Trip Reports » Riding back home on the CT
Im new to this site (just joined yesterday) and wanted to share my experience riding the CT, which I just finished last week. I rode the roads up to Denver from my hometown in Durango, and then rode the trail back home. A loop ride that was kind of just like one of my favorite day loops near home, only longer, and with more varied surfaces to ride on. Im not a super crazy racer like some of you, but I just thought perhaps someone might enjoy a few pics, trials and errors, and what not to do’s, as well as hopefully a few things I could recommend for some people, who are in a riding class, such as my own level of riding. I was not racing and so ultra light was not my priority. In fact not at all, eating well and eating plenty and having fun, was my priority and I will try to upload some pics to show you just how heavy, and loaded with great food I was on my trip. I rode with 2 ortlieb panniers which are kind of designed more for road touring I think but I should say, I had no problems with them- they held everything I could ever dream of having and more and they kept all my stuff completely dry, without the sacrifice of handling, or at least as much as I was concerned. Of course I would rather have rode without them, and had the feeling of a truly light bike, being able to climb, unwanderingly in a completely straight line, and not hearing their, somewhat loud at times rattling and bumping, but I just kept figuring, oh well keeps the bears off the trail in front of me, and usually lets the dayhikers know Im coming up behing them- my natural bear bells.
I took off from my home in Durango, Co on June 1st with a map I happened upon by chance outside the local library, or was it the chamber of commerce or somewhere else? I cant recall just where I got the map actually, but it basically just showed most major roads in colorado and had different color coded roads to match the icon symbols bar section, explaining that a red outlined road meant a road with a shoulder of greater than 4 feet. Black meant a road with a shoulder narrow than 4 ft. different colors also meant highways with a 10′ shoulder and highways with 4′ shoulder, highways and freeways with their associated shoulder space, as well as freeways in which cycling is prohibited. (I-70 in portions). It also showed bike paths, and in particular one long bike path running parellel to I-70 that went on for miles and miles. This simple map and ones like it are a tremendous blessing and Im truly grateful to whoever produced it.
I took off with my map, and food, 0 degree sleeping bag (It was early June and still cold), sleeping pad, lots of clothes and rain gear, and headed north on 550 passed purgatory, and up coal bank pass to molas pass, to silverton, to red mtn. pass to ouray to ridgeway to delta to hmm I think I’ll check out paonia- Ive never been there. I was just picking little towns off the map, to which Id never been, or to which some I’d like to go again. Most of them Id been to a million times but it was just the idea of going day to day, or night to night without a care in the world, other than exploring spontaneously. I’d been on road tours following set routes before, and it just isnt my bag. How would somebody making maps know where I wanted to go years later? So I headed out of Delta toward Hotchkiss (they hate bikers)(they have narrow roads maybe its not entirely their fault) felt unwelcome, especially when I went into the local auto part store and they actually had fliers printed up on how unfair (this world) is toward the special treatment to cyclists and their rights to share the road. I needed a small wrench so I bought it, and exchanged a few words of small talk with the somewhat anxious seeming store associate, and grabbed a flier about bicyclists, which I had just noticed on my way out. I was furious that I’d done business at this store even though I’d only spent like four bucks, I felt like returning the wrench. Oh well that action alone would have hurt me more than them so I just started thinking about it and what would make this ol farmers wanna hate bicyclists so much for. In the end I came up with many many reasons, ranging from jealousy, to narrow roads without shoulders to just plain ignorance and many reasons in between. I also noticed other flyers aroung town for which the town chamber were actually having a couple of larger road cycling tours coming through town with campouts, beer gardens and other celebratory events in the name of cycling and well……..I just decided that this hatred towards cyclists would just sort itself out in the end. There would be no reason to inform the tours’ management or anyone else of that towns’ (or some people living in the town) attitude because either those with the attitude will just either shut up and take the touring cyclists money and learn to like it, or they can just deal with it later when year after year hordes of cyclists keep returning to their town and with that bringing change to the structuring of their roads, such as widening them and such. Also I thought many cyclists over time could decide to move to the area and over time these people and their attitudes will just be minoritized by people with better attitudes and perhaps cycling hobbies even. So I packed up and headed to paonia- definately a nicer little town, not huge amount to see though, so up a road to another, and up and over a pass (kebler) to Crested butte- beautiful as always, but almost froze near lost lake camping out in a lightning snowstorm. Its early June and I know its early to be in the mtns. camping out every night, but man that was some crazy windy rainy weather. I slept in a forest service installed bathroom. Gross yeah, but it was the chosen and more desirable misery of the two choices. I noticed how it really didnt stink much and was grateful for that. Another thing worth mentioning is my usual disgust for the forest service going in to almost all leveled primitive camp sites in the national forest boundaries and erecting bathrooms, and developing the campgrounds. i.e. installing picnic tables, paving the roads, or graveling, adding grills and what not so they can charge a huge fee, (the forest service corporation) but this was one time where I could actually see the benefits of having a greedy forest service corp., at a time when I was most in need of a dry and wind proof shelter, here the forest service has gone above the call of duty, and provided me with a pleasant shelter from the elements- some call it a bathroom; I called it salvation. Hehe. Too gross- so sorry- I was happy, that is until morning and I was discovered in my shelter by a man who camped out that night in his pickup camper shell. I was a little embarassed I should say. Ha well thats the stuff memories are made of- mine anyway.
It was warm and dry in May in southern colorado, and everyone was worried about our prematurely melting snowpack; worried about how wildland fires would be such an expensive disaster this year. We’ll see about that. The month of June sure did its part to ensure that wouldnt happen. I was about a week or more into some of the most bizarre June weather that anyone in CO can remember for a long time. Cold. Not record breaking temps or anything, just windy, rainy, and dreary grey skies, which were not the ones I wanted to contrast the beautiful green trees and shrub that the rains were contributing to. Still lovely to be out though.
On the road again- up over Cottonwood pass and cutting my day short to soak in the Cottonwood hot springs…ahh. Riding into Buena Vista and then up to Leadville. Forgot how hungover I can become from drinking at over 10,000 ft. Oh well made a friend at the local waterin hole called the “Scarlet”, a cool hippie dude, who let me use his couch for my recoveries. Leadville turned into Minturn and and I was soon riding the paved bike trail that would take me all the way into Denver, with just a few interuptions of it through various towns, and sometimes it subsided where a frontage road was already in place and worked well as a bypass and alternate route to the freeway. In fact there were only like 3 or 4 freeway miles to be ridden, the entire length into Denver from this route-awesome, more time looking at beautiful mtn. less time thinking about death via huge hummer and other ginormous SUV bicycle crushers…….coolest thing ever to me, was that bike path. I just didnt know it was there, until I saw it on the map and then I had to re-route and go a longer path to my destination. I wasnt trying to go the shortest route anyway. I had noone to race not even time, so…. I found myself distracted many times on my trip up along the roads, and after going over vail pass, and passing A basin on loveland, I descended into the small towns that lie outside of Denver along I-70, and I began touring all these spooky weird little towns, like silver plume along my route…. creepy is all I can say about that town. Anyone know whats with masks that are like over 2 ft. tall sitting in the windows in a couple houses, and one in a commercial looking buildings front window? Maybe it was these masks, and a real big spooky looking building, contrasting the dreary grey sky with its old brick exterior built for the gold miners years ago. I think in former years not too long ago it was a high school or something. I dunno- Im just glad I didnt go there. I also overheard an older brother standing near me telling his younger brother that he wasnt supposed to be playing, on that side of town. Hmm I dont know it was probably just the looks of the place, and maybe the residents know this and even want to add to the towns creepiness for some reason, with the masks. I dunno I just didnt want to be their after dark, so on I went to the next town. I met a woman at the sandwhich shop, and I inquired about the strange town, and the woman just shrugged, and said she didnt know “although this town is haunted by ghosts, and was even featured recently in a couple documentaries as having such uninvited citizens”. Hmm maybe the last town was just trying to get there own share of fame. I dunno, didnt care just happy to be moving on. I was supposed to be riding and savoring beautiful country not all this weirdness, so Im off riding my bike again (even if it is on pavement) (I love singletrack and am devoted but its not worth driving a motor vehicle just to get to it just because its easier- road riding is still fun and there is nothing easy about bikes at all anyway- thats not the point right?)
I had been looking at this trip as a loop ride. Maybe a bigger loop than some rides. Sure I could have done an out and back- start in Durango and ride north on the CT to Denver and then turn around and go back, but number one it was still early june, I was poking around and waiting in some of these towns, and letting all the time I could afford to slip by, I left thinking the snow would be gone in no time with the bizarre and warm weather we had in may. What I didnt expect was the contrast of June’s weather to follow and not only not melt the snow pack further, but possibly even add a few inches? Whatever may have been added was undoubtedly insignifant, but whatever was happening to the snow pack in June, it wasnt fast enough for my plans no matter how unreasonable they were, and so I was dilly dallying along the road ride up, and that turned out to be just fine, for exploring and smelling the roses (and bathrooms) hehe. I just wanted as much snow to be melted as could be for my start at the Waterton trailhead near Denver. The other reason for doing a loop, as opposed to an out and back, was that even if I waited till later in the summer (which I recommend actually-and is recommended Im sure by anyone else for mtn. bikers) to do an out and back (as opposed to vehicle support) I dont think I would have enjoyed the return as much because I would have already seen it all just days before anyway, so I probably would have just wanted to bail. This ended up being a super cool loop for me, and I had great fun on all sections, no matter what type of matter was under my wheels. I would even go so far to say that as much as I love singletrack, I would come to find out later that there were on some occasions, moments along the trail, where I was actually ready for the next detour around a wilderness area, for no other reason than just to have a flat rolling, hardpacked surface in which my wheels could roll freely, (and I never thought Id choose anything over singletrack, except maybe moabs’ mars surface, seeming slickrock, and maybe it was something similiar to that effect actually, because even in road riders defense- not that they need one, but like moab, and other places that are great to ride, even though they lack singletrack the views are still amazing, which is a big part of why any rider rides, at least thats my opinion). So now after all the road, and town drama, im finally in Denver (somewhere around the 9th or 10th of June probably- I was going real slow like I said) and after some minor bike repairs and mainenance I was heading to waterton canyon for the start of the fun. ….
Id been riding along with traffic and people long enough, and here was my reward, sweet singletrack for miles and miles all the way back home (minus the many-too many detours around wilderness areas)(definately found myself a bit ambivalent to these detours. I was happy to have a change and have a hardpack surface under my wheels for a bit of traction for awhile, but what was I missing in the wilderness? I can’t help but feel that Ive been left out, and was missing vital, prescious moments of beauty. But the grass is always greener, and I chose to be happy with what I had. And this was a trail through the rockies for hundreds of miles, in which I was privileged to be able to ride, somewhere around 40-50% or so of it, depending on If I elected to ride the optional detour routes, or stick to the trail. I stuck to the trail on most of these, and overall just happy I had a trail like that so close to home; most don’t.) So here I was finally I couldnt beleive it. I was in Hog heaven, and I started comparing the pics in the colorado trail book, to the panoramas I was actually seeing with my own eyes out there. Man it was beautiful right there near Waterton, right from the start- so close- I actually didnt expect it to be so hmm well pretty just yet, but it does it just starts out that way. Its steep right off the bat though, right when the singletrack starts, I didnt realize how steep the trail was actually going to be, and Im glad I didnt realize it right from the start also for motivational reasons probably, but that could or should have been my fair warning. Im glad at that point I didnt realize it though. I just thought it was a steep section, singled out in the book as such, and the rest of the trail was alot more, well mild, ha…..but Im glad it wasnt. Now that Ive ridden it, the CO trail is not the CO trail I set out to do, and once again I wouldnt want it to be like the pics in the book, like I expected. When I looked in the Colorado trail book, I read parts of it, and looked at all the wonderful pics that were in it, and upon looking at the pics, I had gotten the impression that here is this lovely, and fairly flat stroll through river canyons and up on ridges, which maintain a fairly flat grade for many miles at a time. Ha I would say that was a faulse impression. Nevertheless its a rockin trail.
After thinking about this many times along the trail, and having my own pictures reflect the trail as flat and easy going. I came to the conclusion that the reason it appears this way, is that when your out there hiking, or biking, or horse back riding, if you were to prefer, (hope not) whatever your mode of travel. Your either huffin and puffin up the steep terrain, and just dont want to stop and take pictures and lose momentum, or your flying down steep terrain yelling and whooping for joy (at least I was-but Im not right in the head either). I found on the CT that I didnt want to let up my concentration much on the downhills, without the worry of flipping over the bars, from a big rock or something. Mainly for myself I was just so strained climbing the hills that I was just thinking, man I hope it flattens out around this next turn, It wouldnt have ever dawned on me to stop in the middle of giving 100% of my effort to the pedals, and the rest to sweat, to actually stop and take a picture. So the way I see it, is that pictures are mainly taken on the flat parts, where the views are more wide open for ascthetic value, or because the hiker, biker, rider whatever actually has breathing to worry about, and secondary motives like touring, and snapping pictures are well just kind of that, secondary. And so in my opinion, I wouldn’t be surprised that a number of pics turn out that show the trail as being flatter vs. the true reality, or at least the way I perceived it, as not being that flat at all. Anyway that was my impression from the book is that it was kind of a stroll through the mtns. back home…….haha its much more of a work out than that, and its a great trail.