Saturday, June 2, 2012
My Happy Place
The Silver Creek Drainage as seen from the Continental Divide
When I first moved to Salida I spent lots of time up on Methodist Mountain, right south of town riding a trail that overlooked Salida. When my horizons expanded, I found that the basin of drainages that flow east from the Continental Divide in the Shadow of Mt Ouray was a magical place. Poncha Creek, Starvation Creek, Silver Creek. The minor drainages: Grays Creek, Tent Creek, Ouray Creek...
My happy place.
The Marshall Pass Road was the narrow gauge railroad route that Otto Mears designed to gain access to the mining towns in the Gunnison Valley. Now it's a dirt road, County Road 200. It's a steady middle-ring climb into my happy place.
As my pattern of behavior has established itself over the years I've been finding myself venturing up into this country, testing the water, every year in May and June. After I've established that the snow is gone, I make as many trips up as I can arrange in June through October. Then at some point in the autumn a series of storms will drift the snow in, and my preferred method of entering my happy place will be rendered invalid. And I won't see it again until May...
At some point I may not be able to leave this world alone from November through April, and I'll have to figure out how to haul my butt in using snowshoes or skis. But the rolling wheel is my drug of choice. As of today, my practice is to leave that country to my imagination during the cold months when I can't ride there.
In all the late springs of this last decade I have had the distinct pleasure of returning to my happy place after a period of absence. Today I made the trip up to Marshall Pass, the traverse of the Continental Divide over to the headwaters of Silver Creek, and down. What a pleasure. What a magical thing that the combination of my body and bicycle can take me there.
To my happy place.
The journey begins by rolling up the road; out of the sage and pinon juniper and into the ponderosa pine. Then the ponderosa forest gives way to aspen-fir forest. The road at times passes through long stretches of classic Colorado aspen forest.
Saturday, June 2, 2012 was a beautiful sunny morning in Salida. It continued to be a beautiful sunny morning on up the road through the aspen, but as I approached Marshall Pass I became aware of a storm. It was early, just after 10 AM, but clearly a storm was brewing over on the western side of the divide. I took the above picture without stopping my pedaling. I was riding no-hands with a camera in my hands because I didn't want to lose any time.
I hoped to be able to scoot over to the south in front of this storm and get off the divide before the storm started doing its thing. The world really wasn't tilted the way the picture looks, but I took it just as the no-hands riding started to go bad. I didn't crash, and I pedaled faster after I put the camera back away.
I skipped the singletrack that heads south from Marshall and took the jeep road that parallels it to save time. I had been hearing about lots of trees down on the singletrack, which would slow me down, and I guessed the road would be quicker either way. I was headed toward the storm--it was mostly south of Marshall and appeared to be moving east; we were on an intersection path. It wasn't raining, but it was noisy. I hurried. I really thought I might be able to drop into Silver Creek before it got bad.
But it didn't work. After I got just past where the singletrack Colorado Trail/Continental Divide Trail joins the jeep road I was on, the lightening started to flash directly overhead and the delay between flash and thunder told me it was within a mile. I stopped and sat on a log under a grouping of fir trees to wait it out.
After I'd been there 10 or 15 minutes a little graupel fell, and I took the opportunity to photograph a piece of it. In the picture it just looks like a little white stone, but it's frozen water of about the same density as Styrofoam.
Once it seemed safe to continue, I got to the place I call the lunch spot. It overlooks the Silver Creek drainage, and has Antora Peak to the south as a backdrop. It looked like whatever rain the storm had was being dropped on Antora, and maybe a little graupel glaze as well.
I'm so lucky. I can get up on a Saturday morning, leave from my house on a bicycle, ride it through this country and then down 20 miles of singletrack back to the highway that gets me home in no time.
Welcome back summer.