Friday, September 5, 2014

The bad with the good

A recurring theme on this trip seems to be hike-a-bike. I have a knack for blemishing perfectly good rides. But Mike from Aspen said no whining while in Colorado.  I'll try not to.

Checking three different weather sites for Friday's weather gave me conflicting info. One said 0% chance of rain, the other two gave varying degrees of rain. Hmm, I didn't want to play my odds with a long, highly exposed ridge ride with mixed forecasts. I have a couple low elevation rides I'm saving for the worst weather days, and some are likely coming. I had a couple ride variants that included the famed Trail 401 in Crested Butte. I could either go short and play it safe, or go longer with a bailout option if the weather started to turn. Of course, I love seeking deep, dark holes of physical and mental depletion, so a the longer route it would be.

The loop would first climb up to Mt Crested Butte, contour around on Upper Loop trail, drop into Brush Creek, then climb up to the Deer Creek Trail. I've ridden Deer Creek once before, in the opposite direction. It appears the locals ride it from Brush Creek, so I thought I'd give it a try. The locals also avoid Deer Creek this time of year. Ranchers graze it. This chops up the trail, as cows love a good path too. That's not all. Cows seem to only shit in the path. Growing up in farm country Michigan, that doesn't bother me too much. But there's more.

It rained overnight. Upper Loop was pretty sketchy, being in the shade of the mountain. It is a pretty rooty and rocky trail. I was slightly freaked out by this. Too early in the trip to wreck. After a long, arduous climb on Brush Creek Rd and then Deer Creek Rd (a double-track), the route finally necks down to singletrack and points up. It also became uber greasy. It wasn't just the red clay based soil clinging to my tires, adding 10 pounds weight to my bike, it was the cow shit mixed in, making the whole affair doubly slimy. I struggled mightily to keep my tires underneath me. Slightly off-camber? Weee, off the trail I went. 30% grade? Even the cows with pointy hoofs were sliding backwards. The whole steep part turned into one very long hike-a-bike. I doubt I'd be able to ride the whole thing even on a good day anyway, being at altitude and so steep. I bet I didn't even hold a 2mph pace on foot. All the while. building cloud formations made me nervous.

In one of the shady areas, I brushed by something that set my leg on fire. Nettle. I hadn't run into that stuff since I was a kid in Michigan. My leg still doesn't feel right. It was so common in the woods in Michigan that after a while it didn't really bother me anymore.

The five mile descent on Deer Creek went much better. Still some greasy areas in shaded spots, but lots of WFO descending. The scenery up there is quite good too, helping erase some of the struggle to get up there.

Back down to Gothic Rd, a decision had to be made. Do I continue all the way out to Trail 401, risking getting caught in a deluge and freeze to death and run out of water? Or do I not get robbed out of one of my top three riding trails? I saw other riders heading up on dirt Gothic Rd with tiny hydration packs. They no doubt carried even less layers than I. Like a lemming, I followed.

I rode through a steady stream of riders heading up Gothic Rd to the 401 trail head. Some were walking the steep parts. What!? Wait until they got to the singletrack switchbacks, which were 2-3x steeper than the road.

It looked like a tour service just dropped a whole bunch of riders off at Schofield Pass to ride Trail 401. Mostly woman. Cussing was heard from the group on the switchbacks. Yeah, baby. Lots of stopping and walking going on. Despite my depleted state, I managed to not cave in to the strong desire to join them walking.

At 11,200ft, some very ominous clouds were developing towards Crested Butte. There wasn't going to be much time for taking pictures this go around. Wanted to stay ahead of the dozen-plus riders coming up behind me too. Much of Trail 401 can be bombed WFO. I really liked how my Tallboy handled the numerous switchbacks.

The climb up the second portion of Trail 401 about killed me. I was completely drained. I wanted food and a Starbucks. One thing I've noticed this trip is I've had virtually no altitude headache business going on. Not sure why. Maybe because I'm not staying in Crested Butte, which sits just below 9000ft. But I've had bad headaches in the past riding the Monarch Crest.

As I approached town, I stopped at the Slate River to clean all the cow shit off my bike. Sun baked on, no easy feat. I finished with 48 miles, 6200ft in 5.6 hours moving time on the Garmin. The last three days are probably the biggest three day block I have ever done, and I feel like it too. Dead beat. Saturday may be my best weather bet for my highest, most exposed ride of the trip, a section of the Colorado Trail that pokes above 13,000ft three times. As I write, it seems utterly impossible I'll survive the initial 4400ft, 12% grade climb. Here are a few photos from today's riding.

CB from about 500ft elevation gain. Looks like a nice day starting out.
Temp at this spot was 41F.

High point of Deer Creek Trail. Think that is Gothic Mtn in distance.

The grand view from Deer Creek trail.
Had to suffer some bad to enjoy this good.

This has been here a long time. I'm sure there is a story behind it.
I  used one of the posts to rest the camera for previous photo.

More Deer Creek Trail, looking back at Mt Crested Butte.

Gothic Road approaching Schofield Pass at 10,700ft.
I wonder if that snow ever melts before winter comes?

Emerald Lake at Schofield Pass.

Trail 401, near high-point, looking north. Maroon Bells wilderness on right.

This is what makes Trail 401 so special. You can see the trail you are riding disappear
in the wee distance, going downhill all the while, with distracting gorgeous views
the whole time.

Some unnerving steepness on Trail 401 with Gothic Rd a thousand feet below.
Mt Crested Butte in far distance, center of image.
Scary clouds had me hustling.

Looking back north on Trail 401.

One final good and bad. I'm staying at the Comfort Inn in Gunnison. It is brand new, the rooms nice, beds super comfy, and the best breakfast buffet of any mid-priced chain hotel. The internet service? Sucks donkey balls.


Hoghopper said...

Nice write-ups. It sounds like you're having a fun trip.

I and 4 friends rode Deer Creek a few hours after you did. Rain turned the trail into a quarter-inch deep slurry of cow poo and mud. It was glorious anyway.

Hill Junkie said...

Hoghopper - Back in the parking lot after this ride, I ran into a couple from Rochester NY that ran into a crew from NH on the trail. They attempted Deer Creek that day too but made a wrong turn some where and never found the trail. Were you the crew from NH?