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There and Back – FJR NAFO 2016

Part One – Getting There

Every two years, the FJR community gets together for a North American meet hosted by one of the regional FJR groups. If you’re picturing a large group of pirates, rumbling down the road en masse, you’d be off base…it’s way more low-key. Essentially, 80-120 riders gather, split off for small group rides (4-8 bikes, if that) and generally turn a few hundred miles a day before returning to the venue for an evening of parking log socializing and hijinks. This was the year for NAFO to return, this time in Montrose, CO from July 28th through the 31st. Given the location, a number of riders opted to trailer their bikes in, a practice humorously frowned on in the community, and bring along a dirt bike as well in order to take advantage of everything western Colorado has to offer. I had the vacation time needed, two weeks, and had the bike; another adventure was in the offing!

Initially, I was going to ride to Colorado on my own; however, as the days to departure counted down, my good friend Bob, a fellow Jarhead from northern Virginia, joined me as his wife had to back out (they were going to trailer). Lisa, a friend of Bob’s and a practiced long distance rider, was also going to join the adventure. The group was set; we’d have two 2015ES’s and a green 2007 in our party for the start and later be joined by Petey in Stillwater, OK on his BMW. Bob proceeded to work up a route plan out to Montrose that had us seeing very little interstate and as many good roads as he could find given our time constraints and meet-up with Petey in Stillwater.

Our route to Montrose, CO

Our route to Montrose. It picks up from Maggie Valley, our day 2 starting point.

Day One, Saturday the 23rd of July

Bob and Lisa started from the DC area and I started from Rocky Mount, NC. We were to meet at a Sheetz in Greensboro, NC and then continue on from there to our first overnight stop in Maggie Valley, NC. While Bob and Lisa had to depart at the crack of dawn, I got to take it easy and leave later; Greensboro’s only about 2 hours away for me.

Loaded and ready for departure!

Loaded and ready for departure!

The rendezvous in Greensboro went off without a hitch…

Hiding in the shade in Greensboro

Hiding in the shade in Greensboro; it was HOT!

From Greensboro, we continued on and did a rather aggressive mountain run that placed us in Maggie Valley for the night, starting our goal to avoid the interstate as much as we could reasonably get away with.

From Greensboro to Maggie Valley

From Greensboro to Maggie Valley

Photo stop on the Blue Ridge Parkway

Photo stop on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Lisa’s back there tending to things.

We stayed at the local Microtel in Maggie Valley and enjoyed a meal at the Subway, down the street. After a few rounds of drinks, it was off to bed…

Day Two, Sunday

Morning in Maggie Valley

Morning in Maggie Valley

We got up early as we had a 600+ mile day ahead.

Our 600+ mile route from Maggie Valley to Searcy, AR

Our 600+ mile route from Maggie Valley to Searcy, AR

The plan was to hit the Cherohala Skyway and then run across Tennessee and reach Searcy, AR for the night. When we reached Robbinsville at 8am, we found that the fog was hanging low, which meant the Cherohala would likely be socked in for a bit…so we stopped to wait it out.

The entrance to the Cherohala beckons behind the store as we wait out the fog.

The entrance to the Cherohala beckons behind the store as we wait out the fog.

The Cherohala turned out to be fantastic! The road was empty, the fog had lifted, and we enjoyed a spirited run to the Tennessee side…then disaster struck. Bob and I both had Sena headsets, Lisa did not. Nearing the end of the Cherohala, Bob and I talked about stopping to check out Bald River Falls, deciding to take the goat path cutoff to it…that’d we’d just passed. Bob put up his hand to signal that we were going to turn around…I started slowing, then it happened…I felt a tremendous impact at my rear, then saw my top box flying over my left shoulder. I had no idea what had just happened…I was too busy trying to stay upright, but Lisa had missed the turnaround signal and submarined the nose of her bike under my top box, popping it off the Givi rack. Both of us remained upright; I gingerly pulled my bike off to the side…there was no shoulder, but there was zero traffic and we were on a long straight with excellent visibility. Both Lisa and I were unharmed and, after determining that, our focus turned to the bikes and a damage assessment.

Apart from my AdMore power cable, the license plate light was the only other casualty

Apart from my AdMore power cable, the license plate light was the only other casualty

My E55 Tech box had gotten good air, according to Bob, and bounced down the road for a bit before spilling its contents across the road. The AdMore lighting plug was shaved down to an unusable state, but other than that, the box looked fine apart from a lot of road rash. The contents, largely consisting of spare gloves, my shower kit, a jacket plus some odds and ends also fared well. We feared trip-ending mechanical damage on my bike, but a closer inspection revealed only a broken license plate light bracket and a crack in the plastic surrounding the tail lights; Lisa’s front tire appeared to have slipped between my rear tire and the right-hand side bag, marring the reflective decal on the side bag, but nothing more. The connecting points on the exhaust cans revealed no damage and the rear wheel and hub looked normal…we got very lucky. The SR357 Givi rack emerged unscathed, no breaks, chips, bends, or marks even. Lisa’s bike looked ok, apart from a few cracks in the nose; the forks and associated hardware looked ok. We hadn’t been moving all that fast, perhaps 30mph at the time of impact…that made the difference I think.

We gathered up my belongings scattered across the road, piled them in the rashed E55 and popped it back on my bike; it locked normally (and remained in working order and watertight throughout the trip). After some minutes of settling down and reflecting, we moved on…parts and plastic are replaceable (and were after the trip).

The remainder of the day was largely spent in the sweltering heat, traveling US64, welcoming the occasional rain storm, and laughing over a couple of wrong turns. We stopped in Monteagle, TN for lunch…

Lisa and Bob sending their best wishes at lunch in Monteagle, TN

Lisa and Bob sending their best wishes at lunch in Monteagle, TN

As the sun faded from view, we still had around 70 miles to go before reaching Searcy, AR and our hotel reservation for the night. We had to stop so Bob could get a clear visor installed in his helmet…

On the road to NAFO

Stopping in Wynne, AR before carrying on to Searcy.

The remainder of the ride into Searcy took place between farm fields and the bugs were THICK; it was as if we were in the middle of a snowstorm. Our helmets show the results after checking in at Searcy…

Our helmets (Bob's on left) after a night of bugs getting to Searcy

Our helmets (Bob’s on left) after a night of bugs getting to Searcy

Day Three, Monday

Today’s big goal was to reach Stillwater, OK and meetup with Petey…really only a 400 mile day. Before we got there, though, we had the Ozarks to look forward to!

Day 3's route to Stillwater, OK. A twisty run in the Ozarks!

Day 3’s route to Stillwater, OK. A twisty run in the Ozarks!

Bob was happy about the upcoming route; I was looking forward to it as well since I’d always heard the Ozarks were fun. You’ll note the hardly visible damage on my bike (my top box is unlocked for loading).

Bob's loading up his bike; mine sits ready behind his

Bob’s loading up his bike; mine sits ready behind his at Searcy.

Our route through the Ozarks essentially consisted of Highway 16 until Fayetteville, AR, where we’d get onto US412 and run that into Stillwater. Who-da-thought-it would be so fun…

Fuel stop at Who-da-thought-it, AR, along 16

Fuel stop at Who-da-thought-it, AR, along 16

We tried to dodge the rain on 16, but it hit us here and there. Despite that, we found Highway 16 to be a really fun ride and wished we had more time to explore more of the area. We continued on to Fayetteville, where we needed an excuse to get out of the rain, so we topped off the tanks and grabbed a light snack for lunch.

Hiding the rain and topping off in Fayetteville, AR

Hiding the rain and topping off in Fayetteville, AR

After Fayetteville, AR, it was pretty much a straight shot across to Stillwater, OK in the heat. Luckily, the clouds kept things from getting too out of hand. It wasn’t very exciting to be honest, lol. We had a slight concern over Lisa’s rear tire, as she hadn’t fitted new tires before the trip, but a new rear was waiting for her at Petey’s house. The front tire reared its head later in our adventure…

Taking a break in Chouteau, OK

Taking a break in Chouteau, OK. Bob and Lisa BS’ing.

We finally reached Stillwater in the early evening hours and managed to find Petey’s house. Petey’s an old fella, but under the surface lies a kid who loves to ride…and ride hard; more on that later. Bob and I left Lisa at Petey’s house, where she was staying for the night, while Bob and I headed back into town and the hotel. We had planned to drop our stuff at the hotel and ride back over to Petey’s to change Lisa’s rear tire; however, Petey’s wife volunteered to pick us up at the hotel when we were ready. By the time we got back to Petey’s, they had already changed Lisa’s tire! With that, we enjoyed some cold ones and then headed out for a great steak dinner.

I didn’t get any pictures during dinner, so enjoy this from Stillwater. 😉

Just outside the restaurant, a storm was brewing.

Just outside the restaurant, a storm was brewing.

Day Four, Tuesday

With Petey joining the group, the plan was to make it to Trinidad, CO, just shy of 500 miles down the road…

From Stillwater, OK to Trinidad, CO

From Stillwater, OK to Trinidad, CO

A storm had moved in overnight and its remnants were still around by the time Bob and I were getting ready to leave and head over to Petey’s again.

Packing up for the run to Trinidad.

Packing up for the run to Trinidad.

Bob and I got to Petey’s at oh-dark-thirty, where we found both him and Lisa ready to roll. The first order of business was breakfast at Brahm’s, so we headed to Enid…and my blurry photo..

Breakfast at Braum's, Enid, OK

Breakfast at Braum’s, Enid, OK

We hadn’t stopped for fuel the night before, so we stopped off in Woodward, OK to top off and push on. Petey’s riding a BMW with a smaller tank, so we stop a bit more often for fuel. We were thankful for the previous night’s rainfall as it kept the temperature cool for a good part of the morning.

Fuel stop in Woodward, OK

Fuel stop in Woodward, OK

As you could imagine, riding through the panhandle of Oklahoma isn’t all that exciting, but we carried on to Guymon, OK to gas up and eat some lunch. There, we temporarily lost Lisa…she wasn’t hungry and decided to carry on; we’d meet back up with her before entering Colorado.

Fuel and food in Guymon, OK

Fuel and food in Guymon, OK

We stopped off in Clayton, NM to snack and top off the tanks. The views were starting to get better as the elevation got higher. At this point, I did not yet have a camera I could use while riding, but that would change later on.

Later in the day in Clayton, NM for fuel. Lisa's yet to join back.

Later in the day in Clayton, NM for fuel. Lisa’s yet to join back.

In Des Moines, NM, there were signs that the land isn’t flat…

Des Moines, NM. A peak!

Des Moines, NM. A peak!

Lisa rejoined us and we continued on into Colorado via I-25! Naturally, when entering Colorado, one must always stop and…

Take a picture of the sign!

Take a picture of the sign!

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This is Bob’s take on the situation…our crew for this part of the journey.

Bob's selfie stick at work. Lisa, Petey, Bob, and me.

Bob’s selfie stick at work. Lisa, Petey, Bob, and me.

Upon reaching our hotel in Trinidad, Bob and I unloaded, then went out to track down the nearest refreshment re-supply dump. Later on, our merry band of misfits sauntered over to the local Pizza Hut takeout (only place in walking distance) and enjoyed the remainder of the evening talking bikes and routes in the hotel lobby.

The hotel staff were great, putting up with our evening cool down...

The hotel staff were great, putting up with our evening cool down…

Day Five, Wednesday

Today was NAFO arrival day! We planned to stop by the Great Sand Dunes National Park on the way over, but first, it was time to check our tires…

Petey borrowing Bob's air pump to check his bike's tire pressures.

Petey borrowing Bob’s air pump to check his bike’s tire pressures.

Our route started out on CO12 and immediately started plowing through some beautiful country…

Off CO12 at a place called "North Lake"

Off CO12 at a place called “North Lake”

After the lake stop, we continued on CO12 up to US160 and then followed that west until we hit the turn for the park at CO150, at freshly paved, nearly dead straight piece of road that took us by the majestic 14,351′ Blanca Peak…a mountain I couldn’t stop staring at…it pretty much erupts from the flat floor of the valley up to its peak; pretty impressive. Unfortunately, we didn’t stop and I didn’t get a photo, lol. Oh well. We finally did stop at the entrance to the park…

Yours truly at the Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve

Yours truly at the Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve

The sand dunes here are basically the result of the geography of the area and are the tallest dunes in North America…and still growing. The sand and soil deposits of the Rio Grande and its tributaries are picked up by westerly winds and deposited here as the wind loses its power when hitting the Sangre de Cristo Range the park butts up against. Here’s some shots from the area…

Enjoying the view while Bob tries to work the telescope (see the reflection).

Enjoying the view while Bob tries to work the telescope (see the reflection).

Northern part of the dunes

Northern part of the dunes

Southern part of the dunes

Southern part of the dunes

Once we finished touring the dunes facility, we headed back south down to 160 and continued west into Alamosa, where we enjoyed a hearty lunch at the San Luis Brewing Company.

Lunch at San Luis Brewing Company in Alamosa

Lunch at San Luis Brewing Company in Alamosa. Bob, Petey, & Me. I think Lisa took this photo.

The last leg into Montrose

The last leg into Montrose

After lunch, we took CO17 north and then US285 to meet with US50 for the ride west to Montrose; the goal was to check out Monarch pass and possibly try out the chairlift…things didn’t exactly work out that way. Once we got on US50 and turned westward, things went downhill fast. US50 was far busier than I recalled from my 2013…I mean REALLY busy. As we approached the climb to Monarch Pass, traffic slowed to a crawl. We creeped along for a few miles until suddenly, Petey mode kicked in…Petey saw a passing opportunity and took it, breaking out from behind Bob and leaving us in his dust. From that moment on, it was all we could to to keep up with Petey as he dipped in and out of the traffic going up the mountain. Bob, Lisa, and I started a game of catch up, chasing after Petey while dodging “legally” around the traffic. Bob would late recall, “I asked Petey if he wanted to stop at the summit; he replied in his gruff Petey voice, NO!” The traffic was thinning just a bit at the summit, but there was no way we were going to stop and erase the progress we’d made besides, Petey was on fire! We carried on chasing Petey, and a BMW sedan that had jumped into the mix, for nearly the entire 100 remaining miles to Montrose, testing the limits…I’ll leave it at that. 😉

We arrived in Montrose in the late afternoon, with plenty of time to get settled into our digs at the Holiday Inn for the next few days and grumbling about the condition of US50. We’d learn a few days later that I-70 had been closed due to a rock slide and all the traffic was being detoured to US50 on the day we rode it…figures.

This concludes Part 1; we’ve arrived! In Part 2, I’ll be covering our time at NAFO and Part 3 will cover our return to the east coast.

The room Bob and I were sharing for NAFO.

The room Bob and I were sharing for NAFO.

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I live in Eastern NC, work on websites all day, and enjoy motorcycling immensely. What more need be said.
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