Having never set foot on US soil before, my ‘American Dream’ was, for now, resigned to contemplation of high alpine singletrack, blooming flower meadows, and tall aspen trees. Gliding into land above the glow of downtown Denver late at night did little in the way of realising those dreams, and as we began to snake our way into the mountains in a tired blur of headlights and road signs the reality of my wishes seemed miles away.
Stumbling out of bed with the grace of a gorilla, I had no idea what the time or even the date was… Rubbing at my eyes I was treated to a view across the EWS pits in the heart of the Snowmass Village. After a brief pitstop to catch up with the Yeti crew we fueled up on a breakfast burrito and get stuck into what we had travelled across the Atlantic for; ticking off a bucket list of trails in the state of Colorado. Geared up with our local guide,‘Stucki’, we hit the road in our trusty white van companion. First stop, Fruita.
For someone that had never been to the US, let alone Colorado, it's surprising to know that I am intimately acquainted with the Colorado River, having been subject to my intense scrutiny in a geography case study back in high school. For a brief moment as I stared down onto its meanders I felt like I was on a school field trip before snapping to and refocusing my attention back to the red slick rock and sandy rollercoaster ride through the desert. Which, coming from a very wet Scotland, was a whole other ball game.
The trails roll quicker than anything I’ve set my wheels upon before - it's an addictive feeling which causes you to go full bore. The sun was yet to really surface, casting massive shadows on the canyons and overhanging cliffs as we danced in and out of the light and dark. We began to climb again. “This is Dead Cow Canyon” announced Stucki… I asked where the name came from, but admittedly I could probably have worked out the origin of the very literal name for myself. Thankfully, there was no sign of the animal in question. With the Kelvin beginning to spike as the sun sat higher and higher in the sky, the shade of the van and the contents of its cooler begin to lure us home, not before a final Fruita fling on the aptly named ‘more fun' trail. It's one of those trails that leaves your heart racing and you staring open-mouthed back up towards the hill you’ve just left behind… Not allowing the heat soak to take hold we dove into the cool of the air-conditioned van and hit the highway, Crested Butte bound.
The seed for Crested Butte had been planted in my mind for a while, I’d read about the 401 trail whilst flicking through the pages of an mtb magazine, then the town grabbed my attention agaimn when the EWS rolled through a few years ago. A soggy morning let us explore and enjoy the relaxed pace of the old mountain town, sampling the shops and cafes whilst allowing the trails to dry out before an afternoon assault on the 401 trail.
We met up with friend and Yeti ambassador Nichole, her boyfriend Matt (unconfirmed the tallest man in the world), and another Matt - a local guide who knows the hills like the back of his hand. Setting off from the trailhead, we plodded along the valley floor and followed a creak before it gave way to a lake, we then ditch the forest road and hit the singletrack climb. By the time we exited the tree line the clouds had bubbled up and the inevitable raindrops begin to bounce off our helmets. Before long we are engulfed in a deluge. Bombing through the handlebar high meadow flowers you have to trust the trail is somewhere below the streaks of yellow and purple. All the while there's an involuntary and unavoidable fist fight between knuckles and water saturated flower heads that ensured we were soaked to the bone. We had hoped for an epic descent under a fiery sunset, but the storm had quite literally put a dampener on that. Our grins hadn’t been wider all week, it was quite possibly the most memorable few hours I’ve had on a bike! After a waist-deep river crossing, we were back at the van and turning its interior into the world’s worst laundrette before setting our compass for the warmer and drier surroundings of the ‘Secret Stash’ pizzeria in town.
Although Crested Butte turned into unintentional gold we were relieved to see blue skies on show over the rolling hills either side of town. On the menu today was ‘Doctor Park’, an EWS stage in years gone by and a favourite of the Colorado locals we were with, a decent pedigree to whet the appetite on! In these parts it doesn’t take long before you feel well and truly in the backcountry. I resisted the temptation to try and stick with the wheels of the residents used to the thin mountain air – my fitness is questionable at sea level let alone at altitude!
Back in the flower meadows, the air is clean and clear after yesterday’s rain. Snow lingers in the hollows of neighbouring mountains which seem to stretch off in every direction. The gradient begins to tail off with the sound of free hubs and motionless legs signalling the start of the downhill. We darted straight as an arrow through the meadow in next to no time, and then found ourselves surrounded by the depths of towering evergreens. The smooth, tacky dirt of the meadows was but a distant memory; rocks and roots were strewn across the floor wherever you looked. Suddenly we were in the white of an aspen grove, a surrounding that perhaps locals take little notice of, but I found the aspens and their eye-like markings a pretty mesmerising place to pass through on two wheels.
Most trails have one flavour, but ‘Doctor Park’ continued to throw up fresh terrain. We found ourselves tentatively releasing brake levers and entering what felt like warp speed as the trail became less technically challenging, but the sheer speed posed enough of a challenge - it would’ve been amazing to see the top EWS racers through here.
Speaking of which, Matt pulls up and points back up to a boulder we’d all slowly rolled off. “At the EWS Richie Rude gapped off that boulder, and landed down there between those two trees." Our chins hit the floor in sickened astonishment as Matt’s finger points to an in-comprehendible distance further down the trail. Somewhat humbled, we continued down the final taste of trail; a gritty, sandy surface littered with rocks and lines. Different line choices left everyone in an excited raucous of shrieks, shouts and high fives. Sadly, that was the last dose of Crested Butte on our trip, a place I could have spent a lot of time in, exploring both the contents of its quaint streets and the trail secrets embedded in her mountains. Crested Butte, I’ll be back.
The final stop before we jumped back onto the germ tube across the ocean was another Colorado classic I’d heard plenty chatter about; the infamous ‘Monarch Crest’. The day got off to an easy start, we munched up the vertical ascent on a shuttle with the morning breeze flapping through the windows. We unload bikes and with a ‘thanks’ and a thumbs up, the driver left us to it, the idea of a point to point instead of a loop was quite refreshing. The high mountain air was on the nippy side but things quickly warmed as we settled into the climb. Blue skies with cartoon-like clouds drifted lazily over us. I stopped to take the vista in allowing Euan and Stucki to ride ahead, becoming small specks on a shoestring placed on the side of the hill.
The sky and surroundings seemed bigger than anywhere I’d been before. There was no sign of human existence, and no noise apart from an occasional breeze. It was both romantically lonely and humbling in your insignificance. The first brief section of downhill didn’t exactly sneak up on us, but certainly slapped us in the face with how good it is. Wakey-wakey! Rolling banks and tumbling turns took us into the trees where we had to reign in our excitement and settle into the long game for the rest of the morning. Nosey chipmunks keept a watchful eye from the rocks littering the side of the trail.
The gradient allowed us to make steady and consistent progress towards Poncha Springs, getting served a long and tantalising descent which transported us through the various faces of Colorado; flower meadows; aspen groves; dense pines; gently flowing creaks, all with perfect ribbons of trail flowing through the heart of them. This is mountain biking in its purest and most unspoilt form.
We began to see more signs of human activity, hinting at us nearing our end destination, or so we thought. Euan and I got over excited and tried to rip each other’s legs off on the small descents and subsequently punchy climbs. Stucki the Colorado resident, held back and the tourists soon understood why. After a solid 30 minutes in the red zone, I was burst, slumped over the bars and looking for something to munch on that wasn’t a dry cereal bar. Slowly it began to dawn on me that we were still a fair distance from home. My dead legs scooped at the pedals as I became hangry, a deadly combination of temporary angriness brought on by severe hunger. It’s real and very dangerous! Crawling up the final climb at a snail’s pace I crested and hit the last rocky descent following the other’s tyre tracks, chattering and bouncing between lines trying to find the smoothest line was a seemingly impossible task. My grin returned with a vengeance, dispelling any thoughts of food, for now! I railed a corner to find Euan and Stucki waiting patiently at the road ready to roll back into town. “Did you manage to untangle your dress from your chain then?” I stare back blankly, nearly humoured… Opting instead to initiate a speed tuck drag race back to the van!
We sauntered into Salida and perched ourselves at a cafe by the cool of the river, restocking and refuelling with our own body weight of tacos and chilli before heading back towards Denver allowing us one final view of this beautiful state and time to process the whirlwind week of unreal riding with great company. Colorado has a massive diversity in its trails that almost feel countries apart; travelling from the high alpine, through the stunning aspen groves and into the red of the desert uncovered a mountain bike paradise so great in depth it’s outrageous! Those high mountains have been calling me back ever since.Discover more about our Colorado adventure.