As a mountain biker from California, there is a great deal of allure to the Rockies of Colorado and Wyoming, due in no small part to their massive descents, variety of terrain, and quality dirt thanks to the summer monsoons.
The Sierra Nevada Mountains in Northern California often will go weeks or months without rain, leading to moon dust and blackened lungs. By the end of August, most trails are glorified sandpits. I'm not here to say that the riding isn't good in Northern California, because it is in fact very, very good; but to those of you who are able to experience the joys of what Colorado and Wyoming offer on a regular basis, consider yourselves very fortunate.
Last summer, my brother and I were quite fortunate to be able to spend over a month living out of our car and riding our bikes in the Rocky Mountains as much as possible. We were categorically "dirt bags," camping just outside of town in sometimes questionable locales (see: teenage party spots), scouring the land for free Wi-Fi, and poaching hot tubs when the opportunity presented itself. Our plan was simple: We wanted to ride the best trails Wyoming and Colorado had to offer based off of what we had read, watched, or been recommended from friends. What followed was, without a doubt, an adventure of a lifetime.
This wouldn't be our first time in Wilson, nor our first time riding there. We had spent a week backpacking through Grand Teton National park with our crazy chocolate scientist uncle from Hershey, PA. My brother and I, total joeys at the time, rented a couple of Scott Voltages at Jackson Hole and rode the trails. Almost a decade later, and only slightly less joey, we returned.
Sacramento to Wilson is one long boring drive. Once you leave Reno you are looking at 12 hours of flat desert and plains. 12 hours to think about the riding that is waiting for you. Every minute is worth it.
Shadow Mountain had to be the most scenic campsite from the whole trip. Unobstructed views of the Grand Tetons and one of my favorite trails from the whole trip right at our campsite.
The trails of Teton Pass are what define the riding in Wilson. Previously, the trails were unsanctioned. However, the work of local bicycle advocacy groups got them adopted and sanctioned. According to the Teton Freedom Riders, "Trails in Jackson Hole generate over $18,000,000 in commerce and $3,200,000 in salaries for Teton County businesses and residents." Let this be a lesson for cities across the United States.
Jimmy's Mom, Fuzzy Bunny, Candyland, and Parallel offer endless opportunities for hangtime on Teton Pass.
Dane throwing down some style on Fuzzy Bunny
Lithium is Teton Pass's crown jewel. Lithium packs everything you want, into one trail. Ripping fast flowy turns, steep fall lines, rocks, roots, and a few jumps at the bottom. It took us 13 minutes, pinned, to ride the 3 miles and 3000 feet of drop.
Hunting for the line on a particularly chunky section of Lithium
The foliage in Wilson is something you'd expect to see in a tropical rainforest.
The trip was off to a great start after a week in Wilson and too many laps on the pass to count. While we had only scratched the surface of what the area had to offer, we needed a change of scenery...
With several ski resorts Frisco is a destination for skiers. However, the mountain biking is top notch. Huge descents like Miners Creek and Lenawee let gravity do all the work and Keystone bike park can easily keep you occupied for a day or two.
The top of Miners Creek on the ridge of the Tenmile Peak Range.
We felt right at home on Lenawee Mountain. The sandy trail felt much like what you find in South Lake Tahoe, but longer, faster, and fewer grumpy hikers.
Coming from California, I was surprised by how many old mining relics we saw. Shacks, cars, carts, even entire mines. California like Colorado has a rich history of mining however much more of that history in Colorado is still intact today.
The inception of this trip came along when we were able to enter into EWS Aspen through the public lottery. If we were going to make the drive out to Colorado we figured we would spend some time out there to sample the riding before and after the race.
While all the factory pros get the attention of the photographers and media, privateers like us have to go out after the race for photos of our own.
Racing alongside your heroes and actually getting to see them ride in person is unbelievable. Witnessing Sam Hill's inside line on stage 6 was legendary.
After a week of hanging out in Aspen we packed up and headed over Independence Pass into Twin Lakes to tackle Mt. Elbert
At 14,440 feet, Mt. Elbert is the tallest peak in Colorado. It is not in Wilderness, is legal for bikes, and 100% rideable from the top. However getting to the top is much easier said than done. Even after weeks of acclimation, being above 13,000 feet was difficult. Every step feels like a whole mile. Gusty winds whip your clothing and almost suck the air out of your lungs. Resting does little to restore your energy, so you keep putting one foot in front of the other.
Here, we were about 3 hours in to our ride(see hike). We had gotten a late start and storms were coming in. Reports from hikers coming down were mixed; some said they could feel a lot of static electricity, some said it looked fine. Having been caught in a nasty lightning storm while climbing Cathedral Peak in Yosemite, its not something I ever want to experience again. However, with about 500 feet of elevation to go to reach the top, we decided to throw our gear on and make a dash to the top for a photo.
I was certain I was about to be struck by lightning at any second
30 minutes later we were back at the car. I was completely exhausted and somehow didn't eat a single thing the entire endeavor. The storm caught us on our way to Leadville for a burrito.
We actually saw lightning strike the top of Elbert where we were standing not long ago. While it took us only about 15 minutes to get back into the treeline from the top, certainly, the lightning storm was sitting on top of dozens of hikers who were scrambling off the mountain.
I had always heard loads of hype about Monarch Crest. The photos looked amazing, and on a map the trails looked sweet. The place was absolutely breathtaking, however the trails just weren't our cup of tea and didn't seem to be on par with trails that we had ridden on trip so far. With over 6000 feet of descent between Fooses and Greens, we felt like we were pedaling too much on the downhills.
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Tough Casing / High Grip WTB Vigilantes. Enough said.
A quick pressure wash of the bikes after a muddy day in the saddle and we were off to Gunnison.
I'm sure many riders roll right through Gunnison on their way to Crested Butte without even thinking about pulling their bikes off their racks for a spin on the sandy trails at Hartman Rocks Recreation Area. The trails at Hartman are worthy of a short ride or an afternoon of rock rolls and jib sessions. Not only are the trails good, but there's plenty of free camping.
With endless amounts of traction on slabs of granite there's plenty of opportunities to get creative with your trail interpretation.
A short 30 minute drive north and we were in Crested Butte.
Whether or not the origins of mountain biking are in Northern California or Colorado, Crested Butte is mountain biking's home. Massive mountains shoot into the sky in every direction, hundreds of mile of trails that are strewn with rocks, roots, and pockets of loam. Every ride here is worthy of the word epic.
Getting ready to drop in on the classic Trail 400
Gotta improvise to clean that gritty chain in the backcountry
A couple of peanut M&M's after a 2000 foot climb, then its time to drop
The fun factor on Teocali ridge is hard to beat. While its on the shorter side for Crested Butte, it doesn't spend any time messing around. After working your way to the top, not much else is left other than to let go of the brakes and hang on.
A typical day in Crested Butte for us went something like this; wake up around 8am, crawl out of the car and cook breakfast, go for a massive ride, post ride pizza and beer at the Secret Stash, then a session at the bike park because we hadn't had enough bikes for one day.
After a week in Crested Butte, we were satisfied and exhausted. We briefly escaped reality and rode some of the best trails in the world, but it was time to head home...