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Along for the Ride

By John Cameron

When your legs burn, but you are not there yet, you have to keep pedaling. The thought comes at the end of yet another day of biking with Salida in the distance settled down in the valley bottom.

A new style of bicycling is emerging and the Arkansas Valley is at the crossroads of it. Imagine combining mountain biking, road cycling and bicycle touring all into one ride with only one bike. A new trend in cycling does exactly that. After years of highly specialized bike components and wheel sizes to choose from, the ability to do it all has emerged as a major selling point.

Call it whatever you want, adventure biking, touring, gravel riding, bikepacking or monster-cross, the point is, you get on your bike, find some roads and trails and start riding.

The hybrid mix of fatter mountain bike tires on a road-style frame with drop handlebars allows a rider to pack on more miles of roads and trails at once, compared to a more specialized mountain or road-specific bike. The upside to venturing further from pavement is more scenery with fewer cars to contend with and more to discover.

The Arkansas Valley itself is a sort of adventure biking mecca. The San Isabel National Forest alone has no less than 2,499 miles to link and loop into long rides on forest roads and singletrack which is open to biking.

One of the more famous loops in the area that captures the adventure riding aesthetic is the Vapor Trail. Mapped as a single “day” race route in 2005, the ride of over 100 miles begins and ends in downtown Salida. It climbs west into the Sawatch Range to 12,582 feet. The route follows the old Denver, South Park, and Pacific grade through St. Elmo to the Alpine Tunnel before dropping back down into the Arkansas Valley near Marshall Pass. It is a massive ride with immense views and climbs.

If riding it all in one day is a bit daunting, you could pack your camping gear and make a long weekend of bikepacking.

Overnight biking trips are as old as biking itself but with improved lightweight camping gear and packing techniques, bikepacking has changed the way you can ride long trails. The gear can be stowed on the bike closer to the center of gravity in a way that impedes less on the handling of the bike while on technical terrain.

Other well-known bikepacking routes such as the Colorado Trail, Great Divide Mountain Bike Route and the Trans-America Bicycle Trail cross right through Salida too.

As a fairly avid cyclist myself back in college, I picked up riding again earlier this spring. Evenings after class that I had spent pedaling through rolling farm roads more than a decade ago now has a name: gravel riding. In the intervening years, biking had become, for me, almost entirely utilitarian with nothing but cargo bikes and cruisers, but as I watched my four-year-old take his first spin on a pedal bike, I was reminded of how much fun biking can be.

There is so much discovery that can be had when riding a bike and with thousands of miles in this valley, not to mention a whole continent, there is plenty of exploring to do.

John Cameron is a writer in Salida. He can be found at The Book Haven where he slings both words and books.