GDMBR: Brush Mountain to New Mexico

Posted on: Wednesday September 21, 2022 GDMBR, Bikepacking

We hike up towards the pass, pushing our bikes on the steep uphill. It’s no better on the way down: large rocks twist underfoot, almost as difficult to traverse off of our bikes as on them. It’s frustrating to hike-a-bike downhill, and we make terrible time. Our plans of eating breakfast at the Clark General Store slowly disintegrate, until we’re left hoping we’ll make it by lunch. Finally we reach a larger dirt road and can get back on our bikes. We eat lunch in Clark, then follow a busy paved highway another 30 kilometers to Steamboat Springs. We stop at a bike shop: Steve gets his rear rim retaped, and I get my squeaky brake rotor trued. We grab a little bit of food for the next few days, and pack out sandwiches for dinner. It’s a long way out of Steamboat through private property and farmland. We camp at a state park campground, eating dinner with the mother and two sons we met in Wyoming. We retreat to our own campsite after dark, not bothering to set up the tent and instead cowboy camping under the stars.

We’re woken at 6:30am by someone flying a drone directly over our campsite. I really hate people. Since we’re awake and the annoying buzz means we’re not going back to sleep, we pack up and start the long climb up towards Lynx Pass. Alex catches us near the top, and rides most of the way with us, and Gian and Andrew catch us as we crest the top of the hill. Steve pulls out his ursack for a snack, and accidentally knocks the beer he’s been carrying since Steamboat to the ground. It explodes in a spray of foam directly pointed at him, and he doesn’t help matters by trying to immediately pick it up. By the time he gets it under control, he’s drenched in beer. We’ve barely stopped laughing at him when the sky begins to grumble.

We race down from the pass, barely making it to a rental cabin where we hide in an outbuilding. We wait an hour while rain sheets down, then head out as the next wave builds overhead. The trail drops steeply, then rises again nearly vertical in what seems like an endless rollercoaster. We reach Radium too late for the tiny store, but Gian has bought us water and chips and left them on the steps out front. We eat dinner, then keep going. Almost immediately Steve’s chain falls off his chainring, wedging itself between his cranks and his frame. This has happened a few times before, but now it seems truly stuck. It takes a good half hour of wiggling and coaxing before he works it free and we can continue on our way. We follow a busy dirt road, where cars towing rafts pass too close to us, too fast, kicking up gravel.

Our campsite for the night is a few kilometers off trail, down a steep slope. I’m not super thrilled about it, but we’re low on water, and there’s nowhere else for miles. The pay station is halfway down the hill: clearly designed for cars and no one else. We can see a few empty sites, so we drop our money in an envelope ($20 instead of $10, because the cost of every campground is different, and we never have the right change) and pedal down the hill. Almost immediately, it’s clear we’ve made a mistake. Every site is taken: the free spaces we saw from above are part of larger group campsites. I’m tired and almost in tears at the thought of having to go back up the hill. We ride past the group campsites, and a younger guy smiles at Steve. That’s all the incentive he needs- ever charming, he goes over and asks if we can camp with them. They don’t mind at all. Infact, they go above and beyond, offering us beer, chili, and a loaf of banana bread for the morning. Instantly, my night turns from crummy to fantastic.

The morning is cloudy and cool, yesterday’s weather still lingering on the peaks. We climb up the side of a gorgeous gorge, where the Colorado River tumbles far below. We drop down to the highway where we pick up cell service. More thunderstorms are forecast for the afternoon- Colorado is trying to kill me again. We’re far below treeline, so we pedal as fast as we can, trying to reach the climb before noon. We reach the trees as the sky darkens, though the rain holds off for now. A man comes out of his cabin nestled amongst the aspen and asks if we need a break or water. He introduces himself as Ute Pass Steve, and we chat with him and pet his massive dog while we eat lunch. We leave his cabin behind, and almost immediately have to stop to wait out a rain shower. Once it dissipates, we climb up to Ute Pass, where we’re met with a wall of black clouds racing towards us. We ride down, dropping quickly, and stop before we lose the trees to set up the tent and wait out the weather. We sit for an hour, listening to podcasts and resting, before Steve is too impatient to wait anymore. We pack up and get back on our bikes. Just as we leave treeline, the rain starts, driving and cold. I’m annoyed, but there’s no shelter anymore, so we pedal as fast as we can to Silverthorne, where we can dry out in a hotel.

We spend a day in town, waiting out the storms that boom across the valley, shaking the mountain tops. The next day is still supposed to be stormy, but we’re running out of time before Steve has to go back to work. We can’t wait anymore. We’ll just have to go and hope for the best. We climb up towards Breckenridge on nice bike paths, then get coffee before heading out of town. I feel a little crummy, like I always do after a zero. We climb up towards Boreas Pass as the clouds build up. Thunder rolls, so we stop and set up the tent. We wait it out, until the clouds break, and then we run for the pass. The ground is white with hail: we’ve made the right choice not to pedal straight into the storm. We drop down as the sky threatens more storms to camp behind a bar in a tiny town.

We get breakfast at the cafe, and then head out. It’s flat and open, and I’m glad we weren’t here in yesterday’s storm. The road has taken a beating- rutted and muddy from the rain. We walk our bikes around some massive mud puddles, then catch up to Gian and Andrew. Gian’s handlebars hang lopsided, mostly held together with bar tape. He’s fallen in the mud, and the carbon bars have broken. We climb over a pass, then drop down to Salida. The road is stunning, twisting and turning over ridges and through canyons with jaw dropping mountains all around. We hit the outskirts of town, then pedal in for dinner and a quick bike wash. We leave just as quickly, climbing back up towards Marshall pass. Storms thunder all around, but the sky is clear above us. We hit the national forest boundary, and I can’t stop yawning. We decide we’ve covered enough ground for the day and find a camp spot. Ten minutes later, lightning flashes and the rain pours down.

We finish the climb up to Marshall Pass in the morning. I see Steve ahead of me on a bend halfway up, chatting to a woman outside a truck. She’s got a whole campsite kitchen set up, and her friendly pup comes over to say hello as I pull up. She chats to us for a while, giving us real coffee while we hang out. We say goodbye and continue up the hill, hitting the top of the pass at lunchtime. We chat with some Colorado Trail hikers while we eat. I have vivid memories of this pass on the CDT: there’s a snowmachine cabin just off trail where I hid from thunderstorms. We drop down as the clouds build. Of course, by the time thunder roars, we’re far below treeline. We wait out the storm a little, in a barren dip on the side of the road. Once it clears, we ride out into the wind, until we find a camp spot on the side of the road barely protected by some boulders. Steve checks his bike: a spoke is loose, and he can’t tighten it..

We wake up, and almost immediately pedal through a field full of coyotes. They watch us pass, yipping and howling, and we howl back. We continue up to a pass, where we join the route I hiked in 2017 as a CDT alternate. The road is wet and muddy, soaked from yesterday’s storm. We drop down through farmland, then climb up towards another pass. Thunder catches us at the top, and we spend two hours huddled in the trees, waiting for it to pass. We drop down and down, to camp in Penitente canyon, where the boulders remind us that the desert is close, so close.

We wake to low clouds and drizzle. We hustle into town on a fun double track that the rain is only beginning to turn greasy. We get breakfast at a cafe, and check the weather. A day of rain. Steve shrugs and books us a hotel. We might still have time to finish, and pedaling in bad weather is no fun. We eat as much food as we can and google how to fix Steve’s broken spoke with no success. We’ve passed the last bike shop close to the route. It’s just going to have to hold out until Mexico.

We stop at a bakery and make a serious dent in their pastry selection before we leave town. My knee bugs me on the climb: the old injury from the AT that still acts up on big elevation days. We climb up and up to Indiana Pass, the highest point on the GDMBR. We drop down a little, dodging storms, past the superfund mine site at Summitville. This old mine leaches toxins into the surrounding area, and much of the groundwater in a 20 mile area is unsafe to drink. That’s not the only danger: an ATV drifts around a blind corner and comes within feet of hitting Steve. I swear at them, and the passenger raises a beer at me in a mock salute. I really hate people.

We cruise on rocky roads underneath painted mountains. The roadside signs tell us the red and ochre stripes are natural: iron in the eroded soil oxidizing where plants can’t grow. I’m not sure I believe it in an area with such a long history of mining, especially when the same sign explains that the creeks are so acidic they will dissolve nails. We reach the tiny town of Platoro in time for dinner, then do a few more miles to a campground by a river.

We follow the river downstream: easy miles on easy road. We hit a paved highway and climb on tarmac switchbacks to Cumbres Pass, where we leave my old CDT route. Storm clouds build as always, stacking up in a line behind us. We leave the highway and in just a few quick kilometers, we cross the border into New Mexico. The road immediately deteriorates into washouts and deep ruts from a summer of heavy rain. Soon, we’re pushing again, even on the flats and downhills. All in all, we walk our bikes for 12 miles, and I’m intensely grateful for our thru-hiking legs. A flock of sheep runs towards us, and I’m instantly wary. Sheep means sheep dogs, which aren’t known for being friendly to bikers. The dogs follow the sheep, and then Steve spots a man behind them, a sheppard riding a horse. He beelines over to us, clearly looking for human interaction. He doesn’t speak much English, and my Spanish is pretty rusty, but it’s good enough to chat about the weather and tell him about our trip. Further down the road, we meet a man picking mushrooms, seemingly alone in the middle of nowhere without a vehicle. Since leaving the highway, this section has felt more remote than almost any other, and the only other people out here are just as crazy as we are. The road worsens until we’re pushing up a hill. We crest the ridge as thunder rolls behind us, although the dark clouds stay just far enough away. We eat dinner by an angry cow, then do a few more miles on awful road. We camp by more angry cows bellowing into the night in a small aspen grove.

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Eloise Robbins (Fun Size)

About the Author

Eloise Robbins (Fun Size) is a writer, triple crown thru hiker, and adventurer. She is a lover of the outdoors, hiking, canoeing, and most of all mountains.

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