Big Fat Tire: Find adventure in the unfamiliar when biking Colorado
Summit Fat Tire Society
Last week, seven friends and I did the Telluride-to-Moab, seven-day, hut-to-hut mountain bike tour with the San Juan hut system. The trip was absolutely fabulous. It was a great combination of good friends, stunning scenery, some adventurous “alternate” singletrack, flowers over our heads in places, some cow-patty encounters, blazing heat in the lower elevations, cool dips in the Deloris River, many thousands of feet of climbing and descending and a lot of sweat.
The trip qualified in the least as an adventure, if not an “epic,” a word (no offense to Vail Resorts) that I’ve long felt is overused. While the standard route was mostly on maintained forest roads, it is still remote, and we saw few people over the course of 200-plus miles, not to mention none of us was very familiar with the area.
Some of the alternate singletrack routes we took were at times lightly-used and overgrown to the point of being difficult to follow. (Nothing like being in a place you’ve never seen and having the trail peter out into nothing.) The maps were adequate, but just barely. The written description provided just enough — but not an excess of — information.
So, while I feel the word epic is overused, I love the word adventure. Anything you do, especially in the outdoors, can provide a sense of adventure, but one of the things I like best about mountain biking is its potential for adventure. When I first started riding bikes off road in the mid-‘80s, everything was an adventure. There was little to nothing in the way of signage. Most backcountry travel at that time was either hiking on trails like Wheeler, Peaks or in the Eagles Nest Wilderness, or Jeeping and riding dirt bikes on the old mining roads. There were a lot less people out in the backcountry.
Mountain biking was just taking off back then, and a few of us were exploring old roads — some overgrown and unused since the mining days — along with old burro trails, mine ditches, flumes and corridors though the woods that looked like they were trails at one point, but you couldn’t be sure. You could be following what may or may not have been some old trace, when all of a sudden you come across an old 4-cylinder engine with mice nesting in the manifold or even the ruins of an old cabin.
Today, we have well-financed, open-space departments, a Forest Service that, while not well-financed, has a lot of help from groups like the Summit Fat Tire Society and Friends of the Dillon Ranger District to keep trails on federal land in good shape. We have well-marked and well-maintained trails that are meant specifically for mountain biking. There are numerous maps and websites that give accurate, detailed lays of the land.
Maybe I’m too familiar with it, and I’m sure folks who have never been here can find it disorienting, but I think with all the signage and maps out there, it would be tough to get lost — as in really lost — in Summit County. Even if you do get lost, you’ll almost certainly encounter someone who can get you back on the right track.
Now, I’m not complaining, mind you. Summit County is a world-class destination for many kinds of recreation and, in particular, mountain biking; but, after spending seven days not always quite sure of where I was — or what was around the next corner — the contrast between a well-developed experience like we have here in Summit and a semi-remote and primitive experience like up on the Uncompagre Plateau is stark.
I think the desire for adventure — the want to be a little out of our comfort zone — is a very human trait. Of course, everyone’s threshold is different. Some of you reading this might be novices to mountain biking and are not familiar with our trails. Just getting out there is an adventure. I often ride my bike or drive to the top of Boreas Pass Road to take care of the section house and see many people for whom riding a bike or even driving up that road — something that most of us who live here consider less than routine — is the most adventurous thing they’ve ever done.
Adventure is something that should be strongly encouraging. To get a little out of our comfort zone, to go somewhere unfamiliar, to be a little uncertain of an outcome is all a good, healthy thing. In my opinion, too much of the recreation realm — especially what I call “industrial recreation” — is too sanitized, too easy. That’s not to say highly-developed and service-oriented activities don’t have their place, or that people should be reckless or put themselves and family in undue danger, but I would encourage folks to get out there, even if it’s just taking baby steps, and get a little uncomfortable.
We are in prime trail-project season. Check out http://www.summitfattire.org for a list of trail projects. If you ride our trails, you should give at least one day per year back to your trails.
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