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2,641 Posts
Discussion Starter · #1 ·
After doing the Arizona Trail Race in 2019, the Colorado Trail has been next on my to-do list for big events. I'm slow and it's hard to get enough time off work to do something like this so the Colorado Trail became a must-do event after I found myself with some unplanned time off work.

There is a group start for the official CTR in late July but with the prospect of fires or smoke I was getting antzy and decided to pull the trigger on an early start as an ITT (individual time trial). The San Juans had been seeing a healthy monsoon already but a window appeared where they would ease off for a week or so. After some wrangling of logistics I got packed up and headed out.

Most stuff I've ever brought on a road trip. Moto, bikepacking gear, more spares and tools than normal due to covid scarcity. Plus gear and clothing for an extended trip. Oh, and bike box needed as well.

At the time I left I still hadn't nailed down a plan to get to the start in Denver. For the Arizona Trail I flew in to Tucson with my bike and then hitchhiked out at the end of the race to where could get a car rental. No rentals available this time so I figured I'd leave the truck in Durango and fly to Denver. Flights were cheap and it would be an easy trip on the metro to the start line at Waterton Canyon. That's assuming I could acquire a bike box - not an easy task when most bike shops are not getting any new bikes in. An e-bike store recently opened up across the street from me and I grabbed a box from them, but it was massive and heavy, and too long to fit in my long bed Tacoma. Two days before my planned departure date an email from my LBS announced they just got a shipment of Rocky Mtn hardtails. I beat the crowds to the door but was only after a box, not the bikes. Perfect... And best of all the bike box fit underneath the mattress in my camper.

Most stuff ever for a road trip, but the also the most organized ever

I decided to drive through the night to beat the heat in AZ. This was the week of the worst heatwave across the SW, so it was 90s at the beach in SD. And then it never got below 90 across the desert at night. Brutal, couldn't even stop anywhere to get a decent nap in. Too hot... Got a couple short ones in and then a bit longer nap in Flagstaff where it was only 80 at 8am.

I did a ride in the Abajo Mtns, another at Phils World and then met up with my friend Steve in Durango. He was doing some repairs on a family home and invited me to stay there... and leave my truck for during the race. We did a big ride up Engineer Mtn around to Graysill a couple days before, then I had a day off to relax and prepare. I'll try and do a separate TR for those rides and the rest of the trip at some point. Maybe.

Day of my flight, Steve gave me a lift to the airport.

First scare of the trip was forgetting my phone in the truck. I realized I didn't have it as I stepped up to the check in counter. ****! I needed to get it before Steve drove off as I had no way to reach him without the phone. Gate agent protesting "you can't leave your box unattended. We need to check you in first!" "OK, check me in I'll be right back" and I threw my wallet at him as I turned to run out of the terminal. Got to the truck just as Steve was about to start the engine. Phew! I'd lost my phone on AZTR so knew what a pain it is to get around without it.

Flight was $12 plus taxes and $75 for the bike. Not bad, assuming my bike arrives in one piece.

Oh and $12 for seat selection so I could hopefully scope out parts of the route from the air. That's Lake City below on the right. The ridgeline below it is what I'll be hitting in 10 days or so.

And I'll be hitting Waterton Canyon below in just a few hours.

The bike box arrived quite mangled but everything was there and intact. I put it together right by the baggage claim carousel. Got lots of questions from travelers and a few dirty looks from airport police riding by on their segways. They were probably just jealous of my ride ?

Right out the terminal door I picked up the metro train downtown. Found a place nearby online and pre-ordered a carnitas burrito for lunch and a breakfast burrito for the next day. Welcome baseball fans - how about bikepackers? Great food, but had to wait 40min despite ordering ahead. Yet the place was empty?

Rode a few blocks and then picked up another train down to the end of the line in Littleton. Had the whole car to myself.

And from there it was right onto a bike path that would take me all the way to Waterton Canyon. Bridge over the South Platte here. It was Saturday and there were tons of people out float tubing the river.

Found a bit of dirt road

It begins! Waited a couple minutes til 6pm even to get rolling. The CTR is based on running time so Day 1 would technically run through 5:59pm the next day.

The pedal up Waterton Canyon was a nice warmup. And just...nice. Few people out after the first mile, and nice temps. High was supposedly low 80s for Littleton after it had been low 90s for a few days.

After around 7 miles I got to the start of the singletrack. Bring it! I had lights and had been hoping to get through Segment 3, but we'll see....

The singletrack started off with a constant climb, but was really nice trail.

Then it gets a bit rocky. Every TR has to have a shot of this section.

Curious spot for a no motor vehicle sign, in the middle of nowhere.

When I got near the first stream crossing I started seeing tents along the trail. But no people outside them. Interesting. Everyone in bed already? It was only 7:30 or so. Sun wouldn't going down until 8:30.

Bit of a view at a high point. Ran into a thru hiker who was not yet sleeping. He offered to share his campsite, but I still planned to ride for a few more hours. In the dark? Yeah, I guess it'll get dark soon. LOL. I don't plan on this taking 30 days!

Dropping back down the the South Platte soon after turning my light on. Quite a few more tents off the side of the trail.

It might be useful to know what flying debris to look out for : ) I didn't see anything. My revised goal was to finish the 1800ft climb out of the river. That would set me up for some nice riding in the morning. Most of the climb went through an old burn area so I wasn't missing out on any amazing views.

Finished the climb just before midnight. There had been tents crammed into every available space once some flatter terrain appeared so when I found a cool spot that was unoccupied I figured that was good for Day 1.

Stats, including bike path pedal from the metro - 34.6mi, +4,720/-2,190ft. Moving time was about 6hrs.

2,641 Posts
Discussion Starter · #2 ·
Day 2

I woke up just before sunrise. Things were perfectly quiet and looking out there was a tinge of orange as the sun rose. Perfect temps. Had a quick snack, packed up and started out.

Some awesome singletrack was awaiting

I soon dropped down and into another old burn area.

Nice fast riding, and with no one out yet I had the trail to myself.

I finally started passing some tents. Getting close to 8am and no one up yet? Didn't they all go to bed by 7? Finally met a few hikers at the start of Segment 3.

Off the side of the trail I spotted some new construction. It wasn't connected at either end but looked like it would bypass a short steep hike a bike.

Lots of nice singletrack in Segment 3. I rode part of it years ago from Buffalo Creek. Had breakfast at a nice stream crossing and saw the first day riders of the trip.

Lots of thru hikers out. Two of them were carrying chest mounted pistols to complement their ultralight pack setups. Um, if you want to lose some weight I can make a suggestion!

Before long, the singletrack was done and I was at the start of the Tarryall detour around the Lost Creek Wilderness. Rather than ride 24 miles of trail bikes get to do a 70-mile road detour. All the thru-hikers I'd talk to - "you'll really like the Lost Creek Wilderness section". Um yeah, I don't get to ride that. I get to ride 70 miles around it instead. "That sucks". Yeah, it does! There are worse roads we could have ridden but I'd still rather be on trail than dirt road.

Traffic around Wellington Lake was outrageous at first, the majority of drivers weren't slowing down to pass. It was Sunday so everyone from the private campgrounds here was heading home. Once I got past the lake there were very few vehicles out.

Views from the road were pretty good. It was all old burn area again, so it was very open. The route through here was a series of 500-800 foot climbs and descents. After every second climb, there would be a nice stream in the next valley bottom so water was not an issue. I stopped at each one to filter water and cool off. It was hot out, but not terrible. Similarly, the climbs were constant, but not terrible. I kept moving and made pretty good time.

Looking back to the east

My breakfast burrito powered me through the day.

Top of the final dirt road climb. I wasn't aware but 26 miles of the detour was pavement and that was coming up soon.

That turned out to be a good thing...I think. Views were great, and I was able to make good time. Ran into my first bikepacker of the trip, Pete, on a fat bike. He didn't have lights and was planning to camp somewhere nearby.

The bad... mosquitos were ferocious, and even on pavement hitting 15mph I couldn't outrun them. Only on the downhills where I could really pick up speed did I get some relief

I wanted to make the Stagestop Saloon before closing time at 10pm, but the mosquitos were even greater motivation to pedal hard.

The road ran along Tarryall Creek for many miles, it was incredibly scenic.

Tarryall Reservoir. The fishermen still out on the lake didn't seem bothered by the bugs. Just beyond the reservoir the creek moved far enough away from the road the bugs were no longer an issue.

I made it to the Saloon at 9pm. Closed! Dammit. I had tried to call them before the trip to confirm hours, but got no answer. I'd brought food for an extra day just in case so that was a good call. Figured open til 10 on a Sunday might be pushing it. Turns out that was correct. The owner of the saloon was known to watch the online tracker for the race but I figured maybe he didn't check in before the grand depart. Turned out he passed away in 2020 and the place was under new ownership. New hours that were not yet posted to the website were Sunday... from open, til whenever the manager decides to close.

I was kinda bummed but could do nothing except keep pedaling. It was half mile more of pavement until a turnoff, then another mile or so to the national forest boundary. I hit the cattle gate at the boundary and found a spot to camp just beyond it. Done!

Day 2 stats - 82.5mi, + 9,225/-7,650ft 13hrs moving time.

2,641 Posts
Discussion Starter · #3 ·
Day 3

Campsite for the previous night. Didn't waste any time finding a spot once on public land

One thing I'd forgotten to do at the Stagestop was fill up my water. Although the place was closed, there was a spigot out front. I didn't have a lot left so this tank was a welcome sight.

I had around 5 more miles of dirt road to go on the detour. Thankfully it went pretty fast. When I reached the trailhead where I'd pick up the CT again a couple thru hikers were sitting there - "welcome back to the trail!" Thanks!

Flowers were out. These ones near Kenosha Pass were pretty stunning mixed in with the aspens.

It was a bit of culture shock getting to Kenosha pass, which is a major trailhead on Hwy 285. The parking lots on both sides were packed and there were tons of hikers for a few miles on both sides. Hikers weren't the only ones out for a stroll.

There was a bit of smoke, not terrible, but enough to obscure some of the view.

A bit sketchy on a loaded bike, but I rode it.

Shortly after that I caught up to this crew. Donkeys were carrying camera gear for a "donkeymentary" the guys were making about doing paintings along the Colorado trail.

Amazing. Had to stop for a minute and take it in.

Getting psyched up to start the climb to Georgia Pass I came around a corner and rode up on this scene... Some hikers doing section hikes had set up trail magic where they hand out free food and drink to anyone who comes by. A beer and brats hit the spot for sure.

And carrots for the donkeys who had now caught up.

Next stop, Georgia Pass. If I recall it was a 2,000ft climb.

Much of it was rideable, so I just took my time and kept moving.

Shot at the pass. High point of the trip so far at 11,600ft.

All downhill from here.

I'd leapfrogged a few hikers I'd met down at the trail magic tent. Everyone was cool and stoked to be out, so I guess the piece was for bears?

Brought my go pro along, figured that would work well for the bigger descents.

The descent off Georgia Pass was awesome. Smooth and buff up top, and then rocky and technical near the bottom. It was getting on towards 6pm so there weren't many hikers still on the trail. Lots of tents set up at the bottom.

There was another climb of around 900ft and some smaller hills before I'd get to Breck. Made it up to the top just as the sun was setting. There was a whole group of thru hikers at this spot who stayed up late to watch the sunset. I kept moving, still had some miles to go to get to town.

One more view as the sun disappears

The drop into Breck had some super tight switchbacks that were interesting on the loaded bike. Then there was a bit of a traverse past some expensive condos over to the highway. And a 4-mile paved bike path ride into town.

9pm and town was pretty empty.

I figured I should get dinner first in case places were closing early on a Monday. First place I went to - kitchen closed, but they gave some suggestions up the road. Next closed. Third closed. I shouldn't be surprised after 18mos of Covid closures, but it was still annoying. Finally found food at Ollie's, pretty much as far off route as I could get in Breck. I had some good food and a couple beers, and picked up a sandwich for the next day. That was a good move as the City Market also closed early. I can count on 7-11 though, right? Right? Wrong. They weren't even sure if they closed at 10 or 11. Either way it was after 11pm and I was out of luck. I always carry a bit extra so I did have enough to get to Copper the next day.

I cruised back down the bike path and filtered some water in the dark. It was close to midnight by the time I got back on trail so I didn't plan on going far. In fact, I was looking for the first available flat spot. Found that behind some trees about 500ft up the trail. Done, out.

Day 3 stats - 60.1mi, +8,040/-8,000ft. 14hrs ride time.

2,641 Posts
Discussion Starter · #4 ·
Day 4

Camp spot near Breck

That's the Tenmile range, which I'll hopefully crest around noon.

Lots of salvage logging near Breck from beetle kill and fires. Looked like this might have been pre-emptive felling of snags to avoid a lifetime of cutting downed trees off the trail.

The trail continued steadily uphill after a mega steep section of maybe 500 feet.


Getting up above treeline

After crossing over a small pass the trail traversed for some time. It alternated between rocky and buff. Much of it was rideable.

I caught up to this group on a bachelor party trip on the traverse, and then they passed me when the trail turned steeply uphill

Looking down the ridge top

New high point for the trip to date, 12,500ft

One of the guys offered to get a pic for me and suggested I should lift the bike over my head in celebration. Turns out a loaded bikepacking rig isn't exactly light, and its hard to hold up there when you haven't grabbed it so the weight is balanced. So this is me, trying not to let it flip over backwards behind me.

The summit shot I should have settled for....

Nice to have options!

Here's the descent off Copper. Not as technical as Georgia Pass but also didn't have a bunch of bullshit climbing to get to Copper.

Scanning Copper from above for a place to eat

The burger didn't stand a chance. Dark clouds were starting to form with a few rain drops, but I managed to stay dry while eating

Found the local market and picked up a bit of food to get me over to Leadville the next day. The forecast was calling for thunderstorms on the Leadville side the next morning so I wanted to get over Searle and Kokomo passes tonight. The trail climbing out of Copper was pretty nice.

Filtered water here

I was around 500 feet below tree line when I started hearing thunder up ahead. Skies were getting dark and there were some drops of rain beginning to fall. I can deal with rain but there is no tree cover between Searle and Kokomo passes so it is not a place you want to be when there is lightning nearby.

It was getting close to 6pm by this time so I decided to be like a thru hiker and get in the tent. Set up at the next flat spot I found under tree cover. This downed tree was securely wedged in and for some reason it seemed like extra protection from the storm.

No sooner had I set up the tent than the skies opened up. Lightning continued as well so I decided to sleep early, and get up well before sunrise to get over the passes before any storm would hit in the morning. Slept for a couple hours, had something to eat, and then went back to sleep.

Short day, but I was set up well to make good progress the next day.

Day 4 stats - 21.9mi, +5,510/-3,870ft

2,641 Posts
Discussion Starter · #5 ·
Day 5

Up in the dark, I rolled out of camp by 430am. I was a bit surprised to pass one thru hiker in the dark. First light appeared not long after I got above tree line. That is Janet's cabin in the pic, part of the 10th Mtn Division hut system

Searle Pass before 6am. Nice to feel like you've accomplished something so early in the day.


Traverse from Searle to Kokomo

Still tucked in their tent

Nice view


And now for the funner part, dropping off Kokomo. I passed a few hikers lower down but most were still asleep. I also ran into a trail crew about 2/3 of the way down that were just connecting a new re-route to the existing trail. As in, done, and I can ride it? Yup! Thanks for the work, crew! Fun new line compared to the lame, wide fall line section it replaces.

Saw flagging for a few other re-routes. And this waterfall.

Made it down to Camp Hale and checked out the bunkers. Trail goes right past them. Looks like a lot of trail users sleep in them. They were kinda gross inside, lots of trash and graffiti.

There some tough climbing up next to get to Hwy 24. After that, it got nice again. Skies were starting to threaten though.

Right around Tennessee Pass it started to rain. Wasn't bad under the trees but the rain picked up by the time I got back to Hwy 24. My rain jacket was already on, and rain pants would also make an appearance for the 8 mile highway ride into Leadville. The rain continued steady all the way into Leadville and I was also getting sprayed by vehicles blowing past at 65mph. I had a craving for chicken McNuggets but there is no McDs in Leadville. The laundromat in town has public showers so I opted to hit that first and clean up a bit. By the time I did laundry and showered the rain had eased up, and I headed out in search of food.

Rainy Leadville.

It was just after 2pm but every restaurant had a line out the door and I didn't want to wait. I finally checked out Wild Bill's at the south end of town which is a bit more fast-foodish but wouldn't have a long wait. A burger for now, and chicken sandwich to go. And topped up the charge on all my electronics.

Town was definitely booming, despite the rain. Skies had cleared up, time to get out of here!

It was about 10 road miles to get back to the CT at the Mt Elbert trailhead. The last couple miles miles were closed to motor vehicles for road construction. Got to the trailhead just before 5pm, and found a couple hikers already setting up their tent. Maybe they knew something I didn't know?

Apparently they did because the skies opened about 3 minutes later and I got rained on, hard. It looked like the storm might pass pretty quick so I put my rain coat on and found a couple big trees to hide under. Standing there I realized the trees weren't much help as a shelter. Then I had a vision of my friend Schillingsworth scoffing at me for hiding from this little bit of rain. Colorado Trail Race '17 - Wet 'n Wild Edition

So I got moving. Rain slowed a bit but was steady for the next 90min or so.

I would have been very tempted to do a side trip if I'd gotten here early on a nice day. No Mt Elbert today. It had looked like fresh snow up high.

The rain had let up but rain gear stayed on as wet brush was hanging over the trail in many places. Nice waterfall here.

Hero dirt in the aspens

The sun made an appearance just as Twin Lakes came into view. Rain gear came off before I started the descent.

Dropping down to Twin Lakes was some fast fun riding.

Fast miles through here

Awesome view at sunset

I was feeling pretty worked but wanted to at least knock out the 600ft climb above Twin Lake before I stopped for the night. Half way up I stopped to eat.

Not much further I came across some huge pine trees that were clearly better at blocking rain than the ones I'd hid under earlier. A dry spot was too good to pass up so I got set up and crashed out.

Day 5 stats - 61.7mi, +6,840/-5,940ft Ride time 13:20

2,641 Posts
Discussion Starter · #6 ·
Day 6

Slept well and didn't get a particularly early start. But it was nice out, and my stuff was dry after finding that dry spot on the ground. After making it up most of the climb the prior night I was looking forward to an easy cruise into Buena Vista.

Trail started off real nice.

@3blackbikes started the same day I did from Durango. I'd expected to cross paths earlier but her dot had stopped in Buena Vista a full day earlier. Wasn't sure what was going on, but I finally saw her jamming along up this hike a bike.

With her head down I pretty much had to tap her shoulder as she passed before she noticed me, haha. She said BV area got stormed on the entire prior day so she tracked down an AirBnB to ride it out. The dirt road north out of BV wouldn't have been rideable due to mud she said, and was even soft this morning. Great seeing you Liz, unfortunately she had a crash 25mi from Waterton Canyon on her final day and wasn't able to finish.

Nice view looking down to Clear Creek

Clear Creek reservoir

The route gets back on Hwy 24 for a few paved miles then crosses over the Arkansas River at Railroad Bridge. Nice caboose!

The Arkansas River with a bunch of big mountains in the background

The iconic tunnels on the ride into BV. The road was indeed still damp, but was fine except where I pulled off to the edge to let cars pass

BV was a zoo. Lineups at every restaurant again, and super busy overall. I stopped at the post office and mailed some clothing and other stuff home. It had been warmer so far with much less rain than there could have been so I hadn't used some extra layers I'd brought. Found a hotdog vendor for lunch, hit up the outdoor shop for a few items, then pedaled over to City Market for a big food resupply. Aside from the Mt Princeton store this was my last resupply option until Silverton in 200 miles.

A paved climb out of BV at mid day wasn't ideal but you gotta keep rolling! It was Thursday and there was a constant stream of toy haulers and trailers loaded with side by sides heading up Cottonwood Pass. Most would give me room when there wasn't oncoming traffic, but I got buzzed too close for comfort when they couldn't move over. Slowing down was apparently too much of an inconvenience for anyone. The small shoulder, when it even existed, wasn't much use as it sloped down for water/rock drainage. Couldn't wait to get off the pavement and back on trail.

Ahh.... much better! One of many times I wished I'd brought my fishing rod.

It got a bit rocky for a while

View west toward Cottonwood Pass

Flowers were out in this area too

There was some really nice trail in there.

The trail eventually crossed onto private property and then dumped onto a forest road which quickly started switchbacking down before passing some sort of kids/church camp that was bustling with activities. And then a bunch of fast miles on pavement. Well fast for me, felt sorry for the thru hikers who had to hoof it on pavement.

View looking down at Mt Princeton Hot Springs

I made it to the resort before the store closed. Had been craving a pepsi so I got that and a couple mini-pizzas from the little pizza place inside. No swim for me, wanted to keep going as I was feeling good. A few more miles of paved and dirt road to get back on trail.

The climb out of the valley was steep and rocky, but fortunately not too long. Views were great though.

After topping out on the climb there was a short descent where I came across a chaco sandal on the trail. Most thru hikers were going my direction and I'd likely pass the owner, so I took it. 1/4 mile later I found the other one. Never did locate the owner but I'd passed a lot of people already in their tents. So I left them in a visible spot at Hwy 50 crossing the next day. Hopefully the owner found them.

Still some miles to go that night. The riding was pretty fast through open timber and grassland.

Most of the way up a climb I found a nice flat spot, and took it. I'd been seeing lightning flashing on the other side of the valley and didn't want to get overrun by a storm.

Day 6 stats - 60.1mi, +6,840/-5,940ft, moving time 11 hrs

2,641 Posts
Discussion Starter · #7 ·
Day 7

Didn't sleep super well that night. I kept having dreams that a bear was trying to get into my tent after the big food resupply the day before. And of course every sound after that woke me up.

Was up and going not long after sunrise. Big day ahead, hopefully! Line choice looking up this section wasn't immediately obvious when I saw it from lower down

Apparently I wasn't the only one

Nice spot to filter from

There was some nice trail in here, but overall this segment was work. Lots of climbs, lots of rocks.

Dropping down to the Mt Shavano trailhead area

View up towards Monarch Crest where I'll be heading next

Hwy 50 comes into view.

Near a bunch of campsites on the climb up to Fooses I came across a mama and tiny baby moose, now hiding behind a bush. Did not stick around for a better shot!

CT Association trailer parked up at the trailhead. As I was having lunch at the first stream crossing the trail crew boss passed by. After trying to recruit me and a couple thru hikers for a days work he told us about the re-routes they would be working on for the next few years, mostly steeper parts of the trail including the last stretch up to the crest. Sounds good to me, thanks for the work!

Another crossing

The first couple miles were real nice, gentle climbing through the forest

Came across a section the trail crew was currently working on. They'd had a day off and would re-start the next day

Rain started soon after that and continued all the way up to the crest. You can just make out the trail sign at the top. I was getting tired and it would take a minute to get up there.

Looking back, rain looks even heavier down there now

Started rolling and soon spotted a rainbow up ahead. Cool! Then I looked to the left and saw another one that was backlit perfectly by the dark clouds behind it. A couple minutes later a second rainbow appeared above it!

A bit of nice singletrack getting over to Greens. I stopped in at the shelter there to remove rain gear and have a snack. Some hikers who'd gotten ahead up me going up Fooses were there along with one I'd met on day 3, who had skipped ahead.

Nice to see clear skies. It was 10 yrs since the last time I rode Monarch Crest, and had forgotten about some of the crap you ride to get over to Marshall Pass and Silver Creek. I'd be going beyond both of those today.

Marshall Pass

Nice view to the south

Getting close to 8pm so thru hikers were long asleep. I ran into another bikepacker not far ahead who was on his first ever bikepacking trip. He'd started at Hwy 114 and was going to Buena Vista. Basically, the entire hardest and most hated section of the CT. Nice choice!

Beyond Silver Creek trail the CT started to suck. Lots of steep sections covered in loose rock. The following traverse was full of mud holes. This section is open to motos and they aren't doing the trail any favors. Lots of big mud holes. Eventually it got better and I was able to make some distance. But I started feeling rain drops again, so I found a flat spot and called it for the night. Sargents Mesa next up!

Day 7 stats - 37.9mi, +7,300/-4,950, moving time 12.5 hrs

2,641 Posts
Discussion Starter · #8 ·
Day 8

Woke up to a nice sunny day. I wasn't far from the next water source at Tank 7 Creek so I decided to head there for breakfast.

This singletrack is what I woke up to trail-wise. A thousand foot descent that was steep, trenched out, completely moto fu**ed. I ride on moto trails a lot and they can be awesome when they're not steep. But having a throttle and some power can sure make a mess of trails when it gets steep. This could be fun on a DH bike but sucked on a loaded bikepacking rig, and it definitely not acceptable for a national scenic trail. The hikers all hated it as much as I did.

Example of not steep trail

Tank 7. Lots of people here. This is the last reliable water source for a long way, as the next one at Razor Creek had apparently been trashed by cattle. More an issue for hikers than for me as I'd have no problem making it to the next good source

I don't think I'd ever seen pics of Tank 7 or the area around it, so I didn't know what to expect. Everyone just talks about how much Sargents Mesa sucks. I wasn't quite there yet and the climb out of Tank 7 turned out to be pretty nice.

Lots of open meadow riding, all of it rideable

Flat area up top, which the trail would circle and then continue climbing

This is why fall line trails are no bueno. When the current one gets too trenched out, move over 3 feet and start a new line.

Looking back

I asked if he wanted to trade bikes. Nope. Sargents Mesa should start up ahead at treeline where the trail meet a jeep trail.

I've heard tales of Sargents Mesa being haunted. All I came across was a bunch of ham radio operators. "This is Sargents Mesa calling...." pssshhhhh...... I don't think anyone picked up.

So it turns out the reason Sargent's Mesa is so rocky is that it is open to motos and has a lot of steep climbs and descents. I don't recall hearing about motos on the trail before, so it all makes sense now.

You could ride the descents but most of the climbs were hike a bike. Even some of the flat sections were not worth the effort to try and pedal.

Sargents gets a big middle finger. Same with the couple hills that followed, which I'll collectively refer to as Mount Unnecessary, since you climb them and then descend them unnecessarily.

I should get to go downhill soon. Good thing, because lightning strikes were starting to hit nearby

Time to get outta here!

Steep section on the descent off the second peak of Mt Unnecessary

In their tent...must be 6pm

Now we're making progress

A hiker named Apple is known for coming out from Ohio 3 weeks every summer and setting up camp in a patch of trees below to hand out food and drinks to trail users. I was craving potato chips and a Dr pepper in a big way, so I had my fingers crossed he'd be there. No such luck. Figured he may have stopped due to covid or I could have passed through too early. I heard later he was seen on the CDT down in New Mexico.

Hikers turned left here. I would turn right and start the 70-mile La Garita wilderness detour.

The roads were fast and I was making good time.

There were lots of people fishing along the reservoir and as I passed some trucks below I thought I heard the word "burger" over the wind. Turned back, and sure enough the Vic below had yelled asking if I wanted a burger. Hell yeah! I was offered a hot dog, the burger (handmade patty!), chips, beer, Dr pepper, carrots, cookies. He probably would have sent the whole cooler on with me if I could have towed it. I was stuffed. It was perfect visiting and watching the sunset. Thanks Vic!

The sun was fading away as I pedaled on. I wanted to make it to the top of the Los Pinos climb which was about half way through the road detour. After a couple miles I turned onto a lesser dirt road. There lights in the distance from a ranch house, and nothing else. No wind, no vehicles. Super quiet.

I turned off my light and took it all in. With the half moon it turned out I could see pretty well so I continued on without lights. Pretty cool. When I got to around 9,500ft there were trees along the road and the shadows they cast on the road made it hard to see. It was close to midnight and I was about done, so I filtered water at a small stream and then stopped for the night when I spotted a flat area on a side road above McDonough Reservoir.

Day 8 stats - 62.3mi, +6,340/-8,390ft, 13.5 hrs moving time

2,641 Posts
Discussion Starter · #9 ·
Day 9

I woke up to find everything covered in condensation despite camping under tree cover, so relocated into the sun to dry off. Otherwise, it was a great spot. Aside from a truck driving past before 5am it was quiet

Looking back at what I climbed up the prior night

Top of Los Pinos climb

The view off the far side

Dropping down. Looks like I'll hang a right past that ranch

The valley bottom was all private property so no stream access. Then this short bit through BLM land

Stopped for a quick swim. It was nice!

Climbing up. Beyond that narrow canyon were more ranches, guest ranches, residences, and campgrounds. And plenty of traffic to go with them.

Great spot to filter water near the top

I really suffered on that climb. It wasn't that long or steep, about 2,500ft in 16mi, but it was just steep enough to be work. I had to sit and spin rather than crank, and it seemed to go on forever. I was having to get off the bike every quarter or half mile and walk for a minute to give my butt a rest. So this road climb gets the finger too.

The view after cresting Slumgullion Pass. A few free pavement miles coming up.

At Spring Creek Pass the route turns back onto dirt. The first few miles are OHV trail. Aside from a few short steep sections I hiked, it was pretty nice

Then the singletrack begins and quickly climbs up to Jarosa Mesa.

Looking back past Spring Creek Pass at Snow Mesa - a section of the CT the route doesn't use as it leads into wilderness. I planned to come back and ride it later.

Jarosa Mesa is another notorious section of the CT. It is super rocky, and like Sargents even the flat sections are only marginally rideable. At least the views were good.

Just head for that marker in the distance

Down below is the Rio Grande

The singletrack merged onto a doubletrack with a couple fast miles descent

Enjoy that descent while it lasts

It soon narrowed down to singletrack as I hit the trees. I started seeing tents anywhere there was a flat spot

Nice contrast of yellow flowers and green vegetation

Time check? It was like clockwork every day....

There were storm cells to the north and west, and I could now hear thunder in the distance. So I opted to camp here rather than continue up above tree line. I was on the wrong side of the hill to see the sunset, but I was certain the sunrise would be awesome.

Day 9 stats - 45.8mi, +5,720/-3,740ft, 8 hrs moving time.

This place needs an enema
17,682 Posts
I was at the start of the Tarryall detour around the Lost Creek Wilderness. Rather than ride 24 miles of trail bikes get to do a 70-mile road detour. All the thru-hikers I'd talk to - "you'll really like the Lost Creek Wilderness section". Um yeah, I don't get to ride that. I get to ride 70 miles around it instead.
Maybe ~15 years ago Scott Morris and I pulled wheels off of bikes, hung the bikes from our packs and walked through the Lost Creek Wilderness with wheels in hands.

Ideal? Nope. But actually pretty cool, and it beat the hell out of 70 miles of road.

2,641 Posts
Discussion Starter · #11 ·
There are a few places I'd consider using that method. Technically we're not allowed to possess the bike in Wilderness but I can't see anyone giving you a hard time about it, since you'd be complying with the spirit of the law...and with a lot of additional effort. Chris Burkart and Lael Wilcox's group did a bike/hike through Wilderness in Sequoia NP last summer, and apparently had permits to do so. So maybe land managers are softening to bike access? For the Orogenesis route that will connect Baja Divide and Oregon Timber Trail there are two segments through Golden Trout Wilderness and Seqouia NP (non-Wilderness) that would cut out 90 miles of pavement riding.

2,641 Posts
Discussion Starter · #12 ·
Day 10

Early to bed, early to rise. I wanted to get going early since this would be a big day. And I wanted to get up above treeline to see sunrise and get the hardest climbing over before it warmed up. It had been close to 90F the previous afternoon at Spring Creek Pass. So much for cooler temps at high elevation.

I was watching sunrise when a thru hiker caught up, and took a photo for me

So peaceful up there

After a 1200ft climb riding opened up on the plateau

View over the edge

You can see Slade, the hiker, up ahead. We'll be climbing up top the rocky escarpment in the distance

Peeking around back to the east

Things about to get steep. Getting up to 13,000ft this rocky section would take me a while

Not a bad view from up top though

The bike needed a nap after reaching High Point

There was a bunch of riding up top on the plateau, then a nice drop down. Had some curious spectators

After dropping a bunch of elevation on a lame jeep road a turn back onto singletrack soon revealed this view

The valley continued a long way below the trail too

There hadn't been a lot of flowers up top but I was starting to see a nice display in this valley

It was hard to take a pic that did it justice, but this one comes close at capturing how brilliant they were

I'd been thinking the valley bottom looked moose-y. I saw a cow and calf first, then looked back and spotted a bull off in the willows. A moment later a second bull appeared. I didn't think they would hang out together but they seemed pretty chill.

Mama and calf hanging out close by as well

The trail contoured for a long ways up the valley, then climbed in earnest to a saddle

Long, fun descent down the back side toward Cataract Lake

I'd ridden to this spot from the other direction before so at least I knew how much hike a bike was coming up

The climb out of Cataract was pretty steep but didn't take too long

I kept leapfrogging with Slade and one other thru hiker. We all stopped to filter water at one point and someone commented none of us had seen anyone else so far today. Pretty much soon as he said that a trail runner came chugging down off a high ridgeline off trail.

The views are amazing in every direction up there

This bikepacker passed me for the second time. First time had been two days earlier on Sargents Mesa where he told me he was going for the FKT (fastest known time). This time he said he'd broken six spokes and had to drop down to Lake City to get them fixed. He figured he could still finish tonight for five days. I said lets hope I don't see you again. Turns out he'd pass me again the next morning after breaking more spokes and hitch-hiking to Durango and back to get it fixed.

The hike a bikes were piling up. The hikers setting up camp below were smug that wouldn't have to climb this hill today. That is, until I pointed out I'd be having beer and pizza in Silverton in an hour or so while they enjoyed freeze dried camp meals.

Looking down Maggie Gulch. Shouldn't be far now...

One of the last big hurdles on the CT. Downhill to Silverton!

The welcoming committee at Stony Pass

Quite a ways to descend

The canyon walls were impressively steep. Lower down there are still cable systems and buckets in place that were used for transporting ore

The route was moved off the main county road this year to a side road into Silverton that would have minimal traffic. Much appreciated!

Grabbed a few snacks at the store and then pizza and beer at Avalanche Brewing. There were a few other riders there to hang out with which was cool.

I decided to make the climb up to Molas in the dark rather than in the morning, anticipating less traffic at night. It was going well until an RV crossed into the opposing lane on a corner not seeing the reflection of oncoming headlights. Uh oh... Fortunately the oncoming truck avoided it by going onto the far shoulder...super sketchy. Was glad to get back on dirt. I rode up the CT a few miles crossing the highway, and then a ways past the campground. I was done.

View looking down at Silverton during the climb

What an awesome day though, definitely one of my best days ever on the bike with perfect weather, awesome alpine singletrack and scenery.

I ran the go pro a bunch, so the two edits below cover sections throughout day. The camera got knocked forward or shook forward a couple times so the view points down a bit more as the day progresses.

Day 10 stats - 48.1mi, +7,640/-8,200ft. 13 hrs moving time

2,641 Posts
Discussion Starter · #14 ·
Day 11

Molas is a much busier section of the CT so I was seeing people not long after I got up. Alex, the FKT chaser, was out of the running and just looking to finish after having to go into Durango for another spoke repair. I saw some bikepackers coming the other direction as well.

After a quick breakfast I was off

The day was looking awesome so far

Volume up if you can. I heard a ruckus up ahead but it wasn't til I looked way up that I saw them, sheep high up on the far valley wall.

They were moving south around the end of the ridgeline and I could hear them for miles and miles as I rode onwards. I could only imagine this is what it would sound like to be chased by a crowd of zombies slowly fading away as you outrun them

Some of the best flower displays of the trip so far

I made decent time on the climbs but definitely did more hiking as I got closer to the top

Rolling Pass

Dropping off the other side

Get out of here you thieving bastard

Cascade Creek is always worth stopping at

Starting to see some lightning over that peak in the distance. At this point I was more interested in what it looked like over toward Blackhawk Pass

Poked out of the trees and the sky had darkened. Couldn't tell if the storm was moving at all. Lots of lightning now. Still looked clear up ahead though

Stopped a few minutes later and looked back. Oh ****, here it comes!

As I headed for the nearest stand of trees about 500 feet away I got hit by a few big drops, then the sky opened up on me. By the time I got my rainjacket on I was getting pelted by hail.

Then the lightning moved in. After a few minutes I wasn't even getting the "one" in "one-one-thousand". Lightning was reflecting off the hail on the ground around me. Scary stuff. The storm cell sat directly over me for 40 min before the lightning moved off enough I felt safe to keep going.

Nice thick layer in places

Watch your step

The trail was a river most of the way to Bolam Pass Rd. I didn't care, was just a relief to be out of there

Back in the treeline I came across a Western Spirit tour group hiding out under their EZ-up tents. They invited me over to warm up. A thru hiker came through a few minutes later who got hit by the lightning storm as well and was looking shell shocked. The tour group got rain but only got to watch the show from a distance.

They didn't invite me to stay for dinner so I took off. The goal was to get to the start of Indian Trail Ridge or even onto the ridge before stopping.

Rain gear stayed on for a while as the brush was wet, but it came off once I started the climb to Blackhawk Pass. Barely any rain had fallen a short distance south.

I passed another thru hiker there who was just ahead of me and also got hit. He must have been on edge, he was in his tent (it was 6pm after all) and thought I was a bear when he heard my tires crunching on gravel.

I think I may have converted him over to bikepacking. Two bikers who he met just before the storm hit said "oh **** look at that storm coming, lets get out of here" and pedaled off. They made it past the tour group camp before lightning started. On foot, he got stuck in it like I did and he was over it. I think he got hit by a bad storm the previous day as well.

Clearing up, you can see Lizard Head in the distance now

I had a quick snack at the pass and then got going again.

Didn't see anyone else until the other side of Hotel Draw, then just a few tents. I rode for an hour or so in the dark and was just getting to Corral Draw when I started seeing lightning in the distance toward Indian Trail Ridge. Couldn't tell how far away it really was, but I had no intention of getting caught in more of that in the dark. Found a spot that should have a nice sunset view, and set up camp.

Day 11 stats - 34.5mi, +5,600/-5,220, moving time 11.5 hrs

2,641 Posts
Discussion Starter · #15 ·
Day 12

Time to finish this thing!

Up before sunrise. I wanted to get over Indian Trail Ridge before any storms could hit. Didn't quite have a view of the sunrise but that's ok.

View was still pretty good. Packing up I noticed one of my socks was missing. Before going to sleep I'd laid them out to dry on top of my pack which was under the vestibule. Thinking back I thought I'd been imagining a critter rustling around against the tent in the night. Turns out it was real and the bastard made off with my sock. Guessing it was a marmot. There was a big rockpile on the slope below where those things build their lairs. Enjoy the stanky sock for a pillow!

I was still 7-8 miles from the start of the climb up Indian Trail Ridge. There's some nice riding in this area, much of it along the edge of the ridgeline


Not sure if tasty, or poisonous... I've never seen as many mushrooms as I did on this trip. All different types, and some really big ones. This one was a solid 12" across.

Keep pushin' on

So beautiful up there

Solidly into the climb by this point

I was watching the clouds over the peaks in front when a thru hiker I passed commented that we'll probably get hit by that storm coming in behind us within an hour. I hadn't even noticed that one and it lit a fire under me to get going!

I see you, you thieving bastard

Yes that is the trail up there. I kept thinking ok just this last steep climb then down to Taylor Lake. Then I'd crest that climb and see a couple more big hills ahead. The climbs just kept going and going.

I depleted my cache battery topping up my phone and inReach for the last couple days so my go pro was running out of battery as well. That was just as well since I'd find later the camera had unknowingly angled forward on its mount so I was capturing a lot of footage of my camera visor by this point. What I got on Indian Trail Ridge was still pretty cool though with the drop off visible on either side.

Finally...Taylor Lake in sight. Skies only getting darker.

The descent down to the lake reminds me of the Notch/Snotch on the Whole Enchilada. Every time I ride the trail I think oh yeah it's not that hard, I'll ride that section this time. Then you get there and see how steep and nasty it is again, and end up walking down it.

Dropping into the basin the flowers were popping

I've said a few times in this TR, these were the best flowers of the trip. Well the ones on the way over to Kennebec pass may have been the best display I've ever seen.

Passed a thru-hiker girl just before this spot. She congratulated me on finishing. No!!!! Don't say that, I'm not done yet. No sooner did I ride around the corner in this pic the sky opened up on me with lightning crashing nearby. Couldn't get down below treeline fast enough. The girl was going to hike another 8 miles or so and camp, and meet up with a friend hiking up with her dog. I came across the friend just after the road crossing, laying down in the fetal position at the base of a tree with a poncho over top. Couldn't do much to help but I stopped and asked if she was ok. "I'm just trying to keep my dog dry." OK, good luck with that! LOL. The brush would have soaked the dog in 10 sec once the rain let up.

The rain was heavy for a good half hour. Up in that basin the dirt is orange/red, so the streams were flowing orange/red, and running very high. It was very sketchy riding through them as I couldn't see any holes or big rocks. In one of the crossing I banged my fork against a big rock and bent the front rotor. I didn't notice it much at first as I was on the brakes all the way down to the low point. But there is a 1,000ft climb mid way to Junction Creek and the rotor was really adding some resistance. I didn't want to mess with it so close to the end of the ride so I just kept going.

Uh oh. You know what this means. Getting late in the day. Was trying to finish in under 11 full days per the race clock, which would tick over at 6pm.

Came across this clean new Specialized bike next to the trail in the middle of no where. No one around. Strange.

The climb was way more raw and overgrown than I remembered it. Rain pants were still on as the brush was wet.

Cresting the high point, the trail cleared up. Not much if any rain fell beyond that point so rain pants came off. My friend Steve rode up to meet me and I ran into him a few miles below high point.

Caught him here with a mouthful of energy bar : )_

With 6pm approaching I wasn't wasting any time getting down to the end.

And...done! 5:42 for race time of 10 days 23 hrs: 42.


2,641 Posts
Discussion Starter · #16 ·
Summary and final thoughts....

I was aiming for a finish time of 10-12 days, so I'm stoked it came within that. I wanted to see as much of the landscape as possible so I didn't plan to ride a lot at night. I liked the Denver to Durango direction. This gave me a few more days to acclimate as the route gained elevation. And it got sections I was less interested in out of the way first. The early parts were pretty awesome though, and much more rideable than the second half.

The section from Mt Princeton HS to Silverton was by far the hardest. Lots of tough climbing and hike-a-bike; even when rideable it was often rocky and technical. I could do without the Sargents Mesa/Mt Unnecessary moto day, but aside from that most of the trail is awesome. I'd like to ride the CT the opposite direction as well, it would be a whole different ride. And I'd like to do it more on race pace to see how much faster I could finish. This ride was more like fast touring. There were a few days I could have ridden later but most days I was completely whooped by the time I stopped. Aside from hiding out from lightning the storms I got hit by didn't slow me down much. I did stop early a few times when there was a storm threatening or visible up ahead, but I'd usually get up earlier to make up the lost time.

Overall stats -

589.8 miles total (includes ride from metro to Waterton Cyn), +77,605/-74,915 feet elevation gain/loss. Moving time 134hrs - moving average 4.3mph. My usual speed is around 5mph so this makes sense with overall steepness and elevation. Average per race day 53.6mi, +7,055/-6,810ft gain/loss.

Gear -

Bike is a mostly stock Transition Spur. Replaced tires right before CT with Minion DHF and Aggressors. XT brakes. Drivetrain was GX Eagle with 32T ring and 10-52 cassette. I had planned to use a 28T ring but never got around to swapping it in. The 32 was ok, the elevation would usually get me before I ran out of power or traction.

I had a custom frame bag made by Rogue Panda. Revelate Pronghorn handlebar bag and an assortment of smaller bags on bar, downtube etc. For the rear I picked up an Old Man Mountain rack that carried a dry bag with my sleeping bag, pad and tent. I can't use a seat bag at all on this bike, not even a tiny one. The rack worked out really well. I do need to make some minor tweaks to it, but I will definitely use it again. Not only could I carry the gear I needed, but I was also able to make full use of the dropper post.

I had no real mechanicals aside from the bent rotor on the last day, and only two gear issues. First was the Katadyn befree filter. For some reason the flow slowed from its normal gush to a similar speed of a Sawyer mini right at the start of the trip. It still functioned but it was really annoying, and no amount of shaking or swishing would improve the flow.

The second was the rear rack. Or rather, my packing of dry sack on that rack. The rack itself was rock solid. Whenever the dry bag hung over the end of the rack, it would bounce up and down with every bump on the trail. It didn't impact the ride but the sound was really annoying. I tried rearranging the straps many times and nothing worked. There are no good lash points on the rack to hold a strap in place so the bag could slide forward or back. I'll probably be drilling out some slots soon to help hold the straps and cargo in place better.

Food, water, logistics:

  • water was a non-issue, there were streams running everywhere. You'd have to plan for water a bit more later in the summer.
  • food - I did bring a stove and used some backpacker meals on the Buena Vista-Silverton section. Figured it would be colder than it ended up being and that I'd want hot food. Could have gotten by without it but it was nice to have.
  • from start to Mt Princeton there was a resupply available every day, although due to covid hours many places weren't open late as their stated hours
  • camped out every night. Places like Buena Vista were super busy and I'd heard rooms anywhere were $300/night minimum. Where's motel 6 when you need it??
  • did laundry once at Leadville, had showers that day and swims a couple other days on the ride
  • mailed stuff home from Buena vista - extra clothes I'd brought expecting more rain, and a few things I hadn't used

I didn't see as many other bikepackers as I expected. Non-racers seem to mostly go Denver-Durango so they would have been out there, just pacing ahead of me so our paths didn't cross. Tons of thru hikers and backpackers though, I'd guess 30-50 per day. Some doing CT, some CDT and others doing Collegiate Peaks loop or section-hiking. Almost all of them were cool and just stoked to be out. "How's your hike going" could easily turn into a 5min conversation so I talked to a lot of them. It would have been cool to hang out with a lot of them more - the only downside to travelling faster by bike is you didn't see almost any of them again.

There's not much I'd change if I did the CT again. Pack lighter would be the main thing. I brought extra clothing expecting colder temps and more rain, so I ended up mailing some of that home. I wouldn't change my setup much. Definitely swap in the 28T ring. I'd get my dynamo hub built into a 29er wheel as well. Its nice to have that as you can use it to power a light for night riding.

Hard to say if I liked the CT more than AZT or not. They are both very different but memorable in their own way. I just wish I had more time to do both of them multiple times!

CT was harder than the AZT for me, even with its Grand Canyon portage. They each have similar elevation gain but the CT does it in 300ish fewer miles. And most of that is between 10,000-12,000ft. The AZT tops out around 9,400 or so. So the climbs were longer, more frequent and a lot more rocky on the CT with significantly more hike a bike. Storms are a threat throughout the ride. Most of the trail is rideable when wet so rain itself is not a show stopper, but lightning can be, especially above treeline.

2,641 Posts
Discussion Starter · #18 ·
I ended up with the Classic Sherpa rack and the 826 kit.

Using their fit finder I originally ordered the 813 kit but the dropouts on the spur are an odd shape at the ends and it turned out I needed a longer axle.

When they sent out the 826 kit I had to swap some spacers with the 813 kit. I think each kit came with one long and one short spacer, and I needed 2 short spacers per side. OMM said they updated the 826 to reflect this, but I'd check with them before ordering.

They were very helpful getting it to fit and sending out a different kit when it didn't.
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