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June 2, 2012

NXNW Motorcycle Trip - Day 2: 'Man Overboard'

I am alive and well and resting peacefully In Saratoga, Wyoming, just east of the Snowy Range.

Date: June 2, 2012

Motorcycle Odometer:
Morning Odometer Reading: 24,375.0
Evening Odometer Reading: 24,558.8
Miles traveled:183.8

GPS Readings:
Trip Odometer: 208 miles
Max Speed 88.3 mph
Elevation: 6,816 ft
Total Ascent: 13,565 ft
Max Elevation: 12,164 ft

Note: Was trying to figure out the discrepancy between bike odometer and the GPS mileage for today. Discrepancy is for the distance that I rode in the tow truck with the bike in the bed of the truck. About 25 miles, apparently.

GPS Tracks:
Follow my path online with contour maps, satellite images, etc.
Day 2 GPS Tracks


Wow. Where to begin. There just aren't words to describe what happened today. But I'll try.

Oiled the chain in the parking lot.

Basically, head out this morning...probably closer to noon. Scattered thunderstorms are moving across the continental divide. Someone told me about some spotted owl chics in a nest if I went in through the Highway 34 entrance...that I'd see some baby owl chics in a tree near some cabins if I went in through the Highway 34 entrance.

But, in the morning, I'm looking for gas and some park stickers, so I head for the main entrance. Now, what can I say about Estes Park? I dunno. It's touristy. Like, they've tried to control the development, but in my mind, it's not much different than Cherokee, NC.

Blow through and find a gas station. Fill up with highest octane gas they have. Bought a quart of oil, and checked the oil in the parking lot. Needs to be changed, but it isn't low. Figure I'll deal with it tonight. (Slacker). Forget to check the front tire pressure.

Stop at the visitor center for a couple of RMNP stickers, slap on the bike so everyone knows how bad-ass I am, and then head into the park.

Stop at the main entrance and dicker with the guy on getting an annual pass, etc. End up with just a day pass for a bike for $10. Roll into the park. Decide to take the Highway 34 fork to the right to see a part of the park I don't believe I've ever seen before. Nice views. Find the owlets. Scads of people taking photos, but the birds are high up, and no one has a good angle or the right lens. Just morons clicking away with shitty cameras, and I move on without taking a shot.

Turn around and head back towards the main road.

Storms are threatening the entire park. Spotty thunderstorms seem to be converging and I wish I had more sense. Don't know why I didn't get across the Continental Divide earlier today when it was nice. What was I thinking?

As I head back, the rains starts to fall on me pretty good, but I'm sensing that I'm on the front of the system. Sure enough, I follow the road as it turns south, and now I'm skirting the front of the storm. Come on, people. Move. Jesus Christ. Get out of my way.

Climbing a hill, heading south, skirting the storm. Get back to the main road, turn right, heading up the main artery through the park now...Trail Ridge Road. Planning on stopping and putting on all of my wet weather gear, as I'm in for a massive storm. I can feel it in my bones.

Much of Rocky Mountain National Park is comprised of dead standing timber. Something I've observed before on the western side of the divide, but this is the first time I've ever noticed it east of the divide before. Now, tree-huggers have never been accused of being overly bright or practical. But someone figured out that if they didn't start making some fire breaks, then the whole park would go up in flames one day.

So, they've been cutting dead wood on both sides of the road, and stacking it into these large piles that could best be described as bonfires, I'd say. Not lit yet, of course, but stacked into a pile that would make a great bonfire.

I pull over as the front closes in. I put on all of my wet weather gear. Throw everything marginally valuable into the Givi case so it won't get soaked. iPad 3, Bluetooth keyboard, GPS, my 400mm lens and EOS 50D. I keep one 50D around my neck with the 17-85 mm lens and stick it under my rain gear. Leave my laptop in the C.C. Filson canvas bag, but cover the bag with one of my rain jackets to protect it from the coming deluge.

Wind is picking up now. Blowing so hard it blows my gloves off the bike, and I'm chasing them across the ground toward the unlit bonfires of dead wood. Grab them up, put them on, start the bike, just as the front hits. 50 mph winds. Rain. Hail. Lightning. Thunder. I'm staying marginally dray, but it's raining hard. If there were any shelters around, I'd pull in.

The cars just turn on their windshield wipers, of course.

Why did I not cross the divide earlier? What is wrong with me?

I just keep rolling through the storm and eventually, the wind dies down. The winds let up. And I begin to think that maybe I'll live.

The rains die down, and I keep moving up Trail Ridge Road, slowly ascending. Come to a point where there's a bunch of people gawking with binoculars. Stop to see what they're looking at. I'm thinking a bear or a moose. But I'm not clear what they're looking at. Plus, it always frustrates me to see people gawking at elk and deer, as I have herds of these things living at my house. The deer run from beneath the deck every time I go out back and you could walk across the elk when the herd comes through the back side of my property.

"What y'all looking at?"

"It's a Big-horned sheep," the alpha male offers. Now, I'm kind of interested because I don't see a lot of Big-horned sheep.

"Where? Up there by that elk?" I ask, scanning the mountain before us.

"That's not an elk. It's a Big Horned Sheep?"

"Seriously?" I ask, incredulous, studying the elk, trying to figure out how it could possibly be a Big-horned Sheep.

"Yeah. If you look at it with the binoculars, you can tell," he explains.

It's clearly an elk, but I want to believe. You can never learn anything new once you've convinced yourself that you know everything.

"Well, if you're sure, it's a Big-horned sheep, then OK. But I live in Colorado. It looks like an elk to me."

"I live in Colorado too," he barks.

I'm looking at the elk, the binoculars, the other people, and back to the elk. It's not like you could possibly mistake a sheep for an elk. It would be roughly equivalent to mistaking an elephant for a walrus.

Finally, he admits defeat. "Oh. It's an elk," he relents. I just drive off. This is why I don't want to be on this planet any more. People are too stupid to even waste your time to try to communicate with them. It's quite frustrating.

I cross the divide. For some reason, there's not a sign at the summit. I'm not clear why this is. But there should be a sign at the summit saying "Trail Ridge Road Summit - Elevation 12, 185." Or, if there is a sign, I've never seen it.

So I'm heading down the back side of RMNP. I decide that I've wasted enough time taking uninspiring photos of RMNP. Like, I took some shots. I used a circular polarizing filter. I adjusted the Film Speed ISO. I'm shooting with Auto-exposure bracketing, so it's hitting one f/stop above and one below. But I promise you my photos suck. And I'm not in the mood to set up the tripod and go full-on Ansel Adams. Mostly, I just want to get moving and cover some ground, so I don't end up like Doug, driving 13 miles a day.

So I'm blowing down the back side of the park. Passing gawking tourists right and left. Passing on double yellows. Whatever it takes. I want to see something new. I've been through this park so many times I've lost count.

Now, I know that the park is patrolled, and I'm sure I shouldn't be speeding, but I'm not certain what the speed limit is until I pass a National Park Service ranger and he puts on his lights, pulls me over, and informs me that the speed limit is 45, not 60, apparently. Who know. Oh, and my plates are expired. And my license is suspended.

More and more of these National Park Service people are showing up. They're so excited to have captured someone that wasn't toeing the line in their jurisdiction. This is the shit these mental dwarfs live for, of course. I played right into their hands. So they're all standing around, hands on their guns, ready to kill me if I so much as blink. Finally, I convince them to let me get off the bike, as it's parked in the road as there's no shoulder.

After some discussion, the nimrods decide that I can go sit on a stump on the side of the road. Which I gladly do. Someone stops and makes of point of telling the Park Rangers that I passed them on a double yellow line.

"Of course I passed him on a double yellow. He was pulling a trailing going 17 mph. He's an idiot," I explain. But this doesn't help things of course.

I start trying to use my phone, and they repeatedly tell me not to, which I'm sure is a violation of my rights. How can they possibly tell me not to use my phone. Like they're gods or something.

I'm pretty sure that I'm going to jail, which sucks. There's a lot of lights going and a lot of people standing around with guns and me, sitting here on a tree stump like a dimwit.

"Do youhaveanygunsweaponsknivesdrugsoranythingelseweshouldknowabout?" he asks.


"Do you have any warrants for your arrest?"

"I'm pretty sure that there are warrants for my arrest, but I'm not going to tell them that."

"Dude. I'm a computer consultant. I don't have any drugs. I don't have any weapons. I don't have any warrants for my arrest."

"You need to call someone to come pick you up. There is a towtruck coming, and you can ride with him to Granby, but then you'll need to have someone come pick you up because you're not driving that motorcycle. If we catch you driving that bike again, you're going to jail. Do you understand that?"

"Yes. You've made that perfectly clear."

"Can I search your motorcycle?"


"If you don't have anything to hide, why do you care if I search your bike?"

"Because I now my rights. You may not search my bike." Suddenly, I realize that I'm speaking to the police, or police-wanna-bes. It dawns on me. My attorney told me never to talk to the police. I shut up. But they don't search my bike

I hate this because, it means that my trip is over. This big adventure has come crashing down around me and now, I'll be sleeping at home alone in my own bed, if I'm lucky. If I'm not in a holding cell somewhere until my court date on Monday. This sucks. I don't even know what day it is, but the pigs tell me it's Saturday. Great.

The cops keep retreating to their vehicles, and then approaching me again on the tree stump. Every time they come at me, I look up, expecting to see handcuffs. But always, just they have their hand on their guns, ready to kill me if I blink, but they never make a move to arrest me. I'm not clear why not. Probably they don't quite realize how dangerous I am. What a great threat a man on a dirt bike can truly be.

At this point, a squeaking, breaking sound from the woods...a tree falls over, for no apparent reason, in the woods. It makes a huge crash, in case you were wondering. The cops are all so nervous that they're looking at me like it was somehow my fault.

Eventually, they decide that they won't arrest me, but the guy starts writing tickets like there's no tomorrow. And calls to have the bike towed, as I'm clearly not capable of driving it, because I don't have the right little piece of plastic issued by the state, so there's obviously no way I could operate the vehicle at this point, or so they imply.

They call a tow truck from Granby and say he's on the way. The plan is that he'll tow the bike to Granby and impound it. I won't be allowed to get the bike until I straighten out my driver's license and get the vehicle registered. (I had insurance on the bike, for whatever reason.)

I debate them on this point.

"That's not right. It's my bike. It doesn't have to have a license plate on it. I can ride it off road without plates. I should be able to get someone to pick it up with a truck, even if it has no plates. If he tows it, he'll charge me storage fees every day until he owns it. I know how this racket works. I've lost two vehicles this year so far. I'm not looking to lose another."

The cops retreat to debate this point, which is a valid point. They have no reason to keep my bike from me. No legal grounds to keep it from me. If I pay off the tow truck driver, he is legally obligate to release my bike to me. If he didn't, then I'd sue him and win easily. It's a no-brainer. But the cops are no-brainers too. It's a lose-lose situation.

Finally, they relent and admit that, if someone showed up with a truck, then the towing company that they have called would then be obligated to release the bike to them.

I sit on the side of the road for at least an hour. Finally, the tow truck driver shows up.

When I got off the bike, I was able to sit on the stump, which was more comfortable. But it also separated me from a lot of things on the bike. Keys. Helmet. Money. Canvas bag. Givi case. I'm not clear what the play is going to be here. Not sure if I'm riding with the pigs or with the tow truck driver.

I want to re-assert control of my belongings, and ride with the tow truck driver, but I'm not clear how this is going to play out. When the tow truck driver shows up, I move in. Up until this point, the pigs have been ordering me around like a dog. Sit. Stay. Turn off your phone. Turn on your phone and call someone. Who is your provider. What is your phone number?

I'm not making this up. They asked me all these questions.

But once the tow truck driver shows up, I sense a shift in the dynamics. I grab my gear and put it in the tow truck. Everything goes into the tow truck. Givi case. Canvas bag. Everything.

They load up the bike, but the pigs won't give me the three tickets he's written up for me. He's very proud of them, but he won't hand them over. I'm not clear why this is, but I don't like it of course. It seems to portend something ominous. Something's not quite right here. I don't trust these pigs any further than I can throw them.

"We'll hand you this at the office. We want to do it there."

I'm certain I'm going to jail. I don't trust pigs any further than I can throw them. Probably, they're having some Colorado Highway Patrol meet us at the west entrance so that they don't have to risk a felony takedown with such poorly trained officers.

I climb into the passenger seat of the tow truck and we start rolling.

Tow truck guy has long hair. Tattoos. Eating sunflower seeds nonstop and spitting the hulls out the window.

He's wearing a Sturgis shirt, and one of his tattoos is a Harley tattoo, so we hit it off right away andwe roll to the park exit. When we turn in, my bike falls over on the tow truck.

"Don't worry about it, dude. It's not a big deal. I've dropped it before."

Like, I need this guy on my side in a big way. That much is clear to me.

The pigs pull up and hand me my stack of tickets and driver's license and proof of insurance. They're not taking me to jail afterall. I dunno why they let me go. I hate pigs. I never understand them. They all suck.

The pigs seemed almost nonchalant at this point.

"Everything happens for a reason," I offered to the pigs.

They looked at me oddly. Like, somehow they hadn't broken my spirit, even though they'd tried their damndest.

But this tow truck driver is a motorcycle rider like me. We're kindred spirits.

"Dude...if it was up to me, I'd pull over up here, unload your bike, and let you go on your way. But the thing is that the boss man is in on it. He's the one they called. I don't know what he'll want to do. We'll have to check with him."

Suddenly, I begin to see a glimpse of light. Maybe there's a chance this won't end in complete unmitigated disaster.

"I wish I could just go on my way on the bike. Because, you know....otherwise I'm going to go home and just stew over it, and that's no good."

"No. I agree with you. That's no good."

"All I'll do is go home and plot how I'll murder those guys, but then decide it's not worth going to jail over."

"Well, we'll see what the boss man says. Didn't you say you knew a girl here in town?"

"Yeah. Erica. But I called her. She's in Wisconsin."

"Well, we'll tell the Boss man that we're going to take the bike to Erica's and drop it off there. Does she live near here?"

"Yeah. Not far. Somewhere in Granby or Grand Lake. I'm not sure where exactly."


We get into town and there's an unmarked highway patrol sitting on the side of the road.

"He's waiting on me to make a break for it," I whimpered.

"I doubt it," he replied.

So, we go to the tow office and I tell him..."You go in and talk to the boss...See what you can do...I just want to stay out here in the truck...I'll only screw it up..."

Tow truck driver goes in. It's raining pretty good now. After a minute or so, he re-emerges. Boss says it's ok if we drop the bike off at your friend's house. You need to go in and settle up first.

So I go in and hand him $150 in cash. Now, we're going to drop off the bike at my friend's house.

But now, I really don't know what to do. It's raining pretty good. I have no place to go. And the police are, for all I know, on a manhunt for me right now. I think about checking into a motel until the rain lets up. Or sitting in the car wash. But I don't want to be seen.

So tow truck driver takes me to an abandoned motel.

"They don't rent rooms here any more," he explains as we unload the bike. You can hide behind this building until the rain lets up. Don't get caught though, or our tow company will be in a heap of trouble.

"I'll do my best. How do I get from here to Saratoga?"

Go west out of town about a mile on U.S. Highway 40. Then you'll turn north on Highway 125. The first town you'll come to will be Walden. Then, you'll come to Saratoga.

"How far is it? About a hundred miles?"

"Yeah. It's a solid hundred miles. Maybe more."

"Will I be able to make it there before dark?" I ask. I'm hiding behind an abandoned motel in the rain. Somehow, I'm losing the ability to thing for myself. This is like a bad movie. Like I'm not capable of making rational decisions on my own any more. I'm probably just a few steps from being committed, incarcerated, or both. I'm plotting my escape with a tow truck driver I hardly know in the rain.

"There's plenty of daylight left. You can make it there before dark."

"I feel like I have to keep going," I explain. "Otherwise, it's like the cops win. I can't let them control my life. They don't deserve to have that power over us. If they want to arrest me and put me in jail, then so be it. But I'm going to keep riding until either the bike stops working, or they arrest me and put me in jail."

"Here," I offer. "Let me give you some money."

"No. Don't worry about it. Dude, I dropped your bike."

"It didn't hurt it."

Somehow, the two of us are friends. He went way out of his way to help me. But I have no cash in my wallet. So, while he's unloading my bike in the rain, I furtively dig into my money belt, pull out some fifties, and shove them in my wallet. I lay one in his seat where he can't miss it. I hope out in the rain and start getting my gear up against the back of the motel under the eaves, so it won't get any wetter than absolutely necessary, when you're hiding from the police in a rain storm. But I'm sure we all know what that feels like.

Dude drives off in the tow truck and I start organizing all of my gear, trying to keep it dry, when I realize I can't find my wallet. I search and search and search but I can't find it anywhere. Finally, I decide the tow truck driver must have driven off with it in the truck. He must have, because I can't find it anywhere. I've even searched in the inside lining of my leather jacket because the pockets are worn out and everything you put in my jacket pokckets just sort of floats around inside the leather shell. It can move to the middle of your back, for instance. But I check everywhere and nothing nothing nothing. It's just gone.

I look at my GPS and, for some reason, it says "Man Overboard - Would you like to navigate to this point?" Apparently, I'd accidentally pushed some random button or combination of buttons that made it think there was a "Man Overboard" and did we need to navigate back to him. And I thought...that's about right..."Man Overboard". That's me. In a nutshell.

And now this sucks because I'm hiding from the police in the rain and I can't find my wallet. I seriously begin to question my sanity. Other people don't have these problems. What is wrong with me?

I finally resolve that the only thing to do is to return to the tow truck shop and see if I left it there. And, if I get arrested, or if the tow truck company freaks out, then so be it, but I have to find my wallet. There's not much money in it. Maybe $500. But I have to get my wallet back.

But, the trouble is that I'm not even sure where the tow truck place is. I wasn't really paying close attention. I drive back through town with all my gear, deathly afraid I'll be arrested, but eventually stumble onto the tow truck place and the truck is there and I look in the truck and my wallet isn't there, and the shop is locked, so I call the owner and he says maybe I left it in the shop and he'll come down and help me look for it and doesn't even ask why I'm riding my motorcycle around Granby which clearly is not a good idea, and on so many levels.

It's pretty much stopped raining by now. And I'm waiting for the shop owner to show up (not the tow truck driver, mind you...the tow truck company owner...) and I'm going though everything I have to make absolutely sure I don't have my wallet for the 47th time and I feel my right leg above my boot and realize that my wallet is inside my pants leg above my right boot. I'm wearing at least 4 pairs of pants....blue jeans, camo pants, and two pairs of rain pants. Somehow, I shoved my wallet into one of the pants and it just slid down to my boot and sat there.

Call the owner back and tell him thanks, I found the wallet, and head out of town. The first car I pass is a police car headed the other way. I watch my rear view mirror, but he doesn't turn around. Why is my life like this?

I've gone about 60 miles today so far, and could use some gas, but I don't dare stop in this town. So, I keep riding. He said the next town is Walden.

I go west out of town and take 125 north per his directions. I've given up on Mosquito Pass and Steamboat Springs. Now, I'm just trying to put some distance between me and this town. I can't wait to see the Wyoming border.

Rolling north. Speed limit is 45, so I'm going pretty slow. Don't want to go to prison.

It's a beautiful drive through a verdant valley. I'm not sure where I am really, but it's a nice ride and I'm glad to be rolling again. It's stopped raining and seems to be clearing. I keep driving and driving but I don't ever find this town called Walden. And now, I've been driving for about 110 miles and I'm realizing that I'm going to run out of gas in the middle of nowhere. And, let's be clear, that's where I am. There is no one else around. No one on the road. No buildings. Now towns. Nothing. How is it that I end up in these situations? What is it in me that crazes this sort of lunacy?

Finally, I roll into the tiny little whistlestop town of Walden and I fill up with gas. The GPS is useless, as it can't find a satellite signal for some reason. So, I just pull it off and stick it in my bag. I've taped the power cord to it to my vent line on the gas cap so that it doesn't end up on the cylinder heads or in the spokes. Roll north out of town. Only about 60 miles to go. I think I'll make it before dark.

I get 7 miles north of the town of Walden and the bike just shuts down. Exactly like the way it shut down in California two weeks ago. Why me? I think. I can't stand this. What did I do to deserve this?

I try choking it, switching to reserve, turning it on and off. Nothing. The bike won't run. I'm in a blind panic. If the cops come by, I'm toast. I'm pretty sure I'm still in Colorado, but not certain.

I'm sitting on the side of the road in a dry-mouthed panic. Why won't this fucking thing start?

And then, I notice that the fuel vent line is twisted. It's twisted because I taped my GPS power cable to it, so it didn't turn like it normally would when I screwed the gas cap on 7 miles ago. I uncrimp the fuel vent line and the bike starts right up. I'm rolling north again. Now, only 60 miles to go. Roughly.

The speed limit changes to 65, and, 22 miles outside of Walden, I find myself in Wyoming. Thank God. The land here is more open and somewhat arid. Not desert, but just grassland. I decide it's not patrolled, and I'm running at 85 mph when I see blue flashing lights. But this time, they're not for me. He's pulling over a woman coming towards me. Woohoo!

The next little town I come to is Rand. And then Encampment, WY. North of Encampment, I've only got 16 miles to go, but now the wind picks up. The stiffest winds I've ever driven in in my life. And the ground is wet. And it's raining again. I can hardly keep the bike on the road. This is dangerous. This is suicidal. I think about turning around and going beck to Encampment for the night.

I imagine my mom explaining to my daughter...."he was in an accident in Wyoming...there were bad winds...he's in the hospital...that's all we know right now..."

Anyone with a brain would turn back. But I slow down instead. Gradually, the winds subside. The rain stops. And a huge rainbow appears. It was like a sign that it was all going to be OK.

See, pigs. Everything does happen for a reason. Or, alternately, if the pigs hadn't screwed me over as bad as they did, then I wouldn't have been here shooting this rainbow beneath cotton candy skies.

I shoot about 300 photos, before rolling into Saratoga to meet Steve and his entourage on BMW motorcycles.

Now, I've been on the road enough that I know how to find people. You just ride around and look for their bikes. So I drive through town until I see some BMW's out front, and I walk in. Don't initially see them in the bar or restaurant, so I call Steve and he says he'll meet me in the bar in 5 minutes. He's upstairs, apparently. He has reservations. I never do. And they're out of rooms, of couse.

So, Steve comes down and we meet, probably for the first time.

Steve and I are friends on Facebook. That much we know. But neither of us is sure why. I'm pretty sure it's because we rode together west of Fort Collins one time a few years ago. And finally, we settle on it....we both were in a group that went riding on Wednesdays in the Rocky Mountains several years ago. Though neither one of us is sure if we ever, in fact, did ride together or not.

But be that as it may, Steve is as cool as the other side of the pillow, and he'd asked me to meet them here in Saratoga, WY. They're on a ride from Loveland to Grand Mesa. Clearly, Saratoga doesn't lie between those two places, but they wanted to cross the Snowy Range, so they went north and across the Snowy Range.

I could certainly follow their logic, as I'm going from Denver to San Francisco by way of Canada.

But they'd asked me out to have a beer with them, and by the grace of God I showed up. I tried to get them to let me pay the bar tab, but they'd have none of it. And after two drinks, we parted ways, and prepared to get up and do it all over again tomorrow.

Posted by Rob Kiser on June 2, 2012 at 11:25 PM


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