A Pass, Round 2
We survived descending Black Bear Pass, the “gnarliest road in Colorado”. Certainly a day’s rest was in order? Or at least a few hours of gently rolling pavement?
Nope, in true rick style Kit and Kyle had a bite of Mexican for lunch. (Kit had enchiladas and Kyle fajitas, as per normal). Then they headed straight off for the next most difficult pass in the area.
Imogene Pass was the original pass we had heard about and been haphazardly stumbling toward the previous afternoon before charging up Black Bear pass Don Quixote style.
Steep benches cut into the hillside gave way to wide open alpine meadows as the Ricks quickly climbed above treeline. Imogene being even higher than Black Bear, soon large snowfields appeared to once again block the way. Luckily this pass was well traveled enough that the local 4 wheelers had plowed the road clear.
Still climbing at a steady clip, the Ricks soon left all plant life behind as they traversed the rust stained scree and dirty remnants of last winter’s snow.
Finally they reached the top of the pass at 13,114′. Surrounded by terra-cotta rocks and little oxygen, local terrain could almost be mistaken for Mars, were it not for the fluffy little clouds and specks of green far below.
Celebration at the summit was short lived as the rapidly tiring Ricks were eager to make their way down the supposedly “gentler” other side. Turns out the first mile or so was just as difficult as the way up had been.
Eventually terrain too loose, rocky and entirely too steep for fully loaded faux-dirt bikes gave way to more manageable grades, better traction and even a few fun river crossings.
Before we knew it we were ripping our way down to the heart of the San Juans: Ouray, Colorado
Adrenaline long since soured and too tired to make any decisions that didn’t involve quick food and easy camping, the Ricks gave in and ended their streak of not paying for accommodations with a bang: By squeezing into a tiny, overpriced tent spot in the last campground in town. It was a mediocre end to an epic day, but the well deserved sleep was going to prove invaluable tomorrow…
Traversing the High Country
After two days of wrestling heavy bikes over some of the most difficult passes Colorado had to offer, the Ricks finally learned their lesson and did some research before blindly heading into the mountains. The internet and some local wheelers both pointed us toward Cinnamon Pass as the perfect combination of enjoyable terrain and correct direction for our needs.
As an added bonus, if we approached the pass from Silverton we would get to ride one of the best sections of the famous Colorado Hwy 550.
The sweeping switchbacks and soaring vistas of the “Million Dollar Highway” surpassed their billing.
Turns were well thought out and the road surface was clean and smooth. God knows how much it must cost the state of Colorado to keep such a complicated road, most of which is buried in snow part of the year, in almost perfect riding shape.
20 miles of heaven later we found ourselves successfully over another pass and coasting our way into Silverton.
We took a brief stop in Silverton to see the steam train then headed back into the mountains to take on our next pass.
Multiple opinions from Ouray were in agreement that following the Animas out of Silverton towards Cinnamon pass was not even in the same league as Black Bear or Imogene passes. The Ricks were unpleasantly surprised to find this road posed its own challenges.
Heavy use by seemingly every vacationing Texan with 4 wheel drive had taken its toll on the road surface. After many miles of bone jarring rocks and heavy traffic the Ricks were shaken. And dubious of what the conditions would be like when the going got steeper.
Thankfully, the first signs of difficult terrain appeared to have intimated the flatlander hoards. As the grade steepened the piste actually improved. The Ricks quickly gained the pass. But the celebration was short lived as threatening clouds were rapidly approaching and we were still high in the mountains.
On the way down the Ricks used the slightly wetted ‘hero dirt’ to pick up speed and outrun the impending weather. Water was found only where it belonged: in the river crossings.
Penitence leads to Nirvana
With two incredible passes (one paved, one dirt) under their belts, the day was already shaping up to be one of the best of the trip. Making it down to Hwy 149, Kit expected a leisurely ride into South Fork where they planned to spend the night.
This time fate rewarded the Rick’s lack of preparation with a serendipitous windfall: Another fast, smooth road winding its way through the high alpine. This time taking them over the Continental Divide for the first time this trip.
Winding their way through the high alpine forest, the Ricks couldn’t help but feel like fighter pilots on a mission. The KTM finally running at her full potential, Kit lit the afterburners. Passed cagers fell like downed bogeys. Their flight path finally neared friendly territory as the Rick’s descended into Creede. The pilots couldn’t help but cheer. Despite their earlier setbacks, the mission to cross the Rockies had proven wildly successful. This day would go down as the best of the trip so far!
As afternoon turned to evening the Ricks followed the fledgling Rio Grande into South Fork. With the Post Office already closed they pushed their minor concerns to tomorrow and went about the usual routine of finding food and a quiet spot to camp.
The rest of the evening was spent eating, drinking, and relaxing in the glow of an epic day: Exactly what this trip will be about!