Weekend adventure: A Colorado bikepacking trip off the beaten path | PostIndependent.com

Weekend adventure: A Colorado bikepacking trip off the beaten path

Colleen O’Neil
coneil@postindependent.com

On Friday last week, over 150 cyclists took off on the Tour Divide out of Banff, Alberta. The Tour Divide is a 2,700-mile mountain bike race from Canada to Antelope Wells, New Mexico. It's a self-supported (i.e. no sag wagon allowed) effort that takes most people 20-50 days to complete.

This time last year, my fiancé Montana was in the race, rolling through the Flathead National Forest through cold, torrential rain. He finished the race in just over 22 days. This year he got wise and decided not to do that race again—in favor of some more pleasant, low-key bikepacking trips with me.

So for the last month, we've been making a mental list of places to visit once the high-county snow melts away. Buena Vista, Leadville, Salida, Aspen, Crested Butte, etc., are all on that list. All of those places have awesome dirt routes for bike riding, but they're all an hour or more away by car.

Then the map-loving Montana found a new map: the Carbondale Hunt Explore Map Guide.

Huge and super-detailed, It covers all the trails and gorgeous green spaces of Carbondale, Palisade, Collbran, Rifle, Marble, Glenwood Springs, Aspen, Leadville, Grand Mesa, Elk Mountains, White River National Forest, San Isabel National Forest, Grand Mesa National Forest, Gunnison National Forest and the Maroon Bells, Hunter-Fryingpan and Holy Cross wilderness areas. Turns out there are hundreds of miles of trails just above Glenwood Springs.

Drive far away to ride? Nah.

Recommended Stories For You

We (mostly Montana, that is) picked out a route that we could access from Four Mile Road, just outside of Sunlight Mountain Resort. In the festive spirit of the Tour Divide, we packed our bikes with sleeping bags and salami, then started pedaling uphill. Storm clouds roiled around Sunlight Peak, and a few sparkly rain drops fell. Then the sun came out, and I peeled off my rain jacket. (Later we learned that Carbondale experienced torrential rain and a power outage, so I guess it's a good thing that we beat it out of town despite the bad forecast.)

Off we rolled on dirt roads and orange-blazed trails through boggy, golden fields of dandelions, crossing creeks and hopping fallen trees. We ended up on Road Gulch Trail, a smooth backcountry singletrack route that dumped us out on another gorgeous dirt road somewhere above Silt.

We pulled off the dirt road to camp in a meadow overrun with skunk cabbage and built a campfire to cook our instant rice in the dimming light of day.

Montana looked wistfully out into space.

"When we moved out here," he said, "I didn't even think trails like this existed."

But there we were, in the middle of a totally unexplored forest. If we wanted, we could pack up the next day and ride all the way over to the Grand Mesa. It looks like we'll spend a lot less time driving this summer.

How to go bikepacking:

1. Buy a Hunt Explore Colorado map at your local outdoor retailer. Summit Canyon Mountaineering has them in stock.

2. Pack your gear. A stuff sack with your tarp, sleeping bag and air mattress can be affixed to your handlebars with some straps. The rest of your things (water, clothes, snacks) will probably fit in a good-sized backpack or a framebag. I used the Osprey Raven 14, and my frame bag was from Defiant Pack in Carbondale.

3. If you’re bringing bigger food items, a bear-proof canister can keep the critters away

4. Pick out a route. Don’t get too ambitious your first time, because you’ll be carrying more weight on your bike than usual, which can be exhausting.

5. Bring a friend, and tell someone where you’re going. If you’re planning a super-long ride, get a SPOT tracker.