Saturday, December 15, 2012

The Rider and the Christmas Tree Mission


In a brief respite from what had been howling winter winds; the snowflakes landing on the tips of the rider's ears seemed loud in the momentary stillness of the darkness surrounding him.  The rider's sidecar rig's engine's pinged steadily as it cooled in the bitterly cold air and was the only other sound the rider could hear after having stopped the rig in a small clearing alongside the forest road he'd been using.

All around him, the rider could discern the dark shapes of tall pine trees, their branches heavily laden with wet snow from previous snow falls.  The road itself showed only the narrow tracks left by his sidecar rig as it had effortlessly carved them through the 4-5 inches of snow that had covered the road.

Donning his night vision goggles as the wind started to howl again, the rider walked forward, stealthily covering the remaining few hundred feet that stood between where he left his rig and the brightly lit compound in the middle of the Russian forest he'd infiltrated.  A quick glance at the luminous dial on his GPS equipped watch showed him at the right coordinates and nearing the right moment as planned.

At the edge of the forest, less than 50 feet from the security fence that guarded the compound, he found a spot to wait for when the changing of the guards would occur.  The thick snow kept falling, muffling all sounds and causing his bated breath to appear ghostlike before his eyes.

As he waited, the rider replayed in his mind the rush he'd experienced as he'd stepped off the cargo ramp of the Hercules C-130 aircraft less than an hour ago.  The roaring blast of the wind as he entered the violent air stream left by the aircraft and the brief tumble before the rip cord had yanked his parachute out and it deployed, slowing down his fall.

The sound of the C-130 fading fast, it had then become instantly still as he hung in the dark sky, slowly descending towards the snow covered field where his sidecar rig already had landed with the aid of its own parachutes.  Less than ten minutes after his own landing, the rig had been freed from its parachute rigging and the rider had ridden the rig out of the landing zone and into the dark forest around it.

The rider had located the narrow forest road right where his mission briefing had placed it and he'd made good progress in spite of the deep loose snow and the lack of lights.  His night vision goggles had allowed the rider to see the road and avoid the treacherous ditches on both sides of it as he motored along with no lights showing, his engine noise barely noticeable thanks to the custom mufflers.

He'd found that there was a thick layer of ice under the fresh snow, which had caused him to engage the rig's 2WD functions; allowing his rig's spiked tires to forge forward under some degree of control.  His helmet's visor with its heads up directional display had taken him through a labyrinth of turns in the dark forest's spiderweb of logging roads; allowing the rider to focus on ensuring no detection of his travels.

Returning to the present, the rider looked back and saw that his footprints had already been covered by the falling snow and he relaxed slightly knowing his rig's narrow tracks in the snow would also soon disappear as well under the fresh snow.

The rider's eyes methodically scanned the perimeter fencing of the compound, noting the guard tower to the north of him, approximately 250 feet away from where he rested.  The portion of the fence in front of the rider was between two pools of light from overhead security lights.  He could see the bored looking guard, shuffling about the small guard platform, trying to ward off the cold of the Russian winter night.  The rider saw the sentry's cigarette's glow briefly,  lighting the young soldier's face as he inhaled strongly, the smoke issuing from his lips as he exhaled.

As midnight approached, the rider heard the clanking of leather and metal together as a line of four soldiers walked along the inside of the fence, AK-47 rifles on their shoulders, towards the guard tower.   The guard on the tower noticed the line of men approaching also and straightened his posture, appearing to be actively watching out towards the dark as he was supposed to be doing.

The floodlights from the guard tower illuminated the faces of the advancing soldiers, he heard their sergeant call out harshly to the man in the tower and heard the guard acknowledge.  The rider could see the men impatiently shifting about as they waited for the sergeant of the guard to go through the familiar ritual of the changing of the guard.  In the cold and wind, the rider well knew that the soldiers wanted nothing more than to be able to get inside and warm again.

As soon as the guard started climbing down the guard tower's metal ladder, which was slick with ice and snow, the rider sprang silently from his hiding spot and headed directly for the fence line.  He knew all the soldiers' attention would be on their compatriots uneasy descent down that ladder.  Some of the recalling how dangerous it could be, some wondering how funny it would be to see the guy fall off perhaps....

Reaching the fence, his body almost invisible courtesy of his snow covered riding gear, the rider swiftly cut a small hole in the fence line with wire cutters.  The rider crawled through the hole and found himself a spot in the shadows of a nearby building.

From his new hiding place, the rider watched as soldiers retreated towards their barracks, their muffled footsteps fading away, to be replaced the sounds of the new guard moving about the tower, settling in for what the guard probably believed would be another boring shift.

The rider moved slowly but steadily towards the center of the compound and his objective.  Arriving at the shed near the compound's motor pool, he peered into the shed's small window.  He dimly saw the tree, packaged for delivery leaning against a bench.  It was slated for delivery to the home of  the Russian Prime Minister in the morning.  He'd been briefed the tree had bright red tips at the ends of its needles and that it was unique in that regard.  There were no lights in the nearby buildings as expected and the rider was able to pry the shed's door open with little effort and no noise.

Inside, the rider hefted the wrapped tree onto his broad shoulders and retraced his steps back towards the perimeter fence.  Glancing towards the guard tower to the north, he waited until the guard had finished his periodic walk around his platform and once again faced away from him, protecting his face from the cold winter winds and the blowing snow that was still falling.

The stiff wind howling in his ears, the rider moved with his tree and used the hole he'd cut before as his exit point after having lofted the packaged tree over the fence, its fall completely muffled by the deep snow on the other side.

As he gained the shelter of the dark forest's edge, the rider once again looked back towards the tower and let out of small sigh of relief when no alarm came from that quarter.  Moving quicker now, though slightly burdened by the tree on his shoulder, the rider made his way back to his sidecar rig.

Quickly brushing off the accumulated snow from his rig, he deftly stowed the tree into the sidecar's rider compartment and lashed it down firmly.  He pushed his rig free of the accumulated snow around it and started the engine. The rig's rear and sidecar wheels spun briefly before they gained traction and launched the rig onto the forest road.  The rider wrestled the handlebars as he gained control and pointed the rig away from the compound.

Looking in his rear view mirrors, he could see twin plumes of snow being thrown up by his rig as he sped away from the compound.  The rider opened up the throttle even more once he'd gained some distance and the now muted roar of his engine was music to his ears as he fought to keep the rig in the middle of the road as it plowed through the deep snow.

Successfully negotiating the labyrinth of logging roads again thanks to his helmet's heads up display, the rider soon found a paved road leading towards the south.  He threw the hidden switch which enabled his rig's riding lights and headlight and was soon motoring along the deserted road, looking from a distance like just another Russian sidecar rig out at night.

A few minutes later, the rider was briefly startled when he heard a soft beeping start sounding in the speakers built into his motorcycle helmet.  The rider began to actively scan the skies around him.  He soon spotted the small lights flying to the south of his direction of travel and he enabled his rig's transponder.  He could picture the blinking display in what he knew was a special operations UH-60 helicopter, now blinking madly and highlighting his location to the aircraft's pilot's heads up display.

The rider saw he'd reached the stretch of road that was about three miles long and straight as an arrow.  As he rode, the rider reached down to lift and engage the special mechanism attached to his sidecar's subframe.  It lifted with oiled precision and at his upward push, engaged and locked into a triangular framework with a cargo lift steel eyelet at its apex, about a foot above the head of the rider.

The rider then noticed in the far distance behind him red flashing lights; he assumed they had to be police or military patrol cruisers heading towards him at high speed.  Engaging his helmet's night vision visor, he turned off his rig's lights as next he felt a strong blast of cold air from above. The UH-60 helicopter positioned itself above him as the rig sped along at a steady 25 mph.  The pressure of the air blasting down from the helicopters rotor blades made it an effort to reach up towards the cargo hook he knew was attached to the infrared chem light stick he now saw being lowered down to him from the helicopter.

Having engaged his cruise control, the rig maintained a steady speed in the darkness as the rider used his left hand to guide the rig and his right to try and catch the cargo hook swinging wildly on the cable from the helicopter.  The rider could see the approaching curve in the road in the distance and knew he was running out of time and space.

Three times the rider reached out and failed to grasp the chem light, the lights from the police cruisers were much closer now and he could see by the lights of the trail vehicles that it was indeed military police vehicles, with soldiers positioned in a hatch through the vehicle's roof, manning light machine guns.

Less than a quarter mile away from the curve and its forested roadside, the rider stretched out his right arm one more time and to his relief grasped the chem light and its cargo hook firmly.  In a swift and practiced motion, he slammed the open end of the hook onto the cargo eyelet of his rig's deployed framework and heard the satisfyingly loud thunk of the hook locking onto the eyelet.

He quickly engaged his riding jacket's belt onto welded-on anchor points on his rig.  He knew his anchoring the helicopter's cargo hook to the rig had started automated lift sequence on the part of the helicopter's winch and he braced for what he knew was coming.

The rig was suddenly and violently jerked into the air, its wheels still spinning and barely clearing the tops of the trees by the roadside. He felt the rig deploy a small Kevlar covered tail assembly from the rear of the sidecar, this helped stabilize what had been wild gyrations of his rig as it was lifted into the air.  The rider was then able to slightly relax his grip and look down and behind him at the ground.

The rider smiled widely in his helmet as he saw the pursuing lights of the Russian military police continue on the road, still thinking he was somewhere in front of them.  The wind blasted at him strongly enough to sweep him from the rig he knew and he thankfully patted the anchor points securing his jacket to the rig.

The dark countryside flashed by underneath him, mostly snow covered and with brief pools of light showing the location of small villages.  The cold winter air blasting at him was beginning to penetrate the several layers of warm clothing the rider wore; even as his helmet's location display stated they'd crossed the border and were flying out into the Baltic Sea.

Soon enough, he glimpsed on the horizon, a large ship's cruising lights.  As they neared, the rider could see the Stars and Stripes flying from her yardarm and he knew it was the USS Essex, a Wasp Class helicopter carrier designed to support a Marine Corps' Expeditionary Unit's air arm.  The helicopter vectored onto the Essex and soon the rider felt his rig's wheels thump softly onto the Essex's deck, the helicopter remotely released the cargo hook and flew away into the night.  Crewmen rapidly approached and pushed the rider and his rig closer to the Essex's control tower and secured it to the deck.

The rider stiffly freed himself from his rig and slowly stepped off onto the Essex's deck.  He brushed off the layers of ice from his riding gear and took a deep breath as he removed his helmet.  The sea air, bitter cold as it was, felt fine in the nostrils of the rider, for he knew he'd once again accomplished his mission.  The special tree would soon be airlifted once again, this time aboard a Marine Corps Harrier Jump Jet, its final destination a military hospital ward of wounded military members recovering from wounds inflicted in the ongoing fighting in Afghanistan.

Later, as he sat in the Essex's officer's wardroom, a steaming hot cup of coffee in his hands; the rider thought it had been a highly successful trial of his rig's special equipment and his training.  The real mission would be scheduled soon enough he thought, and in his mind's eye he was once again riding his rig through snow bound roads in deepest darkness....his objective this time not a special tree but a special woman.


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The story, is partly inspired from a talk I had today with Jack Riepe.  Hey Jack, is this what you meant by "tell the story"?  I am quite happy to relay the news that his book "Conversations with a Motorcycle" is selling well, my review of this book is here: LINK.

Hope you enjoyed the above tale, it flashed into my mind as I rode home today after having gone to the local big box hardware store to pick out our family's first real Christmas tree.  You see, we'd always just used a fake one before and now both Martha and the boys wanted to experience the real thing this Christmas.

This task at hand was right up Valencia's alley.  It was my Ural Patrol sidecar rig that I chose to carry the tree home:

Christmas Tree Hauling Duty, no problem.

I hope the story briefly took your mind off the school shooting tragedy in Connecticut yesterday.  Such a horrific event,  Martha and I hope the families involved find some peace as they and the nation grieve the loss of their loved ones.  

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

12/12/12 12:12

As the last instance of consecutive date numerals that this author will see in his lifetime, I give you a picture of my Ural Patrol on the occurrence of 12/12/12 12:12 PM.


Though there's still some snow/ice in the neighborhood streets, the main streets are clear and dry.  Temperature during the ride to the high school sign was a balmy 50°F!  I was almost overheating in my riding gear.

Sunday, December 09, 2012

Looking for Snow near the Peak to Peak Highway

The weather guessers had predicted about two inches of snow accumulation for today, with the snow starting on Saturday night.  We woke instead to what looked like just of dusting of snow in my neighborhood which is located SE of the Denver Metro Area.  Quite a disappointing showing I must say.

Still, it was Sunday and while the temperatures weren't expected to get above freezing, it was time to get out and seek out some now.  The cameras at cotrip.org had shown promising pictures of snow covered roadways to the NW of the Denver Metro Area and that's where I headed aboard Valencia, my 2011 Ural Patrol Sidecar Rig.  I also had the snow chains onboard in her trunk, I wanted to try them out if I found some good enough snow to provide iffy traction.

I crossed the metro area using US285 and reached the town of Morrison with no issue, the temperature when I got to the Red Rocks Park was in the high teens but it didn't feel cold with my heated grips on high and several layers of clothing on me!

The snow levels at Red Rocks Park proved dissapointing as well, perhaps an inch, tops.  Still, there were but a handful of cagers there so it was like having the park to myself as I rode about posing Valencia.







I did not tarry long at Red Rocks Park, Valentia and I were soon motoring northwards on CO93, heading towards Golden.  Not much to report on road conditions, there were quite dry as one approached the city limits of Golden in fact.  We stayed on CO93 past Golden, wondering where all the snow was, and soon were turning West onto CO72 and the Coal Creek Canyon Road towards the town of Wondervu.

The road stayed dry until I approached Wondervu, then it started getting ice packed and snow packed in spots and long stretches.  This slowed my speed some but no matter as I wasn't going that fast to start with; neither were the cagers that either passed me going East or the ones that caught up with me and I let pass.

I passed by the diner on the side of the road in Wondervu and watched this toddler jumping up and down by the window pointing at me excitedly.  I waved back at her and continued on past the remaining buildings in this smalltown.  Negotiating the tight hairpin turns that followed, I spotted a nice point to pose Valencia and u-turned onto it.

The most snow-capped peaks I saw all day.

I made my way down from Wondervu slowly, and soon crossed through the small town of Pinecliffe where one crosses some railroad tracks; tracks that I believe lead towards to the Moffat Tunnel that pierces the Continent Divide.

Soon I was at the junction with the Peak to Peak Highway and turned South towards Rollinsville.  After a short while, I made a stop at the border of Gilpin County, and took the usual picture of the lake.  It's now frozen over of course but still quite scenic.


Temperatures at this point where in the low teens to single digits at times.  Quite brisk, you might say.  I continued onwards to Rollinsville and upon reaching that settlement turned West onto Tolland Road.  This road leads one towards the eastern end of the Moffat Railroad Tunnel and also to the turnoff for Rollins Pass Road.  Tolland Road was snow covered and packed down, though it wasn't much snow at points, it did make for a scenic ride towards the Continental Divide.  

It was overcast and spitting snow as I rode towards the tunnel so didn't stop for pictures.  You cross over the railroad tracks about three times I seem to recall and the snow accumulations at these crossing made for some fun riding.  As I approached the tunnel, the tight turns and larger amounts of loose snow caused me to engage the 2WD on Valencia.  There was still a bit of fishtailing in points but for the most part 2WD gave me the traction I wanted.  I made it to the parking lot near the tunnel entrance with no further issues.


At this point, it was time to install eight snow chains onto Valencia's pusher tire to see how they held up and worked.  It took about fifteen minutes of work, so not too long a time to be without gloves or helmet.  I got back onboard Valencia and slowly started eastward away from the tunnel entrance.

At the junction with Rollins Pass Road


I stopped a couple of times to check the fit and tightness of the chains and all was well!  I passed a couple of alpine skiers on the snow-covered road and we waved at each other in amusement.  I kept the chains on all the way to the first railroad crossing after leaving the tunnel area.

The tail end of one of the four trains I saw today

I set up a tripod and the Panasonic camera in video mode to record me crossing over this railroad crossing where the snow had gotten mounded up pretty well and was quite loose.  I'd felt the pusher tire try and slide out from under me when I crossed it beforehand so it would be a good test of the tire chains.

I picked this crossing as I had a clear and long view of the tracks and could ascertain no train was approaching with time to spare.  Sunday must be the time for trains as I saw four separate trains within the space of one hour!


Once I was done filming, I retrieved and stored all the gear and headed on back towards Rollinsville, enjoying a sedate pace on the snow-packed road.  I was between snow clouds apparently so I stopped for a bit in a sunlit portion of the road to enjoy the relative warmth.


Soon though it was time to dive into the snow fog that had enveloped the settlement of Tolland.  The skies got overcast once again and the sun was but a vague glow overhead.

Just before I entered the snow fog


It "felt" colder in the snow fog, the temperatures were in the single digits.  I think it was at this stretch of road that I saw the coldest reading of the day: a brisk 3.3°F.

As I approached the settlement of Rollinsville, I stopped by this small bridge to try and capture a view of the mostly frozen over river.


Continuing on, I spied my last train with its lengthy line of cars as I crested a small hill.  I guess it was waiting its turn to go through the Moffat Tunnel.


Once I arrived at Rollinsville, I turned South on the Peak to Peak Highway and reached the town of Blackhawk after a few miles.  Not much foot traffic in town, and I didn't see a lot of cars either.  The traffic though, picked up once I exited Blackhawk heading towards Golden.

For most of the way, the riding was nice and slow as there were some nervous cagers taking it easy on the tight curves that form CO119 and later US6 on the way to Golden.  Once the roads dried up though, the pace picked up and Valencia and I kept up mostly.  I can honestly say we met the speed limit at least and were not proving a delaying factor.  Whoever was in the cage behind me, keeping a nice and safe following distance the whole way to Golden, my thanks!

The rest of the ride was basically reversing the route I'd taken out of the metro area.  Temperatures soared into the teens as I left the mountains behind and entered the city.  I got home after almost six hours in below freezing temperatures no worse for wear.  Ironically, the only time I had the shivers was AFTER I'd taken off my riding gear and entered the house!  Weird huh?

So, not much snow, but enough to test out the chains.  Cold temperatures, some issues with my snow helmet which I must address but otherwise some great riding.



Saturday, December 08, 2012

Stapleton Airport's Tower, Then and Now

A mild day here in the great state of Colorado.  The weather guessers are calling for up to two inches of snow for the Denver Metro area tomorrow but I have my doubts.

I was meeting with fellow Uralista Tim L to deliver some items to him and he picked the Dick's Sporting Goods Sports Park near the junction of 56th Street and Valentia Drive.  I got there just a few minutes before Tim did and found him easily enough.

Items delivered, he and I chatted for a bit.  Before long though we'd said our goodbyes and he headed back north towards Longmont and I headed south for a bit to the site of the old Stapleton Airport's Control tower.  Stapleton Airport was Denver's main airport before it was decommissioned and Denver International Airport took its place.



The sprawling international airport that was Stapleton is no more.  Little remains of the large complex except for short segments of runway and of course, today's riding destination, the airport's control tower.

I was riding Brigitta, my 1987 R80 BMW Airhead today, as the weather was really nice though the temperature was only in the low 50s.  The sun was out and it made this mild fall/winter season we'd been having a rider's dream.  I was trying to replicate two photographs I'd found via Google, under the Then and Now motif.

source: Google
Stapleton International Airport circa 1980s

Stapleton Airport's Control Tower, 2012

Stapleton Airport, judging by the parked cars, circa 1960s?

Stapleton Airport Control Tower, 2012

Some more shots I found via Google, giving you a look at the airport back in its heyday:


 Source: Airliners.net
Back in the day, one of Stapleton's runways crossed over the I-70 highway.
It must have caused congestion, each time a big aircraft like the one above crossed
the highway!

Another view of the control tower, when it was in active service.
source: aviationphotographs.net

All around the tower today, it is new housing composed of single family homes and apartment complexes.  All new looking and tastefully done for the most part.  The city's Central Park is located near the tower as well for local residents.

I rode home in dropping temperatures as the sun sank closer and closer to the horizon.  It was in the mid-40s as I entered the garage, so maybe it'll get cold enough overnight to create snow....if there's enough moisture in the clouds that I saw lining the tops of the front range mountains to the west of Denver.