Airstreaming Colorado – What Could Go Wrong (so far)?

Emily


Good morning, peeps!

Other people’s problems can be funny, and I think RV problems are right up there. So I thought I would give you a peek at what we’ve been dealing with on this trip. Not a particularly deep topic I know, but maybe this will help you address issues while on the road or at the least give you a chuckle.

Furnace

Problem

Immediately after arriving in Crested Butte we discovered the furnace was having trouble lighting – again. Our particular model is a propane furnace so the blower would come on, then run for minutes as the furnace tried to light. Even after lighting the furnace would often go out restarting the process all over again.

Fix

Kudos to Airstream of Scottsdale for walking me through the diagnostics process. The culprit was a ridiculous component called a “sail switch”.

Sail Switch Resize

The purpose of this switch is to inform the furnace control circuit that the blower is on before lighting the burner. It’s called a “sail” switch because it’s designed to sense air flow by catching the air like a sail.

The absurdity of this switch is the design – that large protruding piece of aluminum fin has to be bent, prodded and coaxed to barely fit against the furnace squirrel cage to pick up the breeze. It’s vulnerable to hair, obstructions, catching on the blower fins and evidently spontaneous self-deforming.

In diagnosing my switch I found that the switch was not actually defective, but instead the fin simply needed to be re-shaped to catch air better – until I broke the switch in earnest trying to bend the sail. DOHH!

Cost

$30 for a new sail switch shipped from Airstream of Scottsdale, my time and a little duct tape. Yes, duct tape – the new sail switch only had a tiny little fin at the very end and it wasn’t big enough to pick up the blower air. I had to increase the area of the fin with guerrilla tape and then spend an hour finessing the new switch into a shape that would work. This was a new switch. We’ll see how long this fix lasts.

Had I designed this furnace, I would have used an optical solution which has no moving parts, like a Photodarlington. But that would cost $0.000000001 more so that’s probably why they don’t do it.

 

Satellite

Problem

We have a Wineguard DirectTV (now AT&T) satellite system mounted on the Airstream. This system offers a self-locating dish that pops up, spins around and hunts for satellites all automatically. It’s a remarkable product that works with exceptional reliability.

Except.

The LNB (Low Noise Block downconverter), which is the part that actually receives satellite signal, seems to lose SD (standard definition) satellite reception about every 2 years. No idea why – could be a slowly corroding circuit, a split in the unit’s environmental seal – who knows.

The symptoms are the DirectTV (now AT&T) receiver will quite happily show you your HD (high definition) content but it insists on showing you a warning that a channel you aren’t watching is missing.

Fix

The fix for this problem is to replace the LNB.

Satellite Resize

We’re going to wait on this fix until we’re back in Phoenix since this is essentially an annoyance and not an outright failure. Additionally this fix involves ladders and getting on top of the Airstream; something I do not want to do in the field.

Cost

The cost can run in the hundreds.

 

Airstream

Problem

Our Airstream experiences fairly routine rivet pops and this trip popped two of them on the small toggle that holds the front visor down. I actually popped those rivets on the first few weeks we owned the Airstream and I think it’s because the rubber toggles are incredibly tight and literally rip the rivets out over time.

I also noticed some of the casual weather stripping on the front visor was coming loose, almost certainly from storage in the heat.

Fix

I drilled out the rivets and replaced them here in the field.

Rivet Resize

I always bring spare rivets and tools, which we describe in one of our YouTube videos. The weather stripping was easy to push back with a flat-head screwdriver.

Cost

$0 and about 15 minutes of my time.

 

Generator

Problem

Though we have shore power in the Crested Butte RV Resort our next destination in Silverton will be dry camping. I’ve been periodically running the generator to circulate oil and keep the battery charged. On the last generator start I discovered the battery was dead and after some diagnostics found it would no longer charge. Considering the battery is over three years old it’s time to replace it.

Fix

I made a quick trip down to an auto parts store in Gunnison. The part is a standard motorcycle battery called a YTZ14S. It was easily located and replaced with nothing more than a #2 phillips screwdriver.

Generator Battery Resize

Cost

$100 for a new battery and recycling fee and about 15 minutes of my time.

 

Truck

Problem

Our Sierra Denali pickup experienced a failure in the DEF (Diesel Exhaust Fluid) tank temperature sensor two days before departure. I knew this was the DEF tank because I hooked up our ODB scanner which gave me a code I could look up on the internet. If you don’t have an ODB reader get one, they’re cheap and can save your butt on the road!

Also in a separate incident the passenger side spherical mirror popped out. I quickly discovered how critical that mirror had become to towing the Airstream.

Fix

My Phoenix Chevrolet dealer was able to replace the DEF tank in a few hours and incredibly the tank was covered as part of the drive train warranty. I’m also most grateful we were able to fix this before departure.

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AS For the mirror we were able to order a replacement at the Chevrolet dealer in Gunnison.

Cost

Because the DEF tank was covered under warranty cost to me was $0 though I did spend several hours at the dealer. No biggie. The mirror, however, was a whopping $150.

 

Internet

Problem

By now you all know my job is software, and to do it I have to remote into my office over the internet. Because of this I have multiple redundant systems to connect to the internet:

  • WiFi Booster

This device amplifies a WiFi (wireless fidelity) signal and presents it in the Airstream as my own strong personal WiFi hotspot.

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A WiFi booster is useful when you have WiFi available from your campground but the source is weak or spotty. The down side to the WiFi booster is, honestly, most campground WiFi sucks even when you can get a clear signal. Because of this I rarely use the WiFi booster though the Crested Butte RV Resort WiFi is exceptional so I’ve been using it extensively.

  • Cellular Booster

This device amplifies cellular LTE signals for any cellular device placed next to the booster’s patch antenna. As long as I have one bar of LTE service without the booster I can usually achieve a workable connection with the booster.

Cellular Booster Resize

  • iPhone 8

The iPhone can serve as an excellent personal hotspot. When combined with the cellular booster I can usually work anywhere that has at least one bar of LTE service. The booster gives the iPhone excellent connectivity to the cellular tower and then the iPhone gives me a strong personal WiFi hotspot in the Airstream.

  • Ellipsis Jetpack

The jetpack is a device sold by Verizon that presents a strong personal WiFi hotspot in the Airstream. Just like the iPhone the jetpack is combined with the cellular booster and I can usually work anywhere that has at least one bar of LTE service.

For reasons I can’t begin to explain, though, I have found that even when using the cellular booster the iPhone and jetpack achieve different results. Because of this, I have found that in areas where I am having trouble one of these two devices will usually work.

On this trip I have been experiencing a host of problems connecting to the internet, as I shall explain.

Canyons of Buses

I’m very happy for the owners of the Crested Butte RV Resort. Their resort has taken off and by my eyes they’re averaging near full capacity every day. The down side for us, though, is a new phenomenon I call “canyons of buses”. And by this I mean there seem to be an unusual number of excessively massive RVs here, usually bus-sized monsters that have been parked on either side of us for weeks now.

Because WiFi is a line-of-sight technology, it works best if you can see from the Airstream directly to the campground’s WiFi antenna. However, when these giant buses park next to us our WiFi coverage drops to near zero.

The traditional way to combat this problem is a WiFi booster. You mount up an antenna on a high point of the Airsteam, which usually gives the antenna line of site to the campground transmitter. Only this time, we’ve found that the buses are so massive, even the booster is struggling.

Cell Tower Overload

Given my WiFi trouble as of late I have been relying also on cellular. Sadly, even with the cellular booster I have experienced relatively poor performance from the cellular network. One of the leading causes of this problem is cell tower overload. Simply put, one lonely cell tower simply has too many devices to service.

Fix

The fix for internet access isn’t a catch-all. I haven’t taken any action yet, but here are some ideas I’m noodling.

WiFi

The problems I’ve been experiencing with line-of-sight WiFi seem to be several fold. I spoke to the campground owner and they explained they’d just upgraded their systems but they’d been warned by the vendor they might need another transmitter in the center of the campground. So this might be a one-off.

Barring an actual fix to the campground transmitters, which is a non-starter in general, I’m noodling the idea of an external WiFi booster that I could raise on a mast.

Also I’ve been considering a new WiFi booster that would also have the nice side effect of giving the booster wireless wireless a/c band capability, which is supposed to handle multi-path and obstructions better. The down side is any kind of new booster will likely trigger new wiring and mounting which I can’t tackle in the field. Also an a/c band booster would of course only boost an a/c band transmitter at the campground, and a/c is still relatively new.

Cellular

Cellular boosters don’t address cell tower overload so the only real way around this problem is to use an alternate means of communication. Specifically, some RVers subscribe to multiple cellular providers and often discover that when Verizon is jammed AT&T is just fine or vice versa. I already pay a hefty cost for a non-throttled Verizon service so I’m hesitant to pay for yet more cellular service.

Still, AT&T offers an “unlimited” Airstream Plan, which I may look into. That plan reduces your bandwidth under peak loads (throttling) which could effect my work connection but that may be better than no connection at all. The plan is very affordable though, about $400/year, but AT&T’s coverage isn’t as good as Verizon’s.

Cost

If I decide to buy one, a new WiFi booster runs around $500.

The AT&T Airstream cellular plan costs about $400/year.

Conclusion

So far I’m feeling great about the trip. I’ve been able to solve most of the issues that have come up or make strategic plans for the more complex ones like internet access. I hope this blog also demonstrates that as an RVer you really need to practical know-how to solve problems on the road and a willingness to perform at least basic diagnostics when problems arise.

With that, I’ll continue to blog about our trip and as always keep an eye on our YouTube channel. In fact, we just released a video about an avalanche!

Peace out my friends and we’ll see you soon!

Airstreaming Colorado 2019

Emily & Tina


Morning, Peeps!

A few weeks ago I announced we were heading out to Airstream Colorado for the summer – and strangely enough, here we are Airstreaming Colorado! With all the demands on my time, though – I’ve found it difficult to keep all our media outlets merged; YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and WordPress. Sadly the blog is no exception, and it has been somewhat ignored lately.

The reason is mostly this:

I’ve been spending a hell of a lot of time picking up Davinci Resolve, which is the extraordinary video editing software we use to produce our YouTube content. The edit above was my most complicated yet.

I call this software “extraordinary” because Fred and I previously had been using the very expensive Adobe Premier suite and we have come to find that the free version of Davinci Resolve outperforms Premier in nearly every way. Fred seemed to roll with the changes easily, but I’d never video edited before so the learning curve was higher for me.

In addition to learning Davinci Resolve, I’ve also been diving pretty deep to learn better photography techniques. For example, in the video above I used the GoPro 7’s nitelapse photo mode to achieve those beautiful streaky long-expose Airstream shots. And in a peculiarity of how GoPro chooses to assemble its shots, nitelapse yields a long sequence of JPEGs that then have to processed into a movie by Davinci Resolve.

Fred and I have also been long lusting for drone to add that additional level of polish to our channel with aerial b-roll, but the $1000 price tag and the high level of drone banishment in almost everyplace where we ride/Airstream has put that idea on the back burner. The next best thing is Google Earth Studio. I applied for an invite and was approved so I’ve been learning to build “flights” and also render them in Davinci Resolve.

The video below was a much simpler edit. In this case, I’m experimenting with a “day in the…” format, trying to entice folks to enjoy mountain biking with us since our riding videos see the lowest view counts. This is ironic, of course, since this is mostly the kind of content we wanted to produce when we started the channel.

Lastly, we’re in Crested Butte right now and they’ve had an absolute bumper crop of alpine flowers this year. The featured image for this post was taken by the East River trail. Fields of Lupines (the purple flower) are all over this area right now. There are even some Aspen Sunflowers peeking in there.

Anyway, keep an eye on our YouTube channel if you haven’t already for more interesting content.

Peace out!

Crested Butte 2019!

Emily


Evening, Peeps!

Guess where we’re going to Airstream this summer???!!! I have secured six weeks remote travel and we’re heading to Crested Butte in July and Silverton in August!

Summer 2019 Map

Think we’re excited?

Um… Y E S!

So seriously, I’m losing my mind with excitement. If y’all have any ideas for things you want us to post/vlog/record please comment on this post. One of the ideas we’ve got brewing is a scenic tour covering Colorado 92. We’re going to make a weekend drive through some of the best country the Rockies has to offer.

Colorado 92 Tour

Obviously since I do enjoy this tiny little thing called mountain biking, I’ll also be bringing you plenty of content about the Evolution Bike Park. Plus I’m planning a ride on Teocalli Ridge, which is going to be bonkers.

In the meantime, if you’re from Colorado or you’ve been there and there’s something you really think we should do around Crested Butte and/or Silverton please comment on this post!

Peace out, I look forward to hearing from you!

 

Reflections on Airstreaming Moab, Utah

Emily & Silent Partner


Evening, Peeps.

My heart is heavy as we are now back in Phoenix….and therefore, not Moab. As I work my way back into my professional life, it occurs to me there are a few additional thoughts to share about Moab from previous trips, so enjoy some random musings.

What’s In a Name

I find it totally fitting that even the name Moab is somewhat mysterious. For me the Paiute origin story, referring to the word moapa, meaning “mosquito”, has the most resonance. Still if Moab was instead named Vina or Uvadalia I suspect it would have exactly the same energy and feel.

Arches National Park

Yes, Arches National Park is pretty amazing.

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But keep in mind – all of Moab and surrounding area is amazing. Do you really need to pay for it, when everything is amazing? For example, drive up Utah 128 from Moab to Interstate 70 along the Colorado River, it’ll blow your mind. Or, Utah 313 to Dead Horse Point. I happen to find the drive through Canyonlands more rewarding, and the view at the point equal to the task (though yes you do have to pay for that too). Or for free you can ride the Zephyr trail (mentioned later) that crosses into the north end of the park.

Still, we stayed in Arches one time (see the featured image) because, well, everyone said it was the thing to do. The park has essentially one road that you can drive for an out-and-back, at the low low fee of $25, or, you can pay the low-low fee of $25, drag your trailer all the way to the end of the 28mi (45km) road and maybe get a camping spot.

A year ago we made a point to get to the park early and found the front gate can’t (or won’t) tell you whether the campground is full, so we paid the stupid fee and drove the 28mi (45km) and we discovered that almost no sites fit the Airstream, and ones that did were occupied. You can’t mountain bike the park, you can’t take your dogs out anywhere except on the streets & campground and cell coverage is terrible.

Despite these setbacks the campground host took pity on us and offered us a one-night stay in the host’s spot because they were staying in the ranger’s cabin. For this we are profoundly grateful, but my take on Arches National Park is that the park is pretty cool but the fee is outrageous for what you get.

Mountain Biking Pipe Dream

Pipe Dream is a blue/black trail that runs directly along the western edge of town. I found this trail more black than blue so I never got any zen here owing to the habitual dabbing and dismounts. I can still see it being a handy go-to trail if you lived in Moab as an excellent “work on your skills” destination.

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Mountain Biking Zephyr

Zephyr is considered more of a connector than a destination trail, but nevertheless we rode it once to see what’s there.

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The oddity about this trail is is crosses briefly into Arches National Park for free, and it offers some truly heart-stopping landscapes such as these. Though this looks like an undulating landscape of routine slickrock, look closer and you’ll notice the beginnings of a verdant canyon filled with water, green trees and birds. Though the trail itself was, for me, entirely forgettable the “Planet of the Apes” like scenery absolutely made it worthwhile.

La Sal Mountain Range

The La Sal mountains just blow my mind. I just can’t get over the juxtaposition of looking up at the mountains and seeing snow when it’s 100° F (38° C) in the canyons.

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Also I don’t know why this amazes me, by the La Sals are considered part of the Rocky Mountains and a source of Uranium.

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Fred and I rode The Whole Enchilada a couple years ago, which starts high up in a snowy aspen grove and bottoms out on the Colorado river. We caught a shuttle from the previously mentioned Poison Spider Bicycles, but honestly, the shuttle should go two hours earlier – it was hot as hell and I wound up with early signs of heat stroke at the end of the ride.

Overall we both found the ride a little too extreme for our sensibilities, and agreed that the Porcupine Rim portion of the ride was the most enjoyable and least deathy. The final segment down to the river, though, was way more than either of us would do again.

Still, it is pretty amazing to start a ride in snow and wind up over 100°!

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Eats

I forgot to mention Milt’s Stop N’ Eat in our previous blogs. Milt’s is a kitschy actual 50’s era diner located on Moab’s former main drag. They serve exactly the right food for after mountain biking including delicious burgers and yummy salty fries. We highly recommend the experience, though sadly they’re closed Mondays.

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Conclusion

But Emily, you didn’t mention the most Moab of all Moab mountain bike trails, Slickrock!

I’d have some pictures for you if my crappy Buffalo NAS hadn’t taken them to the briny deep, but I’ll commit heresy here: We didn’t like Slickrock.

Stone ● Cold ● Silence

Here’s why – the trail is blue/black. Fred and I tried Slickrock a few years ago really before we should have. Specifically, Slickrock is steep – like 100% grade steep. That requires massive fitness, and we found we just didn’t have it at the time. And fitness is important when you’re pumping your way up this massive incline with your eyeballs exploding out your face and there’s just no place to bail. If you stop your’re sliding to god knows where.

Someday we’ll do it again, especially now that we have the fitness and the skills. But I still remember it, and I suspect I’ll like Klondike Bluffs better (gasp). We’ll see!

And that, my friends, is what Moab is all about. There’s always more to come back for and great stories to tell (someday ask me about Magnificent 7 and almost dying in a Uranium tornado).

Cheers!

Airstreaming Silverton Colorado

Emily & Silent Partner


Evening, Peeps.

Welcome to another mega-post!

I’ve been looking forward to writing this for months, since I’ve mentioned previously that Crested Butte, Colorado is “one of our favoritest places in the world”. If that’s true, then this naturally begs the question, what is our favoritest place in the world?

In answer this long standing mystery, I am proud to continue our series on places we’ve stayed in the Airstream by revealing our single most favoritest place in the world: Silverton, Colorado!

Why Silverton?

The best part about Airstreaming is immersing yourself in amazing surroundings, and Silverton turns that experience all the way up to 11. This tiny little town perches in a Tolkien-like valley high in the the San Juan Mountains, which are located in the extreme south-west corner of Colorado.

The San Juans form a violent and abrupt uplift that fracture the otherwise serene desert tableau into snow-capped madness.

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San Juans as Seen from Cortez, CO

In the space of an hour you can drive from the high desert of Cortez, CO pictured above to the lush forests of Molas Pass and drop fifty degrees while doing it.

The stretch of road that leads to Silverton is called the Million Dollar Highway (aka U.S. 550) and it is widely considered to be one of the most scenic drives in America. This road offers stunning vistas as it winds its way into the mountains and traverses multiple passes in excess of 10,000′ (3048m).

The journey is punctuated by alternating pine and aspen forests, alpine lakes, historical mines, four-wheel drive roads and, if you’re coming north from Durango, it’s also flanked by the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad.

Harley riders flock to this area for the serpentine bends while OHV enthusiasts flush into the surrounding hills to explore miles of trails.

Or to put it another way – there is, in my personal experience, nothing quite like it.

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Greene St.

Booking

Silverton is positively overflowing with camping opportunities, and remarkably, many of them are free.

Kendall Campground

Kendall Campground is located a few miles west of Silverton on Forest Road 585. This is a so called “dispersed” campground which means there are no services except a vault toilet and no assigned campsites. As such there is also no fee. The campground is immensely busy but owing to the national forest rules which state you can only stay for 14 days there is a lot of turnover and we had very good luck finding spots.

Two years ago we scored the best spot in the campground which snuggles up to a meadow on the west side.

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The year after that we backed into a cozy tree-covered location on the north side. Note all the other adventurers. We came affectionately to call this shanty town.

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Shanty Town

To Vault Toilet Or Not

Considering this campground is free, it’s amazing there’s even a vault toilet. Perhaps not so surprising, it’s not maintained and, occasionally, became unusable. As we have facilities in our trailer, this wasn’t an issue for us but I felt for the folks who were tent camping.

Riverside Parking

Rules posted at the entrance to this campground clearly state you should park your rig perpendicular to the river so as to allow as many people to share the view as possible. From our stay there we learned most people can’t or don’t read.

Etiquette

In a campground such as this where there are no cleanly marked “sites” personal space becomes an issue. We found generally generators we off by 10pm and on by 6am. We also found people generally avoided walking through other sites. Dogs, unfortunately, we often left off leash which led to some issues for us with our little ones.

Cell Service

In 2014 fiber optic service arrived in the town of Silverton and with it awesome cellular service. This campground is only a couple miles (5 km) from the main cell tower and signal is blazing. Some people have complained of overloaded service but we never experienced that problem, possibly due to our cell booster. As my living depends on internet connectivity it’s hard to articulate the madness of camping in the deep San Juans while still pulling down intense speeds necessary to telecommute in the morning and then mountain biking at 10,000′ (3048 m) in the afternoon.

Anvil Campground

Anvil Campground is immediately west of Kendall Campground but only offers a few spots. Otherwise all the rules are the same as Kendall, free with a 14-day limit.

Golden Horn Campground

Golden Horn Campground is even further west on Forest Road 585 from Kendall and Anvil. The approach to the river seemed extreme to us but we saw plenty of big rigs down there (I still wouldn’t try it with the Airstream). This site is also free with a 14-day limit.

South Mineral Campground

South Mineral Campground is a paid campground but all sites are first come first served. Getting a spot here can be very tricky, even in the middle of the week. By complete accident we scored an incredible location on a small hill.

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This campground consists of two basic loops and is very busy. Still we never found it to be too noisy and many sites are well away from the road. All sites are on crushed aggregate and overhung with deep green forest. Additionally the campground hosts keep the vault toilets pristine, there are dumpsters for paying campers and limited treated spring water (also only for paying campers).

Ice Lake

The Ice Lake trailhead is located directly across from the campground and it can get extremely busy. The Ice Lake trail is an exceptionally difficult hike gaining 2,500′ (762m) in only 3.5mi (5.6km). That’s a 13% grade!

For those that brave this torture (which should be started early in the morning to avoid the afternoon storms) they will be rewarded with god-like views, waterfalls and alpine lakes.

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Climb Up
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Field of Corn Husk Lilies at Ice Lake Lower Basin
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Ice Lake Upper Basin Snowed In Right at Timberline
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Twisting Descent

Rico-Silverton

Forest Road 585 continues past South Mineral Campground and takes a very steep climb up to terminate at the Rico-Silverton trailhead. This drive should only be attempted by four-wheel drive high clearance vehicles and also makes for a difficult but rewarding mountain bike ride as well. The end of this road also offers a range of dispersed sites but certainly only for the most intrepid souls with capable vehicles. Taking the Airstream there was a non-starter.

Additional Camping

There is a wealth of additional camping around Silverton including free dispersed sites at the mouth of Maggie Gulch and the Highland Mary in Cunningham Gulch. At least three RV parks offer camping directly in town. Little Molas Lake and Molas Lake Park and Campground offer additional paid camping south of town in the spectacular Molas Pass.

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Cunningham Gulch Near the Old Hundred Mine

Amenities

Groceries

In a pinch you can find almost anything you need at Silverton Grocery or Silverton Hardware. Prices are commensurate though, so if you have the means we highly recommend you stock up in Durango or Montrose first, both of which are roughly an hour drive from Silverton.

Trash

The dispersed camping sites do not have trash collection so you can haul your garbage to a free transfer station only a mile or so north of town.

Sewer

Sewer dump stations and fresh water are available in town at the Red Mountain Motel & RV Park and Silver Summit RV Park & Jeep. We recommend you get there early as some of the dump stations are blocked by Jeep washes later in the day. As there is little competition for these services expect an outrageous fee.

Laundry

Landry facilities are open to the public at the Silver Summit RV Park & Jeep and Silverton Lakes RV Resort.

Fuel

There is a very well provisioned Conoco station strategically positioned at the entrance to town. Diesel is available along with unleaded and many many tourists line up to use the pumps.

Restaurants & Shopping

Silverton is the terminus for the Silverton & Durango Narrow Gauge Railroad and services multiple trains per day.

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There are scores of restaurants and stores ready to serve these trains full of hungry and spendy customers so it pays to eat early or late to avoid the rush.

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Tin Ceiling in 1800’s Era Building Now Serving BBQ

 

Surrounding Activities

San Juan County Historical Museum

The San Juan County Historical Museum is an absolutely mind-blowing experience that documents Silverton history in a myriad of narratives that journey from Silverton’s earliest roots all the way to the present. Displays include mining history, rock and mineral collections and even the city jail.

 

 

OHV

Make no mistake, Silverton is essentially owned by the OHV/4-Wheel crowd. There are countless Jeep rental outfits in Silverton, Durango and Ouray plus a constant stream of visitors hauling their own toys. The local RV parks make extensive accommodations for these visitors and the town even bears extensive signage about OHV protocol on paved roads. Even so we never felt crowded out or loss of zen sharing this space with our OHV friends. There’s a lot of territory to explore so even when mountain biking encounters with motorized vehicles were far apart.

Hiking

There are extensive hiking opportunities around Silverton including Ice Lake, Rico SilvertonHighland Mary Lake Trailhead and the Colorado Trail. I’m not much of a hiker but I suppose if you want to waste your time this way so be it (I kid, I kid).

Mayflower Gold Mill Tour

The Mayflower Gold Mill is a self-guided tour that gives you unprecedented access to every level of the Mayflower Mill, which processed ores for many varieties of metals all the way up to the 1980’s. Since I’m a engineer this self-guided tour kept me entertained for hours. Documentation in the mill is extensive and a wide range of the equipment can still be turned on by museum goers.

The Old Hundred Mine

The Old Hundred Mine is a genuine no-holds barred gold mine located a few miles north of town at the base of Galena Mountain. The extent and scale of this mine is hard to express until you’ve experienced it for yourself. The tour itself follows a fairly short civilized portion of the lower level that has been heavily stabilized and lit. These refinements in no way diminishes the tours effectiveness, however. Entrance to the mine is achieved using an actual rail car where you then disembark and walk with tour operators as they demonstrate period mining equipment, explain blasting strategies, do show and tells on sample ores obtained from the mine and carefully point out connecting shafts.

Outside the mine you can make your way east up Cunningham Gulch where you can look up to the top of Galena Mountain and see the Old Hundred bunkhouse and tramhouse pinned impossibly high in the savage geology. Using binoculars to really zoom in on these tiny structures the true scale of the Old Hundred begins to set in. I highly recommend the tour, though possibly not for anyone claustrophobic, scared of the dark or uncomfortable being splashed with casual spring water seepage from the surrounding rock.

Mountain Biking

Ah yes, my favorite topic – mountain biking. As much as we love Silverton, this town is geared entirely for the off-road enthusiast of the four-wheel variety. This means most of the mountain biking we’re found is along routes shared by Jeeps and RZRs, though not all of it.

Rainbow/Nute Chute Trail

The Rainbow/Nute Chute Trail is one of the few dedicated mountain bike trails in Silverton. Following an old narrow gauge rail bed out of town this ride rarely exceeds 4% and provides stunning views. The east end of the trail scampers over some pretty sketchy terrain.

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At the time of this writing part of the trail was entirely washed out on this iron rich scree slope but I found an alternate drop-in only a mile east of town on the 550.

Further west the trail is rather mystical, most of which is overhung by forest.

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Rico Silverton

The Rico Silverton trail is located at the end of Forest Road 585 west of town. While technically open for mountain biking I found conditions on this trail to be muddy and rutted making for frequent dismounts and a lot of walking. The ride from South Mineral Campground to the trailhead is severe and also offers occasional dismounts on the incredibly steep terrain but I found it more enjoyable than the trail itself. I also recommend ample bug repellent as the horse flies can be atrocious.

Lime Creek

Lime Creek Road, so named for the aspens that turn lime green in summer, makes for an easy-going ride through the San Juans. Averaging only 5% this is a forest road but it’s quiet and scenic. The drive from Silverton takes about 30 minutes and passes through the incredibly scenic Molas Pass.

Colorado Trail

Colorado Trail Segment 25 can be picked up by parking at the Little Molas Lake Campground. Climbs are moderate but I felt like they were double the grade due to the extreme altitude which tops out above timberline at 12,000′ (3657m). The scenery is epic – of course.

Cunningham Gulch

Cunningham gulch is located on County Road 4A a few miles north of town. You can ride to the ride or drive to the intersection of County Road 2 and County Road 4 and park there. The grade is somewhere in the neighborhood of 7% over several miles. This road is popular with OHV enthusiasts but not choked with them. The ride for practical purposes begins at the Old Hundred mine and stops at Highland Mary Lake Trailhead which is popular with hikers. Along the way you’ll see marmots, pikas, alpine flowers and wild raspberries is you’re late enough in the year.

Arrastra Gulch

Arrastra Gulch is closer to town, beginning essentially at the Mayflower Gold Mill and following County Road 52 west. The climb is short and intense as it follows an ancient tram system that was used to haul pay to the mill. There are many offshoots but I follow a northern OHV tail off of County Road 52 to an old mine near Little Giant Basin.

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Old Mine Near Little Giant Basin

Maggie Gulch

Maggie Gulch is located north of Cunningham Gulch on County Road 23. This short ride offers an extremely intense climb that is also shared by OHV enthusiasts. I only take the ride a couple miles to a right-hand branch in the road that terminates at an impressive waterfall.

Forest Road 585

Forest Road 585 begins just a mile or so east of town and offers access to a half-dozen campgrounds, OHV trails and several hikes. The road is rather busy but we found it too offered nice riding from South Mineral Campground to U.S. 550 and back again.

Scenic Drive

Scenic Drive is a gobsmacking ride immediately west of town that looks down on Silverton like it’s a toy model Swiss village. The ride is easy and I typically rode it two times over lunch to get in a good workout, but the real reason you ride here is the view. It literally escapes my ability to crystallize into words the views you can drink in here as you look down onto this town stuck in time. Steam engines puff away, entirely unimpressed with the fact that we’re well into the 21st century, tourists ebb and flow through the many shops and restaurants and San Juans look on in silence.

What Could Go Wrong

I’m not generally a pessimist but I feel like most of the RV channels and blogs I read don’t always own up to the realities of full-time camper living. Below are some of the issues we experienced.

Weather

Allow me to make this completely clear. The weather in Silverton is terrible.

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Rain Always

If you choose to spend your time here be forewarned that it rains much of the time and temperatures often hover around freezing, even in summer. It pays to get your activities done as early as possible as rain and hail move in around noon. I found myself in a fairly intense situation at Ice Lake and wound up with early symptoms of hypothermia as I did not bring a thick enough rain jacket.

Since we’re in a deluxe Airstream and we live in the desert, rain for us is a treat so we deeply enjoy the experience.

Technology Sucks

I work in technology for a living as a software architect and I can say, unequivocally, technology sucks. In particular, allow me to vent my rage upon on my Buffalo RAID 5 1TB NAS. That piece of crap crashed last year and sucked down a decade’s worth of photos at and around Silverton.

I’ve thought for so many years how I could write a cool travel blog, share my experiences and my dazzling photography until one morning I awoke to found I’d lost it all – despite Buffalo’s claims that this NAS it would give you warning of a drive failure because RAID is a redundant solution. Not so much.

Though not directly related to Airstreaming, I personally recommend Microsoft OneDrive over on-premises storage solutions. This is a cloud storage product that costs $100/yr for 1TB or storage, you get 5 Office 365 licenses and it’s always backed up, always on and always safe. Plus you can also configure your Android and Apple devices to automatically upload your videos and photos, make albums and share stuff with your friends.

Alas, we will of course, make our way back to Silverton and enjoy its goodness as the sting of lost memories fade and new ones are made, but I will never forget that betrayal Buffalo visited upon me.

Parting Thoughts

I have to reiterate one more time – Silverton is not for everyone. The weather can be terrible and temperatures cold. In exchange, however, you can explore a savage countryside barely tamed by the 21st century and lose yourself in a myriad of exploratory pursuits that will leave your head spinning. Silverton has the it factor in so many ways I can only hope this blog leaves slightly more than just a faint impression and explains to the world why this really is our favoritest place in the world!

Airstreaming Crested Butte Colorado

Emily & Silent Partner


Evening, Peeps.

In our continuing series on places we’ve stayed in the Airstream, I am proud to introduce one of my favoritest places in the world, Crested Butte Colorado.

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https://www.chromesean.com/

This post takes a slightly different format from the others, as we stayed in and around Crested Butte for so long it can’t be boiled down to a simple review.

Instead, settle in and enjoy a slow-roll through the “it” that makes this entire region so special.

Why Colorado

I lived in Colorado on and off for 15 years and ultimately got my degree at CU Boulder. After that I wandered off into the southwest to spread my wings, build my career and meet the love of my life. Maybe it’s because I lived in Colorado during my formative years, or maybe it’s because my parents took me on so many camping adventures to eat dirt and catch stuff on fire. Whatever the reason, Colorado stayed in my soul and I now it forms the core of my spiritual power source. Over the years I’ve always made my way back to visit, of course, but the Airstream gave us the chance to explore Colorado in more depth than I ever did when I lived there.

The Plan

After I bought the Airstream and secured the opportunity from my employer to travel full-time, my thoughts immediately turned to Colorado. Specifically, Crested Butte. Very crudely speaking, if you were to stick a pin in the middle of Colorado, that’s Crested Butte.

But why there? The reason is simple – Crested Butte and the surrounding area straddles the most iconic ranges in the Rocky Mountains called the Collegiate Peaks. This range forms a savage chain of “14ers” that literally materialize the term “rocky” mountains. Here you can travel to incredible altitudes, see some of the most brutal terrain in the state, soak up primal forests, camp next to lakes, rivers and streams and mingle with alpine critters.

And of course, you can do all these things mountain biking!

The plan, therefore, was to launch our full-time Airstream living from Phoenix, and then work our way north – quickly.

The Route

Leaving Phoenix we stayed briefly in Flagstaff, AZ:

Then Cortez, CO.

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Phil’s World Mountain Bike Trailhead

Then Silverton, CO.

And finally the Crested Butte area.

In & Around “CB”

We talked a lot about financial resources, and how much time to spend there and ultimately decided we wanted to spend an entire summer in the mountains. As a result we stayed in Gunnison, CO (which is ~1/2 hour south of Crested Butte) for a month, then two weeks near Lake Irwin (which is about ~1/2 hour west of Crested Butte) and finally six weeks in Crested Butte (aka “CB”) itself.

Colorful Colorado

Colorado means “The Color Red” though some people choose to interpret it simply as “Colorful”. I subscribe to the latter and invite you to really take your time when looking at my photos. In particular, pay attention to the sky. Oh my gosh that blue!

Gunnison

As we worked our way north from Silverton we passed through Montrose, CO staying one night at the Montrose KOA.

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Then drove east past the azure waters of Blue Mesa Reservoir.

Blue Mesa Reservoir

Then finally into Gunnison, a smallish college town about 1/2 hour south of Crested Butte. This lovely mountain community is home to Western State Colorado University and also has an airport which caters largely to vacationers. According to the internets, it has ~6000 residents.

We stayed north of town at the Tall Texan RV Park.

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Camping here was comfortable, though when the cottonwoods shed it did cause a little trouble with satellite reception.

Mountain Biking

Gunnison has exceptional mountain biking, both north of town and south of town.

North Side

The north side of Gunnison has a tangled rats nest of trails that concentrate more or less around the university. I explored these trails extensively on my lunch-time rides and wound up forming my own loops much of the time.

My favorite trail though is Contour, so named as it follows the contours of the local geography with very little climbing.

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Even though the trail is an easy green, riding here was zen-like, quiet, fulfilling, and wonderful.

South Side

The south side of Gunnison has an extensive trail system collectively referred to as Hartman Rocks. I’m entirely competent on technical terrain but I generally stick to technical blues and low-end blacks. At my age I really just don’t need a broken collar bone or shattered wrist.

That said, I immediately went out there and rode The Ridge, a black diamond, and then cut into part of the Hartman Rocks featured ride. I found the Lower Jack’s drop-in to be somewhat of a lung-buster and quite a high cost of admission just to get up there, and The Ridge was just a little more technical than I like so I dismounted plenty of times. This area is BLM land so it’s also shared with a lot of ATV enthusiasts and I was dodging some off-roaders on my way back.

The Altitude

Gunnison is over 7600′ (2347m) in elevation, that’s over a mile (2.3km)! At these altitudes flat-landers begin to appreciate the local advice – if you’re not habituated to the altitude plan for rides half as long as you normally would. The general wisdom suggests that it takes about six weeks to adjust to high altitude and that is about what we experienced.

The Cost of Groceries, OMFG!

One misfire on our trip arguably would be the cost of groceries. It’s no surprise in retrospect that groceries are absolutely lunatic expensive in Gunnison, given that it’s far from everything and all roads are twisty and mountainous. We learned, however, that expensive as things are in Gunnison, they’re positively bonkers in Crested Butte. That would be, of course, because Crested Butte is even more Rocky Mountainish, snuggled way up into a valley with essentially one way out.

We learned, therefore, even when we stayed in Crested Butte to make a bi-weekly migration down to Gunnison where our groceries ran us “only” triple what we were used to in Phoenix.

Surrounding Activities

The Gunnison area offers endless outdoor activities but one of our favorite weekenders was exploration. In particular we made several excursions north out of Gunnison, took a right in Almont and followed county road 742 to Taylor Park Reservoir. This drive is slow and winding and we wanted it that way.

We saw bighorn sheep on this drive though there are also purported to be mountain goats, bears, moose and mountain lions readily seen here too. There’s so much wildlife to see on this drive it’s punctuated with paved pull-offs to let you enjoy the critter ‘watchin.

Once at the reservoir we explored some of the 4WD trails on the north side of the lake and drove over to check out the Colorado Dream Ranch RV Park. The unbelievable Cottonwood Pass is also close by, though we did not drive it this time.

One of the other more amazing parts of Colorado is the ghost town of St. Elmo, which is on the east side of Tin Cup Pass. If you have the fortitude to drive this road (I do not) the west end of this road ends at the unincorporated community of Tincup.

Lake Irwin

After spending a month in Gunnison it was time to pull up stakes and move along to Lake Irwin Campground, Colorado. This campground is mostly reservation only on the federal portal, though there are a few first-come-first-served sites, which we were lucky enough to snag for almost two weeks.

It should be noted this is an incredibly busy campground so reservations are tough to get. There is an extensive amount of dispersed camping on county road 826 after the lake. While that area is easily 4WD accessible I would never attempt to pull the Airstream up there. We asked the host on a previous weekend what the best day was to snag a walk-up site and she said Thursdays – which turned out to be exactly right.

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The campground is located west of Crested Butte deep in the craggy, intense middle-earth like Ruby Range. This range is part of the Maroon Formation which gives the mountains their characteristically red color.

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The Lake

Lake Irwin is a placid body of water brimming with fish and ideal for zenning, dog-walking, fishing and of course kayaking.

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I rode up to the Irwin Lodge on my mountain bike for this incredible view.

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Mountain Biking

Lake Irwin is the headwaters for some excellent mountain biking. Keeping in mind this lake is at 10,000ft (3108m) we planned for the extreme altitude but found by then we’d pretty much acclimated and didn’t have any trouble.

I would also point out the weather here is incredibly testy. It pays off to get out and do your activities before noon as the rains and hail usually move in by then.

Dyke Trail

The Dyke Trail departs directly from Lake Irwin (the trailhead is a tiny bit west on county road 826) and, I believe, earns its black diamond rating more from fitness than tech. The mountain biking season here is incredibly short so we found the trail was also muddy and filled with post-holes from horseback riders. Once you reach the east trailhead you can, if you have the fortitude (we did not), ride east on county road 12 and back to lake Irwin.

Kebler Pass

My partner and I made our own loop from Lake Irwin down the dirt county road 826 from the lake to county road 12, then rode west towards Kebler Pass.

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We also caught some of the 4WD drive offshoots around Irwin Cemetery in a free-range lazy day of exploring.

Kebler Wagon Trail 606

While staying at Lake Irwin we also rode the Kebler Wagon Trail 606 beginning at the campground, again rolling down county road 826 from the lake and then left at county road 12. This isn’t an especially technical trail, and it follows road, but still fun.

Crested Butte

After two weeks at Lake Irwin it was time to move on to Crested Butte proper. We splurged on six weeks at the Crested Butte RV Resort. The owners were incredibly pleasant and offered us a discount for the extended stay. They also once ran a landscaping business and it shows, look at those flowers!

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Also it would seem the city of Crested Butte was less than enthusiastic about the idea of an RV part so they didn’t cooperate much on the zoning. They allowed the park to be built, they allowed a bath house (which was glorious by the way), but they prohibited site sewer lines due to “proximity to the Slate River”.

We found this more or less astonishing, considering the Slate River runs directly behind the industrial park in which the RV resort is located. Nonetheless, this meant we had to tow once a week to a public dump station in town.

The Town

Crested Butte is (bleeping) awesome. If I was a millionaire I would live here no questions asked. It has the small town Colorado feel.

This is how the locals commute.

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There are regular art fairs, music festivals, and artwork scattered around the city.

Mountain Biking

Mountain biking, mountain biking and more mountain biking. We biked our butts off here!

Airstream Trailhead

One of the most extraordinary aspects of our Airstreaming and mountain biking experience was “riding to the ride”. We made strategic choices on our entire cross-America trip to make sure we could always ride from the Airstream to our destination.

In Crested Butte our RV park was located in the Riverland Industrial Park, which is a little bit south of town. To get into town, and virtually every ride therefore, we always began with a northerly ride on New Deli Trail. This connector gave us a traffic-free interstate from the Airstream into the heart of Crested Butte, where we branched out on dozens of rides.

Upper Lower Loop

Beginning in the heart of Crested Butte, the Upper Lower Loop forms one leg of nearly the only easy going ride in Crested Butte. This portion of the trail hugs the mountains in a thin ribbon of single-track looking out across a valley.

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You lose exactly nothing in the majesty of the Rockies even though this trail is rated green, proving you don’t need a lung-buster to enjoy the trails here.

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Lower Loop

The Lower Loop trail is the second half of the Upper Lower Loop. It runs along the Slate River and you can ride clockwise or counter. I did both to mix it up.

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Evolution Bike Park

When it comes to mountain biking, I am a “eat your veggies and then desert” kind of girl. I like a tough climb then a rewarding downhill at the end.

Or….

You can saw screw it, eat desert and no vegetables and ride an entire day of insane heart-stopping gravity filled adventure at the Evolution Bike Park. The entrance fee was pricey but well worth it for the hours and hours of clamper cramps and smiles we had to surgically remove from our faces.

The park has too many trails to really list individually but suffices to say we rode about 6 hours (including lunch break) and we did all the greens and blues.

I highly recommend the experience.

Upper Upper Loop

The Upper Upper Loop runs directly across the west face of Mt. Crested Butte offering breathtaking views of the granite face before you are enveloped by the forest. Taking Tony’s Trail to drop in you can even see people practicing their rock-climbing skills on nearby boulders that have clearly broken free from the face.

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The Upper Upper Loop is a blue-black and indeed I found it to be fairly technical and heavily demanding on fitness. Sadly I dismounted a handful of times. Still I deeply enjoyed the thick forests of Aspen trees and joined up with the south part of Deer Creek Loop to get back to the Airstream.

Snodgrass

The Snodgrass trail is so named for the family owned land it crosses. Luckily at the time we were there it was open and dry. This trail has a massive price of admission fitness-wise and demands a huge lung-busting ride up to Mt. Crested Butte (the ski town just north of Crested Butte) then up grades in excess of 10%.

The reward however, is mind-boggling views of the city below, sweet-smelling Aspen and awesome downhills on the other side.

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Lupine

The Lupine trail, so named for a local flower, offers the same lung-busting ride up to Mt. Crested Butte as Snodgrass but only a small heart-attack inducing climb after that. As this trail is somewhat in the same area as Snodgrass it too dives into Aspen groves and supplies a glorious descent on the other side.

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Strand Hill

The Strand Hill trail was directly east of the Airstream on county road 738, about 4mi (6.4km). As with many other trails in this area the price of admission was intense – the climb starts with some four-legged observers.

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But then turns into a sustained 10% climb for about 3mi (4.8km). The reward being an alpine meadow surrounded by Aspen groves.

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Once at the top Strand Hill offers an awesome sustained mildly technical descent and joins into the Canal trail. This portion of Canal is benign and makes for a nice wind-down but I discovered in a later ride upper Canal offered near death.

Brush Creek

The Brush Creek trail is also located on county road 738, though only in about 3mi (4.8km). Other than Lower Loop this is really the only non-chairlift assisted trail in the Crested Butte area I would describe as easy. The trail is remarkable owing to the fact it’s the only trail directly on the east side of Mt. Crested Butte. It makes for an easy out-and-back with the turn-around dead-ending at the East River.

Rain Sucks

I mentioned earlier the weather in Crested Butte is unbelievably temperamental. The weather report was essentially worthless, I assume owing to the complex geology of the Rockies. We hit an unfortunate skid of about a week of heavy rain that drove me to depression at all the rides I was missing.

And in keeping with Colorado’s mantra, “If you don’t like the weather then just wait for 15 minutes” it freaking snowed, in August!

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Farris Creek (one of those rides)

The Farris Creek trail is one of those rides you can look back on and see the things you did wrong. I’m still glad I rode it, but this trail is rated as black and that’s for a reason – it’s highly demanding in fitness and on the last third very very technical. I also made assumptions about the return leg of the trip, but we’ll get to that in a bit.

I set this ominous tone because it had been raining for days and I was near to chewing my own legs off when the weather finally broke.

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People who know me would say I might not be the best at exercising patience (understatement). Instead of waiting a couple days for the trails to dry out I headed out the very next day, determined to ride Farris Creek before we left Crested Butte, or the Earth was struck by a meteor.

Though of course the outset was fine, I found on the far side of Strand Hill (which is close to Farris Creek) the trail was epically muddy and churned into a black soupy pudding by cattle. Not to be deterred I soldiered on at which point it began to rain. Again. As time went by the pudding-like trail got more pudding-like. My tires caked with mud and I walked/rode large segments of the final climb.

Now every mountain biker can empathize with me: Near the summit I stood there in a rain jacket, shivering, and wondering if I should turn around. Looking at the phone I could see I was half-way, or so I thought by distance. I could also see I should be on the “easy” part of the trail, the downhill. I decided it would be better to do the downhill rather than go back through the black-goo pond that alleged to be a trail.

While I didn’t die descending that last mile of Farris Creek, it left me rattled. The descent on the north side was intense, easily exceeding 14%. Mix in rain, mud and cold and it was an extremely dodgy way down, even for a very experienced technical rider with a very good rig. When I finally made it down I was muddy, wet, cold and annoyed at dismounting on the downhill, which I rarely do. I was also a bit surprised that I popped out on a forest road instead of dumping directly into the Canal trail, which is not what I was expecting on the map.

Reorienting myself I found that I needed to follow what I believe was Pearl Pass Road until I hooked back into the Canal trail. This entailed more climbing, which I wasn’t mentally prepared for, and then I finally met back up with the Canal trail.

Keep in mind while this is going down it’s raining, and the temperatures are not much above freezing.

So, back to the assumptions I mentioned at the beginning. I assumed that the Canal trail would be the mild-mannered kitten I had experienced when hooking into it from Strand Hill. Instead I find this trail crawls along the side of extreme mountain exposures with long certain-death drops into Brush Creek. To further enhance the fun I came to find that this trail had been washed over in a half dozen spots by landslides. Not a good situation to be in, alone, wet, cold and probably making risky decisions.

Ok, I am blogging so obviously I made it out alive. I very carefully picked my way along the Canal trail and finally decided it was too risky so I bailed back to the forest road and took it out. By the time I hooked back into county road 738 and rode home at least four hours had gone by, possibly more. My partner was near hysteria and I did get a good talking to.

Food

I should throw a couple shout-outs for the food in Crested Butte, which was excellent.

Crested Butte Mountain Bike Association

The Crested Butte Mountain Bike Association is responsible for the incredible number of trails in Crested Butte and their amazing condition. I dropped them some cash as my own way of saying thank you!

Laundry

Our RV park did not have laundry, owing to the Riverland Industrial park’s limited electrical capacity. We used the Crested Butte Lodge & Hostel, which has a laundromat next door. The hours weren’t great though, and they were expensive so if you can hump your laundry down to One Stop Wash & Laundry in Gunnison while you’re there on a grocery run anyway, then all the better.

Dump Station

I mentioned early on that Crested Butte RV Resort was not allowed by code to install sewer lines so the sites had city water and electric (some 30 amp, some 50 amp) but no sewer. As a result we used the publicly available Septic Dump Station located at the southeast corner of 800 Butte Avenue. The system operates on an honor system and for a small fee you can dump and fill with fresh water.

Also keep in mind when you exit you can simply continue east on Butte Ave and then take a right on 9th then right again on Teocalli Ave; not sure why so many drivers were intent on u-turning right there.

What Could Go Wrong

Considering we were only full-timing in the Airstream for four months by this time we encountered a few problems. We found out we had a pretty bad leak.

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It was also sometime here we discovered that one of the Dometic A/C units had failed. Getting that fixed lead us to a six week layover in Denver while Windish RV got a replacement.

Thank god we had family in Denver, we were not prepared to incur the costs of a hotel for that long.

Parting Thoughts

By now you know, Colorado has “it”. Actually, I think “it” was born here. Go to Crested Butte if you have the means, stay a while, ride the rides and enjoy the people. I just can’t say anything better about this entire region.

Remember though, this is savage country. Bring cold-weather gear even in summer, do your rides with a buddy if you can, and if you are not acclimated to the altitude plan for half what you would normally do.

Cheers!

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