The Highs (and Lows) of Colorado Mountain Biking

Traversing Schofield Pass, Crested Butte's 401, and the famed Pearl Pass from the Butte to Aspen
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"Once more into the breach!": Peddling over Schofield Pass  (Abrahm Lustgarten)
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The explosion of cracking metal and flying springs went off like a shotgun blast and wrenched the focus of my meandering thoughts back to the trail. We were 32 miles and 3,000 vertical feet from our stopping point in Aspen, grinding mindlessly in granny gear through grassy meadows towards 12,705-foot Pearl Pass, when it happened. At 8:30 in the morning, carrying no money and equipped for little more than a long day's mountain bike ride in the Rockies, our outing turned from casual to epic.

I squinted through tears of sweat and scanned the horizon for our attackers. By the sound of it, I expected guns, some sort of Rocky Mountain version of Deliverance where the prey was off-road cyclists instead of city slickers in canoes. Instead I saw my riding buddy, Jeremy, crouched on the trail, frowning with disgust and scanning the dirt road we'd just traversed. I joined the search and we both found the explosion's culprit at the same time. There, nestled in a small tuft of columbines, lay the warped and ruined shell of his derailleur.

We had started our ride at about the same time a day earlier in the quiet Colorado town of Marble, peddling alongside the Crystal River toward its head at 10,700-foot Schofield Pass. It was late September and hundreds of thousands of acres of quarter-sized aspen leaves shimmered like a bright orange and yellow sea all around us. You could spend weeks tearing along the hard-pack dirt roads and winding singletrack within this section of the Rockies, but we kept our ambitions at a two-day loop through the heart of the Elk Range. We would cheat the first 27 miles from Carbondale, hitching a ride to Marble to start our tour. From there we would ride about 25 miles over the top of Schofield Pass and descend into Crested Butte on day one, where our girlfriends would meet us with our gear, a change of clothes, and other amenities that allowed for an ultra-light ride during the day. On day two, we'd take on a sobering 40 miles, setting off from Crested Butte over the classic Pearl Pass route into Aspen. If our legs held, we would cruise the last 25 miles back to Carbondale on pavement.

Published: 18 Aug 2003 | Last Updated: 8 Nov 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication
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