Outdoor companies tackle the Continental Divide Trail | SummitDaily.com

Outdoor companies tackle the Continental Divide Trail

Matt Stensland
Steamboat Pilot & Today

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — There have been plenty of challenges as well as some unexpected benefits during a Steamboat Springs company's 12-week "staff meeting" on the Continental Divide Trail.

The 125 employees at sister companies Big Agnes, Honey Stinger and BAP set out June 11 on their relay along the 740 miles of the Continental Divide Trail that runs through Colorado.

The hike had a few objectives: The companies just adopted a 75-mile stretch of the CDT that runs through Steamboat and they wanted to raise awareness and money. The hike was also inspired by the new line of Big Agnes 1101 sleeping bags, which are named after a section of the CDT between Rabbit Ears Pass and Buffalo Mountain.

Now halfway through the hike, employees did not realize the role it would play in helping shape company culture and what they would learn about themselves along the way.

A photo taken by photographer Devon Balet captured Big Agnes account manager Kellie Nelson on an emotional roller coaster.

Nelson and her co-workers were 30 miles into the fifth section of the hike, which they chose to mountain bike with their gear. The terrain required them to push their bikes along at least 20 miles. Nelson climbed an "incredibly steep" slope filled with gigantic boulders, and at the top, she sat down and tried not to cry.

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"I was trying to be cool, but I wasn't cool at all," said Nelson, an accomplished mountain biker with many bikepacking trips under her belt. "I feel like that photo is so full of every emotion."

Nelson said it was the hardest thing she has ever done with her bike.

More than 350 miles of the trail have been completed so far, but it has not been without roadblocks.

Seven miles into the adventure, the hike was dealt a blow when wildfires prompted the closure of the San Juan National Forest.

A flat tire and dead battery on a car also complicated the first couple weeks.

"Other than that, people have been really safe and no injuries," Big Agnes marketing director Garett Mariano said.

With the San Juan National Forest back open, the crew will return to southern Colorado at the end of the month to finish the first two sections of the hike before a victory party Sept. 3 in North Routt County.

"We have 150 miles to accomplish down there in two sections," Mariano said. "They're big sections."

In late July, after three days of meetings at the Outdoor Retailer trade show in Denver, Mariano and company owners hiked to the top of Grays Peak, the highest point on the CDT at 14,270 feet.

"We're a group that likes to get outside, get dirty and have fun," co-owner Bill Gamber said. "The hike is giving every employee the opportunity to do just that with the products we develop and sell."

Along the trail, the employees have enjoyed celebrity status as other hikers relished meeting the people who designed their tents and sleeping bags.

"We've all had a lot of encounters and interactions with other trail users, which was a lot of fun," Nelson said. "They're usually in Big Agnes gear because we create the lightest gear. People know us on these trails, and they know our product."

The employees have also been handing out plenty of Honey Stinger products, with one starving through-hiker walking away with 10 pounds of food.

"He was pumped to fill his bag," Mariano said.

Perhaps, the most unexpected things to result from the hike are the new friendships developed between co-workers and the culture that is taking shape at the companies.

"It's given us the opportunity to be on mountains and on trails that I don't think we would seek out independent of this journey," Nelson said. "I think the biggest thing we are all taking away is spending days at a time in Colorado's beautiful mountains with people we work with that we wouldn't necessarily spend our weekends with. It's becoming this story we can all share."