Sunday, July 17, 2011

Montrose, CO to Amarillo, TX - Second to the last day!

At the state park about 10 miles south of Montrose, CO I set my alarm for 5:15 am. It was a cool 49 degrees out but not bad compared to the previous weeks of 45 degrees. I made myself a batch of instant oatmeal with raisins and chopped walnuts again to get me going. I loaded everything up and drove out of the park about 6:05 am.

Route from Montrose, CO to Amarillo, TX - 610 miles!
From there I rode south on highway 550 - "The Million Dollar Highway". It started off at a nice 49 degrees and as I climbed higher and higher through Ouray, CO the temps went down from there.

Here is an idea of what the terrain looked like through the mountain passes.

The road gets narrower and twistier and has a lot of 15 and 20 mph hairpin corners. On many (most?) of the corners there are no guardrails and the scenery is quite distracting to try to stay on the road! I also saw a lot of deer but they seemed to be used to being on the road and seeing traffic as they were just standing along side the road either munching or just looking at me.

This had been my strategy from several days ago as I tried to think ahead. Last year I traveled north on this hwy 550 in the late afternoon. I got into the afternoon buildups and it was solid rain, overcast (so I couldn't see any scenery) and TONS of traffic including huge RVs which made travel very slow and frustrating. I got wet and cold and pretty miserable.

So my plan (hope) was to get into position to do the pass this time in the early morning to avoid the possible afternoon orographic precipitation and hit it before the RVs rolled out of bed. It worked perfectly! What I didn't count on was the cooler morning temps and the bright sunshine in the mountains that made for difficult photography. Because of those things I didn't get any pics. My fingers were already too cold to take a glove off to snap any pics!

The coldest temp was 41 degrees as I went through Silverton. Silverton seems like it sits in a bowl and all the cool mountain air settled overnight there and it was colder than up in the passes. I got over the second pass and descended in Durango.

I checked the POIs on the Garmin and looked for a cafe. I found the "Durango Diner" and headed for main street, off the main highway. It was an old, kind of quaint, old-fashioned narrow diner with barstool swivel seats at a bar.
Poor pic from my cell phone, but it was kinda retro sitting there watching the cook and waitresses sling breakfast plates around.

I wrapped my fingers around a hot cup of coffee and checked email on my phone, some text messages, and a few phone calls.

An hour later I was on my way east to Pagosa Springs then south on hwy 84. Now, there are faster ways south and my Garmin Nuvi 765T was telling me to go a different way, but, hey - this is still a ride and going through mountains across northern New Mexico is a heluva lot better ride than more superslab in a flatter countryside. So I made up for the longer route by riding longer in the day.

It was a beautiful ride. I think it is the Carson National Forest, in the San Juan Mountains. Not sure, will have to doublecheck. I was surprised to see on my GPS that the forested landscape was actually at 10,000 at times!  Anyway, came out of the mountains into that strange area of modern, large, expen$ive looking adobe homes just west of the Rio Grande crossing west of Taos. Here are a couple of token pics, can't tell much from them.

Would love to meet the people who built this place - bet they are very interesting...

I took some pics crossing the Rio Grande but didn't stop - just shot them on the fly. Boy, that didn't work at all, just got pics of the railing going by. I had been there before and have some other pics so I was more interested in making miles.

I stopped briefly in Taos to pick up a sticker for my saddlebag and a butt break, drink and a snack. A few people noticed and asked me about my stickers - "Did you really ride that to Alaska??" I am already learning to love that!

Then it was time to motor, but still the scenic way. So I went south to route 518 and then east. Some of you may know that route, and some of my Kansas City riding buddies may recognize this pic:

The Sipapu Ski Lodge

This is where the Albuquerque BMW Motorcycle Club has its annual rally and I went there a couple of years ago with 4 other guys from Kansas City. Beautiful location (but rather cool at 8500 feet!). We had an awesome ride across northern NM led by a local guy. Different story...

So I continued through the mountains and came out on the east side and down to Las Vegas, NM, where I picked up hwy 84 again for about 40 miles south to I-40.

Interesting to note - I had been riding through the mountains in the 60's and 70's for temps. I got into some rain on the east side and it dropped into the low 60's. Pretty cool but I could see the lighter skies to the south so I knew I would ride out of it so I didn't stop to put on a liner or change gloves.

On a motorcycle you get warm, then you get cold - get used to it and get over it. Part of the experience.

But what I didn't expect was the temps to rise from the mid-70's in Las Vegas to the mid-90's by the time I got to I-40. Then I rode another 15 miles or so and stopped to get gas in Santa Rosa and it was 102!  Wow! And I still had on my jeans from the cold morning ride over the mountain passes from Montrose (which seemed a million miles away).

I really wanted to get to Amarillo to be ready for the final stretch home to Houston. But it was about 180 miles to get there and now it was about 5 pm.

So I got on the interstate and went about 77 to 78 mph (speed limit was 70) for the next several hours. I had a terrific crosswind from the south which really kicked around me passing trucks. 

I rode the almost 3 hours without stopping into Amarillo and was quite wrung out from the ride and heat when I got there. Amarillo is a big town and the interstate goes right through the commercial center of the city. I saw a sign for rooms starting at $26 and thought to myself - camping in my tent for $20 in 90+ degrees or an air-conditioned room with a shower for $26??? Hmmm, let me think about this for a minute...

Checked in to that motel after that minute was up. Unloaded everything off the bike which was a pain and I rarely did (the large red drybag on the back seat had my alternate summer riding gear and my freeze dried meals and some other seldom used stuff so I never opened it.

I did open it then to switch out my riding gear. I knew tomorrow would be hot so rain or not I had to change. I also got out one of the few remaining Mountain House freeze dried meals and heated up some water and enjoyed that. Saves time, money, and hassle of riding somewhere to eat. Great concept - highly recommended at the end of a long day!

So my final mileage for the day was 610 miles down from Montrose, CO. And that was not the easy way! Wow, when I look at a map that is covering a lot of country! Makes me tired just thinking about it.

But my strategy from several days earlier of being positioned well to end the ride worked. I made Amarillo the first day I left so I knew I could make it home the next day.

Slept hard that night.

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