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.”

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Riding the Beartooth Pass

Riding the Beartooth Pass

The Beartooth Pass is on US Highway 212 between Red Lodge, Montana and Cooke City, Montana.  The highway meanders along the borders of Montana and Wyoming high on the plateau of the Beartooth Mountains and eventually leads right into Yellowstone Park.  It’s closed in the winter and occasionally on other days throughout the year, given the right weather conditions.  The day before I pedaled up the pass on July 30, it was closed due to snow.  At its summit, this road is the highest elevation highway in both Montana and Wyoming.

I’ve driven over Beartooth Pass several times on my way to or from Yellowstone Park over the years.  The views never disappoint despite the wind and cool temperatures on top of the plateau.  When I started this cycling journey four years ago, riding up Beartooth Pass on my bike was  always a thought in the back of my mind.  I guess you could say it was on my “ride bucket list”.  Yes, cyclists have such a thing as I suppose motorcyclists do as well.  However, each summer when I returned to Montana, there was always some reason why I couldn’t do the ride: last year, I brought a mountain bike, the year before I was too busy… the list goes on.  This year I was feeling overwhelmed with all that is involved with moving from one home to another and felt a sense of urgency about returning to Colorado.  However, after seeing the weather forecast for the remaining week of my visit, I decided to stay just long enough to fit in the ascent.

I got up early on the morning of July 30, loaded my bike into the car, and departed Billings for Red Lodge.  As I

The sign just outside Red Lodge where I parked nearby and started my ride.

The sign just outside Red Lodge where I parked nearby and started my ride.

approached the mountains I realized there wasn’t a cloud in the sky.  I unloaded my bike, suited up, and pedaled away.  I had done better research for this ride than my previous ride on Alkali Creek Road and knew that I could expect to pedal for about 25 miles to the summit on a paved road.  I could expect the ride to take me approximately 2.5 hours based on the results of other cyclists I had seen on Strava.  I also knew that the climb to the summit would be gradual, at about 4% on average.

As I pedaled along, traffic was minimal on this beautiful late July day.  I saw many more motorcycles than cars.  The switchbacks started at nearly 7 miles into the ride.  As I approached the scenic overlook turnout, I passed 5 other cyclists, all of whom pulled off into the overlook parking area.  I kept going because I knew it was about halfway to the summit and I don’t like starting and stopping on prolonged climbs; it’s hard to get the legs going again.  Besides, there was no need.  I had plenty of fluids and food tucked in my pockets.

At about 19.5 miles into the ascent, I came to a place where I had to descend and then climb again to reach the summit.  I’m not going to lie, I was cold and considered calling it good and turning around.  But then that little voice in my head chimed in with “I didn’t come this far just to turn back now, especially when I can see the summit in the distance.”  I got as aero as I dared and

Elevation 10,947 feet

Elevation 10,947 feet

descended as quickly as possible, so as to minimize how much colder I would become before the final climb.  My garmin showed about 23 miles at the summit.  I took turns with all the motorcyclists taking pictures in front of the summit sign.  Then I slipped on my wind jacket for the descent.

What I didn’t realize when I had done my ride research was exactly how much climbing the ride would entail.  The total elevation gained was 5,262 feet… just 18 feet shy of a mile, give or take.  Hmmm.  That’s interesting considering the fact that I now reside in the “mile high city”.  A city known for more than just it’s elevation,  if ya know what I’m sayin‘.

On the descent, I stopped and took some pictures along the way…Enjoy!

So many motorcycles up there!

So many motorcycles up there!

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The Beartooth Mountain range. Look closely for the triangle shaped precipice on the horizon over the upper right corner of the sign. That’s the bear’s tooth. The next picture zooms in on it.

A closer/cropped shot of the bear tooth.

A closer/cropped shot of the bear tooth.