Last month I had the pleasure of interviewing a local Durango climber and student at Fort Lewis College. Eli and I had plans to climb the Watch Crystal and record the podcast from the top of the cliff, but we ran out of daylight and bailed from the first pitch. In the episode, Eli and I discuss his experience with bipolar disorder and how climbing helps him sustain mental wellness.
The climb preceding the podcast was a fun romp up a sandstone dihedral of varying crack sizes. I forgot my harness and had to make do with some static rope, which was functional but far from comfortable at the hanging belay on the first pitch. As an aid climber, Eli took it in stride and had no qualms about doublechecking the setup. Despite cold temperatures, it was a relaxing evening watching the sun set over Durango.
(This is the edited transcript of a presentation Fritz gave to the Fort Lewis College Adventure Therapy class).
As an adventure therapist, the most important tool that you have for making a difference in your client’s life is rhetoric.
By rhetoric, I mean your ability to persuade people to participate in a challenge activity for the sake of their personal growth. According to Aristotle, there are three ways that this happens.
First, logos: facts, proof, hard skills.In an adventure setting, this means you know it and you show it. Nobody trusts a belayer who has to fiddle with their rewoven bowline for five minutes on the edge of a cliff. (Ask me sometime about my staff member who had trouble dressing her knots.) To gain a kid’s trust and persuade them to take the first step toward growth, you need to have your hard skills beyond-dialed so that they know that you know your stuff.
Second, pathos: emotional appeals. In the world of rhetoric, this refers to persuasion that relies on emotion instead of logic. Please note that this does not entail manipulation — no true therapist will cajole or shame their client into accepting a challenge. Instead, I view pathos in a broader sense: interpersonal soft-skills. You need to have a positive personal relationship with your clients, one that is marked by compassion, tolerance and ultimately a self-sacrificial love.
Third, ethos: your integrity. Are you working wilderness therapy for the pro-deals? To facilitate your dirtbag lifestyle? To meet that special someone who will warm up a portaledge with you at Zion? These aren’t necessarily bad things, but if that’s your primary motivation, kids will see right through you. And they won’t trust you. Remember, the Greek verb for “therapy” means “to serve” as well as “to heal.”
Understanding these three components of rhetoric will allow you to be a more effective practitioner of wilderness therapy. Simply put, the kids won’t grow if they’re not challenged, and they won’t be challenged if they don’t do the activity. When you’re working with vulnerable populations, many of them need persuasion to take that first step, and that’s where rhetoric comes in. Know your stuff, connect with the kids, and do it for the right reason. You may not get a “thank you” at the time, but you’ll have the satisfaction of knowing that you’ve helped them take the next step toward mental wellness.
Several of my friends have asked if they could provide financial support for APW’s mission of sustaining mental wellness through the arts and outdoors.
As much as I am touched by their generosity, my answer is always a firm “no thanks.” Why don’t we accept money, you ask?
To explain, here’s some context. Although this website is recent, A Perfect Weakness actually started in the year 2000 in my garage back in Indiana. Remember those tumultuous and awkward years? With a free 28.8k dialup connection provided by Allen County Public Library, it took me a long time to pirate the Linkin Park discography via Limewire! (Sorry, RIAA…)
As funny as those years are in retrospect, I was a pretty sad kid on the inside. Actually, I was clinically depressed. My life was greywashed. As much as I painted a vibrant color picture of myself as a happy person, deep down inside I felt empty.
I was listening to Hybrid Theory a lot back then. Chester’s scream was a hot blade that sliced through the chemical haze and allowed me to feel my pain for once. I could identify with being hurt by an older man in a position of authority when I was six years old.
I know you were in hell, Chester . I’m in purgatory for you now.
But in the end, it didn’t even matter. Rapcore wrapped my pain in a tidy twelve-pack package and allowed to compartmentalize my anger at feeling forgotten. I spent too much time by myself allowing my rage to fester and rot instead of telling people the truth about what happened to me.
So what’s this have to do with money? Well, A Perfect Weakness is a publishing company. As the general editor, I support a team of talented artists and athletes who create quality content. We speak the truth. Sometimes in love, sometimes in hate.
Because when it’s half past midnight on my thirty-first birthday and I wake up with tears running down my face because last month one of my coworkers decided that in the end, it didn’t even matter…
I hate the fact that some of the best members of my generation have felt like they didn’t have a choice to keep on living.
I don’t want to feel numb anymore. I want to make a difference.
Manda, I’m sorry I wasn’t there for you. I’m sorry that I didn’t do more to help you see past the darkness in your life. I know that you’re in a better place now, but that doesn’t ease the pain of your friends and family in Durango who have to go back to the office tomorrow without you.
My day job encourages us to have a healthy balance between our personal and professional lives by integrating the two. But right now, in my heart, I’m back on graveyard shift with all those who are trapped in limbo between despair and hope.
This is my December. This is my time of the year.
But this is not me alone. I’d give it all away to watch the sun rise over a small mountain town that is healing as it is hurting. I’d give it all away just to see one person choose to step away from that ledge.
Starting A Perfect Weakness was a leap of faith for me. I don’t know where I’ll land. But I do know four things:
Ace of Spades. I need to speak out.
King of Hearts. I’m no longer afraid of what people think about my story.
Queen of Clubs. I am passionate about helping people tell their stories of hope and healing.
Jack of Diamonds. I am blessed by friends and family who help me speak out and express a greater reality.
Not just the pain I feel right now for those who are hurting.
Not just the fears I face every time I tell my story.
Not just the work that I want to do to make a difference and save a life.
That greater reality is that you, too, can have hope. You, too, can heal. And with or without your support, the artists and outdoors people who contribute to A Perfect Weaknes, are free and clear to express the hope that lies deep within our souls.
If you would like to join us on our journey of sustaibing nental wellness in the arts and outdoors, please reach out to Fritz with an idea of how you can help by donating your time and talents at firstname.lastname@example.org
If you’d like to hear more about our organization dedicated to promoting mental wellness and psychiatric recovery through art and the outdoors, fill out the form below. Our email lists are completely confidential.
(This website will be under construction as it transitions to accommodate our new focus.)
Here’s a working sketch of what we’re all about! We’ll be updating the website and recording the first podcast episodes soon.
Mission: To promote mental wellness by creating opportunities to participate in artistic expression and outdoor experiences.
Vision: A vibrant community whose creative content and shared experiences replace stereotypes of “mental illness” with substantive relationships and discussion. We seek to enable and empower people to tell their stories, change their lives and share hope with others.
– W: The inherent worth and dignity of all human life.
– E: Artistic and personal excellence.
– L: Active, constructive listening.
– L: Love and let live – Understanding and civility for people of all viewpoints and walks of life.
– Podcast: Stories of individual journeys toward mental wellness.
– Blog: Articles related to mental health.
– Mentoring: Free help for people who want to express themselves and tell their story. This includes tutoring, editing, art/music lessons and more.
– Outdoor pursuits: Free guided outdoor experiences with an emphasis on the therapeutic power of nature.
– Forum: Online community of collaboration and mobilization.
I woke up in the cab of an abandoned dump truck in the middle of the forest and assessed the situation.
– 1) Find water.
– 2) Get back on route.
– 3) Bike 80+ miles back to the van before dark and eat everything in sight.
I guess it wouldn’t be an adventure if something didn’t go wrong. At least that’s how I consoled myself as I watched a full water bottle launch into orbit off my frame and tumble off a cliff. A third of my water gone. At least it was a fun downhill.
The route links up 160 miles and 11,900 vertical feet along sandy dirt roads that meander through the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. It was mid-November, and local bikepacking season was drawing to a close.
On Saturday morning I kissed my wife and hound goodbye and rolled away from the house at 07:50. The gear list was pretty standard for an overnighter, although I did pack a luxurious, inflatable sleeping pad instead of the car sunshade. I stuffed my frame bag full of clearance Halloween candy and oatmeal raisin cookies, and filled half of my three-liter water storage.
It was a chilly morning, low forties or so, but there was lots of pedaling to be had. I settled in for the long haul. Dirt roads in the desert provide an incredibly meditative experience, if you let them.
At the “Paria Box,” I grabbed some relatively fresh water. I had recently discovered that the violent bout of giardia I picked up while bikepacking the Colorado Trail two months ago was due to an expired bottle of betadine drops. Armed with a fresh bottle, I double-dosed for good measure and filled up.
I turned on Handel’s Messiah and spun some more flat, sandy miles. “A voice of one crying in the wilderness …” was particularly apropos here.
Just when things were starting to get boring, a side trip presented itself at Cottonwood Narrows. I busted down some canyon singletrack and snagged a quick photo from some Polish tourists. (I saw maybe ten people that day, and all within the first forty miles).
Easy pedaling, good views, sixty degrees and sunny. Without the “focus high” of demanding, technical singletrack, my mind floated off into the clouds. I call it my “nothing box.” Every now and then I’d land on a topic and expend a couple mental megabytes, but mostly it was roaming. Remember that screensaver from Windows 98 (SE) with the transparent glob that pinballed lazily off the perimeter of the screen? “This is your mind on dirt roads.”
Eventually I hit Grosvenor Arch and a couple of motorized tourists. I politely declined their offers of water because I was mostly full. Apparently it was too early in the day to offer beers (NB: if you see a bikepacker, it’s never too early). One elderly gentleman said that I looked pretty “squirrelly” coming down the last hill. Trading one non sequitur for another, I told him that I always eat nuts on trips like this because of their high calorie-to-ounce ratio.
I do have to admit that I was a bit miffed that nobody asked the usual ego-stroking questions, like me how far I had gone / was going / do you own a car / where is your tent / do you need a ride / how do you get the rope up there / etc.
I soon had bigger problems to confront than my vanity, however.
My favorite place to stash a bike bottle is on a bottle cage that I ziptied to the intersection of the toptube and seatpost. I’ve been using that mount on various bikes for years on much more technical terrain, and never had a problem with it.
Until this day. On an uncharacteristically-chunky-but-still-not-heroic downhill, my water bottle decided to free itself from the loving constraints of friction and explore the great abyss beyond the road.
Losing a third of my water presented a quandary. Instead of drycamping as originally planned, I would need to ride late into the night to reach to the next source, twenty extra miles. That source, however, was marked as “possible water at Last Chance Creek” and the only remaining supply on the route. It was late fall and extra dry — gambling on that source and coming up dry there would be dangerous.
My other option would be to continue the loop for several hours, head ten miles off-route to get to the town (?) of Escalante, fill up, and then backtrack or alter the course. This option included the possibility of onion rings and flavored Utah water at a theoretical local dive bar, assuming I made it before last call.
I pondered this decision for the next thirty miles until the road split. By which I mean, I fantasized about plunging a fistful of glistening, salt-encrusted onion rings into a bowl of full-strength ranch dressing …
So yeah, I cut hard north for Escalante at sunset. Ten miles, even the most backwater bar should still be open in an hour.
Or so I thought. Problem is, my GPS wouldn’t get a location fix. (I later found out that the SIM card slot on my phone had apparently decided that since the trusty water bottle cage was taking a day off, it was entitled to malfunction as well). I had a backup map, but most of the side roads weren’t marked, so I couldn’t tell how far I’d come. As best I could tell, I was at the junction to turn off for Escalante.
A few miles later, I found myself in a spiderweb of unmarked powerline roads. I’d take one and ride for a half mile, and then it would dead-end into some sort of power station with a meter. I hit about seven or eight of these and would have to backtrack each time.
Fortunately, I did find water. Or at least liquid. It was a cow pond with no inlet or outlet. I skimmed my hydration reservoir across the top to get a half a liter before the mud rose, then moved around the pond and repeated the process.
I found lots of industrial junk and signage, but nothing to indicate how to get to Escalante. After so much backtracking in the dark, I became totally disoriented and couldn’t find where I came from.
It was also getting cold at 7600 feet, so I finally decided to call it a night and orient myself to the sunrise. I set up my cushy pad, ate a couple of instant mashed potato burritos smothered in Cholula — good, but not quite onion rings — and settled in for a long, dark night. It was about 8:30pm.
A few hours later, I awoke on the cold ground atop a completely deflated sleeping pad. (I carried sixteen ounces for this?!!) It was 2:00am. It was too cold to stay put, so I ate my breakfast of six oatmeal raisin cookies and started trying to backtrack. Oh, and my Camelbak was frozen, too.
Morale was at an all-time low.
After an hour of wandering up and down dead-end powerline roads, I stumbled across a couple shacks and a vintage, abandoned dump truck. Now we’re styling. The shacks were locked but the truck was open, so I curled up on the bench seat and got a couple hours of quality shuteye (aside from dreaming about serial killers who lived in the shacks).
With the sun up, I started to get an idea of how to escape the spiderweb. Looking at Google Earth after the fact, I had gone a total of about ten miles off route in the dark, and the Escalante turnoff had been another five miles down the road. Turns out it was beautifully marked, too.
Anyway, time to ride.
I ran into a surprise cow spring and got some “insurance water” in case Last Chance was dry.
The next thirty miles were pretty uneventful. I was kind of ready to be done with this dirt road.
Last Chance Creek had a couple small puddles. It would’ve been hard to scoop them without a bottle or pump hose, so I stuck with my cow spring coffee. Food was running low, so I set a timer on my phone to go off every hour and ate a funsize Snickers or cheese stick at every beep. (Talk about operant conditioning … I love that ringtone now.)
At long last, I hit a sign that indicated thirty miles to Big Water. So close and yet so far … it was around 2:30pm, the doldrums of the day. Clouds everywhere. A long, flat, sandy road ahead. One last mini Snickers, a bite at a time. This was going to be tough.
In desperate need of a kick in the aural pants, I cranked up the album “Deliverance” by Opeth. (Just the iso of the kick drum track on the first song is brutal enough to wilt a nascent geranium). It was just what I needed. I fired off a quick prayer for stamina — Jesus did forty days without food; I should be able to do thirty miles — and pedaled like hell.
Apparently God was amused at my sudden burst of NFG, because just as I was tearing through the barren wasteland, game face on, racing the sun and calorie deficit and lactic acid onslaught, screaming Swedish death metal under a bleak sky … I came across a surprise.
Somehow, in the middle of capital-N Nowhere, a yellow, polka-dotted helium balloon had snagged onto a sagebrush. Lest I continue taking myself too seriously, I tied it onto my seatpost with a figure-eight followthrough and brought it along.
Of course, after a few miles, the balloon popped off its yarn and floated back to Astaroth. I was sad to see it go — I thought of Wilson the volleyball — but it served its purpose.
I soon found solace in Smokey Mountain Road, an incredible, fast descent down a narrow shelf road. Honestly, I was pretty unimpressed with the entire route up until this point, but that segment made it all worthwhile. It’s probably the most scenic desert road I’ve ever ridden. I didn’t feel like pausing the magic to take pictures.
Fourteen miles to Big Water. I squeezed out the last few drops from my reservoir and settled in for some soul-crushing gravel rolling hills. That was probably the crux of the trip right there. It was comical on my 1×11; I’d shift into my highest gear at the top of each hill, crank a few strokes, hit a sandbox at the trough of the hill and lose most of my momentum, then shift all the way back into my granny (30:42) and barely clear the next hill.
At long last, I reached the visitor center and got tackled by a 105-pound puppy. I ate a pita with homemade blackberry jam and a couple of oranges, then we hightailed it to Page, AZ for the main event. By the time the dust settled, caloric equilibrium was restored thanks to a double bacon cheeseburger, curly fries, Oreo shake, half a liter of eggnog, a kiwi and a fresh pineapple.
180 miles and 12.5k vert in 34 hours. I felt pretty good about that, all things considered.
In other news … this may have been the last bikepacking trip of Beatrice the Karate Monkey. She’s carried me faithfully with nary a complaint on many adventures this year, but it’s time to lose some weight and get a frame that fits a bit better. To that end, the masterminds at Kokopelli Bike Company are designing me a custom-geometry titanium 27.5+ hardtail … eight weeks and counting …
I know he is still talking but have gone numb and my hearing is temporarily nonexistent. He stops, the gravity on his face replaced with compassion. The corner of my eye catches a tear track down my wife’s cheek. The bomb explodes. Just a short time ago remission was the order of the day. It has been a few weeks since hearing that.
Time for a head-clearing trip to the alpine.
A change in the weather stirs me from a fitful sleep. The wind has picked up. Pushing back my hood I glance at the watch. 2:11 am. Overhead are patches of clear sky. A light snow is falling. I can see below me for the first time since moving onto this ledge. The clouds that have enveloped all for the last thirteen hours are moving out. Just a few more hours and the warmth of the sun will reach here.
This perch is directly below the crux pitch of Ellingwood Arete. I am alone.
The route is a beautiful line on Crestone Needle in the Sangre de Cristo range. A classic, first ascended in 1925 to a gorgeous summit. Gotta pee. Keeping my back on the wall I stand and stretch.
The dark world around me is wet but no longer socked in. The snow stops. Silence broken by the click of the headlamp. I relieve myself then take stock. Pint of water, a small chunk of cheese bread, two energy bars, an empty pack of tuna devoured hours ago, and my one hit. Take a hit, check the temp and click off the light. Thirty-six degrees. Wrapped in raingear and poncho I am comfortable. Life is good.
The drive across the San Luis Valley was marred only by an inability to focus my thoughts, drifting from upcoming treatments to the beauty of South Colony Lakes. Far to the northeast, the Crestones rise almost 7,000 feet above the valley.
A fleeting doubt makes me question the choice to solo this peak at this time. The latest round of treatments has robbed some of my energy, the weight of the battle tiring. But doubt leaves me be as I pass south of Blanca and continue on.
The forecast showed a twenty percent chance of weather. For now sun and blue dominate all overhead. With four decades in the area I know a forecast can hold no relevance above the trees. The abrupt rise of these peaks above the valley create their own storms more often than not.
For almost two decades this poncho has lived in the bottom of various summit packs. Lightweight waterproof shell, built-in hood, reflective interior and hand pockets on the inside edge make it a great “oh shit” shelter. As I lean against the wall with legs pulled up, it covers me well.
For now I choose to stand and munch on some bread. An hour passes and I sit down, sky above now clear. At 5:30 a glowing tent appears down by the lakes. Fifteen minutes later, wishful thinking has convinced me I smell coffee. It has to be wishful as the winds are coming down from the peaks. I wonder about their agenda for the day and try to sleep. End up just waiting on the sun and picking out constellations.
Only one truck at the trailhead when I arrive. A text from my significant other. Be safe, have a great time, and drive yourself home. She always says that. A pic of her and our dog. I pop a beer and make lunch. It is only a few miles to the lakes and being in no hurry just chill. Today is for relaxing, tomorrow the climb. This is my fifth time on the route. Second solo. Confidence rises as I pop another beer. Two go into the pack, two left in the cooler for my return.
As the rosy fingers of dawn light the sky, my thoughts meander to a favorite saying posted on the wall of a hangout back in Pagosa. In the gray below two figures emerge from the tent and lift their packs. I watch and see they are headed for a different route. It seems the arête is to be mine today.
With the arrival of the sun I strip off the poncho and do a little dance. Vibrancy returns to my stiff bones as I eat and stretch, waiting for the rock to dry. For whatever reason I overslept yesterday and got a really late start. The rain came in around one in the afternoon. It stopped in thirty minutes but the clouds and occasional drizzle remained.
I had climbed to this ledge to wait for the return of the sun. Turned out to be a long wait. Should have set an alarm. Normally I have no need for one. Oversleeping seems to happen more often lately. Go figure. With the arrival of the sun the rock begins to steam, glowing orange and red with the refracted light. The Blood of Christ. I am overwhelmed with emotion and tears fill my eyes. Such beauty.
Since my original diagnosis a few months ago I have not allowed self pity to darken my thoughts. It has caught me here on this ledge and I weep openly. Death does not scare me; the battle ahead to keep it at bay does.
Just six years ago I was standing tall with my father as he struggled with the same battle. That journey was the toughest I have experienced. His last words echo through my consciousness. “Be good, strong, and true to your inner compass. Kiss your wife everyday.” Then he was gone. Needing some time alone my brother leaves the room. I bend down and kiss dad’s cheek. The journey ended on a beach in South America. His favorite place. I reach up and touch the shell I picked up that day. It has hung on a chain around my neck since spreading his ashes.
Suddenly I no longer feel alone.
Time to go. Shouldering my pack I take a minute to absorb the surroundings. This may be my last time here and need to savor it. With a calming breath I turn and climb.
The Head Crack pitch is the crux of the route. The crack is wet but easily manageable. Clarity encompasses me as I move right onto the crux holds. I am fully engaged in the moment and movement and the summit arrives as a surprise. Alpine splendor shines in every direction and through my soul.
After a leisurely time on the summit I slowly pick my way down the South Face back to camp, elk stew, and a cold beer.
As I descend the couloir, windswept voices reach me. An argument is in progress somewhere below. I see no one but hear them clearly. An emphatic “We are going down.” Then silence. Five minutes later they come into view. Announcing my presence with a loud hello they both look up, mild shock on their faces. His eyes are cloudy with fear. Hers, disappointment. We chat for a few minutes but mention nothing of their plight. My input is definitely not needed. I say be safe and continue on. Everyone you meet flutters around my mind as I leave them.
Fed and smugly satisfied I take a hit and open my last camp beer. The couple arrive back at their tent, drop packs, and wander off in different directions, fighting a battle I know nothing about.
Tomorrow I will head home. After that more treatments to continue the fight. Rust never sleeps.
Just outside of town the phone rings. It is my wife. She is at happy hour with the usual suspects. I’m ten minutes away I say and hang up. Upon arrival they are sitting on the deck, laughing and playing guitar. I join them and give my wife a kiss. A beer appears in my hand as I sit down and grab a guitar. Over my shoulder on a wall inside hangs a plaque. I know the words displayed there by heart.
With a song or two left in me I take a sip and begin to play.
Steve “Booner” Price lives in Pagosa Springs, CO with his wife, dog, cat and too many guitars. Climbing since 1980, he enjoys pebble wrestling, plugging gear, clipping bolts, top notch bourbon, and trying not to suffer in the high peaks.
We interrupt your regularly scheduled outdoor recreation programming to bring you this important message.
I can confidently say — and I am not given to hyperbole — that the raspberry fruit slider from Rendezvous Doughnuts is the best fruit-based baked good that I have ever had the privilege of eating.
At first bite, your teeth meet a crispy edge, fried in peanut oil and crusted with granules that are more cinnamon than sugar. The slight crunch gives way to a soft, thick interior. Make no mistake, these are doughnuts, not “donutz.” Unique notes of yeast and flour make up the full and rich body of the pastry.
Then comes the filling. At first, the raspberries bite back. Just as their tartness reaches it peak, the sweetness of the filling rushes in from the sides and evens out the overall effect. The fresh raspberries used in this piece evoked fond memories of the wild berries that I foraged while bikepacking the Colorado Trail last month .
As your teeth sink into the lower half of the dough, the cinnamon sugar provide a satisfyingly dusky bookend to the experience.
As a perpetually-famished, mildly-underweight bike commuter, I have a tendency to inhale my food This is a perpetual grievance from my wife, who with each new dish admonishes me “Now savor it …”. Usually the item is halfway down my esophagus by her third syllable.
This, however, must give us pause.
Rendezvous Doughnuts has crafted an aesthetic triumph.
To end this review at taste alone, however, would be a disservice. Inseparable from the delicately intertwined flavors of the doughnut is the environment in which it was crafted and consumed.
The shop is warm and inviting. The decor is minimal but not sparse. South-facing windows usher in an abundance of natural light. It feels like you’re hanging out in the kitchen of a rural bed and breakfast. Upon entering, I thought of Hemingway … this is a clean, well-lit place.
The same doughnut in another locale would not render as satisfactory an experience. Conversely, importing the lackluster donutz available from other sources in Durango into this location would yield a mediocre result as well. The quality of the goods and their context are closely linked in this case.
Lest this review comes off as starry-eyed fanboy slavering, I will offer a few caveats to my enthusiasm. At the time of publication, the fruit sliders retail at $3.45. Unlike their other, robustly-sized doughnuts (dark chocolate cacao nib, brown butter vanilla bean, cinnamon sugar, caramel bacon), the sliders are smaller. The calorie to dollar ratio isn’t quite as good as the others, but then again, that’s not why you should be there.
The place was popular on both weekend days that I visited, and when the doughnuts sold out, many a crestfallen face was turned away into the outer darkness to the weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth. For us, the wait times were acceptable for receiving a hand-crafted product, but others waited longer. Faster drink service would ease the wait.
At present, the shop is only open from 07:00 to 14:00, which precludes post-adventure visits (unless they’re really epic and you roll in at first light). I’d really like to hit this place up on a Sunday night after returning from a desert tower weekend mission.
The acoustics of the room are a bit harsh for conversation when the house is full. However, they’re great for an impromptu acoustic jam:
Altogether, my visits to Rendezvous Doughnuts have been heartening experiences. I look forward to returning soon to slowly savor their new creations and enjoy the pleasant ambiance among good company.
It felt good to dial it back a notch. The past couple trips have been strenuous, and I was looking forward to a chill couple of days on the Kokopelli Trail.
The rules: no alarm clocks, ample food and water, lots of photo breaks and no heroics. For once, everything went as planned and I had a relaxing weekend on some beautiful dirt roads.
On Friday morning, I boarded the Greyhound from Durango to Grand Junction. I slept a bit and read some Infinite Jest, but mostly just stared out the window and let my thoughts meander around the “nothing box.”
I met Jeremy for lunch, then rode the bike path twelve miles to Fruita and filled up three liters of water and Tailwind. Temperatures were balmy, though there was a bit of a headwind. Seven more miles of pavement brought me to the singletrack start of the trail.
The KT starts with Mary’s Loop, a mostly flat trail that contours atop sandstone cliffs above the Colorado River.
Occasional boulder problems punctuate the flow of this scenic section.
It turns out that the riverside cottonwoods were at peak foliage, an unexpected bonus. It was nice to get an extension on fall colors, which are all-too-brief in Colorado.
Eventually, you start horsing around on Troy Built, then hit some legit hikeabike down to Salt Creek. It’s a good source and I definitely could’ve started with less water — one liter would’ve sufficed in the cool October temps.
The sun set when I hit Rabbit Valley, but the headwind continued, and some rain fell intermittently. I wanted to make some time and allow for a leisurely finish in Moab on Sunday, so I rode by headlamp for another four hours. It seemed like that was the least scenic part of the whole trip, so it worked out. My wife had made me a stellar playlist of blues and funk to keep my spirits and RPMs up, and it helped pass the time.
I was hoping to make it to the Westwater Ranger Station that night for water, but I ended up dry-camping sooner. This trip was stoveless because I hadn’t felt like running to the store to refill denatured alcohol, so dinner consisted of a burrito filled with instant mashed potatoes, salami, cheese and pretzels. Dessert was a gold mine … an ice cream sandwich with instant cookies-n-cream pudding as the filling.
I woke up with the sun the next morning and ate a half-dozen oatmeal raisin cookies for breakfast. I normally do instant oatmeal like everyone else, but seriously? Look at the ingredients. Oats + wheat flour + raisins + brown sugar. You may as well just bring oatmeal raisin cookies at 130 calories an ounce and eat them from the comfort of your mummy bag.
It was a chilly morning, and the slow, chunky jeep road made it difficult to warm up. When the sun finally crested, though, it was glorious.
Eventually I hit pavement and spun out in top gear (30:11) on the way down to the ranger station. Turns out their water still required filtering, but it was better than the cow puddles I’d passed on the way, so the 1.5 mile detour was worth it.
Evidently everyone and their mother uses this particular boat launch on the weekend. There were at least forty river rats queued up go do downhill … they looked like boulderers with their tiny little legs. Tee hee.
I filtered three liters and pounded some yogurt-covered raisins, then left the menagerie of hydrophiles in the hands of a rather frazzled ranger. Dude had a Rock Shox sticker on his Nalgene. What do you say to boaters for good luck, “Vinyl side down?”
I soon hit the longest, flattest dirt road in the universe. I was in the mood for it, though, no singletrack entitlement here.
The next segment was barren and dry, a tabula rasa, as though God decided to try his hand at minimalism. In spite of this — or perhaps because of it? — I find the desert to be an incredibly peaceful place. The sky is endless and my mind wanders through it.
When the trail rejoined the Colorado River, cottonwood trees erupted from the earth. The audacity of foliage in the desert. I love it.
A little bit of singletrack, then more dirt roads. I passed a couple eastbound bikepackers, but they were blazing on a downhill, so we didn’t stop to chat.
Several almond Snickers bars later, the terrain started to look a lot like Moab. I passed through some slickrock playgrounds, wide expanses of concrete-like slabs that were like natural skate parks. Entrada sandstone buttresses loomed in the distance. It was about the halfway point on the trail, and I started getting excited.
I knew we were getting close to civilization when I ran into some ATV and dune buggy groups, and a guided MTB ride. A couple of moto riders helped me break the bike-selfie monotony of this trip report.
My tires were a bit undergunned for the sand in this section (2.4 front, 2.25 rear), but it wasn’t that bad. Dual 3.0’s would be a good float to weight ratio, no need to get all Moonlander on this stuff.
Then out of nowhere, the river magically reappeared. I busted down to the Dewey Bridge and grabbed some slightly muddy water, then took a lunch break under a bush. Over halfway done by mileage, but not halfway yet by vertical gain.
Time to go uphill. I turned on Beethoven’s Fourth Symphony and thanked the gourd that I had a granny gear (30:42). I leapfrogged a bit with a couple of day-riders, then parted ways down into a rad canyon.
Lots more climbing ensued and my legs started complaining. I fed them some Doritos, colby jack and gummy worms, and turned on my “NFG” playlist, which is pretty much an aural crime against humanity designed to make lactic acid dive for cover. It’s mostly early 2000’s pop punk and screamo. There’s only so much angst that lactate can handle.
Dusk fell and I started thinking of how nice it’d be to not ride by headlamp for a change. It just so happened that a gorgeous dry campsite was a couple hundred feet below in a horseshoe-shaped cirque.
First I had to pick my way down the infamous “Rose Garden Hill,” which supposedly has been ridden by a human being on a bicycle more than once. (Not me!) It’s basically an avalanche slope of encephalitic babyheads. You’d better be in the mood for Mexican food, because your rims are going to be aluminum tacos.
Supposedly there was a spring at the bottom, but if there was, it wasn’t running in October. No worries, I was stocked for a dry camp. I nestled into some luxurious, soft dirt, rolled a couple Tabasco potato burritos, and read a letter addressed to Theophilus.
The next morning I woke up at 05:00 and finished the other half-dozen oatmeal raisin cookies. I rode a couple hours by headlamp — cold! I wore every layer I brought and took several handwarming breaks.
Lots of gradual uphill ensued. Sometime that morning, I hit the high point (~8600′) and passed some Ponderosa pines.
I finally hit the top of whatever I was on top of, and promptly layered up for steep, paved descent. Unfortunately, the very last segment of the KT, La Sal Loop Road, was under construction (on a Sunday?!). This meant I had to detour around on Castleton Road to Highway 128 and follow the river on pavement back to town. Mileage was the same, but I had to miss out on finishing on Porcupine Rim.
I was hoping to finish on Porcupine, but also kind of dreading the inevitable beating that I would suffer on my little 100mm travel hardtail. (PR regularly gets shuttled by downhill riders on burly full-suspension rigs).
Eighteen miles of pavement brought me back to Moab, where a beautiful woman, a ninety-five-pound puppy and a bacon-bleu-cheeseburger and onion rings were waiting for me. Oh, and a couple corn dogs and chocolate milk, too, plus a few doughnuts and an orange, but who’s counting?
Altogether a wonderful weekend of rejuvenation in the desert.
By the numbers: 159 miles and 13k vert from downtown GJ to downtown Moab. 1 day, 20 hours and 30 minutes total, probably sixteen hours of which was sleeping.
Notes for next time:
– The course is surprisingly well-watered, even in autumn. I had capacity for 3.75L and carried 3.5, but never really drank more than 2. Westbounders can fill up at Salt Creek (mile 20, from Fruita), Westwater (50), the river (70), Dewey Bridge (85), and Castle Creek (126).
– Dual 2.4 tires or slightly bigger would be an improvement for traction. Sand is probably more of an issue eastbound.
– Didn’t miss the stove at all, even though it was cold out.
– More hot sauce.
– Oatmeal raisin cookies for the breakfast win! Instant pudding for the desert win! Find powdered whole milk to add to the pudding for extra protein.
– Instant potatoes, instant pudding and Tailwind look pretty similar in ziplock bags in the dark … beware a catastrophic mixup.