Desert Southwest (CO,AZ,UT,NM), Trip Reports » The Bro-n-law trip


(This is from an 09 trip that I finally wrote up.)
What should the focus, or nature, of the bikepack trip be… exploratory? known route? killer views? some fishing? alpine expanses? forest depths? mainly singletrack, or mix of 2 track? get from point A to point B, or start out here, and end up wherever we might? That was what I pondered on for a few months, ever since the request came in from my Alaskan bro-n-law who said he wanted to fly down and try out bikepacking. So I was going through all the trail possibilities of a 4-6 dayer in the CO mountains. Now he’s 7 years my junior, decidedly in better physical condition, but he does live at sea level. That has leveled the playing field in the past on our CO adventures, and I was not above using it to my advantage again, but then I didn’t want to kill him, since when I go to Alaska for trips he hosts he definitely believes in pay back. I finally decided on the CO Trail Molas to Durango segment, with a few choice day rides in the mountains on the way down to acclimatize him.

Introducing the bro-n-law to the 401 trail in CB, acclimatization as good as it gets.

As background, my spouse and I had started out on that CT segment the previous year, before having to bail out half way at Hotel Draw due to an early peak-whitening cold front. So I was familiar with half the route, and from memory it seemed doable for him. Ahh, sweet and fallible memory. Since that trip I’d refined our bikepack gear, got some good seat bags, made a frame bag, traded out an old tent for a new Tarptent, and felt like we were much improved gearwise. Then my spouse blew out her knee in late spring . Funniest thing, she had said that bikepack trip was the hardest thing she’d ever done, and so I thought I’d have to really coax her into doing more, but damned if she didn’t mainly cry over the knee because it nixed all the bikepack trips we’d planned for the summer. What can I say, she rocks! So, being the supportive husband I told her I’d wait until she’d healed up in fall before venturing out on a bikepack trip. But! When the bro-n-law request came in, it provided me with a very guilt free excuse to get out and try all the new gear. That’s the background, and so off me and the bro-n-law went, with plans for my spouse to pick up our remains at Durango.

 We planned for the 70 or so mile route, which is mostly above 10K ft in elevation, to take 4 days, so having a few extra days we stopped in Crested Butte on the way down, to test gear, lungs, and some sweet trails. The gear all seemed to stay on the bike and the bro-n-law’s lungs seemed to work, well enough anyway. Turns out he was real apprehensive (possibly a relic of a past ski trips I had taken him on) about the elevation and lack of oxygen, so that gave him some piece of mind.

 My apprehension was the CO mountain weather. There is a lot of exposed alpine riding on this trail. The ever present possibility of sudden summer thunderstorms on exposed ridges, hmmm,.. how shall I say it, it has my un-DYING respect. So, we uneasily started out at Molas with some definite weather on the horizon, but at least a beautiful morning to get moving.

 However, we almost immediately aborted back to town due to a mechanical. Bro-n-law had shipped his bike down and assembled it at my house, ….without my oversite. I keep forgetting that about my bro-n-law. Yes, he’s a mechanical engineer, but he really does need oversite on whatever he does. Thus, as we’re loading gear on the bike, I notice his bike’s headset has all this play in it. Crap! So we try to tighten it, no go, so then we take it apart, everything looks good, except….. the bottom race/bearings are upsidedown. Magically it goes back together, no worse for him riding it upsidedown for 3 days on CB trails. I take mental note of this for future bro-n-law “ammunition”.



Always smiles at the start!

We’re on the trail now, all smiles, bluebirds singing, sun shining, awesome temps, yes, some clouds were starting to move in overhead, but for now just perfect. At least for me, turns out this Alaskan gets colder easier than I, former Floridian that I am. This starts out the banter and I find out he was really born in Texas, hmm, another round of ammo for me. And so we’re off to a great start. But, it’s not long before what I remembered as an easy, did I actually tell the bro-n-law a relatively level trail, is recognized as NOT. One round of ammo for the bro-n-law against me. So, we start getting into the ride (and smack) routine. Seems he can go twice as far at a stretch on his stronger legs than I, but I’ve got better lungs, so we end up at the same rest spot after my taking a short muscle stop inbetween his breathing stops. So, all in all, it evened out, but I could see the elevation wearing him down as the day wore on. I then made the mistake of telling him the spouse and I made 14 miles the first day. He then by damn was going to do 14.5 miles if it killed him. Going over Rolling Pass nearly did, between the lightning that was hitting as the weather moved in and the cold wind and sleet sucking his core temperature warmth.

Smiles going.

Smiles gone.

But, we made it over and heartily bombed down the other side. We also then started doing more “scenic” rest stops, since he was visibly feeling it now.

The bro-n-law, ahem, enjoying the scenic view.

This was great for me, since at our stops we got to meet several of the 2009 Colorado Trail Race front runners, as they were going through that section at the same time. The first guy we met was Doug, who turns out was really relieved when he caught us. He’d apparently been chasing us two since Molas because people he’d been meeting on the trail had told him two bikepackers were ahead of him. He apparently thought somehow he’d gotten passed by other racers in the night. He had a good laugh about it and thanked us for helping him get a good buffer on the guys behind him. Later that day the bro-n-law needed to take another five to recoup, so to kill time I hiked back up the trail some and came across Stephen and Jefe (kind of startled them coming out of nowhere I think) filling up with water at a stream, so we talked a little. Great guys. It was fun getting to meet some of faces behind the names I see here on this site.

 We made it to mile 16 by late afternoon and luckily for the bro-n-law, who was about catatonic at this point, the weather was really threatening to let go. So, we hastily set up the tent and snoozed off the rest of the late afternoon. End of a good long first day, and some lessons learned.

Day 1, DONE!

The second day dawned and nether of us felt exceptionally rejuvenated, but the weather seemed to be clearing out, so with the promise of bluebird skies we headed up the trail. We both improved as we made our way over first Bolam, then Blackhawk passes, having finally figured out that he did best when he didn’t eat or drink much (I started calling him a camel) and me having to do both almost constantly (guess I was a hummingbird). The coolest part (other than the views, trail, flowers, etc) about this section from Molas to Hotel Draw is Engineer Mtn. It is this very recognizable, huge, fixed point that you are able to use as visible evidence of your movement through this vast array of mountains.  It’s verifiable proof that even when moving at times very slowly, you do over time move great distances. Great reassurance, that! The second night we camped at a spot on the ridge of the mostly waterless section from Hotel Draw to Kennebec Pass, thus we filled up every water carrying container we had at the last spring and had a frugal camp and most of the next days ride water-wise.

Engineer Mtn, with Kennebec Pass, which is near trails end, way in the distance.

The third day found us on the ridge traverse heading to Kennebec, new territory for me, since my spouse and I bailed before these remaining sections the previous year. All my apprehensions about weather catching us on this mostly exposed ridge were for naught, the bluebird skies were merciless. Pretty damn uncommon for the most part in the mountains in August, so I counted my blessings. Really, all we had to worry about was breathing, moving forward, and not falling off the trail. But, between the trail being just plain steep,.. to being steep and rocky,… to being steep, rocky, and exposed, this section just kicked our butts at times.

Steep, rocky, exposed,….good day to hikeabike though, so no complaints.

Easily the most walking we did was along here. However, what views! And we felt like we had front row seats as we watched a wildfire explode in the distance throughout the day. What began with us asking each other in the morning if that little puff of smoke in the distance was a fire, ended up in the afternoon looking like a volcano going off. Quite the display of nature’s power.

Wildfire, safely in the distance.

We did make it up and over Kennebec pass, said goodbye to Engineer Mtn way the hell to the north now, shed some hard earned elevation at a brake burning pace, and settled back into the abundant oxygen that the trail offered along Junction Creek.

From whence we came, Engineer Mtn waaaaaaay off there.

Looking back up the final pass.

That night we shared a creekside campsite at the bridge with some horsepackers and some hikers, ..all women. Why did something like that never happen when we were young and single. Anyway. Later that night we heard and saw the headlamps of some more CT racers coming through on the trail. All I can say is I am in awe of those guys, since they were likely covering in a day what we were doing in four, and that was after they’d already ridden hundreds of miles. Just in AWE!

 It was a cool night, actually frosted us, and of course the bro-n-law was too cold. But, with a good cup of coffee we got moving and out on the trail early.

There’s that smile again, just needed caffeine.

At this point we were starting to have visions of “real” food and pitchers of beer, so lots of inspiration to get going into Durango. This last section had some great parts and some steep parts. I do remember getting passed by a hiker at one point going uphill, but overall this section was a downhill (towards beer) run. Actually, there are great parts and wicked parts on all the sections, but I’m sure by next year all I will remember are the great parts (and that the trail was relatively level).

 As we descended we started seeing more and more people on the trail, proof, without Engineer Mountain to verify it, that we were moving, and getting closer to civilization, and the end of the trail. We eventually popped out of the singletrack and onto hard pavement at about noon and then really started making fast tracks to town. A couple of curves later I spied my wonderful spouse pulled over at one of the shaded corners standing by the road with our pups. Of course the bro-n-law, who’s in the lead, cruises on by without the faintest recognition. One last piece of ammo on that guy. 


Beer, just around the corner.

Overall that section of CT is just one incredible stretch of Colorado, but it was also one of the hardest things I’ve done in a long, long time. I think that’s how I’ll interpret the bro-n-laws assessment as well, with his final statement concerning the ride, said over a beer later that afternoon, something to the effect “I’d like to do that again,…. just NOT real soon”.

Comments (2)

sparklehorseMay 6th, 2010 at 9:56 pm

Looks like an awesome trip! Gorgeous country up there.


tjJune 7th, 2010 at 10:36 pm

Inspirational open country and trails – a rarity in these parts. A new 3 weeks old has me locked down for now

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