Life on the frozen tundra of South Dakota Life on the frozen tundra of South Dakota

Touring Western Colorado

Touring Western Colorado

71 miles.

That's how many miles I had put on my motorcycle between pulling it out from under its winter storage cocoon in my garage and hitting for this year's motorcycle trip. 2016 was probably the least I'd ridden a motorcycle since I first purchased one back in early 1994. I have to be honest when I say I was a bit worried what my rear end would feel like once we hit the road for what was going to be the longest motorcycle trip I've taken to this point.

71 miles. Pathetic.

To be fair, I'd hardly put many more on my truck. This year I had been bicycle commuting almost 100% of the time. As of August 6th I had only driven a vehicle to work three times in 2016. One of those times was after a fresh unplowed 8" snow fall in which I did try and ride my bicycle but turned back after 1/4 mile. My son's school bus got stuck that same day so I didn't feel as bad about having to drive.

My only hope was that my bicycle commuting and running had gotten me in good enough physical shape that I could make it through a grueling motorcycle ride without being in complete agony. In 2015 I had lost 50 excess pounds prior to my motorcycle trip to Duluth, and a year later I was happy to report that not only had I maintained the weight loss, I'd actually dropped a few more pounds. So perhaps this conditioning would carry over a bit? I guess we would find out...

Earlier in the year Jon and I had discussed some possible destinations for this year's trip. We had both agreed at the end of last year's journey that four or five days was not enough time. Not enough time to physically go as far as we'd like, and not enough time mentally to satisfy our need to ride. So we decided a six day trip would be a good amount. Frankly, I'm not sure I could get the Tundra Girl to agree to me being gone for much more of that.

At one point during the year Jon texted me and asked, "Have you ever ridden in Colorado." My answer was yes, but mainly just in the eastern half. I hadn't ever been on the west side of the state, in any form or fashion. Jon had never been to Colorado except for a layover in the Denver airport, which hardly counts. So we quickly decided that Colorado would be this year's destination.

Now came the tricky part: coming up with a good route. It's easy to randomly pick roads. It takes a bit more finesse to figure out which ones are the most scenic, provide access to services and figure out daily mileages that are enough to get you where you want to go, but reasonable enough that you can ride them in a single day.

Because I had never been to the western side of the state, my route planning focused on that area. I decided that 500 miles per day would be my maximum, and preferably would keep it in the 400 range (I didn't do a real good job with either of those goals.) It had been a few years since I'd added some new states to my list, so I wouldn't mind adding one or two as well.

I started studying maps and looking at websites about scenic highways in Colorado. One thing I quickly figured out is there are plenty of options, except for the eastern 3rd of the state which is about as interesting as Kansas (no offense Kansasians.) I spent some time playing with different ideas until I came up with what I thought was a suitable route. In fact, I think it may be the best route I'd come up with since my first trip to Yellowstone in 2006.

Here's a quick list of each day's destinations and some of the highlights of that day:

Day 1: Scottsbluff, NE - Visit Carhenge and the National Monument
Day 2: Grand Junction, CO - Ride through Poudre Canyon and Steamboat Springs.
Day 3: Durango, CO - Ride the Unaweep Tabeguache Scenic Road and go to the Four Corners monument.
Day 4: Denver, CO - Ride the Million Dollar Highway, Black Canyon Highway and the Grand Mesa Scenic Byway
Day 5: Keystone, SD - Ride the Clear Creek Canyon, Rocky Mountain National Park and Custer State Park
Day 6: Back home to Sioux Falls - Nothing interesting, just get home.

So now it was time to prepare for the trip. My motorcycle needed a few maintenance items after last year's journey. First and foremost, the front brake had become extremely "notchy" meaning rather than a nice smooth pull the lever would almost click. As it clicked it would go from not enough braking to too much. The problem had been getting worse over the years and I decided it was now at the point that I had to address it. Thankfully, an hour spent replacing the brake fluid and bleeding out the brake system fixed the issue. I could stop nice and smooth with the front brake now.

Next up was my exhaust. On last year's trip I had noticed that one of the pipes was sliding rearward, creating a gap in the middle of the pipe. My concern was that that gap would continue to separate and I would have an exhaust leak. So one day I decided to fix it. Unfortunately to move that pipe back in place I had to remove the other pipe and all the mounting brackets. Then once I had the pipe slid back in place I attempted to put the other parts back on.

As crazy as it seems, with that pipe in the proper place none of the bolt holes for the mounting brackets would line up. I messed with it for several hours, scratching my head and trying to figure out why. I never did. I even let the bike sit disassembled for a few days hoping the answer would come to me, but nothing.

Finally I was able to get all the bolts back in place, but now not only was the gap still there but the pipes weren't quite sitting parallel. But there was no way the brackets would allow everything to move to the correct position. It's almost like the metal had deformed over the years. After a bunch of frustration I came to the conclusion that "mounted and crooked" is better than not mounted at all. Everything was tight and it wasn't going to fall off, it just didn't look quite right. Maybe I'll eventually go back and figure it all out but for the time being that's the way it was going to be. I'd have been better off just leaving the problem as it originally was.

I also am in need of new hand grips as I've pretty much worn out the stock grips. But the summer slipped away before I had a chance to replace them, so it will have to be next year's project.

My last item of concern was tires. I had last replaced the rear tire in 2013, and the front tire in 2011. My rear tire had about 7,000 miles on it, and the front had 12,000. Visibly they looked pretty decent.

In the past I've averaged around 8-10k on a rear tire and 14-16k on a front tire before they're due for replacement. This trip was going to put the mileage on both tires in the high side of average.

New motorcycle tires aren't cheap. Generally I figure about $600 for a rear tire and $400 for a front, including labor. So it would be a cool grand to replace my tires before this trip. Because of this expense, and because the tires still visibly looked pretty good I decided to risk it and try to eek one more trip out of this set of tires, then replace them before next year's trip. I knew this would be a gamble and if I was wrong I would find myself stranded on the side of the road with a flat tire in the middle of nowhere. But the cheap side of me just couldn't bear throwing away my current tires which still had some life left in them.

As a concession I did add emergency road service to my insurance policy for $6.

The night before we left I had a wedding to attend. I wound up not getting home until about 8:30 PM, so I hurriedly packed my gear and made all the preparations. I also went ahead and showered/shaved so I wouldn't have to spend time in the morning doing those things. While I was at it I also gave myself a haircut, mainly because I was due for one.

So here we go! Continue on to day one...

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This page last updated on 06/28/2018