Zen On Dirt


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Kokopelli Flowers

So. We’re back in Tucson. Our first night back in Tucson, our bikes got stolen out of the back of our van while parked at a friend’s house. Which is a bummer. But I don’t want to dwell on that, instead, I want to get caught up with this blog so that I can actually write about things that are relevant in my life right now, like how I’m planning on entertaining myself until I can get a new bike.

So.

Back in October, it started snowing in Winter Park. It was time to head towards warmer climates. I’d intercepted a Facebook exchange indicating that my friends Becky and Bec from Steamboat were planning on bikepacking the Kokopelli Trail, Fruita to Moab.

I offered up Scott as a shuttle driver if I could come along.

So in the snow of a Friday morning, we set off for the west.

While I’ve raced the Koko twice, both with miserable results, I’ve never actually seen the Moab to Fisher Valley segment in the daylight. I’ve never actually enjoyed the route. It’s always been a beatdown of the highest level. I’d never actually been able to stop and smell the flowers, or take pictures, or wonder in amazement at the terrain and views. I was pretty excited to take two nights and most of three days to get the route done.

We shoved off at the bright and early hour of 1:30pm.

The first section of Mary’s is always lovely and cruisy.

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It felt so good to be going out bikepacking again. In the end, there really is very little I love more than riding, sleeping in the dirt, and then waking up and riding some more.

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Then of course, there’s the descent into Salt Creek.

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The way back up isn’t any better. Potentially worse. Yes, definitely worse.

We rolled into Rabbit Valley late afternoon and ran into Scott setting up our water cache for us. Having such a wonderful shuttle driver was pretty awesome.

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Because we weren’t racing, or set on riding the ‘official’ route, we took the fun way. Trail 2 and Western Rim. We lost the sun on Western Rim and found an absolutely stunning campsite overlooking the canyons.

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We picked it especially for the abundance of morning light. The sunrise was nothing short of spectacular.

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That’s not to say we actually got going early, but at least we had each other to whine about damp sports bras with.

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I’ve never gone on an all-girls bikepacking trip, it was great to have similar issues to commiserate about.

We gained the plateau of misery and started the long descent down to Westwater, the La Sal mountains looming in the distance.

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After filling up on water at the Ranger Station, we hit the ‘middle part’ of the Koko in my head. Westwater to Dewey Bridge. It seems like a time and space warp for some reason.

After several days of rain, we found some mud. Peanut butter, misery mud. So we carried our bikes. Two fatbikes seemed to be pretty close ahead of us, and we saw the carnage that they’d had to deal with.

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On the plus side, they left their mud-scraping sticks in the middle of the road at the end of each mud section for us to use.

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It definitely slowed progress. We reached Sand Canyon (Yellowjacket canyon to everyone but me) later than we’d expected. Are we going to make it to Moab tomorrow?

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But it’s okay! We have lights! Or some semblance of lights. We figured that a hour of night riding and a slightly more motivated morning start would net us more miles.

On the climb out from Dewey Bridge and the Colorado River, we passed our two fatbiker friends who’s scored a beautiful little campspot. ‘Thanks for the mud sticks!’ we told them.

We lost the sun. Darkness just in time for the technical descent. We rode until we got tired of riding and spent a cold night somewhere before Rose Garden Hill.

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Morning was spectacular, as most mornings are. In the daylight, we made short work of the chunk fest, making our way to the Rose Garden and then on to Fisher Valley. All that stood between us and Moab were two giant climbs.

It’s awesome being able to ride with two strong women. We made it over the two climbs with some amount of grace, accidentally celebrating the end of the final climb two switchbacks too early.

From there, it was a bit of single track and a long, easy coast on Sand Flats Road down to Moab.

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Straight to Milts. Milkshakes. Burgers. Tots. Things I’d been talking about since rolling out from the Loma Trailhead two days earlier. This was definitely the correct way to experience the Kokopelli.


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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.

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Then a little bit of ridable trail.

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Before the trail deteriorates into a giant pile of rocks.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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And it’s fairly to mostly beautiful.

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And chunky.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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

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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.

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

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.


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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.

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This section of trail never gets old.

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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

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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.

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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)

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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As yes. Those.

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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.

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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.