It all started with Sebastian de With's epic motorcycle ride up to the top of Alaska and back. It certainly inspired the road trip my girlfriend and I made form Anchorage to Denver in the summer of 2015, and even after that it stuck with me.
Ben and I make a trip every year around memorial day to ... no place in particular. We usually jump into one of our 4WD vehicles and hit the road with only a general direction in mind and no real destination to get to, finding national forest and BLM land, sleeping in tents along the way. Last year we went south to NM and wound our way back up to the front range on the smallest roads we could find, the whole time thinking, "this would be way better on a motorcycle".
So this year we did just that.
There's a little shop in Boulder that rents adventure bikes, and I gave them a call. They were happy to set us up with a couple of BMW R1200GS bikes for a few days, fully equipped with hard cases and everything needed for a long ride to anywhere.
With minimal planning other than "go southwest" I picked up a Butler Map of Colorado, a normal looking map with sections of road highlighted from 1-3 as particularly good for motorcycle riding. Most roads appeared normal, but red highlighted roads were noted as good riding, orange roads were very good riding, and yellow roads were "drop everything, you must ride this" based on how fun the road is to navigate, traffic, scenery, and who knows what else.
We maximized our time on yellow roads if at all possible.
Map in hand we picked up the bikes on Wednesday night to get a few hours of time in the saddle practicing before heading out first thing Thursday morning. Much to our surprise, the bikes handled very well on and off road given their 1200cc size, so any fears of riding we had were put to rest after the first evening going to Lyons and back.
Thursday morning came and we packed up the bikes for the first time and hit the road, heading as fast as we could manage out of the Front Range and on to the less populated areas of the state where traffic would be light and riding would be fun.
It wasn't long before we got on 93 to 285 and on to more desolate roads with fewer vehicles, and soon enough we found our first dirt road of the trip. Along the way we found Florissant Fossil Beds National Monumen just by passing through. There are petrified redwood stumps that defy logic, and a nice display of fossilized plans and bugs. Colorado never ceases to amaze and intrigue by taking the road less traveled!
We made it to Salida where we found some pizza and beer for the evening, and eventually headed in to the hills to find a place to set up camp for night one.
We rode over Monarch Pass and took highway 149 through Lake City and stopped in Creede, CO for a bite to eat at a terrific little BBQ joint. Creede is one of those towns that you have to really want to get to - it's not exactly "on the way" anywhere, so it's a pretty deliberate stop. Also their fire station is in a rock.
Night two we camped outside of South Fork, and of course we saw some amazing stars. I like how we do it, just show up and hope for the best when it comes to camping. We tend to find out of the way spots in National Forest or BLM land. It's often a few miles up a dirt road in the middle of nowhere, but the reward is solitude. We saw no city lights and had zero visitors this, and most, nights.
We got up and hit Wolf Creek Pass first thing, and had breakfast in Pagosa Springs.
Another part of this trip was to stop as often as we could or we wanted. Especially on bikes, it's nice to have a break after riding an hour or two, plus we get to see things like the worthwhile stop at Treasure Falls.
We pushed on to the probably worst part of the drive, in to Durango on highway 160. We were quickly rewarded with highway 550 up to Molas Pass where we saw some other adventure bikers from Mexico headed up to Alaska. There was a bicycle race on that day, but the extra traffic let us ride slow and enjoy the views descending in to Silverton.
We stopped in Silverton to secure beer and pizza and ice cream, all necessary on a motorcycle trip. We elbowed our way around the cyclists and found that the camp spot we stayed at a few years ago with no company had been overrun by fifth wheels and other campers. Not a problem! We found a side road that went up to a fallen tree, which we could just barely sneak under on the bikes, which took us farther than anyone else could go until there was a larger fallen log that dictated our camp for the night. The views were spectacular, and a 10-minute hike yielded better views of a waterfall underneath the surrounding 13ers.
We did get a little precipitation in the form of graupel, but the campfire made it a non-issue, and it passed quickly besides. We both slept under trees with lots of pine needles to soften the ground making for a terrific night's sleep.
We woke up to epic vistas to the south and east, and ice formations on any nearby moving water.
And of course we made coffee, as we did every other morning.
We snuck out back under our tree and continued on 550, the "Million Dollar Highway" in to Ouray.
On the way down we made another stop at a waterfall on the way in to Ouray. Waterfalls are just so cool, especially when they're on the side of a highway with insane drops.
We went through Ouray after breakfast, and on through Montrose and back up to the other side of Blue Mesa Reservoir and then north towards the Black Canyon. I've been to the Black Canyon a couple times, but only ever on the south side where there's a giant visitor center.
The north side is quite different. First off, the stretch of highway 92 from the res up to the canyon is hands down one of the best rides out there. We had zero traffic other than motorcycles, and the views are stunning but pale in comparison to the curves of the road. When it straightens out, there's a few miles of dirt road to get to the 'visitor center' on the north rim of the Black Canyon. There's a campground where climbers were racking gear and poring over climbing books and guides, and another lonely dirt road that led to the edge of the canyon.
Which of course is nutso.
We didn't stick around as the campground was full, so we headed off in search of some dispersed camping elsewhere. We rode toward a neat looking rock in the distance, and wound up on a series of county roads lined with cows and not much else. When the road turned to dirt we worried a bit that we would hit a dead end and have to turn around. Lo and behold, the magical National Forest sign appeared, and we went down close to the river. The camp did not disappoint.
I woke up on the fifth day - my birthday - surprisingly refreshed after a few beers the previous night. Given the fifth day and a distinct lack of showers I ... well, I stank. Following Ben's lead I went down to the river and dropped trou and jumped in. There's a sequence of photos of the event, but this one sums it up pretty well.
We packed up and set up for a long day of riding, being sure to wave goodbye to the cows on the way out.
We had a great breakfast in Hotchkiss and headed up towards Hagerman Pass, not realizing it was closed...
We bumped up to a 15' snowbank and realized quickly that the pass was, indeed, closed. We were just 4 miles from the other side, but an impossible amount of snow lay between us and a road again; not going to happen.
A long day of riding followed, back down, over through Aspen, and up Independence Pass and on to highway 24, where we found a spot to camp along the Arkansas River. Given it was my birthday, Ben bought some real nice steaks and potatoes and asparagus, which we grilled up on some nice coals and cooked to perfection. Washed down with a nice brew and a swig of whiskey, it was about the perfect birthday.
It took six days, but we both woke up ready: time to go home. We took the roundabout way home, up a small repeated section of 285, but then over Guanella Pass to I-70 for a few miles, then on to 6 and 119 to Ben's house.
From there it was home to Longmont to drop off gear, then off to return the bikes.