I got up in the condo in Vail I was staying at, and made breakfast and made some sandwiches for later in the day.
The bike shop would not open until 10am and would take an hour to reach, so I had plenty of time.
I had already packed most of what I was taking into my rental car. I had the following ready to go on me or on my bike:
- Apidura handlebar bag, smallest size. This contained the following:
- My sleeping bag (and PH Designs half bag).
- Sea to Summit silk medium sized sleeping bag liner.
- RAB Microlite jacket - this doubles to make up the other half of the sleeping bag.
- A spare vest and a cheap merino wool top from Decathlon in Spain.
- Apidura Saddle pack, smallest size. This contained:
- Waterproof and warmer cycling clothing.
- Personal toiletries.
- Batter charger power packs.
- Camping food.
- Apidura Accessory Pocket. This attached to the handlebar bag and contained the following:
- Phone with navigation app and offline maps.
- Map & Compass.
- Small binoculars (luxury item).
I set out for Leadville and the Cycles of Life bike shop there. Leadville claims to have the highest high street in the USA, and as an old mining town, it has plenty of character. It has clearly seen some luxurious times when people had the money and time and interest to go to the Opera!
I arrived well before the store opened, so could then concentrate on what was becoming an obsession with bears! Just about everywhere there were signs warning about bears. Here is an example.
I had already got a bit worried and bought a book called "Be Bear Aware" from a National Forest Information kiosk. Let me just say, that reading a book like this does not fill you with confidence. It tells you that you are unlikely to come across a bear, but that they are about and that even the small ones could knock your head off with one swipe. If you catch them by surprise or if they are feeling protective of a cub. How do you avoid surprising them? Well you make plenty of noise. You make sure they know you are coming well before you have the chance to see them. But to be on the safe side you should also have some Bear Spray. A pepper spray which fires a stream of pepper about 30 feet. The book tells you to buy two or more canisters of spray, and to practice using one of them, so that you can be quick, accurate and efficient. Unfortunately, in spite of trying about half a dozen stores, I could not buy any bear spray, so the nearest I could get to any bear deterrent was to have some bells on my toes. These, in theory, would jangle as you pedalled or walked.
The people at Cycles of Life quickly prepared the bike for me. The wanted to see where my bikepacking bags would go and then put tape on the frame, so there would be zero abrasions. Once they had finished, I put the bike in the trunk of my car and drove over to Turquoise Lake, a couple of miles away. The reason I wanted my car a bit closer to my route, was that I had several question marks about the water and cold situation and wanted to be able to return to the car and get extra gear or water bottles if I needed them.
The photo below show the bike and a back pack I had, which hopefully would have all I would need for the next few days.
I set off from Turquoise lake in quite good weather, but there was ominous cloud around, so I could be sure it would continue.
As soon as I'd left the main road I found a sign I was dreading at the entrance to the National Forest. A sign warning that there had been sightings of at least one bear in the area. I gulped! I didn't know if I would see anyone else in the mountains, and on my own, my chances of taking on a bear and surviving seemed to be quite low.
But I wasn't planning on turning around. My first day was a short trip, but involved a fair bit of climbing, so could be a good introduction into high country cycling.
Here is my route for the day, short, but high and difficult ground to cycle over.
One of my challenges was navigation. I had downloaded an App onto my smartphone called "Backcountry Navigator". It lets you download maps which are quite detailed. But I didn't have any GPX files for where I was going, so had to rely upon descriptions from the pages I photocopied from the 10th Mountain Division Hut Book.
I cycled along the road alongside Turquoise Lake, and then took the dirt track which was described as the track up to Uncle Bud's Hut. It was a good quality gravel track at the start. But soon degraded into very much a 4WD track.
Pretty soon the track seemed to diverge from the description in the guide book. It is worth remembering that the guide books are written for skiers and hikers. So aren't necessarily using fire trails in the neighbourhood. I got off the bike and walked up and down a few small tracks. It was almost surreal really as I had a book with a photo of a large wooden hut, I ought to be about 100 yards from it, but could see no sign. I walked off in what I thought was the wrong direction and all of a sudden I was greeted by the view below. These huts are well places by their builders. Quite well hidden from the well worn tracks.
I reached the hut, and armed with the code for the combination lock on the door, I approach ready to unlock the door. But found it already unlocked. Inside was a father and son who had hiked up earlier. We had a chat and in the time honoured way when people reach a camp and meet up, we exchanged stories of where we came from and where we were going next.