Colorado: Maiden Voyage

Colorado: Maiden Voyage
Something’s wrong, I think as rain pours from the skies above Lake City, gateway to the high passes of Colorado’s San Juan Mountains. My eight companions are up there somewhere, riding big, fully loaded adventure bikes on four-wheel-drive roads that climb to almost 13,000 feet.

They are my colleagues on Touratech-USA’s Advance Scouting Team, formed for the inaugural ride of the new, 710-mile Colorado Backcountry Discovery Route (COBDR). And they’re late to our rendezvous.

The team is comprised of Rob Watt on his KTM 990 Adventure, Tom Myers on a BMW R 1200 GS, Paul Guillien on a Yamaha Super Ténéré, Bryce Stevens and Jayson Wickenkam on KTM 990 Adventures, and Justin Bradshaw on his 990 Adventure R.

Photographer Jonathan Beck is chronicling the trip from a BMW R 1200 GS Adventure. Videographer Sterling Noren is on a BMW F 800 GS. Continually riding point, each is both artist and athlete. I am the team’s journalist, chronicling the trip for RoadRUNNER.

Elevations fluctuate dramatically as riders cross mountain passes that are among North America's highest.

The COBDR is the third in Touratech-USA’s non-profit Backcountry Discovery Route initiative. Two other BDRs (in Utah and Washington) are fast becoming the choice of adventure riders looking for documented routes across some of the West’s wildest landscapes. The team’s goal is to spend a week giving a final check to every mile of this latest addition to the BDR network.

The team’s bikes are equipped with panniers, skid plates, tankbags, knobby tires, GPS units, crash bars, hand guards, and dry bags. All of it is ready for the rough. I use soft luggage, and the KLR is stock but for crash bars and skid plate.

Motorcycle & Gear

2008 Kawasaki KLR650

Helmet: Shoei Hornet DS
Jacket & Pants: Klim Latitude; Klim Revolt Jersey, Acerbis Koerta Deflector
Boots: Sidi Adventure Rain
Gloves: Klim Dakar
Luggage: Ortlieb dry bags; Kriega US combo 30 Dry-pack and R3 Waistpack

It’s mid-August and a period of substantial precipitation or violent afternoon storms in these parts. So there’s reason to worry. But the riders I’m waiting for are ADV veterans—skilled, confident, efficient, and fast on the genre’s premier marques. I have just five years’ experience on the 2008 Kawasaki KLR650 that’s parked nearby.


Our seven-day odyssey begins with a 40-mile ride southwest from Cortez to Four Corners Monument, with a dip into New Mexico. The monument, managed by the Navajo Nation, is the only place in the United States shared by four states—Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, and Arizona. Our plan is to follow the COBDR north to Wyoming.

From Four Corners we ride north beyond Cortez where desert gives way to piney forest beneath an unsettled sky. A quick turn takes us onto a rutted forest two-track, and the adventure begins.

Even with GPS, good paper maps of the COBDR and other Backcountry Discovery Routes remain indispensable.

When we pause in a clearing, Bryce announces that his KTM’s fan isn’t coming on. He suspects the thermostat. In minutes, he and Paul wire in a fix, underscoring the need to be mechanically self-reliant.

Switchbacks later take us high into the San Miguel Mountains, where rain showers just miss us. Finally, Rob turns up a short trail that ends at an undeveloped campsite at 9,500 feet with a view of bald, gray peaks rising above a vast aspen forest sure to turn golden in a few weeks. After 157 miles, our first day ends here, amid the alpenglow now warming the summits that ring trendy little Telluride.

There’s troubling news, however. Bryce is feeling symptoms of altitude sickness: headache, loss of appetite, nausea, and chills. The remedy is the denser oxygen at a lower elevation, so Bryce begins his descent toward Telluride.