Route 34 to Estes Park, Colorado

I rode The Queen to work yesterday. Teetering through a U-turn and huffing and puffing while backing into a parking spot, I had to admit to being a little out of practice. My wrist still hurts from that July ride down PC1—the clutch work at the endless traffic stops really took a toll—and I tore my bicep pulling some luggage out of a car trunk some years back, so when I don’t take care of myself turning the throttle gets me in the elbow. All this made me think it was past time to get out on the bike and shake the rust off.

It felt like early spring today, windy but warm. I pulled on my old leather jacket and backed The Queen out of the garage for a quick ride up to Carter Lake. Carter Lake is my default ride when the weather is still sketchy in the mountains.  

The roads to Carter Lake are all pretty straight, connected by a few near right-angle turns. Up at the lake things loosen up. There’s “Sandy Corner,” where the wind blows a dune across the road, and then “Sandy Straightaway,” which is much the same, except less of a big deal ‘cause it’s straight. The north side of the lake has a nice descent. Braking needlessly at the turns and finding myself low on revs. The new engine isn’t half broken in, and it sure is fast. It feels big. I miss the old engine’s raunchy nature, always snarling, right from the first pull of the clutch.

After the lake, I followed along, dropping down to Pole Hill Road and turning north on 29. I always stay on 29 past 34 to Buckhorn Road, where I either turn around at Masonville or keep going if the weather is fine. Buckhorn is a great road—tight and fast, it’s a solid challenge to ride quickly. It’s also covered in sand in the winter months, which can catch you out.

This time, for the first time, instead of heading up to Masonville, I turned right on 34. The road opened up nicely as it ran along the mountains. 34 became Big Thompson Road, diving into a valley, and twisting along the ice-shrouded river.

Arapaho National Forest, along Big Thompson River

At Drake I turned up Devil’s Gulch Road northwest to Glen Haven. The road was empty and damp and cavernous. It felt like undiscovered country to me, new roads leading to unknown places.

Along Devil’s Gulch Road in Glen Haven, CO

At Glen Haven the snow was built up on the shoulders, runoff drenching the road. I was getting cold. I took a picture from an angle that made the bike look wispy and pulled an easy U-turn. There would be plenty of time to explore Glen Haven and to follow Devil’s Gulch on through to Estes Park.

Heading back down the canyon, it was easier to ride quickly. I could pick up the pace effortlessly. My vision was wider, too, and when a car merged into my lane outside Longmont, I saw him coming.

Like a lot of folks in their fifties, I’ve kept my view pretty narrow for the past decade. Head past Carter Lake. Keep on 29 to Masonville. Turn around if it’s sandy. A good ride. Nothing wrong with it.

I’ve always treated my career much like a road trip: point to a target and go after it. If it’s within 1,000 miles, I can make it before bedtime. That’s simplified some things for me by letting me keep the throttle rolled back. I’ve missed a lot, too, blazing past Devil’s Gulch on the way to Masonville. 

After leaving my role as Vice Provost, I’ve tried to slow down. Part of that was easy—if you jump off a Freightliner hauling along at speed, you’re going to bounce and tumble, but eventually things will slow down as a matter of course.

Lately, the notion of slowing down has left me a little blue. Perhaps blue is the color of this cliché, slowing down. Nudging ninety on the straight that runs past Carter Lake on the way home, a big grin on my face and my newfound beard blowing in the wind beneath my helmet, I realize that my mood is not really about slowing down. It’s about the route.

The Masonville road is a good one. I know it. I don’t know where the road along the river leads. That has left me unsure. Today I saw that road less as a closing down, a retreat into the clichés of aging, than as an opening outward into new adventure.

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