The past couple weeks have put me through huge swings in emotions, just as the days have carried me through a broad spectrum of biomes. Two weeks ago, my grandfather passed away after a long battle with Parkinson's disease. Despite having always lived half a country away from him, I'd always felt very close to him. His passing hit me hard, and spending last weekend in Pennsylvania left me feeling both physically and emotionally drained, as well as a bit lost. I had been planning on time trialing the beastly Grand Loop (360 miles of the Kokopelli, Paradox, and Tabeguache trails in western Colorado and eastern Utah), but those plans were obviously derailed.
After an early morning flight back to Boulder on Monday, I gathered up my bikepacking gear, uploaded some files onto my GPS, piled 18,000 calories of food into my bags, and headed farther west. Five hours later, I was asleep in the back of car at the Lunch Loops trailhead. My alarm screeched at 4:30 the next morning, and I soon found myself pedaling out to the Kokopelli trailhead in Loma.
I grinned giddily at the thought of some sort of redemption on this loop after having been destroyed by it several years ago. It was my first ultra race experience, and I'm still not sure how I managed to circumnavigate the course and make it back to the starting point. The highs were amazing, but the lows were so devastatingly bleak that I vowed to never try another ultra race, let alone return to the Grand Loop. So much for that vow.
Anyway, this time around, the Grand Loop didn't go so well. My left knee did not particularly want to do any climbing, and with 60,000' of climbing on the loop and knee pain after only 100 miles and 6000' of climbing, I decided it wasn't worth continuing and doing any severe damage to the knee. I've been there before, and it simply is not worth it. After baking all day in record-high temperatures, I filled up on water in the Colorado, climbed out of the valley to the plateau above near Top of the World, found a nice spot to collapse, and enjoyed the sunset before falling asleep for 11 hours.
I awoke the next morning feeling refreshed. My legs felt fantastic, but I knew the best thing was simply to head back to Junction and not push my knee with tens of thousands of feet of climbing. I rode the highway north to the interstate, and then pounded that pavement for another 5 hours back to my car. The desert oven baked me like I haven't been baked in quite a while, and despite having great legs, I suffered. I couldn't drink enough to stay hydrated, and after nearly running out of water, found a puddle under an overpass and scooped out enough of the bitter liquid to get me the 30 miles to the first gas station.
Despite two days of unexciting riding, a heavily-loaded bike, dehydration, and amazingly sore hind quarters, that was just what I needed to come to terms what what I'd been through prior to the adventure.
After a few late nights working in the lab back in Boulder, I jumped on the opportunity to take advantage of a few more days of summery weather to sneak in a quick weekend trip north to an unexplored mountain range. I had done a road race through this range a few years ago, but I had my head down and simply saw these mountains as a painful obstacle that had to be climbed not once, but twice before the day's work was through. This was also a favorite refuge of the first cyclists to traverse something akin to the Great Divide route, the same two adventurer's whose bikes, used during an ill-fated Arctic expedition, we found on Baffin Island a year ago. So there were a few reasons I've been feeling the draw of this range.
We hiked and ran a big loop around and across the top of the biggest ridge, staying above 12,000' for may hours. The view from the top is staggering, with glowing white summits ringed by dark green conifers, and in the distance, these forests merge with arid yellow basins.
After some well-earned sleep, we set out an a rolling adventure following some haphazardly created GPS tracks I had hastily created based on trail information of unknown reputability. Miraculously, we ended up riding a great loop of mostly singletrack (of highly variable quality). These trails clearly see very little use, but the potential for connecting some big, remote loops in this region is huge. I might have to go back with some more ambitious plans next summer...