Tarp Bailout: Not bringing a tent seemed like a good way to cut down on pounds and bulk. And it worked…most of the time. Photo: Jen Judge

Rain fauceted from the sky, and clouds like black anvils echoed and rumbled and hissed with lightning, and though after almost six months of choking drought I knew I should be overjoyed by the deluge, the watery turn of the weather was making me grumpy.

In less than 12 hours, my wife, Jen, and I were scheduled to strap a few provisions to our mountain bikes and set off on a six-day self-supported R-and-R-style bike expedition. We planned to ride the Alpine Loop to Ouray, cross Imogene and Ophir passes through Telluride back to Silverton, and then return to Durango along the high and wild final stretches of the Colorado Trail. We’d chosen the route in part as an anniversary trip—having married aboard the Narrow Gauge Railroad, we were booked to start the adventure with a train ride to Silverton—and in part because the mining history and trailblazing pluckiness that define the area seemed to fit the spirit of the adventure we hoped to have.

We hadn’t, however, packed a tent—hadn’t even considered one given the dry spell—and as the water outside crested the curb and flooded the sidewalk, I fretted that our getaway was washing away. Jen, who is generally tougher than I am and always a counterweight to my dour disposition, wouldn’t be drawn in. “Pioneers didn’t have Doppler Radar or waterproof breathable tents,” she goaded. “Buck up!”

We’d planned the trip to get away: from work, from schedules, and from the feeling of expectation that had begun to creep into my riding of late. For most of my life, the bike has been an escape. I remember pedaling into a fantasy world as a child, sprinting my trusty Schwinn World to make-believe wins over Greg Lemond, “Big Mig” Indurain, and, on good days, Bernard Hinault. As a runner in high school and college, when the pressure and monotony of training were too much I’d ditch practice for an afternoon of solo spinning—no workout, no coaches, just easy riding through a friendly landscape.  And today, when my head is jumbled from too much computer time, nothing blows out the fog like a fast cadence.

But in recent years, as I’ve taken to racing bikes, anxiety and obligation have crept into my saddle time. This spring, tough breaks at a couple of my primary race targets—a GPS malfunction that knocked me out of a 300-mile race in Arizona about a third of the way through, and a winter blow-down that turned a Utah racecourse into a nightmare hike-a-bike jungle gym—left me disenchanted with riding. That’s when Jen suggested we take the bikepacking tour we’d talked about for years. “It will do you good: get out, go slow, enjoy the views,” she encouraged. With only a vague itinerary, no need to hurry, and the emphasis on savoring rather than suffering, it would be the anti-race.

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