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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
“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…”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.