Sunday, June 17, 2007

Chainsaw Consultant

Today I decide to leave the bike at home, strap on the work boots, grab my chain saw, and head up the Silver Creek Trail to clear all those downed trees I saw on my ride on Friday. Guess what? They were all still there. I ran through a full tank of chain saw gas, running out on the last snag I worked on my way out. I had to put a shoulder to the damned thing and shove it off the trail.

A couple of those downed trees were big honkers. My little 16" saw had its work cut out for it (no pun intended).



I had literally hours of Great Divide Racers' reports to transcribe before I could turn in for the night. It's quite a race this year. There were 25 starters, and they are dealing with some really cold, rainy weather. It's proving to be pretty much a preparedness contest. Tough.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

First big high-country ride of the season

Living in Salida, every summer one of my favorite rituals is a big ride. I start in town, I climb to around 11,500 ft. elevation above Marshall Pass, then I descend the Silver Creek Trail, which follows Silver Creek from where it forms out of a wet area less than 100 yards from the Continental Divide down to an old mine, the Kismuth. From there I ride to the trailhead for the western terminus of the Rainbow Trail, and ride the Rainbow for 11 miles to Mears Junction on highway 285. From there I follow the route I took up and out of Salida.

Most years, this route is melted off and mostly dry about 2 weeks before the Monarch Crest Trail opens. Once the Crest is rideable, the CDT and Silver Creek route becomes quite busy, especially on weekends. So the first couple weeks that it's open are special.

Sangre de Cristo Range on the East side of the San Luis Valley taken from the Marshall Pass Road

The climb is really nice and relaxing. On a weekend, highway 285 is always busy. But the breakdown lane is wide and smooth. So it's kind of noisy, but it makes the dirt Marshall Pass road seem all the more quiet and wild.

It takes me about 3 hours to get from Salida to Marshall Pass. It's a very meditative 3 hours.

Snow drifts on the Continental Divide National Scenic trail south of Marshall Pass

The road to Marshall was dry all the way up. It felt just like summer, even though it was still nearly a week before the solstice. I even had almost a mile of mostly dry Continental Divide Trail. But after I climbed deep into the woods, I started encountering drifts.

The first few were minor. Someone had been up the trail earlier this month, and I could see that they had skirted around the drifts. I committed myself to scrambling over them, to begin creating a melt rut and to avoid trampling the moist emerging vegetation at their edges.

More snow drifts on the Continental Divide National Scenic trail south of Marshall Pass

There is a 2 or 3 mile bit of singletrack directly south of Marshall, which comes out onto the logging road that continues to the top of Silver Creek. My expectation was that I would deal with drifts for a while, then, once I got on top of the ridge, I would find dry trail. And I expected that the doubletrack would be dry. What I actually encountered were quite large, deep drifts for over half a mile, a bit of dry trail, then drifts blocking most of the rest of the singletrack. My legs stung and numbed, my shoes and socks utterly wet, and every bit of lube washed off my bike chain, soaked disk brakes--it was sloppy but clean. The brakes howled like the hounds of hell when I finally got onto the Silver Creek Trail and started descending.

Silver Creek had many, many large trees down. I plan to hike it with my chain saw as soon as I free up a day. I cleared several smaller trees that I was able to yank off the trail. I also kicked a few diversion channels into the outslope of the trail to drain water that was running straight down the rut in the middle of the trail. And I had chances to rail fast down some clear, open bits, which is the real thrill of the Silver Creek trail. Over the years I've descended way fast on Silver Creek, sometimes picking up impromptu races with other riders. This time I was a bit reserved, with good reason. I had to perform a few sliding, dust-raising emergency stops when a blowdown appeared in front of me.

My perfectly clean legs and bike got splattered with nearly black trail mud as I made my way down Silver Creek for the first time in 2007. By the time I got to the road at the part that always runs with water my legs were tar-baby black and I had splatters all over my jersey and smiling face. A little got splashed off riding down the creek-road, and in the various crossings on the Rainbow Trail. But I got home dirty. I made mud in the shower.

Perfect day. Perfect.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Riding with a Bevy of Beauties

Yesterday I was blessed with a ride in the company of three pretty girls. Margie, Moriya, and Deb are friends of mine who all were ready to do the Silver Creek Rainbow loop. We had been planning to do it Tuesday, but the weather forced us to scrub that mission.

It was a good day. Very good. Here are some highlights:

Margie nailing a crossing

Moriya crossing with full-on determination

Deb and a guy named Jordan from Tennessee we ran into on the trail

Deb and Margie cresting the last climb of the ride

Yours truly, a photo that Deb got with my camera descending to Mears Jct

Monday, June 11, 2007

Summer Approaches: Longer Days and Expanding Horizons

The weather has been great in Chaffee County, CO. The high-country snow is melting, the Arkansas River is running high and tea-colored. And I've been getting out and riding a ton. I've hit my favorite two sections of the Rainbow pretty hard in the last 3 weeks or so, the Bear Creek Section and the Silver Creek Loop, but I'm ready to break routines and start visiting my other singletrack options. These are magic places that I really don't see from November to April.

Now stuff up to about 10,000 feet is open and rideable. So today I made my first 2007 visit to the Colorado Trail to ride Blanks Cabin to highway 50.

I spent about two hours pedaling pavement and gravel to get to Blanks, which is more widely known as the Mt Shavano trailhead. Shavano is a local 14er, and Blanks is the typical jumping off point since you can drive to there.

The aspens were beautiful, dandelions were blooming everywhere, and it was a good day to be riding.

I just beat a thunderstorm as I rolled out onto US 50 at about 1 PM, so that's the way to do it.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Spring giving way to Summer with a Vengeance

Oh my goodness, spring is rolling on. Summer is about two weeks away, the Great Divide Race starts in just 10 days.

Cactus blooming red out in front of the Bikey Commune

The days are getting ridiculously long and the nights almost painfully short. For people like me, whose sleep is subject to photo period, it's becoming difficult to get 8 hours. If I don't pass out before 10 pm, I get only a relatively small slab of sleep.

Yeah, sounds like an old guy's lament.

As I tell young ladies I'm flirting with, I'm old, but I'm very immature.

I've been riding a ton. Long singletrack rides above 9,000 feet are like candy to me. I often have my camera with me, but can't bear to stop and interrupt the flow. So I'm including some non-riding photos here to let you know what our little valley looks like these days.

Ouray and Chipeta with declining snow above treeline

What a great time of year. Fleeting thunderstorms. New leaves shining bright green. Cool, clear mornings. The Arkansas River flowing high and fast.

Ah, early summer/late spring in the Rockies. There's no finer experience.

Indian Paintbrush along the road