Zen On Dirt

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14’ers bikepacking and running: Colorado Trail transfers, White Mountain, and town days

I’ll be the first to admit that I was a little burnt out on riding bikes earlier in the summer. For whatever reason, ever since leaving Moab in the spring, day rides just didn’t really excite me. I’d done one heinously hard bikepacking trip in July, and after that, I’d decided that I didn’t even like bikepacking any more.

(For the record, even when I’m making these statements to myself, I know that I’m just in a bike riding funk, and that it, like everything else, will pass.)

But, waking up at the base of Mt Shavano, after a hideously cold night of sleep, I was excited to ride a little more, and hike/run a little more. So instead of turning back down the road and coasting into Salida, I followed Kurt and Scott along the Colorado Trail.


It was the first time in a very long time that I was actually really excited to be riding a bike. I was going somewhere! The trail definitely wasn’t easy (the CT rarely is), the weather forecast was far from stellar, but at that moment, the idea of riding more seemed like the best thing ever. I wasn’t going to argue with my psyche.


Top of Little Browns

The boys had the objective of riding Brown’s Creek to Mt Antero to Little Brown’s, closing the loop on the CT. I decided to run the loop in reverse, tagging Mt White, which sits squarely between Shavano and Antero, instead. At 13,667 ft, it’s one of the bicentennial peaks, a fact I didn’t know until I chatted with a hiker on the way down.


Looking over at Antero

The weather held throughout my journey, and the rain didn’t unleash until I was back at my bike, waiting for the boys. In hindsight, I should have set up the tent instead of huddling under a makeshift teepee with my bivy, as I was thoroughly chilled by the time the boys made it back.


Ridge of White Mountain

I was pretty low on food by this time, having packed only for a single day of riding, and at some point of time I realized I didn’t even have a wallet. It would be easier to go to Princeton Hotsprings and snack with the boys than to try to make it back to Salida. Plus, secretly, I wanted to keep riding.


The boys on their way to Antero

Princeton Hotsprings, unfortunately, is not a great place to go when it’s cold out unless you want to splurge for a fancy meal. The country store is great, but the indoor seating is lacking. We ate hot soup and drank tea in the cold outside, half shivering, watching menacing clouds coming over the mountains.


They liked to point at stuff. Matching bikes, matching orange helmets, matching GPSs. They were pretty cute. 

We dawdled until nearly dark before the motivation kicked in to get up the paved hill to a sneaky campsite that Scott and I had noticed in a prior excursion up the road. There was no camp fire, there was no chatting, we were all pretty worked.


Heading down to Princeton Hot Springs


Colorado Trail is pretty fun as far as trails go.

Luckily, the morning was sunny and warm.


Some Wilderness detours aren’t too bad

‘Oh man, I can’t wait to get to Evergreen Cafe in Buena Vista!’ I’d exclaimed at some point in time while breaking camp.

‘So it sounds like you’re coming with us?’ Kurt asked.

‘Sure, why not. Accidental bikepacking adventures are the best.’


CT lushness

We were soon on our way on one of my favorite sections of Colorado Trail, easily finding Kep’s shortcut to town, and bombing down to one of the best cafes in the state.


Pile of Salsa Redpoints in front of the Evergreen Cafe

The original plan for the trip was to try to get up to and climb Huron that afternoon. It would have been a long transfer, and we soon realized that given the distance, the weather forecast, and most importantly, our energy levels, that the peak wasn’t going to happen that afternoon.

So I texted my friend Trish, who was leaving for Nepal a few days later. ‘I know it’s a long shot, but we’re headed up Huron tomorrow morning if you want to come.’

‘No way!’ She texted back. ‘My friend and I are going up that peak too.’

We set up a meeting time at the trail head the following morning. Stoked!

Given that we had a bit of time, I went to Boneshaker Cycles to get a bit for a broken part, we went grocery shopping, and I went to the thrift store to buy a pair of tights. A certain someone hadn’t even bothered to bring knee warmers on the trip, and it was cold! I raided Scott’s stash of cash and went shopping.


Railroad tunnels

We cruised out of town mid afternoon, following the CT Wilderness detour through the railroad tunnels and up Clear Creek. We ran into two guys who were running the Collegiate Peaks East/West loop and getting a resupply for their last 15 miles on the CT (they ended up setting a FKT on it). It’s a beautiful loop, one that I’d like to do in its entirely someday.


Always look to the future…unless the future looks like that!

The rain started soon after. We sat in a ditch, eventually moving farther back under a tree when the ditch started to flood.


‘Now the road is going to be splashy,’ Kurt complained at some point.

‘Splashy?’ Scott and I asked, proceeding to laugh.

I remember thinking, back in the day, that really smart people with PhD’s probably didn’t make words up. From there on out, any puddles were called Splashies.

The rain eventually let up and we made our way up the valley, through Winfield and up to the trailhead.


Winfield. Those miners were crazy SOBs

We hadn’t been at camp more than 15 minutes when a runner stumbled down the trail from Huron. It was Ted Mahon, followed a few seconds later by his wife Christy. These two are badasses of the highest degree. Christy was the first woman to ski all of the Colorado 14ers, and Ted was mid Nolan’s 14 attempt (he’d go on to finish in 55 hours and change (I believe)). He looked a bit wrecked, but was headed to Winfield to meet his crew. It was awesome to see them both, I hadn’t seen them since crashing at the place in Aspen after racing the Elk Mountain Grand Traverse many years ago.

Our camp site, to put it mildly, was wet. We didn’t even bother with trying to make a fire, even though it was pretty early. Instead, we crawled into tents, I set an alarm to meet Trish with, and shivered through the night. Well, I shivered through the night, but I haven’t had a warm night of sleep bikepacking since…Oregon last year?

I need a new sleeping bag.


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14’ers Bikepacking and Running: How Terrible Ideas get Started

Back when I was still making noise about wanting to scout and maybe attempt the Nolan’s 14 route (back before I realized I lacked both the skills and confidence to make an honest attempt at it…but I’m working on it), Scott thought up a big trip for himself, a trip that I deemed in my head, The Worst Bikepacking Idea Ever: Start in Salida and ride to all of the semi-ridable (and legal) 14ers and push bikes up and ride down them, then keep on bikepacking to the next peak.

I expressed exactly zero interest in having anything to do with the trip, mostly because a) I’m not a huge fan of massive hike-a-bikes b) I don’t have the tech skills to ride down most of those trails anyhow and c) I’d been up most of the peaks he wanted to do.

Scott enlisted Kurt to do a variation of the trip with him – the original loop minus Pikes Peak, which would have involved a significant ride to and from. Once they set the dates, I immediately started planning my own solo trip down in the San Juans.

Then the day before their departure, the weather forecast in the San Juans turned to shit.

Grumble. Grumble Grumble.

Maybe I’ll come bikepack with you guys for a night, hike Shavano and head over to Tabaguache (which I hadn’t done before), and then I’ll cruise back to town in the morning, I told Scott. It was a nice ride up there, they were two nice mountains, and I could make a judgement call on the forecast afterwards.

Plus, the weather forecast for the Arkansas Valley didn’t look too great, and I figured it would be good if I stuck around for a few days in case Scott and Kurt needed to bail from the trip.


Bromance at its finest

We left Salida at the crack of 1:30pm, headed up towards mountains that were definitely holding storms. ‘It’s okay, it’s going to be several hours until we actually get up to treeline,’ we joked.


Shavano. Center peak. Firmly in a storm.

This was only partially funny because as we were making the joke, we only had about six hours of daylight left. Oh well, we all had headlamps.

We took the satisfier camp spot where the trail up Shavano branched off of the Colorado Trail. We dumped my bike and the bags off of Scott’s and Kurt’s bikes behind a tree and started up the rubbly mess of a trail. I, personally, was pretty stoked to not have a bike, just some music, walking sticks, and a pair of shoes.


Looking back down the valley searching for boys. No sightings. 

The summit of Shavano came quickly, but it was 5:05 when I got there. I’m generally not much of a time watcher, but I didn’t want to have to do the entire descent in the dark. Tabaguache looked so close…I had to try. I gave myself a hard turnaround time of 6pm, unless 6pm had me close to the top of Tab, then 6:15 was good enough.

It took a surprising amount of time to get to the saddle between the two peaks, but then it was a quick hop skip and jump up to the second summit. I was surprised when I stumbled upon the summit register. 5:47, plenty of time to spare.


Top of Tab. Looking back towards Shav.

I reversed my path, looking for the boys on the top of Shav.


Golden Hour from 14,000 feet. That’s pretty special. White Mountain in front and Antero in the back.

Down went quick. The ridge on the way up went quick. No boys on the summit Had I missed them? I was halfway hoping for a summit party with them.  I was a little crestfallen that they hadn’t waited for me, so I may have been pouting a little bit as I started down.

Then around the corner, still a little ways from the top, a lone figure with a bike on his back. Still hiking up. It was Kurt. It was 6:30.



Scott wasn’t far behind. He was questioning the validity of the whole idea. It probably didn’t help that it’s a solid 7,000 feet from Salida to the top of Shav. That’s a big climb however you slice and dice it. A rough way to start a trip…especially when racing darkness.



I gave them both a little bit of grief about the absurdity of hauling bikes up there and continued my descent.

‘Make us a fire!’ Scott requested as I left.

It didn’t take long to get down, though the rubble at the bottom in nearly darkness gave me pause. I so desperately didn’t want to pull my headlamp out!


Sheeps! Baby sheeps!

Back at camp, I immediately set to work gathering firewood while there was still a little bit of light. I built a little fire ring. I made the teepee of kindling. I put some pine needles underneath and held a lighter to them. Nothing.

It had rained pretty solidly earlier the day.

I scrounged around for anything that would burn. Pinecones. Dead aspen leaves. Tiny twigs. Nothing would catch. Gah! While I had a firestarter in my Oh Shit Kit, complements of the required gear list for Ouray 50, I didn’t want to use it for an optional fire.

It wasn’t long before I heard giggles from deep in the dark woods. The type you’d hear from little girls telling funny secrets to each other. Slowly, the giggles got louder and I could hear the rattling of bikes over rocks. Then the headlamps emerged from the woods.

Both boys dropped their bikes, sat down, and wouldn’t stop laughing. It didn’t seem to be a problem that I had completely failed to get a fire going. They’d had a brilliant descent and were riding high on life.

We did finally get the fire burning, complements of chain lube as a fire starter (for the record, chap stick does not burn) and we sat around it warming our hands and feet. Eventually, as the fire burnt itself down, we retreated to our tent.

‘That was fun,’ I thought, ‘Maybe I’ll join them for another day. I’ve got nothing better to do.’

And that’s how terribly awesome ideas get started.

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Making Friends on the 4-Pass

I knew very little of Trish. I knew that she’d firmly beaten me at the Ouray 50, but not by an outrageous amount. I knew she lived in a teardrop trailer. It appeared (complements of her Instagram feed) that she lived in Leadville. She seemed to work at a goat farm, and Scott thought that he’d recognized her as a barista at City on a Hill, our go-to coffee shop in Leadville. Given these facts, I thought there could be a good chance that Trish and I would get along just fine. And I was looking for people to go running with.

I’ve met some of my favorite people as a result of a cold-email, either me to them or them to me. The gist was always the same. ‘Hi! It looks like you do cool stuff. Do you want to do cool stuff with me?’

So I sent Trish a message. ‘Let’s go running sometime.’

After we confirmed that this would be a good idea, I threw some suggestions out from my bucket list in the area.

Trish wrote back that she wanted to do the 4-Pass Loop from Aspen in the next couple of days before she left for a month in Nepal, so she probably shouldn’t do anything huge.

I was mid sentence typing that I’d wanted to do 4-Pass the week prior, but plans had fallen through, when she wrote, ‘Want to come with me?’

‘Heck yeah!’ Plans were set.  I was beyond excited, and a little bit nervous. 4-Pass could be considered an excessively large and committing first friend-date.


Magic Maroon Bells

It rained the entire night before our departure. The weather forecast was calling for 3-5 inches of snow above 11k feet. I wasn’t going to be the one to bail, but when we met at the Twin Lakes parking lot at 5:30 the following morning, we both acknowledged there was a chance we’d get shut down.

You never know until you go! The fact that Trish hadn’t cancelled, even with the sub-optimal conditions made me like her immediately.


Heading down Buckskin Pass. 

We started out at an, ummm, brisk pace, seeing that we had 27 miles and 8,000+ feet of up and down to go. On the approach to the lake under the Maroon Bells, as Trish danced gracefully through the rocks that I stumbled over, I thought for a second that I’d made a terrible, terrible mistake. But then when the climb started in earnest and we both assumed the slogging position, our paces matched up amazingly well.

While snow had fallen up high, snow line was well above the 12,000 feet that the passes were at. Lucky, lucky us. The descents, which had been loose and terrifying when Scott and I hiked the loop last fall, were tacky and fast. I worked real hard to keep up with Trish on the downhills, but as it turns out, I’m still pretty much a beginner when it comes to descending. I wasn’t good at descending on a mountain bike for a long time either…it’ll come.


Climbing Trail Rider Pass. Snowmass Lake way down there.

Running the loop in a day makes you into a bit of a trail celebrity among the people who take 2-4 days to backpack it. Some of the comments we got were pretty funny to us, as we both seemed to have the mindset of wanting to do big and long days whenever possible instead of breaking routes up into multi-day trips and having to carry camping gear.

We settled into a rhythm. Chat and slog on the uphills, pause for a few minutes at the top of the passes, bomb/stumble down, depending on whether you were Trish or me.


Descending Trail Rider. 

It was amazing how much faster the loop was going this time versus last fall. We were topping out West Maroon Pass before I knew it, greeted by a family where the mom was yelling at a son to get off of the rocks before he killed himself.

We didn’t linger long.

The descent back to the lake. Oh. My. Goodness. That was long. I’d take approximate time splits from Trish whenever I saw her off in the distance, trying desperately to keep the gap down to a couple of minutes. But those downhill muscles, they were giving up real quick-like.


Slogging position heading up Frigid Air Pass. Either I stopped taking pictures at this point, or my computer managed to lose them. Trust me. The rest of the route was magic too. 

I started recognizing signs that we were closing the loop. The giant pile of talus. The campground warning of bear activity. The increasing numbers of day hikers. And then the loop was done, and all that remained were a few miles of toe-catching death rocks back to the car.

I won’t fess up to the number of times I nearly ended up on my face in that last stretch. Any semblance of grace was gone, I was in full on survival mode. And then, all of a sudden, the rocks disappeared, the path turned wide, the lake appeared, and we were treated to the sight of a giant moose in the lake.



We joined everyone else in taking their picture, joking that the only reason we didn’t get the FKT on the route was because we stopped to gape at the moose. Actually, we weren’t close to the FKT at all, but near enough to it that it didn’t seem entirely impossible given increased levels of motivation, more downhill running skills, and a bit of confidence.

We both admitted to being a little bit tired as we sat on the tailgate of the truck watching the world go by.

Deciding that neither of us liked Aspen, we drove over to the restaurant at Twin Lakes for a post-run meal. We arrived at 4:34, but the kitchen closed at 4:30. ‘Pretty please?’ I pleaded.  I think the hostess thought we were CDT/CT thru-hikers and took pity on us. The burger was delicious, and we left a big tip.

Sometimes you finish up a first date and hem and haw ‘We should do that again sometime’ or ‘That was fun, maybe we can meet up for another run in the future.’ But then sometimes you finish a date and know that you’ve found a good adventure partner and want to make sure the momentum keeps rolling. This was definitely one of the latter.

Sometimes all it takes is a simple message. ‘What to go adventure with me?’ and great things happen.


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Time up High

I’ve been craving time above tree line. I can’t really explain why, but every day that I didn’t get up high, somehow felt wasted to me. The summer season is so short and I felt like I was finally getting strong enough to do big days on foot without paying for it for the following days.

Still, I know enough runners to understand that running is far harder on the body than riding bikes is and that overuse injuries are common and serious in the sport. And as someone who’d been given a second chance with health, I try to be cautious. Or at least not too stupid. So I’ve been working hard on tempering my running efforts and interspersing them with riding days, because riding bikes is fun too.

Scott and I somehow decided that a hike up Missouri Mountain was going to be  great idea on the same day of the Leadville 100 running race. The trailhead shared the same drainage, and thus the same dirt access road as Winfield, the turnaround for the race and a major aid station. The level of aggressive driving on the road was impressive…crews take their job very seriously. Forget safety on the road – we’ve got to get to our runner! I don’t really get crewing for ultras, but that’s just me and my self-supported righteous curmudgeony self.


Anyhow. We survived to the trailhead and headed up the hill, abandoning plans for Missouri in exchange for the Belford/Oxford duo halfway up. We had no real reason, but two mountain peaks is better than one?

We’d pulled the Crack of Noon Club move again and met plenty of people coming down the trail. It does amaze me how few people look at the forecast to see the 0% chance of rain. I guess alpine starts are romantic? Not.  It does make for easy parking for the lazier members of society as people were leaving the parking lot as we were arriving.


Oxford was first. Or was it Belford? I don’t know. It was a pretty summit.

Then down the saddle and over to the next one with big and imposing views of Harvard next door. Harvard is apparently one of the bigger climbs on the Nolan’s route. Getting a good look at it did nothing to convince me otherwise. (Also, if you haven’t heard, Meghan Hicks of iRunFar.com just became the first woman to finish Nolan’s  14, trailhead to trailhead, in under 60 hours. Badass. I’m seriously in awe.)


We cruised the traverse back and spied an option down to Elkford Pass as an alternate way home. It would give us great views of the imposing Missouri East Ridge, which Ted Mahon used on his successful Nolan’s run a few weeks ago (but after we did this hike, I’m so behind!). Scott and I had a good debate on whether Nolan’s runners used it. Scott thought that it would be slower than dropping down, but I suspected that the caliber of mountain person who could finish Nolan’s could probably negotiate the ridge. I am not of that caliber…yet.


From the pass, it was an easy, if long drop back down to the car. Scott had told me he’d be good for 8-10 miles. We clocked the day at just over 12. Not bad.


In my attempt to ride my bike more, but still be above treeline, I convinced Scott to come ride the Alpine Tunnel section of the CDT with me the following day. We’d done it as part of our CDT thru ride, and I remembered it as spectacular.


I also remembered a good bit of hike-a-bike, but I’m working on re-being emotionally okay with hike-a-bike.


We started, again, at the crack of noon. The skies unleashed just as we got to treeline. Win some, lose some? We huddled under a bush eating snacks and watching it hail. The majority of the hike-a-bike was over, there was no way I was going back down.


Lucky for us, the hail let up and the skies allowed us safe passage through the tundra.


The drop down to Tin Cup Pass road was as fun as I remembered, and this time, the store in St. Elmo was open. It’s a weird place.


It’s pretty neat to have the skills and body adaptation to be able to do more than a single sport in the mountains. I’ve always wanted to be an adept mountain traveler, and I feel like my increased fluency in running is adding to my ability to go to amazing places. I’m starting to realize that while I’ll never be the most skilled trail runner, and I’ll never be the most skilled mountain biker, being pretty competent at both can open up a lot of adventure opportunities. And that’s cool.

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Blue-dot stalking and dogs in Scamps

I had managed to set up a series of plans for the weekend and the following week with three different people and had them all fall through at the last minute. I was pretty bummed, and there was definitely a fair bit of asking Scott, ‘Why don’t people want to come and play with me? Do I smell bad?’

But, with every set of changed plans, new plans come into existence. Or, as I always say, something is going to happen.

Eventually, Scott got sick of me moping around camp and got me out on a ride on one of my favorite sections of Colorado Trail at the base of Mt Princeton. I’m pretty sure that the only reason we actually got out pedaling was the excuse to try to find Joe Grant, who was in the middle of his  Self-Propelled Tour de 14ers. He’d left home 16 days prior and was more than halfway done with riding his bike to the 57-ish 14,000+ foot peaks in Colorado and climbing them.


Few adventures have ignited my imagination like the Tour de 14’ers did when The Long Ranger did it two summers ago. While it still remains sticky in my mind, the idea of spending more than a month alone climbing big mountains and riding around seems pretty lonely.


We found Joe at the Princeton Hot Springs store after our ride, sprawled out under a tree, looking fairly to mostly wrecked. He’d camped near the base of Antero, hiked Tabaguache, Shavano, and Antero, and then ridden down and was in the process of trying to recover before riding his bike up to 12,000 feet to hit Princeton in the morning. The sheer amount of vertical in his project was mind blowing, and it was fun to listen to him talk for the better part of two hours before I finally told him that he had to go if he was going to make it anywhere before dark.


The encounter led to some level of mountain climbing inspiration, so I managed to get my butt in gear around noon the next day and get up Mt Yale.


There was a family up there with their phones out looking for Pokemon. I’m serious, you can’t make this shit up.

There was also a mountain goat. Mountain goats always make me happy. When I pointed him out to the Pokemon family, they seemed pretty excited to see him.


On the way down, I discovered that my legs definitely weren’t recovered from Ouray. Apparently a week wasn’t quite enough time off from long and steep descents.


Given the fact that I was still tired, and we needed to do a gear exchange in Winter Park (pick up some stuff, leave some stuff, keep the Scamp as light as possible), we opted to get the driving chore done while we weren’t motivated to anything else. I half-jokingly got Scott to agree to let me take Sparkles for a week if my parents would meet us in Winter Park. Joke was on him when I called them and they were actually there.

So we got a dog for a week!


Unfortunately, she’s a fairly skittish dog. She loved breakfast time that included morning cuddles.

But she hated the afternoon thunder and associated rain and wind.

She loved getting to run up on Monarch Pass.


And S-Mountain.


But she wasn’t so sure about swimming in the Arkansas River.


And the hustle and bustle of town was definitely too much for her. Which was sad because I’m pretty sure that she wasn’t born a fearful dog.


I’ve been pestering Scott since we gave Sparkles to my parents to let me try her out in the Scamp. He’s resisted strongly, even though he likes the little dog, and I think he was worried about making me give her up again.

But in the end, the lesson I learned was that I have to accept Sparkles for the dog she is. A little scared, a lot wild. And a dog that will most likely do best in a stable home, not in a Scamp. While I love her to death, her best-case scenario definitely isn’t with me. And that’s okay.


I took her back up to Boulder on a rainy afternoon, dropped her off with her older brother who was excited to see her again, and then headed back into the woods. Maybe someday I’ll have a trail dog to go running with, but for now, Sparkles will continue to be spoiled rotten in Boulder, and I’ll continue to steal the affections of other peoples’ dogs.