Alpine revisited, Day 4

View from Blue Vista Overlook

Our ride today was going to be on Hwy. 191, and then find some fire roads to explore. We did that, but not as far-ranging as we’d hoped. At the little gas station in town, we found the pumps down due to “computer problems,” so we couldn’t get gas there. Oh well, we reasoned, we’d just get gas in Hannagan Meadow.

Hwy. 191 is one of those motorcyclist’s “holy grail” roads. We’ve been up and down it several times, but since last year’s Wallow fire, we hadn’t gone south of Hannagan Meadow. We wanted to explore farther south, so we left Alpine and headed through familiar territory. The floor of the forest and the canopies of surviving trees glowed bright green in the strong summer sun. We noticed again how many of the trees near the road had been cut down, and farther up the road, we rode slowly past a forest service crew that was in the process of clearing more. I gave them the thumbs up, they are just doing their job, trying to make sure the road is safe and passable. I have also been seeing many trucks laden with big logs, some of the bark charred, so it appears that at least the wood is not going to waste.

As we rode along Hwy. 191, I made a mental note where a few of the forest service roads I’d seen on the map came out. There were a few that I wanted to explore later, but that would be on the way back.

When we got to Hannagan Meadow, there was no gas there either! I thought that was the “stupidest” thing: two places, each out in the middle of nowhere, not many opportunities for fuel in either direction, and they’re both out of it. Fortunately for us, our bikes have many miles between fuel stops, and even though we hadn’t filled up since yesterday, we still had plenty for what we wanted to do the rest of the day.

Past Hannagan Meadow, we found the turnout where a few years ago we’d shot one of our favorite photos of a curve in the 191 lined with aspens, golden in the fall. We’d hoped it wasn’t gone, and to our relief, we discovered the trees there were untouched. Farther south, though, as we began to climb, we came to a ridge where some workers were taking down trees. It had been absolutely devastated by the fire; of course, fire climbs up, and the trees up there were incinerated. When the workers finish, there will be nothing much left up there except depressions in the ground where trees once were, even their roots had been turned to ash, covered over with the bright green grass of regeneration.

A few miles later, we stopped at Blue Vista Overlook. You can see for miles from the top, standing up there, letting the wind whip your hair, on one side looking far, seeing for hundreds of miles, into Bear Wallow Wilderness, which was ground zero, starting point of the Wallow fire, and acres of burned trees. On the other side, you can see the 191 snaking down the mountain. I watched a couple of other motorcyclists as they wound their way down, and I tried to get a photo of them, but they were too far away. I had both cameras strapped around my neck, trying to get the best of both of them.

Eerie fish-eye effect shot, looking out over Bear Wallow Wilderness

It was quiet up there on top, except for the wind. I could feel the haunting spirits of dead trees, departed exactly a year ago, whispering and riding the wind. A few small birds darted overhead, a hawk rode the currents farther down. Presently, we got back on the bikes.

 This part is steep and the turns are tight. It was wonderful. I love riding my GS on this kind of road. Usually, if it’s this kind of ride I have my road bike, but the GS is capable and enjoyable as well. We decided to go down “a few” miles, dropping a couple thousand feet in elevation in about 10 miles. We spun around in a pullout to go back up, but unfortunately got behind a slow vehicle; we had to go about 30 mph back up the whole thing. There wasn’t any place to pass, and there were no pullouts. Stupid guy, he spoiled the whole ride, hangin’ his arm out the window, looked like he was smoking a cigarette, his dumb dogs hangin’ out the other window. Given the condition of the truck and his actions, he looked like a slovenly, discourteous driver who probably never once looked in his rearview mirror.

A little bit north of Hannagan Meadow, I stopped at a pullout where I’d seen a hillside of blackened trees that I wanted to shoot with the big camera. I got the wide shot that I wanted, but then decided to climb up into it for some shots of charred trees. I was up there a while, shooting dead tree trunks that were so charred they were silver in the sunlight. Some were like black toothpicks, almost nothing was left of them. Several severely burned trees that had been very tall were lying on their sides, their roots sticking up. The soil was ashy, silty, loose. It finally dawned on me that all those big heavy trees lying there were not really being held by much of anything, and it was about a 10% grade. I had climbed about 1/3 of the way up at that point, and then I carefully turned around and made my way down as quickly as I could. It freaked me out, but I got my photos. I didn’t post them here because they are still on my big Canon camera, but I hope to do a post with some of those photos when I get home.

Sign on FS26

Then we went north a few miles and turned into FS26. We wanted to do a little off-pavement exploring, and this was the road we chose. I aired my tires down again because of the big chunks of gravel, and off we went. It was a one-lane road so we had to be observant and not take the blind corners too fast, but it was interesting. We rode in and out of fire-damaged areas, found some interesting rock formations, and before we knew it, we had gone in about 10 miles. Because of the fuel situation, we turned around and headed back out. It seemed to hardly take any time at all to get back out to Hwy. 191.

At the gas station and fishing supply store in Alpine

Back in Alpine, the gas pumps were working at last, and we fueled up. I only took 2.6 gallons, which made my gas mileage a little over 76 mpg. No wonder I love this F650GS. One minute we’re carving through tight turns on the 191, and the next we’re in the backcountry, off pavement. I am thoroughly enjoying my bike, as always.

After a nice dinner this evening, we went elk hunting (with cameras) again. I was more successful this time and got a couple of stills. The footage on the GoPro last night was non-existent, and I am not sure why. I think it was focused on the light from the sky, which then made the camera take all the details out of the darkness, which is where the elk were.

The elk we shot with our cameras. Second from left is a young bull. Photo by Hal Korff.

Tomorrow we will probably be exploring more fire service roads and maybe try that stretch of 191 again. We’ll see. As long as I’m on the bike, I don’t care where we go.


2 thoughts on “Alpine revisited, Day 4

  1. It seems that, when you ride a fire road, you are running the risk of actually riding into a fire on the road. I am sure that is not why they are named that.

    Even in a car, I don’t like getting stuck behind a slow vehicle, and especially if it is large and blocking much of my view. I expect it would feel even more infuriating on a nimble motorcycle.

    POTD: The elk (even though it was taken by Hal. Don’t tell him. He will get a big head).

    76+MPG?! Wow. That is unbelievable. I’d like to get 26 in my little Altima.

    • I know, Hal got the best shot last night. I got a couple of photos that were pretty good, but his was the best. It’s always difficult trying to get photos of animals. They don’t understand that I just want a photo and I will not hurt them!

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