Why do I always take for granted how short fall is here in Colorado? Every year it creeps up and like a blink of an eye, it’s over. Fall can be very short in the Rocky Mountains due to cold temperatures, storms, and the associated winds. I like to cherish the season and make the most of it while I can.
Earlier this month, we were invited on a trip by Greg Heil, Editor and Chief of Singletracks.com. Greg has been working with Singletracks for a while, and has tested and wrote many articles on bikes and cycling gear. Greg also has a lot of experience camping and understanding route logistics, but this would be Greg’s first bikepacking trip.
I’m usually stuck with figuring out route logistics, but Greg was spearheading the trip, and he was eager to take on those tasks, which was a nice change of pace. All I had to do was pack my bags, strap them to my bike, and bring my camera along for what would be a beautiful contrast of Rocky Mountain views, golden aspens, and some loaded bikes.
Lindsay and I drove into Salida to stay with Greg the night before the trip. In the morning we met up with one of Greg’s acquaintances, Phillip, who is the co-owner of the fine Amigo Motor Lodge in Salida.
After stopping at the drive-thru liquor store for some post-ride beverages, we made it to the trailhead and were off on a very scenic tour south. The route was simple, Buena Vista to Salida, via dirt roads with the Cottonwood Trail as the cherry on top.
Greg was rocking an aluminum Scott Big John fat bike, Lindsay was on the steel Tumbleweed Prospector plus bike, Phillip was riding a Surly Ogre with 2″ tires, and I was rocking the titanium Chumba Stella with 2.2 and 2.35″ tires. Needless to say, we had all the metals covered as well as tire sizes.
The start of the route had us taking a collection of roads, some of them sandy, through the 4 Mile Travel Management area. Last time I rode through this area I encountered a lot of dirt bikes and motorized recreation vehicles. But this go-round, it was surprisingly calm for a Saturday morning, except a few leaf peepers driving around.
We eventually made our way out of the pinion pines and into to the ponderosas and aspens. We found ourselves in a beautiful contrast of aspen gold, blue skies, and the Collegiate Peaks. We hit a high point off of Forest Service road 311, and stopped for a quick lunch before descending and climbing back up to Trout Creek Pass.
Greg gave us a few options but we decided to take the route up to Trout Creek Pass because we had the time, and it proved to be beautiful with a fun descent down into Mushroom Gulch. We filtered water in Trout Creek before heading up and into the Arkansas Hills.
Forest Service road 187 is a quality gravel road, one where gravel tires would preform well. Greg had plans for us to camp in one area, but we made it to that point very early so we continued to push on. It’s not very often on a bikepacking trip where you stick to your plans 100%, this was a good example of that, after searching around for little bit, we found a fantastic camping spot.
The evening was filled with some beers, Good To-Go Food, a gigantic fire that Greg put together, and some interesting conversations about gear, the stars above, and life. It was good to catch up with Greg, and great to learn more about another fellow bikepacker in Phillip.
We woke up to another perfect day, not too chilly, but certainly not warm. After boiling some water for coffee and oats, it was time to start the big climb up to Aspen Ridge.
After some wide-open riding, we again hit a massive aspen grove, and this time it was absolutely stunning, there was very little green left in the leaves and some of the aspens were showing off slightly red tips, so it made for a sight to be seen. We stopped frequently while we traveled through the falling leaves, again, a relatively calm day as far as other traffic was concerned. We did run into a gentleman cutting wood for the winter ahead. He asked Lindsay in a surprised tone if she knew what she was in for riding all the way to Salida. Some people just don’t get it, but that’s ok. We enjoy our way of travel.
What goes up must come down. We started a screaming descent down to the Cottonwood Trail which is off of Ute Trail, part of the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route. Phillip and Lindsay decided to bypass the trail because of the nature of their loaded rigid rigs, while Greg and I took the more technical singletrack descent down into Salida. The trail was in great shape, especially since I rode it last in the spring.
Our quick overnighter not only showcased the stunning contrast of autumn in Colorado, but it also reminded me of how quick fall comes to an end. While it’s been super mild in Colorado since this trip occurred, it’s just not the same without the leaves on the trees – something that I take for granted during the summer.