Continental Divide, Part 2: Wyoming, Colorado, and New Mexico
Our route out of Rawlins, WY, takes us through the city’s center before turning south and heading out of town. It is a great day for riding, with mostly clear skies and cool temperatures, as we enter the Medicine Bow National Forest. Not far from the Colorado border we come upon Aspen Alley, a peaceful place where aspen trees line the side of the road. Each state we have passed through has had unique scenery, and just beyond the Colorado border, smooth, round mountains are joined by jagged crags reaching up from the earth. Passing through the Routt National Forest roughly 120 miles into the day, we find ourselves on a technically demanding section of road. After a sudden climb, large stones, ruts, and mud demand our full attention for miles. We stay dry, but it’s obvious that it has rained here recently, and the slippery, moss-covered rocks that make up the trail add to the challenge of keeping upright.
By midday, we arrive in the resort town of Steamboat Springs. After refueling, we reward ourselves with a slice of pizza (or two) at a downtown eatery. Most days, “lunch” means a protein bar or fruit on the trail and this is a welcome change. Riding through Colorado, we are once again in free-range country, where cattle are a thing to be reckoned with. Not long after our first real water crossing, courtesy of a branch of the Colorado River, we pick up a fantastically smooth ribbon of pavement that leads us to Kremmling to bed down for the evening.
A good night’s rest and we are back under way, high above Breckenridge by way of the Boreas Pass. The dark clouds that have been looming overhead most of the morning bring a short shower by midday, but it moves on quickly. South of the pass, we roll through the tiny town of Hartsel, where we pause briefly before continuing on to Salida, our destination for the day.
The Halfway Point
After more than 1,500 miles and eight nonstop days on the road, Dave and I decide to stay in the Salida area for a day in order to explore a little and perform some needed maintenance on our bikes. After spending the morning checking out St. Elmo, a ghost town, we take advantage of the fact that our luggage is stowed back at the hotel by making a run up and down Tincup Pass. Located just outside of town, the very rocky and steep road is quite popular among thrill seekers. Free of the added weight, our motorbikes run the pass like gazelles. After a bit of fun, it’s time to get back to business, and by midday we are in search of a location to do a tire and oil change. Stopping at Rushton’s Automotive in downtown Salida, we speak with Dustin, the shop’s owner. As good fortune would have it, Dustin is an avid motorcyclist and more than happy to help, providing not only a location to do the work but a few extra tools that come in very handy. Once again, we are indebted to a stranger for going out of his way to help us. After the maintenance is complete, we enjoy a great meal and entertainment in the form of a one-man band at a downtown restaurant before returning to our hotel.
Motorcycles & Gear
2006 Suzuki DRZ400S
2013 Honda XR650L
Helmets: AFX FX-39 (both riders)
Jackets: Scott All Terrain TP, AXO Enduro Dual Sport
Pants: Scott All Terrain TP, Fox 360 Honda
Boots: Alpinestars Scout WP, Fox F3 Race
Gloves: AGV Sport Telluride, Fox Dirtpaw/MSR Cold Pro
Luggage: Giant Loop Coyote and Ortlieb Rack Pack, Giant Loop Great Basin and GIVI WP403
The Highest Pass and the Roughest Roads
Dave and I are both ready to get back on the road, and after a bit of confusion with our GPS units, we pick up our route out of Salida and leave civilization behind. We pass a few long-abandoned homesteads and the remains of what most certainly was a small mining town. Outside of Del Norte, we join up with the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route before heading up Indiana Pass. At 11,910 feet, it is the highest on our entire ride. Late in the day, we cross into New Mexico and reach the small village of Chama.
With thunderstorms looming in the distance, we leave at daybreak for Cuba, NM. Today’s route takes us south and west through Carson National Forest on the most technically challenging roads yet. Surface conditions quickly change from demanding to difficult to treacherous. One particularly steep and rocky downhill would give even the most experienced rider reason to pause. Fortunately, Dave and I manage to maneuver our fully loaded machines up, down, and around all the boulders, ruts, stumps, and roots in our path without incident. The 80-mile expedition takes us nearly seven hours to complete before dumping us out onto pavement that leads into Cuba. After a delicious, authentic Mexican meal, we find a small motel nearby to stay for the night.
In the morning we head out across the northern New Mexico desert. It’s August and we are expecting to encounter heat, sand, and rocks, but we quickly discover that recent heavy rains in the area will add mud, sinkholes, and silt-filled riverbeds to the list. A few miles down the road, we come upon a car buried up to its doors in one of the many mud-filled pools. This particular spot might have been passable in a high-clearance, four-wheel-drive vehicle, but the passenger car never stood a chance. The occupants are standing a few feet away wondering what they are going to do. We are several miles from civilization and waiting around for someone to come by and lend a hand may take some time. Dave and I stop short of the water and examine our options. Aside from turning back, navigating through the murky trap is our only choice.