Day Eight


"Great Job, But a Killer Commute!"

September 12, 2002

Rock Springs, WY -
Steamboat Springs, CO

302 miles

4:53 riding time

5 Passes Today
26 Passes To Date

Menacing clouds southeast of Walden Colorado.

"You like lambs?"

We were parked at the Battle Mountain viewpoint in south-central Wyoming and hadn't seen another vehicle for maybe fifteen minutes.  That is, except for this blue Chevy pickup that swerved off the road and pulled up right next to our bikes.  In the back of the pickup were four sheep, not looking very happy about the situation.  Out of the truck piled three older guys, each armed with a Budweiser.  The oldest walked up to me and presented me with the above query.

Gizmo looks at cloud formations
while I make chit-chat with our sheep drivers.
"Pick me!"

Oh boy.  You really don't expect a stranger to walk up to you in the middle of nowhere and use this as an icebreaker.  So, I was a bit taken aback.  Depending on how I answered, there might be repercussions.  So, of course, I uttered the universal word I always use when I get a question I don't like the looks of.  I replied, "Huh?"  Man, those earplugs do come in handy.

And dang if he didn't repeat the same question, this time louder.   "You like lambs?"  Hmmm ... this query was not going away quietly.  So now, wanting to put an optimistic spin on this strange situation, I replied, "Sure, I like lambs.  Especially for dinner".  The guy chuckled a little and we seemed to be good buddies now.  During this exchange, Gizmo suddenly found it necessary to adjust his idle mixture or re-tie his boots or something.  I was flying solo with these gents.

The next item of conversation was the usual where-you-from/where-you-going rigmarole.  I told them the usual locale for home (Seattle area) and mentioned that we were headed for Steamboat Springs for the night.  Now, local people we meet on the road usually do an on-the-spot critique of our route, invariably telling us that we're going the wrong way—that it is much faster and easier to get to our destination if we turn around and go back the way we came.  Sure enough, these guys tell us, "You can't get there from here.  You have to go back."  At this, we usually reply that we're doing our weird passes thing, or trying to find the best roads to ride.  They look quizzically at us, not grokking why anyone would want to make their trip longer or travel on more difficult roads.  Our new friends seemed a little perturbed that we weren't going to turn around and follow their advice, but it didn't appear our relationship was irreparably harmed.

These guys wanted to talk more, but the beer was flowing freely and since we're not drinking, we said our good-byes.  They closed by telling us about a must-see landmark down the road—a tribute to Thomas Edison inventing the light bulb in the middle of south-central Wyoming (which had us rolling our eyes and thinking that the beer was doing the talking)—and we departed, feeling like it might be a good idea to put a few miles between us and these folks.  But sure enough, three miles down the road, there was the Thomas Edison marker.  These guys knew what they were talking about, whether it was lamb or historical markers.  Maybe we should have turned around.  Or talked a little more about one of those lambs in the back of the truck.

At the beginning of the day, both Gizmo and I remarked  that we felt differently when we got up this morning.  No longer did it feel exceptional to be waking up in a hotel room with three-hundred miles of road in front of us, and many more behind us.  Now, it's more like it's our job right now—to reel off 300 miles, talk to whomever we meet, snap a few pictures, and write about it a little in the evening.  A great job, but with one heck of a commute every day.

Rolling on I-80, 90 mph, lots of trucks.. No gas at our exit off I-80, but we could have bought a few artillery shells.

The first thing to polish off was ninety miles of I-80.  This stretch of freeway in Wyoming is pretty desolate and it has a ton of truck traffic.  The average speed of the cars seemed to be about 90 mph, so we set the throttle locks and made good time.  About three-fourths of the way from Rock Springs to Rawlings, we hit our exit to turn south and head for Colorado on Highway 789.  Always worrying a little about my limited fuel range (I can go about 180 miles, Gizmo can do another 40 or so), we reduced our speed in case the next town didn't have gas.

'Tentative Pass', WY 789, ten miles S. of I-80 exit 187. Gizmo does the traditional pass naming mugshot.

The interstates are never much fun, especially for taking pictures of Continental Divide crossings.  But we kept our perfect record intact and "bagged" a pass on I-80 while trucks thundered past us a few feet away.  There was another crossing about ten miles south of I-80 on WY 789.  Now this really isn't a very dramatic pass—more like a high spot in the road—but it is unnamed, so Gizmo was somewhat tempted to haul out the nails and deface the Continental Divide post with his brass "Gizmo Pass" plaque.   He debated and debated.  What if he could find a better pass to claim as his own later?  Finally, not wanting to blow his legacy too early on a pass unbecoming to his greatness, he decided to name it "Tentative Pass" instead and hold out for something a little more dramatic, probably in N. New Mexico.  But, as you can see above, he made his mark, albeit in ball-point pen.

Homeward bound from Alaska, this is Helga,
looking quite snappy in her Land Rover Discovery.
We didn't find out the type of animal
that produced these antlers, but they were impressive.

You meet some real characters on the road.  Stopping at Baggs to refuel, just north of the Colorado border, we ran into Helga, returning from Alaska and making her way back to her home in San Antonio after being on the road for seven weeks.   Helga is originally from Germany, but has been living in the lone star state for thirty-plus years.  One thing led to another and pretty soon she was rummaging around in the back of her SUV to show us antlers she found in her forays north.  She also related a sad story about her brother getting killed riding a motorcycle, but she said he was doing what he enjoyed, and I noted that none of us makes it off this earth alive.  We had a pleasant conversation, but then it was time for us to get back to our "work".  She stored our card in a handy crevice in her dash trim.  We're hoping to get some email from Helga.

Our last pass in Wyoming was Battle Pass in the Medicine Bow National Forest.  This is spectacular country and I must have seen over twenty deer and elk in our thirty-mile drive through the Medicine Bow.  (Gizmo has learned that following at a greater distance avoids the problem where I flush wildlife into his path.  Unfortunately, it also doesn't allow him to see any wildlife.)  The generally accepted origin of the Medicine Bow name is that the Native American tribes which inhabited southeastern Wyoming found mountain mahogany in one of the mountain valleys from which bows of exceptional quality were made.  Along the road, there are numerous monuments associated with the Indian conflicts from the time of Lewis and Clark through the 19th century.

This is hunting country and almost every business has some reference to hunting.  Huge "Welcome Hunters" banners are everywhere.  Our lunch stop—the Bear Trap Cafe in Riverside Wyoming—had walls covered with various stuffed animals.

There is a major weather system (I think the Weather Channel called it a "close low aloft") spinning across N. Colorado right now and the weather was unsettled all day.  Giant thunderheads brewed on the horizon nearly continuously which made for spectacular skyscapes like the one which leads this report.  We rode through some major showers, but never were in rain for more than twenty minutes, so overall, I thought it was a good tradeoff to enjoy such spectacular skies.  But I'm writing this report while it is raining outside, so I'm glad we were able to shut down by 3PM and get out of the weather.

Rabbit Ears Pass.... ... and the adjacent Rabbit Ears Mountain
with rocks that look like rabbit ears.
Coming down from Rabbit Ears, I fell in behind a
well-ridden BMW R1100RT whose pilot was paying
zero attention to the 50 mph speed limit.  Yee-haw.
Steamboat Springs.  Thirty minutes after this picture was taken, it was pouring down rain from a thunderstorm.  Timing is everything.

Yes, it's a tough job but someone has to do it.  Tomorrow we head through Rocky Mountain National Park, and then to Boulder where my wife and I lived for a couple years while she was in graduate school at the University of Colorado.  (Go Buffaloes.)  Notwithstanding a timing change due to impending weather, our plan is to lay over a day in Boulder.  Both of us would like to do laundry, clean the bikes, catch up on reading, and most of all, enjoy a day off the bikes.

See y'all tomorrow.


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