Thursday, August 15, 2013

Bikepacking attempt on the Colorado Trail part 3- Reality of Day 1

We pointed the van due west towards higher elevations and adventure. The jovial start to the trip slowly wore on with each of us taking a stint at driving and attempting to sleep. I probably got the most sleep at a generous estimate of 3-4 hours, but also had the last leg of driving the wee hours as we headed into a still sleeping Denver at 5 in the morning. We did a quick recon of our parking area before heading off in an attempt to find some solid food that would be our last solid meal for a few days.

Smart phones and google maps ablaze, we took no less than 3 attempts and several miles of scenic detouring only to end up less than a mile from where we started at a Waffle House. Given our road weary yet wired up sense of adventure, we were all ready to get this show on the road as soon as it was light enough to make our grand depart. Back at our generous host parking, we unloaded the van and finalized all our gear placement, checked pressures, emptied bladders, and got ready to roll. Finally, we were off.

The morning was crisp and sunny. but you could feel the heat building quickly. I for one was glad we would be escaping the Denver metro quickly and heading for higher elevations and cooler weather in the surrounding mountains. Not quite having learned our lessons from attempting to find something as simple as a Waffle House, we again turned to technology and Google routing to get us from our parking spot to the trail head at Waterton Canyon. Less than 1/2 mile from the house we found ourselves riding in circles trying to find the non-existent bike trail that would lead us out of our suburban sprawl. Finally we flagged down a lady walking her dog who pointed us to a small sidewalk running between two houses that led us to the main path. Disaster averted, we were on our way!

Lost in suburbia:

Our adventure would begin much sooner than we anticipated. We were routed forwards, backwards, down non-existent trails and finally to a closed private road. We could see where we wanted to go, but not wanting to blatantly cross a gate that was marked No Trespassing, we ended up riding along the railroad right of way paralleling the private road and heading as much in the same general direction of the trail head as we could. As the road veered off, we realized that following the rail line was now taking us away from where we needed to be. We backtracked a short bit to a drainage ditch/dry creek bed that appeared to at least have recently been cleared of all its debris leaving a nice sandy base to ride. After a few minutes though we were greeted with the end of the drainage and an non-passable gorge of rocks and riprap where it dumped into another channel.

Found the bike path to start:

Kyle bushwhacked his way up the edge of the ravine and declared it was at least rideable in the general direction we needed to go. It was also in the direction of some type of high security satellite array installation. It appeared we could skirt around the outside of the razor wired and fenced enclosure to make it to their access road that hopefully made its way back to the highway. Sweet freedom as we got done with blazing our own trail and hit the access road. Wait, what the?! At the end of the access road was another gate with fencing and wire stretching both directions along with call boxes and a video camera. To the left, the fencing ran clear back to the satellite compound and to the right, it died off at the edge of a steep ditch that was the back end of some type of storage business. Having no real choice at this point and not wanting to take our chances with whatever person might be on the other end of the call box, we snuck our way to the right side of the fence balancing along the edge of the ditch and rolling our bikes into the back of the storage lot.

Finally, luck would have it that the next gate was only latched as we hastily made our way through the storage area and onto the exit that would lead us to an actual road. Having given up on smart phone technology, I had turned on my Garmin and was navigating by general sense of direction since I didn't have a route plugged in other than that of our actual CT adventure. 90 minutes and a scant 14 miles later, we finally made our way to the CT trailhead at Waterton Canyon. A quick stop for a few pictures and we rolled onto the wide gravel path/road that comprises the first 6 or so miles of the trail.

Obligatory trailhead shot:

Not long after we started, we rolled past a snake sunning himself mid path. Taking a double look, I noticed it was a nice sized rattlesnake just begging for a picture. There was a stiff headwind coming up the canyon, but the road was relatively flat. I looked at our speed and tried to shake off the idea that I felt like I was working, but still only rolling 10-12 mph on a nice flat gravel path. We were out there for adventure and enjoyment, not trying to blaze the trail as fast as we could. As the sun kept baking us in the canyon, I was eager to get onto the trail proper and into some shade.


As soon as the path ended and transitioned to trail, we immediately started gaining elevation. Also nearly immediately, I punctured my front tire on a sharp rock. Seriously, less than 1/4 mile into the trail and I'm suddenly faced with sealant spewing out of the center of my tread. I quickly rolled it to the bottom and luckily the magic of tublessness worked itself out and sealed up tight without so much as even having to add air. The trail kept heading up in earnest and it wasn't long before we found ourselves digging deep into our lower gears. All in all, the grades and switchbacks weren't overly technical nor steep, but given an extra 30+ pounds of gear weighing down our bikes, the trail took on a life of its own.

Going up:

Even small or relatively simple technical sections became a quick game of seeing who would be able to clear it. Loaded as we were, hike-a-bike became a quick go to option. Of course, then there were sections that really didn't appear to be rideable even if we hadn't been laden with gear.


We kept working our way to the top of this section and were finally rewarded with some great views and an opportunity to point our bikes downhill. By this point, we'd made a few breaks for food and to chat with a couple hikers we'd passed. We also realized our handy all knowing (except for bike routing) trail guide was lazily sitting back in the van. I was doubly glad now that I'd taken the time to put our route into my Garmin as it would be our only source for navigation. We'd still be on our own for determining water sources, elevation gain, and miles between various waypoints along the trail.


From the overlook, we dropped like stones descending to South Platte river where we were more than ready for a lunch stop and water resupply. The balmy weather of the morning had chased us over the ridge and had turned the blast furnace on high as we headed down the hill. Our first major setback happened here. Somewhere on this descent, I overheated my front brake and the lever started going to the bar. I had very little stopping power from the front now and was relying heavily on my rear brake to keep me from flying off into the abyss. Without a good way to scrub speed at will, I had to resort to what felt like a snail's pace down the hill.

Shade and water:

Filtering for the next section:

Having been on the move for closing in on 6 hours, it was time for an extended break. My original lunch plans were to use my Kate's Real Food meal replacement bars with added snack food as my food source. The call was made to instead cook up some Ramen to keep the calorie deficit low and hopefully keep our energy up for the next section of trail. It felt nice to hang out by the river for a while as we cooked and reloaded on water. According to the trail head map, our next source of water would be 14 miles away at a fire station just before we'd enter segment 3. It was looking like a solid uphill push from our current location followed up by some contour riding.

After lunch we headed back out into a HOT afternoon. My hotshot homemade heavy on the dark chocolate trail mix had now turned into chocolate trail soup in a bag. I gave up on eating it at this point as it became too messy to eat without literally stopping and squeezing it out of the bag which in turned smeared it all over the bag before transferring to the rest of the gear. No thanks. We rolled out of our lunch oasis and headed up once more.

The next section of trail was yet another eye opener. I've ridden on a bunch of trail surfaces before, but never on kitty litter. Literally, the trail was very fine crushed red granite with the consistency of non-clumping cat litter. It had a base to it, but you still sunk in and when you needed to make any evasive or technical moves, it was an extra layer of effort to not wash out or spin your tires. The initial climb out of the valley was littered with loose switchbacks that were (for me at least) unrideable meaning we'd alternate riding 100 yards at a shot with hopping off to push the switchback. Ultimately I got tired of that game and just stayed off to trudge and push the bike as we wound our way into a blistering afternoon sun. Kyle would later tell me his Garmin read a high of 103 in this section.

We also managed to ride into a burn area in this section leaving us completely exposed to bake under the clear skies and blistering sun. A good portion of this climb was rideable, but at a decidedly Colorado pace turning over our granny gears. Riding ahead, I could turn back and get some spectacular shots of the moonscape we were traversing.

Kyle and Taylor in miniature:

Hayman burn area moonscape:

As we finally summited this climb, we rolled the undulating terrain in search of any form of shade. The heat combined with the effort was really unravelling us at this point. In an attempt to clear a loose bit of trail, Kyle got an up close and personal introduction to one of the extra spiny and thorny plants lining the side of the trail. Slowly picking his bike off of him and then easing his way out of the bush, we found a large number of spines now embedded everywhere from his hands to his back side. Dire situations call for dire actions, one of us had to remove said spins from places unreachable by Kyle. I won't say who got that lucky job, but my gloves may never be the same again...

Shortly we found a resting spot in a tiny patch of shade. If we were burgers, I think our temp range would have been from charcoal briquette to medium well. At least rolling on we were treated to less severe terrain and some actual flowing trail sections. Still fighting my front brake being gone, I had to lag off the back and couldn't even fully enjoy the speed of the trail. At least we were back off the face of the moon.

Friendlier trails:

We finally made our way to the end of the segement and found the fire station with the water resupply and best of all; shade. Time, mood, mechanicals, and energy levels being what they were, new plans started to formulate. A deputy sherrif was loading up his water as well before heading out on a back country patrol. We talked and joked with him for a bit and he showed us a map with a fire road option to skip the next trail section and how to make it to Bailey if we wanted to stop short and camp. The guy was a great source of help to us and a fellow mountain biker as well.

After he left, we started weighing all our options. We knew pushing on to the original planned mileage wasnt going to happen. Do we ride away from the water source and camp further down the road, do we ride to Bailey, or do we set up camp here and re-assess in the morning? Additionally, what were we going to do with my front brake and the looming descent off Georgia pass that had to happen before we could get to Breckenridge? All good questions.

We started calling people we knew in the area and trying to find out if there were any options with one of them giving us some help. Andy Lueck ended up being our saving grace driving out from Denver with a BB-7 stripped from his fiancee's bike and he brought beer as well! In the meantime, giving our situation and how the first day had treated us, we decided along with camping overnight near the fire station, one of us would ride back with Andy to pick up our van from Denver and then we'd just make decisions on the rest of the trip from there.

Mmm dinner time:

Sleeping accomodations:

Once this was decided, it effectively ended our original plan, but we also now had a whole new experience waiting to unfold as it would all be off script. As we finished the bike repair at the fire station, the sherrif returned from his patrol and bs'ed with us a while longer. He gave us a "free parking" car so we could stash the van overnight at the fire station without fear of getting it towed off. So, after our repairs and beers, it was time to call it a night for Taylor and I while Kyle was elected to go get the van.

Day 1 route
Colorado Trail: 1, Us: 0

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