Zen On Dirt

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CDT Day 36 – Finally gambled on a trail and won

So here’s what I love about touring – you never, ever know what’s going to happen. Today was no exception.

Team Blueberry never showed up at the yurt, so we had a quiet night, falling asleep long before it actually got dark and sleeping like babies until the resident bluebird decided it was time to get up. He announced this by repeatedly flying against the windows at approximately 30 second intervals. This went on all morning…the alarm clock that you can’t shut off.


I got the fire going again and we indulged in not only hot chocolate but TWO cups of tea made on the propane stove. Luxury. We did all the chores – collect kindling, chop wood, get more water, pack bikes – and pondered our route down the mountain to Lake City.


We had two options – follow the CT for a few miles and drop down a dirt road, or gamble on a trail that dropped straight from the yurt and ended up 2,500 feet down on the valley floor. Given our history with random trails, we were hesitant when we first got to the yurt.

By morning, there wasn’t really a question.

When Scott brought up the issue, I told him, “There’s no point in even discussing this, we both know we’re going to take the trail.”

Something was going to happen.


We couldn’t find the entrance to it at first, but after some wandering around, we found a trail diving into the woods. What followed was six miles of mountain bike bliss.

Swoopy trails through aspen groves. Beautifully built switchbacks. Perfect bikepacking tech level.

We kept waiting for it to go to shit, but as we got closer to the bottom, we realized we’d stumbled upon one of the best descents we’d ever ridden in CO, and we’d never heard of it. Camp Trail. Have you?


At the bottom, all that remained between us and Lake City was an easy, downhill road pedal. We couldn’t stop grinning. So much better than CLIMBING on the CT and then going down a road.

We gambled. We won. We were stoked.


We headed straight to the TicToc diner for the best french toast and bacon that we’ve found this trip. The huevos rancheros were delicious too.

Then on to the Raven’s Rest hostel where we found 10 or so thru hikers taking zero days. Many of them we’d met at Ghost Ranch and had gotten ahead of us during our Durango layover. Trouble and The Dude we’d met just past the Gila way down in southern NM. Beards were longer. Clothing a little more worn. It was fun to catch up.

As happens on most down days, I’m not really sure where the afternoon went. A trip to the ice cream parlor for sundaes was definitely in there…but not a whole lot else. So now we’re well-fed, stocked up on food needed to get to Salida, and debating on whether we want to stay here another night or not.

But after two short-ish days, we’re feeling pretty good so we’ll probably push on with more good weather for the next three days.


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CDT Day 35 – High riding, yurt living

Current location and activity: Sitting in a sunny yurt watching storms move up the valley while sun shines on our deck while a beautiful bluebird hangs out, pooping on the rails.

Today was a 14 mile day. Tomorrow will be about 15 miles, mostly downhill. Today was not mostly downhill. We’re tired and we know it. Plus, how could we pass up the chance to spend a night in the Colorado Trail Friend’s Yurt. In 2011 during the CTR, Jarral had tried to explain the location of the yurt to me as we were eating dinner at Spring Creek Pass. I couldn’t find it in the dark and ended up bivying a couple hundred yards from it. Now, they’ve moved it farther up the hill so that the giant windows allow for views of the mighty San Juans. It sleeps 8 and we’re thinking Team Blueberry might make it here tonight, but for now, it’s a peaceful escape from the incessant wind that’s been blowing all day.


It was a cold morning getting ready. I put off putting on wet socks until the very last minute and then added insult to injury by putting cold feet in wet socks into wet shoes. My toes immediately went numb and it took a fair bit of voluntary hike-a-bike to get the feeling back.

The sun peeked out occasionally, letting us strip down to single layers.


The yurt was our planned destination for the day, even at only 14 miles out, especially after my spectacular cratering yesterday. Stony Pass and I don’t get to be friends in the northward direction. Kennebec is on my shit-list too. Next winter, I’m doing core work, this lack of HAB endurance is killing me.

The route was pretty straight forward. Climb up the long valley, drop down the even longer valley. Climb up to Carson Saddle. Climb up to Coney’s Ridge, then over to the summit, then drop down to the trees to the yurt.


Things were going swimmingly. Our toes came back to life. A giant elk paralleled our movements descending the valley, stopping to look at us as often as we stopped to look at it.

Then weather started moving in. Snowflakes started to flurry down. Jackets went on. We were about to go gain the high point of the CT (and possibly the CDT) with a giant storm barreling towards us.

As Scott put it, “There’s no such thing as an easy crossing of Coney’s.”


We got up the flanks of the giant mountain, stealing glances back, watching the storm get funneled down the valley and away from us. We kept boogying.

And then as we gained the ridge, the sun came out!!!


Cameras came out, as did smiles. Jackets came off, lots of stops were taken.

It’s spectacular trail out there. After the heinous climb, all the rocks disappear and it’s high alpine cruising. Except where it’s not, of course.

Blissful is how Scott described it.

Then we looked back and saw another storm barreling down on us.

Time to go.


We dropped into the trees, filled up on water, and headed straight to the yurt, seeking refuge from the wind.

After we finished lunch, Sailor, Alfredo, and Good Neighbor stopped in for their lunch. They’d gone up to hike a Wyoming section to wait for the snow to melt and were headed south on the Lake City to Wolf Creek section carrying six days of food. We hadn’t seen them since south of Chama. It was good to catch up and get some snow reports, and of trail conditions crossing the Great Basin (windy).


Since then, reading Backcountry Skiing magazines (and missing skiing a little bit), lounging, and trying to not eat all of our food before the morning.

It’s a good yurt-living, bike-touring life. No internet. No town chores. Just recovery and enjoying the moment.

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CDT Day 34 – Cracking at the sight of Stony Pass

With hindsight, we should have never left Silverton. I knew this about 15 minutes into our pedal, but by that time, I felt like it was maybe too late to say, “I really don’t want to climb Stony Pass today.” So I kept pedaling. But I was pooped. Turns out, 74 miles of CT singletrack will do that to you. And pooped meant that each hill was approached with a “really?”. Not a great attitude to have when climbing into the San Juans.

Up until then, it was a nice morning. We definitely woke up tired, something that I remedied with several cups of coffee at the Black Bear Cafe. It’s funny, we’d gotten firmly into tour mode before getting to Durango. Leaving town was never a hurry, town chores were never rushed.


But somehow, being back on the Colorado Trail, a route that we’ve both raced in the past, I found it hard not to be in race mode. Hurry up and eat breakfast, hurry up and pack, hurry up and shop for supplies. Luckily, we’d decided that we’re going to Lake City, so we didn’t have to shop for all the way to Salida.

Scott, probably still being tired without the aid of more than a cup of coffee, slowed me down. We dug through the hiker box at the hostel, newly restocked by Team Blueberry with two peoples’ dinner worth of mac and cheese, endless trailmix, a two pound jar of Nutella, a jar of peanut butter, more noodles, and what we guessed were grits. We took some mac and cheese and two bags of trailmix.


We drank juice and ate apples (and ice cream sandwiches) at the general store. We went back to the hostel to reheat our dinner leftovers and talk to the new owners some more. Then at noon, we pedaled. We should have just gone back to our room and napped.

But there we were at the base of Stony Pass. 4 miles of dirt road, nearly 3,000 feet of vertical.

“I think I need music.”

“I think you’re letting this climb mentally defeat you before we even start,” was Scott’s reply. We weren’t on speaking terms for the next three miles.

Then the trees started to clear and the top came into view. Things always look better above treeline.


Section 22 and 23 on the Colorado Trail are something special. So high that you can’t even see trees in the valleys below you. Sometimes good trail…sometimes not so good.



We hit snow and muck pretty early and I started to get frustrated with the wet feet and the incessant on again off again. This trail is so much better later in the year, I thought. But that’s the thing with long-distance trails, there’s no perfect way to time it. Hit CO trails perfect, you’ll be in the snow in Montana, and probably roasting in NM. So you take what you can get, when you can get it.


Anyhow, it was so stinkin’ beautiful out there, even with a solid level of cloud cover.

We caught Team Blueberry at the base of a long stretch of snowfields. They were working on their CT thru-hike. Hailing from Boone, NC, they were pretty impressed by the San Juans, quite possibly the most majestic mountains in CO. They informed us that they’d packed another 2 lb jar of Nutella for Durango -> Silverton and now couldn’t even look at the stuff.


Our pace was slower than them on the uphills, but then we got a solid stretch of snow-free downhill and soon they were out of sight. Bikes are fun.

We pedaled to Cataract Lake, filling up on water and finding a semi-sheltered camp spot behind some shrubs, the only plants more than 2 inches high that we’d seen all afternoon.


It was a cold and windy night, not high on the quality sleep meter, but again, the view totally made it worth it. And it was the lowest spot we’d been since Silverton, so that sort of qualifies as quality camping. I think

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CDT Day 33 – Delusions, snow, and into Silverton

I’m pretty sure that Scott and I were on the same page when we woke up this morning: That we’d be in Silverton in time for a late breakfast, or a noontime lunch at the very latest. I mean, serious, all we had to do was drop 400 feet to Graysil, another 400 feet to Cascade Creek, climb to White Creek, climb over all the snow drifts that we’d scouted with our ride with Cat (that blog post coming eventually here), ride the beautiful trail towards Engineer, hike-a-bike over the lower pass instead of Rolling Pass (which all the hikers we’d seen had said was full of snow), and then drop down on trail all the way to Molas Pass, and then coast into Silverton.

Skeptical? Yeah, we weren’t.

(Next day edit: Apparently I was the only one so delusional. Scott knew we weren’t getting in till later.)

Morning networking with Matthew. Definition of “mobile office”.

The night was, let’s call it sub-warm. We both ended up in our bivys and while I was never super uncomfortably cold, I wouldn’t have turned away a giant down blanket either. We’d strategically placed ourselves for early morning sun, and when it hit, it felt like a hairdryer had been turned on, without the blowing air. In all honestly, the ambient air temperature never dropped that low, but the frozen ground did a number on our non-insulated air pads.

We waltzed around in the sun. What’s the hurry?


We finally started riding when it was warm enough to do so in single layers. Recall that we camped at 11,700 feet. I love summer.

The drop to Graysil was less of a drop and more of a down three steps, up one type of a trail. With a lot of rocks. Still, we made good time. Passing Cascade Divide, we found that the snow had melted significantly from four days prior.

We also found that our legs hadn’t recovered from the ass-kicking that Cat had handed our way four days prior. Live and learn. Or maybe don’t learn.


We were still optimistic of an early arrival when we hit Cascade Creek. After all, it had been mostly downhill.

Now it was time to pay the piper.

And pay we did with tired legs and sputtering motivators. I guess chasing Cat around on the same trails for 6 hours at far-faster-than-tour pace two days before leaving maybe wasn’t the brightest of bright ideas. But it was totally worth it.


We climbed through the snow on White Creek. We oohed and ahhed at the views of Engineer. We stopped to eat the last of our tortillas, cheese, and salami at the base of the hike. It was 11 am. I was losing hope of anyone having a breakfast menu still on offer.

Then through mud, snow, tundra, and some more snow, we went up.

If it wasn’t so stinkin’ beautiful out there…


It is one of the hardest hike-a-bikes I know, ledgy, steep, overgrown, and now covered in mud and snow. Reaching the top was a joyous occasion celebrated with the murder of several million pixels on our cameras.


Then all downhill and easy cruising to Molas Pass. Except where it wasn’t. Like the places where it was rocky, or muddy, or snowy, or worst of all, uphill.


It was an absolutely glorious little (or not so little) piece of trail, uphill and all. Soon, we were back in intimately familiar territory, dropping down the switchbacks to the pass and then flying down the road, straight to the BlackBear Cafe. Arrival time: 3pm.


No breakfast menu, but the lunch menu was nothing to sneeze at.

Tomorrow, we tackle Stony Pass and sections 22/23 of the CT. We’re currently debating the option of making Lake City a stop on this leisure tour so that we don’t have to leave town tomorrow (and climb 3,000 ft) with three nights and four days worth of food. If I recall, Lake City has a good cafe, and I’m a sucker for good cafes.

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Day 32 – Kennebeck, Blackhawk, and black bears

We had the perfect campsite picked out. Just past Bolam pass, it had a nice little fire ring, even though we aren’t fire makers, and some newly chopped sitting benches. Being pooped, we were going to stop early for once. Dinner was made and being shoveled into our mouths, tea was steeping, and we were starting to feel human after a long day of riding when Scott looked up.

Noodles still hanging from his mouth, “Bear!”

I looked behind me and not 50 yards away, a huge black bear was sauntering down the hill, likely heading for an evening drink at the lake.

We stood up for a better look and quickly decided that we didn’t want him any closer.

“Hey bear!” We waved our arms. He took one look at us, did an about face, and went scurrying back up the hill.

“I think we’ll sleep better if we go somewhere else,” Scott surmised.

I agreed, so we finished our dinner, drank our tea, repacked our bikes, and made the best of the last of the day.

Passed a herd of 1,000,000 elk hanging out in the meadow on our way to our new camp.


It was totally worth is as we’re camped on a ridge at nearly 12,000 feet with a huge view of Engineer to the east and our route all the way back to the La Platas to the west, plus Lizard Head and Mt Wilson and El Diente, both 14ers and HUGE. Thus far, it hasn’t gotten too cold. Definitely not an LW Coaching approved low-altitude camping spot, but what a view!

As for the day, I think pictures will do a better job describing the riding than any words that I could string together.


After some steep climbing, we finally got to the scree field hike-a-bike up to Kennebec. It was hikey.


Then some lovely trail down to the lakes where we refilled on water.

Then the hike up to Indian Trail Ridge. This section is burley coming down…it was twice as burley going up. Woowhee.


But the views and the riding up there…speechless, breathless, and way better in this direction.


Down into the trees and through the Hotel Draw section…riding through the trees on this trail would be spectacular anywhere else besides between Kennebec Pass and Blackhawk Pass…but regardless of racing or riding, it seems to go on forever. I don’t think any CT rider has ever said, “I wish Hotel Draw would go on for just a few more miles.”

By the time we hit the base of Blackhawk, I was done. Maybe slightly bonky, definitely cranky, and fully convinced that there was no way I was going to be able to get over the pass.

We stopped at Straight Creek for some water and an extended snack break, hoping for an Ez revival. I pulled out all the stops, eating Bread cookies, and apple with peanut butter, and putting the music on. Some combination of those did the trick and we made our way up the pass at a halfway reasonable pace – Scott riding in bursts, me plodding along on two feet. It got the job done.


Back above treeline, my spirits immediately improved. It’s hard to be in a bad mood when standing on top of Blackhawk pass on a perfectly windless and sunny day. Life perfection.


I won’t say that the next few hours turned unpleasant, but we were both starting to get tired. I was in the vicious cycle of getting tired from hiking my bike, making me too tired to pedal it, forcing me to hike it some more and get more tired. It’s a bad cycle to be in.

Luckily, the miles between Blackhawk and Bolam are scenic, pseudo-flattish (but not really), and can be done even when tired.

We were both pretty stoked to find the nice campsite just past a water source.

Pretty happy that Yogi the Bear came to visit, as we’re even more stoked to be camping where we ended up.

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Day 31 – Back on the trail!

We’re back out on the trail! Not far up it, but back at it.

While we had plenty of places to stay in Durango, even after housesitting was up, the feet were getting itchy. There was trail to be ridden and a few more days of snow melt wasn’t going to make a big difference. So we declined all offers of beds and stuck to our original departure date.

We’ve got four to five days of high altitude riding and a good weather window, so we didn’t want to squander it and be stuck above treeline when the first monsoons of the season hit.

We slept till 9. Ate some breakfast. Computered. Packed up our bounce box. Got all the random stuff together to send to my parents house. Went to the post office. Went to Bread for trail supplies. Cleaned the house. Took Cushla to the park for some good old fashioned ball chasing. I’m going to miss that little bugger…


And then we were off. Zia burritos to go.

It was time to pedal. Up the road…it was hard to accept that standing on the pedals didn’t produce immediate acceleration. Riding loaded is always such a buzzkill for the first few miles.


Then onto the Colorado Trail. We could have taken shorter routes either onto the high sections of the CT or straight to Silverton, and maybe tomorrow when we’re trudging through snow, we’ll wish we did, but there’s something awesome about starting at the beginning of a trail and starting to ride.

We climbed. And climbed. And then we climbed some more.


We got to Highpoint, and descended a far flatter trail than I remember from all my rides on the trail in the opposite direction. Though the end did have some sporting descending, which I fondly remember as miserable hike-a-bike.

Crossing the Junction Creek bridge, we started our climb in earnest. Since we didn’t actually leave town until 4, I figured I could ride till dark with a minimal amount of food. Thus, I bonked. Go team.


I threw myself a little hissy fit and kept going, wishing that Scott would mercifully end what was starting to seem like a death march. Yes. I’m being overly dramatic, but I was definitely to the point that only a big meal could pull me out of the slump.

We pulled up just short of Junction Creek Road to a nice little flat spot in the middle of a bunch of trees. Some dead, some alive. But there’s no wind, so I’m really hoping the dead ones don’t choose tonight to fall over.

Zia burrito in belly. Teeth brushed. Camp made. Blog written. It’s good to be back on the trail.

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Durango: Resting, retooling, and riding

Sometime circa mid New Mexico, we got an email from the woman who we housesat for in Durango last summer. She was going on a trip from June 11th through the 23rd and was wondering if we could provider our services (?) as housesitters again. At first we weren’t sure how the timing would work out, and then we got a glimpse of the snow up high and found the idea absolutely brilliant.

Hang out for 12 days in Durango while waiting for the snow to melt? C’mon, twist our arms.

We arrived 30 days after leaving the Mexican border. I think we did the state at a pretty sustainable pace, but we were pretty stoked to have a home base for a little while to really kick the legs up, get some stuff replaced, and recover.


And by recover, I mean keep our rides under three hours, because when in Durango…well, I wasn’t about to sit around doing nothing. Well, nothing aside from Blue-dot stalk the Tour Divide, where it looks like my pink EH dot will live to race another year as women’s record. It’s actually really fun reliving the memories as the dot makes its way across the country.


Team photo

We rode some Horse Gulch, we rode some Animas Mountain, we rode some Dry Fork and CT, we rode some Test Tracks (do you know where we’re going? No, do you? No.) We rode laps to Zia Taqueria and Bread. And then yesterday, we rode big and high, and today we’re tired, but that’s a story for another day.


But there were a handful of maintenance goals for the trip. I needed new shoes. Apparently after the AZT and NM, the soles of mine had had enough. Scott’s were fine, and we got them at the same time. He either hikes a lot less than me, or our working theory, he has super-duper flexible Achilles’ tendons letting him walk flatfooted up all but the steepest inclines while I always walk on my toes, tearing my shoes to shreds. Either way, I needed new shoes.


My suspension was blown but luckily Diaz Suspension Designs happens to reside in Durango, and Diaz happens to be teammates with Krista. Same-day front and rear shock rebuild for my bike (I don’t ride in the wet much. That’s not what your rear shock told me. and How many miles does the shock have on it since the last service? 5,000? Yeah, you need a rebuild.) Diaz got it, double seals on the front for the gal who rides a lot and is the master of deferred maintenance.

It completely changed the ride of the bike. I went so fast down Animas that afternoon I sliced my tire open. Tube it. Take it home. Re-Stans it. Hope it holds.

New brake pads for the rear. We were down to metal on metal.


Took it in to Velorution where Joey installed a new 20 tooth chain ring, complete with having to file down the chainring bolt posts. New derailleur cable for the gal who did a half-assed job installing one before the trip and had a frayed cable to deal with. D’oh. Bought a new Velorution Cycles t-shirt. Softest thing ever, can’t wait to put it back on in Salida.


We re-upped on fuel and chain lube. I got a new shirt as my AZT/NM shirt was more stained with dirt than not. It had a good, if short life. A new pair of baggy shorts to replace the pair that I’ve been rocking since at least Vapor Trail 2009. The side velcro straps were giving up and coming undone during every hike a bike. So my pants would fall down a lot. Plus, there were more seams with my stitching than factory stitching. They were a good pair of shorts.


Cushla, aka Gumball aka Crazy dog assisted yoga. This time housesitting came with a dog. We’re going to miss her, even though she’s only slept through the night without going nuts over something four times.

A new bivy now that it’s actually going to be cold out at night. I’m tres excited.

New socks. Old ones had been stitched once with two holes and heels about to blow. They had an Iditarod, and AZT, and NM in them. Good life, again.


Getting the axe is the GoPro. It was a fun, failed experiment. I’m sending it to my brother. Here’s to hoping that his 23 year old self doesn’t do anything stupid with it.

We’ll do new chains and maybe new tires in Salida, but as it is, I think the bikes are pretty trail worthy. We’ve got a good weather window, so we’re hoping to make it to Salida and beyond before the monsoons hit.

As much as I was digging the big bed and sleeping until 9 every day, it’s going to be good to get back on the cycle of the sun.