Zen On Dirt

Leave a comment

Vacation’s End – Mt Princeton, Texas Creek, 4-Pass loop

The end of our summer was starting to take on characteristics of an actual vacation – Do as much as possible with a limited amount of time. With snowflakes showing on the five day forecast, we knew that our ‘vacation’ in Colorado was approaching an abrupt end. We’d been metering our efforts all summer long, making sure not to dig the fatigue hole too deep before spending some time recovering, and it was time to throw caution into the wind.

‘Four Pass Loop?’ I’d asked multiple times during the summer. Somehow, the 30 mile loop, which had been looming as an intimidating goal all summer, somehow seemed feasible. We knew that if we were going to make it happen before the snow flew, it had to be the next four days.

We also knew that once we did it, we’d probably be out of commission for a semi-significant amount of time, so we might as well make the most of the few days of good weather before crushing our legs.

Scott convinced me that a trip up Mt Princeton would count as ‘recovery.’ I often have conversations with my mom that end with, ‘I’m not worried about whatever hair-brained idea you have. Scott has a good, rational head on his shoulders and will talk some sense into you.’ My mom has no idea.

It’s only a 3,000 foot bike ride up a jeep road.


Then a little bit of ridable trail.


Before the trail deteriorates into a giant pile of rocks.


Another 2,000 feet of up leads to the summit.


At the top, we found not a breath of wind. It was warmer than the average summer day. We shared an apple and tried to pick out the route for Nolans 14. Before this recent foray into the 14ers, I’d thought ‘How hard could it be to travel 100 miles over 14 14’ers in 60 hours? That’s averaging less than 1.7 mph.’

Now the idea, in addition to exciting me, scares the shit out of me. That in itself makes it sticky in my brain.

Anyhow, we cruised down, picked up bikes, and before we knew it, were back at the car.


We visited our little hippy hot spring for the second time in two days and headed back to our camp spot near Aid Station 1 on the Vapor Trail.

Tomorrow, we decided, we’d get serious about resting for the Four Pass.

Because working at camp can be a little uncomfortable, we headed down to the coffee shop in Buena Vista for a little bit of Internet time the following morning. Carrot Quinn called it ‘running errands on the Internet’ in her book on thru-hiking the PCT. I liked the concept.


Then over Cottonwood Pass to the colder side of the Divide. Two summers ago, we’d attempted to ride Texas Ridge after the early snow storm shut down much of the high country. We found a lot of mud and snow, which was unfortunate. The ride is hard to access because of its complete remoteness from anywhere except Taylor Park, which is remote from, well, anywhere in the world, so it really takes a special effort to go do it. We couldn’t drive right by and not indulge.

Besides, it’s CDT and CT. Our favorite combination.


And it’s fairly to mostly beautiful.


And chunky.


The loop ends with the Texas Creek descent which is closed to motos, leading to some silky smooth descending. It’s not as remote and faint as it was when I first rode it many years ago, but it’s still a gem.

We were both feeling pretty worked by the time we rolled up to the van to sort and pack gear for the following day. We knew we’d be in for a pre-sunrise to post-sunset type of a day and we knew that the morning was going to be cold, so we should probably pre-pack. This sort of planning in advance is completely out of character for me.

We grabbed a burrito in Crested Butte and headed up to a campsite where I first honed my skills of living out of a car many years ago. Bikes were pulled out, the tent set up, and alarm set for far-too-early o’clock.

Most people access the Four Pass loop, a route that connects CB to Aspen and back via four passes (duh) from the Aspen side. We’re not the hugest of huge fans of Aspen, and apparently believed that we need additional challenges, so we’d opted to camp outside of CB and then ride bikes to the top of Schofield Pass and then the top of 401, then hike the loop, and then ride bikes down 401 back to camp. It was a brilliant plan. If it hadn’t been the end of October with less than 12 hours of daylight.

We woke before our alarms, downed caffeinated drinks (FYI, the Starbucks Coconut Mocha Frap is maybe the most vile thing you can ingest), ate some food, and started pedaling. We couldn’t stay warm on the ride up to Schofield. It’s steep, it’s slow, and we still lost our fingers and toes.


We burnt a few energy matches on the singletrack portion of the climb, because burning matches is better than walking, and it helped generate some heat anyhow. Bikes were ditched at the Wilderness Boundary at dawn and the march started.


The world seemed ready for winter. The plants bedded down, ready for snow.


I proceeded to slip and fall into the first creek we had to cross. Scott tried to think up a solution to my soaked pants, socks and shoes in the below freezing temperatures. ‘Let’s keep moving,’ I insisted. Body heat, and the eventual sun was the only solution to my natural inability to stay upright.


We didn’t see sun until the top of West Maroon Pass. But when we got there, it was glorious.


We made quick work of the descent, feeling confident in our level of daylight, our energy levels, the brilliance of our idea. The popular lakes at the base of the Maroon Peaks was strangely deserted of people and we saw only a few souls as we climbed Buckskin Pass. We relished the warmth of the east facing slopes and the late morning sun.


We topped out with little difficulty and stared with amazement at the view.


We promptly ran into the Vardami and their pup Stella on our way down, which is exceptionally funny because twice this summer we tried to run them down with some trail magic during their CDT section hike. Now, I had no trail magic to offer. I guess it’s not that surprising to see them, a beautiful day Colorado day, above tree-line trail, great minds think alike? I think they had more of the right idea with backpacking it, but we’d left our lightweight camping stuff in Winter Park.

We cruised by Snowmass Lake when I had a flashback. ‘I’ve been here before! I’ve skied that peak! We camped right there on the shore of the lake and I have a photo of skinning across it!’ I’d be lying if it didn’t ignite a little bit of fire to get back into skiing, especially big peak spring skiing.


We climbed steadily and started seeing the longer shadows of the afternoon sun.


We stopped for a snack at the top of Trail Rider Pass. One more pass to go! Except we still had to get down this one.


Horses had chewed the trail to bits and we found ourselves slip-sliding down to the valley. The descent did nothing to help our average speed and we watched the minutes of the day tick by, concerned.

‘The only way we’re going to have any chance of getting back to the bikes by dark is to take the shortcut,’ Scott said.

‘Fine by me.’ I’d argue against shortcuts, even though it’d still be 4 passes earlier in the day. Now, the idea was starting to sound entirely rational.

Rational or not, we missed the turn for it, so it was a moot point and we soon found ourselves climbing the long valley up to Frigid Air Pass. We lost the sun to shadows early on, but found it again as we topped out.

Shadows were long.


With no possibility of getting back to the bikes in daylight, and thus no reason to ride 401, our steps lost urgency and we made our way back down to the valley. I made is safely across the creek where I’d first dunked myself in the morning, and we started the endless 500 foot climb back up to the bikes with headlamps on.

With every item of clothing on, we shoved shoes in packs and ripped down the trail we’d climbed in the morning. The coast down Schofield was far from warm and we made haste with dinner preparations back at camp. It was lovely to have the tent already set up.

We were soon snuggled into sleeping bags, body temperatures rising rapidly.

‘I can’t believe we just did that,’ I declared, drifting off to sleep. What a terribly awesome idea. What a perfect end to high-country season.


A final week in Salida

As a mountain biker in Colorado, one tends to develop a sense of urgency once the end of September rolls around. Winter in the high-country could arrive any day! To me, it always seemed like a challenge – how many rides could I get in before the snow flies? I remember one year where we had at least a dozen ‘Last Nederland ride of the year’ rides before a Thanksgiving storm finally shut down the trails in the mountains above Boulder.

Scott and I knew that once the high trails got shut down, we’d point pretty directly towards Utah and then south to Arizona, but we were determined to make the most of the days we had left of the perfect fall weather. We decided to spend the time in our favorite place in the state – Salida, of course.

The leaves were far past their prime, but leaves off the trees means leaves on the ground. Our first stop in the Arkansas Valley was a quick out-and-back on one of the best sections of Colorado Trail north of Princeton Hot Springs.


This section of trail never gets old.


We rode until the trail started its descent to Cottonwood Canyon and flipped it, enjoying the smooth curves and fast trail all the way back to the car.

One of the reasons we’d chosen to ride the section of trail was due to a rumor of a hippy hot spring ‘just off the CT’. Thru-Hiker rumors are often based in some amount of truth, and we were curious to investigate. Sure enough, with a little bit of poking around, we found hot water gushing out of the side of the hill filling a little pool. We had to do some digging out and wall building, but eventually, the pool held both of us fairly comfortably.


Then on to our traditional Salida campsite to watch the sunset.


One of our motivations to get to Salida was to see the participants of the Monarch Crest EnDarno. J-Bake was coming up from Tucson, and bike races in general are a good place to see people who I wouldn’t normally run into, all converged into one place. People were stoked, it was fun to hang out even as a non-participant.

We managed to convince J-Bake to to come do a lap of North Backbone with us after racing was done but many hours had to pass before he headed back to Denver to catch his flight back home. It was the fastest I’ve ever ridden the trail…that’s for sure.


Fast enough that I couldn’t get the camera out for a single trail picture…which was probably a good thing as we got back not long before it got dark. These darn short fall days…

My new uber-zoom #birdnerd camera finally showed up in the mail, so morning drives into town turned into hawk-watching missions. A group of red tails and northern harriers loved to soar in the hills just outside of town, and the 10 minute drive often turned into a 45+ minute affair.


We headed out for another North Backbone ride with the intention of letting me work on a couple of tricky parts that I goofed up when cross-eyed trying to keep up with the Scott and J-Bake train earlier. Except this time, we ran into Shawn and Ryan. I think we may have ridden even faster than when we rode with J-Bake…and again, no pictures were taken but lots of fun was had.

Boys. Gotta love riding with them. It sort of make me look forward to potentially riding fast again in the future.

One of the goals for the week was to get up Shavano. We’d been camping at the base of it for far too many nights to not climb it.

We opted to ride from our campsite to the trailhead at Blanks Cabin. Neither Scott nor I had ever ridden the road at a relaxed pace, as normally it’s the first part of the Vapor Trail 125 and it hasn’t yet occurred to racers that hammering up the first climb maybe isn’t the best idea in an all night/all day race.


We ditched the bikes at first dab on the trail and started hiking. ‘You hauled your bike up this?’ was my repeated question to Scott as we gained elevation. Yes indeed. He’s a funny one.


We had a lovely lunch at the top, decided we didn’t need to wander over to Tabagauche, and headed down the many thousand feet to our bikes hidden in the woods.


We did get to see a three-toed woodpecker on the way down. I only mention this because it was the first Class 2 bird we’ve managed to find. Every time we see a new bird, we think maybe it’s more rare than the normal Class 1 birds (as classified by the American Birding Association). It was exciting to finally find a 2. #birdnerd


We watched the sunset, asking, ‘Think we’ll be sore tomorrow?’


We were.

So instead of resting, we decided to go for a recovery spin up Bear Creek/Rainbow/Little Rainbow/Race Track. It always amazes me how Scott and I can delude ourselves into anything. In no way was this an easy ride…and my level of complaining up the first main climb was indicative of my general state of being.

But once on single track, not a peep of complaint was uttered.


By the time we’d made it back to town, Chad and Kendall had shown up for their quickie-trip to Colorado from the still hot Tucson. Wanting to show them the best of Salida, we took them to Amica’s for dinner. Then up to our campsite, home for the weekend.

‘Show us the fall colors’ they said.

‘Sure thing!’ we said, and promptly planned a hike where we saw exactly two aspen trees with only a handful of leaves hanging off them.

But, we did show them the beauty of Colorado fall ridgewalking, hiking up to Waterdog lake, scrambling up to the CDT, and then walking over to Bald Mountain. (Due to a charging snafu, I had no camera, so all pictures from this hike are borrowed from Scott)


Somehow, we were able to convince the entirely unacclimatized duo that if we looped the trail with more CDT down to the highway, it wouldn’t take that much longer to do than if we backtracked as planning. That is, if Chad was willing to run the mile and a half along the highway to retrieve the car for us.


Apparently we’re pretty good at talking people into questionable ideas.

Like going swimming in an alpine lake, in the middle of October, at 12,000 feet. It was glorious.


And really freakin’ cold!

We toodled back to the highway and basked in the sun while Chad put his running background to use and literally ran the shuttle for us.


Good work, team!

We ended the day at Elevations Brewing and Poco’s Burrito food cart in Poncha Springs. No colors were seen, but no one seemed to be complaining.

The next morning, we made good on our promise to show them fall colors. With a rental Jeep Cherokee, we had no problem driving to Blanks Cabin where we knew there’d be trees with leaves of the yellow variety.


As yes. Those.


We hiked to the meadow and laid down for a nap, watching gusts of wind send leaves spiraling to the ground. Fall was still holding on.


Chad and Kendall had to aim for the airport after dropping Scott and I off at the campsite. We watched them drive away and asked, ‘Now what?’ We’d planned our trip to Salida to be bookended by visits from friends, and now we had an open slate with four more days of good weather.

I had one more adventure on my Colorado list that I’d been wanting to do for years. It was time to get on it.

Leave a comment

Enjoying the Winter Park high country

We’re coming up on the time to leave Colorado for the year. I foresee this happening around the weekend if everything lines up. We’re also coming up on our 6-months-on-the-road-iversery. Through a combination of endless nights of camping, the graciousness of my parents to let us squat in their condo in Winter Park, visits to Scott’s parents in Salt Lake, and various friends who’ve housed us and let us rinse weeks of accumulated grime off in their showers, the only hotel rooms we’ve paid for this summer were during our our Oregon bikepacking trip, which three of the five nights were work related and Scott needing reliable Internet.

How’d we pull it off? A $250 dollar REI tent that we bought on a whim before leaving SLC back in May for our trip to Washington.

But this is all a tangent. Really, where I wanted to go with this stream of thought was that I really wanted to get all of our ‘summer on the road’ written down before we pointed our van south to AZ and started the ‘winter’ portion of our year.

So we find ourselves in Winter Park in the final third of September. I needed to go to Boulder to get a cavity filled, another filling replaced, and my two root canals from when I crashed my bike and landed on my face reinforced. I guess after three years of no dental care…that’s not so bad, but Ouch.

We parked ourselves in Winter Park, figuring that tent camping season was over. Remember, we don’t do cold. Luckily, the leaves were going off. Peak season.


Two years ago, when spending fall in Salida, an early winter storm shut the high country down in September. It was cold, and windy, and caused a fear of early-seasons-end in Scott. ‘It could snow any time’ was our basic ideology. ‘Run with the good weather!’

We spent one morning trying to deliver trail magic to two CDT-ish section hikers who we’d surmised from an Instagram feed were in the area. Having no idea how long distances took to cover on foot, we ended up missing them by a handful of hours.


We did get to see a cute pine marten.


And a moose on the drive back down.


We’ve seen moose nearly every time we’ve gone outside, but this guy was exceptionally big.

Back when we were motivated little bikepackers, we envisioned a trip where we’d ride Jones Pass/CDT over to Grays and Torreys, the two nearest 14k+ peaks in the area, camp, climb the peaks, and then ride back via Empire Pass and Lewis’ Sweet Shop. Then it got cold. Cold and camping at 12k isn’t our cup of tea, but we still wanted to do the ride.


Years ago, this was my first introduction to truly high country riding.


I learned that hike-a-bike was just part of the deal.


Apparently, I’ve gotten better at hike-a-bike, because it really wasn’t so bad this time around.


The weather was nothing short of perfect. Minimal wind. Minimal clouds.


Is this trail for real? Definitely one of the best bike-friendly-ish parts of the CDT.


My first spring steeps ski line was off of The Citadel in the background of this next photo. There may be some part of me that’s missing big peak spring skiing and may have to make some of it happen this next year. Alpine starts…not missing those so much.


A fast and surprisingly ridable descent down Herman Gulch had us poking around in the weeds trying to find the CDT on the other side of the highway. We ended up having to pull out the Ley maps from Scott’s phone to learn that the trail goes ‘seemingly the wrong way west’ before turning into a paved bikepath that parallels I-70 all the way to Georgetown.

Then a quick little up and over Empire Pass…


Only to find Lewis’ Sweet Shop was operating under mud-season hours…and closed. It was nothing short of devastating. Still, we probably felt better pedaling the 7 miles back on the highway without giant milkshakes and french fries in our bellies.

But still…

It hadn’t snowed yet and temperatures were still unseasonably warm. And then there was the lunar eclipse/supermoon/end of the world thing going.

‘Let’s go watch it from Rollins Pass!’ I declared. I often have hair brained ideas that I don’t actually expect Scott to agree to, but he seemed as excited as I was.

Plus, neither of us had ridden up to the top of Rollins this season.


It’s sort of one of those must-do classics if for nothing else but the view.

We’d also never hiked to Devils Thumb, so we might as well combine the two trips into one.


We hiked along the CDT with huge views of either side of the divide, the setting sun over Grand Valley to the west, and Boulder with all of it’s little mountains to the east. Then Kansas even farther to the east.


We stopped to eat pizza overlooking the Thumb, declaring that if the world did indeed end, it was a fine last meal to have. Better than fine, actually.


The light got better and better as the sun dipped lower and lower.


‘You know when we’re sitting in the condo and oohing and ahhing the last light on the Divide? I think we’re in that now.’


Yes. We were very much in it.

We watched the eclipse from the comfort of my sleeping bag that I’d hauled up, and when the moon was fully covered, we began our descent on trails. By the time we made it back down the valley and up the hill of doom, the moon had regained its full brilliance and lights were no longer needed.

We were a little tired after that, so we spent some time looking at birds.

Brown creepers are my favorite. They seem to be as happy hanging out upside down on the trunk of a tree as right side up. They crawl up one trunk of a tree, then dive-bomb to the base of the next one and repeat endlessly until the flock of chickadees they’re hanging out with flies off.


By this time, we’d made plans to meet friends in Salida for the weekend. But we had a slight problem in that the radiator in the van decided that it was finally time to die. To the shop it went and we were faced with a few extra days of snow-free time in Winter Park.

When the call came from the shop that the car was ready, we decided to take the long way there. First, climb up Fools Creek Road. We were going for the Strava KOM before we came to this roadblock.


They stared. We stared.

‘I guess if they charge, you’re supposed to get behind a tree to avoid getting trampled.’ Scott said.

‘You don’t think we could out ride them going down this road?’


‘Oh. I’ll go for the tree then.’

Eventually, they went up the road, and when we caught them around the next switchback again, they scampered off into the woods. All this would have been fine if we weren’t on a time schedule trying to get to the shop in Fraser by closing time at 5pm.


It’s hard to hurry when above treeline.

Our goal was a sheepherder monument that was erected in honor of a herder who died during a snow storm. We marveled at our ability to name so many of the mountains and drainages from our perch.


I think we’ve gotten around this summer.

Back at the bikes at the Wilderness boundary, trails took us most of the way to Fraser where we arrived with nearly half an hour to spare. Half an hour later, we were back home with a healthy van, tired legs, and a large pizza from Elevations in our lap. Life was good.


Leave a comment

Special rides in special places

Scott and I were riding in Salida last week revisiting a trail where I had knocked my teeth out a few years prior. ‘Who was on that ride?’ we asked. ‘What year was that?’

We ended up not being able to come to a consensus on it while we were riding. ‘We’ll check the blogs when we get back,’ we decided.

It was sort of a kick in the ass to try to get caught up here. Not necessarily because I have a great story to tell, and I do generally, when I’m caught up, try to tell a somewhat entertaining story, but because memories fade, blend, get distorted over time, and I want to have somewhat of a documentation of things that I got up to.

So where were we? Waking up in Salida.


In general, Scott’s a better morning sleeper than I am, so I often find myself up watching the sunrise while he snoozes. There’s something about the briefness of a sunrise and sunset, of the knowledge that no two will ever be alike, and that there’s no way to really hold on to it, that I love. Our first morning, and actually several mornings, held storms in the distance and provided a good excuse to not engage in any large adventures.

This was good because we were actually fairly tired from our exercise indulgences. Much time was spent at Cafe Dawn and the library, clicking away at keyboards.

We did get out to ride North Backbone and Cottonwood. It’s our one ‘must-do’ ride whenever we visit Salida.


We also visited friends at Absolute Bikes, got me a new big chainring, acquainted ourselves with Elevation Brewing complements of Tom, and in general, loitered around town.

We also made plans with Rachael and Jefe over in Gunnison. Dinner and a ride?

But first, it would have been sinful to drive over Monarch Pass without riding the Crest. We hadn’t ridden it all summer, and it seems sort of wrong to pass over a trail that people travel from all over the world to ride when you drive right by it.


But we didn’t want to shuttle it, and we didn’t want to do the standard ‘ride to Marshall pass and ride back’ day. ‘Let’s climb a mountain!’


Mt Ouray is the southern most big peak in the Sawatch Range. At 30 feet shy of 14k, it was originally surveyed and designated a 14er. Then when it was remeasured, it was demoted. Sort of like Pluto.


Either way, we’d been looking at it from our campsite all week, and it seemed like as good of an objective as any.


Ride out. Climb peak. Have a lunch date. Reverse steps 1 & 2.


Ridgelines. Endless ridgelines.


We made it back down with plenty of time to spare to drive down valley and into Gunni for dinner.


The next day, we took the Gunni locals on a ride in Crested Butte that neither of them had been on. We found this to be a terrible offense.

First step was to head up valley.


And then commence climbing.


And a little more.


And more.


The top! Well, the top of the easy part.


Then came the technical hike-a-bike.


What’s the point of all this climbing? This:


And this:


And this:


A long descent took us straight back to Teo Tamale for burritos. It really was nothing short of a perfect day. Since it was Vinotok weekend, a weekend that I made a point of exiting town for when I lived there, we weren’t too tempted to stick around for long. A frigid night of camping sealed the deal. Time to get out of the valley.

The plan was the Maroon Bells 4-pass Loop, so we headed to Aspen via the Crystal Hot Springs only to find every campground full. As we got farther and farther from Aspen over Indy Pass, our hopes sunk. We didn’t want to have to drive all the way back in the morning. There may have been some grumpies exchanged.

‘Screw it,’ we said. It was cold camping in Leadville. We were tired. Time to head back to Winter Park so that I could get to Boulder for a dentist appointment later in the week. Tent camping season may be done, or so we thought.


Luckily, the leaves in Winter Park weren’t done quite yet. Until the snow flew, we knew, we’d keep playing.

1 Comment

Back on the Colorado road

There’s nothing quite like Colorado in the summer time. No, I take that back. There’s nothing quite like being on the road. In Colorado. In the summertime.

Winter Park is great. It really is. We get a roof over our head. A comfortable bed. Easy access to the Front Range for Adulting. Plenty of day trips straight from the door. Reliable Internet. Beauty in every direction.

But I’m not very good at staying still. I’m pretty much the worst.

Sarah and I had been trying to set up a play-date for weeks when we finally got ahold of each other. In the words of Semi-Rad.com, it was time to make plans, not resolutions. Something big, but not epic. Beautiful, but not excessively popular. On dirt. On bikes. Plus, it had to be somewhere where Scott could go play on his own, because I had no intention on going right back to Winter Park.

After much debate, we settled on the Copper Dirty Triangle. Copper Mountain -> Colorado Trail over Searle and Kokomo Pass -> Camp Hale -> Ptarmigan Pass -> Vail Pass -> Bike path down to Copper Mountain. Scott would go either work or push his bike up a 14er. (I’ll give you one guess which option he chose)

The Colorado Trail from Copper to Camp Hale is one of my favorite sections. First, you climb trail IMG_2688

Up past the trees. Up past Janet’s Cabin.

At Searle Pass, the resident marmots seemed to have gone to sleep for the year. We overheard someone someone telling their riding partner ‘It just traverses from here. It’s not really worth going past the pass.’


It just traverses from here. Nothing to see. Nothing to do.


There are no views. No pieces of amazing trail.


We joked that we too, should have turned back at the pass.


But we knew better.


Over Kokomo, down the trail. Past the waterfall to Camp Hale. Then a long road climb up, which was steeper than I remembered, and a quick little jaunt back to Vail Pass and down the bike path. Beer and chips capped the ride off before heading over the pass to Leadville to meet Scott. He’d chosen the ‘ride the bike up a 14er option.’

We camped just outside of town and said our goodbyes in the morning. Resolutions made for future plans.

Scott and I opted for a morning at the coffee shop before committing to Mt Sherman, another 14er in the area. I might ride, I hedged. I may just walk.

It took one look at the trail snaking up the side of a scree field to solidify my decision. I’ll wait for you a the top if you wait for me at the bottom. 

I put running shoes on and started up.


I watched Scott push/pedal his way up. Not once did I say, ‘Gosh, I wish I had my bike.’


The wind turned me around near the top, but it had died down by the time I retraced my steps to Scott. Up we go again.


The summit was downright pleasant and only a few stupid-strong gusts of wind hit us on the way down. Scott rode. I walked. We were both as happy as could be.

In town, we finally got pizza at Mountain Pies after being turned away the day prior due to a line out the door. We made camp up Half Moon Creek, planning a lazy day in the morning.

Our bottles froze overnight, making for a brisk morning of getting ready and riding. Easy ride, we decided, then on to warmer climates. We don’t do cold.

The section of Colorado Trail from Half Moon campground at the base of Elbert to Twin Lakes is some of the most spectacular trail in the state in terms of Whee! Fun!-ness.


While the leaves weren’t quite in their prime yet, we weren’t going to complain.


We even ran into an old friend from my collegiate days of racing. She’d just ridden Mt. Elbert and was still bundled up from the long descent. She’d also just finished touring the CT, and I’d been meaning to get in touch with her to see how it was. Somehow, giving someone some FaceBook ‘likes’ just isn’t the same. So it was good to run into each other face-to-face, even if it was only for 5 minutes. We made some resolutions to ride when she moved back to CO. Hopefully the resolution turns into concrete plans.

We made it back in just over three hours. Easy ride…standard procedure.

On to Buena Vista for dinner with Kep, and further south to the Heart of Colorado, Salida! We set up camp in the dark and passed out fast. When the sun came up the next morning, we woke to this:


The road. I love being on the road.


Back to Colorado, back to the alpine

Back in Idaho, many weeks ago now, Scott and I woke up in our big tent groggy, tired. ‘It’s smokey’ I mumbled and rolled back over. The smoke which had invaded the state had only gotten worse, making the decision to skip town an easy one. We paid a visit to the Ketchum library (we’re becoming well-versed in libraries around the west) to computerize a little bit and pointed east.

First to a hot springs on the route.


Then onto Craters of the Moon National Monument where camping was relatively cheap and we knocked a few more dollars off of our annual Interagency Parks Pass. Camping in a lava field, that was cool.


I once made a case for having a kid because it would force us to slow down and do things like Interpretive Walks around parks instead of big, stupid stuff.


I’ve figured out that I don’t need a kid in order to walk in the Interpretive Paths. We dawdled, looking at all the really cook formations in the lava flow.


Then on to SLC, where it was still smokey. And on to Boulder, where it was still smokey. Might as well go to Winter Park, where it was, still, smokey. I had a series of ‘adulting’ things to do in Boulder over the next few weeks, so we settled into WP for a semi-extended stay. As in, we brought our box of food inside.

Inspired by the Long Ranger, we set out on a series of Bike-to-the-hike adventuritas. Neither of us were brimming with energy, but the call of the alpine was far to strong to resist. I used to be a die-hard I’ll-only-use-a-car-if-absolutely-needed commuter, but I’ve gotten softer over time. Still, it’s nice to leave the car parked as often as possible and ride from the doorstep.

First up was Byers Peak. With a semi-stormy forecast, we actually set an alarm and got going early.


Scott still doesn’t fully trust my navigating around the trails of WP, mostly because I navigate by experience. ‘We have to hook up the descent where Neven and I crashed into each other at high speed with the spot where I passed Amanda Carey during one of the WP XC races to the trail where Alison Powers smoked me in the last mile of another race.’ I know where I’m going, but I understand the skepticism.

I got us to the trailhead where we could ride an extra 1.8 miles before hitting Wilderness. Then onto hiking.


It was a straightforward ridge walk with one spot of using hands.


The smoke was still making breathing unpleasant and muting the views, but what can you do.


Back down, coast down the road, ride some trails, pedal to Fraser. Eat pizza. Ride home. Perfect.


Next up was Vasquez Peak which is rarely accessed from this side because of a nearly 4-mile road which is closed to engines, but open to bikes.


It was a stormless day to frolic above treeline. Just lovely.


With the weekend came the Big Mountain Enduro Finals. We’d seen Krista’s van parked up Vasquez Road during our Vasquez Peak ride, but we’d passed it at 10am, and Scott didn’t think she’d be awake yet, so we didn’t knock. J-Bake flew in from Tucson and we had ourselves a little Tucson reunion.


In the evening, after pre-riding and eating pizza, Krista insisted on showing J-Bake videos of the trails that he didn’t get a chance to pre-ride. Laughter was barely contained. Enduro is funny…and looks like a lot of fun too. There seems to be a good bit of beer involved, and J-Bake ate pizza for breakfast and dinner two days running, which is my type of living.


With the Enduro crew gone, I talked Scott into one of my terribly awesome ideas – Walk from Berthoud Pass to Rogers Pass/Rollins Pass road. ‘We’ll hitchhike down the pass and then pack up to Berthoud, it’s Labor Day, everyone and their mother is going to be up there!’

Scott was skeptical. As he should be. But really, I’ve never led him too far astray. Yet.

You can see the ridgeline in its entirety on the drive from Berthoud Pass down to WP, all above treeline, all gorgeous. All CDT, or CDT alternates. And I’d been itching to hike it since June when we decided the snow situation was still, well, snowy.

Up towards the top of MInes Peak.


Towards Flora.


To the top of Eva for a snack.


Up Perry, the prominent three-fingered hulk that looks down at the resort.


The the semi-exposed traverse over to James Peak.


There was some scrambling.


We met a trio of hikers at the top of James Peak. ‘Of course we can give you a ride down the pass. We’ll even give you a ride up to Berthoud. It’s only an extra six miles!’


Two of them were retired doctors making the most of their retirement and showing a new Colorado transplant the ropes of the Colorado mountains. It was nice to have company on the final four miles down…and it was even nicer to not have to worry about getting a ride. I’d hoped that with the number of hitchhikers I’ve picked up over the years, I’ve got some good hitchhiking karma built up.

We had one more adventure left in us before going on a mini Tour de Colorado.

Further feeding our obsession with riding and hiking sections of the CDT, we parked at the Henderson mine at the base of Jones Pass, rode up a little connector trail and then headed south on the CDT. It was ridable! High alpine rideable CDT. That’s like finding a three-eyed unicorn! Well, there was some hike-a-bike, but we were pleasantly surprised.


We donned running shoes for a quick-ish jaunt up Mt Nystrom, and then actually had to run/jog in our running shoes as the sun was threatening to set on the way back. I need to run more, I like running.


Then coasting back to the car.


Well, except for the hike-a-bike section.


Definitely chalk that section of trail up to ‘Who’d have thunk?’

I had one more adult errand to run in Boulder, so I drove Scott most of the way up Berthoud Pass (I’m not waiting in the construction zone, you can pedal from here) and pointed towards the front range. For not having left the house until well past 1pm, it was a pretty good little adventure.

More of Colorado called. There were things to do. People to see. Summer was ending!

Leave a comment

Idaho Hot Springs Double Date

As I look outside, the leaves of the Colorado high country are changing, the air is crisp, and I’m wondering what happened to summer. It’s been the usual pattern of play as hard as possible until we crack, take a week to rest and catch up on work, and then go again. I always plan on catching up on this blog during down times, but in the end, good books, trying to learn some Spanish, and occasionally some trashy TV take priority.

Back this Spring, Alexis and I had planned a tour of the ACA Idaho Hot Springs Route for the fall. Sandwiched between Denny getting back from Peru and the two of them having to go back to teaching, our time window wasn’t exactly huge, but good enough for some quality bikepacking.

My one main goal for the trip was to ride the Boulder-Whiteclouds section of trail. I could rant about how this Wilderness designation came to be (to me, it seems much more about political gains rather than actual land conservation), but I grew up in Boulder where mountain bike trail politics, at the time at least, were horrible, so really, I’m ranted out. With five nights to play with, we figured that we’d plan the rest of the route based on how long the ‘singletrack option’ took us.

We all met up in Hailey, just down the road from Ketchum, and eventually found parking in at the Galena Lodge 20+ miles up the road from Ketchum. While this shortened our distance to the first set of hot springs on the route, we knew we’d be hating life when we rolled back into Ketchum at the end of the trip and had to pedal back up to the cars.

Our first task was to get lost. We weren’t really expecting a route that claimed to be fully-loaded pannier touring friendly to go on some overgrown singletrack.


The fact that we hit a little section of hike-a-bike straight off on the climb to Galena Pass made us smile.


The descent down the backside dropped jaws. Views! There were views! I was so happy.


We started on the singletrack section late in the afternoon, climbing what seemed like a million feet on barely rideable trail and the dropping down the next valley on what I’d call ‘fairly challenging’ trail. This route apparently wasn’t going to mess around. We made it to Bowry Hot Springs (I’m writing this a full 6 weeks after the fact, I’ll probably make up some names) at dark, ate some dinner, soaked under the stars, and passed out quickly.

Breakfast was burritos complements of Denny, and cinnamon rolls complements of wherever I bought them. I think it was the Albersons in Hailey. Now, with 4 fewer cinnamon rolls on my bike, and a liter less of wine in my frame bag, we could really start riding.


Breathtaking views.


Before we got into the heart of the Whiteclouds, we opted for a soak at a nearby hot spring. This one was super sulfery, which we’d later read was good for skin. It smelled like ass.


We opted out of the first PUD (pointless up and down) since we could see that it was entirely hike-a-bike and skirted around to start the main climb of the Boulder Whiteclouds. There was a lot of hiking.


I’d hate for someone who’d never bikepacked on singletrack to think that this was what bikepacking singletrack was always like. We were going pretty light, and even Scott couldn’t claim to have ridden much more than half the climb. Still, the views were worth it.


We went swimming at a small lake in the shadow of the iconic Castle Peak. It made it all the more special knowing that this area would be off limits to mountain bikes in the very near future.


The trail that mountain bikers actually used and maintained (as opposed to the climb we took to get up to the basin, which is rarely ridden in the uphill direction) was beautiful and rideable.


We each got our glamor shot cresting the top.


Then down to another lake. Up for a bit. Down for a bit. A climb up to Ants Basin.


Somebody please pinch me. Is this real?


We raced shadows down to pick out the best campsite of the trip.


Here? Should we spend the night here?


The morning brought a descent further into the basin to The Meadows, where we saw Sandhill Cranes. #birdnerd


Then more hike-a-bike up Martin Creek. Martin Creek doesn’t really seem to get a whole lot of use…especially in the uphill direction. The sheer amount of hike-a-bike was frustrating even to Scott, which is saying something.


The views of the Sawtooths at the top, and the subsequent descent almost made it worth it. Though I’d firmly say I wouldn’t take that traversal of the mountain range again…which is a moot point because now it’s firmly closed. The west to east way seemed to be much friendlier.


Luckily, there was a hot spring at the end in the form of a cauldron. We had to haul countless buckets of river water up to make the spring water tolerable. It was a lovely, happy soak and river swim period in time.


To Stanley for pizza and resupply. To camp in a dead forest where a wind storm and crashing trees forced us to relocate camp in the middle of the night to a more open area. To smooth and open roads in the morning.


Onto the Lowman cutoff and to the daily hot spring. I nearly scalded my feet and had to fish an abandoned flip-flop out of a pool with a stick because it was too hot to touch. More river swimming. More soaking.


After lunch and resupply at the Sourdough Lodge, we took a cut-off from the Lowman cutoff to save time. A massive, but perfectly graded climb took us from one valley into another.


We camped at a legitimate campsite where we were the only ones because you had to carry your stuff into the site. It’s flip flop o’clock! Down by a river, it was cold, but it had picnic tables. Picnic tables! It’s the small luxuries in life.


We finished off a climb in the morning to get back on the route only to find a defunct hot spring. Bummer. So we kept pedaling up and over another massive climb. If there’s something the route wasn’t lacking, it was huge climbs. I don’t mind climbing, it means you get to coast back down the other side.

We found ourselves in Featherville for a late lunch. A massive amount of food was order to eat there and to haul down the road for dinner. The cafe has fully embraced being on a bike touring route.


With the sun setting, we weren’t sure if we’d actually make the 30 miles to a hot spring that our book had described as the Shangri-la of hot springs. We stopped at a smaller one sooner on the route. Stay or go? There wasn’t much camping to be found in the area, and at most, we could have fit two people in the little hot box, so we kept going. Alexis chugged a Dr. Pepper and set a pace none of us could really maintain.


We rolled in right at dusk and enjoyed a soak and set up camp a stones throw from the pool. It made for a frosty morning.


It also made for a good morning soak where hands and feet had to initially be kept out of the water to avoid cold extremities from heating up too fast. We called it ‘The Turtle.’


Up and over one more big pass and down to a local favorite hot spring for a second soak and then onto Ketchum.


Beer, burgers, and fries distracted us from the fact that there was still 20 more miles of pedaling to partake in. It was the celebration before the actual finish. The beer buzz lasted Denny and I a solid 10 miles out of town.


It was…painful. But really only because we were racing daylight. We eventually bailed off the trail that paralleled the highway and rode pavement to save time. Back to the cars, the last ones in the parking lot. The sun was just disappearing over the pines. Alexis and Denny quickly pointed back towards Logan, Scott and I stood there, What next?

The previous six days were some of the biggest days we’d ridden this summer. We felt a little bit epic’d. As we stood there, watching A&D driving away, we laughed. ‘How awesome is it to have good friends like that who’ll voluntarily go out and undertake something like that, with a time limit, and pull it off?’

There aren’t all that many people like that out there. Especially not ones that make as amazing of a breakfast burrito to bring along for breakfast the first day. What fun.

We drove a few miles down the road. Put out our big tent and warm sleeping bags and promptly passed out, smiling. That was a good way to spend a  week.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 115 other followers