The Colorado trail is a beast any way you slice it. An aesthetic beast that cuts a line of single track through the heart of the Colorado Rockies. I won’t wax lyrically about how I have always wanted to do this trail nor that I have spent years dreaming about riding from Denver to Durango. A magical journey across my home state. Yada yada yada.
Honestly it just seemed like a super fun trip biking and camping my way across the state. Through some beautiful mountains and if I was lucky maybe along the way I’d be able to have some profound realization about life.
The too long didn’t read version is that there was no story book ending to this journey, no extra sense of clarity or purpose, no completion of the trail. Just a broken bike and me sticking my thumb out on some random highway in the middle of nowhere.
I began the journey on a Thursday morning at Waterton Canyon, which maybe be the most pristine gravel in the world. The pedaling was easy on the first part of the trip and the time was flying by. The miles, however, where not flying by. Bike packing is so much slower than regular riding. I already knew that, but it is so easy to forget. Just under 70 miles and almost 10 hours later I was at my camp for night one. I pulled over off the trail, pitched my tent, made dinner, and was lulled to sleep by the sounds of highway 285 less than a mile away. The glamours of bike packing.
I should say that my general approach to the trail could best be described as “flying by the seat of my pants”. I had vague idea of how far I might get each day and a general goal of starting early in the day and riding until it was close to dark, or I was tired. It really didn’t matter how far I got each day or how long it took to get to Durango. I didn’t want to be on a schedule, I was on vacation. Just here to see the sights, smell the smells, and “relax”.
Mentally I was ready for a lot of slow trudges up mountain passes. The slow sections of trail inbetween, not so much. Each time I was riding a section of trail that connected the more photogenic areas I felt as if I was pedaling through glue. These trails were nothing exceptionally hard, just so slow. So very slow.
I managed to get over the ten-mile range ridge just as a small hailstorm was rolling in. My luck ran out quickly as I was forced to hid under a tree for cover as the sky eventually unleashed its full force. But I knew that hot chocolate was waiting for me at the gas station a few short miles away in Copper. Hot beverages might be one of life’s greatest pleasures.
Is that my grand realization of the trip?
No I already knew that. I guess I need to keep riding.
Another night of a lack luster camping within ear shot of the highway. But whatever, I had made it to Copper and I was too tired to care.
In Buena Vista I was rewarded with a double cheeseburger, fries, and a milkshake. A double cheeseburger that was ready withing a minute of when I ordered it. Too tired to care I wolfed it down faster than probably was healthy.
I took the shake with me across the street to the grocery store. There I stared at boxes of food in an attempt to figure out what would satiate me for the next few hundred miles before I was in a town again.
The other reward in Buena Vista was that I was able to spend the night at a friend’s cabin and do some laundry. Which was very nice as the shirt I was planning to ride the whole trail is was already quite stinky and had gone from black to more of a zebra print due to the salt stains.
With a clean shirt and fresh undies, I embarked into the unknown and what people have deemed one of the worst sections of trail, Sargent’s Mesa. Maybe the most feared and talked about section of the whole trail. I found this section of trail to be not nearly as by as I had hyped it up in my head. Still by no means easy, or enjoyable. But not the death march over baby head I was expecting. My bike did not find this section of trail as easy as I did.
After getting out of the Mesa, I crossed Hwy 114 to get some water at a stream. That is when I noticed a large crack in my frame. Right at the junction of the down tube to the headtube. That would be the end of the road for me. Trail unfinished. Grand realization unrealized. I walked back up to the road and waited for a car to take pity on me.