by Brian Curry
At the end of October 1996 I had a convention to attend in Salt Lake City. When I found this out, I started thinking maybe I could accomplish several goals at one time while attending it. For sometime I wanted to travel the Intermountain region during the winter. While it was not yet winter, it was close.
I decided to arrive at the convention by motorcycle.
A trip this time of year should not be taken lightly. So I did some initial thinking of what would make this a safe, as well as a fun, interesting trip.
These are those initial thoughts.
First, for those that are unfamiliar with the region, the Intermountain region of the US is a very large basin that basically encompasses Nevada and Utah as well as parts of Idaho, Oregon, and Arizona. Any moisture that falls inside the basin does not “flow to the sea.” It leaves only by evaporation. This is why the Great Salt Lake is salty. Water flows in carrying minerals and while the water leaves via evaporation, the minerals do not. The Bonneville Speedway Salt Flats are another remnant of this process. Salts left from evaporation of large quantities of precipitation.
The western border is formed by the Sierra Nevada Mountains. The Sierras form a barrier to most of the moisture coming off the Pacific. They strip most of the moisture from incoming storms providing water to the California farmers and making the Sierras lush and green. Nevada also has a series of north and south trending mountain ridges with large flat basins or playas between them. Some of the mountains are a result of earthquake faults, some are due to volcanic action. The basins tend to be dry with little vegetation, and as you go up the mountains it gets wetter and you find trees and green scrub. The mountains in Utah also tend to run north and south although you can find some seemingly isolated, up thrusts. Also large areas were lifted up, forming large plateaus that were then cut by faults and eroded by the streams flowing through them. The typical altitude of the basins are around 4 5000 feet with the passes over the ridges rising to 6-7000 feet. This should provide some idea of the area I would be traveling through.
While I live on the east coast of the US, there was no advantage in traveling to the convention from the east. I’ve done it five times in the summer and figured it would be no better in the fall. Plus it would take longer. I decided to start and end the trip in the San Francisco Bay area.
During the summer, the sun may come up at 5:30 AM and it may not get dark until 8:30-9:00 PM. Lots of riding time! That is not the case in late October. 🙁 The sun comes up at ~7:30 AM, and was going down at 4:30-5:30 PM. There was a lot less day to work with. When the sun first comes up it is cold and any water on the ground can be frozen, and then when it gets dark at the end of the day it gets COLD again! So safe riding time becomes somewhat limited.
I knew weather would be a factor. I was at Death Valley in the winter last year and before. It can get cold there, real cold. Also, while most of the moisture is dropped in the Sierras, big storms can quickly sweep in and make the roads impassable. In the summer going up into the mountains can be good, it gets much cooler. This time of year, you go up into the mountains and it does not get cold, it gets freezing. Rain can turn to snow. Plus, if there was water on the road, when it got dark the water could turn from a liquid to a solid form. This could make the dark a double downside. :(:( Weather could effect this trip a lot.
One good thing about weather in the west compared to the east is that snow does not last quite like it does in the east. In the east, when it snows, it is there for some time. In the west on the roads it can disappear. The sun is brighter at the higher altitude. Plus, the atmospheric pressure is less so that vaporization is better. A little sun and a black or dark surface will melt and evaporate the snow real fast. We would have the opportunity to see this in action.
So, in planning the trip, I thought of what the alternate routes were that might or would work better if the weather turned ugly. I had traveled most of the routes I planned on so I had a good idea of what I would be facing. This provided real security. I should not hit roads that I did not know if I was forced to run in the dark. Additionally, I provided some float time. If I had to make real big changes, the trip might take longer, or I might have to hold up somewhere and wait the weather out. So I did not cut the time real close. This also affected lodging reservations. While I had goals, I did not know that I would achieve them. So other than Salt Lake City, and later Las Vegas I did not make any reservations. I stayed where I got to that night.
As you can see, weather had a large impact on this trip. This also affected clothing selection. I do not like being cold. It can be fatal. I have been hypothermic 3-4 times. I have been lucky. I have survived it each time. It was close, but I survived. I recognize the signs, and now take action to correct it before it takes me out.
Layering would be important. The Aerostich was the usual outer layer. But wind will blow through the ‘stich. Electrics were a must. I took the electric vest. While the vest helps, you have to keep the wind from carrying the heat away. So, I also took a vapor barrier shirt. This provides about as much warmth retention as a down sweater with much less bulk and it works much better than down in the wind. It stops the wind completely. After the middle of the trip, I would have a passenger. Passengers imitating ice cubes are not good. I took a second electric vest and enough connectors that I could run both vests. Plus she had her own vapor barrier shirt. I also took the insulated mitts. Mitts are good. The fingers can do a group grope in there, huddling together to stay warm. Then I had several inner layers of clothing that I could add if needed. I thought I had enough. Time would tell.
While I would travel to Salt Lake City solo, I would pick up the Traveling Partner there, so packing space was a concern. I was lucky and fortunate to know Don Eilenberger. He allowed me to borrow his top box. I allocated one saddle bag and the tank bag to myself and the other bag and top box to the passenger. (I like sanitary installations and do not like things hanging on the top.) Plus with the potential for bad weather, stuff on the outside could be affected badly. 🙁 )
Biking clothes would not be appropriate for the convention, so I made arrangements to get some dress clothes there. I left convention clothes with my business partner. He hauled them out as luggage for me. I also included clothes for travel after the convention. This way I did not have to carry every bit of clothes, that I would be wearing and I did not have to plan a wash day. (The alternate is to ship them to the motel where you are staying and then ship them home again. BTDT Fed-Ex is good.)
At the same time as I would be traveling in the Intermountain region, Hilde Stolze, from Norway, would be traveling in the southwest. We exchanged info and thought we might be able to linkup using the BMWMOA message board.
With this initial planning and consideration, I was ready to hit the road.
(The trip was successful and I ran about 2500 miles in two weeks with 1600 of them being in the second week.)
Philly to Salt Lake City
The trip started at ‘o dark thirty Saturday morning. Pennsylvania was experiencing a storm that would dump 2-3 inches of rain on the area in 24 hours. This provided me with some excitement on the way to the airport when I hydroplaned through about 50 yards of deep water in the complete dark. =8-0
Arriving in San Francisco my Traveling Partner picked me up at the airport, took me to Palo Alto, I picked up my bike and went over to Kari’s California BMW Triumph open house and visited with him and loads of other BMW and biker folks.
That night I attended a friends 1/2 Century surprise birthday party in Walnut Creek. It was a surprise. He never expected it at all, and expected to see me even less. I ended up traveling back to where I was staying about 2 AM. I was really beat and it was only later that I realized I was beat, because I had been up for about 24 hours. 🙁
Sunday morning Michael the Milkman came over and we did some stuff on his bike and chatted. IBMWR folks are good folks.
Sunday afternoon I traveled to Joe Denton and Robyn’s place outside Sacramento. As always, it was good to see Joe and Robyn. They were in their usual superlative hospitality mode. I was also able to see Joe’s mobil sculpture. Also known as a hand cast.
Robyn demonstrated her usual extraordinary culinary skills. (If you get hungary here, it is your own fault.) Though mobility limited, Joe was able to show how to make a Black and Tan and showed why the black stays over the tan even though it’s specific gravity is greater. (Ask him for details.) I also left my cylinder flexible ball hones with Joe for his work on the Frau.
Monday morning began the longest day of this trip about 440 miles. (This was not a big miles/day trip. Remember, I was concerned about the weather and had “float” time in the schedule.) Crossing the Sierras on I-80 I saw where snow had been plowed off the road. Plus they were making snow at Boreal ski area just off I-80. This was a portent of things to come. It was cold. The electric grips were great! I was still in 3 season gloves at this point.
I left I-80 at Sparks and meandered down to US 50 “The Loneliest Highway in America.” (In reality Nevada SR 722 is the loneliest highway with approximately 45 cars per day.) If you are crossing Nevada I strongly recommend US 50. It is much more scenic than I-80 and I have done both several times now. However, if the weather had turned bad I would have taken I-80. It was on the alternate route list. On my way across US 50, I took SR 722, just west of Austin, and saw 7 of the 45 cars on that road that day. 🙂 Crossing on US 50 you pass through the towns of Austin and Eureka. They are about as close to a “wild west” town as you will find these days. You cross several ridges/ranges as you travel from town to town. US 50 is only two lanes wide and has some real straight stretches. Like 28 mile straight stretches. As Larry Fears says, you can “enter the zone”. At the same time, you have to be careful “in the zone.” Once I looked forward and saw two vehicles approaching. _SIDE BY SIDE_ TRUCKS!! I then did the Harold Gantz weave. While some will say, that it will not work with a frame mounted fairing, the on-coming traffic suddenly noted that they were not alone on the road and the passer pulled back into their lane. (I was slowing at the same time.) I remembered: “Weave when necessary for attention.”
It was getting dark as I arrived in Ely. As I prowled the city looking for a place to stay I noticed something. The puddles were not wet. They were frozen. Not skin frozen, solid frozen. It had been cold here. This was the just about the last day I used the gloves. The electric grips were good at warming the insides of the hands but the outsides could be coolish.
The next day when I woke up it was 11 degrees Fahrenheit. It was cold. I did not have a long way to go and so waited for it to warm up some before I left. I found out that it had been 8 degrees fahrenheit the morning before. IT HAD BEEN COLD! I also noted something else when I left. When it gets below freezing, shock oils get rather thick, and the forks can almost imitate struts until they beat the oil enough to limber up.
I took US 93 up to Wendover and “entered the zone” again. Here there was another absolutely straight 30 mile stretch. Like yesterday I looked back to the road and there were two trucks coming at me, side by side. The “weave” worked again. :):)
Wendover, is Wendover, ‘nuf said. Here I got back on I-80 after visiting the Bonneville Speedway salt flats. There is not much on this stretch. It is straight and flat. It is a road that lends itself to 100 mph cruising. At those speeds you can see the fuel economy falling noticeably on the Fuel Plus.
Just before Salt Lake City there are a ridge of mountains. They were snow capped on the north side. Like the Sierras, this was another indicator of what the weather would be like. It also showed why staying at lower altitudes could be good.
I arrived in Salt Lake City, with no problems or delays. This trip was working out well. I found where I needed to be in Salt Lake City later in the week and then went to Provo where I stayed.
Wednesday I left Provo and meandered up to Salt Lake City. I did this via UT 189 which goes up the Provo canyon, and then took the “Alpine Loop” (UT 92) north.
The Alpine loop travels through the Mt. Timpanogos Wilderness Area. The loop is a tight little road. There was snow on the roadside. A good bit of it. (At least it seemed that way at the time. Little did I know how much we would see later.) Part way over it, it was signed that “Winter Maintenance Was Not Performed” so I was on my own. I was cautious and did not attempt to carve the corners. Plus it was cold. The tires do not, and did not, heat up well at all when it is freezing out. As I went up, the snow got deeper. As I went down the snow disappeared. I found roads that were not on the map. When the road turned to dirt, I turned around. A K75RT loaded for traveling does not make a good mount in wet slippery mud in the middle of nowhere. 😉 The deer hunters were out in force on this road. If you ever get a chance take this route. I was lucky as just days later I would not have been able to take this route.
Arriving at the motel in Salt Lake City, I found my business partner registering at the desk. He had my bag with clothes. Timing is everything. :):) Life was good.
The next day I left Salt Lake City for Provo in a light rain. In addition to attending a meeting in Provo, I intended doing some more exploring. I headed over to the Bingham mine. The Bingham mine is the largest open pit mine in the world. It is visible from space. The pit is where a mountain used to be. =:-0 As I got closer to the mine it rained harder and harder. As I entered the town of Copperton, just before the mine, something looked strange. I looked at the side of the road closely. Yup, there was snow there! That explained why the face shield was fogging like crazy. Snow will really cool it down and condense moisture. While the mine might be a real deep hole it was in the mountains, and I had been rising since Salt Lake City. I had ridden high enough for the rain to turn to snow. By golly, what I anticipated could happen, did! Plus, I thought of the Alpine loop. It was probably impassable by bike today. I turned around and headed to my meeting in Provo. Back on I-15 I was nearly blown off the road near Bluffton. The wind was strong from the left side. It was raining like crazy. It was cold and the tires were not sticking well. I could feel the bike slipping sideways! =:-0 I didn’t lowside going straight, and got where I needed to go in Provo. I was the only one that arrived by motorcycle. I know I amazed some people. I was not using the mitts. Wet gloves are much better than wet mitts. Gloves you can get to dry. Mitts are close to impossible to dry on the road.
When I left the meeting the rain was letting up. I-15 near Bluffton was dry but it was still blowing like crazy, and gusting. In the left lane, I was being pushed towards the median. Well, I figured it was better than being pushed into a car, if it came to that. I was glad when I left this stretch safely. Since it had stopped raining I headed for the Bingham mine again. Later the same day, there was _no_ snow on the ground. It was dry and cold. Unfortunately the mine observation point was closed since it was late in the season, and they were having some labor problems. On the way back to Salt Lake City, I stopped at Salt Lake City BMW. Nice shop and I got to see the 650 ST. Nice bike. But someone stole the shaft. :):)
On the way back from Provo, I picked up some Saran wrap. Rain and snow were predicted for the rest of the week. When I got back to Salt Lake City, I parked the bike and basically left it for the rest of the week, as I attended my convention. I layered the Russell seat with Saran wrap in anticipation of the weather. Good thing I did. In addition to rain, it accumulated about 3 inches of snow at times. It looked rather forlorn.
It also looked real dirty. I am guessing that they use unwashed sand on the roads for traction. It contains dirt. Real fine, sticky dirt. It gets everywhere. It looks like hell. While it was dirty now, it would get worse.
Salt Lake City to Las Vegas
Now the real fun began. We really didn’t have to be anywhere anytime except to make San Francisco by next Sunday. This Sunday dawned clear and glorious. The mountains around Salt Lake City were coated in new brilliant white snow. Sunday afternoon my conference was over and my Traveling Partner (TP) arrived from Denver. (There it had been snowing like crazy.) I packed her stuff into the saddle bag and top case. (She had planned well and we had enough space with nothing hanging on the outside.) Any excess stuff I had, was packed into the suitcase my business partner was taking home for me. (It weighed a ton.)
Leaving the motel, we wandered around Salt Lake City doing a moto-tour observation of the city sites. We then meandered to Provo for the night.
Monday morning we really started for Las Vegas. In the morning I checked the BMWMOA message board for messages from Hilde. I had left a few and wondered if I had any responses. Well… She had called just before me and that was why I was on hold for a few minutes. Great! I thought, she is checking. I left her a message. I checked for replies every day for the rest of the trip. I heard naught. :(:(:(
This was a: see what we can see trip and not, how many miles can we cover. At Payson we tried a scenic byway through the Santaquin Unita National Forest. It was scenic. It was a byway. It started dry in the town. Then there was snow along the road side. The higher we got, the deeper the snow got. We turned around when the snow plowing stopped and the road turned to two ruts in the snow. Again, a loaded K75RT with two people was not going to make a good snow bike.
At Nephi we turned onto UT 132. At the gas stop another biker, traveling by truck, told us that it was raining to the south but it got warmer once we got through the gorge. Well, we were weather channel habitues at this point. In fact, motels lost points for not carrying the weather channel. The storm was to the south of us. It would not be too good to get there too soon. So I had anticipated the report of rain, but had no idea what “gorge” he was speaking of.
Continuing down UT 132 we stopped once because the TP lost heat. If the passenger looses heat when it is cold out, it is almost more important than if the driver does. On a faired bike the passenger gets the collapsing air bubble. They are blasted with cold air. We swapped vests. I could confirm whether she had actually lost heat. I had heated grips, she did not. She also put on a pair of powder pants to block the wind. (She had a motorcycling jacket but not a ‘stich. She ended up with many more layers than I.) Through out the trip the powder pants turned out to ge a great help in keeping warm since they reduced heat loss by blocking the wind.
As we traveled south in the valley/basin that UT 132 passed through, we kept watching the clouds. They appeared to be getting lower and covering the tops of the mountains on the sides. 🙁 We started to hit patches of rain. Riding with the TP’s vest, confirmed it was not working. Thinking about likely failure points I realized the switch wire connection screws might have loosened. A quick stop and inspection found them loose. A small screwdriver cured this problem and the world became much better. :):) I had warmth again. (At home I Loctited all the wire connection screws on both vests.)
At one point the rain was really coming down. A tractor trailer was approaching. It was pushing a lot of spray. Remembering that the tires were cold and not grippy, I moved to the right to avoid as much of the wind blast as possible. When we passed the truck, it was like passing through a car wash!!! A dirty car wash. :(:(
At Salina we paused again. Here another guy came up to us. (I think were quite a sight and rather unexpected. Motorcyclists in late October in the rain!) He told us that there were 3-4 inches of snow on I-15 in Beaver the other side of the I-70 pass to I-15. IOW, there was snow in our path and the snow would probably get worse not better. He recommended finding some place to hide out and we followed his recommendation. (Some of that preplanning and consideration was paying off. We had time. We were not “pushing the river.” We accepted having to stop due to weather.)
From Salina, we traveled to Sigurd. This town has the same name as Hilde’s husband. While her husband may be quite something, (never met him so can’t say.) the town is not much. A general store with bar and post office integral to it. That, and two gypsum wallboard manufacturing plants are about it. But we got some mementos for Hilde and Sigurd. :):)
From Sigurd, we headed to Richfield. Richfield was somewhere in not much of anywhere. When we hit the room in the motel, the TP started shivering. I know this symptom, even with the electric vest and vapor barrier shirt she had become slightly hypothermic. I knew the motel had a spa and when I went to find it, I found they also had a sauna that was “up to temp.” I took her down to the sauna and stuffed her in clothes and all. Heat was good. She rewarmed. :):)
We had traveled through a lot of wet today. The bike was filthy and the bags were even worse. After our showers, I emptied the bags and washed the outsides of the bags in the tub. They will float when closed and empty. 🙂 They looked much better. I was also careful to clean the bottom of the tub afterward. I figured this was better than gunging up towels like crazy cleaning them off. I checked the BMWMOA message board. No messages from Hilde. 🙁
With the rain and the cold, we were glad the motel had a decent Mexican restaurant in it. The food really hit the spot.
Tuesday morning we crossed the mountain pass on I-70. The report was correct. There was snow, a good bit of it in the mountains. We could see where it had been plowed off the road. There was some sand on the road. Also, in places the snow was melting and flowing across the road. I was careful in these stretches. Trying to cross them upright and with minimal throttle. One never knows when there might be ice under that water. As we went down in altitude the snow decreased and finally went away.
Traveling down I-15 the snow came back on the side of the road. Apparently Beaver is fairly high in altitude and there was significant snow there. But the roadway was clear. If we had tried to go on the day before, we might have gotten caught in a bad spot. A place with no town or motels. When traveling in the late fall and winter, you need to anticipate what might be ahead and make decisions when you have options and not when all the good options are closed off or ugly. (California and Nevada both show the altitude of the town as you enter it. This gives you some idea of whether you are going up or down. Utah does not. It really irritated me.)
At Cedar City, we took UT 14 towards Cedar Breaks. The road climbed fairly quickly out of the city. We were quickly surrounded by snow. But the road was clear. Or, it was clear of snow. At one point we passed under some high cliffs on the south side of the road. The road looked wet. The road had sand/gravel/cinders on it. The road felt slippery under wheel. :(:( Rather than avoiding the gravel, I headed for it. There was traction there!! =:-0 We got past it and ran for some time. But, the road kept looking wettish. Then we noticed some snow flakes. Then we saw the notice that we were entering the Dixie National Forest. We were a long way from completing this road, and it had to get higher before it got lower. (In fact the eastern terminus is at 7513 feet which is higher than the pass we had gone over earlier in the day.) We took some pictures and turned around. The snow covered evergreens matched every photo you have seen and exceeded them. It was spectacular. As we went out, we noticed that the amount of snow by the road had decreased in just the few minutes since we passed. Snow melts fast in the high desert.
South of Cedar City, we turned into the Kolob Canyon area of Zion National Park. Here were some real interesting views. This is the northwestern area of Zion. Zion is characterized by very red rock, and deep canyons. Additionally in this area, there are a number of side canyons with forests in them. Forests that even if they were allowed to be logged would be quite difficult to log. There is no way to get to them by road. Snow covered evergreens surrounded by snow covered red rock. Eye candy of a non-bike kind. We paused about 20 minutes at the overlook at the end of the road. On the way in we passed a rock wall where old wave action patterns were brought into sharp contrast with the white snow and the red rock. On the way out, it looked completely different. The way we saw it was viewed only be us. By the time someone else got there it was different.
From the Kolob Canyons we continued on I-15. We finally found the “gorge” that we had heard of earlier. Down we went and as we descended it got warmer. By golly, this altitude weather stuff is true. 🙂 Quickly passing through the bustling metropolises of La Verkin, Hurricane, Rockville and Springdale we entered Zion proper. Zion in the fall/winter is much different than Zion in the summer. There are no tour busses. There are no hordes of tourists. It is COOL rather than SCREAMING HOT. Quite a contrast. It was late in the day, so on exiting the park we stayed just outside the park in Springdale. This also allowed us to see the OmniMax movie on the 6 story high screen in the theater right next to the motel. (I was told by the TP that we were too close to the screen and she became bilious at some of the views.) Being bilious is not good after the fine repast we had it Springdale. Some of the little towns in the west have real fine restaurants.
The next morning the skies were clear. I checked for messages from Hilde. There were none. :(:( We re-entered the park and traversed the Zion canyon and through the tunnel to the eastern edge of the park. East of the tunnel we saw more tourists than almost anywhere else. There were loads of photographers capturing the fall foliage and other scenic views. This was not with “wimpy” 35mm cameras but with large format view cameras. Retracing our path we started for Las Vegas.
I-15 cuts the northwest corner of Arizona and passes through the Piute Wilderness Area. IMO, this is a true wilderness area. There is damn little there but rock and soil. Now it is spectacular, but I was glad we were here when we were. It must be rather “warm” during the summer months.
Entering Nevada, at the town of Mesquite, we finally saw the town and casinos that had been advertised for miles. (If you see the advertisments for miles, be careful. Only one things pay for those signs, customer dollars.) Besides casinos they are also building golf courses like crazy. Leaving there, there is not much in the southern part of Nevada. Apparently guidance is a problem on this part of I-15. I have never seen such elaborate guide rails trying to keep people on the highway and out of the cuts that were filled for the road.
We could tell when we were getting closer to Las Vegas. The number of billboards increased. Now this was the middle of nowhere and power lines had not arrived there. But modern technology solved this problem. SOLAR PANELS stored the sun and illuminated the signs in the night. :):)
Real close to Las Vegas we saw two fighters heading in to Nellis Air Force base and passed the new Las Vegas motor Speedway. Even now, with it being added too, it is quite a physical plant. The biggest difference between it and say Indianapolis is that there is only one way, I-15, in and out. But it will have 40,000 parking places. Going to a race there requires good timing so you can get there before it starts and patience on leaving. The other impressive thing about Las Vegas as we entered was the Stratosphere needle, our destination.
We travelled the Strip from Luxor back up to the Stratosphere. Our stay in Las Vegas was the exception to the no reservation rule. I knew we were going to get to Las Vegas the day before so I called my travel agent and got a real good rate. We paid $39.00 for one of Las Vegas newest hotels. Not too bad a place either. They did a great job of feeding us. I amazed the waitress, by demolishing most of the ribs and fried onion appetizer, most of the potato skin appetizer, the two rib pork roast, and a good part of the TP’s caesar salad. I did pass on desert. :):) We got there fairly late and it was drizzling, so we checked out the interior of the casino and its shops and only wandered around the strip close to the hotel. We did hit the combination microbrewery and casino. A nice place for adult beverages.
The next day, after checking again with no luck for messages from Hilde, we went to the top of the Stratosphere. The tip is 1,149 feet above ground level. (It’s “UP THERE!”) While I don’t think it does, from the observation deck, it appears that it overhangs the street below. You look down on all of Las Vegas. You can see planes landing _below_ you at Mc Carran airport. Besides having shops and a restaurant up there, there is a roller coaster and a ride called the “Big Shot” up on top. The observation deck floor rumbles impressively under you when the roller coaster operates. After going to the top, we moved.
We hotel hopped to check out different hotels. From the Stratosphere we moved to Treasure Island, again at a good rate of $59.00 (We got very good at unpacking and packing.) Since we checked in here earlier, we walked the hotel and casino and then headed down to the Luxor. Walking gave us time to check out a lot of the exteriors of various casinos. When it is completed “NewYork, NewYork” will be interesting. It will have a very spectacular roller coaster. On the way to the Luxor we traversed the Excalibur. It definitely carries its medieval theme thoroughly. Over at the Luxor we were bummed. We wanted to ride the “inclinators” (Elevators that run at an angle parallel to the sides of the Luxor. The Luxor has a pyramid shape with sloping sides.) However, since kids had ridden up them and dropped stuff, they restricted them to guests only. While we were not kids, we were not allowed to view the place from the top. :(:( From the Luxor we went over to the MGM Grand. IMO, the MGM is one of the most confusing hotel casino complexes there. We got lost several times and were not able to find some of the stuff in there.
From the MGM Grand, it was back up to Treasure Island for the show. Unfortunately, the show was canceled due to high winds. So we went to diner. This was one time where I did not pig out. I restrained myself. Finishing dinner we went back out to the show. The winds had died down and we saw the H.M.S Bounty round the cove entrance, fire on the pirates, damage their ship, and destroy their storehouse, but unfortunately the Bounty was sunk in process. :(:( (The TP is a Brit and this upset her a bit.) All in all a spectacular show. From here we took the tram over to the Mirage. Here we saw the volcano erupt spreading fire and flame far and wide. The Mirage also has the white tigers of Siegfried and Roy. Next door to the Mirage is Caesars with animated statues and a laser show. We went until we were ready to drop and then did.
The next day after seeing the white tigers one more time, and again checking unsuccessfully for a message from Hilde we departed Las Vegas, for California.
Leaving Las Vegas we had some decisions to make. We could exit to the southwest, swoop around the bottom end of the Sierra’s and travel up the San Jacquin valley, or we could travel up the east face of the Sierra’s and take our chances crossing around Lake Tahoe. (Before Lake Tahoe there are no passes, or they closed for the winter.) The TP wanted to take the east face route. That way we did not drone up the San Jacquin Valley on CA 99. Since additional weather had not rolled in from the north, it was likely that the Tahoe crossings would be open. That these are major crossings, with lots of traffic worked in our favor. They are plowed early and thoroughly. The traffic tends to throw and evaporate the moisture. The altitude and sun tends to melt and evaporate it. Lots of good things. So we decided to go for the northern crossing rather than the southern. Also, there were plenty of places to stay if we had to hole up there for a day or so. There was no reason to be dumb.
Las Vegas to San Francisco
Exiting Las Vegas to the northwest we headed out on US 95. With a somewhat late departure we did not take in Mount Charleston with its snow, but there is always another time. :):) Passing through Indian Springs we saw some military type plane flying a pattern above the airport there. Until you reach the entrance of the Mercury site where nuclear weapons and nuclear rocket engines used to be tested we were on four lane road. At the Mercury entrance it drops to a two lane road.
Up, up we went to Beatty. Beatty is one of the eastern entrances to Death Valley. We gassed here and entered Death Valley just as it was getting dark. This was the only real night running we did. As we dropped down to sea level and below, it got warmer and warmer. Heading west past Stovepipe Wells, it finally got truly dark. I now really needed a properly aimed headlight and did not have one. 🙁 So on the incline, I stopped, and had my traveling partner get off. She was worried. Were we broken down in the dark in the middle of nowhere? A few cranks on the Ohlin hydraulically adjustable preload shock and we were ready to go. :):) Over the Panamints we went and down into the wash we went. Climbing out, I was able to get the indicated Fuel Plus economy reading down to 24 mpg. :(:( Coasting down the other side I was able to get a 112 mpg reading. :):)
We coursed through the dark hills over towards US 395 which goes up and down the east side of the Sierras. We caught up to a cage and eventually passed them, although we never lost them. (Nor were we really trying to. It was more a slight difference in style and speeds.) We rode for about 2-3 hours in the dark before arriving in Lone Pine. We were really happy that we had the electric vests running in the cold, dark night. Lone Pine was home for the night.
The next day was the second longest day with about 330 miles. The hills and mountains surrounding us in the basin were snow capped. The storms from the Pacific had dropped early indicators of what was to come and has been coming since then. The area around Lone Pine is known to many people. Lots of the Western, Cowboy & Indians movies of the 50’s were filmed here. Up US 395 we went passing through Independence and Big Pine. We also passed the Manzanar WW II Japanese internment camp site. Hopefully we will never again let the greed and avarice, combined with racial animosity, to ever let that be repeated. Let us also hope that this medium will assist in preventing another war, by the leaders of any nation or racial group from _ever_claiming that another is lower than low and not worthy of respect as human beings with inherent dignity and rights. :(:( As was said in a book that I recently finished “We can forgive, but we can’t forget” Bad things were done in WW II by the US, even worse were done by the opposition. Lets make sure that they are never repeated or allowed to even come close. At Bishop it was lunch time, so we hit the local bakery. If you ever pass through Bishop, stop at the bakery. Your taste buds and stomach will be happy campers. :):)
From Bishop US 395 increases in altitude. We started seeing big snow along the road. There was 6-12 inches of snow off the road and substantial mounds of snow along the road from the plows. This is the Mammoth Lakes area. The Mammoth ski areas opened a month early due to the snow we were passing through. Knowing we were fairly far south, and that the amount of snow generally increases as you get further north, I started to worry. As expected, CA 120 over Tioga and through Yosemite was closed. At the Mono Lake visitors center we stopped for a short rewarming. While the parking area had been plowed, it looked like a dusting of snow had dropped overnight. It was melting and the dark parking lot was steaming from the combination of bright sun, dark parking lot and high altitude. We were real happy campers that we had two working electric vests. The heated grips were working well. With the mitts the fingers were happy campers although the thumbs got a bit grumpy.
Just north of the visitor’s center US 395 dips a bit and we hit fog. We did not need this. Fog slows me down a bunch. But as we climbed the ridge, just north of the lake, we climbed out of it. It was snow fog. A slight breeze passing over Mono lake picked up moisture and then the moisture turned to fog when it passed over the snow.
US 395 also has a few areas marked “Major Deer Crossing Area.” Yup, they were. We saw the sign. We rounded the curve. There was the lead deer at the left edge of the road. Followed by about a dozen more grouped behind. They did not respond to the horn. But as we got closer, they did turn tail (Nothing like seeing those white tails. It means they are heading in a good direction for you.) and run the other way. All baker’s dozen of them. Maybe those deer whistles work. 🙂
CA 108 over Sonora pass was closed. The one thing I noticed, was there seemed to be less snow as we went north. We might make it without major problems yet. CA 89 over Monitor pass was open so we took it. While it was open, there was lots of sand on it which might not bode well for CA 88 and Carson pass. Further along CA 89, CA 4 over Ebbets pass was closed as well. Continuing through beautiful downtown Markleeville we arrived at the split for CA 88 to the west. I had noticed that while Monitor pass was sandy, CA 88 had not been. I figure Monitor was sandy because it carried less traffic so we went for Carson pass over the Sierras rather than US 50.
The crossing out of the Great Basin was uneventful with much less snow on Carson than we had seen earlier in the day. If we spilled water now it would reach the sea. :):) It got dark just as we hit Jackson so we stayed in that area over night.
The next day we made the uneventful and almost routine run, at this point, on CA 88 through Stockton and then slab to the Bay area.
This gave me just about enough time to remove the top case, pack my bags for the flight home, and wash the bike. This attempt to try to get some of the gunge off of it before it slept for a while until I visited it again, will have to repeated again later. That dirt is really tenacious! Additionally, since we had never been able to link up with Hilde, I called her friend in San Mateo to see if I could leave the stuff I had carried for her with him as a transfer agent. He called back. I made that quick trip and deposit, so that was taken care of. I filled the gas tank, put the Fuel Plus in suspend mode and left for the airport. Nine hours later I was home in Pennsylvania again. A very satisfying trip completed.
Yes, one can travel in the mountains in the West safely in the winter. You just need to take precautions and realize your limitations. More on that in the summary.
Next: Winter Traveling in the US West Summary
Winter Traveling in the US West
What did I learn from this?
You can travel in the Intermountain West in the winter. It is, or can be a beautiful time of year. The beautiful appearing snow can present challenges.
You need to stay warm. The first thing in staying warm is blocking the wind. As I noted earlier, wind will pass through a ‘stich. I used a vapor barrier shirt from Stephenson’s Warmlite equipment. The TP used skier’s powder pants to block the wind along with a windproof jacket. This reduces heat loss from conduction and radiation. As we all know layers are good. They reduce heat loss from convection. We layered as necessary. This did slow down pit stops :):) and thus can reduce your average speed. Electrics are good. They provide heat that your body does not have to generate. The body can only generate so much heat, if you lose it faster than your body can generate it (hypothermia), you are heading for a crash mental, and then physical. 🙁
A few times I ran with a sweatshirt over the normal shirt for some additional arm warmth. (An electric jacket may be in the cards for me.) I used the electric vest _over_ the sweatshirt. (It was easier to fish the cord in and out.) I could not detect any difference in heat level. It took longer to feel warm, but I felt it got just as warm as when the vest was next to the shirt. So for me, it appears where the vest is in the layer stack, does not significantly affect how much heat the vest puts into me.
If you are traveling with a passenger, check on them and listen to them. The conditions back there can be different than for you. If you have heat, they should have heat.
When it is real cold out, tires do not get as warm as they do in the summer. The grip decreases. Use caution when going for maximum lean angles.
Somewhere in this trip I ran across a bunch of those “tar snakes” in the wet. If you think they are bad in the summer when they are soft and gooey, you should feel them in the wet cold, when they are slicker than dog snot. You will really find out what “pucker factor” and “pain in the ass” is.
Running in the dark in the winter is worse than running in the dark in the summer. There are more hazards that will kill you quicker. Any water on the road can be frozen. If you have to make a quick change in direction the tires may not be sticky enough to support your desire. It gets real COLD, and you can be loosing heat fast and becoming hypothermic. So, your “run day” can be less and the associated mileage reduced. Consider this, if you are planning “big days.”
Also, even if you start at the crack of dawn, remember that the tires, road and suspension will be cold and cranky. Any one of them can affect you safe passage down the highway.
Even though it is cold, you need water. I carried three of the half liter (0.5L) “spring water” bottles (Lots of small ones are easier to pack, in nooks and crannies.) Water is used by the body to generate heat. You still can get thirsty even in the winter. Also, if you are at high altitude, you are loosing water in your breath. Water evaporates at a lower temperature at high altitude, and thus the rate it is lost in your breath exhalation is higher. Plus take snacks with you. We did not need them a lot, but we used them a few times. Take snacks that taste good and are easy to digest so your body can turn them into heat and energy.
Pay lots of attention to the weather. You may not get that rain shower you get in the summer. You may get that snow shower that reduces traction significantly. =:(:( If you have to cross any passes, and just about inevitably you will, there may be snow at the top that is not at the bottom. If you really want to avoid them and go on, you may have to make a significant route change/detour. This can lengthen the mileage and time of the trip a lot. Depends on how far you have to detour. I was lucky on this trip. We did not have to take detours. We did wait for the weather to change. We listened to people coming from the direction we were headed. (Rest pauses are good. It provides an opportunity to find out what is going on, where you are going.)
If it is late fall or winter, and you have to be there at a certain time, leave time to allow for uncertainties, or use some other transportation mode. If you go by bike you will be rewarded. It is a spectacular season and you may see sights that are not seen by many people using any transportation mode.
Mitts are better than gloves when it is cold. I shifted to them when it got cold and was not raining. The fingers had a glorious grope with each other although the thumbs felt left out.
Heated grips go better with mitts than gloves when it is cold. With the gloves, the inside of the hand and fingers were warm while the outside could be cold. With mitts the entire hand, except for the thumbs, stayed rather warm.
The tourist levels are much lower. We saw very few ‘bagos and all were passed easily.
A list related observation, is that you can see the “interesting things” on billboards. In the middle of “nowhere” we saw adds for “Internet Access” on billboards. It is creeping into everywhere and no where is free of it. :):)
If you are depending on a message service for linkup, make sure it works in _all_ cases. Ours did not. Hilde left a message and had been checking. I left a message and was checking and the message service kept saying there was no message from either of us. Pissed me off!!
The most important things are to plan, anticipate and consider. Think about where your route goes. How high do the roads get? What will be the weather due to the altitude? What might the weather become? What is coming ashore with the atmospheric weather? The timing may not be exact but the sequence will generally occur. What is the condition of your tires? At the wear bars can be worrisome in the summer. It can put you down right now in snow. Do you have enough “weather” clothing? Do you have enough layers? Can you keep any wet on the outside and not allow it to the inside. (Cold wet, and evaporation will flat suck heat out of you.) Do you have some external heat source? I like electrics. But the chemical heat packs are good. No power needed. The lighter fueled pocket warmers can help. Anything that will provide heat that your body does not have to provide. What towns are you passing through? What is the likelihood that they will have some place to eat (body fuel!), or warm up, or stay? (Some of the towns we passed through may have had places to eat, but not to stay.) Daylight will be much reduced. What is reasonable mileage during daylight? If one route is blocked, what are the alternatives? Are they any better than the route you are on? What surprises could be on them? One final significant item. Just because someone else did it and survived, you might not. :(:( They may have been phenomenally lucky. They may have thought of, or done something that they did not mention, or realize was critical to their survival.
Your number one concern is your and your passenger’s (if that is the case) survival! So, THINK ABOUT IT BEFOREHAND, SO YOU DON’T HAVE TO TRY TO WITH A HYPOTHERMIC BRAIN.
Naturally all of the previous are my opinions and beliefs. They have been tested and developed over 22 years by me, for me. Test them, and judge them for yourself.
Go out and ride the West, whatever the weather, but don’t take foolish chances. Make thoughtful considered decisions with a high probability of success.