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Most mountain bikers have dreamed about an epic, pedal-powered off-road journey. Or, what some of the kids are calling “bike packing.” Last summer, Olympic snowboarder Justin Reiter and three of his buddies chased that dream, attempting America's more ambitious rides, the Colorado Trail. The trail, which is 525 miles long, connects Denver to Durango and includes about 90,000 (!) feet of climbing, and almost all of that ascending is above 7,500 feet of elevation with a few sections above 12,500 feet.
Can you say out of breath?
Lucky for us, Reiter and fellow members of the Yeti Cycles Tribe filmed their experience. Not everyone made it. And before you keep scrolling down or push play on the video, one caveat: You're going to want to do it. So if you can't open up a few weeks in July or August, you may want to move along.
Still here? Cool. We chatted with Reiter to get the low-down on the ride, how to prepare, and the difference between fitness and just being tough/stubborn. Reiter even shared a packing list.
You were making first tracks--you were probably the first riders on this trail in 2014, huh?
There were quite a few sections that we rode with no evidence of any prior bike tracks. Last winter was a big snow year in some parts of the state. We ran into a fair amount of thru-bikers who elected to either turn back due to the remaining snow or use detours to bypass certain sections.
One section was Wheeler Pass, which crosses over the Continental Divide joining Breckenridge to Copper Mountain. It is a spectacular section but loaded with snow and a grinding climb. It was a brutal, coupling waist-deep snow with incredibly steep grades. Being that we were over 10,000 feet and it was early July, the temps were not exactly warm. That was a cold, brutal day. But, as with all brutal sections we faced, it soon ended, revealing an awe-inspiring summit view, magnificent sunset, and an incredible descent.
We spent one of our most beautiful evenings under the fading light shooting video and photos. We literally had to tear ourselves away as night closed in, and we still had a hairy, steep descent to Copper Mountain.
When did you do this ride?
We started the ride on July 1 or July 2--I forget--and completed it 10-and-a-half days later. We celebrated Independence Day atop Gore Pass looking down on Summit County. Both nature and man combined to give us the best show we had ever seen. It started with a golden pink sunset, followed by three separate firework shows (Dillon, Silverthorne, Breckenridge), and finished with an epic lightning storm.
Side note: We got stuck in the lightening storm hunkered down in our tight two-man tents nervously laughing at how exposed we were. It’s funny the risks you take for the shot. [Editor’s note: This storm is in the video and it's epic.]How much bikepacking had you done before this?
I had done one trip. The year before, ironically, on the 4th of July. It was a two-day, one-night adventure riding 40 miles per day. From Lynx pass outside Steamboat Springs, Colorado, back to Steamboat. My friend and I went ultra-light, bringing only a tarp for sleeping. We got caught in a massive storm on top of Rabbit Ears Pass. Needless to say, it was a wet, hair-raising night as the downpour only slowed to allow blinding flashes of lightning. I have never been that close to getting zapped. Our hair was literally standing on end. We made it out safe and soggy.
What advice would you give other riders who are considering the Colorado Trail?
Do it! Just pull the trigger. Yes, it takes time. Yes, it is hard. But it is 100 percent worth it. Don’t overthink it. Schedule your drops for Breckenridge, Salida, and Silverton. Once you are on the trail, things start to work themselves out.
Get ready for long days. You have nothing to do but ride your bike all day. So find a workable pace; drink and eat and just keep moving.
Talk to people who have done it. They can help immensely.
Bring warm gear for the nights. You’ll be exhausted after riding all day, so make sure you can change into something dry and warm. I brought rubber dish gloves to put over my riding gloves for wet days. They were hugely helpful and weighed practically nothing.
Break it up. If the idea of the entire thing at once is intimidating, then break it up. Do sections of it that are close to you first. Slowly increase the distance and duration.
Just how fit do you have to be to pull it off?
That is a hard question. You have fitness and toughness. If you are fit, you don’t have to be tough. If you are tough, you don’t have to be fit.
Objectively, you are riding between 30 and 50 miles per day for the average rider. You need to have time logged in the saddle before you take off. It isn’t an off-the-couch endeavor. But it isn’t climbing K2 either.
Make sure you can handle four to six hours in the saddle for a few days in a row to start. If you can handle that, you’ll be able to adapt to more time and more distance as the days go by.
A lot of riders end up bringing too much gear? Any packing tips?
Be prepared to send things home at your first drop pick up. When you resupply, pull all of the things you haven’t used, weigh their importance, and if you haven’t used it send it home from the post office.
How much gear did you carry?
Quality gear is hugely important for the Colorado Trail. However, the most important element is how it is attached to your bike. We used Revelate bags and they made the difference. For the actual trip we went pretty light except for the camera gear.
Reiter’s Gear List
Two-man tent – Big Agnes Platinum
Sleeping bag – Big Agnes Horse Thief (35 degree)
Sleeping Pad – Big Agnes
1 Gore chamois
1 Yeti over short
1 Yeti jersey
1 Smith helmet
1 Smith sunglasses
1 Gore gloves
1 Mavic shoes
2 wool riding socks
1 Gore Rain Jacket
1 Gore Rain Pant
1 Gore Wind Stopper Gloves
1 Rubber dishwashing Gloves
1 Eider Down Jacket (mid-weight)
1 Wool socks (heavy)
1 long johns (wool)
1 long underwear top (wool)
1 Platypus water filter
1 Jetboil (small)
1 Insulated water bottle
1 Swiss Army knife
1 Dr. Bronner's Soap
1 Pack towel
Shared Repair Kit
1 Patch kit
2 Spare tubes
2 Derailleur hanger
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