LiveBIG Adventures | No. 01
San Juan Huts: 7-Day Mountain Bike Hut Tour
At Windy City Strength & Conditioning, we believe the quality of our health determines the quality of our lives—and nothing is more important than that. We believe real fitness is about strengthening and conditioning your body and mind in the gym so you can get out of the gym, explore the world, seek new adventures and be the person you were meant to be. That's why we started LiveBIG Adventures. Windy City coaches and members travel the globe, seeking the most adventurous ways to get out there and use their fitness—then show you how to do it too. Come join us!
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Outfitter: San Juan Huts
What: Mountain Bike Trip from Durango, CO to Moab, UT
Duration: 6 nights / 7 days
When: Season from June 15–July 10, weather permitting
Where: Durango, Colorado map it
Price: $895 per person
The San Juan Huts have devoted over twenty-five years to creating and defining destination hut to hut skiing and mountain bike travel. Their mission is to provide low-impact, human-powered, lightweight backcountry sports adventure for the independent health-conscious traveler at a practical price. Their two 215 mile mountain bike routes provide a premium minimalist experience for the do it yourself adventurer. With the only destination hut-to-hut based system in the US, they take the weight out of bike touring by offering fully stocked huts and minimal route finding challenges.
Windy City coaches, Cheston ("Chet") and Justin, chose the 6 night / 7 day mountain bike route from Durango to Moab to test their physical and mental grit and have the time of their lives.
"My goal was to get out there, lead from the front and live BIG. I just wanted to experience something amazing. Don’t we all?"
What made you guys want to do this adventure?
Chet: This was meant to be the trip of a lifetime so, to me, that meant setting ourselves up for success. I wanted to be as prepared as possible in a new environment. This meant doing research (books, videos, articles), seeking advice from pros (other people who did trips like this and bike techs) and immersing myself in the sport and discipline of mountain biking.
Justin: My goal was to get out there, lead from the front and #liveBIG. I just wanted to experience something amazing. Don’t we all? I’d had it with dreaming of great things, it was time to take action. A bigger goal includes starting a movement of getting the Windy City community (coaching staff and members) to all start thinking and living BIG.
"My favorite part of training was getting out to Palos Hills forest preserve. I would often go early on Sunday morning, right when the sun came up."
How did you train for this adventure?
Chet: My training was very simple: Spend as much time on the bike as possible. I knew conditioning my butt and tailbone to sit in the saddle for long days (5+ hours) was going to be the biggest challenge. So, I would ride to and from work every day on a variety of bikes, included taking the long way home down the lakefront to add extra miles. When there was good weather, I would do longer rides on the weekends in Palos Hills to log distance off-road. I did general cross training at the gym to keep my body fit and not overtrain.
Justin: My training included general strength work in the gym and lots of time on the bike. I would try to get in 2-3 rides during the week, including rides along the river trail up to Evanston and back as well as along the lakefront. My favorite part of training was getting out to Palos Hills forest preserve. I would often go early on Sunday morning, right when the sun came up. I look forward to doing those peaceful rides again this summer.
"The journey was mind blowing. We let go of daily life and really dove into the outdoors."
Justin: After meeting up, we spent one night at a resort in Durango in an attempt to acclimate. The next morning, we parked our car at the resort, locked the doors and took off on our bikes.
Uphill through piney forests
Chet: As the elevation climbed, the wind was slowly sucked out of us. I was heavily affected by the altitude and it really slowed us down, especially at the end. That last mile and a half took us 90 minutes to finish. I won’t lie, it was really nice to reach the first hut and make some dinner.
Finding a pacing system
Justin: The day started wet and rainy, but eventually cleared to blue skies. Having spent the night over 11,000ft, we both felt much better. We quickly developed a great pacing system and managed our energy much better on the ascents. The day finished at a hut with the most amazing views, including an end-to-end rainbow.
Into the mesa and dry river basin
Chet: Fast descents brought us out of the higher elevations. That night we got our first glimpse of the Milky Way. Now, this is also the night Justin locked himself into the outhouse and I stepped on a cactus and had to pull needles out with tweezers. Our hut was also circled by whiny coyotes at 4am. Even with all that, it was great day.
The Gas Roads
Justin: Having descended into the dry river basin, it was much hotter and the terrain was much spongier, which made pedaling more challengin. We took our first alternate route through the “Gas Roads,” which avoided wet, muddy conditions but smelled really strongly since it’s where they drill for methane. We eventually climbed some very rocky terrain and ended up at the Wedding Bell Hut. From there, we had an outstanding view of the upcoming ride—the Manti-La Sal mountains, the Davis Mesa and the Dolores River below. We laid outside that peaceful and secluded night and saw dozens of shooting stars.
Bull Canyon to Paradox Valley
Chet: Traversing the mesas and riding out of Bull Canyon revealed the Paradox Valley. The view from the mesa into Paradox Valley was incredible, so we climbed up some rocks and ate lunch from the top. We knew Day 5 would be challenging since our options were to either ride 15 miles down a 2-lane paved highway with trucks traveling over 75mph and no shoulder or descend the “Catch ‘Em Up,” an old cattle trail that hasn’t been maintained since the 1920’s.
We took the later and spent over an hour navigating our bikes and equipment down the hillside, which drops a thousand feet in only one mile. Each step we took required physical and mental precision and a misstep could be fatal. After the Catch ‘Em Up, it was a short ride to our next hut in the Paradox Valley. From there, we rode another 4 miles or so into town in search of the Paradox General Store, promised to us in the literature. Even though we were exhausted, it felt good to be in civilization after that descent.
After riding around but not finding the store, we finally asked someone if it existed. They told us that, while it never got off the ground, the potential owners were living in the trailer across the street. We crossed, met Marty and Greg and proceeded to have an amazing evening filled with food and conversation. Marty prepared a homemade feast of burgers, salad and fruit, using all ingredients from their greenhouse. They served us a cold beer and hosed us down for the first shower of the trip and provided great company throughout the evening before driving us back to our hut. It was an unexpectedly great night.
So much climbing
Justin: To avoid the 100+ degree dry heat of the Paradox Valley, we started off early. We went up almost 6,000 ft and, once out of the Valley, we were greeted by the welcome smells and shade of piney green trees. After climbing we ended up on the Red Ranch, an enormous private ranch. We rode almost eight miles more before reaching our final hut, where we were greeted by a gang of wild turkey.
That hut was nestled along a meadow which opened up to two majestic peaks of the Manti-La Sal. We sat in the meadow and watched our final sunset as well as listened to more whiny coyotes in the distance. We had made it to all six huts without getting lost, but that now meant we only had one day of pedaling left before returning to normal life in Chicago.
Our final major ascent and over Geyser Pass
Chet: Just before we hit the pass we looked back and could still see the majestic peaks we passed on day 3 in the far distance, probably close to 175 miles away. It was pretty cool to reflect on making it all this way on our own power and in such short time. We descended toward Moab and out of the Manti-La Sal mountains on mostly paved roads. Eventually we turned off onto a portion of the Kokopelli trail, a 140 mile trail through Colorado and Utah. The Kokopelli was fast, rocky and a ton of fun. At one point I had a rock kick up and take a chunk out of my shin. Aside from the cactus and a little sunburn this was our first major boo-boo.
After attending to my wounds we continued down the trail and eventually ended up at the trailhead of SlickRock, an iconic trail that we wanted to ride. It was in the parking lot of SlickRock that we then experienced our first technical failure in almost 225 miles of riding—a single flat tire—less than two miles from our destination.
We descended the rest of the way to town and snapped our last photo at the termination point. After getting to our hotel and taking well-earned showers we had our shuttle driver gift us a lift back up to SlickRock, where we rode another hour or so. We were worn out but couldn’t leave Moab without having tried SlickRock. SlickRock was like nothing we’ve ever experienced. The rock was the opposite of slick and insanely steep. It felt more like a roller coaster and was a perfect end to a perfect trip.
"This trip confirmed that the outdoors is somewhere I want to be, all the time."
What did you get out of this adventure?
Chet: I learned it pays to be prepared. At the beginning I felt I had overpacked tools and supplies, but we ended up using nearly everything we brought at least once (even the snakebite kit which I used to extract cactus needles from my foot).
It also pays to slow down. In almost every situation—building fires, packing our bikes, fixing things, applying sunscreen—we experienced better outcomes when we took our time and were diligent.
Justin: Me too. Like Chet, I realized that this is something I want to be constant in my life: Getting out into nature, experiencing the land and re-connecting. This trip changed me, as I hoped it would. There’s no turning back now. I’m hooked.
I love the outdoors. I want to do my part, however small that may be, to protect the natural spaces of this country. It’s one reason we partnered with the Merchant Giving Project to benefit the Sierra Club Foundation.
We get so caught up in the daily grind of city life. This trip was very simple with regard to routine. Get up, make coffee and breakfast, prepare our gear and bikes, clean the hut, bike all day, enjoy amazing natural beauty and quiet, get to hut, prepare meals, take care of gear, find and chop firewood, prepare route for next day, go to sleep. Then we’d get up and do it all over again. No emails, no texts, no phone calls. It was awesome.
"Book the trip. Really, book it...so you start planning...so you start doing...so you can have the time of your life."
What's your advice to others who want to do it too?
Chet: Take the first step. Book it. Commit. Put it in your calendar and let the rest take care of it's self.
Justin: Trust your abilities. Chase experiences that may put you out of your comfort zone. You're more ready than you think.
Where We Stayed:
Get there a couple days early to acclimate to the altitude. We met in Denver, stayed one night there, then made the drive to Durango. We ended up staying a night at Purgatory Resort, right where the trail started, to acclimatize a bit more...then hit the trail first thing the next morning. During the trip, we stayed in the San Juan Huts located along the route.
Where We Ate:
We ate a solid dinner the night before we began. We each got a steak at the Sow's Ear, one mile south of Purgatory Resort. Along the way, the huts are stocked with all the food you need—eggs, bacon, chili, chicken, coffee, beer, water, endless supply of trail mix, etc. We would arrive at the hut after a long day of riding, crash for a bit, then cook up a lunch and/or dinner. Each morning would begin with a breakfast of bacon, eggs and fresh coffee. Then, we would load up our bags with snacks to take while out on the trail. One thing is for sure...you won't go hungry.
What You Get:
• Comfortable huts to stay in
• Sleeping bags
• Crazy Creek chairs
• Great variety of food
• Custom maps
• Custom GPS tracks
• Turn by turn directions
• Backup support
• An adventure of a lifetime
What To Bring:
• Mountain bike in good working order
• Small backpack or bike bag
• Personal clothing