dirt and really bad terrain. I doubt I would have been able to get as far as we did today on that mountain even on a 650GS!


mq01 said...

FABULOUS!!! natasha and the motorcycling gods are on your side :) great ride!!

bobskoot said...


You are such a great storyteller. I was on the edge of my seat, imagining your predicament. Lucky you turned around where you did as I would imagine that it takes a lot of maneuvering to turn around on a steep incline with little room.
Looks like you also got all the bugs worked out on Natasha to the point of being trustworthy.
Again . . . awesome pictures .

bobskoot: wet coast scootin

Charlie6 said...

mq01, thanks for continuing to read this stuff and your kind words.

bobskoot....yeah, adventures don't seem like a lot of fun while they're happening....and yes, I trust Natasha more now....

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Charlie6 (Dom):

Imcomparable pictures (as usual). It's beginning to sound as if the sidecar rig has become your bike of preferance, with the onset of Fall. I was thinking how great it is that you don't have to worry about putting your feet down (considering my knees), but it appears you were riding like a jockey, more on your knees than on the saddle.

Very good piece today... Nice balance of fact and suspense. Too bad I never have anything tangible to write about.

Fondest regards,
Jack • reep • Toad
Twisted Roads

cpa3485 said...

You certainly made it out into the boonies this time didn't you. Some of that looked like mountain bike trails. Very impressed that your Rusky machine made it through in fine fashion. Looks like a whole new world is opening up as far as travel possibilities.
Great pictures again, too.

Anonymous said...

Dom, that was awesome. I took plenty of deep breaths as I looked at your pictures and read your story. That was my dream for the Sporty while I had her.
The transformation is complete. You and Natasha have bonded.
Looking forward to seeing your travels up Mt. Evans and all your other back road excursions.
BTW, Buffalo Bar and Restaurnt in Idaho springs has really good food.
Looking forward to the next post.


Charlie6 said...


thanks for writing in, yeah, I was doing a lot of standing on the pegs....remaining seated while tilted sideways on a sloping trail is not a good idea. You feel like you're about to flip over....

Phil, thanks, it was a great adventure....not sure there's more where that came from though, check your email.