One of my favorite ways to train or explore outside is by combining sports. After discovering gravel cycling two years ago, my mind has been blown by this whole new world of movement (cue the Disney music here). And, although I might feel like Jasmine riding that magic carpet, I’m continuing to combine cycling objectives with running objectives to feed my hungry appetite for adventure.
After many single day and overnight missions of bike-run-bike repeat, I started to get curious about longer bikepacking adventures. After interviewing Kurt Refsnider and Kait Boyle on the Fastest Known Podcast I was even more intrigued and pretty soon after, I agreed to join Kurt on The Colorado 14ers loop.
This loop was the inspiration of Scott Morris and Kurt Refsnieder to join all the bike-legal 14ers in one continuous loop in the Arkansas Valley of Colorado. It’s over 260 miles, climbs over 50,000 feet and is rated “one of the most difficult routes in our database and receives the highest rating for both physical and technical difficulty.” So, what the hell was I doing there as a novice cyclist?
Something to note about bikepacking, at least with Kurt, is that it’s mountain biking. A bike with suspension is more comfortable and grants you access to more varied terrain. I have never mountain biked, let alone biepacked with a fully loaded bike. But, somehow, on one sunny day in late July, my curiosity and willingness to try, led me to the middle of Triangle Park in Salida, Colorado, sorting gear, packing borrowed bike bags on a borrowed mountain bike.
Although my mountain biking skills were extremely beginner, my company for the trip was not. I was joined by the bikepacking legend himself, Kurt Refsnider. His resume is impressive. Think of the most insane bikepacking routes, or races and Kurt has probably done it (or won it!). Kait Boyle, joined our crew a couple days in and is an impressive cyclist. She’s a professional mountain biker, experienced bikepacker and current FKT holder on the Kokopelli trail. The two of them wrote a book on bike packing, The Bike Packer’s Guide, and started a nonprofit called Bikepacking Roots, to encourage and support the community around bikepacking. Rounding out the group was Maxx Chance (no he’s not a fictional superhero), but with a name like that, he certainly lived up to the hype. Maxx was a professional road racer, current Cyclocross Single Speed World Champ and just insane on a bike (in fact he ended up riding the majority of the route on a gravel bike after his mountain bike broke). Again, I’m really not sure what I was doing in the group, but I figured (hoped) I would learn on the fly. My plan was to run up the 14ers as the rest of the team road up them.
The hilarity of us was palpable. Between Maxx’s constant one liners – forcing us all into unabashed fits of laughter – to Kurt’s silent strength, pushing his bike effortlessly up incredibly steep things, or his constant underestimation on the terrain (add professional sand bagger to his resume). To Kait’s patience and calm confidence. She moved us all forward, making steep climbs and rocky descents look effortless. I drew strength from each of them, watching them in earnest, trying to learn as much as I could – even through my many tears of frustration. And, somewhere along the way, between the endless rocky moraines we continued to scale and descend, I gained confidence and discovered a sense of freedom, of pure enjoyment, that I hadn’t experienced in a long time.
Although I’d love to tell you about every detail of the trip, I doubt I’d do it justice. Spending six nights and seven days out in the backcountry with friends isn’t something I can replicate with words – and I wouldn’t want to. There’s something special about a shared sunrise or sunset with those sitting next to you, as you boil water on the jet boil, earnestly awaiting the morning coffee, anticipating the day’s adventure.
Or huddling for hours underneath a tarp tent, waiting out a storm, as your sleeping space is quickly filled with water, mud and a small river.
Or the feeling of an effortless run, shared only between you, the early morning light, and the freshly blooming wildflowers, greeting the world as it wakes up.
These are some of the moments we relished out there, all of us, both silently and together as a group. Yet, there are thousands of small moments left out on the trail, lingering in my memory. I want to keep it them that way, safely tucked away in the colorful meadows of wildflowers. These sorts of adventures are meant to be deeply personal. A way to experience the world in an intimate way, to understand the beauty and force of mother nature, and to understand how small and insignificant we are.
But through the insignificance lies the immense significance. This bike packing trip was exactly what I was looking for to feel connected and a part of this world. Jumping headfirst into a new experience is not comfortable, yet it’s through these experiences and adventures where I learn the most about myself, what I am really capable of, what we are all capable of. Because once the bikes are unpacked and we all return to our daily lives of comfort and routine, it’s never about learning to mountain bike, on a loaded bike, on rocky steep terrain for the first time, but everything else this route provided. The freedom, connection, joy and sense that no matter what life throws at you, it’s never going to be as hard a hiking a bike at 14,000 feet, or as simple as living day to day, on a bike, pedaling to out run the next storm.