Saturday, August 22, 2009

Durango Town Ride

Horse Gulch and Animas City Mountain
24.3 miles
3440ft vertical (Garmin)
3hrs, 11min riding time (~3.5hrs total)

This has been my second trip to Durango, and I had yet to do any of the "in town" rides. There are several places, each with enough trails to keep one entertained for a day. To reduce risk of running late on Sunday, I decided to ride early and local today, right from the hotel. There were two areas I wanted to hit, both offering nice bird's eye perspectives of the city from different vantage points. These areas were Horse Gulch east of town and Animas City Mountain northwest of town. My hotel literally sits a block from the Animas trailhead.

After my normal breakfast fare here at the Best Western on Main St (Waffles, yogurt, hard boiled eggs, raisin bran, oatmeal, coffee, and a fresh donut out the door), I was rolling by 7:20am. Chilly, but I opted to forgo the long sleeves, as I would be climbing momentarily.

From the balcony deck of the hotel, all week I've been staring across town at a set of switchbacks that are cut into the side of a very steep mesa. They were calling out to me. A little research suggested it is a trail open to biking, although I never saw anyone on them. So this morning, I was going to ride up to Fort Lewis College via those switchbacks. I had a little trouble finding them. A woman walking her dog straightened me out and within minutes of leaving the hotel, I was on pristine skinny singletrack carving up a 400ft wall.

Switchbacks up to Fort Lewis College as seen from hotel deck. (you'll have to click on it to see them)

I didn't see the sun until I popped over the lip of the mesa at the campus. Rim Trail follows around the perimeter of the campus on the rim of the mesa with gorgeous views of Durango the whole way around. My ultimate destination was to hit a bit of Horse Gulch before heading to Animas City Mtn. I figured I had enough time to climb up to Raider Ridge, another 600ft above the Fort Lewis mesa. The Horse Gulch trails I sampled were extremely technical, copious amounts of ledge and loose rock. Working up the spine of Raider Ridge, I could easily have mistaken the terrain for typical New England ridgeline riding. Lots of dagger-like rocks to poke your tires or rib cage out. I cleaned most of the climb, running into a couple dismounts near the high point. There was some serious exposure up here, very similar to sections of the M&M trail in Connecticut. The view 1000ft above downtown with the sun to my back was superb.

I took a trail called Rocky Road back down from the ridge. Yeah, a dualie with some burly tires sure would have been nice for this. I had dropped my tire pressure a bunch after starting the ride, both to gain whatever traction I could and to soften the blows to my tush. Feeling the rubber bottoming out frequently was a little unnerving. The WTB tubeless Mutanoraptors have not let me down yet.

I doubled my way back, hitting a couple different bits of trail, including a one-way trail down called Shocker. It was a hoot, steep as heck, but very well maintained.

Hotel on main drag center left. Animas City Mtn loop upper left, peaking 1500ft above town. Fort Lewis College sits on mesa 400ft above town in image center. Raider Ridge is on right side of image, 1000ft above town.

Crossing the Animas River and Main Street by my hotel, I was right back into climbing mode. The six mile loop over Animas City Mountain was next. This mountain is actually a sloped mesa, which technically is called a cuesta. The climbing was brutal, even more so than Raider Ridge. Loose, flat slabs of rock were continuously flipping up and slamming into my spokes. My rear tire was ejecting rock projectiles rearward too. The grade averaged around 12%, but bits approached 20%. It was all rideable, just barely for me with tired legs and lack of altitude conditioning. I completely buried myself on this climb, figuring I won't be riding on Sunday.

I rode the loop counter-clockwise, dabbing only twice en route to the high point. The view of the Animas Valley was grand. A little further around, a panoramic view of the La Plata mountains opened up too. I got only one picture before the camera went ha-ha, memory card full. I forgot I had only a 1GB card in it, and I've been working on it for the whole trip. The high point was around 8100ft elevation, 1500ft above my hotel.

Parts of the descent were even steeper, although less technical I think. Maybe that's why a CCW loop is recommended, as most riders would not be able to pedal up the 25% bits I noted on the GPS while descending. I had to stop once to give my wrists a rest. Totally punishing was the descent.

I got back to the hotel three minutes ahead of my target time. I needed to break down the bike and get it to FedEx before 1pm, but I really wanted to get there before noon just in case they decided to close a bit early if it was slow.

As I left FedEx at noon and headed north, I noticed the normal monsoonal clouds were building in the La Plata's. Sure enough, the web confirmed there were thunderstorms going on in the high country. Forecast next week is showing 30-60% chance of thunderstorms every single day. I had a full week of not only dry weather, but bluebird clear weather. What a treat. Thank heavens for SPF 50 sun block. Dave P knows what a few minutes unprotected in the sun can do to me.

I killed the afternoon by milling about downtown and hitting the Durango Museum. Lot of interesting history behind Durango and the original inhabitants, the Ute Indians. Durango has always been a cycling hub. I bought a reproduced photograph from 1895 showing the Durango Wheel Club sitting on a bridge over the Animas River. Looking at all the photographs from well over 100 years ago, I was struck with how clear they were, and I wasn't even looking at the originals. It seems modern photography has gone backwards.

For dinner, I wanted to get some real meat. There's a pretty low key place just a couple walking blocks up Main St from here called Serious Texas BBQ. I found their menu online and decided to give it a try. Very simple. You get meat there, and lots of it. I got the sampler with smoked brisket, pork loin, turkey and sausage. You also get homemade dipping sauces. The chipotle cherry sauce was to die for. You get as much bread as you want with the meat to fix your own sandwiches. The meat was some of the best I had anywhere at any price. The whole meal with drink and side cost only $12, and I could barely finish it all. I will definitely have to go back there again.

I have become quite fond of Durango. I could live here. Don't think I could find work in the field I'm in though. The economy seems to be booming here. You see new construction going on and very few empty stores. So here's what I think is cool about Durango:
  • Huge mountain biking culture, see truckloads of guys with bikes everywhere
  • High country riding
  • Many great riding opportunities right from town
  • Many pro cyclists and legends live here
  • Winter trail riding possible at lower elevations
  • Excellent winter sports options
  • Hikers don't give mountain bikers stink-eye
  • Sonic and Starbucks right by each other
  • College chicks everywhere on bicycles
  • Laid back attitudes
Maybe I could retire here. Would I be too old and feeble to ride up these mountains then? I plan to enjoy them while I can. Already thinking about when to come back next year.

Animas Valley from Animas City Mtn

The La Plata mountains from high point on Animas City Mtn

An easier part of the Animas City Mtn climb. It was loose slabs of rock the whole way and uber steep.

Rim trail around the campus. Somewhat exposed with non-stop views of town.

View across town from Raider Ridge.

One of a few "no-fall" zones on Raider Ridge.

Bony Raider Ridge ridgeline with Animas City Mountain in background.


Dave said...

•Sonic and Starbucks right by each other...I'm there. You just fly out for a bike week vacation? Wish I could go with you next year.

Hill Junkie said...

Most years I go on a solo bike trip, typically an extended weekend deal in the fall. The first time I visited Colorado a few years ago was a short trip in September. Due to work schedule and not having another time slot to fit Colorado in, this year's CO trip was combined major bike week and fall solo trip. Wouldn't entirely rule out heading down to Tennesee and Kentucky for a few days this fall. Slim chance. It would have to be November, and dear season is always a problem. After seeing all the pictures, my wife made it clear I'm not going to Colorado again without her. Not sure she understands Durango is a town tourists overnight in while driving through the rockies sightseeing. Not exactly built up like Hawaii, where we went this sping.

rick is! said...

so jealous!