This year I joined Shawn Neer, Ben Conroy, and Joey Schusler for three days of road tripping, camping, and of course, riding mountain bikes through the Rocky Mountains. The plan we forged was quite a simple one really. To chase the unique colors and light of the Colorado alpine during the fall season, and ride some of our favorite trails for what would likely be the last time before the cold of winter set in for good. For us, this was not only a way to reconnect with each other, as our own hectic schedules mean we often don't see one another for months at a time, but also a time to reconnect with the places that give us the most joy. It wasn't about logging the most miles, climbing the most vertical, or being the fastest in a race to the bottom. It was about being present, being aware, and indulging in the whole experience. A whole experience that isn't just scenic vistas and pristine trails but one with a bit of adversity hanging out around many a corner.
Sure we ended up dodging thunderstorms on Monarch Pass, slept outside on the side of the road near Salida and abandoned one plan for another only to be turned around by wind and snow on Mount Elbert. Shawn still had a DH chainring on his bike and no dropper post, Ben lost his helmet at one of the campsites, I was not even close to acclimatized, and Joey racked up a few tickets for having a tail light out, but none of it ever seemed to matter. We loved every minute of it, rode some amazing trails, brewed coffee at 13k feet, slept under the stars, and had the time of our lives.
With cold weather on the horizon it was time to hit the road and explore a few new spots on the map.
The Colorado alpine, sitting tall at 10-14,000 ft, offers incredibly diverse trails and views that go on for miles and miles. It is the last zone to open in the spring and the first to be closed down in the fall. With a fall chill already in the air, this was to be one of our final chances to get out and ride some of our favorite trails.
The first order of the day was the climb and traverse of the Continental Divide Trail just off the summit of Monarch Pass.
Shawn Neer all alone on a high ridge while chasing that elusive light up and over the divide.
Shawn Neer and Joey Schusler drop west off of the Continental Divide on a line that, if they were water, would eventually lead to the Pacific Ocean.
Exposed ridge lines one minute, Aspen groves the next. Whatever it is you are after, you will likely find it here.
Once reaching the bottom the only logical thing to do was to go back up and have another go at it. This time on Foose's Creek Trail.
If it's not already there, add this one to your bucket list.
This. This is what we were after. Nature's light and color show that is unique to the alpine and best enjoyed while riding high above the tree line.
Shawn Neer crests the top of the climb to enjoy one of the days warm but infrequent rays of sunshine.
After what looked to be a cold and cloudy evening we were treated to a few brief moments of beautiful golden light.
Sunshine? What sunshine? As quickly as it appeared things on the horizon began to change. At 12,000 feet, you can feel and smell thunderstorms as they roll in, even when they are still far off in the distance and while they may be spectacular to look at, it is not the time to linger.
However, mountain weather follows no logic and in the blink of an eye the storm blew out and the sun began to shine in before disappearing behind the horizon for good.
Heading down to Salida in search of dinner and that one other crucial detail we had yet to sort out. A place to sleep. And while not a four-star hotel, sleeping outside on level ground composed of soft sand, that you happened to randomly find in the middle of the night, sure feels close sometimes.
While a rainbow was a nice visual to awake to, it became very apparent that the sky was quickly turning black and heading our way. So, half asleep we packed up and pinned it in the opposite direction.
Originally we had planned to ride a segment of the Colorado Trail near Copper Mountain, but seeing the high peaks outside of Buena Vista freshly frosted with snow above yellow aspens, we knew a change of plan was in order.
A plan that would have us making an attempt at the 14,440ft summit of Mount Elbert.
After a long push up through the dense forest we hit the tree line. From here up to the summit there is zero shelter from the weather, and things can change in a heartbeat.
With blue sky appearing overhead it was shaping up to be another awesome day in the mountains.
Just like that, the temperature plummeted and the real fun began to rain and snow down in buckets.
While a flask of whiskey is always a good way to warm up...
Hot coffee brewed trail side seemed like a far better idea.
A brief break in the cloud cover shone a bit of light on the summit we were chasing. It also gave us a few moments to warm up and contemplate our next move.
Even though the weather cleared momentarily, it became apparent the cycle of wind, rain, and snow was going to continue all day at the higher elevations. Since what goes up must come down, it was as good a time as any to make the most of the long descent back down through the trees.
Shawn Neer leads Joey Schusler down from the wind and weather and into the trees.
Aspen trees as far as you can see in all directions.
With so much focus on high peaks we almost forgot how much fun zipping through the trees can be.
Hero dirt, fall colors, and riding singletrack through a forest of Aspen trees with friends. I am sure there are more fun things to do but at this moment we couldn't really think of any.
Ben Conroy threads the needle.
No summit was had this day, but plenty of fun still made its way into the mix.
Onto the next destination where the weather would continue with its uncooperative ways. Rain, sun, rain, sun, on repeat all day and night.
Camp on the final night was pushing 11k feet, which is well above the summit of Vail Pass
Rise and shine. Shawn Neer once again handling the alway important coffee duties.
Ben Conroy enjoys the view from Vail Pass. A quick traverse from camp quickly led to the real goods hiding in the woods just below.
While we all love high alpine singletrack, the best dirt lives in the pine forests just below tree line. Steep, loamy flow for miles.
Our tour guide on Two Elks was local rider and friend, Alex Gonzales, who showed up to camp in the middle of the night, slept in the bed of his pickup despite the rain and still kept it pinned all day long. Thank you Alex
Ever wonder what it would be like to carve Vail Ski Resort's famous back bowls on your bike? If so Two Elks is not to be missed.
Joey Schusler carving his way down the open meadow of China Bowl on the back side of Vail Mtn.
By the time you read this we've likely lapped the hills in the background on skis.
AS GREEN TRANSITIONS TO YELLOW, SUMMER TRANSITIONS TO AUTUMN THEN ON TO WINTER
IN TURN MANY OF OUR FAVORITE TRAILS WILL SOON DISAPPEAR UNTIL SPRING
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