Well, though it lingered longer and gloriously warmer this past year, summer eventually passed. The various high mountain passes I enjoyed in my multiple crossings from California to Colorado and back again—as well as the numerous wanderings around the rocky mountain empire—have been buttoned up for winter, the riding experiences relegated to memories, and those wonderfully winding roads rising into the clouds all soon to be under several feet of snow until the seasons turn. The final trip allowed me to chalk up yet more miles to be placed in the writing file—contributing to yet another, perhaps my final, addition to my "Going Alone" series. This one; Addendum II.

One big difference between California and Colorado is the reality that there is a period of no riding in the latter. This is something that forty years of west coast living had me blissfully ignorant to. Weather forecasts in the Golden State are all pretty much carbon copies day to day (well, save the recent torrential and highly unusual rains), whereas in Colorado they become deciders of plans—especially with regard to motorcycles. As summer wound down the temperatures at the top of the 10,000 ft-plus mountain passes plummeted—the temperature gauge on the GS often dipping into the low-twenties and high-teens, the lookout for ice becoming a newly acquired talent. On the plus side was the dramatic changing of the seasons. I often found myself completely immersed in the dramatic gold and brown and yellow of the changing trees.

BMW R 1200 GS
People’s definition of the perfect touring machine varies, but BMW’s R1200GS is awfully good, no matter where you’re headed.Alfonse Palaima

My travels had me departing Los Angeles and heading north. There is an advantage in departing from Los Angeles, the city's immense size and congested freeways makes the open road all the more pleasant. To leave the City of Angels is always a relief. My trek up the state had me entering Sequoia National Park just as the sun was setting. The Park Ranger at the west entrance assured me there was plenty of camping available—which was good to hear since it was getting dark and I had a tinted shield on. In short order the Ranger's reassurance was proving to be erroneous. I was tiptoeing the BMW R 1200 GS through the 2nd campground where virtually every camping spot was occupied. As I made my way around the campground service road, wondering what I was going to do, my headlight illumed a large Scandinavian-looking gentleman, his hand raised to stop me. When I flipped up my shield he said, "You won't find any spaces, so why don't you share our site." I looked at him and said, "You're a biker." He nodded, pointed at the GS, and said, "I have one of these back home in Holland." Such is the unspoken camaraderie shared by GS riders; a global brotherhood courtesy of Bavarian metal. You see, as a motorcycle rider, you're never really alone. I'm not sure that kind of thing doesn't happen among Buick owners.

My campfire visits with the Dutch man and his family (nighttime with beer, morning with coffee) was the last real talking I did for the next three days. That’s the beauty of going alone; you find yourself going all day with little more than a few words, if any at all, with gas station attendants and waitresses. Of course there’s always the random, spontaneous chat with a fellow traveler, either on a bike or otherwise. There’s something about the road, the nomadic spirit of those taking to it that inspires more of that pavement camaraderie.

lonely route 50
...and boy is it lonely.Jeff Buchanan

The goal, provided time allows, is to avoid any Interstate. This approach adds a great deal of time to the travel. But then, I’m usually not in a hurry—which would kind of defeat the whole purpose of the trip in the first place. I managed to find a pass I hadn’t ever been on that took me up and over the Sierras on wonderfully empty winding mountain passes, climbing up into the cool of elevation, then descending into the flats of Nevada. Once again, as with the previous trip, the solitude afforded by Nevada, with its vast arid plains and remote reaches of nothingness—the traits that lent the state its status as a test bed for the early atomic bombs—had me entering into that trance-like state of meditation.

After all these years of riding it’s taken these various solo crossings of Nevada as of late to whisk me away to the spiritual plains offered by such sublime solitude. Searching the thesaurus for “alone” I came across the word Solus, which is Latin for “unaccompanied,” or “by one’s self.” Appropriate verbiage for the solo-traveling motorcyclist. It’s both enlightening, and regretful, that it’s taken me this long into this one and only life to discover this meditative aspect of riding. Between the constant of the visual of the two-lane road disappearing into a quivering mirage on the horizon, and the steady drone of the GS’ flat-twin engine churning out the miles, there is a contentment to be found that is truly unique. Of course, the ironical drawback is that to experience it, means there will be no one to share it with. It’s a study in self-contentment. And you have to be ready for people to not fully appreciate the experience when you try to relate it to others—whether they be motorcyclists or not.

sunset
Riding alone often offers a meditative state. Contemplation is suggested, if not completely unavoidable.Jeff Buchanan

Therefore, you learn to have these solitary moments, hundreds of them, thousands of them each day you choose to ride alone. It can be the sight of wild animals, the glorious altering of appearance of the atmosphere, the colors and scents of the day upon dawning, the transition of the day, and eventual transcending into dusk and then night. The kaleidoscope of natural beauty that unfolds each and every day out on the plains, the deserts, the mountains, regardless if nature has an audience or not. A stunning symphony of colors that plays out for the landscape’s sole visitor.

This is how the days unfolded out for me, with no goals for mileage, no predetermined destination, just go, and end each day wherever I happen to end up. I descended out of the Sierras and across Nevada, thoroughly enjoying the pucker bush barrenness, then meandered back roads into the striking red rocks of Utah, ultimately traversing the lush green and thin air of Colorado.

MORE ON RIDING ALONE

The remainder of the summer was spent tooling around Colorado. This is without question GS territory. It’s as if the GS was designed and engineered in Colorado. The bike fits the state like a glove, the bike’s versatility allowing for enjoyment of the varied terrain, from sportbike savvy two-lane twisties, exploring fireroads and remote single track, to the various highways that connect the visual tapestry of The Centennial State.

scenery
The GS pauses along a stretch of road and scenery that reminds us all why riding can be so rewarding.Jeff Buchanan

As summer waned, introducing a cooling trend, I knew my options would be severely limited if I waited too long for the return trip to California. With new tires fitted and my cold weather underwear under my Rallye Pro II suit, I loaded up the GS (tent, bag, and trusty Bialetti) and headed west out of Colorado Springs. The weather was oddly cooperative and allowed me to take a number of remote mountain passes before the first snows fell. With the cold and ice threatening to alter my planned route, I managed to successfully tie as many back roads and high passes together as possible before those ominous gates are drawn closed by the Rangers and the "CLOSED FOR WINTER" signs were hung. Several Rangers I spoke with said I was lucky, that the roads I was blissfully granted private passage on, would normally be closed by this time of year. Each night I checked the weather of where I'd been that day to see that most suffered snow shortly after I went through, resulting in closures. Colorado, Utah and Nevada were crossed with yet more virgin roads, allowing for new scenery.

The last gamble was when I arrived in Mono Lake. Surprisingly, Highway 108, which winds up into the Sierras through lush forests, past mountain streams, before dropping down into Sonora, was open. I hadn’t been on the road in twenty years. For an ex-motocrosser, to be on the responsive handling GS, the next few hours was one constant adrenaline rush of massaging throttle, brakes and gears in a ballet of corners, with a stunning backdrop of nature (and perhaps only encountering one or two cars).

Big Sur
Heading toward Los Angeles can be bittersweet, but mostly sweet if your approach is along the coast.Alfonse Palaima

The road eventually delivered me into Sonora, where I stopped to refuel and down a Gatorade. At first I wasn’t sure why my face was hurting. Then I realized it was from two hours of constant smiling bordering on laughter. That night I camped in Santa Cruz, after a detour to Lick Observatory in San Jose. By the way, anytime you see an observatory on a map, chances are the road leading to the facility is going to offer some motorcycle friendly riding.

The next day I made my way down old familiar Highway 1 through Carmel, Big Sur and into San Luis Obispo. Then, the run into Los Angeles where I had to begrudgingly return the GS to the BMW press fleet. When I finally shut off the boxer for the last time, I had put some five thousand miles on the machine. The days I'd logged on her, the things we'd experienced together, induced a powerful sentiment. I reluctantly handed over the keys, hoping that she had plenty of road trip experiences ahead for her, delivering an equal array of life-enhancing travels and mediations for her next rider, whomever that may be.