“All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost;
The old that is strong does not wither,
Deep roots are not reached by the frost.
From the ashes a fire shall be woken,
A light from the shadows shall spring;
Renewed shall be blade that was broken,
The crownless again shall be king.”
― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring
Today began one of the greatest adventures of my life. Over the next 7 days I will chronicle my journey from Durango to Moab on a Hut to Hut bike trip. Yesterday Dennis and I packed a single bag and our bikes and drove to Moab. Andy and MaryAllison picked us up there and drove us to our lodgings in Durango, above Durango Mountain Resort. It rained most of the time. And Andy is a fantastic friend.
It was weird right from the start to be heading off on a journey with so little luggage. I didn’t want to have to carry more than 25 pounds, including water, and I packed accordingly. We stayed in a little condo and I took advantage of one last hot bath, then slept in a very comfortable bed to the sound of the rain. In the morning I wrote:
“This morning I sit drinking the first cup of coffee I’ve ever made for myself and watching the sun break over the 13K peaks above us. There is still cloud and mist in the mountain hollows and the sun rays dance on the wet ponderosa pines. The smell is….nice. The highway sights, sounds, smells all distract from the rugged beauty in this place.
I anticipate this won’t be an issue over the next few days.
I am stressed. Sleep was weak and it was hot in the lift where the bed is placed. Dennis suffered most of the night, on the couch, where I found him at 3 am and covered him with a blanket.
This morning we prance around in the nude, like toddlers, and I feel at least a little of the freedom I long for.
We are packing now and hope to be met by a shuttle soon. Until then, I stress.
Waiting for our shuttle, I go to the front desk of the lodge and chat with the woman working there. She lives here year-round and claims to never tire of the beauty that surrounds her. She talks of the wildflower bouquets that flourish in the high passes- and of her longing for her past home of fireflies, crickets, and beaches. ‘But I never regret this for a day’, she says.
The pond is a perfect mirror of the sky. The clouds are just starting to let some blue peak down at us. The mountains embrace us- and I long for more- the child waking from a dream longing for the arms of her mother.”
View from the deck of the condo.
Our shuttle finally arrived, and with it our three companions for the next 7 days: Dave C., Dave S., and Jeff. It was hard to accept the role these men would play in our future- and it was a challenge for me to decide where to start with them.
On the ride up to Molas Pass we talked about the mountains, the elevation, our preparedness for the trip, and our expectations for each other. Being the only woman on the trip I made the assumption that they would be making the assumption that I would be the cook/clean person for the trip. I wanted to set the expectations LOW right from the start. When I asked who likes to cook, I was excited when Dave C and Jeff both acknowledged themselves as willing and able chefs. With that, I began to relax.
We unloaded our bikes and packs and prepared to set forth on the Colorado Trail- a long stretch that would take us almost to our destination at the hut above Bolam Pass. The Dave/Jeff group seemed to be stand-off-ish at first, allowing us a freedom we didn’t feel we needed. When we accepted them into our group for the trip, I fully expected their participation in it fully.
The picture taking was rampant right from the start. And why not? The views were incredible. My lungs also suffered immediately. I got that sweet, sweet, Rocky Mountain High, where I felt zero power and lots of dizziness. Dennis was in fine form, and the wild flowers were amazing.
We stopped for lunch and to let the guys catch up, which they did. It sprinkled a little. We weren’t in any hurry and we must have sat there for at least 1/2 and hour. When we started off again we decided to stay in a group.
This plan worked well until several miles later when Dennis realized he had lost his Garmin. The Garmin had the map (one of three copies- Dave S and I carried paper copies), as well as all the weigh points. Not half a day in. Well, he determined to go back and look for it. I was exhausted from the altitude, and Jeff (who had already proven himself at least as strong a climber as Dennis) offered to backtrack with him. This left me with Dave and Dave.
I figured they would catch up to us pretty quickly, especially if we went relatively slowly, which we did. We would stop and take pictures, ride some more, over another saddle with another amazing view, and we would take some more pictures. We pushed our biked though the thick, tall underbrush while hail pelted us from the sky- and it was okay! We were in a happy place!
Eventually we got to the rise where Engineer trail takes off to the left and the Colorado Trail continues to the right. Far behind us we could see two figures moving up the valley- we were pretty certain it was Dennis and Jeff. But rather that wait at this intersection, we determined to go on. Here was the thought process, “Dennis made a point of saying we were on the Colorado Trail almost all of the day today. He knows which way to go. Let’s go up to the next pass and we’ll get this epic picture of them coming over it!”
So, we went right. Up to the next pass (hiking through snow at times) and waited. And waited. I watched another thunderstorm come in. I could feel the buzz of it in my hair, but I stood there and waited.
Took some nice photos.
We were there far longer than we had to be. We eventually realized they must have taken the wrong trail. We had no idea where they were, or where Engineer trail would take them or how far off they were or what we should do.
Dave, Dave, and I talked it over and determined that the best course of action at this point was to head for the hut. That’s what the others would probably try and do. If they didn’t show up tonight then we could ride down to DMR in the morning.
Honestly, from that point I started to see the theme of the trip: “Every pedal stroke is an ultimatum.” We really only ever had two choices: go forward, or go back. Ah, the simplistic life!
So forward we went- a long descent from Rolling Mountain Pass through wildflowers thick as the stars- the variety of colors boggled my mind (and, as you know, I am no stranger to crazy bonkers wildflower displays). The Indian Painbrush alone was amazing- in the highest passes it was white. As we descended it went to pink, red, orange, and yellow. The waterfalls were breathtaking. There was one that came from a higher-vantage point than I had. I left Dave and Dave and hiked up alone to the base of these immense falls. I took a composite shot to try and give the feeling of it. Let me see if I can find it….
Yeah. That’s it. What I didn’t tell the boys was while I was up there I took of my shoes and shorts and indulged in a little restorative cold-water therapy. Tee hee
We rode on, over a bridge, up a steep climb that we could ride, then walk, then breathe…repeat. Ride. Walk. Breathe. We checked the map frequently, but we didn’t understand the scale/direction/markings very well yet. We thought we knew where we were and we were miles off. But that was okay. Except after several hours of separation from Dennis and Jeff I was starting to worry.
We climbed nearly to another pass when I laid down my bike and my body in the grass and rested. My pack felt like it weighed 100 pounds and my neck was killing me. My energy was sapped and my stress level was high.
I had been singing off and on all day, but here I laid down- Dave S laid beside me- and I sang “L-O-Double-L-I” and “The Animal Fair”. Dave sang along. These men had in this first day endeared themselves to me forever.
At the top of the climb (a saddle near Bolam Pass) I felt inspired to check my phone. Most of the day we didn’t have service and to save on battery I kept it in “airplane mode”. I activated it and was rewarded with 7 messages from Dennis! I wish I had saved them all, but I didn’t. I’ll recap:
“Oops. Looks like we went the wrong way. Trying to find someone. Okay, found someone. We are on Cascade trail, headed down. Going for the highway. Riding down to DMR. At DMR, got directions. Just head for the Hut we will meet you there. Got a shuttle up to the top of DMR. Riding for the hut. Not sure if you’re getting any of these…” Here is my reply (paraphrased and edited for ye who might be offended by off-color language):
“Just did. Thank you. At the hut 7:45. Miss you so _____ much! I’m going to give you a huge hug and bawl my _______ eyes out when you get here!”
After the pass we had a fun descent. I tried to pass around a huge puddle in this Jeep road and instead fell into riding through it- up to my knees in mud! We eventually found an intersection that was on the map and oriented us (there were LOTS of intersections we found that weren’t on the map). Now that we knew the final climb was before us (we assumed…but we did a lot of that the first day), I got on the bike and didn’t stop. I just popped in a piece of gum (rationed for the week, right?) and hit it. Final push. No stopping until I got there. Suffering.
Now, I’m not the strongest mountain biker in the world. I’m not the strongest endurance athlete. That being said, I have done some big rides- like 100 miles around the White Rim. The Powderhorn duathlon. Big, big rides. I have suffered. I know suffering. I accept it as part of the journey, which is how I endure it. But this was the most I could remember suffering in a long long while. I couldn’t imagine how long it would take me to recover. And here’s the thing: this was our SHORTEST DAY of the 7. And it was the FIRST day. How on earth was I going to ride MORE miles? How could I ever recover?
These were my thoughts as the westering sun lit up the immensely beautiful panorama of Western Colorado laid out before me. I still had no idea where the hut was, just the side of the road it was on. But Dave C who had more experience with hut trips than I suggested it would be off the trail and hidden. I eventually came to a double-track that took off to the left, and took a chance and followed it. I found the hut. I think that’s when I first started crying.
Before long the Daves came up the trail far enough that I could yell to them (I’m not sure how long I stood there in a daze deciding what to do. I think that’s when I got a little service and texted Dennis). The boys came up the trail and we somehow managed to stop moving for a few moments and reflect that we had found the end of this days’ journey. I had no idea how I was going to do this. I told them, “This is the hardest ride I’ve ever done.” We had been on the trail about 10 hours.
And that is when a miracle happened! Dave C pulled out a flask. He took a sip, handed it to Dave S who took a sip, and they passed it to me, and I took a sip. Pretty sure it was some kind of concoction sent straight from beyond this earthly realm to heal and hearten weary wanderers like myself. It tasted exactly like really good tequila.
It was enough to restore us to the point we could function. Let me say this, though: none of us actually complained. Oh, we said it was challenging. I’m sure I said, “Wow, my neck is a little sore.” But for how we felt, the vibe was overwhelmingly positive.
By the time we had the doors and windows open and at least one more adult beverage in each of our bodies, we were attended by a UTV carrying a bike and my husband. I saw it was him and I ran to meet him. I did just as I said, hugging him hard and sobbing uncontrollably. I’m pretty sure he laughed into my hair.
The couple that had rescued him from his painful knees was out celebrating their first wedding anniversary. I wiped my tears and hugged them both and brought them in for their choice of adult beverages. Dave C was cooking and I was about to start another meal (we liked to have options), but we sat them down and talked for some time.
As the sky turned dark, Jeff showed up. He and Dennis had ridden the entire “standard route” (San Juan Huts gives you a ‘standard’ and ‘alternate’ route for each day of the trip. Molas pass was the start of the ‘alternate’). There was much rejoicing.
The young couple left (amazed that Dennis and I had recently celebrated our 14th anniversary- wow we are so old!), and the rest of us focused on hut life. Which meant one thing: recovery.
In my hut journal I chronicled our ailments from this first day:
•sunburn!• butt soreness• anxiety (over both navigation and losing Dennis)• Dennis’ knee• my back!
You think I had a hard time getting to sleep? Nope. (I set a nice precedent this first night: the boys each get one sleeping bag. I get 3.)
Now for the picture dump: