Salida, Winter Park, Nederland, Leadville, Mt. Elbert!

We spent a little bit of time organizing ‘life’ in Durango, determining that we only needed one car for the next phase of adventures and travels. It may have been a completely packed Sports Van, and occasionally our piles of junk may seem like a lot of stuff. But if it all fits into one little minivan, including a stable of bikes (3 of which could have gone on top), how much stuff can it really be?

Salida was the next stop over. We didn’t really have a plan, just a vague intention to camp somewhere and ride. Eszter is full of good ideas in these type of situations.

Camping just off the highway along Silver Creek, and riding Rainbow Trail? A brilliant idea.

Beautiful night under the stars and one of the best trails for breakfast.

We met up with Tom Purvis for lunch, then took a visit to Absolute Bikes to work out some details for Vapor Trail tracking. It’s one of my favorite events that I love to support (and participate in), even if I’ve never really had a clean run on it.

Zoom! Back to Winter Park, where besides the lift-monkeying at the resort, I had only ever ridden in the winter. What a winter that was, learning how to stay warm, stay a float, falling even deeper in love. And here we were again, lucky enough to be able to base out of the Horanyi condo, sleeping high and prepping for our next endeavors.

Tree grabbing hike-a-bike! We did some wandering around and Eszter tried to jog her memory on the secret trails of the Park. We may not have always ended up where she wanted to, but it was always fun riding. Sadly the rides were all too short — she was getting ready for Leadville.

I got Eszter to sit down with me and TopoFusion as she described a half dozen hidden connections and trails that I could use to make a pastry run to Nederland, up and over the Continental Divide. I drew a GPX track of sorts, and tried to burn everything she described into my memory. I was ready to do some fiddling around and to get lost. More than anything I was ready for a long ride.

I spied a singletrack right off the Fraser River Trail, a few minutes into the ride, that I remembered Eszter describing on winter rides. I took it, of course, and ended up lost in the forest just a few minutes later.

Later, I got bored of the railroad grade and went in search of the steep shortcut we had slid down on snow bikes. I kinda found it, but ended up on a spurious ATV trail that was 100% hike-a-bike. Wasatch training!

Given my track record so far, I figured the rest of my route finding and secret trail scoping was doomed.

It was hard to believe we camped up here, in January and in the wind. It wasn’t any flavor of warm, in August. Such an amazing place to be.

The next connection went beautifully! Old pipeline turned singletrack, dropping to Eldora.

And then a little used and chunky Ned trail, dropping near to town. Oh yeah!

I love it when people allow and encourage trail use that drops out onto private property. Sharing, it’s not overrated.

Finally, I got to sit out in front of the Nederland co-op and be warm. My wintertime rides up from Boulder with Eszter were less than graceful in the staying warm department.

The fresh made treats? Even better when you’re not half shivering. I wrapped some up to take back to Ez, and as anti-bonk insurance.

Partway up the Jenny Creek trail I bumped into the only mountain bikers I would see all day. Three different groups of riders going from Winter Park to Ned (or me, going back) converged on the same intersection. They asked me for directions but I could only reply I was pretty dumbly following my GPS, even if the line on that GPS was quite smart and based on lots of experience. One group had stayed in a cabin you can apparently rent for $3 or $5 a night. The others really didn’t seem to know where they were going, but I was able to describe where I had come from.

I put some good effort into the chunk and steepness of the climb, such that emerging on the railroad grade again was a bit of a bummer. My knee started killing me, leading to a pretty steep decline in my attitude.

At least the flowers by Yankee Doodle lake were vibrant.

And it’s hard to be grumpy above treeline, with huge views and just enough time to get over the divide before the clouds really power up.

Hike-a-bike, then a short and glorious piece of singletrack around the blockaded tunnel. Oh yeah!

I found the correct steep descent from gunsight notch, marveling the ENTIRE time how we could have possibly safely descended this on our snow bikes. Then when I followed the rest of Broken Thumb without a hitch, I thought myself a pretty fancy GPS enabled explorer. It felt so cool to make all sorts of connections and secret trails that you could otherwise only ride and find by experience and trial/error.

That all came to an end when I tried to find the Idlewild trailsystem. I turned the wrong way on the road, and spent effort on various offshoots in search of a singletrack not on my GPS. After some knee burning climbing, and cursing at my laziness on the GPX track, I did find the trail. And the trail was good.

The only thing harder than getting into the Idlewild network was getting out of it! There aren’t very many exits, and having never ridden there, I had no idea where in Winter Park or Fraser I was even shooting for. There were plenty of trail signs with trail names that meant nothing to me. Ummm? To trailhead sign, please? I’d follow something that looked well worn, only to see it climbing back up towards the Rollins Pass road. A couple miles from Winter Park, and I’m stuck. So much for my navigational skills.

I finally broke down and pulled out the phone. “Eszter, I’m lost!” “What trails will get me out of here? I’m going around in circles.” She gave me a few trails to look for, and after a few confusing turns I finally cracked the maze and dropped blissfully through homes and neighborhoods, still on singletrack. It popped me right out at Hernando’s Pizza. Yum.

The only the better than the pizza I got on the way back through town?

Oh yeah!

We spent the balance of the next week working on the computer, taking time for eating salads outside, evening walks and short rides. Some of the trails we found to be torn up for beetle kill, but still fun to ride.

I made a couple laps at the resort (without the lift), the first of which was absolutely terrifying! It’s a different sport, that. One that takes a little getting used to, apparently.

I also discovered that the ghetto semi-desk I had created at the condo did not agree with my back. Be careful with ergonomics when you’re spending extended periods of time in one position! It’s one of the few things I really dislike about my ‘job’ — time at the computer = too much time sitting. At least I figured out this bad desk setup well before others that have hurt me in the past.

We drove over a couple passes to Leadville, bustling with pre-race energy and chaos. Luckily we had Lee’s cabin which although it was nearly sold, was still available for us to stay in.

I woke up with Eszter for her early breakfast, and after making a silly scene by putting on tons of layers and microwaving my knee pads (don’t ask), I went out into the cold night.

Many, many, people were already out warming up and futzing with their stuff, more than an hour before race start. I blasted through town, knowing it was a good day for forward progress on a bicycle.

Even if that forward progress is very slow and one step at a time. I had my eyes on Mt. Elbert, highest point in Colorado.

Wasatch’s massive hike-a-bikes were on my mind, and I figured Elbert would more than fit the hike-a-bike training bill.

I got suckered by this sign, forgetting that both of the trails to the top branch off the Colorado Trail. The trail looks so inviting and easy!

It’s also the route nearly everyone else takes. I forgot how big climbing 14ers is on the weekends. For some reason I figured everyone would avoid Leadville on account of the bike race. Not so, not so.

I stuck out as the only person dumb enough to bring a bike up there, receiving many funny comments and puzzled looks. Lots and lots of bike pushing — pretty straightforward but for the lack of oxygen and biting early morning wind. I took a bunch of breaks, and had some mild success riding extended portions of the trail (usually only when the trail would switchback in a tailwind direction! Riding into the wind was impossible).

The top! Words cannot describe how excited I was to clip in and begin the descent.

Nor can they describe what it feels like to be up so high, life giving blood coursing through you, mind fuzzy and wondering, staring deep into the heart of Colorado. I didn’t want to leave.

But there was my bike, sitting at the top of Colorado. Somebody’s got to ride it back down!

Some of the 40 or 50 people at the top were watching with interest. How far will he make it?

My smile grew bigger and bigger as I dropped further and further down, without unclipping. Traction was perfect, skill was right on.

The other trail was pretty empty — harder car access for hikers and it was no longer alpine start uphill time. I had to let out several WHOOPS and YEE-HAWS, it was just that good.

Seemed like more descending that I had pushed up, even if I had to walk some downhill as it turned chunky in the trees. Seemed like I had super powers from a mario brothers mushroom, I was riding so much and getting away with so much.

I felt a little less super as I hit the roads back to town, noticing how grumpy my knee had become, and trying fruitlessly to even keep pace with a group of 4 or 5 racers working together in the wind. Leadville is a funny event. It was fun to spectate for a little while, feeling some energy and looking for Eszter rolling by. But it’s such a big spectacle that so many people curiously participate in… when so many other adventures abound, even right nearby. Unfortunately Eszter had little energy available for the race, read her report here.

On the way back to Winter Park we attempted another ride — a summer version of the Mango Mountain Ice Cream Sandwich of Legendary Deliciousness, but my knee would have nothing of it, and Eszter was tired.

Funny when a 2+ hour ride seems like nothing and a disappointment. It was great to ride some Searle Colorado Trail, but a bummer to have to turn around right as Janet’s Cabin was in view. I think we both lucked out in the other being less than 100% — either of us would have kept pushing, likely to our detriment, had the other been on their game. So it goes. A peanut butter malt at the sweet shop de Louis was a fine consolation.

Looks close and you’ll see a bikepacking legend (as reported by the Durango Telegraph) has been immortalized at Berthoud Pass, just outside Winter Park. That trail is a dream for another day. It’s not really known for bikepacking (though it’s younger brother the GDMBR, may be), yet…

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