Thursday, August 14, 2014
Wednesday was a work day, so we were back to the TAT first thing Thursday morning. Salida’s altitude meant the night-time temperatures were cool. By the time we left Salida, the temperature was in the mid 50s, so it was cool enough to warrant the use of heated grips.
The TAT heads west to Ponca Springs, then south before the route starts gaining altitude to our first pass of the day, Marshall Pass. This portion of the TAT uses fairly well-groomed United States Forest Service (USFS) and private roads up through the central Colorado mountains.
Up and down we rode through a variety of forested sections and alpine pastures. The terrain never looks the same. On most of the TAT, we have been almost entirely alone on the circuitous route that steers clear of common travel paths; that would not be the case on this day of riding. From before lunch and throughout most of the day, we would pass probably over a hundred smaller displacement dualsport motorcycles. Some were street legal, while others were nothing of the sort. Apparently, there was a two-day ride event that attracted a good crowd of dualsport enthusiasts and was the primary reason for the increased presence of traffic. These smaller bikes, made navigation of the increasingly more difficult terrain a lot more manageable.
The Colorado summer has been cooler and wetter than “normal”, whatever that is, and this riding day would expose us to some of that moisture. The road types vary with clean gravel, to layers of dirt and gravel, dirt, and everything in between. And because of the wet summer, we were routinely riding over roads that had been recently regraded. In some instances, we were riding on roads that in the process of being regraded.
Aside from some logging operations, the most frequent other form of occupation (other than tourism based activities) is ranching. While riding, another opportunity to engage a local became possible. As we were riding down from a lower pass, we came across this fellow driving a side-by-side. Well, his name was Curt and his working buddies were Lea (seen in the back of the side-by-side) and puppy Tippy (short for “Typical”) in the floor of the passenger side of the side-by-side (not visible). Curt has lived here his entire life and seems to quite enjoy his life as a high mountain Colorado rancher.
We stopped at a day use part along the shores of Lake San Cristobal for quick picnic lunch prior tackling our next pass, Cinnamon Pass. The skies had been overcast throughout the day, with no rain, yet… In addition to the KTMs we had been seeing, we also started seeing heaps and heaps of Jeeps. We soon found out why.
The road up to Cinnamon Pass started out as most of the other non-paved roads – mixed grades, mixed surfaces, narrow in spots, and breathtaking views were frequent. The increased as we road west. One tricky spot after another presented itself and things got more interesting as the rain started to fall. The TAT got steeper and switchbacks challenged us as we road to the pass. At one point, the conditions were such that we had to rely on teamwork to get our 700+ pound BMWs over the slick rocks and muddy roads; meanwhile, we were doing this and having to share portions of the road with the four-wheeled vehicles that were both descending and ascending Cinnamon Pass.
Hours later we reached the pass, all 12,600 feet AMSL! We made it with only one tip-over and through expending lots of energy.
Despite the mixed reports we received from other riders, the descent was still some of the toughest riding we’ve ever done; however, it didn’t compare to the ascent. Downhill we rode, losing thousands of feet in elevation in a very short distance to Animas Forks. In this part of Colorado, there are lots of abandoned and still operational mines. Animas Forks is an abandoned mining town and a decision-making point for TAT riders. Either continue up to California Pass and over the mountains towards Telluride or continue down towards Silverton.
Given the time of day (late afternoon), our energy level, and rainshowers, our better judgement was to head to Silverton for dinner and to find a place to rest our heads. Silverton is another historic mining town that survives today on tourism (Jeeping in the summer months) and snowsports (snowboarding in the winter). Even though we arrived before 6:00pm, none of the local lodging establishments had any vacant rooms.
Until now, Scott had made advance reservations for every other night. As the TAT gets into the more mountainous states, the difficulty level increases. As such, it would be more difficult to predict our pace and possible location, so we decided to address our lodging needs day-by-day moving forward. Given that no rooms were available, we would camp for the first time on the trip!
On the edge of Silverton is an establishment with tent camping spots called Red Mountain Motel, Cabins, RV Park, & Jeep Rentals. We didn’t have any options, so we gave it a go. Their proximity to restaurants in Silverton would also give us the flexibility to walk to town for dinner and breakfast. The fellow working the counter was friendly and got us squared away with a camping site in short order.
This gave us the first opportunity to use the camping gear we got at Next Adventure. Bryan Knudsen and his crew at Next Adventure in Portland, Oregon hooked us up with kick ass camping gear. Several months ago, Ryan Slagel, spent the morning with us selecting compact, lightweight, and technical gear. The gear is outstanding (we’ll have another blog post about this gear later)!
With our campsite set, we needed dinner and it was getting late, so we walked up the main drag in Silverton and decide to grab dinner at Thee Pitts Again. Based on the workout from climbing and descending Cinnamon Pass, we celebrated with breaded pork tenderloin sandwiches and deep fried pickles! What a treat.
Conquering Cinnamon Pass and getting ourselves down the mountain safely allowed us to mark another day off our TAT trip with smiles on our faces.