ICU Grand Junction and Beyond
This is the third story in a series: a story of five men riding to Sturgis, South Dakota, like so many others have done before, except now we were just four. In the last episode, we left the hospital in Grand Junction, Colorado, with one man down. Chad lost his arm on CO-141 and we still had to make it to Sturgis and back. In Grand Junction we'd become a quintet again, with Andy Cherney (editor of Motorcycle Cruiser) joining us fresh from the Harley-Davidson new model launch and riding a sweet new '10 Ultra Limited 103 (if you get a chance to ride one, I highly recommend it). Andy's addition brought us back up to five, but this was supposed to be the "pounding miles and shooting photos" portion of the trip, with all the bikes and riders present...but we were all too emotionally wiped for that. Plus Chad got out of ICU in another day, and we weren't missing that for the world. Just 600 miles to Sturgis...
Day 5: Colorado National Monument
We had a choice. Give up, fly home, and ship the bikes back to LA, or keep on going. But this is not the end of the story. After Chad's crash it would be a couple of days before he emerged from the Grand Junction ICU, and since we wanted to see him before we moved on, we decided to stick around. We asked locals and scoped out on the internet what might be a good spot to ride for the next couple days. We came up with Colorado National Monument. It's a monument most have never heard of, which is criminal.
We had to take pictures of all the bikes we were riding, which made the next day a photo day, since traveling and photography don't always mix. Rim Rock Road is a 23-mile snake that winds through the bottom of sheer canyons, climbs the sides of, and even tunnels through the steep, colorful cliff sides. After our recent experiences with twisting roads and wind, we went strictly by the low, posted speed limits, which was a good thing with bicyclists sharing the rather narrow tarmac with us.
Caution didn't keep Junior (aka, the Freshman) from dropping the Victory Vision. The Jetsonmobile is my favorite touring bike, but it is not made for short dudes. In a group of guys over 6 feet tall, Junior looked like an Oompa Loompa. Thankfully, the Victory had outriggers to keep it from going over and saved him from actually hurting himself (or the bike), but we'd later find out that the outriggers are a mixed blessing, at least to the tragically small.
We didn't have a great ride, as I kept stopping the group to shoot photos. I had the guys ride through a tunnel with soaring negative-angle cliffs all around us at least 15 times so I could get the perfect shot. We took a break outside the tunnel with our bikes parked next to the cliff face. When a ranger pulled up we thought we were busted for parking illegally, or doing a photoshoot, or something, but she was super-cool, and just told us that hanging out under the cliffs is a good way to get buried in rock. We moved on.
There's a great viewpoint that's easy to miss. It's off the main road, on the loop that circles around the campgrounds near the visitor's center. You'll find a shelter there, and a trail that takes you right to the edge of the cliff. It's a good stop to watch twinkle toes (Junior) drop the bike (again).
It took us most of the day to ride through the park. It should take the average person an hour to do the loop, not counting pullouts. Never go on a ride with a professional photographer. These guys suck. I should know, I am the photo guy that everyone loves to hate. I never said that I was a good photographer, just a lucky one. The more I shoot, the better my odds. It may not have been much of a riding day, but it was like we had all hit the "reset" button by taking a day of leisurely riding, surrounded by glorious scenery, with little pressure to cover miles.
That night we drank heartily, and I didn't get stuffed into the corner next to the bed.
Day 6 (& 7): Over the Rockies/Dream Girl
The next day, Chad got released to a regular room, so I didn't have to lie to get in to see him. We went early in the morning, hoping to skip town in time to take the Loveland Pass over the top of the Rockies, and not have to take the Eisenhower Tunnel through them without having to flat-out bomb the miles.
In his room, Chad sat upright in bed, surrounded by his family, cracking jokes, and smiling as always. His family thanked me for saving his life (read the previous article), which I have trouble accepting credit for. Chad was stoked to see all of us and offered a few high fives with his missing arm and things like:
"I'm going to have to stop saying, 'I'd give my right arm...'"
It really helped us to relax. We sat there for a few hours detailing the crash to his family, and Chad for that matter. The room was pretty crowded with a bunch of bikers, a mom and dad, a brother and wife, and Chad's girlfriend who took an emergency flight from South America to be by his side. I had a seat on the floor right next to his bed. I picked the best spot in the house...right next to Chad's pee-bag. As soon as I saw it, Chad was already peeing. I touched the bag and felt his warm liquids through the sanitary plastic. I never held another man's urine before. Chad's family was not amused. You're probably not either. Chad (and the rest of us) was cracking up.
We told Chad that some of us were on the fence about continuing to Sturgis, but he told us we had to, so we did.
Junior had some chick that he was in love with that lived in Evergreen, a town outside of Denver. He was talking about her the whole trip. She invited us to stay the night at her horse ranch, so we peeled out of Grand Junction down the I-70 East.
The I-70 through Central Colorado is my favorite chunk of superslab anywhere in the US-twisting its way through the Rocky Mountains, alongside world-class ski resorts, 14,000-foot peaks, and cool green valleys. The best part, though, is Glenwood Canyon, 12.8 miles of split-level twistiness that runs alongside the Colorado River, boxed in by high cliffs. Check conditions before visiting though, as at press time it was closed due to a massive rockslide, and the detour is 150 miles.
We hooked off the 70 to take the old US-6 over Loveland Pass. Before the Eisenhower Tunnel blasted a hole right through the guts of the mountains, this twisty little two-lane was the only way over the Continental Divide in this part of the Front Range. The summit is at 11,990 feet, just above the treeline, and ringed by high peaks. It was a welcome chill (about 58) after a day of temps in the high 80s.
Shooting some photos on the east side of the pass, Junior broke his foot. Short guys on tall bikes don't mix. At every pullout Junior had a tough time planting his feet firmly on the ground. By this time in our trip, he must have dropped every bike at least once. He had to balance on his tip-toes at every stop. While flipping a "U" he clipped his foot on the rear outrigger on the Vision. Down came the bike again.
Fuck. Not another man down. He refused to go to the hospital and kept on riding. This would have worked out fine if he didn't complain every five minutes about his ankle and hop around on one foot throughout the rest of the trip. I called bullshit on it. Dude, if you "broke" your ankle then you go to the hospital. If you can still ride, its not broke. Shut-up and let's ride.
We met Junior's dream girl (and a couple of her friends) at the Smoking Yards BBQ in Idaho Summers, one of Billy's (Bartels, former editor of this magazine) favorite BBQ joints anywhere. I thought the girls were snobby right off the bat. We went to Dream Girl's horse ranch in the middle of the night. We went in and divvied up the beds. She offered one person to sleep in the barn; we thought the barn would be gnarly. Billy offered himself up to sleep in the barn. What we didn't realize is this was a multi-multi million-dollar horse ranch and above the large barn was a huge party room for visiting owners with a fireplace pit inside and multiple bedrooms. It was huge and pimp. Billy didn't tell us how rad it was until the next morning. Dream Girl's Hot Friend (DGHF) ended up spending the night with him up there.
We ended up hanging out an extra night and just decompressing and shooting more pictures of the bikes. Junior mooned after Dream Girl the whole time, while he did score a snuggle spot in her bed, we could tell by the expression on his face that that's all it was. DGHF on the other hand...let's just say it was a good thing we knew what was going on or we'd have called the cops. I managed to piss everybody off by spending the next day taking photos of dashes and saddlebags, Dream Girl riding her horse around in full-on horsey gear, and taking the whole crew (Dream Girl and DGHF included) back up to Loveland Pass to shoot even more photos, hoping for a cover (nope). Andy and Brad, they just sat back and watched the show.
We still had close to 400 miles to cover, no idea where we were staying in Sturgis, and the Glory of Carhenge to sample. Andy bugged out that night with a plane to catch in the a.m. from Rapid City, while the rest of us loafed around Dream Girl's little slice of paradise until midday before getting on the road again. Junior still mooning, Billy still...something, and all of us wary of hitting the road and doing hard miles again, which we hadn't since Chad's crash.
This was but the calm before yet another storm...