Colorado’s million-dollar highways are worth the price of admission, but the short cuts will have to wait for another time
Story and photos by Jeff Davison
Should I stay or should I go? For the second time in a week, The Clash performed their classic song in my head. The first time was at the turnoff to Paradox in western Colorado. (It just seemed appropriate to hum at that junction.) The second, and more significant, was here as I tried to stare down the Alpine Loop just west of Lake City. The Alpine Loop is a challenging backcountry adventure route that leads through high alpine meadows and forests, up above timberline into the tundra and over two high-elevation passes.
I had considered it as a short cut between Ouray and Lake City when I was originally planning my summer ride. However, several experienced riders had responded unanimously to my online query: “Don’t do it on a Honda NC700X – you’ll beat the crap out of it,” warned one. “Don’t tackle it if it’s your first serious off-road ride,” said another. “Definitely don’t attempt it solo,” advised a third. But here I was some distance up the Loop, sitting on my bike, my eyes now following the route to where it disappeared over a ridge. I so wanted to go! I had since traded my Honda for a 2006 Suzuki V-Strom DL650, an acknowledged workhorse for both highway and off-road riding, so that was no longer a problem. But it was still a gamble – should I risk it? And how had I gotten myself into this moment of (in)decision?
Days earlier, I had crossed the border into the Centennial State from the west. Highway 90 became 145 as it led through large ranches with cattle and horses grazing in vast pastures until, just beyond Norwood, the land sharply rose up into mountains and mist. Leading through downtown Telluride, a strikingly beautiful ski town, the main street morphed into a gravel road with a series of switchbacks up the mountainside. A white house stood on a precipice beside Bridal Veil Falls, which plummeted over the cliff 108 metres above the town. The house is both a residence and power plant providing
25 percent of Telluride’s electricity.
After lunch in a simple café beneath soaring ski runs, I pointed my wheels south. Clouds shrouded the peaks as I began to follow the San Juan Skyway. Almost immediately I climbed to over 3,050 metres at Lizard Head Pass and I had to don rain gear given the thick cloud cover. I was pleased with the aftermarket heated grips, which did their job quite well, the warmth travelling up my arms, even calming the bodily shiver I had begun to feel.
It’s a Physics Thing
An hour in the saddle led me on perfect pavement to Cortez, where I would stop for the night, but first I was committed to press on another 50 minutes to the Four Corners, the only place in the USA where four states meet: Utah, Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona. Somehow I had imagined pulling up to the quadripoint, taking a photo and moving on. But dropping the kickstand in the gravel parking lot, I was amazed and somewhat dismayed to see a line of a hundred people all waiting their turn and surrounded by Navajo vendors selling T-shirts, jewellery and cold drinks.Taking my place in queue did give me the opportunity to meet a rather frail Floridian couple who were celebrating their 58th wedding anniversary – by road-tripping across the country. I was already impressed with their temerity, but when they learned I was travelling by motorcycle, their eyes lit up. Had they been in better health, I think they, too, might have dispensed with a couple of wheels.
Because Arizona does not observe daylight saving time, I realized that, as I finally stepped onto the surveyor’s medallion set in concrete, I had discovered a way to be in four places and two time zones at once – with only a rudimentary understanding of space–time theory. Take that, Albert Einstein!
Retracing the gently winding route to Cortez, I noticed an…