Dezso had texted me to see if I was interested in riding another section of Great Divide Trail. I was in the middle of packing for a week-long work trip followed by another week of camping. Needless to say I was quite busy.
“Sure,” I texted back, showing my first lapse in judgment.
“7am at the Conoco in Morrison.”
“Really!? Freak. Make it 8.”
The rising sun and I are rarely on the best of terms, but I had to concede an early departure would mean an early return to packing for my trips. It would be a simple ride up I-70 to Frisco where we’d head north on the trail to Kremmling. I consoled myself that there is a great coffee shop there.
So I strapped on my still banged-up pannier, loaded my tank bag, and filled my jacket and pants with their winter liners (Colorado has become cold in the mornings). It seemed like no time had lapsed from laying my head on my pillow to cursing my alarm at 6:30. But I had my first cup of coffee and was on the road by 7.
As if the cool, dense morning air was the best thing in the world for Aunt Bee, my F 650 GS Beemer, she responded quickly to the throttle and we jumped onto C470. In no time we found Dezso waiting at the gas station. He had already been accosted by a seemingly homeless political pundit ranting about conspiracy theories, so he practically leapt onto his F800GS in order to flee. No place is safe or sacred during an election year.
Although the sun struggled to keep pace, we climbed and dove through mountain passes, dodging slow climbing trucks and avoiding sporty cars intent of getting ahead. We filled up in Frisco, and just north of town we found Ute Pass Rd, riding into the hills. The road was paved up and over the pass due to some industry’s factory that had settled on the backside of the mountains.
But soon enough we hit dirt and had to slow down due to spotty patches of gravel that always sends your front wheel wobbling. We skirted William’s Fork reservoir before hitting pavement again and heading a mile north into Kremmling for a late breakfast and coffee at Big Shooter Coffee. We made quick work of their homemade turnovers and green chile breakfast burritos.
Having satiated our appetites but not our craving for adventure, we headed back down Hwy 9 until we found County Road 1 and followed it westward. By now the sun shone brilliantly and in no time I was ready to remove my winter liners. We stopped by the river, watching rafters drift past, content in their lazy pace and shooting water into each other’s boats.
Just down the road, we turned north on County Highway 11 (A misnomer to be exact as the road was a 1 lane rocky and rutted back road.), heading over the railroad tracks and river, climbing up a smaller track that took us into a high altitude desert of pinion and sage. The road wasn’t near as bad as in New Mexico, but I had to remain alert enough to pick my path through the rutted road. Farther on we hit what used to be a pine forest, but had been mostly clear-cut due to the beetle kill. Cows grazed on either side of the road as calves raced across the road in front of us (why is it always in front of us?) if only to reach the other side.
We reached Hwy 134 without incident and pulled over to discuss the plan. To the left was another portion of the Great Divide Trail that had the deepest water crossing the Trail had to offer. To the right was a comfortable paved road that used modern technology such as bridges to skirt potential disasters.
Dezso, already having once forded this water feature let me decide. Still showing all signs of bad judgment, I chose the water crossing. “If only to look at the stream,” I reasoned to myself.
The road took us through sage covered plains and gently rolling hills that followed a seemingly innocuous stream. That is until it ended at a beaver dam.
What seemed like a pleasant creek crossing (willows wisping in the breeze, gurgling water, 70 degree weather), now turned into fear and trepidation at the leviathan in the proverbial room. Just how deep was that crossing?
When I had arrived Dezso already probed its depths. “It seems shallower today,” he offered. “Why don’t you go and I’ll film you?”
“Like hell,” I counter offered. “Why don’t you go and I’ll film you.”
We settled on that and after picking a line of attack on the downstream edge of the crossing, Dezso got on his bike and I pulled out my camera.
He made it look easy, but I was critical. I saw the submerged rocks rattle his arms, saw his rear wheel slip left and right and saw the silt he kicked up. But he made it through with no problems, looking like he was completely in control the entire time. Safely on the other side, we discussed my options.
I could turn around and meet Dezso on pavement. Or I could just plow through and see what happens. Or I could just nullify this friendship right here and return home, locking the garage door behind me.
“What if I followed this line?” I asked, pointing to the middle of the road.
“Too deep. You’re better off following my path.”
The stream gurgled merrily as if eager for the show it was about to see, and I reviewed the facts: I should be packing. I should’ve gotten up much later than 6:30am on a weekend. I was still skittish from falling in the mud two weeks ago.
“All right, I’ll do it,” I decided, keeping up my streak of bad decisions. Dezso set up his camera to record such an event (I’m pretty sure he wanted to see me take a dip as that would get more reviews on YouTube than me just making it across.) and waded into the water to help me.
Help me somehow.
We didn’t really discuss what “helping me” would entail, but it was enough to know he was there. I mean, what could possibly go wrong? I could lose my bike to the river nymphs. I could drop it and call for a tow back to Denver. I could spend a few hours by the side of the road, clearing water from my cylinder. Or I could just make it through and be proud of such an achievement.
I opted for the latter.
I climbed aboard the S.S. GS and rode down the road in order to have a running start at the crossing. Seriously, why was I doing this!?
I came at it, picking a line that followed Dezso. I could see the river cobbles below the surface, then the dark muddy area that revealed no indication of what was on the bottom. Cold, still water waited.
I hit the water, throwing up a wake from my front wheel. Just past midway the nose took a dip and I sat down in hopes of better stability. The rear wheel slipped left, but I put out a leg to steady the bike. I twisted the throttle and shot forward, amazed that water crested at my knees. The rear wheel slipped right and I now pointed toward Dezso as he yelled, “Go! Go! Go!”
The bike lurched. There was so much water. How was I still upright? Dezso was beside me somehow and I twisted the throttle again, shooting up and out on to dry land. How had that happened? Somehow I had made it! My grand experience of river crossings had been stamping through puddles as a kid, or riding through streams only inches deep.
I picked river debris off my bike. Bits of grass, branches and leaves that were stuck in various places on my bike, making it resemble Luke Skywalker’s X-wing fighter in Degoba Swamp. I poured about a gallon of water from each boot and managed to wring another half-gallon from my socks.
But I felt better. Since wiping out in the mud a couple of weeks ago I still felt a little fearful of going down again. How much more damage could I do to myself and my bike? I know riding in fear is not the answer, and I know building on your skills is. Sure I hadn’t crossed with finesse, but I had managed to stay upright and that is one of the crucial skills of riding a motorcycle.
We pressed on, passing a stagecoach station where we stopped for a few photos. There were a few artifacts across the road: broken glass, pottery, and rusted cans that had been traveler’s meals at some point. A Jeep passed us, heading toward the water crossing and I was tempted to turn around to watch.
Once again we hit pavement at Hwy 134 and discussed our plans. Neither of us wanted to get stuck in traffic on I-70, so I suggested a circuitous route that would take us over Independence Pass. The Colorado River Road that followed (surprise!) the Colorado River would lead us cross-country to Dotsero where it was a simple jump over to Glenwood Springs.
Dezso readily agreed and soon enough we followed the river on thick and thin gravel roads. Other cruising bikes came from the way we headed so we reasoned it couldn’t be that bad. We passed more river runners. Canyon walls closed in and let out, varying from light to dark red rocks dotted with Pinion Pines. Then we were out, entering into Glenwood Canyon on I-70 and stopping for gas in Glenwood Springs.
From here it was a slow ride down Hwy 82, stopping literally at every traffic light between Glenwood and Aspen. But soon enough we passed through Aspen and steadily climbed the narrow road.
Independence Pass is closed during winter and I was reminded why as we rode: a steep drop off into a canyon over what could barely pass as a two lane road that continued for a majority of the ride up. Pull-overs, trail heads and swimming holes offered the only wide spots. Being on bikes, we could squeak by the RVs and trucks, but I couldn’t imagine 2 SUVs meeting along some points of this road.
As we climbed the temperatures cooled, giving us a much-needed respite from the heat. Aspens gave way to Pine and Shrub Oak until we broke out above tree line and crested the pass. By now it was 5pm and we were both sore in the saddle and aching in our shoulders down to our fingers. A nice hike would’ve done us good, but we had to get back home. And that destination was still two hours away. No more dirt roads and passes. We wanted smooth rides from here on out.
We coasted down into Buena Vista, enjoying the view in the valley and observing the other Sunday drivers on the highway. Fortunately for us, most of the traffic drove west and we had our lane to ourselves.
We turned up US 285 which is a straight shot to C470 in Denver. Fortunately we got behind a truck that was intent on making good time staying 5 mph over the speed limit, so we had no desire to pass. Dusk fell and we finally drifted onto the plains, entering C470 and looping around the perimeter of Denver Metro. We ached. Our shoulders ached, our butts ached, and our hands ached. Even my highway pegs weren’t cutting it anymore. But traffic was light and soon we exited the highway, not even a mile from home.
We have nothing fancy for a garage. I’ve always gotten off my bike and walked up the drive to manually raise the door, but I could’ve promised to do the dishes, lawn, and laundry for eternity when I saw my wife had already raised the door so all we had to do was ride in and throw down our kickstands (Fortunately she isn’t aware of this feeling, so we still share the tasks). After 13.5 hours of riding, we were home. Seems like we’re pretty close to attempting the Iron Butt challenge.