Day 14 – Santa Fe or bust

Last Day.  We had an awesome time at Colorado Gators, I think it was the highlight of the trip for Cece, but now it was time to head home and the weather looked to be turning bad that afternoon on the way.  So far every day it was supposed to be extremely bad weather we stayed insulated in a pocket of fair weather with storms all the way around us. Our last trip was the same way so maybe our medicine wheel really works, but better not to tempt fate.

The imposing ruins of this old church stood guard over an old cemetery out in the middle of nowhere.  The roof was gone and the whole building gutted except for the exterior walls. The place was deathly quiet and the wispy clouds preceding the oncoming front gave it a surreal other worldly feel. Spooky.

The other end of the Cumbres and Toltec Railway.  I’d been to the start of the line in Chama many times but never stopped at the other end before. They have several engines out on display and some of the different railroad cars.  One of these days we need to take the train.

Heres one of the old wooden water tanks for filling the boilers on the old steam trains.

Rio Grande Scenic railway car.  It must have been something to ride in one of those and get a high panoramic view of the mountains as you went.

Elk farm we passed as we started heading up into the mountains.

The high road to Chama follows this canyon and stream cutting back and forth from one side to the other before rising up some steep switchbacks and crossing over the ridge. Very beautiful landscape and some a nice relaxing ride to take it all in.

Here we are at an overlook after the amazing twisty switchbacks climbing out of the valley.  Down below is the stream and the road we had just been on.

We made it to the summit!  10,238 ft up. Despite the steep climb, the thin air and carrying 2 people and 100’s of pounds of gear the little V Star 650 is running better than ever.  Don’t let anyone tell you that you need a liter bike or bigger for mountain touring.

At the top who should we meet?  A guy that had just done all of that on a BICYCLE! and then some! He said he had ridden from Canada, and was on his way to Chama. I forgot how many months he had been on the road, but all the sudden our 4000 mile trip on a motorcycle didnt seem all that impressive 😉

Look at that amazing view.  Its hard to see but those little squarish specks out there are houses  and near the center of the picture you can see the railroad bridge crossing the little stream.  High altitude vistas are like optical illusions, the air is so clear and you can see so far that vast distances seem much closer than they are till you can make out some tiny speck on the other side to give you some sense of scale.

High up everything was in bloom and there was swarms of giant juicy bugs. Somewhere out there is a V Star shaped hole in a cloud of Colorado Rockies bugs.

We made it to Chama!  I have to say that La Manga Pass is one of the awesomest motorcycle rides ever! Next time we have to go to Colorado that route is getting a few more marks in its favor.

We stopped and ate at a resturant/bar with lots of bikes outside. Hey this must be the place to eat around here.  The resturant side was packed and while waiting in line we talked with another biker who was on his way from Ankorage Alaska to near San Antonio Texas.  Wow!  another guy on an even more epic trip. Whats up with all these travelers on their epic journies all being drawn to Chama, New Mexico and all happening to meet up at the same point.  He was a cool guy but warned us the weather was pretty bad to the south and he had turned around and come back to wait it out.

While we were waiting I asked about his trip. I want to ride to Alaska some day. He said it wasn’t too bad on his Harley and the roads have come a long way in the past few years. He said the only places he had trouble and nearly ran out of gas was in Montana and here in New Mexico, heh.  To think that Alaska is more civilized than us.

Can you tell how much snow they get up in Chama?  These are the train sized snow blowers for clearing feet of snow off the tracks.  I once had a Durango & Silverton railroad book that showed them going through tunnels cut in the snow back then, simply amazing.

Well we’d made it most of the way but our luck ran out and it looks like the storms are catching up to us. We’d passed through a bit of rain and pea sized hail that really stings if you’re only wearing shorts under your riding pants.  This is looking towards the pass leading to Taos, our intended route back, with an even more angry looking storm blocking our way.  The route straight looked clear so we just kept going and hoped we’d made a good choice.

Oh crap…  We came over a ridge and this was what loomed before us. A huge wall of mancing dark angry clouds with flashes of lightning.  This cant be good.  I think we should have gone the other way.

So we stopped and for the first time ever and just 100 or so miles from home from a 4000 mile trip I had to break out the rain cover for my tour pack.  At the top of the Tourmaster tourpack is a zippered enclosure with a waterproof cover on a tether. It took a bit of work to get it over everything and not break our feathers, then you just sinch down the straps and tighten the draw string under the bottom and thats it.  It kept everything mostly dry.  Cece’s camera and stuff got wet but we think that was from water dripping from the thermarest on the top underneith the rain cover.

The storm was nickle sized hail and oh my god it hurt.  I ended up having to sit with my knees up on the tank and hunch down behind my tiny wind screen.  With just shorts on under my riding pants and no jeans it was like getting pelted at close range by a dozen paint ball guns on your bare shins not to mention all the hail stones to the fingers on my right hand that I couldn’t take off the bars.

Once we got to Ghost Ranch the storm quit and we were home free.  We stayed with a Goldwing pulling a trailer that had also gone through the hail behind us. You always feel a bit of a connection to someone whos gone through something just as bad as you 😉 If you’re out in 20 degrees, or light snow, or massive rain or hail and you see another bike out with you, it doesnt matter if they’re a mohawked helmet sport bike rider, a BMWer, some guy in high vis on a gold wing or a blacked out Harley all in leather, when conditions are bad everyone is friendly and everyone earns that mutual respect.

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