A lot of times when I get in bed and shut my eyes for the night, my mind wanders to imaginary adventures. Adventures that are filled with bikes and bags, singletrack and dirt, rainbows, wildflowers, mountains, desert, and really, everything in between. It’s always a perfect adventure where everything goes right, but when I wake up, I’m all too disappointed that it’s over, that it never happened, and that it may actually be a while before I can go back out again. Last month I had a trip that mimicked that time when you wake up from a beautiful adventure. Things just didn’t go according to plan on a number of fronts including route, weather, logistics, and believe it or not, motivation. But what doesn’t work out only makes you stronger. Here is a story of an overnighter that was just not meant to be. My initial plan was to introduce myself to some unfamiliar singletrack just southeast of Crested Butte, Colorado. Trails like Star Trail #411, Canyon Creek (which I have only done twice, but at night) and Fossil Ridge Trail #478. It was an ambitious loop for an overnighter, and deep inside I knew pulling it off would be difficult, especially considering I really didn’t want to ride at night, but rather enjoy the sunset, stars, and a fire to collect my thoughts after an extremely busy work week. It was 130 mile loop starting from my home in Crested Butte.short-and-not-so-sweet-0045 So I set out later than I had anticipated because of a late moving storm that actually dropped snow on the peaks around Crested Butte. Even with the snow, the forecast called for clear skies and a 10% chance of precipitation, so what could go wrong?short-and-not-so-sweet-0046 When you ride for long hours at a time you tend to think a lot, some of it good, others not so good, but its therapeutic, and it makes you mentally stronger. But when factors outside of your control make for a difficult time, it becomes more of a mental game, and that’s exactly what had happened during this trip. short-and-not-so-sweet-0060short-and-not-so-sweet-0073Climbing out of Crested Butte and up Reno Road and Italian Mountain Road, I noticed some ominous clouds. The climb was slow moving, 4,000 feet up in roughly 20 miles. It allowed me to analyze what the clouds were doing as they quickly moved through the sky. I made it to trail 411 just as a huge storm started to roll through south of me. It completely missed me, but what I went through over the next 10 or so miles would be the worst conditions I can remember ever riding in, because the rain certainly didn’t miss the trail I was about to ride on. Star Trail is a motorized trail. It’s dirt bike friendly and you can clearly see that in the condition of the trail. Ruts that are pooled with water, wider than usual track, and numerous lazy ‘reroutes’ to avoid down trees. Bottom line, dirt bikes have absolutely killed this trail, and it was a shame, not only for the sake of the trail but also the sake of me enjoying myself. To top it off, the rain saturated the soil so much that it no longer had anywhere to go. Everything was soaked including the roots, which made it fun to test the traction of my Maxxis Ikons. short-and-not-so-sweet-0089 short-and-not-so-sweet-0094 After hours of hiking my bike and attempting to bike a trail that I don’t believe I will ever ride again, I finally got to a pretty fun descent and eventually Rocky Brook Road, a surprisingly nice road that travels from Taylor Park to Spring Creek Reservoir. It was time to make a decision. It was already late in the day, and there was no way I would be able to make it up and over Tincup Pass by nightfall, my original goal. I decided it was time to pick a new route, besides, I was not feeling it. I was wet, annoyed, and wanted to just sit back for the day. My motivation was not there. So I decided to cut off the main part of my loop in exchange for another area I have wanted to explore, the Matchless Mountain area and the Colorado Trail Spur, or Doctor Park Trail 424 or Matchless Trail, whatever you want to call it. I cut off part of the trail by taking a super steep forest road, which would allow me to get up to what looked like a solid flat spot with a view on the map. Sure enough it was flat and clear, but the downside I was in cattle country.short-and-not-so-sweet-0101 I don’t understand why, but ranchers bring their cattle into the high country towards the end of summer and into the fall. In any event, just as I set up my camp, I had a herd of cattle surrounding me, pissing and shitting all over the place. They approached me out of curiousity and I had to run at them to “scare” them away, but it didn’t work. I was seriously about to pack up and leave, but then the sun set and they went into the woods for the evening. Even with 50 plus cows by my side, I felt alone as the crisp cool air started to settle in the meadow.short-and-not-so-sweet-0109 After a horrendous Backpacker Pantry meal, I sipped on some whisky, gazed at the stars, and stoked a fire for a few hours before calling it for the night. Surely tomorrow would be better.short-and-not-so-sweet-0132 short-and-not-so-sweet-0156 After a restless night’s sleep, the sun rose around 6 and it was freezing. I looked at my watch and decided to wait until the sun hit my tent. I would have been there a while for that to happen. I completely misinterpreted where the sun would rise, I was stuck in a cold shadow and would continue to be unless I moved across the meadow. So that’s what I did, moved camp for breakfast and repacked my rig in the sun. I had a rather enjoyable morning with coffee and oatmeal.Short And Not So Sweet I got on the road fairly late with the plan to continue on the Matchless Mountain Trail to Doctor Park, and eventually down to Harmel’s for some snacks. More horrendous trail, followed by cow shit, followed by wet roots. I endured plenty of frustration, not to mention steep climbs where I took one step up, and slid two steps back – it was fudge mud. And while the sun had been out all morning, thethick canopy of pines wouldn’t allow any piece of sunlight to come through and dry the mud.short-and-not-so-sweet-0179short-and-not-so-sweet-0177 Needless to say, it was a frustrating morning. It had been a frustrating 24 hours thus far, but eventually, I hit the Doctor Park descent, one of the most fun downhills in the Crested Butte area. I’m not really one to quit or give up, but there are times when a trip is not meant to be, or even a simple day ride for that matter. Everything basically aligned in a bad way for me, so what was once going to be an epic singletrack fueled overnighter, turned out to be just that, just in a different way.short-and-not-so-sweet-0233 I ended up cruising roads and highways home, because I was over it, but if there is one thing I learned, is that it’s always worth it. Even after all that went wrong, I look back at the experience knowing I learned a lot about myself, the trails I explored, and the mentality I have. It’s always worth it, even if it’s one rough 24 hour overnighter.short-and-not-so-sweet-0251  

13 Comments

  1. Bonnie Gagnon

    I loved this write up. Not every ride is comprised of perfectly tacky conditions, brilliant rainbows and cow patty-less camping. That is part of what makes it all the more gritty, more visual and more tantilizing in so many way. Thanks for taking me along on your journey.

  2. Could always be worse… At least you don’t live in Hoboken.

  3. Eileen Brodie

    As you said: “if there is one thing I learned, is that it’s always worth it” –And for this reader,
    your excellent photos make that adventure eminently shareable and thus once again, worth it. Thanks for that. Good old Colorado is always in my memory banks for these beautiful vistas and for challenges like this. And the weather… no afternoon is safe from it!

  4. Neil, all of these trails have been on my to-do list… guess I”m taking Star Trail off!

    Did you make it to Fossil Ridge, or was that one that got cut out?

    Also, regarding the Doctor Park CO Trail Spur, would that have been at least halfways decent riding in better weather, or was it as bad as Star Trail?

    • Neil Beltchenko
      Neil Beltchenko

      Yeah, so the first map in the article shows my original plan, the map at the end of the article shows what I did.

      No, I did not make it to Fossil Ridge. Star Trail is just not that fun in general, except the first downhill and the last downhill.

      Doctor Park Spur Trail: lots of motos have ruined switchback sections and sections in the trees. It’s funny, all of the meadows are in great shape, but once you hit the trees, it’s a mess. I would say it’s nearly just as bad as Star Trail, both would be slightly better during a dry period.

      • Thanks for the beta! Have you ridden some of the chewed up sections of the timberline trail in Taylor park? Sounds like all the moto trails in this region are in similar shape… :/

  5. Classic exploratory. Big miles. Great write up.

  6. I know a few people who actually like 411. It’s been years, but I remember it being like Doubletop- all up and no down. Matchless used to be fun, especially when 413 was still an open trail. Like most trails in the Thunderdome, it’s pretty trashed these days. Now the non-motorized part of the spur in Taylor Park, on the other hand…

  7. A great example of this concept “be flixible”.
    Look for the fun.
    Thanks for the story

  8. I’m glad to hear that failed attempts at a weekend adventure are not simply reserved to the amateur bikepacker, but happen to everybody. And while you didn’t actually accomplish what you had hoped to Neil, the pictures and adventure you had still look amazing. Thanks for the honesty in this post!

  9. I attempted my first “shakedown” bikepacking trip last week in Michigan. 92 degrees and 80% humidity killed me and my trip less than 10 miles in. But like you said, I learned something about myself (I have no desire to ride in combined heat and humidity), and I was able to determine that I did not like the bags I had chosen. The handlebar bag did not seem durable enough slipping and sliding over rocks and roots with a plastic attachment to the handlebars… so I returned them. Thinking about Revelate now. I don’t regret the attempt, and it turned out to be a nice short ride broken up with a soak in the river halfway waving at kayakers.

  10. What kind of camera are the pictures taken with? I’m looking for something small enough to pack for a ride.

    • Sean, I’ve been using a Sony A6000 for backpacking. Super small and great quality. I have a 19mm fixed sense on it. I leave my Big camera’s at home, and rarely regret it. Just my $.02
      Tyler

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