Cross Country Motorcycle Trip on The Yamaha Tenere 700
Not long after getting my hands on a hard to find Yamaha Tenere 700, my mind began to wander off, considering all the possibilities as to where I could take off to and put this bike through its paces. Living in Pennsylvania, when you purchase a motorcycle at the end of September, your riding duration for the remainder of the year is limited. My goal was to chew through the 600 mile break in period prior to the end of the year, change the oil, and have the bike ready to be flogged at will come early spring. As winter approached, I began to settle in on the decision to go explore what Colorado has to offer, and also use this as an opportunity to see catch up with a long time friend in Fort Collins.
Now I needed to convince at least one other person to tag along. Acceptance criteria:
1) They needed to have a motorcycle
2) Must be adventurous
3) Can take 2 weeks off of work
4) Likes to suffer
My buddy brad was an obvious choice, meeting the top three requirements while the fourth was yet to be determined once we were on the road. He'd be tagging along on an Indian FTR1200. It was an R title crash rebuild bike. It was still in pieces at the time, scattered across a dirty garage floor, yet to be titled, insured, inspected, or even started.
The planning phase was tedious, but actually fairly enjoyable. The amount of options on routes to and from our end destination, combined with must see sights in Colorado was almost endless. The first line of business was to determine our route from PA to CO. Highways are nice for getting from one place to another in a short period of time, but they're as boring as it gets when you're on a bike that prefers the path less traveled. I decided that interstates were to be avoided at all costs, favoring back roads that would take us through some interesting places, and give us a taste of what life in the middle of the country is actually like. Avoiding highways exclusively was not at all practical if we wanted to get to Colorado in any acceptable period of time, so I chose 2 lane highways only when required. Sleeping arrangements would be hammocks only, rain or shine. The Plan was, we would leave on a Sunday morning and be on the road for 2.5days, arriving in Colorado Springs, CO on Tuesday afternoon. We'd spend 5 days touring around the state before arriving in Fort Collins, where we'd spend 2 days catching up with our friend before heading back.
Before we could go anywhere though, we needed some gear for the bikes, and also some tires. Without writing a two hour long dissertation on luggage, supplies, tires, and clothing selection decisions, here's the quick summary of what I ended up with on the Tenere.
Kriega OS-Base with two OS-18 liter adventure side bags, one US-30 drypack on the passenger seat, and one OS-12 liter adventure pack on top of the US-30 just for extra room if needed (It was kept empty when we left, but was full when we returned).
I'm cheap and also wanted to run the Tenere on some rugged off-road trails in the San Juan Mountains once we were there, but I also needed the tires to not melt away like butter when buzzing at 80MPH for days on end. I chose the Shinko Big Block 804/805 combo. Reasoning was reports of good tire wear (4-5K+ miles), aggressive knobs, availability, and low cost.
I wanted to go super minimalist. I packed one pair of jeans, one pair of quick drying hiking pants, a few pairs of socks, 2 T-shirts, 2 long sleeve shirts, and two wool sweaters. Boots were redwing Irish setters, and gloves were alpine stars three season gloves on clearance that I grabbed somewhere. I also packed a cold weather set of gloves, also Alpine Stars. I had a 15+ year old motorcycle jacket with a wind breaker liner (no thermal). I purchased a set of dedicated riding pants that did have a thermal liner, but I never ended up using the liner.
Tools to change a tire, spare tubes, Allen wrenches, an adjustable wrench, some pliers, fuses, zip ties, safety wire, camping gear, small pocket rocket gas stove with a pot to boil water, and a tin cup to drink some wine.
We ran with a used set of Cardo Freecom 4+ head sets that I bought off of someone on the internet. These were a life saver and allowed us to not only talk to each other and listen to music, but also allowed me to talk to my wife and kids via Bluetooth to my phone, all via voice command.
The winter dragged on, which gave me plenty of time to meticulously plan each point of interest that we wanted to stop and check out, along with places we could likely camp along the way. We set a date and took our vacation time. We would leave on May 22nd 2022 and return somewhere around Friday June 10th. Eventually, May finally came. Final fits and adjustments were made, along with a last minute tire and oil change.
We leave at 7AM on Sunday morning (1hr later than I had planned due to Brad being not as prepared as he could have been). We are expecting the round trip to take just about 4,500miles. We make it over the boarder into Ohio, when I have an oh shit moment. Twenty five miles into the trip, we round a bend and I feel like my wheel is about to fall off. I radio back to Brad and tell him I think I may have forgotten to tighten my rear axle nut the night before when we changed tires. He looks closer and tell me my wheel looks fine, but my tire's flat. We pull over and spend the next 45minutes pulling the rear tire off that I just spend the night before installing and meticulously balancing.
A small screw was stuck between the lugs. It had bent and turned into a fishing hook shape, spinning around every wheel revolution and shredding the inside of my tube. Boy was I glad I didn't just bring a tube patch kit. I was concerned though that I was going to have to run for a while now without any spare tube. We marked the tire before removing it from the rim, so balancing was not an issue. We were able to re-install without too much trouble, and we were quickly on our way again. We passed a hand painted sign somewhere in the middle of nowhere that said "5G KILLS". We spend then next hour discussing electromagnetic radiation and eying every cellphone tower with scrutiny. We forgot to discuss the fact that we had bluetooth headsets on, just obliterating our DNA as we spoke :).
We eventually make it to the western boarder of Indiana and a very boring, flat, and eye opening ride. I want to camp in a ditch somewhere, while brad's crippled from riding and wants somewhere nicer. We settle on staying at some random KOA campground and pay to hang two hammocks between trees. Brad's never slept in a hammock before, and has no tent or even a tarp as a backup plan. We build a fire and relax for the night. Brad decides that he cannot sleep in a hammock due to his back, so he decides that the best thing he could do is just sleep on the ground, abandoning the hammock. I ask what he's going to do the rest of the trip and he tells me "he'll figure it out". The suffering had already begun, and it was day 1. I head to bed with his sleeping situation looking like this:
I wake up in the morning to him snoring in his hammock, seeming to be sleeping just fine. He complains once more, and tells me the ground was worse. We spark a flame to heat up some cans of soup we bought at a grocery store the night before. I felt free and excited that we had no obligations and were in complete control of our destiny for the next two weeks. I kept thinking to myself how I couldn't believe how many days of my life I had spent in an office, working like a rat, now to be free on the open road, doing whatever we damn well pleased.
The ride through the rest of Indiana and through Illinois was a blur. We had never seen such vast flatness in our lives, and the cross wind was relentless. You could literally see the curvature of the earth as you peered off into the farm fields. We were stuck behind a windmill blade on a truck being escorted by police at 45MPH for a good half hour. Right before we lost our minds, the truck made a turn and we regained our sanity.
Seeing how other people were living out in the mid-west, and the environments these kids were growing up in sparked up some engaging philosophical discussions between the two of us about life, governments, societies, and the list went on. Eventually we cut the discussion short when our throats got dry enough and we decided to pull over for some local food in Quincy Illinois, just shy of the Missouri boarder. We had a quick discussion with a fellow biker, and he encourages us to follow him on his way back to Missouri as we were heading that way anyways. He recommended a place that we could take a break at and relax for a while. We stopped when we got to Mark Twain Lake at his suggestion. It was a bit out of the way by 10miles or so south of our route, but took him up on it anyways. It ended up being one of those lakes that you can only look at, and if you want to get close to it, you'll have to hike down a half mile of jagged rock. We hiked down anyways until we got to a snake. We decided to stop here, take in the scenery, eat a snack, among other things.
Back on the road again, I keep reiterating to Brad that we're behind schedule and need to really push it this evening to make it as close to Kansas as we can get. Brad doesn't like to rush anything and would rather take two weeks getting to Colorado than follow my schedule. It's a philosophy on life that I admired, but still fought against. I became less rigid as the trip went on, and would bend to Brad's demands to slow it down and go with the flow, but this early in the trip I was dead set on making it to Colorado by Tuesday afternoon. It was now Monday evening, and we were wondering down back country roads still headed west, but swinging out heads left and right in search of a place to build a hobo camp for the night. This was my kind of camping, and I could tell Brad was getting nervous. I take the Tenere on a scouting expedition, looking at different wooded areas from various vantage points, making sure we were completely out of sight from roadways, but more importantly farmers' houses. I find the "perfect" spot, it's one of those places you would camp out in if you were on the run from the law. It was a 1/4 mile through a desolate field to arrive at a small sliver of woods that joined two gigantic agricultural operations. It took some convincing, but Brad eventually caved and we set up camp. I check the weather. It's supposed to start raining at 7am in the morning. I decide to set up tarps over our hammocks and find a way to fit the bikes under there as well.
Brad's Indian has a dashboard that was silicon sealed back together, and stopped functioning a week prior when it sat out in the rain, so he was cautious. We decide based on how isolated we were and somewhat unsure of our surrounding proximity to anyone that could possibly see us, that we would forego building a fire, and instead just sit there and drink a bottle of wine that we purchased at the gas station where we last filled up. I had a half eaten bag of cashews in my pocket and a chocolate bar. It was a romantic evening, just the kind of place you'd take a pretty girl on a date.
We were finally relaxed and almost deciding to call it a night and head to bed when we were inundated with coyotes. They had us surrounded, and we could hear them walking and running all around us. They're howling so close that it's loud enough that we have to talk above a whisper to hear each other. Brad uses what little internet service we have access to to do a quick google search of the number of people killed per year by coyotes in Missouri. I laugh at his concern, as we both grew up camping in the woods our whole lives. I think we were both feeling a bit vulnerable though as we were a thousand miles from home, and were sleeping inside of what amounts to no more durable than a thick paper bag. The search query for number of annual deaths by coyote in Missouri comes back as to indicate that there have only been two total confirmed cases of coyotes killing people in the entire country ever. We went to sleep after that to the howling of coyotes as our lullaby.
I wake up in the morning not to my alarm, but to an insane wind that is surely bringing the rain that was forecasted to begin at 7am. I yell over to Brad that we should get our asses up and eat something so that we have time to pack everything up and get on the road before our gear is soaked. I check the weather forecast one last time. The radar looks really bad. Basically we will be riding directly through a gigantic rain storm for the entire state of Kansas, all the way to Colorado. We don't really want to each soup again for breakfast, and don't want to waste time boiling water to make oat meal. We'll eat somewhere on the road.
We ride for a few hours before it starts pouring down rain. It's 10am, and brad's "rain proof" jacket that he borrowed from a friend is leaking badly, and he's soaked. We decide to find a place to stop and eat while we collect our thoughts on a plan of attack. We talk about how it would be awesome to find an old school diner to eat at. Not 10 minutes later, we pass a diner and pull in. We hadn't passed a diner the entire trip, so it's a serious coincidence. It's one of those polished stainless steel places, and smells amazing inside. We pull off all of our gear inside and sit down, trying to come up with a collectively agreed upon plan. Brad's dead set on staying at the diner all day and doing anything that avoids going back into the rain. I tell him we have to stay on schedule and get to Colorado tonight. We start to really but heads. His jacket is not working and I convince him that if we go to the Walmart a couple miles down the road that I will personally buy him a nice rain proof jacket that he can wear underneath of this riding jacket. After we stop shivering, we order food. We stuff ourselves with eggs and potatoes, then hit the road. We pick up the rain gear required to get Brad back in the saddle and head west. Eventually, no matter how rain proof our gear was, we began to get soaked, all the way though our layers. We were getting cold. Just after a fuel fill up somewhere in Kansas, I look up ahead to see a police truck whip off the road headed in our direction. He's pulling out a radar gun and I radio back to tell Brad to slow down that there's a cop. It's too late and he comes flying up behind me on his bike at well past 20mph over the speed limit in a 35mph zone. The lights come on and I assume I'm the one getting pulled over, but it ends up being Brad. To make a long story short (and it's pretty long), we sat in the rain on the side of the road for 45minutes while brad convinces this police officer to let us go. Meanwhile brad has no motorcycle license, registration, insurance, or even title for this bike. It's as good as stolen. He pulls a hail marry, and somehow weasels a way out of the situation with only a fine for driving without a license. He ends up getting insurance on the bike on the fly on the side of the road (well he doesn't, but someone he knows does, and they send him an insurance card to show the cop). He police officers feels so bad for us in this downpour that he invites us into his truck while this all gets sorted out. I think to myself there's no way in hell I'm getting into this cop car with Brad. The officer tells us we're headed into one of the biggest storm's he's seen in a long time in Kansas and that he's going to let us go now that he' been shown proof of insurance. He warns us to be careful as the storm is serious. Brad and I head off talking back and forth to ourselves on the head sets that we got really lucky and now we're screwed because all of the time we spent getting out in front of the storm was burned up sitting on the side of the road, and now we're going to go straight into the storm. Brad wants to head north and avoid the storm by taking a 50mile detour. We're already behind and have a long way to go, and besides, we're already soaked. I tell him let's just push through. He agrees, and we stop for an additional fuel fill up. We wait at the gas station for 20minutes while a train passes through and blocks the only right of way in the direction that we need to go. As the day drags on, the rain never lets up, but the temperature begins to drop, now soaked through all of our clothing, it drops down to the mid 50's, and traveling at 70mph in the flat twilight zone of Kansas we start to become more and more delirious. Eventually, after an hour of no communication, we decide to pull into a large truck stop gas station to warm up and grab something to eat, plus we were about out of gas.
We spend two hours sitting at the gas station drying all of our clothing out on the hand dryer in the bathroom. All of our gear was soaked, just draped over every chair and vertical object we could find. I finally broke down and paid $5 for a cheeseburger that looked like it had been laying out all day on a cold metal tray under a dimly lit light. I'd been eyeing it up for an hour as I shivered. It tasked amazing, and it was just the right amount of energy I needed to keep going. We had an unknown amount of time remaining until Colorado. We never even bothered to check the time or the distances at this point. The rain began to lighten up, and we both decided it was time to move on. At this point we were committed. We would accept nothing other than a Colorado arrival by the end of the day (or night as it turned out). The cold rain is sobering as we pick up speed, knowing we have a long way to go. Our mood turns surprisingly positive even as the rain begins to pick back up. We were beginning to poke fun at our situation and began discussing how idiotic we were that we had not decided to just pack the bikes up in a van and just drive out to Colorado. It was too late for that, and this was where requirement #4 on my list of acceptance criteria began to really shine. We were committed, and at this point laughing out loud on the radios back and forth about our voluntary suffering. We hadn't made a single turn that wasn't 90° in over 500 miles. We had tunnel vision, just staring at the straight lines ahead. As the day went on, it was just rinse and repeat of getting gas every 120miles or so, then hauling ass down a desolate back country farm road to the next gas station 120miles later. We were in a rhythm. Eventually, we make it to a quite sketchy looking gas station in the middle of nowhere. We need gas badly (well Brad did, I had probably 50 more miles before I ran out). The pumps have no credit card payment, and so I walk without bending my knees to the entrance of the building. There are big glass windows on the front, and there were two cars parked far off to the one side. There was surely someone in there. I press my helmet to the glass and look inside. The helmet is chattering against the glass as I shiver. I can see clearly inside, and it's not what I expected to see. What was visible to me was easily over 300 pigeons flying around inside of this desolate gas station. There were without exaggeration probably 100 pigeons dead, just rotting on the floor. I turned around and told Brad he had to see this. I told him about the pigeons and he told me we need to get the fuck out of this place and find some gas before whoever lives inside of there comes out and feeds us to these birds. I agreed and we burned that last bit of gas we had making it to the next "town", which was really just a huge grain mill surrounded by maybe 5 houses, but there was gas there. We were honestly really cold at this point. I was shaking so violently that I was questioning whether this was a good idea to continue or not at 70mph through the rain on two wheels given our mental and physical state. It only got worse as we went. The rain began to taper off, and for the most part recede entirely. The temperature just got lower and lower. We crossed the boarder into Colorado at 10pm that night with the outside air temperature on my bike showing 38°F. I was numb, alternating my hands down onto the engine cases to keep them from icing up. I couldn't believe brad was still alive. He had no windscreen, boots with holes in them, a jacket that was not rain proof, and poor blood circulation to all extremities due to countless crashes on a sport bike and roofing accidents. Just as we were getting excited that we were finally in Colorado and the night from hell was almost over, Brad runs out of gas at 11:30pm on the side of a highway about ten miles from Colorado Springs. We strategize over the radios as to what to do. We have no spares, and our brains aren't working due to hypothermia. We decide I'll push him, so I ride to his right with my left leg out, pushing against his right side saddle bag. I tell him we're both going to be run over by a truck as 18 wheelers fly past us at 80mph, while we're doing 30mph in the dark on the median. I'm laughing at the idiocy of our situation. I have one leg out pushing his bike and one hand on my GPS typing in "gas station". We find one five miles away, just in time prior to my leg collapsing from exhaustion. We ride to the closest motel we could find. I couldn't even sign my name on the paper to rent the room, just drawing a line instead. Inside, we spread out all of our clothes and gear to dry out. There's a hair dryer hard wired into the wall, which we run on high for 8 hours straight all night long blasting hot air into our boots, helmets, and jackets. Sleeping bags were hung against the heating unit. We fall asleep within an hour of getting to the motel.
In the morning we awake to a different world. It's sunny, dry, and we finally get our first glimpse of the rocky mountains in the back drop. After the hell we were through, I agreed to take it slow today and not rush out of here. I grabbed a spare rear tube to replace the one I had used in Ohio. We lubed our chains, ate some food and headed to pikes peak.
The ride to pikes peak was wonderful. Nice warm air, and plenty of sights to see. It's May 26th 2022 and there was a snow storm a week prior to us heading out here. The peak of Pikes Peak was impassable and we were
only able to make 80% of the trip up before we hit a wall of snow. This ended up being our peak for the trip, just shy of the true top. Plenty of snow up here, and signs of people skiing.
It was time to grab some BBQ for lunch at a place we saw on the way up and relax. From here we headed south, traveling on route 67/61 into Cripple Creek. This town was a quick pass through but had some serious mining vibes. It sat on a hill and was the kind of place to grab a shot of whisky and keep rolling. We decided to keep rolling and forego the whisky. We were looking for Phantom Canyon Road, hoping that the snow was not too bad and that we could make our way down. This road was on my list of destinations and I really wanted to see what it was about. Before turning onto Phantom Canyon there's a bunch of old mining equipment that we passed.
Phantom Canyon turned out to be an amazing 25MPH stroll down out of the high elevation. It was a long twisty scenic dirt road with tons of washboard sections and no lack of things to gawk at.
We stop for a quick break and enjoy some amazing scenery. It was the perfect place to hang out, drink some water and grab a quick bite of something.
Near the bottom, we cam into a section requiring us to pass through an old blasted out tunnel that was no doubt once used for mining access. We did see a few old abandoned mine shafts along the mountain sides. I was sure there were plenty of interested places to explore here if you had the time.
We had plenty of time, but decided to use it to find a place to camp for the evening. Our end destination for the night was Canyon City, and it wasn't far down the road. Phantom Canyon spit us out in a beautiful scenic vista as the sun began to set. We decided to grab some food and settled on heading to this Mexican place we spotted in town called Old Mission Cocina Cantina. There wasn't a single Mexican in the place, not even cooking the food. We were hungry though and the food was warm and the drinks were cold. We asked around for suggestions on a place to camp for the night and were given a history lesson on the names and locations of all of the canyons along with the pros and cons of each. We grab some alcohol at a local spirits store and get a safety warning about people being killed in the canyons, along with how dangerous the town is in general. We come to find out that there is a super max prison right on the western side of town and that El Chapo and the Unabomber currently call this place home. We settle on staying up Red Canyon Road, and wind our way up this canyon to a place called Sand Gulch Campground. It was perfect, and had great views and trees for the hammocks. We weren't very picky really. I set up along a rock cliff that overlooks a valley. It was basically perfect.
We sip some whiskey as the sun sets, trying to not fall into the 100ft+ cavern below.
In the morning we feel great. We cook some breakfast (heat up some cans of soup), slug some water (the air is dry as hell out here), then make a plan for where we go from here.
Destination for today (Thursday) is Pagosa Springs, but we have a few destination along the way. We have a lot to fit in today so tell Brad that we need to get our shit packed up and hit the road. We had a great ride out of the canyons, then started to head south. We took dirt roads for far too long, which really slowed us down, but the solitude was worth it. Road 143 took us to 96, then to 165. These were some really fun twisty roads that has us pushing our luck. Eventually we come over a rise to our first destination of the day, Bishops Castle.
It exceeded our expectations, and both us being mechanically inclined people, we were blown away at the work that went into this place. Quick summary of this place. In 1969 a man moved to this plot of land. He wanted to build a castle for his wife. Every stone and welded structural member was done by hand by himself or someone in his family. Eventually his wife died of cancer, and the castle had never been completed. As of 2022 this man was in his early eighties living in a small trailer on the property. To this day, it's a continual on-going project that is now under the supervision of his son. The work that went into this was hard to fully grasp. The front entrance is an ornate stairway that leads to a spiraled balcony.
Inside there is an amazingly large primary room with stained glass windows and vaulted ceilings all made of hand welded trusses and cedar wood.
Also inside were multiple spiral staircases leading to the tops of the castle. The view from one of the staircases was both amazing and what I would call sketchy.
If you're even remotely considering taking a trip to see this place, just do yourself a favor and do it. You will not be disappointed.
After saying "wow" too many times to count, we had to get moving along to our next destination. We were heading to Great Sand Dunes National Park. This is when we had our first real issue with fuel. Bishops castle is in a very remote area, fairly devoid of any real infrastructure. Brad's FTR1200 would never make it to the next gas station if we stayed on our original course. We decided to take a back country dirt road that would take us to the closes possible town that wasn't completely out of the way. We took CO-78 to Buelah Valley and finally coasted in on fumes to a small gas station (38°04'30.1"N 104°59'11.5"W). We were really hoping for some sandwiches or something, but settled for a bag of cashews and a candy bar before high tailing it to the sand dunes.
We decided that we'd get as close as you can without having to pay because we spent so much time on our fuel detour, we never truly stepped foot on the dunes. They were impressively large though, and it's a destination for another day at this point.
We had to make it to Pagosa Springs before it was too late to find a place to eat/sleep. Luckily the roads from here to our destination were very conducive to speed. We took advantage and were burning through fuel like never before. We stopped along the way to grab some amazing road side food for an early dinner/late lunch. Roadside stuff our here is next level above eat coast road side food. Eventually we made it into Pagosa Springs, which was evident by the pungent smell of sulfur in the air. Everywhere we looked there were people basking in pools of water. We parked the bikes and made a direct line to the nearest place that we could grab a beer. Bars were the places we typically figured out where the hell we were going to camp every night. We struck up a conversation with a number of people. One of which suggested we camp on top of a high ridge off of Mill Creek Road. It sounded sketchy enough for us, so we decided on that. Before we set up camp, we had a couple of hours to kill, so we asked for some suggestions. We looked fairly ratty and didn't want to have to pay for anything, but really wanted to experience a hot spring. We were pointed in the direction of a spot known locally as the "hippy dip". I thought it sounded right up our alley, so we grabbed a few beers and then scoped it out. It lived up to its name as there were no shortage of characters there, all swapping stories of drifting around the country, but who were we to judge, we were doing the exact same thing, only lamer than some of these guys based on their stories. Two of the younger people there just were passing through on an undefined duration trip hiking up from New Mexico. They didn't even know each other and just met somewhere on the trail, but decided to stick together and hike to who knows where from here. Mill Creek Road was on our minds as we watched the sun get lower. We put some pants back on and swung our legs back over the bikes. I was looking forward to a nice relaxing night. We spend probably a half hour roaming around on a large hillside that overlooked the valley below, searching for the ideal spot. We were very much on deer trails half of the time, which we soon found out were actually Elk trails after we came up on a heard of them in the middle of a clearing.
This looked like a perfect spot. We stopped here and set up camp.
Over a bottle of Jamison and wine we reminisced about the trip so far, and discussed how we still had so much left to get through. It was amazing that we were so far from home and were able to live like hermit crabs, carrying all that we needed on our backs. I was convinced at this point that seeing the country was best accomplished when on two wheels and with good company. I kept thinking to myself that if I didn't have two kids, a dog, a wife, a house, and a stable job, among other things back home, that I could perpetually do this for a LONG time. It was my kind of living; simple, independent, outdoors, full of challenges to solve, and with interesting things to see and do. It really matched my soul, and I felt so thankful for the opportunity to be able to do something like this. The backdrop to all of this reflection could not have been better.
We lit a very small fire and passed the time. It was dry, windy, and we were up on a ridgetop that was an optimal tinder pile.
The night was perfectly cool and optimal for a great night's sleep. In the morning, we awoke to amazing views and clear mountain air. Packing up was so routine at this point that it took no time at all, except for Brad's issue with stashing a half bottle of Jamison and a bag of wine. Many miles later, we would lose both in a shattered mess. Luckily for us we were headed into the mining towns from here, and whisky would be plentiful.
Destination for today (Friday) was Silverton and most likely Ouray. Today would be likely the most picturesque riding we would do on the entire trip once we hit Durango and hopped onto highway 550. The ride to Durango was short, but came with spectacular views. We briefly stopped to admire Chimney Rock on the side of the road, which could be seen high up on a hill top (far right side of picture).
We decided it wasn't worth $25 to go and hike up to it, so I snapped some pictures, then continued on. My GoPro had died at this point (permanently). I was unable to get any pictures while moving on the bike, which was a shame as we were headed from Durango to Ouray in a dreamland for motorcycles. The following were some highlights along the way to Silverton.
The windy road down into Silverton was keeping us on our toes, trying not to slide into a forever deep canyon, never to be seen again as we carved up these roads that were just made to be taken at high speeds while hanging off of the sides of the bike. Eventually Silverton was in sight, and as soon as we hit town, I knew this was a special place.
It was the kind of town that you couldn't tell what year it was by looking around. It was surely the most rugged town we had been to yet, just sitting in a gigantic rock bowl surrounded by mountains and abandoned mining operations. A train whistle blew and we watched an old steam locomotive roll past, just echoing through the hillsides down a valley. As we walked into the closest bar, we could tell we were somewhere special.
It wasn't a bar really, but surely a bona fide old western town saloon. No beers on tap, whisky and wine plentiful, and the food tasted amazing after being on the road this long. I knew what Silverton had to offer and was itching to explore. This was the point on the trip where the differenced between out choice of motorcycle to take on this trip really started to become evident. I was set on taking the most rugged picturesque goat trails I could find, while brad's FTR1200 was best left on smooth roadways, which some dirt here and there. We agreed that we would see how far up the road we could get before it became too rugged for the Indian. We set out towards Animas Forks on a road that had no shortage of amazing view. I felt like I should have been on a horse, and kept imaging what it was like to have been living out here a couple hundred years ago.
Eventually, I stop for a bathroom break while brad decides to go up ahead for me to eventually catch up to him. I never do catch up to him after many miles of rough and impassible roads for his Indian. I figure he must have turned around and headed back to the saloon. He was ready for a break anyways as his bike was not treating his body well, and wasn't going to partake in the trails anyways.
The further I went, the more certain Brad had gone back to town and I was on my own. Unfortunately we had no cell phone service and I wasn't going to turn back and burn a half hr going backwards, so I selfishly pushed onward solo as the road became narrower and narrower.
Eventually I made it to the abandoned mining town of Animas Forks, sitting at 11,200ft in elevation.
Animas Forks lead me to Engineer's Pass. I was in some seriously remote areas riding solo, which I had to keep in mind, but as always I pushed the limit knowing this was my only time to experience this, along with my ego telling me how good of an off road rider I am.
It was amazing to have all of the gear needed for a two week trip strapped to the bike and still be able to run some rugged terrain. Not that I needed any more proof that the Tenere 700 was an amazingly optimal choice for me, but this sealed the deal.
As I climbed higher, there were serious amounts of snow, and it was the end of May. The one section had to have been at least 8ft thick where they just bulldozed through.
This was an area to be cautious as it was muddy, rocky, and a LONG way down.
At this point I was committed to taking Engineer's pass all the way to Ouray, which was a two hour trip off road through some amazing back country. I figured I would call Brad once I had cell service in Ouray. Many miles later, and with a few really memorable moments I eventually pop out onto Highway 550 and wind down the mountains with Ouray in sight.
The sights from here are spectacular. Eventually I remember I need to get a hold of Brad, who's probably fairly pissed off at this point must hopefully mellowed out by the whiskey.
It's 45 minutes later before I hear a call or text reply back. He's still in Silverton and will take 550 up to Ouray. I hang out at a brewery as I wait and grab some food and swap stories with a guy that clues me into some suggested places to stay for the night, which turned out to be yet again an ideal spot. His suggestion was to head back up 550 for a mile and make a left around a hair pin turn that will lead you to a really rugged trail eventually spitting you out at the Amphitheater. Brad eventually shows up with a smile on his face telling me that he just rode the most amazing road of his life and that I missed out. I felt somewhat jealous, but I honestly took a route to Ouray that most people are unable to experience and although it was slow, it was full of experiences. I would later the next day get an opportunity to ride a large section back towards Silverton as we searched for some elusive local hot springs that we never did find. The highway in this section was from another world that was hard to put into words. Just go there and run this section of highway, that's all I can suggest. We strategize the next couple of days over a few beers at an old saloon where there's someone playing piano as you walk in. Brad's beat up from the miles we've put on and want to stay in Ouray another day. I wanted to stick to our original plan or heading up into Aspen and exploring what was in that area. We needed to eventually make it to our buddy Matt's house in Fort Collins before Memorial Day. I caved to Brad's wishes and am honestly glad for it. That night we wandered up into the Amphitheatre to discover a perfect little camp spot surrounded by mountains and a big clearing full of Elk.
We called this home for two nights, and I couldn't have asked for better.
The next morning (Saturday), we decided to explore up an old mining road called 361. It was a dirt/gravel road full of historical abandoned mining operations, and a very nice water fall that eventually led us to discover a mining shaft behind it.
I could post a million pictures from this ride. Brad heads back to town and I stay up on the mountain, dead set on running Imogene Pass and Yankee Boy Gulch.
Imogene Pass was too snow covered due to its elevation and I was only able to get a few miles down the trail before hitting a permanent snow blockade.
From here I headed to Yanky Boy Gulch, which I'll just shut up about and show you some of the amazing views that were experienced up there. I was winded due to the elevation and technical riding required on such a loaded down bike. I kept it upright though, and made it as far as the snow would allow.
I wind down the road back into town, eventually able to call brad who is floating in a hot spring, eating ice cream. I think to myself how nice that sounds, but I was thankful that I chose the challenging path for the day, which he didn't get to experience. We take it easy the rest of the day. I but some souvenirs for my wife and kids, and we roam around a bit. Eventually we get on a kick about finding a local hot spring. We get the run around from every local we talk to. We knew it existed, but everywhere we went it was never able to be discovered by us, maybe for the best. We pass the evening hopping from one watering hole to another. We had some really great conversations at a local brewery with an eccentric brew master/bar tender at the silver eagle saloon. Eventually we headed back to camp, and built too large of a fire and got way too intoxicated to safely control it. We decided to pour out the rest of our beers into the fire and go to bed.
The next day (Sunday) we would high tail it to Fort Collins, passing through Boulder, Golden, and then eventually Fort Collins. During our time in Fort Collins we did some sight seeing in Estes park, which came with LOTS of animal sightings and picturesque views as snow began to fall.
The trip was wrapping up, but it felt great to sleep in a bed at our friend's house for a couple of nights. Soon it was time to head back east. Brad and I would split one day into the return trip, him going to Wisconsin, while I headed to Pittsburgh. It was an enjoyable trip back home personally. I like solitude and riding mostly solo over so many miles was therapeutic.
I crossed the Mississippi with poor timing as I had to wait 20minutes in the sun with full gear on as a draw bridge let a large barge through. That night I slept in a small wooded area next to a corn field somewhere in Iowa. The view from my hammock:
The next morning I nearly crashed in dramatic fashion as I was speeding through farm country and came over rise to discover the road completely covered with geese. I was on gravel, unable to brake, so I instead braced for impact going 70mph and plowed through the flock. I made it through after my chest hit the handlebars and as I looked in my side mirror I saw at least three geese barrel rolling likely with their heads chopped off. I stopped at a gas station later to check for damage, but could only find a bloody bolt covered with feathers.
It at least was proof that it happened and made a great text that I sent to brad as I checked in to see how his day way going. The final day I was committed, and made it across Indiana, Ohio, and then into Pennsylvania in record time. It felt strange to be home after such a long and unique journey, but it also felt so good. I think I laid in my back yard in the sun for an hour just thinking. Brad had made it to Wisconsin and all was good. The Tenere needed tires and an oil change badly, but that could wait for another day. Now it was time to reminisce about the trip and enjoy the comforts of home. This was my first long distance motorcycle trip, but certainly will not be the last. I can't wait for an opportunity to try my hand at another equally as challenging and beautiful destination.