Part 5 - Denver, CO to Kimball, NE 338 Miles

Stopped at K-Mart for more film (the Rockies, ya know), batteries for the flashlight that died, and some industrial- strength bug spray (100% Deet, dissolves small children on contact). I looked for EAR brand plugs, since I had dropped my last set when I got into Denver. I've been carrying multiple sets of EAR plugs in different cases for some time now, as I'm always dropping some, and occassionally dropping the whole little blue case. Unfortunately, K-Mart did not have any.

Took I-25 to 6 towards Central City/Blackhawk. These little gambling tourist traps were not my destination, but they seemed a good starting point for the Peak-to-Peak scenic biway on my way to Rocky Mountain National Park. I figured I'd get gas in Golden, but I didn't see anything. OK, I'll just gas up in Central City. I asked a road worker when I got there where to get gas, and he just shook his head. I had about 15 miles to empty, and told him so. He mentioned that there was a KOA about 10 miles away that he thought had a gas pump.

After the longest 10 miles of my life, I finally found the KOA, which indeed did have a lone gas pump. Unfortunately, it was 87 octane. Remembering how poorly the Zephyr did on 89, I was not looking forward to 87 octane at 12,000 feet for the riding highlight of the trip. Not much choice though. Filled up amongst 6 Wingers with Iowa plates (who did not so much as utter a word at me, sod them), and headed for the mountains. BTW, as I passed several KOAs during this trip, I noticed that each one was dumpier than the last. I will not be heading for any KOAs in the future. Anyone had good/bad experiences with that chain?

Rode up 119/72 to RMNP, saw sign for Rollins Pass, saw lots of FJs, lots of lazy dogs that showed zero interest in my passing, and lots of cyclists. I can't imagine cycling through mountains like that, the speed bumps at the local ACME nearly do me in (well, not quite). So far, this is easily the most beautiful scenery of the trip. The road is good, not great, but the mountains and valleys are awe-inspiring. Stopped near Long's Peak for a chain wax and rest, and just sort of stared at the mountain for quite some time (actually, 15 mins for the parafin to settle). I even doodled the peaks into my trip book. There looked to be some dark clouds coming over the top of Long's Peak, but I hoped they might pass me by.

Rode through Estes Park, extremely busy with pedestrian and auto traffic. This was on a Wednesday afternoon, I can't imagine what a Saturday must be like. Eventually made my way to the entrance of RMNP. I should mention that once I hit Estes Park, I started debating whether or not to do the park. Maybe the road is just like the surrounding roads, just free from buildings? The traffic nearly discouraged me, but I decided to see for myself. It looked like $5 to get in, which I thought was disgustingly cheap, but when I got to the ranger station, the young lady said "Motorcycles are $3". I jokingly told her that was outrageous, I wouldn't pay. She followed my lead and pleaded that the pass was good for the whole week. I paid my money and rode in.

Oh. My. God. Beautiful beyond words. The road twists and turns its way to over 12,000 feet, through lush forests and alpine tundras, getting colder and more breathtaking with every scenic overlook. The road was fairly crowded, but I was in no rush. Almost every overlook was full, but bikes can sneak into the smallest of places! After stopping for the nth time to take pictures (which required removing gloves and helmet), I started riding with the camera around my neck, which was a first for me. I took the road as far as the Alpine Lodge Visitor's Center (where I was directed to park on the sidewalkAlpine Visitor's Center Parking), and then doubled back.

The storm I had seen coming was now starting to hit - there was patchy areas of rain along the way down, some just misting, some pouring. I battened down all the hatches and soldiered on. Maybe on another trip I will take the Old Trail Ridge Road (gravel switchbacks uphill), but not this time.

I exited the park and set off for I-25, which I could pick up in Loveland. Route 34 leads out of Estes Park in that direction, and it is a terrificly twisty and scenic route. There were two things that prevented me from really enjoying this road: one, it was pouring out, and two, this was the ONLY road so far in Colorado that had tar strips on it, millions of them. Some of the tar strips were more like tar acres, covering the whole lane and lasting for 20 feet. The bike was squiggling all over the place, making me mighty nervous. As I got to the end of the twisty section, the rain let up, and I picked up the pace quite a bit (for me). There's a section of that road that is bordered on both sides with sheer rock walls with a river running right next to the road on the right. Magnificent.

Got on to I-25, where I could watch the storm to my left. Hardly anyone going North, but bike after bike after bike coming South. Oh, that's right, Sturgis is up that way. I got tired of waving after the 300th bike or so. Most of them did not wave back, so I gave up. Stopped at a sign that said "Point of Interest". How could I pass up an invitation so tantalizing? Turned out it was a natural fort that was the site of a fierce Indian battle some time ago. Pretty interesting, actually. I also began to regret not searching harder for earplugs, as the 80+ speed was beginning to give me a whopper of a headache (the fact that I really hadn't eaten that day probably didn't help).

Crossed into Wyoming, and stopped for gas at the first available exit. Although there were hardly any people on the road, that service station was _way_ crowded. I decided not to gas up (still had at least 75 miles in the tank), just get a quick beverage and be on my way. Chatted with the rider of a Bandit who was heading up to Montana, sleeping bag strapped to the back. He mentioned that he's regretting not having a helmet with him.

Moved over to I-80 when I got the chance, and headed for the end of the day in Nebraska. Stopped before the state line to get some dinner, and saw a Gold Wing outside with solid oak trim, and a solid oak trailer attached. The owner came by, and said he loves the looks of the trailer, but it's really heavy, even when empty.

Another hour or so brought me to where I could get off I-80 and onto Route 30. Route 30 is one lonely road. I found Oliver Reservoir SRA, and pulled in. Uh-oh. Sign says you need a camping permit, which is not available on-site. I could obtain one 1 mile ahead, or 12 miles ahead in Kimball. Zipped ahead, and the sporting goods store 1 mile away was long since abandoned. By this time, my head is pounding from the wind road, and the sun is starting to go down. I really want to set up camp before dark. I zipped _very_ quickly into Kimball, and asked a gas attendant (actually, I asked the person at the register - outside of NJ, there are no gas attendants anymore) where I could get a permit, and was told "Woody's Liquor", 1 block away. Sure enough, Woody's Liquor was the purveyor of $2.50 camping permits. Really fast ride back the Reservoir, and set up camp on the shore. Quite nice, actually, and not many other people.

I had just finished setting up the tent, when I noticed a kid casting off the dock about 20 yards away. This was turning into a very nice evening. I'm in the middle of nowhere, extremely quiet, and a young boy silently casting for fish. Maybe not a Norman Rockwell image, but it almost seemed like a moment from another time. I walked over to the dock and sat down, and the minute I did the boy, whose name turned out to be Jason, hooked a fish. Before he could get a hold of it, though, it slipped the hook and got away. He was not very happy at all. Seems he's been at the reservoir all day, and his grandfather's caught a bucketful, but he's been striking out. We talked for quite some time, of the fish that got away and other things, as the sun set and the evening sky began to darken. We could see the storm that was in Colorado move East, fortunately to the South of us. At one point his dad came over to tell him to start finishing up and come roast marshmellows and play Yahtzee. I found this to be very peaceful and restful. Just as he was about done ("one or two more casts"), he hooked another big one. He reeled it in, and got it up on the dock. As he was taking the hook out, it squirmed out of his hands and dropped back into the water. Jason fell to the dock, pounding his fists on the boards. Fish 2, Jason 0. He took this as a sign and packed up.

I retired to the tent, wrote some in the journal, checked out the maps for tomorrow (whole lot of Nebraska), and finally turned off the light and put my head down. At that very moment, someone not 20 yards away fired up a gas generator. Ouch. My headache was back in full swing in a few seconds. This went on for a few minutes, so I used that time to re-check the maps, as there was no way I was going to sleep with that racket going on. After about 30 minutes, I had had enough and got out of the tent to see what was going on. There were a bunch of other campers also standing around near the generator. One finally knocked on the door to the owner's trailer, and he seemed surprised (and annoyed) that it bothered anyone. He assured us that it would only be on for another hour. Ack! I took a long walk around the campground, and when I returned all was quiet. Sleep came in seconds.