One Last Day In The Mountains - Geology Through Bikepacking

4:45 in the morning is a special time of day. Not quite the absurd “we won’t see the sunrise for another few hours” sort of alpine start, but not quite a leisurely wakeup call either. Wake up. Moan. Deflate sleeping pad. Set water to boil. Break down the shelter. Etc. Etc.

Photo by Randy Davidson…

Our goal was to leave camp by 7 a.m. to beat the noontime rains that would surely turn the Mancos Shale that most of our route was made of to an un-rideable muck. Our route for that day was a scenic tour of Paradise Divide near Crested Butte, Colorado. Climbing up on dirt roads, descending through Schofield Basin, and finally climbing the twisty singletrack to the top of the classic 401 trail.

This spur was an optional day ride for our group of nine, and five of us chose to use that day to recuperate from the previous weeks of riding loaded mountain bikes. Everyone in our group, save for myself, hadn’t been bikepacking until this trip, and honestly, if it weren’t for the dogged stoke and determination of two of my other peers, I just might’ve used that day to rest as well. I respected the desires of my new friends to climb nearly 3,000 feet in the morning by choice, but I respect the honesty and awareness of personal needs and well-being that most of us chose even more.

Photo by Locke Hassett…

We began to climb in the cool morning light, and between words, watched the angle of the sun change on the barren peaks. I ate my oats while riding and at one point had to backtrack to retrieve a fallen spork. We chatted about our experience in the field up to this point and lost our breath in conversation and altitude.

The road wasn’t obscenely steep, but it was no cakewalk. Eventually, one by one, our party began to dismount and walk bicycles up parts of the road. For some reason, this sight filled me with gratitude. A sense of humility in the face of thin air and personal limits. A feeling of knowing that there is no shame in a hike-a-bike. You’re still bikepacking, and that’s almost always better than not bikepacking.

Photo by Randy Davidson…

The day before, I had a conversation with Kaitlyn Boyle, one of our instructors, about the idea of “saving your matches,” the idea that you have a finite amount of matches in your energy book and you might just need them later. The idea that just because you can “send” something doesn’t mean that you always should. Saving your matches for when you need them is often the key to success in long distance endeavors, and I imagine most other aspects of life.

Photo by Locke Hassett…

We continued to climb, and the views only got better. Descending through the lumpy and treeless basin of Schofield Pass was mesmerizing. I was glad to have matches saved for the punchy singletrack climb towards the top of 401, and even happier to be able to see this place relatively quiet on a weekday morning.

The reward of descending the 401 was well worth it. Smooth lines through a glacial valley, bermed corners, and just enough overgrown plants and roots to make it feel less like a local classic but a gem of singletrack hidden among mountain roads.

Photo by Locke Hassett…

Of course, as mountain bikers, these are the things we dream of. We catalog the pieces of perfection in our minds and on our social media. But to be truthful, the hard breaths on the roads and trails before this and the humility brought by the struggles they bring will stick in my mind longer. Watching that humility streak smiles of self-actualization across the faces of eight other human beings for the many miles we shared will remain in my mind long after memories of berms and jumps fade. We are not here to shred, but to interact with a landscape, and in doing so, let it teach us. It holds true that defying gravity can provide temporary stoke, but intimately interacting with it, understanding it, and ultimately respecting it will last a lifetime.

This post filed under topics: Bikepacking Explore Gravel Guest Blogger Mountain Biking Overnighter Touring

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