I recently got in my first single overnight bikepacking trip. I completed my planned route with no outside assistance needed and I arrived home alive. The definition of success for such a venture. My trip wasn't very ambitious, I've tackled bigger rides in a single day than what I completed over two days on this trip. However, the point was to test my gear and packing strategy to make sure I had what I needed to camp overnight. Soon I'll be ready to tackle multiple nights out which will enable me to complete some big loops.
I don't include a map of the route this time. I wasn't exactly riding any stash trails, but I did do a fair amount of bushwacking and hit some little used areas, so I won't draw attention to them. Basically my route was from home, up Left Hand canyon, Sunshine canyon, and all the way west to camp somewhere above of HW 72 south of Rainbow Lakes road, about 45 miles from home, around 9000 ft.. The next morning I continued west as far as the snow line allowed, near the wilderness boundary just above 11,000 ft on what is effectively a dead-end route for bikes. Then I turned around and went home by way of Sugarloaf canyon and Boulder.
The biggest test of the trip was my new Hexamid tarp from zpacks.com. When selecting gear, it's a well known fact that reliability/comfort/affordability are traditionally in opposition to bulk/weight/cool factor. Being a custom made at only 4 ounces, this tarp fall firmly in the latter category and I was afraid it might not do well in real world use, but so far so good. Here it is in the back yard:
I'm also using a Tyvek ground sheet that I cut myself to fit the tarp, and I rolled and glued the edges so that water running over the ground (in case of heavy rain) would stay under the sheet. Tyvek is the ideal material, it's pretty light, cheap, water proof, and tear/puncture resistant. My sleep system is based on a Thermarest Neoair, a 40 degree Golite down quilt, and a silk liner. This is barely warm enough so I rely on wearing riding clothes I already carry to stay warm overnight:
Here are some shots of camp taken in the morning:
Another cool piece of gear that I'm happy with is my Caldera Cone alcohol stove whose windscreen perfectly fits a Snow Peak 600 ml titanium mug. I used it to heat water to cook some freeze dried backpacking food for dinner and to make coffee (Starbuck's Via ready brew) in the morning. Here's the stove, fuel, and mug which all pack together into a pretty small package:
And here's the stove in action - I hope mountain lions don't like the smell of coffee:
Of course you have to fit all this stuff on the bike. I'll post a complete equipment list later but for now here's the Fargo loaded up after breaking camp in the morning:
But of course the point of this trip was to ride - so, here's pictures taken on the route to prove I actually went somewhere. Here's snow line near the wilderness boundary:
Some serious melting was going on, here the jeep trail is completely awash:
A new burn area between Left Hand and Sunshine canyons with a good view of downtown Denver way off in the distance:
And a fun section of trail I covered on the way down to Boulder. Thanks to JP for pointing out the connecting network to me on a ride three days earlier:
Next - a detail equipment list and my packing strategy.
So while I've been putting in a good amount of time into the bike patrol (training, lots of admin stuff for the patrol reporting website and database, communications with patrollers, etc.) I haven't got very many hours of actual patrolling in. I also need to keep ramping up the miles and hours on the bike to get ready for the Breck 100, my bikepacking ambitions, and (more on this later) my crazy scheme to bike to and from the Laramie Enduro (in addition to completing the race). How to satisfy both requirements? How about a multi-agency patrol linking city, county, and USFS properties in one ride? Also, how about doing this all from my front door in east Longmont?
So I got to thinking and figured the easiest way to do this would be to link Boulder North Valley Ranch, Heil Ranch, and Ceran St. Vrain as an out-and-back. Or more interestingly, as a lollipop: Boulder Valley Ranch, then straight up Left Hand/James Canyon to Ceran St. Vrain, connect through to HW 7 and Raymond, then down to Lyons, connect back to Left Hand via the whole distance through Heil Ranch, then back home.
That sounded like fun, but still not big enough, I was looking to fill a whole day, so I arrived at the following plan: from home, Teller Farms, Boulder, Flagstaff, Meyers Ranch, full loop at Walker, CR 68J, Magnolia, Blue Dots, West Mag, Sugar Mag to Ned high school, then haul north on HW 72 to FS roads and Switzerland trail. Then, full length of Switzerland (down to Sunset then up to Gold Hill road), Gold Hill, Lickskillet, Left Hand and Nelson all the way east back home. Crazy!
And that's what I did on a Sunday, leaving the house at 5:30 AM returning about 8 PM. And man was it fun! I got a good 6 hours of patrol time in too with the other 9 hours or so spent connecting the patrol areas. Ironically the patrolling was uneventful but I did help some people while between patrols including extricating a jeep stuck on CR 68J, and giving directions to a biker trying to connect from Ned back down to Boulder.
And since this thread, like any, is useless without pics, I've got a bunch starting with the noble steed at the house at the start of the day. (Quick warning, a measure of endurance is required to read this post, which I think is entirely appropriate. Will you survive? Or will you crumble in the face of boredom??)
I chose the Moots for the day, since a lot of single track was in the picture, geared up in partial bikepacking mode, frame bag and gas tank. I had a full 100 oz of water on the bike, plus tools, tubes, food (including a ton of Perpetuem in the bottle on the frame), GPS, and a few clothes. I had a pack too, which I kept nice and light with a few "just in case" cold weather/rain clothes (which I never used, it was a warm day even at altitude).
It was a pretty boring start to the ride, really, I took the Left Hand greenway through Longmont:
I took a quick look to see how the LoBo trail is coming. When done, this will connect to Niwot and I'll never have to ride on 95th street again:
But for now it's 95th to Niwot where a nice view to the west shows snow covered peaks (where I'll be in several hours), plus an array of hot-air balloons. You know you're up early when you get to see these guys taking off:
Then Teller Farms for patrol #1:
At this point, I about got hit by one of the hot-air balloons. Seriously one of them looked like he was trying to land right on top of me. I pulled out my camera, got a shot, then moved quickly out of the way. However, the pilot just waved and yelled "good morning" (yes, it got that close) then quickly climbed again. I returned the greeting, then rode on, wondering what FAA rules are supposed to govern hot-air balloons:
Moving on I saw barely anyone out at this hour, just a handful of trail runners who were all business. I got the most interaction with the following trail user who was enjoying the morning sun:
This was a big turtle, about a foot across. I considered moving him off trail so no one would run over him. However, I finally decided it was best to leave him alone and trust that others would as well.
I completed Teller Farms to Valmont (I considered going to Arapahoe for more dirt but that's a bad way to connect to Boulder), where the Boulder Creek trail took me all the way to Eben G. Fine park:
Here a porta-pottie was a welcome site, after which I rode through some neighborhoods where the other half live to Flagstaff. This was a hot climb, but I was feeling good and flew up, passing a few roadies carrying far less weight than I had (always a good feeling :). I had climbed this 2 weeks ago on the Fargo and felt so slow that day, the Moots is just so much lighter and more nimble, even on pavement. Here's a view back east from early in the Flagstaff climb:
And I continued the grind all the way to Meyer's Homestead (start of patrol #2):
From Meyers you can connect to Walker proper on some short but nice single track (thanks again to JP for pointing this out to me):
And then of course, the main Walker loop:
Man, was it hot - I was tearing through my water and had to filter more towards the end of the loop. I was hoping to avoid filtering until later in the day, but I had no choice but to do it here and carry it out of the low point of Walker:
The water tasted great, by the way, the creek was way up and running nice and clean. The MSR Hyperflow I've been using works great in this kind of water (which is really the only kind of water you have to filter in the mountains, thankfully), and it's small and light.
Then back on the Meyers connector to more boring asphalt to continue SW towards the national forest:
Finally off the asphalt onto CR 68:
and on to a 4WD section, CR 68J. While just a jeep trail, 68J is actually a ton of fun, for a road. I didn't get any pictures here, I got distracted when I stopped to help a young lady (wow, it makes me feel old to call someone who obviously looks like they are in their twenties "young") get her jeep unstuck. She got in over her head, tried to turn around, and buried the rear tires in a huge rut, grounding her trailer hitch. We got it out, though - good deed #1 for the day!
I continued the long haul on dirt roads until I hit more single track at the Blue Dots, start of patrol #3:
And of course across HW 72 to West Mag where I covered Reroot, Hobbit 1, Hobbit 2, Observatory, and finally Sugar Mag down to the high school:
and continued on into Nederland. Here I refilled on water again at the visitor's center and stood around for a bit where I contemplated that surreal feeling I get when I drop into some mountain town after several hours of isolation and effort on a bike out in the boonies. I see people getting out of air-conditioned cars, taking about trivial stuff, or people enjoying food on a restaurant patio in shaded comfort (the smell of the food drives me crazy after burning several thousand calories all day and surviving on food in powder/gel/bar form). The contrast between this and my experiences for the day are interesting. Then I wonder about folks on rides like the Tour Divide (http://www.tourdivide.com/) who are suffering real hardship and isolation punctuated by experiences like this. Then, I continue on to thoughts about pros and cons of modern life and civilization. I guess it's just easy to become introspective and wax philosophical on a long ride, which is one of the reasons I enjoy them.
After grabbing more water, I continued on a long haul north through Nederland along HW 72. At this point I was feeling some time pressure and wanted to make best time, so I stuck to the highway to connect to Switzerland trail rather than more scenic dirt routes, like CR 103. I was looking for a forest service road (FS 226 I think) that connected to a FS road network I'd never been in, but looked on the map to be the quickest way to hit Switzerland trail. Man, I was hurting pretty good here, the highway was an easy climb but it just went on and on. Everything hurt, especially those parts of the body that contact the bike (I'll spell it out, my feet and ass were killing me). Finally, I found the FS turn off and took a 10 minute nap. Some extra water, food, and more chamois cream, and I felt up to continuing again.
This is the essence of endurance mountain biking - the energy, discomfort, and morale levels ebb and flow, the trick is to persist and abide (as the Dude would say).
Here's FS 226:
And I learned pretty quick it dead ends into private property. From my map I saw I could loop around on other FS roads, or go back to the highway, but instead I chose to bushwack around the private property, keeping to the national forest. For the record, I don't recommend anyone else do this - for connecting to Swizterland from Nederland, stick to the highway to where CR 103 intersects the highway on the north side.
Finally, on Switzerland trail looking back west:
The Switzerland trail is a lot of fun due to its historical significance (an old narrow gauge railroad, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Switzerland_Trail) and is a good way to wind down the day, since the railroad grade makes for a relaxing downhill and an easy climb.
On the downhill section to Sunset I actually found an unexpected FS road cutoff:
As I said before, I don't necessarily recommend this route either, it was the roughest, loosest, steepest jeep trail I've ever seen, I think. But it definitely appealed to my sense of adventure, I just had to be extra careful, getting hurt this late in the day would really suck. As usual, the camera fails to capture the steepness of the grade:
This really sped up the leg to Sunset. (What's with the claim on that Wikipedia link I posted above that only one building in Sunset was occupied in 2010? There appear to be several occupied residences there to me).
And at this point, the final significant climb of the day began. It was about 6 PM at this point, and I really wanted to be home mauling my refrigerator. Thankfully it's a mellow climb with nice views to keep you going, here's the bottom:
To keep the grade to a minimum, the old railroad bed really winds around the contours. Here's a view back the way I came, you can see several different sections of the trail, including sections I cut off with the jeep trail at the top-left:
After the climb, and some rolling up and down back east on Gold Hill road (those rollers were kicking my butt), I took the following picture just above Gold Hill. My first view of the plains since late morning, which you can see through the fire damaged trees:
And then down Lickskillet road (I've been told it's the steepest two-wheel drive road in Boulder county. Either way, it's hella fast down and hella hard up):
And then a final 25 mile or so haul east on Left Hand canyon, Nelson, across Lonmont back home. The long fall down Left Hand canyon seemed to take forever, and at some point I went through a sharp thermal layer, it felt like the air went up 10 degrees in less than a minute.
And then finally, a picture of Mountain View Ave. by my neighborhood. The lack of picture quality properly reflects my mental state at the time:
Map of the ride - again, Longmont, Boulder, Walker, Dots, West Mag, Nederland, Swizterland, Left Hand, back to Longmont, with a good amount of single track and quality dirt in the mix. A nice Tour de Boulder County:
total distance = 108 miles (TopoFusion's number)
total climbing = 12,071 ft (TopoFusion's number)
ride time = about 14.5 hours
moving time = about 13 hours