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Tuesday, December 28, 2021

The Great Divide - Old Friends

Guess who just got back today?
Them wild-eyed boys that had been away
Haven't changed, haven't much to say
But man, I still think them cats are great
The Boys Are Back In Town, Phil Lynott (1976)

Atop 11,482 foot Boreas Pass with old cycling buddy Mark Almer.

In the fall of 1991, yes that's over 30 years ago, my friend Mark Almer chose the Colorado Trail from Kenosha Pass to Georgia Pass, and back, for my first mountain bike ride. That's 24 miles and about 4,000 feet of elevation gain on high altitude single track. With that initiation into mountain biking, I was hooked.

For more than a decade, Mark and I rode all sorts of trails and back roads on many memorable rides, commutes, events, and races. As our responsibilities with family, community, and careers expanded, we rode together less frequently, but no less enthusiastically. Mark truly is my first cycling buddy.

Mark and Craig atop Mt. Evans (elevation 14,271 feet) in the fall of 1992.

When he learns of my plans to ride the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route, Mark immediately wants to be a part of it. However, as a responsible adult still part of the productive workforce, he does not have a block of time to ride the entire route. Instead, he asks to join me for a day or two, maybe even a long weekend, as I ride across Colorado. Man, that would be great.

Mark follows my progress and massages his schedule, hoping to fit something in. Of course, his work takes a turn as I ride through northern Colorado, wiping out a potential three day weekend. However, with creative shuffling, Mark manages to open up a Thursday evening and most of a Friday to ride. His short time window fits.

Kelly and Mark Almer, circa August 2021.

I roll into Frisco on a Thursday afternoon to meet my wife Colleen and daughter Cara, who are sightseeing Colorado together. Mark and his wife Kelly drive up from Littleton to join us for dinner. Just like that, I'm out of the Great Divide bubble and back into my world of family and friends. 

Naturally, Mark wants to know all about my Great Divide ride and, more importantly, wants to ride some. We look over maps of miles covered and miles to come. Mark says he can ride with me up Boreas Pass, and maybe beyond, after a couple of remote meetings in the morning. Cool.

Craig and Mark ready to roll from Frisco.
My bike + gear weighs about 50 pounds more than his.

After a late night, at least for me, it's not a sacrifice to sleep in a bit in a nice hotel bed. I relax over breakfast with Colleen, and then Cara, as Mark conducts his meetings. The in-house hotel food isn't great, but the coffee is better than what I make on the trail. It's a nice change of morning routine.

Mark arrives, ready to roll. For this celebratory ride, he brings his 1997 Specialized StumpJumper Pro, a truly vintage racing hardtail mountain bike that belongs in a museum. Just seeing that bike makes me smile, as I remember many good times riding one just like it. I love that his is still rolling.

Spinning up an old railroad bed toward Boreas Pass, we look back toward Breckenridge.

With a late morning start, we ride south on a paved bike path that is full of locals and tourists walking, running, and cycling. The years melt away, and we're just out riding our bikes like always. This could be 1991, 2021, or 2051. After less than 10 miles, the sight of a coffee shop in the heart of Breckenridge stops us cold. Time for a break.

Absolutely, we stop. Today's ride is all about sharing some time together, after so many years. As great as it is to ride, it matters not whether that time is on the bike or in a coffee shop. We'll get back on the bikes in a bit.

Mark checks out my loaded bike.

We eventually wind our way to Boreas Pass Road and start the gradual climb in earnest. This road carries a fair amount of vehicle and bicycle traffic, but at least we're out of town and headed for the backcountry. 

Once we finally hit gravel, I ask Mark if he'd like to try riding my loaded bike. He jumps at the chance and spins away, clicking through gears while weaving up and down the road. Mark marvels at how the Jones 29+ is so big and heavy, yet comfortable and balanced. He thinks he could ride a long way on this bike.

My time on his vintage StumpJumper initially brings a wide grin, with its crazy light weight, aggressive race geometry, and lightening quick handling. This is a thoroughbred 1990's race bike that goes all in. The front felt so narrow, so forward, and so low that I thought I must be holding onto pegs on the front hub. I don't know how I used to ride an even smaller version of this on long rides and races.

We switch back to our own bikes, but it takes more than a few inquiries from me before Mark agrees.

Taking a break at Baker's Tank, back on our own bikes.

The miles pass smoothly on the gentle climb. The higher elevations begin to reveal more and more of the surrounding country, triggering memories of many rides and hikes over the years. We stop frequently to take in the views.

Several times, Mark refers to the last time we rode up Boreas Pass from Breckenridge. For the life of me, I cannot remember ever riding this road. Ever. He insists, with some details I can't rebut. But I don't think so. I don't believe I've ever been here. 

One of us is having a serious senior moment.

Mark surveys the descent off Boreas Pass toward Como and beyond to South Park.

Even with a late start, break at a coffee shop, pedestrian pace, and frequent stops, we summit Boreas Pass by early afternoon. Then it doesn't take long to drop down the other side of the pass to Como, where Mark meets his wife Kelly for their ride home. Just like that our ride is over.

We talk of riding again. Maybe a spin up Waterton Canyon next time I'm in Denver. Maybe even a bikepacking trip next summer in Colorado or the Black Hills of South Dakota. We'll ride again.

Colleen and Jeff hope to open their renovated cabin for business next year.

As Mark and Kelly drive away, I scan Como for the Community Center identified in the Adventure Cycling Association maps. Not seeing anything marked, I notice a man and a woman painting a building down the street and ask them. The man says, "Sure. You can camp by that Community Center over there and use that old outhouse. Or you can stay for free in our bunkhouse!"

Easy. Tell me about the bunkhouse. 

Jeff and Colleen are the couple painting the cabin. Next door is a nice garage that they repurposed into the fully furnished "Como Hospitality Bunkhouse" with bunk beds, sofas, lounge chairs, a full kitchen stocked with food and drinks, bathroom with shower, entertainment system, and more. Although fully operational, it's currently stuffed with many of the furnishings of the cabin next door that they are renovating. So, for now, they simply offer it for free to weary bikepackers.

The Bunkhouse, right next door to the cabin being renovated.
According to Jeff, the "CH" on the wall stands for "Como Hospitality."

At the start of the day, I thought I'd ride past Como another 30 miles to Hartsel, and maybe beyond. But the "Como Hospitality Bunkhouse" is just too much serendipity to pass up. So, at 3:00 pm and after just 34 miles, I call it another half day. But what a great half day.

A few hours later, the day gets even better. Rolling into Como is Great Divide rider Franz, whom I met way back in Montana at the Lost Llama Ranch on my Day 7. Not only does Franz stay at the bunkhouse, his daughter from Boulder drives out to visit him and brings pizza for dinner. Nice.

A day spent with an old friend ends with sharing some Trail Magic with a new friend. I love this journey. 

The Boys Are Back In Town, Thin Lizzy live (1976)

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