A Cruise on the Colorado Trail

The middle of summer means one thing at the Back of the Pack… The High Altitude Championships. The 2009 and 2010 BPR High Altitude Championships were staged out of Ouray Colorado and included some crazy jeep roads – Black Bear Pass and Imogene Pass. (Links: 2009 Review & 2010 Review.) This year The Brothers Rohwer decided to attempt a ‘short’ 200 mile ride on Stages 18 – 28 of the Colorado Trail. The planned route included major ascents that peaked out above 13,000 feet. Thus the 4 day tour qualified as The 2011 High Altitude Championships. It’s as easy as that. And due to the technical difficulty and the possibility of a permanent dirt nap – only The Brothers Rohwer showed up at the start. The other dudes @ the Back of the Pack? Either suntanning or watching cartoons … or both. That’s just the way it is.

What started out as a 4 day ride on the Colorado Trail turned into a full blown 4 day adventure that included chaos and Ludacracy – as only possible when The Brothers Rohwer hatch a plan.  I’ll lay out the adventure below. But a short summary: We hiked, we hiked and we hiked some more.  Oh yeah, and during our hike we pushed the 20lbs Black Sheep SS machines loaded with ~ 25 lbs of gear. You could say that we took our sheep for a walk. Awesome.
The Judd doing what The Judd does BEST… NOTHING!
The Reality of it ALL:
The goal entering the holiday weekend – the 4th of July weekend – was simple: Ride the ‘southern’ 200 miles of the Colorado Trail, learn some lessons and gain some trail knowledge. This 200 mile adventure would serve as a ‘mental boost’ required for an unsupported attempt of the entire Colorado Trail starting July 18th. (Note: I did not say Colorado Trail Race. Yes… unsupported. No… race. I’m smart, remember. There is no ‘race’ mode for the dudes that roll and roll slowly at the Back of the Pack.) So, keep reading if you want to know more about this ‘mental boost’ that we were after.
A Question to Ponder:
If bikepacking IS THE adventure and bikepacking involves a lot of hike-a-bike – would it be smart to roll in hiking boots and flat petals? I’m thinking it’s an option. I may try it out.
The Plan:
The 4 day plan was simple. 
  • Day 1. Start at Segment 18 and finish at the start of Segment 22 – Spring Pass to Carson Saddle. About 65 miles. 
  • Day 2: Segment 22, Segment 23 and the mandatory bike detour to Silverton. 
  • Day 3: Silverton to Segment 25 and finish at the end of Segment 26. 
  • Day 4: Start at Segment 27 and finish Segment 28 in Durango. Finish the 200 mile ride in time for beer at Steamworks and the awesome Durango fireworks.
The Known Issues:
We had a few simple issues on our mind. Where to camp, where to find water and how to manage the minimal food supply that we packed. The known issues were issues. Imagine that. 
So what really happened?
The Ones and Zeros
  • Total: 112.10 miles / 14924 vertical / 32 hrs & 23 min
  • Day 1: 51.18 miles / 3756 vertical / 8 hrs & 25 min
  • Day 2: 35.23 miles / 6778 vertical / 11 hrs & 50 min
  • Day 3: 25.69 miles / 4390 vertical / 12 hrs & 08 min
  • Day 4: Coal, Steam, Booze, Food
Day 1:
In classic Rohwer fashion – the ride started at 11:30AM on July 1st. We arrived in Alamosa around 12:15AM, therefore we were a bit slow to wake, eat and commute to the start. Not a huge deal, other than the probability of reaching Seg 22 by nightfall was about zero. Oh well. Seg 18 was fun. Only about 1200 of vertical – an easy ride to start the BPR High Altitude Championships. The bypass around Segs 19 to 21 was basic, dirt roads through the central highlands of Colorado. Boring yet scenic, sort of. 
We completed 51.4 miles & 3756 vertical in just under 8 hrs. We both ran out of water around mile 39 – but found a good source in public lands at the 46 mile point. I believe. 
And once again The Morale Chairman upped his record for packing efficiency. The dude rolled into Camp 1 with 3 burritos, a submarine sandwich, beef jerky, snicker bars and a big bag a Salt and Vinegar chips. And not a single chip was broken. This packing efficiency ended up saving The Brothers Rohwer on Day 3.
So all was well. We survived Day 1 and were only couple riding hours short of our planned camp. We’d survive, maybe.
Lessons Learned – And Learned Quickly:
  • If you think an MSR water filter will work in a stream just because it works in your sink – you’re fooling yourself. This is the 2nd time I fooled myself. What did I learn during the Coco Macho 200 Adventure?
  • If a dude walking from Mexico to Canada says ‘No problems ahead, very little snow between here and Silverton’, do you believe this dude? Keep reading for the answer
  • Find a better seat clamp for the sheep. The Judd had to readjust the seat every 5 miles. The bike slowly converted itself to a low rider – it became an uncomfortable game of testing how far to ride with the seat in low rider mode. 
Day 1 Route
Day 1 Profile
Day 2:
Day 2 started off early with a 2000 foot climb to Schlumgullion Pass. 2000 feet in 10 miles ain’t that bad. It’s not easy with a fully loaded bike, especially after crossing through 10,000 feet. But we didn’t cry. I think. We refueled with H20 a few miles short of Seg 22. After a brutal / boring climb up Hwy 149 we entered Seg 22 at 11:30AM and were ready to experience the glory of the Colorado Trail.
The plan was simple. Maintain a 5mph average – 1/2 riding and 1/2 hiking and complete the 33 miles of Seg 22 & 23 by 7PM. A 10 mile cruise into Silverton would put as at Handlebars (bar / restaurant) around 8PM. Easy right. Damn. Now we know… if you have a strategy for Colorado Trail – forget it. 
Around mile 8 we met a dude and dudette that said ‘no real issues with snow, just a bit around Cataract Lake – Seg 23.’ Then we ran into another dude hiking from Mexico to Canada. This dude said ‘only snow in Colorado is near Wolf Creek. You’re good to go.’ By 4PM we were at mile 10 of Seg 22. Survival was in question. We had the toughest 5 miles ahead of us. And only 4 hours of daylight. So we put on our happy faces and agreed that Day 2 Camp would be in the early miles of Seg 23. No way in hell we’d get close to Silverton. So we started hiking, and hiking and hiking. And then we hit the snow AND the steepest sections of the trail were under massive snow / ice slabs. 
Lucky for us, the weather was PERFECT! Which it rarely is at high altitude. So we stayed calm. Grinded away. Hiked around and through many snow / ice patches. We finally peaked out at 13,258 ft around 6:30PM and then descended into Seg 23. Wow. We survived. The toughest of the tough was over, so we thought. We completed Day 2. We were low on food but smartly rationed the supply – even Tedd was rationing all of his ‘goodies’.  Our 4 day ‘ride’ on the Colorado Trial was a distant dream. No way we could make it to Durango via the CT by Monday PM, oh well. Life is good, we’ll adapt. We were definitely in a situation, but the situation was manageable. 
The highlight of the day. Tedd was parsing out his beef jerky while tending to his awesome campfire. About a 1/4 mile away we saw a massive ‘black thing’ strolling through the bushes. Oh crap. A big ass bear smelled us and smelled our food. Get out the hatchet, prepare for battle. Well, as the massive ‘ black thing’ lumbered closer to our camp we quickly realized it was a MOOSE with the largest rack you could ever imagine. So AWESOME! We’ve never seen a moose before. It was too dark for pics to turn out. Oh well. Our friends in Silverton stated that moose are slowly migrating south. Wow. Wonder when I’ll see another one of these amazing creatures.
Lessons Learned – And Learned the Hard Way:
  • All you need is water & food & LUCK. Without all three of these – you may die. May die.
  • Why do I carry a 2lb hatchet? Because I do stupid stuff. Like pack my tarp tent pole in the secret rear pouch of my Wingnut – the secret pouch that is really a void. The Lesson. If you are dumb enough to lose your tent pole – be smart enough to carry a hatchet – for the synthetic yet natural tent pole replacement option.
  • Just because you are at 13,000 feet doesn’t mean you are close to the 13,258 ft summit. You’ll climb through 13,000 ft 3 times – the final climb will be to the high point of the Colorado Trail. So, don’t get your hopes up – it’s not a good idea – you’ll be crushed every time you turn the corner and see the next descent.
Day 2 Route
Day 2 Profile

Day 3:
By Day 3 we were a day behind. Ok. Seg 23 doesn’t look that bad. 15 miles, 2500 ft of vertical – so says the guide book. (I think 4390 in 16 miles is more like it.) The guide book also mentions tough terrain and some hike-a-bike. Hell. You can’t scare us. We just walked 14 miles of Seg 22, 14 out of 17.2. Seg 23 isn’t going to scare us – even with the 1000 ft hike right out of camp.
To make a long story short – because you, the B.P.R. Fan, are completely bored by now – Seg 23 took 9 hours. We hiked 13 out of 16 miles. The profile, check below, shows 7 massive climbs. Each with a unique challenge. The snow and snowmelt and challenges were everywhere: we walked around the snow drifts, through the snow drifts, through snow drift created swamps, over scary ice bridges, survived a cold rain / thunderstorm, survived with destroyed feet, survived with only one burrito each. We just flat out survived. 
I can’t describe our mental states. It wasn’t pretty. Lucky for the Brother Rohwer – adversity is normal. We can deal with each other when chaos reigns. Yep, it wasn’t pretty. 
Survive we did, but survival wasn’t guaranteed. A simple slip & injury was possible. The terrain was extreme. The snow / ice was slick. The weather was threatening. All we could think about was being stuck at high altitude in a thunderstorm with no food. Not good. Not smart. But we’re living life. Some risks are calculated, some risks are unknown, some just show up unannounced. Dealing with the risks, pounding through the adversity, keeping the ‘cranks turning’  – is always the best plan and probably the only plan.
Lessons Learned – And Lessons You’ll Never Want to Learn:
  • When the Colorado Trail is snow packed – a mountain goat trail will work just fine.
  • Don’t believe hikers that say ‘not much snow between here and Silverton’
  • When crossing a snow / ice field on a wicked sidehill, keep the bike uphill. For a number of reasons. It’ll serve as an anchor at times and you can anchor it at times.
  • Just because you think your feet are all blistered up and raw – doesn’t mean our feet all all blistered up and raw.
  • You don’t need much chain lube when you are pushing the single speed machine for 2 days.
Day 3 Route
Day 3 Profile
Silverton Ludacracy:
We rolled into Silverton around 7PM on July 3rd. Not a single hotel room or camping spot was available. So we did what any dude at the Back of the Pack would do. We blew off the issue of the moment and went to the bar for food and booze. We cruised to my favorite Silverton establishment – Handlebars. (This became a BPR favorite 3 years ago prior to the Purgatory Hillclimb. Why? Because the bartender is crazy and the food is awesome.)
We were eating wings, drinking beer and waiting for our burgers. The Morale Chairman struck up a conversation with the bartender (the owner?) and asked about possible places to stay / camp. The bartender said ‘my front yard or Nicole’s backyard – but Nicole’s backyard is NICE.’ Nicole said OK and that was that. Then the ludacracy started. We spent an hour or so eating, drinking, talking. Turns out Nicole is from Durango (but a 20 year local in Silverton) and Nicole’s sister once scooped ice cream at the The Padre’s Baskin-Robbins in DGO. Weird stuff. Strangers are always friends…. 
Day 4:
After we woke up in the plush backyard of Nicole’s pad, we hatched a plan for our return trip to Durango. Sure, we could ride Molas Pass & Coalbank Pass and cruise into Durango. Nicole suggested we detour at Coalbank and ride the Engineer trail and Hermosa Creek. But that classic Iron Horse nostalgic feeling hit us – the Durango and Silverton Narrow Guage Railroad. We lucked out – acquired tickets and finished off the adventure with one awesome train ride. Yes, the D&SNG is a favorite of The Brothers Rohwer.
By The Way…. The B.P.R. Weight Lose Plan:
Ride / hike for 3 days with only 1 1/2 days of food. And if you are crazy enough to participate in this weight lose plan – be sure to bring your leather punch tool. You’ll need to downsize your belt a couple of times.

Quote of the 2011 B.P.R. High Altitude Championships:
The Morale Chairman: If I go much further, I’ll have TDR.


Ludacracy @ the Back of the Pack:
Carrying a pint of Captain Morgan and being too tired to ‘take a hit’.


The Video & The Pics in a Video:
Just because. It’s long. You’ll be bored. But I don’t give a crap. The Madre will dig it. 

Colorado Trail – July 2011 from Judd Rohwer on Vimeo.
The Brothers Rohwer cruising on the Colorado Trail…. at the Back of the Pack

What’s Next?
More of the Colorado Trail, obviously.
The Summary:

You can call us slow, you can call us losers, you can call us each a single speed fatso… but we can survive and will survive… at least up to this point in the history at the back of the pack.



The Future:
So. What do you think. Did we get the ‘mental boost’ that I talked about above?  Nope. An unsupported ride on the entire Colorado Trail is NOT possible for 215lbs dudes that roll on single speeds at the Back of the Pack. (Update: NOT is a ‘soft’ term. It is possible. I think.) The issue…. food. It’s my opinion that a dude must enter Seg 22 fully fueled and fully stocked with food. To me, it’s an unacceptable risk to attempt Segs 22 & 23 without ALL gear and supplies that are required for survival. An unsupported adventure on the Colorado Trail is full of challenges. The primary challenge is the long haul between Buena Vista and Silverton. I have no idea how to survive these 200 miles without a resupply. I don’t believe in ‘trail magic’ and I don’t believe in anything else that can’t be bought at the local gas station or restaurant. Ok… A detour to Salida? Too close to Buena Vista. A detour to Lake City? Possible but painful. It’s a short / fast descent into Lake City – but a painful climb back up to Schlumgullion Pass and Seg 22.  (Update: This is the solution – we will try it, I think.) So, until I can figure out the food situation, until I can develop a robust strategy for survival, I’ll stick with my new plan. Ride (hike) the entire Colorado Trail via a staged approach. That’s the best I can do…. and I’m cool with that. 

BUT… If anyone has a robust strategy and wants to roll at a FATSO (or PHAT-SO) pace – let me know. I’ll tag along and eat all your food… is that what you’d call Trail Magic?

Jazzercise… because Jazzercise RUNS THE WORLD:
As I said before – if you can’t laugh at yourself, you sure as hell can’t laugh at others.

Yes, there is a reason why all the middle aged foxy mamas wanted to dance with The Judd back in the college days…. obviously.



need I say more
The Pics:
The Sheep | The Gear


The Brothers Rohwer | The Sheep | The Gear


Cruising up to 13,000 feet

just views near 13,000 feet



Climbing a Rock Slide
A slab of ice covered 400 VERTICAL feet of the trail
we made like Mountain Goats and….climbed





A B.P.R. camp at 12,000 feet


snow… way up there


more views on Day 3


just another summit… close to 12,900 feet


Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge… departure from Silverton
The Morale Chairman in the ‘sheep’ car


 The Holiday Weekend – The 4th of July

7 thoughts on “A Cruise on the Colorado Trail

  1. Dude, the jazzercise was awesome in a “dang those two look beat up, and Im laughing my butt off :/” kind of way… glad you guys got back safely. I have a few close pararescue friends who may know the answer to your “food” problem… (that is if I remember to ask em')


  2. Hey Jill. Glad you like the blog. Thanks for the comment. Yeah, being serious stresses me out. So I do what I can to highlight the coolness & ludacracy that is around every corner.


  3. Yeah Mad Rhino. You missed it. But you flatlanders would need an auxiliary oxygen supply. It's tough up at 13,000 ft for us dudes that live close to 7000 feet. You PHX dudes would probably turn into vampires at that altitude.


  4. Aja. I've know a few special ops dudes in my days. Those dudes can survive on anything – as long as it's dropped from a helicopter and no drug tests are administered in the near term. So… I'm all ears for a food strategy – but I can't arrange for any food drops, IV hookups, or synthetic 'hormones' that will get me through the miles.


  5. best posting yet…you must have Sherpa blood…plus, jazzercize @ 13,000 feet !! Brothers Rohwer looking good…


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s