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Day 20
June 24th, 2004
Private campground
Steamboat Springs, Colorado


The nearby semi homeless man was still asleep when I finished my tent rolling chores.  I took that as a good sign. 

Before loading the 13 I took another, closer check at the rear 220.  The wear mark down the middle was more pronounced than yesterday, a common sign for a quickly evaporating Dunlop.  I thought back to the question I put forth for Uncle Phil back in Tennessee, "why ya reckon they go so fast when you get halfway down?"  " I dunno, but they sure go quick, perhaps its because you've made it through the hardest part of the rubber."  Sounded logical to me.  

"If it doesn't get any worse today, I think I can make it home" is the thought.

It was a busy morning in Steamboat, thousands of cyclists were already on the road and heading up to Rabbit Ears Pass.  I found it kind of annoying many treated me with little or no respect.  I had to be on constant watch, they darted in and out of parked cars, jumped curbs and cut me off at will.   I stayed sharp as a tack and parried their carelessness with good reflexes and vision.  

I finally made it to a Shell station mart on the east side of town, and topped off the tank.  

It was another beautiful morning, and I was confident today would be another great ride.  

East of Steamboat US 40 begins the long climb to Rabbit Ears Pass.  Bicyclists had the right lane and shoulder, hundreds of them in colorful riding outfits were spread out along the steep mountain road.  

State police on RTs tooled up and down the long procession of bikes, keeping traffic under control. The cyclists took over the truck lane and the state police motioned the few cars, to stay in the passing lane.  

The further up the line I went, the more serious and fitter the cyclist.  Many in the back of the pack were walking their bikes up the steep mountains, but near the front it was serious business.  

The Colorado Rockies are the BEST.  The Rockies extend across many states and provinces, but nowhere do 10,000 feet peaks congregate in such numbers as they do here.  This section of the state is very dense in mountains.

The run up to the Continental Divide is awash in total beauty.  It was another cool morning and I took comfort with the notion this should be the last one of the trip.

I crossed the Divide and began the long ride home to Alabama.  I finally passed the lead bicycle pack as they coasted the long downhill descent.  It was another postcard weather morning.  

Not long after crossing the Divide I left U.S. 40 for SR 14, and began another all star ride.  In my book, Colorado 14 is in the top 5 all time highways, and riding it is pure nirvana.  

Down from the peaks of the Continental Divide, I tried to carve the 1300.  My slick rear tire was ruling out ANYTHING serious.  The condition of my tire and load practically locked me down.

SR 14 connects 2 mountain ranges, separated by a large valley.  The map told me the first 50 or so miles shoot across the valley, before arriving at the next mountain range near Rocky Mountain State Park.





















                                                                                                                 Morning therapy on SR 14

With mountains all around me I moved across the valley and farmland.   The people living here are isolated, like the folks in Burke's Garden, Virginia.  Winters are cold and harsh, and I wondered how they coped with it.  In the midst of the highest mountains in the lower 48, it was not easy even getting here in winter. 

Riding a motorcycle on such a beautiful morning, through some of the finest scenery in America gave me chill bumps.  I rolled past cattle ranches and leaned the curves as they came at me in a deliberate, easy style, with mountains in the backdrop for extra incentive.






















                    Looking back at the Continental Divide from SR 14

Walden is the focal point "city" for the area.  I'd often pass signs informing me how far it was to the village, as if the golden fleece was there waiting.  The ride into the city was quiet, and scenic, the kind that makes for lifetime memories.  I've had the good fortune to have hundreds of such rides the last few years, but this ride, on this day, on this highway, will forever be burned in my mind.

It was still early morning when I came into Walden, a disorganized looking place with of all things a junkyard on the west side of town.  The small business district had the usual stores.  A video shop, hardware, bank, a dress shop and maybe a law office staffed by an attorney who was either tired of the big city, or who was of such ill character he was hiding out.

I embarrassingly lost the route making my way through the tiny town.  The sign for route 14 vaguely pointed left at 3 possibilities.  I chose wrong and within 3 blocks KNEW I was traveling north, not east.  I spotted 2 locals coming out of large farm equipment shop and wheeled in for directions.

"Hey, which way is highway 14?"  A young man in his 20s wearing a seed hat, and sporting a goatee responded, "which way ya goin?"  "Fort Collins."  "Go back down that way, and turn between the 2 gas stations, make a right at the next stop sign, then haul ass."  I like it when they tell me THAT.

Armed with new directions, I went back and made the turns.  A few locals stopped to watch the 13 and I go by.  Their stares made me feel like I was intruding, or they were looking at me in disbelief that someone on such a long trip found his way into THEIR town.  As I left the mountain town I half expected to see residents in my mirrors running behind me, arms outstretched, pleading for me to take them with me. 

After Walden, the mountains of the next range grew closer and closer.  Their beauty just as awesome as the last.  

Prairie Dogs are on this planet for one purpose-target practice.  They are some of the dumbest creatures ever created, they make a cow look like Flipper.  Stay in one spot on 14 and a car might pass every 15 minutes, knowing that how do you get run over?  But Prairie Dogs managed it, with alarming regularity, their bodies littered the tarmac of 14.  They were all over the highway on this fine morning.  They would see me on the approach, stand on their hind legs sniffing, then dart across, as if they wanted to get killed.  I neither changed my line to avoid, or take one out, I let the chips fall where they may.  Despite many close calls, I only managed to squash one hapless individual.  

One time, a west bound truck and I were closing on each other, a prairie dog bolted across, if he keeps going he makes it, but no, he decides to go back where he came from, and that hesitation got his ticket punched by some rancher in a black pick up.

The highway began to rise in elevation as I left the valley and re entered the mountains.  Up, I went leaning the ST as best I could with the marginal rear tire.  I had the road to myself, and brothers it was one of the best lean-a-thons I'd ever been in.  

SR 14 nears the north entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park and I could see snow topped peaks.  The timberland is thick and green.  The Continental Divide is but a short distance away, lost somewhere in the jagged peaks on the Colorado Mountains. 





















 

                                     SR 14 near Rocky Mountain State Park


I came across the crest and started the long downhill that would eventually end at the doorstep of the Great Plains.  The highway followed a crystal clear stream down out of the hills and I stopped for a butt break.  I left the 13 and walked along the rocks and enjoyed the feelings of freedom I was having.  I sat on a rock and relaxed, and listened to the water bubbling by.   For me, time had no meaning.  I could stay here as long as I wanted.  Deadlines was something they had at a newspaper, not something I worried about.  The only thing I had to beat was the lunch crowd at wherever I decided to eat.
























 

                           Enjoying the ride through the Rocky Mountains


I could see a few fish in the water, but had no idea as to what kind they were.

The walk refreshed my legs, and removed the early morning stiffness.  Iron Butt guys that consistently ride tank to tank, or hundreds of miles without stopping, are setting themselves up for problems later on.  Restricting blood flow for long periods of time to outer extremities can't be all that good for you.  I don't have any scientific evidence for that, but it stands to reason.  There are all kinds of ailments in the lower legs and  hands that afflict folks in middle age, and I don't plan to have ANY of them.  Thus, I ride my bicycle 40-60 miles a week, and run (well, jog is a better word for it these days) 15-20  miles.  I'm in much better shape then I was last year and I can tell it on this tour.  I haven't had to stop and take a nap on a single day, and the act of riding itself is not making me tired.

SR 14 came down in elevation and I started twisting my way out of the mountain canyons.  Tall mountains stood on both sides and I eased the 1300 past the cliffs.  I saw a white car flashing his headlights at me frantically, and slowed to 25 mph.  About a mile later I found out why; falling rocks had covered the westbound lane, the first time I'd ever seen a falling rock sign mean something.  The rocks were huge and in a bad spot for any westbound rider leaning the canyons.  I looked for a place to park, I wanted to clear the road of the debris, it was like a loaded pistol, but the highway was narrow, with no shoulder.  If I parked the 13, there was a good chance it, or I could be taken out, so I reluctantly I continued.




























                             Somewhere in the canyons of the Rocky Mountains on
                            SR 14.


Many excellent looking federal campgrounds dotted the roadway.  I made a mental note of that in case I ever find myself this way again (I do plan to return).  The closer I came to the mouth of the canyon the more white water rafting companies appeared.  Most had retrofitted school buses out front to ferry customers and kayaks up stream.  

At last I emerged out of the canyons and into the bright sunlight of a Rocky Mountain peak.  It was like emerging from the tunnel of a football stadium to the roar of a crowd and bright lights.  Down below I could see the Great Plains.  A view I've come to cherish as much as the mountains themselves, perhaps because I know home lies on the other side.  I pulled the 1300 over, and took a long look to the far away horizon.  Yes, somewhere out there lies the Mississippi River, and the Ozark Mountains.  Out beyond the rich Plains farmland a land of lush green, and flowing water waits.  The American East has a bad rap.  Yes, it is crowded, but it also has timeless beauty.  Any land that can boast the Blue Ridge Mountains has to be special.  I glanced behind me, dropped into gear, merged on the highway, and came down out of the mountains.
In the foothills of the Colorado Rockies lies Fort Collins.  A city on the grow and dealing with the associated pains that come with it.  I learned that from the local paper I found in the McDonalds I stopped at for a apple pie and coke break.  It took so long for me to get my pie they gave it to me for free.




















                                  Out of the mountains onto the plains.

  
My camera and phone batteries were growing weak, so I sat near a wall outlet.  I was able to get both back up, but fell far short of full strength.  
I looked over my map, and was in a good mood.  I could see I'd have little problem reaching Salina.  The miles were going quickly, and I was looking forward to a peaceful ride across the Great Plains.  I also planned to stop at the geo center in Lebanon to check on John. (click here for that story).  I was looking forward to a motel after camping 3 nights.  I've been as long as 6 nights in my tent, but for now a motel with its accompanying hot bath and cable tv sounded good.  I'm way under budget for the tour despite the gas prices, and can afford to splurge a little now.

SR 14 continued on east out of Fort Collins, and I remained faithful as it took me past the endless land of the Front Range.  A strong north wind began to blow and I was swaying back and forth.  The air was cool, ChrisK was right when he said temps were going to stay below normal, not that I was complaining.  Air gauge on the 13 displayed a comfortable 73 degrees.

Out here, there are no landmarks, and the grasslands make no distinctions for fences or roads, all seem to split in various tangents.  On the Great Plains of Colorado a man's land is not measured in acres, but in square miles.


























         
      The Colorado Front Range, where a man's land is measured in square miles


Pick up trucks came and went in both directions, most of the time I passed them nonchalantly, except for the guy pulling a horse trailer with a sign on the rear, "2002 Rope Champion."  It was a long, polished trailer, that any horse would be proud to call home.

I rode non stop from Fort Collins to Sterling where I found an Arby's and dove in for lunch.  I had the number 1, complete with a recharge for my phone and camera.  I needed a motel for the night for no other reason then to keep my toys running.  I called my wife and spent some time with her and advised her what my plans were.

Before leaving I topped off the gas tank, visited an ATM, then headed over to U.S. 6 east, a reunion of sorts with the highway I left so long ago in Utah.

Traffic picked up on 6, but thinned back out as I neared the Nebraska line.  When I crossed over I came by a recreation area called Enders.  Several trucks were pulling boats on their way to good fishing spots.  The water looked inviting even on this cool day.

Most Long Riders dislike riding across the Great Plains, but as I've said before, I'm not one of them.  I find them restful and unique, and I love the people that call the area home.  The folks who live and work this land are dependable and trustworthy, and if I needed help they would go out of their way to assist. 

Everyone agrees the Rocky Mountains border the Plains on the west, it is the east boundary where there is some confusion.  I'm going to go with the argument the eastern border is the 23rd meridian.  You can check it on your atlas by running a straight north-south line through Pierre, South Dakota.  

With the windscreen in the cruise position I went with the flow.  I passed through the elevator towns with sadness.  Many have been in decline for years, and and just barely hanging on.  The family farm is being replaced by large corporations with lots of expensive equipment, many have been forced to sell out to them.

I stumbled across this sandlot baseball field near Imperial.  It reminded me of the Field of Dreams.  I pictured the father playing ball with his son and friends on Saturday mornings.   Must be nice to have your own field.  























                             Serrato's Sandlot can be found on U.S. 6 


Between Enders and McCook, I ran into this sign.  I can't remember which town in that stretch it refers to, so use caution.  If any can help my memory email me.























                                          Always nice to know

I arrived in McCook for a butt break by late afternoon.  I came off the highway into a gas mart and went inside.  The air felt more like fall then early summer.  I snagged a Mountain Dew and a bag of chips then went outside and sat on a curb.  I had a lengthy conversation with my son, then prepared to get back on the road. 

Before gearing up I took a look at the rear tire.  Damn.  A small but definite line of white cord was showing.  Not good, not good at all.  I put the 13 on the stand and rotated the tire and found another, this one a long thin line.  The tire was going to HAVE to replaced, and soon, like before leaving McCook.

Before I could get my phone out for HRCA to help me find the nearest dealer, 2 bikes pulled to the gas pumps.  I went over to them but the Michigan Harley riders were not local, and had no idea where the nearest Honda dealer was.  Luckily, a man at the next pump was, and told me the Honda dealer was only 2 blocks away.  

Two minutes later I was in the parking lot, but I was not very hopeful the small dealer stocked the odd size rubber the 1300 calls for.  It was near  closing time, but the clerks didn't seem to mind helping me.  I was right, they didn't stock my size, and it would take 3-4 days to get one.  Nothing like a weekend.  

The parts man called 2 more dealers in a 100 mile radius.  Same story.  I was pissed.  It should be mandatory for a dealer to carry tires for all the bikes Honda sells, especially a touring bike.  It was beginning to look like I was going to spend a few days in McCook, talk about depressing.  The parts guy got on the phone one more time and said, " I know the guys at the Yamaha shop in Kearney, they carry more tires than us, a good chance they might have one."  

I looked over the situation.  I can probably go another 100 miles without much problem, but any thing further is out.  If the Kearney shop doesn't have one, I'll find a local motel, and go to work on finding a tire in the morning.  I'm sure there is one out there, just have to find it.  But  before embarking for the next dealer, I have to be sure he has it, because I'm only going to get one shot.

The man looked over to me, and reported, "they have a Dunlop, correct size, but its a 208 sport tire, not designed for touring."  "Yeah that's a soft tire, but it should match up well with the 220 on the front, and I don't really care its only going to give me 4 thousand miles.  Verify they can put it on in the morning."  "They said they'll be looking for ya." He gave me the address of the dealer and the contact person.  I called Motel 6 and booked a room in Kearney.  I thanked the dealer and got back on the road.

Instead of turning south for Kansas, I was now going to move north for Kearney.  I checked the map before leaving the dealer.  Kearney was 110 miles away, a long way on a worn out tire.  It was late afternoon and my shadow was there to escort me.  I reset trip meter B so I knew exactly how far I had to go.  I kept my speed down to 50 mph, in the event the tire lost air, I could still get the 13 safely to the side.

I was surprised at how quickly the tire evaporated.  I guess the long cruising at 80-90 miles an hour in the Plains finished it off. 
 
After 50 miles or so, I felt better, and was confident I was going to make it to Kearney, and moved the 1300 to 65 mph.  The ride was good and I forgot my tire troubles and enjoyed the ride through the farmland on a spotless afternoon.  Not a cloud was in the sky and the temp had dropped into the low 60s.  It was more like October then June.

The farming communities along US 6 welcomed me with lower speed limits and small cafes, but I kept moving.  In a town called Funk I left U.S. 6 for SR 44.  How do you name a town Funk?  

The cold wind blew through the cornfields along SR 44 and I had to bring the screen up to isolate me from the cool air.  I only had a T shirt under the Roadcrafter and was easy to chill.  

As luck would have it I came right by the Yamaha dealer when I entered Kearney, and in another dose of good fortune, it was just over the interstate exit from the Motel 6.  Easy walking distance.  I checked into a 46 dollar room and settled in for the night.  It was after 8pm, and I had put down 523 miles.

"Y'all have lots of outlets in your rooms?"  "Yeah, why?"  "Nevermind."  Before taking a long hot bath I put my DVD, camera, phone, and Axim on charge.  My toys covered an entire table.  

I called home and reported the situation, and told Debbie barring unforeseen trouble at the dealer, I should be back on the road by 10am.
When I finished all that I went looking for a place to eat at the many options right outside the Motel 6 door.  A strange odor lingered in the area coming from some kind of museum across the street from the motel.  I instantly recognized as a zoo smell.  

It was 5 minutes to closing time at my first 2 choices so went to the Country Inn.  I was on foot. 

While waiting for supper I made Axim notes, edited pictures, and mulled over the ride for the next few days.   I wanted to make Eureka Springs, Arkansas tomorrow, but that wasn't going to happen in light of recent developments.  Instead of Salina, I was 200 miles north, and guaranteed a late morning start.  I brushed all that off with a smile.  I still have 6 days before I have to be back at work.  I just figured I'd do what I could tomorrow, and not worry about it, home will be there when I get there.

When supper was over I went back to the motel and watched TV.  I plan to be at the dealers as soon as they turn the lights on.





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