I awoke with the sun shining directly in my face. I was lying the position I remembered being in when my heart had been pounding so hard the night before. I don’t think I had moved all night long!
One by one we all straggled out of our sleeping bags and began to bend and stretch and try to get the kinks worked out. To a person we were stiff and tired. None of us were conditioned for the kind of day we’d inflicted on ourselves the past two. It didn’t take long, though; we were soon limbered up and ready to hit the road again. With our limited supply of water we gave the matter of hygiene but little thought - we all brushed our teeth and basically let it go at that. As I was buckling my helmet strap I noticed that my whiskers were getting pretty scratchy. I had never had more than a one-day growth of beard in my life before that time, and it felt really strange.
We coasted down the side of the mountain on the long dirt road, and were soon back on Hwy 285, headed south. We hadn’t been on it more than 15 minutes, though, before Ken pulled the Honda to the side of the road.
"It feels funny," he said. "The rear end is kinda wobbling back and forth."
We looked at it and the problem was obvious… it was going flat.
Oh, boy. This was one of the eventualities we had discussed but hadn’t really planned for. Back in Missouri, we had told ourselves we wouldn’t get off the beaten path, and that having a flat would be unlikely. But, yesterday afternoon, we had violated that Big Time by climbing up that hill through the brush and cacti. Now we paid the price.
Nothing to do but to get it off and take it somewhere to get it fixed. Taking the wheel off was no big deal and was done in a few minutes. We unloaded Steve’s DT1, since it was the largest remaining bike, and Dan set out southward with Ken behind him, holding the Honda’s rear wheel between them, leaving Steve and I to guard the camping gear and the three bikes. We sat down on the sandy roadside and starting hoping it wasn’t far to the next town, that someplace would be open on Sunday where they could fix the tire, and that it wouldn’t take too long so we wouldn’t have to sit there and bake in the sun.
One of the benefits of not having an itinerary or a schedule to keep to is that little delays like this don’t bother you too much. Other than not enjoying just sitting beside the road, it wasn’t bad. We still had a decent view of the Sangre de Cristo range to the east, and it was very peaceful and quiet out there. Only a few cars passed while we waited, and none of them stopped to interrupt our meditations.
It turned out that we weren’t very far from a little town called Center, and Dan and Ken must have been pretty good with the tire irons, because they were back in less than two hours, confirming that a cactus spine had been the culprit. Another twenty minutes or so and we were back on the road again.
In Center, we stopped for a break and for Dan and Ken to clean up from the dirty job of changing the tire. The store there had a very small selection of items, but we found one treat we couldn’t pass up - a six pack of little 6 oz cans of Coors beer. We lounged on the bench in front of the store and each drank a can. Small pleasures…
Back on the bikes, we turned west on Hwy 112 to Hwy 160, then west to Del Norte and beyond. This turned out to be the most difficult ride of the whole trip as we were going directly into a stiff headwind, probably 30 mph or more. A headwind on a bike is always a pain, but on the small displacement bikes we were riding, for which 65 was about the normal top speed anyway, this was a killer. Most of the run up to South Fork was done at 45 mph or less, with frequent downshifts and the burning of lots of fuel. When we turned off onto Hwy 149 toward Creede, we were relieved to find that the wind had lessened considerably, whether due to an intervening mountain range or a change in the weather, we didn’t know or care.
We took it easy on the road into Creede, having expended a lot of energy battling the headwind. When we arrived in that sleepy little village, we felt like we had taken a step back in time.
While we had started the trip with no specific itinerary in mind, one place we had wanted to vist was Creede. One of the wilder boom towns of the 1800s, Creede played host to many famous (and infamous) people during its heyday. Check out:
Nothing was happening fast in Creede, if anything was happening at all. We stopped at a little store to get a coke and watched the slow-paced action in the sleepy mountain town. Fortunately I had my camera at the ready when the most remarkable thing about it came past… the local police car. It was a ’65 Corvair with a "bubble gum machine" on top! The one and only Corvair police car I’ve ever heard of. And a 4-door at that!
We struck up a conversation with one of the locals who stopped into the store and he asked us where we were going. When we told him we weren’t sure, but thought "higher" sounded good, he suggested we go right on through town and up the old mining road. He assured us we’d see plenty of interesting sights and that we wouldn’t find anyplace nearby where we could get much higher. Then he asked us if we were from Texas. When we said no, and why, he told us they didn’t much like Texans there in Creede because so many of them came up there every summer. "We’re tired of being Texas’ air conditioner", he said. Then he told us, "We kill about two dozen of ‘em every year." We must have looked stunned, because his pal with him chimed in, "Yeah, they don’t know how to drive worth a damn and they run over the edge of these cliffs in their Cadillacs and stuff. You boys be careful up there."
We asked where the other dirt road we had passed as we entered town went. He said it was a "jeep trail" that went over the divide at Spring Creek Pass to Lake City. We told him we’d save that for the next day and thanked him for his information.
By this time it was afternoon again, and we decided we’d better get on up the mountain and try to find a place to camp before it got as late on us as it had the night before. And, we filled our canteens before we left town.
The old mining road lived up to its billing. It was a magnificent road carved out of solid rock and along the edge of some big, deep ravines. In places it was a full two lanes, but in many it narrowed to only one. All the way up, we had a sheer rock wall towering above us on one side, going up out of sight in many places, while on the other side was a drop-off for dozens, or even hundreds, of feet. Loose gravel was the only surface, and there were no markings, no guardrails, nothing. Just the road, the mountain, and us. And every half mile or so, an old mine shack, or a shaft into the side of the hill, or an abandoned sluice, sometimes all the above. We stopped every now and then to take a closer look at the old mine stuff. We knew better than to go inside anything because of the danger of it collapsing on top of us, but it was great fun to stand outside and peer into the interiors.
The road twisted and turned on itself as it switchbacked up the mountainside, and it was always very steep. We attacked the mountain flat out in 2nd or 3rd gear, the little two strokes screaming and smoking like an oil well afire and the Honda scaring us all as Ken held on for dear life and tried to keep the street tires in some semblance of control as he roared past us, spitting gravel.
As we rounded a curve, we came upon a big new silver Lincoln sitting in the middle of the road, the hood up and steaming like a Yellowstone geyser. An old man and woman were standing beside it, looking at it as if it had betrayed them. Some of the hated Texans, judging by their license plates. We pulled alongside and asked if we could help; they told us they had already asked the last jeep we had met to send help, so we wished them luck and went back to the climb.
As I rounded another curve, I felt the backpack behind me shift. I stopped and got off the bike to investigate. It was hanging off to the left side, so I walked around to the other side of the bike and took hold of the backpack and gave it a big tug. Whoa! Silly me, forgetting the kickstand was on the other side - the whole bike came falling over toward me, and I instinctively jumped back away from it. The bike crashed to the ground for the third time in two days, and I just stood there looking down at it. Then I noticed the other guys looking at me really strangely. Ken was holding out his hands and saying, "Charlie, step over here, real easy…"
I thought, "What the…" and then slowly turned my head to look behind me. I was standing on the last six inches of terra firma between me and about 700 feet of thin air! Had I stepped away from the falling bike just a few more inches, I’d have been in free fall! I quickly stepped back over the fallen bike and got weak in the knees. It seemed we were bent on killing ourselves out here, but were somehow escaping unscathed. Whew!
With the bike righted and the backpack secured once again, we resumed our climb up the seemingly unending mountainside. Finally we came out onto a somewhat level place where we could actually see the top of the mountain. Or, rather, the tops. There were two, it seems. The one on our left was lower than the other and had scattered trees almost up to the top; the one to the right was a lot taller and was totally barren, just one big outcrop of rock perched in our way, probably another two or three thousand feet up. The road wound away out of sight to the right of the tall rocky peak. We were sitting just below the tree line.
We pulled to a stop on the level part of the road and looked to our left across a tiny grassy valley with some aspen scattered around, groups of juniper here and there, and with a small stream that ran into… a beaver pond!
On the far side was a small grassy clearing, up above the pond and nestled against a grove of juniper. Camp! We immediately began to look for a way across. We found it just down the road a bit where the stream was narrow and shallow, crossed over, and made our way to the clearing. If you look really closely in this picture, you can make out our tents among the trees. I rode back over there after we set up camp to get the picture.
We parked the bikes and quickly unpacked our gear. Steve and I set up our tent while Dan unrolled his sleeping outfit and gathered rocks for a campfire pit. Ken had disappeared.
With the tent set up, I started looking for Ken. A call netted a response from down by the beaver pond. I went down to the water where he was casting some kind of little lure.
"Getting any strikes?" I asked.
"Every cast!" he grinned.
"Yep, I’ve already caught about ten," he said, reeling in a fish about six inches long.
"You have? Where are they?" I asked, looking for a stringer or a net or something in the water.
"Right here," he replied, patting his pants pocket. "And here," patting his other pants pocket, "and here," patting his jacket pocket, as he put the little brown trout he’d just caught in it.
I cracked up laughing!
"Hey, they bite every time," he told me. "Watch!"
He then tossed the nondescript little fly back out into the pond and another fish hit it instantly.
"Go get your rod," he told me. "We’re gonna have fish tonight! Hurry, before they quit feeding!"
I got my rod and it was exactly as Ken had said; I put a split shot on the leader and tossed a bare hook into the pond near the dam and immediately reeled in a fish. Dan joined us and Steve watched as we stood there for about 30 minutes and caught about 60 fish. All of them were about six inches long. I’m sure it wasn’t legal and we oughta be ashamed, but we were caught up in the moment and the thought of fresh fish for dinner pushed all other thoughts out of our minds. Then, suddenly, they quit biting, just like that. It was a pretty big pond; I’m sure we didn’t catch near all of them.
Then came the messy task of cleaning the fish, which we did right there beside the pond. All we did was cut the heads off and gut them and wash them off. Doing more would have been too much of a chore on those little things. While we were cleaning the fish, Dan and Steve got a fire going and peeled a bunch of potatoes. We had a small bag of corn meal to roll the fish in, shortening to fry them and the potatoes in, two skillets to cook with, and a pot for something else, which tonight was corn.
As darkness fell we were sitting down around the campfire to as fine a meal as I’ve ever had in the outdoors. Crispy fried trout, fried potatoes, and hot whole kernel corn. Ummm, ummm, good!
When dinner was over, everyone was ready to turn in for the night. Everyone but me, that is. I had promised my wife I would call her no later than this night, and I wasn’t about fail to do that. The others looked at me like I was crazy. The nearest phone was several miles away, down at the foot of this mountain we had struggled so hard to get up in the daylight.
"You can’t be serious," Dan said. But, I was.
By now it was getting cold. We were near 10,000 feet and when the sun had gone behind the mountain peak to our west the warmth of the day had gone with it. We had eaten dinner in our jackets and were still beginning to feel a chill.
"If you’re going to do this," said Dan, the voice of reason in the group, "You have to dress for it."
So we took up a collection of garments and I layered up in a set of thermal underwear, three long sleeved shirts, two pair of jeans, and my plastic rain suit over it all. I tied a bandanna around my face and put my helmet on - all you could see was my nose and eyes, and they were protected by a pair of safety glasses. If I ended up having to spend the night out there somewhere, I was going to be warm while I waited on morning!
Looking back on it, I now realize how dangerous and foolish that was. Setting off alone in the dark on that fragile little two-stroke on a big old mountain that killed dozens of mighty Texans every year… I wonder if Linda every really understood what that call entailed and if she appreciated it as much as the effort deserved? I’ll probably never know. Other than being awfully cold, the run down the mountain was easy - almost too easy. Twice I burbled into tight curves at too high a speed and locked the rear end up with the brakes. This is not wise on a magneto-sparked bike on a twisting road on the edge of a mountain. See, when the rear wheel stops turning, so does the engine. And so does the magneto. And, for reasons I’ve never quite understood, the lights go out. Hoo, Boy! Talk about your major grins! Nothing like sliding sideways in the middle of a curve on loose gravel on the edge of a 700 foot drop at about 30 mph in the dark! The second time I did it I made myself a solemn promise I’d never, ever, do it again. Man! And, somehow, I didn’t after that.
The only pay phone in Creede was actually working that night, thank God. It would have been really bad if it hadn’t been. There certainly wasn’t anything open down there where I could make a call, so that one booth was the only shot. The call lasted all of five minutes; the wife was unimpressed that I was having a ball and seeing great sights and so forth, but I had done my husbandly duty and checked in as promised. I told her not to expect another call, but to look for me to return home as planned. Then I hung up, re-tied the bandanna, and headed back up the mountain.
The ride back up was rather uneventful. Other than being even colder than on the way down. Maybe I was learning how to do this, or maybe my guardian angel was handling things for me. Regardless, I had no problems and was back in camp only an hour and a half or so after I had left. Every one was in bed asleep, so I had to crawl quietly into the tent and zip it up tight for the night.
I lay there in pitch blackness in my sleeping bag, the beginnings of an onslaught of cold creeping in around my feet and elbows, and thought about the day’s events. It was all very good, and gave me a good feeling for having done it. Especially the night ride. So it was that I drifted off to sleep with a warm sense of satisfaction.
To Go To DAY THREE