Kit had been telling me how fantastic Colorado would be once we got out of the hellhole that is south east Utah. From the Bluff post office we cut east until we hit the border, and quickly the red earth of Utah was gone.
After one and a half hours we stopped for provisions in Cortez. The land was slowly starting to change. Grass became thicker and greener, trees became more abundant, thunderheads started appearing in greater numbers, until suddenly we were in the Rockies.
We knew there were several options to get across the mountains, as well as make a stop in Telluride. We knew that there was an OHV road that lead east straight from Telluride and decided we could kill two bird with one stone and headed straight there.
Little did we know that the following 24 hours would be the most difficult segment of our journey yet.
Telluride is easily the most quintessential mountain town in the United States, tucked in a slot canyon amongst the largest of the San Juans, it still carries its old Americana charm through waves of development.
While stopping by at a gyro stand, we chatted up the owner about mountain roads in the area. “Imogene pass just opened up!” he exclaimed. With our newfound excitement for leaving the long, straight, hot highways of the desert, we did not do any research and assumed Imogene pass started at the head of the valley.
We quickly burned our way up past big Ford dualie trucks making 8 point turns around the switchbacks, and around Oklahoma rednecks who had rented a UTV for a once a year trip. At a certain point, the relatively wide road became narrow at the top of a waterfall, and a sign eventually read “one way only, do not enter”. Without putting in very much thought, assuming we could easily squeeze around whatever vehicles we encountered, we began up the road over the crest of the mountains.
It didn’t even take 2 switchbacks for Kit to turn to me and say “Well this pass better go, because I do not want to go down this”. At this point we truly should have turned around and checked our maps, however we continued to charge straight up the mountainside in a way that would make Don Quixote proud.
Eventually we came to the crux of the road, right where it crested the saddle at the head of the valley. We were certainly not on Imogene pass, but instead Black Bear Pass, considered the hardest OHV road in Colorado. We stood at a crossroads: Do we call it quits and turn around? Or do we continue to charge headfirst into this challenge and just assume that the road would be clear and easier to the east?
We decided to charge
Once we successfully made it to the top of the saddle we celebrated, after a brutal hike of each 450 lb motorcycle up that steep rocky slope, sitting at an elevation of ~11000 ft. We proceeded to ride even further into the mountains until we finally were stopped dead in our tracks. It was 7pm, we were very exhausted and the road ahead was covered with snow. We stopped to rest for the night and and to make our decision between extreme exertion (pushing the bikes through the snow) and extreme terror (riding back down the nightmare we took ourselves up).
In the morning we awoke and hiked along the road to see if we could make it past the snow. We would have spent a day cutting a bench on the steep snow slopes and pushing the motorcycles forward. The snow rendered our motors useless. It was possible that we could spend an entire day simply moving these bikes 1/4 of a mile, fail, and then be forced to ride back down the pass even more tired than we were before.
We made the very difficult decision that it was best to turn around early and spend the entire day getting the bikes down the pass. For the crux we took the luggage off and carried it down, and then returned back up to the bikes essentially hiking that switchback up and down 5 times. After weeks of laying around in the sun we were knackered.
Adrenaline was rushing through our veins while we solely focused on simply making it back down the twisty jeep trail; of which was littered with rocks and sheer drops, while on a several hundred pound motorcycle with tires designed for partial road use. Just after noon however we were sitting back in downtown Telluride eating Mexican food and looking at the trail we had just ridden.
You don’t get too many free lessons in life, and next time we will certainly have a better idea of what we are getting ourselves into.