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Photograph by Gunnison Crested Butte Tourism

Sometimes the Best Adventures Are Unplanned

One of the inalienable truths about outdoor adventures is that things don’t always go as expected. Weather is one of the more fickle factors, with the power to make or break even the best-laid plan. This can be frustrating. But given that the very word “adventure” suggests the unknown, I always try to remain flexible and ready to shift course. You never know—opting for Plan B might open your eyes to a whole new world.

I had such an experience this past weekend. Wanting to squeeze one last camping trip out of summer, I loaded up my tent and mountain bike and headed to my favorite spot in Colorado—Crested Butte. The trails surrounding this quaint mountain hamlet are spectacular. Lush, aspen-filled valleys spiral into town from all directions, while scenic peaks rim the sky in every view.

On the final day, I wanted to do 401, one of my favorite rides. But by the time we’d packed up camp, nasty dark thunderheads were brewing. Given that 401 immediately climbs to 11,400 feet before following an exposed ridgeline, it’s not the place to be in a storm. Believe me, I’ve done this trail in a torrential downpour at a full sprint to escape lightening, and it’s not fun. Best to leave it for a more predictable day.

I was more than a little disappointed and set about figuring out where to go. We chose a place outside of Gunnison called Hartman Rocks. Much to my delight, this place turned out to be really cool. It’s a far cry from the high-alpine rides of Crested Butte, but it sets itself apart in its own special way—with picturesque rock outcroppings punctuating vast sagebrush-covered hills.

We had no idea what we were in for, and slightly underestimated the scale of the place—perhaps because it filled just a couple of pages of the trail book, or that the entire trail system is crammed on a single 11×17-inch brochure. Whatever the reason, we made a slightly overly ambitious plan to ride from the main parking lot all the way to the southern end, then complete a far-out loop before returning via a different set of trails.

We didn’t quite make it the whole way, having to turn back as we started bonking. No big deal. By the end of the day, we had ridden for four hours without hitting the same stretch of trail twice. This isn’t surprising considering that Hartman Rocks boasts 40 miles of singletrack and 33 miles of dirt roads in a tangled labyrinth that fans out across the 8,000-acre property like a spider web. And we saw just a few people, so it felt like we had the whole place to ourselves.

Most of the trails were built specifically for bikes. There’s something to be said for purpose-built trails. They twist and turn and swoop and flow in just the right way to tickle your tires. Clearly the trailbuilders at Hartman had a lot fun. As I was riding, I could picture the giddy designer scouting out the sagebrush hills—an untouched canvas waiting to be painted with ribbons of singletrack. The trailbuilder’s enthusiasm is evident in the artistic and entertaining way the trail weaves among the landscape’s most interesting features—swoopy hills, rock outcroppings, bermed turns, slickrock. Fun!

We finished the ride suitably dusty and exhausted—just what the doctor ordered. So while I started the day slightly demoralized that I couldn’t do the ride in my mind, I ended up discovering a whole new place. The bad-weather consolation prize turned out to be blue-ribbon worthy in its own right. And what a boon it must be for the town of Gunnison, bringing road trippers and providing year-round fun for locals.

The moral of the story is: always be ready to shift course. Change is inevitable. Be open and ready to adapt to life’s ever evolving kaleidoscope of possibilities. Sometimes the best experiences are the ones you never would have planned.

For those who want to go, Hartman Rocks is a combo of city, county and BLM land that is open to mountain bikes, hikers, trail runners, rock climbers, motorcycles, ATVs, horses, target shooters, paintball, snowmobilers and cross-country skiers. Check it out!

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