Two weeks ago, I got to take my first vacation since I started my new job (which I love, by the way).
IT. WAS. EPIC.
I didn’t realize how bad I needed a few days off! Brian and I just celebrated our 9th anniversary. Rather than getting stuff for each other, we try to go and DO something together. Our relationship is rooted in the old adage, “The couple that plays together, stays together,” so it’s important to us to get outside and have fun! This year, we decided to pack up the motorcycles and ride the Alpine Loop, near Ouray and Silverton, Colorado. It’s a famous 4×4 route. Honestly, I was a bit nervous about the ride, as it sounded like it had some challenging parts in our guide book. But I sucked it up, we packed our gear, turned off our phones and hit the road.
Right from the start, I was SO HAPPY to have a break. It was instant relief from a couple months of stress and long hours week after week. Fresh air and being outside, were just what my heart needed to feel light. Adventuring really strips life down to the simple things: Get from point A to point B, eat, find water and sleep. When you are focused on the simple things, you don’t have any time for all the noise around you.
We offloaded the bikes in Lake City, CO and really enjoyed a relaxing pace the first day, with lots of photo ops and mellow riding. We looked for campsites as we went along, but kept holding out for the “perfect” spot. Boy, did we find it! We ended our search at American Basin, which is renowned for its huge wildflower displays. I’ve camped a lot of really beautiful places in my life, but that had to be one of my favorite camping spots. We camped in an established site at 11,000 ft, right next to the creek that had stunning views and carpets of flowers in every direction. We cooked delicious burritos, walked and watched the marmots (SO many marmots!!) and even saw a moose in the distance. The moonrise was stunning over the rugged peaks. I just felt like I was pinching myself all night.
We packed up the following morning and reluctantly moved on to climb the rest of the way over mellow Cinnamon Pass (12,640′). My bike sputtered a bit at the pass, but nothing to cause alarm. I have a rough history with my beloved motorcycle (lovingly called the “Green Machine”). The carburetor is really fussy and plugs up all the time. I’ve been stranded on the side of the road on day trips in the Northwest, in Crater Lake National Park (for 8 hours!!), Moab and the list goes on from there…. Suffice to say we were concerned about my bike making it through this trip, for good reason! But this time, my Green Machine chugged up and over the pass with no problem.
We descended the pass into Animas Forks, an old mining ghost town, last occupied in the early 1900s. It’s beautifully preserved, so we stopped for lunch and some exploration. Some of the houses still have remnants of wallpaper, newspaper insulation and canvas ceilings. Heck, you can even go sit in an old “indoor” outhouse. It’s easy to imagine how harsh the winters must have been up there for the few full-time residents. I’m sure they had to deal with bears, moose, mountain lions, snowstorms, avalanches and pretty much any other crazy challenging condition you could think up! Those folks were way tougher than I could ever be!
After Animas Forks, we headed down to explore Silverton. On the way, we encountered a truck that asked us to pull off the road just a few miles from town. The gentleman told us he was bringing “a few” sheep through and didn’t want us to scare them. We sat and waited for about 10 minutes, when all of the sudden, here comes a flood of sheep, livestock guardian dogs and only a handful of people herding them up the road. It turns out, there were 2,000 sheep headed our direction. WOW. This was the coolest and craziest experience I think we’ve ever had on the bikes. The sheep did NOT want to go past us. I am sure we looked scary sitting there on our bikes to a bunch of sheep. Eventually a brave one started running by and then the rest of the sheep finally followed. We spoke with some of the herders afterwards and they said they were driving them up to the summer range below Engineer Pass. It was a hilarious and impressive experience!
Silverton was a crowded little tourist town that revolves around 4x4s and the scenic Durango-Silverton Railroad that takes off from the middle of town. The jagged peaks that surround the town are impressive and stunning. We explored a couple of shops, before pushing on to check out the “Million Dollar Highway” on the way to Ouray. The highway certainly had million-dollar views, as it wound through steep canyons and past the historic Yankee Girl Mine and Red Mountains. It really was worth the stop. Ouray, known as “America’s Switzerland” is famous for ice climbing and I can see why. It’s nestled in a tight valley with sheer cliffs on 3 sides, which I can imagine are covered in snow and ice in the winter. It is such a beautiful town. Unfortunately, it was HOT when we were there and when you are wearing a ton of heavy motorcycle gear, it feels absolutely stifling. So we stayed for a cold drink before pressing onwards.
Our 4×4 guide showed a road rated “easiest” that went over Corkscrew Pass and rejoined the Alpine Loop at Animas Forks. Our plan was to head out and camp for the night on the back side of the pass. It turns out that what is “easy” for a jeep isn’t necessarily for a motorcycle. It wasn’t technical riding, but it WAS extremely steep and loose dirt and tons of tight switchbacks up over 12,000 feet. Maybe the name “Corkscrew Pass” should have tipped us off, but we thought it was just a winding jeep road. Remember how I said we are always a little nervous about how my bike would perform? Well, this road is where things started going south on us. You’ll notice I don’t have many pictures – we were too focused on just surviving. After we got to 12,000 feet, my bike started sputtering on the steepest sections. When I am already being challenged with riding an extremely steep and technical road with a fully loaded 300lb bike, I don’t feel super confident when my bike starts crapping out on me!! I was having to run the throttle wide open to keep the engine running on the steeps, but I had to cut the throttle every time we got to a switchback and the bike would die. It finally died on a nice steep, loose hill and I just had to bail off the bike. I am always so afraid of falling and wrecking my bike, so in some ways, it was a relief to get it over with on this trip! It made me feel better (or at least not like such an idiot) that another motorcycle came down as we were trying to get my bike upright and he slid out and wrecked on the same corner. Brian tried to get my bike up the same hill, but it was just the air/fuel mixture not firing well enough at altitude and it just kept dying. We had to admit defeat and we turned around with the top of the pass in sight.
After a short break to eat, rest and get our mojo back, we headed back down the mountain to find a place to camp for the night. Unfortunately, water became our next big crisis of the night. We couldn’t find a place to camp that didn’t have water visibly tainted by mine tailings. All the water we could find was orange, red, or a crazy milky white from all the heavy metals in the water. Not something I even wanted to try to filter. We were both hot, sweaty and nearly out of water after our efforts to get over Corkscrew Pass. We pushed on from site after site, looking for a place to get water. Nothing. Remember how I said adventuring is great because it strips you down to the basic things in life? Well it sucks when you can’t find those basic things. We rode for hours until we finally ended up calling it quits and headed all the way back to Silverton to camp along a river just outside of town. We inhaled dinner and about 3 liters of water each before sacking out in the tent for the night. I ended up having a miserable night after my much-loved Therm-a-Rest got a HOLE in it (3rd use) and I slept on a giant rock with no sleeping pad. Geez.
Brian always says “the most miserable experiences make for the best stories.” Well this story had some misery, but ended up in one of the most amazing places I’ve been and made the adventure 100% worth it. Straight lines never lead anywhere fun, right? We knew we would have to push my bike HARD to get it up and over Engineer Pass to get home, as Engineer tops out over 12,800 feet. We planned out a back-up route around the mountains, but it was hours and hours out of the way. We were determined to not take Plan-B, so up the road to Engineer Pass we went! I rode aggressive and I stayed on the throttle as much as possible to keep up the momentum for the engine. My bike did crap out once on us, but we unloaded all my gear and Brian managed to ride it up and through the next switchback with minimal loss of speed. It was a little funny/scary/awesome at times to ride some of the most technical and steep terrain I’ve done with such aggressiveness, but I was determined to make it up and over that pass after all my failures the previous day. Honestly, I just spouted off a lot of “Fuck You Green Machine!” into the privacy of my helmet, puckered up and got after the throttle like it was my full-time job. Suffice to say that when I did make it up the final steep-as-hell pitch to the summit, I was hooting and hollering like a crazy person.
What a reward we got for the effort, sweat and frustration of the previous 24 hours! The summit of Engineer Pass, at almost 13,000ft is stunningly beautiful. It was way more impressive than Cinnamon Pass had been the day before. Views of jagged, glacier-carved peaks as far as the eye could see was absolutely epic. We sat and ate and just soaked up the moment for a while. It was the perfect end to an amazing trip with just the right amount of adventure, fun and relaxation. A trip that goes perfectly right is rarely worth sharing and I know that my riding improved a ton with all the challenges.
It’s always hard to find the time to take time for myself and even harder for Brian and I to take time together. I think being too busy is just part of “adulting.” But it is always worth it to make the time to take a Time Out. It refreshes your mind and fills your heart with awesome. I can’t wait to get back out there and fill my heart with even more awesome!!