September 1st to September 12th: Palisade
As previously mentioned in my earlier post, I needed to complete my application packages for business schools before keeping on going with the trip. Leslie and Brann generously accepted to have me with them even though we only met for a few minutes a year before. When initially contacting them, I asked to stay for a few days as I thought I could get through my applications quite effortlessly: I was wrong, way wrong. It ended up taking me most of the three weeks I stayed with them.
Owning vineyards, a cherry orchard and peach orchards, Leslie and Brann are both keeping very busy in retirement. On top of that, they are in the process of building an awesome new house that is inspired by Italian villas. Words are lacking me in describing how helpful and supportive they have been throughout my whole application process. Even though they had much better things to do, they were always willing to read my drafts and provide feedback on overall structure, word meanings, grammar, ambiguities, etc. Directing me on areas that needed work, I would go back downstairs in Leslie’s office and improve the draft until I was satisfied and confident to print another draft. That process was repeated several times for each essays and was a valuable experience for me. Not only did I have to reflect on my thoughts and beliefs, it helped me understand how to write better in my second language. Both Leslie and Brann worked in an academic environment and they both had a different perspective on my essays which was really good. Brann has been a geology professor for over 40 years and was very knowledgeable about essay writing and the application process at the graduate level.
When taking breaks from essay editing, I was able to help them with a few things they had to do. For example, I really enjoyed picking grapes from their vineyard (tasting them as I went on was the best part). They also invited me at a few friends’ dinners where I met great people. Peaches were ripe, so needless to say that I never ate so many peaches before! I really had a good time with them. We almost always ate dinner together, drinking some of their own delicious wine and talking about interesting subjects. We would usually also watch a movie before going to bed.
Being with them made me realize that I was doing this trip the wrong way around. I realized that I was spending too much time on the road and too little time meeting people. When I left my house in June, my plan was to travel through the Americas for 8 months before shipping the bike to Asia for another 6 months. I decided that it was crazy and that I would always be rushing everything. Therefore, I took the decision to remain in the Americas until I start school next September.
I also took two days to perform some maintenance work on the bike. It included: changing the oil, changing the coolant, bleeding the rear brake, changing rear brake pads, washing air filters, re-install a front fender extension, change my leaking gear sensor o-ring, align my front wheel, changing my wheel bearings and re-assemble the air box correctly.
September 13th: Palisade to Buena Vista – 385km
I was up early in the morning, feeling excited to get back on the road again. Getting ready was fast as I had packed up my stuff the night before. Brann and Leslie woke up shortly after and we all had breakfast together. I surprised myself naturally putting some hot sauce on my eggs that morning. They definitely initiated me to hot sauce (not to say converted). Then I got dressed and we all met outside next to the bike. They both signed the map and we took a few “family” pictures. I did not feel good about living with them for 3 weeks without paying for anything. When explaining what my weekly food budget was and offering them to at least pay for food, they categorically declined my offer. When taking in consideration everything they had done for me, it was the least I could offer. All that to say that their hospitality was nothing short of phenomenal!
I hit the road around 11am and followed a route they suggested up to their cottage where I would spend the night. I started by going up the Grand Mesa which was beautiful. Then made my way to Carbondale where I had lunch. I then rode to famous Aspen. Arriving there, the first thing I came across was the local airport with at least 40 private jets parked in it. Then I started seeing very expensive cars going by. Soon, the hills were covered in mansion everywhere I looked. Like when I visited Whistler, I got overwhelmed with the amount of materialism present in a place that is renowned to be very natural.
Then came the part that would be the most interesting in my day. Driving up to Independence Pass (12,000 feet) was nothing short of breathtaking. The road was carved in rock cliffs at some point and was only one lane. Up there, views were beautiful and there was not much vegetation. There were lots of curves and I had lots of fun!
I arrived in Buena Vista around dinner time and started by visiting the shed location. It was remote and I am glad I went before dark. It was a cool 2 stories building without electricity and water. After locking everything, I went out in town for dinner. I had a pizza and chatted with a very cool retried engineer who worked all over the world. I then made my way back to the shed and went to sleep.
September 14th: Buena Vista to Navajo State Park – 400km
I was up early again and after 30 minutes, I was on the road. I stopped in town to get an omelet for breakfast. Then I spoke with Nate on the phone. His bike broke down about a month before and he had just bought another bike like the one he had before. He was on his way to Michigan to get the licence plate. We discussed plans for the next month and we wished each other good luck. It took me a couple hours to get to my next destination: the Colorado Sand Dunes. It was special to see a “pile” of sand between the Colorado Mountains. The valley at that location was very wide and dry. Over the years, the sand has been carried over these dunes by dominant winds and stopped against the mountain. People were hiking up the dunes and I estimated it would take me around 2h to do so. It was very hot out and the sun was up high, so I decided to take a few pictures from the parking lot and to keep riding.
I had lunch in the valley before hitting the mountains again. As I went up, temperature dropped to 15C and it started pouring down. Quite a change from the sunny 33C at the dunes a few hours before. After going over the 11,000 feet pass, sun was out again and I pulled in the clutch to go down the curvy hills. This was such a good feeling. I could only hear the sound of my tires on the pavement and the wind on my helmet. Vibrations were totally gone from when I aligned my wheel and going down without noise gave me a weird sense of absolute freedom.
I stopped to grab some food at a grocery store for dinner before finding a campground in the Navajo State Park. It was right by the Navajo Lake and I slept well after taking a warm shower.
September 15th: Navajo State Park to Mesa Verde National Park – 120km
I got up around 7am and ate fruits and granola bars for breakfast. It took me an hour and a half to ride to Mesa Verde National Park. This park is home of some of the best preserved cliff dwellings in the world. They were built by ancient Pueblo people called Anasazi between 600 and 1300. I entered the visitor center and decided on which dwellings I wanted to visit. I also decided that I would spend the night there as they had camping spots available. I then rode back to town to get some stuff to eat for the day and rode back to the park. I set camp and then red the 2 pamphlets I got at the visitor center. Luckily, I realised that I had to buy tickets at the visitor center to visit the cliff dwellings that interested me. I rode back there (10km) and from the visitor center, it took me another 30 minutes to get to the tour meeting point for Cliff Palace. The tour took about an hour and was very informative on the history of the place. I then rode to the other tour meeting point for Balcony House. There was a 30 feet double ladder that all visitors needed to climb in order to get there. I did not believe that nobody ever fell going up it.
After the tour, I rode back to the campground where I met Hayley from New Zealand. She was with a group of people from all over the world as part of a program that allows international people to work in National Parks. I went back to my campsite and cooked some rice with beans and cheese. I then decided to meet with all these people which were camping in another location about 5 minutes away. After introducing myself as a lone traveler, I spent the night with them and had a good time discussing various topics.
September 16th: Mesa Verde National Park, CO to Grants, NM – 385km
I had a hard time getting up the next morning and I left my campground by noon time. I had lunch in Aztec and from there I headed to Chaco Culture National Historical Park. The roads to get there were not well maintained, but I was amazed at how well the suspension was handling the washboards. Getting there, a gentleman at the front desk advised me to visit the Pueblo Bonito site if I was short on time (I wanted to get to Grants at night). It was very impressive to visit this site when keeping in mind that it was built more than 800 years ago. I then headed south by another fun road and arrived in Grants around 6pm. There I stayed at the KOA campground where they offered a delicious chicken parmesan meal. I read until 11pm before going to sleep.
September 17th: Grants to Las Cruces – 450km
It rained all night and it stopped for a short while in the morning. It was the tail of tropical storm Odile and they were expecting much more rain during the day. I had plans to take the scenic route to Las Cruces but decided to take the freeway and get there as fast as possible to get away from that storm. It took me a little over 4 hours to get to my hotel. On my way, I fuelled up with premium for less than a dollar per liter. Arriving at The Amercia’s Best Value Inn, Big Chile, I met with the owner David. He is originally from Australia and is also an engineer. He kindly showed me where I could park my bike safely and brought me some nachos. I felt very welcome! Later he also provided an electric drill I needed to fix my kickstand extension. I had dinner in a Thai restaurant nearby that he suggested and then went to bed.
September 18th: Las Cruces
I spent most of the day working on my schedule for Mexico. I also fixed a few things on the bike. First thing I knew, it was 9pm and I had to get my stuff ready for the next day.