Fly by Cycle

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Above: 13,588ft Cottonwood Peak at sunrise.

A $150 plane ticket from Albuquerque to Denver is a relative bargain, considering that I purchased it last minute and that it allowed me to keep my schedule at work and to be in Denver in the morning for NAHBS.  Still, I was determined to make the most of the expense and a little reconnaissance from the air is always inspiring.  Incidentally, I was almost always within sight of something I recognized on the ground and something I have ridden by bike, including some local routes in the Jemez Mountains, the Great Divide Route, and the Colorado Trail.

Flying above the Jemez Mountains and the Valles Caldera near Albuquerque and Santa Fe, Cochiti Canyon is at the bottom of the frame.  About a month ago, I stole away for a multi-day trip out of town on the Pugsley.  Riding into the night, I awoke above Cochiti on FR 289.  I had previously ridden this road with friends.

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On that same 5-day trek with Cass, Joe and Lael, we also linked singletrack leaving from the Pajarito Ski Area, encircling Los Alamos, and descending Guaje Ridge.

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Nearby, the 31 Mile Road (FR 144) climbs over 5,000 ft from Espanola to connect with the Great Divide Route above Abiqui and Polvadera Mesa.  The road is seen as the prominent white squiggle in the bottom right quarter of the frame.  Jeremy and I left out of Santa Fe for a few days of riding in the mountains, and soaking in hot springs.

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Zoom.  Within proximity of our campsite for the night, before cresting the ridge to connect with the Divide.

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This blank canvas is the southern end of the snow-covered San Luis Valley.  This fall, Lael and I rode some pavement south from Del Norte, CO to meet Joe and Cass in Santa Fe.  We rode this section in the dark, and camped in a super secret spot in Antonito, CO.

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And a bit further north, Monte Vista, CO, I believe.

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Here, the Rio Grande cuts across the San Luis Valley above 7000ft between Del Norte and Alamosa.  It is easy to see here why the river runs dry along the Mexican border– irrigation.

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To the right, the northern peaks of the Sangre de Cristo Range, south of Salida, CO.  Cottonwood Peak is sunlit at the bottom, and featured at the top of the page.

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Descending towards Denver and over the Front Range, this is the start of the Colorado Trail at Waterton Canyon.

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Chatfield Reservoir– geometric picnic and camping facilities are the work of the US Army Corps of engineers, most likely.  Lael and I got lost in this maze of roads and trails on our ride to the trailhead of the Colorado Trail.

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Denver.  The city swallows almost everything, except for the natural curves of this river.

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Arriving in Denver, I reassembled the Hooligan and rode to NAHBS.

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Colorado Trail: Copper Mountain to Leadville

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Just another day or two on the Colorado Trail.  Still, there’s nothing not to like.  Pushing the final few hundred feet up to Searle Pass, the sun sets in amber brilliance.  Sleeping above treeline ensures an immediately warming morning sun; sleeping in the trees is cool and moist, and the most enticing campsites near water seem to be shaded until noon.  At just over 12,000 ft, we erect the tent as a shield from a cool breeze and frosty, mountain dew.  By morning, only a light layer of ice has fallen.  The early sunlight treats our tent like a greenhouse; growing, glowing, warming until slowly awake.  The final half hour of sleep, cradled in warmth, is the most restful.  We like biking and hiking and eating and sleeping, but this time of year the sleeping is best.  Golden aspen and light snow on high are signs of the season’s change.  We love fall weather, but winter is soon to follow.

A short section of trail from Breckenridge to Copper Mountain climbs and descends at extreme grades, and is said to involve much hiking and pushing.  Theres is a paved 16 mile bike path around the Tenmile Range, which we took in search of the next rideable segment of trail.  Climbing across ski slopes and away from Copper Mountain, Searle Pass finally comes into view.  A final push over the pass leads to our camp, in top-of-the-world brilliance.  Just before cresting the pass, not a single road or building can be seen.  On the other side: a mine, a paved highway, and a few forest service roads are visible, and in the morning several bow hunters crest the ridge.  We’re far away, but not that far.  This is what I like about Colorado.  Alaska allows you to get away, but only through a gauntlet of muskeg, moose and mosquitos, with very few trails and roads for access.  The constant threat of grizzlies adds to the sense of the wild, and lessens my level of comfort.  Alaska is a beautiful idea, but not ideal for comfortable outdoor living.  While we tackle immense challenges, hardship is not part of the design.  Colorado is easy living.

Lael’s bike has seen some improvements recently, including a new tire.  The fast-rolling Maxxis CrossMark was great for smooth hard packed trails and dirt roads, but was short of traction and volume on much of the trail.  Her XXIX has some monster tire clearances, and a 29 x 2.4″ Maxxis Ardent hooks up well.  Descending, the suspension fork and the large tires allow her to pick her way through rocky sections without steering around every pebble.  The bike is finally becoming a familiar extension for her, despite a few mishaps.  No matter how well equipped, a rider must become intimately aware of their bike.  This is why we choose to own and ride only one bike at a time.  Equipment or skill is no match for familiarity.

Lael’s Hooligan has broken the one bike rule, but it is exceedingly fun and practical, and has a future with us.  For anything but real trail riding, including urban riding and touring, she demands to have “Hooli”.  With a 2″ tire, it would be fine on mild unpaved surfaces.  While 4″ tires and 29″ wheels provide much benefit, there is a lot to say of a highly maneuverable, and lightweight bike.  26″ and 20″ wheels have their place.

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Searle Pass is the saddle left of center.  Many trails become quite rocky above treeline.  Gaining the ridge:

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Camp at 12,050 ft.  Over the pass, a large mining operation and a few roads are visible.

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Warming light.  Yoga atop mountains is Lael’s favorite, in lieu of yoga in the park, on the sidewalk, in the backyard, on the beach, in the woods, or inside.  She has done yoga almost everywhere.  Dressed for the cool morning, she practices “Yoga for Ninjas”.

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Riding, pushing over Elk Ridge and descending down to Kokomo Pass near 12,000ft.  Descending, descending, down to 9,000ft feet over several miles of trail.  Brakes, kick up dirt, pedal and lean, fly; brake, skid, stop.  Snack.  Soon, 10, 9 thousand feet again and climbing.  Up, to Tennessee.

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We both appreciate the value of a lightly packed bike.  I was carrying a small cooking system and a two-person tent all summer, so Lael only had to show up in Denver with a sleeping bag and pad, as well as some clothing.  She’s packed into a Revelate Vischasa seat bag, Revelate Gas Tank top tube bag, Revelate Mountain Feed Bag, and an eVent Sea-to-Summit compression sack.   A spare tube and tire are strapped to the down tube, out of the way. She’s not carrying a shelter at the moment, but overall, her bike is optimal for this kind of riding.  It is simple, quiet, and light.  The bike rides like a bike.

Every day, I enjoy Lael’s combination of socks and shoes.  Other trail riders must think we are lost, or from another decade.

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I am carrying quite a bit more equipment, but this is exactly what I was carrying all summer.  We carry our own gear in favor of trying to match our paces by re-distributing the load.  Releasing ourselves from the idea of matching paces and necessarily riding together, we are relieved of stress.  It’s simply too much mental work, and is likely to slow one of us down or push the other along.  For such a fun, simple endeavor as walking or riding, there’s no need to complicate the joy of being on the trail.  Sometimes I ride ahead and wait at junctions.  Often, I ride behind allowing Lael to see the trail first, and we talk all day.  Other times, Lael rides ahead, descending with abandon as I stop to take photographs.  We’ve had too many fights about nothing by trying to match paces, so we don’t.

Tightly packed away is MacBook Air and an Olympus E-PM1, as well as a gaggle of accessories, chargers and cables.  Maps, a water filter, tools, a tent, and a cook system are stowed away along with food, clothing and shelter.  It’s tidy and it rides well, if a little heavy.  A framebag is a key component of any lightweight touring system and is the single greatest step to leaving racks and panniers at home, unless you are Lael and don’t even need a framebag.  In many cases, more important than the weight of equipment, is the ride.  My bike is quiet and comfortable, and the tires cloud the rocky disturbances of the trail.  I’m finally finding the optimal tire pressure for these trails, and it is much lower than I initially estimated.

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Up and over Tennessee Pass, and on to Leadville.  We heart Leadville.  Good living at 10,200ft.  Without a ski resort, Colorado towns such as Salida and Leadville avoid the glut of condos and t-shirt shops that plague other mountain towns.  Leadville and Salida are both beautiful communities in the mountains.  Fourteen thousand foot peaks, everywhere.

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The beauty of this part of the state is that it’s not a simple destination for tourists, but finding transportation out of town has been a challenge.  We’ve finally secured a ride to Interbike.  Some writing obligations and planning will take some time away from riding this week, but we’ll be back at it in a few days.  Thereafter we will transport to a galaxy far away from the CT, awash in the glitz of Las Vegas.  Whatever it brings, Interbike and Vegas will be an experience.

Perfect: The Colorado Trail

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It’s almost impossible to lose the trail, some of which is rough and unrideable, and some of which is better than perfect and seemingly, in the middle of nowhere.  Perfection in the middle of nowhere, unlike an unheard falling tree, still exists in waiting.  There are many resources about riding and hiking the Colroado Trail, so a photo essay seems the most appropriate addition to the current bank of information.  The trail is great, and it’s doable, if extremely challenging.  You really only need a bike and the Colorado Trail Databook.  A mountain bike is a necessity, but if you don’t mind hiking and just want to see some of the trail, the first few segments near Denver are accessible on an older rigid 26″ wheeled bike with 2.0″ tires.  It’s always more important to get out and do it, than to sit at home trying to figure out how.  If you get out and try, you’ll immediately know more than all the online resources could ever share, no matter how vibrant the pictures or captivating the text, it’s all fiction.  This blog is a fiction, allowing me to remember things the way I want and to write my own history in which I am a helmeted superhero and my world, perfect.  But it’s not perfect as I eventually require some income and winter is imminent and I do all this writing and riding for fun and for free– real life continues in our living fiction, and in fact I’m quite busy.  But the Colorado Trail approaches perfection and cuts through the stress of real life, and we’re drunk with it.  For a moment, we are helmeted superheroes clad in sunglasses and wool, grunting up and hollering down the Rockies.  For a moment, perfection.

Follow the photos below, imagine and plan your own trip on the local rail-trail, or to the beach; down the Divide or across the Colorado Trail.  If you’ve never traveled by bike, it may change your life.  If you have the experience, the time outdoors on two wheels will reinvigorate your belief in the bicycle.  You will return home different, if you don’t find a home on the road.

Waterton Canyon to the South Platte River.  Petits cornichons, small pickles; grown, handpicked, pickled and packed by Lael in Corsica.  Electrolytes without equal.  Day 1:

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South Platte River to Buffalo Creek.  Burn area, and the smoothest singletrack of the entire trail.  I’m enjoying my used Surly Torsion bars with new Velo Orange thumb-shifter mounts, which fit the Shimano bar-end shifters taken off my drop bars.  VO cork-foam blend grips are cool and comfortable on hot days, and cushion my hands on rough descents, although they are more dense than standard Grab-On foam.  Unlike Ergon grips, they don’t callous and discolor my hands when riding without gloves.  An ergonomic cork-foam grip would be an ideal combination, and would be great on both drop bars and upright bars.  For the price of a sandwich, the VO grips fit my budget better than buying another pair of Ergons, as I hacked the last pair to fit my drop bars.  Ergons are the obvious choice for anyone spending lots of time on the bike, but I’m always seeking new, low-cost solutions.  The new grips don’t make my hands stink like rubber either, the curse of golfers and mountain bike riders alike.

Seductive singletrack abounds.

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Buffalo Creek to Jefferson Creek.  Thru-bikers from Durango, and some of the most exotic, scenic riding we’ve done.

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Jefferson Creek to Breckenridge.  Georgia Pass, and the intersection with the CDT, which is co-located with the CT for a distance.  The final descent to Highway 9 near Breckenridge is amazing.  Descend with glee– superheroes.

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Happy summer kids.  We love it.

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Switchbacks at dusk, descending into town.  Perfect.

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Lael’s Globe

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I’m a bit slow to sort through photos and hate to spend time listening to “Endless Love” while borrowing wifi from local Safeway markets and Starbucks lounges.  Lael has a new blog, and she’s a real wizard at sitting down and getting it done– she doesn’t like listening to “Endless Love” any more than I do.  For a colorful preview of our Colorado Trail times, check out Lael’s Globe of Adventure.

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Rebuilding, reimagining

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Rebuilding a singlespeed 2008 16″ Raleigh XXIX as a 1×9 (32 x 12-36) with a gold anodized On-One Mary handlebar, Ergon grips, a new Velo Orange cartridge bearing headset, extra bottle cage mounts, a tenacious rider and not too much gear.  Birthday on Wednesday.  Lael on Thursday.  Acclimate.  Ride to the trailhead later this weekend.

I’d been searching Craigslist primarily for a used steel 29er, with or without suspension and gearing.  If you seek a similar steel 29er on the used market, consider Redline Monocog (SS, but replace sliding dropouts, has braze-ons for shift cables), Raleigh XXIX or XXIX+G (former is SS, replace derailleur hanger with Wheels Manufacturing 133 or Raleigh 5) , Surly Karate Monkey and Ogre (both have track style dropout with der. hanger), Salsa Fargo or Mariachi, Haro Mary, or On-One Inbred or 456.  Further, Voodoo, Jamis, Soma, Vassago, Niner and Spot all produce steel 29ers that passed through the local used market this past week.

I’ve got a Colorado Trail Databook thanks to Brad in Boulder.  I’m living in Fort Collins for the week, which is a real bike town where people ride bikes to get places.  Denver calls tomorrow with a meeting of the local Surly Owners Society (S.O.S.), which I equate to the B.O.B. group with more beer and fewer lugs.  Amidst bike repairs and writing, I’m hoping to make it to Denver to meet the bearded, tattooed owners of Surly bikes.   Otherwise, I’m fixing and riding bikes and staring at a Rock Shox Reba fork wondering if I should take it apart for preventative maintenance, and fun.

It’s time for an upright handlebar on the Pugsley and a used Surly 1×1 Torsion bar will take the place of the Salsa Cowbell.  I’ve considered a modern “mountain” drop-bar, but if your flatten and flare a drop-bar enough you get something like a Mary, Jones, Space Bar or a Carnegie.  The Surly Torsion bar has a 15deg sweep and is manufactured in Cro-Mo by Nitto; Lael’s gold Mary is 35deg and is in the mail for $20 from the new US distributor of On-One equipment from the UK.  On-One makes incredibly inexpensive frames in steel, aluminum and carbon, as well as some innovative handlebars (Mary, 35deg; Fleegle, 15deg; Mungo, mustache; and Midge, mountain drop).  A steel 26″ or 29″ mountain bike frame can be had for $200 or less.  Velo Orange thumb shifter mounts are the least expensive way to fit my Shimano bar-ends to an upright bar for easy, reliable shifting.  Friction thumb shifters are king when simple, rugged shifting is needed.  V-brake levers should be close at hand for a few bucks.

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Bikepacking on a budget; a bike for Lael

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She likes a nice pair of boots and a shiny brass bell, but she’s not all that fancy– she’ll sleep in barns and dugouts, atop mountains and aside rivers and is content eating a raw beet, seeds and some lettuce for dinner.  We’re both gypsies, connecting the dots by bicycle.  Another reason to reach Colorado, aside form the availability of water and shade, is that I’m still charged with the task of buying or building a bike for Lael.

To recap her bike situation:

Her Surly Long Haul Trucker is much loved and well used, but the limits of the bike have been reached considering the “real” mountain biking we’ve got planned.  With a 2.0-2.1″ tire the LHT is a very capable dirt road tourer and a light-duty trail bike, and still fits a fender.   It remains in Anchorage and is in daily use by a friend in need of some wheels.  My Schwinn High Sierra is providing the same service in Tacoma, WA.  I like to give bikes out for permanent loan when possible.  The potential to recover a few hundred dollars from a bike with considerably more utility seems wasteful when I can be assured the bike will be ridden daily.  If she needs the LHT again it’ll be waiting in Anchorage, free of dust.

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Her Surly Pugsley was great fun and a great tool though the winter, allowing her to commute to work every day and to explore the local terrain.  The elementary school she worked at was five miles away, and many mornings she was on the bike by 7:30.  At this time of morning in Anchorage winters, you’ll encounter neither rain nor shine– it’s cold, dark and snowy.  Leaving for Europe, she liquidated her assets and sold the bike.  Mainly, the sale of the bike was a financial and logistical decision as shipping or flying with the bike was unreasonable, but her main complaint about the ride was that the wheels were heavy.  I can attest to that, and my Marge Lite rims improve the ride and allow me to open up my riding style, especially with as much climbing as I’ve been doing.

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The week before flying to Europe, I bought Lael a Cannondale Hooligan on closeout sale at The Bicycle Shop.  She’d been joking about it all winter (much truth…), and always hopped on for the “indoor criterium” circuit around the showroom floor.  With the handlebars and fork removed, the bike packs to the shape of a cello and avoids airline surcharges.  In spite of small wheels, the rigid frame and disc brakes are assuring and feel mostly like a normal bike.  Unlike the “normal” bike she is used to, the small wheels and an overall weight of 24 lbs allow the bike to climb and accelerate easily, perfect for city riding and the steep pitches encountered in Corsica.  Of course, it’s also easy to carry up stairs or onto the train, and is a fun conversation piece while in traveling.  On different sides of the globe, we’re both peppered with inane questioning about wheels and tires– Surely, small wheels must be slower?  And you must pedal two, or three times as fast to cover the same terrain?  We’d like to keep the bike for future experimentation, but it is most definitely not the bike for the Colorado Trail and beyond.  For that, we seek something more conventionally appropriate for the mountains.  After years of commuting, cycletouring, and ATB-ing, this will be real mountain biking.  Lael arrives in Denver on the 23rd with lightweight bike luggage and camping equipment, but without a proper mountain bike.

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I’m looking for a new or used, steel or aluminum, rigid or hardtail, 26″ of 29″ wheeled mountain bike.  I’d dreamed that we could both ride fatbikes with lightweight wheels, but finances are steering me towards sourcing a used bike from the Denver-area Craigslist.  I’ve actually wanted to do this for quite a while– find a used bike en route, prepare it for travel, and ride away.  Denver is a great place for this experiment and the Colorado Trail will be a worthy proving ground.  Bikepacking on a budget!

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Several days before traveling to Europe, Lael raced the Skinny Raven Twilight 12K in Anchorage in a time of 47:40 (6:24/mi), and placed third in her division amongst a field of almost 1200 runners.  She enters one race annually, and generally falls into a comfortable third place.  Not bad for an occasional racer!

Any bike, anywhere; Lael’s Big Day

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From Monarch Pass to Marshall Pass, the Monarch Crest Trail (MCT) winds its way atop the Continental Divide. The Great Divide Mountain Bike Route glimpses the actual watershed divide on many ocassions; the MCT, and the Continental Divide National Scenic Trail which follows these same twelve miles, actually walk that line. For two hours, we were on either side of a ridge– up and over 12,000 ft– channelled through beautifully maintained singletrack, passing even more beautiful high alpine scenery. For two hours: we pushed our bikes through recent snowfall, hidden from the sun; crested the CD ridge to views over fifty miles in yet another direction; and for a few moments, enjoyed some quite rideable, “flowy” singletrack atop mountains. This, finally, is mountain biking.

From Marshall Pass, several more miles of the Continental Divide/Colorado Trail continue along the ridge before dropping into the Silver Creek Drainage at a rapid rate; descending switchbacks and talus fields, through streambeds and over deadfall. A few smooth sections of trail balance the technical rocky descents, which heat the rims enough to make you wonder, “what’s on fire?”. It’s dried mud and brake compound, with trail detritus, all served on overheated rims. Mmmm.

Yesterday was Lael’s first singletrack experience– loaded. Monarch Crest marks a second day of singletrack– this time unloaded– in which she proved her prowess in technical terrain, on a fat-tired touring bike, technically. There isn’t much traffic on the Crest this time of year, but we still turned a few heads with a pair of each: Rohloffs, full-sized Porcelain Rocket framebags, Tubus racks and drop bars. Much like the freewheeling, early history of mountain biking; enjoying the mountains on a bike is not limited to an industry standard full-suspension rig, but is open to anything your legs can pedal.

“Any bike, anywhere”, is the call of the American Rough Riders association, whose ideals are classically delineated, in Chris Kostman’s essay by the same name. Rather, Chris sets the cyclist and the bike, free.

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A bevy, or a birdsnest of plans

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The counter is blanketed with maps and guides of places that had only existed in fantasy before now. I’m planning my immediate future, which is necessarily tied to the chance of snow as soon as next Friday, and beyond. Ideas overwhelm days remaining of this Indian summer, including some routes that are new to me. It may require an entire summer to ride all of this; there is no shortage of dreaming going on.

My (partial) list of chores over the next year: the Colorado Trail, Kokopelli Trail, White Rim Trail, Arizona Trail, and the remaining portions of the Great Divide Route. Surely, the purchase of DeLorme state gazeteers for the southwest and mountain states would be money well spent, and would allow summers full of dirt and paved explorations off of the aforementioned routes and trails. Maps show a lot of green areas in this part of the country. Green is good; white checkerboard is generally not so good.

Likely, I will ride mostly paved roads through Rocky Moumtain NP to/ward Steamboat Springs to resume Great Divide riding as I have the opportunity to meet up with a few other riders there in a few days. The next major crossroads offers either continued riding on the Divide into NM; or some exciting riding into Moab via the Kokopelli Trail, and beyond through Canyonlands NP, the White Rim Trail, Bryce, Zion, Grand Canyon, etc. The Arizona Trail lay in that region as well; Lael’s talking about walking. She’s also in Seattle now (air travel is amazing!), so I resume my duties as captain of this ship.

I’m open to ideas if I’ve missed anything. Nearly, darts are being thrown at the map– give me something to shoot at.

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