Sunday, June 27, 2004
Lander, Wyoming to Steamboat Lake, Colorado
A day to remember! We left Lander around 9:30 am and followed BJ down to Rawlins, around 125 miles. We parted company around noon after filling our gas tanks. BJ continued on to Edwards via Interstate 80 westbound and Jonathan and I went southbound on Wyoming 71 heading for Steamboat Lake State Park. We figured the next 110 miles to our destination would take three hours.
The first 25 miles of Wyoming 71 was hard road and we rode the hilly winding road at around 60 miles per hour. Even after we transitioned to the gravel road our pace was moderate as e made our way from high desert to aspen and finally pine forests. It started t rain just before we connected with Wyoming 70 and headed west to Slater. We left the hard road at Slater and headed south on County Road 1. Initially the road was OK even though it was wet. The gravel provided good traction and our speed of 25 miles per hour seemed safe. Eventually the gravel road ended and we transitioned to a dirt/clay private road. We slowed to a crawl as the VStrom’s tires became clogged with clay and provided no traction. The road became almost impassable because of the mud. Even at a very low speed I was losing control of the bike and falling over, perhaps three or four times. After I would fall Jonathan would have to park his KLR and help me right my fully loaded 500 pound Suzuki. I couldn’t figure out why I was falling d=so much until Jonathan noticed that the front tire wasn’t turning because clay had built up between the tire and the fender.
We removed the front fender and our progress, though slow, was constant. Although I still fell from time to time because of the slippery road we were able to maintain around 10 miles per hour. Jonathan on his KLR, with more aggressive tries and more tire/fender clearance didn’t have nearly the trouble I had with the road.
Eventually we climbed our way out of the mud that covered the private road into the Routt National Forest and its improved gravel road. We stopped to clean my tires and oil cooler of the clay and reinstall my front fender. Our spirits we high as we chugged along at about 25 miles per hour on the somewhat slippery forest service road. During our steady climb into the mountains we saw numerous elk, most at very close range. They did not seem overly concerned about us as they trotted away from our slow moving motorcycles. We had another 15 or 20 miles to go and we felt that we had survived the worst part of the trip and that we were home free. Such was not the case. The worst part of the day’s journey still lay before us.
As we labored along the road e came upon a simple forest service sign that said “Road closed Ahead”. We ere hoping that this was not true as this was the only road out of our area. We came around a corner and witnessed the closed gate at the top of an impossibly steep hill. The road leading up to it was around 100 yards of wet clay, ruts, exposed roots and large rocks. The sign on the locked gate said the road would be open on July 1 st – five days from now. The high spirits we felt before seeing the sign and hill evaporated as we assessed our situation. We knew we couldn’t go back the way we came and going forward didn’t look that promising either. After taking stock of our situation e felt we had no choice but to continue and try to climb the hill and get around the two gates (the one we could see and the one at the other end of the restricted area).
We decided we would first try to get the VStrom to the top. I offloaded all my bags to lighten the bike. I revved the engine, let out the clutch lever and went bouncing up the hill. I made it ¾ of the way up before I lost momentum and fell over. Jonathan then tried to push me the rest of the way but only succeeded in getting covered with mud thrown by my spinning rear tire.
We left my bike where it was and Jonathan rode his KLR effortlessly up the hill and stopped on a flat spot just in front of where my bike had bogged down. We tied a rope between our motorcycles and, with both engines revving, he pulled me the final distance to the closed gate. There was a small gap between the left side of the gate and the nearest tree. We managed to get both bikes through the restricted opening and further up the road to a level area where we stopped and took a breather. We were over 10,000 feet and the exertion left us quite winded. During our walk down the hill to get all of my previously offloaded bags I found my glasses laying on the road along with part of our camera tripod that was packed in one of Jonathan’s bags. I hadn’t noticed that my glasses had flown off my face during my hill climb.
The next eleven miles were very difficult to ride. The road seemed to be one long rock field. I managed to avoid most of the larger rocks but once in awhile I could feel the bike chassis bottom out on a prominent rock. Since it had just rained, there were numerous low areas of the road that were covered with water. We also encountered fallen trees that blocked the road so we wither rode over or around them through the woods. I probably fell another three or four times during this last stage of the ride. During the last mile before the second gate the road improved immeasurably and we were able to travel at around 25 miles per hour. Our spirits rose when we started seeing glimpses of Steamboat Lake through the trees.
The second gate presented a different challenge for us. Although we could easily ride up to the gate, there was no way for us to go around. The steep slope on wither side of the gate posts made this impossible. After looking at the gate we decided to unbolt the gate hinges and lift the gate free of the hinge pins. Our metric wrenches fit the bolts perfectly. Had we carried only SAE tools, we wouldn’t have been able to loosen the rusted bolts without stripping them. We rode through the gate and then reassembled it to its original position. We rode the last several miles down the mountainside feeling like the weight of the world had been lifted off our shoulders.
We were so exhausted by our ordeal that we gave up on our plan to camp and rented a cabin at the Dutch Creek Guest Ranch at the north end of Steamboat Lake. We arrived at sunset, around 8 pm, and were eating a tremendous meal in a rustic lodge thirty minutes later. Never did a beer taste so good.
Reflecting on the day, I think Jonathan and I did what few riders could have accomplished. The final 73 miles took us 7 ½ hours. We encountered numerous situations that took our collective intelligence to overcome. I could not have done this day without Jonathan. His acute mind, physical strength and good attitude made the difference between success and failure. I will remember this day as the finest of our journey.