9.20.2006,10:09 PM
Day Four: Ride to the Sky
Taos to Mesa Verde National Park
Miles: 252
Time start: 9:40 am
Time arrived: a very wet, freakin' cold 5 pm
Weather: chilly but sunny from Taos to east of Durango, Colorado. The sky opened west of Durango for 40 miles of cold, cold wet riding, going up, up, up.

All packed up and somwhere to go.

Blazing sunshine helped keep most of the chill at bay, the insulated gear holding its own. It would help if I remembered to close the vents in my jacket. Back on two wheels, the ride out of Taos weaved through morning traffic on Hwy 64.

The road cutting through the valley
opened up before me with the mountains bordering each side like quiet giant sentinals. High desert always held an appeal for me despite the apparent emptiness. Whiffs of silver-blue sage registered long-ago memories of traveling through the New Mexico and Arizona deserts. The landscapes have not changed much in thirty years and the magic is still there. As back then, a sense of peaceful remoteness settled in, squeezing out the hurried pace of in-town Taos. A smile grew across my face hidden inside my helmet but feeling quite at home on my psyche.

The flatness of the desert floor was devided by a searing gap of a 650 foot drop to the Rio Grande River below. Slowing over the majestic bridge spanning the gorge, I pulled into a rest stop and dismounted. Following a foot path carved in the sandstone, cactus and sage, I walked a foot path on the bridge to view the vast chasm below.

An immediate sense of interrupted balance hit me, standing in space directly over a river flowing below like a shiny ribbon of molten metal. To think that over hundreds, thousands of years, this ribbon of water carved out such a deep chasm through the otherwise flat floor of this valley. The juxtaposition of depth with jagged walls and flat floor above it challenged my perception of time and space. It was as if the mind was challenged in perception of a reality below compared with that which flowed the landscape on either side of me; as I stood on the bridge over the middle of the gorge looking down and around.

Attempts to capture the vastness of these landscapes I've traveled through the last few days by camera is impossible. The vistas and horizons are too expansive and pictures only capture a small little square single-dimensional box as if looking through a pinhole. Only the true impressions and images can be captured and imprinted in your mind, recalling the images overlayed with your own narrative as if they were invisible pictures in a story book. And hoping the hard drive in your head had plenty of space to store all those images for later recall.

When will they invent a flashdrive that I can insert and remove from my brain to download life onto and transfer to immortal bytes?

A few other riders stopped at the rest area to use services or enjoy the view. A beautiful white full-dressed Harley pulled up next to me, the rider nodding to me as he removed his helmet. I smiled and left him as he was shedding his outer gear and pulled out back on the highway to head west again.

A few miles down the highway and over a knell, the wind decided to join us. In full force. Now quite familiar with the routine, I planted the balls of my feet on the pegs, wiggled my rearend back on the seat and planted my chest on the tank bag. Sometimes I felt as though I was riding a magical rocket on a sky of highway, body relaxed and hands gently controlling the throttle and directions. Lean this way, that way, roll on, roll off. What a great way to travel this wide open countryside. I feel like I am home.

Looking in my mirrors I noticed the white Harley behind me, a companion I would have for many miles and hours following. We rode through fantastic mountains and breathtaking passes and valleys. The smell of pine resin wafted into my senses, welcomed and greeted by memories of mountain pine forests in the Northeast and Northwest. Some things are universal and one is the smell of pine trees. Riding through winding, climbing ascents and descents, past yellow-leaved cottonwoods with their leaves twirling like tiny windmills. Majestic mountain vistas, craggy mountain tops, occasional colored mesas. The route through northern New Mexico and into southern Colorado was candy for the senses. North of Chama was especially delicious. I'd like to return there and spend some time exploring that area. Its beauty is captivating beyond words.

About half way between Chama and Durango, I pulled in for gas and restroom stop. Grateful to pull off some of the over gear, I picked up a protein bar in the convenience store and walked outside to rest a bit before continuing. The Harley rider walked up to me asking, "Are you the one I've been following all this time?"

Smiling, I responded, "Yes, that's me."

We exchanged "Where you heading" and "Where you from" greetings, laughing about the construction stops and sharing similiar perspecitives of the countryside views. He asked if I minded a riding partner on the way to Durango and I welcomed his company. It was a nice change to have a riding partner for several hours and many miles.

We pulled into Durango and dark ominous clouds ahead. As we waited at a light and a turn, the Harley rider pulled up alongside and announced he was turning south here. He asked if I still intended to head to the park to which I nodded yes. With a worried look on his face, he informed me that bad weather was forecasted in the higher elevations bringing snow with rain, and Durango.

And into a wall of cold, windy rain.

The sky darkened and dumped its content of wet cold rain on me as I rode the 36 miles to the Park entrance. My speed was barely 40 miles an hour with the slick roads and gusting winds, visibility barely 50 feet in front of me. It was a long 36 miles.

Searching for park entrance signs, I was relieved to find the exit to the park. Carefully pulling up to the gatehouse to pay my admission fee, I put my feet down behind the car in front of me and an immediate "Oh No!!!" emitted through my head and body: my boots and feet were in a puddle of four inches of water. I could feel the dampness seeping into my socks and feet.

Being pounded with wind and water, the otherwise simple feat of pulling out a five-dollar bill was turned into a challenging, monumental and very wet task. Thanking the gate keeper for his patience, I inquired into the location of the campground area:
"Oh, its another four miles up the winding road ahead."

Groaning audibly and setting myself up for a short but long wet and cold ride, I shifted and pulled out. He was right; it was indeed up, up, up and winding tightly left and right. Holy crap. In dry weather this would have been a fun ride, but then it was anything but with visibility restricted and the wind pushing me this way and that. I didn't get out of fourth gear until I hit semi-level road and found the campground registration area.

I noticed an overhang next to a building and pulled in out of the rain. Removing my wet gloves and wringing them out, I put them on the back case with hopelessness. They were not going back on my hands again that evening. With helmet in hand, I ran into the general store dripping water like a wet dog. I had an overwhelming sense of deja vu over the last several minutes; and an unwelcome one. With a keens sense of smell, I waddled over to the pots of coffee like a starving dog smelling food. The woman behind the registar took one look at me and poured a steaming cup of coffee for me while I sat in a chair defrosting.

And wondering for the first time in four days why I was doing this again?

To be continued...........


Two older couples came in to register for their camp sites while I sat like a wet dog, dripping and hands wrapped around the coffee cup.

"You having fun yet?"

I groaned.

"We're old time riders; we know exactly how wet and miserable you are....."
I listened to the story of the one couple riding all night through a rain storm in Montana, soaked and cold to the bone. Empathy was tangent and warmed me.

When the sky cleared enough to venture outside without being pummeled by rain, I picked a spot to pitch my tent. While putting on the fly, a woman from Ukrane stopped by on her way back to her camp and helped me finish the rest. She had a tent just like mine and showed me all the little quirks on finishing it off. While standing to admire our handiwork, the sky opened again and we formed a two-person chain in unloading the bike and throwing everything in the tent and under cover. While we both got wet.

Shaking the water off my riding jacket, the couple I met in the registration office pulled up in their car, inviting me to accompany them to dinner at the lodge. I greatefully accepted, realizing then that I was starving, and the thought of a hot meal and coffee was reducing me to Pavlov's dog.

We rode 14 miles up tightly twisting roads, five of us hunting for the lodge near the top of the mesa. The views were outstanding, but I kept my eyes straight ahead on the road. Even though I wasn't driving. Sheer heights and I are old-time expatriots.

All five of us enjoyed two hours of exchanging stories and jokes, while I munched on a fabulously cooked shank of lamb, and an Irish coffee to warm me and then some. The food was excellent, the view and ambiance wonderful and the meal ticket threw a punch in the wallet. I took back the remaining lamb, stuffing it in my dry bag and closing it to avoid unwelcomed big furry fat critters with long claws and keen noses. Finding my flashlight, I snuggled into my two sleeping bags with my cold weather UnderArmors to keep me warm. I smiled widely at the unexpected comfort of my sleeping set up. Hopefully I could get some real sleep.

It was a futile hope.

I woke to gusting winds and driving rain, which shortly sounded like bullets hitting the tent. Freezing rain. Yipes! I think I woke up once every half hour, paranoid that the wind would blow the fly off the tent, which would expose me and everything in there to all the elements. Once I noticed shadows on the walls and roof of the tent. As I climbed further out of sleep, I also saw that the top of the tent was drooping.

Holy crap! Snow!

I carefully pushed the mounting snow off the roof and walls of the tent to prevent it from collapse.

I turned and tossed and pushed and fretted in the wet cold, hoping it would be tomorrow soon...............

posted by Macrobe
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