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We’d left the trees about half an hour before, but the peak of Engineer Pass still loomed impossibly far away, and far above us. With each pedal stroke, oxygen became more scarce. Legs burning, lungs gasping, heads aching, each member of the ride somehow found the strength to fight their way to the top. Along the way, people making the ascent in ATVs and 4X4s looked on with a mixture of confusion, awe and pity. Some even stopped to take pictures, knowing their friends wouldn’t believe ‘em if they told ‘em.


Every time one of our group surged the final few yards only to collapse at the top, those who had arrived earlier rallied around to congratulate, offered a layer or two to fight off the wicked wind and found some liquid and fuel to aid in recovery before the upcoming descent. Strava put the top at 12,958 above sea level. The ride down to our rendezvous at 7,800 promised to be as epic as the ride up.


It was.


Based on the Off-Road Vehicle Rating System of 1-5, the route down was a 4.5 The bikes made it into Ouray long before the 4X4 sag vehicle. The combination of steep declines and technical terrain was an enduro rider’s dream. The last two miles of freshly-paved tarmac into Ouray on the “Million Dollar Highway” was intoxicating.


Whether it was the massive increase in oxygen from the lowered elevation, the endorphin rush of the descent or the cold adult beverage from Ouray Brewing, the mood could not have been higher as all nine of us added to each other’s stories, recounted near misses and marveled at the experience; smiling and laughing until our faces hurt.


It was probably also due to the fact that we weren’t thinking of the next day’s ride which would prove even more difficult...and glorious.


All in all, during this epic five-day ride of the Alpine loop we climbed almost 13,000 feet (all of it above 7,770 feet above sea level) and roughly 100 miles. The weather was absolutely perfect, the camaraderie sterling and the views unforgettable. Remarkably, there were no serious injuries or breakdowns — something none of us take for granted.


There is far more to this story that can be scribed here. The thrill of riding Hartman Rocks, the breathtaking early-morning views in American Basin, the deep sense of gratitude that comes from pushing far beyond what you previously thought were your limits, the heart-opening revelation that comes from stories around the campfire.


But the trip is not yet over. What seeds that were planted are going to show themselves in the days and weeks to come? What fruit will the pruning by the Spirit produce? What energy and encouragement will flow through the new connections that were formed high above sea level, where the stars rained down and the coyotes howled?

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