Monday, September 10, 2012

Lost Control: CO Day 1

We seriously considered shuttling the Monarch Crest Trail this year. The forecast threatened afternoon thunderstorms, which are one of the most frightening experiences you can have when getting caught on a 12,000ft ridgeline with not even a rock to duck under when lightning starts. Shuttle providers tell you the Crest must be shuttled for this reason, which is bull. I've ridden the Crest many times without shuttling and haven't yet had to dodge lightning bolts. The forecast dropped to 10% afternoon storms, so we decided not to shuttle, but morning-of, the forecast went back up to 30%. An early start and no dilly dallying about should get us off the ridge in time.

Bike build. You should see the looks Dave gets from this T-shirt.

The climb up Hwy 50.

The ride begins from Poncha Springs, just four miles west of Salida, up highway 50. Around 4000ft in 18 miles must be gained to reach the divide. Traffic was light, temp in the 40's. Dave and Isaac maintained a pretty good pace on the steeper parts. I was thinking about hours 3-5 of this ride and days 2-6 of this trip. The pace concerned me.  We started at 7:40am. Not much after 8am, we saw the 8am shuttle go by. We'd be at least an hour behind the 8-10 guys shuttling up. I wondered if we'd catch any of them.

The last 8 miles holds a persistent 6% grade. Riding dualies with several kilos of water and foul weather gear makes this climb a real slog. Eventually I realized it was folly to match Dave and Isaac's pace. I crested in 1:46, a minute slower than my fastest. I felt completely wrecked.

Obligatory divide pose.

We quickly topped off water at the Monarch Pass store and headed out on the singletrack. Some high level clouds were building overhead and more ominous clouds in the distance. We at least had to bang out the Crest before any bad weather started. It was Isaac's first time riding here.

Along the Monarch Crest.

This is why we ride here.

I soon found myself riding alone. My fears proved true. Dave now uses a Garmin 800, and I gave him a copy of our planned routes. I would no longer be able to control the situation. Bombing singletrack? Why wait for the slow, old guy when the moment is a rush. The thing is, the Crest and later the Rainbow Trail are a continuous, non-stop rush. There are few natural stopping points. Just go and bask in the spirit of the moment. I really don't have much of a problem being left for dead, as I've ridden the Crest multiple times by myself anyway.

Dave and Isaac shredding on the Crest.

We reached Marshall Pass, the last bail point before doing the full loop. The sky didn't look threatening at all, so we kept going to Silver Creek Trail. Dave and Isaac were smoking fast and kept each other company. I stopped worrying about the weather and focused more on self preservation, not making a mistake in a tired state, and taking in the scenery.

Initial plummet down Silver Creek Trail. Dave and Isaac.

The descent down Silver Creek is crazy. I think the Vapor Trail 125 just came through here this weekend (a 125mi MTB race). It has been very dry. Silver Creek was the loosest I've seen it. Uber sketchy at speed in many spots. I had no idea how far ahead Isaac and Dave got, but I wasn't going to wreck here. Lots of exposure to the creek far below too. Dave even lost Isaac at the creek crossing, where the trail becomes braided and not obvious which way to go at all. Isaac waited and hoped I would be coming through soon. Isaac was using a non-mapping Garmin 200 and didn't have the track. Fortunately, the Rainbow Trail starts right near there, and Dave was napping. Literally.

Isaac further down Silver Creek.

One of the sketchiest sections of the Silver Creek Trail. Nothing
stable. I wasn't going to ride it but did anyway.

I stayed within verbal distance of Dave and Isaac on the Rainbow Trail until the rollers started. They were ripping seriously fast. Twice, I nearly lost the trail tread and went over the edge. Isaac heard me squeal like a girl.  Many places, this would be a disaster with precipitous drops. The other two had some close calls too. Soon I was alone again and would be for the next 6-8 miles of this trail. Rainbow is a masterpiece with flow that lulls you into way more speed than you should maintain. On Rainbow, we caught and passed the last of the shuttlers I believe. That felt pretty good. Not only did we hit the trail more than an hour after they did, we climbed many thousands of feet more prior.

Dave and Isaac were waiting at a junction on the Rainbow Trail near the end. Dave nearly cleaned the whole thing, failing to clean just one of the steep rock pitches.  There was some more sketchy dropping right at the end, the switchbacks down to Hwy 285. We all made it, no crashes, no mechanicals. A four mile paved descent brought us back to the car. 54.8mi in 5:11 with nearly 7000ft of climbing. Dave and Isaac both logged less than 5hrs moving time.

This ride beat me up pretty badly. A Sonic malted milkshake and a Starbucks coffee started the recovery process.  Tuesday will be interesting. Forecast goes downhill towards midweek. Plan to do big ride close in to Salida, a large sampling of the purpose built trails in the Arkansas and Methodist trail systems. We'll stay below 10,000ft, but there will still be plenty of climbing. I just may have to  hide Dave's GPS to regain control of the situation so I have somebody to ride with;)

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