Riding in the Moment
Adventures in self-discovery on a maiden solo bike trip.
By Hailey Moore
At the start of the summer I set a few local goals for myself – since most races I had planned on doing were cancelled – and one was to take a solo bike trip. Over the last year or so, I’ve gone on perhaps a dozen overnight to week-long tours with my partner, Tony. Yet even with the assurance of experience, the prospect of a solo tour still felt daunting. While I didn’t have any doubt about the clothes to pack or gear to bring, or even the riding itself, there’s an additional layer of uncertainty when you’re on your own.
“No one is holding you accountable to keep going when you’re on your own.”
Aside from having someone to bounce ideas around with, riding with a partner feels like you have this built-in momentum. I find it’s the same with running, where seeing another body moving beside or in front of you creates this magnetic draw to push on. But the idea of venturing into the unknown was also why I deemed this a worthy challenge. I wanted to test my ability to manage myself in unknown, and likely difficult, situations on the bike, and remind myself that I can keep motivated through the hard times. No one is holding you accountable to keep going when you’re on your own.
The fact that I am female undeniably played a role in defining the significance of this goal. I think it’s an interesting (and frustrating) paradox that if I were a dude this wouldn’t be a noteworthy outing, but because I am a woman, such an undertaking is much less commonplace (perhaps some disagree, although I still contend this is the case). There are lots of women – Lael Wilcox, Kait Boyle, Alexandra Houchin, Pepper Cook, among others – who have been an inspiration to me and are moving the idea of equal competency in bikepacking among genders forward. And while I’d like the practice of women riding bikes alone over long distances to become normalised, I’m not sure if we’re there yet. Plus, the idea of a solo overnighter in Colorado still had me feeling a little nervous. That alone was reason enough to do it.
The route I planned is a 240mi loop that heads north from Boulder, Colorado, then makes a clockwise lollipop through the Cache La Poudre Wilderness, the Arapahoe and Roosevelt National Forest and Pawnee National Grassland, and returns through Fort Collins. I envisioned the route requiring three days of riding and two nights out. I started riding with enough food to sustain me through the first 100ish miles, and after that I would have to make decisions to resupply on the route.
I left Boulder on a Monday afternoon at 1pm after a bit of a false start – I had to turn back on my first attempt to remedy a leaking tyre. It wasn’t the early start I’d had in mind, but I was glad to finally be rolling. I wasn’t too worried about the late start since the first day of riding would be on familiar terrain. The day was breezy and one of the coolest we’d had all summer, after a diabolical heat wave, and I felt lucky to have the cloud cover. I plugged in some podcasts and before long I was passing Carter Lake, 35 miles in.
As I was spinning along those opening miles, I felt like I should be feeling more excited or more anxious, but really, I was just riding my bike. It was like any other day, but instead of going home I’d stop on the road, sleep, get up, then ride my bike again. It would be back-to-back long day rides, separated by a night of sleeping outside, and with much more to carry. So it wasn’t such a big deal, but at the same time, it was a milestone experience for me, and it felt like a big adventure. While I felt kind of flat emotionally, I really just felt like I was waiting – waiting to feel uncertainty about what I was actually doing out there.
From Carter, I rode to Masonville (a collection of buildings a couple miles southwest of Fort Collins and a popular cycling junction) and headed left on Buckhorn Rd. I’ve ridden Buckhorn a few times in this direction and always sort of dread it. My first impression of a road/route usually colours my perception of it from that day forward, logically or not. My intro to Buckhorn came in the midst of a hard winter ride in February 2019 when Tony and I took an indirect route to spend the night in Fort Collins. This time, the rollers left me feeling unphased – I must have had a tailwind.
Eventually Buckhorn splits off to the left, or west, turning to gravel and climbing up to Pennock Pass (9,163ft). Given my late start, I’d been considering camping on the near side of Pennock, perhaps under an awning at the Ranger Station, but it was still early evening, so I decided to make camp of Pingree Park Rd on the far side. I filtered and filled bottles from the creek that runs along the road for most of the climb and pedalled up the pass.
Despite the expansive and inspiring views of the Continental Divide from the crest of Pennock, it was here that the first wave of uncertainty set in. The clouds that I’d been grateful for earlier were growing heavier – I’d already ridden through a couple of short showers – and I was anxious to get to Pingree to find a covered spot to sleep. It was time to make a decision, and decision times are when you feel the difference between riding alone versus with a partner.
Buzzing down the backside of Pennock a few drops began to fall. Once down, the idyllic scenery of Pingree Park took my mind off the impending rain as I coasted down the road at dusk, views of the South Fork of the Poudre braided between the trees.
After scouting a few of the pit toilet shelters – all locked but with overhanging awnings that would have been ideal had they not been fully exposed to the road – I landed on a picnic table tucked back in the trees as the evening’s camp spot. Including my 20-mile false start, I’d ridden 105 miles, 85 miles into the actual route. My brain was fuzzy with hunger and I was getting cold as I tried to quickly set up for the night, but as it grew darker and started to rain, I gave up on the poles to tent my bivvy, and just crawled under the table – not quite as sorted as hoped.
Dinner proved to be less than ideal too. My typical go-to dinner tactic is to start a ride with two frozen burritos, letting them thaw out in the ambient temperature throughout the day. This usually works great, but the cloudy skies had hindered the process, and only one of the burritos was soft. I decided just to save the other for breakfast, ate a couple of extra bars and a cookie, and after forcing myself to scribble a few notes in my journal, I called it a night.
I woke up the next morning at 6:30 – late for me – feeling approximately 100 years old. It had indeed rained during the night, fortunately just a few light showers, and I’d been woken up a few times by drops falling through the slats of the picnic table and pinging me on the head. For this trip, I was trying out a new sleep system, so I’d packed a foldable foam pad instead of the lightweight Sea To Summit air mattress I usually bring. The foam pad is more convenient to pack, undeniably much lighter to carry, and proportionate to its weight, less comfortable. I remain undecided if it’s worth it.
After I’d unfolded myself from beneath the table and set my things out to dry in the sun, I ate breakfast and tried to let the poor night of sleep go. It was time to reset. The sun was out, the morning was warm, and I was excited that the ride ahead was all on new terrain. It’s almost always the case that you feel better once you get moving, and that was true for me. After repacking the bike, I put on some music and started pedalling – fast miles down to the Poudre Canyon, then just five miles to the hamlet of Rustic and coffee!
The coffee and cheap donuts at the Glen Echo resort general store in Rustic were great, and I left feeling motivated to take on the long day ahead. The first few miles out of the canyon were noticeably steep but mellowed closer to the turnoff for Red Feather Lakes. Having resupplied in Rustic with what I hoped would be enough calories to get me to Fort Collins, I continued on my route west up the ominously named Deadman Pass.
“I never think about being female when I’m riding alone and there’s no one around. It doesn’t occur to me, I’m just riding.”
Riding up the gradual climb, I was struck again by the funny juxtaposition of “just being out for a ride” and feeling like I was doing something momentous. I also thought about my mom. Due to COVID-19, I haven’t seen her since December, and I miss her, and I wondered what she would think about my trip. I knew that she would have some reservations about the idea of me, a young woman, taking on this solo mission. I knew exactly what she would say – it’s not that she doesn’t think I’m capable, but what about other people? Other people…what, exactly? Other people seeing a woman riding a bike? The funny thing is, I never think about being female when I’m riding alone and there’s no one around. It doesn’t occur to me, I’m just riding. I never feel that I am less capable or more at risk until there’s an audience, reflecting back my femaleness in their reaction, and then the doubt creeps in. Do they think I am less? Or, worse, see me as a target? And if so, why?
These are questions that I don’t actually know the answers to, other than the fact that women – along with every marginalized group – have faced resistance when it comes to asserting their independence and equality for a long time. Maybe forever. But I’m glad that, slowly, these forces of resistance are lessening and being pushed back against. For me, one of the simplest ways to push back is to not give into the idea of being anything but equal.
From the top of Deadman, a thousand-foot descent gave my legs a break before my route turned north up Sand Creek Pass. This was by far the best section of riding of the whole trip. The road narrows into a jeep track, the trees feel close and the riding becomes more engaging. A short way down from the summit saddle the enchanting brook crosses the track. The lush creek backed by the trees was very inviting so I stopped to dip my feet and fill all my bottles for the long stretch ahead. I wasn’t sure of the water options beyond this point and was still 60 miles from Fort Collins.
As I was filtering, two ATVs approached from the other side. I felt myself stiffen slightly; I generally disapprove of fossil fuel recreation. When they crossed the creek, one of the drivers smiled at me and apologised for any splashes. I smiled back and said I didn’t mind at all. We were all out there to enjoy the remote and adventurous terrain – perhaps, sometimes, I just need to relinquish my preconceived perceptions, and at this point in the trip, all of my interactions with other people had been exceedingly positive.
The next 40 miles on a wide county gravel road went by in a blur as open grassland gave way to winding valleys and unexpected gradients. My legs were feeling punted from the climbing earlier in the day and the prolonged rollers weren’t helping. I also knew that I was on the most remote section of the route and was wondering if I’d been overambitious in thinking I had enough food to get to Fort Collins. The winding valleys, framed by green hills and craggy cliff faces, felt more isolating than the open prairie earlier on. It was here that I turned my focus inward. On another day, I might have allowed myself to wonder at feeling so vulnerable and become more absorbed in the lonesomeness of it all. But I didn’t have any emotional energy to spare from staying focused on the task at hand: getting to Fort Collins. So, I just kept riding.
Some miles later, I hit highway 287 and stayed on it for 15 miles until turning off onto backroads into Fort Collins. This highway section was definitely an unfortunate oversight in my route planning, and I was relieved to weave through neighbourhood streets into town. At 7pm and just over 100 miles deep, I rolled into a parking lot with a Cosmos Pizza and a 7-Eleven in the middle of town. Noshing my convenience store dinner on the sidewalk, I debated my options. If I had bought more food earlier in the day, I might have bivvied north of town and ridden home the next day, but now that I was in town, an urban campsite didn’t sound that ideal, which I hadn’t really thought through that morning in Rustic. If it hadn’t been COVID times, I might have rented a hotel room, gotten a good sleep and then ridden the remaining 50 miles the next morning. But since neither a bivvy nor a hotel felt appropriate, I decided to hack it on home.
That’s the beauty of a bike trip, or really any solo adventure – there are no limitations. You can stop at any time and objectives are all self-determined. Similarly, you can keep going for as long as you want or are able to. Of course, you have to accept the consequences of your decisions – running out of food or not having a place to sleep – but to know that the decisions are your own can be both anxiety-inducing and exhilarating at the same time.
“That’s the beauty of a bike trip, there are no limitations. You can stop at any time and objectives are all self-determined. ”
About an hour later I was rolling again, trying not to think about the miles themselves but the approximate time it would take me to get home – about three to three and a half hours on a loaded bike. Not so long. It was dark, but I had lights and I knew the way. I didn’t feel impatient, I just rode. It might have been the most present I had felt during the whole trip.
I pulled up on the sidewalk outside my apartment building just before midnight. Getting home felt strangely the same but also different as ending any other long ride – mostly I just felt tired, but I also felt completely content. This trip wasn’t perfect, or even enlightening, but I did come away from it feeling more self-reliant and comfortable with uncertainty than when I started.
You can follow more of Hailey’s adventures on her Instagram @hailey.m.moore
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