Looking for a gravel adventure? Maybe one where you can experience the great outdoors without having to carry all your gear on your bike? Well, glamping (glamorous camping) isn’t just for celebrities and casual campers. It can also be a great way to set up base camp for epic gravel adventures.
In mid-September, I was invited to camp and ride bikes in Gunnison County, Colorado for 5 days. The trip was put together by polar explorer Eric Larson, his wife, and outdoor industry vet, Maria Hennessy of Smak Strategies, working alongside the Gunnison Crested Butte Tourism and Prosperity Partnership (TAPP).
The trip was to highlight the amazingly diverse area of Gunnison and show off some of the stellar gravel riding that can be done there.
There are approximately 1200+ miles of unpaved and groomed gravel roads throughout Gunnison County.
The topography of the area varies drastically, from winding gravel roads through forests to summiting treeless, alpine passes then back down to the scrubby high desert and riding through huge valleys of hay fields.
All of which provided endless views and dramatic landscapes that were, quite simply, jaw-dropping.
I took in quite a bit during the trip. I saw several new, up-and-coming companies that were local to Colorado. We used a lot of different gear that was supplied to us by many different brands, which I’ll touch on.
But, after going through what I’ve gathered and the photos I’ve taken, as well as going through all of the amazing photos that Eric and his assistant Emma took, I decided that first, we should let the photos do the talking.
This will be the first part… Part One: A Photo Journal.
Founded by Sam Degenhard, an avid cyclist, Campfire Ranch is a campground with a mission of helping people “create authentic experiences in the great outdoors while promoting stewardship of our shared playgrounds.” The campground offers potable water, vault toilets, and free firewood. If you don’t have enough gear, don’t worry, they’re there to make it easier for you to experience a great camping experience and offer gear rentals. That’s right… whether you need a tent or a stove, you can rent what you need to help make your camping trip great.
After getting picked up at the airport, and taken to camp, I unloaded my stuff and was shown my very own Peak Design duffle bag. The bag was filled with gear provided by some of the sponsors of the trip, like GORE, Topeak, JackWolfSkin, and MPOWERED who provided some cool solar-powered Lucci Lights for the camp as well as front and rear lights for the bike.
I assigned myself a place to lay my head for the next 4 nights. All of the tents for the whole crew were supplied by another sponsor for the trip, a 75-year-old canvas tent company called SpringBar Tents. They were really nice tents. I’ll touch on the tents a bit more in Part Three, but for now, just know that my tent was really, really nice.
Upon meeting the other writers, we then took off to Gunnison’s ICELAB. The lab is a joint venture with both Gunnison and Western Colorado University. They work within the community to develop ways to help small companies develop and grow. The goal is to build sustainable businesses in the area in order to rely less on tourism.
Here we had hors-d’oeuvres, and dinner while being introduced to some of the cool local start-ups hailing from Colorado. Like Goodday Bikes/Curiosity Bags, SheFly Apparel, First Ascent Handcrafted Instant Coffee, and PACT Outdoors Bathroom Kit.
I will be doing a deeper dive into these five companies later in Part Three, so stay tuned!
After the visit to the lab, we took off to go back to the camp and hang out before hitting the sack.
Day two brings the first ride!
But, before we move on to ride #1, let’s meet the other riders of bikes that are also writers of bike stuff.
Day Two, Ride #1
I was prepared to ride the carbon Rover, like everyone else, but to my surprise, my pal Chris, at Revel/Why Cycles made sure that there was a WHY Cycles R+ V4, titanium bike available in XL for me. What a guy!
I guess he knows I prefer to ride metal!
Don’t worry, we’ll definitely be diving into the details of both the Revel Rover and the Why Cycles R+v4 in Part Two.
First up for the day on the bike is 46.8 miles ride that starts and finishes at the campground if you wanted. The ride route was dubbed the Spring Creek to Taylor Canyon ride.
Out of the 6 writers on the trip, 3 of them were from Colorado, and I imagine, were acclimated to riding at altitude. I am not. But I still had a blast riding at my own pace.
Riding a partial route granted me the unique privilege to hang With Eric in one of the support vehicles for a good bit. We chatted about the good ol’ days and ended up having quite a bit in common, and I got to learn a bunch about some of the polar adventures he’s gone on. They’re insane. Ask him about them if you get the chance.
Then we ate, chilled, sat around a fire, and chatted. It was such a pleasant group of like-minded people. The campground was perfect, the founder and host of the campground came and sat with us as did the owner of the tent company.
Day Three, Ride #2
Ride number two, loaded and ready to go. This ride is a rollie-type ride that is approximately 41 miles in length. The ride route was dubbed Sargents to Middle Quartz. And upon rolling to the starting point, it looked pretty amazing!
Joined by Bill n Gus in the van, Bill and I decided to pick up the ride at a later point in the route.
Gus, Bill, and I got a little lost but eventually caught up with everyone later, at the top of a sweet-looking downhill section. Yatzee!
After we all arrived in Pitkin, we loaded up and headed back to camp.
Once we got back to the camp, some rest and relaxation were in store.
All of the food for the entire trip was very, very good!
After dinner, we all hunkered down in the heated tent and watched a slide show of a 70-day polar expedition of Eric’s…that he did on foot… while pulling a 400lb sled. And, oh nothin’…the sled only weighed around 400 lbs carrying everything he needed for the 70-day journey. That was pretty crazy to see.
After the presentation, it was off to bed, putting another great day in the books.
Day Four, Ride #3
While sleeping the night before our last ride, I heard some sprinkles that eventually gave way to a pretty steady rain. It was a little bit expected, and a little disappointing. We all woke to wet tents and a slightly soggy campground, but no rain for the moment and scattered clouds that didn’t look too ominous.
Because of the possibility of rain in the forecast, we had made a plan as a group the night before, to be on the road no later than 9am. The goal was to try get some riding in before the sky opened back up on us.
Here we are, ride number three, the final ride of the trip.
The ride was called Cochetopa Dome to Blue Mesa it was approximately 60 miles and beautiful. I was experiencing a smidge of knee pain and opted out of the ride and stay in one of the support vehicles to snap my pics.
The landscapes on this ride were amazing, enjoy!
The weather at the point of unloading the bikes was still pretty unpredictable. But everyone was eager to get started! And there was no rain yet…
Near the end of the ride, the view of the ancient mud cliffs above the Blue Mesa Reservoir was magnificent!
Everyone had made it down to Blue Mesa safely. Eric, who had been driving one of the support vehicles, however, was not there yet.
He ended up rolling in…without his car. He was on my bike, which we just so happened to have loaded “just in case” I decided to ride. He seemed unphased by the fact that his car was sitting up on the trail and wouldn’t start.
My guess is that the man that has walked for 70 days straight up on the North Pole, pulling a 400 lb sled, almost dies while doing it… probably looks at a car that won’t start as a “minor inconvenience” and nothing to stress over.
And, you know what? More power to him.
Being down to one car to get us back to camp meant we needed to fit everything in the 15-passenger support van. So, we proceed to start removing wheels and turning stems to get everything in.
We did it.
After the ride, we all went to the Gunnison Community Center and grabbed showers, changed clothes, then headed back to camp to unload the bikes and gear. We then got back in the van and headed to Crested Butte for our farewell dinner.
The dinner was really fun. We all shared our favorite parts of the trip and the rides. Told stories, talked bikes, and laughed. Eric gave a great,t heartfelt speech and then handed out fun parting gifts to the writers. It was a great way to end an amazing trip with such stellar people. Seiously.
We didn’t stay late. After dinner, we all said our goodbyes. Laura and I were headed back to camp but had to be at the airport super early the next day. Maureen drove back home to Carbondale from dinner. Jayson also left from dinner and drove to a hotel in Denver to catch a butt-ass early flight back to Florida. Hailey also came back to camp but instead of leaving the next day, stayed on to do a bikepacking overnighter the following night before heading back to Boulder.
I will be back to ride that area again, without a doubt. A shout-out to all fo the other writers and cyclists, I really enjoyed all of your company!
And a special thank you for the invite and the opportunity to Eric and Maria!
Next up is Part 2… the bikes!