The West Empire Death March

Bad Andy and Lubes

Death in a beautiful basin of wild flowers at 12,000 ft. Only 29 miles, 8000 ft + of climbing and 10 hours into my ride and my GPS died, my body wanting to follow. I felt that black specter of fetid flesh and cloth wrapping his bony claws upon my heart and I screamed at my body to keep going..a feral predator had been loosed inside my mind with one thought ...survival.... but my body was shutting down on me. Tremors quaked through me and no matter how many grams of carbs or protein I threw into my gullet it was never enough. My body pleaded to lay down...just a few moments sleep...I knew if I gave into that desire...I may never wake up...

Lubes on Jones Pass Rd

I watched the guys in my small platoon widen the gap as we mounted each crest...I silently cursed my retched body for giving up...I screamed when I thought they could not hear me...I mentally abused myself all in the attempt to make it to that next rise...all in the hope for that last one point I even thought of dropping my into that last bit of despair...I met my nightmare...the West Empire Death March.

Lubes headed up to Jones Pass

Earlier in the day, Bad Andy called it the "Rocky Mountain High." Years ago when John Denver penned the words that would go onto become a controversial piece of Colorado history, I doubt he spoke of what I was experiencing at 13,300 ft on the Continental Divide. We had just finished a 13 mile paved and gravel cruiser from Empire to the top of Jones Pass where we scaled a 25 foot tall wall of snow using our bikes as ice picks, our shoes as crampons; trying to find purchase in the cliff of snow and finally we made our way south on the sinew of dirt that parts the waters flowing to the Atlantic and the Pacific. We came upon a steep boulder field where we shouldered our bikes and started to hike and this is where I started to feel light headed and dizzy, my steps became unsure ... setting up the rest of my day to fall behind, to become the anchor upon my team. Every descent would bring slight rejuvenation, every ascent a destruction of my fortitude, my will.

Lubes ice climbing

The descent down the bottom of the CDT was so much fun. JJonas had a flat and Bad Andy, Lubes, and myself took that que to do some beer chasers while soaking in the views. We had another rider, our own hungryhead from the MTBR forums catch us. Turns out he was doing a shuttle of the route from the base of Jones Pass down to the bottom of Herman Gulch, a popular trail due to its proximity to I-70 . We kept it a tight knit group down Herman Gulch with the hikers parting like the Red Sea, none out of contempt that I heard, All with OOOO's and AHHHHHH's and WOWS as we heard the wondering of their minds aloud of where we had been and where we were headed.

Me and Lubes dropping the CDT

At the Junction of Waltrous Gulch we parted ways with hungryhead. Just as we were about to begin our climb again Lubes discovered a torn sidewall and all his special tubeless spooge was leaving florescent tracers in the forest around us. We still had water to filter at the top of Waltrous and lacking any meaningful granny gear on my internal gear, my easiest being a 32x36 which sounds easy enough, I could not muster any thing but short bursts on the climb so I walked. I have no excuse though, Lubes was banging this ride out on a 33x20 29er rigid singlespeed and keeping it towards the front of the pack.

Bad Andy on the CDT

Bad Andy and JJonas caught me and, as I rested again, Lubes caught me. We made our way together up to the junction of Waltrous Gulch and Bard Creek where we all filtered water (thanks to JJonas for being of mind to bring a filter). I had gone through 4 liters of water and go-go juice by this point, only 23 miles and 8 hours into our deathmarch.

Bad Andy hiking up a steep portion of the CDT

I ended up leaving the group again, pushing ahead only to be caught and passed within the 1st quarter mile where Lubes and myself played the slinky across the traverse. Bard Creek at this point was a mix of ridable trail and hiking trail...a true 10 inch wide singletrack that traversed across a slope that had to be close to 45 percent. It was here that I bounced a rock off my front wheel pitching me to the right and I went tumbling down for 30-40 ft. Lubes stumbled upon me, asking me if I was ok and I think all I could give him was a silent nod of the head. I went down two more times across this traverse where the trail disappeared and reappeared through the tundra...a scattering of random cairns marked the route that was there but wasn't. Thankfully we had JJonas with us who had done Bard Creek before. His knowledge of the trail became invaluable as my navigating abilities were shot. All my mind could do was send signal for one foot to be placed in front of the other (if on foot) a slow churn of circles when on the bike.

Lubes on the CDT

Finally, we crested the last rise of 12,000 ft and looked down into the Bard Creek Basin. The route became steadily more definable as we neared the creek and finally a rip roaring downhill to an old 4x4 road. JJonas left us behind and I finally caught up to him at Empire Pass where we waited and last, a phone call from Bad Andy and Lubes telling us of a flat of Andy's...5 minutes later the platoon was together again and just after 8 pm, 13 hrs , 37 miles, and over 10,000 ft + of climbing later, we were back at Lube's car.

JJonas on the CDT

I have no doubt in my mind that I'll ride Jones Pass from Empire again, I'll ride the Continental Divide Trail down Herman Gulch even suffering my Rocky Mountain High at 13,300 ft, I might even ride Waltrous Gulch as an out and back. I have ideas for a route that could include all of that and maybe even some of the Georgetown loop. I swear though, Bard Creek will never see my tires roll across it again. I may one day do it as backpacking trip where I can spend the night in one of the Basins, but me and the bike together are done with that unholy trail.

Me on the CDT

A moment for a beer with some Jack Daniels to chase it down

Lubes on the CDT

Hungryhead on the CDT

Lubes on the CDT

Lubes on Herman Gulch

Bard Creek Trail

One of the crest of Bard's Creek...Bad Andy and Jonas in the middle

Bad Andy dropping into the final basin

making our way across the final Basin of Bard's Creek


  bad andy

July 20, 2009 at 1:09 PM

Nice description, Evil MGE.
And now that name will stick even more. You are a bad man.
The pix make it look like it was actually fun, though.
Will have to remember to get some close up portraits so we can look back and see the actual pain and agony!

  Jeff Kerkove

July 20, 2009 at 1:35 PM

Love this! Do you have a GPS track?
kerkovej at gmail dot com

  The Vegan Vagabond

July 20, 2009 at 3:44 PM

wow. unbelievable!
Ottawa needs another road trip...


July 20, 2009 at 4:42 PM

This is bringing back memories of Saturday......NOOOO!!!!
Make it stop!


July 20, 2009 at 6:59 PM

Looks like it was a great ride! Just my style... Makes me want to get out of WNC and go explore someplace new.

Great blog! Keep it up!

  The Evil MGE!

July 21, 2009 at 7:32 AM

Funny enough as short as this route was, it was also probably one of the toughest I've thrown together. Kerkove, my gps died about 29 miles into the ride but I believe Jim(Jonas) has the entire route gps'd.