Trans-America Trail, Colorado to Oregon: Detours, Broken Bones, and New Friendships

Trans-America Trail, Colorado to Oregon: Detours, Broken Bones, and New Friendships
As if on cue, my new riding partner, Luke Swab, rolls into Fairplay, CO, on a Yamaha WR250R, where I am waiting to meet him by the side of the road. I’m relieved, yet I’m apprehensive to have a riding partner. The first half of the journey had no rules, no boundaries, and no committee decisions. I’m concerned about losing that on the second half, but prior conversations with Luke have put me mostly at ease. He has worldwide riding experience and a real sense of adventure.

Day 9: Introductions and First Impressions

Do not fear the unknown … that’s the mantra! It speaks volumes of my pilgrimage thus far, and it also speaks to my cohort and his motorcycle. The WR Luke arrives on was a Craigslist purchase from a seller in Salida, CO. Prior to flying in from Michigan, Luke had only seen the bike in pictures. Pretty daring! As for the two of us, we have never met, and now we will ride from Colorado to the Pacific Ocean together.

As Luke took this shot, I remember singing to myself Tom Petty's Into the Great Wide Open. Our first day riding together – our first detour and an approaching storm!

Our TAT adventure together begins with what else? A detour. We take County Road 307 through Mushroom Gulch between Fairplay and Salida. In two months, the Aspens on the trail will be as golden as the yellow brick road I visited in Liberal, KS, on the first half of the TAT. We gear up for rain as the ground beneath us shakes from thunder, and lightening streaks accent the gray skies above. Moving from loose sand to a narrow rocky pathway, my front wheel takes an odd bounce. Rather than roll off the throttle, I feel it lock and run off the trail at about 40 mph. I roll over the soft and flexible Aspens, clinging to the bike like a runaway horse, until a much thicker tree stops me in an instant. It takes several minutes before I feel like getting up but feel OK considering. When I attempt to stand my right foot buckles under me. With Luke’s help, we get the KLR back to the trail, and it checks out with minimal damage. I’m grateful not to be riding alone but embarrassed to make such a clumsy first impression. I can only suspect that Luke is now the one who is apprehensive about having a riding partner.

Motorcycles & Gear

2008 Kawasaki KLR 650
2008 Yamaha WR250R

Helmets: Shoei J-Cruise, Schuberth C3
Jackets: Firstgear Teton Textile, Joe Rocket Phoenix 4.0
Pants: Joe Rocket Phoenix 2.0, BMW Summer
Boots: Sidi Canyon GORE-TEX, BMW Santiago
Gloves: Held STEVE and AIR, Scorpion Cool Hand
Luggage: Ortlieb MOTO Saddlebag, Wolfman
Comm System: Sena SMH10

We continue to Salida without incident and up and over Marshall Pass before descending into Sargents, CO. The weather and my accident have eaten up much of our daylight. Luke takes it in stride when I suggest we stay on highway 50 to Ouray. I need to get my boot off and see what exactly I did that hurts so much. I am afraid if I take it off it may not go back on, so I want to put in some more miles before dark. Today is Luke’s 30th birthday, and I treat him to dinner at the Bon Ton Restaurant in Ouray’s St. Elmo Hotel. It is the least I can do for his help today and for joining me on the second half of the TAT. Post dinner, Luke has a date with a hot tub while I attempt to remove my boot!

The smile on my face was before I tried removing my boot, later discovering a black and broken right foot with over 3,000 more miles to go!

Day 10: Taking a “Brake”

When I wake up my foot feels like it has been crushed in a compactor. Lacking a bullet to bite, I ice it down before forcing it into my boot, which acts like a cast. We traverse south on the Million Dollar Highway, summiting Red Hill Pass before rejoining the trail towards Ophir Pass. Anyone who has ridden this area knows why some choose to spell it as “Oh-Fear.” Just as we begin to descend the 11,789-foot elevation, I attempt to engage the rear brake only to realize it is nonexistent. After an aggressive amount of clutch feathering and light front braking, I reach the base. The brakes are worn in a confusing v-pattern.

We navigate to Rico, CO, where we can get a decent phone signal. Over lunch at the Que Rico Restaurant, Luke displays his proficiency in speaking Spanish with the owner while I call around looking for parts. This is harder than I expected, and I am kicking myself for not bringing extra brake pads. The closest location with anything in stock is Arrowhead Motorsports in Moab, UT. After three hours of cautious riding, we arrive in Moab and secure the pads and some additional items before heading to the Moab Rustic Inn. Zach, the manager, who I’ve met on previous visits, allows us to turn our parking space into a makeshift garage, and we get to work.

The trail is far rockier than the photo reveals, but Luke shows "no fear" as he masterfully descends Ophir Pass, pronounced "Oh-Fear."

Day 11: A Chicken Dinner Among Feathered Friends

This morning we head to Potash Road, flanked by petroglyphs and dinosaur tracks. We look over the ridge as we ride, hundreds of feet below us the Colorado River’s main tributary—the Green River—carries boaters through the canyon. On any other trip this would be an appetizer to the White Rim Road, which meanders 100 impressive miles around the Canyonlands National Park area known as Island in the Sky.

We exit the canyon and continue on to Salina, UT, to the small family run Ranch Motel. Our eclectic hostess serves us fresh chicken and dumplings as I ice my foot with a six-pack. We sit with her outside, enjoying our dinner and trying to avert the judging stares of the 20 or so chickens that peck around us.