2003 BMW Rally at Paonia, Colorado
July 18 to 20, 2003
By Joe Tokarz

Ever since our ride to west central Colorado last spring we’ve been looking for a reason to head that way again. Well, the 2003 BMW Rally at Paonia Colorado was just the ticket.

This ride was expected to be a bit different due to the promise of heat and more heat. So Andrew (my youngest son recently relocated from Phoenix) and I each invested in a Cool Vest and mesh pants. He already had a mesh jacket and I, a perforated leather unit. The results of the vest and pants were extraordinary. Both kept us comfortable even in the barren high desert south of Grand Junction.

The plan was to reach Santa Fe the first day and Paonia the second. That worked out fine. No hitches until Santa Fe, when I noticed my Dunlop 220 was nicely squared off with only 2000 miles on the skin. A post mortem on this concluded that the 1300 mile Hill Country trip the week before combined with slightly lower air pressure and my riding style shortened the useful life of the 220. It would get me to Paonia and around the area but not likely to get me home. In the end I got a BT-020 in Grand Junction, expecting more mileage from a touring type tire.

We took 380 to Post and 84 to Clovis, then to Fort Sumner, Santa Rosa then on to Santa Fe. We made it a point to take one of our favorite roads from I-40 to I-25; it’s called NM 3, a great two-lane country road through ranch country. It’s about 30 miles long with nice turns and hills. Half way, is a tiny town called Villanuevo at the bottom of the valley. It’s cool and green down there, with a look of a south of the border town.

Villanuevo, NM

Heading out of Santa Fe the next day up 84, we stopped for pictures at Abuelo NM. The lake there is slowly drying up from lack of rain and snow. It’s down significantly from last year. On to Pagosa Springs, CO, then Rt 160 and Rt 149 to near Gunnison. West on 50 past beautiful and cool looking Blue Mesa Lake. At the dam, Rt 92 presents itself in an unpretentious way but the next 35 miles is the most technical riding we’ll encounter the whole trip. Along the way is Morrow lake and dam. Plenty of twisties on 92. Watch out for critters, I missed a good-sized deer by about a foot. I was getting into a grove but a bit more tired than I realized. There are two decreasing radius turns on 92 and I managed to be surprised by the first one north. I’m lucky there were no southbound traffic and a guardrail if I needed it. A little way up the road, we stopped at a rest area on the mountain to get my heart beating again. We were greeted by a Triumph Trophy rider from South Dallas. He was waiting on some friends, one having problems with his GS. Standing there talking, 3 chipmunks scamper up and one stands up begging for a handout. We tell them to move on because we don’t have food and like they’re fluent in English, drop down on all fours and head for the brush.

Morrow Lake and Dam taken from Route 92

We made it to Paonia by late afternoon and made the Rally rounds. The city goes all out to accommodate the riders and in return they raise some cash for town improvements. The rally was a great cluster of sights and sounds. Beemers, a tent city, live music and dollar beers from the Legion. It don’t get no better than this!

Tent City at the Rally

Saturday, on the advice of Mike Moon, we headed to Grand Junction to get the tire. The area south of GD and west of Grand Mesa is the most inhospitable land around. Not a spec of vegetation, not even rocks. Just ice cream cone colored earth piled up as undulating hills, ravaged by erosion. Did I mention HOT!

We traced the road back to Paonia past the mountain coalmines with a turn around point at Carbondale. The locals say “those that follow the eclectic lifestyle” (hippies) are moving from Carbondale to places like Paonia because the wealthy are making it too expensive to live there.

Back in Paonia that night, the local “eclectic lifestyle” types come out for some fun. Exiting the Victorian dinner place we heard distant jungle drums. We homed in on them to find a group of music lovers swaying to the beat. There were 5 drumbeaters, an old guy in the middle, with 4 young guys. One was doing his best Brad Pitt impression. There were 3 middle-aged ladies dancing like in a trance. Round and round, they went, hands waving in the air. 3 more guys with balding, white and straggly Rasta pony tailed hair, wearing clothes direct from Jimmy Buffett’s island haberdashery. By this time, the flame spitter and his assistant, dressed in velvet and looking like something out of sideshow, were getting their props ready. It was about that time we noticed we were the only visitors in the group so we headed back to our hotel room for a beer.

We left at 6 am for home Sunday with Clovis in our sights. Back to 92 with temperatures hovering at 50. It was COLD until we got past Blue Meas. Back to Gunnison for breakfast and then 285 south to Saguache (Sa-Watch). Stopped to look at a car called Alicia. Like a Picasso, It looked like a production car from one angle but hand made from another. The owner told the story of how his high school music teacher in Ohio, made the car from a ’38 Buick and a bunch of other stuff. He loaded the dash with gauges and named it after his wife Alicia, casting 3 brass medallions with her name and cross symbol.

'38 Buick - "Alicia"

285 then 84 south to Taos and beautiful RT 518 to Las Vegas, NM. Taos has earth ship homes dug into the desert. Self contained and built from old tires and dirt. The short cut to Tucumcari is 107 miles of Rt 104. About 20 east of Las Vegas we stop to decide if we want to challenge the enormous gray and black wall of storm clouds ahead with lightening bolts blasting across it in the distance. We press on but Andrew has to stop. Front tire puncture. See that’s what you get when you try to use good judgment! So we pulled out the RT’s tire plugging kit. With Andrew reading the fine print, replicated in all civilized languages, I do as I’m told; step-by-step while the wind is swirling so strong that we put rocks on the tool bag to keep it from being blown away. No matter, I spit on the patch and it works, the tire holds air. We head back to Las Vegas to fully fill the tire. Now that we’re believers, we pick up some additional patching supplies.

Back on Rt 104, Tucumcari is a welcome sight but the sun has set by the time we reach the Clovis city limits. The bed that night seems extra comfortable.

Monday we headed out for Lucas, TX by way of Littlefield and Brownfield to 380, to home. We made the center of Lucas at about 7 pm. The last leg of the ride had more stops to stretch, drink plenty of water and soak the vests.

We had a great time and learned a lot about 750 and 450 mile days in the saddle. Both bikes had brackets for highway pegs and that addition helped keep my leg joints in usable condition. It’s fun to still be able impress your 27 year old son with simple things; like signaling a passing train to blow the whistle. Or ride hands free at 90mph.

We’re already planning our next rides in the fall; I don’t think heat will be a problem.

Enjoy the ride and Live
Joe Tokarz

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