The Big Trip
As if the trip to Colorado wasn’t already a big trip… I’d ordered some maps before leaving home and had them sent to my friends place ahead of time. These maps by Butler Maps detailed all the objectively and subjectively ‘best’ roads in Colorado. These included both excellent paved roads, to terribly paved but great scenery, to downright awful dirt roads that had spectacular scenery most people would never see. I tried to cover as many of them as possible but I’d only given myself four to five days to do it as I was planning on heading home after completing the ‘big trip’. Had I known I’d be staying another week and a half longer I’d have done this over more time and explored more, but that’s not how it happened. Though, to be honest, being on some of these roads by myself was a little bit scary, far from help…
I left as early as I could manage to wake up on the first day and made my way towards Golden, CO where I would take Clear Creek Canyon Rd to I-70. It was a good start, good pavement and lots of turns made for a fun little ride before hitting the Interstate. I got off the Interstate just after Dumont,CO and followed Alvarado Rd to Georgetown, CO. From Georgetown I took Guanella Pass which followed a creek and powerlines to Geneva Rd and followed that into Grant, CO. Much of Guanella Pass seemed to be above the 3,000-3,300 m mark or on the edge of the tree line and tundra. Along the way there were some rather wide open areas between the mountain tops where a couple of ranches with horses presided.
From Grant, CO I would take US-285 through the mountain plains through Fairway, CO to a little dirt road named boringly US-22. US-22 is the road traverses Weston Pass, the road itself peaks at around 3,600 m over the mountain range and comes out on US-24 south of Leadville, CO. This would be my first and worst mountain pass, at least in terms of road quality. The road starts out like any dirt road I’d seen, relatively smooth and manageable with the occasional washboarding effect you tend to get on these types of roads. As I continued on however everything seemed to get worse and worse, but the scenery better and better. But also, I got further and further from civilization, and that’s saying a lot at this point because even at the start of this road there’s very few ranches and homes around. To make matters worse I only saw three people the entire ride over the mountain ridge, but at least two of them were on motorcycles so I wasn’t the only idiot. Then again, they were riding together, I was the idiot alone without any experience whatsoever.
The ride down the otherside of US-22 and Weston Pass was probably the worst road I experienced on the trip in terms of sheer vibration and bumpiness due to the rocks all over the place and the fact I was going down hill. The V-strom comes equipped with ABS brakes which are great on pavement but less than great on dirt and worse on rocks that you’re bouncing around on. This meant I essentially had no brakes, yes they would do something but very very little, so I used engine braking to do most of the retardation on the bike and this worked out well seeing as I and the bike survived. If I didn’t have the top case with Horo and my camera in it I probably could have gone faster as I was worried about the plastic case breaking off in all the rocks and vibrations. Given the rather weak rating the manufacturer gave the case I’m rather surprised it survived at all to be honest and quite happy it did.
I was super relieved to be done with Weston Pass and back on pavement when I hit US-24. Weston Pass was wonderful, the scenery was great, but being alone in that situation was probably a little bit stupid, and the road was a little bit beyond my poor skills, though as mentioned I did survive without issue, and I’m probably a better rider for it now as well.
I continued down US-24 to Buena Vista where I’d be taking US-306 over some more mountains. However, before that I decided that I was going to try and get a photo of my motorcycle in front of this awesome mountain and lighting that was happening just west of Buena Vista. This turned out to be a mistake, the road I started following was a crappy dirt road (though not as crappy as Weston Pass) and eventually I decided with the weather changing I should get on with my trip and give up on this excursion. At this point I’d stopped and got off the bike and decided to roll it around back in the other direction. Unfortunately due to being on a hill and the weight being on the rear tyre, the front brake (the only accessible brake when off the bike) was next to useless on the gravel and the bike slid away from me, dropping it in the stupidest way. It was then I learned that I can in fact pick up my own motorcycle. I’d been worried this entire time having never had to do it and being alone that I might drop it and be stuck. Especially on these untraveled roads I kept taking. This ended up being a big relief, I laughed it off, found out I can actually lift the bike and that no damage had really been done. Good lesson to have.
After picking it up and getting off the terrible road I hit US-306 and went over Cottonwood Pass which peaked an an elevation of ~4,000 m. This was paved for about half of it and then transitioned to a reasonably well maintained dirt road and was easy enough to travel along. Being a long weekend in the US it meant there were also a decent amount of people on this road, so I felt pretty safe in case something were to happen. Finally, nearing perhaps 7pm I took Horo out of the top case and took a photo of her where the road transitioned. I hadn’t taken her out all day as I kept telling myself I had lots of distance to travel and then Weston Pass was so exhausting. I probably should have taken her out on Weston and rested. Never the less I took her out finally and got a shot.
At the end of Cottonwood Pass there was a reservoir and some nice paved roads, so I stopped again and took Horo out. From this point on however it was torturous. For a while I had these great paved roads and everything was awesome but then … construction. Something that would plague me numerous times on the trip but never like this. Normally when they tear up a road it’s hard packed and easy to ride on. This time there was a pilot truck and he says to me “It might be a little gushy at times but it should be fine.” Yeah… It was a foot thick freshly graded like, gravely mud. That went on for what seemed like miles and miles. As we were following the grader it was slow and I couldn’t ride that slow and maintain the momentum required to stay up. So I stopped, frequently. Then I’d catch up and stop again. I should have taken a photo of the trail behind me, it was easy to tell I was struggling, there wasn’t a single part of it that was straight or where the rear wheel followed the front for more than a couple feet.
Finally quite late I ended up in Gunnison, CO and crashed at a Super 8 or something. I’d intended to camp most of this trip but I was way too exhausted to bother on this night, and figured I’d need the rest for the next day.