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  • Writer's pictureronsmithauthor

Impassable When Wet

Due to the weather, we had already bypassed Ophir Pass, one of the most iconic mountain passes in Colorado. The last thing I wanted to do was bypass another one, even if the map described it as “IMPASSABLE WHEN WET.”

A couple of friends and I were on an adventure motorcycle ride in Colorado, trying to complete The Colorado Backcountry Discovery Route (known as the COBDR). It’s a weeklong motorcycle trip utilizing ATV and jeep trails. The route starts at the four corners and ends at the border of Wyoming and Colorado or vice versa. It had been raining daily, making the trails muddy and slippery. I’d laid my motorcycle down in the mud at least five times, including once where I went face first into the nastiest of mud puddles.

While sitting in Wild Bill’s restaurant enjoying some fantastic hamburgers, we studied a map of the route, looked out at the mountain we needed to go over, and debated whether it was a good idea.

“The weather looks good from here,” I said, looking at Dan for reassurance, knowing if he felt certain of something, then I would feel certain too.

He let out a slow breath, “Yeah, it does,” and then he thought for a moment, “but it’s supposed to rain this afternoon.”

Not getting the answer either of us wanted, we looked at Chad like two lost puppy dogs. Chad, not wanting to be responsible, said, “I don’t want you guys to do anything you’re uncomfortable with.”

Dan moved the map around on the table, being very careful not to get any ketchup or french fry crumbs on it, and pointed to a highlighted spot on the map: Great scenic ride. Caution: IMPASSABLE WHEN WET.

“It’s not raining now. And I don’t want to bypass another one. I didn’t come on this trip to ride the highway. How long does it take to get over it?” I said, trying to find some way to justify going over the mountain pass, trying to find a way to equalize the risk.

Dan threw up his hands slightly while shrugging his shoulders. “How am I supposed to know? I’ve never been on it!”

“How many miles is it?” I asked.

“Well, it’s eleven point six from the bottom to the other side and just short of three from the bottom to the top,” Dan explains.

“Man, we could ride that in fifteen minutes,” I said, folding the map closed. “I’m sure we can beat the weather.”

Dan looked at me and blew out a breath. “Well, if it starts to rain, we could always turn back around.”

“So it’s settled? We’re all doing Hagerman Pass?” I looked at Dan and Chad, who both nodded.

We started on a well-maintained county dirt road leading to the main trailhead. The only obstacles were pesky potholes full of water. I remember wondering, Does this mean the main trail will be wet? And even, for a very short moment, I considered turning around.

At the trailhead, the sign read: “Rough trail ahead. Only high clearance vehicles allowed.” We started up the high clearance road on our motorcycles. The trail quickly narrowed, became steep, and very rocky.

Our troubles started right away. It wasn’t long before Dan, and I laid our bikes down. We dusted ourselves off and kept pushing through. I wondered why I was putting myself through this torture, telling myself that this was supposed to be fun. But I wasn’t having any fun. I took some deep breaths, looked up the trail, and noticed that it wouldn’t get any easier. I then turned to look down and thought, I wonder if I should just turn around and head back down? I looked up at my friends who had started riding again and decided to keep going.

I gave the bike some gas and went as steady as I could over and through the rocks, hitting a few with my engine guard and pegs. The rocks knocked me and the motorcycle off balance. I put my feet down, and thankfully my feet touched the ground. I feathered the throttle with my right hand and gently engaged the clutch. I used my feet to help me walk the motorcycle up the trail doing my best to navigate the rocks. I started picking up speed and went to put my feet back on the pegs. When I did, I quickly discovered my left foot peg was missing.

I rode to a place on the trail where I could put the kickstand down and get off the motorcycle safely. Chad and Dan parked their motorcycles up the hill and hiked down to help.

I was standing next to the motorcycle staring at my missing peg and thinking, how will I make it up or back down this trail? And then my heart sank more, and I swallowed hard, wondering, how am I going to make it the four hundred miles back home without a peg? I felt like crying. I felt defeated and helpless.

Chad came and stood next to me, looking at the motorcycle. “I brought a couple of extra bolts that might work, but we’ll have to get the sheared bolts out and find your broken peg before we can use them.”

I took a sigh of relief. There was some hope of getting off the mountain.

After a few minutes of searching, we found the broken peg, and we started working on getting the sheared bolts out with a chisel, hammer, and screwdriver. But as we worked on getting the bolts out, it started to sprinkle, thunder, and lightning, and then the skies opened up to a downpour.

We put a tarp over the motorcycle and ourselves. I held one end of the tarp up, and Chad held the other while Dan did his best to get the bolts out. As I watched the rain fall, a small stream formed in the middle of the dirt trail. I couldn’t help but remember what the COBDR map had stated, “IMPASSABLE WHEN WET.”

I looked down the trail from where we had come and then up the trail where we needed to go and knew that I didn’t want to go either way. I felt stuck. I am not sure what Chad or Dan were thinking or feeling. I assumed they were doing their best to push through any thoughts on the weather and concentrating on getting the motorcycle going again, which was a good thing because that meant they wouldn't notice me crying.

At that moment, I felt beaten. I was scared. I felt terrible for getting my friends into this situation. I was soaking wet, my wrist hurt from falling one too many times, and to top it off, any choice I had to get off the mountain was a bad one. Whether I went down or up, the likelihood of laying my bike down was somewhere north of one hundred percent. It was going to hurt. This was not what I imagined or what I expected. I wanted to hike to the nearest tree, cuddle up under it, and wait for a helicopter to get me because I was done. One hundred percent done.

Then I closed my eyes and said a silent prayer, and this will sound a little out-there and a little far-fetched, but I’m telling you it happened. I saw myself sitting in my mom’s lap as a toddler, looking down at a book; on the book’s pages was a little blue train, and I saw the words, “I think I can.” This was my favorite book.

I took a deep breath and let it out slowly, and as I did, I realized that everything was going to be ok, and we were going to make it over the mountain.

After about an hour, we got the peg reattached to the motorcycle and headed up the mountain. Thunder crashed, and lightning struck as we turned up the last switchback. I could barely see out of my helmet because of the rain. I laid the bike down one more time but got it back up and on my way again.

Chad’s voice came over the headset. “Should we keep going at the top and skip taking a picture? Maybe we can get out of the rain.”

Lightning flashed out of the corner of my eye. “We earned this one, Chad. Let’s get a picture.”

When we got to the Hagerman Pass sign, it was a downpour; lightning and thunder continued to overtake the sky. But we’d made it. I backed my motorcycle into a spot with Chad and Dan to take a photo. After which, we headed down the other side.

On the way down the backside of the mountain, I pondered the meaning of what I’d pictured. I wondered why God helped me to recall such a special childhood moment. One that I had forgotten about. I wondered why he would help me to remember, “I think I can,” out of all the things to remember.

If I were him, I would have said, You’re on your own. You’re the stupid one for not listening the thirty thousand times I tried to tell you to turn around. But that is not what he said. He didn’t say those things because he knew those things wouldn’t do any good.

He knew what I needed to hear; I think I can. I needed to hear and feel those feelings I had as a toddler because if I didn’t make it over this mountain pass, I would regret it. I was going to regret the whole trip. I would have always wondered if I could have made it.

As I wrote this, it didn’t take long to realize that this trip meant much more to me than I had realized. How often in life do we come to a place where we have to decide whether or not to endure the rain, the mud, and the rocks? How often do we decide to take the bypass because it’s safer? How often do we give up on something because of fear? Because of the unknown? Because of an inevitable storm heading our way? Because someone or something told us it was impassable?

How often do we miss out on standing at the top, taking a picture, looking down from where we have come and realizing that even amid lightning and thunder, we made it?

Sometimes the risk is worth the reward. Sometimes we must keep our hand on the throttle and keep moving forward, hoping, praying, and understanding we are never alone.


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