On Thursday we were up at 5:00am and on the road by 5:30 as planned, and by 10:30 we had the bikes loaded and ready to go.
As we climbed up out of the parking lot, Kyle was awed by the scenery and immediately the photo snapping began.
There is some exposure along Mary’s Loop in Fruita, and I was nervous about how Kyle would handle that, particularly with the weight of the bikepacks, but he handled it without any issue. He’s done some climbing with friends in Boulder, and I think that’s helped him get accustomed to heights.
The spring flowers of the desert were starting to become plentiful.
As we left Fruita towards Salt Creek in the early afternoon, we got to some of our first serious hike-a-bike.
As the afternoon wore on, it go hotter, and the winds really picked up. Soon we were battling 20 mph hot winds consistently, and we took shelter wherever we could.
At the top of the hike-a-bike section, our navi said we had a long downhill, but noooo. We pedaled hard into the wind, which negated all the benefits of the descent.
Rabbit Valley, Mack
We had hoped to get to the Westwater Ranger Station which was 15 miles away, but were completely out of water. Since we were close to I-70, we had four bars of cell coverage. I called Cris who was staying in Fruita, and she thankfully brought us water and some awesome burritos. We pitched camp at Rabbit Valley in Mack, CO.
We discovered others at the campsite.
As the sun went down, we got out the cameras and tinkered with tent lighting photos. This was mine, shot on my iPhone 7+.
This was Kyle’s, shot on his Nikon DSLR. I think he won.
The next day would be a big one, hoping to make up our mileage to Westwater, and then down to Dewey Bridge and to start the serious climb to Moab.
To get ready for the CT, we knew we needed to do a big multi-day bikepack ride beforehand in order to test out our gear and fitness levels. We picked the Kokopelli Trail which links two of my favorite places, Fruita, Colorado and Moab, Utah. Although there’s singletrack in Fruita, the route is mainly connected jeep roads and was created by the COPMOBA (Colorado Plateau Mountain Bike Association) back in 1989. It can be ridden in either direction, but needs to be done in the spring or the fall because there’s snow in the La Sal mountains above Moab in the winter, and the heat is brutal in the summer. We decided to do the trail in April over Easter weekend when Kyle had a four day weekend off from school.
The Weigh In
Kyle and I have been prepping for the CT for several months now and it was time to assemble our gear. Last Wednesday I pulled my stuff together, put it on the scale, and the breakdown was as follows.
27.8 lbs – bike, no gear
14.0 lbs – bikepacks, including 1L of water
15.7 lbs – backpack, including 3L of water
Total was 57.5 lbs, which is a little heavy. My goal was to have the bikepacks plus backpack plus water total no more than 20 lbs, but we were at 29.7 lbs.
One of the things that weighs so much is our electronics. We are doing the CT primarily for the photography and videography opportunities, and so I’m carrying a GoPro Hero5, Karma gimbal, iPhone 7+ for navigation and still pictures, an Anker solar panel, and a backup Anker battery. That set of gear probably weighs 5 lbs itself. I decided to throw caution to the wind and go for it. I used to carry 60+ lbs on my back when hiking and camping back in the 90s!
Kyle got home from school in the afternoon, pulled his gear together, weighed it and it was roughly equal to mine. So we loaded up the car and got to bed early to be able to get up a 5am and be on the road by 5:30 next morning with Cris for Fruita.
Today I led a big crowd up to Mallory Cave from NCAR in Boulder.
It’s not a particularly difficult hike, but at the top to get to the cave you need to scramble up a rock face that has only a few hand and foot holds.
Once you come through a small gap in the boulders,
you climb just a few more feet up to the cave. The cave itself is home to Townsend’s big-eared bat, but because of an outbreak of a fungal infection in the bat population, it was gated off by Boulder in 2011.
It’s a shallow cave, and I didn’t see any bats or robins.
Turn around that this point and you have beautiful views of NCAR and Boulder beyond.
As I noted in my blog post, our first attempt with our Zpacks Duplex and inner carbon fiber poles didn’t go so well, but with Joe Valesko’s help (the owner/founder of Zpacks) we received the Duplex Flex Tent Upgrade a few days ago. Essentially this is four Easton Carbon Ion poles which weigh just 10 oz and span the outside of the tent.
Come Sail Away
Kyle and I set up the tent on the side lawn today. This tent is constructed of cuben fiber (no, not Cuban) which was used for the sails of the winner of the 1992 America’s Cup. The material is quite durable, ultralight (the whole tent plus poles and stakes is around 2 lbs), and of course makes the perfect sail in windy conditions.
Just as we started the setup, several gusts of wind hit which made for perfect testing.
We properly staked the tent down, got inside, and are happy with the results. Most of all, we are ready for the Kokopelli, and for me, a Mojito.
In the 18 Road set of trails, right next to Zippity Do Da is Joe’s Ridge. It’s not as steep as Zippity, but offers lots of fun ups and downs with great western views.
Joe’s Ridge Ride Profile
Like all the 18 Road trails, you can ride up the main road, and then for Zippity and Joe’s turn left at the top, then a right a hundred or so feet. You’ll have some stunning views.
After a short bit of hardscrabble climbing, you’ll be rewarded with a fast and fun set of roller-coaster rolls with awesome views of the valley below. Joe’s will veer left across Kessel Run, but instead, I would take MoJoe which gives you another mile plus of riding.
I love to hike, and a few months ago I joined Meetup looking for other hikers in the Denver/Boulder area and came upon Hiking with Geeks. I did my first meetup hike in Denver and met Mendel Kurland from Austin, TX who created the group and has expanded it to several locations in the US. The idea is for technically minded people to get out into the woods for some exercise and great views, and network along the way. It’s brilliant and has been growing like a weed across the country. For more info on Hiking with Geeks, check out Hiking With Geeks lures nerds into the great outdoors.
Mendel and I became fast friends, and I’ve hosted a few hikes including one yesterday to the top of Bear Peak in south Boulder.
I couldn’t help giggle a bit when I saw that elevation profile!
On a beautiful sunny day between spring storms, the group showed up to hike one of the most difficult hikes in Boulder.
With nearly 3000 of elevation gain in only 3.5 miles, it’s stair climbing for 2 of those miles.
We hiked through a cool burn zone with twisted, gnarled trees surrounding us like something out of Harry Potter.
Finally we hit the top for great views of Boulder and the front range.
Mack Ridge offers great views of the Colorado and can be combined with several other trails in the Kokopelli trail system to form a loop. I rode counter-clock-wise from Mack Ridge to Lion’s Loop to Steve’s Loop for a really fun day. However, next time I’ll reverse it, as the the initial climb up Mack Ridge would be wicked fun as a descent.
Steve’s Loop is on my all-time favorite list. Riding the rim around the canyon is a huge rush, and the first time I came around the bend to see the exposure I nearly froze solid. But you have plenty of room to negotiate, and after a few times it’s not such a big deal. It’s a popular ride – I’ve actually seen folks do it on a tandem! If you try it be sure to stop and check out the Colorado River.
Between Grand Junction and the Utah border in western Colorado is the cool little town of Fruita, home to several world-class mountain bike trails. Most people coming from Denver drive right through Fruita on the way to Moab, but they really should stop and spend a few days there. Trails are lightly trafficked, hotels are cheap, the food is good, and both the Kokopelli and 18 Road trail systems have much to offer.
From one parking lot are 5+ great options that you can loop through. Try riding in the evening – you’ll probably see no one on the trail, and you’ll get to ride into a spectacular sunset.
Zippity Do Da is one of my favorites. You can take one of the singletracks up, or the main road to just shy of the start. Turn left and head out on a short section of singletrack. A bit more climbing and then you’ll emerge from the brush to see the trail unfold in front of you.
Clip in and bomb down the trail on the crest of the hill to get your heart pounding.
I now understand the wisdom of testing all your gear ahead-of-time as a bikepacking dry run before going out on a long distance trip.
It All Started Well
Last Saturday, Kyle and I started our day with an audit of all our gear. I explained the purpose of each item, and where it was stored on the bike, and why. In general, you want to have as much of the weight on the bike as possible to preserve your back.
From there we went onto the tent setup. After doing a ton of research from PCT and AT through hikers, I got a nice ultralight Zpacks Duplex which comes in under two pounds! However, the assumption with this tent is that you are hiking with trekking poles and can use those poles to prop the tent up. Since we are bikepacking, we aren’t carrying trekking poles. So, I purchased carbon fiber add-on poles from Zpacks. After watching a short YouTube video from the company, we got onto assembling the tent in our side yard.
With loaded bikes, we got going.
We headed west, and took a few photos along the way.
Then, A Warning
As we looked around for suitable spots to camp, we stumbled upon a sacred place.
I should have taken that as a warning. At about 7pm we started to put up the tent, and within seconds of assembling one of the carbon fiber poles, I heard a nasty crunching sound. I swore profusely, and Kyle said, “I’m glad I’m not the one that did that.”
But I was prepared! I had brought a section of Gorilla tape and did my best to make it right. I then put the second pole into the other side of the tent with the utmost care.
At 8:30 it was completely dark, and I got into the tent, no problem. Kyle then got in on the other side, and the second he sat down, we heard a loud “snap” and the tent top fell on our heads. The other pole had broken in half. This time I kept my expletives to myself and we started to laugh. “Well, this is why we pre-flight our gear,” I said.
Where There’s a Will…
But we had Gorilla tape! And determination! Kyle started to tape up his side while I tried to reinforce my side with titanium sporks.
Within fifteen minutes the tent was again on our faces, but we were going to tough it out, so we closed our eyes and tried to get to sleep. Meanwhile, winds kicked up, and the tent began flapping on our faces, so we decided to sleep on top of the tent. It was now 11pm, and I started to think we should abandon our mission. At midnight, as Kyle was turning over on his sleeping pad, a huge gust of wind blew him onto his feet, freaking us both out a bit. He was just standing over me like one of those poor souls in the Blair Witch Project (which I probably shouldn’t have re-watched just a few weeks ago).
Time to Call It
At this point I said, “All right, time to head home,” to Kyle’s delight. However, I couldn’t find my headlamp, and I had to use my iPhone as a flashlight to try to pull all my gear together. Fifteen minutes later we were packed, and I had found my headlamp. I asked Kyle, “Front, or back?” and he said, “Back.” I said “Ok, don’t let the creatures get you.” In pitch black we rode ten miles home, and I could see Kyle’s headlamp moving back and forth, side to side, the whole way. He was never more than a few feet off my back tire.
When we got to the house it was 1am, and I was almost certain Cris had locked the door and that I would have to ring the doorbell. But the door opened, and as I slipped into bed, she said, “I thought you’d be back.” So right she was.
On Monday I took photos of the broken poles and sent them to Zpacks. Within hours I got a response back from the owner/founder, Joe Valesko apologizing for the problem, and offering a full refund and solution. I’m upgrading to a set of Flex poles that will span the outside of the tent, and will try these in early April. We’ll probably just keep it simple and camp on the side lawn this time, and hopefully we won’t disturb the tortured souls of dead balloons.