By: Audrey “Stormy” Paulus
When I saw a challenge with the word “twister” in the title spreading around Facebook, I had to check it out and enter. When it said it had to be completed in 9 hours, I wanted to do it in 8 hours. A few of us from Cool Biker Lunch and Rides participated and had a blast! It was a true challenge of endurance, with the combination of breathtaking scenery and endless twists and turns. I even learned about two routes that I never knew about, Rist Canyon and Devil’s Gulch. I felt like I was in a foreign country surrounded by green pastures and quaint little ranch homes. It was amazing!!
I interviewed the man behind this challenge. Graeme Wallace left his home in Scotland and moved to Colorado to pursue a life-long dream. That was when his Hogback Distillery was established, and his goal to make Scotch-style whiskey in America began. The name Hogback is inspired by the Dakota Hogback Ridge that runs along the entire length of the Colorado Rockies. Traditionally, the spirit for blended Scotch whiskey is sourced from the most independent distilleries throughout Scotland. This is the model followed by Hogback, with the bulk of their blended whiskey coming from other U.S. distilleries.
Graeme expressed his passion to me, “as someone that has been riding motorcycles for over 40 years in Scotland, riding curvy roads is what motorcycling is all about for me. Part of the reason for moving from Scotland to Colorado was to ride the mountain roads, so the first thing I did when I arrived four years ago was to buy a Harley Davidson Fatboy. It did not take long to discover four canyons, including Clear Creek Canyon and Golden Gate Canyon. Gradually, I explored more canyons to make a circuit.”
As Graeme toured me around his Boulder distillery, he explained how he came up with this twister challenge. “It occurred to me that others might enjoy the same roads, so I road each one in both directions to feel out which direction flowed the best. The idea kept developing and growing until I reached the current 9 canyon route with minimal overlap and maximum enjoyment for riding curves. The fact that the canyons cut through the Dakota Hogback Ridge and that my Hogback Distillery has the same name is a pure coincidence but an apt one.”
A few of the participants had some great stories to share about their experience:
“I mostly ride alone to ride at my own pace, but I’ve been itching to branch out and ride with others on some local motorcycle events. Luckily, I came across the Hogback Twister Challenge on the web and decided to sign up to meet other local riders and to ride not just a few but all of the canyons in the front range of the Rocky Mountains between Fort Collins and Evergreen.
With all events, you start the day on your own and end it on your own, but the in-between is all about riding with others. Arriving at 6 a.m. at the Hogback Distillery parking lot with 30 plus motorcycles with their lights on in the late dawn is a wonderful feeling. I’m not the only crazy one! It’s great to see all these other riders coming out to challenge themselves with 350 miles of twists and turns.
I have ridden most of these canyons as part of my quiver of local rides but never gave it a thought to ride ALL of them in one day. That seemed insane!
The first two canyons I rode alone. Then three Harley riders caught me in Lyons, and I decided to tag along for the ride. And what a ride it was! It was great to ride with a group of very experienced riders and looked out for each other. They had no idea who I was, but they paved the way for a great ride together! I hung on for a few more canyons and then decided to ride on my own again for a while.
My 2020 Harley Street Glide Special threw some engine codes at Meeker on the Peak to Peak Highway. I decided to continue on the route, which went close to a Harley dealership to stop by and see if it was anything serious. The codes resulted from some temporary glitch, and I cleared the codes and resumed the Twister Challenge at the bottom of Lookout Mountain, where I joined up with a group of adventure riders. Traffic was now an issue. My left thumb started to cramp from all of the clutching throughout the day in the canyons – much more than any average long-distance road trip. I got through Evergreen, and then the rest of the ride was doable since the traffic was less and the roads were freer of cages.
It was a great feeling when other bikers in the challenge were coming towards you, and you acknowledged them with the motorcycle greeting. Although separated by our motorcycles on the road together, we were experiencing the great ride of the Hogback Twister Challenge.”
“Sometime in July, I saw an event that intrigued me!! A twister challenge? I love the twisties and often go out of my way to incorporate some into my route when I get a chance to ride – just to ride. I wasn’t sure who was going and the 300-bike limit lit a fire under my butt. I signed up. I may have psyched myself out a few times, awaiting August 7th, but I have ridden more than one canyon in a day ride before this. I was going to complete the ride regardless. There was a 14-hour time limit on this 350-mile challenge. More than enough, I thought to myself. I decided to take an early wave to ensure I had plenty of time. As luck would have it, I knew a few people planning to ride, and I could team up with a friend. That always makes the ride a little more fun, in my opinion. Our wave was at 6:05 a.m. We turned on our Rever apps to track our ride and time as we left the parking lot. In my mind, the challenge was: to complete the ride unscathed and in the best time possible.
The morning light was just starting to brighten when we left the Hogback Distillery with 8 other bikes. We hit the first canyon before we had time to get warm in the safety gear we had donned. At first, the bikes were pretty grouped up, and we caught the last of the 6 a.m. wave, but soon small groups of bikes were traveling at their own pace, and my riding companion and I were just two bikes taking the twisties with ease and enjoying the ride. Lefthand, St Vrain, Big Thompson, Rist, Coal Creek, Bear Creek, Clear Creek, Golden Gate, and Boulder Canyons. The option to stop was not one we took, as we both wanted to see what time it would take for us to complete this ride. We stopped once for gas when we doubled back through Estes Park to just stand up and take off our helmets at the top of Lookout Mountain. We did make it back to the Hogback Distillery in 8 hours and 33 minutes – including both stops. Eight hours and six minutes was our riding time. Not too bad if I do say so myself. The Hogback Distillery put on a good event with BBQ, music, and whiskey at the end of the ride, making this a destination worthy of the ride itself. Next year I plan to ride it again. I may slow down and observe the scenery a little more. Maybe even stop for lunch somewhere.”
“It was dark as we turned our two Road Glides into the staging area at the Hogback Distillery in Boulder. We were preceded by a woman riding a Ducati sports bike. This exemplified the range of riders and machines gathered to accept the Hogback Challenge. The times, the turns (1,300+) melted away effortlessly as our navigator negotiated every intersection, every route perfectly laid out. It seemed we had only left the starting line moments before when we crossed the finish line. We now have stories to tell, friends made, friends met, and memories shared. It all made for a great day. I am looking forward to participating in this challenge next year, although I would like to suggest that the route be run in an exact sequential order, and if there is any variance from the route, the rider should be disqualified.”
“This challenge wasn’t a challenge to me, but just a fun day riding the canyons. We were in no hurry and even took an hour for lunch. If I do this challenge next year, I will make this a challenge and earn my prizes and certificate.”
Shirley Kuuipo Soares
“The Hogback Twister Challenge was exactly that, a challenge. It challenged my endurance, riding skills, and facing my fear of heights while experiencing Colorado’s beauty. It was an amazing ride with my group smiling every time we took a break and talked about what we saw through a canyon or over the lookouts. The Hogback Twister has is now a great addition to our yearly riding must-dos.”
“If I didn’t follow the couple riding in my 6 a.m. group, I would have been lost because the Rever app was making me turn at roads that didn’t even exist on the map. We had a great time riding the curves at fast speeds. At the finish line, someone had asked me ‘what was my favorite canyon’. I couldn’t answer because to me, it’s not so much about the road or the challenge from Point A to Point B, but it’s the people you ride with is what was important.”
Cheryl Lynn & Kui Bean
“The Hogback Twister Challenge was an awesome experience! It was fun, interesting, and of course, challenging. It was an unknown territory for us that turned out to be invaluable. At first, we didn’t think anything about doing it. We’ve never ridden the mountains or been on any long distance runs. Coming from Hawaii, the longest we rode was twice around Oahu. Not the same! We started just talking about it then all of a sudden, we began our journey to the Hogback! We made new friends, got some dinner whiskey and a cool shirt; we went to places that we will definitely head to again, and most importantly, learned a little bit more about each other. The Hogback gave us the confidence to push past our limits and grab hold of more challenges.”
From talking to some of the participants, each came away with something different from this challenge. Some discovered that their stronger than they thought they were, some found that friends watch each others’ backs, and some felt they are a piece of something more significant than they could ever be alone. I often wondered how many people can go through the same thing or see the same thing, and yet the experiences are different as night and day. That is pretty awesome.
I am sure some learned quite a few things from this challenge and are already planning on what not to do for next year’s Hogback Twister Challenge. I know I am.