Robert Frost said that when you come to a fork in the road you should take it.
As I lay here in my tent in late December on a solo bikepacking overnighter, I’m reflecting on what these words. My bike’s model name is Diverge, and its ethos encourages the rider to diverge from the beaten path, to take the fork. Or better yet, to forge a new path.
Edward Abbey would tell me to forget paths altogether and get as far from them and the human pollution they invite as possible. There’s a family from Texas a couple campsites away (for the life of me, I don’t know what they’re doing here). The mom has been intermittently screaming at their child and the dad is running a noisy generator nonstop. I don’t know that I have the courage or the self-reliance to follow Abbey’s advice, but moments like this make me want to try.
I’ve always strained against the momentum of the beaten path, but I’ve also been drawn to idea of following in others’ footsteps, of standing on the shoulders of giants. This isn’t quite a paradox, but it’s something of a cousin to one.
When I hike, I seek the quieter, less known trails. When I run, I find peace in the monotonous emptiness of canal access paths. And when I drive, I like the back roads the best.
For many years I’ve been drawn to certain roads and what they reveal about the land and the people that take them. This emerged from my many road trips between my home in Colorado and my university in Nebraska. Shortly after the junction of I-80 and I-76, I’d get off the interstates and take Colorado 14 from Sterling all the way home to Fort Collins.
That stretch of CO-14 taught me a great deal about how rich the world is. It’s a rare person that would drive that road and be immediately taken by the scenery. It’s seemingly empty — seemingly the worst of what the Great Plains has to offer. Flat. Straight. Dull.
And yet, trip by trip I began to learn it. And as I learned it, I grew to appreciate it. I took one of my favorite photographs while standing in the middle of the road watching an evening thunderstorm break the orange horizon. I rode my first century in its emptiness. I listened to Markus Schulz’s Sunrise Set while speeding east into the prairie dawn. And I paused for a winter hike in the Pawnee Grasslands en route to meeting my now-wife and the love of my life.
The world contains so many roads, so many paths. And while I’m always looking for new paths, I feel it in my bones that this CO-14 road is my path.
I’m writing these words from my tent about 20 miles west of Fort Collins up the Poudre Canyon. Unsurprisingly, for my final camping trip of the year I chose to take CO-14. While the stretch of CO-14 between Sterling and Fort Collins first caught my attention, I’m equally enamored by the western stretch of this path. Sometimes we need the emptiness and space of the plains to find our path, and sometimes we need the gorgeous brutality of the mountains to shock us into movement along that path.
In my only post in 2022, I reflected on how I’ve been quite active with photography this year but I haven’t been sharing those photos. It’s an odd situation, and through reflecting and writing about it I came to the conclusion that I was yearning for something more out of my photography. Something grander. I now know what that is. In 2023, I’ll be starting a photo project dedicated to this CO-14 road that I’ve come to love. It will be an unusual project and I’m sure there will be unexpected twists and turns. I don’t even know exactly what the final product will be. But for the first time in a long time with my photography, I know I’m on the right path.