Telluride. The most recent installment in the series of amazing little towns I’ve had the honor to inhabit in Colorado, even if only for a moment’s time. I arrived here after a grueling 2 day journey returning to high elevation from my last hiatus in Durango. The aspens are still exploding. More every day, as the yellows of last week develop into oranges and reds this week. I was told this is unusual and partially due to the abnormal amounts of rain Colorado had this Summer. All I know is that every moment and every new view is a gift to my virgin eyes.
Looking up at the vermillion cliffs visible from Lizard Head Pass, just South of Telluride.
I love how timing works. As I was fidgeting with the camera to get the exposure of the yellow leaves right, a yellow Jeep drives by!
I spent my first night in town with a friend I’d met this Spring in Moab, Tyler. He graciously let me stay in his apartment and stow my bags there while I went out to explore the single track available right from town. Let me just say that Telluride is amazing. The enormous ski resort has a section of trails that go right down into the town, and there is a free gondola service from downtown that takes you back up to the resort. Plus, in the Summer you can bring your bike on the gondola and jump onto the resort trails, all for free!
After exploring the trails inside the ski resort for a day, I decided to reach out and see if I could find a warm showers host in Telluride in order to not impose too much upon Tyler. For those who don’t know, www.warmshowers.org is a website that helps touring cyclists find people who want to host touring cyclists around the world. Much like couchsurfing.com, you create a profile and part of the understanding is that if you have a home to offer, you will pay the favor forward by hosting other touring cyclists if they come to your city. I tried to host a few while I was still in Seattle but unfortunately there are MANY hosts in the city and I was too far off the beaten path to draw much interest.
The host I first came upon was Max Cooper. I wrote to him and he responded within hours. He told me I could come and stay with him, but that he had plans to ride up to a local high mountain pass with some friends the following day, and offered me to join the group. Without any details I said yes, wanting to stay open to whatever opportunities lay ahead of me. When I arrived at his beautiful home, I met his two lovely children and just as we started to talk bikes (he’s definitely a bike fanatic), in walks a good friend of his with his girlfriend who came to do the ride the next day. Amazingly, his girlfriend was a lovely woman I met last Summer on a remote trail while biking the continental divide! We’d been trying to meet up while I was in Colorado, and kept failing. I love when the universe facilitates connection.
The following morning, we all woke up, the babysitter arrived to take the kids, and we hopped on our bikes to grab a quick bite before heading up to the pass. What I wasn’t clear on until we began was that we weren’t taking the direct route to this pass. We would be attempting a route on a faint sheep trail that someone in the group had hiked once before, and nobody had heard of anyone trying to bike it before. True trailblazing. It was all part of a celebration for Max’s birthday, and I was a lucky participant! I was both excited and a bit nervous, not knowing the terrain or the distance that lay ahead. Nonetheless, the group convened for coffee and as everyone was accounted for, it turned out there would be 11 of us riding together, the biggest group I’ve ridden since the start of my tour.
We headed out of town toward our first pass on Black Bear Pass Road. I didn’t know how I’d fare in keeping up with the group with my 40 pound bike. This was a strong group of riders. I was definitely near the caboose of this train, and accepted my position freely!
Overlooking Telluride from the start of the Black Bear Pass climb
Sydney and Michael. Together we formed the distant caboose of this powerhouse train! We had such fun discovering the many novelties along this route together.
Bridal Veil Falls. Atop this falls is the first long distance AC power plant, design by Nikola Tesla.
Yours truly, Shoop (local bike packing bag designer), Tomer and his pup Jake, Sydney and Michael
Steep switchbacks heading up to the pass, but at this point at least not too steep to ride…yet.
KIndly, the hardcore climbers in the group would wait for us to catch up from time to time.
Remnants of an old mine on the hillside
At some point, the road became one way, (downhill traffic only) due to the steep grade and very rocky terrain. We pushed on up…
4300’ of climbing later, We reached Black Bear Pass. Yay! The climbing was over, right? WRONG.
We turned up an even steeper jeep road to begin our 9 mile traverse via the sheep trail to our destination.
Can you see the trail we’re riding on? NO??? Probably because there wasn’t much of a trail to see!
At some point in the traverse, We had to cross some HUGE talus slopes with loose rock and lots of boulders. It went slowly for me through here.
At long last, after hours of hike-a-biking and ups and downs, we made it to our destination, a beautiful cabin on Ophir Pass, called OPUS Hut. This amazing structure was built over the course of the last 15 years by its visionary owner and is completely self-sustaining and off the grid. We settled in to a great night of food, beer, and good people. I was particularly appreciative to land in such a warm insulated structure, since we were at nearly 12,000’ elevation at the end of September, and it started to rain that night….
By morning, the thundershowers and rain turned to sleet and eventually snow. It began to accumulate. We needed to figure out our plan for returning to town, since the vehicles which had driven up to meet us did not have room to carry all of us and our bikes back down through the snow. We had to gear up, take a deep cold breath, and get back on the saddles.
The descent back to Telluride turned out to be glorious. While the top part was hard for me, riding through very rough road with limited visibility due to the 3” of snow of the ground obscuring all the baby head sized rocks, we descended below snow level at a certain point and it all just turned to a huge rainy wet mess. But at least I could see the road in front of me!
When we got back to town, I looked up at the mountains we’d just climbed over to get to OPUS hut. I patted my own back just a bit.
It snowed a bit more that night up in the hills. I planned to take off the following day to continue North out of town toward Grand Junction, but was slightly thwarted by rain and a cold front that swept through town. Within a couple of hours, the above scene transformed from the above…
I ended up staying an extra night with Max, his lovely partner and their kids. Max even generously and unsolicitedly took me to the bike shop he works at and tuned up my bike for me! Beyond the call of duty. I was so lucky to meet all the great folks in Telluride. In fact, so good, I’m sure I’ll be back, maybe sooner than later….
Thanks again to Max, his family, and everyone in Telluride!