KLR650 SaddleSore 1000
April 28, 2007

(Click on the thumbnails for larger images)

The route.

On I-25 with Spanish Peaks in background.

At Long Saddle.

Bell's Gap just ahead.

Looking northwest at Bell's Gap.

At Bell's Gap looking back to Long Saddle.

Looking west at Packers Gap

Looking east at Packers Gap

On US-50, east of La Junta.

On US-50, east of La Junta.

On US-50, east of La Junta.

Hard-earned IBA plate backer.

Randy Bishop's Iron Butt Association SaddleSore 1000, April 28, 2007

We all know "It's the rider, not the bike." But even though I have IBA certificates for a SS1000, BB1500, and SS2000, I still wanted to ride a SaddleSore 1000 on my KLR650 to justify the IBA plate-backer on that bike. Besides, it would be a silly thing to do and not many have chosen a KLR for a 1000 mile ride in one day.

So it was time for some planning. How about a spring-time ride on the prairie while the road conditions in the mountains were still unpredictable? How about a theme or a destination to keep things interesting? How about riding near the full moon to light the way for the riding at night?

Sounds good. A March date was planned and subsequently snowed out, pushing the ride to April. Another conflict tied up the weekend closest to the full moon, but the weekend before was available. At least I wouldn't be two weeks off, riding with no moon at all. A western frontier theme came to mind. Ride I-25 in the early morning dark to Trinidad, Colorado, then follow the old Santa Fe Trail far enough east so the loop would include the needed 1000+ miles. That route would even include US-350 from Trinidad to La Junta, a line on the map I hadn't traveled. It would also include Dodge City, Kansas, that famous town from the cattle drive days that I last visited as a kid. The return route could include the (Annie) Oakley, Kansas, and Cheyenne Wells and Kit Carson, Colorado, other towns with western names.

Since I've also been working on a Colorado Beemers' Pass Bagger 50 award (I was up to 77 passes at the time) I wondered if there were any passes I could "collect" along the way too. Researching some books, road and topographic maps, and the maps and satellite photos on maps.google.com I found that side trips to Long Saddle, Bell's Gap, and Packers Gap were all possible during the trip.

With all the planning done and the KLR loaded up with a Gatorade-filled CamelBak, Clif Bars, lemon drops, and some detailed maps of the passes, I was ready to go. I started rolling right at 0400, stopped at the neighborhood bank's ATM for a receipt showing the location, date, and time (the nearest gas stations' receipts vary, but none of them have the three needed bits of information), and was soon on my way down I-25 in the early morning darkness.

I passed through Colorado Springs well ahead of rush hour and then through Pueblo as the sun was starting to appear over the horizon. Just north of Walsenburg I took a slight detour to "collect" Long Saddle and Bell's Gap, two minor, unmarked paved passes that modern travelers probably don't even notice. Continuing south I stopped at Trinidad for gas and a receipt to mark the "corner" before I turned northeast on US-350, part of the route of the old Santa Fe Trail. Interesting spots along the road included a historical plaque honoring the crews of two B-24s that crashed nearby on a training mission during WWII, several small almost abandoned towns, an Army training area, and very scenic views of buttes, the rugged rolling prairie, and the big blue Colorado sky.

At the small don't-blink town of Timpas I turned onto a lane-and-a-half gravel road to see if I could navigate myself to Packer's Gap. Several miles away, right on cue, my GPS and map matched reality and I turned south on a one-lane gravel road that wound over a hill where a woman had just finished replacing a flat tire. I stopped and learned that she didn't need any help, and besides, her husband was on his way anyway. I took off again and as I passed him he appeared to want to visit, but I just waved and pressed on with my SS1000. (He is probably still wondering why the guy wearing a space suit and riding a funny looking motorcycle was riding through his remote part of the country.) The road became a two-track gravel road past the front of the folks' house, then two-track dirt. After a bit I came to the point where the GPS, visual cues, and my map showed me to be at Packers Gap where I stopped for some out-in-the-middle-of-nowhere photos for the Pass Bagger. The "road" continued to the east, passing a couple of stock tanks and small herds of cattle that I carefully rode through trying my best not to spook them such that they'd run and hurt themselves or burn off any hard earned weight. About then I began to wonder if I was on a common "public road through private property" or was now on private property. I didn't want to turn back so I continued east on what was now a single-track that didn't even look like it had been driven on for a long time. Eventually I came to a barbed wire ranch gate, got out onto a maintained gravel road and headed northeast to La Junta and the rest of the planned SS1000 route on paved highways.

The miles started to pass quickly again on US-50. I made a gas and Clif Bar stop in Lamar, stopped to take photos of some Santa Fe Trail signs, passed into Kansas, went past big feed lots, saw trees and silos with tornado damage, traveled near the Arkansas River very close to original Trail, passed through small farm towns in the shadow of grain elevators, and eventually arrived in the old cattle drive town of Dodge City. The town and Front Street looked much smaller than my childhood memories, but the frontier architecture, statues, and all made me wish I had time to stop for to do a little exploring. But the SS1000 was calling me onward.

Since I also "collect" National Park passport stamps I was hoping I'd be far enough ahead of schedule that I could stop at Ft. Larned National Historic Site, get the stamp and quickly learn some more about the fort and the part it played on the Santa Fe Trail. But the side trip to Packers Gap had taken more time than planned and according to my map and the marks I had made to keep me on schedule showed me to be on target or just a bit behind, so Ft. Larned, Kansas, was soon in my rear view mirrors.

On up the road I went through Great Bend and more traffic lights than I had seen all day, stopped in Ellsworth for a documented stop to mark the east "corner" of the SS1000, and turned north to I-70 where I began the ride back west. I sure like riding Kansas highways through the small towns and past all the farms, but I-70 just bores me to tears. Along the way there are picturesque stone fence posts and the road climbs hills as it gains altitude toward Colorado, but overall it is always a little difficult for me to take. That and the fact that a KLR650 just isn't quite Interstate material, especially since I feel more comfortable keeping it at 65-70 on the highway. Oh well, that fits with the "ride slow, make short stops" philosophy of LD riding.

At (Annie) Oakley I got back on two-lanes, again happy to be passing through small towns like Sharon Springs, a gas stop several years ago during a BB1500. And I sure enjoyed the big skies as the sun was setting to the west. There aren't any forests or mountains out there on the prairie to spoil the view. Not far from Sharon Springs I crossed back into Colorado and stopped at Cheyenne Wells for a gas receipt to document my journey on US-40 rather than I-70. Next up were Kit Carson and Wild Horse, small towns with those great Western names.

By then I was riding under the stars and moon, heading toward Punkin Center and then the lights and increasing "civilization" of Colorado Springs. After being in very rural areas all day, it was shocking in a way. Especially when I got to town and ran into Saturday night traffic on Powers Drive. Didn't all those kids know they should be home playing video games? I stopped for gas for another "corner" receipt (although S&T's I-70 route was a few miles longer and could be traveled in less time than my US-40/CO-94 route) and with it in hand, I took off on the last little stretch for home.

After a non-eventful ride up I-25 in very light traffic I arrived back in the Denver area, went to the same ATM in our neighborhood for the final receipt, and opened our garage door 19 1/2 hours after departing that morning. Not bad for a SS1000 done on a KLR650, especially considering that half the route was on two-lane highways and that I had "collected" three passes along the way, including Packers Gap and its single-track riding. It had been a good day in the Western frontier. And now my KLR650 can proudly wear its tire-worn IBA license plate backer.

-- Randy Bishop, Highlands Ranch, Colorado

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Copyright 2007, Randy Bishop
Last modified: November 27, 2007