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Tuesday Edition


The Big Adventure and a Change of Course

“We wanna be free to ride our machines” – Heavenly Blues (Peter Fonda)/ Wild Angels

Text and photos by Anson Alexander
10/22/2014


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The saga began when my daughter said she was headed to Colorado with her friend to have a “Big Adventure." The girls would bring the two pups and free me up for some “Pop” time. I realized their trip coincided with Sturgis 2014 and made plans to attend.
 
I have attended Sturgis in the past, alone and with friends. The first time was in 1981 and the last time was 2000. I admit it has been a long while but I don’t think Mount Rushmore noticed. I made up a trip list, fabricated an oak board to better support my camping gear on my luggage rack and got to packing. It is a 1600 mile trip from my home in Houma, LA to the Black Hills of South Dakota. I planned my travel through Texas, New Mexico, Colorado and Wyoming. Over the years our family has summer camped in Colorado many times. I have motorcycled through Colorado on occasion but have not spent a lot of time touring the state. 


The girls left on Wednesday evening and were in Colorado the next day. I packed up on Thursday and headed out early Friday morning. My plan was to take three days, arrive at the rally on Monday and spend the week, returning the Wednesday after the rally. That would fit my daughter’s time frame and I would be back to take over the dog before she headed back to college. I pulled the choke and hit the start button and the FLHT rumbled to life as the Gulf sky lit up with the morning sun. I knew this would be a good day. It was for 35 miles. I passed through Morgan City and with the day came a heavy rain. I shook it off and kept on riding.

I passed through Lafayette and up to Alexandria where I pulled into McDonald’s for a cup of coffee. I was cold and shaking, soaked to the skin. It had rained the entire ride. I put both hands around the hot coffee and attempted to understand how it could be 80 degrees outside and I was chilled to the bone.
 
A guy in work clothes started talking to me about where I was going. I didn’t pay much attention to him until he mentioned he had a 1968 FLH dresser in storage. The 1966-1968 Shovels with the slab side cam cover are my dream bike. By the time I could get my dulled brain in gear he had grabbed his breakfast and taken off in his truck.
 
I headed to my bike and yanked out my rain gear. The oilfield rain suit felt familiar as I slipped it on. I left McD’s and fueled up at a nearby gas station before getting back on I-49 N and riding to Shreveport. The rain continued but I was warm. The FLHT windshield and full face helmet minimized the spray and I was starting to actually enjoy the ride. The other benefit of the full face helmet is that it kept my beard in place. The FLHT wind currents push my beard up into my face, it drives me nuts. The full face held my beard down and I have to admit I felt safer in the big silver brain bucket. That’s my two cents on the subject.


I pulled up at the Texas welcome center to pick up a state map. There was a Louisiana rider on a new Harley trike. He asked if I was headed to Sturgis, I acknowledged I was. He asked how far it was and what route I was taking. I told him and observed he was wearing shorts, tennis shoes, a T-shirt and a light plastic rainsuit that was in tatters. I asked if he had any other clothes and he said “No," it was hot when he left home and he hadn’t planned on any cool weather. I suggested he might stop and pick up some boots, jeans and suitable clothes before heading north. He looked at me like I was kidding and zoomed off on his trike down I-20W. I kept the yellow “banana” suit on until I rolled outside Dallas. The weather cleared and the sun warmed the day. Late afternoon traffic thru DFW was stop and go, I pulled into a Taco Cabana restaurant to kill some time and chow on a fajita plate. 

I then headed up Hwy 287 toward Wichita Falls. I saw a sign indicating a state park and slipped off the main road. I entered the park and rode into the camp area. I chose a camp site and turned off the bike. Something ran past while I was pulling off my helmet. In the fading light I noticed the camp area was full of holes. I set up my tent and sat down at the picnic table to chill out before bedding down.
 
In the fading daylight I saw what I thought was a squirrel pop out of one of the holes in the ground, then another and then another. Prairie dogs! The camping area was a prairie dog site! The critters were everywhere, whistling, running around and doing whatever it is they like to do. I hoped one of them wouldn’t pop up in my tent at night, as it was too late to pack up and move on. I fell asleep to prairie dog chatter and woke the next morning to stillness. The sun was just coming up as I packed my bike and waited for the little guys to pop out of their holes.  It was not to be, I guess prairie dogs sleep in while it is cool. I tried to keep my rumbling exhaust note to a minimum, as not to disturb their rest as I left the park. 

I rode up to Amarillo and on thru Dumas and Dalhart. The area has seen growth over the years and multiple franchises sprouted where was once only a Dairy Queen and local gas stations stood. My family used to enjoy a BBQ house up that way, it had barbequed its way to the ground years ago and now only the concrete slab remained. Damn shame, it featured a good brisket on a bun sandwich.
 
I entered New Mexico at Texline and finally relaxed. That black top highway is one of my favorite rides. Years ago a riding partner of mine and I pulled up to a long line of traffic stalled on that New Mexico road. We rode our bikes to the head of the line and were pulled over by a state trooper who was holding back traffic. My buddy and the trooper got to talking. When it was time for the now long line of traffic to travel the trooper held the line back 5 minutes allowing us to ride on alone. My friend is no longer with us, riding with him for miles alone along Hwy 64 toward Raton will forever be with me.

I crossed into Colorado through Raton Pass and into Trinidad, Colorado. I pulled into Trinidad to pick up a state map and enjoyed free coffee with the local volunteer ladies at the welcome center. I then headed over to the liquor store for a bottle of red wine and over to Safeway for groceries. I enjoy making my own meals while on the road. I carry a small cast iron pan and a Coleman 508 stove.
 
I can do breakfast, make coffee and warm a can of soup in the evening while settled in my camp site. I have been doing that for more years than I can remember. On this trip I made it a point to eat better. I avoided the fast food outlets, snacked on fruit, veggies and indulged on my breakfast bacon and eggs. It worked out great and I have never felt better while traveling. The little ice chest I brought along held my foodstuffs and adult beverages. I never saw the need to purchase ice and everything stayed fresh throughout the trip.


It was now Saturday evening and I rode from Trinidad up to Colorado City on I-25. I got off on Hwy 165 and headed into the San Isabel Mountains. The state camp area at Lake Isabel was full, so I rode a few miles on to the Davenport tent camping area. I took the dirt road off the highway and rode into the National Forest. It was the weekend and the camping area was busy with folks enjoying the evening. I found a site and set up camp. I pulled the cork on the wine and filled my camping cup to the brim. The beans and franks heated up over the stove and I snacked on tortillas and cheese while imbibing on the vino. My camping neighbors invited me over to warm up by their fire. 
 

They were a small town Texas family who had recently moved to Pueblo to try their luck in Colorado. It was two brothers, one of the brother’s little girl, their mom and two dogs. I had to admire the fact they were all pulling together to better themselves. The brothers said they were working and the grandmother was looking forward to getting the little girl settled in school.
 
The little girl was content to chase the dogs around the camp area with a stick. I finished the bottle of wine and slept like a happy prairie dog in his burrow that night. When I woke my neighbors broke camp and left while I fried eggs on the stove and enjoyed morning coffee. I packed up my bedroll and headed back up the dirt road to the highway. The day was early and cool and the sun lit up the mountains. I said a rider’s prayer as it was Sunday morning.


The road beckoned for about two miles, and then I pulled over at Bishop’s Castle. The castle is the work of Jim Bishop. The 71-year-old iron worker, welder, artist, anarchist began the castle with the purchase of 2 ½ acres of San Isabel mountain land when he was 15 years old. He has single-handedly built a mountain fortress and sculpture of immense proportions over the past many years.
 
The castle is 160 ft tall, includes a cathedral and a stainless steel dragon head. Jim has been working on the surrounding wall and moat the past several years. The castle is free to the public though donations are accepted. I have roamed through the castle many times over the years. It is difficult to grasp that a single man has constructed it and without the benefit of heavy construction machinery. It is literally built by one man’s hand.
 
I took a group of riders there years ago while we were headed to Sturgis. It started raining while we visited and Jim invited us to camp at the base of the castle. We set up our gear and grilled steaks over a camp fire. The beers flowed and we got an earful of Bishop Philosophy that night. On this visit I had morning coffee with Jim courtesy of the catering truck parked on the grounds. I climbed the high tower and watched the reaction of first time guest as they made their way through the rock structure. Jim was holding court below, shouting it was time for America to “WAKE UP!” and dismantle a government that has failed to adhere to it’s democratic principles. I dropped my dollars in the donation box at the bottom of the staircase on my way out. Jim shook my hand and I wished him well before heading to my bike parked on the frontage road.

 
I rode on through the mountains on hwy 165 to hwy 96. I headed west on hwy 96 to the town of Westcliffe. I called my daughter and she told me they were camped up at Twin Lakes. I could meet them later in the day, and we could camp together that night. The girls and dogs were going to take a hike up the mountain. Her friend requested I bring hotdogs for dinner.
 
I stopped in Westcliffe and purchased hotdogs, buns, potato salad, fruit, water. I filled the ice chest and headed north to Texas Creek on hwy 69. There I connected with hwy 50 and rode to Salida where I got on hwy 24. The towns of Salida and Buena Vista where places to grab a 6-pack or fill up on gas years ago. Today the towns are crowded with tourists passing through to bicycle, hike, kayak, and raft the surrounding area. Whitewater rafting is popular down the Arkansas River areas the Numbers and Brown’s Canyon. My kids and I rafted with River Runners and camped at Ruby Mountain state campground in the past.  The experience of Colorado rafting turned into a passion for my son who is now a whitewater raft guide on the Chattooga River in South Carolina.

 
I stopped in Buena Vista and purchased a Fort Collins, Co. crafted beer, Odell’s IPA. I took a liking to the Odell’s brews and stuck with them throughout my trip. I do not drink and ride. However, once the kickstand is down, it’s time to pry a cap and enjoy the campfire.  
 
I continued north on hwy 24 to the town of Twin Lakes. The town is rich in history and the original building structures are preserved in a small park. Visitors can enjoy lodging, restaurants and a general store while visiting the town of today. I parked my bike in the parking lot and took a walking tour of the town. I stopped inside the local information building and had a pleasant conversation with the volunteer who filled me in on local history and fishing. I laid out on a picnic bench and took a nap while waiting for my daughter to complete her mountain hike. 



My daughter called to tell me where they were and to join them. I rode the bike to the campground and my dog, Tucker, came running up the hill to greet me. The girls and I exchanged greetings, and they told me their plan for the evening camp. We left Twin Lakes and headed through Leadville toward Red Cliff where we turned off on a dirt road into the National Forest.
 
I tried to explain that a fully loaded FLHT makes a terrible 800 lb dirt bike. Nevertheless they zoomed up the mountain dirt road in the Toyota Rav4. I finally caught up with them and they had chosen a site with a fire pit and plenty of open area for the dogs to ramble. We set up the tents and collected firewood. I was designated the hotdog chef while the ladies took care of the other culinary duties.
 
The IPA was opened and we kicked back with travel and dog stories while the mountain evening cooled down. I turned in early while the girls stayed up to figure out the night sky constellations. The dogs prowled the camp area and I was glad for their companionship for my daughter and her friend on their “big adventure”.


Monday morning came quickly. I woke and got the fire restarted while the pups chased each other in the stillness. The girls woke and my daughter whipped up breakfast while her friend packed their tent and sleeping items. I was amazed at their efficiency. By the time I finished my breakfast the gals were good to go. I checked over their car, after hugs and loading up the dogs they zoomed off. Heck, I still had to pack my tent and brush my teeth. I got in gear and loaded up the bike. It was a work day for some folks, construction and forest crews were beginning to travel the dirt road. I took my time and made it back to the main highway. 


I decided to ride north to I-70 and head east to I-25 and north to Sturgis. I crossed a green metal bridge along the way with a sign showing the town of Red Cliff on the side of the mountain. I turned back and rode down the narrow road to the bottom of the mountain where I found a community of 300 people hidden away. I made a quick riding tour of the town and passed a crew working on a house project.
 
The town was quiet and I kept the bike to a low note until I headed back up the narrow road to the highway. It was now mid-morning and time for me to get moving. Daylight was burning. I rode up to I-70 at Dowd and fueled up. It was then when it hit me. I saw the bike riders headed east on the interstate. I watched the riders hurrying to fuel up at the gas station. The hustle to the Black Hills rally was starting to take hold of me.  I reflected on the past couple days of Colorado riding and how I had enjoyed it. With that in mind I rode up to the I-70 exchange entrance ramps and took I-70W. 


I have to admit it felt odd to be traveling west when the majority of riders were headed east. I got looks across the median as if to say “Turn around, you idiot!” I almost did more than once. Instead I stayed the course and traveled through Glenwood Springs, Rifle and on to Grand Junction. I recently retired after 34 years of working the Louisiana oilfield. I was taken by the oilfield activities I observed west of Rifle.
 
I am all for the green initiative, it has its place. However, whenever I see a rig working it warms my heart. A gas or oil well is a testimony to optimism, persistence and risk. There is nothing quite like it in my mind.
 
I got off I-70 in Grand Junction. A dark sky was coming in from the north. The air turned cool, and I hastened through town to head south on hwy 141. A Honda Shadow pulled up next to me at a traffic stop. He was loaded with camping gear and nodded at the above dark clouds. I nodded back in agreement and he turned off to the right. I headed left and hit the throttle. The road passed through desert country, and I didn’t think much about it until I got to the town of Delta. I pulled over to check the map and found the Honda rider had turned on hwy 141, I was on hwy 50. I was not about to head back so I continued on to Montrose and then on hwy 550 to Ridgeway. 

Those were two Colorado communities I could see myself living in. The towns are nicely situated in the state with amenities and outdoor activities. The state map indicated that hwy 62 south from Ridgeway was the beginning of a scenic route. I took 62 on to hwy 145 and into Telluride. The traffic got busier as I made my way toward the popular tourist town. It was now late afternoon and I passed on visiting and continued my run south.
 
I stopped at the first National Forest campground indicated on the map and found it was costly at $22 a night as well as being an RV haven. I passed on it and continued on to Cayton campground north of Rico. I stopped at the camp host site and introduced myself. I then met Mr. Jim who took an interest in my travels and suggested I check out the tent sites at the top of the park.
 
I found a site and Mr. Jim drove up in his golf cart to check me in and make sure I was comfortable. I set up camp and as the evening sky was dark I made extra effort to cover my tent with a secured tarp. I scouted the area for firewood and heated a can of soup over my stove. That morning I headed to what is arguably the most significant motorcycle rally in North America. Now it was night fall and I was camping alone in the Colorado forest. I tossed the remaining wood on the fire and called it a night. Little did I know what was about to take place. 
 
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Reader Comments


I enjoyed your travel story. I read a lot of these kinds of tales from the road. I have a 1972 FLH, and when I retire hope to do some traveling, but with a newer bike.

Thanks for the story and pictures.

Peter
Belchertown, MA
Sunday, October 26, 2014
Editor Response We love Evos. Did you read Scotty's Evo/Twin Cam comparison? Amazingly well written story.
--Bandit
Well written story, very good read. I road through a lot of the same area a couple of years ago in FJ Cruiser, not my bike. It would be great to do that trip again.

Phil
Ashburnham, MA
Thursday, October 23, 2014

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