Defeating the Mountain
The Notier Notes
Our Sunday Scoop
While we were making base camp with our friend Pete in Denver, and planning our trip to Idaho, we were inspired to do a little detour. We met one of Pete's friends, Brady of MeerkatADV, and a fellow motorcycle adventurist like ourselves, and he had made videos of his time riding some incredibly high and gorgeous mountain passes in southern Colorado - Cinnamon Pass, California Pass, Hurricane Pass, and the toughest of the four, Corkscrew Pass. And when we saw the footage, our jaws dropped.
"It looks like Peru!" Tim cried with his eyes alight.
"Or Argentina, or Chile!" I said, grinning from ear to ear.
Considering that the mountain passes we did in those countries were some of our favorite riding on the planet, this meant that we now knew what our next adventure was going to be.
But one of the things we loved about those passes in Peru, Chile, and Argentina was that they were tough. Really tough. And these four passes in Colorado were going to be no exception.
They looked steep, rugged, rutted, and full of loose rocks. And we were not going to be on your typical off-road vehicle, ATV, or motocross bike. We were going to be 2up and fully loaded on a massive KTM 1190 - quite the challenge indeed.
But with high spirits and a now newly-functioning motorcycle, we were emotionally excited to go. Yet before leaving, Pete and his wife Lisa advised me to get new boots. Lisa had broken her ankle wearing some similar boots earlier this year, and so Tim and I decided to invest in a new pair of boots that would be more suitable for off-road adventures, and with more ankle support. And although these new boots weren't cheap, I was hoping that they would be worth the money.
With my new kicks on (Sidi Adventures), we headed south from Denver towards Lake City, where we found a free, roadside campsite to stay the night. It had views of the mountains, and the sound of a gushing river below, and even though we should've gotten a perfect night's sleep there, I kept waking up, too nervous about what was to come the following day.
The next morning we packed up and headed off as early as could be, because we knew this was going to be one tough and exhausting day. But as we approached the first of the four mountain passes, Cinnamon Pass, we were greeted with a stunning view of a lush valley, a shimmering lake, and craggy granite peaks in the background embracing it all. And I remember thinking that things couldn't have started out better.
Brady had told us that the passes got progressively more and more difficult, with Corkscrew being the most challenging. So as we started out with Cinnamon, it took a while for the pristine dirt road to even have any sort of bump or rock in it. In fact, the entirety of Cinnamon Pass was a very pleasant ride, and the only indication that things were going to get tougher were the groups of ATV riders, or people in 4WD trucks and vehicles that we'd pass. There were no low-clearance vehicle here, that was for sure.
At the bottom of Cinnamon Pass, we encountered a fascinating surprise - a ghost town from the 1800's. It was built during the heyday of Colorado's gold rush, and had been a community of miners, all trying to eke out a living at 12,000 feet in altitude (3,600 meters). The buildings they made are beautiful and well-crafted, looking like they had been abandoned yesterday.
Next we headed up to California Pass, which was where the real comparisons to South America started. We recognized the scrubland bushes of hardy plants that are trying to live in the tough conditions of brutal winters, intense sunlight of the summers, and low oxygen levels. And then beyond the treeline where plants could no longer grow, the geology of the area shined through with reds full of iron, or whites and grays full of granite, and the blending of all these minerals created a kaleidoscope of streaking colors.
By the time we got to Hurricane Pass, we saw a mountain that looked just like Rainbow Mountain in Peru, or locally known as Vinicunca. In Peru, a stream of tourists make the trek and line up every day to take Instagram-worthy pictures of it... but here it was just us. Just us and the mountains.
So far, we had dropped the bike zero times, and Tim and I were feeling pretty confident about our day. But at last it was time to. conquer the final pass - Corkscrew Pass. And a name like that wasn't all too reassuring.
In fact, when we first saw the beginning of Corkscrew Pass, it was such a steep road branching off from the main one, that I thought surely it was just some person's driveway to their farm or cabin. I thought maybe this farmer used ATV's or mountain bikes to get there (or maybe donkeys).
And then we noticed that the map indicated that we should go up this steep incline, straight up the side of the mountain. I muttered to Tim through the intercom system, "Seriously?! That's the road we're taking?"
We were silent as we headed up it, not wanting to vocalize that fact that suddenly all the other traffic on the road had disappeared. There was not a single other vehicle, and that is never a good sign.
The problem with Corkscrew Pass was not so much the loose gravel, or large rocks, or tight switchbacks, or sheer drop-offs to certain doom. It was the steepness. Normally, a light-weight vehicle could use its brakes to stop, but we were so heavy, that by the time we reached the top and started heading downhill, our tires would lock up and we'd just slide down on all the gravel.
At one point, Tim took the inner edge near the rock wall instead of the cliff drop-off, when the back tire gave out. Tim tried to save it, but we slowly crashed into the mound of loose rocks beside us. It wasn't a terribly drop, but as luck would have it, a rock hit my foot, and it had twisted my leg back behind me and underneath the bike and pannier.
Tim immediately asked if I was ok, but once seeing that my leg was twisted backwards, he let out a yelp of pure terror, since this was exactly what had happened when I'd hurt my foot back in Peru (and had to be on crutches for six weeks). I didn't feel any pain, and Tim and I worked as quickly as we could to get myself twisted back to a normal position, and we freed my leg from under the bike.
And once I stood up on both feet, I turned to Tim with a smile and said, "I'm fine! My foot feels 100% fine!"
I gave my leg and shake, and was immediately thankful for having purchased those expensive, but super rugged boots. Tim and I embraced, and took a moment to recollect ourselves and thank our lucky stars.
Though the rest of Corkscrew Pass was steep and twisty, Tim did an excellent job of keeping the bike upright for the remainder of the day. And as we headed out of the foothill forest, and hit the perfect pavement of Colorado's Million Dollar Highway, we high-fived and felt like we had just climbed Everest.
We had done it - we had faced a huge challenge, and had come out victorious. And for us, this was what it was all about, not the easy days, not the smooth roads. But the difficult ones. We were a team, and we felt as if nothing could ever stop us.
Unfortunately, as we headed from there into Idaho, disaster would strike once again, and we no longer felt so confident. But that's all for next week's blog, so stay tuned!
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