Zen On Dirt

Enjoying the Winter Park high country

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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.



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