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My First Bike Tour – Durango to Moab via the San Juan Hut System

Only one mile into my climb up the Colorado Trail, I wondered what I had gotten myself into. We rode 20 miles from Molas Pass over three mountain passes, all above ten thousand feet. We spent nine hours on our bikes, not all of them pedaling. We pushed our bikes to 12,620 feet, leap-frogged hikers and encountered a flock of sheep with aggressive working dogs. That was Day One: only six more to go.

We were on a weeklong mountain bike adventure that would take us through the San Juans and La Sals in Western Colorado. We stayed overnight in small cabins as part of an organized, reserved hut system. The trip organizers provided canned food and beds for us. We carried clothes, lunches, and tools. In the weeks leading up to the trip I got lots of miles inand had everything I needed to survive loaded on my bike, but I still felt underprepared. I had never done a ride like this before.

On the second day, we circumnavigated the Lizard Head Wilderness Area. The day after that we left the Uncompahgre National Forest and headed into the high desert.

The highlight of the third day was stopping for a swim at the Miramonte Reservoir and seeing the San Juans in the distance and how far we'd come. That night, a rat tried to chew its way out of our hut. We all thought it was on the outside trying to get in – which in retrospect made no sense. No one slept except for one person who had earplugs. I wished I had brought earplugs. During the ride later that day the group split up. Some of us took the standard route while others wanted to check out a different route. It started to rain. Fortunately, my riding partner and I made it to the next hut and avoided getting caught in the weather, while the others were not as lucky. They got lost, soaked in mud and had to spend the evening cleaning their bikes. It was worth arriving early to enjoy the spectacular view overlooking the Dolores River and the La Sals in the distance.

Photo caption: Nicole Martin spreads her wings in front of the wide expanse of the La Sals on Day Four of the trip. Photo by Nikki Dorn.

Day Five was another beautiful day minus one storm cell that we rode under as we approached the Paradox Valley Mesa. I was pretty nervous about the lightning. But once we dropped 1000 feet to the Dolores River via the 1.2 mile Catch 'Em 'Up trail, I felt better. The storm was a great reminder of how exposed we were with nothing but our bikes. I was glad I brought three rain layers. We arrived at our hut in a peaceful area at the base of the La Sals. We knew what was coming on the next day – more than 5000 feet of climbing from Paradox Valley to Burro Pass. At almost 10,000 feet, we were back to burning firewood. The highlight of the day and possibly of the trip: relaxing in a privately-owned meadow overlooking the La Sals with my new favorite riding companions.

Photo caption: A view from the cabin looking toward the La Sals from the east side. Photo by Nicole Martin.

On our final day we climbed to Burro Pass, which for me involved pushing my bike another 1500 feet before beginning our sweet 7000-foot descent into Moab. Our original plan was to ride the Whole Enchilada, but due to injuries and fatigue we agreed to stick to the roads. First we got to ride a great new single-track section called Jimmy Keen that would be worth checking out again. Even with the “bail-out” we rode 34 miles that took all day. My only mechanical of the whole trip – in fact, the only mechanical for the whole group – was breaking my chain crossing Main Street, 100 feet from the Moab Brewery. Perfect timing! The highlight of the day was telling people who asked where we were coming from, “Durango!”

Every day was a challenge. It wasn't just about the riding, though I'd say bike fitness is a must. The food wasn't always in our comfort zones (canned corned beef hash for breakfast, chicken salad with water chestnuts, wine out of a can, anyone?) but we all needed the calories. Picky eaters would suffer here. And then after weird meals we all had to share a room together! We arrived after long days of riding and had to prepare impromptu meals that everyone could eat – no mushrooms or olives, bacon and cheese on the side, please. We had to clean up the cabin every morning while packing our bags. Route finding was not always straightforward and some people were better at it than others. The temperature varied from 40 to 110 degrees. The type of riding varied from extremely technical single-track to 10-mile gravel road climbs. Our group sustained several injuries. Riding single-track with bike packs was a whole different experience in itself. And there was the occasional rodent keeping us awake all night. But to be able to see this amazing landscape unfold with the wind in my hair, the strength of my legs, and this amazing work of art I call my bike, felt like my natural habitat and I would do it all again.