Saturday, September 15, 2012

Staying High: CO Day 4

We finally had a better forecast for our 4th day in Colorado. Probability of afternoon storms was sufficiently low enough to head into the high country. Our planned ride started at the base of Engineer Mountain, wrapped around Coal Bank Pass on Lime Creek Rd (rough jeep road) to Molas Pass, where we picked up the Colorado Trail. Much of the ride hovered in the 11,000 to 12,000ft range. As a new twist on this route I've done a few times now, we'd climb over Rollings Pass on the CT, then contour back to Engineer Mountain Trail on White Creek Trail.

Heading out on Lime Creek Road

Isaac and Dave promptly dropped me on the initial Lime Creek climb. Four days in, Hill Junkie's legs were tired and motivation was low. At least the scenery was quite nice to take the mind off the suffering. Most people ride Molas to Coal Bank section of the CT by shuttling it, either by spotting a second vehicle or hitching a ride back to the start. Very common. I've met people on the trail that plan to hitch a ride back, saying it is easy to find motorists to give riders with bikes a lift back up Hwy 550 to Molas Pass. But they miss the 12 miles of solitude riding through the Lime Creek gorge.

Line couldn't move fast enough

Upon reaching Coal Bank Pass, I needed to purge more of the massive quantities of food intake I've needed on this trip. Unfortunately, there was a long line to the single restroom at the pass. The women's was closed. I'm probably eating about 6000 calories per day out here, at least 30% more than Dave, and probably 50% more than Isaac, who is smaller than Dave and I. Isaac thought it was pretty funny I had to anxiously wait in line and snapped a photo.

Starting out on the CT. Engineer Mtn on left of image many miles away.

The scenery on this section of the CT is surreal. I'll let the photos do most of the talking. While the Monarch Crest lets riders cruise on the continental divide at 12,000ft, giving a top-of-the-world feeling, the CT from Molas to Coal Bank immerses you in beauty and the feeling of being "out there." The lack of air makes you loopy and adds to the surreal experience. As I've said before, kids pay good money to feel this way. We "grown ups" get it the legal way by pedaling our bikes up to 12,000ft.


Junction with Engineer Mtn trail, where we met group of three others

En route to Rollings Pass on the CT

We reached the decision point to turn off on Engineer Mountain Trail or continue on the CT. The skies looked completely non-threatening, so we soldiered forward on the CT. This was a section I hadn't yet ridden. The climb up to Rollings Pass at about 12,500ft was a spanker with minuscule bit of hike-a-bike, but the scenery blew me away. This was easily the best scenery in Colorado I've bike through yet. Very remote and untouched in all directions.

Climbing towards Rollings Pass

View from near Rollings Pass summit

Another view from near Rollings summit, looking north

The descent from Rollings Pass was a blast, much better than coming down from Jura Knob that I've taken in the past. We lost a lot of vertical, which gave me some consternation, as I knew how much we'd have to gain back at Engineer Mountain.

We turned off on White Creek Trail, new to me. Topo showed this as contouring. Immediately, there were dismounts and hike-a-bike sections. It was much less manicured than the CT, and I wondered what I was getting Dave and Isaac into. But fears were quickly put to rest. The trail leveled out, popped out into the open, and flowed oh so sweetly through meadows. It felt just like riding Trail 401 in Crested Butte. More elevation was lost, so I knew this flow would come at a price.

White Creek Trail. A lot like Trail 401 in CB.

More White Creek contouring

We reached Engineer Mountain Trail and resumed the route I've taken in the past. We immediately got into the hike-a-bike section. It was much more hike-a-bike for me than Dave or Isaac at this point in the ride. I was pretty much done. There were several gully crossings. Dave disappeared up the other side of one, and I thought dang, I at least have to try and clean it too. I didn't make it and went over just like Dave did the day before in the Test Tracks trail system. I laid in the pile of rocks for a minute to assess the damage. Seems I escaped unscathed for the most part. Did Dave and Isaac come back to make sure I was ok? Not exactly. Isaac hollered "ok?" before bolting on.

One thing I notice is altitude seems to impact me more than Dave. I wonder if there is a fast-twitch/slow-twitch thing going on here. Could a supposedly fast twitch guy like me be at a bigger disadvantage at altitude than a slow twitch guy like Dave? I'll have to research this a bit.

We reached the final apex of the ride at Engineer Mountain. From here, it is a 6mi/3000ft descent back to the car. Almost no pedaling, screaming fast, rutted, hammer your wrists into oblivion descending. It is a great way to finish an epic ride. I was so trashed upon reaching the apex at Engineer Mountain that all I could do is flop on the ground. My body was blubber and I feared I would make reckless mistakes on the plummet.

The Hill Junkie was slain by this ride

We finished the ride with 42.5mi, 7100ft and 5:40hrs on the Garmin. The White Creek extension puts this loop over the top. Have to think hard about doing this loop again. Climbing at altitude imposes a huge penalty it seems. Everything happens in slow motion.  Maybe instead of coming back to Engineer Mountain, the route could continue a bit further to Cascade Creek Trail, which cuts a bunch of hike-a-bike climbing out. Next time...

From Engineer Mountain looking north

For dinner, we went to Steamworks in Durango. Wouldn't you know it, Ned Overend was there too, waiting for a table. He was with a group, so we didn't talk with him, but it was interesting to see him two days in a row.

I've gotten a couple days behind on posting. Internet access is crap at our hotel, plus sleep is more valuable than blogging on trips like this. I'll have to finish post on the last two days of our trip next week.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Altitude affects different people in different ways. If you are negatively affected, There iis no correlation to fitness, you are either susceptible or not. I used to do ultra hikes with a group of guys I was faster than below 9k. If I ascended much above that when living at sea level quickly (like in a 1-3 days). I quickly became the laggard. After 7-10 days resting at altitude I regained my relatively strength to them.

Acclimatization is a process and well documented among climbers. Some people are slower at it despite being as fit. Your solution is probably more time or lacking that blood doping.