Zen On Dirt

Salida non-recovery with the Gypsies

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Our 14ers trip reignited a love for bikepacking in me.

While I was nothing short of exhausted, I had all sorts of plans percolating in the back of my head. Ride here, run that, then ride over there, and scramble that, rinse and repeat. Aside from gaining freedom from the incessantly cold nights during the trip, I was actually a little sad to be coming back to ‘real life’ and the Scamp.

That last part might be a little laughable,  I know. But there is a beautiful simplicity to living off the bike.

And I still dream of doing a long-term bike trip that isn’t heinously hard each day.

This feeling wasn’t helped by meeting Elliot at Patio Pancake the next morning. Kurt, Scott, and I rallied for an early meal to buy Tom breakfast as a thank you for letting us keep vehicles at his house while we were out and about, and invited Elliot as he’d made it to town from the Leadville Safeway where we’d last seen him.

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Over breakfast, talk centered around bikepacking – routes, trips, places we’d been, places we wanted to go. We sent Elliot off with a Kurt track from Durango to Moab, which was to be his next leg of the trip once he finished the CT. His plan was to leave later that morning and hit the trail.

….

The next morning, having learned that Elliot was vying for the Laziest Bikepacker of the Year award, we invited him back to breakfast with Nicholas and Lael of Gypsy by Trade, who were also touring the Colorado Trail and had landed in Salida.

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Once again, we talked about bikepacking – routes, trips, places we’d been, places we wanted to go.

Oh, the agony of being tired. The agony of recovery!

The struggle is real. I wanted so bad to be in the middle of my very own bikepacking trip.

Luckily, Lael had met Janie during Trans-am over the summer, and Janie lived in Salida, so we decided to go on a girls adventure the next day.

Morning Three post-trip started out the same as Morning One and Morning 2: Patio Pancake. Number 2, eggs over medium, pancakes, real butter, please.

From there, we rode bikes up to Blanks Cabin, same route that I’d taken just two weeks earlier with the boys. Turns out, it was a lot easier without bikepacking gear.

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Bikes got stashed in the woods, and up we went.

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Right up to the point where we crested the saddle, fighting horrendous winds, and saw a giant wall of black coming towards us. We turned around pretty quick right then.

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We ran down to the bikes, coasted down the 3,000 foot dirt road climb, and ended up at Elevations Brewing.

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Lael is a racer of the best kind. When she’s not a racer, she’s a chiller. And that means she doesn’t have to ride bikes real fast when she not in a race to show people how fast she actually is. Refreshing.

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Somewhat tipsy from the beer, we rode back to Janie’s house and made a quick turnaround to meet Przmo and Saska, who were also bikepacking the CT with the plan of heading down to bikepack some of the AZT on their way to Mexico. Lael and Nick had toured with them in Poland previously.

Some more beverages were consumed down by the river.

Before we went to Poco’s for burritos and margaritas.

And before I knew it, we had Lael in the back of the van heading back towards our camp so that she and I could hike the 22 miles of CDT from Tin Cup Pass to Cottonwood Pass, one of my bucket list items for the summer.

Clearly, this had the potential to be a terrible idea, but beer makes me brave.

We set Lael up with my bikepacking sleeping bag, a piece of memory foam that the previous campers had left in the fire pit and a towel for a pillow. Turns out, the girl can sleep almost anywhere. I gave her my big down jacket in case she got cold, but it was still balled up next to her when we got up in the morning. She also started using the Croc sandals that were left in the fire pit as her camp shoes. They were later adopted by Scott and me (a little too big for me, a little too small for Scott, but we can both wear them when needed).

Scott drove us to St Elmo and we started walking. First on the 4×4 road unsuitable for Minivan travel, then finally up the trail. Up and up and up.

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The route climbed over a series of passes, dropping down into the valleys in between. From the top of each pass, you can see the next one that you have to get to.

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The autumn colors were absolutely stunning, the tundra every shade of brown, and red, and gold.

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Each pass brought a new giant view. A new valley to traverse. New mountains to ogle at.

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Trail that would have been spectacular on a mountain bike, had it not been closed thanks to a very anti-bike Continental Divide Trail Coalition. But that’s a rant for another time. Or really, that’s a rant you’re pretty much guaranteed to hear if you ever hang out with me on the CDT in any shape or form.

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We stopped only for one extended lunch break, otherwise, meandering along. Up. And down. Up. And down.

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And then, as mid-day turned to afternoon, Cottonwood Pass appeared in the distance. We stuck our thumbs out and hitched a ride in a Jeep piloted by what seemed like a fairly new transplant to the Front Range of Colorado down to Buena Vista. I told him all the good places to go eat in Boulder. From there, hitching from directly across the street from a federal prison, we caught a ride that took me back to Nathrop where Scott picked me up, and took Lael back to Salida.

It was an absolutely brilliant outing in the mountains of Colorado.

And then, thankfully, Nicholas and Lael skipped town, because I was tired. And I really needed to work on that recovery thing.

But it was fun to see them. In my mind, they are the masters of keeping it simple, and there’s a lot to be learnt from their approach to life. In my (always humble) opinion, the world definitely needs more people like Nick and Lael. I hope our paths cross again soon.

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