Riding High: Report from the Rockies

Motorcycle Cruiser staff of one leads a diverse band of readers through hell and on to CycleFest.. ** By Andrew Cherney.**

If you're scouting for a location at which to stage a motorcycle event, the Rocky Mountain State's hard to beat -- Colorado's snowcapped scenery can tantalize even the most surly two-wheel riders with its spectacular mix of majestic peaks, and sinuous roads. So when the Primedia (_ Motorcycle Cruiser_'s parent company) Motorcycle Group was looking to unfurl its first CycleFest bash, the idyllic setting at Copper Mountain, near Vail, proved impossible to resist.

The inaugural event at the Copper Mountain Resort brought in a terrific crowd -- even though afternoon thunderstorms occasionally floated in, bike enthusiasts streamed in to soak up the stunt exhibitions, the SuperMoto races, a huge vendor area and a diverse offering of demo rides.

But I'd like to think a few of the CycleFesters would confess that their 865+ mile ride to the event with Motorcycle Cruiser's staff was the highlight. It certainly was for me -- probably because I was the staff. Of one. Anyone familiar with Motorcycle Cruiser knows we like to mix it up with our readers by staging rides throughout the year. Readers get a chance to meet the Cruiser crew, we get to ask them how we're doing, and everybody gets an eyeful of scenery. For CycleFest, we'd be departing Saint George, Utah and carving a route northeast to Copper Mountain -- and anyone could join. So even though the Editorial "We" became just the editorial me (when Elvidge and Friedman got balked by other matters), I couldn't have picked a better bunch to ride with.

The two dozen or so assorted riders that showed up in St. George, Utah (most of them to meet Elvidge -- I'm sure the sight of my sleep-deprived self groggily passing out maps in the hotel lobby scared the rest off), came prepared to ride. Good thing, because they were treated to over 550 hard miles of spectacular swervery and some of the hottest temperatures in the Southwest. But the passing landscape was also eye-popping stuff, and our enthusiastic group lollygagged along Route 12 through the fantastic red rock sculptures of Bryce Canyon before blazing into the cool Dixie National Forest on Highway 24. At midday, a frantic game of find-the-open restaurant finally resulted in a well-deserved, rollicking lunch at a local roadside cafe in Torrey. The iced tea flowed and the jaws flapped -- it was that quintessential motorcycle moment that comes directly after an intense ride. But the day was slipping by fast, so after a short break we mounted back up. The stark desert around Capitol Reef National Park morphed into the oven-heat of Route 95, where we bisected White Canyon across the Colorado River. The red rock was everywhere, and our pace was blistering - I even found myself throttling back on several occasions (my rap sheet is already a mile long). By the time we hit the Colorado border in late afternoon, our film was used up and our collectively thrashed torsos were ready for the overnight in Durango.

Durango's become a fairly large city, but its claim to fame remains a restored old downtown area which includes the terminus of the Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad, a nostalgic locomotive experience that really draws the masses. But the morning had dawned cool and after our dusty march through the desert, we were looking forward to a little Rocky Mountain high. As we ascended US Route 550 north out of Durango, the air grew noticeably thinner and the roads more twisty, and our ragtag group scraped its way up to Coal Bank Hill Pass at 10,640 feet. The real high began after the Molas Divide (10,900') however, when we descended into Silverton, an inviting frontier town set in a gorgeous valley. Some of us dallied in the rustic town for a bit, exploring its delightful main street, but the rest were hankering to charge up into the portion of US 550 known as the Million-Dollar Highway, the most famous part of which runs from Silverton to Ouray and includes some of the coolest old mining towns in the West.

We weren't disappointed. Surmounting Red Mountain Pass at 11,000 feet, I couldn't help but hear cheesy John Denver lyrics echoing in my mind: "He climbed cathedral mountains, he saw silver clouds below. He saw everything as far as you can see". But there was no time for aching displays of public emotion, because the endless double switchbacks making up the road should be considered treacherous even on the best day. Our group marveled at the lack of guardrails, the numerous landslides (there was a lot of earthmoving equipment along this stretch) and the epic mountain vistas at every turn. Take one turn too wide and it's a hundred feet down or more. The Million Dollar Highway is a one-in-a-million road, almost beyond belief -- this serviceable US highway pretty much belongs in the Alps. No wonder that near Ouray, we came upon an impressive area the locals call Little Switzerland for its stunning granite towers and ubiquitous waterfalls. Our band pulled over, snapped photos and ate up the sights, some venturing on to Ouray's historic main drag for a more substantial bite to eat.

After descending on 550, we took a right onto Highway 50 at Montrose and slipped east through the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, picking up big speed at this lower elevation before cresting Monarch Pass (11,300) and making another fuel stop at Salida. This was the home stretch and everyone was feeling fine. We'd be veering north onto Highway 24 for the final approach to Copper Mountain, and the group was starting to splinter off to their various final destinations. Highway 24 winds along Sawatch Range which is packed with Fourteeners, as they're known in Colorado -- mountain peaks more than 14,000 feet in height. The silent sentries shadowed us all the way to Leadville, another charming old mining town and the highest incorporated city in the continental United States at 10,152 feet above sea level. We drank in the cool, thin air briefly and then twisted our throttles -- Copper was calling. 20 minutes later, pulling up into the resort's registration area, I remember feeling great satisfaction and a genuine sense of pride for having made this incredible trek with such a warm, friendly, and accomplished group of readers. All the different voices and personalities along the way made the ride that much richer. I couldn't imagine a better way to really crystallize what _ Motorcycle Cruiser _ and the cruising experience is all about, and I can't wait to do it again soon.

See y'all out there.

_If you don't see him out there, you can email Cherney at Andy.Cherney@primedia.com

For more descriptions of our favorite motorcycle rides and destinations, visit the Rides and Destinations section of MotorcycleCruiser.com.

Photography by Steven Green and Andy Cherney.
Utah was a blur.
_Bryce is nice,
Little Switzerland
Independence Pass
Leadville's mining heritage