It was mountain pass day!
This was a big day on the on the route. Three passes, all over 10,000 feet; Lizard Head pass (tarmac), Imogene pass 13,224′ (off-road) and Engineer pass 12,800′ (off-road). Questions abound: Would the weather hold? Would the bike run at elevation? Could I ride a fully loaded adventure bike up extreme terrain with dire consequences?
I guess we would see; but until then I had 108 miles of forest roads to ride through.
I’d noticed 3 other adventure bikes at the hotel when I went to grab dinner the previous night; they were heading out when I started packing.
It took me an hour to pack this time. I needed to rearranged several things, several times, since my tank bag was now gone. The group I saw leave looked like they were heading the same direction as I was. I’d hoped to maybe talk to them before they left about teaming up for the passes. Thanks to being slow and lazy that wasn’t going to happen.
I finally got packed, dropped off my key and hit the road. There was a slightly uneasy feel to the day. I wasn’t sure what to expect. I did what I always do when I’m feeling uneasy, just put it out of my mind and focus on what was happening at the moment, the first 108 miles.
The route was chilly that morning, of course, I was still up in the mountains so you have to expect that. The roads were pretty smooth so I was able to hold a pretty good pace. Next thing I knew I’d caught up to the group I saw while I was packing. I stopped them and we agreed to meet in Telluride and go over the passes together.
They were bit slower than I was on these tracks, doing roughly 25-30 mph when I caught up to them. I was rolling at about 45-50, so they let me pass.
I came down to a tee intersection where I was supposed to make a left but there was a sign saying road closed. This had happened a few times already without any consequences so I proceeded through anyway. I went down the road and across a small bridge that crossed a stream with the clearest water I’d ever seen. I came up to a guy working up along what looked like a rock slide that had covered the road.
I waited around for about 20 minutes for him to back the grader up to where I was. I asked him if it was alright for me to pass and shrugged his shoulders and said he didn’t know. I asked if the road was clear and he said yes, but there was a Forest Service Officer at the other end writing citations for anyone ignoring the road closed sign and coming through.
Ok, fair enough. “I don’t know” was kind of a weird answer, I think “You probably shouldn’t” would have made more sense. He’d made his point though; back down the hill.
On my way back down I ran into the group I was supposed to me meet up with in Telluride for the passes. I explained the situation ahead and we all began to consult our GPS to find a go around. After a few minutes of searching two guys in a Range Rover pulled up. They were looking for the bridge I’d snapped a picture on and were wondering if they were headed the right direction. We told them they were but the road was closed a few miles past it. They knew already, they’d talked to the Forest Service Officer at the other end and proceeded to explain the way around.
It was 25 miles to the main road and then another 54 to Telluride; a 79 mile detour. We decided to ride it out together.
We had ridden about 40 miles when the group pulled over at a campground’s store. I figured, ok lunch. I’d been skipping lunch and just snacking but it was noon, so it seemed like perfect time. This stopped turned out to be a stop for ice cream instead of lunch. Lunch was scheduled for Telluride. The campground didn’t have soft serve available at the moment. I grabbed a Gatorade and candy bar and proceeded to wait around chatting with one of the guys while we go ready to get riding again.
They’d had quite an adventure so far; lots of falls, miserable times in Nevada and a trip to the ER for a separated shoulder. They were supposed to have four in their group, they’d planned the trip for a buddy of their’s who had brain cancer. He couldn’t make it though because he’d had a relapse. He told them all to go anyway and even drove their bikes out to Portland, Oregon from Tampa, Florida for them.
About an hour had passed before we were finally on the road again and the group of guys had decided to cancel their hotel in Lake City and spend the night in Telluride. It was about 1:00 now and Telluride was still close to an hour away; I wouldn’t start over the passes until 2:00.
We rode up over Lizard Head Pass, down into Telluride and stopped at the first gas station we saw. I said goodbye to the group and told them I was shooting for the passes. They invited me to lunch but I declined due to time. I had a hotel in Lake City I wasn’t willing to cancel.
I rode through downtown Telluride and up the weird ally that over looked Telluride and lead to Imogene Pass.
The ride up the pass was intense. The terrain was rough and the cliffs were steep; no mistakes could be made. There was also Jeep traffic coming down the off the pass as well. Squeezing around Jeeps on the edge of a cliff is not for the faint at heart.
I finally made it to the top. It was like riding on the moon. I pulled The Doctor up into the line for pictures with sign. It was 85 degrees in Telluride and only 46 on top of the pass. Finally, after about 20 minutes it was my turn with the sign.
I headed down the pass; I’d come up the West side of the pass, the East side was much more tame. Personally I like to go up the complicated stuff and down the easy stuff. I feel like there’s more room for error. If I have to bail out going up the hill I feel like I have more control than if I’m letting gravity assist me with my descent.
Nonetheless it still took a good 45 minutes to descend from the pass and down into Ouray. I didn’t actually need to go into the town proper to get to Engineer Pass so I stopped and snapped these:
It was just after 4:00 now and I was committed to getting to Lake City. As much as I preferred not to start another pass that late, I decided to go for it. I’d been watching the weather on the passes all week and it was always changing. I didn’t want to go over in the rain or snow and I had no idea what the weather would do the next day. The weather right then was perfect, not a single cloud in the sky. I couldn’t let the opportunity slip away.
Engineer Pass had less of a cliff but the terrain was much more harsh. After about an hour I’d made it to the top. There was a guy and his son up there with their SUV next to the sign. They offered to take my picture with the sign:
I started back down the East side; it was a breeze. No rock steps, just a long, fast descent without any ledges on the side. The pass started to level out and rode along a creek right into Lake City.
On my way down I ran into a couple of guys on bikes. I stopped to talk to them, they were blown away that I was from Pennsylvania and with the trip in general. They had come out for the week to ride the passes and said they were caught in the snow the day before. They said the weather had been wild all week long and I’d made the right decision to take advantage of the clear skies.
I rode the last 20 miles down into Lake City. I pulled in around 7:40. It was dark but I’d booked a place on Airbnb; I couldn’t find it though. I called the owner and he told me Google always got it wrong and gave me better directions.
Finally I’d arrived, mountain pass day was over. Time to warm up, I was freezing by that point.
Unfortunately, the Airbnb place only had space heaters…