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, remained where they were for us dirt heads to use. 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 plus 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!

Tuesday, August 16, 2022

The GWO Tour: The Alpine Tunnel & Monarch Crest

After saying goodbye to Crested Butte, we spent a short week in Salida, our favorite Colorado mountain town. Our rental was minutes from downtown and the Arkansas river. Our first meal was Mo Burrito
 and our first ride was up S mountain with former local Emily Skiles, who now works at Absolute Bikes. A few years ago she had a bad crash at Jewel and seeing her now, shredding very technical terrain, in the rain no doubt, was a beautiful thing! So if we ever move here, we have a friend in town! 

The week went by pretty quick since we both had to catch up on work. By the weekend, we were back in the van. Emily had suggested riding The Alpine Tunnel route, a high altitude loop that begins in the abandoned mining town of St. Elmo, at the base of Mt.Princeton, in the Sawatch range. The trail is railroad grade the whole way, starting first on gravel for about 7 miles to the actual trailhead where only non-motorized traffic is allowed. 


A former rail line, remnants of railroad ties still very much intact, creating some technical riding scenarios. Knowing we were in the same place steam engines traveled over a hundred years ago made it all the more special. The flowers only added to the already amazing views, including clumps of columbines growing right out of cracks in the rock.

Eventually the easy grade ended and it was time to hike. A few switchbacks took us up through a rock fall area but once at the top, we had the sky to ourselves. 

At the top of the scree field was classic high alpine riding through scrub and across narrow rushing streams. The wet summer kept the drainages pretty active. The higher we climbed the more we could see some cloud activity gathering and soon enough, we were hearing thunder. We weren't far from the summit, a saddle, that would then point us down the other side. The rain came quick enough. We didn't have our warm rain jackets but we did have our emergency jackets, with hoods, that would only be affective as long as the rain didn't get too heavy, nor the temps too low. Just below the saddle, the rain turned to sleet and the lightening was getting closer. We scanned the landscape for shelter, of which there was none. I did start to worry a bit, knowing we were very exposed. We trudged on and up, having to hike a bike once or twice more before heading down the other side of the saddle. We only saw two other rides, a couple and their dog, early in the ride on the gravel road. We wondered if they turned around. 

The other side of the saddle we linked up with the Colorado Trail. Those two words, in mountain biking mean one thing: FUN! The trail was classic flow trail, with wide switch backs and loam for days. We had to check our speed though, as we came up on many hikers. We warned them of the weather up top, most agreeing to stay in tree line for the night. 

We exited the trail onto 4wd road and down, down, down we went, eventually arriving in St. Elmo. The main street was busy with tourists. The roads and trails were busy with side by sides and dirt bikes. At that elevation, it was no longer raining so we packed up the bikes and looked for some fishy waters. We got to try out the new 7ft 4wt rod that Ryan bought on a therapy shopping spree after losing a big brown trout the day before because the handle on our net was too short. He bought a new net but then he also needed a rod and reel to go with it (hey, it has our initials on it). Our souvenir, he said. Mmhmm. 

But it is a really fun rod with a lot of action and great for small creeks. I caught a small rainbow on it. He caught a few on the other rod as well. All in all, it was a great day on the water and on the trail!

That night we tested the 4WD ability of the van, taking it up a narrow road, to a high campground with a lake that we visited using the Toyota a couple years ago. After an hour and still not finding the campsite, plus the loss of daylight, we stopped in an open turn out that was flat and had a view. It was too late to try to fish the lake and because we had to be at the shuttle pick up by 7:45 the next morning, it was going to be an early morning. So we snacked on some chips and guac, had a drink by the fire and then called it a night. 

The next morning we were up early and were greeted with the sun reflecting off the peaks.

After coffee, we began the slow descent. The van did great. It was I that was a mess. I don't really like off-roading like that, let alone in a 16 x 11ft box. At one point I got out, at Ryan's request, to take photos of a particularly gnarly section and it was just at that point when the right front wheel came off the ground. I couldn't watch the rest, but it did just fine. After driving that road, Ryan exclaimed he had finally bonded with the van. I just wanted to change my drawers! 

We arrived in plenty of time for the shuttle up to Monarch. I wasn't sure about doing the entire thing, including the rainbow trail, so it was going to be a game-time decision. There was a small group of women on e-bikes, a few couples and a bunch of dudes all on pedal bikes. The e-bikers started around the same time we did and we would yo-yo with them until we finally dropped them for good just before arriving at the drop in point that's near the warming hut that saved our fingers and toes a few years ago when we started a Monarch Enduro stage in the snow! 

And again because of the daily rain showers that have been a constant in the high country, the trail was tantalizingly tacky. With grip for miles, we could really push the speed. We popped out at a familiar trail head with a bathroom where a group of side by siders were convening, trying to figure out where they were and wondering how we got there on bikes. From there, it was part hike a bike, part steep climbing up another 4wd road until we reached the next segment of the Crest trail, Silver Trail. It starts our loose with some pretty tight switchbacks and then flattens out a bit before heading into the trees for more rowdy good times. There were a few areas where we had to pump the pedals a bit but for the most part, it was mostly ripping down to where it finally met the river and where we would decide to continue on the Ribbon Trail. 

The last time we did it, it was an ass kicker because the trails were sandy and slippery from moto traffic plus it was really hot. This time, the trails were tacky, and the tread surface was sublime. We only saw one other rider and a few motos on that stretch. By the time we hit the pavement, it was pretty hot so we tucked our tails and time-trialed the 5 highway miles back to the van. Then we celebrated with burritos and margies at Mo's before heading back out of town to camp for the night.

Our visit to Salida was just what we'd hoped. A reminder that it is where we hope to set roots and play bikes with all the people and maybe actually become smarter than the fish!