An Old Fart and Young Punk Ride the COBDR: Part One

May 13, 2014 View Comments by

The Young Punk and Old Fart just prior to blast off.Smart motorcyclists stay safe by using good judgment. David, my adventure seeking, 18-year-old Austrian foreign exchange student asked where I got my good judgment. I answered: “From experience of course.”  “Where’d you get the experience?” My answer: “Bad judgment.” The battle between my good judgment and his wanderlust constantly surfaced on our nine-day ride through Arizona, New Mexico, and Colorado.

David (the Young Punk) showed up at Sky Harbor Airport in July 2011 as an exuberant, skinny 16-year-old motorcycle novice. After nine months of trail (and a little street) riding he was ready for the six day “Man Up David” tour we took in 2012.  That’s another story in itself. Here’s the short version of what transpired between he (now a muscular six foot two) and I (53-year-old former fighter pilot and current airline captain affectionately referred to by the Young Punk as an “Old Fart”) on our second long tour as we took on the Colorado Backcountry Discover Route (COBDR) in August 2013.

Mission Preparation: The Butler Maps COBDR route and associated YouTube videos inspired us both. I spent gobs of time and money preparing for this quest before David arrived for his seven-week American vacation. The major upgrades to my BMW R 1150 GS included new Progressive shocks for the front and rear as well as new Metzler Karoo 3 tires. On David’s BMW F 650 GS Dakar I had a Progressive shock mounted in the rear and Ricor Intiminators installed in the front forks. Continental TKC-80s were the Dakar‘s shoes. I knew the Dakar would be fine but really wondered if the 1150 GS “Blue Beast” would be too heavy.

The Old Fart and his 600 lb. muddy Blue Beast.Day 1: We planned a long but scenic 491-mile trip from our Goodyear, AZ, home to the start point near Cortez, CO. However, a late start (due to the previous night’s midnight return from my airline trip) and thunderstorms over northern Arizona sent us running for the familiar Holiday Inn in Chinle after only 351 miles. Highlights of the day included the Mogollon Rim from Payson to Heber-Overgaardand a nice Mexican lunch at Joe and Aggie’s Café in Holbrook. The payoff for the Mexican food was that I got to teach David the old “punch me” fighter pilot game of Slugs/No Slugs (just Google it).

Day 2: We awakened eager and ready for the real COBDR to begin. After a quick coffee stop in Mexican Water (pop. maybe 25), a mandatory photo stop at the Four Corners sign, and some grub at the Cortez McDonald’s, we finally found dirt just outside Delores. For the last few days, I’d had a little apprehension about taking my 600 pound Blue Beast over the Alpine Loop just northeast of Silverton, CO. The YouTube videos of many other riders’ crashes didn’t help my confidence, but I never dreamed I’d drop my bike five miles into our first dirt ride. There it was, a 15-foot diameter mud puddle on FS 257. My R 1150 GS took a mud bath like a pig with its feet sticking up at about a 10-degree angle. Lesson learned: Avoid mud and do not try to accelerate on a surface as slick as owl feces.

We thoroughly enjoyed another 80 miles of dirt and majestic Colorado mountains before David spotted the Wilson Mesa camp site that is shown on the back of the COBDR map.  What an incredible view we had from our campsite at 9,500 feet. I laughed my butt off for about an hour as I watched David try to build a campfire with slightly wet wood. My USAF Survival School Instructors would have been appalled. Finally, his “Pessimism Sucks” shirt and persistence resulted in a roaring fire. David was really excited about the next day’s section of the Alpine Loop while I was even more apprehensive about my heavy bike after the mud bath. The big Blue Beast took another nap while we were in camp as the kickstand pad sunk in the soft dirt. Who cares about a front left turn signal? They’re highly overrated.

Leaving the Wilson Mesa campsite.Day 3: David’s enthusiasm for the Alpine Loop continued unabated while the hairs on the back of my neck stood up. “ Come on JP”, he said. “Can’t we just try it and see if it’s too hard.” My response was “The only way we’ll know for sure it’s too hard is if I fall and break my leg. Is that what you want?” Twenty-three years of fighter aviation made me learn to trust my gut feeling when it comes to risk management. My final decision…no Alpine loop for us today. We’ll take the longer, high speed, “Alternate Easier Route” to Lake City.

We arose at daybreak for an early start but taking down camp took a couple of hours as it had rained and our tent was rather wet. Breakfast in Telluride ended at the crack of 10:00. Off we rode like Custer’s Cavalry, oblivious to the rugged Ophir Pass that lay just south of us.

The ride up Ophir was fun until the four to ten-inch diameter rocks that compose the road threatened to rip the bars from my hands (I needed a steering damper). I stopped just before I feared I would be thrown over the west side’s 2,000-foot drop. The Blue Beast tipped onto its left pannier. At 11,500-feet of elevation, the air is very thin. I struggled, David pushed, and the clutch on the Blue Beast smoked as I finally got it moving again and on its way to the top of Ophir Pass (11,789-feet). David had his own struggles getting the 125-pound lighter Dakar going again. He was aided by a couple of friendly quad riders. They rode to the top first and told me they didn’t think my friend was going to make it. The struggle on the Ophir Pass quickly melted away the Young Punk’s Alpine Loop enthusiasm.

In an attempt to appease David, we headed south on the Million Dollar Highway for 25 miles of high-speed curves after a fast lunch in Silverton. Then it was back north toward the Idarado Mine and Ouray. We rode our butts off this day, logging 250 miles (about 125 on dirt). David loved the 50 miles we drove on the curvy, mountainous roads.  I loved the high-speed dirt from Ridgeway to Highway 50. My R 1150 GS doesn’t like mud or rocks but it screams along like an F-16 on dirt roads.

I waited here for David.  The quad riders didn't think he'd make it.We concluded our 14-hour day as darkness set in Lake City, having seen Telluride, the Ophir Pass, Silverton, 50 miles of the Million Dollar Highway, Red Mountain Pass, Ouray, Owl Creek Pass, Big Cimarron Pass, Red Mesa Cutoff, and finally the scenic drive down Highway 149 into Lake City. It was a fantastic day of riding. After a delightful dinner at the Lake City Café, we were stuffed, tired, and zoning out. We thought we were living in the Twilight Zone when two young ladies from Belarus (where are we?) checked us in to the sketchy Silver Spur Motel.

Day 4: We enjoyed breakfast and were treated to some close up encounters with almost tame deer as we departed Lake City. This day’s ride was also very stunning. The blue BMWs easily conquered Slumgullion Pass (11,300 feet) on the street and from there it was all off-road. The mountains were picturesque with all the wildlife including a groundhog, squirrels, horses, a wolf, and lots of cows. Still, we were surprised to see two authentic looking cowboys and a cowgirl driving a small herd of cows near Los Pinos Pass. The wildlife and the countryside made me think of what the 1800s must have been like.

David’s wanderlust raised its head again. After picking up the big Blue Beast three times so far, I was determined to take any easier route. David felt that the best ride could only be found on the hardest roads. Although it wasn’t raining at the moment, it had rained on every day of our journey. David reasoned that since it wasn’t raining now, we should ignore all the wet road warnings. Counter to my better judgment, I agreed to let David take the five-mile loop around Razor Dome Road and Home Gulch Road solo while I took the “Alternate Easier Route When Wet” (PP14) and waited at the end. When he didn’t show up after the proscribed 30 minutes, I immediately launched into search and rescue mode. I rode the five-mile, wet and rugged path backwards expecting to find David wrecked with big injuries. It was a real pain in the butt on the big Blue Beast. The bike fell over once again as the kickstand dug in while I was opening a gate. I was totally exhausted after picking up my bike and finally finishing the rugged five-mile ride. I found David waiting at the meeting point. He had gotten lost halfway through and backtracked onto PP14 to try to catch me. I was happy to find him but angry that I was forced to ride such a rough road searching for him. I was also upset at myself for letting him talk me into violating my good judgment and allowing a solo ride.  From now on, Old Fart good judgment would be the final rule.

Who'd have thought two cowboys and a cowgirl would be working in 2013?Once rejoined, we climbed the Waunita Pass (10,200 feet) noting the spot where my buddy Reini and I spent a couple of hours sweating while changing his KLR’s flat last year. After a delicious grilled burger and homemade brownie in Pitkin (pop. 65), we rode up the Cumberland Pass (12,000 feet), to the Taylor Park Trading Post and refueled. Then it was an exciting, woodsy ride (thank God we had a GPS) and two fun water crossings on the way to Cottonwood Pass (12,100 feet).

We dodged multiple tame deer on our way into Buena Vista for the night. My “pilot like” cheapness first appeared when I refused to pay $135 for a room at the Best Western.

We discovered a loose headlight on the Dakar and were in the process of fixing it in our motel parking lot when two Albuquerque riders appeared. They regaled us long and loud with stories of bike rallies and showed off their Harley and Moto Guzzi. I admit the bikes were very nice looking but I don’t think they’d last five minutes on the trails we were riding. The long day’s ride and a steak dinner at Quincy’s made our cheap motel room look very inviting. We slept like babies.

Stay tuned for Part II!

Text and photography by John Privette

Want to receive free Touring Tips, reviews, deals and contests, and additional content? Sign up for your free newsletter now!

Tags: , , , , , , , Categories: Destinations