You Don’t Ride Over the Schofield Pass (Colorado)

(November 22, 2017) Ignorance can get you killed and sometimes a U-turn can save your life. On July 5, 2017, I was riding through the heart of Colorado on my fancy Harley-Davidson Ultra Limited touring motorcycle. I had my beautiful girlfriend on the back and was having a great time showing her the majesty of America from the back of a Harley.

Photo at right: That's Lisa getting some chewing gum from her purse as we decide to turn around on Gothic Road (Gunnison County Road 317) just north of Gothic, CO. Gothic lies between Crested Butte and Crystal.

Around lunchtime that day, we had arrived in Gunnison and  I looked at my map of Colorado and thought I could take a shortcut out of Gunnison north across a mountain pass to reach I-70. I wanted to reach Grand Lake, CO by nightfall. I figured I could take CO 135 north to Crested Butte and then CO 12 to CO 133. My original plan was to continue on US 50 east to US 285 north, but this “shortcut” looked faster. This is a case of the city boy not understanding the terrain of Colorado. 

My new plan did not account for my mistake in Crested Butte, where I missed CO 12 and ended up on Gunnison County Road 317, which was a very scenic but also very rough dirt surface with significant drop-offs along the edge of the road in places. Lisa exclaimed multiple times along 317 how beautiful the scenery was; we felt like we were in the movie Sound of Music.

The day before, I had dropped the 900-pound bike on my left leg, and it had swelled badly. I was thus compounding my discomfort with poor decision-making. I’ve read many articles over the years by other riders who revel in the idea of riding without a plan and getting lost for fun. That’s fine in a small, populated part of the country. It’s foolish in a place like Gothic, Colorado. 

When we had passed through Gothic and the road got even rougher, I stopped at the Judd Falls/Copper Creek Trailhead (38.9663, -106.9939) and looked at my map again. It was obvious to me that I had missed CO 12 back in Crested Butte, but the map showed 317 connecting with CO 3, which went through Marble, CO and to CO 133, which was what I was aiming for. However, as the road was very rough, I waved down an oncoming SUV and asked the driver if I could take this road across the Schofield Pass. He replied, “Not today, it’s buried under 40-feet of snow.” He made my decision to turn around automatic.

Quite recently, I decided to do a little research about Gunnison County Road 317 and that route over the Schofield Pass and through Marble, CO. I invite you to read this article: 

Had that driver not stopped and told me about the snow, I probably would have tried to cross the pass; and I would have failed miserably at best and died trying at worst. It’s a very dangerous road in a 4WD SUV and impassible on a street bike like mine. This is because you have to ride through streams in places, as there are no bridges at those points.

See also 

Here are some of the lessons I learned or relearned from this experience:

  • Unless I have a really good reason to change my ride plan, stick to the one I started the trip with.
  • Read my maps more carefully, especially regarding paved versus unpaved roads.
  • Ask the locals more often about alternative routes and scenery.
  • Just because you can take a particular road doesn’t mean you should.

As always, keep the shiny side up and pray for a short winter! 

-The Long Rider

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