Sunday, May 17, 2009

day seven: two miles high on the "million dollar highway"

Well, we started the day off in the tent at Shavano. It was about 30 degrees outside, and dad was ready to roll out as soon as the sun came up (on account of a very poor night's sleep). The bikes were a little reluctant to crank (they can be a bit cold-blooded) but we got them running and made the short trip over Monarch Pass to Gunnison, CO (about 50 miles). With the sun not being fully up (which is the usual case at 6:30 a.m.) and the wind chill, we were feeling frost-bitten by the time we arrived, so we made a b-line for the first coffee house we could find. We lingered there for a while, drinking a few cups of coffee and eating breakfast as we thawed. From Gunnison, we pushed-on to Crested Butte, which is a bit of a personal favorite spot in the Martin family (it's where we go ski when we can make it out there). The drive was pleasant and beautiful--as the snow melts in the spring, CO really comes to life with green pastures, roaring rivers, and colorful wildflowers.

This next part is just going to sound wrong, but it happened so take it as you will. When we arrived in CB, we were a little hungry and very thirsty, so we did what anyone would have done. We walked in the Brick Oven Pizza House/Pub for a slice of pizza and a beer, forgetting that a) it was Sunday, and b) it was 10:15 in the morning! Haha, the waitress seemed fairly surprised. We tried to explain that we were from SC and that we were still working on eastern time, but realized that drinking at 12:15 on Sunday isn't much better than drinking at 10:15. She no doubt has concluded that SC must be a haven for raging alcholics. Anyway, she asked us to at least wait until 11 when they officially opened. We agreed to come back.

So with a few minutes to kill, we knocked around the town and warmed ourselves in the sun. We had parked our bikes beside some other bikes on the street, and presently the owners of the bikes--two couples, the Aumillers and the Davis'--came out into the street. We all introduced ourselves and ended up chatting for some time. The Aumillers were out on a practice ride in preparation for an impending trip to the east coast, and the Davis' (who were from Gunnison) were simply sharing in the fun of a Sunday cruise. Both couples were very nice/interesting and offered their hospitality if we should ever find ourselves in the area again.

We had originally planned on continuing through CB on a smaller mountain road "Kebler Pass," but were informed by a local proprietor that the pass was still closed from the winter. Feeling slightly bummed, we returned to Gunnison the way we came and struck out on hwy. 50 west toward Montrose. We passed through Montrose and picked up hwy 550 south towards Ouray, Silverton and Durango. It's worth stopping here to point out that Ouray is one of the most beautiful towns I've ever seen. It really looks like it should be in Switzerland. It's situated at about 7,000 feet, but the mountains rise up around it on all sides to elevations of 10 or 12,000 ft. Pictures that we took just don't cut it.

As 550 leaves Ouray, it inclines at an incredible rate and takes on the name "Million Dollar Highway." We were informed by some locals that it got its name from the mining days when large quantities of gold and silver were pulled from the Red Mountain/Silverton area. It will be hard for me to paint a picture of what the road was like, but I'll try. And I'll start by saying that it was truly one of the most amazing and exilerating things I've ever done. Within six or seven miles of roadway, you climb from 7,000(ish) ft. to 11,500(ish) ft--just to put that in perspective, it's two miles high!! The road is very narrow, with the rock wall of the mountain on one side, and most of the time little more than a foot of asphalt outside of the lane on the other. No guard rails, no nothing. As you climb, the drop from the road to the gorge below grows to hundreds of feet. It really seemed like something from a cartoon, and was quite unnerving to think about. The road was nothing but switchbacks--signs posting recommended speeds of 10m.p.h. For anyone who rides motorcycles this is probably sounding like heaven on earth--and it absolutely was. If you can take your eyes off of the narrow road for a few seconds, you'll see enormous cliffs and mountains covered in trees and snow and gushing waterfalls. Once we reached the pinnacle of one pass, we would do the the same routine on the backside decline. The road continued from one pass to another, and we spent a good 45 minutes riding at altitudes of 8,500-11,500ft. It was quite impressive. And as much fun as it was, we couldn't help feeling a sense of relief when we made the final descent into Silverton. Dad walked out of the gas station in Silverton holding a bottle of water that he had purchased, claiming his head was hurting from the altitude. I knew it must have been bad if he was buying a water instead of the usual Coke, Cherry Coke, Diet Coke, Moutain Dew, etc. Haha, his love for sodas knows few bounds indeed.  Unfortunately, due to the narrowness of the road, we were unable to pull-off and get some pictures...bummer.

Hwy. 550 from Silverton to Durango was much the same. And that doesn't at all mean that it grew tiresome or uneventful. Every turn brought a new breathtaking view of the towering, snow-capped San Juan Mountains. We arrived in Durango fairly early and have been enjoying the evening down-time. Supper at "Mama's Boy Italian Restaurante" was tasty and relaxing.

Noteworthy occurances:

1) Dad hitting a bird--or rather, a bird hitting dad (right in the helmet!). If you don't know what a bird colliding with a helmet at 70mph is like, simply imagine dropping a water balloon from a third story window onto a sidewalk. In case you need further elaboration, dad's helmet was the sidewalk and the bird was the water balloon! Haha, we had to pull over and wipe what looked like feces off of dad's visor and helmet. Dad thought it appropriate to point out that he literally "knocked the dookie out of it."

2) A second bee/wasp getting caught in my clothes and stinging me! This time it flew into my collar and stung me in the neck. I don't know how this is possible...I can only laugh and swear under my breath!

Alas! It is late, and I must get to sleep (dad's a morning person, and he rises early!) Mike signing out.

A special note to Steve (if you're reading this)--One of the couples that we met in Crested Butte this afternoon was riding a 1995 carberated BMW. Kelland noted that he had to have it re-tuned to run 'lean' when he first came to CO. It appears that the altitude is indeed the culprit for the lack of power in my bike. It reminded me of the little engine that could today. Other than being sluggish, it seems to be doing just fine--but I'm sure it will appreciate returning to lower altitudes over the next few days. Thanks again for the mechanical help!


  1. Okay, so now you're hurting me. I was doing fine living vicariously through you guys, but now, after reading about and seeing pictures of the Rockies, this "vicarious" stuff just doesn't cut it any more!

    I know, love doesn't envy, and I do love you guys, so... I'm happy for you. Really.

    Such a great adventure, I am glad you guys are dong this and look forward to seeing all of the pictures when you get back.


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  3. I used to live in Gunnison and then moved to Crested Butte for nearly three years. I traveled Monarch Pass many times. I love it out there and wish my assignment where I am would come to an end and the next one take me out there. I do not know if it will happen but I sure wish it would. Thanks for the photos.

    Oh yes, I forgot to mention that I am also from SC.

  4. Sounds like an amazing day. Wish we could've seen the views from your eyes.

    Mike, I put the Continuum CD in the Trailblazer to test it out on my way to work and when I pushed eject the other day...nothing happened. Much to DP's chagrin, we'll probably be listening to John Mayer for QUITE A WHILE. :)

  5. Oh...and laughed histerically reading that y'all asked the poor girl for a beer at 10:15am. No amount of explaining would've made that better! :) I would've given pretty much anything to see her face when y'all sidled up to the bar :)