Monday, June 20, 2011

Winter Wonderland

Grand Lake, CO

Well.  File this under "Oops."

So apparently I should have checked the weather before camping.
Last night I was sitting at Grand Lake Brewery talking with the bartender (incidentally, a Peoria native, and part of a Caterpillar family), a father/daughter sitting next to me, and the waitress, and someone said something about snow.  "I heard some places are getting six inches." "Yeah, but it's only supposed to be a dusting here."  They recommended a place to camp, and gave me directions.

I went to sleep last night a little bit chilly and listening to the rain hitting my tent.  I woke up with something on my face - which turned out to be my tent.  It was significantly more concave than it's supposed to be, and I was really confused what happened, so I hit it out of my face, and heard a "whoosh" sound. Tried it again, same sound.  Hit the top of the tent, and heard the sound all around.  I unzipped the tent, and saw this:

Well crap.  Maybe I can just hit the snow off the top, and it'll stop eventually?  So I tried that for a while.  About every 2 or 3 minutes I'd pop my arms out of my sleeping bag, hit the top and sides of the tent to shake off snow, and then tuck back in and warm back up, but the snow kept coming, and even turned into sleet for a while.  Eventually, the rainfly was just getting too heavy and kept touching the tent and then causing some dripping, so I decided I had to move out.  I put on my boots, pants, and a few shirts and hurried out to the motorcycle to grab my rain gear and then hopped back into the tent to put them on.

My rain gear is not that far off from a snowsuit - not as well insulated heat-wise, but it's waterproof so it keeps the wind and snow out pretty well.  However, the jacket doesn't cover my head, so I had to pack up the tent with my helmet on.  It's also designed around the idea that you'll be riding, so the back of the neck isn't very well protected against, oh, say, a big clump of snow falling off a tree branch that you bump and sliding right down the back of your neck, all the way down your shirt, and into your pants.  That's a hypothetical situation of course.

My rain gear does not, however, include rain gloves - an oversight from the beginning of the trip which I've tried to fix a few times, but I haven't been able to find gloves that fit at the stores I've gone to.  So all I've got is some summer gloves that are supposed to keep your hands cool in warm weather.  Which they do a wonderful job of, but they unfortunately have the same effect in cold weather, especially when they get wet and then hold the cold moisture right next to my hand.  As I was packing up the tent, I had to stop about every 60 seconds to put my hands inside my rainsuit and warm them back up, because they were going numb repeatedly, and it's actually pretty difficult to pack up a tent with numb hands.

So I finally got the tent packed up, got everything back on the motorcycle, got the motorcycle started up and wiped some of the snow off (with my sleeve, since my gloves would just get even wetter otherwise), and then... I had to get out of the place I was camping.  Three inches of snow/sleet, a dirt road, and a steep hill - and that's just the first 40 feet to get out of the campsite.  It took me a number of tries to get up the hill, and that included one panic moment when the bike started sliding, I locked up the front brakes and couldn't steer, the back wheel was starting to slide out to the side, and I was aiming downhill into a tree. Fortunately the back tire caught a rut before I got to the tree and that stopped the bike (without tipping it over, thankfully - I'm not sure if I could have picked it up on my own), and from there I was able to get enough traction to get the bike moving again.

I then spent the next forty-five minutes doing the drive back to town - which had taken me 15 minutes the night before when I went out to camp.  Without a doubt, the worst part was before I got back to paved roads (the road to the campsite was packed dirt for about the last third), and I got to a steep downhill with a sharp curve at the end.  I started going down the hill, but I could only brake so much before the tires would just slip and the bike would go down on its own.  So I was braking as much as I could while still maintaining traction, but I was still gaining speed, and heading towards the curve.

Fortunately, near the bottom of the hill there was a little less snow, so I was able to apply my brakes a little more, and slow down enough to take the curve at a comfortable speed (5mph).  Even after getting back on good roads, however, riding was still not exactly a piece of cake, for a couple reasons.

1) My windshield is a little taller than it should be.  Since there's no windshield wipers, that means if it's snowing and the snow's sticking (which it was) then I can't see through the windshield, and have to sit uncomfortably straight in order to see over the top of the windshield.  Even then, I can't see anything closer than about 20ft in front of the bike, so I have to hope that any potholes or road issues are visible from at least that far away.

2) I have a faceshield on my helmet which also has no windshield wipers, and fogs up if I'm not going fast enough to keep cool air moving up the inside of the helmet.  That means that I can't see out the front because of snow/water sticking to it, and even if I wiped it off constantly with my hand (thereby soaking my glove and making my fingers freeze in the wind), it would still fog up on the inside unless I'm going 35mph or more.  So I have to ride with the shield open, which means snow is hitting me in the face as I'm riding.

3) With summer gloves on, my hands were freezing.  Though I had mostly dried them off before leaving the campsite, they quickly got wet from the snow hitting them, and then add the wind of traveling on the bike, and they got numb very quickly.  Numb fingers makes it extremely hard to pull the clutch or front brake, so periodically I had to just pull over and stick my hands inside my jacket to warm them up.

Despite all of that, I got back into Grand Lake eventually at about 5:30 am - and nothing is open, of course.  I don't really want to pay for a hotel (especially since this is a resort type of place, so even the cheap sketchy looking place started at $70 a night), so I'm currently sitting in a coffeeshop wondering where I could possibly go to open up my tent and let it dry out.  Anyone have any suggestions?

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