Steamboat riders, Kiwis team up on San Juan Hut System trail
Steamboat Springs — As thrilling and adventurous as the San Juan Hut System is, it is equally tumultuous. A group of eight Steamboat Springs mountain bikers found that out two weeks ago, and a group of locals and Kiwis right behind them experienced it, as well.
Nine months ago, Graham Muir, of Manic Training in Steamboat, began organizing the 215-mile ride from Durango to Moab, Utah, for some friends from the gym and some friends from back home in New Zealand and Australia.
Muir and fellow Kiwi George Adams originally eyed the Whole Enchilada, the final segment of the trail that pushes riders down the La Sal Mountains straight into Moab. But from that one idea sparked another. Muir’s buddies would team up and take on the entire trail together.
Muir’s international friends flew in three days before the group was scheduled to take off from Durango. Together, Muir trained them on Emerald Mountain and the Continental Divide Trail, getting the Kiwis accustomed to the drastic elevation change. The group then tackled Fruita, the “Disneyland” of rides, local contractor and fellow rider Eric Rabesa said. Afterward, team Manic International was shuttled to Durango, and the journey began.
From the start, the San Juan Hut System threw the team a set of challenges unlike anything they ever had seen before on two wheels.
Not even two full days into the seven-day ride, the group lost Chicago resident Dave Whelan to injury, and Rabesa found himself on foot, searching for a ride back to the start with a broken bike frame in tow.
“There was a lot of drama,” Rabesa said. “I was the first casualty.”
Whelan was able to rent Rabesa a bike in Durango, and Rabesa caught up to the other six before dinner.
A relatively smooth-sailing Day 3 segued into Day 4, the most trying adventure of the trip. The same mud and soggy weather that had plagued the Steamboat group ahead of team Manic International dug into the group of seven.
“We were up on a butte watching the storm come in, and it was probably two miles away,” Muir said. “My friend goes, ‘How far away is it?’ He said 20 minutes, and I said 10 minutes. We started walking down, and in 6 minutes we got hit.”
The rain and mud forced the team into a 12-hour day of broken bikes and hoofing it the majority of the stretch. Exhausted from carrying mud-caked bikes, team Manic International had a pleasant surprise waiting for them when they stumbled into their destination at 10 p.m.
The other eight Steamboat riders ahead of them were waiting in the eight-sleeper hut.
“When we showed up, they were totally surprised, but they were great,” Rabesa said. “The girls and the guys immediately were like, ‘You guys take care of yourselves. We’ll cook dinner.’”
The 15 crammed in, slept in rafters and makeshift hammocks and hit the trail early the next morning.
“Even in the 12-hour day, it was incredible. Nobody even whined or anything,” Muir said. “We just kept on trucking. It was pretty cool. I picked these guys for a reason; they’re fun and strong guys.”
A few wrong turns and setbacks along the way finally got the group to the original destination: the Whole Enchilada. Whelan joined the group for the trip’s final two stretches as the full team descended the La Sal Mountains into Moab.
The team already has plans to take its next riding trip to New Zealand. Though the San Juan Hut System presented hardships at times, it also forged something Rabesa thinks will last forever.
“It was amazing,” Rabesa said. “I think we got lifelong friends out of the deal.”
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