GETTING THERE: Flying into Telluride, Colo., is an adventure in itself, with a dive-bomber approach to a runway closely flanked by mountain peaks. Most carriers take you to Denver and then put you on a prop plane run by Great Lakes Airlines to Telluride.
In October, United fares from Washington to Telluride run about $520 round trip. Telluride is often closed by weather and many people instead fly into the bigger, jet-ready airport at Montrose, Colo., 68 miles away, and take a shuttle ($44 one way on Telluride Express, 888-212-8294, www.telluride express.com). United is offering October fares from Washington to Montrose for $424 round trip.
HUT-TO-HUT RIDE: San Juan Hut System's seven-day, 206-mile route from Telluride to Moab, Utah, is almost completely on USDA Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management roads, unpaved but well-maintained. Each segment averages about 35 miles a day. The route is not technically difficult (there are a few glorious stretches of single track available as optional routes), but you must be in decent shape to handle more than 16,000 feet of ascents at an average altitude of 9,000 feet. (The company offers a Durango-to-Moab route that is even more challenging.)
Nights are spent in austere but secure wooden huts that sleep eight riders in very cozy conditions (it takes choreography for all eight to be on their feet at one time). Solo riders and smaller groups can expect to share the hut with strangers. Huts are bountifully equipped with latrines, potable water, canned goods, pasta, beer, (boxed) wine and even fresh eggs, cheese, bacon and fruit. One hut, on night four, has a gas-heated shower. The route is open from June 1 to Oct. 1 and stays heavily booked (see the Web site for a reservation-swapping service of people unable to keep their dates). The fee, including all meals, is $553 per rider. You provide your own bike, but several companies in Telluride rent them expressely for the hut-to-hut ride, including Paragon Sports (starting at $145 for a Specialized Rock Hopper, 970-728-4525, www.paragontelluride.com). Info: San Juan Hut System, 970-626-3033, www.sanjuanhuts.com.
BEFORE THE RIDE: Spend at least a couple of days in Telluride acclimating to the altitude and enjoying a charming resort town. Charming but expensive -- it's hard to find sub-luxury hotels here. The Victorian Inn (401 W. Pacific Ave., 800-611-9893, www.thevictorianinn.org) is nicely located downtown with rooms starting at $99 in summer and fall. If you have a sizable group, consider renting a condo. ResortQuest Telluride (877-826-8043, www.resortquest telluride.com), which manages several complexes, has studios and one- bedrooms in October starting a $89 a night. Great restaurants abound, but for pre-ride excess, I recommend getting loaded down with saucy ribs and genuine sweet tea at Fat Alley (122 W. Oak, 970-728-3985; main courses around $12).
AFTER THE RIDE: Moab is an excellent decompression city and, if you're not sick to death of your bicycle, one of the great mountain biking venues in the country. Tourist hotels abound, from campy roadside options such as the Apache Motel (166 S. 400 East, 800-228- 6882, www.apachemotel.net; rooms begin at $45) to the funky Gonzo Inn (100 W. 200 St., 800-791-4044, www.gonzoinn.com; from $135) to the super indulgence of the Red Cliffs Lodge (Milepost 14, Hwy. 128, 866-812-2002, www.redcliffslodge.com; rooms begin at $170), a few miles out of town on the Colorado River.
We didn't stay at Red Cliffs, but we did have our blowout first-meal-after-the-ride banquet there. The likes of venison rib appetizers, pan-fried trout, wine and a few margaritas ran about $50 a head. But I swear I equally enjoyed the $9 green chili cheeseburger, fries and monster malt the next day at the Moab Diner (189 S. Main, 435-259-4006).
INFORMATION: Telluride & Mountain Village Convention & Visitors Bureau, 888-605-2578, www.visittelluride.com. Moab Area Travel Council, 800-635-6622, www.discovermoab.com.
-- Steve Hendrix