A Wednesday Morning on the Trans America Trail in Salida, Colorado and the sun breaks through yesterday’s cold rain. The motorcycles are covered in last nights frost which is this morning’s dew. It feels good to buckle up my motorcycle boots again. It’s been two days since we rolled into Salida. We’ve thoroughly explored her bars, restaurants, parks and cafes and chosen our favorites. The grand old Victoria on the corner of 1st and F and The Fritz for great food one door down and River Park right across the street on the banks of the Arkansas and the New Dawn Cafe where we spent hours yesterday watching the rain pool outside the garage doors.
But today the sun is out and we’re headed for Marshall Pass. After a quick pit stop for chain lubing, checking fluids and air pressure we are off. We are bundled against the still chill air with gloves and layers of fleece. After a brief blast down highway 50 we duck off on a dirt road. It leads us past meandering mountain streams, beaver dams and alpine lakes. The riding is a narrow and winding dirt road. It leads us through yellow aspen groves and out into clearings where the mountain drops away beneath us. On neighboring peaks we can see scree fields, avalanche paths and stripes of brilliant aspen. We are flying up the pass but slow down to look out into the empty space all around us.
Marshall Pass is an easy climb and the bikes seem only a little slower despite the elevation. The descent is the stuff of dreams. Our knobbies bite the damp earth as we plunge through tunnels of aspens before laying the bikes over hard for switchbacks through mountain meadows. Looking downward we can see where the trail will eventually take us. It’s the kind of trail that makes heroes out of mediocre riders, undulating, sticky with yesterday’s moisture and smooth dirt. We bank harder and harder into the turns but there is no wrong way to fly down the mountain until there is. I wait for Samantha but she doesn’t catch up to me. I turn around and find her bobbing around on one leg, the bike lying in the middle of the road. As we descended the western slope of the pass the trail was getting dryer and less grippy until this hard left of slippery pea gravel. It sent Samantha into a long slide into first base, rear wheel locked. We surveyed the damage. One bruised shin, one very bent shifter, one bent kickstand and a broken rack clamp. We bent everything back as best we could with our trusty vice grips.
More riding but a little slower now. We come out on 285 and ride the pavement on to another dirt road that takes us into open sage country. Huge meadows are flanked by cliffs around the rims. The road is long and straight and we are going flat out. Within one valley is a solitary butte in its center, like a stone fortress for some otherworldly villain. Then we are back in aspen groves again. Finally we follow a creek out to a paved road. The highway feels oddly smooth after the trail and we descend on a black ribbon through twists and turns into the little mountain town of Lake City.
Both of our bikes have been making more and more noises and seem to be running rougher. I go through stages of thinking there is something wrong with the metallic ring I hear from the front of the motor and now the firing seems just a little off and the exhaust louder. I decide I have a bad timing chain which is stretching and about to break, which explains the rough running feeling. We decide to detour into Gunnison to Gunnison Powersports to get the work done. It’s a spectacular drive and the late afternoon sun lights up the rocks, cliffs and Lake Fork river as we meander along its course.
An hour later, just after 6pm we roll into Gunnison. I spot the shop and we pull around back hoping someone will still be around. They’re out back putting away bikes and quads and drinking beer. They listen to both bikes and even put a mechanics stethoscope up to my motor before saying, “You’re fucked.” and then laughing. “No seriously man there is nothing wrong with these bikes.” They tell us to change our oil more and send us on our way. I’m shocked. We’ve ridden 100 miles off the Trans America Trail for no reason at all, just mechanical paranoia. I open the bike wide open and slam through the gears. If there is something wrong speak now or forever hold your peace. What I thought was lack of power was just me babying what I thought was an injured steed. The bike performs flawlessly just a little sluggish from oxygen depravation. The horrible sound coming from the front of the engine is just my cam chain which is self adjusting and will quiet down once it stretches enough to click to the next notch or so I am told by the mechanics. It might fix itself. I’m still not sure if the bike is perfect. It definitely sounds differently than it did when we left Florida 4,000 miles ago. But you can’t fix it till its broke and I am done worrying about it. It’s a single cylinder thumper by nature, noises are to be expected.