The Kokopelli Trail

10/12/2013 to 10/17/2013 – While having a glorious conversation with Jonny Cromwell in mid-September, discussing adventures during his summer in Glacier Point, Alaska and his plans (or lack there of) for the fall and winter, we came to the conclusion that another bicycle trip was in order.  A couple weeks later, Grete and I happened to be driving through Whidbey Island on a Washington state wander breaking in the new truck (Wendy) and got ahold of Jonny.  He had just gotten in -that morning- from his ferry ride back from AK and we ended up enjoying dinner, drinks, and a night under the stars on his parents’ roof.

Before we left the next morning, it was decided that Jonny would be accompanying Grete, Bonnie, and myself back to Colorado in a couple days and that we would be figure it out from there.  On the drive back to CO, we called up Dave and informed him that he would be joining us (reuniting the Dream Team) on the Kokopelli Trail in a few days.  Of course, he was down.

A week later we met-up at Dave’s mom, Holly’s, house (launchpad for all great adventures it seems), grabbed free beer from a Coors short-tour and headed west-bound.  A couple hours into the drive, we got a little distracted and ended up going skiing on Vail Pass, then continued to the desert… And the rest is history… So here are some photos to tell the story!

For further reading (and more great photos), here is another take on our glorious ride by Dave (link). A fellow bicycle adventurist friend, Nicholas Carman, was only a few hours behind us on the ride (unaware to us until we arrived in Moab) and his excellent write-up can be found here (link).

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This is Going to be Fun…

9/12/2013 to 9/19/2013 – This is the story of Dave, Grete and my ride of the first half of the Colorado Trail (Denver to Buena Vista).  It was each of our first endeavors in bikepacking, and was one hell of a great ride. The words for this post were generously provided by Grete Gansauer and the photos are by yours truly… Enjoy!

Packed and Ready to Go

Remember that week in mid-September when Colorado was under water and under a state of emergency due to the ‘hundred year rain storm’? Dave, Zach and I certainly do, since that was the week we decided to bike-pack half of the Colorado Trail! Maybe it was bad luck, maybe it was Nature forcing Zach to take a shower for once (zing!) but it was definitely an unforgettable experience that I long to repeat.

Grete and Green Moss

My adopted mantra, “This is going to be fun” rattled mockingly in my mind on the inclement morning of our departure. The grim 7-day forecast was out of my control, but I knew I had the power to keep my spirits up. The sky was saturated; shrouded in an impenetrable, hopeless gray that belongs in old maritime lore. In a jeering trial of morale, the heavens pelted us with angry raindrops as we loaded our bikes into Dave’s faithful Toyota PREVIA minivan, Bessie.

Dave biking through Remnants of the Hayman Fire

The clouds hung low as they unleashed their torrent upon us. We lingered in the garage packing and procrastinating. “You know, Moab’s forecast calls for warm temperatures and sun this week,” Dave’s mother Holly suggested brightly. Neither Holly’s alternative nor Mother Nature’s furious baptism were no matter, our hearts were set on pedaling through Colorado’s soggy autumn.

Bailey Resupply

To our surprise, an intermission in the storm greeted our arrival at the Waterton Canyon trailhead (the Northern terminus of the Colorado Trail, and the beginning of our pedal southwest). The rain was relenting, and an encouraging sapphire window was peeking through the sky’s gloomy veil. We burst into hollers of excitement, gitty with the prospect of dryness. We hastily unloaded our bikes from Dave’s PREVIA, reloaded the bikes with gear, saddled our mounts and hit the trail. This is going to be fun.

Grete Enjoying Some Roots on Kenosha Pass

That day, we wound our way up the lush, lonely Waterton Canyon, surmounting the ridge, descending the flip side, and eventually making camp a few miles into segment two. The trail made laidback work of the climb, twisting its way through the drainage and switchbacking like embroidery in the hills. The singletrack of the first section was well-constructed and fun—segment one would be an exciting out-and-back day trip to repeat without weight.

Photo by Grete

Photo by Grete

As an enthused cyclist but novice bike-packer, I found pedaling with added weight was initially very difficult. Luckily I got used to it, since we had seven more days of pedaling ahead of us!

Dave Descending Georgia Pass

And so the week rolled on, our emotions undulating like the terrain. The Lows came and quickly went like the rainstorms; lingering until bright rays of sunshine chased the clouds away.

Grete Breckenridge-Bound

“What comes down must go back up,” I brooded silently during one descent, tainting my own enjoyment with foreseeable toil. I caught a glimpse of the upcoming climb and my eyes widened with a sarcastic roll: “This is going to be fun…”

Dave Ascending Searle Pass Above Janet's Cabin

I felt my mood darkening, and as we began to climb again, ‘The Low’ was settling in. Every breath was a chore, every pedal stroke a throbbing burden. It wasn’t long until I submitted to defeat and dismounted, figuring I could make easier work of stumbling up the mud and rain-lacquered rocks. As I plodded every step, draped like a sloth off my handlebars, my feet hung limp at the ends of my legs. My head hung limp off my neck. I watched the ground pass, knowing that if I picked my chin up I would see the trail rising like a tidal wave before me.

Campsite Just below Kokomo Pass

I trudged on, fighting gravity, unaware of my whereabouts, steadily digging deeper into The Low. I paused for a moment. “Well this is an adventure,” I panted. And then it hit me. This is an ADVENTURE. I gripped the words with white knuckles. This is why I am here. Every breath is a gift, and every pedal stroke propels me closer to the top, closer to my goal. This is fun.

Restocking in Leadville

Eventually, in my rejuvenated spirit I found Zach and Dave who had stopped to rest and let their laughter ring through the forest. Their smiles stirred the bitter cloud that had enveloped me. And they gave me some gummy worms to eat, which helped too. Dave led Zach and me in a routine yoga session—a welcome change of pace for our weary muscles and minds. Limbered up and refueled, we pedaled on, excited for the ensuing descent. “This is going to be fun!!” we howled together.

Riding Through Aspen Groves at the Base of Mt. Elbert

Over the course of that week in the mountains, The Low sought each mind individually, when we were under separate pressures. But the highs were shared.

Dave Bursting Through Sunlit Aspen

We sped through descents together, our nonsensical whoops singing back and forth because the adrenaline in our veins bubbled right up and out of our throats. We tossed our heads back in laughter together, hearts thumping excitedly in our chests. We basked in the grandeur of the Colorado Mountains together, like specks among giants. We were alive together, relishing in the euphoria of adventure.

Descending to Clear Creek Resevoir

On the eighth day, we pedaled into Buena Vista together and smiling. Though Buena Vista is only at about the halfway point of the Colorado Trail, this was our end due to time constraints and technical difficulties. We made it. Memories of agonizing ascents melted with each high-five and congratulatory hug when we pulled into town. Almost immediately we burst into recounting silly stories from the trip. We spent eight days together and still had conversation to share. Silently, I sighed in reverie. That was so much fun.

Tunnels into Buena Vista

PS – If you dug this but wanted another take on the ride (including a video), check out Dave’s post about it at this link.

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Its Been a Tremendous Fall

Just to keep you all up to date… photos will be coming sooner or later concerning last winter, spring, and summer as well as this fall.  It has been a busy post-rafting season which has allowed no time for editing but I am going to work harder than ever before to get up stories this winter.  I believe that the blog may become a bit less written-story-focused and, instead, develop towards letting the pictures tell the story (also to expedite updates).  Adventures to look forward to include: rafting in Idaho, bikepacking on the Colorado Trail, Washington wandering and bikepacking the Kokopelli Trail… SO GET EXCITED!

Afternoon Camp Near Kokomo Pass

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Published!

10/2/2013 – A short written piece, by close friend Jonny Cromwell, and a few of my photos were published in Bunyan Velo’s 3rd Issue (link)!  Check out pages 128-137 for our first published bit of work discussing a bit of the Great Divide Basin from last fall!  Also, read the rest of the magazine (and its other issues) for awesome stories of adventure by two wheels and human power!

Bunyan Velo Issue 3

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Ferndale, MT to the Canadian Border (…and Back to Colorado)

10/4/2012 to 10/6/2012 – 6:30am is a rough time to wake up on a bicycle tour, especially when its below 15 degrees outside.  Rolling out of our sleeping bags in Ferndale, MT was not easy, but we had to get our camp packed up and out of the way for a morning church meeting.  So we worked our way through the frost and got moving. 15 Degree Morning in Ferndale, MT We then biked over to the gas station to attempt to make breakfast out on their picnic table.  Thankfully, we had an angel waiting inside for us who couldn’t believe we slept outside.  The store owner gave us coffee, ham, butter, and offered their stovetop/oven for us to complement our planned eggs and bread breakfast. Best Breakfast of the Tour While we sat in the beer isle and savored the warmth of the food, our Ferndale angel forcibly cleaned our camp cookware because “our mothers would be ashamed of us.” Dave Munching in the Beer Isle Our spirits were lifted and we were ready for the beautiful brisk day ahead.  We hopped on the bikes and headed towards Columbia Falls. The ride went smoothly and, upon arriving in Columbia Falls, we received a call from Dave’s friends Nick and Katie who were in Whitefish and wanted to grab a beer to catch up!  So we pedaled to Whitefish, grabbed some beer, then dinner, then they put us up in on their hotel room floor for the night (including an awesome lakeside hot tub hangout)!  That day really stood out because of the exceptional amounts of genuine hospitality and generosity Dave and I were presented with.  It certainly seems that down deep, people are genuinely good. The next day we headed northbound towards Glacier National Park with glorious views of massive peaks keeping our eyes excited about the road ahead.  We biked right along the North Fork of the Flathead River and put in some solid miles.  We ended up crashing that night at the Glacier Institute, just south of Polebridge, with friends-of-friends at the camp.  The evening spent with Beau and Jill was awesome and included: Packer burgers, free pitchers of beer, wild wolves, sleeping in the girl’s bunkhouse, and POINT BREAK.  Again, outrageous hospitality was the name of the game (I certainly do love Montana)!  We awoke to a delicious camp breakfast of leftovers from their summer programs and hit the road north, with full and warm bellies, into light snow showers.

Polebridge Mercantile

We hit Polebridge midday and enjoyed the (highly recommended) baked goods and warm coffee.  Then we rallied on towards the border, with frequent short bursts of snow to keep our spirits high.

Snowing On the North Fork Road Near Polebridge, MT

The views weren’t too shabby either…

Dave Biking with Glacier National Park Behind

After only a couple hours more of pedaling, we suddenly arrived at the Canadian border!

Dave Celebrating a Month of Pedaling on the Canadian Border

The feeling of reaching our goal was astounding, after having spent over a month in the saddle wandering northbound.  We celebrated by pounding free beers (given to us by the Polebridge Mercantile) and partying it up in the clearcut on the border.

Dave and I at the US/Canada Border in Northern Montana

The resolution of all that effort was both spiritual and soulful and we basked in that afternoon sunlight. The place was too special not to stay a bit longer, so we did, and set up camp out on a sandbar in the middle of the North Fork of the Flathead river… right on the border.  We then rallied our unlaidened bicycles (for the first time in over a month) around on the rocks and bushes for the sheer joy of riding.

Dave Rallying his Unlaiden BIcycle on the Canadian Border

Camping on the border that night was glorious, with a sky full of stars and an accomplished feeling in our hearts.

Camping on the Canadian Border

From there, we planned to bike through Glacier National Park on our way back south, to see some views! We attempted to sneak into the park through an ultra-sketchy river crossing which failed due to the 40 degree temperatures of both the air and water in the North Fork of the Flathead.  At least it offered some solid off-trail bicycling…

Dave and Glacier National Park

After another swing through Polebridge, we ended up getting into the park and camping up on Bowman Lake.  Its solitude and bliss were astonishing.

Bowman Lake, GNP, MT

The next day we rallied over 50 miles through the Inside North Fork Road to the southern end of the park, through West Glacier and Hungry Horse and down into Columbia Falls.  That night we stayed on the front lawn of a lifetime cycling enthusiast and Great Divide supporter, Tom.

Tom's Custom Track Frames

Again Montana’s outstanding hospitality shown through with a couple of beers, exchanges of stories, fresh coffee in the morning (another chilly night) and a tour of his frame-building and, current, vintage motorcycle obsession!

Tom's Beautiful Vintage Cafe-Racer

On the final day of riding, we pedaled the short distance to the Kalispell airport, rented a compact car and tetris-packed our bikes gear into it, then hit the road south.

On the Road South

16 hours, a whole bunch of coffee, and the extensive musical stylings of Kanye West and Lil’ Weezy later, we were back in Colorado… exhausted, elated, and disconnected with reality we stumbled out of the car and straight to bed (to unpack later).

Dave Back in Colorado

Dave’s face pretty much sums up the ride… 45 days, ~1700 miles, less than 5 days of sleeping indoors, and a whole lot less showers than the civilized world would appreciate made our stint on the Great Divide an unforgettable and life-changing experience.  If you can’t pull meaning out of that beautiful smile seen above, then you probably ought to get yourself out on your bike soon! We will be back to knock out the entirety of it (2700 miles from Banff, Alberta – Antelope Wells, NM) in the future… so keep checking in!

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Butte, MT to Ferdale, MT

9/25/2012 to 10/3/2012 – After waking up in the KOA we headed straight for Bad Beaver Bike Shop where we had arranged for Dave’s replacement parts to be dropped off.  Unfortunately, the parts were another day out from arriving, so we headed to the library to catch up on all things internet. Shortly after checking email, we figured we needed a beer and headed for a local watering hole.

It turns out Quarry Brewing is a great spot with a crazy amount of local love!  We enjoyed beers with a couple members of the “mug-club” as well as the owner/head-brewer, Chuck, and ended up staying for a few more beers than originally expected.  Then, Dave and I were easily convinced to follow one of the locals, Ryan, to the recently established Headframe Spirits distillery… where we put back a few incredible Montana Mules out of locally mined copper mugs.  Now, with our buzz coming on strong and evening approaching quick, we knew we needed to find a place to camp out for the night.  Thankfully, our new drinking buddy Ryan offered up his backyard, claiming “my wife won’t say no if we just show up!” So we did and ended up drinking more, discussing backcountry skiing around Butte, eating dinner with his family, and watching his 4-year-old son climb their home-made rock climbing wall.  What an awesome night and what hospitable and friendly locals!

Bad Beaver Bikes, Butte, MT

Anyways, the next morning we hit the grocer to stock-up, then headed to Bad Beaver Bikes to fix-up Beverly.  Ed, Bad Beaver’s owner, was excited about our story and hopped right in to help replace the failed bearings (which was much more of a project than any of us expected)!
Stubborn Bearing Replacement with Dave and Ed

After getting Beverly back and rolling, we hit the trail Northbound again.  We followed the “Ed Option” out of Butte, which proved to be an awesome avoidance of the highway riding posed by the standard route.

Chicken Squash Pasta Cooked in Red Wine

We ate like champions that night and enjoyed a warm campfire.

Campfire Time in MT

The next day we had the opportunity to ride some of the first “singletrack” that we had seen in a few weeks.  It was techy, trenchy, rocky, and super fun… So much fun that I had my first fully-loaded fatbike endo!

Lava Mountain Trail... Not Easy

That next night we camped out at Park Lake and enjoyed some swimming in its clear waters.

Park Lake, MT

It was a very peaceful night in another beautiful place, and the morning proved to be the same.

Morning at Park Lake

From there we biked into Helena, to resupply.  While there, I purchased my first (and only) replacement/maintenance part for Cousteau of the tour – a new chain – proving the overwhelming durability of this glorious bicycle.  From there, the trail took us up and over a couple small passes to Lincoln, MT.

Zany Fruits and Dave

The pedaling was powered by a diet of champions – cheese, salami, tang and zany fruits – and the riding was exceptional.

Dave Bombing Montana Dirt

Beautiful fall colors surrounded us and the forests glowed magnificently.

Forests in Fall "Bloom" Near Lincoln, MT

Dirty and Dusty Cousteau

From Lincoln we rode Northwest to Ovando and camped in their tiny town park (next to a museum, teepee and a shepard’s trailer).  Then we headed over to Seeley Lake and camped out with a good friend that I hadn’t seen in years – Shannon – who drove up from Missoula to visit for the night!  We dined on steak and thoroughly enjoyed the beautiful lakeside camping and good company.

Steaks in Seeley Lake

The next morning we woke up, said our goodbyes and headed north into the Swan Range.  The singletrack leading over a pass in the range was a welcome relief from the more common dirt roads of the trail.

Singletrack in the Swan Range

Our ride over the pass was filled with conversation and singing because of the looming presence of bears lurking around every blind corner.  Aside from the side focus on bears, the views and colors of the pass were downright beautiful.

Glorious Views and Color in the Swan Range

 

After cresting the pass, we continued northwest past Holland Lake and onwards to a random late evening campsite at Peck Lake.  The next day presented a cold day on the bikes as we pedaled through the Mission Range towards Swan Lake and Ferndale, MT.  On the plus side, we caught our first glimpses of the first snows of winter in the high peaks of Montana, which kept us going (along with a lot of coffee)!

Mission Range Pedaling

 

Arriving late in the evening in Ferndale, with no hopes of finding a campsite, we ended up camped out in the parking lot of St. Patrick’s Episcopal Church.  It was a cold night.

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Grand Teton National Park, WY to Butte, MT

9/17/2012 to 9/24/2012 – Waking up in the beautiful, albeit smokey, GTNP was inspiring.

Colter Bay Campground in Morning Light

We were surrounded by RVs but the campground woke up slow, so the usual drone of generators and general racket of modern luxury camping was absent.  We ate breakfast, broke camp and headed north along Jackson Lake.  Traditionally the route takes a hard turn to the west along John D. Rockefeller Highway and heads into Idaho along an old railroad route.  We decided that we ought to ride up through Yellowstone National Park instead, being that we had each already paid (under duress) the $12 park pass that gets you into both GTNP and Yellowstone, we would pedal a bonus 3 crossings of the Continental Divide, and Dave-o had never been to Yellowstone.

The Lewis River

The biking was pleasant and we enjoyed the authentic natural beauty of the Lewis River as we rode up into the park.  We stayed on Lewis Lake the first night and met up with our friendly neighbors from Colter Bay (the previous night in GTNP) around a campfire for beer and s’mores!  The next day we headed up to Grant Village on Yellowstone Lake, grabbed coffee, food supplies, and figured out that backcountry camping in the park was FREE… so we signed up for a night near the Lonestar Geyser.

Lonestar Geyser, Yellowstone National Park

It was perfect for us because it offered one of the few dirt trail bike rides in the park then a short half-mile-or-so hike into our campsite!

Hiking by the Lonestar Geyser

The camping seemed like a really good idea initially: it was free, away from RVs, and remote-feeling in a National Park… Then Dave went looking for a good location to pitch our tent and came upon what he assumed to be a huge boulder. Once he got nice an close, he realized that it was a huge bull buffalo munching down on some grass and came scampering back to camp a little spooked.

Our Buffalo Friend

After finding a good (buffalo free) campsite and cooking up some dinner we hit the sack. As the dark set in reality sunk in as well, and the park’s pre-backcountry mandatory bear aware video left us ultra-focused on the increased odds of meeting a grizzly bear that night; wrapped up in our sleeping bags, enclosed in a tent, miles from any other people… Lets just say we didn’t get the best sleep, packed up fairly quick the next morning and headed out.

Backcountry Camping Extraordinare

We were also excited to get back on the bikes because we were going to see Old Faithful and a handful of other geothermic wonders on our way to Madison for the night.

Excelsior Geyser Steaming

Dave really enjoyed it and did some deep thinking on the edge of the Grand Prismatic Geyser.

Dave Reflecting at the Grand Prismatic Geyser

The colors, caused by temperature differences in microbial growth, were sensational.

Grand Prismatic Geyser

Camping that night in Madison in the hiker/biker section was cheaper, but also right behind the campground office and still surrounded by RVs.  On the plus side, we met an awesome retired couple from Alaska on an open-ended international bicycle tour and the campground office hooked up its hiker/bikers with bottomless free coffee to take the chill off of the cold morning!

Montana!

Reconnecting with the route meant we had to go through West Yellowstone and over Targhee Pass.  We got held up in West Yellowstone with the conveniences of the modern world – bike shops, burgers, milkshakes, laundry, a post-office, 90 second showers (all we had money for), groceries, and KFC.  Then we attempted to bike over Targhee Pass to a recommended campsite on the other side of the pass, in the night, with semi-trucks flying by just off our handlebars.  We made it to within a half mile of the top (not realizing we were SO close) and swung into a forest service road to camp out.  Again, we feared for our lives being that we both reeked of fried chicken and were in bear country.  The sunrise from the pass was beautifully tinted by the haze of the forest fires burning strong nearby.

Sunrise on Targhee Pass

Crossing Targhee Pass dropped into Idaho (4th State of the trip) for an hour or two of pedaling before crossing back into Montana.  Reconnecting with the Great Divide route, we pedaled up and over Red Rocks Pass.  Aspens were prevalent and the the fall colors were glorious throughout the day!

Red Rocks Pass, Idaho

Near the top of the pass, we opted for some cattle “single” track and were cruising along, digging the technical fun of being off trail, until the trail disappeared. The quarter mile mega-suffer-fest back to the road took us through bushy undergrowth, tight aspen groves and plentiful downed trees.   At the top of the pass, we realized that we could have continued on the single track and a trail would have appeared only a couple hundred yards beyond our turning point.  Fortunately, we had a quality downhill off the backside of the pass as we rode into Red Rocks National Wildlife Refuge.   That night we camped along side the Upper Lake below the Centennial Mountain Range.

Red Rocks National Wildlife Refuge

From there we biked to Lima, MT and camped in their town park.  Although most would see Lima as a small dying town along side I-15, after drinking with the locals at the Peat, Dave and I were optimistic for their futures and excited about their faith in their little town.  We headed out the next morning for to ride into the southern end of the Bitterroot Range, claimed to be one of the more remote and memorable sections of the ride.

Riding up Big Sheep Creek

Unfortunately, a few miles up Big Sheep Creek Rd. Beverly (Dave’s bike)’s front hub decided that it was done. So we limped his bike out to Dell (smaller town alongside I-15) and started hitching.

Would You Pick Up This Hitchhiker?

We needed to get to a city with a bike shop to replace the bearings, so we figured Butte would be the spot.  Our first ride came after only a few minutes of waiting with a fellow cyclist in a BRAND NEW BMW SUV.  He had picked it up in Arizona and was driving back to his home in Spokane, WA – strait through – and was happy for the company!  He gave us a ride to Dillon, MT where he claimed the growing outdoor population ought to have the parts we needed and we could reconnect with the route (only missing a day’s ride).  Unfortunately the local bike shop didn’t have the parts we needed, and we couldn’t bike far for camping on Dave’s broken hub.  Thankfully Beth at the Patagonia Outlet put us up in their side yard for the night! Beth and Jimmy’s, her husband, hospitality was incredible and very appreciated! They insisted we eat their family dinner – an amazing homemade (and home-hunted) elk pasta – then forced us to use their awesome home-built sauna (way too hot)!

Riding back to the highway in the morning we hitched another ride, this time all the way to Butte.  Our ride came from a young climber in PA-school in (also from Spokane – must be friendly people out there!) who was excited to talk about our ride and discuss backcountry skiing in the northern Idaho ranges!  As he dropped us off, he asked that one of us add a sticker to our bikes to help answer peoples questions about the big tires… it says “I’m compensating” and I couldn’t have been any happier to have added it to Cousteau!

Cooking in Butte's Visitor Center Gazeebo

Butte didn’t offer any reasonably close free-camping, and after a failed couch-surfing attempt, we ended up in the $35/night KOA wedged between the interstate, a fried chicken joint, and downtown Butte… the worst campsite of the trip.  At least we were somewhere where we could get Beverly back and running the next day!

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