The Great Sand Dunes: Lessons in cornering, sand, and stream crossings

Recently, as Motoman and I watched the evening news, we learned that Medano Creek in Colorado’s Great Sand Dunes was running at record highs.  I looked at him and declared that we had to go see it for ourselves.  We’d taken our daughter to the Sand Dunes as a little girl and had such fond family memories.  With that, a vague plan was formed to ride dual sport motorcycles the following weekend to the Great Sand Dunes and camp on a mountain top.  My only stipulation to Motoman was that we spend only one long day on the backroads either going there or returning home, but not both.

We departed on the dual sport motorcycles Saturday morning heading south from Arvada to Sedalia, via the big concrete slab.  After turning west at Sedalia, it was a mix of dirt and gravel roads for the next 134 miles to Salida.  The open roads presented ample opportunity for practicing cornering at speed… or “speed” in my case.  Motoman is so fullsizeoutput_4d42much faster than I will ever be on a motorcycle.  I’ll be forever grateful to him for riding in front of me to illustrate technique and for riding behind me to speak technique into my ears and guide me through corners via the Sena device broadcasting within my helmet.  There were enough miles and curves between here and Denver, that I believe the technique may have finally stuck.  My struggle with technique on the dual sport has been the simple fact that I ride so much.  I ride a road bicycle, a mountain bicycle, a cyclocross bicycle, a street motorcycle, and a dual sport motorcycle.  Each of these has a specific technique based on the terrain.  Using the wrong technique on the wrong bike on the wrong terrain can have disastrous results.  And truthfully, sometimes it’s hard to remember which technique to use because I forget which bike I’m on.

After all this fun cornering practice and dinner in Salida, we finally made our way to the Great Sand Dunes rather late in the day.  The original plan was to frolic in the creek and camp along Medano Creek Primitive road in the Preserve as we had done so many times years before.  This requires passing through a substantial sand pit to get there. In the past, we had done this in a 4WD vehicle.  On this trip, we would be passing through this sand pit on dual sport motorcycles.fullsizeoutput_4d45

Have I mentioned that I don’t like riding through sand?  It is second only to my dislike for riding through deep mud puddles.  I’m told that the technique to utilize when riding through deep sand on a dual sport motorcycle (or cyclocross bike) is to weight the back wheel and lighten the front wheel so that it sort of floats through the sand.  I found that by placing my body weight on the seat of my dual sport and pulling on the throttle led to a whole lot of nothing. I’m sure this technique works great for motorcycles with more aggressive tires than what I was using.  In order to move forward, I had to essentially ride my motorcycle like a stryder bicycle for kids  through deep sand.  I’m so proud to report that I made it through that sand pit and only dropped the bike a handful of times.  At least the landing was soft and I was able to pick the motorcycle up myself and carry on.

We soon found ourselves in the dark and at a place where we had to make the first of a series of deep stream crossing, or turn back and struggle through all that sand again.  As I sat on a log and waited for Motoman to return from scouting out the road ahead on the other side of the creek, a camper, AKA “Ranger Dude”, from a nearby campsite approached.  He informed me we could not camp where we had temporarily parked the motorcycles.  He went on to say he had seen 2 jeeps attempt the water crossing in front of us and turn back.  I honestly don’t know why he felt compelled to offer this unsolicited commentary.  I told him we were scouting out the situation and would not be camping there – especially if it meant we would be next to his unhelpful soul.

When Motoman returned,  we considered our options and agreed that continuing east on Medano Pass road and putting as much distance between us and Ranger Dude was our best option. It was dark. We were tired. We just wanted to set up camp and go to sleep. We’d lost count of how many water crossing there were, but our best guess is 10.  We made camp high on a mountain top, saw the spectacular milky way, and had an unrestful night’s sleep.

The next morning we awoke to birds chirping and not another soul in sight  As we continued east, we encountered maybe 5 additional water crossing that continued to get deeper and deeper. At each of the crossings, one or both of us would dismount and wade through the water to figure out the shallowest path through.  We were also checking for rocks or any debris that might create a hazard.  On the deepest of the crossings, we removed pannier bags from Motoman’s KTM and walked bikes through the water on the shallowest path.  Water was hip high on my small frame at its deepest.  Finally, the earth began to drop away as the descent began; the water was finally behind us.  Eventually, we made it to Colorado Highway 69, which is probably the smoothest stretch of road I have ever encountered.  It was smooth sailing until I ran out of gas a half mile from the Shell Station in Westcliffe.

Remember at the beginning of this story when I mentioned that the reason for this trip was due to the record high levels of Medano Creek in the Sand Dunes?  We’re still trying to figure out how two reasonably intelligent adults failed to consider that the ENTIRE creek would be running fast and high, not just the section in the Sand Dunes.  The road is now closed at the very first crossing due to high and fast water as the Spring thaw continues.

Click here to see our route via a relive video.

IMG_3684IMG_3681IMG_3678

Tour of the Moon – A Ride Review

Tour of the Moon – A Ride Review

I have ridden in a fair number of cycling events, such as the Triple Bypass, the Yellowstone Cycle Tour, and the Copper Triangle.  While each of these events has it’s own unique characteristics that have the potential to lure me back for a second ride, the only cycling event I’ve done twice is the Icon Tour of the Moon.  The ride starts and finishes in Grand Junction, Colorado each fall.

The ride organizers have conveniently created two registration options for riders.  The first option is the Classic Loop from Grand Junction through the Colorado National Monument and back to Grand Junction for a total of 41 miles.  The other option consists of the Classic Loop plus an additional ~20 miles through the farmlands around Fruita and then returning to Grand Junction. The result is a metric century ride or 62 miles.  When my friend was asking which option we should register for, I described it as the pretty part that you’re paying for vs. the afterthought.

What I mean by that is one lane of Rim Rock Drive (the main road through the Colorado National Monument) is closed to non-ride event traffic during the ride.  This means that you only have to lookout for oncoming vehicles, and most of those are SAG vehicles or motos anyway.  This makes for a fantastic way to experience such a majestic place!  In exchange for your quiet riding pleasure, all that is required is lights on your bicycle.  Folks, it just doesn’t get any better than this!  After exiting the Colorado National Monument, you have the option to return immediately to Grand Junction or take the tour around Fruita.  While the country roads offer their own charm and views of the Grand Mesa Book Cliffs, the scenery in the Colorado National Monument is hard to beat.  The race organizers have created a segment of road called the “King/Queen of the Flats” to add some excitement to the metric century portion of the ride.

All ride entry fees include a jersey and post-ride lunch.  The lunch is typically salad, pasta, and desert.  The aid stations throughout the ride are very well stocked with fluids, bagels, cookies, fruit, trail mix, and energy bars.  The volunteers are friendly and helpful.  Law enforcement is attentive.  Overall, if the weather cooperates, this ride is a wonderful way to cap the cycling season.

20180929_101630

20th Wedding Anniversary Adventure Ride

20th Wedding Anniversary Adventure Ride

As our 20th wedding anniversary approached, Motoman and I talked about all the different options we had to commemorate our special day.  We could throw a big party.  We could spend a quiet weekend somewhere special.  We could include family.  Ultimately, we decided to mark the occasion with a motorcycle ride.  We were already planning to drive to Kimberley, British Columbia in late June to pick up our daughter from school.  We decided to add on to that trip by bringing our motorcycles with us and taking a 4-5 day tour around Alberta and British Columbia, sticking primarily to gravel and logging roads.  We’d spend the night wherever we ended up on any given day.

Day 1 – Kimberley, BC > Banff, Alberta

We departed from Kimberley mid-morning under overcast skies.  The planned route was to take logging and Canadian Forest Service roads northeast from Kimberley to Banff.  However, within the first two hours, we encountered our first road block.  The road we planned to take was blocked and closed for “eco-system regrowth”.  This meant a detour to our route, and that more of the day would be spent riding on paved roads rather than dirt.  In the process of finding our way through the forest, we ended up on top of a mountain.  The clouds parted just IMG_0033long enough for us to snap a few pictures.  This was one of the funnest days of riding because we crossed numerous streams and mud puddles, saw bears, deer, and places that many Canadians probably haven’t seen.  The route went from Kimberley on Highway 95 to Wasa Lake Provincial Park >  Canal Flats > Kootenay National Park > Banff.  After dinner in Banff we  spent our first night at Two Jack Lakeside Campground.  The views did not disappoint.IMG_0036

Day 2 – Banff Area Touring

We packed up our camp and rode to Lake Louise.  After taking the obligatory selfies, we hopped back on the motorcycles and went to the Moraine Lake road, which was blocked to traffic.  While cars were turned away, we were waived through and had a very traffic free ride to Moraine Lake.  Next, we took the Trans-Canadian Highway west to Highway 93 AKA Icefields Parkway.  We rode north on Highway 93 to the Columbia Ice Field. By the time we arrived at the Visitor’s Center, the sleet was coming down hard and fast.  We had hoped to make it to Jasper and camp overnight, but we both agreed that the weather simply was not cooperating.  We turned around and went back to the Banff area in search of  a campsite.  We got lucky and ended up sharing a site with a young French man making his way across Canada on foot.

The route went from Two Jack Lakeside Campground > Lake Louise > Moraine Lake > Columbia ice field > Lake Louise Campground

Day 3 – Lake Louise, AB > Trout Lake, BC

It was time to start heading West and making our way toward Kimberley.  We took the Trans-Canadian Highway from Lake Louise to Revelstoke.  Most of the day was spent riding in the rain, so we stopped and warmed up in one of many hot springs along the way.  After lunch in Revelstoke, we turned onto a logging road.  It wasn’t long before we came upon a small fallen tree.  We made it over this first tree and the second fallen tree without any trouble.  The third tree was much larger and we paused for a discussion about the obstacle.  I learned on this ride when someone asks the question “what’s the worst that could happen?” It’s important to really give that question the thoughtful reflection it deserves.  I also learned that Aspen trees are extremely slippery and do not behave at all like the dried up pine logs motorcyclists typically practice riding over.  (I hope someday to be allowed to write more about this because it will be a good read!) We decided that 3 downed trees within the first half mile probably meant for a LOT more further down the road.  We turned around and headed back to the paved road.  Due to IMG_0029the numerous lakes and mountains in British Columbia, ferries are part of the highway
system.  As we sat and waited for the ferry, we spoke with the worker on duty.  She mentioned a severe wind storm and passed through the area just a couple of days before and had likely blown down the trees we encountered.  Eventually they would be cleared, but other roads take priority over the logging roads.  It was getting later in the day and she recommended we make our way to Trout Lake for the night.  We found a secluded and beautiful campsite on the lake shore for our IMG_0032anniversary.

The route went from Lake Louise > Revelstoke > Shelter Bay > Trout Lake

 

 

Day 4 – Trout Lake to Kimberley

Our last day of riding and finally the weather was warming up.  We made our way down a fun and winding road along Kootenay Lake and stopped for brunch in Kaslo.  After ferrying across the lake in Balfour, we took Gray Creek Road to Kimberley.  All in all, we rode approximately 800 miles over four days.

Other Lessons learned:

Motorcycles are allowed to do things cars are not because they are badass, at least according to Motoman. For example, boarding and exiting ferries first (despite the sign that says motorcycles do NOT get special treatment), closer parking (because you can fit in little spaces), taking roads closed to cars, just to name a few.

People are more impressed with a KTM 1290 than a Yahama XT250; I’m not sure why that would be.

Things don’t always go according to plan; be flexible.

Gear used:

Yamaha xt250

Arai Helmet

Olympia jacket with two removable liners

Mountain Hardware monkey fur fleece

Klim gloves, pants, hydration system

Dainese boots

Mom’s silk scarf

Wildlife seen:

Deer

Bears

mountain goats

ticks

IMG_0039

Anniversary treats in Kaslo

IMG_0038

Trout Lake BC – the perfect place to camp!

The Ride When I learned a Skill After I Needed it

Riding from our house in Arvada, Colorado to the Rampart Range located in the Pike-San Isabel Forest just southwest of Castle Rock was one of longest distances I’ve ridden on my little Yamaha XT-250, AKA Dory.   The round trip (including the trails we rode) was approximately 120 miles.  After some discussion, Motoman and I decided to ride there because of the diversity of trails in the system and unlikelihood for mud.  It had snowed a couple of days before and we were hopeful that it would not be muddy.   It turns out that the OHV trails at Rampart Range are very similar to the mountain bike trails at Buffalo Creek in that they are covered with granite pebbles and sand, which tends to keep the mud to a minimum.

When we arrived at the Rampart Range Staging parking lot, I was surprised at how many vehicles were in the lot.  I became nervous about how many other riders I would encounter along a trail and how I would maneuver my motorcycle to share the trail.  Mountain bikes are so much lighter!  When Motoman asked me which trail I wanted to ride first, I picked a beginner trail, of course!  It was a twisty path through the forest with the occasional water puddle.  The trail was fairly smooth and the most common obstacle was tree roots, which are slippery when wet. It was an uneventful ride until we came to a 40 foot section of rocks on a downhill where I completely lost control of the motorcycle.  I had stood up for the descent and when I reached for the rear brake with my right toes, all I got was air.  I bounced down the trail, afraid to touch the front break for fear I’d go over the bars.  I had a death grip on the clutch and bars.  By the time I thought to release the clutch to slow down, I was at the bottom of the hill and came to an easy stop.  I don’t know how I didn’t crash.  We encountered only two other riders on this trail, despite that full parking lot.

The trail ended and we found ourselves on the Rampart Range dirt road, which travels through the heart of the trail system.  It was here that Motoman taught me the rear brake  skid technique.  It works like this: get your speed up to about 15 MPH, pull in the clutch, let off the throttle, and step on the rear brake hard enough to skid.  We practiced this over and over, eventually seeing who could leave the longest skid mark on the dirt road. I wish we’d had this session before that first trail!! [Sidebar: now I understand why Motoman is constantly buying new tires.]

The next trail we did was still relatively smooth, but much muddier and hence slipperier.  The climbs and the descents were also steeper.  We found a beautiful rock formation and stopped for a snack and pictures.  On this trail, we encountered only two other riders.

It seems every time I ride the motorcycle, I learn something new.  This ride offered three valuable lessons. First, the skidding lesson has already proven to be a valuable addition to the toolbox.  I used it non-stop for the second trail we rode that day.  Second, I don’t like riding in mud.  Third, speed is helpful.  If I’d applied the brakes during the rocky section in the first trail, I suspect I would have gone so much slower that I would have crashed.  The fact that I took that section at speed kept me from getting a wheel hung up on a rock.  I’ve replayed that section in my mind a number of times since the ride itself, and words from my fearless daughter keep coming to mind:

“Sometimes you just gotta give it gas and hang on.”

45763045-0159-4908-9A75-22A162644A51

Finding Dory

Long ago when I met Motoman ~ circa 1997 ~ he was riding a crotch rocket style motorcycle. He was into big adventures. Our weekends consisted of rock climbing in the mornings and jet skiing in the afternoons. Mountain biking was thrown into the mix between all the other fun activities. A few years later, along came Sierra and farewell went that motorcycle. He lasted about ten years without a motorcycle.

When he got back on the motorcycle, his focus turned to dual-sport riding with the kind of motorcycle built for riding on roads and dirt alike. His adventures became more exciting as he traveled to far away places.  Sierra and I would look and listen with awe at his pictures and stories. It wasn’t long before Sierra presented us with half the money necessary to purchase her own motorcycle. Together they rode off and returned with beautiful pictures taken from mountaintops across Colorado and memories that will last a lifetime.   I came to realize it would be impossible to visit many of these places on my mountain bike; and, more importantly, that I was missing out on some fantastically adventurous family time. This became particularly evident on a family trip to Lake City, Colorado.

After returning home from Lake City, the search began for a dual-sport style motorcycle that would fit under my short legs. The choices were few and far between. To top it off, I wasn’t willing to pay for a new motorcycle that I knew would likely take a beating as I learned how to trail ride. We finally got a phone call in May of 2016 that a motorcycle had arrived at Motorado that just might work. I quickly snatched it up since there weren’t any others to choose from.

I’m pleased to introduce Dory aka Little Bluey. You can find her in the picture below. Since I started this blog back in 2014, the posts have been about bike rides, bike races, bike gear, and lessons learned from the saddle.  That’s going to change. I’ll continue riding and writing as inspiration comes. However, the stories will now include experiences from a motorcycle saddle.

I hope you’ll keep reading and find yourself some inspiration.

IMG_0289

Nederland CX – A Race Review

Nederland CX – A Race Review

As I drove up Highway 72 to Nederland, I wondered just what the course for this inaugural Nederland Cyclocross race would be like.  The race flyer stated that the race course would wind through the heart of the town and include a mix of cyclocross features.  What exactly, did that description mean?  As visions or stairs and other urban cross features floated through my head, I parked and made my way to the registration tent.

The first feature I noticed was a very sharp, uphill turn onto a covered pedestrian bridge over a creek.  After retrieving my race number, I walked a bit more of the course.  I noticed another bridge and some railroad tie barriers.  I made some smalltalk with a woman nearby.  The topic of conversation quickly came around to the race course.  She mentioned on the other side of the course, that if you didn’t take the right line in one section, you were sure to end up in the lake.

At that point I decided it was in my best interest to get my bike out of the car and take a pre-ride of the course.  I didn’t mind getting dirty, but I certainly did not want to land in a lake astride my bike.  Once the current race was over, I pedaled on to the course.  I ended up behind another guy who must have already raced, because as we rode along, he told me about what was coming up around each bend.  In this section of the course that wound along the creek, the vegetation was so tall that you couldn’t see what was coming until you were there.  The first surprise was a sharp left turn.  The next surprise was a path of beaten down cat tails.  The mud below the cat tails was now being churned up by all the bike tires.  At the end of the cat tails was a steep run-up.

The next part of the course was the hard part: two- three off-camber ups and downs on loose dirt, and the steepest, loosest run-up ever.  This was followed by the steepest, loosest descent ever seen (by me!) on a cyclocross race course.  It was during this descent that I came upon the place where landing in the lake was supposedly a certainty if one were to take the wrong line.  My conclusion was that landing in the lake was only a remote possibility under the worst set of circumstances.  At the end of the lap, I began to question whether this race was something I could actually finish, let alone be competitive in.  I’d been nursing a sore shoulder all week and it would be impossible for me to shoulder the bike in any of the sections where it would make sense to do so.  I’d have to run the bike and lift it over the barriers when necessary.  I considered packing my bike in the car and going home right then and there.  Then my phone rang and Motoman wanted to know if it was raining in Nederland?  I looked up at the threatening skies and thought how miserable this course would become if the skies were to let go.

When Motoman arrived, I mentioned how hard the course was and that I was IMG_0925contemplating leaving.  His response was that it would be just as hard for everyone else as it would be for me.  As I pinned the number to my jersey, I thought to myself that I’ll just ride it; then I won’t have any expectations nor disappointment about how I finish.  Then we got a FaceTime call from our daughter who we hadn’t spoken to in a couple of days. It proved to be the perfect distraction.  When we hung up, I had only about 30 minutes before the start time to pedal around and half-heartedly warm-up.  Besides, who needs to warm-up for ride??

Promptly at 5:10 PM, the race started and we were off!  Racers were still rather clumped together when I reached the hard part of the course.  A crash in front of me forced me off the bike and to run more of the off-camber section than I would have liked.  However, as I trotted along, I realized that the women who were riding weren’t going any faster than I was.  I had started to run with my bike because I didn’t want to stop. But now that I couldn’t find a decent place to remount, I just kept going.  Two thoughts occurred to me as I finished that first lap 1) I did not want to run as much on the next lap and 2) this race was as hard for the other women as it was for me!

IMG_2136

Photo Credit: Cid Dennis

I dug in and settled into a pace I could sustain for five more laps.   I’m so proud to have finished such a difficult race!  Taking 2nd place was the icing on the cake!

 

 

 

 

Not only was this the hardest race I’ve finished, it was also the most expensive:

  1. Entry fee: $30
  2. Deductible for car repairs necessary from colliding with black bear on the way home: $750
  3. While tasty, the six pack of beer only drowned my sorrows temporarily.
    IMG_2151

    Master’s Women 40+, 2nd Place Photo by: Cid Dennis

    IMG_0948

    That’s black bear fur stuck in the wheel.

12 Bike to Work Days

Arvada is a wonderful place to live.  There isn’t much between my house and the foothills, although what’s there is gradually filling in with houses.  I love the rural feel of this community.  Seeing horses and other farm animals and wildlife on the way to the grocery store reminds me of my days back in Billings, Montana.  Many of the streets in this area are still two lane country roads.  All that quaintness gets tossed out the window, however, when you come to an intersection like Indiana & Leyden Road on any given school day at 7:10 AM. Those two lane roads can be backed up for nearly a mile in each direction as thousands of kids try to get to school at about the same time.  Combine that volume of traffic with sun glare and distracted drivers and it amounts to a risk that I wasn’t willing to take on my bike.  Like my daughter was counting down the days of school until she could sleep in, I was counting them down until I could ride to work!

Back in May, I set a goal to ride my bike to & from work 10 times before school restarted August 17th.  I rode to and from work once in May, five times in June, four times in July, and twice in August for a total of 12 commutes.  My mission was accomplished before August arrived.  What I didn’t expect when I started the commutes back in May was how many aggressive drivers I would experience on my 11 mile ride to Broomfield.  Here I had been thinking that the major safety concern was the volume of traffic at the intersection of Indiana & Leyden Road, when the real danger was the drivers I encountered on deserted rural roads before 7 AM.  In particular, Alkire Street between 88th and 96th Avenues and Simms Street north of Brocade Parkway to Highway 128 were where I experienced the most aggression.  I ended up calling in more drivers to the Colorado State Patrol in this two month span of time than I have in all my years of riding.  What was most frustrating about these encounters is that the majority of them occurred when there wasn’t an oncoming vehicle in sight…

Here’s the summary of my car vs. bike encounters during the last 12 weeks:

  • I was yelled at by a driver on Bike to Work day (June 27).  He informed me that I should be riding on a bike path.  When he finally took a breath, I interjected that I had every right to be on the road, to which he replied it was his right to run me over.
  • I was buzzed by a Federal Express truck driver on Simms Street just south of Highway 128.  I exchanged tweets with Fedex and like to think their drivers received a refresher on Colorado’s 3 foot law.  It didn’t happen again and there are MANY Fedex trucks in the area since they have a distribution facility right along that stretch of road.
  • I was honked at by a woman for taking the lane in order to avoid a three feet wide pothole in the road while descending at high speed.
  • I lost track of the number of drivers who insisted on sharing the narrow lane with me when there wasn’t another car in the opposite direction and they could so EASILY have given me just a few more inches. This particular behavior is most bothersome because it seems the underlying message is “I could get over, but avoiding a person riding a bike isn’t worth the energy it takes for me turn that steering wheel 2 inches.”

Surely, that’s not the case, right?  Maybe those drivers are new to the area and are unaware of Colorado’s laws; we do have lots of transplants here.  Here’s a little video that will help to educate you on the laws.  Oh, and when in doubt, give a cyclist more room than you think they need.  Sometimes we have to swerve, just like you do in your car.  Drivers don’t like it when other cars get too close to them, either.  Surely you can relate to  that?