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.

There are 8 comments

  1. Joel

    This and similar efforts makes me wonder, not for the first time, if there are any ultras held that are entirely unsupported. I assume they must exist though maybe they would not appeal to many people and would obviously be a lot riskier. No aid stations, crews, 5 pairs of shoes, tents, multiple pacers, etc. Just solo racers and what they can carry plus all the weight strategizing that that would entail. Seeing the (great) video from Gary Robbins at the Barkley Marathon shouting orders and being dressed and literally spoon-fed by his team makes me feel like some of these races are getting too far from their simple roots.

    1. Zak

      That’s what an fkt is. . .choose to do it supported, or unsupported, as you wish. Or, like many do, run your adventure to find adventure and not for a time.
      Good stuff Joe, and good luck out there. This article rings very true, as someone who now has a couple adventure motorcycles gathering dust because I spend my free time running at the moment.

    2. Fede

      Hi Joel, as you probably already know, the pacers culture is heavy rooted in North America but I don’t know others regions worlwide that involve race with pacers. I’m from Argentina and here pacers generally are viewed as help and a non autorized kind of help.
      Sorry for my poor english. Greetings
      Fede (Argentina)

    3. Delia

      On the east coast the Shawangunk Ridge Trail Run/Hike is one example. I think they’ve provided water drops one year when there was a drought.

  2. 18342772


    The Plain 100 mile and 100K are the closest thing I know of to what you’re asking about. But hell, the trails are there, basically always open to anyone who would tread them, so anyone is free to do an ultra of their own and on their own, should the motivation strike. You wouldn’t get credit for it, much less a buckle, but life goes on.

  3. olga

    Love the “unsupported” aspect of every adventure. Can’t wait to read about your Nolah’s. Heading to Colorado Trail in just over a week, heavy pack and all! And who knows, with fires, may just end up at HR saying hi to Billy:)

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