Thursday, September 29, 2022

GWO Tour: San Juan Huts Days 2-4: Goats & Gravel

The next three days were a blast. Each day was different, be it because of the trails, critters, or views--all the reasons we were out there!

Day 2 - Racing the Heat

The second day of the trip was a scorcher. There wasn't much in the way of views as we were just cruising through high desert ranch land so we opted to just book it to the next hut. We stopped once to admire a small heard of sheep but that was about it. Three hours later we arrived at the hut, tucked nicely away in a grove of aspens, with the added bonus of a horse shoe pit. I guess that's one form of entertainment that's theft-proof. 

After resting and eating, I was a bit fidgety. We had read there was a single track route near the hut and feeling like I had some more energy to burn, we kitted back up to take a look-see. We went back out on the road and then took a turn onto what looked like another dirt road that lead into some trees. As we got closer to the trees, we could see a camper and a truck and I thought we were in a remote campsite. That was until we heard the savage barking of a dog. Thank the Lord it was chained up because it acted as if all it wanted in life was to chomp on my leg. I started to slow down but Ryan kept going. This is someone's property, I thought. Just then more dogs appeared, and lucky for us they were puppies and they just wanted to play. I kept looking around for a person, ready to ask for forgiveness for trespassing. I followed Ryan passed the truck along a footpath that paralleled a barbed wire fence. Soon it petered out and though Ryan protested that his GPS said we were right on the trail, I knew we were not. I suggested getting back on the road we came in on, which meant bushwhacking through a field so we could recalibrate. I don't know if Ryan liked the idea as much as the puppies, who were all following us, one behind the other, like we were their parents (sorry, no photos). When we got to the road, we put on the gas. The puppies chased for a while. We rode past the turn to their "home" and then they started to slow, but as soon as we turned at the next corner, they came running through the field. We sped up again and soon enough they quit the chase. The trail head wasn't far beyond the property we had mistakenly ridden onto and once on the actual trail, we charged hard to get out of sight of the puppies and the guard dog, who was again, announcing his intent.

The fourteen mile trail was multi-use, probably mostly by dirt bikes and ATVs. And though it was clear and maintained, it was pretty darn rough. And there was a lot of punchy, technical climbing--not something I wanted to be doing in the hottest part of the day, and especially not after already riding 30 miles that morning. It didn't take long for me to start feeling uncomfortable and cranky. Though we had a plan to ride to a look-out, I oopted for the bail out at the half-way point. Out in the sun, the heat was worse but luckily most of it was downhill.

Back at the hut, we snacked on a charcuterie of cheese and butter crisp crackers. I think Sarah & Brian adopted one of the Thai recipes for dinner. As the sun started to fade, we walked out to the road to see if there were any sunset views. We turned west and walked a bit until the distinct sound of coyotes made us think otherwise. We returned to hut and drifted off to the best night sleep of the week!

Hard to see, but there's a flock of sheep out yonder.

The Whole Uncolada (we were in the Uncompahgre national forest)

DAY 3 - The Alt Route

Though the extra mileage the day before turned out to be a soul crusher, I was glad we did it. Day three had a single track option that wasn't going to add much to the overall mileage nor to the overall climbing. However, had we started in the spot where we rode the day before, it would have been a lot of work for not a lot of reward so we started out on gravel, taking advantage of the shade the hugged edge of the road.

Ryan and I eventually pulled ahead. We found the next segment of single track and left a marker for the group so they'd know which way we went. The track was rough with deep sand and loose rocks but eventually it became a pretty fun trail. Riding it was work, so we kept the power in check, or the heat of the day would remind us. We didn't stop too much, except at trail forks, so that I could leave a marker, "6F" and an arrow, for our friends (which they never saw b/c they didn't do all the single track). 

Late in the ride, the trail opened up to a treeless and wide double track. After leaving another directional marker, I took the trail to the main gravel road. I didn't see Ryan. Should I continue across or do I get on the gravel? Ryan always stops at intersections. I yelled. He was actually
 hiding from the sun in some tall scrub. He's like, "I'm right here". :)

We continued along the single track, as there wasn't much left. To our surprise after we rounded a corner we came upon the rest of our group! It was a fun reunion. So though they didn't see any of my markers, the time spent doing them made for perfect timing of meeting back up with them. 

We pushed on and again Ryan and I were on our own. We weren't sure how far back the others were so we hurried to open the hut and because I'd been thinking about a grilled cheese sandwich all day, I decided to make them for everyone. When I opened the cabinet, we found a bag of Fritos which gave Ryan the idea of doing hand ups. The window above the counter looked out onto the entrance to the hut area so at first sign of their arrival, Ryan rushed out the door with Fritos and beers in hand. I yelled out the window, "Grilled cheese sammies for everyone coming up!" I got a loud applause. Brian was stoked about the Fritos. All said and done it was a hard day, but for us, one of the most rewarding because we were able to ride rad new single track. 

The remainder of the afternoon was spent playing cards and a game called Pass the Pigs, outside on the picnic table. We took a walk in the evening and found some slick rock by way of suggestions from the hut manual that said to "find cool rocks take the trail to the right of the hut". So from that day on, if we saw similar slick rock along the way, we'd call out "Hey, cool rocks!" It was another great day of riding with friends, eating with friends and being away with friends. 

DAY 4 - Invasion of the Goats

That morning we were starting to feel it: the legs were stiffer, the butt more tender and the low back more cranky. Single track riding definitely incorporates more muscles and that morning, it was easy to know which ones. With the additional weight on our bikes, it's no wonder we were sore. There would be no single track option on this day, just miles and miles of rolling gravel, starting at just above 10K ending between 8K-9K. 


Riding the 402 so we had to stop for a photo.

Along the way we regrouped a few times. At one particular stop, we finally got a payoff with an awe inspiring view to the west, and our first look at the La Sal mountains, where we'd be in a couple days. 

From that spot we descended down a few hundred feet and the feeling was glorious. It was pretty amazing to be so far out and not see a human soul. There were plenty of free range cows along the way, as much of the area is a patchwork of arid ranch land. But it still was surprising to discover, after riding down a road marked "private", that our next hut was indeed on a private ranch. We had to go through a latched gate and close it behind us. The hut was situated up on a slight hill, as was the outhouse. The SJH manual informed us that there was going to be a shower here but it wasn't clear where it was located. We could see a house and a bunch of fence-lined pastures, another building of some sort and a small old-time cabin opposite the hut. Ryan and I were not far ahead of the others, so we quickly parked our bikes and opened the hut to start lunch prep. Immediately I could smell urine and I feared something had gotten into the hut and made itself at home. I couldn't see anything to support my theory but it definitely reeked. I opened the windows in hopes to air it out. 

While making tuna sandwiches, I heard the others pulling up and not long after Ryan yelled at me to come out. GOATS! There were three goats, one white and two black. The white one seemed to be in charge. Everyone was petting them but not for long because quickly it was clear that all they cared about was eating not food like our clothes, our bike bags or anything we had set on the picnic table. And they wouldn't take no for an answer. They would not leave us be. Not for a minute. We had to park our bikes further away and then go inside the hut with our gear on. We couldn't even eat lunch outside as one had climbed up the steps to the door and was butting it with its head. Eventually they did get bored of us and wandered off to play with the other farm animals. Finally we could relax and hang out outside. 

I explored the historical cabin, which looked like it was still be used as such, as it had modern mattresses on the bunks and some pots and pans. I did also manage to locate the shower house, which was a cement block building with one side for the resident and the other for us dirt bags. It had a sink and a shower area with two heads, legit towels and soap. I immediately went back to the hut to grab a change of clothes so I could enjoy the lap of luxury. I had to hobble together some shampoo from a few half-opened bottles but I felt like a new person after that shower! 

Back at the hut, we sat around on camp chairs and eventually the goats returned. Brian, who's quite tall, managed to scare them by yelling and screaming at them like a wild man. When Ryan tried the same tactic, they just stood there looking at him like, "Yo, that was lame as shit" so Brian had chase them again until they retreated under the hut. Aha, that's why the hut smelled like urine! It was sitting atop the area where they went not only to keep cool and sleep but to do their potty business. 

Lauren found a new friend.

Naughty goats!

After they came back out from hiding, attempting to munch on our stuff, somebody had the idea of putting their bikes on the deck-side of the hut. Soon, we all had our bikes up there. I then built a barrier around the bikes with tree stumps that were under the trailer in hopes it would deter them from jumping up there. 

Finally, after a long day on the bike and fending off goats, and after everyone was showered and fed, we turned in for the night. The next day's ride would either be the most fun or the most painful. Or both.

Wednesday, August 31, 2022

The GWO Tour 2022 - San Juan Huts: Day 1 Eat. Sleep. Ride. Repeat.

The farther one gets into the wilderness, the greater is the attraction of its lonely freedom." - Theodore Roosevelt

For the past few months Ryan and I have been hooked on the series Alone, on the History Channel. And for me, I find it very intriguing how the people on the show adapt to their environment. Now I'm not comparing this bike packing adventure to the show b/c we don't have to kill our dinner and we have very good shelter. Oh and we're doing this for fun. Where the two are similar is how the wild wilderness will take us humans out of our normal routines and comfort, forcing adaption, simplicity and ultimately new routines. As well, both experiences create moments of pure freedom, where the only thing to do is to be. Be in the moment, thinking only of what needs to be done. Nothing more. To enjoy being out. Away. Quiet. Grateful for the opportunity to have our minds defragged and our eyes redirected away from screens to what we long for: Distance. Space. A panorama of sky, mountains and forests where the lonely freedom resides.

DAY 0 - Summit County to Moab
Our group consisted of Dillon, CO., locals: our friends Andy and Lauren, plus their two friends Sara and Brian. Andy owns The Cove Bike Shop in their neighborhood and his wife Lauren is a web designer and soon-to-be licensed dog trainer. Sara is a nurse and her husband Brian is a deputy chief fire-fighter. They are all seasoned riders and outdoors people. 

Since the trip was to end in Moab, we needed to somehow get to Telluride with all of our gear, so our group reserved a shuttle van from Moab to Telluride, leaving at the crack of dawn the next day. (SJH provides a list of many vendors for this). The four of them got a hotel room in Moab and we planned to sleep in the MTBCRIB. As we were getting ready for the trip, the conversation about car storage came up and because the others were staying at the same hotel at the start and at the end, they had made an agreement with the hotel to park in the lot. Well, that left us wondering where we were going to park a 16' van. I got on the Googles and there wasn't anything in Moab for that purpose and the SJH suggested asking the hotel where you'll be staying. Argh! What to do. So, I FB messaged the only person I knew in Moab. She had a glamping operation so I figured she'd either have space or know where there was some or somebody who had some. Turned out, she was bff's with the manager of Chili Pepper Bike Shop and she asked her on our behalf if we could park in the lot of their shop (the shop was closed for a seasonal break so there wasn't anyone to ask). Within a few minutes we were granted parking access! Whew! So, the next thing was getting a hotel. I found one a couple blocks from the shop and it was super cheap. As the saying goes, you get what you pay for. Let's say it was more like a mobile-home type building with laminate floors and in-window AC. But when we went into the building to access our room, what did we find but super old school photos of mountain bike racers and riders endoing on the famed red rocks of Moab. Yep, we were among our kind. The place was more like a workforce dorm, but it catered to us dirt heads just fine.

Motel Silver Sage "red carpet"

Top of the line!

That night, we went to dinner with Andy and Lauren. Earlier we learned that Sara was not in the best of health and needed to get a Covid test. At dinner, the update was she was negative and they were in route. We enjoyed our last good meal for the next week and went to bed with a buzz.

Day 1 - Moab to Telluride Shuttle: Telluride to Hut 1
Total Mileage:13.1 Starting Elevation: 8750' Ending Elevation: 10,980’

Sunday morning came super early. The shuttle was picking us all up at the other hotel, on the other end of town, by 6am. Our bikes were all ready and the only things we had to do were eat, coffee up, poop and get out the door. We managed to do it all by 5:30 am. As I was taking bags out to the van, a black cat was sitting in the lit parking lot. Shit. Ryan loaded his bike on the rack and I rode my bike to the bike shop where we parked the van for the week. We crossed our fingers that the communication as to why our van was parked there was being distributed to the right people. 

From the shop, we rode two miles north on Main St. using headlamps, as the sun had yet to rise. The sky was just starting to lighten and we could see the purple silhouettes of distant ridges and bluffs. There's very few places that are as spectacular as the desert this early in the morning.

When we arrived at their very swanky hotel, the shuttle van was there, and the driver was already loading up Andy and Lauren's bikes. We were asked to take off most of our bags before handing ours up to the shuttle driver, Eric, who was from all over but mainly Oregon. Once our bikes were loaded we waited for Sara and Brian. Minutes passed. Phone calls and texts were sent. While we waited, I went into the swanky hotel lobby to use the bathroom. I felt like a dirt bag walking across their shiny white floor in my bike shoes. But I'm sure they were used to the likes of us doing such a thing. Soon Sara and Brian appeared. They got their gear and bikes on board and we were off. It was a 4 hour drive through some of the most beautiful Great Wide Open landscapes!

We stopped half way, in a one horse town, to use the facilities and buy food for the rest of the drive. Once in Telluride, we were dropped off at a local park that had access to a bathroom and place for us to reload our bags on our bikes. Once we were all chamoi'd up and hatches battened down, the last thing we did was stop at a local bike shop to pick up our packet of info that had paper directions and key access. Even though a few of the group had all the gps coordinates on computers, paper doesn't have a battery life so it was good to have turn by turn just in case. A computer also can't tell you to look for the cairn by the big stump.

Reloading up the bikes in Telluride.

Finally pointed west!

Finally, we turned west and onto the local rec path that took us out and above the town of Telluride. This would be our shortest mileage day, but it would also be the day with the highest elevation gain. The trail dumped us onto a gravel road. We passed near the local private airport and through hillsides where some of one-percenters lived. I stopped at a construction sites to use the porto. Hopefully nobody was there. 

Ryan, Dirtgirl, Lauren, Andy, Brian & Sara

Getting the heck outta Dodge.

Group photo by Telluride Airport sign (since there wasn't one at town edge)

When the gravel ended, the service road began and we were politely reminded that we were about to head into the wilderness and to abide. 

A final warning.

The remaining time, about 1.5 hours, was a combination of hike a bike and riding, depending on the pitch. The final climb was all hike, past a dead end sign. Ryan did some recon to assure we were to go past the sign and he found the hut, which was up the steepest climb yet. But what we saw upon arrival was worth every pedal stroke, and every step. The view to the west was absolutely gorgeous and a picnic table was placed in the prime viewing spot. 

View from Hut 1 looking at Wilson Peak & the Lizard Head Wilderness

The road we traveled.

First things first, we opened the hut and surveyed our resources. That meant for me, finding the commode to get out of my diaper. It was a out of sight but using the well-traveled trail leading away from the hut would take me there, I found it pretty quick. Next, I put some of the camp soap we brought into a bin and filled it with water from one of the 5gallon jugs where I washed my chamois and socks and hung them on the close line. 

This tells the story pretty well.

Next, I found my bunk and put on my clean clothes and sandals. I found some snacks, Ryan made a pot of coffee (local stuff from Fruita) and then sat my ass down on that picnic table for most of the evening. 

Lauren and I admiring the view and Ryan's barista service.

And this was pretty much the new routine unless it was our turn to make dinner. Andy and Lauren took dibs on making dinner this night: a large pan of chicken enchiladas that we scooped up with a bag of tortilla chips. Who knew canned chicken could taste so good! All from the recipe book SJH provides along with everything to make such a feast. Post dinner, some people took naps, others fiddled with their bikes. I took a little wander and found a rock out-cropping to hike up to. There were no sounds except for the wind in the trees and the calls from the birds, well, until some campers down below started cranking Cold Play, ruining our little oasis. Eventually, Ryan yelled "PLAY RADIOHEAD" and their music got much, much quieter.

The first day, looking back, was the one of the best of the trip. It was a hard start for sure and a good kick in the pants for what was to come, but the views were just amazing. The sunset lasted for quite a long time and it was hard for Ryan and I to go inside. 

R&R chasing the sun. Photo Credit Lauren

My mountain man!

The sunset finale! 

Just before sunset, a ground squirrel perched himself on a small rock outcropping, and it sat there for a while, looking like it was admiring the view, like we were.

Needless to say, we all were a bit jealous of its lonely freedom.

A ground squirrel living his best life.

Monday, August 29, 2022

The GWO Tour 2022 - Hut Trippin in the San Juan Mountains: Prologue

Last summer, good friends, Lauren & Andy, who reside in Dillon sent a text: Want to join our group on a hut to hut bike packing trip in 2022? We took all of two seconds to reply: Hell Yeah! A few minutes later we got a payment link from the group's leader. Okay, I guess we are doing this. And, we didn't look back. In fact, we didn't even look back at any emails that may or may not have contained the dates of the trip, which overlapped slightly with the Breck Epic mountain bike race we were asked to work at. Oops. Well, as most of you know, we made it work. 

So what is San Juan Huts anyway? It's a company that manages a series of huts for back country adventurers. There are multiple routes for winter and for summer. What started out as a dream idea of skiers, turned into a reality for mountain bikers when the mobile winter huts, with no place to store them, were kept in place for us dirt heads. The Telluride route was the original and the Durango route, which Ryan and I did in the early aughts, came fifteen years later. The huts are completely stocked with all kinds of snacks, hydration fuel, canned foods, coolers of beverages (you can opt in for the beer package) and a cooler of food like cheese, eggs, and bacon. Needless to say you won't starve neither while riding between huts nor when you arrive at them. Sleeping arrangements are bunks with 4" vinyl-covered mattresses. You just need to bring a sleeping bag liner. They do have first aid, most had sunscreen, bug spray and hand sanitizer. There's no electricity and no running water. There are however, many 5-gallon jugs of water and a propane stove for cooking plus all the utensils, pots & pans you'd need to make a feast. All food scraps are composted and trash is collected and put into a bear box. You do your duties in a pit-toilet that I guarantee are better smelling than most rest stops, and usually have a view. You don't really bathe, just rinse, and you share a wash bin to clean your chamois. That's it. There's no soap. There's no shower. If you're lucky, you might come across a stream, but in the 215 miles, we didn't see running water until the last 60. So, note to self, bring enough water to get you to the next hut. 

Thanks Andy, for the great shot!

The throne.

Speaking of, the distances are totally doable for most intermediate and even beginner riders, with averages of 25-35 miles, on gravel, unless you opt for the single track, which sometimes added miles or elevation or was about the same. We were usually at the next hut, on average, within 4 hours, when using the preferred routes, aka gravel or service roads. We were all on mountain bikes and they varied from long-travel hard tails to trail bikes. One could do this on a gravel bike using the preferred routes but be aware that some roads can be washboard and have deep sand in spots, but I wouldn't let that deter someone who'd opt for a gravel rig. 
Only Ryan and I were clipped in and that's where I'd argue, gave us an advantage when climbing all the gravel.

San Juan Huts' tagline "Adventure Without the Weight" is clever, yet subjective-specially if you've never done this type of adventuring before. Though we had done the Durango route, bike packing wasn't a thing in 2005 and we did all 225 miles with small backpacks. Learning from that experience, we opted to put all of our weight on our bikes and waste packs, which changes the dynamic of how the bike responds to rugged terrain. Since we live in Florida, we didn't have the option to "test" the packed bikes on anything technical, so it wasn't until we got out to Colorado that we were able to ride the rigs fully loaded. And it wasn't terrible. My Pivot 429 was a champ on the climbs despite the weight but the tricky adjustment was having all of my gear stored up front, over the front wheel. I had to pump up the fork quite a bit as well as the shock. It did great, until it didn't. But I'm jumping the gun. Ryan's new-to-him Salsa Timberjack was his rig of choice and his set up had the same Salsa Anything Cradle up front that I did plus he added Salida-based Oveja Negra frame bags. My frame bag was a generic one from Revelate Designs that carried my extra water. I had two bottle bags on my bars and about 3 more bottles worth of water in my frame, by way of a bladder. I never ran out but got close on the longest day. 

Here's what I took with me:
2 pr chamois
2 pr riding shorts (I'd wear the other after rides if hot enough)
3 pr socks (two light wool for riding, one thick wool that always stayed dry for post ride)
1 pr underwear
1 pr lightweight hiking pants (could double as rain layer)
1 light wt wool base layer - long sleeve
1 sunproof pull over (I wore this after every ride)
1 ss wicking tshirt
2 ss jerseys
2 sport bras
1 pr sun block sleeves (also used as warming layer in cool mornings)
crushable wind jacket
rain jacket
knee warmers
wind-resistant gloves
puffy vest
head band
neck gator
wool beanie
off-bike sunglasses
1 sleeping bag liner
Teva sandals that I strapped to the top of the handlebar bag using Velo Straps
Seat tube had flat kit: 1 tube, 3 Co2, inflator & tire lever, + bacon strips
Top tube bag held easy-to-get-to snacks
Hip Pack stored my lunch and bathroom items like toothbrush, paste, contacts, first aid, etc. Since I didn't have bottles in the waist pack, I used the holders to carry my head lamp and wind jacket. 
Helmet, shoes, gloves
My phone, eyeglasses and ebook were in the front of the Anything Cradle which also had stuff I needed to get to during the ride like sunscreen 
I finally chose to go with a full tube of chamois butter instead of single use packs
2 plastic grocery bags in case of really wet conditions and could put inside shoes
1 large battery recharger (which charged our phones and computers through day 5)

My rig: Pivot 429

Ryan's Salsa Timberjack

Looking back, I feel this was the right amount of gear. I used all of it accept for the cold weather riding gear and rain jacket. It was warm, even at elevation so we were lucky in that regard. As well, we got lucky with the rain, despite the overly wet summer the Rockies have had.

Overall, the trip went really smoothly until...well, I'll get to that but what I want people to understand when considering a trip such as this: shit will happen and your expectations of yourself and everything else will be raised and lowered on a daily basis. That's what makes it an adventure. Go into it understanding you are a guest in these wild landscapes and you will be forced to adapt to them. And for the love of all things wild and free, unplug and have a blast!