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36 Hours of Adventure: High Passes and cold Fingers

I could feel the rear wheel sink simultaneously as the front wheel began to scramble for traction, its irregular wiggle searching hopelessly for firmer ground. I corrected my over-correction, goosed the throttle just a tad, and plowed a serpentine furrow towards what appeared to be drier earth. Early spring brings these slippery conditions to the mountains, but this was not necessarily early spring. This was just a few weeks ago, late May to be exact, and winter had yet to fully release its grip on the high Rockies of Colorado. I dismounted my bike, gave the road one more evaluative stare, and tenuously pressed on. It was getting dark. It was already wet, and I was definitely damn cold. Rain had transitioned to sleet with the occasional moment of chunky snow. It wasn’t exactly what I had bought into, but I remembered my favorite quote from a good friend, “It’s not an adventure until it has potential to really suck.”  With that, I confirmed my current status as adventure-worthy and turned my attention towards locating a place to camp.  I had been in the saddle for over ten hours and it was well past my bed time.

 

My day had started hours earlier at the crack of pre-dawn at my house in Prescott, Arizona. I was on my way to Fort Collins, Colorado to meet the bulk of my family, and because I never do anything the easy way, decided I’d get there by way of two wheels. This has become a reoccurring theme that serves as backdrop to nearly everything I do, for better or worse. Cutting my way across the Navajo reservation with the light of early day highlighting the red rocks and mesas, I was focused purely on hitting Durango in time for lunch, perhaps for a slab of ribs, a hulking burger, or better yet, the region’s favorite, a marginal burrito made delicious with a healthy slathering of green chili.

As I knew I would, I made my lunchtime destination within burrito-eating hours and gave my hind side a much needed rest from the saddle. The seven hours to Durango is a a ride I can do in my sleep, and truth be told, I may have done just that. I can never remember a damn thing from that track of tarmac it’s so boring––at least to me. Lunch consumed, I moved onward ticking off towns and mountain passes one by one; first Pagosa Springs, Wolf Creek, and Center, then Saguache, Poncha Springs and eventually into Buena Vista. Storms had gathered overhead and despite my attempts to be unaffected by weather, I admit I fear its wrath. My last ride through Colorado in 2013 coincided with the worst rains and floods in a century, an event that appeared to be repeating itself right before me, defying the 100 year odds.

 

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As i rode towards Leadville, I realized the witching hour had arrived and it was time to find a camp before I ascended too high. I turned down what appeared to be a well marked road thinking a suitable camp would be found just off the pavement. For reasons I can’t explain, the road lured me further upward, high on the flanks of the mountains now bathed in the late light of day. The rain was intermittent, occasionally dropping chunky snowflakes on my visor. Daylight faded quickly and my headlight began to make a noticeable difference in my ability to see the road. Sensing an urgent need to stop, I couldn’t resist riding further into the mountains. Sliding through soggy corners and tunneling through aspen groves and beyond rocky outcrops, I finally found a place to camp. Knowing how cold I was from sitting motionless atop my motorcycle for so long, I ran up the road a hundred yards or so to warm my inner furnace and return some blood to my extremities.  Quickly diving into warm duds and a dry tent, I barely leveled my head before my eyes slammed shut. I spend more than 40 nights a year in my tent some years, and I’ve got the camping thing down to a science. Get in, get warm, get to sleep.

 

The next morning I felt no particular impetus to get moving too soon. I waited patiently for my tent to be fully bathed in morning light before I poked my head out of my nylon cocoon. Sunlight had conquered the foul clouds and the grass steamed as it released the night’s wet blanket. In the transition from night to day, winter had actually become spring. As an added bonus, I had awaken within visible distance of an old mining town. Some of you will know where I was, I don’t necessarily feel the need to tell where. If you care to seek it out, you’ll find it.

 

 

Putting on my dry clothes, I grabbed my camera and as if I hadn’t a care in the world or a schedule to keep, sauntered into a meadow clicking pictures and sipping on a hot cup of camp coffee. With the sun reaching ever higher into the morning sky, I packed my motorcycle, donned my cold boots and wet gloves, and worked my way back to the highway.

 

Before long, and all too soon, I was swimming amidst the traffic of Denver, then Fort Collins, the quiet of the mountains lost in my review mirrors, their buzzing reflections choked with visions of headlights, bumpers, and the sullen faces of caged drivers seemingly automatonic, lifeless, and certainly without joy. Not me, though. I was grinning ear to ear having spent a day on a motorcycle and a night in a sleeping bag.

 

I often read on the Expedition Portal forums the sad pleas for adventures unanswered, of overlanders sequestered to couches and longing for a big trip, a bold challenge, a wilderness experience fitting of a transcendent essay. Such journeys are easily had, even folded into the simple construct of a two-day road trip. Yet, many of you chastise the road trip and doubt its ability to deliver the goods, the the stuff that makes “overlanding” worth doing.

 

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My journey was initially intended to just connect two dots, a point A with a distant point B. It was over almost as soon as it began, but that didn’t degrade the magnitude of the experience or its value to me as a traveler. I could have flown to Fort Collins. I could have slumped behind the wheel of my car and pushed my less brainy end into a leather seat. Or, I could have done what I had and embraced the miles and the mud, had my fingers chilled to the bone, and awakened to a morning in the Rockies, no one around, just me and the Mountain Jays, a random beaver toiling at his overflowing dam, the elk munching away on fresh spring greens.

 

Adventure is where you find it, and it doesn’t demand a crowd or audience. It’s there for the taking, and all that you make of it. The next time you have to be somewhere, make it an over night trip. Plan little, and expect much in return. You’d be surprised what you can squeeze into 36 hours.

 

Go adventure. It really is that easy.

 

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Selfie sticks are for schmucks. I like the selfie shed, preferably a century old.

 

 

Christophe Noel is a journalist from Prescott, Arizona. Born into a family of backcountry enthusiasts, Christophe grew up backpacking the mountains and deserts of the American West. An avid cyclist and bikepacker, he also has a passion for motorcycles, travel, food and overlanding.