Birthday on Top of the World, Part Three

Don Giannatti
10 min readJun 1

The following week found me crisscrossing Wyoming and Colorado

Part One Here | Part Two Here

The top of the world… sorta. Beartooth Pass from the summit. Photo by Don Giannatti

The last few days of the ride are always a bit bittersweet.

Living in Phoenix, I find myself heading north for my adventures more than south. There isn’t that much to the south from my house, and there is a whole lot of north up there — and it is about 20 degrees cooler, so that puts it just below scorching in the deserts.

(Being from Phoenix, people like to tell me that it’s a “dry heat”. I smile and say “Yes, it is… but so is a pizza oven.”)

I had my birthday up on Beartooth, rode through the Tetons, and I am heading south toward Craig, CO.

After Craig, I may wander around in the Colorado Rockies a bit before heading down to either Leadville or Buena Vista for my last two days in Colorado.

There was lots of Wyoming to go through, and of course, I had to see the Tetons for the first time.

(I will write about that day — my first ever in Yellowstone — in an upcoming story. What a day that was.)

I ended up going through a bit of Utah, where I found a couple of places to shoot.

Abandoned house, west of Kemmerer, Wyoming. Photo by Don Giannatti

There are lots of incredible places as you go through the high desert under that endless sky. I came around a corner, and right there in the middle of nowhere sits a bright white abandoned building that could have been a church. It was the only thing on the horizon.

Post Office, Dinosaur, Colorado. Photo by Don Giannatti

I entered Colorado at the top left corner (northwest) and began heading down toward Craig. I always spend the night in Craig when I am up here.

First, I like the town.
Second, it is sort of a crossroads for my journeys in all directions.
Third, at least a half dozen great Mexican food places.

Tacos, baby, tacos.

Bedrock Ice Cream, Dinosaur Colorado. Stop in for lovely people and homemade ice cream. Photo by Don Giannatti

Going east from Craig reminds me so much of Wyoming. Small towns and two lanes with lots of straights and a few slow meandering curves.

Then the mountains start to get closer and closer, and you can sense that the hot air is getting tinged with a few cool patches every now and then.

I stopped at a Maverick in Milner to check my oil. Seems the Kawa is going through a quart about every 1000 miles.

And I was right on the money with that stop. I always keep two quarts in the bag for emergencies or for other bikers who may need a bit.

Checking the oil on a big Kawasaki Cruiser is a challenge. It just is.

See, the Kawas have this tiny glass thing that is positioned where you cannot possibly see it while sitting on the bike. So you have to get off and sit — or lay — on the ground to check your oil level.

But there’s more — the bike has to be level, so you have to pull it up to balance while holding the cell phone light just right to see the level while not pulling the entire machine on top of you at the same time.

Brilliant engineering. I always feel a certain exhilaration after checking the oil and not having to call 911.

A young couple in an old Jeep was gassing up at the pump next to me. They noticed me struggling to figure out how to do this nearly impossible task, so they came over and offered to help.

That happens a lot on the road.

The high deserts of Wyoming, Utah, and Colorado all have these long road vistas. Photo by Don Giannatti

I have met so many wonderful people who will stop to make sure I’m OK even if I am just grabbing some water.

When my bike had trouble starting in Leadville earlier in the trip, (a strange, one-off occurrence that still baffles me), a couple of strangers helped me push it off and get it jumped to start.

Friendship is part of the road experience. And that experience drives a certain feeling of camaraderie.

It may be one of the things I like best about being on the road.

Oh, and did I mention the sweet hum of the Cobras and the way the Kawa just lays into the curves? Yeah, that too.

I pulled into the congestion of Steamboat Springs with the goal of finding an O’Reilly’s to grab another quart of oil for backup and had one of those experiences that keeps the adrenaline pumping when traveling on two wheels.

Abandoned house, Colorado. Photo by Don Giannatti

As I was sitting at yet another traffic light (and what is it with all the traffic lights in the wild mountains of Colorado anyway?), I catch a glimpse of silver through the side windows of an old red Ford F150 pickup sitting right next to me at the light.

That big silver thing was going too fast, I thought to myself, so I started to grip the brakes when the lady cut the wheels to make a sharp turn across the lanes and damn near hit me.

I slammed on the brakes and stopped that big machine in a very short time.

She screamed at the surprise of me actually occupying the same space she was planning on gunning her Land Rover through.

I didn’t scream. I was just marveling at how well I handled that sudden emergency stop without dropping the damn bike. I also knew I would think about it later and probably scream then.

This called for something to calm my nerves, and for the second time in two days, I bought ice cream. This time from the ‘Kum and Go’ on the south side of town. I just sat there under a tree and quietly enjoyed whatever it was that I bought. It was a cold, chocolate thingy.

It’s nice to give the bike a rest now and then.

And the nerves

I took the short hop over the mountain on 40 and stayed on those beautiful two-laners that wind through tiny forgotten towns.

Rugged towns.
Hardscrabble towns.
Sad towns.
Towns like Kremmling, and Heeny.

No vacancy because no motel, somewhere in Colorado. Photo by Don Giannatti

I am always surprised by the decay in so many of these small mountain towns. I think they should be gold mines (or at least magnesium or something important). Perhaps I tend to see what they have differently than they do.

The splendor of the environment, the access to wilderness, and the incredible possibilities that are right there in front of them… and yet the infrastructure looks like it has been ignored for decades. And I find that to be a bit sad.

But in the end, it is what it is, and I have to control my judgment and realize that my ‘possibilities’ may not be their reality.

The hum of the road is fascinating as I pass rock walls, open fields, or barriers. The sound changes from a soft but guttural purr to a more hard-pounding metallic sound and it reminds me of a set of drums… brushes or sticks. It all depends on what is next to me as I ride along.

And ride I do — through some amazing curves, breathtaking passes, and eventually along the side of a lake, which instantly cools the air by about ten degrees or so.

Lake and Reflections, Colorado. Photo by Don Giannatti

This is one of the best parts of riding a motorcycle—the feeling that you are actually IN the environment instead of passing through it in an air-conditioned capsule.

Smells, rain, sleet, the changes in temperature that even a cloud can bring, are all a big part of making the ride memorable.

I cross I70 at Silverthorne and take the road to Breckinridge and the back way into Buena Vista. This is the second high-traffic area of the day, but it is not the last.

I make my way to the road that goes over the damn in Frisco (6) and after some more — say it with me — road construction, I get to Breckinridge on a very nice two-lane fun road (9).

Now, THIS is traffic.

Well, more like civilized bumper cars.

Painted Fence, Colorado. Photo by Don Giannatti

Never seen so many BMW SUVs, Land Rovers, and convertibles in one area. (Kinda reminded me of Palm Beach with a Bently in every other lane.)

All of them were hunting and vying for one of the most endangered species in the area — a parking spot.

I met an angry Karen there.

I was sitting at a traffic light with my helmet glass in the up position for a bit more air.

An attractive middle-aged woman with a very nice suit and sensible shoes walks over to me on the bike and shouts, “Put your fucking mask on, asshole.”

Sweet, this gal is.

I really had no words for her, so I just smiled. This seems to infuriate her even more. Her husband pulled her away, and I just kept on riding.


Where I wanted to go. I know she doesn’t ride a motorcycle, so she couldn’t understand.

No one with that much baggage could ride a motorcycle. No way.

This is a new road for me; it is the first time I have ridden any of it. And it is going to be one I ride again. Wonderful twisties, a great high pass, and enough glorious views to keep me stopping at every possible photo location.

After a few miles, we begin to climb to the top of Hoosier Pass. 11,539 feet above sea level. And a fantastic view of the 14’s as well as a whole passel of peaks far above timberline and far above my head in every direction. Spectacular!

The view west from Hoosier Pass, Colorado. Photo by Don Giannatti

I stopped at a tiny town along the road, Alma. Old, historical, more culture than Breckinridge, and an awesome little bakery. I got a few bakery items for later in the afternoon but made sure they were keto, non-fattening, no sugar, no carbs, and less than 12 calories. Combined.

At least that is what I think she said… The masks make it sort of unclear sometimes, you know.

A few more miles, and a bunch of twisties with extreme elevation, and I get to the top of Hoosier Pass. 11,539 feet above the sands of La Jolla Beach, the views on both sides are spectacular. Surrounded by even higher peaks all around, there is such an awe to the place that it takes on a whole new meaning for getting out of your comfort zone.

Aspens at the top of Hoosier Pass, Colorado. Photo by Don Giannatti

There are hiking trails on both sides of the road, so I get everything battened down as best I can. Then I head out for an hour or so trek to the edge of the mountain I see on the north side. I am, of course, forgetting once again that I live at 600 feet above sea level, you know, where there is air, and I am now at 11,000 plus where there is not.

Well, not much anyway.

I keep doing this thing… I need to stop. Or live up there and get acclimated.

“Yeah”, I think, “that’s the ticket right there.”

The Kawa is purring now as we head down the west side of the mountain toward the valley and Buena Vista. I don’t know why, but it seems like the motor just loves 60 miles per hour in the mountains of Colorado.

Reflections in the window of a store in Alma, Colorado. Photo by Don Giannatti

I think it also loves 60 MPH in Wyoming and Nevada, now that I think about it. Perhaps it is just me and my love of the motor when the bike seems to glide almost effortlessly over the asphalt.

Buena Vista is a small town at the base of a huge range of mountains over 14,000 feet. The Fourteens, as they are called. They are named after universities. Mount Harvard, Mount Princeton, and such. I don’t care what they are named, I just like looking at them.

I'm down for the night after answering about 20 emails. Riding is one thing, answering emails is another.

But it was my idea to work until I am a hundred years old, so I bite the bullet and just do it.

The next morning I will go over Cottonwood Pass for the second time this trip, but this time from east to west.

Oh, and I found some pretty good tacos in Buena Vista, so, you know, that’s a win.

Note: The photographs in this article were shot in color and converted to sepia monochrome, which is as close to my analog prints as I can get with digital.

Photo of the author taken by his lovely wife, Marian.

I’m Don Giannatti; photographer, designer, writer, and mentor.

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Don Giannatti

Designer. Photographer. Author. Entrepreneur: Loving life at 100MPH. I love designing, making photographs and writing.