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August 2012

2012 COLORADO EXPEDITION - CHAPTER 6

The last few days of the tour were perhaps the most challenging - trails with big bad consequences for silly mistakes, and a final day with huge downhill payback for a huge investment in getting there.

Porcupine Rim is one of the old classics of the Moab area, I had ridden it in 1992 and was keen to see if the fabulous ride I remembered was anything like the reality. Way back then it had been a 70km loop, starting with a hard climb on a jeep trail. The plan on the 2012 Tour involved a drive to a trailhead high above the desert overlook called the Rim, but the road was being renovated and was closed to vehicles about 300 vertical metres from where we planned to start. So we rode. It was a good warm up, a gentle climb on a sealed road, and soon we were at the start of the trail. The trail started with a fast dirt road section, then the real stuff began. Sections of rock connected with sandy singletrack sketched along the edge of a 300m cliff, never really exposed to the yawning gulf of space but sometimes only a metre away from it. The almost cliche view of bluffs and mesas on offer from Porcupine Rim itself is a kodak moment of a million snapshots, but it really is spectacular. The trail leads away across an incredibly rocky mesa top to a very skinny and rocky descent down Jackass Canyon, where the trail is at its most natural. Not really 'built', just following rock ledges and slabs until the road is met on the Colorado River. I know I rode this very gnarly trail on a bike with no suspension and comparatively primitive brakes all those years ago, but I don't know how.

The last day in Moab took us up Amasa Back, another very technical trip through a massive pile of fossilised sandstone. The ride was not long but it was difficult and fun in equal measures, with the final descent of Jacksons Trail arguably rideable in full, but not by any of our party. Looking down the part we walked it was possible to see a way down each huge step, but the price for cocking it up was likely to be a long drop onto more rock - like, really long and really pointy rock. The pic above shows us at the bottom, the trail runs across and down the bluff behind and the right of the group (looking relieved to be down in one piece)

We departed Moab and headed back to Breckenridge for our final big day out: the climb from Kenosha Pass to Georgia Pass then the massive descent to town. This ride was close to perfect really, back in the forested mountains of Colorado, with the first half of the 2000 ft climb riddled with very tricky sections of boulders and roots that were rideable only if everything went perfectly, then a much easier top half to a pass with whopping views of a good chunk of the northern hemisphere. The downhill to follow was similar: mostly pretty mellow, but in the lower altitude section was a rock garden several kilometres long.

The sad sight of bikes being dismantled and cleaned prior to being packed into boxes was unavoidable end to the expedition, and so it went, but what an great expedition it was.

 

2012 COLORADO EXPEDITION - CHAPTER 5

The day after Reno / Flag / Bear was a long one: we would ride 401, perhaps Crested Butte’s most famous trail, then have a scrub up back at the lodgings before departing for Silverton.

I had ridden 401 about 20 years ago, and was keen to see if it lived up to my memory of it, but as it turned out whatever I had ridden all those years ago was a different trail, no idea which one. The ride started with a big, high altitude climb on a gravel road, then turned off onto singletrack at Schofield Pass, about 600m above the carpark. Steep and twisty trail led to a huge meadow with views in all directions but the most interesting was probably back down the valley, where we knew the trail must go. It looked a long way down, and it was.

Very fast, very exposed, dirt trail snaked away down the side of the valley through a profusion of summer growth. The wildflowers were there, not in the masses the area is famous for but nice anyway. An amazing variety of plants crowd the trail but they are low and there were great sight lines all the way.

The trail finished with  another stiff climb then another long fast descent. Brian was following me and reckoned I almost ran over a snake, I didn’t even see it.

We arrived at Silverton late, and checked into a Victorian era hotel in great restored condition complete with period furnishings and fittings. It was a bordello in a former life, but for now it is a nice place to stay in a genuine Western mountain town which probably would have disappeared when the mines played out except for a steam train that brings a load of tourists from Durango every day. It lives on as a quirky little tourist destination with a added aspect of its location making it attractive to Jeep safaris, Harley riders, and mountain bikers.

We were to leave early the next day and ride Hermosa Creek, then return in the evening for the night. Hermosa Creek is another jewel of a trail, over 30 kms of singletrack following a canyon, mostly downhill, sometimes very narrow, always surprising with rocks and roots in abundance. Mike, Gregg and Eugene all tested the firmness of the dirt by falling on it, and found it satisfactory.

Now we are in Moab, Utah, red rock canyon country and very hot and dry.

Early this morning we rode the famous Slickrock Trail, it is only 16km but it took over two hours and climbed over 600m, most of it in short, incredibly steep pinches that defy gravity. the rock is fossilized sand dunes, and it is like unfinished concrete with huge amounts of traction available. My bike developed a drivetrain problem which late in the ride proved to be a broken derailleur hanger, meaning I was walking the last bit back to the car. By the time we had got back to town the thermometer said 35, a good reason to make sure rides around here should get underway not long after sunrise.

 

THE 2012 COLORADO EXPEDITION - CHAPTER 4

The last few days have been pretty busy.

The fourth ride of the trip was Monarch Crest. Because it was a big one we had an early start, leaving Breckenridge at 7am and driving to the top of Monarch Pass, 3400m above sea level. We joined another section of the Colorado Trail and rode along a ridge with ridiculous views in all directions. The trail is spectacular, narrow singletrack winding along the sides of alpine meadows, or rooty and rocky trail where the way leads through trees.

We topped out at 3650m. Because of the steep and tricky climbs along the way we got split up, and were in several groups when the weather suddenly changed from bright sunshine and high temperatures to rain, hail, lightning and cold. Neil and I were scratching along looking for Mike, who had gone ahead and would be waiting at the planned lunch stop. We arrived just as he was sprinting for a small stand of pines to take shelter.

Lunch was eaten sitting in the rain, semi-sheltered but wearing crash helmets to avoid copping hail on the head. Along the ridge various groupings were doing the same thing, but after a while we gathered and got ready to start going downhill. By this time the trail was more or less a river, and we slithered down it with all the clothing we had brought along being used to keep warm. The descent was epic, made even more exciting due to the deluge.

We had sort of decided to take a shortcut out at the end of a huge rockslide we negotiated, but by the time we got to the turnoff the conditions were improving so we split the group and some of us continued on. The Rainbow Trail after that was dry to the point of being dusty, and sketched along a steep hillside with numerous small climbs and long snaking descents, generally trending down toward the highway to Salida where we would meet the tour bus.

Eugene had his third puncture for the day, we got up to 70 on the highway by pulling extreme tuck positions, and we ended the day in a cool bike store come restaurant on a river where we washed some of the grime off.

The drive to Crested Butte got us to the rest day, which seemed like a lame idea until we had finished four days of riding. Rest day saw laundry done, bikes fettled, and a bit of a look round the very cool town of CB.

Today’s ride was probably the biggest of the trip so far, and called by the locals Reno/Flag/Bear/Deadmans, all of which are abbreviations of trails the loop uses to cross three decent climbs with their associated insanely great descents. The trails are all shared with motorbikes, the upside of that is that the surface is quite hard packed dirt with some rocks, and the trail has been sculpted into whoops by the motos, which make great pumpable shapes in the trail. The downside is that when some motos come past on a climb the two-stroke doesn’t go anywhere towards making up for the lack of oxygen. Today’s ride had a total of 1135m of up if my GPS can be trusted.

Next stop Silverton, where we apparently sleep in a reconstituted bordello, where wi-fi is unlikely. So more news in a couple of days from Moab, Utah.

 

THE 2012 COLORADO EXPEDITION - CHAPTER 3

Today was all about the ride: the outings on the previous days have been only a sampler of what is here, and today was a big helping.

We pedalled a few trails to get out of town, then did a few klicks on a road that followed a valley into forest. The road turned to dirt, then to a 4WD track, then a singletrack snaked off it: we had arrived at a junction with the Colorado Trail, which is 700kms long. It kicked up into a granny ring climb immediately, this section of the trail climbs over a place called West Ridge, and the climb was about 700m high, thats about 2000 ft which sounds a lot more so that is what I will call it. Parts of the climb were steep enough to be only just rideable, and the thin air meant we stopped several times to get our breath back. As previously, it only required a minute or so before the upward toil could start again.

Making it interesting were our meetings with a series of riders competing in a long distance race from Denver to Durango, 700kms self-supported. We passed a guy early in the climb who was several hundred kilometres into this multi-day event, and he passed us back while we were eating lunch. The time it takes to eat half a ham roll while also breathing heavily was the only lead I was able to get on him. And he had been sleeping rough, riding for days and getting wet regularly.

From the top there was the longest downhill ever: it just went on and on, with a variety of trail features to keep it interesting. Rocky switchbacks, super fast flowing sections, and mellow trail rolling through a meadow were all past in a blur, a blur which lasted about an hour.

Got back into town pretty smashed, and proceeded to do that thing we do when we are tired... eat too much, lay around, think about the day tomorrow, which sounds epic, and hope there will be enough regeneration overnight to get us through it. We shall see.