Hut Hopping and Honey Pots
March 23 — 2023 | Santa Cruz, California
Words // Robin Vieira and Abbi Milner
Photos // Andy Cochrane
We didn’t realize how much we needed to disconnect until we were packing up our bike bags at midnight in the parking lot of the motel in Moab. We were each craving time for ourselves - away from comforts, partners, and cell service.
The easy part had been convincing us to ride 215 miles and climb 20K feet over 7 days on our Wilders from Durango to Moab. Andy invited Robin, and Robin invited Abbi. Andy was our fearless leader. Evan just summited Everest…NBD! Max is one of our best friends in Bend and a talented photographer. And *Kyle, a free skier from Tahoe doubled as our pacesetter, bike mechanic, and number one hype man.
Fast forward to one week prior to departure. The world seems to force you to let go of control before big adventures… Work gets insane, phones blow up, emails build, the new home purchase to-dos grow, periods and PMS set in… but the day of departure arrived and before we knew it, it was time to let go and ride.
Abbi and I took some time to plan out our bike bag situation and thought we’d share our approach to this puzzle, along with what went down each day of the trip and what “special” events took place just by being women. If you’re curious what it’s like to go on a week-long bikepacking trip with four dudes, while on your period, spotting, maintaining cleanliness down there, and being girls doing outdoor things, read on. We hope this story inspires you to take on a new adventure, as well as provides some helpful tips if you’re looking to embark on a bike-packing journey.
Day 1: Journey to the Wild Flower Hut
18 miles, 3700 ft, max elevation 11,400 ft
All double wide jeep road
Purgatory to Bolam Pass Hut
Day Highlights: Pre-trip excitement, seeing Durango, and saying no to chammy butter
We woke up early to catch a shuttle from Moab to Durango. Bike bags packed, 5 hours of sleep, and that feeling of “if we don’t have it we don’t need it.” The shuttle dropped us off at Purgatory Resort in Durango, and a few nervous pees later, we were saddled up at 9K feet and starting the climb. The first ascent is always the hardest - waking the body up and getting it used to time in the saddle with loaded bikes while thinking “6 more days of this and this is the shortest day!” As the ride went on, clever puns and bad jokes frequented deep conversations as we started to get to know the other riders. A few kicker climbs at steep gradients put us out of the saddle, heart rates soaring. We had a few conversations about keeping the pace mellow to keep heart rate and exertion levels low. This was going to be a marathon, not a sprint. We arrived at the hut at around 4pm, stoked out of our minds on the epic vista and wild flowers surrounding us… only to find the hut locked and without a code to get in. We settled onto the porch, thinking if worse comes to worse we could sleep here for the night with the mosquitos. Much to our surprise, Evan fiddled with the lock enough to hack the combo… and we were IN! Inside the hut was an array of fully stocked snack cabinets, bulk quinoa and brown rice, and canned everything. Time to ditch half our snacks, because we weren’t going to need to carry them with this offering day in and day out. Bunks with sleeping bags, an outhouse with a view, 50 jugs of water, and a wood burning stove put us over the top - this was BIKE-GLAMPING. Previous bike packing trips had been entirely about preserving water and toilet paper, pitching a bivy, and pooping in a hole. We were going to be living like queens AND riding our bikes… I mean, what more could we ask for?
Day 2: Journey to the Mosquito Hut
33 miles, 3700 ft, max elevation 11,400 ft
Mix of single track and double wide road
Bolam Pass Hut to Black Mesa Hut
Day Highlights: Getting muddy, counting sheep, drying off inside the hut
The morning of day two we set out in good spirits, not sure what to expect, but excited for what lay ahead. Abbi braved a second day with no chamois butter (mistake….potentially?). This brings us to a tip for all the vagina owners out there… women run the risk of developing a UTI more than men, meaning we need to stay clean, dunk in water when we can, and be mindful of the products we choose. Abbi brought along “Honey Pot wipes” which are made specifically for women so it cleanses without disrupting your body's natural PH. Ok enough girl talk…let us get on to the good stuff. The first day’s ride brought us single track that dreams are made of. Rooty, muddy, and punchy…but so much fun after a day of dirt roads. We made our way through the trail stopping to take in the mountain views and to appreciate the meadows filled with wildflowers. The rest of the day was a soggy one, the rain jackets were pulled out, and we put our heads down for the rest of the climb. Eventually we made it to the next hut, happy to be dry. Andy started a fire, we hung our wet clothes, and relaxed into the night.
Day 3 Journey to the Peanut Butter Mud Hut
38 miles, 2300 ft, max elevation 11,000 ft
Mix of single track and double wide road
Black Mesa Hut to Dry Basin Hut
Day Highlights: peeing outside in a lightning storm at 1am, throwing mud, and managing the wonderful monthly world of being a woman
The next morning began with coffee and watching the sunrise reflect back onto the mountains we’d ride through that day. With plenty of time for a couple post-coffee morning poops (this became a regular discussion of the trip), we set off with slightly creaky bikes, quickly dropping elevation and getting into the heat. Before we knew it, the La Sal Mountains were behind us, and ahead of us stretched miles upon miles of dried up flat land, before the final climb of the day taking us to Dry Basin Hut. It was hot. It was great until it wasn’t anymore. A few things went south that evening, which meant a shift in perspective and attitude was needed. Robin got her period, and the sky opened up and showered us with gallons of water, thunder, and lighting.
In this perfect storm, rain meant hot, sticky, gooey peanut butter mud. Like crunchy Jif mixed with honey. For period-havers out there… you can imagine the joys of using a period cup on a 7-day desert ride. Period cups are easier to use, waste less, and only require you to carry one thing. However, it needs to be thoroughly cleaned every 12 hours at most before being re-inserted. No running water meant Robin got into a routine of emptying the contents into the outhouse toilet, using a bike bottle to spray the thing down, cleaning her hands with hand sanitizer + spraying them with water from said bike bottle, before reinserting the cup. If you’ve used one of these things before, you’ll know what we mean when we say you’ve got to put it “up in there” in order for it to work. ANYWAY. It was an eventful evening with little sleep, lighting and thunder, and nightmares of peanut butter horror the next day, carrying our fully-weighted bikes on our backs through 20 miles of sticky mud.
Day 4: Journey to the Epic Views Hut
33 miles, 2500 ft, max elevation 7,200 ft
All double wide jeep road
Dry Basin Hut to Wedding Bell Hut
Day Highlights: vista naked showers, rattlesnakes, playing hearts and sweating profusely
Upon waking from our sleepless night, our fears were confirmed. The mud was so thick, just one step in a running shoe and you would have 2 pounds of mud clustered on the bottom. Andy looked at a map and found a more developed road that would be a safer bet to avoid the mud. Time to saddle up. We carried our bikes for a ways, and eventually hit dry ground where we formed a pace line, and Kyle pulled us along an old country road for almost 10 miles. Eventually we split off onto a dirt road, and continued at our own paces. The day was long and flat, but soon we rolled up to the Wedding Bell hut. The view was mind blowing…..red rock and desert as far as the eye could see, with the La Sal Mountains looming in the distance. It was just a little after 10 am when we arrived. We looked around at each other and laughed and realized we had all day to hang out at a hut in the desert. Overall the day went MUCH smoother than we expected and we all enjoyed the variety of landscape along the way.
Day 5 Journey to the Desert Hut
32 miles, 3200 ft, max elevation 7,000 ft
Mix of single track and double wide road
Wedding Bell Hut to Paradox Valley Hut
Day Highlights: Taking off our jorts, laying in some nice man’s shady garden, surviving
We woke up early to beat the heat. Robin did her period cup thing, nervous about the day of heat and painful cramps ahead, and Abbi started spotting for some unknown reason (likely the new IUD?). We were both feeling nervous about maintaining a healthy and clean environment down there to avoid the infections us ladies have to worry about on backcountry trips. The ride started off with some rolling hills, all gravel roads. We bumped up onto a mesa, excited about the alleged single track descent into the next valley. Robin had the excellent idea of wearing jorts that day, but jorts, sweaty cham, steep climbs, desert sun, just lots of sweat in general don’t blent. We #freedthevag as you say and decided against jorts for the remainder of the trip. Healthy “down-there” took priority for the remaining days of the journey to Moab. The “epic” single track turned out to be a treacherous down-hike-a-bike, as in hold-your-bike while mountaineering down a cliff. We got to the bottom just grateful to not have broken any derailleurs, carbon, or ankles for that matter. The ride in the valley to the hut was as hot as could be, scorching us at around 100 degrees Fahrenheit. We heard rumors of ice cream shops, farm fresh dinners, and showers in the small town nearby, but all were sadly closed or no longer in service. We happened to run into a very nice gentleman who allowed us to rest in his shady garden and spray ourselves down with a hose. Abbi even paid him for a hot shower. After resting in the shade, we headed home to our hut for the night, which was nicely roasting in the open fire of the sun. After a few rounds of sweaty cards, we decided to fuel for the big day of 5K feet the next day by making spicy pasta, which opened the sweat pores even more. We all slept soundly once it cooled off, and other than the coyotes and cows, all was silent in Paradox Valley.
Day 6: Journey to the Aspen Hut
23 miles, 5300 ft, max elevation 9,750 ft
All double wide jeep road
Paradox Valley Hut to Geyser Pass Hut
Day Highlights: Conquering the climb, taking a nap, arriving in cottonwood/aspen heaven
The morning of Day 6 we awoke slightly dreading the 5,000-foot climb that lay before us. We all knew it was going to be a long day so we started off at an easy pace. We laughed at how our legs felt like garbage after the first mile. We arrived at the base of the first big climb; a fire road that seemed to scale up with no end in sight. After the heinous climb, we finally crested the top, happy to be done with the hardest part of the day. We continued on out of the desert and back into the mountains. The landscape changed yet again, and we entered lush landscapes with tall aspens looming overhead. After a few more steep pitches we arrived at our final hut. Our legs felt like cement, but the stunning views of the mountains gave life back to our souls.
Day 7: Journey to Ice Cream & Showers
31 miles, 2300 ft, max elevation 11,500 ft
SINGLE TRACK BABY
Geyser Pass Hut to Moab via WHOLE ENCHILADA
Day Highlights: World famous single track, mechanicals, simple luxuries
The next morning, Kyle delivered french toast to everyone in their bunk, but we were too excited about the prospect of riding a WHOLE day of single track to sit down and enjoy. Everyone was bustling around at 5am lubing chains, packing bags, and nervous pooping at every opportunity the outhouse was freed up. The group decided to drop bags at the pass so we could ride (and enjoy) the Whole Enchilada, one of Moab’s famous single track rides. Was it smart to ride 30 miles of downhill single track in the heat of the day after 6 back to back days on the bike? Well, no. But, we hadn’t had any mechanicals yet, and we were here after all… So we dropped bags at the top, and arrived at the start of the Enchilada, giddy with excitement to just let go and flow… After 30 minutes of ripping descent, all of our gear blew up at the exact same time. Kyle broke a chain, Robin’s derailleur was loose, Abbi’s shoe boa broke, Max popped a tire… leading to an hour of precious cool morning temps spent fixing bikes. After getting that out of the way, we dropped into the next section of trail, which proved to be nothing short of incredible flowy epicness. We finally got to the slick rock part of the ride, and all were in heaven having the time of our lives. We dropped down the next section, and call it fatigue or, well, probably fatigue… but Abbi went OTB and crunched her hip and ribs, but luckily nothing more. She got up, shook but unharmed, and worked through the emotional roller coaster that always follows a close fall. By the end of the ride, she was back to her usual pace, having taken the time necessary to work through the mental journey of crashing and telling yourself you are okay.
We wrapped that day, and the entire trip, with a burger and shake at the diner in Moab and gas station showers. They were both glamorous. It’s funny how a week getting dirty and sweaty in the desert makes the simplest things in life feel like a damn luxury. Our final thought at the end of the trip: How do we make life always feel this sweet and rewarding? Our answer: go ride your bike, get dirty, and then appreciate what you are lucky enough to call an everyday activity, like a shower.
It’s amazing how a week of riding can bring a group of strangers as close as a family. I remember sitting at the hut, thinking about the wonderful moments I had shared with each person in our group. We spent time talking about our lives, our struggles, and what we were going through. We had time to reflect, think, and time to just feel. That’s the beauty that mountains can bring. No cell service, no work, no internet; just two wheels moving across the earth, and the time and space to think more clearly.
We hope this story inspires you to get out and ride your bike for either an epic adventure or a short rip around the neighborhood. Either way, at the end of the day, you’re out there riding on two wheels, and what a gift it is to be able to do just that. We hope you know you can be unapologetically you on your bike, and enjoy the journey of self-growth, getting to know others, and seeing what’s out there way more than the destination.
If you have any questions or curiosities, don’t hesitate to reach out to us below! Until the next adventure…
- Abbi and Robin
*We’d like to dedicate this blog post to our dear friend Kyle Smaine (1991-2023). Our thoughts and love go out to his wife Jenna, and his family and community in Tahoe. Kyle was an amazing example of how to live this life to the fullest, and how to be a bright light to all around him, no-matter the circumstance.