The Million Dollar Highway
One year ago, we lost one of our own.
Friend and Huckberry Correspondent Alistair Farland was riding his motorcycle from Alaska to the tip of South America, taking a slightly more 'indirect’ route across the United States and sending us dispatches along the way. He’d already been helicoptered off Half Dome and dodged tornadoes in the Midwest, but somewhere between the cornfields of Nebraska and the Tail of the Dragon in North Carolina, the highway intervened.
In many ways, Alistair not only embodied the “see you out there” spirit we celebrate at Huckberry, he actually lived it by fearing the mundane and chasing inspiration through adventure — often as though with a club, to the places he felt the most free. As we take a moment to appreciate the many ways his own quest left us inspired, we thought it was the perfect time to share the very last dispatch he wrote for us, unpublished until now.
Everyone who rides a motorbike remembers the thrill of dropping the clutch and opening the throttle for that very first time. Be it on a little Suzuki, a tricked-out Harley Fatboy, or a humble Honda CBR-250 (my baby for two and a half years), those first moments of adrenaline stay with you for a lifetime. The feeling of banking into a hairpin, pushing the limit with each turn, and seeing how far you can push your own limit is the motorcycling equivalent of playing chicken with yourself.
All at a minimum of 80 miles an hour.
The rest of the time you spend in the saddle gradually turns to a lifelong hunt to recreate that joy and the “oh-shit-my-mum-is-going-to-kill-me-if-she-ever-finds-out-I-did-that” feeling.
As I was coming up through Colorado, people would wander up to me and ask with a slightly bemused look on their face why an Australian with Alaskan plates on a motorbike would be in Colorado.
“The Million Dollar Highway,” I would reply with a half smile.
Hearing this, their eyes would glaze over for a half second before they cracked a wide, understanding grin — as though knowledge of said highway was reserved to a secret fraternity of thrill-seekers in this quiet corner of the American West.
See, the Million Dolllar Highway is a 12-mile stretch of asphalt ribbon along Highway 550 between the small towns of Ouray and Silverton. It crosses three mountain passes, is bendier than a Slinky, and is one of those rides that haunts your dreams and whispers bad things to you on your daily commute.
For the majority of the road, there isn't a railing in sight, allowing you to pull hard into a turn, drop the knee, and see all the way to the canyon floor. There are numerous lookouts that you can pull into and stop for lunch. Personally, my favourite was just after Molas Pass (don’t worry, you’ll know when you get there). And if jaw-dropping vistas weren't enough for you, the area also has a number of “active” avalanche chutes that often cover entire sections of the road.
But then that’s all part of the fun.
This small, glorious stretch of road pushes the envelope — at first opening it gently, lulling you into a false sense of security, before ripping said envelope open, throwing it to the ground, and demanding that you push your limits. It screams fear and joy into the wind as you turn far sharper then you should, twisting and shouting like a swing dancer as the canyon floor opens up below you.
Over all too soon, I finished the ride in Ouray with a milkshake (chocolate, of course) in my still slightly shaking hands. It was here that I finally understood why every person I had talked to about this ride would stare off into space when I first mentioned it. They were remembering that sharp turn which sneaks up on you just after Red Mountain pass, the sudden canyon reveals, and the countless abandoned mine shafts that you pass along the way.
Petrol-heads take note: do yourself a favor and pack two shirts, fill up the tank and beeline it for Southern Colorado. Oh, and for bonus points, go for a soak in the natural hot springs at Ouray that have been open to the public since the early 19th century. Sipping one of Colorado’s many local microbrews and watching the sun set over your bike is one hell of a way to say goodbye to summer. [H]
As Alistair’s family continues to celebrate his life, they’ve created an incredible adventure grant in his honor. This unique scholarship gives everyone a chance to continue carrying Alistair’s torch, be it through a donation to the cause, or as one of its lucky recipients equipped to embark on the adventure of a lifetime.
Learn more here.
Images ©: Alistair Farland — Whilst I Was Out