Colorado Section: Bikepacking the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route

Photos by Jason Torbitzky, Whitney Lannert and Adam Scott

Sunset at the Southern Border

Risking failure is the hardest part on setting out to accomplish something difficult. Failure was certainly on my mind the entirety of my training for the Colorado portion of the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route. It was the 2.5 years of unexplained knee pain that was making me the most nervous on setting out on this new adventure. I finally took the advice from Brian over at Revo Physiotherapy in Boulder, he said “just start doing things again.” I have been babying my left knee for years and not really getting after anything significant because I kept thinking I was going to hurt it worse than it already was. However, the very fact that I wasn’t using it or pushing it, was keeping me from getting past the pain, so I “just started doing things again.”

On the long climb out of Platoro
Summitville Mine Disaster Site
Day 1
Miles: 84.9

Moving Average 9.5mph

Stopped Time: 4:16

Day 2
Miles: 48.43

Moving Average 8.6mph

Stopped Time: 4:09

Day 3
Miles: 66.17

Moving Average 10.2mph

Stopped Time: 3:12

The time came to meet up with Jason South of Antonito on the border of New Mexico and Colorado. He was already some 600+ miles into his journey and I was jumping on the train to accompany him on the best that Colorado had to offer. We had a goal of riding 60 miles a day on average so he could time it just right to meet up with friends and family in Montana later in the year. We weren’t racing anybody but time and really wanted to take in the sites and people on our trip. The first day out we rode 85 miles and ended up riding into “Del Nort” in the dark. We heard a rumor that if we called the Del Norte Police Department we could get permission to camp in the local park, so that is what we did. We just randomly happened to be at a liquor store, parched as ever, and out of nowhere the local police officer found us and granted us permission to sleep at the park. How she knew we were standing outside the liquor store in the dark… not her first rodeo I guess. She did warn us that the sprinklers will come on at one point so make sure we stay dry. When we got there, either side of the street we assumed was the park she was talking about and one side was getting soaked by the sprinklers so we set up camp under the pavilion across the street and passed out after a nice helping of ramen. It wasn’t more than 20 minutes after I fell asleep, I was woken up by the sound of a myriad of sprinklers spraying my bivy sack and sleeping bag. It was a mad scramble to get all of our gear out of the “rain” and into a dry spot. Having no idea when and where the next drenching would occur, we set up camp on a sliver of dirt and concrete between a chain link fence and the Town Hall building.

North of Del Norte
Grinding endless gravel
Cowboy camping

We woke in the morning and started our journey North out of town and through Mars on our way to Carnero Pass. It was a relatively uneventful day and a shorter one due to the mileage from the first day. It was great riding through desert, a throwback to my BMX days while living in AZ, the sand and sharp rocks made for a very interesting challenge. We stopped off for water at La Garita, a closed market and a couple trailers would have been all we missed if we skipped it. We continued towards Canero pass and the topography and temperature began to change. The trail was beautiful and lined with giant rocks and a welcomed reprieve from the “desert” a few hours earlier. That night we ended up finding a nice little piece of dirt on the edge of the Rio Grande National Forest and called it a night. We were roused from dinner when we saw a headlight coming our way through the darkness, it was a racer heading South in the Tour Divide Race. He set up camp nearby, offered us a smoke and promptly went to bed. He told us he hasn’t ridden one section of the route without being stoned, I’m not sure if I could even find my bike if I was stoned 100% of the time!

We again hopped on our bikes after a good stretch and breakfast and made our way up and over Cochetopa Pass and started aiming for Sargents. As we neared the bustling metropolis of Doyleville we started to get crazy headwinds which slowed our riding to a near crawl. We knew the storm was coming because we could see it roaring towards us, so we decided to take a short coffee and snack break under a nearby tractor. After the rain slowed to a drizzle, we hopped on Route 50 and rode the 13 or so miles into Sargents hoping there would be at least a gas station for some warmth and burritos. What we came upon was one of the greatest things of the whole trip. As we rode into town we could see that we were in for a treat. In Sargents there were cabins for rent, $40 a night (done!), a restaurant, showers and a laundry facility. I don’t need much in life, but these creature comforts were welcomed and appreciated. 

Refueling in Salida

We left Sargents the next day to the skies a deep blue hue only Coloradans have become accustomed to. It just so happens that my lovely wife was doing business in Salida at the exact same time so we thought it would only make sense to have a pizza and beer with her and her coworkers. We thoroughly filled up on pizza and even strapped a few on the back of the bike for later. We of course stopped off at the local bike shops, one of which was welcoming and wanted to talk shop and the other… well, wasn’t Absolute Bikes. We got some good beta on the route out of town, said goodbye to the friends and continued North. The stretch out of town ended up being very slow going and steep, which made for a great time setting up camp randomly on the side of the trail precisely when we didn’t feel like pedaling another stroke. 

Once my favorite town of Salida was behind us, we set our sights on Hartsel and Como. The trail nearer to the Hartsel area was something out of the show Breaking Bad. That is one place in Colorado I can’t quite figure out. Random parcels of land with single wide trailers scattered about for miles… in the middle of nowhere. There is a fine line between solitude and seclusion. Hartsel offered up some decent chili, chicken fingers and coke. The market next door resupplied us with all the high calorie goodies we could handle and some more water for the road. After countless miles of washboard dirt roads and undercarriage wrecking terrain, it was nice to finally make it to the area around Como. We could feel the temperature and atmosphere change the closer we got to town.

Fresh water?

When we arrived we set out to find the schoolhouse, we knew that we could sleep in the back of the building per the owner’s permission. We couldn’t find a flat spot to lay the tarp down so we opted for the side of the schoolhouse next to some of our favorite childhood toys, the swings! Shortly after arriving we saw a man coming towards us with an extension cord and a smile. He informed us that it was his schoolhouse that he bought years ago for something like $500 from his grandma. The house he currently lived in was bought for something like $100. Needless to say, housing cost in the area have gone up a bit since then.  We knew going into town that there was no potable water so we filled up at a firehouse just outside of town. Well Jason, the owner, came up to inform us that not only were there pit toilets for us cyclists, but he just installed a new pump for the well and wanted to plug it in for us! We thanked him graciously and listened to some great stories of him working in Antarctica as a diesel engine mechanic, fascinating guy. He was just another person on the route that reached out to us and wanted to help and show their true Colorado spirit. These types of people were plentiful along the route and made me proud to be a honorary Coloradan.

Old Schoolhouse
Section House and Ken's Cabin
Day 4
Miles: 55.2

Moving Average 8.6mph

Stopped Time: 5:56

Day 5
Miles: 67.6

Moving Average 9.8mph

Stopped Time: 5:12

Day 6
Miles: 86.7

Moving Average 10.6mph

Stopped Time: 4:33

Day 6 started off with a nice mellow climb towards Boreas Pass just outside of Breckenridge. We stopped for a moment to take a picture of the Section House and Ken’s Cabin and proceeded downhill to the town of Breck. There, we grabbed some lunch, visited a couple bike shops and headed out of town. We rode the beautiful bike path past the Colorado Trail and towards Silverthorne. In Silverthorne we loaded up a ton of food and water and shot slightly downhill to the start of the climb to Ute Pass. This climb kicked my butt and had Jason waiting at the top for a bit for me to catch up. After some snacks and a photo, we aimed our bikes down and started ripping towards Kremmling. We knew we wouldn’t make it all the way there so we just kept pedaling until near dark and again set up camp randomly on the side of the trail. We awoke the next day to the realization that we were locked into a field and missed the signs on the way in saying no bikes allowed. We felt like jerks but lifted our heavy bikes over the barbed wire fence on the way out. No harm no foul I guess. We pedalled through Colorado River country, pass the popular Pumphouse put-in, up and over Lynx Pass and found another nice little spot on the side of the trail to sleep. This time making sure we weren’t going to get locked in. The spot we picked just so happened to have a piece of plywood on a tree stump, so we dined like kings on ramen off of our beautiful dining room table. 

Hanging out at Ute Pass outside of Silverthorne
Near Burtchers Grave
Firefighter in Steamboat Springs, CO
Routt National Forest

We decided in the morning that we wanted to stop in Steamboat Springs to take in some sights and get some food before passing through town. We stopped off at a nice hippy establishment for some rabbit food and tea and started chatting about where we could find a shower and laundry. A nice young lady overheard us and said her husband was a firefighter and he wouldn’t mind if we swung by, showered and did a load of laundry. We couldn’t believe another person on the trail was reaching out to us for no particular reason at all. She promptly called him, talked about 30 seconds and said “head on over, he is waiting for you.” When we pulled up, the firefighter welcomed us into his station, showed us where the showers were, we used some of their laundry soap and cleaned up real proper. It didn’t hurt that across the street was a brewery for us to wait at while our clothes dried. We then rallied each other to get back on the saddle and continue towards Clark. It was a mild haul on mostly pavement with little shoulder but thankfully uneventful. As we pulled into the Clark Store there was a wood fired pizza oven strapped to the back of a trailer and serving up killer pies. We got chatting with the pizza guys and asked if there was anywhere to sleep in Clark and they said they had an idea but to give them a few minutes to investigate. The pizza slinger came back shortly thereafter and pointed to a backyard about 50’ away and said “you guys can sleep there.” We were a bit perplexed by the offer but kindly obliged. He said it was a residence of a gaggle of dude ranch employees, “a bunch of kids.” We jumped at the chance and just before the sun went down we pulled out our sleeping bags and went right to sleep. We did get woken up a few times by cars pulling in and giving us weird looks, but I don’t blame them.

Brush Mountain Lodge

In the morning we packed up camp to set out on my last day of the trip. Refueled on snacks and a breakfast burrito we left the Clark Store. We winded through what seemed to be a neighborhood way back in the forest and started to climb a very rocky path up and over Meaden Peak. I knew this was my last peak or pass of the trip so we stopped to take it in for a bit… Everything was (mostly) downhill from here. After a couple hours of travel we came around a corner to structure flying the American and Mexican flag, I knew we had to stop. There were picnic tables and people sitting around, but we couldn’t figured out what was going on because we were in the middle of nowhere. We walked up and leaned our bikes against a table and was greeted by the warmest hug from the building’s owner. It surprised us but it was so welcomed. She told us to come up on the patio and sit down and she said she was bringing us some ice water. We couldn’t believe what was happening, we thought this was the craziest mirage we have ever experienced. She then proceeded to offer us pizza and salads but we both denied knowing that we were close to my end of the trip and Whitney was bringing us lunch. She insisted on feeding us and made Jason a salad and both of us smoothies. As we sat and ate, a few others started coming out of the building and informing us that we were at THE Brush Mountain Lodge. We heard about this place and the owner a few times in the last week, but we didn’t realize we were sitting there taking in the experience in that moment. She kindly mentioned that she is only open due to tips and everything she offers there is free. We happily threw her a couple bucks and hoped we got to see her again in the future. It was at this time I knew my trip was coming to an end and this was probably the last great Coloradan hospitality I would experience on the trip.

Day 7
Miles: 68.49

Max Speed: 42.2

Stopped Time: 4:22

Day 8
Miles: 52.25

Max Speed: 34.9

Stopped Time: 2:51

Day 9
Miles: 44.9

Moving Average 9mph

Stopped Time: 2:26

In Slater, WY we met the one very nice resident whom invited us in for dinner which we declined, and sat in the post office parking lot with the grill fired up telling stories of the trip. After all the training, washboard and mountain passes, I finally made it to Wyoming! A great physical treat but an even greater treat getting to solidify my friendship with a great friend. Whitney and I packed up the truck and started heading towards home and saw Jason off on the rest of his incredible ride. 

Slater, WY!
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