Thursday, December 31, 2009

Last ride for 2009 - Southern Mountain Loop

Long story short, today was supposed to be day 1 of a two day ride to Sun City, AZ to meet up with my family who'd flown there this morning to go visit the boy's maternal grandfather. It did not turn out quite that way....

The day started really early, 3:45AM to be exact. My wife and sons were flying out at 6:30AM which mandated the early rising. Once I got them to the airport on time, I headed home and soon afterwards, left for points south on Natasha, my '96 Ural sidecar rig.

Man, it was dark and cold at 6:00 AM when I left the house, the first hour was not bad at all but things got steadily colder as I left the city limits of Denver on US285 and started heading up in elevation and was surrounded by the foothills that border US 285. All the usual tricks to keep my finger and toes warm were not working as well the more time I was exposed to the sub-freezing temperatures. I think it was in the teens actually.

Finally made it to Buena Vista, CO....feet and hands numb from the cold and I made an extended stop at a gas station to thaw out. Tried to check in with my loving wife and found the cold had zapped my phone's battery. So I only talked to her for a few seconds before the phone died. I plugged my cellphone to the cigarette outlet charger on the Ural and I left the gas station around 09:30 AM, by now the sun was fully out in force and warming things a tiny bit, say in the upper 20s perhaps?

Still, the scenery at Buena Vista was worth the short stops to take pictures:

Part of the Collegiate Peaks, I believe this is Mount Yale

Ahead of Natasha, that's Mount Princeton

I believe this is Mount Antero, still part of the Collegiate Peaks
I continued southbound on US285 past the wonderful scenery offered by the Collegiate Peaks above. It was still quite cold but I was managing to stave off the cold on my fingers and toes (barely) by frequently putting my hands and feet near the engine's jugs. Man, it was cold!

As I got to the northern border of Saguache County. I had to stop for these pictures as rode towards and past the Sangre de Cristo (Blood of Christ) Range to the East of US285:

The northern end of the Sangre de Cristo Mountain Range, I read somewhere these mountains were named thus because the light of the setting sun (if you're lucky to catch it) paints them red in color.

Looking north on US 285, somewhere within Saguache County

A view of part of the Sangre de Cristo Range
Sometime around Noon, I arrived at Monte Vista, CO....missed the sign and ended up wasting 30 minutes on the wrong road until I realized what had happened. Once I returned to Monte Vista, I headed east on US160 towards Alamosa, CO. It was as I rode to Alamosa that my plans changed.

A combination of the extreme cold, equipment malfunction and a realization that I can only take sub-freezing temperatures for a few hours led to the original ride plan being canceled around 12PM. I had before Monte Vista, at a gas stop in Saguache, that my cellphone battery which had gotten zapped by the cold, was not recharging from the Ural's cigarette outlet for unknown reasons and I estimated I would not get to Albuquerque, NM (my planned overnight location) before it got dark and really cold again.

I stopped for lunch at Alamosa, at a McDonald's with what surely must the one of the slowest Internet connections in southern Colorado! I got off an email to my wife telling her my plans were changing and that I was headed for Walsenburg instead.

By the time I finished eating, temperatures were in the 30s and still sunny so riding was more "comfortable" now. I was even able to turn off my heated grips until shortly before La Veta Pass. But before I got to La Veta Pass, I watched the massive mountain formation known as Blanca Peak grow steadily larger as I neared it while heading east on US160.

Approaching Blanca Peak on US160, a magnificent mountain with its peak at 14,345 ft

Natasha and Blanca Peak
This is the view the residents of the town of Blanca see every day, wow.
Blanca Peak is quite a sight eh? The next mountain to get past was next to La Veta Pass. In Spanish, La Veta, translates as “the mineral vein” and is the name of a nearby town. I could not find a name for this mountain formation, it's still quite eye-catching as you climb your way to the summit of La Veta Pass whiles lies at 9,437 ft:

Approaching La Veta Pass

Once I was across the pass, it was a downward ride to the small town of Walsenburg, CO where I planned to stay overnight. There was no way I'd make it all the way home to Denver before night fell and I was not up for riding in the dark and possibly icy I-25 super slab.
Ended up at a Best Western and easting fast food for dinner. Heck of a way to spend New Year's Eve I must admit. However, I am warm and fed as I write this. Saw some awesome mountain scenery and Natasha did wonderfully through the entire 8 hour, 327 miles worth of riding.
Once at the hotel, some troubleshooting found the problem with the ac/dc adapter I was using, I'll need to replace the fuse. Still have to work on the issue of heat generation though. Of course, it would have helped had I remembered to bring along my heated vest!
For those of you who remember that I am running a total loss electrical system vice using an alternator, I started the day at 12.8 volts, ended the day at 11.6 volts. I did swap out my regular headlamp with one that has a 4 watt parking light built in. I turned off the main headlamp bulb which burns at 45watts and used only the parking light to illuminate the headlamp to meet law requirements. It must have worked since I was seen by at least five different police cruisers throughout the day and they didn't even give me a second glance.
Really the regular 60/55 watt halogen headlamp I replaced is barely visible in full daylight so running with just the parking light didn't really increase my danger of not being seen. I've come to the realization that a. Natasha attracts the eye due to her being such an unusual vehicle and b. that at least for me, no matter how many lights I hang in front of me, cagers still don't see me.
Ride like your invisible and position yourself to be's working for me so far in terms of keeping me unharmed.
Again, Happy New Year to the faithful readers of this blog! I for one am glad this year is over with!

Here's some panoramic shots of a couple of the sights I already showed you:

Blanca Peak, about as close as I could get and still be on roads

Part of the Sangre de Cristo Mountain Range

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Snowy Sunset

Short post today due to a short ride. Spent most of the day providing computer support to someone remotely and it ate up all the daylight. Still, we got the stuff working so it was a good day.

I took my wife down to Parker to retrieve the minivan. She'd left it there when she had to do the driving of her friend's car, and all the kids, to the dentist when one of the friend's kids hit the diving board with his face. Some damage to one tooth apparently but it could have been much worse. In the ensuing chaos, Martha volunteered to drive while the mother tended to the boy.

Riding back from Parker after dropping my wife off, there was this beautiful sunset. Had to park really close to the edge of the road due to a narrow shoulder but the risk proved worth it:

Monday, December 28, 2009

Uraling to Squaw Pass

A bright and sunny day today here in Colorado with temperatures in the low 30s forecasted. I started off today's ride after running an errand in the Denver Tech Center. I headed west on Orchard Rd until it junctions with Broadway. Broadway Blvd I took northwards until I got to it's intersection with US285.

This is the usual main road I take to cross Denver and get into the gateway town of Morrison. It's a good location for a starting point for mountain rides. I tanked up and headed west on CO74 and through the three mile stretch of this road known as Bear Creek Canyon:

On Soda Lakes Rd, east of Morrison

Bear Creek Canyon

CO74 winds it's way into the mountain towns of Idledale, Kittredge and Evergreen and was mostly clear in terms of snow cover. Still, there were numerous stretches of ice and snow covered lanes not conducive for two-wheeled riding today. Since I was on my Ural Sidecar Rig, Natasha, this was not that big a concern.

At Evergreen, I stayed on CO74 as it made its way north towards Bergen Park, shortly before the city of Bergen Park one can take Squaw Pass Road aka CO103 towards CO5 which is the road up to the top of Mount Evans. It's currently closed for the season but I figured there would be the usual nice scenery on CO103.

The road up towards Echo Lake and CO5 was pretty much snow-covered with packed snow and lots of sand. Traction was good though and I kept a steady 25 mph all the way to Echo Lake, pulling over when the sporadic cager caught up with me to let them pass. I was, unlike the cagers, in no hurry.

I finally found the actual summit sign for Squaw Pass this time, you have to turn onto CO Rd 470 to get to it.

This is the view of the far off mountains from the summit of Squaw Pass

Typical road conditions on CO103 today, not too bad for the sidecar rig

Natasha and the mountains

Nearing the Echo Mountain Ski Area

Panoramic shot of the distant mountain ranges visible from CO103

Echo Lake

Once you get past Echo Lake, you start descending down the mountain towards the town of Idaho Springs. Road conditions improved a little bit but still plenty of snow and ice to keep everyone driving slowly around the many sharp curves and steep grades.

This is the large rock formation at the entrance to the West Chicago Creek Road or CO Rd 114

I turned off of CO103 here and explored CO Rd 114 to see how far I could get into the surrounding area. The road was dirt and easily doable until I got to the first hairpin turn. Then it became snow-packed and shortly afterwards I spotted a sign that said: "No Winter Maintenance". I kept going, past the second hairpin turn and things got a bit rougher. I then hit a stretch of soft snow which despite efforts to keep moving, finally stopped my forward progress.

Since I was alone, that was my stopping point for this trail. I slowly backed down the slight slope to a point where I could turn around:

That shaded stretch of trail in the background is as far as I was willing to go today, I'll have to come back some other day when the road is clear or with a fellow Uralista to see what lies at the end of this road.

I got back to CO103 and made my way down to Idaho Springs without any incident. The road was much clearer but still sported some ice patches in the shady areas. This road is not the best for motorcycling in the winter, unless you've a sidecar rig of course!

I got on eastbound I-70 at Idaho Springs for a few miles of highway riding in medium to heavy traffic. I successfully did the death-merge maneuver to exit onto US6 from I-70 and used US40, a two lane road, to make my way to the town of Bergen Park. My rig does not like doing more than 55 mph on flat ground, and has real difficulty achieving even that on the steep grades in this part of I-70.

From Bergen Park it was a virtual retracing of my outbound route, through Evergreen, Kittredge, and Idledale. Traffic was minimal, and road conditions while not really even close to optimal for regular motorcycles, was fine for my sidecar rig. I got to Morrison and made my way to US285 and from there into Denver and eventually my home neighborhoods. Over 120 miles of riding I think and about 7 hours in the saddle. Not too bad.

I did end up running the main battery down to 7.8 volts with all this riding though. I'd started the day at 11.8 volts and while the engine was fine, my headlight and driving lights were quite dim as I got home. Still, Natasha did great again today.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Post-Christmas on the South Platte River Road

I hope everyone had a great Christmas yesterday and that you got some riding in as well.

Today, there were no social engagements or plans. My sons were busy playing with their new toys and I was free to ride.

I headed out around 09:15 AM, taking Arapahoe Rd west across the bottom third of the Denver Metro Area until it junctions with Broadway Blvd. This I took south to County Line Rd, continuing west until it ends at US85. From there it was the usual 3 mile sprint on E-470 westbound until I got to the Wadsworth Blvd exit and the entrance to Deer Creek Canyon:

Looking west towards the entrance to Deer Creek Canyon, the gloomy overcast skies would give way to brilliantly clear skies later on in the day.

The roads in the city were slushy and messy with loose snow and ice, not a pleasant experience. Things got a little better once I was away from the main roads and on Deer Creek Canyon Rd. This road was "mostly" clear, mostly wet with occasional patches of snow in the shadows of the canyon walls. I cruised till I got to Deer Creek Rd which I took, making my way slowly up High Grade Rd and eventually climbing higher on Pleasant Park Rd till I got to the town of Conifer.

The roads higher up were mostly snow-covered, with packed snow and lots of sand/gravel dumped on them by the municipalities I transited through. No issues with traction, just having to pull over once in a while to let cagers zoom by. Note, I was keeping to the speed limit, but apparently snow is not something to slow down for in the minds of some of the cagers I saw today.

I tanked up at Conifer, checked in with the family and then headed to the next exit on US285, Foxton Road. Foxton Road was also pretty much snow-covered with stretches of wet looking pavement to break up the monotony. I stayed at or below the speed limit the whole way down to where it junctions with the South Platte River Road and becomes a dirt road.

As I did a few days ago, I continued on South Platte River Road to see what sights the recent snowfall had created for viewing:

The sun is starting to make its presence felt through the overcast skies, this and the picture below are near the junction of Foxton Rd and S. Platte River Rd.

A view of the cool ice formations covering the still moving S. Platte River

Under clear skies now, the color of the rocks really stood out with their snow covering making them look like big chocolate formations with white frosting on them

The bridge over the S. Platte River near the remains of the South Platte Hotel

Can you see the small bridge that leads to someone's mountain home?

At the start of the big boulder fields, some of which as you can see have come to rest in the river, if you look uphill, there's plenty more giant boulders waiting their turn to come crashing down some day.

The river bends almost in a U at this point due to this massive rock formation

Yep, the boulders I always take a picture of, not much snow remaining on them as they're quite exposed to the sunlight

At a parking lot near the junction of S. Platte River Rd and Douglas County Rd 67 aka Pine Creek Rd. That's the top of Scraggy Peak in the background.

It's almost 5 miles of twisting narrow roads and steep grades until you get to the settlement of Spruceview and the pavement begins again. Natasha had a bit of difficult gaining traction from the stopping point above but we made it up this and several other steep grades with no major issues.

The rest of the ride was on partially covered to fully covered with snow pavement all the way down to Jarre Canyon which was "interesting" in the way the remaining snow forced you into small narrow channels. Soon that was over with and I was in the town of Sedalia. From there it was US 85 to Castle Rock, Crowfoot Parkway to the town of Parker and Parker Rd all the way home to my home neighborhoods. I took Natasha over to a self-service carwash and washed the crud off of her.

The rest of the afternoon was spent replacing her oil filter and oil for both the engine, transmission and final drive. A bit early but there's a 10% chance, given current weather forecasts, that I might be riding her down to Arizona for New Years. More on that as the day comes closer.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Uraling through a White Christmas

The Denver Metro area and probably most of Colorado got itself a Snowy White Christmas....lots of opportunities for me to take Natasha, my '96 Ural Sidecar Rig, out for some fun filled rides on said snow.

On Christmas Eve, I spent most of the day with my sons and doing minimal riding. In fact, it was just a short ride for pictures and then taking my youngest son to the nearby sledding hill for him to do some racing down the snow covered icy hills.

A clear sunny day in the great snowy state of Colorado

A shot for the artistic amongst you

Can you see the multiple figure 8s I "carved" into the snowy parking lot at the high school?

Today, Christmas Day, after watching my sons unwrapped their many presents from Santa, and relaxing in the massager chair my loving wife got me....I set out to honor MikeD of the rounders' request for a donut video:

Video taken, I set off for a short ride to cul-de-sac hill as I will now call it, both for pictures and to see if Natasha could make it up the hill when it was covered with about 4 inches of snow!

Cul-de-Sac Hill's view of Downtown Denver and the Front Range Mountains

Natasha, in her natural habitat

Yep, we made it to the top....

I managed to get Natasha stuck, for the first time for both of us, at the crest of the hill above. Managed to find a spot that was deeper than six inches and her exhaust pipes were "floating" on the snow. This meant the rear tire was not in touch with the ground and so it spun uselessly.

No worries, I put her in neutral, and push/pulled her out of the hole she'd dug. Cleared the snow in front of her tires and fired her up. She got herself unstuck and pointed down the hill.

Now unstuck, ready for the downhill slide to flat ground

We basically slid/rolled our way down the hill with the brakes gently engaged. Got down just fine and headed for the barn and lunch. A nice little morning ride, I hope you all had a great Christmas!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

A ride in the snow to Bee Rock

Yesterday afternoon after lunch, I set out in the light snowfall and slushy main streets on Natasha again.

Temperatures ranged in the mid to high twenties I think. It really wasn't too bad. I headed down towards the town of Parker via Jordan Rd, then took Motsenberger Rd to Crowfoot Parkway and thence to the town of Castle Rock. Passing over the I-25 Super Slab, I got to US85 which I then took northbound towards the town of Sedalia.

The roads were mostly clear, just very wet with melting snow. Everything else not paved was covered in about an inch or two of snow. Not much really.

I got to Sedalia and turned on CO67 heading west towards Jarre Canyon. Just short of the canyon itself, I turned south on North Oak Valley Road, my objective was to take pictures of Bee Rock.

A snow covered forest trail near Daniels Park, enroute to Sedalia. My camera initially would not turn on, had to place the batteries on the engine's left jug to warm them up first! I kept the camera inside my riding jacket's liner after that to be able to shoot pictures.

Bee Rock, got there just in time for the sun to start peeking out between snow clouds

There was perhaps 4-6 inches of snow, tops, on the dirt road that goes past Bee Rock. Natasha handled the snow just fine I am pleased to add.

This is as far as I went, I probably would have been fine but didn't want to go deep into the trail without another Ural around to help me if I got into trouble. Any Uralistas in the Denver area interested in some riding when it snows?

Here's Natasha after she brought me home, safe and sound, note the ice accumulations on her!

As I was cleaning Natasha up, I found this cool collection of ice crystals which had formed on and within the sidecar's wheel

A rather enjoyable afternoon ride, perhaps 60 miles total. The only incident was one I came upon. There was a tow truck blocking the road on the way to Jarre Canyon. The operator was trying to pull a pickup truck that had gone into the ditch by the side of the road. Traffic was blocked both ways and we all sat and watched him try and pull the truck out of the ditch. He still had not succeeded after 15 minutes, but he moved the tow truck allowing the stacked up traffic to move once again.

The only parts of me which got cold were my fingers and heated grips on high cured that. My toes as well but moving them near the engine's jugs warmed them up quickly.

Note: I replaced the original photos of Bee Rock above with retouched versions which more accurately reflected the colors in evidence when I was there.