Junction Creek begins with a 4000ft climb. The last 18 miles, nearly all of the climbing, are gravel, rough towards the end. The reward needs to be pretty great to suffer through a climb like that. The end point doesn't quite reach treeline, but some great views do open up. It peaks out around 10,600ft. The descent is all singletrack, 20+ miles worth. It is not all down, however...
We had our only flat of the trip near the top of the climb. Seems Isaac picked up a cactus thorn the day before riding in New Mexico. A slow leak. He's still running tubes on his 29er, Dave and I were running tubeless with Stan's. Dave and Isaac totally dropped me on the climb, so I was kind of glad to see them again before bombing down the singletrack.
Isaac fixing flat with Dave being Dave
Reaching max elevation
Nothing but bluebird sky
Near the Junction Creek Trailhead
Not shown: how precipitously it drops just out of view,
several hundred feet.
Being the last ride of the trip, I dropped my air pressure to about 18psi. Racing Ralph's and totally squishy pressure is a scary combination, but I needed all the help I could get to stay with Dave and Isaac. We dropped in, and in no time, I was riding solo. Because of the exposure along many miles of this trail (you could free-fall or tumble hundreds of feet), I asked if we could try to keep it together for the first portion. But noooooo! They did wait for me at the bridge crossing though. The women didn't catch me on this first volley.
On the climb on the way down
After the bridge begins a heinous climb. Neither Dave nor Isaac attempted the first couple switchbacks. But after that, they rode almost everything. I was getting very tired and cranky at that point and gave up trying to stay with them. I could not go fast enough to not wobble on the 20% grades at 9000+ feet, so I walked. Much of the trail is benchcut into a near vertical canyon wall and is not wide enough to dab with a foot to the outside. You get the idea.
After maybe 30 minutes, I caught back up to the other two waiting for me. We weren't to the top of the climb on the descent yet. There are two sections, the first being most obnoxious. The second section is pretty much all rideable, except I still walked sections because I didn't trust myself.
The top, finally, had us back up to 9600ft. That meant upwards of 3000ft downhill coming up. This part is less technical, wide open, bleary eyed fast. Dave led, Isaac hanging tight, with me trailing for dear life. All kinds of sketchiness ensued, with hoots and oh-shits, and f-bombs. I thought surely one of us was going to stack hard before the bottom. I know I was taking risks I've never taken before.
Both tires were constantly bottoming out on rocks. Hard. Like metal to rock clangs. Once I even stopped, expecting Stan's sealant to be spewing out. Nope. I had to be bending my rims though. I was riding Shimano XTR's.
On a particularly rutted out section (think foot deep trench, foot wide, filled with cantaloupe sized rocks), Dave completely lost control of the situation. I bet we were going 20-25mph, and it would have been a nasty place to go down. Legs came off the pedals, hands still on the grips, possible ready to ditch the bike. Yet somehow, from this superman position, he recovered it. Did he slow down after that? Yeah, right! I think he went even faster. I would have messed my chamois had that happened to me.
We made it intact to Gudy's Rest, a great lookout with a view up and down the Junction Creek canyon, all the way down into Durango. We stopped for a few to eat a bite, knowing the ride, and the trip, were almost over. We met a hiker would was just finishing through-hiking the whole Colorado Trail, Denver to Durango, something like 475 miles. The bottom of Junction Creek trail is the southern terminus of the Colorado Trail.
Isaac at Gudy's Rest
We all made it back to the dirt road in one piece, to my surprise. I think that ride was a hit with Dave and Isaac, their first time on Junction Creek, my third. I felt like a big ballast on the ride, as I sucked so badly on the climbing parts. But to my surprise, my riding time was nearly 30 minutes faster than when I did the exact same loop last year. Just goes to show how easily our psyche is manipulated by context. Ride with strong guys, be slow guy in group, feel like suck-ass, having a bad day, etc, but in reality, a great PR effort was put out.
Post ride, Dave and I began the recovery process with a malted Sonic shake. I think we had one every day but one in Colorado. For dinner, we hit Zia Taqueria, a block from the hotel. They have real tamales as a special on weekends. I got pork. It comes with all the fixings of refried beans and rice. I didn't stop there though. I also ordered a two fish taco plate. Easily two meals for a normal person and twice what Dave and Isaac got. I could not eat enough on this trip. I'll have to post some thoughts on this later.
After supper, it was the sad chore of boxing bikes back up. After six epic days of riding, the first hints of reality start coming back, the office, home chores, the same old mundane rides back home. That's what makes trips like these special.