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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Biking to the trailhead

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.