Sunday, July 05, 2009

Gunnison to Loveland, CO - Holiday Traffic Hell

The three day holiday weekend was over and we were heading back home today. We wanted to get going as early as possible so we skipped going out to breakfast and ate some of the energy bars and bananas we had with us. We packed up the tents and headed east out of Gunnison on highway 50 but just a few miles out of town we pulled over to ponder the unexpected situation. There was a portable electronic message sign on the side of highway 50 informing us that there was an accident up ahead and highway 50 was closed. That wasn’t great news considering we only left a few minutes ago and were already experiencing a major delay. Unfortunately here in the mountains of Colorado, when a road closes you have to go way out of the way since there aren’t that many paved roads through the mountains.

We looked at the Colorado map I had inside my tank bag to see our options. We didn’t have much choice, we could hang out here in Gunnison and wait for highway 50 to re-open or we could take highway 114 which would take us out of the way but eventually get us to highway 285 where we wanted to be.

We didn’t want to sit around and waste any time so we started the bikes up and headed southeast on highway 114. There wasn’t too much traffic on highway 114 so we were making pretty good time. Since I rode a bit of highway 114 with Sandy last month I was curious what the rest of the road looked like and now I was going to get to see all of it so that wasn’t all bad. I ended up really enjoyed highway 114. Good pavement, good scenery. There was a good mix of curves on this road, the northern section of the highway has the tighter stuff, then near the North Cochetopa Pass there were some pretty nice sweepers. The south portion of the road is kind of straight but has some interesting scenery.

The tighter curves on highway 114 are near Gunnison

Dalton having fun on highway 114

Highway 114 south of North Cochetopa Pass

Since we were riding through Buena Vista today we wanted to grab some lunch at the famous hamburger stand in the town, K's Old Fashioned Burgers. Every time I pass by it there is always a huge line of people in front of it. Unfortunately, since we didn’t take highway 50 and took highway 114 instead, by the time we rolled in to Buena Vista it was already way past lunch time and we were starving. We parked the bikes on a side street and walked up to K's and took our place in the huge line. As we stood in the long line we kind of debated if this was something that we should even be doing today. We were already behind schedule. But we were already here and already in line so we continued thinking these burgers better be worth it.

When you place your order at the window they give you a celebrity name, that’s the name they call out so you can pick up your food when it’s ready. We got “Wayne Gretzky”. After some waiting around finally they called “Wayne’s” name and we grabbed our food. There was no where to eat near the burger joint so we walked over to the park next door where there were empty picnic tables. Just as we sat down and took the first few bites it started raining.

Waiting in the long line at K's in Buena Vista

Our K's cheeseburgers getting rained on

There were restrooms near by in the park so we quickly grabbed the food and went to stand behind the building where we would be protected from the rain. The rain didn’t last very long and after about 8-10 minutes we returned to the wet picnic table to finish our lunch. And the food? It was OK and I’d definitely eat there again but I don’t think the burgers were spectacular. They were just normal average burgers. Now, the raspberry milk shake I ordered, was the best milk shake I have ever had.

It was getting late now and we still had many miles to cover. Originally the plan was to take highway 285 back but as we rode in to Buena Vista we saw a huge line of cars waiting to turn left on to 285. Since we rode 285 last weekend and it was jammed pack full of traffic and it wasn’t even a holiday weekend, I thought that today highway 285 would have been even more busy and since there are not a lot of places to pass, we would end up creeping and crawling in that mess for hours.

Looking at the map, if we took highway 24 north to 91 and jumped on I-70 that should get us back to Denver quicker. I figured the interstate would have more traffic on it than highway 285 but at least it had two sometimes three lanes. The interstate just seemed like a logical choice.

After lunch we took off heading north from Buena Vista. Highways 24 and 91 had some traffic but not too bad, and before we knew it we were on I-70 heading east. At first the traffic on I-70 wasn’t that bad, we were going under speed limit but we were moving. There was lots of cars on the road and it was drizzling on and off, the traffic seemed to be moving slower and slower and after a while the interstate was a parking lot. Being from Chicago I have seen bad traffic but until today I have never seen anything this bad. Since I’ve only been living in Colorado since last fall, I just didn’t know a lot about the traffic problems on I-70. I knew the traffic got really bad during the ski season but this was summer.

Inching forward for a few miles got painful, my clutch is very hard to pull in and my hand can only take so much until it starts to hurt really bad. The ST3 was also running super hot, the fan was going continuously trying to cool the engine. Finally I couldn’t take it anymore so I cut across to the right lane and got on to the shoulder. I had no choice but to ride the shoulder. My clutch hand needed a break and the bike needed to get moving. It wasn’t long before a third bike joined us and then fourth riding the shoulder. Problem was the shoulder wasn’t a continuous shoulder. At times it was wide and at times it was just two feet across with debris and stuff. At times there was no shoulder at all and we’d have to filter back in to traffic. The whole time we were heading up hill which made it even more unpleasant. Finally I realized what the problem was and why there was such a huge traffic jam. Ahead in the distance was the Eisenhower Tunnel. At first I just thought it was a bottle neck, 3 lanes on the interstate and 2 lanes in the tunnel. I’d find out later that they actually close the tunnel off so that the cars in the tunnel can clear it before allowing any more cars in to the tunnel. That creates a huge delays.

Super heavy and slow traffic on I-70 west of the Eisenhower Tunnel - we decided to ride the shoulder for a while

There was no exits and no shoulder now so we just crept toward the Eisenhower Tunnel with all the other vehicles. After what seemed like forever it was finally our turn to get into the tunnel. Traffic was slow in the tunnel too but at least we were moving. Then I looked in my mirror and realized that Dalton’s VFR was slowing way down behind me. At first my mind couldn’t comprehend what was happening but after another 30 seconds I realized his headlights were off and he was pulling over. PULLING OVER? There is no shoulder in the Eisenhower Tunnel so there is no where to pull over. There is however about a foot of pavement in between the white line and the tunnel wall.

I exited the tunnel on the east side and pulled over. I waited and waited and kept looking at the tunnel but I didn’t see the VFR, I just saw lots of vehicles coming out. Obviously something was very wrong. Finally, minutes later, I saw the VFR coming out of the tunnel under it‘s own power. Dalton pulled over behind me, he looked really shook up. I walked up to him to ask what was wrong and Dalton said that his bike died in the tunnel. The only thing we could figure out is that the battery just couldn’t handle the fan going continuously for such a long period of time, especially since we weren’t moving very fast and stopping a lot with the engines running.

When the VFR dies Dalton was pretty much stuck sitting on the bike up against the wall while semi’s drove by him mere inches away. A very dangerous and frightening situation. The vehicles finally cleared the tunnel and the VFR started again and Dalton was able to ride out of the tunnel.

I was getting this feeling that today was just a bad day to be out riding a motorcycle. The worst part was the traffic jam continued past the tunnel and it probably continued all the way to Denver. We couldn’t sit in that traffic again. So we crept in the heavy traffic some more until we reached the next exit, which was for highway 6.

On highway 6 west of Loveland Pass - no traffic here but unfortunately we're heading the wromg way

There were no roads here to go east, all we could do was to go west - where we came from. We rode highway 6 over Loveland Pass then pulled over again near Dillon. Again our choices were slim looking at the map. I could head north via highway 40 and take highway 34 through Rocky Mountain National Park or take 9 north and eventually end up on highway 14 which would take me to Fort Collins. None of those routes were going to help Dalton get home. The next exit off I-70 for a road that headed east way miles away from here and in this traffic it would take hours.

Highway 6 heading west finally loops around and we got back on to I-70 headed west. This is west of the Eisenhower Tunnel, since highway 6 bypasses the tunnel. The highway heading west was pretty much empty. A few miles further we took the exit for highway 9. We rode through Breckenridge and continued south. I have only been on highway 9 north of I-70, I have never been on highway 9 south of the interstate. I had no idea how twisty the road was and it kind of took me by surprise. The road climbed through tight and steep switchbacks with hair pin curves marked at 10-15MPH. Finally we reached Hoosier Pass at 11,542 feet in elevation and started our descent on the other side of the mountain.

By the time we got on highway 9 the battery in my camera, the one that’s mounted on my bike, was completely dead. I didn’t want to stop to change it since we didn’t have any time to waste, therefore there are no pictures from highway 9. We also didn’t stop at Hoosier Pass for pictures.

We rolled in to the town of Fairplay, gassed up quickly and continued east on highway 285. Had we only turned on highway 285 after leaving Buena Vista after lunch, we could have avoided the whole I-70 and Eisenhower Tunnel fiasco. Live and learn. It was getting late now, the sun was hovering low over the horizon and we still had ways to go. At least the traffic was moving although there were lots of cars on this road as well.

More heavy traffic on highway 285 east of Bailey

I was starting to think our ordeal was over and it would be smooth sailing from now on. Then we got past the town of Bailey and again the road became a parking lot. I knew that there was construction on this road. The traffic has been bad through here all year but nothing this bad. We inched along, again heading uphill, but it was just too much. After about 15-20 minutes I saw Dalton make a u-turn in my mirrors and head back down in to Bailey. I couldn’t do what he did because I don’t flat foot my bike, so I can’t turn it around as easily on an up hill. My turn around process was a bit time consuming. First I had to get from the left lane to the right lane. Then I saw a side street which I pulled in to turn around. The trick now to get the cars that were heading east to allow me to cut through so I could head west again. Finally they did and I ride the few miles back down and pulled in to a gas station that Dalton was sitting at. The sun was setting now and we still had a ways to go. This had officially become a ride from hell. By now we had rode so many miles out of the way, and had been delayed so much. It was no longer fun to be on the bike.

Waiting for the traffic jam to clear on 285 and watching the sun set in Bailey from a gas station

After about 45 minutes of watching the traffic we decided to head east on 285 again, hoping the cars would be gone by now. This time it was smooth sailing. We got through 285, got on 470, then I-70. Dalton continued east on I-70 and I continued on I-76 which took me to I-25. It was dark already but the traffic was going speed limit so that made me happy. By the time I got to Longmont I started to see a lot of lightening in the distance to the northwest. The closer I got to home the more lightening there was. I was heading right in to a storm and that was the last thing I wanted to deal with tonight.

Since I moved last week and I no longer lived in Fort Collins. That saved me about 7 miles. When I took the exit for highway 34 west and headed toward Loveland the lightening was almost continuous. I just kept repeating in my helmet “please let me get home before the rain”.

Since I just moved, I have never come this way before and I ended up passing the street I needed to turn right on to get home. I pulled in to the grocery store on the corner to cut through the parking lot to make it back to the street I had missed. I had three more streets, then two more, then one, the thunder and lightening was on top of me now. Ah, my driveway. I made it to my driveway. Usually that is not a reason to celebrate, but today it seemed like a major feat.

Todays 430 mile route - we rode over 100 miles out of the way - highways 50, 114, 285, 24, 91, I-70, 6, I-70, 9, 285, 470, I-70, I-76 and I-25

I parked the bike in the driveway, took the helmet off so I could go inside and open the front door and then open the garage door. By the time I did that and got on to the bike to ride it in to the garage, the rain started. As the garage door closed I heard more thunder and then the sky opened up with a torrential downpour. The downpour continued even as I laid my head on to the pillow to go to sleep. After 430 miles and more than 14 hours on the bike (including stops) the ride from hell was finally over.


Marty said...

is this type of traffic typical on 285? we're coming out the third week of June and this is a major section of one of our legs. thanks very much.

Anna said...


Traffic is usually heavier on Sunday afternoon as people are getting back to Denver and on any holiday. Third week of June you should be OK.