Dispatch from the Edge: A Hairy Ride

A modern-day cowboy tests his horses on a traffic-heavy Rocky Mountain pass
Staff Writer

"I can't sleep. It's 3:15am and the car seat I am crumpled on what feels like a medieval torture device, and it’s not because of my insomnia. The 11,000-foot pass I must cross to get from Ouray to Silverton, Colorado is what has kept me awake. Characterized by steep cliffs, narrow lanes and a complete lack of guardrails, Red Mountain Pass is one of the hairiest drives in the world. Today, I will ride it.

While in Ouray waiting for my arrival, Emma went to the information center and asked the ladies working for some hints on crossing the pass. At first they thought I was trailering the horses and were already worried. After Emma explained I would be riding it they said, "Oh we worry about bikers riding through it... Never mind 3 horses, good luck to you two."

(Filipe Leite)

After a warm welcome from some tourists in town, Emma and I made our way to a campsite at the bottom of the mountain. We let the horses graze while writing on the back window of the car. With a white marker we wrote, "Caution Horses Ahead." Due to the amount of switchbacks on the narrow road, we planned to leave in the early morning with the car following close behind to prevent any serious injuries to myself or the horses.

By 8pm the horses were tied up with a mountain of hay underneath them, and Emma and I were in sleep mode. Only 7 hours later, here we were getting ready to take on this dark mountain. I tack up my pony, grabbed some granola bars to go and hit the road. 

As we move up this monster, I am accompanied by a dark abyss to my right that looks like a black hole. In front of me is the silhouette of a high peak with the moon hanging to its left. On the rock face to my left is the shadow my three horses and I cast by the headlight behind us. 

The higher we climb, the colder it gets. At some points the wind is so strong I am afraid my hat will fly off the edge. With every big truck that passes it is as if that cold wind penetrates the pit of my stomach. 

"If one of these horses spooks I am screwed," this is the only thought in my mind. One loud noise... One honk... One deer... and the three of us are galloping over that edge and down the dark hole." (keep reading)

~Filipe Masetti Leite
October 16
Million Dollar Highway, CO

Leite, a second generation Brazilian cowboy, is three months into a nearly 10,000-mile horseback ride from Calgary to his family's ranch in Brazil. The trip—inspired by Aimé Tschiffely, a Swiss schoolteacher who rode a pair of horses from Argentina to New York City in the mid-1920s—will take him through 12 countries and is anticipated to last two years. Follow his ride on Journey America.


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