Trout and I left a bit of dangling chad last year on the Colorado Trail, wrapping up in Salida, CO after 300 miles and 12 days of riding so THIS year we enlisted some power hitters in the form of Rose’s legs and set out to finish off the remaining 270 miles from Salida to Durango. I was going almost directly off the couch, and would subsequently suffer the whole way but the squad motivation was incredible, Trout was a year stronger (and somewhere in that year he surpassed his parents biking abilities) and Rose can grind like no other! Good thing too as the intro up, up, UP, South Fooses Creek (or as we like to call it F U-ses Creek to regain the Divide along the Monarch Crest is no joke. 4,000’+ of climbing and near vertical hike-a-bike for this one, and we were at our most laden as well carrying supplies for a 7 day push to Silverton. Let’s get it on!
Day 2 on the Colorado Trail, probably my least favorite if only because I was crippled from our efforts up South F U-ses Creek the day before and because the “trail” was so loose and rocky even the flats were nigh un-rideable. Even just hiking on this has got to suck. Not even a whine out of this crew but we did plow thru 7 days of snacks somehow. Dropped disturbingly far down off the trail to camp at Baldy Lake and got rained on this evening, which would repeat EVERY day until the end. What? Where’s this rain been all summer while Steamboat is on fire? So far we’ve definitely hiked more than biked.
Day 4 & 5 “Detour Days” from Saguache Park Rd 57 miles to Spring Creek Pass where we rejoined the Colorado Trail just in time for a massive lightning storm right on top of our heads at 12,000′! It rained (and hailed, and more lightning) for 8 hours overnight but before that we enjoyed beautiful forest and ranch roads over Pinon Pass and past the Ute Indian Agency where cannibal Alfred Packer was trying to lead his mining party back in 1874. Ran into a real honest to goodness shepherd with his dogs and thousands of sheep as we neared Slumgullion Pass and we didn’t have to hike-a-bike a single time over 2 days. Heavenly! #coloradotrail Rose supplied us with a Big Agnes Tiger Wall UL3 bike pack tent and it’s no exaggeration to say it probably saved us from hypothermia in that 12,000′ hailstorm. We had nowhere else to go if we’d gotten soaked or the tent failed. #bigagnes for the win.
Day 7, the “Day of Seven Climbs!” We spent pretty much the whole day above 12,000′ in Switzerland so far as we could tell. Wow! The San Juans are amazing and we had blue skies all day for this mini-epic up, down and over flower-scented peaks from Cataract Lake all the way down, down, down the truly frightening Stoney Pass into Silverton, CO. Civilization! Yay. Actually we really enjoyed little Silverton, pop. 600 + approximately 2000 tourists in UTVs, Jeeps, and ATVs and aboard the narrow gauge train from Durango. Ok, I didn’t enjoy the hordes suddenly appearing in our idyllic journey but that ice cream wasn’t going to eat itself and we also made a decent showing at the Handlebar for cheeseburgers. Food, showers, laundry and beds still couldn’t wipe the salty perm-grins off our faces from the amazing riding and we were even more motivated than ever to climb back up to Molas Pass and get onto the CO Trail again the next day. Onward! Upward! Southward!
Day 10 “Soggy Bottoms” Had a wet one today as we emerged from the puddle our campsite had become in the night deluge to an overcast, misty morning. No waiting around drying tents and bags in the sun for us today! Instead we worked, and I mean WORKED our way up out of the Cascade Creek drainage and climbed into the sunshine heading for Blackhawk Pass and our goal campsite on the other side. Not to be despite our best efforts as the clouds closed us out short of the pass, dropping lightning so close Rose jumped clear off the trail and took a nasty tumble off piste. We did a bit of hasty 1st Aid under a pine then tried again for the pass only to get caught in a hail storm and another round of lightning near the last of treeline.
Ok, ok we’ll stop here for the night! Super dramatic scenery today, incredible amounts of mushrooms, same boring old flowers, but like carpets of them, more flowers than grass and freeze-dried cheesecake to round out the day. We’ll take it!
Day 12 “Downhill Day!” For a ride that ends 5,000′ lower than it starts this one sure managed to pack in some climbing, especially coming back up out of Junction Creek. Soaked once again from the storms we awoke to swirling clouds and our camp host, Taylor, contentedly munching on pine shoots next to the tent. How this deer doesn’t get electrocuted living up here I don’t know. We count ourselves lucky for getting thru one night! A quick climb up to Kennebec Pass via a tunnel through head high flowers and we started one of the longest descents I can recall riding, down, down, down from high alpine meadows and talus slopes to wet, mossy old growth pine forests to hot sage brush country. This is a popular shuttle ride from Durango and deservedly so, sinuous single track right alongside a creek, waterfalls, flowers galore and it just goes on forever.
Our bikes, like our bodies were smelling the barn, and simultaneously giving up the ghost with small bits falling off, hubs loosening, calves cramping, brake hands locking up, saddle bags falling off. Could we all make it back up 2 miles of hike-a bike from Junction Creek, if there was the possibility of ice creams in Durango? F*uck yeah we could! 247 miles, 35,000′ of climbing, 3 lightning storms, 1 moose, 1 birthday (Rose!), 1 Anniversary (Rose & Matt 16 years!), 1 mouse(?) bite (Trout), 6 rounds of Golf, no flats, 2 crashes, 1000 mushrooms and 1 chocolate malt! Thanks to Jen Alford for dog sitting AND picking us up and all the encouragement from friends, family and our fellow thru hikers and bikers!
“If you don’t do it this year, you’ll be one year older when you do!” – Warren Miller
About the author: Matthew Alford works at Ski Haus in Steamboat Springs. He loves giving advice to locals and tourists on where to go for their adventures in Steamboat and the surrounding area, and suits them up with the right gear. He is an avid reader (aiming to read 50 books in 2021), enjoys writing for fun, and is a cancer survivor. His wife, Rose, is the N.A. Sales Manager at Big Agnes. Getting to use the gear she sells doing her favorite activities is the best part of working for Big Agnes! Their son Trout is one lucky guy growing up in Steamboat Springs, CO. He just entered 9th grade, plays soccer, and loves skiing and biking of all kinds – including mountain and gravel. His ability to rise up too difficult challenges without complaint is one of his best attributes (per mom). Together the Alfords enjoy being outside as much as they can. #outside365 is their motto. Matt and Trout did the first half of the CO Trail in the summer of 2020.