Last fall, Field & Stream Online Editor Nate Matthews and his father, Bruce, spent 15 days fishing the Rio Grande River from its headwaters in Colorado to its mouth at the Gulf of Mexico. These excerpts from their journals tell the story of their 2500-mile motorcycle ride along the historic river. Photographer Tim Romano documented the excursion. You can see more photos from Day Two of this expedition (and find new journal updates as they are posted) by clicking here. ****
NM: 9/25, 6:30 AM
Just woke up. Last night was a haul. As I wrote in my journal yesterday, we spent more time than we should have picking up the bikes from the dealership they’d been shipped to in Colorado Springs, and so we didn’t leave for the headwaters until four in the afternoon. The sun was setting right into our eyes as we headed out of town. I woke up this morning with a sore back, a sore butt, and a crick in my neck from riding with my helmet tipped sideways so that the corner of my visor blocked the worst of it.
Dad’s up now, too, and moving pretty slowly. Riding at night takes it out of you.
BM: 9/25, 6:30 AM
Coffee. Need coffee.
NM: 9/25, 7:30 AM
Just packed our gear back into the truck for the rest of the ride up to the divide. I’m writing as Tim waits for it to warm up. It’s cold out here!
It took us six hours last night before we finally called it quits. We stopped in a town called South Fork, which is about 20 miles south of where you turn off onto the dirt road that follows the river up to the Continental Divide. South Fork wasn’t where we’d hoped to spend the night — the plan had been to camp right at the headwaters so we could fish the river there in the morning. But fatigue is a killer, especially at night, so we called it early (if you can call 10:00 PM early) and stayed in a motel instead.
The ride was as beautiful as it was difficult, even in the darkness. Winding curves unfolding in the cone of our headlights, mule deer and pronghorn by the side of the road, coyotes dashing in front of our bikes. And cold, especially over the high passes. A full moon was rising behind the nearby peaks, showing them in sillhouette against the stars. We saw one huge meteor falling over the road. I was missing Jonathan and sang him lullabies as I rode. Singing inside your helmet is like singing in the shower, only you don’t have to worry about embarrassing yourself in front of your wife.
BM: 9/25, 7:30 AM
Can’t believe we drove all that way in the dark last night. Perception envelope shrank way down – 70 MPH – and yet I felt safe. Critters, road hazard, fatigue notwithstanding. I think it was prayer. It was as if I was passing through, yet nothing could touch me.
BM: 9/25, 8:45 AM
_We left the motel an hour ago and are now sitting in a cafe on the road to Creede, the last major town before the headwaters, eating breakfast with Pete Kieliszewski, one of Tim’s buddies. He guides at a ranch nearby and has offered to show us where to fish the Rio in the tight water below the divide. It’s a beautiful morning outside. 30s. Colorado landscape is amazing. Mountain peaks, red rock outcrops, irrigated valleys.
NM: 9/25, 10:30 AM
Pete is cool. Funny, interesting, full of tips and stories. You can tell by the way he talks that he makes friends easily. Which is a pain right now, because everyone in Creede wants to chat with him while we’re picking up licenses and groceries. It’s burning time, and we’re on a tight schedule. I hate to be the bad guy but we don’t have time to spare, so I try to keep everybody moving. Hope we make it all the way up to the top with daylight to fish.
NM: 9/25, 12:45 PM
Finally getting somewhere. We’re on a forest service road that runs up the upper river to the headwaters. Just pulled over to the side of the road, on a cliff overlooking one of the reservoirs the Rio’s headwater streams flow into. We’re waiting for Tim, who can’t help but stop often to shoot the scenery, which is fantastic. The aspens are peaking. On fire.
NM: 9/25, 2:00 PM
We just dodged a major disaster. The further up this road we’ve gone, the nastier it’s gotten. We were almost to the place where we planned to stop and fish this afternoon when it happened. I was riding ahead and had just rounded a nasty, off-camber switchback with bare rock on the inside of the turn. It’s the kind of slow-speed obstacle you have to counter-weight to get around, pretty challenging if you’re still riding tense. Dad was behind me, and as I slowed down to watch him take the turn I saw him take a nasty slow-speed header. I think he got nervous and hit the front break halfway through the turn, and of course that pulled the whole thing into the dirt. “I almost got a facefull of gravel,” he says afterward, and he’s got deep scratches on his helmet to prove it. He’s also limping. I guess he banged his knee pretty good.
He’s shaken, but ok. So is the bike. He still wants to fish. The old man is tough.
NM: 9/25, 4:45 PM
With all the trouble we’ve gone through to get here you’d think the fish would cooperate. But they have other ideas today. We’ve been flogging water all afternoon in the uppermost reaches of the river, just below the Continental Divide, in a high mountain valley filled with thick willows and a web of moose trails. It looks like top-notch habitat, but none of us have been able to draw a bump. Not even Pete, who fishes here all the time. He can’t tell us what the problem is. Maybe it’s too bright. Maybe it’s too cold. Maybe the browns are in spawning mode and bunched up somewhere on the river we haven’t found yet. I’m bummed that we won’t get fish photos for the story in such a gorgeous place.
NM: 9/25, 5:30 PM
Dad called it quits and limped back to where we parked a few minutes ago. I fish for a bit longer, then pack it up and hike out to meet him. He’s napping on a grassy bank by where we parked the bikes, watching the sun go down. I lean back next to him and we sit together and listen to elk bugling in the fading light. Aspens are glowing in the low light, an avalanche of color grown up to fill out the path of a rock slide. The year’s first snow dusts the peaks.
He looks tired. I hope we haven’t bitten off more than we can handle. We’ve got a serious ride planned for tomorrow that’ll take all day, and then some. Need to get back to camp and put some food in everybody.
BM: 9/25, 7:00 PM
_Nate’s making dinner. Tim’s making coffee. I’m exhausted. I’m beat to a frazzle. I can’t wait for bed.
I’m hoping not to disappoint Nate._