500 miles across Colorado – Most on ‘The Trail’

What an adventure! The traverse across Colorado was either 503.4 miles or 499.7 miles – depends on if I count the numerous ‘circles’ and ‘backtracks’ that I executed for numerous reasons. That’s right. I keep track of every inch traveled and every second elapsed. Why? Why not? Dude… Dudette.

The adventure started out as an end-to-end unsupported tour of The Colorado Trail. (Yes a tour, not a race.) The adventure evolved into total ludacracy – as we all expect when hanging @ the Back of the Pack. And the adventure ended as it started – a dude hanging out in Colorado dreaming crazy dreams.

The goal of the end-to-end tour stopped a few miles short. I bailed after Segment 25, Bolam Pass / Celebration Lake. But that’s cool. It’s been a long summer on the Colorado Trail – 700+ miles over 2 months and 4 adventures. And just 6 weeks earlier The Morale Chairman and I toured Segment 25 to 28.

In the summer of 2011 I experienced every single mile of the trail – outside of wilderness areas; I have memories and data for all of these miles. But up on Molas Pass I simply hit a mental threshold, a threshold driven by reality. A full tour of the CT would put me 2 days past my scheduled arrival in Durango. My life isn’t driven by schedules. But the 10 day schedule twisted my thoughts, complicated my thoughts. Sure, a few extra days on the trail were possible. But it was time to jump back to reality. It was time to head home, time to return to work, time to eat some cheeseburgers, time to transition to the dreams of 2012.

Yeah, I failed at my 2011 goal of an end-to-end unsupported tour of the Colorado Trail. But it’s not really a failure… I can spin it anyway I want. (700 miles on the 490 mile trail ain’t that bad.) Maybe I’ll conquer the beast in 2012 – unsupported. Maybe not. But I’ll be back on the trail next July, guaranteed.

Below is a subset of the my memories, a subset of the pics, a subset of the data. Check out this link (the link, dude & dudette) for all the pics – sorted, processed, photoshopped and airbrushed – obviously.

Also, I’m creating a new blog / website devoted to the greatest trail on Earth – The Colorado Trail. Check it out…. http://singlespeeding-on-thecoloradotrail.com/.

This new site will evolve over time. The goal is to document every segment – as I live it at the Back of the Pack. I’ll post maps, GPS data, pictures and random thoughts. Ok, the thoughts aren’t that random, just twisted. And I (and friends) have a goal of hiking all the segments in the wilderness areas. That’s right. I may have biked the Colorado Trail from end-to-end. But I MUST experience the 125 miles and 26,500 vertical ft of trails within these various wilderness areas.

So, if you’re a mountain biker and / or a hiker and want to tag along. Let me know. I’m always eager for company…. most of the time.

The Days:
I’m a bit torn about recounting the adventure day by day. Do you really care what happened each and every day? No way Jose! So I’ll just lay out my progress from the start of the CT to the end of my tour in Durango. There are way too many crazy events and highlights to discuss… therefore I won’t.

Day 1 – Friday Aug 26th: Just a long boring day. Started at Indian Creek Trailhead, cruised into Bailey and survived a nightmare on 285. That’s right. While cruising 285 up to Kennebec pass I quickly calculated my odds at survival as 50/50. But it turned out OK. The rain started 2 miles from the start of Segment 6 and I spent a long night in a rain soaked tent. But I survived.
Day 2 – Saturday Aug 27th: Segment 6, the longest segment on the Colorado Trail. I hiked up to Georgia pass and suffered on the trails just east of Breckenridge. The day ended with TWO big meals in Frisco. Yep. Why start Segment 7, the hike to Copper Mtn, when the thunderstorms were forming and good food was a short ride away?
Day 3 – Sunday Aug 28th: I met Super Freak Jill (3rd place CTR) at the Frisco Walmart. Jill wanted to experience the Colorado Trail at a pace only possible at the Back of the Pack. Jill and I lumbered over the mountain to Copper, Segment 7,  and waited out the big afternoon rain at a Copper Mtn bar. After the rain eased up we headed out and camped 6 miles up Segment 8. Just a casual day on the Trail.
Day 4 – Monday Aug 29th: After the sun rose and the clouds cleared we headed up Segment 8 to Searle Pass and Kokomo Pass. Cruised down the trail to Camp Hale. Suffered up the trail to Tennessee Pass. The day ended at the Silver Dollar Saloon in Leadville. A fun two days with a fellow Colorado Trail addict.
Day 5 – Tuesday Aug 30th: An early morning breakfast fueled a charge down to Buena Vista via the Leadville Bypass, Segment 11 and the Buena Vista Bypass. A causal day. I picked up gear at the Post Office, swapped out stuff and sent on other stuff to Silverton. A big pizza and an early night – the goal was to be fully rested prior to the start of the 200 mile tour to Silverton.
Day 6 – Wednesday Aug 31st: Another early morning breakfast fueled the long haul up to Marshall pass. Segment 13 was a blast. Segment 14 was brutal. Segment 15… the long climb up to the Continental Divide, through the haunted forest, was all in the dark. But it was a good day.
Day 7 – Thursday Sept 1st: Segments 16 & 17 can be best described by Metallica’s song – All Nightmare Long. Enough said. Near the end of Segment 17 I was the recipient of some UNEXPECTED Trail Magic. Is unexpected trail magic any different than anticipated trail magic? After the Trail Magic experience I cruised down to the start of Segment 18 and hunkered down for a night in the rain. 
Day 8 – Friday Sept 2nd: A long cruise to Spring Creek Pass. Segment 18 was a  nice break from Segment 17. The Saguache Park Bypass was OK – until my peanut induced coma near Slumgullion Pass. After I arrived at the Spring Creek Pass Trailhead I devoured a big dinner of Macaroni & Cheese and prepared my mind for the high altitude assault.
Day 9 – Saturday Sept 3rd: A long day at high altitude. Segments 22 & 23. Classic miscommunication lead to solo trip to Silverton. The Morale Chairman and I screwed up the meet up. Oh well. So it goes. A tough day on the trail lead to a nightmare in the hostel. Just another experience that will shape the way I tackle future adventures.
Day 10 – Sunday Sept 4th: A big breakfast, an easy climb up Molas Pass, a trashed psyche. The momentum evaporated – just like that. The desire to continue was gone. UNTIL The Durango Kid rolled up. A couple of laughs and pint of whiskey fueled the trip for one more day. We headed up Segment 25 and had a killer camp & campfire. What a way to wind down a crazy adventure.
Day 11 – Monday Sept 5th: An easy day to Bolam Pass & Celebration Lake. A few comments about cheeseburgers and beer lead to our quick departure from the trail and a fast descent to Purgatory and Durango. 
Overall: It was an amazing tour of the Colorado Trail. I grew up in Colorado. The Rohwers toured the great state back in the 70s. The Rohwers continue to tour the great state in the 21st century.

The Long Haul – Buena Vista to Silverton:

The brutality of 200 miles through central Colorado with zero supply points. Yeah. Buena Vista to Silverton is one crazy adventure. So much can go wrong, so much must go right. I survived, barely. But I was definitely worried – as I predicted complete starvation just a few months earlier during our 1st tour of the Colorado Trail. (Link to ‘A Cruise on the Colorado Trail’).

I loaded my bike up with all the food you could imagine. And you guessed it. I didn’t need 1/2 the food I carried. But better safe then sorry. The terrain turned out to be the biggest surprise. Segments 14, 16 and 17 were NUTS! Rocks everywhere! I walked up hills (obviously), I walked the level ground and I walked the downhills. The insanity of it all! The terrain almost drove me NUTS!

The slow progress on Segment 14 forced (really, forced?) me to tackle Segment 15 at dusk. I was prepared to stop around mile 8 – the last reasonable point before exiting the treeline. But I convinced myself that the forest was haunted. Yeah, haunted like The Blair Witch Project. So I muscled up to the top of the Continental Divide and fought the gale force winds. I survived the 5 mile haul DOWN to Marshall Pass. And set up camp on a nice slope – level ground ain’t easy to find at midnight. Anyway, talk about an experience!

So I survived Segments 13 – 15. BUT I wasn’t  prepared for Segments 16 & 17. I never would have imagined how rough ‘rough’ is. I covered the 35 miles in 11 1/2 hours. That’s right 11 1/2 hours for 35 miles. DAMN! I almost cracked under the mental strain of SLOW PROGRESS. But now I know. 

Segment 18 and the Saguache Park Bypass were no big deal – as I traveled those miles in July. But I still managed to suffer like a fat pig near Slumgullion Pass. Some jackass told me that ‘nuts are a high density food – pack some’. We’ll I devoured some ‘high density’ nuts about 3 miles from the pass and basically fell into a bad food coma. I almost pulled the plug on the ride. Seriously! I was nearly hallucinating between periodic dry heaving episodes. I’m thinking the ‘ball’ of nuts in my gut combined with the excess salt nearly put me in a real life coma. But I survived. I had to survive. Because The Brothers Rohwer were scheduled to tackle Segments 22 & 23 in the AM.

Then the AM came. No Morale Chairman. Turns out classic & routine miscommunication led to more self imposed isolation on the Colorado Trail. I was out of touch for 4 days. I left Buena Vista thinking The Morale Chairman would meet me on Saturday for a 7AM assault on Segment 22 – Spring Creek Pass. Well, I waited til 8AM then the nerves drove me into a mad rush. I had to get to Silverton before dark. I had to get over the big climbs before the sun set. I was definitely concerned about a late night snow storm at 12,000+ feet – that’s right anything and everything can happen at high altitude, especially in September. Anyway. I was on the trail at 8AM and the Morale Chairman showed up a few minutes later. The dude returned south to New Mexico as I hiked the 35 miles wondering what the hell happened. Oh well.

I rolled into Silverton an hour past dusk. I meet up with a Fruita dude (Justin) and we found some good food and booze at Handlebars. Lucky for me as I was STARVED. But, as usual, there was not enough food and too much booze. Funny how that happens.

Then the night turned into TOTAL HELL! There were no hotels and no camping spots at the local campground. So we each paid $20 for a bunk in the Silverton Hostel. The bunkhouse from HELL. I didn’t sleep more than a few minutes. Some dude’s snoring could be classified as a cross between a humpback whale and a grizzly bear. I was SO PISSED OFF in the morning. I was so tired & frustrated that my mental state crumbled and my exit from the trail was all but guaranteed.

So I survived the long haul from Buena Vista to Silverton. But I didn’t survive Silverton. The moral of the story – don’t jump from what works. Don’t do something stupid like eat ‘high density nuts’ if you’ve been surviving on the ‘engineered’ food groups. Don’t do something stupid like stay in a hostel if you been surviving via remote camping. Don’t switch it up late in the game! End of story. Yep, live and learn. Late in the game it’s all about maintaining the groove, maintaining a calm mental state.

The Data:

The Data is King. The tour was ~ 500 miles with 68,500 feet of vertical. My best estimate is ~ 101.3 miles of hike-a-bike. No joke, jokester. This adventure required 89 hours and 16 minutes of ‘action‘ and 23 hours and 52 minutes of ‘inaction‘. I may process the GPS data to narrow in my hike-a-bike estimate. Maybe. Maybe not. (You know, some data mining, some parsing, some basic data manipulation with simple algorithms.) Anyway, I’ll definitely generate more numbers next year – you can count on that.

The Lessons Learned:

As I am a student of life – I learn and learn quickly from all my experiences. Sort of.

  • Hiking in front of horses can lead to cardiac arrest. 
  • 3 meals a day may be impossible, but it helps an obese SS freak turn the cranks.
  • If you’re gonna pack 1lb of dznuts, USE IT! Even if you don’t need it.
  • If it’s 2AM and you awaken to the thought of a mountain lion stalking you – you may notice a rhythmical beating. Boom Boom Boom. The ‘boom boom’ is the pulse in your neck deflecting the sleeping bag. No joke.
  • Not all chamois (a$$ pads) are the same. The change out in Buena Vista resulted in a G-String chamois. Not that I know what a G-String feels like. (I think.)
  • To dry socks out – put them next to your chest while you sleep. This is a trick that The Padre learned during the Korean War. 
  • If your feet hurt AND you’re wearing hiking boots – tighten your laces.
  • If you stay in a hostel… F*^K That! Don’t stay in a hostel.
  • Bugs may kill you in July. Thunderstorms and cold rain may kill you in late August and September. You choose your death.
The Psychology of The Philosofizer:

It’s been said that an individual will learn much about himself / herself during a solo tour of the CT. It’s been said that a solo tour of the CT could change a person’s outlook on life. Well, I don’t know if the adventure has changed me or just accelerated the change that was already in place. But does it really matter?

All I know is that a) Isolation can break some, b) Isolation can be therapy for some. And in the end Isolation, or Solitude, is just a way to force a dude / dudette to confront the thoughts that are, and have been, circling in the head. But that’s not new to me. I usually confront my thoughts – the demons – on a daily basis. So, the Isolation, or Solitude, really wasn’t a big deal.

But it was a big deal to push through the isolation day after day. It was a big deal to travel remote areas of Colorado with zero hope of conversation, zero hope of a cheeseburger, zero hope of a bottle of Coca-Cola.  It was a big deal to sleep (or try to sleep) in total isolation. I heard everything and I sensed everything…. everything that wasn’t there. But I got over it all

And I’m a tougher dude because I experienced so much and survived so much.

And I’m a more ‘comfortable’ dude because of these experiences and this adventure on the CT. Yeah, you know what this means? I am more prepared to live the hermit lifestyle, the lifestyle that I’m slowly migrating to.

I can hear all the Foxy Mamas cry out now…. ‘OH NO, we have lost The Judd for good’. That’s true, my ascension to certified Hermit status is almost complete. (Get it, ascension. Cracks me up…. because I know YOU don’t get it.)

Anyway. The Psychology of The Judd evolved due to the adventure on the CT. But not as much as one would expect. I think the adventure calmed me down. The adventure wiped out the last bits of anxiety left over from my college years. The adventure taught me to live within reality…. BUT…. I will still twist reality for the sake of Back of the Pack Racing. (Ha! Don’t get logical on me. The Ludacracy that fuels Back of the Pack Racing will never dissipate into the ether.)

Racing versus Touring, i.e., CTR vs CTT Judd Style:

Some racers can’t fathom touring. Some touring dudes / dudettes can’t fathom racing. Does it matter? Maybe, maybe not. But it shouldn’t.

All I know is that I COMPLETELY enjoyed the Colorado Trail and all the views. I tackled Segment 15 in the dark. And I think I missed out. Enough said.

Either way, racing and touring each has a unique set of challenges and rewards. It all depends on what YOU want to experience and achieve. Anyway. We can leave this discussion for a later date. Or we can just forget about it. 

The Breakdown:

Recall the night from HELL in Silverton.

Well, now I know how multi-year plans, a multi-year effort can be destroyed by the wrong experience at the wrong time – like HELL ON EARTH at the Silverton Hostel. Yeah. It’s all excuses – but I’m smart enough to know that a loss of mental toughness, a loss of mental stability can and will bring down a well executed strategy. I was simply exhausted when I rolled into Silverton. I needed food, I needed rest, I needed to recharge. Well, I found the food and that’s about it. I started Sunday in a terrible mood, after the night corrupted by the snoring freak job in the bunkhouse. (That dude should seek medical attention ASAP – obstructive sleep apnea doesn’t even characterize the dude’s situation.) And I started Sunday more exhausted than ever. I needed a day to recover from the night in the Hostel. So it goes.

I started to perk up after an enormous two meal breakfast in Silverton. Then Justin and I headed up Molas Pass. Physically, I was strong. The big breakfast fueled the body. But mentally, I was trashed.

Since The Morale Chairman and I toured Molas to Silverton in late July. There was nothing new to experience, no new data to acquire, no reason to go on. I was on day 10 with at least 2 long days (or 3 easy days) to Durango. I couldn’t figure out why to go on. I could only think about 2012 and how I would do it different.

I was done!

The Decision:

So I made the decision. I would pack it in and take the pavement back to Durango.

Then, lucky for me, I ran into The Durango Kid up on Molas Pass. The dude was on a two day ‘hunt’, a hunt to track me down on the CT. And The Durango Kid tracked me down – at the top of Molas. Whiskey was passed around, a few laughs were had and life was good once again.

So the trip was extended. We started up the trail and camped out at a SWEET spot 8 miles up. We killed the whiskey, consumed massive calories in the form of freeze dried food and talked about everything but really nothing….. until the fire burned out.

In the early AM we consumed more calories and hit the trail. All was good until we started talking about cheeseburgers and beer. What happens when two dudes talk cheeseburgers and beer? Well, detours happen. We topped out at Bolam Pass Rd and hit the jeep trail down to Hermosa Creek – straight to Purgatory for burgers and Modus Hoperandi. That’s just the way it is.

It’s safe to say that The Durango Kid and this kid from Durango had a great final few days on the Colorado Trail. Neither of us accomplished our goal of a solo, self-supported, uninterrupted end-to-end tour of the CT. But there is always next year. And you know it.

Future Careers? As Defined by Random Thoughts on the CT:

As I challenged the demons of isolation I tried to think about ways to move back to Colorado and support my opulent (opulent?) lifestyle. Below are a few ideas. Do you have any ideas?

  • Night desk clerk at a hotel in a small Colorado town
  • Railroad engineer based in a small Colorado town
  • Truck driver that delivers the goods between small Colorado towns
  • A mailman in a small Colorado town
  • A guard at The Big House in Buena Vista
  • Or…. continue in my current position in engineering – so I can support my addiction to Black Sheep Bikes.
The Magic of HWY 550:
I experienced crazy stuff all along the Colorado Trail But three crazy things happened back to back to back on highway 550.
  1. An old friend from high school, Lance Roberts, passed me on Molas Pass. I hadn’t seen the dude in 22 years. He recognized me and pulled over. We had a killer conversation on the side of the road – a few miles up from Silverton. Maybe some day I’ll work for Lance – down in South America.
  2. The Durango Kid caught up with me at the top of Molas Pass. I was a few minutes away packing it in and heading down the pavement towards Durango. The rest is history.
  3. Near Tamarron Resort (Ok, The Glacier Club) a ‘stranger’ flagged us down. This stranger turned out to be Marty Gunn – a dude (kid) that my dad hired at our Durango Baskin-Robbins in 1977. I hadn’t seen Marty since 1981. Wow! Marty, The Durango Kid and I hung out all day and night and philosofized about current events, life and everything in between.
The Return to Reality:

It’s pretty bizarre re-entering reality after 11 days on the Colorado Trail. Below are a few things that I found quite humorous.

  • It took about 1 day before I actually cared if I had crap on my face.
  • It took about 2 days before I remembered that washing my hands is a good thing.
  • It took about 2 days before I remembered NOT to chew with my mouth open.
  • It took about 5 days before I was motivated to brush my teeth in the AM & PM.
  • And…. It took about 1 day before I was ready to return to the Colorado Trail and ditch all that comes with society and reality.

The 2012 Agenda:

2012 and the Colorado Trail? Yep. I may break down and have my buddies, James and Todd, at Black Sheep Bikes build me a new ride. How about a snow bike for snowbikepacking? And what better way to punish myself than to take a snow bike on the Colorado Trail. If I can survive that adventure, I can survive anything. Maybe I’ll be tough enough to survive some killer adventures in the frozen tundra. Maybe not.

So we shall see. I hope I can get in the queue and acquire the next sheep before the thought of snowbikepacking gets pushed off to the set of 2013 dreams.

Just Some High Altitude Commentary:

CT – Reflection on Seg 23 at 13kft from Judd Rohwer on Vimeo.
just some random thoughts – random high altitude thoughts

The Pics & Metallica:

random pictures on The Colorado Trail

The iPod:

So. I packed an iPod. As I thought I’d need a bit of company. But I never pulled it out – as all the dudes (and dudettes?) that reside in my head kept me company. Plus I have a skill of singing one song over and over, day after day. Yeah. I don’t need variety.

The Song that I Sung for 11 Days…. In My Head:

A Few Pics:

But Watch the slide show if you really care.

elk racing through the woods
Georgia Pass
a mountain goat above Breckenridge
near Searls Pass and Janet’s Cabin
 Janet’s Cabin – just below Searle Pass

a happy Judd inside a tarp tent – even though it’s pouring outside
before a big hike-a-bike up to 13,000 ft – Segment 22: Spring Creek Pass
13,229 feet
Lime Creek? Probably

The End…. Ska Brewing in Durango

3 thoughts on “500 miles across Colorado – Most on ‘The Trail’

  1. fantastic verbal/visual of the Colorado Trail..via the philosifizer.(sp?)…makes you wish you could be there too…great post Judd..


  2. Awesome! An adventure of a lifetime and one true to his CO roots. You will get back here somehow, some way. Shoot, make a plan with CO fall back and work the Watermelon, Inc to see if they can keep you on, albeit remote. They need you more than you need them and that is a fact.

    Great post and sorry I did not get to drink a beer with you at Ska.


  3. Watermelon, Inc. That is hilarious. Good point. I should just 'make it happen'. The cranks are turning in my head. We shall see. Either way, I'll be be in SW Colorado soon… and often.


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