For the Adventure

I’m in the yard tinkering with the sleep set-up in the back of my truck for an upcoming reconnaissance trip to the Sawatch Range. I’m hemming and hawing over whether to use a cot or a mattress, wondering which will best accommodate my dog and myself so we both get to enjoy a comfortable night’s sleep. Either option will work, but I’m trying to optimize so that dog can stretch out and we can both avoid getting soaked if it rains from that leaky spot in the back right hand corner of the truck bed.

A man pulls up to my driveway on a motorcycle, pops up the visor on his helmet, and exclaims, “Hey, Joe!” To my great surprise, it’s my friend Billy Simpson. Billy’s from Memphis, Tennessee and is a 10-time Hardrock 100 finisher. At 63, he leads an adventurous life, now propelled by his latest acquisition, a Kawasaki touring rig. This is the bike’s maiden voyage. He started his journey in Little Rock, Arkansas, rode the back roads through the Oklahoma panhandle, explored northeastern New Mexico, before entering Colorado to visit Great Sand Dunes National Park. He then made his way north to Boulder, where he’s house sitting for 10 days.

“I knew you lived in Gold Hill, but didn’t know where.” He says in his distinctive southern drawl. “Then, I’m riding through town and I see this half-naked guy loading up his truck and it’s you! Funny how things just happen like that.”

We head inside for a cup of coffee and Billy asks me what I’m up to next. I tell him that I was actually just packing to head down to the Sawatch for an attempt at Nolan’s 14 next week.       

Nolan’s 14 is a mountain challenge in central Colorado that involves linking 14 fourteeners in the Sawatch Range in under 60 hours. When going north to south, the route starts at the Leadville National Fish Hatchery, heading up Mount Massive and ends after roughly a 100 miles at Blank’s Cabin Trailhead at the base of Mount Shavano.

Billy’s face lights up when hearing about my plans as he’d helped crew Jared Campbell and Gary Robbins last summer on their successful completion of the route. He recounts their intense struggle battling heavy rains and high winds that nearly caused them to abandon their attempt at the bottom of Mount Missouri. However, thanks to words of motivation from Gary’s wife, Linda, they knew they had enough time to complete it and pushed on to the finish.  

I tell Billy that I’ll be attempting the route solo and unsupported, carrying everything I need from beginning to end without caches or outside assistance. I hand him my pack that I have already prepared “This is as heavy as it will be, with water, food, and everything.” I explain.

He nods in approval as we discuss the merits of simplifying our gear, traveling light, and minimizing the distractions to be as fully immersed in the experience as we can. His motorcycle is set up in a similarly stripped-down way, with a couple of metal side panniers to hold camping gear and other essentials, and a large fuel tank to travel far without the worry of running out of gas.   

There’s a great deal of planning and training that goes into attempting something like Nolan’s, but when it when it comes down to it, once I set off, it’s just me and the mountains.

Later this summer, Billy will be heading to Hardrock. “And after that?” I ask.

“I think I’ll head to Utah and then maybe down to Baja. Who knows? I’m in it for the adventure.”

Call for Comments (from Meghan)

Are you ‘in it’–at least in part–for the adventure?

Sawatch Range

Joe Grant

frequently adventures in wild places, both close to home (a frequently changing location) and very far afield. He inspires others by sharing his words and images that beautifully capture the intersection of the wilds, movement, and the individual at Alpine Works.