Red Feather Riffing
About a month ago John and I planned a trip: First night we would hit Lone Pine State Wildlife Area, second night we would hit somewhere around Red Feather Lakes, and then we would make our way home down the Poudre Canyon on the third day. Neither of us had been to any of these places, ridden on any of the roads, and didn’t really know what to expect. We had a rough estimate of mileage, elevation gain, and spots to camp. The trip ended up being a lot more than we expected. Bottom line, we suffered a lot…and that’s a good thing. We exceeded our own expectations and saw some incredible country. In all we rode 102.5 miles, climbed 6,466 feet, sat in a tent for about 5 hours during a storm, crossed a creek, and ate 12 Clif Bars.
Day One- Fort Collins to Lower Pine Unit of Cherokee Wild Life Area: 30.8 Mile
Abandoned Cabins and Cold Creeks
Old Cabins are like the Sirens. They call to us, singing a beautiful song, reeling those outdoors into its walls, calling passersby to inspect the history that lay within. We hear the song and will trek in by any means to get to the structure only to find that it isn’t what it seems.
After getting into Lone Pine, we heard the siren’s call. On the other side of Lone Pine Creek was this cabin. The only thing that separated it from us was about 50 feet of rushing water. There was a designated crossing, but the water was still pretty fast there. We tried to look for an easier crossing point, but couldn’t find one. The choice was clear, either camp east of the creek and miss whatever that cabin had to offer, or ford it. We chose the latter.
John waded out into the water with a big stick we found to get the creek’s depth. It was just under waist level. We figured the smartest thing to do would be to take our bags off our bikes and carry everything over piece by piece. We also thought it would be a good idea to strip down to do it. We wanted no wet gear what so ever. This may have been one of the hardest parts of the trip. Fording a river naked with a bike over your head isn’t exactly the easiest thing in the world to do. Though hard, we made it across (largely thanks to John who has a solid background in Outdoor Leadership. He seriously coached me like none other across that creek). We were naked, cold, wet, and mentally drained, but we made it. We dried off, tossed clothing back on, put the bikes back together, and went to check the cabin out before we set up camp.
The stoic mountain cabin we thought was across the water had turned out to be a bleak structure. Nothing was proud in it or around it. The floor boards dilapidated, the walls were rotted, an old bed frame lay rusted and broken in the corner, a soot ridden stove lay in the other corner. It had a harsh life. There was a sense of desperation in the cabin. You could feel its abandonment. Though the cabin called us into a tough situation with the creek and possessed some kind of evil vibe, it was all worth it.
Day Two – Lower Pine Unit to Bellaire Lake Miles: 21
Climbing and the Soul
Climbing is a hardening thing. It’s a cardio-metaphysical experience. Your lungs wheeze, your legs ache, and your heart pounds. You zone out. You lock into the road ahead. The top of the mountain is all that is on your mind. Just you, your bike, and the road.
In our case, we had 20 some miles of this on our second day. It was hill after hill, false summit after false summit. The ride seemed endless. But on the last descent, we made it to Red Feather Lakes. It’s those moments that feel the best. We faced more climbing on the third day, but then had 50 miles of nothing but downhill. Climbing on a bike can be put into a larger context: You have to suffer to the top to enjoy the descents.
John Ribes on Suffering
Why do we suffer? More importantly, why do we put ourselves through intentional suffering? I’m not talking about your classic “cut off your finger and start bleeding everywhere” suffering. I’m talking about the hard stuff; the “4000+ feet of elevation gain” you endure while riding a 70-some-odd-pound bike up some mountains. Maybe you could type in “inspiration quotes” on Google, or look at a poster at your job that says “Perseverance” to get the answer on why we suffer.
To me, there is no real substitute to just doing it. Trail by fire. You’ll hit rough spots on your trip…Yeah? Well you committed to this thing (like a true newbie) and now you have to finish it. While your sanity and bodily functions slowly succumb to the suffering, your mind becomes acute to that exact moment. The feeling of desperation, the feeling of not wanting to die. You gain tunnel vision and focus on your one goal. In our case, it was to get up those damn mountains just to say, “we should probably sit in the tent for a few hours just to brace it from the hurricane winds outside.”
Eventually the pain subsides and you celebrate your accomplishment with a Chipotle Burrito, knowing that all of that pain was worth that delicious guacamole. Intentional suffering and putting yourself into an uncomfortable situation creates a breeding ground for growth. Harness that like the beautiful flower you are. Resistance to suffering is failure. Suffer to survive.
Day Three- Bellaire Lake to Fort Collins: 50.6 Miles
Manhattan Road connects Red Feather Lakes to the Poudre Canyon Highway. There ain’t much to say about Manhattan Road other than it is one tough son-of-a-bitch. Coming from Red Feather, the road isn’t too bad: a few gentle climbs, a few turns, lots of camp spots along the way. Then you hit the top. From the apex, you get some good descents, some sharper turns, and beautiful views of the mountains. The road levels out at a spot called Goodell Corner where the mining town of Manhattan used to sit. The place was bustling during the 1860s. Around 2,000 some folks lived there. They had a school, a theater, bars, everything a good mining town should have. Unfortunately, the gold mines began to get sparse and people began to leave. It was almost empty by the 1900s. In the 1930’s the town burned down, leaving nothing but a few logs and some foundation. The grave yard and a hanging tree still remain.
After you climb another nasty hill out of Goodell Corner, you hit about 4 miles of hellish switchbacks, 14 degree grades, and rocky gravel. This is what made Manhattan Road a Level 5. There is a lookout off of the road called Pickens’s Point where a few headstones sit looking west at the Poudre Canyon. The switch backs and grades begin to mellow towards end where the road connects to the Poudre Canyon at Glen Echo.
The Red Zone
We hit the Mish, had one Clif Bar left each, one gel shot left each, and one picture left in the cameras. We ate all of it, and took this picture. It was about 25 miles left until we were home. There was a marathon in the Canyon that day so we basically had no cars behind us. John and I said more than ten words to each other from Ted’s Place to the Chipotle on College and Laurel . We were so close to home. We were hungry. We were dirty. We were dead set on finishing.
The self-reflection that followed included the obvious and not-so-obvious. The ride taught us that we can throw down 4000 plus feet of climbing on loaded bikes in a day, that granola and peanut butter mixed in a plastic bag is a tasty breakfast, that people still gold pan, and that people love to talk to you about your travels when you are on a bike. More importantly, the trip taught us that we are stronger than we think. And that was the biggest take home of them all.