We’ve landed in Durango for the summer! I can’t imagine anywhere else I’d rather be. It feels like… paradise.
Unfortunately both Eszter and I are currently sidelined with hurt knees, but nevertheless, we are in Durango, which is more than enough reason to be excited (and grateful). Grumpy knees will heal, and we’ll be back riding soon enough.
Here’s how we got here.
While Eszter wrapped up teaching in Boulder, the Front Range rides continued. Spring is simply beautiful, and the trails are all new to me.
Except this one. When Eszter’s knee started giving her trouble, Jeny and I got together for a few techy rides.
No fun was had, no moves were re-done. Just another boring day at White Ranch. I spent a summer in Golden, and these trails were a favorite. That year I had probably the deadest legs of any summer (an AZT 300, Koko and Grand Loop 3-pack will do that to you), but was happy to see that White Ranch really is steep and full of suffering. Maybe my legs weren’t as toast as I thought.
On to Evergreen. It’s been too long since Jeny took me for a tour of the rocks in her hometown.
My nemesis corner. If hopping is allowed one can go straight up the white rock on the left. But if it’s not, and in Jeny’s hood it is emphatically not, you can’t.
You have to fight your way up the chute, as demonstrated.
This little girl saw Jeny make the nemesis corner, and started screaming, “You’re amazing!” “And that’s a girl!!!” Instant heroine status, and future switchback rider inspired?
I never made it despite over 20 tries.
Tricky switchbacks, JJ’s specialty.
photo by Jeny Ellinger
She still doesn’t have full knee clearance, so the silly rock moves were left to me. It was fun to revisit these, and see that a few people were riding them.
Rocking the pavers on Heil Ranch marked the last Boulder ride for me, racing roadies both to and from the trail. We loaded up bikes into cars and headed for Durango. We didn’t really have much of a plan, just a belief that things would work out when we got there. A desire to spend time, together, in an amazing new place was all we really needed.
We arrived at the Hermosa Creek campground just in time to grab one of the last Memorial Weekend spots, and in time to take a surreal spin on the Hermosa Trail.
Various short rides on the “Test Tracks”, Hermosa Creek and the Colorado Trail ensued. We’d head to town for library internet and cheap tacos, searching for a place to rent and taking care of emails and the business of the day. Then ride, and head back to camp to enjoy the evening. The ‘dirtbag’ lifestyle has its many appealing qualities.
Pretty sure that’s not the proper routing for a chain. I thought my ride was done, but I pulled out links and straightened others and the ride went on!
I stuffed flowers in my jersey pocket to bring back to Eszter. I miss riding with her, badly. She’d been given the ‘no ride’ orders from boss Lynda. Knee needs time to heal.
We weren’t making much headway on a place to live while people and businesses were out for the Holiday, so I went for a big(ger) ride. I had yet to ride all of the Hermosa Creek Trail, and it was high time. I pedaled the highway for twenty miles or so, and climbed through Purgatory ski resort, self-shuttling it. My map indicated singletrack on the south side of Hermosa Creek, leading to the proper trailhead of Hermosa. I found a 2-track that took me to the last of the backside ski lifts (“Legends”), but no further. I hiked up the ski slope to investigate a few promising benches that looked trail-like from below, but found nothing rideable.
Back across the park, toss the bike across the creek, then hop across. All in good exploratory fun.
I got back on the graded road to the trailhead and had an interesting encounter with an motorcyclist. He trailed me for a while, then pulled up and asked how fast I was going. I flipped my GPS over to the trip computer and replied, “15 or 16 miles per hour.”
“Good, I’ll just ride behind you.”
“Umm, ok, either way!”
And all worth it for the payoff — coasting down Hermosa Creek on truly blissful trail.
I can see why this trail is so popular, and why it is heavily shuttled. I felt a great sense of appreciation for the endless coasting, having been on the bike for some time, and having ridden a lot of roads to get there. I also felt a great sense of strength in my legs, truly warmed up and wanting more.
I started seeing the fresh imprint of bike shoes in the dust. Someone is hurting on the climbs, walking stuff not even that steep. Oh, wait, they are walking the flats and downhills too. Uh oh.
I came upon a rider carrying his bike. We took a look at his wheel again. Rear bearings on the brake side completely seized up, and no way to get at them. His friends eventually came back and tried to figure out an extraction plan, but it wasn’t looking too good. He was facing an awkward and long 8+ mile walk. I gave the rider most of the water I had, and when he insisted I save some for myself I said, “it’s OK, I’m from Tucson, I’ll be fine.”
“Wait, are you Scott?”
Kurt had been in touch about GPS, bikepacking and reads here. He had kindly helped try to find us a place to stay in Durango as well.
There wasn’t much any of us could do to help him, so we kept on. When I got back to our campsite I realized I had a toolbox full of tools, and that I was feeling good, feeling like more. More riding on the Hermosa Creek Trail? The perfect excuse! I loaded up on extra food and water and threw in all wrenches, chain whips and cassette tools I could find. Back out on the trail!
About a half hour in I saw a motorcyclist riding towards me. “We have a bit of a wide load, look out!” It was the motorcyclist who had stayed behind me hours earlier, with Kurt and his bike on the back! It was quite the sight. “Awesome! I had no idea you were going to ride the trail, too!” It didn’t look like much of a trail moto, but here he was, Jim, an older gentleman, saving Kurt a long walk out.
Jim explained that he hadn’t ridden that bike in years and didn’t know if the spedometer worked, which is why he asked me. He then said he was glad I was on the road because it kept him from going too fast. It was a funny day on the trail, and a good one. I thoroughly enjoyed my extra miles on a trail I was growing to love.
I got the chance to ride with Cat Morrison. She took me for a tour of some of the Horse Gulch trails, before we got distracted by little used paths and game trails, taking us to unknown corners of the park, then finally out of the park. The GPS track from this ride is pretty entertaining, with more than a half dozen dead-ends where we turned around for various reasons. We could have easily turned around and retraced our steps back to heavily worn and easy to follow trails. But neither of us wanted to.
At one point we got lost in a maze of oil refineries, where roads were well used, but all paths led to dead-ends. It had a very ‘twilight zone’ feel to it… like someone was playing a trick on us. How could all these heavily used roads go nowhere? Finally we found some cows at one of the dead-ends, and used their singletrack along a canal/ditch to make a b-line to a paved road. Cat then used her finely tuned shortcut sense to take us up some singletrack that was a shortcut and popped us out right where we wanted to be. Awesome. I only got a little nervous out there, knowing we had an appointment to see a house in a few short hours, and not knowing the roads and bailouts that could get us quickly back.
That appointment secured us indoor space, but we still had a few more days of dirtbagging it and enjoying being outside before we could ‘move’ in.
Perhaps my favorite ride of the week of living out of the campground was on singletrack right from camp. Jones Creek leads to the Pinkerton-Flagstaff trail, and it led me to gorgeous meadows of flowers and ripe aspens.
Not real. No way this can be real.
The singletrack was steep and anerobic. My favorite. Click it into granny and give it everything you’ve got.
I had four SPOT devices in my backpack, and but a few short hours to get them to Fedex in Durango so they could be overnight shipped to Flagstaff for a very cool adventure race we were tracking. I was on a mission, of sorts, and had little idea how the trail I had chosen would pan out. I fought my way above 10,000′ (oh yeah!) before reaching the turnoff for the Goulding Trail. It did not look good. Barely used, a faint scratch through a meadow. Tim Lutz had shared the campground with us over Memorial Day and had been epic’d hard by non-existent trails in this area. His experience was on my mind as I coasted through more beautiful meadows. Luckily, in the trees it was well defined. Cat had told me, in passing, that she had hiked it and that there were switchbacks that were tight, which gave me further hope of real trail to be had.
After four or five meadows of blissful trail, I suddenly caught a glimpse of the highway, some 2000′ below, and seemingly only a stones throw away horizontally. “Oh boy. This could turn into quite a deal.” I wondered how much time I had to get to Fedex. A smart business decision might have been to turn tail and descend the much more beaten Pinkerton-Flagstaff trail. But here I was.
And it was brilliant. Super rideable trail, nearly 100% down, and perfectly ‘flowing’ switchbacks. Just tight enough to be challenging, but not enough to feel on edge. A dozen or so downed trees slowed my progress, but the headwind on the long highway ride back to town was much slower. Turns out the Fedex drop is on the far south side of town, and as I passed food after food establishment my bonk grew stronger and stronger. Getting the SPOTs shipped took a while, of course, then I finally limped over to Zia Taqueria for life giving burrito goodness.
Someone simply loves being outside. Though her knee kept her from riding, at least we were camping and, outside. Together.
We enjoyed a last night under the San Juan stars before somewhat reluctantly moving indoors. It sure seems (to me) that humans were ‘meant’ to spend a lot more time, outside. Meant to spent a lot more time, free.
I headed out near sunset to explore the local trails and was filled with Durango stoke. This is an incredible place. We are so lucky to be here!
Trails and cool pines right out the door!
I was so excited that I woke up early, and got out early to ride and see more. Raider Ridge was calling my name, having heard it was technical. I was skeptical based on everything I had thus far seen in Durango. The climb up was benign enough — a thoroughly enjoyable 1000′ singletrack climb with lots of switchbacks. Down the ridge it got a little rocky but I made the mistake of convincing myself I’d probably ride it all on the first go.
It got a tad more technical, and then I was dabbing and retrying sections (one climb took several tries to get, in pieces). This is brilliant! Big bike riding from the door too!
As the trail traverses the ridgeline it’s full of slabs sloping to the left, nearly always at the same angle. Slow speed, there are multiple lines and plenty of places to stuff wheels. I found myself on a dubious line, dropping the front wheel off something that *almost* had me slam on the brakes. The brake hard command was overridden by the logic “you’ve gotten away with a lot worse so far, it’ll be fine.” Then I found my front wheel lodged between two slabs, and found myself on the ground.
It was a hard enough hit that adrenaline was flowing. “Calm down, you’re fine.” I assessed the damage, thought my knee was going to bleed badly (it didn’t), and hopped back on. Over the next twenty minutes I went from thinking I could keep riding all throughout Horse Gulch, as planned, to making a B-line for home, to pedaling one legged as my knee swelled up and became painful.
Play hard, get hurt. So it goes.
a familiar desert sight!
So now we are both temporarily on the sidelines, waiting for knees to heal. Meanwhile, the trails and mountains surrounding us call. LOUDLY. Can’t wait.