A Lesson From Riding New Mexico and Colorado

July 9, 2014

This past weekend, I took an opportunity to ride New Mexico and Colorado.

Let me first say that to prepare for travel, you look at the weather forecast in northwest New Mexico and see that it will be 98°F (36.6°C). You then bring the proper gear for such a temperature. This means: half helmet, sunglasses, mesh armored jacket, Kevlar and armored riding jeans, and light gloves. You allow a family member, who also rides, to decide on the route.

Through the good graces of the father-in-law-to-be, you get to ride his Kawasaki Vulcan 1500. With a windscreen. And highway pegs. This is not a naked Kawasaki in Norway. It’s properly fitted.

Now, said family member, who is a primary participant in a wedding (he brought the cash for his daughter’s grand day), provides you a map of the route, says, “Text me when you reach Silverton, and I will meet you at this spot.”

And off you go.

It is hot, Africa hot, as you make your way along the route. Alone.

Soon, however, you can’t help but notice that it is getting cooler. “Hmmm,” you think, “It must be the trees and the shade.”

And then you see a sign, at the top of the winding road, “Coal Bank Pass Summit, Elev 10640 ft.” I think I know why it is so “chilly,” now.

And then it starts to rain. Not hard, but not a drizzle, either.

Where’s my rain gear? Oh, yeah, it’s at home, because the forecast for New Mexico showed no rain.

A short time later, as you are properly dampened, you see a turnoff for a small park. Might as well stop and take in the scenery and snap a few photos. What does the sign say at this stop? “Molas Pass Summit, Elev 10910 ft.”

Oh,boy.

After a short break, and a nice chat with a fellow biker, who told me that it is not uncommon to have snow in July up here, I start the descent into Silverton, Colorado. And as the town comes into view, it starts to rain. Really rain. I think I have called this “biblical rain.” All of the bikes I saw ahead of me, have taken refuge under the awning of the only gas station in town.

Much to the disdain of those in cars.

I park under the awning, gas up, get a little food and drink in me, and look at my phone.

I have a text from the family member saying that I am to meet him at the Durango Mountain Resort back up Route 550.

The rain isn’t stopping. In fact, I think it is raining harder, which doesn’t seem possible.

I need to mention that in this part of the US, the use of concrete or asphalt seems to not have caught on. The parking lot and driveway of the gas station is gravel. With a lot of low areas. I need to navigate a 900 pound bike over gravel, up a slight rise, and onto the highway. In pouring rain.

I make it. But as I do, and I start heading south on 550, back up the mountain, it starts to hail. It’s now a combination of biblical rain and hail. Remember, I am dressed for a different climate. I can say, with first hand knowledge, getting hit by hail, as you travel along at 40-50mph, hurts. It really hurts as it hits your uncovered face. A lot.

I make it to the ski resort, where a very dry family member awaits with his Ducati.

I hate him.

But, he is soon “enjoying” the rain, too. Although, he is wearing a full face helmet, so he isn’t getting the same enjoyment as I am. At least there is no hail.

We are traveling in a normal staggered position, heading down the mountain, in the rain, when he signals for a left turn and starts to slow. I am a few seconds behind him, caught suddenly unaware of the new direction we are taking. It’s one thing to maneuver a 400-500 pound Ducati, something else entirely to do the same on a 900 pound Kawasaki. I use the back brake, it’s raining, and we are in a slight curve.

I hit the traffic paint on the asphalt, which marks the left turn lane, while braking. The back end starts to slide out from under me. I release the back brake, the bike straightens and goes upright, I roll over the painted area, and now use both brakes. Gently.

I blow right by my riding partner, but am slowing, heading into an area of the highway that is marked for no traffic.

I stop the bike about 30 feet past the turn.

Damn, that was not fun, but it ended well. Note to self, traffic marking paint, when it is wet, is very slippery.

Family member, at the next stop sign, “That turn off came up sooner than I expected.” Yeah, I got that news pretty quickly.

And then it started to hail again.

This was turning out to be quite a ride.

However, we were now rolling into Durango, Colorado, and, at about 6,000 feet, it was starting to warm up. I was happy to realize this, as I was soaked and cold. Soon, it was about 98°F (36.6°C), and what was once a relief started to make me feel like I was in a clothes dryer. The water was evaporating off of me, creating a very humid riding environment. For a short while, we were on the highway, which sped up the drying process and it got to be much more comfortable to ride.

At the end of the ride, with the exception of my socks, I was totally dry.

This was one of the strangest rides I’ve been on; pretty much every season was represented in a few short hours and within 4,000 feet of elevation change.

The route (what I can remember of it):

NMandCORide

Click on image for an interactive Google Map.

The elevation profile (thanks to this site for the image):

NMandCOElevationProfile

 

If I had known the elevation profile before starting out, I would have brought the liner to my jacket. It wouldn’t have provided a lot of cold weather protection, but I would have been a lot dryer (and a bit warmer) in the higher elevations. I’ll know for next time.