Year to year, under normal conditions, most riders don't contemplate getting very much riding in on the trails in Colorado and Utah after September. But for my Canadian friend Jeff Sherren and me that couldn't be helped, and it was already October by the time we started rolling toward the hazardous trails in the Rockies on a BMW R1200 GS and a KTM 950 Adventure.
Five out of the ten states constituting the great odyssey called the Trans-America Trail - Tennessee, Mississippi, Arkansas, Oklahoma and New Mexico - and half the trail's distance lay behind. Suffering a serious back injury, Uwe Krauss, my companion for that part of the trip (and so many more off-road adventures), has had to withdraw and recover. So, with the end of the year nearing and the trail-riding window closing fast, I phoned my Canadian friend Jeff to ask him if he could think of anything better than taking part in a two-wheel escapade on the roughly 2,700 miles of trail left to cover. He couldn't, he hurried down to join me for the remainder of the journey.
The Colorado countryside clearly bears the mark of another waning year. The leaves of the aspen trees have turned bright yellow, carpeting the trail and fluttering around us as we pass. A glance at the map reveals that the upcoming route would take us into some very thin air on the high trails of the San Juan Mountains, including Cinnamon Pass, Ophir Pass, with its rocky summit at 11,789 feet, Los Piños Pass at 10,200 feet, then finally the Hancock and Tomichi Passes, at 11,985 feet. Inquiring about the weather conditions at the higher altitudes, we learn that the Cinnamon and Ophir Passes are closed due to a thick layer of fresh snow at the summit. Nevertheless, we decide to try our luck attempting Ophir, the lower of the two.
Motorcycles & Gear
KTM 950 Adventure
Helmet: Shoei V-Moto Helmet
Jacket and Pants: Hein Gericke Tuareg Rallye GTX II for women
Boots: Motonation Set Up Adventure boots
Gloves: Acerbis Impact Line 06
States of Denial
When we ride up the steep and narrow gravel road winding through vast, rust-red slopes covered with scree and giant boulders, the terrain gets rockier the closer we come to the tree line. The sky is blue, but an icy wind bores to the bone and leaves us shivering. At 11,000 feet, our tires eventually lose traction on the gravel, my heavily laden KTM, weighing some 560 pounds, starts sliding uncontrollably in six inches of powder next to sheer 500-foot drops before we can reach the high point of the pass. Turning back and looking for an alternative route is the best idea we've had all day.
Two days later in Utah, the Rain God is feeling most magnanimous, and the area around Moab has been the beneficiary of a drenching like it hasn't seen in sixty years. Or so we heard, if a long-bearded man we met during a coffee stop is to be believed. This could turn out to be the best place since leaving Tennessee to use that telescoping fishing rod I've been carrying in one of my panniers. If we had not tried to set up camp on a barren, wind-swept hill towering over the town, in the middle of this storm, on a pitch-black night, we might have been able to enjoy the rhythms of the rainfall drumming on the tent while we dozed off.
Instead, other little dramas play out. As we're scrambling to pitch the tent in the strong wind, my bike blows over. Instinctively, we run to rescue it and just as we start lifting it, the tent flies by and heads straight for a barbwire fence. That's followed by a loud crack and, uh-oh, the next thing we know, the post has poked a huge hole through the canvas. We're just going to have to pack it in, ride back to town in the pouring rain, and look for a place to spend the night.