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!|
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
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|
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!