We started early, rolling out at 7:15am, before the sun even poked over the Arkansas Hills to illuminate town. A bit chilly, but not enough to necessitate arm warmers. A couple guys staying at our hotel were also mountain biking, hitting the Monarch Crest like we did yesterday (except they shuttled). One was from Vail area and said weather system coming through was expected to bring snow down to 11,000ft. Hope that doesn't happen further south in Durango. Anyway, it didn't take long to warm up.
Dave and Isaac heading up Frontside. Salida in background.
We began climbing below the big "S" prominently visible from anywhere in town on Frontside Trail. Nice buff stuff. L'l Rattler threw some more curviness into the mix. Then it was onto North Backbone. This is were the real fun began. Nothing like a little exposure right after a big breakfast. Dave nearly cleaned the whole trail. I didn't fare as well. I tried my hardest to keep Isaac in sight. It was like don't think, just go. Ignore the precipice to the left, don't worry about what's around the bend I'm coming into with way too much speed, and let the tires drift as they wish over the loose on hardpack surface. Just nuts.
A lot of Backbone looked like this.
We eventually popped out on CR175 (also called Ute Trail), a gravel road that climbs a persistent 6-8% grade. This would hook us up with the top side of a trail called Cottonwood, the name which I didn't know at the time I created the GPS route. We met four women who were ready to enter Backbone where we just popped out. I asked about this trail we wanted to do, and they said "Oh, Cottonwood? It should be in really great shape right now." This group of women intrigued us, very fit, and no doubt skilled.
We climbed a few miles on CR175, found our cutoff for Cottonwood. The descending was sweet at first, buff, fast. We thought how awesome to bomb 8+ miles like this back to town. Yeah, right. The initial descent was short lived. We climbed almost back up to 9000ft again. Then the real descent began. Death grip on brakes on 30-40% washboard sketchiness. We entered Cottonwood Gulch, where the trail followed the wash the rest of the way down. Much of it was insanely fast, but it alternated between loose sand, super chunky rocks, sudden dips and rises, and huge ledgy drops. I thought surely one of us was going to wreck today, probably me. Part way down there was a section none of us cleaned, although no doubt locals ride it. This descent left us all adrenaline hopped giggles.
Upper portion of Cottonwood
This section of Cottonwood was beyond our skill level
Isaac coming back around to front side of trail system.
Continental Divide in background.
We crossed through downtown over to the Methodist Mountain trail system south of town. We'd begin again with a slog up a gravel road, picking up Skull trail to climb some more, then contour on Little Rainbow. Little Rainbow was machine benchcut. Awesome flow. Dave set pace again, using what was left in the tank. Again, I didn't have time to think, just hammer and keep Isaac in sight. It's amazing how much more air there is to breath at 8000ft than 12,000ft. Little Rainbow terminates into Race Track, which finishes the descent back to town.
We finished the ride with plenty of time to shower and pack up. I logged 35.6mi, 3:33hrs and about 4000ft of climbing for our short "low altitude" ride. It was a very different kind of ride from Monday with a lot of adrenaline enhanced fun. Nobody wrecked. Clouds were definitely building over the high peaks by the time we rolled out of Salida, and we hit many cells of rain and some lightning on the way to Durango. Wednesday's ride is up in the air at this point. 60% chance of thunderstorms pretty much all day.