Saturday, August 31, 2013

Bike Packing to Aspen

My journey from Vail to Aspen was a NO thought out masterpiece! I knew I was going to camp Friday and Saturday night and possibly longer. I had one deadline... To get to the Belly Up to see Xavier Rudd at 9pm on Saturday.

Late Friday afternoon, I rode a bus 30 miles West of Vail to Eagle. I met up with my best Bud to share my itinerary and wish for his baby not to be born while I was away, (who right now is in the delivery room with his wifey. I'm patiently writing this blog in the waiting room at 3:24am!!) I left Eagle at 6pm and headed toward Sylvan Lake

I only made it about 10-12 miles Friday night and camped just outside of Sylvan Lake campground (saving some $$). At about 9pm, the rangers notified me that I was not at a legal place to camp, but were nice enough to let me stay till the morning. This is camp the first night

The next 24 miles wind away from Sylvan Lake up to the top of Crooked Creek Pass and down the other side to the small town of Thomasville and the Reudi Reservoir. The road is narrow, windy, and has some tight, steep switchbacks, which proved very difficult on my touring tires. The road passes through stands of aspen, lodgepole pine, Engelmann spruce, subalpine fir, Douglas fir, high mountain meadows, and wildflowers. This route offers many spectacular views of the Sawatch Mountain Range, Burnt Mountain, and William's Mountains. 

Sylvan Lake

 Going down was more difficult than up. My bike is heavy by itself + gear.. It had to be at least 60 lbs. This is about 10 min passed Crooked Creek Pass. You can see a road off in the distance.

I came over and around the mountains to the left

Once I reached Thomasville, I finally hit paved road. I had about an hour and half climb ahead of me.. but it sure paid off with the amazing views and stellar ride down.
Ruedi Reservoir 

This was my first real bike pack trip. I always had a mountain bike that I tootled around on, but I had never experienced the speed and magnificence of a bike engineered for the road. For a duration of what felt like half an hour, I went no less than 40 mph down. When it finally flattened out, the Hagerman Rd nestled right up to Frying Pan River for a majestic cruise to Basalt. 

It must be incredible fly fishing along the Frying Pan River because I have never seen so many fisherman. I must have seen at least one every 50 ft for an hour

After a breathtaking 25 miles, cruising on paved road, I made it to Basalt. I guess I'm in decent shape.. enough to take down 50 miles of variable terrain and elevations; but my recovery isn't there yet. I was exhausted. 

Knowing that I still had to find camp in Aspen, and rock out to Xavier Rudd, I opted to take a bus the next 20 miles. I found an awesome thrift shop waiting for my ride and bought a bicycling shirt (showed no signs of wear and only $19). I always laughed at the people that were all decked out in their cycling gear. I have to say, I really appreciate the pockets in the back of the shirt. Bike shorts have no pockets and I was strapped for space, so it was nice having easy access to my sunscreen, chapstick and music. Side note, I had never worn bicycle shorts before and not sure if I would have made it without that padded butt; it saved a lot of discomfort! I rolled into Aspen at 4:30pm.

So far my trip was going great for not planning anything. The bus stop was in the center of town at the foot of the mountain

Straight ahead and to the left is the Belly Up. To this date, its the best music venue that I have been to. I had heard it was amazing and it still far exceeded my expectations. The lighting and acoustics, combined with the inviting space made for a truly intimate experience. When I went in to pick up my tickets, Xavier Rudd was doing sound check and rocking out on the drums and didgeridoo. My timing couldn't have worked out any more perfect (so I thought). As I attempted to slow down the transaction of photo ID and ticket transfer, I dreamed of meeting Xavier Rudd and telling him how his music inspires me to adventure and how I rode my bike from Vail so see him. But the dream ended as I received my tickets and left to find dinner. Across from the bus station (right in the picture) was a place called CP Burger. Just what I was craving.. A Cheddar, blue cheese, bacon burger with truffle fries and a chocolate shake really hit the spot after all those miles.  Stage 2 of the USA Pro Challenge bicycle race was in Aspen that weekend so everything was hopping. There was only one designated campground in the Aspen area and it was 5 miles out of town toward Independence Pass. I called and spoke with a gentlemen that told me he could not guarantee a place to camp and that they were probably booked. 

I have camped on Vail Mountain a couple times this summer to Frolf at sunset, wake up with the birds and Frolf in the morning. It's legal to camp on National Forest Land, for free, as long as there isn't a sign prohibiting it. This is called dispersed camping and to me its the best type. There are no amenities and you are responsible for food, waste and water safety.. But isn't that what camping is all about?? Once I learned Aspen wasn't privately owned, I decided to search for a place to stay for the night

If you are not familiar with the area, when looking at the mountain, I went right and rode about 5 blocks and found a dirt trail named Little Cloud. You can see it on the map below. The Belly Up is about 2 blocks to the right of Ruby Park or 0.4 miles from the trailhead. If I had to guess, I would say my camp was on the ridge where the word "cloud" is.

About 100ft up the trail to the left was a brushy, overgrown inlet that looked like a deer trail. I followed that about 75ft in, to a great place to camp hidden in plain site. Close enough to hear hikers, but barely see them. On one side of me was a trail, to the other was a multi million dollar mansion. I had found an even, elevated, flat in a prime real-estate location.

 Looking over Aspen

 Great journaling 

Feeling very secure in my temporary home, I set out for the show.

Not a bad seat in the house!

Xavier Rudd is a one-man band who plays surrounded by instruments in a complicated array. Typically, he has three didgeridoos placed in front of him on a stand, a guitar on his lap, a stompbox by his habitually bare feet, and an assortment of drums, banjos, harmonicas, bells, and bass guitar near at hand, or near at foot as the case may be. Several of Rudd's songs incorporate socially conscious themes, such as spirituality, humanity, environmentalism and the rights of Aboriginal peoples. His songs include stories of the mistreatment of the indigenous people of his homeland.[9] Rudd has included both Australian and Canadian Aboriginal vocals in some of his songs. He tends to play the Didgeridoo in many of his songs --  Thank you Wikipedia. 

I do a lot of solo trips and when I hike, Xavier Rudd is my favorite music to listen to. I keep one headphone in one ear and my other listens to the natural world around me. His music helps me keep perspective of how precious and sacred our planet is. The incorporation of pre recorded nature clips, combined with his tribal, native and humble roots, bring beauty and life to every instrument he plays.

The opening band, Nahko and Medicine for the People blended similar sounds and messages. They're energy was explosive. The women playing the bongos and stomp box was incredible. I highly recommend both of these artists if you are looking for a new sound or just to escape the stresses of modern society and transgress to a simpler way of life.

After the show I quietly snuck back to my camp. I made sure not to use any light to attract attention and dreamed myself to sleep. I awoke in the morning to under developed pinecones nailing my tarp and falling forcefully around it. Had I been discovered? I poked my head out and couldn't see anyone.. Then I spotted the culprit. A squirrel about 40 ft in the tree above was plucking off pinecones and hurling them in my direction!! Apparently the Red Squirrel was preparing for the winter. Planning to bury them now for reserves in the upcoming months. The pinecones were quite heavy and sappy. My sticky hands were worth that wonderful, potent scent of fresh pine.

After breakfast, tea, journaling and clean up, I set out to explore Aspen. Aspen has character and spunk, while still remaining elegant and refined. Grocery stores and head shops are a stones throw away from Gucci, Prada, Fendi and Burberry. The street performers look sharp and sound crisp and concise, while integrating elegant flow and precise improvisation. Its a sophisticated mountain town, maintaing its roots in creativity and spontaneity.  For right now, Vail is perfect for me. I have a job I truly enjoy, with flexibility for time off when I need it. I'm focused on preparing for my PCT trip and taking the appropriate steps to see it through. Vail lacks community and social activities that aren't centered around a party mentality. I don't miss partying, I miss being social. However, at this point in my life, I'm exploring new territory. The mountain solitude is providing me with introspection and inspiration, as I configure my transformation into the man that I have always aspired to be. I'm focused, dedicated and driven. I would not have described myself this way a year and a half ago.

If you make it to Aspen, I strongly recommend eating at the Creperie du Village. I still had a huge appetite left over from my trek so I went big!

Tucked into the corner, this place was welcoming and cozy. I almost forgot that I was in Aspen. I ordered a classic French sandwich, Croque Monsieur & Croque Madame ($16). 

Ham, melted gruyere & swiss cheese, moray sauce & tomatoes, on crispy French country bread topped off with a fried egg (croque madame)

I was at a creperie, so I had to try the crepes right?

Chocolate crepes with strawberry and chocolate sauce, caramelized bananas, fresh strawberries, thick house whip with dark and white chocolate chips ($14) and a double latte ($0)

I contemplated staying another night, but wanted the comfort of fire or at least some light.  I decided to head back up to camp, pack up and catch the 5:45pm bus from Aspen to Glenwood Springs. I had some time to kill before my bus so I went to CP burger for a chocolate milkshake. As I was walking in, Xavier Rudd was walking out... Timing right? He stopped and we talked a little. I got to tell him how his music inspires me when I'm backpacking alone and how I rode my bike from Vail for his show. It went better than my daydream version the day before. Earlier in the day I had picked up some bike snacks at a little store and felt a lucky power behind one of the pennies I received as change. I'm always on the lookout for free quality pens, (being a server), and looked curiously at the coffee mug full of them next to the register. The lady must have noticed my interest and told me I could have one. I took it and put it in my pocket. I only tell you this part of the story because it was instrumental to the seamless and natural transition of talking with Xavier and asking for his autograph. I still had the ticket stub in my wallet and that pen in my pocket. He drew a sun with a smiley face and off he went. He was headed down to South America for surfing and adventure. 

I was itching to ride again so instead of camping in Glenwood (which would have been far less glamorous than Aspen) I opted to ride 30 miles through Glenwood Canyon to Eagle and stay with my buddy Justin Buchanan (JB). Who, by the way had a beautiful baby boy this morning at 3:29am, Jameson Buchanan coming in at 7lbs 12oz! He's also going to be the Gent helping me to keep this blog updated on my PCT hike.

Between the road and the rocks is a beautiful bike path that runs along the river

As I exited the canyon, the sun escaped behind the mountains. To my benefit, the rest of the ride was the least beautiful of my travels, so I didn't mind doing it in the dark. I did have trouble staying on Highway 6 though. Highway 6 was the original throughway before I70 was built. It's not as direct, but much prettier and far less travelled. I went the wrong direction a few times, which was discouraging. One of my wrong turns took me a mile and half out of my way in both directions. I ended up in a trailer park in the middle of nowhere. The closest town to me was Gypsum at 6 miles away. I didn't feel endangered, but defeated. I had devoured 2 protein bar snacks and that chocolate milkshake. I was beat and in a moment of weakness, I called JB to see if he was free to scoop me up. He told me he would call back after he dropped off food to the Wifey. 

I stopped a young Mexican boy running past me and he explained where I had gone wrong. I started up a small hill and was chased by two yipping dogs. I pumped hard and pulled away. When I reached the top, I was breathing hard and I realized something I hadn't put together before; trailer parks smell really nice at night. I have been in a few and actually lived in one for a bit, (thats another story), but I never connected that they smell amazing at night. My theory is that all the laundry machines are outside and most people work all day. Therefore the warm scent of clean laundry fills the air. Something positive to look forward to if you find yourself in a trailer park at night. As I rode away, tired and frustrated, I remembered something from The Alchemist. When following your personal legend, that is, discovering your true destiny, you always start with beginners luck. If you want something bad enough, the universe will conspire in your favor. But just before you reach your goal, things with get tough to test your worth. I felt like my bike packing adventure couldn't have gone any better. Both luck and timing were on my side. I couldn't be weak now. I texted JB and told him I wanted to finish strong.

As I rode into Eagle I felt blessed for all the opportunities I was given and seized. In the last 50 hours I had accomplished so much. For a long time, I was my own worst enemy, scared of who I was, afraid to look deep and find something I would rather hide away. I'm learning, through very much trial and error, to be honest with myself and those around me. Not only to explore the deep dark places of this world, but the fear within myself. Introspection, exercise and adventure are my tools to unlocking a gateway of my personal heaven on earth. From one friend to another, be as honest as you can, always do your best and keep dreaming. May you find your own heaven on this Earth too.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Giving back

In addition to my own personal goal of hiking all 2,650 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail, I'm working with the Southern Arizona Aids Foundation (SAAF) to help raise money for awareness, prevention and hopeful cure for this debilitating, fatal disease. Become a part of my research and adventures through following my blog and donating to a great cause! I have set up a web page through First Giving where you can donate per mile of my completion. My adventure starts late April 2014, but I will update my blog with my adventures and research as I plan for this great Journey. Please click HERE
to donate.

A little about me and my reason for supporting SAAF. I grew up in Tucson, Az and have always felt at home in the outdoors. I graduated from the University of Arizona 2004, majoring in Media Arts and minoring in Business and Religion. I backpacked Europe after college and eventually found my new home in Vail, Colorado.

Along with falling in love with the beauty of Colorado, I found myself slipping into the party scene. Though very fun (at times), I wasn't able to take full advantage of this awesome place. I gave up drinking alcohol in May of 2012 and a new world unfolded before me. I suddenly had plenty of time and motivation to achieve my outdoor dreams. Whereas before, I felt limited or restricted on what I could achieve with my life, I now had the ability to dream again. I quickly found myself enrolling in outdoor adventure classes at the local community college. To highlight a few, last winter, I camped for 2 nights and 3 days in a snow cave my friends and I built near Vail Pass, I completed my Wilderness First Responder camping in Moab for 8 days and hope to take Ice climbing and some Avalanche courses this winter... I'm a straight 'A' student!! Quitting drinking was a difficult goal in itself but now I wanted to use it to accomplish more! I spent 110 days on my snowboard last winter, beating my 100 day goal by 10; but still wanted more. 

The PCT was born from me wanting to challenge myself in new ways that I never thought possible. I felt trapped in my old lifestyle and never thought that I could dream this way again. Sometimes we fell stuck, but I have learned that there are always options. Dream alongside me as we better ourselves and ultimately the world and help others who are scared and lost to dream again by donating whatever you can HERE

Tuesday, August 13, 2013


I'm not ready to bore anyone with the little progress that I have made in my gear research. It's truly amazing how you can get lost in this stuff! I have spent the last hour researching disposable/collapsable flasks that I can use to store my denatured alcohol for my stove system. The 375 ml Lil' Nipper by Platypus has been discontinued so I have opted to try an alternative from . They are very inexpensive and appear to be lightweight.

I'm finding that while gear research is extremely necessary, testing it in the field is invaluable. I read every blog and review on a product before I purchase it (if its over $25) and think I found the best product available, take it into the field and realize what doesn't work for me. I'm fortunate to live in a place that promotes my gear addiction and an environment to test it (Vail, CO). I have found for smaller items (under $25), I give my research OCD a break and just buy it, test it and then find a better one if needed.... I'll be able to give the best Christmas gifts this year at the rate I'm at!!


It took nearly 6-8 weeks (as promised) by but its finally in the mail. I ordered a cuben fiber Patrol shelter, cuben fiber ground sheet/bug bivy and 8 Ti stakes. Should all come seam sealed, guy lines, stakes, bivy and ground sheet at just or under 16oz!! I'm embarrassed to share the price, but if you are reading this, you probably already know how expensive cuben fiber is. The total price (with shipping) was $525.00. However, since I quit drinking, the $$ and time I've saved makes me confident that it's money well spent.

Reasons for choosing MLD Patrol Shelter with MLD bug bivy

  This is the tarp from the other end..
Bug bivy

There are many options out there when choosing shelter, but a few key things were important to me when finally making my decision

  • versatility and lightweight
  • ability to set up camp anywhere
  • cook under shelter while also having bug protection
  • When bug protection isn't needed, I can sleep on the netting and the cuben fiber provides my groundsheet (so I don't need to bring both)
  • If raining, I can preen the area at a leisurely pace for sharp objects that may rip my gear or cause discomfort. Likewise (if raining) while breaking camp in the morning, I can make breakfast and pack everything while staying completely dry. When its time to leave camp, I can take down the shelter and keep it in the mesh pockets outside my pack to eventually dry
  • Cuben fiber is extremely lightweight, waterproof and doesn't stretch so it won't baffle in the wind or loose tenacity in extreme weather
  • The Patrol shelter is essentially closed off on one end with a beak on the other which makes it nearly rain/snow/sleet/hail/etc proof if pitched correctly. I would recommend reading Ray Jardine's Tarp Book for proper tarp pitching techniques. I also bought one of his "Ray Way Tarps" to sew myself for fun!
  • It comes with adjustable guy lines so the tarp's height is fully customizable while under the shelter
  • With a close line sewn in, I can dry gear that I washed or wet from rain without worry of condensation build up
  • if no trees are available, 2 sticks or 2 hiking poles are all that's needed to assemble
  • If wanting more closure, one could open a umbrella at the beak end and have almost an enclosed shelter
I still haven't decided if I'm bringing an umbrella. But I like the versatility of sun, rain and sleeping protection

Before I decided on this system, I looked at the Tarp Tent Contrail. At $199 and 24.5 ounces it is a great choice for someone looking to shave tent weight and on more of a budget. However, I ultimately moved away from this system (also known as a "double walled" tarp tent shelter) due to reports of condensation issues and that I didn't feel there was enough ventilation to cook under. Or if my hot water spilled, it could melt the netting or floor. 

If you are willing to spend a little more money, Z packs Hexamid Solo is a great option. This shelter comes in at 16oz including everything and will cost you $430. I was very close to choosing this system. However, it came down to what I wanted to get out of the shelter. This has good ventilation, but the netting is sewn in. So once again, I was worried that if I spilled boiling water within, I could melt the mesh. There is an extended beak option, but I worried of inadequate ventilation when cooking.

Silnylon (Silicon Nylon) is a fine alternative to Cuben Fiber and CONSIDERABLY less expensive. The Patrol Shelter in Silnylon costs $160 and is only 11.5oz. To make it in Cuben Fiber nearly doubles the cost coming in at $315 weighing 6.8oz. But the weight savings aren't the only thing to consider. Duct tape adheres to cuben fiber almost seamlessly while has trouble sticking to the slippery silnylon. Silnylon also stretches more and requires a little more patience. Since I'm not paying rent or utilities and this is going to be my home for then next 5-6 months, upgrading to cuben was a no brainer for me. Last thing I want is to be in terrible weather and wishing I had better protection. 


Based on research, a 20 degree bag is whats recommended for the PCT. So I knew the degree, just had to decide on the style. After learning the sleeping bag material underneath the body provides no insulation, it seemed like dead weight. In addition to this, UL sleeping bags can get really pricey (so can quilts for that matter. But the weight savings in quilts make it worth it!) Western Mountaineering's Ultralight mummy 20 weighs 29oz and costs $420. A quilt isn't what you might think. It resembles a sleeping bag, but is more like a blanket. It has a closed foot box to keep your feet enclosed, but fans out like a blanket.

Its encouraged to layer under a quilt which gives it ultimate versatility. If its warm, you can lift up an edge. If chilly, tuck it underneath. There is no mummy hood so wearing a hat or down hood is a nice option

I don't think that will be necessary for my PCT hike, but its nice to have the versatility. The hood adds 1.3oz and is $65. I plan on using a balaclava and a merino wool hat.

I narrowed my quilt brand down to:

I spoke with all 3 companies via email and all had great customer service. Katabatic is based out of Colorado and would have loved to support local (even though they are all small cottage companies) Despite temperature ratings from larger mainstream companies, cottage companies tend to be more accurate. Katabatic assured me that the Palisade would perform well on the PCT despite being rated at 30 with proper layering. I didn't understand where katabatic's weight was coming from if zpacks could get a 20 degree bag to weigh 16.7 oz vs their 22oz and 18.2 oz. Katabatic has the best reviews, by far and are known for their innovative sleeping pad attachment system. I thought that these 2 bags were my only choice, until I found Though I'm not using a hammock, these quilts look awesome. You can customize to fit whatever you need and the customer service was great! Z packs quilts looked great but in addition to the hefty price tag it also takes 4-5 weeks to receive your product.  Their quilts also don't come with a system to attach to a sleeping pad, which I liked from Katabatic and Hammock Gear. Though HG's attachment system isn't as advanced at Katabatics', its nearly half the price and less weight. HG isn't as well known as the 2 other brands and I'm pretty sure that once they gain popularity, their prices will go up. Katabatic used to be $100-$150 cheaper for the same product a year ago. 

My sleeping system 
  • 1 x Burrow 20° 
    (Outer Shell Color: ARGON Black, Inner shell Color: ARGON Black, Length: Standard Length 74", Width: Wide 55" (+$20), Footbox Style: Snap closed , Taper: Half Taper, Overfill (oz): Standard Amount) 


I ordered both packs and I'll send back the one that I don't like. I have already played with the GG Gorilla and really like it. It has a removable stay, removable back rest that can double as a padded seat, optional/removable waist belt with pockets and a small pocket on top for easy access items. I haven't received the Ohm yet, but ULA is known for great packs and I'm excited to test it out. I like that the Ohm offers a bit more volume than the Gorilla. However The Gorilla carries weight better so not sure if I want to add more weight.

A lot of people opt for a frameless pack. I didn't know if I would like that, so I ordered a golite jam 50 at the beginning of the summer to try it out. It was inexpensive considering the alternatives and I love backpacks. I determined that I like having a frame and for a little extra weight, its worth it for me. I also read a great article on  that disputed claims that rolling a sleeping pad within the bag added support . Not sure if you have to be a member to read this article. That leads me into my last suggestion in this post. 

  • Become a member at 
  • If you are planning to hike the Pacific Crest Trail, buy Yogi's PCT Handbook
  • Read what Ray Jardine has to say. I have his Trail life and Tarp book. He is a bit preachy, but I'm new to this stuff. Don't only read him, read everything you can. But most importantly, get outside and PLAY!!
This is a great place to start your UL hiking adventures. I just started and can't wait to see where it takes me!!

Headed out on a 200 mile bike ride to Aspen this weekend to see Xavier Rudd and camp, followed by a 4 day backpacking trip to Spider and the Fly. Next week is going to be awesome!! I'll link some pictures and let you all know how the new gear worked out!