Lexpedition 2016: Best of the Best

Part 4: August 5 – August 7, 2016

Destination: Thermopolis, WY
End of Travel Odometer: 118,127km
Progress Map:
Excitement for the drive between Pagosa Springs and Colorado Springs was tempered significantly by the excessive amounts of rain the fell as we left the hotel this morning. The Million Dollar Highway and the areas leading up to and following It are typically breathtaking and beautiful. I know this because last time we drove through it was amazing and I couldn’t take enough photos trying to capture it. This time it was almost like it was just a road, a windy, wiggly road, but a wet road driving through mountains and valleys filled with fog. There really wasn’t much to see, but the rain did keep you on your toes. Thankfully as you head north along the highway, much of the guardrail-less cliff action happens to the other lane, but there are still a few spots that are a bit unnerving especially given the wet conditions. 
For lunch we stopped at a Pizza Hut in a small town called Montrose, CO. We had been talking about what a great deal the Pizza Hut Joel and I had stopped at was on the first road trip we had done back in 2011 and we all thought it would be a good idea for something quick on our way. This particular Pizza Hut was probably the strangest Pizza Hut I’ve ever been inside. My only guess is that it used to be some small-town no-name pub or Italian restaurant that had been sort of converted to a Pizza Hut. I’m not really sure, but the construction work looked similar to someone’s DIY 70’s developed basement with wood panelling and a things they bought at an old pizza place thrift store. The pizza quality was on par with the building. Not sure what we expected I suppose, at least if we had made it in time for the lunch buffet it would have been a good deal.
Luckily the skies had cleared up a bit by the time we made it to Canon City, CO and we were able to head up Skyline Drive and get a decent view from up there. I didn’t realize it until later in the day that this would deprive us from viewing their local penitentiary of size. Skyline Drive is a very short drive up on the ridge of a mountain that was built as part of a make-work project for the local convicts many moons ago. I reckon they didn’t have a super great time building it, but at least they would have had a pretty great view from up there. It’s a one-way road about the width of a bike path.
Due to the nature of these types of road trips, you can’t always say with 100% certainty where you will end up and so generally speaking I try to book hotels usually a couple of hours from our destination for the night. It’s never really been a big deal, that said I’ve also never done this during peak travel season either. With the exception of the 2011 trip in July, other trips I’ve taken have always been in May or June, and the 2011 trip didn’t really involve hotels anyways. On the way to Colorado Springs it became very apparent that there were not a lot of options for beds. In fact I spent several hours trying to grab one only to lose cell service and have it be gone when I got service back. I did manage to get us a room at the Rodeway Inn. Thankfully no muggings or carjackings occurred that I am aware of during our time here.
We stopped in at the relatively well rated Black Bear Diner for sustenance, Joel had the Western Burger and a disappointingly small portion of onion rings. John had a chicken sausage and some eggs and I had a pretty decent club sandwich with actual turkey. 
One of the bigger concerns after doing some more spirited driving is that the brakes seem to be giving an odd inconsistent pulsation. It happened previously before the trip but disappears after some normal driving. I didn’t think too much of it at the time and it had been fine for a few months before the trip, but it has returned. As the front brakes were new (calipers, rotors, all of it) and I had just replaced the pads only on the rear, I suspected it was most likely due to the combination of new brake pads and old rotors on the rear. Knowing that Pikes Peak was the next drive, I thought long and hard about it and decided it was best to do something about it as it is a very brake intensive way to go. My original plan was to call Lexus of Colorado Springs first thing Saturday morning and see if they had a pair of rotors in stock. They didn’t. 
My next plan was to get the rotors off and machined at a local auto parts store. I didn’t want aftermarket rotors on the car long term and so it didn’t seem worth it to buy them when machining would be $15. This was the start of a very long day. We headed over to the closest O’Reilly Auto Parts store and found the nicest spot in their parking lot. After buying some basic tools I got to work getting the rotors off of the car.
Things escalated, I want to say quickly but really it was hours, from this point. I have bolt-on aluminum hubcentric rear wheel spacers that hadn’t been off of the car in a couple of years and they were not in any mood to get off the car. The store didn’t have a slide hammer or a puller large enough to fit over the studs. I tried a few make shift methods before getting a bit more serious with some jack stands and the persuader. 
What I ultimately found was that there was a large area on the inner brake pad that hadn’t been touched by the original pads on the car and so was rusted. The new pads (same part number, from Lexus) were taller and so were contacting that rusty area. We spent hours waiting for the rotors to be machined and what I ended up getting back were needless to say… suspect, but I was happy to have things done and got the car back together. That was until I drove out of the parking lot. They managed to not have the rotor mounted straight or similar as they clearly had massive runout afterwards. After over 5 hours, I bought some aftermarket rotors. By this point it only took about 30 minutes to change out both sides, but my body was not a happy camper and it was late in the day. We decided to stay in Colorado Springs for another night so we could still hit Pikes Peak. It was closed by the time I got the car back together. And so, after an hour or so of trying we got a motel and headed over to Edelweiss German Restaurant for some much needed food.
Despite being rained on, there was enough sun to turn John into a salty lobster. 
As I said, there were a lot of people in Colorado Springs, and so I suppose it goes without saying that there were a lot of people heading up Pikes Peak. The religious experience we had last year in the Supra was not to be repeated. We were mostly stuck in a long line of, as John would put it, cornerphobes. The views were amazing as expected, but the slow pace and distinct lack of hay bales on the corners dampened our racing spirits. Not only that but the brakes were still giving us grief. I had tried to sand the pads, however it appears the rear pads may have been wearing more unevenly than I noticed and as such it appears it is not making full contact. I suspect a more complete brake inspection and/or overhaul is in order once I get back. Still, it was quite the drive.
For lunch we stopped in at The Bagel Deli in Denver, CO for some matzah ball soup, extremely large sandwiches and some other Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives Jewish favourites. Fantastic stuff, would eat again. Joel had the P-5 pastrami sandwich (on disappointing non-pumpernickel pumpernickel), John had the Triple-D sampler and I had the classic Rueben on marble rye.
Following the unexpected extra day in Colorado Springs, we will be modifying the remainder of the trip and so ended our day in Thermopolis, WY. Due to having to choose between McDonald’s or Pizza Hut, we decided to see if they could make up for the previous failure pizza from a couple of days ago. After messing up the toppings on the first pizza and giving us a second for no charge it was a bit better than the previous experience. Or so we thought, more to come on that.
Day 11 Destination: Butte, MT

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