Monday, September 17, 2012

Catching air in Colorado

I hope those of you that know me well get a good giggle out of this blog title, not least my hucking amazing friends Ash and Steve, who invited me to join them on their 9-week road trip through the South-West of the good ol' USA. It took me some time to organise myself, but eventually I asked them where they'd be during the second trimester mid-term break, and when the answer came back "Colorado", my response was an emphatic "SIGN ME UP".


Things fell into place nicely, and the day after Kaitlyn's 12th birthday, I made the short trip from my parents' place in Strathmore to the airport, for the early flight to Sydney.  Proof-reading the final draft of the Kennett Bros' new book in the Cycling Legends series:  Muddy Olympians, was the perfect activity while waiting for my 15-hour flight to Dallas, where I connected with a relatively short flight to Denver.  I was met off that third and final plane by Ash and Steve, and our friends from Wellington, Hamish and Mike.

They'd just been to a baseball game, and we soon all crammed into a rather large Toyota 4x4, with four bikes on the rack, and my Evoc bike bag and a bit more luggage on the roof.   We had a jolly good chinwag on the drive to Golden, punctuated by me pointing at various large automobiles or buildings out the window.  My four companions had been in the US a while now, but humoured me nicely...!

Our accommodation for the next couple of nights was the home of Austin and Betsy (friends of Mike's), and after a delicious feed of homemade burritos, we five kiwis slept out on their covered deck on our camping mats "marae style" - choosing the relatively cool conditions over the much warmer house, and also trying to limit our impact on A&B's regular routines...

We were up fairly early, and headed into the Golden town centre for breakfast.  Bike imagery was everywhere, a lot due to stage 6 of the recent USA Pro Cycling Challenge starting there, but mostly because bikes seem to be not only an accepted part of life in these parts, but celebrated...  What a refreshing change, and one I'd be envious of all week.

After copping a feed, we headed to a post office, and then in search of some Coors Light. Despite being within a mile or two of the brewery, at this time of day this was no easy task - but, it was a critical one, and eventually we found a supermarket who happened to have them on special as an added bonus.

My instructions were "Ask for Nate when you get there and John suggested bringing a 12-pack of Coors Light beer if you want VIP treatment", and so, armed with a couple of boxes of (cheap!) 18 bottles each, we had high hopes.  We knew we were in the right place when we saw various very large vehicles emblazoned with Turquoise, familiar logos, and of course "YETI" left, right and centre.

Excitement building, we headed in the "other door" and were greeted by none other than Nate.  He was a lovely dude, and I'm sure he'd have been happy to see us even without the beer, but I'm equally sure that it totally sealed the deal, just as Kashi had expected! Yeti Factory tour ON! The large open plan office doubled as an impressive wee museum, and it was cool to see some very familiar bikes up close and personal.

From there we were shown down a couple of hallways, both sporting memorabilia of their own, and into the factory itself, and the new, in contrast to the old a few moments earlier.  There was a massive rack of sold frames, awaiting packing and shipping, a huge pile of boxed frames awaiting assembly, and boxed of components and other things.

We didn't get too close to one corner of the building, which I can only assume was where the "R&D" was going on.

We watched a couple of wrenches in action for a while, and I noted the value of having a single seat post size across the range of bikes - each work stand had a short "seat post" mounted in it, and frames were put on that, rather than each frame needing a seat post of its own.  Slick.

In the end we scurried out - initial excitement was beginning to be replaced by serious bike lust, such was the stack of frames - none of which had our names on them.  As we made our way past sold carbon SB-66s, SB-95s, Big Tops and everything in between, even a surprising number of old-faithful ARC 26" hardtail frames, I'm sure I heard a few sniffles and wet eyes.  It must have been the dust...

 It was about 10am by this stage, and when we were asked if we wanted to join in on the daily "shop ride", we were unanimous.  We drove back to Austin and Betsy's laughing at the revealed significance of Kashi's other gem:  "Also, try to avoid 11am - 2pm."  We were back by 11, and all slightly anxious that we were about to all get our legs torn off (and me that my lousy descending skills would be shown up to boot)!  It turned out that the locals weren't too keen on getting out in the heat of the day, and so it just the five of us, and Nick, a recent recruit for the company, but one who'd been doing contract work with their XC development team for some time.

Nick asked us what we were keen on, and in the end we opted for their "go-to" ride in the nearby Apex Park rather than a super-technical offering.

It was awesome to have Nick's company, though he couldn't do much to help me cope with the heat and the thin air on the outskirts of "the mile-high city".  Every time I'd nail a technical section of climb, my body would be reeling from the effort, and I'd struggle to ride the simplest bit of track for the next few minutes.  Having a guide had other benefits though, and it was nice to know we were taking in some sweet singletrack with no chance of getting lost!

Having a breather looking out towards Denver

I felt like a bit of a dick a few minutes into the first bit of descending we did.  I'd ridden uncharacteristically well through a particularly flowy bit of singletrack when I caught myself thinking "wow, this bike is handling awesome through here...".  On reflection, if my ASR5C didn't handle well within a few miles of the place where it was designed, something was totally wrong!  I blame the lack of oxygen.

I also blamed the lack of oxygen when I got unhitched by Nick and Mike towards the top of the second climb.  I wasn't hard on myself though, and I was glad just to be out on the bike after being cooped up on various planes for close on a day.  We saw some Elk off in the distance while we waited for Ash, Steve and Hamish.  When Hamish didn't show up, Steve went back in search of him with directions for a short cut from Nick. For Steve and Hamish's benefit, Nick, Mike, Ash and I agreed the next section of track totally blowed.

Ash, me, Nick and Mike, fresh from some "lame" singletrack!

We finished down Apex Gulch, which has the feature of being "One Way on Odd Days".  I'd not put enough pressure in my front tyre, and I kept getting hooked up on some rather chunky rock features necessitating the odd spot of walking.  Again, it was good to get out, and better to walk than break something!

Between progress on the long, hot climb, and multiple punctures for Hamish,we'd punched quite a hole in Nick's working afternoon already, and so he shot back into the office once we got back.  We headed back into town for lunch and were treated to some very cool cloud formations.  

After a well-deserved feed, we headed out on a mall mission. My only trophy was $7 pillow, while Steve got pretty close to buying a lego VW combi van set, and Mike didn't get at all close to buying the suit he was after.

That evening we went to a very nice Nepalese restaurant, where Betsy impressed us by totally handling a very-very-very-hot curry without breaking a sweat.


The next morning started sadly. While Ash, Steve and I were headed up into the hills, Mike and Hamish would remain in Golden until Monday, whereupon Mike would head back to Wellington and a new job, and Hamish would board a train for Seattle en route to British Columbia.  No time for moping though, we were headed for the hills!

The road out of Golden soon hooked into the 285 west, and we began our climb away from the mile high city. We started getting peckish, and Ash and Steve were both keen to get some coffee into me, lest I turn into some angry beast. Our first stop was made worthwhile by the photographic keepsake, but we high-tailed it out of there before sampling the coffee...

Soon after that though we spotted a nice wee spot and pulled in.  I got a coffee, and we chatted with the proprietor's mum for a bit, and we even were called on to give some interior design advice.  I was already getting some sense of where Ash's bubbly nature comes from - the usual reserved Kiwi nature was nowhere to be seen, and everyone greeted us like we were long-lost friends.

Back in the car, I continued to marvel at the landscape that surrounded us.  I'm well used to New Zealand's emptiness, but our typical hint of civilisation tends to be either single buildings one their own, or a bunch of buildings packed into a small space.  Here collections of buildings seemed incredibly spread out, and why not? There's space to burn.

We drove out of a massive, empty basin, before hooking a left turn at Buena Vista, and heading south through to Poncha Springs.  Ash had worked in this area as a raft guide in her youth, and we heard stories about that chapter of her life.  After fueling up in Poncha Springs, we began the climb over Monarch Pass, and made our traverse of the Continental Divide at 11,312 feet above sea level.

We descended in the knowledge that if we now fell into a river and drowned, we'd end up in the Pacific rather than Atlantic ocean.  Also, we now knew that riding back up Monarch Pass to get the car when we tackled the Monarch Crest ride in a few days' time was an absolutely terrible idea.  It was arduous enough in the car...

Not long after descending into the next river valley, we arrived in Gunnison, the proud home of Western State College of Colorado.  We parked up, and stumbled upon a wonderful wee sandwich joint, where, you guessed it, we were greeted like long-lost friends.  We talked briefly to a couple of cycle tourists, who seemed to have lost all sense and had left an unattended handlebar bag open with an iphone sitting visibly inside.  I guess it was nice to be in a place where you could get away with that.  The guys had come from Crested Butte, and told us that they'd been picking up bottles from the roadside, jettisoned by the recent pro peloton through there.  They told us to keep our eyes peeled! 

It was less than an hour's drive north to Crested Butte, and we made straight for Big Al's Bicycle Heaven, where we picked up a map of the area, and some advice about riding for the next few days.

Finding a place to stay was much more difficult, but after an hour or so of ringing around, we had three beds in the Crested Butte International Lodge and Hostel.  We parked up, and were immediately reminded how much the Coloradans love their Yetis.

We had a short wait to check in, but got great intel when we did - it turned out the local chairlift had free twilight shuttles on a Friday evening!  Sweet, but amusing that the bike shop hadn't mentioned it!

We drove the short distance up to Mount Crested Butte (a ski-resort) and were soon getting the bikes off the car and suiting up.  At 9375 feet asl, simple things like standing up too quickly were leaving me a little light headed.  My notion of riding up and catching the chairlift down was rubbished by Ash, and the three of us were soon ready to rock and roll.  We'd seen some gnarly track from the chairlift, and so we started on the relatively benign "Frequency".  It took no time at all for me to notice the altitude and its negative effect on my body.  My breathing didn't change noticably in response to the lack of oxygen.  Instead my muscles and brain simply complained...

We hooked into "Luge" and then "Avery", with Ash and Steve stopping to check on me from time to time.  Luckily the jumps were all well marked by small flags at ground level, and I was able to safely roll all of them.  Despite my foggy brain, I might have even remembered to drop my seat for some of it.  I had no such trouble remembering my riding mantra... "AT LEAST ONE WHEEL ON THE GROUND..." and even managed a smile for the camera at the bottom of our run.

We snuck in another two runs - the second identical to our first, and our third a complete run of "Avery".  None of us were particularly game for "Psycho Rocks" though I'm sure my companions would have lapped it up (and it would have lapped me up).

Steve and I rode back down to the Hostel while Ash drove.  I was again reminded of the altitude on the way down, trying to sprint up a short rise behind a car.  Hard efforts were having severe repercussions, but luckily light-headedness was the worst of it.

We shot to the supermarket, where it was fun to check out some of the local delicacies.  Still buzzing from the Yeti-factory visit teed up by Kashi, it was a surprise to see Kashi muesli bars on the shelf!

The checkout held another surprise for me, and that was Ash authenticating her credit card purchase with her fingerprint...

We had sausages and salad for dinner, and by virtue of being unable to get a single room for the three of us, didn't rush to bed.  Eventually though it was time to part.  Steve and I were sharing a 4-bunk room with Paul, who seemed very nice, but muttered to Steve on his way out the door "you don't mess around.  When you go to bed, you just get straight in...!"  We had a good chuckle at Paul once the door had closed!

We were up at 7am, and quickly got organised to hit up the 401 Trail.  The bike shop had endorsed Carl Patton's recommendation of it, but had suggested we do it early as they'd had thunderstorms up there the last few afternoons.  We drove through Mt Crested Butte...

Mt Crested Butte
... and were soon passing through Gothic  - "site of The Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory, founded 1928".

The road through Gothic, and most of Gothic

A few minutes later we were parked up, and a few minutes after that we were Oscar Mike. 

It was an 8-mile ride up to Schofield Pass, during which we were all blown away by the scenery, the highlight of which was Emerald Lake.  I was finding the riding fine, but any sharp effort, including those to get my camera ahead of Ash and Steve had me reeling.

Ash, Steve, and Emerald Lake

We met a couple of locals at Schofield Pass itself, and after a few photos, took off ahead of them onto the start of 401, aka Trailriders 401 Trail.

The singletrack reminded me a lot of Frontal Lobotomy in Whakarewarewa, although this time I really did feel like I was in the middle of a frontal lobotomy.  The track was mostly cruisy, but recovering from the regular short but steep pinches was tough work.  I certainly had the bike for the job though, and didn't envy Steve with his 1x10 setup and a 36-tooth chainring up front, nor Ash with her relatively burly, but at least sensibly geared, SB-66.

Despite being tough at times, the climb was soon done with us, and we found ourselves at the high-point of the trail, looking south-east back towards Gothic.  It was truly breathtaking...!

Ash, modelling the 401 trail, and some icebreaker gear

Descending was an absolute joy, with the only challenge being concentrating sufficiently on the track rather than the views.  Also, it took some effort not to stop for photos constantly.

Steve blazed ahead, and somehow managed to ride through a water-course crossing which looked suspiciously like unbuilt, and certainly unrideable, track to my eyes. He later explained to me how he'd done it, but I still couldn't reconcile what he described to what I saw.  I'd hate to line up in an XC race with that guy!!!

About half way down, it started to lightly rain.  Luckily, this coincided with a bit of tree cover.

Our legs were starting to wane a bit, just in time for a shitty 4WD climb, which then hooked into and even worse bit of singletrack - it looked to be newly built, and climbing on the soft surface was much tougher than any of us would have liked.  We ended up high above the carpark, which had had only a couple of cars in addition to ours when we'd left it a few hours earlier.  It was a bit of a shame to lose all that elevation on a 4WD road, but luckily Steve noticed a bit of singletrack which spiced up the last few seconds of the ride.

We made straight for town, and I made straight for a coffee shop!  One macchiato later, I enjoyed strolling through the craft market with my cobbers.  The delicious smell in the air was soon revealed to be "Kettle Corn" and conversation dried up significantly after we'd secured ourselves a big bag of it...  Apparently there are franchise opportunities, and in my salty-sweet popcorn stupor, I might have agreed to go into business with Ash (and Kaitlyn)...!

We passed the stall of the Crested Butte Mountain Bike Association, reportedly the "Oldest mountain bike club in the world!"  It was good to see options for "Rockstar" or "Superstar" membership levels on their application form.

After "pies" (of the pizza variety) for lunch - poor Steve looked a little crest-fallen when he saw his - we headed into the Mountain Bike Hall of Fame, tucked away in a back corner of the Crested Butte Mountain Heritage Museum.  It was pretty cool to look at some of the old gear, including a hideous Campagnolo MTB groupset, and a gorgeous Ritchey with some of the best looking welding I've ever seen.

All that history had us itching to get out on our bikes again, and we headed back to the hostel to scope out our afternoon's ride.  The bike shop had recommended "Dr's Park", but the ride write-up on our awesomely comprehensive Latitude40 map of the region described a 23-mile point-to-point ride which clearly wasn't going to be possible. We were scratching our heads as to how we'd so badly got the wrong end of the stick from the bike shop, when another guest at the hostel told us the standard Dr's Park ride was a loop taking in the final descent of what we'd been looking at on the map.  Much more manageable, and consistent with our plan to squeeze it in as the second ride of the day.

We had a bit of a drive south of Crested Butte, and foolishly stayed on the main road all the way through to Almont, before turning onto Rd 742 up towards Taylor Park Reservoir.  At least we knew to take the unsealed, but considerably more direct, Jack's Cabin Cutoff on the way home - it would have been a pleasure to drive it even for the apostrophe... We parked up at the base of a natural rock-climbing wall, and were soon riding mostly north up Spring Creek Rd.  The scenery, like the morning's, was awesome, but it was very different to what we'd seen earlier in the day.  The valley was much narrower, and much more rocky that the road up to Schofield Pass had been.  

The base of a 1000-foot cliff...  Probably not the best spot to park up.
We made up about half our elevation gain on the gravel road.  This included a couple of steep pitches, but was otherwise pretty benign, and very pretty.

After a little over an hour, we were crossing Spring Creek itself, and ramping up our fight against gravity.

Ash negotiating the last of the mellow climbing away from Spring Creek Rd
We regrouped at the base of "the wall" the guy at the hostel had described.  Steve said he was keen to walk with Ash for a bit, and so I struck out on my own for a while. 

We had a bit of a spell at a clearing on the ridge top, before discovering we weren't quite through with the climbing yet.  Somehow it seems much worse when it's unexpected.

Finally, we burst out of the trees onto the top of a large meadow, and promptly sat down for another breather.  During this break, we were joined by a father and his son.  The boy wasn't that old, and we all got a buzz from seeing them out together.  Nice work Dad!

The descent was an absolute stunner.  The track itself was similar in design to 401, but rather than sidling out in the open, we were heading down a forested ridge.  We had a couple of stops - one for Steve to repair his umpteenth puncture of his  trip, and another to admire a deer just off the side of the track.

The descent left us grinning ear to ear, but by the time we got back to the car, we were all pretty pooped and keen for dinner.  In our haste to get away, we left our two combination locks on the ground, and so while Ash and I did the groceries, Steve shot back to get the locks.

He returned to a hot dinner, but without the locks.  Someone must have noticed them and picked them up, leaving us with an overnight dilemma.  The bike shop was already closed, so we resorted to backing the car against the rear wall of the hostel.  Luckily for us, neither the car nor the hostel moved overnight, and our precious steeds were all there in the morning, ready for another big day.


After a good sleep, we made another relatively early start, and I sat in the car with a coffee and a muffin while Steve and Ash went in search of a second breakfast of their own.  We wouldn't need a lock until after our ride, so decided not to wait for the bike shop to open, and busted out of town to the Reno-Flag-Bear-Deadman trailhead on Cement Creek Road.  This was yet another recommendation from Carl Patton that had been endorsed by the LBS.

We started off with what I thought was a great climb: mostly mellow, and a nice length.  Ash's legs were pointing out to her the two rides she'd done yesterday, so Steve and I enjoyed a bloody good chat and left her to argue with them alone. 

Steve on Reno Divide Rd
Reno was pretty busy, despite being so isolated, and when we were passed by a quad-bike not too far from the top, I couldn't resist firing my legs in chase, leaving Steve to regroup with Ash.  I had a nice chat to the quad riders - a married couple probably in their 60s.  He was a pilot, and had been to NZ once for an air show, and had also flown in a formation with 40 (?!?!) other planes.  I was more impressed that he was out in the wops with his wife, but enjoyed his stories nonetheless!

They moved off, and were soon replaced by Ryan, who'd only a week earlier had coffee with Carl, and knew him well.  Such a small world...!

We were 3 again soon, and after a quick map check, set off down Flag Creek Trail.  As with nearly every descent I'd done on this trip, this one was the best yet. 

We had a few photo stops, and occasionally were passed by MTB or MX riders, the latter generally coming from the opposite direction.  After a creek crossing at the bottom of the valley, the track pitched up again, and we were onto the Bear Creek Trail.  This was mostly mellow, but had fairly regular sections which required intense concentration, and a hell of a lot of grunt.  I usually found myself capable of neither, so quickly did the efforts tap out my oxygen delivery system.  Fighting for traction on the steep and often uneven track was one demand too many.

I chatted some more with Ryan and his mate while waiting for Ash and Steve to finish the climb at a more sensible pace.  A short bit of 4WD road later, a picnic stop was in order. 

Bear continued off this ridge crossing, and we were treated to yet another glorious descent.  There'd been some recent track realignment near the top, but other than that, the track was hard and flowed beautifully, and the scenery was marvellous.

Scenic Steve
All good things must come to an end, and before too long we were at the base of our final climb - Deadman Gulch Trail.  Had we taken the left turn, down-valley, we'd have soon emerged on Spring Creek Rd, and the route our previous evening's ride.  Our car was to the right though, with something like a 700-foot climb ahead of us.  From sea-level that would have seemed like quite a hurdle, but we were starting this one just below 10,000 feet! 

A few groups passed us while we had a short snack, and when a couple of guys rode through just as we were set to leave, I heard from behind me "Go on John", and knew that I had license to roam!

The climb was pretty steady, which suited me much better than the disruptive ascent of Bear.  I ride with a pretty high cadence - something which seems to be the best way of letting my legs keep on top of the effort of lifting just shy of 90kg up a hill - and I merrily spun away.  I spent a few minutes following the slower of the two riders just ahead, and eventually he pulled over to let me through.  It wasn't long before I was on the wheel of his mate, and after a few minutes he too wanted me gone.

It was nice to have a clear track, and the challenge of riding the rest of the hill at something close to race pace.  It kicked up somewhat just below the summit, and I fluffed a simple bit of track and had to dab.  That was momentarily frustrating, but I'd enjoyed the climb nonetheless.  The dude I'd most recently passed was keen to talk when he arrived, and when he heard I lived at sea level, he urged me to "go home, and race your mates"!  I was chuffed with the compliment.

I chatted with him and his mate until Ash and Steve arrived, and then let them take point.  The map notes said "check your brakes and begin descending 33 switchbacks over the next 2.0 miles to Cement Creek".  At 15 I knew I'd lost count, but figured I was close.  At 22, I knew had no idea actually how many corners had been, and gave up the pretense of keeping track!

We had to cross Cement Creek about 100m from the car, and I pretty much fell in the creek doing so.  I'd just passed my bike to Steve atop a log spanning the creek, but what I was standing on rolled as I spun around to grab Ash's bike, and I ended up sitting in the river!

The short climb to the car was a neat technical challenge.  After 4 attempts, I gave up and walked my bike to the top...!

We headed back into town, grabbed a combination lock for the bikes, and after relenting and reading the instructions finally managed to get them locked up.  The Sunday Farmers' Market was in full swing, and included a pretty funky oldies' band with a couple grooving away!

I always love the post-ride sifting - somehow it's always nicer to be just a little bit rooted - and it was fun to see what gems down-town Crested Butte had to offer.  This number-plate lined building opposite the icecream shop serving strange delights like sweetcorn ice cream. 

After cleaning up back at the hostel, we headed out for sushi at a restaurant which had the strangest restroom decor I've seen... 

Apparently the women's loo had a fox cavorting in snow.  Go figure...

We were drawn into a sweet shop across the road from the sushi joint, and Steve bought the biggest diameter cookie I've seen, while Ash had a toffee apple.  I don't remember what I had, but do remember it was delicious!  (A photo on Ash's Spoke Magazine blog confirms it was a chocolate-coated pretzel!)

Public seating on the main street of Crested Butte!
We soon retired to our hostel to find the lovely hostess had made peach crumble for us to share.  Steve boosted to the supermarket for icecream, and I had a game of chess with a lovely 7 year old, who was on a wee MTB trip with his Mum!  I went a bit too easy on him in the middle of the game, and very nearly got my arse kicked.  Fun times!


We'd originally planned a grueling 5am start for this morning - what would be needed to drive to Poncha Springs for the 8am shuttle up to Monarch Pass.   The charm of that particular plan was that Steve could drop Ash and I at the summit on the way through, and we'd save $40 bucks on shuttle fees.  The down-side?  The 5am start.

OK in principle, but after some great riding in the previous days, a cruisy start and a day off seemed like a much better option.  It also meant we'd spend the next two nights in Salida before driving back to Denver for my mid-afternoon flight.  Easy peasy!

Someone in Crested Butte had a bit of a thing for chrome sculptures, and it would've been rude not to stop for one last look at the impressive knight fighting the equally impressive dragon.

We were soon back in Gunnison, and ready for breakfast.  I defeated the purpose of a drive-through ATM somewhat by jumping out of the car.  The pipe on the right of the photo is a vacuum hose for deposits, apparently!

I was keen on a fair-dinkum American breakfast, but the diner we chose had a waiting list.  Begrudgingly we added our names to the list, but our growing hunger had us doubting our decision until the moment we were called in and seated.

I was dead-set on a stack of pancakes, but kind of felt I should order "biscuits and gravy" just to see what they were.  Ash took pity on me, and ordered a biscuit to go with her blueberry pancake.  It looked very much like a scone, but had a texture closer to that of a sponge cake.  I ate my pancakes and they were all I'd hoped they'd be.

We enjoyed the afternoon sifting around Salida.  We visited three bike shops, and it was a bit of a no-brainer that Ash would leave her Yeti with the shop that had a female mechanic. 

We'd booked a family room at The Simple Lodge and Hostel of Salida, run by Jon and his heavily pregnant wife Julia.  They seemed very lovely, and better yet, Jon would be happy to drop us up at Monarch Pass the following morning, for half the price of the shuttle we'd originally intended to take.  Once he realised he'd be driving our vehicle, the price became cheaper again. 

The afternoon was a hot one, and it was nice just to chill out and enjoy a bit off time off the bikes.  We had a couple of good meals at a bar, the latter overlooking the river.  It seemed quite upmarket, but that didn't stop them from putting a great big Yeti sticker on the cash-register!

Yeti was here...


Jon met us at 7am for our drive up to Monarch Pass.  We were joined in the car by Chris, a fellow guest of the hostel.  He was tramping the Colorado Trail, a 486 mile route from near Denver to Durango, wearing a pair of toe shoes!

It was cold at the pass, but we were setting off in stunning conditions.

Unlike the previous riding we'd done, the map we had of the day's route was pretty hopeless, and we'd not paid enough attention to landmarks on it, and promptly missed the first singletrack section.  Having climbed past it, we stayed on the 4WD road, and followed our noses before picking up the trail again after a short descent.

We felt like we were on top of the world...

... and it ...

... was very hard ...

... not to stop ...

... all the time ...

... for photos.  What a treat!

Eventually the ride started being more down than up, and we came across Mike from Orange County.  He had the classic Californian accent (dude!), and it was fun chatting to him for a while.  He'd just decided to head for the hills, and seemed to be having a great time despite his heavy load.  We told him to check out before his next mission.

It wasn't long after blasting off ahead of Mike that we reached Marshall Pass.  Our map was pretty ambiguous about where to go, and there didn't seem to be much in the way of signage, despite plenty of opportunity for it.

In the end we headed off in the right direction, but down a 4WD track which soon came to an intersection with neither track ahead showing much sign of MTB use.  Mike had followed us, and his very good map of the area didn't help much.

In the end we pushed up the steeper of the two tracks, and came to a very well used 4WD road.  I went right, and soon came to an intersection with the route we should have been on.  I raced back towards Ash and Steve, and when I saw just them, figured Mike must've gone left.  Knowing that left wasn't the correct way, I continued at speed, leaving Ash and Steve wondering what the hell I was up to.

I soon hit an intersection, and doubled back only to learn that Mike hadn't followed us up the hill at all, and certainly hadn't gone left.  In fact, he had gone back to Marshall Pass to try again!

We had a bit of a climb, but the singletrack we were on was a joy to ride, and my nice light and sensibly geared bike was lapping it up.  I was getting used to the fine balancing act of keeping one's oxygen intake at a sufficient level for the effort expended.

We were soon back into gravity assisted riding ...

... and before long were resting at an intersection.  We were pretty sure we needed to make a left down the ridge at this point, and only belatedly noticed the small arrow in the bottom-left corner of the sign confirming this.

Despite everyone we spoke to recommending this Rainbow Trail route back to Poncha Springs, the ride write-up we had didn't describe this descent, so we were unsure of what was ahead.  The day was marching on too, and legs were becoming weary - some more than others.

The descent into the Rainbow was a rip snorter, and Ranger Steve had his first puncture in a while.  The singletrack eventually spat us out on a 4WD road.  We'd been warned not to take the singletrack after the 285, but decided we'd ride the section between us and the highway.

A waymarker told us we were 8 miles from the highway, and it was hard to reconcile this with our map, and it certainly wasn't the news we wanted.  At least we were going down-valley...!

The 8 miles was tough.  On average we were descending, but the local variation around that trend was beginning to wear a bit thin.  I'd been riding a sympathy gear all day - Steve had a granny ratio of 1:1, and I'd been careful not to go beyond this - but I killed my experiment in the name of enjoying the final bit of riding!

Despite being hard work, the track was still a lot of fun, and the views were sometimes worth all the climbing we were doing!

When it wasn't a grovel, we were having a blast!

The last 3 miles were mostly downhill, and ended with a steep but fast descent down to the highway.

I made a joke about jumping on the singletrack section across the road, but it fell flat.  It neither elicited a laugh, nor an objection!  Perhaps to less tired ears it would have been more successful.

I was the only one who had sensible gearing for the entirely downhill run on the 285, but even without pedalling, my mass - and perhaps a lighter wheel and tyre combo - had me rolling away from Ash and Steve.    In the end, I gave up my fight against gravity, and enjoyed a bit of a smash back to Poncha Springs.

We took a back road into Salida, also all downhill, but alas the brewery on it was not open and we got back to the hostel without our thirsts being quenched.

After a wash up, we headed into town for a bit more touristing. 

Steve was also pretty keen for a haircut.  We heard from Jon that there's a bit of a feud going on among the town's barbers.  Just down the road from a place advertising "$10 haircuts" was this one, with a sign in the window reading "Fixes $10 haircuts, $15". 

Steve decided he'd pass, and instead we hit up the icecream shop and enjoyed the warmth of the afternoon.

We headed back to the hostel, and I got to cleaning my bike.  It hadn't skipped a beat the whole trip - in fact, far from it, it had been absolutely awesome - but it now needed a top-notch clean so that it wouldn't spend the rest of its days in a MAF lockup.  It took me ages, but the brushes I'd brought from home were mostly perfect, and the afternoon was warm so it was actually quite a pleasant task. It had been fun to ride my now gleaming Yeti ASR-5C in its own backyard, and it really had been perfectly suited to the riding we did (and me).  I don't know what the Yeti:Other ratio is like in Colorado, but I don't think we saw a single group of riders without at least one in the bunch! 

By the time we were ready for dinner, my bike was safely stowed in my Evoc bag, and so I rode Ash's SB-66 while Steve dubbed Ash on his handlebars, slowly, 'cos there's always wind on the road.

Dropper seat posts and jandals are a match made in heaven, and the absence of a helmet requirement was also appreciated.

We soon found ourselves at Fiesta Mexicana on route 50, which Jon or Julia had recommended, and not long after we were seated, Steve and I were getting stuck into the bucket of Coronas.  The decor was fantastic, and the mexican waiter was a very enthusiastic fellow.  He spoke mostly in Mexican, which was fun, though not nearly as much fun as my delicious meal.  At first glance it looked like a quantity I'd struggle with, but my stomach had been softened up by the beer, and no doubt the six hour ride earlier in the day.

We were in no rush to leave, but when we eventually got back outside, it was still light and warm, a far cry from the conditions I'd left in Wellington, and would soon be reunited with.  

We rode back to the hostel, and then sat down for a game or four of Sequence, a board game we'd been enjoying through the week.  There were a couple of new guests at the hostel, and one in particular was keen to join us, though we politely declined, and he seemed to lose interest (or get the hint, whichever).

Our room was accessed via the dorm room, and once we'd turned in, things got kind of heated in the dorm next door.  One guy had a portable fan rigged up on his windowsill, dragging the now relatively cool air from outside in.  It was making a racket, but Steve and I had both successfully slept through a similar din in our room in Crested Butte a few nights earlier.  After a couple of requests to turn the fan off were ignored, the two extreme positions were loudly declared:  "I CAN'T SLEEP WITH THAT FUCKING FAN ON", immediately followed by "WELL, I CAN'T SLEEP WITH THE FUCKING FAN OFF".  I honestly thought the next sounds we heard were going to be those of a fan being wrapped around someone's head, but luckily the situation was diffused by the plaintiff heading downstairs to the common room couch...  Steve had been asked by the fan-on (and game-interrupter) guy for a lift to the bus-stop in the morning, but luckily he was gone in the morning, and there was no further awkwardness.


The end of my short intrusion on Ash and Steve's 9-week road trip had just about come to an end.  Despite being only one week, it had panned out to be an awesome length, and the final ride we'd done had been the first that was not the best.  Mostly that came down to the stress of keeping to the route with the sketchy map we'd had, and dealing with the growing levels of fatigue in our legs.

By heading to Salida from Crested Butte, we'd pretty much cut the drive back to Denver in half, and we were comfortably back in the big smoke by around midday.

En route to the airport we stopped in at REI - a massive outdoor equipment retailer whose flagship store was in Denver.  I had high hopes, but couldn't quite convince myself I needed a new thermarest, and their range of bivvy-bags was unimpressive.  I almost got a solar charger, before stumbling on a SteriPen water-bug-nuker.  Marcel had had one of these on Day 3 of last year's Tāwhio and it had been very handy indeed, and with that, my sole purchase of the trip was made!

It was a short drive from REI to the airport, and without much fuss I was checked in and sent through security by my dear friends.

Thanks to the Qantas Club membership, my trip home was pretty comfortable.  I got great seats, enjoyed the airport lounges, and even got to wave to my bike as it was driven past our bus on the tarmac in LA. 

In hindsight, I should have got out of the airport for a couple of hours in LA, but would've, should've, could've.  By the time I'd left Sydney, my airport and very large plane fetish had been well and truly indulged, and I was all movied out.

A bustling Qantas-section at Sydney Airport
It was wonderful to be met in Wellington by Oli, who'd borrowed my car for the week and had given my Colnago a beautiful "stem to stern" working over in my absence. 


It's been very nice to reflect on what was probably my best ever holiday.  I've had some amazing trips, but not many where I've actually let myself relax to the extent that I did in Colorado.  It truly was a holiday in the broadest sense of the word.

It was fascinating to feel my body adjusting to the challenges of cycling in rarified air.  A week certainly wasn't long enough to fully acclimate, but it was definitely enough to come back to sea level and have at least one ride like an absolute machine!  I've never rocketed up steep hills on my Colnago like I did on the Tuesday after arriving home, and I don't expect to again any time soon!  My lungs were parked as the weak link in my system, and I tapped my legs out like never before - I was pushing 39x25 up the likes of Old Porirua Road and Hawkins Hill like a boss, and I could barely ride at any intensity even by Friday.

It was also nice to build on the charge I've been feeling in the last month.  Riding and writing are two passions I have that go hand in hand - when things are right.  The months between the Cape Epic and this blog have been long, and have preyed on my mind, and it was nice to finally have something I wanted to crow about.

The trip was a great success, thanks in no small part to a bunch of people.  Ed and Jo held the fort back home.   Hamish and Mike, and Austin and Betsy got the trip off to a great start.  And Ash and Steve kept the momentum up and up and up.  They were truly amazing from the moment they invited me to crash their party, and I'll be eternally grateful!

Special thanks to some others though.
  • Thanks to Kashi for getting in touch with the crew at Yeti Cycles in Golden on our behalf.  The factory tour was a wonderful way to start the week and a thrill for us all.  Thanks too to Nate for hosting us at the factory, and Nick for taking us out riding, and to all the others whose working day we might have temporarily suspended.  We hope those beers slipped down nicely, and look forward to seeing you down under some time. 
  • Thanks to Carl Patton - a Wellingtonian who operates annual Singletrack Tours for Kiwis in Colorado and happily sat down with me over coffee to give me the skinny on how to cram some great riding into only a week.  His recommendations were absolutely spot on, and I can only imagine how amazing a full tour with him would be.
It's very cool, and humbling, to be the recipient of such generosity, and it really made the trip special.

I've got some great riding ahead, and I look forward to the inevitable tales.  I am also planning on taking stock of the last few months, hopefully jotting some thoughts down which might help me negotiate next winter a bit more happily - the missing blogs, so to speak.

Until then, onwards and upwards, as they say (with at least one wheel on the ground).  Thanks for reading.