Last One to Camp: A Love Story
Mary shares a story about coming to grips with being the last one to camp on the 2016 Steamboat Ralleye, a 200 mile bikepacking trip from Fort Collins to Steamboat Springs, CO.
Words by Mary Taylor, photos by Ian Hylands
As I sit at my computer staring at the falling snow through the frosted living room windows, I let out a big sigh. Coffee on the stove starts to boil and Allman Brothers vinyl sounds fill the air of my tiny Fort Collins house. My eyes close and my mind wanders… I can feel gravel scattering around my tires, smell the sap dripping from the surrounding pine trees, and hear the rush of the Buckhorn Creek flow beside me as my wheels inch up Pennock Pass. In this exact moment, that is where I want to be.
Earlier this summer, I ran into Peter Discoe at La Luz, a local taco joint that sees my face far too often. Sitting at the bar, he convinces me that I should join his crew on an adventure called the Steamboat Ralleye, which takes riders on a 200 mile journey from Fort Collins to Steamboat Springs, Colorado. Seems like a solid plan — ride some amazing gravel roads, see some incredible scenery, and meet 49 other like-minded people in the process. Before this trip, I had done a handful of bikepacking and touring, so I felt comfortable committing to a trip like this one. However, I didn’t know how much I would learn from the 3 day journey.
For most of my adult life, I have been about average at pretty much everything. I did okay in my college academics, but not outstanding. I have been driven, but not totally sure on who I want to be. And I have been floating by, but not totally mentally and physically stable. Now what does this have to do with a bikepacking trip? When I showed up to the first day of the Steamboat Ralleye, I was honestly really nervous. Not only because I was up until about 2:00AM drinking margaritas and frantically packing the night before, but nervous when I see everyone else’s setups, some much lighter than mine and some on fancy carbon bikes. Also, there are riders in spandex kits, looking like they are ready to crush a five-day stage race. I felt like my steel steed was barely going to make it up any mountain pass, let alone the 5 or so in our near future.
As the group takes off, my nerves start to settle. I can hear laughs and light-hearted conversations from everyone starting to get to know one another. We head towards the mountains and the group begins to disperse. There were riders I didn’t see the rest of the day, but there were others that I spent 10 hours pedaling into the sunset with. It truly is a beautiful idea that we can connect from the saddle, a common thread. Once I finally arrived at camp on the first evening, most everyone had already eaten dinner and were huddled around the campfire. Wonderful words of encouragement all around as I got off my bike and sat down. Someone handed me a beer and I felt at home. I crawled into my bivy that night full of whiskey and wonderful memories.
The next morning, we headed out towards Deadman Pass and the Laramie River Valley. I had a rough day to say the least, but looking back, I feel relieved. From this challenge, I came to realize that my thoughts of being only mediocre as a functioning human of society only exist because of the pressure I put on myself to perform like everyone else, to be someone that I may not actually be, or want to be. At the start of the day, I was feeling sick. My stomach was turning and I couldn’t keep anything down. I felt weak and embarrassed. But really, I was the only person thinking that I wasn’t capable of this ride, when I actually am. I made it to the top of the second pass that day, pushing through my nausea and pain. I was also carrying all of my own gear to possibly survive for weeks in the wilderness, while not all of the riders chose to do so since there was a support vehicle. That night, two other riders and myself got picked up somewhere on the final descent, maybe 10 miles from our destination. Between my sickness, broken gear, ripped tire sidewalls, and no lights, it seemed like the smartest option to hop in the van and hitch a ride to camp. As we drove back, I was absolutely dreading showing my face getting out of a vehicle on a bikepacking trip. I basically went straight to my camp spot and spoke to no one. However, a shocking amount of fellow riders checked in with me, saying they were so glad we got back safe and happy to see us. Everyone was talking about how hard the ride was, and I started to cheer up. None of the riders made me feel disappointed or uncomfortable about the day. We all made it, maybe not in the same manner or at the same pace, but we made it. We slept in the same park that night, under the same moon and twinkling stars.
The final day was thankfully not as eventful as the previous. But I was able to enjoy myself and truly experience happiness on the bike. I wanted to make the final miles count, and remain strong rolling into Steamboat Springs. Our group was, again, the last ones to roll in. I immediately grabbed a beer and hugged everyone in sight. Pure bliss wrapping up such a mentally and physically challenging experience.
Overall, the route was incredibly beautiful, countless wow-factor moments staring into the deep mountains of Colorado. There is something that photographs cannot capture, which is a feeling of awe and humbling. The feeling I describe is what we all had looking into that wilderness, and that is an important lesson that I have come to realize about trips like this one. 50 riders came from different backgrounds, had different gear, at different fitness levels. But in the end we all were the same. Each night when we got to camp, I was able to see a large group of individuals sharing a meal and laughing together and talking about what we loved about the route that day. Bikes truly do bring people together, and I feel so special to have been a part of such an emotional yet positive journey. The Steamboat Ralleye gave me a skill that I am so proud to say that I am not just mediocre at, and that is being able to see the beauty of being last one to camp.
The Steamboat Ramble (formally Steamboat Ralleye) is a 200 mile semi-supported bikepacking trip from Fort Collins to Steamboat Springs, Colorado. The route incorporates gravel roads, technical descents, and serious climbs reaching 20,000+/- feet in gain total. The ride ranges over the course of 3 days/nights. Find event information here.
Mary Taylor is a designer at a landscape architecture firm in Fort Collins, Colorado. She is passionate about getting more women on bikes in her community and spending her weekends exploring the vast landscapes of Colorado. Follow her bikepacking adventures and other debauchery on Instagram @snacksbymary. Follow Ian Hylands Photography on Instagram @ianhylands and @ninerbikes