Bye Bye Crested Butte, Hello Paonia

We had to tear ourselves away from Crested Butte. It was extremely difficult. We had been sleeping in a king size bed for three nights, there were a million restaurants to spend our money at, and hundreds of day hikes that we could have ventured on. But alas, we wanted to ride the West  Elk Loop route, and it was going to circle us around back West instead of East to our final destination, so we had to get going. 

Then it started to rain. FFUUUUUUUUUUUU.

I want to make sure you understand this rain. The temperature drops 20 degrees immediately. It drizzles steadily until your whole body is soaked. The clouds block out the sight of the mountains so you feel like you’re encapsulated in a space cloud. 

Also, the pass to Paonia is mostly gravel, and we know how fun gravel roads in the rain are. We scrambled to the thrift store to look for rain gear. Since Crested Butte is a rich outdoor sports town, the thrift store was packed with ski and hiking gear. We both found rain pants for about $20 each. I said earlier that my only regret for this trip was not bringing a Go Pro, I lied. I regret not bringing rain pants. And fenders. And lobster gloves. All of which I have at home.

After the shopping trip, it was still raining, which was a perfect excuse to go eat inordinate amounts of junk food. Which brings us to a note on food and eating.

It is insane the number of calories I’ve eaten on this trip. The very first day of riding in Arches my body freaked out and I made Travis stop for pizza and then I cried. I was that hungry. Travis never feels hungry when I am, so I always suggest eating and he’s like, “Naw, I’m good,” which makes me feel like a glutton. But at least as soon as I start eating, he realizes he’s hungry and then I feel redeemed. 

We eat pretty well when we’re on the road camping— granola with powdered milk and peanut butter for breakfast; tuna wraps for lunch; Indian packs or ramen noodles for dinner; cliff bars, summer sausage and cheese, beef jerky, apples, peaches, or PB&Js for snacks throughout the day.

But when we get into town it’s a totally different story. It’s like we have to eat all the fried things, and we normally do. This pizza place we ate at in Crested Butte offered “The Workingman’s Special,” which was a specialty slice, salad bar, a shot and a fancy beer for $15. We both ordered that, AND truffle fries. I am extremely curious to see if I lose any weight from this trip, despite the 5-7 hours of bicycle riding on travel days.

Here’s the most surprising part to me— all that riding has kicked my metabolism into overdrive, so instead of my normal travel bowel activity (pooping once ever three days), I’m pooping at least twice a day if not more. Gotta move that food! 

Also there’s the farting issue. When we first got started on the trip, Travis remarked that it was like we had two extra traveling companions: our buttholes. They had a lot of opinions and were very vocal about them. Kinda like Chewbacca’s unintelligible running commentary. I blame it on the processed food, summer sausage particularly. In any case, Travis’ body has adjusted to the eating and exercise, and mine just hasn’t. It’s kind of great though because I basically always have a fart on cue. 

Travis: “How do you feel about climbing this mountain before lunch?”
Claire: “I think we can manage.”
Butthole: “Pfffffttthbbbh (Yeah let’s go!)”

Anyway, the sun came out in the afternoon and we left Crested Butte over Keblar Pass around 4pm. 

Gravel roads are so low traffic that they are worth the challenging terrain… Until it starts raining. Which it did, of course.

This time we had rain pants but still hadn’t figured out a shoe situation. Feet were soaked very quickly and hands were cold and wet this time Travis got mad. It was just bad luck. We were riding down into a beautiful valley with a Cezanne pallet— orange cliffsides melting down into a lush green valley.

We even saw a herd of elk (if you squint you can see them).

It was really hard to enjoy though. That was the big bummer about it.

The rain really slowed us down, and dark was approaching. Our lights were shit and our rain gear was all black. I stuck out my thumb and a VW bug stopped. Melinda let me borrow her pink anorak to show up better in the headlights, and offered to go home and switch out the bug for her truck. We were pretty close to Paonia so I told her not to worry about it, but ten minutes later she showed up with her truck and her dad.

Me, Travis, five bags, two bikes and tons of mud stuffed into the back of the pickup camper, and they dropped us off at Dana’s house around 9pm. I gave Melinda her anorak back and thanked her profusely.

Dana is Cousin Kate’s friend. She used to live in Crested Butte but ended up buying a house in Paonia when she and her boyfriend broke up three years ago. She makes her living as an artist as well, and Kate set us up to stay with her, which was great. We stayed up talking for a bit and then fell asleep on the pullout couch.

What do you think Shackelton’s doing right now?

The next morning, we got a tour of Dana’s backyard garden, which was quite impressive. Gardens in high season are fun to look at. 

Dana decided to ride with us part way as we left town. She took us to downtown Paonia to restock on supplies. We stopped by the restaurant/inn branch of The Living Farm, an organic farm right outside of town. 

That’s some successful agritourism right there. The restaurant is supplies with local veggies and meat from the farm, and tourists can stay at the inn right above the restaurant.

I remember reading something a while ago about how Colorado is staunchly anti-corporate, and how they drove Borders out of the state in favor of local bookstores. It’s still true today, even in these small rural towns. Paonia had local restaurants, a variety store, a butcher shop, and a thriving downtown. Compare this with Florida small towns— there’s usually a CVS, a Dollar General, a gas station, and maybe a Winn Dixie. The downtowns are blown out and abandoned, unless some enterprising out-of-towner has moved in to start an antique shop. It’s depressing.

We were all packed up— we even bought fresh sweet corn, peaches and cherries from a farm stand. We passed by the site of The Living Farm, but they only offer tours on Tuesdays and you have to have reservations.


That’s what I’m talking about! Farmers work hard and don’t have time to be showing people around any time of day. Since Farm to Table is so in these days, farmers should be jumping on the chance to make some money on a marketable resource and charge people for what they want to see.

Dana rode with us to the very edge of town, wished us luck, and sent us on our way to embark on the West Elk Loop.