Like many BMW riders, I became a motorcycle nut as soon as I was big enough to straddle a Honda 50. Over the years I've graduated to BMWs and spent countless hours traveling on every sort of road imaginable.
I believe that occasionally coming up against Mother Nature's wrath in the form of rain, snow and sideways blowing sleet is part of the adventure. I also thought that ending a long day's ride with a slow one past hotels and motels with No Vacancy signs was unavoidable. It just meant it was time to stop at another gas station with my patient wife, Vicki, for a lukewarm cup of Joe and riding on into the night. Not being able to find a place to stay makes a good story, but only after you're home and warm, bench racing with your buddies.
Vacation time is valuable, and wanting to make the fullest use of it, for the past several years I've taken a new approach: guided motorcycle tours. I know that many riders think tours are for old folks on busses with metered stops for buying souvenirs, or that tours are for those who don't have the time or inclination to pour over books, magazines and maps to create their own.
Over the years Vicki and I have taken nearly every motorcycle tour offered. We've ridden in numerous foreign countries and on several continents. It might seem more reasonable to consider a tour when traveling in Europe, Mexico or South America where money exchange hassles and language barriers exist. We've found these concerns were only details and that the true benefits of a guided tour are the same in the United States as they are abroad. Our last trip to Colorado is a good case in point.
Colorado, when compared to any area where roads in the mountains tempt us to experience their challenge and enjoy spectacular vistas, wins first prize. It offers a diversity of breathtaking scenery that is second to none anywhere in the world, with the added advantage of lightly traveled backroads, amazing geology and a rich historic past.
Since we already had plans to attend the BMWMOA National Rally in Durango, I spoke with Mike Broadstreet, owner/guide of Freedom Tours. Upon hearing of his experience in the mountains, we decided to make the connection and to tour Colorado for nine days prior to the Rally.
Vicki and I have traveled in Colorado several times before, enjoying well-known roads such as Red Mountain Pass and Independence Pass, and it's perfectly clear why so many stories have been written about them.
This time, we saw things we had missed on previous trips. At our stop on Red Mountain Pass, Mike took us over a foot trail dotted with wildflowers. At the end of the short walk he pointed out the original roadbed from Otto Mear's toll road showing the route the rich ore took off the mountain. Located near this site were hundred-year-old mining structures, including a winch building with the mine shaft intact, and a steam-driven power plant quietly rusting in the sunshine.
A stop on Independence Pass revealed another previously missed treasure. High in the valley and just off the road. Mike showed us an entire ghost town. The settlement of Independence was a bustling mining town and stage coach stop in the early 1880's, when it took three days to get from Aspen to Leadville. With its own newspaper, stamp mill, saw mill, and 40 established businesses, 1,500 people once endured life here at 11,000 feet in hopes of striking it rich. We had a great time exploring the buildings, snapping photos and absorbing the spirit of this historic valley.
No matter where you travel there is a huge advantage in riding with someone who knows the area. In this case it was more like old friends showing you around their neighborhood. It's obvious that Mike and his wife Linda, know and love these mountains. They delight in passing along their knowledge laced with humorous tales of the old west.
While at a pullout, teasing each other about our particular brands of bikes, Mike walked over to the chase vehicle and came back with a pair of binoculars. He handed them to me and asked me to look up into the meadow, just above the curve of the snowbank. Sure enough, a herd of Elk! I could have stood there all morning and not known where to look for them.
There is much to be said for just pointing your motorcycle and seeing only what fate shows you. When the goal is to enjoy lodging with charm, sumptuous food, local beer or the best motorcycle roads, you're better off putting yourself in the hands of friends who are on their home turf. You ride the roads known only by the locals and gain information that makes for a more meaningful experience. It certainly is relaxing to know that arrangements have been made for cozy lodging and delightful meals.
We appreciated having a chase vehicle (it's amazing how much smaller your saddlebags are by about the fifth day). We also discovered that the price is just slightly more than we have spent going on our own, and what we received for that extra money was far beyond our expectations.
I can still bench race with the best of them these days, except now I have a much better knowledge and understanding of the territory, and I arrived home rested and inspired. Until you try a guided tour, you won't know what you're missing.