Desert Southwest (CO,AZ,UT,NM), Trip Reports » Crested Butte to Boulderby warofattrition
The Dream of Crested Butte to Boulder
Circa 1997 when the gear was older school…
The sublime events of a long ride, whether they are the incredible singletrack spitting out into meadows filled with Chiming Bells and Indian Paintbrush, climbing over panoramic mountain passes, or attaining a long-rehearsed dream are simple and pure.
Death Biking over Pearl Pass
When a trip starts out with thunder and rain delays a weak-minded lout might construe the upcoming proceedings as a looming omen. I did not bother to ruminate over the hit-you-in-the-face fact my first attempt to ride up Brush Creek Road and over Pearl Pass was rudely met with a rare, early morning Mother Nature deluge. I was hypnotized by the dream, the lure of what lies over each and every hill and pass.
Hours later, the road tacky and in good shape I actually set out on the bicycle proper. The climb, a reasonable affair of punchers and spectacular views, rolled along nicely until the mountains truly took hold with long, loose, steep sections. The fine art of walking my bike began near tree line just as the thunderheads appeared, the lightning cracked, and hail pelted the area. Ditching my bike up high, I tucked tail and ran back down into the trees and threw on all my clothing like an overzealous mother dressing a boy for a snow fight. Deafening lightning surrounded the pass, and the wait between explosions and white flashes became instantaneous and horrifying.
When the clouds dispersed I started back up the pass, fearing my bike had been melted into some unrecognizable mass. I found it safe, although a tad shaken. Picking my friend up, I looked further up the pass and saw an open Jeep. I cautiously approached and found the Jeep had a broken axle, a spilled cooler on the ground (I helped myself to a cola-I would have liked a ham sandwich), and not a soul around.
I pushed on, literally, and reached Pearl Pass in a few heart-pounding minutes. Clouds and mist hung in the lower valleys, snow still hung in the north gullies of Castle and Malemute Peaks, and extremely rough terrain lay ahead. I took a couple of quick photos and jumped back on and into lose rock-puke. In Aspen I headed down valley only to be met by more torrential rain and a nagging voice in my head to stop and have a burger in Woody Creek. In the end, I rolled into my first overnight stay.
Link to Ruedi Reservoir
The days offering on the plate entailed cruising up Woody Creek Road to Lenado, then bust out on a connector trail that hopefully met the east side of Ruedi Reservoir. The warm up past Hunter S. Thompson’s compound cruised by then the mountains reared up, and I spun for an hour searching every drainage and faint 4×4 road for the proper turn (maps do not help like a GPS track). After eliciting my normal “Where the fuck is the trail?” routine a hundred times, I made up my fickle mind and started a superb section of singletrack that contoured Porphyry Mountain’s dense pine-covered slopes.
When I reached the first real downhill, unaware that I had actually located the right intersection, my mind roamed over the decision I had to make. Stick with the trail ahead, not knowing if it made the connection I desired, or turn around. Full of adrenaline, I pointed the wheels down and raced on an old roadbed through aspen groves and through a secluded mountain home retreat. In a minute, the Reservoir appeared. Right on track. Clean, searing adrenaline rushed through my veins after navigating through thick woods with infrequent trail markings, no previous descriptions from knowledgeable sources, and only two days into a six-day trip.
As soon as I pointed the wheels down to Basalt a headwind of epic proportions hit me squarely across the chest and nearly stopped me on the blacktop. On each hill’s summit I met a nasty, un-relentless gust, then a little relief on the downs, and straights felt like battling a wind tunnel.
Hagerman Pass and Leadville
The next day’s pleasant dirt road grind began near the small enclave of Meredith, a collection of hamlets east of Ruedi Reservoir that beckon any tired soul to relax. There would be none of that silliness. Past Chapman Reservoir and cascading Ivanhoe Creek, I headed up to reach the flats before the final push to Hagerman Pass. A couple of hours of deep metaphysical meditation followed, filled with female physiques and chocolate shakes. Reaching the pass, I encountered the all-too-common Texicans with Jeeps. Their gaping mouths showed their disbelief at my audacity. It only took a moment before the curious ones came over like curious marmots to confirm the unbelievable sight.
With a couple of good photos in hand (I felt it necessary to confirm my ascent after the Texans showed such disbelief) I headed down to Turquoise Lake listening to Kind of Blue by Miles Davis. Rolling into Leadville, I couldn’t have been happier. All I needed were two spaghetti dinners and a pizza to fill my belly’s void.
Tennessee, Kokomo and Searle Passes
Day four started especially early to beat the afternoon storms. The climb up highway 24 from Leadville to Tennessee Pass had not begun to warm from the frigid night. A low-lying fog hung over the valley, and the moist air added to the chill. At the top of Tennessee Pass the Colorado Trail followed an old railbed through meadows and then the sun hit, warming every tree branch, flower and beaver pond. The trail finally decided to go singletrack and surpassed all others I had crossed. Passing Camp Hale in a fury, the Colorado Trail ventured up, up, up.
Once above tree line I focused on the present. Plenty of revolutions and tenacious Sulfur Paintbrush helped me reach Kokomo Pass and a disheartening view of Climax Mine. Bartlett Mountain literally ripped apart for the Molybdenum in my frame. How I could be so down on the mine’s destruction while riding this contraption that kept me from harms way; its’ ability to race down a mountainside ahead of a storm, was tangibly ironic.
Rolling through the tundra between Kokomo and Searle Passes, with another high pass dream fulfilled, the dream almost shattered. A sheep herd ahead with large, hungry, determined dogs ready to gnaw my leg off and rip out my pounding heart caused unfounded concern.
On the other side of Searle and just ahead of an incoming storm, I momentarily spread out next to a tarn and soaked up the serenity. A kaleidoscope of wildflowers hugged a babbling stream and waved softly in the afternoon breeze. I floated down the classic singletrack to Copper Mountain as the storm moved north to Vail Pass. The last miles to Silverthorne were mellow as I cruised along the bike path.
Winter Park Let Down
Day Five involved a section of the GDMBR over Ute Pass, then over another minor pass that had the nagging aggravation to never arrive. My driving force to reach Winter Park was the upcoming opportunity to ride the Tipperary Creek trail. I had great expectations as the Tipperary had a good reputation as a must do trail.
When I rolled onto the trail I encountered an old wide roadbed that squashed my psyche. Only short sections through flat pine forest gave me pleasure. When I hit the final forest road, tired from the all day grind, I set my sights on a hot tub and put what pedal to the metal I could muster. After a two sandwich, two bags of chips dinner and hot tub encounter, I looked ahead to my final day and home.
Rollins Pass and the Setbacks…
Day six I started out early to reach Rollins Pass. Surprisingly strong and determined I pushed hard until the elevation and steep sections put me in my place. With the pass and ubiquitous SUV’s in my sights, the thunder rolled. Not a second to lose, as Rollins Pass requires hike-a-bike sections, I grinded upwards as the sleet started to fall. What happened next can only be described as fucking bullshit. Not a hundred yards over the pass, my seat post snapped, and my gear fell on the wet tundra. I stopped abruptly and stood looking at my shortened seat post. Hail pelted my helmet. I stood still wondering what the hell I could do. As the horizontal hail hit my eyes, I snapped out of my predicament and stuck the short seat post in the frame and headed down with an unrequited vengeance looking similarly like a scared child on a Big Wheel.
I made it to the trees only to be thwarted again by my one and only flat. I had just got ahead of the hail and sleet but had to make a dash for the woods to beat another round of cold. I changed the flat like a NASCAR pit crew and jumped aboard my Big Wheel for the final 40 miles. The flats ahead, knees nearly smacking me in the teeth, passed by with many chuckles as I truly knew I had made the link, but I looked like a freaking idiot, which made me laugh out loud.
Once on pavement and forest roads I made good time and flew down into Boulder Canyon. I spun as fast as I could, and then stood up to relieve the ache in my compressed spine from the Big Wheel effect. Once on the canyon bike path, I finally let myself relax and smiled the good smile. The above tree line riding came to mind and the never-ending draw the high mountains, the alpine wildflowers, the thin air solemnity contain.
Thanks for taking the time to be sublime!
P.S. Made up my own route from maps (no GPS back then) that come in around 260 miles.