Hit the Dirt
We air-dropped into Denver, Colorado, on a Friday evening in mid-summer and by lunchtime Saturday we were riding 180 miles down the blacktop of the Ronald Reagan Highway to Trinidad, where we joined the TAT. Good advance preparation had allowed for a lightning-quick turnaround in Denver but we had left some things to bolt on in Trinidad. The Kouba-link lowering kits needed fitting for the shorties, and I still had to load the routes onto the GPS from my laptop. It was a late night, and the excitement of hitting the trail in the morning made for little sleep…
It was hot, but that was fine - it was a nice dry heat. The routines involved in riding together were already resurfacing as we heading west, almost immediately onto dirt road. The pace was pretty fast, probably not the best way to start a three-week adventure, and with rocks becoming more frequent we did well to make it as far as mid-morning before Grant suffered the first impact puncture.
It was all good fun, though. We drew tyre levers, found the best way to prop-up the bike, and got to work. Grant grimaced as Tony scratched his rim with the tyre levers…
This was a 240-mile day and as we headed west we started to climb, leaving the ranch lands for the thicker birch woods of the San Isobel forest range. As it was summer our arrival in Salida at 6.30pm meant we had plenty of daylight left. The evenings ahead would allow us time to relax but on this day we changed-out the bikes’ ‘running-in’ oil and did the last of the fettling. This really wasn’t such a hardship as Robyn was standing-by with cold beer, chips and dips.
High up, it was cooler and it was stunning. The bikes didn’t give a damn though. The fuel injection adjusted to the thinner air and continued to lure us into misadventure. We seemed to be on our own through Marshall Pass (10,800ft) but in Gunnison National Forest we came within range of daytrippers and quads on forays out from Ouray and Lake City, and we shouldn’t have been surprised by oncoming, er, surprises. But Scott was. Dropping over the crest of a hill, he caught sight of an oncoming 4x4 just in time to grab too much front brake, hit the floor hard, and slide under the front of the vehicle. Fortunately, everyone else was fine, and both car and bike escaped without damage. Scott’s shoulder wasn’t quite so lucky. Treat every trail as two-way! Lesson learned!
We refuelled at Lake City and started to climb even higher over the famous Cinnamon Pass. It was the first real high pass (12,490ft) of many we would encounter in the next two days in Colorado. Mid-August, mid-summer, and the snow was still banked-up in the shaded spots. It wasnt just the altitude that had us breathless. This was indeed Rocky Mountain High and there were so many places to stop and take in the view.
As evening approached the temperature dropped and it was prudent to head down into town. At Silverton we joined the Million Dollar Highway, the tarmac ‘special stage’ into Ouray (the Switzerland of America). It may have been blacktop but it was seriously switchbacked and the 690s got to show their roady side. As we rehydrated that evening one of the team commented that ‘today was one of the best riding days I have ever had in my life’. He wasn’t alone and he wasn’t wrong.