"How do you find trails that aren't on Trailforks?" my younger brother, Andras, had asked me a few months ago when Scott and I were visiting him in Winter Park and showing him some social trails that he'd never been on.
"You explore?" I replied.
Many years ago, my mountain biking persona had developed outside of Nederland, CO, a small mountain town just west of Boulder. It had miles and miles of unmarked trails, a vast system accessed from an unmarked trailhead by the local highschool. We'd take the public bus up to Nederland every weekend, buy a cup of coffee and scone at the co-op, and then go get lost in the woods. As the day wore on and our snacks ran thin, we'd angle our direction to the east, knowing that eventually we'd make it back to the plains of the front range.
To this day, much of my joy of mountain biking comes from exploring unknown dirt roads, searching for trails heading off into the woods, and looking at maps of places that aren't known for their riding.
So when my brother mentioned that he was glad that we were around because he wouldn't want to go exploring on his own, I was a bit flabbergasted. In the age of Trailforks, and Strava, and MapMyRide, is the art of wandering in the wilderness being lost? (Full disclosure: I'm more than happy to use all three of the above apps to plan, track, and share knowledge. I don't think they're evil in any way.)
I decided that I had to try to do my part to teach my brother the art of backcountry adventure riding. There are plenty of people out there to teach you how to ride faster, but who's out there teaching people to explore?
We started the education with Mt Elbert, the highest peak in Colorado at 14,443 feet and open to bikes. My youngest brother also joined us, and after an appropriately late start due to the exceptional weather forecast, we started up the 5,000 foot climb.
There was much bike-pushing. There was much suffering. There were a fair number of snack breaks as we made it up past treeline and into the thin air of the Colorado highcountry. There was much happiness as we made it to the summit.
And then I watched my two brothers descend 3,000 feet non-stop because, well, they're young and dumb, and a lot faster than me. I stopped to take some pictures on the way.
I think they were both stoked on the adventure. At least I have to assume they were because they both posted pictures on Instagram.
Our next educational outing with Andras was a loop north of Winter Park that we'd ridden part of years ago. "Is the descent going to be fun?" he asked ahead of time.
"No one will ever know unless we go see for ourselves," I told him. "But it looks promising on a map."
While the climb on the Continential Divide Trail was worse than I'd remembered, mucky, muddy, overgrown, and steep, we all had high hopes for the network of moto trails that we'd be able to access from the top.
As it turned out, we were handsomely rewarded for the effort. High alpine singletrack, duffy trail that snaked through the trees lower down, and a good bit of fall line moto chunder which is always a good time.
It was a lesson in gambling with the unknown. Of course, we could have gotten completely skunked, but I kept that possibility quiet.
For a final late summer outing, I gathered my brothers and Scott for a climb and descent of Searle Pass on the Colorado Trail. While it may be a stretch to call this a backcountry ride, it goes high, it feels remote, and it definitely takes a bit of effort to get done.
And considering that they were planning on riding lifts at the resort as their other option for the day, I'm counting it as a win in adventure riding education, especially since I convinced them that a swim in the creek afterwards was a required part of the ride.
I watched their rides on Strava for the rest of the summer. Most were well known entities and I wondered if our time riding bikes in the backcountry had any influence on them at all. And then one weekend day, I saw that they'd gone out together on a big backcountry ride that I told them about. And they'd loved it.
I clapped with glee. They'd made their big sister proud.