Prior to the summer of 2020, the last time that I'd been in one place for more than three weeks was the winter of 2015. In the spring of 2016, my partner and I had bought ourselves a little 13-foot Scamp trailer and moved into it full time. Mobile life had treated us well, and we'd adopted a routine of moving around the west looking for good riding, running, and packrafting opportunities. We'd always said that we'd continue with #Scamplife until we found something better or something forced us out of it.
The first summer we lived in that little trailer, we moved campsites at least once a week, sometimes twice. As the years went on, we shifted the trailer less and less, choosing to explore places more in depth instead of trying to cast quite as wide of a net. But even with moving less, we were still grocery shopping several times a week. We were also highly reliant on local libraries and coffee shops to provide us with extra space to work and exist. Trying to coexist in 60 square feet every day with another human was workable at best, but we never called it comfortable.
When COVID hit, we knew that we'd have to change something if we wanted to maintain some semblance of our lifestyle. While we waited out the lockdown in Salt Lake City in a house, we contemplated our options. How do we travel and live our lives while still keeping ourselves and the people around us as safe as possible?
Our solution involved a bigger trailer and a decision to spend the summer in one place. If we had enough space to ourselves that we could work sustainably and a big enough fridge to minimize grocery runs, we figured that wherever we ended up, we could minimize risk to both ourselves and the community we were in. Our new trailer ended up in Silverton, Colorado in early July. We didn’t leave until early October. I'd passed through this area several times over the years, riding this and that, but I'd never felt like I had had the chance to dig into the lesser-known routes of the place.
As someone who thrives on novelty, I was a little worried about committing to a place for an extended period of time. But as it turns out, I thoroughly enjoyed my three months of only leaving the county in order to get groceries.
Silverton is surrounded by giant mountains. The town itself sits at 9,318 feet and all of the peaks around it rise steeply past 13,000 feet. It's also right on the Colorado Trail bike route, a route that I'd traversed three times in the past. The 30 miles of trail north of town is a stunning high-alpine wonderland. The 74 miles south of town is possibly the most fun section of the CT, connecting Silverton with the southern terminus of the trail in Durango. I'd ridden it all in the past and seen trails going off both sides, wondering where they all went.
With a whole summer at my fingertips, it was time to find out. Heading north always meant a 3,000-foot climb from the valley floor to access the trail high in the alpine. I wandered up and down the various drainages, Minnie, Maggie, a couple of the Pole Creeks. Each valley had some semblance of a trail. Some were faint, some non-existent, others were open to moto traffic, but each had its own character and views. I got to re-ride the final miles of the CT to Stoney Pass on an unloaded bike, on fresh legs. All my previous traversals had been during week-long race efforts. I developed a whole new appreciation of the intricacies and complexity of the landscapes that I'd previously just ridden past.
Going south on the trail, access is easy. A large parking lot followed by several miles of contouring, giggle-inducing trail. It's some of the most fun and scenic riding in Colorado. I rode out and back on it several times just to be able to spend time up there. I found other access points to the CT, including the well-known Engineer Mountain area. I even worked out an easy two-hour after-work loop that provided maximum reward for the effort.
And then there were the dirt road rides. Four different roads span out from town, each heading up into different valleys. This network of roads exists because of the 1890s mining boom in the area. These roads are steep, rocky, and short on oxygen given the altitude.
I entertained myself for days on end finding different ways to loop the high passes of these roads, traveling up one valley, dropping down into a second one, climbing another pass or two, and then coming back into town from a completely different direction than I had left. In places where extensive networks of trails and roads exist, this may not seem like much of a feat, but when the only way to connect two different valleys is over two passes higher than 12,000 feet, making an actual loop out of a ride was a novelty. I also discovered that if I was up with the sun and back in town by 10 am, I could avoid most of the motorized traffic that tended to use these high roads at the peak of the day.
On each ride I spied something new that I wanted to see and explore: a new way to loop some trails; a forgotten road that was impassable to cars but potentially feasible for bikes; longer routes that I wouldn't be able to pull off in a day, even with an early start.
But alas, the days started to get shorter and the temperature started to drop. It was time to find a new base camp for the upcoming fall season. I left the San Juan Mountains with a deeper understanding of them, knowing their nooks and crannies far better than I had ever hoped to. And it was all because I had committed to sticking around.
I'll always be a wanderer but this summer definitely taught me the value of stopping to make a place “home” for a bit. I could definitely spend another three months there and still not feel like I'd ridden everything I wanted to ride. And hopefully, the next time I come through, I can go back to hanging out at my favorite coffee shops, breweries, and pizza joints. It just isn't the same without them.
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When Eszter Horanyi was in second grade, living in Tucson, Ariz., her dad bought the entire family Schwinn mountain bikes; she’s been riding ever since, dabbling in racing disciplines from road, to cross, to track and mountain biking. Most recently she’s loving adventurous long rides, bikepacking and exploring the world from two wheels. zenondirt.wordpress.com