Biking to the trailhead


Slowly pedaling past Pathfinders and Passports, past Colorado Trail signage and past day-riders descending the broad dirt road of Waterton Canyon, we make our way to the rest of Colorado.  I leave behind a wake of states and provinces, mountains and colorfully named highways.  A faint dotted line on a figurative map marks my progress, but we’re not looking back, only forward.  As the present become the past, the journey retains a specific character– the good times are served well by memory and the bad, mostly severed.  The last few miles to the start of the trail from Fort Collins to Boulder, to Denver and south through the suburbs along the Platte River Trail and Chatfield Reservoir are the easiest, but it’s been a long road, a detail which will not soon be forgotten.

Lumbering out of Anchorage on a repurposed “snow bike” into late spring was wet, yet spectacular; the Yukon is expansive and the midnight sun as relentless as the mosquitos and headwinds; the Cassiar Highway is a haul, and a means to lower B.C. and the States; the Icefields Parkway swarms with tourists, encouraging me off-pavement for the remainder of the summer; and the Great Divide Route is heavenly, as always.  All of this has been a means to this end– the Colorado Trail.  I’ve lost sleep over this trail, worrying that it is too steep or too hard, yet dreaming of the alpine scenery and the rewards of sitting atop mountains, and riding down their backsides.  The crux of this journey is this trail, and from my mid-winter vantage in Alaska, biking to the trailhead was the only way to get here.  As the future becomes the present, dreams become reality.  I’m here, finally.

Andy, our suburban host, provides a home for a few days and a convenient jumping off point for the start of the Colorado Trail.  Better known on the internet as Big Dummy Daddy, Andy holds a PhD in public health with a focus on urban bike-sharing; he has also earned an advanced degree in suburban family transport, to the credit of his Surly Big Dummy, the Snap Deck Xtracycle attachment, and a two-wheeled baby trailer.  Scout the dog follows alongside, and Piper keeps watch form behind.

Andy’s new Surly Pugsley is a gift to himself for completing his dissertation, and is blowing minds daily on the local canal trail and outside Whole Foods.  On this morning, our Pugsleys escort Stella’s little pink Kona to school.  This is suburban cycling, summa cum laude.





Andy shows us the way to the trailhead.  Lael is back in the swing of things and her new Giro helmet is supremely photogenic against Colorado skies, and a little reminiscent of 1985 mountain bike culture.  A couple hot dogs and sodas send us off at the trailhead.







Beyond the gates to the Colorado Trail follow six miles of graded access road, gently ascending the South Platte River.  At the dam, the road turns upward and the trail narrows.  The following few miles are supremely rideable singletrack and confirm the allure of the trail.  Soon, hiking through cobblestone rubble up steep grades confirms the challenges.  The rumor of challenges, like bad news and gossip grow with wildfire ferocity.  Tune out the naysayers who say it’s too heavy, too steep, too hard and too far– you can do it.  You can transport yourself!



The list of colorfully named highways is fun: the Yellowhead, Icefields, Cassiar, Klondike, Glenn, Richardson, Top-of-the-World, Denali, Parks, Alaska, Taylor, Diagonale and Peak-to-Peak.

9 thoughts on “Biking to the trailhead

    • We’re actually in Breckenridge right now, planning to detour around Segment 7 over the Tenmile Range. The thought of pushing bikes up and over 3500ft in very few miles doesn’t sound like fun, especially with the option to ride bike paths around the ridge directly to Copper Mountain and onto the next rideable segment. We’ve been content with the challenges of loose, rocky terrain and steep grades; the scenery, camping and the rideable stuff all make it worthwhile. It would be impossible to access these places on perfectly rideable trails, although much of the trail from Denver to Breck is well travelled and fun. Of course, having fun is our goal. We’re actually grateful for moments off the bike, hiking and pushing alongside, as it offers some respite from saddle sores and creaky knees. Intermittent use of different muscles seems healthy, and breaks the monotony of touring on “roads” of any kind, including the Divide.

      Lael is enjoying the bike immensely. Ideally, she’s thinking a little ring would be nice but admits she would just walk some of the steep stuff anyway to avoid busting a lung. Unless we have access to a cheap, used square taper crank and BB, we’ll stick with the current system. As well, we might like to lose a cm or two on the stem if something inexpensive arises, and we’re hunting for a 2.25-2.4 to replace the 2.1 Maxxis Crossmark that is currently on the rear. A cheap CST would be he easy fix if we can find one. Otherwise, she is joking about full-suspension carbon fiber and superlight aluminum hardtails. She will need a sponsor with deeper pockets than I have before that happens!

      We’re planning to detour off the trail toward Crested Butte, and over Pearl Pass into Aspen. I have a friend in Carbondale and am hoping to meet our ride to Interbike in Glenwood Springs.

      • Thanks for the update! You lucky dawgs! I have a couple of Sugino AT (170mm) cranks, I could part with one of them. I think I have a spare 127.5 UN bottom bracket too. Cheap for Lael. What size stem do you need? Bar diameter? I have a bunch of used tires, (free) will a 2.55 Weirwolf LT fit her frame? Even if it fits mud clearance will be tight. I have a couple of used Saguaros that will certainly fit, it’s a great touring tire. The good stuff is worn off all of them but they have some miles left in them.

      • I’m trying to figure the best way to do this, but some of this stuff would help, and the price is right. Maybe we can stop through Del Norte, but I’ll have to take a look at some maps and a calendar. Bike touring can be hard work sometimes.

        The Weirwolf would probably fit, but would be tight as you say. A Saguaro would be great, just the volume would likely improve traction and would allow lower pressures. I should have found a cheap 110/74 crank in the city when I had the chance; the Sugino AT would be great with a 24-34, or 26-36. Good square taper BBs are still cheap, which I love.

        Stem clamp diameter is 31.8, and the current stem is about 90mm (came off my Pugs when I put a longer stem on for the flat bar). Lael “cranes” her neck on almost any bike, creating tension in her shoulders and neck. She even did this on the LHT with the Marys, and the stem and TT were very short on that bike. She’s trying to solve the problem of her posture, but a shorter stem would definitely help.

        Perhaps we can arrange to ship some parts somewhere, or we can come visit beautiful Del Norte. I’ll let you know how it looks in the next few days. Thanks for the help, as always.

      • Wish I had known you might be needing a different set of cranks, as I have several 110/74 square tapers and BBs in my stockpile. Coming back to get them would probably mess up your timing though.

        Thanks for the info on the trail past Waterton Canyon. I think I’ll try to eke out some time in the next month to give it a shot. Happy trails.

      • No worries Andy. I spied some nice 110/74s in your bin, although we both liked the idea of keeping it simple with the single ring. In fact, the chainring is a 33T and the rear cassette is 11-32 or 34, so we could eek a little more out of the current system with a smaller ring and a some bigger cogs. The single ring isn’t the issue, if only it could be a 28 or 30T. We aren’t willing to spend too much on it for now, as it really isn’t that important. We might just keep with the current system, as in many cases the gearing isn’t really the limiting factor, as traction and fitness also play a role. Walking is nice sometimes.

        Lael has written a little piece about walking her bike:

      • I understand you on the gearing. It may be that I’m slow anyway, but I would always be in favor of a lower gear over a higher one. As Lael’s post affirms, it’s also a nice change of pace to hop off the bike and walk once in a while.

  1. I’m glad to see that you two made it over the top. I had a feeling that you might have made it a little closer to the inviting waters of Chatfield Reservoir after we parted ways. The stretch of days that you were here was abnormally hot, so I’m sure the mountains were a bit of a respite. Your photos of the trail make me want to take a day off and see how far I can get into the Colorado Trail on an overnighter.

    Thanks for your flattering assessment of our suburban family biking lifestyle. It can be a surprisingly good environment in which to ride for more than just recreation, something that I hope an increasing number of people discover. In any case, I try to do my part to expose the suburbs to what may be perceived as bike oddities.

    It was great to meet you and have you stay with us. Anybody as literate about vintage mountain bikes and devising solutions to the ails of mankind via two wheels as you are, is welcome any time.

    • Chatfield was a treat. We considered squatting in the bushes for the rest of the summer, swimming and sunning ourselves daily. While there are some steep sections and a few rocky bits, much of the trail to Breckenridge is rideable. Of course, there is a detour through Bailey to the top of Kenosha Pass. Section 3, near Buffalo Creek is the most pleasantly rideable, and is popular with local mountain bikers. The ride from Kenosha Pass, over Georgia Pass and into Breckenridge is also quite rideable, but with a more epic flavor. Georgia Pass is beautiful, but some of the downhill is rough. On a lightly loaded Pugs, it’s fun technical rock-crawling.

      An overnighter: Up Waterton Canyon, over the first 800 ft of manicured and rideable singletrack and down the backside to some nice looking camp sites.

      There is rumored to be an encampment back there with a teepee and fishing equipment, according to some colorful locals. Could be interesting.

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