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Denver to Durango — the 500-mile adventure“The Colorado Trail is always testing you; it’s never easy. Whether it’s an endless hike-a-bike, fatigue from riding 10+ hours a day or facing the elements Mother Nature dishes out; it’s these struggles that truly make the endeavor an adventure.”
Plagued by the nagging sense of unfinished business with the Colorado Trail, pro mountain biker and 5x USA National Champion Russell ‘Finsty’ Finsterwald from CLIF Pro Team decided there was no time like the present to tackle the 500 mile adventure. Here he recounts his story:
The Colorado Trail. It’s a continuous, single-track trail that begins in Denver, Colorado and finishes some 500 miles later in Durango, Colorado. Along the way, the Colorado Trail passes through six National Forests, penetrates eight of the state’s mountain ranges, traverses five major river systems and has a total elevation gain of 70,000 feet.
Growing up in Colorado, it’s always been something on the bucket list. Traditionally the route is completed by through hikers, but for the most part, the route can be completed on a bike as well. There are 6 wilderness areas that bikes aren’t allowed in and must go around. Other than these wilderness go-arounds, the route is primarily single-track.
I first attempted the Colorado Trail in 2016 in a last minute deep-dive into bikepacking. Unfortunately, I ran into bad weather and bike problems, which ended my attempt about 100 miles short of Durango. However, I knew I’d always come back and try again. In the year of COVID and a lack of racing, this summer felt like the perfect opportunity to get back on the CT.
In late August, I set out with 4 friends with the goal of completing the trail. We all had different levels of experience in bike packing and time on the Colorado Trail. This was Troy’s first bikepacking experience and Kerry was completely blind to the entire trail!
Over the course of eight days, we had bluebird skies, a fair bit of rain and even some snow. As we reached the high point of the Colorado Trail (13,271 feet), that’s when I faced my first real test of being able to complete the trail. Ironically, this occurred on the exact same segment where I was forced to abandon in 2016. My hands were painfully cold and as my body temperature dropped, we didn’t spend anytime soaking in what would normally be an incredibly picturesque view. Instead, I shivered my way down the mountain. I asked Kerry and Troy if we should set up camp and take shelter while the storm passed, but we decided to keep pushing. As luck would have it, minutes later I saw a small patch of blue sky. Slowly but surely, the clouds parted and conditions improved.
The Colorado Trail is always testing you; it’s never easy. Whether it’s an endless hike-a-bike, fatigue from riding 10+ hours a day or facing the elements Mother Nature dishes out; it’s these struggles that truly make the endeavor an adventure. An adventure is pushing into the unknown, testing your limits and finding excitement in all of it. This was by all means an adventure in my book, and something I am extremely proud of completing. There are a few things I am proud of for accomplishing on the bike and completing the Colorado Trail certainly makes it onto that list. There’s something special about crossing Colorado — penetrating several mountain ranges, testing your comfort levels and pushing your body past exhaustion. It makes you feel so alive.
Story: Russell Finsterwald
Photos: Russell Finsterwald/Kerry Warner