Firstgear Colorado Adventure Ride

Colorado Rockies

Last fall, I was invited on a dual-sport ride in the Colorado Rockies courtesy of Firstgear and Tucker Rocky. The idea was to bring media, Tucker Rocky staff and a few top dealers together to sample the brand-new Firstgear TPG apparel with d3o technology. Specifically for the trip, I was outfitted with the top-of-the line TPG Rainier jacket, Escape Pants, Star Boots and Element gloves.

DAY 1
Living in sunny Southern California, there is fantastic year-round riding, but nothing quite in the same league as the Rocky Mountains. My last (and only) dual-sport ride in Colorado had more of a single-track focus than what this would be. I'll never forget the amazing country in and around Crested Butte, Ouray and Silverton (southwest from where this trip would take us).

So it was with great anticipation that I landed in Gunnison, where I was greeted by ride organizer and all-around good guy Mark Kincart of Firstgear. Later at Mark's house, I met "the troops"-about 25 riders in all. Looking at the assembled machines, it was typical adventure-bike fare; BMW GSs, KTM Adventures, a V-Strom 650, and four Kawasaki KLR650s rented from Sun Sports Unlimited (www.sunsportsunlimited.com). The KLRs were brand new and stock except for a skidplate. Mine showed a whopping 14 miles on the clock. After a great dinner and drinks courtesy of Mark and his wife Rose, it was time to get some rest and prepare.

DAY 2
The next morning, we filled up on one helluva breakfast (homemade hashbrowns and quiche) and prepped for three days of two-wheeled "epic-ness". At around 9 a.m., it was time to roll. Leaving Gunnison, we rode tarmac to Almont (the first of many historic mining towns along the route) before heading up Taylor Canyon, which turned to dirt. Not much rain had fallen in the days prior, and this part of the ride was the most dusty. Near the top, while waiting for the group, a number of us ventured up a jeep trail to get a little more riding under our belts. It dead-ended about 7 miles up, but offered a more challenging loop than the groomed dirt roads we had been riding.

Heading down into Taylor Lake, I jumped in behind Mike Schmahl, a Southern California Tucker Rocky rep aboard his 950 Adventure. It was great fun pushing alongside a good rider, and a challenge to keep up on the lower-powered KLR. Up ahead at Taylor Lake, the chase van was waiting with sandwiches and drinks. Ominous skies signaled that rain was coming, and it wasn't long before we were standing in a downpour. While enjoying this strange new sensation (it doesn't rain much in SoCal), I was nervous about getting soaked and cold for the rest of the day. The pullover hood on the Rainier jacket - first time I have ever used one-proved to be one useful bit of kit as I stayed completely dry head to toe.

Continuing on after lunch, the dust of the morning was gone. In its place was a blissful combination of loamy traction with few hard-to-detect bits of slippery slop that could put you on your head in a heartbeat. Can a KLR powerslide in perfect conditions at 9000 feet elevation with 210 pounds on board? No, but it was fun trying! We climbed up and over Cottonwood Pass (12,126 feet), before heading down the other side into Buena Vista. A group of us managed to get pretty far ahead of the rest, and while the "official" plan called for ice cream in Buena Vista, the early arrivers checked into the local watering holes instead. The Lariat Bar and Grill (www.lariatbar.com) dates back to 1885 and is definitely "period" with a tin ceiling and a very original-looking wooden bar.This place captured Buena Vista for me-a town that maintains many of the original buildings and the feel from Colorado's mining boom. Leaving Buena Vista, the group had left us behind. We deserved it, but knew where to go: a campsite near "Sargeants". As we pulled up to the site, the chase van was there with food on the grill and beer on ice. I grabbed my gear from the van and searched for a place to pitch my tent. While it was fun watching Tucker's Jim Whitehouse struggle to pitch his tent (loaned to an irresponsible friend and returned damaged), three of us needed more seat time.

Following Tim Pritchard, who knows the area, and Mike Schmahl, we headed to White Pine, a fascinating, historic and very remote ghost town where people still inhabit some old cabins in the warmer months. Past White Pine toward Tomichi Pass, the road got progressively steeper and rockier. I was happy to be on the nimble KLR as Mike and Tim wrestled with their KTM Adventures. Eventually, Mike dropped his 950 in the rocks, spewing expletives. The skies continued to darken quickly, and it seemed wise to head back to camp. Soon, the center of the storm was on top of us. Running from it, rather than waiting it out, was maybe not the smartest move, but it was certainly exciting! I remember feeling really vulnerable between clusters of trees, just going as fast as I could to get back under cover. Those thunder claps were loud, and the lightning directly overhead was way too close for comfort!

Back at camp, Jim had just managed to finish erecting his tent. The grub was amazing: cold beer, homemade chips with seven-layer bean dip, buffalo burgers, chicken and bratwursts. I escaped to my tent for a few minutes after dinner to watch the sun go down, reflect on the day's ride and pinch myself. It was a blissful few minutes away from the realities and responsibilities awaiting me back in Los Angeles. The rain fell on and off through the night, and I wondered if my $79 Sears Tent was up to the task. It was-barely.

DAY 3
Blue skies and perfectly watered dirt roads greeted us. Nirvana. We came upon a water crossing, and after blasting through a few times for the camera, Whitehouse, Schmahl and I proceeded up an unmarked jeep road to "who knows where." It was a steep, challenging two-track with appreciable elevation gain, perfect traction and some motocross-style jumps sprinkled in. Here, the KLR's stock suspension was inadequate at best, bottoming frequently and hard despite my efforts to land soft. Skid plate now officially tested, and motor well broken-in, we headed back to the main road to climb up and over Marshall Pass (elev. 10,842 feet). The backside offered some of the better pavement, and we scratched back to Buena Vista for lunch at K's Old-Fashioned Hamburgers.

Back on the road, we started the trek up to Independence Pass with warnings to "layer up." It's quite a climb. Passing cars uphill at elevation on the 40ish-horsepower KLR required planning and patience. I slowly fell to the back of the pack with the other KLRs, where we belonged. Independence Pass is, in my opinion, the most interesting and among the highest (elev. 12,095 feet) peaks of the many we climbed. (Cottonwood Pass is actually 31 feet higher). The temps dropped to their lowest of the entire trip, and at the peak it was about 32 degrees and raining/sleeting. The vegetation and habitat up there look positively tundra-ish, and we were not far from treeline. Riding toward Aspen, I took the lead and headed out. Riding alone for a stretch of 20 miles or so provided a feeling of freedom and satisfaction, and my KLR was an animal downhill, dropping "cages" at will. Aspen was a departure from the many small and mostly original mining towns that we passed through. A different world, and more like the one I left behind, so I was happy to continue right through on my way to our third night's destination: Glenwood Springs. It was before Glenwood that we experienced the heaviest downpour of the trip by far. The rain was literally bucketing down, and I was wondering what the hell I was thinking riding in a motocross helmet and goggles. The huge drops pounded my skin at 70 mph with eye-watering effect. Below my neck, however, I stayed completely dry. I'd never experienced this level of rain-worthiness in riding gear, and became a believer at this point.

Riding down Main Street in Glenwood Springs, I spied a sign for Doc Holliday's grave. Apparently Doc, health failing due to tuberculosis, came to the town's hot springs for their alleged healing powers. In reality, the sulphur may have hastened his demise, and he died there in November 1887. The hot springs are the largest natural ones in the USA, and a few of us soaked in them before dinner. There is a lot to see and do in the Glenwood area. After a great Mexican dinner, a few of us stayed out to the wee hours of the morning at the Springs Downtown Bar and Grill. I was out of my league, but hung the best I could. A night to remember for sure.

DAY 4
The morning was memorable, too. Copious amounts of water and Advil had me back running on three cylinders, and my partners in crime were looking positively green. We deserved to suffer on this day, but for the most part I felt okay on the bike. For our last day, we headed over a series of lower passes-McClure, Kebler and Ohio-on mostly dirt roads. At the end of the day, everybody was tuned up and I thoroughly enjoyed dicing with Schmahl, Whitehouse, Cruiser Customizing's Kyle Bradshaw and Dealer News Editor-in-Chief Dennis Johnson. Crested Butte was our final destination, and it's a fascinating town.There was time before dinner, so we split off into groups, hit a few bars and enjoyed the town. I spent an hour in the Crested Butte Mountain Heritage Museum (www.crestedbutteheritagemuseum.com), which focuses on the area's mining, skiing and ranching past. Dinner was at the Secret Stash (www.thesecretstash.com), at the very end of Elk Avenue and decidedly off the beaten path. What a find: a converted old two-story house with some of the best pizza I've tasted. Apparently the owner is a motorcyclist aficionado as well.

It was a great way to end a trip I won't soon forget. Profound thanks to Tucker Rocky, Firstgear and especially Mark and Rose Kincart for their incredible hospitality, helpfulness and cameraderie. Great people, new friends, incredible country and unforgettable riding. Riding creates memories, and this trip created many.

My ride for the trip parked aside a typically beautiful Colorado lake.
Day 2 near Taylor Lake, watching helplessly as dark skies head straight for us.
This was my first (but certainly not last) experience motorcycle tent camping.
Anthony Bucci from RevZilla and Kyle Bradshaw from Cruiser Customizing at one of the many high passes we conquered.
The most challenging riding of the trip came at the end of day 2, near Tomichi Pass and the town of White Pine.
I found this 120 year-old gravestone near White Pine interesting.
Riding up soggy Highway 82 towards Independence Pass.
Looking at what lies ahead – more incredible riding and scenery!
Our final evening was spent in Crested Butte at the Secret Stash.
Glenwood Hot Springs in Glenwood, CO is one of the largest natural hot springs in the world. A must visit if you’re in the area.
Tucker Rocky’s Mike Schmahl in front of the Lariat Bar & Grill, Buena Vista, CO.