The Last Ride of the Year with a New Motorcycle
TThe anticipation for this small adventure was maddening! I purchased a new Triumph Speed Triple over the internet/telephone sight unseen and was nervous and excited all at the same time. All the while, we were trying to plan for a late season ride, where the weather is anything but predictable. The TL had sold, unexpectedly fast, allowing me the cash in hand to purchase a new motorcycle. The Triumph Speed Triple 955i had always excited me, but the $11k price tag was more than our budget could manage. But the soft motorcycle market made for a very favorable buyers market. I was now able to afford an S3 that I found in Grand Junction, Colorado, at a price that was hard to refuse.
Grand Junction, Colorado
Eric and Dawn would come with us to get the bike, and the plan was to ride the area during the shortened days, staying in a Grand Junction hotel in the evenings. Monday was the Columbus Day holiday, so we would even get a three-day weekend. Friday afternoon, Eric and Dawn showed up with their big truck and hooked it up to my trailer. Eric’s 919 and Kris’s VTR moved into the back and we piled in and drove off into the early, 7pm, sunset.
We arrived in Grand Junction at about 1 am, checked into the hotel, unloaded the bikes and went straight to bed. But it wasn’t 6am before excitement overtook me and I was awake and rearing to go. Unfortunately, the shop didn’t open until 9am. So, we all took our time getting ready and headed over to the shop, arriving just as the doors opened.
I was trying to contain myself as I walked through the doors and saw the bike sitting there sedately. It was striking in all black with the fly-screen and carbon fiber pipe already installed. I plunked down the cash, picked out a few accessories and rode back to the hotel where Eric, Dawn and Kris would gear up for the first day of riding and the planned destination of Telluride.
The weather was cold, but the sky was crystal clear. Eric was in the lead and Kris and I followed to highway 141, a loop road between Grand Junction and Placerville and eventually Telluride. 141 proved to be a sweet, sweeping road. The surrounding terrain was not what I would have expected. Red buttes, and sagebrush filled my face shield and I felt like I was riding in southern Utah instead of colorful Colorado. A long straightaway and I pulled over, hopped off and gave Kris the keys; her first ride on an S3. She bounded over to the bike and hopped on. I took the VTR and followed, and enjoyed the howl of the triple motor as we sped towards Gateway for a quick photo-shoot and ice cream in front of a vintage gas station. When Kris got off the S3 she was ready to sell her VTR to get one.
South again, the road got even better! More turns and a breathtaking gorge to our right, entertained us. Even the weather was cooperating as the temperatures climbed as the afternoon wore on. The leaves were striking in their orange and yellow hues, a new experience for us, having never ridden much this late in the year. Traffic was pleasantly light and most vehicles were pickup trucks packed with blaze-orange clothed hunters.
Telluride was prettier than I remembered. Tourism had grown and many of the storefronts looked brand new. However, we were here during shoulder season, meaning that all the shops were closed and the restaurants wouldn’t start feeding us until after 6pm. Acutely aware that the sun sets at 7pm, and in these huge canyons, the sun sets even earlier taking not only the light, but every bit of warmth from the air, we did not want to linger too long.
We found a cute little bar n’ grill that had an outside deck for us and we enjoyed hot-wings, thinking they would keep us warm, while we waited for our entrees. After dinner, we got back to the bikes as quick as we could and headed back north. Light was still available and, the evening sunset cast warm orange and yellow light, in contrast with the sharp chill in the air while complementing the fall leaves, adorned the evening. The view was outstanding. The canopy of trees and fluttering leaves dropping into the road as we passed underneath was very enjoyable. I only wished the light would have stayed longer. Once it turns dark, even the most breathtaking scenery looks the same; dark.
Droning back to Grand Junction was cold and boring, with the temperature dropping more and more as we rode on. By the time we made the 80+ miles back to Grand Junction we were thoroughly chilled and immediately hunted down the hot tub. Unfortunately, the pool/spa area was roofless, so while the water was warm, the air was bitter cold. Once we had warmed enough, we hit the showers, where we really got warm, before we decided to head to the lounge for a glass of wine before bed. We were treated to karaoke night - - (yay!) - - and consequently had to yell to be heard over the out-of-tune drunken singing.
The next morning, we all awoke about the same time, and headed over to find a nice coffee shop. Grand Junction seems to be devoid of them. However, Dawns ever vigilance in research had uncovered one on their historic main street. We rode over and were excited to find one of the nicest coffee shops we’d been to in a while. Although very expensive (two latte’s and two bagels were around $20.00) we were able to sit outside, watch the birds play and the gently falling of autumn leaves while sipping very good latte’s and eating extremely good bagels.
The destination for today was Silverton. I remembered Silverton from many years back and remember, distinctly, being very impressed with its unshaven, ruddy appearance that seemed to be just like it must have been over 100 years ago. But today, we would head south on highway 50 to Delta, before turning East towards Hotchkiss, Crawford and Sapinero on highway 92. 92 was wonderful; a moderately technical, switchback filled climb onto a massive butte. In the valley before the climb, leaves were mostly green, as we climbed we could see the progression from green, to yellow, to orange and then to the absence of almost all the leaves. The second-season asphalt was glassy smooth and inspired confidence as it snaked up the side of the mountain. Several corners felt like duplicates as the road swayed north, than cut back sharply on itself with wonderful, banked switchbacks that pointed the road south again.
The Triple was a hoot! The road was a great way to get to know the bike better as I modified my riding style to fit the bike. I quit moving in the seat and allowed all the work to be done with the wide, flat handlebars. Traipsing through the leaves felt a lot like Dukes of Hazzard splaying leaves in the air and to the side of the road as we blasted through them. Only we had to be very mindful of them when they splattered some corners with orange, just like orange Halloween sprinkles on frosted doughnuts. Condensation and even ice can form underneath the slippery little buggers.
Near the top, we stopped for a few photos. A small reservoir was directly below us and the massive San Miguel mountains were stabbing the sky with their, already white, 14,000 foot peaks. Wanting to drop back down in elevation to find warmer air, we headed back to Montrose on highway 50, then, south on 550 to Ouray. For some reason, I had completely forgot the appeal of Ouray. If ever there were a European community nestled away in the American west, Ouray is it. The towering San Miguel mountains backdrop the quaint, clean community and give it the feel and look of a small Austria town. Out of Ouray, 550 starts to climb to over 11,000 feet on its way to the 9,315 foot elevated Silverton. I did remember 550 between Ouray and Silverton and I charged ahead, anxious to see how the new triple would writhe its way up the tight, technical, and bumpy road.
Typically, the road between Ouray and Silverton is stuffed with slow moving vehicles climbing the high-mountain pass on their way to Durango. Today, joyfully, traffic was almost non-existent and a few aggressive passes were all that was required to keep empty road in my view. The road seems to climb a mountain that ordinarily would seem impassible. By ducking under avalanche sheds and wedging onto rock ledges the road manages to climb, using hundreds of horseshoe, shaped turns. Listening to the howl of the triple, I giggled as I climbed, tossing the bike into corners and letting the suspension and tires bite and surmount undulating tarmac. Confidence was high thanks to the Kansas-plains flat torque curve and matching handlebar. Almost like a huge dirt bike, the Triumph muscled its way to the 11,000+-foot Red Mountain Pass, where we grabbed a few photos at the highest elevation of the weekend. Despite magazine warnings, the Triumphs fuel injection performed flawlessly, from 4,500 feet to 11,000 feet, without so much as a hiccup!
A couple in a red pickup truck wondered over to us while we chatted, and asked me; “How is that road on motorcycles?” Gleefully I responded “Roads like that are why we ride motorcycles, that’s a slice of heaven!” Her shocked look eluded to the possibility that I gave an answer she was not expecting. “Really, even with all those drop-offs and no guard rails?” She asked. “Yep,” I said. “You go exactly where you look, so just look where you want to go and its all fun!” She appeared dismayed, complimented the bikes and walked away.
Back down the other side into Silverton, the road was much less technical and the corners were more sweeping. The pavement on the Silverton side was in much better shape, but peppered with gravel in most corners. We pulled into Silverton and parked on the stylishly antique main street. I was thrilled to see that Silverton retained its, untainted tourist look and most buildings only featured new paint. Vintage doors and windows, and 1890’s architecture were featured on virtually every store front.
We wandered up and down the street, popping into shops to look at the only vestige of tourisms; fun t-shirts. In one-such shop, I started chatting with some locals. The town lives at 9,318 feet in elevation and the official growing season is only two-weeks long. In order for anyone to grow any kind of garden, all plants must be moved in the house every night. If the green-thumb forgets, even once, the plants will freeze. Even green-houses are no match for the frigid summer nights. Tomatoes are a delicacy!
We continued on to a restaurant and ordered warm coffee and Forest-Berry pie. Yumm! The waiter was a riot, insulting everyone that came in with silly insults. “We have four and half” one customer commented, referring to a small child that was with them. The waiter retorted, “You only count yourself as half because of your low I.Q.?” The customer looked a bit stunned as the waiter continued on, completely straight-faced, and found them a seat and offered them coffee. All of us, however, broke into laughter at the unexpected comment. It was great!
We were antsy to get moving, not wanting to repeat last nights ride home in black darkness and frigid cold. Not to mention wanting to make it back to Ouray before the dark prevented us from seeing the potentially treacherous road back down. Traffic remained light and we made good time back to Ouray. The deep canyon walls made for twilight, but the sky was sill bright blue, and we had plenty of light to make it down safely.
Ouray was too much to pass through without stopping, so we hopped off the bikes, did a quick walk through, stopping at a few shops, and admired the well-planned theme of the town. City planners in Ouray should be commended for the overall look and feel of the town! With darkness approaching we got back on the bikes and made the journey back up the bland highway 50 to Grand Junction.
Stopping in Ouray, Kirs treated us to one of her famous poses. The town was great and we wished we would have stayed here instead of Grand Junction.
The next day would be our last, and we were reluctant to leave. We awoke a bit late, and packed everything into Eric’s truck, checked out of the hotel and went for the last ride of the weekend. We revisited the coffee shop from the previous day and were delighted that today was the warmest of the three and we felt confident that we would finally, not need, all the warm weather clothing that we left in the truck. We desperately wanted to avoid highway 50, so we rode East on I-70 for only about 15 miles, then exited at highway 330 towards Mesa. On the map 330 looked good, but didn’t give a clue as to how good it was. Massive 30 mph sweepers were dispatched at 70 as we arched the bikes through the never-ending corners. Back and forth, over and over again, the predictability and repetitiveness of the road was like a high-speed dance.
We linked up with highway 65 heading towards Cedaredge and the road climbed up past the ski resort. The leaves transitioned from green, to bare trees and the temperature dropped dramatically. The Grand Mesa is the tallest flat mountain in the world and it was easy to see why when it got so cold that the dynamite road was hard to enjoy. We climbed to the top, where the visitor center was, and was closed. I looked at the altimeter on my watch and it read 10,500 feet. Substantially higher than any of us expected to reach. We had three options; continue to Cedaredge, turn around and come back the way we came, continue to Cedaredge, then return on the dreaded highway 50, or turn around now and go back to the ski resort for some hot coffee and forest-berry pie. We choose the last option and sprinted back to the resort.
After warming up with coffee we headed back towards the truck, but not before stopping at one of the wineries that was right off the side of the road. When we realized that wine tasting is free, vs. having to pay-to-taste in Napa Valley, we rushed back to the truck, loaded the bikes and rushed back to enjoy some wine tasting and ended up buying several cases of wine to -- uhh, drink before we could returned to Utah. (Apparently, it’s a felony to ship/transport alcohol to Utah.)
Oooh, wineries! We didn't realize how many there were in Grand Junction. We hung around for three hours and didn't get to see all of them... I guess that means we'll have to come back next year during wine-fest, the third weekend in September.
But, alas the trip was over, but what a great way to end a trip; visiting several wineries before having dinner and heading for home, not to mention a great way to end the riding season!