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.

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