We were coming in hot on our busy season at Big Agnes. We’re a busy little company and from May through April, we’re rarely able to come up for air! The ownership team called a companies-wide meeting: Big Agnes, Honey Stinger and BAP– there’s about 100 of us that make up the three brands. We gathered and waited and then we were told that we as three companies–24 sections, but one team, we were going to complete a relay of the Continental Divide Trail.
The CDT spans some 3,100 miles from Mexico to Canada. The great state of Colorado owns about 740 of those, and in the midst of our busiest season we were being given the opportunity to ride, hike, or backpack or horsepack the great Rocky Mountains from New Mexico to Wyoming. Thus the #bordertobackyard relay was born. Within a very small window, the logistics of one epic project were dialed and finalized. Permits were obtained, gear was purchased, maps were printed, and 24 sections of three to six employees each were developed, approved and detailed. It was happening.
Lucky number 5.
We had input on our sections. We were provided descriptions and breakdowns of all of them. We had choices of where we wanted to be and when. We had input on what we thought we were and weren’t capable of. We could choose a lot of things, but not all of the things. We didn’t get to choose our section-mates. The teams that would be moving together northbound, passing the baton from one to the next, making our way towards home. Those teams–those were chosen for us.
The 5th section of the relay was my top choice. It was a bikepacking section that reached over and through the mountains from Lujan Creek to the top of Monarch Pass. Everything about this piqued my interest. I’m a fairly seasoned cyclist, not new to bikepacking, and relatively strong. I had all the gear, and I was reasonably certain I knew what I was signing up for. I was ready for a ride through the great Rocky Mountains on the CDT. It was going to be beautiful. And it was. Absolutely beautiful!
It was myself and five guys. Three of whom I worked with, two of whom I had yet to meet. Six of us total on Section #5. Huh. Me and five guys. I’ve worked at Big Agnes for over eight years. For the most part we all know each other. We’re all office pals. The common spaces at World Headquarters are at the very least, amicable. We joke and chat and enjoy one another. We don’t necessarily seek each other out to spend days at a time in the mountains together, relying on each other, taking care on one another. At least, we didn’t used to. The six of us. Me and them. Work pals headed in with all our cool gear and everything we needed to spend five days with one another getting from point A to point B.
Our first night at camp was spent prepping and editing, digging through all our stuff and getting to know each other differently. Better. The next morning we woke, readied ourselves, and rode our bikes away from camp and away from night number one. We rode for several miles, and then we walked. The change in momentum forced on us was due to the terrain, the exaggerated inclines or the unpalatable combination of both. Ride, walk, repeat. It became a familiar pattern that quickly dissolved into predominantly more hiking our bikes than riding them–which quickly became how we would continue to move through so much of our designated section.
A conversation was never had, an agreement was never made. The six of us never outwardly decided to move together as a unit. To consistently be within ear shot of one another. To commit to waiting on whomever in that moment needed just a little more time. That however, was how we progressed through our miles, and our days. Together a team–the six of us.
They say there’s strength in numbers. That definitely seemed to hold true for Section #5. It wanted to undo us. It wanted to get the better of us, it wanted to be bigger than us. It could have, I suppose, had we let it. The CDT; the spine that runs atop the Rocky Mountains is aggressive and unrelenting. She takes no prisoners. She’s equally as beautiful, enchanting and provocative as she is unkind, and unforgiving. But then again, we were section #5.
It was a rare and cherished opportunity that found us on dirt. The rocks that monopolized the landscape, the ones we had to propel ourselves and our fully-loaded bikes over, were at times so large that pushing our bike became a moot point and lifting ourselves up and over and onto the next was the only means to an end–only there was no end.
We were never below 10,000 ft. and often above 12,000 ft. The average grade of our section lingered somewhere around 10 percent. We were constantly tripping and forever banging our shins on our pedals. We arrived at camp every night in a heap of exhaustion. Taking in enough calories on the daily proved a losing battle, and we were always racing against the weather. We crashed, our bodies hurt, our feet hurt, and the bugs–they were biting. We had our share of battle wounds, the result of being at war with that epically beautiful trail. She takes no prisoners. She could have taken us–had we let her. We were physically and mentally fragile and newly stripped of the strength, and agility we once claimed on our bikes.
Something pretty powerful happens, however, when the depth of your vulnerability somehow parallels the level of trust your team has developed in one another. It allows you to feel all the feels: the frustration, the defeat, and the absolute rawness of the accumulation of the days. It also allows you to dust one another off, to become each other’s soul food, one another’s strength. Because we were so willing, because it was so easy, because we didn’t really have to search for it in one another–we were able to see ourselves, our team, and that trail with a different set of eyes. Our miles together were void of all judgement, and our moments of frustration were never due to each other–we were far too busy with our jokes and one-liners for that. The energy we shared was airy enough to keep us afloat–to carry us–from beginning to end.
Despite the grittiness, despite the internal battles we all fought, despite all the challenges that lay in our path from mountaintop to mountaintop, a crew of casual work buds became a pretty tight posse of friends in just a few days on that trail–in those mountains.
–Kellie Nelson – Resident Badass, and Big Agnes Sales Representative
In 2017, Big Agnes adopted 75 miles of the Continental Divide Trail near Steamboat Springs as part of our support of the Continental Divide Trail Coalition. As an adopter we agreed to do our part to maintain the designated portion of trail, mark the trail as needed, keep it free of trash, and be good stewards of the trail whenever we found ourselves recreating on it. Which turns out, is quite often. So to celebrate our adoption, the CDT’s 40th Anniversary, and the 50th Anniversary of the National Scenic Trails Act, we decided to hike the entire Colorado section of the trail this summer. Yup. 740 miles! 146k vertical feet up and down. Topping out at 14k feet on Grays summit. Follow our Progress!