Colorado 2012 Ride - Day Seven (May 26th)

Parker, CO to Estes Park, CO

On day seven, Steve and Suzanne Weston and I rode to Estes Park, Colorado (the entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park) so we could attend the wedding of the son of my long-time friends, John and Betsy Dietrich.  For this ride, we decided to ride Colorado Highway 119, otherwise known as the Peak to Peak Highway.  This route offered some breathtaking views of the Colorado Rockies.

Along the way, we stopped in Nederland for a quick bite of lunch.  While there, I had the opportunity to briefly see a restored carousel that used to be located in an arcade along the Great Salt Lake.

We arrived in Estes Park shortly after 2:00 p.m., and quickly cleaned so we could attend Rob and Meagan’s wedding at 4 o’clock.  The post-wedding party lasted well into the evening.  Tomorrow, I will make my way down to Pueblo, Colorado to rendezvous with the five guys that I will be sharing the ride with for the tour of Colorado, Utah, and Northern Arizona.

2012 Colorado Ride - Day Six (May 25th)

Parker, CO to Colorado Springs, CO

The prior day, the Weston’s and I had made plans to ride to Pike’s Peak, which was located about 40 miles south near Colorado Springs.  Unfortunately, when we awoke, the sky was very overcast and the day’s forecast called for very windy conditions to develop later in the day.  A quick phone call to the Pike’s Peak Visitors Center determined that the road to the peak was currently going to be open, despite some fog along the way, but they would be re-evaluating conditions during the day.  We decided to head out and see what it was like once we arrived in Colorado Springs.

The ride to Colorado Springs along Highway 83 was pleasant, although the temperature dropped to 41 degrees as we pass through some higher elevations along the way.  The temperatures climbed back into the upper 50s by the time we reached Colorado Springs and we found conditions improving by the time we reached the entrance to the 17-mile long Pike’s Peak Highway.

As we started out climb, I quickly realized I had made a mistake when we left home.  I had opted to leave my tank bag behind at the Weston’s, and with it, my compact point-and-shoot camera that I was wearing around my neck as I ride.  Not having that camera meant that I missed a lot of photographic opportunities along the road up to the summit.  On the other hand, the road was challenging to ride, especially as it climbed and we encountered more and more tight switchbacks (and very slow moving automobile traffic).

To our surprise, the road to the summit was completely paved (in times past, the upper section of the road was unpaved).  By the time we reached the summit (14,110 feet), the temperature had dropped to 32 degrees and the winds were blowing about 35 to 40 mph.

We went into the Summit Visitor Center and warmed up for a bit, and paused to take some photos of the view and the famous cog railroad, before making the trip back down.  Along the way, we stopped a couple of time to take some additional photos.

The trip to the summit of Pike’s Peak was exhilarating, and is a trip I would recommend to anyone who is visiting the Colorado Springs area.

2012 Colorado Ride - Day Five (May 24th)

Parker, Colorado

Day Five was a rest day for me.  Steve Weston arrived home on his motorcycle, after a week long fishing trip in Canada.  We made plans to ride to the top of Pike's Peak on the following day (Friday, May 25th).

2012 Colorado Ride - Day Four (May 23rd)

Russell, KS to Parker, CO

Day four was the final leg of my westbound trip to the Denver area.  Prior to leaving on the trip, I was unable to find any noteworthy point of interest to stop and see along the way.  Besides, the wind was still blowing very strongly when I woke up, so I decided that I should simply ride directly to my next destination, the home of Steve and Suzanne Weston in Parker, Colorado.  Parker is located just south of Denver.

After a quick breakfast, I packed up the motorcycle and started west on Interstate 70.  The wind was still blowing out of the south at 25 to 30 mph.  I continued to find myself having to lean the motorcycle about 15 to 20 degrees to the left, into the wind, just to maintain a path straight forward.  Somewhere along the way, the winds shifted and began blowing from the north (my right-to-left).  As a result, I now found myself having to lean the bike to the right to maintain a path of travel straight ahead.  This made passing tractor-trailer trucks hazardous.  As I would approach the truck (with me in the left lane and the truck in the right lane), the wind would abate and I would shift the bike to straight upright.  As I passed alongside, I often found the bike wanting to lean into the truck, and as I completed the pass, the winds would immediately hit me as soon as I cleared the truck’s cab.  All in all, it made for a tiring ride.

The temperature started out in the low 70s and rode a bit.  However, as I continued into Colorado itself, the temperature started to drop a bit.  I soon find myself chilled, but continued to push onward.  Once I exited I-70, I stopped and put on a wind liner since the temperature had dropped to 67 degrees.  As I continued on Colorado Highway 86, and climbed in altitude, the temperature continued to drop, eventually reaching a brisk 61 degrees (with the winds continuing to blow).

I eventually reached Franktown and turned northward on Colorado 83.  I safely arrived at the home of Steve and Suzanne Weston around mid-day.  By the time I arrived at their house, the temperature had dropped to the low 60s and about three hours later, rain showers started as a front moved through the area.  I made it there in the nick of time!

2012 Colorado Ride - Day Three (May 22nd)

Springfield, MO to Russell, KS

Day three took me from Springfield, Missouri to Russell, Kansas, with sightseeing stops in West Mineral, Kansas and Hutchinson, Kansas.  The day’s ride was not as ambitious as the previous day, from a mileage perspective, but was quite long because of the stops.

I left Springfield before 7:00 a.m., to beat the morning commuter traffic.  The temperatures were a brisk 46 degrees.  After clearing Springfield, I rode through some more beautiful farm land.  I soon discovered that the roads I was following was part of the famous Route 66 route from Chicago to California.

After traveling approximately an hour and half from Springfield, I turned onto some back country roads.  The roads alternated between fields and wooded areas where I found myself riding through a tunnel of green.

 My ride soon led me to the site of Big Brutus – the world’s largest electric shovel.  Even before I arrived at the site, I was able to see the boom towering over the trees.

I soon arrived at the visitor’s center, which was still closed, but opened shortly after my arrival.  After my admission fee, I chatting with a staff member for a few minutes, browsed the museum’s indoor exhibits, and watched a video of original assembly footage of Big Brutus.  Then it was time to head outside and see the real thing.

It was a short walk from the visitor’s center to the site where Big Brutus now resides.  For lack of a better word, Bug Brutus is --- immense.  From the crawler tracks to the top of the boom, the shovel is 15 stories tall.  When the shovel was in operation, it weighed about 11,000,000 pounds and was able to move 90 cubic yards (enough to fill three railroad cars!).

The interior of the shovel is open for tours, but the boom is no longer open to the public – the boom was closed in 2004 due to insurance company concerns with liability.  The interior is huge.

The shovel operated for 11 years, around the clock, until ceasing operation in 1974.
There were many other interesting antique machines on display around the museum’s grounds.

After spending almost two hours there, I decided it was time to move on to Hutchinson to see the Kansas Salt Museum.  The ride from West Mineral to Hutchinson was approximately 200 miles (about three hours).  The ride first took me west on US Highway 400 to Wichita, then west and northwest to Hutchinson.  By this time, the temperatures were climbing into the mid 70s and the famous  Kansas winds were beginning to blow.  Through the remainder of the day, the winds were blowing a steady 25 to 30 mph, making for a fatiguing ride.

The Kansas Salt Museum is part of a still operational salt mine and is the only salt mine in the western hemisphere that is open for public tours.

After purchasing my ticket, I had to wait about one half hour for the next tour to start.  After watching a short safety video, we were issued a hard hat and an emergency survival breather kit, in case of a accident.  If needed, the breather kit would convert carbon monoxide into carbon dioxide.  Mining regulations required that we have the breather kits with us and that we wear hard hats will in the mine.  The it was time to load the elevator for the ride down 650 feet into the mine.

The ride down took and one and half minutes, and during the ride, you could feel the pressure change occur in your ears.  Once in the mine, we were told that the salt vein in the area begins at a depth of 400 feet and extends to approximately 70 feet below us (remember, we were at 650 feet).  Above the salt was a layer referred to as mud – basically shale rock.

After a short orientation talk, we were released for a self guided tour through a gallery area.  The gallery had ceilings nine feet high, and extended hundreds of feet in front of us.  We could see more of the museum area about 300 feet down the gallery.

Touring the galleries, you could see mock-ups of how salt mining operations are conducted, the equipment used, and some of the old vehicles that have been used in the mines over the decades.

One area included displays of a number of Hollywood film props.  Many Hollywood films and props are stored in this mine because of the environmental conditions – a constant 68 degrees and 40 percent humidity.

A company has a 100 year lease for space in the mine for archival storage facilities.  They 218 galleries, similar in size to the one we were touring, for storage of records, films, and other things.  Those areas are not open to the public.

I also took both a tram ride and a train ride back into other areas of the mine that show how it was left by miners over 60 years ago.

After more than two hours in the mine, I decided it was time to head back to the surface.  I still had another two hours of travel to reach my final destination for the day – Russell, Kansas.  When I returned outside the museum, the winds were still blowing as strong as earlier in the day, and the winds made for a brutal and very tiring ride.  I finally rolled into Russell a little after 7:00 p.m.  It had been a long day, but well worth it seeing both Big Brutus and the Salt Museum.

More pictures from the day’s ride are available in my Picasa webalbum.

2012 Colorado Ride - Day Two (May 21st)

Dalton, GA to Springfield, MO

I arranged for Day Two to be my longest mileage of the four days to travel to Denver, CO.  This would be a 603 mile day, traveling from Dalton, Georgia to Metropolis, Illinois (to see the Superman statue in the town square) and then on to Springfield, Missouri.

As I rode to Chattanooga, I was able to see the fog capping the tops of the mountains along both sides of the road.  

I timed my departure from Dalton to avoid the worst of the morning rush hour traffic through Chattanooga, Tennessee.

The tricky part of the day’s ride was also timing the passage through Nashville, TN about two hours later.  Fortunately, I accounted for the change to the Central Time Zone and I arrived at Nashville around 9 a.m., well after the rush hour.

I continued riding north on I-24 through the Tennessee mountains to Clarksville.  After Clarksville, the terrain became rolling hills of farm land.  The hay was ready for harvesting and the corn was just starting to grow.

Eventually I crossed the Tennessee River and entered Kentucky.  The countryside continued to be rolling hills and farms.  Finally, after four hours of riding, I reached Paducah, Kentucky on the Ohio River.  Although I have travelled through Paducah during a couple of previous transits to Colorado, I never realized, until recently, that Metropolis, Illinois was just crossed the Ohio River.  Metropolis, IL is home to a well-known roadside attraction – a large status of Superman in the center of town.  I crossed the Ohio River and entered Illinois and within ten minutes was in Metropolis.  The residents of Metropolis make full use of the Superman theme for their town.  When you enter town, you are greeted with a sign welcoming you to Metropolis, the home of Superman.

The light poles down the main street display signs declaring it “American Way.”  Following the signs, I quickly reached the town hall and saw the large Superman status on display in front of the old town hall.

Across the street is the Superman souvenir shop, which I chose to avoid.  

While photographing the status, I met a couple of gentlemen who introduced themselves as BMW motorcycle riders.  One of them said he was preparing to leave for the Rubber Chicken Rally down in Huntsville, Alabama this weekend.  They recommended a nearby restaurant that is the favorite lunch spot for the locals – Rube’s.  I rode there, stopping briefly to photograph another bronze status of Lois Lane, which has been placed on a street corner a few blocks away.

At Rube’s, I enjoyed a good home-style buffet meal – country-fried steak with all the fixings.

After lunch, I wander some back roads, dubbed the Ohio River Scenic Byway, through the countryside bordering the Ohio River.  This eventually led me to I-57.  Interstates are not my preferred travel routes when motorcycling, but with this being a 600 mile day, I had no choice but to use them to cover the miles required.  I-57 took me across the Mississippi River into Missouri.  

As soon as you cross the river, the terrain becomes absolutely flat, and continues that way for what must have been 20 or 30 miles.  This eventually gave way to gently rolling countryside and later the northern foothills of the Ozark Mountains.  I followed Route 60 west across the state and finally arrived in Springfield around 5:30 p.m. CDT.

My Garmin Montana GPS performed  flawlessly today, so I was spared the aggravating lock-ups  of the day before.  It was a great day’s ride, with temperatures in the upper 70s for the entire day.  Tomorrow, I am off to see Big Brutus and, hopefully, the Kansas Salt Museum and Mine.

More pictures from the day’s ride are available in my Picasa web album.

2012 Colorado Ride - The Journey Begins

Day One
Wilmington, NC to Dalton, GA - 512 Miles

I awoke early to finish packing the odd-and-ends into my dry bag, and getting it strapped on the bike.  After a quick bite to eat, it was time to get on the road.  As I was putting on my riding gear, I heard one of my regular riding buddies, Ed O’Neil, pull up outside.  Ed had originally planned to join me for the first day’s ride to Dalton, Georgia, but decided to not do so when he was faced with the prospect of having to return to Wilmington on Monday.  Instead, Ed decided to join me for the first couple of hours of the trip, and definitely appreciated the company.

We made our way out of Wilmington, making our way west on Highway 74/76 to Lumberton, and then south on I-95.  Later we unsuccessfully tried to find a breakfast  spot at the exit for Dillon, SC, we moved down the interstate a few more miles to find a Wendy’s/Auto Service Plaza.  While there we saw and struck up a conversation with another rider on a – unique looking – Harley-Davidson.

The gentleman was heading back home to Martinsville, VA and we had a few minutes of interesting conversation.  At this point, Ed and I parted and I continued onward.

After travelling west on I-20 to Columbia, I turned northwestward on I-26, eventually reaching the town of Newberry, SC.  At this point, my route moved to some great back roads.  Shortly after leaving Newberry, the journey became really interesting when my GPS went, for lack of a better word, wonky.  The map display froze and stopped routing me, and the only indicator still working was the digital speedometer being displayed.  I was eventually able to stop and shut off and restart the unit, and all appeared to be right again.  But, shortly after I pulled out, the GPS froze again.  Another stop did not resolve the problem.

Panic began to set in.  All of my directions for my routes from Wilmington to Parker, Colorado were programmed into the GPS, and my netbook in the saddlebags – no paper maps or printed directions.  Not my brightest move.  My friends know that I am a geek, and that I love my gadgets.  My wife has always told me that I place too much confidence in my gadgets, and for a change, I believe she is right.  (Don’t tell her I said that.)

I continued on. Blindly, I continued on until I reached the town of Ninety-Six, South Carolina.  This is the home of a Revolutionary War era fort that I had considered stopping to see, but with the GPS problems delaying me, I decided to settle for a quick refueling and lunch stop.  After lunch, I quickly scribbled some directions on a piece of paper and put it into my tank bag’s map pocket.

After a series of turns that were leaving me less-and-less confident about where I was heading, I decided to stop and try a “master reset” of the GPS.  The last time I did this, at home, it wiped out everything on the unit.  I decided that I was no worse off if the reset wiped my electronic routes and waypoints – the GPS was useless anyway.  Well to my surprise, the master reset worked and I did not lose all my routes!  The unit functioned fine for the remainder of the day.  This was the second “adventure” of the trip (the first being the failed valve stem a couple days before I actually left).

I continued on, eventually reaching Elberton, Georgia, the home of the Georgia Guidestones.  When I arrived,  I saw the Guidestones perched on a hillside on the right-hand side of the road.  

I turned up the access road and pulled into a small parking area where I found a half dozen cars and another BMW motorcycle.

I first read about the Guidestones in an article in Wired magazine a few years ago, and I have been wanting to visit them for the past few years as part of one of my motorcycle trips.  As I approached them, I overheard a lady chatting with a couple about the world calamity coming later this year and how this would be the only safe location to be when it happens…

I will not recount the history of the Georgia Guidestones – you can read the Wikipedia article for more of that.  They are an interesting monument.  I spent a few minutes walking around and photographing the different inscriptions on the stones.

While preparing to leave, I began chatting with a family.  It turned out that the gentleman had lived in Southport for about ten years and worked at the Brunswick Nuclear Plant, where I also work.  He currently works for Duke Energy at their Oconee.  For a few minutes, we chatted about folks we both know at Brunswick.

I returned to the ride, with much of the rest of the day riding along roads through the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains across northern Georgia.

The temperatures for afternoon were running in the mid to upper eighties – until I ran into a brief thundershower – which dropped the temperatures to about 70 degrees.  I pushed through the short ten-minute shower without stopping to don rain gear.  Fortunately I did not get extremely wet and I dried quickly after clearing the storm.  I rolled into Dalton, Georgia about 5:40 p.m., finishing an enjoyable, if unsettled, day’s journey.  Hopefully tomorrow would be go more smoothly.

You see more pictures of the Georgia Guidestones, as well as a map of today's ride, on my Picasa page.

2012 Colorado Ride - Three Days to Go

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Last evening, I started booking hotel reservations for the trip westward.  On the first night, I will be staying in Dalton, Georgia.  One of my regular riding buddies, Ed O'Neil, has decided to travel with me on the first day.  Any excuse for a ride, right?

Last night, I also encountered my first challenge of the trip.  Another friend, Dick Williams, recently had his K1200GT's rear wheel valve stem fail during a trip to the HeleN Back Rally.  The valve steam failure caused his rear tire to rapidly deflate while traveling on Interstate 20 and resulted in destruction of his brand new rear tire.  Because of Dick's experience, and since I was already having a new set of tires mounted for my trip, I also decided to have both the front and rear wheel valve stems replaced.  Well, to make a long story short, after riding home, I discovered that my new front valve stem had split halfway through where it joins the rim and the front tire was flat.  I am surprised that I made it home without the tire going flat.

I made a quick call to my trusted mechanic, Mark Bisnette.  Mark told me that if I bring the wheel to him, he will quickly replace the valve stem.  He encountered the same issue with my rear wheel immediately after mounting the new rear tire.  It sounds like he received a bad batch of valve stems.

It was a quick job to put the bike on my Pit Bull front-end stand and remove the front wheel.  I plan to make another trip to Mark's house in the next couple of days.  Hopefully this will be the extent of my mechanical problems for this trip.

2012 Colorado Ride - One Week to Go

Well its less than one week until I start my 2012 Western Trip.  My local mechanic extraordinaire (Mark Bisnette) finished servicing my R1200GSA this weekend.  The bike is tuned, the oil changed, and a fresh set of tires have been mounted.  As usual, Mark has done a superb job of preparing the bike for me.

During this trip, I will be visiting my long-time friends, John and Betsy Dietrich, who live in Boulder, Colorado.  I will be attending the wedding of their son, Robert and Meagan Vincent.  Afterwards, I will be meeting a group of fellow riders, several of whom I have met at the Blue Ridge rendezvous events (Rick Young, Bob Foley, and Chuck Thompson) and a couple of new riders (Barry Pendry and Allen (last name currently known)), for a ten-day tour of Colorado, Arizona, and Utah.  After the tour, I am planning to visit John and Betsy Dietrich for a couple of days before returning to North Carolina.

Compared to my previous trips, I am behind on planning my rides to and from Colorado.  During the past weekend, I continued to work on each day's ride, trying to arrange stops at some of the sight-seeing locations that I have previously marked for possible visits.  Within the next day or two, I plan to make hotel reservations for each day of my ride to Colorado.

My friend and fellow R1200GSA rider, Ed O'Neil, has indicated that he wants to join me for the first day's ride (Sunday, May 20th), as long as it's not raining.  The first day's ride will be from Wilmington to Dalton, Georgia, with a stop at the Georgia Guidestones.  I am looking forward to having Ed join me. 

I am planning to publish an update every day or two days throughout the trip (hopefully I will have an Internet connection).  So please check back regularly for more posts, including a preview of the route to Colorado later this week.

2012 International Motorcycle Show Trip

On the weekend of February 24-26, the 2012 International Motorcycle Show was held in the Charlotte Convention Center. With this year's show being held on three and half hours drive away from home, and not having attended the 2011 show in Greenville, South Carolina, I really wanted to attend the sow this year. My regular riding partners, Ed O'Neil and Dick Williams, were also interested in attending the show, as were several other members from our local BMW motorcycle club.

Ed O'Neil, Dick Williams, and I initially had plans to travel to Charlotte on the morning of Friday (February 24th), attend the show that afternoon and evening, and return on Saturday. However, after checking the weather forecast a day or two beforehand, we made a last-minute change and delayed our departure until Saturday. Friday was overcast, very windy, and a line of strong storms roll through in the afternoon, so we made a good decision to wait.

On Saturday, Ed, Dick, and I were joined by Tony and Jill Barcia, Bob Thomson, and Bill Traina, all of whom are members of our BMW motorcycle club, for the ride to Charlotte. Despite delaying our departure until Saturday, we still had to contend with some gusty winds throughout the ride to Charlotte. We rode on Highway 74/76, stopping in Wadesboro for lunch

After having a quick meal and warming up, we continued on Highway 218 from Polkton to Charlotte. This allowed us to avoid the traffic congestion that always seems to occur through the Monroe area.

Ed, Dick, and I all stayed at the Charlotte Residence Inn – Uptown, while Bill Traina and Bob Thomson stayed at the nearby Marriott Garden Inn. Our rooms at the Residence Inn had a great view of the downtown Charlotte skyline.

After checking in, Ed, Dick, and I walked to the Charlotte Convention Center, which was located only a few blocks away. During our walk to the convention center, we noted that downtown Charlotte has a large number of museums, restaurants, open spaces, and other places of interest, and there was an abundance of contemporary artwork in these public spaces.

This year, the International Motorcycle Show was sponsored again by Progressive Insurance. The event was set up downstairs in the Charlotte Convention Center. The convention center offered good accommodations for the show, but a common complaint heard throughout the show was the lack of dedicated motorcycle-only parking for show attendees. Hopefully the show's organizers will address this for the 2013 show. After 2013, I was told the show's contract is up for renewal, so show parking could become a factor for where future shows are held.

Most of the major manufacturers were represented. BMW had a pavilion near the show entrance, and had a number of motorcycles on display. The BMW pavilion was staffed by representatives from the Charlotte, Greensboro, and Raleigh dealerships, as well as a representative for the BMW Performance Center in Greer, SC. While at the BMW pavilion, Ed, Dick, and I again met with Bob Thomson, Bill Traina, and Tony and Jill Barcia.

All of us spent the next few hours walking around to see the motorcycles on display, as well as spending a little bit of money for accessories that we otherwise do not get to evaluate. 

When dinner time arrived, Ed, Dick, Bill, Bob, and I met at Connolly's on Fifth, a delightful Irish pub. While there, we were able to enjoy a few pints of our favorite beers.

Afterwards, we walked to a nearby Italian Restaurant, Vapiano, for dinner.

The walk back to our hotels allowed us to see some of the city lights.

The next morning, Ed, Dick, and I met Bob Thomson and Bill Traina at their hotel and we headed home using a back road route across South Carolina, mostly on SC Highway 9.

On our way out of Charlotte, we made a quick stop at the James K. Polk birthplace State Historic Site to collect a photo for the State Historic Site Challenge Ride.

It was a great weekend, shared the rides and the show with friends. I close with some additional photos of some of the motorcycles we were able to see at this year's International Motorcycle Show.