To say that we didn’t know what we were getting into wouldn’t quite get to the grizzle of it. 12,700 feet above sea level is not a hospitable place. There are no trees, very little oxygen and no place for a warm mug of coffee, but what there are in abundance are rocks, entire fields full of jagged, loose rocks. And the trail itself is a rocky mess. As the motorcycle loses power the rocks get looser. It’s the kind of riding in which stopping is not an option, nor is turning around because the ride back seems just as ominous as the ride forward.
It’s one thing to ride through warm meadows and gaze dreamily at the mountains beyond. It’s another thing all together to point the bike skyward and ride right up them. Like swimming with whales, what seemed like gentle giants, become, upon closer inspection, uneasy, tumultuous beasts. The remnants of landslides, rock slides and snow slides define this place. Trees hunker in little groves where, by some chance of geography, they are protected from the grinding avalanches. Everywhere else is bare rock.
We climb and climb and then climb some more. At the top we discover a stick propped in the rock and a little sign, Cinnamon Pass. It’s already late in the afternoon and we have many more passes to go. We hunker down and get into a rhythm. Going between first and second gear we slowly grind our way up the mountains and then down again. Hurricane, California, we tick off the passes until finally, with the dark and cold descending the last mountain with us we roll into the sleepy little town of Silverton.
We had planned to camp but it’s cold and we’re out of water and looking for a warm bed. We ask a girl with a dog and she sends us around the corner to the hostel. We get a bunk, catch some live music at the brewery and have a rum drink at the Montanya Distillery and another day is done.
A few miles closer to the Pacific. We still have Ophir pass ahead of us. I now understand why the rocky mountains were an obstacle to westward expansion. But more than that I start to feel like I am counting the days and adventures we have left. The slower we go the longer we get to be out here, exploring. And so the goal is not to finish but to slow down and enjoy the adventure.