Feeding the addiction

bird nerd!

Our addiction to high places and to places where trees cannot grow, continues.

run! the storms are building!

Sometimes that just means getting in the car, driving up high, and walking for a few hours. (We were also hoping to catch a couple of CDT hikers and ‘perform’ some trail magic of the egg/bacon/bagel variety).

Sometimes that means cranking out 3000 feet of climbing on granny gear roads.

Leading to ridgeline riding of the ‘dreamy’ variety.

Cranking out rideable trail above 13,000 feet? Surely a dream.

Back to reality … a little hiking now and then.

The Jones Pass section of the CDT is rarely ridden by mountain bikers. It was perhaps my favorite section of the entire four months on the CDT last summer. I was anxious to go ride it again — unloaded, and in the other direction.

I love places that make you question whether you’re still on planet earth. So outside the norm of what our eyes are used to seeing. So different than the usual routine.

Arizona is like that, too.

Can’t believe more people don’t ride this.

Well, the most direct access, from Herman Gulch, is kind of hike-a-bikey. We know, we went that way last summer. Going down was a piece of cake.

We continued on the CDT, replete with color and coasting. The CDT *is* the bikepath here.

We rolled into Georgetown on the path. But how can you loop this?

Eszter had a trick up her sleeve: a closed road turned trail through Empire Pass, climbing right above I-70. The perfect connection to make the loop. The connection also brings you to a place of great happiness: Lewis Sweet Shop!

Great sadness! No malts, sweet potato fries and candy for us.

On the remaining 1000 foot climb to close the loop we felt something rare for late September in the Mountains — scorching heat. Gentle tailwinds will do that to you, even with air temperature in the 60’s. We were dripping with sweat, and it kinda felt good.

We still had a couple of bike to hike adventures in mind, rolling from the door in Winter Park. There are lots around here, actually.

So we started on trails paved in gold, climbing away.

We took a new-to-us trail on old railroad grade. Very ‘alpine tunnel’-esque, nearing treeline.

Neither of us had made the full climb up to Rollins Pass and the divide yet, this season.

At the top, the pass is hemmed in by Wilderness. Ditch the bikes and get to walking, even if I forgot the inserts to my running shoes, fighting rolled ankles with every step.

Fellow divide travelers, crossing late in the day.

We made it out to Devil’s Thumb, sat a while, then began the slow walk back as the sun began its own slow descent.

Golden hour above treeline. Pure magic. We haven’t seen much of it, being too cowardly to camp in the ‘cold’ and generally starting so many unknown and new adventures with (what we hoped was) plenty of daylight.

This one was a little different. It was Eszter’s brilliant idea to watch the super moon eclipse from the divide. So we packed lights, puffy jackets and some slices of pizza.

The evening was incredibly warm. It was warmer than you’d expect even in the middle of summer. But once the sun’s influence was only detectable on the fading slice of moon low in the sky, it did get cold. We shared Eszter’s sleeping bag, then about halfway through the red moon, we packed up to start riding down.

point and shoot attempt to capture the blood eclipse

A fair number of other folks had the same idea as us — Rollins had some dozens of cars parked along it. Chairs were set up. People yelled, “you guys are hardcore” as we coasted down past them. We turned onto Broken Thumb to descend singletrack. We both had the same realization. Night riding is fun! We don’t do enough of it.

As usual, after 1.5 or 2 hours, night riding gets a little old, and we had the same realization: riding during the day is better, duh. We joked about the world ending, and that maybe only those above treeline, or in federally designated Wilderness would be saved. Isn’t it about time we start believing in things that are real and that actually matter, instead of fairy tales? Maybe we could believe in ourselves, and the human race in general.

We climbed the ‘hill of doom’ back to the condo just as the moon was getting its full shape completely back.

The next hike+bike adventurita started just as before, climbing aspen laced trail.

We climbed roads that are closed to cars and hid from hail under trees.

We patiently waited for mom and calf to yield the trail.

How kind of them to install a bike rack, just below treeline.

The combo of bikes+feet can take you some amazing places. Our goal was the pile of rocks just visible on the ridge above Eszter.

That one! Supposedly it is a monument to a shepherd that died in a snowstorm up here. Quite a view from the monument.

Wide open tundra running. So much fun.

We had to make some haste, with a 5pm deadline to pick up the van from the shop. Good thing we can sorta run.

Ez directed us to some primo trails, dropping all the way down into Fraser, arriving with 20 minutes to spare. Pizza was ordered, disbelief was uttered, at how well the adventure went and how lucky we are to be able to do this, together. Scanning the mountains above us for where we had gone, and the area we now have intimate knowledge of, we realized you can see the shepherd’s monument from town! Too cool. I love it that I can look around at so many of the ridges and peaks around Winter Park and know them.

It’s October now. Much longer will the high country be open?

6 Million Trackleaders

I’ve been meaning to write this code for a while. It would dig through the trackleaders archive, and do a little counting. The results are a little staggering, at least to me.

That’s a lot of tracking, a lot of adventure covered. 6 million miles!

It started back in 2008 or 2009. I was still finishing up my PhD, and working on TopoFusion when I could. Matthew Lee was keen to promote ‘the’ Tour Divide, and bring home the experience of the race to friends, family and fans. He put together a small fleet of SPOT Gen1 devices, and tracked the (then small) event with the help of Kevin Montgomery.

Matthew offered to track my event, the Arizona Trail Race. I turned him down! I felt like it changed something fundamental in the race, and like it might give some indication that it is a ‘real’ event (it’s not). I was resistant to new technology, just as I had been when I first starting riding with a GPS — back in 1999 (when Selective Availability was still in effect). I don’t need no stinking GPS! Map and compass has always worked just fine! Silly me.

Somewhat ironically, it was my friend Mike Curiak that pushed me towards tracking. The next winter he was heading out for another go at his fully unsupported Iditarod expedition. He was carrying a SPOT device. Jill Homer and I took over his blog and were tasked with writing speculative updates as he hauled his 100+ pound bike across Alaska. Our primary source of information? SPOT tracking data.

I started writing code inside TopoFusion to read and analyse the data. Soon I had the pieces I needed to create a tracking system. It sounded like a fun distraction from my PhD work, which I was trying to draw out until they kicked me out of school for taking longer than the 10 year (!) limit. Of course riding bikes was the main distraction….

Matthew saw that I was building the system he wanted, and quickly got in touch. I agreed to track the next Tour Divide, a little hesitantly. You see, at this point I was still the webmaster and a co-organizer of the Great Divide Race. The GDR was the original divide race, and though it was quickly dying, the dust had not completely settled from the ‘divide wars.’ That Matthew and I were able to see past any previous differences and work towards a common goal is something I’m still proud of.

We had a lot in common — a passion for mountain biking, camping, bikepacking and racing. We wanted to share bikepacking passion with the world and get more people into it. We also were looking for a way to make all the time we had for years been volunteering towards the sport be… more justified, at least in our heads. We knew there wasn’t an actual *living* to be made from bikepacking (and there still isn’t) but we could feel better about the time spent answering thousands of emails and zapping SPAM on bikepacking.net, if a little bit of actual rent-paying dollars were coming in.

And that’s how it started, more or less. We had a small fleet of trackers sitting idle most of the year, so it was only natural that we look for other events for them to participate in. The goings were very slow at first. People were resistant to technology, resistant to change, just as I had been. We had to ‘seed’ events in the beginning — working for free, or for peanuts. There were lots of late nights working on the code, with very little reward. Race directors had lukewarm responses to tracking. There was no room in their budget to pay for it.

Luckily, and this is another great thing about the trackleaders partnership, we are both very fiscally conservative. We kept our expenses to a minimum — trying for a sustainable business model. We know how to live like dirtbag bikepackers, and that mentality transferred over to our business, I guess. Keep it simple, carry only what you need.

We were also very self-motivated. The (then small) set of bikepacking races kept going every year, and we were as big of fans of them as anyone. I’d be following the Colorado Trail Race and wonder what the weather was like over Eszter’s head, over the ‘EH’ not-quite-yet-pink dot (pink came later). So I’d add a radar layer. We’d be following the leaders on the divide and want to compare paces and rest/run cycles, so the Race Flow chart was born.

Somehow we survived through the early years of almost no revenue coming in, while working our asses off. Slowly, things began to change. Race directors started to see tracking as essential. After a year or two of free tracking, adding it to the budget was a no-brainer. Other events saw that people were using tracking and said ‘me too!’. Our hard work in seeding had payed off. Whole new genres were opening up to us.

There are only two of us, so there’s really only so many events we can handle (sustainable business, or something like that). We didn’t need to go seek out new events, and seed them, after a while. We tracked some major ones that proved to be too much work and too much stress. Sleep deprivation is one thing on the bike, but I’m much less a fan of it on the computer. 3am phone calls get old, after a while.

And it’s working. I guess we’ve achieved some small level of ‘success’ in that we are making a living out of it, and have plenty of work. I’m very happy and grateful for that. It’s rewarding work in that it can be fun, and aligns with my interests and passions. It’s portable work, allowing Eszter and I to live our vagabond lifestyle that we love so much (even if there is a lot of uncertainty involved in how and when I need to work). Both of these advantages outweigh the ‘downside’ that I could maybe be making more money doing something else, or working for someone else. Time and quality of life are worth a lot, too — much more than money, in my humble opinion.

Along the way we’ve had some considerable luck and the kind and patient help of many. Dave Harris has offered many suggestions and wrote BlueDot for us! (Thanks Dave). Enthusiastic fans have offered all sorts of input and feedback that has shaped the software and the way we run things (particularly in the dog sled world). Eszter’s dealt with late nights, 2 am phone calls from Matthew, and sudden changes in plans (let’s ride! oh wait, maybe not!). Early race directors believed in us, and believed in tracking. Bikepackers offered their support, and kept renting devices from us, helping us stay afloat. Fans, family and racers alike have hit the ‘donate’ button to support access to ‘radio free’ tracking.

Brush Mtn Lodge – the legend

I’m very grateful for Matthew and how understanding he’s been throughout the partnership. I mean, I was a homeless bike bum for four months last summer, with only a shiny new smart phone and a cheap laptop waiting in strategic Post Offices. We tracked *a lot* of events during that time, and somehow avoided any major catastrophes. We work well together, even though we’ve only spent a ~week or so in each others presence, total. Matthew lives in North Carolina. We met at the start line of the 2005 Great Divide Race. He came to Arizona to race Coconino and hang out at my house for a few days. We spent a few more days at Brush Mountain Lodge, meeting racers and running TD unofficial HQ, one year. That’s it, that’s the total time we’ve ever spent together.

home cooking for TD racers

It’s been a bit of an unlikely and maybe an odd partnership, but it’s been a good one, even as we’ve made some mistakes. SPOTs get lost in the mail or held up in customs. Races have been delayed waiting for a shipment. I’ve fallen asleep with my phone on vibrate — unable to wake me. The server has crashed, overwhelmed with traffic. Bugs have prevented people from getting updates. I’ve torn my hair out over differences between web browsers and anything having to do with Internet Explorer. Then there was the time I got a text from Matthew saying he was on a last minute flight to Canada (!) to personally deliver a box of SPOTs that weren’t going to make it otherwise. Or the time we forgot to renew the trackleaders.com domain registration, and it happened to expire the very day Tour Divide started. Oh yes, there have been some funny ones. Or at least stories that are funny now, in retrospect.

same awesome logo – we are so PRO

But by and large, it’s been incredible. We’ve tracked many cool events, seen records blown away on our website, and provided additional safety and peace of mind to many. It’s fun work, and I hope it continues to be so for another 6 million plus miles.

A fleeting fall

We set up camp in the shadow of Mt. Shavano, and just outside of Salida. We needed a tiny bit of recovery after the 14ers and such, and Salida is the perfect place. We have friends to visit, there’s a friendly bike shop, a hot spring / rec center, and even my favorite dentist is in town. We worked at the library, I got my teeth cleaned, Reilly at Absolute got Ez’s bike rolling with new (chainring) teeth, and we generally basked in one of our two favorite places (the other being Tucson). “I love Salida” was uttered, many times.

Oh yes, we love Salida-town!

We fooled ourselves into thinking that we could ride North Backbone / Cottonwood as a recovery ride.

It’s a classic, but recovery it is not. Lower wash section is riding a little rougher than usual, but still tons of fun.

We reluctantly packed up camp after a few nights, motivating to head over to Gunnison. There was no way we could pass over Monarch Pass without riding the ‘Crest.’

One of my favorite ways to ride it is as an out and back — more time spent above treeline and enjoying life on the ribbon of singletrack goodness.

I came up with the idea to add a big mountain climb to the out and back.

At 13,970′ Mt. Ouray is just shy of a 14er. The only tangible difference is that it’s far less traveled.

And there’s not much of a route up it. Lots of fun (and largely lacking exposure) boulder scrambling.

Lunch date! We pulled out the pizza from Amicas the night before and enjoyed what is probably one of the best views from a Colorado (near) 14er.

Salida is down there! S-mountain! The aspens are electric in the northern canyons of Ouray.

Ouray really stands out, making the crest and everything beyond seem low and flat.

We’re addicts to this kind of ridgewalking, it’s true.

It’s surprising to still see flowers up so high.

Back on the bikes, time to flip the Crest, back from Agate Creek. Perfect way to finish of a mountain climb. We knew we’d pay for the energy spent, eventually.

We coasted down to Gunnison in the van, meeting Jefe and Rachel for dinner. A ride plan was set for the next day in Crested Butte. We camped at Hartmans.

Oh, Crested Butte, your siren song is strong.

Your views are huge.

Your climbs are steep.

Your ridgelines are the stuff of dreams.

The raw ingredients of magic.

Almost too good to be true. Perhaps it is.

Sitting outside Teocali Tamale, devouring delicious food, the scene was as idyllic as ever in CB. I think I described it well back in 2010:

“A giant burrito at Teocali’s was what Dr. Morris prescribed himself. The speakers vibrated the soothing guitar of the Grateful Dead. Beautiful girls and little kids rode by, seemingly in greater numbers than cars. The sun would shine and warm things up and just as it approached ‘hot’, the clouds would cover things up. Bikes were parked everywhere. People were smiling. Live music spread itself from the park into the streets of downtown. The mountains surrounding promised adventure and discovery, beauty and wonder.

Crested Butte seemed a utopia, the perfect place. I knew in the back of my head that this was not true. But I let myself believe and enjoy the lie. I was here, this was now, why not buy into a myth, temporarily, and one that leads to happiness?”

Why not, indeed.

A busy and lethargic morning at the coffee shop was spent working, then we pointed the van over Kebler Pass, taking dirt roads through endless gold aspens. We were too tired to ride, but I enjoyed seeing the country from the window of the van.

After a short and rejuvenating soak in Penny hot springs, along the Crystal River, we hit the supermarket in Carbondale. The goal was to pack for another big day in the mountains — this time of feet. The “Four Pass” loop in the Maroon Bells was our idea.

(sign from Winter Park)

Unfortunately, we needed a place to lay our little heads somewhere nearby the trailhead. All campgrounds were full within a 50 mile radius, and we weren’t about to pay $250 for a night in an Aspen hotel.

Dirtbag skills fail. I guess we shouldn’t have been too surprised given that it was a Saturday night. We were probably too tired to pull off the 26 (28?) mile loop on foot and enjoy it, anyway.

So our ‘making it up as we go’ style failed, once, this entire summer — or year. Not too bad, when taken in the average. Life is pretty rough when your worst problem is not being able to find a place to legally camp.

We called it a successful week in the Colorado Mountains, and were happy to return to the warmth of indoors for a night. Camping isn’t as fun, for us, when the van’s windshield frosts over, our bottles freeze, and when it’s dark at 7pm!

Rainbow tree!

I feel like I’ve gone on and on about how short and fleeting fall as a season is in the high country. The same can be said of life in general, of course. Don’t take it for granted. Don’t get stuck in a routine and watch it pass by.

At least this fall, there was more than enough to go around. More than enough for us to bury ourselves. We couldn’t take advantage of every day, even as the days continue beautiful and bluebird. But it’s a nice feeling, just going for a simple birding walk with your love, knowing you are deeply tired, knowing that you gave the season your all.

That, and we plan to head out again. The Four Pass loop and other high places continue to call… oh, and I have to go back to the dentist, so I guess we *have* to go back to Salida.

I continue to be ever so grateful for everything that allows us to do this — time, opportunity, health and an eager and awesome adventuring partner.

Huron Peak and Mt. Sherman – mountain biking 14ers

descending off Huron — dream riding

I didn’t think it was going to happen. If you’d asked me a week ago whether I’d be riding down Huron Peak, after having summitted, I would have put the likelihood somewhere close to zero. Yet there I was, late on a Saturday afternoon, sun shining bright on an empty 14,000 foot mountain. I clip into my pedals with a mixture of fear and amazement. I’ve pushed and ridden up the trail, so I *think* that I should be able to ride down most of it. I can’t wait to go find out just how much…

Originally I had volunteered to provide ‘glamping’ support for Eszter and Sara as they rode a Searle/Kokomo loop as an overnight. I was going to meet them Saturday night with camping gear and a big pizza from Mountain Pies. Sara had a different idea when we met her at Copper Mountain. They wanted to do it in a day.

My plan was still to head to Leadville, to fix some headlamps in the van and do some work at the coffee shop. I checked in on the seven (!) trackers Trackleaders had going, and everything seemed to be going well. I fixed a few things. I fixed a few headlamps on the van. Then, I looked around.

And what did I see? Nothing but blue sky. Warm sun my skin. In Leadville, in September. This was too rare a day to spend inside, on the computer. I weighed the costs against being an irresponsible business owner, but in the end I simply could not resist such a beautiful day. I could not resist the call of the mountains.

The call of one mountain, in particular, was supremely strong. It’s been near the top of my short list of 14ers that are 1) open to bikes and that 2) I haven’t already ridden. I’ve had a renewed interest in riding 14ers due to the enthusiasm of a small group of riders, independently seeking to ride/hike them all this summer. I am not seeking to ride them all, but all the talk has got me fired up to get back up and try a few.

Huron piqued my interest because there seemed to be some good trail involved, making me think it might be rideable. It was also very interesting because no one was certain whether it was open to bikes or not. According to my array of topo sources, the summit is just barely inside the Wilderness boundary. But, the trail, is not. Various maps listed it as a “hike/horse” trail only — but often those are just suggestions. I doubt anyone would suggest that Huron is a good ‘bike trail.’ I was able to google and find a photos of the above sign, which does not indicate that bikes are not allowed anywhere. But, maybe there’s a carsonite somewhere or some other indication that the trail was closed to bikes. I sure couldn’t find indication of anyone trying to ride it, but then who would think to try climbing a trail with 3000’+ of gain in just over 3 miles?

Well, I’m not the only one. But I sure was interested. I hit the road as quickly as I could, knowing that time was tight. The sun sets early in mid-September, and I needed to get back to Leadville at a reasonable hour in order to meet Eszter and Sara, since I had the camping gear and such. I ditched the car at the trailhead for Hope Pass, glad to be riding my bike on the potholed road instead of driving it. I parked there knowing I could ride a new stretch of CDT from Winfield on the way back. That would be my consolation if the trail was closed.

My heart was racing as I climbed the 4×4 road towards the trailhead. Cars were parked in random spots where people gave up on the road and decided to walk. Would the trail be open? Would it be closed? What do people think of seeing a mountain biker up here?

Zero indication of closure to bikes at the trailhead. I know it’s not Wilderness. We are good to go!

The first piece of trail is unrideable, perhaps barely even a trail, despite the use. OK, it’s open to bikes, but a more important question remains: is this actually a good idea? Will any of it be rideable, or will I push my bike both up, and down?

Only one way to find out. I set my standards low: as long as I rode 20%, up or down, it was going to be worth it. As long as I got up high on my feet and saw some alpine terrain, I was going to be happy.

To my surprise, I found myself riding, uphill. Wow. The switchbacks were impossible — super tight and stepped with rocks. But I could dig into the pedals and ride between.

Near treeline the rocks dissipated and I climbed and climbed, still clipped into the pedals. I couldn’t believe the nicely benched trail, reasonable grade and lack of obstacles. Am I really on a trail that leads to a 14er?

I emerge from the trees into a stunning alpine basin. Hikers are streaming down from the top, each with their own word of encouragement or funny comment to make when they see me. Everyone is enthusiastic. Some take photos. A couple mountain bikers have lightbulbs go off over their head. They’ve never considered that something like this could be attempted and could even be possible.

Open dirt trail, at 13,300′? Why yes, I will pedal up that, thankyouverymuch. Rideable switchback near the top? Are you kidding me? This is such a brilliant place to be, and even more brilliant to have a bike.

Of course, even after riding up even the most mellow of sections above 13k, I collapse on my handlebars, dizzy and unable to even see straight. Anaerobic efforts may or may not be advised in the thin air, but I could not resist, even though I knew continuing to hike-a-bike was easier, faster and more sustainable. I didn’t care. Once my eyes uncrossed, I’d clip back in and attempt to pedal the next stretch.

Deep, deep breaths of life.

About 400′ shy of the summit I pull out the phone to check in on the tracking world. All good. My topo app tells me I am sitting on the Wilderness boundary. Ahead the trail is nothing but talus, boulders. I didn’t think I will even be able to ride back down, and with the potential Wilderness ahead, I ditch the bike.

A curious goat stands at the summit. He’s growing fuzzy with the start of a winter coat. By the time I reach the top, he’s gone — magically out of sight. Where’d he go?

The summit. Barely a 14er, but I’ll take it.

The sun shines bright. The wind is calm. Barely a cloud in the sky at 4pm. It’s only me, the magic mountain goat, and a large raven circling overhead. Pure magic.

I don’t want to leave. I know how special this moment is, but also know how ill equipped I am to truly appreciate it. I try anyway. I thank the universe, at large.

Time to head down. I surmise maybe a couple stretches could be ridden, or attempted, by the right brave soul.

A look at the trail as it makes its way through the basin. The mountain goat appears near where I left my bike. But again, but the time I get there, he’s gone. I swear he’s magic. I can see everywhere, seemingly. How can he disappear with his bright white coat?

The descent is high focus. Slow, deliberate movements. Careful braking. Switchbacks are falling. My smile is growing. No skidding, no shredding, no ripping. This is backcountry riding at its finest.

I stop here, looking at the Three Apostles, near treeline, exhausted and absolutely buzzing.

Continuing through the trees it becomes, as expected, a ride between switchbacks type of affair. I manage a couple, and hoot with excitement. But most, I walk. Some of the chunk between switchbacks engages upper level “ride or walk” decision making. Often, in solo mode and with an empty mountain, I choose walk. Sometimes, “ride” is chosen. I get away with some calculated stairsteps and chunky madness that only makes me smile even harder.

I shoot out onto the 4×4 road to cheers of the hikers congregated at the trailhead, sharing beers. They are stoked that I made it. A nice tail wind shoves me down the road, passing several trucks picking their way down the road. Bikes = win, here.

Even on the graded road out of Winfield I am passing cars. I don’t know if its the tail wind, or the fact that I am buzzing with so much energy I can barely stand it, so I pedal hard. I’m so excited, and I’m also trying to hurry back before the sun sets.

Just an incredible day in the mountains.

(Side note: thanks to Jessica Martin, who is on the quest to ride all the 14ers, we now know that Huron is officially open to bikes, even to the summit. Many thanks to USFS out of Leadville and to Jessica, both for the 14er inspiration and for following up on this question after hearing me rave about it). Do note that I have an optimistic memory of things, and Huron is still *largely* a hike-a-bike.

photo by Eszter Horanyi

After a night camping above Leadville, we said goodbye to Sara and went to the coffee shop to catch up on work. The forecast was again for zero chance of rain, so we knew we wanted to get up high somewhere. I suggested the closest 14er, Mt. Sherman. Ez kindly agreed, thinking at first she would try to ride it, too. When we got a look at the trail she thought better of it, and switched to feet.

Where’s Waldo? Spot the dork pushing his bike up a scree field? — photo by Eszter Horanyi

It was probably a good call, as the approach from the Leadville side is mostly a hike, and full of boulders. I did manage a few highly rewarding pedal sessions, but they were short lived.

Once on the ridgeline, the wind was, as we had been warned, very strong. Ez hiked on well ahead of me, and as I stopped to talk to some hikers, some of them were getting knocked over. Some of them were getting knocked into me! I had to keep a careful hold of my bike. It was acting as a sail, wanting to fly off the mountain.

Ez came back down to see if I was still going to continue on. She said it was too windy to even walk at the next saddle. “You could crawl, I guess.” I didn’t like my chances of being able to ride down *any* of the mountain, but after a snack off the ridgeline, we decided to continue on.

photo by Eszter Horanyi

It was a good call. With caution it was no big deal, and it was calm at the top. The last tenth of a mile is rideable. How often do you get to ride ‘singletrack’ above 14,000 feet? Pinch me.

photo by Eszter Horanyi

Going back down required even more caution. A few times I had to grab the bike with both hands and crouch down, crossing saddles. But with a little patience, lulls would come. I’d drop the seatpost, get far behind the seat and slowly bounce my way down.

It was really surprising how much control you have. I think it was safer to ride than walk down a lot of it!

looking back up at Sherman’s ridge

Coming down from the saddle, the wind was still there, but it was constant, not gusting. So you can apply a constant correct for it, and riding was fine. I was brought back to the upper switchbacks of Huron, making very slow, deliberate movements, keeping tires in constant traction with the ground, and inching around switchbacks. Dream riding.

Ez made better time than me through the boulder field, but not once did I regret bringing the bike.

That makes nine 14ers by bike, depending on how you count them, for me. I would love to do Sherman again, from the more rideable Fairplay side — and with less wind on the ridge!

Energy was getting a little low, but Leadville has one of the best aspen-laced rides anywhere in the state — the Colorado Trail from Halfmoon to Twin Lakes.

It’s not quite prime time out there, with many aspens still green.

Ummm, but, yeah, that will do. Pockets out there are definitely what I’d call ‘prime time.’

The CT is a prime trail, too. This stretch was the first piece of CT I ever had the privilege to ride.

Ahh, fall in Colorado. It really is the best time of year. Whether you get up high and enjoy the bluebird days and lack of snow, or stay in the trees and bask in the colors of the season, get out there!

Our water was freezing camping up by Halfmoon, so we headed for the Banana Belt (Salida) the next day. We love this place. Hopefully the lovely fall weather will continue as our tour of Colorado friends and friendly trails continues.

Alpine Season in Winter Park

I feel so lucky to be able to experience prime alpine season here in Colorado. The monsoonal flow has settled down, days are still warm, and snow is a non-issue. It’s time to get high!

With this comes an appreciation for the freedom and opportunity we have, being mobile and able to live wherever we want. With it also comes an appreciation of some of the sacrifices we make to be able to do this. Things like the lack of a stable ‘home’ that is ours. Reliance on online connections for part of our sense of community — community is hard to find when you’re always moving. That all our belongings have to fit in one minivan. That we have to keep our expenses low in order for things to be sustainable.

Sometimes friends come to you. A big Enduro brought J-bake and Krista up to race. We got to host them here (though Krista crashed in her super cool camper van outside — she loves that thing). The jokes were many (really, Enduro is too easy to make fun of, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth it), but they raced very well. Krista took home the overall series win and a couple of nice checks for a good ‘payday’ on the weekend of racing.

We pedaled up the resort to cheer and take some photos. Descending from the top (on the easy jump trails) was a hoot, even on my ‘little’ bike. I think a day or two of runs up there might have to happen.

Most of the high terrain around here is not really open to bikes. But it all calls to us. We’ve been trying to ‘paint’ every open ridgeline in the area with our GPS tracks.

One major hole was the CDT from Berthoud Pass heading north. It’s difficult to traverse outside of a thru-hike, mostly because of the time it takes and the logistics of shuttling it. Eszter had a plan: trust the labor day crowds of hikers and drivers to get us down Rollins Pass road, and back up to the van at Berthoud. I’m not a fan of ‘hitching’ in general, or relying on it, but when hiking on the CDT, do as the thru-hikers do, I guess!

There was some trail at the beginning, but we quickly abandoned it in favor of the ‘red line’ of the Jonathan Ley CDT maps. It sticks to the ridgeline and the divide.

In the case above, we should have stuck to the ridgeline, climbing a small hill instead of traversing this loose slope.

The wind howled and ripped through us. I brought gloves for rock scrambling, but ended up wearing them most of the time for warmth.

Then the sun would hit us in a lull of the wind, and it was so nicely warm.

Descending from Parry Peak, we got a look at the traverse the Ley maps warned about. If you don’t like exposure, don’t go this way, he says.

Ice lake sits with a huge natural dam, guarding the entrance to the traverse.

How hard could it be, if dozens of thru-hikers go this way?

Pretty dang cool that they do. It’s some fun scrambling, but I was happy I didn’t have a heavy pack on for it!

At James Peak the trail provided — a very kind group of folks offered to give us a ride from Rollins not just back down to Winter Park, but back up to Berthoud Pass, too. They provided nice company to chat with as we descended to Rogers and beyond. Ez’s plan worked out beautifully, and it was one of my favorite hikes, ever.

The next adventure was my plan, but it would have been nice if I’d come up with it before noon. That way we could have started before two. Days are rapidly getting shorter.

Still, I had the hair-brained scheme to ride some CDT that is hemmed in by Wilderness on both sides. We weren’t even sure if it would be signed closed to bikes or not, right at the Henderson Mine trailhead.

Bless the mountain bike gods, the trail was explicitly signed as open to bikes at the bottom. Bless them further — the trail was nicely rideable up through the trees to connect with the CDT.

It broke out of the trees and our jaws dropped. Alpine riding of the highest caliber that we’d never heard of. The holy grail of Colorado mountain biking.

I had lusted over this stretch of singletrack, from high above on Vasquez Peak last week. I figured it might be open to bikes, but that it wouldn’t make any sense to try to ride it as an out and back.

Ah, but if bikes are ditched and running shoes donned, you can continue on the CDT.

Continue on, off the trail, to ridgelines that capture the imagination and make you feel small.

ravens or crows? ravens!

Continue on, to Mt. Nystrom, with another ridgeline painted.

marmot or wolverine? probably not wolverine

Time was short, so we put the running shoes to good work once back on the CDT. With a 10-20 mph tail wind, I could pretend I could run some gentle uphill grades, at 12k. I love pretending to be a runner.

Back on the bikes, the dream of the bike-hike combo comes to full fruition.

In other words: coasting. Glorious, lovely coasting.

No coasting here. Not over the handful of downed trees either. No matter, we were back quickly, and just before sunset. Another semi-dubious plan that came together beautifully.

Sadly, our energy is not infinite, and we can’t get out to paint alpine ridgelines all the time. We also have qwertying that needs qwertyizing at home (trackleaders has seven events starting this week / weekend). But we have been enjoying a new hobby, and one that is more passive than most of the stuff we do: birding! They are fun to watch at home, and on long but slow walks through the woods and meadows. Cameras and binoculars. I think it’s becoming a bit of an obsession for Ez. I think it’s a good one, and have always wished I knew more about birds… not to mention mammals, plants, berries, mushrooms, etc.

The ridgelines around here are so grassy, so friendly and so open… they just call to me! We didn’t have the energy or time to do anything significant, but we went out simply with the goal to ‘be’ in the alpine and enjoy being up there. Napping, chilling, looking around. Walking slowly. It was lovely.

We walked a small loop that included the aqueduct, a short scramble, and a return on the CDT. Just perfect.

Here’s hoping the alpine season continues another few weeks, and that we have the health, strength and opportunity to get out in it.

Ride to the hike – Byers and Vasquez Peaks


Look! Proof that we occasionally hit the trail early.

I was overly excited and awoke at an uncivilized hour. It’s not every day you have a new peak to climb, accessible by bike/foot right from ‘home.’ Alpine(ish) starts are a good idea when heading above treeline in Colorado, too.

did you know …. [Continue reading]

Hot Sisters Hot Springs Route Photo Roll [2 of 2]

Let’s continue on with the second half of the photo reel. Part one left us at Oakridge, roughly halfway through the loop.

big tree went boom

The route hits some deep wooded singletrack, a very pleasant 98 degree ‘warm’ spring, and some roads, leaving town.

Paved roads aren’t the first choice …. [Continue reading]

Hot Sisters Hot Springs Route Photo Roll [1 of 2]

The Hot Sisters Route came together we’re putting the route on the fast track to being published. There will much more info to come, but for now we have a page coming together over at bikepacking.net:

Hot Sisters Hot Spring Route

The route is ready to go — email me if you’d like GPX …. [Continue reading]

Adding some Pacific Crest Trail to the Hot Sisters bikepacking route

Eszter and I spent a few days scouting an alternate route for an exciting new bikepacking route that just came to life this month. It’s a five or six hundred mile backcountry loop highlighting singletrack, hot springs and mountain climbs (on foot) all through the central Cascades in Oregon.

Despite the fact that bikepacking and …. [Continue reading]

Day 23 – Wrapping it up on Mrazek

Done. A little more than three weeks, which is pretty much what we guesstimated. It all came together supremely well.

We got up lazily from camp at Devil’s Lake. I love camping in the same spot for multiple nights. A few miles climbing on the pavement back to the Metolius Windigo trail took us through …. [Continue reading]

Day 22 – Hey South Sista!!

It wasn’t an alpine start, but I did wake up earlier than normal, excited about the day ahead. We were camped at the trailhead for the South Sisters Climbing Trail. 6 miles and 5000′ up was the top of the volcano, one we have been looking at, and riding around, for the last 3 weeks. …. [Continue reading]

Hot Sisters Day 21 – Metolius Windigo Trail , from horsey to bikey

A few hours ago we pretty much completed the loop, reaching the top of the Mrazek trail, which is a heavily ridden and mostly downhill ride into Bend. We could have been done in a few short and easy hours.

But, we are not done! We have our biggest climb yet, and the centerpiece (literally) …. [Continue reading]

Day 20 – Black Butte and soft trails


Coming into Sisters today, we both independently realized that the route had somehow ended up almost entirely singletrack for the last day or so. We hadn’t really planned on any from the end of McKenzie all the way to Sisters. Yet, that’s the way it played out, as we coasted at 10mph on smooth trail …. [Continue reading]

Hot Sisters Day 19 – Sand and singletrack


Today was almost entirely either sand, or singletrack. That wasn’t the way we thought it was going to go, but it was an interesting day. Making it up as you go has a way of keeping things interesting.

We started out on smooth singletrack along Clear Creek, heading to breakfast. Then more good trail to …. [Continue reading]

Day 18 – Mckenzie goodness


Today was another fantastic day on the bike. We got to ride the McKenzie River Trail. It’s a real gem, and in many people’s opinion, *the* gem in Oregon or maybe, anywhere.

I wouldn’t go quite that far, but it sure works itself well into a bikepacking loop. The lower half is lovely green circle …. [Continue reading]

Day 17 – Bikeglamping!


Are you a camper, or are you a glamper? Bare bones, or do you carry the luxuries? There are many styles of camping, and bikepacking almost always falls far from the glamping side.

You have to keep things light or you can’t ride trail, and it’s just not fun. Services are often few and far …. [Continue reading]

Day 16 – Clothing Optional


What a nice night. We woke refreshed and ready to climb the rest of our bonus climb. The road down to the Aufderhide (FR19) was kind of interesting, with some views of sharp rock fins and a 2-track type of feel. I’d say it was a win, though someone wanting to save some leg strength …. [Continue reading]

Day 15 – Back on the trail


Alrighty, we finally left the town vortex of Oakridge. The more time we spent there, the more it grew on us. It was a nice couple of days, for sure.

But we were anxious to get back on the hot sisters loop, too. The main thing keeping us around was the fact that trackleaders has …. [Continue reading]

Hot Sisters Day 12 – To Oakridge!

Last night’s camping was warm — silly warm. I fell asleep on top of my sleeping bag, with shorts and no socks on, and didn’t wake up slightly chilled until there were millions of stars in the sky and it was the middle of the night.

Still, we slept well. It’s been nice to have …. [Continue reading]

Hot Sisters Day 11 – Hot Umpqua


So close, yet so far. “Come on trail, take us down there!” “No, not hike-a-bike up!”

All we wanted was access to the emerald green river we have been following for 50-some-odd miles. We were roasting, having just ridden through a burn area and with temperatures in the mid 90’s. But…. the trail …. [Continue reading]