Black Hills Badlands Medley—Day Eight
I took my time leaving Terry’s Bison Ranch. I got camp put away and took a much needed shower then walked down to the restaurant just below where I had camped. For thirteen dollars I was fed hot coffee and huevos rancheros with corn tortillas, black beans and eggs on top, and some pico with jalapeños. There was also some hot sauce I had never seen before on the table. I poured it on and dug in. I don’t know if it was the pico or the hot sauce (I suspect the sauce), but my eyes were watering and my nose was running, but the food was delicious and the coffee took away the worst of the burn.
It was about nine by the time I left. I resigned myself to taking the interstate south, as there weren’t many obvious backroad options that didn’t go far out of the way to get around Fort Collins and Denver. But from Fort Collins on, the traffic became so heavy and so fast I could only imagine how much worse it would be going straight through Denver, so I finally decided to try to pass to the west of Denver on smaller roads. I cut across on CO 66 to a US highway cutting south just outside the city proper on its west side, which would connect to the loop road that would get me to LIttleton and Deer Creek Canyon Road, which I had been on before, where I knew the area, and I could catch another US highway south to Sedalia. There I could finally get off the highway and ride a little gravel out into the countryside and mountains. There was still a lot of traffic skirting the city, but it was much better than on the interstate, and finally, I got south of Denver and headed to Sedalia, when I pulled over to get some gas.
I filled the bike up and got the usual “great bike!” comments from another guy filling up, but when I looked back at the bike, I saw that the entire tail rack had broken off near the rear of the saddle and had been hanging by two straps attached to the pannier racks. It had been banging against the taillight below, breaking it into two pieces. I turned the ignition, and luckily, the light itself still worked, as did the brake light. I don’t know why I had not noticed any commotion coming from behind me or why no one had honked or flashed their lights at me to let me know what had happened. It might have just happened as I bumped into the gas station.
Luckily, there was an auto parts store right next door, and I bumped out of the gas station, after strapping everything that had been on the tail rack onto the gear already piled on the pillion, breaking apart and throwing away the tail bag’s light interior wooden support that I had built so it would hold its shape when empty. Then I bumped into the auto parts store’s parking lot. I ran inside and purchased some duct tape and went back out to affect repairs. The lens only had a small chip out of it along the top of it, so I wrapped tape over that then secured the entire taillight assembly to the assembly below it, to which the turn signals were attached. It seemed secure. As I was looking over my handiwork and not looking forward to riding all the way home with that huge pile of stuff behind me, a fellow came up and suggested that the rack could be welded. Another stroke of luck; there was an auto repair shop just behind the store, and the fellow suggested that someone there would probably be able to weld, if they were willing to.
Getting Ready to Weld
I took the bike to the repair shop, and to my surprise, the owner agreed to help me out. He had a bunch of old restored cars in the lot, and I think the vintage-looking Triumph piqued his interest, plus he was just a down-to-earth nice guy. He finished his lunch while I rolled the bike into the shade and unloaded it completely. Then we rolled the bike into the shop and got to work. I helped when and where I could. He ground the breaks clean and beveled them and then found some rebar close to the right size and ground it down, so it would fit inside the broken tubes. He then inserted short sections into the tubes and tacked them. Next, he tried to insert the broken rack onto the stubs, but it had bent ever so slightly. He put it in a vise and with a little persuasion with a big wrench, he bent it back together just enough to slide on. He tack-welded it in place then ran a bead around the perimeter of the seam. It worked perfectly, and soon I was reloading all my gear and handing over a measly seventy-five dollars for a job well done.
Hwy 67 Is Gravel from Sedalia to Deckers with a Steep Grade. South from Deckers, There Were Many Campgrounds.
Riding Hwy 67
I had lost some time dealing with the tail rack but was determined to get substantially south by the end of the day. I rolled south onto US 85, but only as far as Sedalia, and took CO 67, which I knew would get me out of the Denver and Colorado Springs area traffic and let me make my way south on the west side of the most eastern range of the Rockies and to Woodland Park. I had ridden that route before and recalled it as steep and unpaved. Riding along it, though, I found pavement and was disappointed. Pulling up to pickup truck that had stopped I asked them when they had paved it, as the last time I was there it was not. He said it had been quite a while and confirmed that I was, indeed, on the right road. A few miles further along, though, the road did finally turn to dirt; I guess I hadn’t remembered correctly that the first part of it was paved so anticipation of a fun ride creeped back in. From the transition to gravel on I knew I was on the same road, with curves, dirt, and a fifteen percent downhill grade like I remembered. The route spat me onto pavement at a T-intersection with a stream rushing past ahead that followed me all the way to Woodland Park. There I noticed an elevation sign telling me I was at almost 8,500 feet.
East of Woodland Park I picked up the interstate again, but only until the next exit, which took me off on a big western loop through the San Isabel National Forest, with some of the route marked on my map as scenic. Right up my alley! The route looked a lot nicer than droning along on the interstate and would take me through the mountains, instead of beside them.
In the little town of Florence, I had a suspicion I had missed a turn, so I pulled beside the road to check my map and heard the phone ringing over the idling engine. I turned it off and recalled the number; it was my younger brother, Tim, in Virginia Beach. The phone had not been working well, and I’d not been getting signals, or if I had a signal, I could not send or download data, even though I had been riding close to big cities. But here in this little town, surrounded by huge mountains, the call came through loud and clear. I’d been planning to drive my dad’s pickup up to see him and return with his lawnmower in the back, which he no longer needed after having moved to a new place. He asked me when I would be doing that, and I told him, “Well, not for a while; I happen to be in Colorado at the moment!” We laughed and made sketchy plans for a future date.
Having figured out my mistake, I got back on track and continued into the mountains. I had forgotten how early darkness comes in the high country and started thinking about finding a place to camp for the night. I was riding through National Forest, and when I had done that up north of Woodland Park there had been campgrounds around every other curve, so I figured I’d have no trouble. I rode on and on and finally got onto CO 165, the scenic route on my map, as the shadows were growing long and deer started appearing, and I’d seen no campgrounds at all. I made my turn and hoped I could find something on 165, and made a decision to take the first opportunity to camp, regardless of what that might be, but I rode further and further into the beautiful countryside without spotting any place to camp. I was starting to worry and was looking for places I might be able to stealth camp but did not relish camping alone in the brush hidden in the wild mountains. Finally, I rounded a bend, and there was a little brown sign with a tent icon. I thought it said Otter Creek, but later found out it was Ophir Creek Campground. I took the turn and rode past another sign for camping, but which looked like a private campground that was not too well maintained. I figured that could not be the National Forest Campground and kept riding for another half- mile or so, and finally came to Ophir Creek Campground. It was simple but well-maintained, with an honor drop-box to deposit the fee in. I rode up and met the host, Tommy, who was very friendly, and we got into talking about bikes “back in the day.” He gave the rundown on the camping, and I went to set up my tent. As I was writing notes in my journal, Tommy stopped in his pickup and told me where I could get good water just up the camp road at a hand pump. He also said he just happened to have an extra grilled chicken sandwich, and would I like it? Of course! I had not had a chance to stop to pick up anything and was looking forward to a hungry night. It’s always hard to fall asleep when your stomach is grumbling. I had only one-half bottle of water left, so went up to the well to fill it and drink a couple bottles’ worth. Tommy said if I was going to cross Texas, I’d need more than one water bottle and brought me down a couple more but would not let me pay him for them.
Ophir Creek Campground on Beautiful Hwy 165
Camping at Ophir Creek Campground
Hwy 165 in San Isabel National Forest
My hunger satisfied, I settled in for the night as darkness fell as well as the temperature. For most of the trip, I’d been sleeping in just by bag liner, but that night the sub-freezing mummy bag was used, and I wore a sweatshirt as well. It was perfect and kept me cozy all night. I’d forgotten how much difference altitude makes in temperatures. It had been scorching most of the trip, but that night it was chilly there at about 9,000 feet.
That was the shortest day riding at not quite 300 miles, due to the tail rack delay. But that many miles felt perfect compared to all the roughly 500-mile days I’d generally been riding.