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Riding the 2024 Harley-Davidson Pan America 1250 Special on Colorado’s deadliest mountain pass.

Words by Steven Richards


Photography by Aaron Brimhall


As warm dawn light slowly spilled through the cracks of the Rocky Mountains, a thick blanket of fog rested heavy over the charming Colorado mountain town of Crested Butte, which sits at 8,885 feet above sea level. This story didn’t start in civilization, though, rather 2,000 feet higher in the mountains of Gunnison National Forest, where on the bank of a crystal-clear, trout-filled alpine lake, two riders shimmied out of their sleeping bags and stepped out from their camping tents to see the sunrise.

Thor Drake, founder of See See Motorcycles and The One Moto Show, and Ben Giese, editor-in-chief of quarterly motorcycle magazine VAHNA, wiped the sleep from their eyes, sipped hot coffee, and skipped stones across Emerald Lake as a pair of 2024 Harley-Davidson Pan America 1250 Special adventure bikes waited to be ridden on Schofield Pass, which is commonly called “the deadliest mountain pass in Colorado.”

This uncomfortable reminder of mortality seemingly had no effect on the riders, who took off from their campsite at full throttle, throwing up huge rooster tails behind their Pan America 1250 Specials. The 569-lb adventure bikes looked like lightweight dirt bikes as Drake and Giese danced together in the dirt, lost in the romance that is off-road adventure riding. Drake says, “In the moment, you’re sort of a fuzzy haze, as the serenity of nature and the action of riding a motorcycle creates a blurry state of being— I love that zone.”

Experienced rider. Do not attempt. Off-road riding is regulated in some areas. 
Check state and local laws before riding to ensure your motorcycle meets applicable regulations.

Colorado’s “deadliest mountain pass” was most certainly not without its perils, with Drake and Giese dodging herds of cows who wandered out from the thick of pine trees; throughout the day, both riders toed down their kickstands and set their boots down into steaming cow pies, but fortunately the feces washed away as the guys rode through bubbling streams that cut across the trail. The precarity of the situation became terrifyingly obvious when the clouds turned dark gray, and rain and sleet fell in sheets, and lightning shot across the sky, with the riders uncomfortably exposed to the elements.

As the weather worsened, visibility went opaque and the trail turned icy slick, but the Pan America 1250 Specials kept their composure, confidently sliding through muddy turns, and both riders kept smiling as they rode together back toward Crested Butte. Giese says, “It always seems like the things you remember most from an adventure is when things go wrong, when the weather changes, and the trails gets muddy and slick, and you’re cold and wet, and in the moment, it sucks, but when you’re looking back, those are the times you remember and the stories you tell.”

   

An all-American adventure bike built to go wherever the road may take you, and then keep going.

The Trail We Took

Buried in snow for most of the year, this challenging, 15-mile stretch of two-track that wanders through the Elk Mountains is only accessible in late summer— just in time to see the groves of aspen trees turn for season and burn bright yellow.

The Riders

Ben Giese

Print media is anything but dead for Ben Giese, editor-in-chief for the stupidly gorgeous motorcycle magazine, VAHNA, which was formerly called META. Giese is a true adventurer, taking every opportunity he can to explore America, widen his perspective, and find new inspiration for future print stories and short-form films. In his garage, he has a 1964 Triumph 650 desert sled, a highly customized 1995 Honda XR650, and a 2022 Honda CRF450, and he is considering making a space for a 2024 Harley-Davidson Pan America 1250 Special for “more practical, long-distance motorcycling.”

Thor Drake

If you don’t know this man’s hilarious alter ego, Burt Furnace, who hosts the promotional videos for the annual, Portland, Oregon-based One Moto Show, you should look him up. He gives you a peek into the mind of Thor Drake, an entrepreneur who is as driven as he is hilarious. As founder of See See Motorcycles, which has three brick-and-mortar shops in Oregon, Drake continues to be a visionary goofball in the motorcycling community, and in his garage, he has three Harley-Davidson motorcycles: an all-original 1974 FLH Electra Glide, a “nasty, long, and low” ‘79 Ironhead digger, and a 2016 Sportster 1200 built for flat-track racing.

Pack it: Quest Triple Vent™ System Jacket


Adventure motorcycle riding requires adaptable, durable gear that can handle whatever Mother Nature throws at you, which is why we love the Quest Triple Vent System Jacket. With a waterproof, seam-sealed construction, lightweight, CE-approved RHEON™ armor, and the Triple Vent System™ for customized cooling, this jacket can confidently go wherever the road and trail takes you, and it is made even better when connected with our Quest Riding Trousers.

Eat. Sleep. Drink. 


EAT

Bonez: Cultural folk-art décor and contemporary Mexican cuisine.

Breadery: A from-scratch kitchen with a 60-year-old sourdough starter named “Trisha.”

The Secret Stash: The “Notorious F.I.G” pizza is a must try.

The Slogar: Serving delicious skillet-fried chicken dinners since 1984.

 

SLEEP

Grand Lodge: Comfortably affordable rooms only 200 yards from mountain slopes.

Old Town Inn: Warm and charming accommodations come with a hearty breakfast spread. 

Purple Mountain Bed & Breakfast: Old world charm at Crested Butte’s oldest B&B.

Scarp Ridge Lodge: An elegantly unpretentious boutique hideaway in the center of town.

 

DRINK

Kochevar’s Saloon: Serving drinks since 1886, where Butch Cassidy left behind his pistol.

Montanya Distillers: A perfect place to sip smooth, sweet, award-winning Colorado rum.

The Eldo Brewery and Taproom: Locally owned brewery with a beautiful outdoor deck.

The Dogwood: A nostalgic cocktail bar housed in a historical miners’ wood cabin.