In Nederland, CO:
(This story is kind of long, but hang with me until the end. It was a long riding day!)
July 3, 2016
I was dreaming. I was a marble rolling down a hallway. The hallway was carpeted maroon and purple, a floral swirl, yet there was a track down the middle for the marble – me – to roll on. I rolled faster between closed doors, trying to reach the end of the hallway where a mirror glinted. Suddenly, I gasped for air and surfaced, waking up, thankfully, still in Winter Park.
Day 6 of our trip was mostly not spent in Winter Park, CO at all. We were still based there, but our destination that day was the town of Estes Park. Still kind of bleary-eyed from that weird dream, I started the day having free breakfast at the hotel with Hal, then we geared up and rode across the street to air up our tires. The elevation and temperature changes, I supposed, had changed what tire pressure I’d started with, so we checked to be sure. That experience turned into an ordeal that included a gas station too crowded with vacationers, a giant fuel-delivery truck that took up most of it, a stupid air pump that wanted 25¢ every 30 seconds it seemed (who would have thought a few years ago that people would have to pay for air for their tires???), and a tire gauge that wouldn’t read correctly. Despite all that, we finally got on the road with somewhat accurate air pressure in the tires.
We took Highway 40 again, but this time through Fraser and Granby. I saw “in person” all the places I had looked at from home with Google Maps. I remembered them from those evenings of planning, trying to find a place to stay, and was glad once again that we had ended up in Winter Park! Everything along the road looked extremely crowded, and that was because of the holiday weekend. This condition would plague us for the rest of the day. We took the 40 to Hwy. 34.
What we didn’t quite realize, I guess, is that 34 went directly into Rocky Mountain National Park, and it was the only route to Estes Park. There was no turning back. At the gate we were charged $20 for EACH bike and rider. In my opinion, that was extreme price gouging, especially since we really didn’t want to go into the park on a holiday weekend in the first place. Yet there we were, and we were doing it.
The road started climbing right away, but gradually. The trees were beautiful, the weather was beautiful, and I put behind me the feeling of being fleeced at the park entrance. However, as we climbed, the traffic seemed to increase as we went up, with people in cars and trucks going more and more slowly in front of us. Soon, we were in an unbreakable chain of traffic.
The road grew steeper, and the switchbacks increased. Every single pullout or parking lot was jammed with traffic, and we didn’t dare pull over. I got ZERO photographs in the park because of this. Soon, I looked up and saw that we were climbing even more steeply into the alpine environment above the tree line. There was a steep switchback that we had to ride at about 5 mph, and up on the top, the wind was blowing hard. I started to worry about keeping my momentum, and keeping the bike balanced in the strong wind. Between my bike and me, we weren’t very heavy, so the wind was pretty much having its way with us. I was creeping along on exposed roadway, hanging on the side of the mountains, the wind blowing hard and cold. I didn’t see much except the back of Hal’s bike in front of me, but I saw enough to know that the bottom was V-E-R-Y far down. I was glad I had thought to wear layers of clothing under my riding gear. I saw other riders who were wearing thin t-shirts, and knew they were probably freezing!
I didn’t see much of the natural beauty, either, since I had to concentrate so much on riding, watching for people to do stupid things like suddenly pull over, or stop, or pull out into traffic without waiting. At one point, there were some caribou just laying there, relaxing at the side of the road! The traffic in the lane going in the opposite direction was completely stopped because one inconsiderate person HAD to stop to get a photo (with his phone, of course). I had time to glance for an instant at the amazing animals, but that was all. I didn’t get to enjoy their wild beauty.
I never had to put my feet down and stop, but we continued to inch along. I realized we were finally descending, but we were still hanging on the sides of mountains with steep drop-offs and no guardrails. Get me out of here, I thought. I was tired of having to be so ultra-aware of my riding, worrying about keeping the bike upright, and just generally tired of being in a huge f-ing crowd. Pedestrians kept running in and out of traffic, and I really had to watch what I was doing. Finally, we got back down into the trees, the road split, and it felt like the traffic eased a little. We were still going down.
After a few miles, we passed the gate on the other end of the park. Bend over, I thought to myself as I saw other riders in the line. And that line! It went on literally for about eight miles. We were finally getting to Estes Park, we had seen it far below when we were on top on this side of the mountain, but traffic was a nightmare.
We had thoughts of finding a coffee shop in Estes Park, I had visions of a charming little town with cool places to take a break, but I was wrong. Traffic was an angry snarl, and all I really saw were the backs of cars. At one point, we had to get over into the right hand lane, and I had to put my motorcycle between Hal and a car so he could get over. There were just too many people, and there was absolutely no opportunity to find a place to stop. So much for Estes Park. Later, we both said we never wanted to go there again even though we had once thought being there would be a highlight of the trip.
At last, we eased out of town, and there were more twisty (and busy) roads to negotiate. It would have been fun except for the “crowded-ness,” and we rode many miles through varying terrain. Yet in all those miles after Estes Park, there were no coffee shops to pull into, and it was getting very warm. I still had all my layers on, and I had been riding non-stop for about five hours.
Fatigue was setting in as we finally came to a little place called Nederland, which was, of course, crowded. We ended up in a crazy, uneven dirt parking lot where, after a couple of laps, I amazingly found a wedge of space in which to park. I waved Hal in behind me. Breathing a sigh of relief, I eyed a coffee/sandwich shop where I could finally get some refreshment! Hal, however, had other ideas.
Hal insisted on going into a Nepalese restaurant. It was literally the very last place I wanted to go, but that is where we went. I tried to get something normal (read: “not spicy or exceptionally greasy”) and appropriate to fuel my hunger, like French fries, but I couldn’t seem to get anyone to bring some, even after I thought that I ordered them. Hal ate a huge buffet lunch. I was so overheated that I almost threw up just thinking about it. I did manage to get a cup of coffee just because I needed caffeine, I don’t even remember where at this point, and I eventually pulled a Clif bar out of my side case. Good thing, by then I was shaking and needed to eat. I drank a ton of water, too. It was NOT relaxing at all to sit there amid the dust of the parking lot, in the sun, on a rock or piece of concrete or whatever it was, and chew on that Clif bar. I was grateful that I’d packed it, though.
But wait, there’s more. We got out of the crazy crowded town of Nederland, thought we were done with extreme travel situations, but we rode through a town called Central City that had streets that either went straight up or straight down. Like, 8 or 10 percent grades. Plus, we got stuck behind a tour bus, couldn’t see around it to find the right street on which to turn, almost got in trouble and had to go back the way we’d come (impossible), but luckily I spotted another route that gave us a quick escape.
I was thinking by then that the motorcycle gods were completely throwing every single weird situation at me that day just to see if I were worthy of being a true “adventure” rider! There was one more situation – a gas station that was all catty-wompus (is that how you spell that??), and was not in any way shape or form an easy in and out. –sigh- By the time I got on the Interstate, I was kind of done with all the juking around. I still felt elated, though, because I MADE IT.
Riding down Hwy. 40, I was struck by the feeling of déjà vu as we rode the same route we’d taken two days earlier to reach Winter Park. As we rode back into Winter Park, closing the loop of the day’s ride, I felt content, loving the clouds and the cool temperatures. We pulled into the hotel parking lot, tired but happy.
Before we walked to dinner, Hal and I thought we deserved a soak in the hotel’s jacuzzi. We were lucky, no one else was in the pool area, and we were able to totally relax in the hot water without nine million people around. Then we went to dinner at the Smokehouse, a BBQ place. They had “burnt ends” which were charred and crusty on the outside and tender and meaty on the inside, all dipped in wonderful BBQ sauce. Heavenly. I tried to restrain myself, but between that and a huge salad, I ate more than I should have. I was so hungry from earlier in the day that I couldn’t help it.
Along Vasquez Creek:
But, no worries, we walked up and down the main street of Winter Park, this time for the last time of the trip. We stopped at the bridge over Vasquez Creek with its bottom of black and brown and gold “babyheads,” the water rushing and plunging, polishing the stones with its white water. We decided again that we love Winter Park, as if we didn’t already know, and definitely will return someday.
Tomorrow we ride to Taos! I thought.
I sank into sleep, and dreamed of the purple/golden sunset I had witnessed the last time I was in Taos, NM. Between the purple of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, and the golden grasses of the Taos Plateau, I looked forward to soon being folded into that familiar embrace.