After a year of planning and mapping, rebuilds and tune-ups, we were ready to tackle the Great Divide. As the Adventure Trio, we’re used to going with the flow, staying away from a schedule. But this year we strayed from our norm, making promises to press and TV alike, allowing it to guide us instead of sticking with our usual groove. It almost broke us. Almost. What transpired during our four-week trek to conquer the Great Divide was a hard lesson in life, but one that we needed to learn.
We’ve been travelling as a family on BMWs for over five years. Jack, now 11, began riding on the back of Terry’s 2006 BMW GSA when he was five. He’s been a willing passenger ever since. Proper protective gear kept us from hitting the road as a family sooner, but we would not take to the pavement until Jack was fully covered. I’ve been riding sweep with my 2003 BMW F650 GS since Jack was a squirt. Our in-helmet radios keep us in constant contact, calling out safety stops, bathroom breaks and texting drivers. Each summer we venture off on a grand escape, doing our best to carve out an extra couple of days, sometimes a week, in hopes of creating more spectacular memories. We’ve tackled Canada twice, riding the Kamloops during a particularly damp June in 2011. We’ve chased snow flurries and rain clouds through the West, tornadoes and thunderstorms through the plains. Jack has experienced more of Mother Nature’s wrath and beauty in his 11 years than most of us will see in a lifetime. That’s just how he likes it.
The lure of the Great Divide had been with us for many years. With each Divide article we read, the more we knew we had to take it on, Adventure Trio style. Could we do it as a family of three on two motorcycles? Only by doing it could we answer that question. So, after we wrapped up last summer’s four-week trip, we decided the Divide was going to be our next challenge. This was committing to a major undertaking of dirt, gravel and silt. With Terry already riding a heavy bike, the added weight of a growing Jack and camping gear was going to be just that much more of a challenge. We knew we had to gear down even further, taking as much weight as possible off of each bike. Remember, we’re packing for three individuals. That means three times the clothing, camping gear and food. Fortunately, Big Agnes came out with a new, much more compact bedroll. Three of the rolls equaled one of our previous bedrolls. That was a major find in our quest to reduce the bulk of Terry’s U-shaped duffel. We also abandoned the camp pillows. Our clothing stuff sacks were going to have to pull extra duty. I had just switched my “kitchen” top case to the GIVI TRK46N, making it lighter, more user-friendly and easier to pack. I had also eliminated a duffel bag, making my bike less top-heavy and more maneuverable. On this trip, we were carrying something new – camera gear. We had a goal to shoot footage of our trip, creating a travel documentary for the Ted Simon Foundation. A lot was riding on our shoulders, as well as our bikes. Instead of riding lighter bikes, we were back to where we started. Oh well, such is life, such is adventure travel.
As a rider, you know the only real variable that can alter your route is weather. When you ride as a family, you now have a new, and by far the most important variable riding along with you. Jack is our decision maker when it comes to pressing on or staying put. He is our rational voice in questionable moments. Knowing the heat of the summer was going to be upon us, we made the decision to bypass the New Mexico portion of the ride. Asking little man to bear through the Arizona heat on our journey east just to say, “We did it!” was unfair. To be honest, Terry and I started to feel a bit defeated. We wanted to say we did the entire route “just like everybody else.” But we needed to remember one thing – we are not like everybody else.
The wildfires in New Mexico and Colorado were becoming a major issue, as the Divide route goes right smack through the middle of the war zone. By the time we made it to South Fork, Colo., the fires were ravaging half of the state and most of the divide. Smoke from a new fire just north of us poured into the valley, blocking out the sun, casting a shadow on our already tattered spirits. It was if the pain and sorrow of the residents and firefighters fighting this ever-growing rage came flowing in, reminding us all just how lucky we were. It was a week into the trip and we already had to scrap most of the southern portion of the Divide. To take a chance and brave the thick smoke and possibility of yet another fire starting would’ve been unwise. At no time were we going to put ourselves at risk. The heat was also becoming an issue. Anything below 8,500 feet promised temperatures of 90 degrees plus. Unlike last summer’s chilly, rainy conditions, we were in the midst of a heat wave with no end in sight. Even with all our planning, we couldn’t escape Mother Nature’s plan.
As we holed up yet another night in a cabin, Jack declared, “I don’t even feel like we’re on our trip. We haven’t done enough camping.” Indeed, young squire. The next morning, we headed north on Highway 149 with stunning views of the San Juan Mountains greeting us through the turns, the constant flood of smoke reminding us of what lie ahead. The goal was to set up camp for a night, then head to the Divide. We were determined to hit the dirt no matter what. We didn’t know it, but we were losing our way. The “have to’s” were beginning to win over the “want to’s.” We found the ideal spot to set up camp just outside of Almont, Colo., along the Taylor River. It was an opportunity for Jack to break out his fishing rod and for Terry and I to plan the rest of our route. But the beauty that surrounded us was not enough to break the bad juju. Each of us was unhappy, yet no one was willing to be the first to admit it. Instead of taking our time and enjoying the journey, we found ourselves worrying about having enough footage, an impending interview and sticking with the original plan. This was not us and, very soon, one of us was going to crack.
I was the first to blow. It wasn’t pretty. I was convinced we were done, that we needed to pack up and head home first thing in the morning. Our year of planning and promises to others had come to a head. Our need to “ride it like everybody else” had broken us. There were tears; there were battles. But the biggest battle was within each other. We had allowed ourselves to be led astray from what works for us as a family. We had put each other at risk emotionally just to suffice the masses. This was a turning point for our Trio. We could chose to leave everyone else behind and take it back or hang our helmets in defeat and head west. We took it back.
With the dawn came a renewed feeling of empowerment. We had defeated the dark cloud and made the decision as a family to press north and make it ours. The first decision – no more planning! We always tell others the plan is to have no plan. We went against our own golden rule. Second – put the electronics down. No more putting commitments to others before ourselves. We pushed back our interview and put our energy into each other. Third – so what if we don’t ride the whole Great Divide! Terry and I had allowed ourselves to be swallowed up in this notion that unless you ride the whole Divide, you’re not a true Divide rider. We took a step back, assessed the situation and made one clear decision. Unless you come together and communicate honestly, you’re not a true team. We are a team and we are Divide riders. Maybe not the whole Divide, but that’s okay. We were going to do it our way.
After dodging the fires and surviving the heat, the time had come to join the Divide route. We picked it up in northern Colorado, just outside of Steamboat Springs. Finally! I made sure to hop off the bike and do a victory dance. The Running Man is possible when fully geared up. Rawlins, Wyo., was our next pick up point for the Divide. It was also going to prove to be our longest day in the dirt. With a left turn off of Highway 287, we were in it for the long haul. We rode over 120 miles of gravel, silt and sand and not once did Jack complain. He rode it like he owned it. We didn’t see but one truck the entire day. Herds of antelope attempted to race Terry’s bike while free-range cattle dotted the landscape. It was a battle between GPS maps and paper maps, each proving themselves useful at different junctions. After a long day on the pegs, we rolled into Atlantic City, Wyo., an old mining and cowboy town that boasted fresh Rocky Mountain Oysters. I’m going in, coach! We toasted to Jack and his willingness to take it as it comes. Good on ya, big guy.
The rest of our journey found us on and off the trail, picking it up as the weather and little man dictated. Some days Jack didn’t want to be bounced around in the dirt, and that’s okay. We didn’t make it farther north than Wyoming, and that’s fine with us. It wasn’t meant to be this year, and that’s what it means to be part of this Trio team. We almost lost our spirit. We almost lost our vision. Could you imagine what would’ve happened had we succumbed to defeat and headed home? What a tragedy that would’ve been. Jack would’ve learned that in tough times, you just throw up your arms and admit defeat. Instead, he learned when you lose your way you come together to find a resolution. It’s a little trickier when you throw in the two-wheeled travel, but doesn’t that make it more exciting? Adventure motorcycle travel is the beauty of the unknown. When you do adventure motorcycle travel as a family, it’s truly beautiful.