Ten adventurous men of the St. Louis U. High Outdoor Adventure Club piled into vans in early July and embarked on a mountain biking adventure. They biked on the San Juan Hut System from Telluride, Colo. to Moab, Utah, covering 30 to 35 miles a day. In total, the group biked around 220 miles over the course of the seven days they were on the trail. Tired, yet filled with great memories and even better photos, the mountain bikers spent two days in Moab before returning home to St. Louis on July 19.
OAC moderator Patrick Zarrick and longtime racquetball coach Robert Hoffman stayed behind the wheel for the 1108 miles to Telluride, with the seven seniors and one junior piling in the back of the rented van.
After their overnight stay on the road, the mountain bikers made it to Telluride the following day. The drive was part one of the acclimation process of adapting and priming their bodies to the new altitude before setting off on their journey. To finish off the acclimation process, Zarrick and Hoffman led the group on a hike to see an overview of Telluride from an elevated position and to prepare themselves mentally for the grueling week that lay ahead of them.
Senior Nick La Presta, however, made some poor dietary decisions before embarking on the typically undemanding hike.
“About an hour before the hike, I thought it would be a good idea to eat some fish and chips,” said LaPresta. “Best fish and chips I ever had by the way, needless to say, an hour into the hike, those fish had to come up for some air.”
The next morning, the group started its first of seven days of biking hut to hut on the San Juan Trail. Their first destination was the Last Dollar Hut, approximately 15 miles from their starting point in Telluride. Starting at an elevation of 8970 feet above sea level, the gents gained an additional 2800 feet by the time they arrived at their destination. When they arrived, they were surprised at the appearance of the slim accommodations and others that would become their new homes for the rest of the week.
“We had a difficult time sleeping 10 people in one hut,” said senior Will Halley. “The huts were about half the size of a typical SLUH classroom and were lined with four bunk beds along the walls. That being said, we had to sleep two people on the floor, which was horrid and cold.”
Despite the cramped and often uncomfortable conditions, the majority of the group kept positive energy in the mornings. Zarrick woke up early every morning to prepare a carbohydrate and protein-based breakfast for the group and led them in mountain yoga to start their day.
“We had to work as a team to get things done in the morning,” said senior Sam Kean. “Someone had to fill up everyone’s water bottles while someone else made PB&J’s for the group’s lunch while someone checked everyone’s tire pressure. If one person didn’t do their task, the whole group would suffer for the rest of the day out on the trail.”
The group would hit the gravel of the San Jose Trail at approximately 8:30 every morning to begin their day-long trek. Over the course of the day, they would take periodic breaks to get some clean mountain spring water, eat a snack, or just take in the beautiful scenery that the Western Colorado Rockies had to offer. Ziegler seized these opportunities to capture these surreal vistas with the drone he had brought from home.
“I definitely got some amazing shots,” said Ziegler. “It was well worth the extra 10 pounds.”
After taking their short breaks throughout the day, the bikers would continue on until they reached their hut. Oftentimes, the group would arrive in two to three smaller groups just because of different paces that they took over the trails. Seniors Flynn O’Connell, Bryan, and Ziegler led the pack with La Presta and Halley being the last ones in, making sure no one had been injured. After arriving, the bikers would prepare for dinner and enjoy the scenery before climbing (or often collapsing) into their bunk beds.
“We would typically ride a total of 30 to 35 miles a day,” Zarrick said. “In comparison, it is equivalent to biking 90 to 100 street miles in a day, so that really puts into perspective what the guys went through during the week.”
On top of physical exertion, the group had to overcome mental hardships to get through the days, especially as they neared the Utah border and the climate began to become more arid. In one instance, junior Brendan Schroeder missed a turnoff and briefly got lost from the group, causing widespread panic. However, Schroeder double-backed on the trail and regrouped with his companions at the hut.
Even with the physical strain, the group had plenty of laughs. On the second day of biking, senior Miles Schulte fell down several small hills in the morning, on the way out from camp.
“We went the backway to avoid some loose rocks and we thought it would be easier,” said Schulte. “It was really a downhill road and I just kind of lost my balance and then fell down the side of my hill. I tried to get up and then I fell again all the way down the hill.”
Shortly thereafter, Schulte gained the reputation of being the wipeout king.
“If anybody could find a creative way to wipe out, it would be Miles,” said Zarrick. “He would be riding along and it would almost look like a ghost would reach up and knock him off his bike.”
With laughter a constant occurrence on the trip, the group was able to battle the hardships of biking by sticking together.
“You had to be fully committed to finishing off the trip strong and you knew you could not let the guy next to you down,” reflected Kean. “We knew that there was no turning back. It was all in or all out.”
On the seventh and final day of biking, the bikers descended 4400 feet from the final hut to Moab, Utah, their final destination. With two days in Moab, the riders thought they would be able to recover from their seven day adventure, relaxing at their hotel. However, the opposite turned out to be true. Traveling with Zarrick, most of the students went to Dead Horse Point State Park with their bikes and hopped onto another trail.
“It’s a popular park with a single track trail, about a ten-mile loop,” said Zarrick. “It overlooks the gooseneck in the Colorado river and is just very scenic.
If biking on their day off wasn’t enough, the group then hiked up to Delicate Arch in Arches National Park to watch the sunset. Following their eighth consecutive day in nature, the group spent one more day in Moab sightseeing before heading back to St. Louis. The group, feeling the spoils of victory and success, dreamed of one thing on their ride home: their own beds.
“Not only did the young men have to succeed and meet the objective goals themselves, but they had to do it collectively as a group and that is a powerful thing,” said Zarrick.
This year was the eighth time the Outdoor Adventure Club either did a biking or backpacking trip in the summer. Led by Zarrick, the OAC challenges SLUH students to leave their comfort zone behind and embrace nature. As part of the club’s itinerary for this year, students are invited on a 20-mile float trip down the Current River, Oct. 2-4, and a ski trip during Spring Break.
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