Saturday, September 1, 2012

Launching pad for Colorado Trail adventurers

On the Platte River Trail heading toward the trailhead for the Colorado Trail in Waterton Canyon.
I've long enjoyed reading first-hand accounts of travel and adventure, often undertaken by committed individuals testing their mettle by venturing into unfamiliar territory. Among my favorites is Harry A. Franck's A Vagabond Journey Around the World (available as a free ebook here). The book was published in 1910, and features a young man recounting his experiences of alternately working and traveling on a quest to circumnavigate the globe. It should therefore be no surprise that several blogs that I gravitate toward reading are written by self-supported adventurers of various stripes.

For the past couple of days we hosted a couple of the figurative descendants of Harry Franck. Nicholas and Lael of gypsy by trade are in the midst of a quest of similar magnitude, even if their goal is different. Our part in their story was to provide the staging area for their final preparations for a venture onto the Colorado Trail.

Originally, I became aware of Nicholas' travels through Bike wRider, the Alaskan iteration of a Big Dummy Daddy, and I've been following his exploits through his blog entries for a while now. When I observed from afar his embarkation from Anchorage, Alaska in June, I had no idea that I'd eventually meet up with him, as I did a week or so ago. (BTW, the next Surly Owner's Society (S.O.S.) is soon, details here.)

By his reckoning, Nicholas has ridden about 5,000 miles since leaving Anchorage. That works out to roughly 55 miles a day, every day for three months. Keep in mind, he's ridden mostly off-road or on gravel roads for much of the way, on a loaded fatbike weighing 70+ pounds. Across some sections of Montana and Wyoming, he managed 75 or more miles a day. He's climbed and descended innumerable passes, and braved the heat and hardships of vast open expanses. Needless to say, the guy is a powerhouse; his build is reminiscent of images of the burly-yet-sinewy riders from the early days of the Tour de France, back when it was an actual tour on dirt roads and mountain passes. All he's missing is the handlebar mustache.

Nicholas' girlfriend Lael recently returned from a bike touring, organic farming and yoga filled trip to Europe, centered on visits to France and Corsica. She met back up with Nicholas in Colorado to join him on the Colorado Trail. One small logistical issue was that when she arrived, she didn't have a bike suited for mountain riding. However, Nicholas had been busily assembling a steel 29er for her, using Craigslist and community bike shops to spice it up with just the right mix of equipment to make it trail worthy.
Nicholas and his MacBook Air blogging machine.
Stamps on Nick's outgoing mail appear to suggest bicycling is forever.
Lael's bike is a small framed Raleigh XXIX 29er mountain bike, which, until very recently, was a single speed. It now sports a rear gear cluster and a snazzy gold On-One Mary handlebar. Details of the build are here. A frame builder in Fort Collins grafted on some bottle cage mounts on the underside of the down tube for extra water capacity, and various bikepacking bags hold other necessities. Overall, it's a great looking, highly capable trail rig. The bike had its shakedown cruise from Fort Collins to our house via Boulder. According to Lael, she's doubly excited at the prospect of this, her first mountain bike, as well as being her first bike equipped with a suspension fork.
Lael's Raleigh XXIX 29er. Note the folded spare tire tucked under the down tube.
A svelte, lean trail machine, much like its rider.
Nicholas' bike is a first generation 18-inch Surly Pugsley, in its original grape Kool-aid purple color. The bike is an obvious trail veteran, highly integrated with a challenge-proven and well-honed kit of baggage and parts. Seeing elements of a bike that have been modified through a co-evolution with its rider speaks volumes. As I have a thing for home-built fenders, of particular aesthetic appeal for me are the bike's fenders, hand-made by Nicholas out of coroplast political yard signs. A typically xenophobic tea party message on the front fender exhorts voters to "take America back," however, from whom it should be taken is not quite clear. Nicholas has shown himself to be a master of karmic jujitsu in appropriating the yard sign and the message, claiming large swaths of the country as his own, a mile at a time.
Nicholas' classic purple Pugsley carrying a full trail load.
A gleaming, highly polished rear rotor alludes to seasoned experience in descending mountain passes with a heavy load. 
A Pugsley fork with narrow (100mm O.L.D.) dropouts allows for a generator hub. Check out that big 203mm rotor.
I greatly appreciate creatively repurposed stuff, and Nick's tea party coroplast fenders are things of beauty. The bottle carries denatured alcohol to fuel a home-built beer can stove.
On Friday morning, Lael and Nicholas accompanied us on our ride to school. A spunky kid, our girl chatted profusely about their bikes, where they had come from, where they were going, things they liked or didn't like, and mountain biking in general. Later, she told me that she was quite impressed that someone could ride all the way across the country, camping out every day. "Does that mean s'mores every night?" she asked me. "Why not?" I replied.
Our little mountain bike ballerina says goodbye on the way to dance class.
On their way out of town this morning, I escorted Nicholas and Lael to the Platte River Trail. It was fun to ride along in a little squadron of big-wheeled bikes, including another Pugsley. As appears to be the case when on a fatbike, attention abounds from anyone within the vicinity. Comments about our fat tires were issued profusely by other trail users; road bike riders in particular seem to be most surprised and inquisitive as to the purpose of big rubber.

At the top of Chatfield Dam, with Waterton Canyon in sight, we parted ways. Although they undoubtedly had the rest of the day of riding ahead of them, I knew my considerably less fit, old guy limitations and didn't want to exceed them. With loaded bikes, they wheeled away toward the mountains and adventure. All of us who stayed behind wish them luck and discovery along the trail.
Lael on the trail. Say this three times quickly.
The intrepid explorers with Chatfield Reservoir and the Waterton Canyon starting point of the Colorado Trail ahead of them.
I said goodbye and happy journey here. 
On the ride home, I took the opportunity to enjoy a rare recreational ride by myself. I ride a bike of some sort every day, but during most rides I find myself preoccupied with getting to a meeting or catching a train or being vigilant of cars around my family. As much as my life involves bicycling, I do sometimes miss riding a bike just for its own sake.
On my way home I found some gravel, which agrees with the Pugsley much more than pavement. 
Cacti with fruit.
Little conical pits near the base of a tree, presumably dug by an insect or spider.
One of the nice things about showing people around the area where we live is that I get to rediscover it through their eyes. Nicholas and Lael were genuinely impressed by the quantity and quality of trail systems in our area, which made me appreciate them all the more. Within a mile or few, there are four major trail systems and perhaps another half dozen smaller trails. In addition to that, there are many more informal trail connectors interwoven between the larger trails. It can be easy to take these trails for granted, but we truly are fortunate to have them.
A pleasant section of the Lee Gulch Trail.
An old railroad tunnel. This photo is specifically for Pat S., who rode off-road across an entire state to get a railroad tunnel fix.
Okay, so maybe the rail may not have actually gone through the tunnel, but it goes over, and has been revamped into a first-rate trail passage. 


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Huge grin on my face after reading this post. . . and I'm really glad Nick is still rocking the Joe Miller coroplast sign I had laying around.

  3. Happy to oblige, BW. I didn't realize the yard signs came from you. The resultant fenders really are a masterwork of repurposing.

    I feel fortunate to have met Nick and Lael. Thanks for the introduction. It's not often that I meet people with such grand plans and the mental and physical acuity to pull them off. I'm looking forward to seeing what they encounter next on their journey.

    BTW, I think one of the stamped items is headed your way.

  4. Great post, and great adventure for them.

    Those little conical pits are ant lions. You can scoop the whole pit and a bit below up and put it in a jar of sandy soil, they will redig the pits, and then you can feed them ants. The ants, once in the pit, can't climb out and the bejawed ant lion snaps em up. Endless fun for a kid. Or at least for me, when I was a kid.

  5. Thanks, Tarik. Ah, yes. I now remember experiencing ant lions before, although it has been quite some time since I've either encountered or thought about them. When I saw the little pits the other day, I was fascinated by the precise detail of their work. It's a great example of those little things that are worth taking the time to notice.