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Confessions of a Colorado Weekend Warrior

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Photograph courtesy Avery Stonich

There’s no better weekend than when you work your muscles to the max and spend the better part of your waking hours outside. Given that I’m a working stiff who sits at a desk five days a week, I’ve got to settle for this weekend warrior approach a lot of the time.

One of my favorite combos is biking the Monarch Crest Trail one day, followed by hiking a fourteener the next. My outdoor playground for this adventure is near Salida, Colorado. We stay in a 130-year-old rustic cabin that oozes charm, with a big stone fireplace, creaky old furniture, and—bonus—an outdoor tub fed by a natural hot spring. Lazing about in this peaceful place, you can picture yourself a homesteader who set up camp in hopes of striking untold riches in nearby hills of gold.

But there’s not much time for lazing on a weekend like this. This weekend, we were up before dawn on both days. On Saturday, we tackled the Monarch Crest Trail, a famed 32-mile shuttle ride that starts at the top of Monarch Pass and follows rolling singletrack back down to Route 285 outside of Poncha Springs. It’s epic.

The season for this high Rocky Mountain trail is short, indeed. As we got off the shuttle, the air held a damp chill that hinted of winter despite the calendar saying August. There was even a dusting of snow. We started high, then climbed a bit more. My body warmed with the exertion. The clouds cleared, and the eager sun melted the snow into magical mist that floated up from the soft earth under our tires. After topping out at nearly 12,000 feet, we began our descent—miles of flowing, winding singletrack that rolled through gorgeous mountain meadows, stunning aspen groves, and a few rocky sections thrown in for good measure.

The trail winds up and down, but mostly down. By the end of the day, you’ve climbed just over 2,000 feet but descended nearly 6,000. But don’t let this topographic profile fool you. While the Monarch Crest trail delivers unbelievable views and seemingly endless descents, it definitely leaves you gasping for breath at times. And the final nine miles on the Rainbow Trail chew you up and spit you out, dusty and wasted. By the time we hit pavement, I was whooped, but so happy—absolutely satiated with the joy of an amazing journey outside on my bike in the woods. Time to return to our cabin for a soak in the tub.

But wait, there’s Sunday. We decided to tackle Mount Shavano, a relatively easy hike to 14,229 feet. Other than long mileage and lots of elevation gain, Shavano’s not too tough. We started out in the forest, our quiet footsteps keeping us company as we climbed through the trees. Our souls were peaceful and our spirits soared as we approached treeline, passing the twisted “Krumholtz” trees that announce you’re entering a high, windy, inhospitable place. Finally, we crossed a rocky scree field to reach the summit and were rewarded with sweeping views of the jagged tops of Colorado. Shavano is entrenched in fourteener territory, serving up gravity-defying peaks in every direction. We took in the vista, then hastened back down to the safety of treeline before a threatening storm approached.

By the time we were within a couple of miles of the car, I did my usual: I started talking about what I wanted to eat when we got back to civilization. There’s no better meal than the one after a long, hard adventure outside. I can’t remember the exact feast we enjoyed, but it probably involved melted cheese and cold beer.

Come Monday, I was back at work, exhausted in body but absolutely replete in spirit. My mental stamina is forever buoyed by time spent outdoors, enjoying the natural world and exerting myself. Outdoor recreation restores the soul like nothing else. So get outside one of these weekends. When life seems to spiral into a web of to-do lists and activity, take a break. You’ll return to your everyday existence refreshed, restored, and ready to tackle whatever you’re dealt. And then, there’s always the dream of next time…

Avery Stonich is communications manager for Outdoor Industry Association. Follow us on twitter: @OIA and @averystonich.