Atmosphere

Big Wheels

Riding the rutted roads less traveled in the Rockies.

October 2009

"You're overcorrecting!" shouts Randy Simpson, my ATV guide, when he looks over his shoulder and sees my predicament. I've managed to steer my all-terrain Suzuki quad into a large ditch, which is where it is now lodged, perpendicular to the trail we're navigating in the Arapaho National Forest.

Several minutes and awkward maneuvers later, I'm back on track as we motor up Yankee Hill and wondering if it's possible to be bad at driving an ATV. Simpson, co-owner of the two-year-old Rocky Mountain Quad Squad ATV tour company in Idaho Springs, has assured me that it's not: Three-quarters of the sport is mental, he says. Once you realize that you don't have to steer around the giant rocks and logs in your path—you can just go over them—you're golden. Sure, when I hit a boulder in just the right way, my quad veers toward the giant gaping ravine to my right and I have to yank the handlebars to avoid near-certain catastrophe, but that's my fault. If you relax your posture to absorb the jolts and let the machine dothe work, you're in for a pleasant, albeit bumpy, ride.

Halfway up the trail, we stop for a break and look out over a valley brimming with aspen stands, which makes for a breathtaking October view as the leaves turn gold. A half hour later, we emerge from the woods to see a gorgeous panorama of the Continental Divide, including St. Mary's Glacier, Mt. Evans, old mining stage routes from Central City—even parts of Denver. Yankee Hill, which tops out at 11,200 feet, is the most scenic of the half dozen or so trails in the Quad Squad's domain, and a moderate choice for

first-timers—Simpson, helpfully, tailors the tours to the riders' ability levels. As for me, I'm just happy I didn't steer off a ledge. Then again, there's always the rutted road back down the mountain.