Beautiful Damn Rides: A wild trip through the BDR’s

By Tim Notier

Marisa and I had heard how amazing the BDRs (Backcountry Discovery Routes) were, but I was hesitant to launch ourselves into what I thought could potentially be hazardous roads full of ruts and fallen trees that lay across loose gravel and muddy tracks. But we took the plunge after speaking in depth with some of the original route creators who were confident that we could handle what lay ahead.

Colorado BDR - Section 2

We were two up on a KTM 1190 Adventure, something that could be viewed as an oddity while attempting some of the tougher sections of the Colorado BDR. But with the assurance of the designers themselves, I downloaded the GPS files and pointed the front tire towards Cinnamon Pass as we headed west out of Denver.

What Marisa and I came across that day eliminated any doubts that we had regarding our choice to take our overloaded KTM through the mountain passes of southern Colorado. It was everything that we could have dreamed of on the North American continent. While traveling through Peru, we had crossed the Andean mountains five times, each trajectory provided us with a unique and amazing perspective of our surroundings. I felt that same surge of excitement as we entered the first switchback of our newest mountain pass.

The road crawled its way up in wide sweeping bends as we circled our way to the top, as if ascending a large Cinnabon with patches of snow as the frosting. The surrounding foothills looked to have been sprinkled with powdered cinnamon, suitably giving the pass its name. After reaching the top, we took a small break at the apex of our first achievement, with a natural high of excitement at 12,640 feet.

The two of us couldn’t have been more enthusiastic for what was still to come, and with the tread of the tires firmly biting into the gravel, we headed further down the road towards the next marker on the map.

Marisa and I like to ride to destinations without knowing too much about what lay in between so that we can be sincerely surprised when stumbling across gems along the way. It gives us an honest and true first impression that isn’t tainted by spoilers of what is to come.

So as the bike rolled down a rutted descent, and the old ghost town of Animas Forks came into view, we were happily surprised. It looked to be out of an old western movie set, complete with a decaying mineshaft and small rickety buildings that had half fallen in on themselves. We took the opportunity to dismount the motorcycle and explore the tattered wooden cabins and we imagined how hard life must have been for the first settlers back in the 1870s. Being a self-sufficient homesteader on ‘the range’ had a rustic charm to it, but one that would soon dissipate if it was me who was trying to scratch out a living in such an isolated area.


After walking around the ghost town in the wild wild west, we continued down this fascinating portion of the BDR towards our next obstacle that was California Pass. This section seemed to be a little steeper than the last, but I wrestled the bike up the newest set of switchbacks that led to a vista which surpassed the views from the previous pass.

A small lake had settled in a pocket between the now copper-colored mountains. In the distance, tall evergreens shot into the air like spears of asparagus while white cotton ball clouds drifted aimlessly across the sky. The weather was perfect, the ride was unmatched by any other we have had in the States, and I was feeling euphoric about having made the decision to take this remarkable route through the heart of the San Juan Mountains.

The grand finale of the day’s journey would be Corkscrew Pass, and when it came into view, I had to double check my GPS to be sure that the intended route was the same coiled road that twisted up and around a sharp curve ahead of us. It was clear that this would be the most difficult of the three passes as the trail became covered in larger rocks and loose gravel. But we triumphantly made our way to the top before looking down in dismay at the steep descent that was our exit.

On our way down, the bike’s rear tire began to slide when I hit the brake, and on one of the corners, the front wheel hit a large rock, knocking the bike off balance and tipping us over onto the embankment. As I not-so-gracefully dismounted the motorcycle, I turned around to find Marisa’s foot trapped under the bike. But thanks to her new boots, her ankle was well protected. I lifted the motorcycle off of her foot, and we shook out some nerves. Below us, I could see that the hairpin turns leveled off and continued out of sight after just a few more switchbacks. Marisa faithfully remounted our KTM and we continued down the road as we bounced over more large rocks while trying not to lock up the rear tire in the loose gravel.

Even with the fall, there was nothing that could have spoiled our day and once we made it to Ouray, we celebrated with a cheeseburger and fries. It was just a small taste of these wonderful routes, but I knew that we would now aim to travel down as many of the BDRs as possible.

North East BDR - Sections 1 & 2

Our next bout with the Backcountry Discovery Route was the NEBDR as we rode through rural New York state. The weather was turning, but I wanted to ride as far as we could before it became too cold to continue.

It was mid-October, and the leaves were just beginning to turn different colors before falling gracefully to the ground. Our entrance into this fairytale land was a forest road that lazily twisted along the Delaware river. But the same beautiful carpet of leaves that created our red and yellow-brick-road over the compact gravel hid some of the ruts and potholes that lay just underneath.

The recent rains had slickened the fallen leaves, but also gave new life to some of the smaller waterfalls, river crossings, and created a plethora of large puddles that I cheerfully splashed my way through. Just like our first section of the Colorado BDR, our day was starting off to be beautiful beyond belief, but I was aware that it had the potential to get progressively harder as we continued deeper into the forest. The route passed old decaying barns nestled in wide open fields of tall flowing grasses. Colorful rolling hills swept across the landscape behind them, creating a fitting panorama for a Bob Ross painting with crooked little trees that seemed to grow directly out of the frame.

Near the end of our first day’s ride, we rounded a corner to find a placid lake surrounded by vibrantly colored trees that reflected back in a mirror image on the water’s surface. It was a fitting end to a brilliantly sunny day, and we felt fully satisfied as we pulled into a small campground that held no other occupants. It had been seven hours of twisting through the backroads, snapping pictures, and absorbing the scenery. But when I looked at my Google maps, we were a mere half hour from where we started back in Hancock, if we had taken the highway.

The next segment on the BDR map had something labeled as: Rocky Challenge #1. I was up for a challenge, but Marisa and I agreed that if it became too intense, we would revert to taking the alternative route that bypassed this short section.

With positive spirits, we headed down the road to see what wonders the new day would bring. This was the first opportunity that I ever had to ride into the backcountry of the Northeast, and it was living up to everything I could have hoped.


Our newest path followed miles of dry-stone walls which looked as if they could have been around for centuries. The KTM was humming as it navigated down the trail with the rear tire shooting out a rainbow of colorful leaves behind us. A river gracefully cascaded down in small waterfalls alongside us, and we breathed in the fresh air while listening to the relaxing sounds of the babbling brook.

Traveling through the region of the first European settlers in the States held some of the oldest recorded history nationwide. We passed graveyards with tombstones that predated my family’s arrival to the US, and old covered bridges built over a hundred years ago. Marisa and I kept smiling from ear to ear at every little wonder that we came across. And then our smiles faded when we hit Rocky Challenge #1.

At first, I didn’t even realize that we had bypassed the go-around. But I quickly determined we had entered the ‘advanced’ section once the road tilted up forty degrees and was filled with a sea of leaves that half-covered large baby-head rocks. Only the tips of the stones could be seen, like a minefield of icebergs trying to sink the Titanic, but in this case, the large vessel that was at risk of capsizing was our overloaded KTM.

After a couple failed attempts, along with a few bike drops, I realized the most intelligent thing to do was to turn the beast around and coast back down to calmer waters and out of the rough seas that was the base of Vly Mountain.

As soon as I turned around, it began to rain down buckets, causing me to instantaneously be soaked to the bone. There wasn’t enough time to throw on my proper rain gear before every part of me was sopping wet. A frigid wind blew against us once we hit the open road, and the rain became heavier with ever mile we traveled. The forecast looked to be just as unpleasant for the next week, so we decided to end our Northeast progression on a high note. But one day, we will be back to conquer the mountain and continue to surge further into the NEBDR.

AZBDR - Sections 2 & 3

Our third and final round, to date, with the Backcountry Discovery Routes was riding the AZBDR from Flagstaff to Phoenix. Whereas the first two BDRs started off tame and progressively became more difficult, we turned off of the main highway and bumped down a comparatively difficult road. But after just a few short miles of difficult terrain, the path leveled out, and I was able to soak in our surroundings instead of solely focusing on the track ahead.

A rocky road cut through a desert landscape much different from the mountains of Colorado and forested foothills of New York. But unlike the cool breezes that swept across the bike’s air 

intakes and through our helmets, the dry Arizona heat hit us like a hair dryer.

The apex of our short stint on the AZBDR was Rim Road, where we looked out over the edge of a bluff to the sweeping hills below as the sun began to set. It reminded me of the Great Rift Valley back in Africa. And even though there were no lion cubs to raise proudly into the air, Marisa’s and my spirits were elevated knowing that we had accomplished some pretty amazing feats during the last five years of traveling around the world.

We were ecstatic to have been able to find such exotic places here in our own country, and that a team of people had connected some of the most beautiful riding through the backcountry of the States while making the routes available for everyone to enjoy. The variety pack of BDRs have more flavors than Baskin-Robbins, and we were thankful to 

sample even just a few of them.

This story was originally published in Issue 73