Mid-Summer Bikepacking Chronicles: Part 1
In the past, my summer used to revolve around bike races and training for them. However, over the last few years, I’ve found myself drawn more to the exploratory aspect of bike riding rather than the competitive nature of the sport. These days, my riding goals are centered around discovering new places, trails, and roads. With this theme in mind, recently Brad and I embarked on a couple of local(ish) bikepacking adventures. This post is about our first adventure, “The Qaud County Bikepacking Trip”. It served as sort of a shake down for the second one, taking us through terrain I’ve been eager to explore for quite some time. The second adventure was the North South Colorado bikepacking race, which the Part 2 post is about.
Interestingly enough, when people inquire about our adventures, they often assume that Brad is behind the planning and route finding and that I reluctantly get roped into it, which couldn’t be further from the truth. While I’m not offended by these assumptions, it is intriguing how societal stereotypes sometimes overlook the role of women in the realm of adventure. I’m the instigator behind nearly all of our bike rides, bikepacking adventures or not. And yes, it’s undeniable that Brad is faster and stronger than me, and maybe a more confident rider, but usually he’s the one who finds himself roped into my escapades.
Our first bikepacking trip this summer, I’ve appropriately named the “Quad County Bikepacking Trip,” was a 3-day, 2-night route covering 285 miles and 21,000 feet of climbing on mostly dirt and gravel roads. This route took us through Routt, Garfield, Rio Blanco, and Moffat counties. The climbing was mostly front loaded in the first 2 days, with some long, challenging climbs lasting over 10 miles each. The three main climbs were Ripple Creek Pass, the New Castle Buford Road, and the gradual 13 mile ascent from Rifle to Meeker. Beyond the 3 demanding climbs, the rest of the terrain rolled through some beautiful, rolling landscapes, and some fascinating historical locations including the site of the Battle of Milk Creek and the Meeker Massacre.
Heading outta town before the mud.
Bundled up at the top of Ripple Creek Pass.
Camping somewhere along the Buford-New Castle Road
Of course, we encountered a few unpredictable challenges along the way. Despite preparations, there’s only so much one can do to anticipate the unexpected on adventures like this. There’s no perfect setup or gear list that’s going to make it easy if (when) things go sideways. I’ve come to realize that being adaptable is a crucial part of bikepack adventuring, and managing my own mindset around challenges enhances the overall experience. When things come up, managing the situation with ease and as best I can provides an empowering sense of achievement, and is a reason I keep coming back to bikepacking. It can be hard as hell sometimes, but the feeling related to that kind of achievement is somewhat addicting. Still, I’ll admit that I’m working on refining my ability to embrace unexpected challenges, and this trip was no exception. On this trip we faced a couple of punches – namely, mud and torrential cold rain on Ripple Creek Pass, and some fatigue towards the end of the ride.
On Day 1, we rerouted part of the planned route due to muddy conditions. Not a major issue, but it did set us back a bit on time. We also encountered a sudden and intense rainstorm while ascending Ripple Creek Pass. If I had been on my own, I probably would have sought shelter in the one campground pit toilet spotted along the way. However, Brad’s determination to keep pushing forward led me to follow suit. The temperature dropped significantly, reaching near-freezing levels toward the top. Brad, always the considerate husband, offered me his puffy jacket to wear under my rain gear, sparing me the trouble of rummaging through my bag to find mine. Luckily the rainstorms in Colorado tend to roll out of the mountains as quickly as they roll in, so although the descent from Ripple Creek pass was quite chilly, it finally stopped raining and we were able to dry out after the descent.
Day 2 was heavier on the mileage, but we balanced it out with a siesta in Rifle at a local restaurant, providing respite from the midday heat. Another long climb after Rifle lead us through the historical site of the Meeker Massacre, where we debated on whether or not to call it a day and set up camp. There was plenty of daylight left so we decided to keep riding. We made a quick resupply in Meeker, and continued riding until about 10pm – not the original plan, but there weren’t any suitable camping options until then. The spot we eventually settled on was less than ideal, a little close to the dirt road but it served the main purpose – a quiet and flat place to sleep.
A bit of snow at the top of the Buford-New Castle road
Smooth gravel roads leaving Rifle, CO.
Battle of Milk Creek and site of the Meeker Massacre
The last day had the least mileage and elevation gain, but surprisingly, it proved to be the most mentally challenging for me. I couldn’t shake the thought that I’d bitten off more than I could chew planning this route. On paper, it was nothing extraordinary – a challenging but doable gravel/dirt bikepacking route. Day 3 should’ve been the easiest day, familiar gravel roads with minimal climbing and the shortest mileage. I hate excuses, so I won’t make one, even though they’re tempting to conjure up. I can usually deal with ‘off’ days, but this one was particularly difficult. Having a positive riding partner on hard days makes a world of difference. Brad seems to always remain positive and encouraging, even when I might be the opposite. I’m not sure how he stays positive all the time, but finding a ride partner like Brad is something I highly recommend.
Making Breakfast, oats and instant coffee
Cooling off in the Yampa after the ride.
A long climb out of Rifle
Roadside camping, not quite ideal but it worked.
Riding past Rifle State Park
Strava links are embedded in this post for anyone interested in the route. A gravel bike would be suitable for this route, but both Brad and I rode our touring bikes with super low gearing in an effort to dial them in for our upcoming bikepacking race. I recommend low gearing considering the long climbs on a loaded bike but you could get away with higher than what we ran. We also packed our usual gear – going for more comfort than speed with a tent, jetboil, panniers, and all the creature comforts of lightweight bikepacking. Feel free to reach out with questions about gear or bike set up.
Stay tuned for the next write up about our recent experience on the Colorado North South Bikepacking Race!