I often speak about where my love of the outdoors comes from. There is no doubt in my mind that the summers of being “dragged” up a hill on a Sunday afternoon by my parents are to blame. I know I complained about it at the time (sorry Mum!), but even with the moaning about my feet aching and wanting to go back to the tent, I loved nothing more than reaching the top of whichever hill we’d chosen to hike up to “see what was on the other side”. I remember sweetie stops with fondness, thoroughly enjoyed the stories we’d tell as we walked, and even found myself asking my parents if we could “go and walk up a hill this afternoon”.
Storms over Cripple Creek, Colorado.
As a result of all this walking on the hills, in the moors and by the sea (my favourite!), I developed some very useful outdoors skills that are incredibly well used now I’m in my mid-30s. Reading an OS map, using a compass, first aid, planning routes and packing for hikes, and, as you might have gathered from the title of this blog post, understanding the weather. We’d always listen to the forecast before going out, and learnt to tell what the weather was going to do based on looking at the clouds and feeling the wind. This was especially useful when walking on Dartmoor, somewhere I really must go back to, as the weather is so changeable. I don’t profess to be any kind of expert, but just through experience I can feel safe that I can predict the weather while I’m out so I can make decisions on route and speed.
My F650GS and the Gunnison River.
It turns out, though, that understanding the weather on the moors and in the hills here in the UK does not necessarily transfer over the Atlantic and into the mountains in America. Which made our day riding to Cripple Creek in Colorado slightly more stressful than it would have been back home. A very long introduction, sorry about that.
From Montrose we took the beautiful Highway 50 over the Blue Mesa mountain and along the very fast flowing Gunnison River, which was more like a lake in places it was so vast. I loved seeing how many people were arriving in trucks and jeeps towing boats and jetskis and other things to basically mess about on the water in the sunshine. There was a bit of traffic and some roadworks to contend with but generally speaking it was good riding and some impressive views. Then we really started to climb up into the mountains.
We’d booked a cabin in a KOA in Cripple Creek. Billed as the highest KOA in North America, we were looking forward to sleeping in the mountains, at 10,000 feet above sea level. That’s the height I was at when I jumped out of an aeroplane, and it’s 9,990 feet higher than I’m used to sleeping back home in Lincolnshire – just crazy when you stop to think about it. We thought it would be pretty cool, and it would be a great location for heading over to Pike’s Peak the following day.
Arriving at the KOA Cripple Creek. The highest KOA in North America at 10,000 feet above sea level.
As we rode towards our destination we were surrounded by what I think were at least three sets of mountains. I know one was Pike’s Peak itself but the others seemed just as dominant and snow covered, and they seemed to tower over us. Over each one was a storm – dark clouds, and the occasional fork lightning strike. One of the reasons I paid so much attention to those weather lessons as a child was because I have a deep fear of thunder storms; they seem to trigger a real anxiety in my soul that I struggle to control, and that has me playing out all kinds of worst case scenarios in my head. And when you’re riding a motorcycle that worst case scenario is being struck by lightning and being split right down the middle as your head the tallest thing around.
I looked at the storms around me and couldn’t work out what they were doing. Any experience in understanding the heaviness of the rain or the direction of the clouds, and especially in how long these storms might last for, wasn’t working. I couldn’t tell which way they were heading, whether the three storms were moving together and therefore towards me, or if they were stuck on the mountain peaks out of my way. I also couldn’t tell whether Cripple Creek, the place I was heading, was in the path of any one of these storms. And that made me a very nervous rider.
A pretty special double rainbow in Cripple Creek.
We kept going, of course, taking the most direct route to our destination which was also a fantastic ride through the mountains. And you’ll be pleased to know we made it to our KOA without getting struck by lightning. Once we were in and off the bikes we were able to sit and enjoy the storm a little – yes, even I started to enjoy the dancing of the electricity on the mountains once I wasn’t out in it! No photos of the lightning as my timing is rubbish, but I did get one of the most awesome full double rainbow that took my breath away (and not just because of the altitude!). Rainbows are special, right?
Another shot of that special rainbow.
We did get back on the bikes to head into the town of Cripple Creek to find food, only to discover while the town had loads of restaurants and shops, at 6pm on a Friday evening there was nothing open. Absolutely nothing at all. The main street had lots of people wandering up and down, I assume they were doing the same thing as us and looking for a place to buy dinner, but we were all disappointed. So we headed back to the KOA and for the first and only time on this trip ate dinner from the onsite convenience store – some microwave burritos (all these stores have microwaves you can use to heat your food), crisps (okay, chips where we were), soda and mint M&Ms. I’m definitely glad it was the only time we had to do that!
Inside our “couples cabin” at the KOA Cripple Creek. So cosy.
Oh and while I’m mentioning the KOA, I must say that this was the best KOA we stayed in on our road trip. The owners had made up the camping cabin with bedding and loads of cosy touches including a fire-looking heater, the bathroom facilities were super clean and good, there was a games room and plenty of places to sit and relax outside the main office area. And the views were just incredible. If you’re in the area definitely check this one out. The only “issue” was that our cabin was up the hill from the main block, and because of the altitude I was totally out of breath; I felt so unfit!
Thankfully when we got up the following morning, to the nip in the mountain air, the sky was much more pleasant looking and we were ready to get back on the bikes and head even higher.