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.

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