I finished riding The Colorado Trail a few days ago.
It took me 19 days to complete–I was hoping for 15. I got sick, things broke, I took some days off, I met some awesome people, I pushed/carried my bike quite a bit, I ate an absurd amount of food but still lost about 10 pounds, and I soaked in the endlessly changing stunning views. It was pretty great.
The Colorado Trail connects Denver to Durango, weaving its way through The Rocky Mountains and seeming to climb every pass in the state. Well, that’s not true but some days it sure feels like it. The trail was put together with hikers in mind but with the advances in bike technology and gear specification, it has become a destination for bikepackers.
72,500′ of elevation gain
Peaks at 13,270′
The appeal of the trail for bikes is pretty clear…you can go further in one day, you don’t have worry too much about water or food since resupply points are usually within a few days of each other (4/5 at most), and you have the privilege of riding some of the most scenic and flowy single track trails around.
However, there are some downsides to riding versus hiking the trail. The route passes through five wilderness areas, in which bikes are not allowed. To preserve the wilderness designated areas, nothing mechanized can be used..no motorized vehicles, no bikes, no chainsaws or power tools (so trail work has to be done by hand tools…imagine that!). That being said, free-range cow grazing is still allowed…figure that one out for me. While riding around the wilderness areas was a bummer since they are such pockets of beauty, the terrain looked pretty rugged, steep, and generally, bike unfriendly. In a way, I’m glad I didn’t have to ride those sections but I look forward to one day seeing them while on foot.
Feet, while slower, can usually travel over rather rugged and steep terrain better than a loaded bicycle. I pushed my bike A LOT. However, the bike makes up for the slow uphill pushes when the trail pitches downward. All this put together, I think bikers work harder (in smaller stints), but have more fun on the flip side.
Don’t get me wrong, I think hikers have a much more taxing task completing a trail like the CT. They are physically bearing weight leading to more wear and tear on the back, feet, and joints in general. They have longer to go between water and food resupply options so their planning has to be a bit more on point. In general, thru-hiking something like The Colorado Trail seems more like a slow, steady grind.
Bikepacking the CT is more a suffer/reward type of trip.
The suffering is real. But the rewards are out of this world.
Now it’s time to swap some clothing for water carrying capacity…onto the (hopefully dry) dessert landscapes of Utah.