The Outdoor Life

Planing the Route

You have a starting point and a destination, but what about the route in between? When exploring the backcountry on a bike expedition, a plan should be in place as to the specific route. Going off unplanned more often than not can take an unexpected turn. Even a well-equipped biker with a GPS feels the urge to break off the main route and blaze a path into the unknown. But what at first seemed more efficient, now requires more energy, longer trail time and possibly lead to dean ends or worse, just getting lost! As thrilling as trailblazing may seem, this is the time to stick to a plan.

“I have no idea where I am right now. I should have brought a map…”

Being prepared is always crucial for a good ride, but sometimes choosing a specific route can be a bit complicated even overwhelming. It may be necessary to do more than just pore over some faded, folded and grease-stained maps. You may also have to contact the correct authorities before you depart to make sure that you have permission to travel through the public and private property. Colorado is a “fence out” state – meaning that landowners do not have to post No Trespassing signs or property boundary markers – it is your responsibility to know where you are at, at all times! Let’s not forget about Wilderness land; with over 3.5 million acres of federally protected wilderness contained within 41 separate wilderness areas – you are bound to find its borders quickly – and please remember – as of this writing, it is still illegal to have any mechanical devices in Federally protected lands – including bicycles. Then there’s Mother Nature; that trail that was there last summer may not be there this summer – floods, fire – humans… well you get the point – PLAN THAT TRIP!

On to our trip.

Being that this is the first overnight on a bike for me and two others – I wanted to make sure that this route met a few requirements:

  1. Not too much climbing: at ~2,300 feet of climbing in two days, this is an excellent first route.
  2. Careful with the elevation: while I live at 6,500 ft riding at 10,000 feet is entirely different and even more so with a load.
  3. Be mindful of the length: being that we are in the Pike National Forest, a right or left turn can lead to a 2,000-foot deep canyon – beautiful for sure, but when you’re exhausted, going around can lead to another unplanned night in the woods.
  4. Great weather: The time of the year not everyone needs to pay attention to, but for Colorado, this is especially important. We do have all 4 seasons for sure and knowing them can help in understanding what to be prepared for. Spring is typically cloudy, some rain and temps can change 30+ degrees from day to day. Winter, can dump 2-3 feet of snow in a blink of an eye. Fall has the most beautiful colors when the Aspens change, and summer is typically reasonably stable. I have seen it snow in July, but that is rare and mostly above treeline.

They always say that it’s not the destination but the journey, and for the most part this is true – but when the destination is in the middle of the journey – it must be taken into consideration as well. That said – at 50 I have slept on the ground more than I care to. So finding a hut system in the middle of the middle of 1.7 million acres was high on my list.

The following images are in three sets. The topo track and the elevation profile.

Day 1 – 4.7 miles – 425 ft climbing.
Day 2 – the climb – 12 miles 1235 ft climbing.
The 3,800 foot descent into Garden of the Gods – 13.2 miles + 645 ft climbing.

What’s not pictured is that at GOG, we four will split off onto our individual routes home – mine consists of another 10 miles of Greenway and bikes paths. Estimated total ride: 40 miles!


With that my thoughts down on paper, it was time to start looking for the route. I picked Pike National Forest because I am very familiar with the area and let’s not forget that it is the home of Pikes Peak and Colorado’s famous wildlife!

I have rolls of different topo maps for most of Colorado and Southern California, and I am a firm advocate that anyone that goes into the wood should know how to read them and how to use a compass! And for me, I start all my planning right on a topo map. Once I have narrowed down the general area – I things go digital with Garmin’s free software called Base Camp. From here I can get down to the details, route the trail and get ascents/descents, distances and elevation profiles – all excellent information for knowing if this is possible, or if I may have bitten off more then I can chew! Once I have my route planned out I can then upload it into my Garmin GPS and follow it while riding. I will also put in different points of interest to see along the way if time permits!

The three legs of our trip:

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