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


Micah said...

Happy New Year!!

Mike said...

Wow, very interesting read. You are one adventurous guy. The photos are great with the long shots on lonely highways. Stay safe and hope you have a warmer ride tomorrow and on the trip home. Have a good New Year.

indigoid said...

The places you ride through have consistently stunning scenery. In a lot of places it looks like you've parked the beloved Natasha in front of a huge painting of mountains. Amazing stuff.

Ride safe :-) and have a great 2010

irondad said...

Once again the sickness manifests itself. Most normal people reading this post would react by being thankful it wasn't them.

I, however, have suddenly made a resolve for 2010 to find more taxing adventures. You are a good bad example!

By the way, it was interesting in your last post the way you phrased
"hit the diving board with his face". Sounds pretty aggressive!

Chris Luhman said...

Beautiful pictures of the mountains! Happy new year!

JB said...

Regarding the mountain you said you couldn't find info on that you see as you go along La Veta pass, that's Mt. Mestas, or "Baldy" to the locals.