Epic ride: Ashcroft to Durango on mountain bike
Chase Harrison probably has you beat when it comes to “how I spent my summer vacation” comparisons.
There are mountain bike rides, then there are epic mountain bike rides. Harrison went on the epic variety during the third week of July.
He went on a solo, self-supported, seven-day journey between Ashcroft and Durango.
Harrison crossed seven major mountain passes during the 250-mile trip. All but 50 miles were on U.S. Forest Service roads or other backcountry routes.
And the 50 miles on pavement weren’t exactly a piece of cake. They were on U.S. Highway 550 between Silverton and Durango, over Molas and Coal Bank passes, both of which top 10,000 feet.
Even more remarkable, he lugged a trailer with between 60 and 75 pounds of gear behind his GT Avalanche front-suspension mountain bike.
“I came up with the idea back in the middle of February,” said Harrison, 40, a bus driver for the town of Snowmass Village.
“I thought it would be a lot of fun, but what really intrigued me was to do it without car support – take my trailer and whatever I needed and do it that way,” he said. “Believe it or not, 70 pounds on a trailer was not that big of a deal. It took a day or so to get used to it, but I didn’t really see it as a problem.” Launched from Ashcroft Harrison launched from Ashcroft on July 19 and confronted his biggest problem immediately. The steep, rocky Taylor Pass Road presents a challenge for any rider, let alone one pulling a trailer.
Taylor was the biggest grunt of the trip, rivaled only by the climb up Engineer Pass, down in the southwest corner of the state.
Once up and over Taylor Pass, Harrison crashed for the first night at a cabin on the southeast side of Taylor Park Reservoir. He simplified logistics a bit by prearranging a place to stay each night.
“I really am an adventure hog,” Harrison said. “I get my maps out and start scanning over them. I look for possible routes through the mountains on single track and double track as well, try to put that all together. That’s how I did all this.”
On day two, he passed through the former mining camps of Tincup, Pitkin and Ohio and crossed over Cumberland Pass, which he called the easiest divide he encountered. He stayed at a ranch and outfitting business that night just outside of Ohio.
On day three, he covered his longest single-day distance of 75 miles in the vast expanse south of Highway 50, where ranches remain as isolated as they were when they were homesteaded more than a century ago.
He crossed Los Pinos Pass and took in the awe-inspiring territory between the Powderhorn and La Garita wilderness areas, staying again with an outfitter.
The next day he popped over Slumgullion Pass and into Lake City where he bedded down at a cabin. Highlight and low point Day five brought the highlight, as well as high point, of Harrison’s trip. He picked a route that climbed the nearly 13,000-foot Engineer Pass “because it really holds a special place in my heart,” he said.
Alas, it was the only place where disaster nearly struck. After topping out and having lunch served by some ATV riders, Harrison cranked away toward Silverton to beat a thunderstorm. He was caught in rain, hail and a predicament when his trailer broke.
A couple of guys in a Ford Bronco picked him up and delivered him to his hotel in Silverton. Next door was a garage with a machine shop and a fellow willing to fix it for free.
“He said, `Hey, you’re on a bike trip. You’re going to be stuck here if I can’t get this thing fixed. I’m helping you out,’ ” Harrison said.
He ran across that helpful attitude frequently on the trip.
“The thing I found about being on a bicycle is that you tell people that you’re touring all of a sudden their attitude just totally changes,” Harrison said. “They become even nicer than they would be normally.
“I think it’s because you’re doing something they possibly see as `Wow that’s great. You’re out on an adventure.’ ” Rely on yourself Harrison concluded his trip with the ride into Durango, where he stayed at a youth hostel for two nights. He shipped his trailer and part of his luggage home, then hopped a Greyhound bus for Glenwood Springs.
Harrison, a 20-year local who has been with the Snowmass Village transportation department for the last 10 years, caught RFTA back home.
“This trip proved that alternative transportation and public transportation really, really work,” Harrison said. “Sure it takes a lot longer and you have to be patient, but it works.”
He intends to take other touring trips and recommends that other cyclists try it. His best advice, he said, is to put a lot of time into planning.
“If you have a computer, use it,” Harrison said. “Get the topos on disk. That helps in a big way, especially if you’re going to figure out the everyday mileage. Then if you have time, try to research the route physically if you can.”
His reconnaissance trips earlier this summer persuaded him to change prospective routes numerous times.
“Don’t take anybody’s word for it because everybody’s different,” Harrison said. “Everybody has a different way of looking at a route.”
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International visitors have traditionally accounted for 10 to 20 percent of Aspen Skiing Co.’s skier visits in recent past seasons. Travel fears and restrictions tied to the coronavirus are expected to wipe out most of that market for 2020-21.