Gravel Glamping Gunnison

I like bikes. I like mountain bikes; I like road bikes. As noted previously on this very website, I even like tandem bikes. I always enjoyed the Sea Otter Bicycle Expo in Central California in the Spring where I could see all the cool things that people were doing on bikes—cause if someone was doing it on a bike, it was being done at Sea Otter. Nothing I don’t at least appreciate on two wheels. I have less than zero interest in climbing aboard a track bike—that is almost as horrifying as the idea of a crit race—but I’ll watch it and be glad other people are doing it. 

This is all by way of saying I once considered myself an open-minded “all bikes are good” kind of person, very much in the “all dogs go to heaven” vein. And then…gravel bikes. I was already annoyed at “The Industry” for the whole “29-inch wheels are IT!  No, wait…27.5! No…hang on…Mullet!  29” in front and 27.5” in the back!  THAT’S really it” thing whereby if one listened to their siren call, you’d have whiplash and a garage (house, dining room, bedroom) full of wheels. Oh, and some would be “boost” to boot. 

When gravel bikes became all the rage, I flew into one myself. “Gravel??? In my day we called that “The Shitty Fire Road Part!” This achieved several results at once. A) Implied that I’m so old I probably rode a Pterodactyl to school, B) got me 86’d from several ride lists, and C) made me a little lonely and sad while all the cool kids flitted off with their flared-out drop bars, frame bags, and colorful buffs. 

So when the Gunnison-Crested Butte Tourism and Prosperity Partnership (TAPP) put together a press trip called “Gravel Glamping in Gunnison (Colorado)” and invited me cause they didn’t know I was a backwards, mouth-breathing, knuckle-dragging Neandertal, I was all in. 

Crested Butte is a mountain bike and overall tourist mecca whose bounty of wildflowers, amazing hikes and rides increasingly attract visitors from far and wide. But the season is short, and the word is out, leading to traffic jams, overrun restaurants, and a profusion of poop in the backcountry that has forced previously dispersed camping areas to become formalized via a paid permitting system. TAPP invited journalists from six cycling publications to see what else the region has to offer, to highlight the beauty of the rest of Gunnison County outside of the well-known and (over) loved Crested Butte. 

Base glamp for our four-day, three-night extravaganza was Campfire Ranch, a privately operated campground in the Taylor Canyon owned by the City of Gunnison. That it was specifically carved out and deeded to the city by President Coolidge in the 1920’s added to its overall charm. That and the fact that there were no RV’s, no generators, free firewood and check-in came with a real person who also happened to be handing you a beer. 

This was actually my second time on a gravel bike. This and my first—the five-day “Backcountry Hot Springs of Idaho” trip with Western Spirit Cycling—were both coincidentally undertaken astride a Revel Rover. This is a sleek sexy machine and if I’m being honest with myself and the millions of people reading this article (Angel face outline with solid fill), its looks are largely responsible for my begrudging journey to the dark side. I routinely assure myself I am not a shallow person. In the human realm, my attractions are not about looks—I need intelligence, humor, and kindness. But boy does that crap fly out the window in the face of a lean, tall drink of water with a slightly sardonic smile. This is the Rover. He may not be good for you (hands will be numb, teeth will be rattled), but you sure love throwing a leg over him.  

Here I am, begrudgingly enjoying myself – image: Emma Brophy

The landscapes on offer for our three days of riding—the sage, the brook (babbling, of course), the crooked rail fences all backstopped by this or that 14’er*—often felt like a fake Hollywood backdrop. And when the gravel was neither deep nor washboarded, but was in that Goldilocks zone of compaction perfection, I was indeed able to achieve that state of Zen usually associated with road riding. The dearth of traffic through these scenic valleys, draws and passes contributed mightily to the overall pleasantness of the experience. When I see folks on gravel bikes covered in a thick layer of pewter-colored dust traversing a beautiful-yet-busy dirt road like Keblar Pass between Paonia and Crested Butte, I cringe and am reminded of a friend’s story about her first time uphill skiing. 

“Yeah, I had all my new gear, and I have to admit I was feeling pretty cool. I started hoofing it up the hill under the lift and someone yelled down “HEY! Why Are You Doing That?!?!?”

With dustings kept to a minimum, our 30-60 mile rides spanning the corners of the county—Taylor Canyon, Spring Creek, Ohio City, Sargents, Curecanti National Recreation Area—were—it pains me to admit—absolutely blissful. I discussed the issue with myself during those many long miles, inquired as to whether my bliss was solely landscape-related or if I really, truly enjoyed this gravel thing. It was an important question as I’ve built rather a persona around being a gravel grouch. “Put some bigger tires on it, change the geometry, and add some damn suspension and maybe you’ll have a REAL bike… (said with an eye-roll and a sporty sneer) Harumph!”

Being more of a unicorns-pooping-butterflies-and-farting-rainbows kind of gal, building a persona around a negative isn’t really my style. So I’m letting it go. And not just cause it’s bad energy that makes the fairies and mythical creatures sad, but because, lo and behold, I like it. 

Maureen is just ONE of the roving badasses whose work is supported by our generous subscribers.

Join the conversation
  1. jlaudolff says

    “Don’t knock it till you try it.” I’m always relearning that.

  2. Maureen Gaffney says

    Exactly! I also like to retry things I “know I hate” every ten years or so just to make sure. Like Brussels sprouts. Used to hate ’em, now don’t. But I guess enough bacon applied to anything would do the trick…

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