Rocky Mountain Ride
For anyone thinking of making a moto trek to the Mile High City, the most important piece of advice I can share is this: give your self time and don't rush.
When traveling, I prefer to keep a healthy baseline of preparation and a flexible itinerary. The idea of a trip is to unwind and escape, so obsessing over a rock-solid, pre-planned itinerary can be more of a burden than benefit.
Case-in-point: a blown cam belt in a cellular dead zone brought my adventure to a grinding halt on its very first day. Yet I wasn't stressed ( too much).
Answering the call of the open road is a gamble and one never knows how it will pay out; in this instance the pay-out took the form of a three dollar casino voucher and a complementary ride in the back of a Gilpen County Sheriff’s Pickup.
The second piece of hard-learned advice is to give your self time to acclimate to such a height above sea level. Take the day to walk around and explore downtown or the city parks. If you have a proclivity towards the bizarre, Rocky Mountain Arsenal is a Natural Wildlife Preserve on the east side of town, and it was built on top of a Cold War-Era Chemical Weapons Manufacturing Plant. [To date, no latent super-powers have exposed themselves since my visit.]
With the first day on the road being one of..."blown" ambitions, I was looking to escape to the mountains. Which leads me to advice point number three: the greatest asset to a motorcyclist in Colorado is your Maps app and it's topography feature. In my case the destination was Golden Gate Canyon, and after a few errant left hand turns I was on a set of gravel switchbacks with an incline that mimicked the height of their mountainous predecessors in earnest (read: they we're pretty fuckin' steep). Yet my first real sampling of Colorado’s twists and turns came when I linked up with the start of the Peak To Peak Highway. That road threatened to take a strip of rubber off my boot soles as it's own memento. These canyon roads are not to be taken lightly. The lanes are tight and your choice of line takes you within inches of sheer rock faces, while the scenic views dare you to look away.
Descending the highway is just as tricky due to slower-than-first-gear hairpin turns that crisscross the horizon. Such turns are the great equalizer, as the art of going slow and smooth is typically overshadowed by flat out speed.
Advice point number four: brake, push in on those bars, touch your chin to your inside collarbone, and stay wide through the apex. Your four-wheeled counterparts have a horrible tendency of running wide, so for the love of all that is holy hold the right side line. At the end of this gauntlet is the small town of Estes Park at the base of Rocky Mountain National Park, a guaranteed highlight of any trip; mine especially. Side note: a quick detour will allow you to see The Stanley Hotel from The Shining.
There are few times in my adult life that I’ve cried tears of absolute joy. Riding beneath the shadows of 12,000 FT peaks is one of them. The pace winding up the park roads is slow but warranted. With each cresting turn the temperature drops and fills your lungs with a sense of anticipation to break above the tree line. As the flora and fauna fall away an arid, rust hued alpine tundra shapes the skyline. By the time you reach the Alpine Visitor at 12,183 feet the view is literally breathtaking. There’s 35% less oxygen than at sea level and some of this majesty may have been caused by oxygen-deprivation induced hallucinations. Its hard to describe just how powerful it is to ride two times above sea level and still feel dwarfed by nature.
Advice point number five: Guanella Pass is the epitome of riding bliss. A two lane road that takes you from the white birch byways to the valley of Mount Bierstadt and Mount Evans, where the descent is just as majestic as the ascent. At the bottom of Guanella’s north end is Georgetown, a place that seemed to be plucked straight out of the Wild West and dropped into modernity. I'd worked up an appetite at this point, and while the Lucha Cantina is known for their Mexican food - they can also make a damn fine burger. Georgetown is right off of I-70, so at this point you can head west or ride back into the city.
A word of caution - any bikes of a 750cc or lower displacement will definitely have a tricky time keeping speed on the highway should one head westward.
If you’re heading eastward however, stopping at Mount Evans is an absolute requirement. It’s claim to fame is being the highest drivable road in the contiguous states and it does not disappoint. Mount Evans is a road that truly challenges you to confront your fears as you look over the precipice of a 1000+ feet drop off going into your turns. However the view from the shoulder (parked of course) is awe inspiring. Riders also need to look out for bighorn sheep, which have been known to try and spar or kick rocks at you for fun.
Even in the week I spent there, its plain to see that Colorado is a motorcyclist’s paradise. The best way to plot a trip out there is to drop a point on a map and head on whatever route your heart desires. Just remember, keep a willingness to break free from pre-conceived plans and your trip--wherever it takes place--can never go wrong.
Words & Photos by Scott Bradley