The next morning a great free' breakfast helped us on our way at the unreasonable hour of 7:30am. Stef fought to kick start his bike as he did most mornings, his XR was not a happy starter. I fiddled with my choke in the cool morning air and my bike coughed to life. My aftermarket exhaust was far too loud and barked its note out in the confined motel courtyard. Jon merely pressed his starter button and his bike started smoothly, we cursed him. Our morning routine had been identical for the last few weeks, there was little talking as each of us followed our set routines and then sat gently sweating as we waited for the days straggler. We were still off route and half a day behind our proposed schedule. After last nights debate I couldn't help but hope that the route would prove technical, justifying my decision to stop.
As it happened the only technical aspect to the mornings ride was my burst drinking bladder which I detected when I suddenly felt as if I had wet myself. We all carried a considerable amount of water and consumed as much as nine litres a day just to keep us properly hydrated. My drinking bladder was integral to my jacket, it fitted in a wrap around rear pocket which allowed the weight of the fluid to be rested on the bikes seat if I wasn't standing on the footpegs. I drank by sucking at a tube which wound its way through the lining of my jacket and popped out through my right chest pocket. It held two litres, allowed me to drink as I rode, and was filled every morning with an ever varying assortment of water and juice drinks. We always refilled at our fuel/lunch stop and supplemented this with free refill drinks at every opportunity. Using this method I was never really dehydrated at any point of the trip, even during the searing 130 degree heat of the Black Rock Desert in Nevada.
The lucky discovery of an outdoor shop in our fuel stop town of Lake City allowed the purchase of a new bladder as our miles for the day seemed to melt away. For the first time in days we seemed to be having a trouble free and simple ride. We fully expected this to be our last day crossing the Rockies and were a little nervous about the snow situation, but confident that the days passes would be clearer than the more remote passes in the east. As our track rose from the valley floor the scenery was as stunning as ever. Clouds of butterflies blocked the track ahead as we wound upward through the pine forests, the smell of clean pine sap laden air countering the dust and lack of oxygen. As we cleared the trees the riding became more technical as the route became less and less obvious and the trails narrower and more boulder filled. At this point I would like to say that Sam's instructions have a mistake in them and that we got horribly lost in the wrong valley, but all I can say for sure is that we got horribly lost in the wrong valley, possibly a case of misinterpretation of the instructions. In a scene similar to the previous days debacle we rode around snow fields and generally got very lost after following a tenuous left turn indicated on the role map. There were no few tumbles before we found our route didn't drop into the American Basin at all but carried on along the valley side towards some improbable looking scree slopes and ultimately the Cinnamon Pass.
Once back on track we wound ever upward through spectacularly barren mountain scenery on trails that reminded me of the Himalayan roads through the Spiti and Lahaul regions of North West India. When we crested our first pass we were back at 12620ft and the view ahead down the next valley was beautiful as the road contoured the gentle curves of the barren valley into the next region of green trees and alpine pastures. We followed the road happily and dropped into Animas Forks, an area clearly used for extensive mine workings in the past. The scars and stains of iron ore, blasting, and used wooden cabins littered the valley floor. We didn't stop, ever mindful of the time and unsure of the route ahead and our ability to get down from the hills before dark.
Our next high pass of the trip was to be by far the most spectacular we had seen. The Corkscrew Gulch winds upward through a bowl shaped valley to just over 12200ft before dropping on the far side to just 8000ft. The high pass is utterly barren and deep snow lines the trail, pushed out of the way by government funded clearing operations. Once crossed a high plateau region is reached with glacial blue lakes and numerous rocky switchbacks and trails to be explored. We crossed the regions without effort and began a long descent through ever greener scenery to the tarmac road.
The final high pass of the day, and indeed the trip, was the Ophir. This rose gradually over forested slopes to the tree line and thence on to the summit at 11786ft. There were several other vehicles parked at the summit, which is a relatively narrow gorge type affair. As usual , we didn't have the time to stop and marvel at the scenery, so we waved and ploughed on down the West side, which is somewhat steeper and rougher in character. It didn't take long though and I was sad to be leaving the mountains, I believed that the highlight of the trip was over and had a sense of anticlimax as the trails widened and we finally dropped onto tarmaced roads to make our way to Montecello for our evenings stop. Sam had one more little trail in store for the day though. On the roll chart it says 'Jeep road, fun fun fun'. Unfortunately, we had somehow managed to do too many miles without refilling our fuel tanks and so we ended up going very 'steadily' over what seemed to be not so much a Jeep road as a long series of small bombholes dotted about the high pastures. We made it to our fuel stop without incident in the end and the remainder of the day was pretty straightforward to the motel stop. We were finally back on schedule having ridden nearly 300 miles in a single day. We had experienced only one hours delay due to navigation problems and had broken nothing. Success!!
Our evenings stop was in a typically small high valley town. It had a few motels, some gas stations, and the usual selection of fast food restaurants. We settled down to a simple nights routine unaware of the mountainous meal were going to try and consume at the 'K and A Chuckwagon'...
Cowboy food. Meat, lemonade, honey butter, bread, and marshmallow salad(!). Followed, of course, by apple pie...Sounds good, quantity bad. We sat outside and were given a short list of various meats with or without barbeque sauce. Not being much of a meat eater I opted for the 'ribs remembering home cooked pans of small bones from years gone by. No other hint of meal content was initially provided making the choice of initially consumed quantity difficult as a buffet was quickly produced. We all fell into the usual trap of dismally underestimating the quantity of food to be provided and felt obliged to eat all we could to placate the lovely old lady who was serving us. As plate after enamelled plate of food was consumed more was provided, culminating in a meat 'fest the like of which I have never seen. I was given potatoes cooked in lard, spicy beans, and the largest quantity of the biggest ribs I have ever seen. As Jon commented, 'it's not natural to eat a plate of food that's bigger than your head'. I present photographic evidence of this event and ask that you remember we had already eaten a huge starter and were emotionally blackmailed into trying (unsuccessfully I might add) to consume apple pie to finish.
We all left feeling so full it was painful and staggered home to digest and sleep. I felt terrible and began to appreciate why reptiles sit for hours in the sun after killing and gorging themselves. Sleeping on a stomach that full was hard and the next morning I felt tired and slightly sick.