Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Shivery Shake-out

I've been kitting up and planning for bikepacking for a while now--roughly since I ordered my Hunter Cycles frame and fork way back in July of 2008. What's that 15 months? Good grief.

Better late than never, but colder late than never in this case. My bud Brendan and I had been talking about doing a shake-out trip for both of us to try out new gear since really late summer. Maybe longer. We waited out all the decent weather, then when some clear weather following a little winter blast last week came through on Friday, we did it.

Of course it took me all damned day between disorganization and distraction to load the stuff onto the damned bike and leave. We actually finally rolled up Ute Trail out of Salida starting at about 4:45 PM. We didn't want to just ride an hour until dark, we really wanted (for largely symbolic reasons) to cross west over the summit into the upper Badger Creek drainage near South Park and camp over there. So we wound up riding up and over on snowy, sometimes icy, often muddy doubletrack with lamps blazing.

Over there in the open snow on the ground was over 6 inches deep. Neither of us really wanted to make camp in that much snow. As we rode along in the dark, we saw some trees near the road where there was a little less snow. We plugged along in the dark and increasing cold until we saw a shadowy grove of pine trees back a bit further from the narrow doubletrack I took us up (lots of wide open over there and not so much wooded).

This is camp, morning after. We set up with headlamps in the dark, squatted in the crusty snow heating up some soup, then sacked out after 9.

Herring Park, mid-morning Saturday

Smarter people might have just said, yep, we spent a night shivering, rolling around on crunchy snow with barely adequate sleeping bags and, well, spotty knowledge after riding almost 20 miles into the night. Good for us. Now let's just go home and get warm.

Not us though, we decided to take a little tour of the Arkansas Hills. So we headed north into Herring Park, bound for Bassam Park.

You can see some mud on my rear bag. Let me tell you, it got muddier. The bluebird day sun warmed things up enough to really slop things out in some places.

Bassam Park between Salida and BV, but north and east, is big, remote, and beautiful. The back drop of the Sawatch Range with fresh snow was awesome.

As we headed back toward home, we first had to summit Aspen Ridge, taking on a 1,000 ft climb to 10,300 ft. This stretch on the north-facing side had not melted at all. But the climb to the summit was mostly climbable, at least where we didn't sink and slip in greasy half-frozen mud.

Aspen Ridge summit view to Sangre de Cristo range--fresh autumn snow gleams white

The way down off this summit was un-godly muddy. Our bikes and our selves got totally spattered and slathered. Grindey drivetrains. Clogging chainstays.

It was tough. But it served a purpose. I came home with many assertions about areas where I am under prepared. If we hadn't had gnarly conditions, we might have learned less. Of course we might have shivered less too, but what are you going to do? Colorado didn't give us much autumn this year. Winter has been too enthusiastic about showing up early.

We survived, we learned, and we wound up riding a 50-mile lollipop loop. It was an adventure.

Damn, but did that hot shower feel good when I got back into my nice, comfy house.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Bear Creek Color Tour

So it's been chilly. And windy. Putting a finger outside this morning made me think about finding work to do around the house. But I have a big trailwork day scheduled tomorrow, and of course weather has been a dice roll...

So I rolled out late in the morning with plenty of clothing to ride the Bear Creek section of the Rainbow.

I didn't wind up needing any clothing other than the leg warmers and long-sleeved wool I wore from the house. It was nice. Crisp. There was wind, but it served mostly to swirl leaves around--aesthetically pleasing autumn sights and sounds.

There were some newly downed trees. This scraper was a thrilling surpise. STOP! I missed thumping into it by inches. In the foreground and you can see the skid on the trail.

Most of the gambel oak was already yucky brown or stripped, but this clump was still a lovely maroon with tinges of yellowy-green. Nice.

Good ride.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Whether weather makes me a wether

Catchup post, with references to the spotty damned good weather during the time when the Rockies should be having idyllic fall weather. I used all three forms, the pronoun indicating a question of alternative possibilities, the damned weather, and a castrated goat.

Kathy and I decided at the drop of a hat late Saturday morning to shoot over to Fruita for a bit of desert riding, and to introduce her to the riding that is there. She had been hearing about it for years, and mostly about 18 Road. I had seen some dodgy reports about weather, but we both had complicated work weeks and just felt like a mini road trip. So we went.

Finding a spot to camp up on 18 Road on a Saturday late afternoon was a challenge, but we got one. We ate dinner than went for a ride. We lost the light after half an hour (darkness at 7:15!). I got her a riding lamp this late summer, but forgot to bring them. That's the kind of thing that happens when you decide to go then hurriedly get ready and leave after one hour of prep. Would have been a perfect evening for a night ride. Harrumph!

It rained on and off all night, and at dawn the sky looked gnarly and a wet wind was blowing. During a break between rain squalls, we suited up and rolled. Kessler run to the trailhead, up Prime Cut, across Frontside, down West Zippity, back to trailhead, back up Kessler. We rode for ~3 hours, then it started to sprinkle (and the wind had become fierce) as we ate lunch and loaded up.

Pano shot from top of Prime Cut, foreboding weather seen over CO National Monument in background

My plan was to camp us out at Rabbit Valley for the 2nd night, then ride the Mack Ridge trails Monday before heading home. We got back to Fruita, went to the CO Welcome Center (where you find some of the nicest people in Colorado) and looked at low gray clouds apparently hammering rain all over the western horizon. Rumor had it that Monday was going to dawn clear, but we had visions of a night spent listening to the wind making the camper's superstructure creak and groan. We decided to scrub the mission and bolt back to Salida being that we had time to get home before nightfall, expecting to drive in iffy weather (weather!).

We did not regret the trip, it was some good together time and we did get to break the routine. And we got in a really decent ride at 18 Road. But I really wanted her to see more of Fruita. And it would have been nice to be able to ride in shorts and short sleeves. Isn't that what you're supposed to do in Fruita in early October?!

Now all week it's been unsettled. Yes, I got in a killer singlespeed Cottonwood ride with Scot on Wednesday. Yes, I did an hour in cold wind yesterday afternoon (it's been all about the Dambala lately).

But where the hell is our nice autumn weather?! The Crest got locked down in the last 10 days of on and off high country snow. CDOT actually plowed highway 50 over the pass one of those days! Will the damned weather stabilize for just a little while so that we can get at least a few more tastes of classic fall riding, so necessary for preparing my sanity to endure winter? Or will it be one desert trip after another?

I prefer to be like Pan during this time of year, dancing about in the woods and celebrating the season. But so far Pan has been kicked in the junk this fall. Damned weather! Harrumph!