Friday, June 24, 2011

Colorado Chronology

D2M Team on way to Geyser Pass.
It would be a very long day.
Technically D2M is history.  A few scrapes and bruises linger as friendly but fading reminders of our recent adventure.  But other effects will reverberate for a lifetime – rugged and remote countryside conquered, extreme conditions endured, perceived physical and mental limits sorely tested and exceeded – and best of all we experienced it as a group.

Now, how to immortalize the epic adventure in words and pictures without overwhelming the writers or the readers?  We divide and conquer...the same way we bagged Bolam switchback at a time. We will start with the requisite chronological treatment to baseline the scope of the trip. But there many non-linear themes that colored the entire adventure.  Rather than muddy the chronology, we will follow up with posts exploring these various themes - some very practical like field repair, what happens when rodents and insects come calling, the numbers , bikes, and gear. Other topics more ethereal like the difference between pain (bad) and suffering (good), friends and acquaintances, and heeding nature's call.

The possibilities are endless, so let's get started with the all important chronology...

One of a shitload of switchbacks
heading up to Bolam Pass
Distance: 26 mi
Climbing: 4,300 ft
Max altitude: 11,425 ft
Pedaling time: 4.5 hrs
Crashes: 0
Mechanicals: 0

Dinner: Coconut curry chicken, steamed rice, fresh spring rolls, chocolate fondue
Lunch then a nap
Day one started at the Durango Mountain Resort where we fit our bikes, got our 2 minute briefing on bike safety and satellite transponders, and then promptly began what would be a long warm-up climb climb of 2.8 miles.  After a short break on some "Secret Single track" and lunch in the flower-filled Hermosa Creek Valley we began the final assault on Bolam Pass.  The first 3 miles of the 9 mile uphill assault were a teaser, the last 6 miles were for real - loose, rocky, and extremely steep. A short break at Celebration Lake near the top of our climb was sorely needed, as the last 2+ miles to the pass was hike-a-bike through knee-deep snow and ankle-deep melt-water.  The payoff was considerable as the pass offered a breathtaking 180° vista of Lizard Head Valley with Hermosa Peak and SlideRock Ridge in the background.  A Pull off Glenn's flask (Eagle Rare Bourbon) didn't hurt either.

After a short nap, we descended the other side of the pass into the San Juan National Forest. The descent down a sometimes gnarly double-track dirt road was loaded with washed-out ruts and rocks the size of bowling balls. When we rolled into camp the kitchen was setup, chairs were arranged around the campfire, beers were iced, and a large tray of appetizers was ready and waiting for our crew of  exhausted and hungry bikers.

Killpacker Flats
Breakfast: Starbucks coffee, OJ, blueberry pancakes, bacon, yogurt, granola, fresh fruit
Distance: 30 mi
Climbing: 4,000 ft
Max altitude: 10,100 ft
Pedaling time: 4.0 hours
Crashes: 0
Mechanicals: 0
Dinner: Grilled steaks, parmesan risotto, asparagus, apple cobbler
Snacks at the cabin
This day started with a 3 mile climb from camp to Killpacker Flats and some more killer scenery (a Colorado "flat" is roughly equivalent to a Pennsylvania "Mountain").  We took a break at a rustic log cabin right out of a John Wayne movie, and then started another very long climb up Black Mesa Road to top out at 10,100 feet.  More rest and refueling, and we launched into an 8 mile descent to Ground Hog Reservoir in the shadow of Lone Cone (clocked at 38 mph).  After some snacks and a dip in the reservoir (snow melt was refreshing at 40°), we headed to camp in the desert.
The desert

This was our first truly primitive camp (no facilities, no people, no nothing).  The scene was other-worldly, like something out of a sci-fi movie. The snow-covered La Salle Mountains were visible in the distance (Moab on the OTHER side).  It was an early night with everyone thinking about another big day ahead of us.

Breakfast: Starbucks coffee, OJ, fritata, yogurt, granola, fresh fruit
Distance: 40 mi
Climbing: 5,000
Max altitude: 10,678 ft
Elapsed time: 7.5 hrs
Crashes: 1
Mechanicals: 5 flats
Dinner: Custom burritos including fresh cilantro and guacamole, s,mores
Moab is on the OTHER side of those!
Today's ride was broken up into two stages.  Before lunch we rode some long rolling desert flats where I experienced an explosive flat next to a Uranium Superfund Site.  6" gash along the tire bead, seemed to be a show stopper, but Matt managed to fix it with some superglue, duct tape, and scraps of plastic from a spiral notebook.  Amazingly it held fast for remainder of the morning stage including a "short punchy" 1500 ft climb to ride some awesome Colorado rollers. Red dirt then green dirt. Diving turns on an abandoned mining road. Fast and technical. After a long descent into the Dolores Canyon through some rocky gnarl, we had our first truly violent crash of the trip. Sebastian was lucky to walk away with some bruises and a bloody elbow and knee (not sure he would agree he was lucky though).

Whiskey and a Shit Show
The after lunch stage started with a steep punishing 200 yard climb through loose dirt and rocks directly into a rain storm.  We geared up for the weather and then began what would be a sustained and difficult 14 mile climb.  Kirk set his stop watch and we were pushing pedals for 2.5 hours before we were able to coast for just a few feet before recommencing climbing.  The unrelenting climb did have some spectacular views of Paradox Valley and an impromptu "Shit Show" when Oates and Riley got tangled up midway through the climb.  Ride finished with the La Sal Mountains noticeably closer and a short descent to camp at Buckeye Reservoir.  

Crossing the line
Breakfast: Starbucks coffee, OJ, blueberry pancakes, bacon, fruit and granola
Distance: 28 mi
Climbing: 4,200 ft
Max altitude: 10,200 ft
Pedaling time: 4.5 hrs
Crashes: 1
Dinner: Fresh salad, chicken pancetta, pasta, and red sauce, fresh baked chocolate/raspberry cake
Woke up to the sound of rushing water in the creek 25' from my tent.  After breakfast we struck out for the CO/UT border and started what would be a mentally and physically challenging odyssey to Geyser Pass. The day would include some backtracking (500' of the climb done 2x for good measure), a portage around a beaver pond, and another 1+ mile hike-a-bike through the snow in Geyser Pass.  The views were spectacular as we climbed the shoulders of the La Sal Mountains toward the pass.
Hike a bike at the beaver pond

We crested Geyser Pass around mid-afternoon, and once we regained rideable trails we began a high speed eight mile descent down some wide-open single track toward camp east of Moab.  Given our fatigue and the speed potential, it is probably a miracle we had only one crash on the descent.  Unfortunately it was another bad one, resulting in a dislocated shoulder for one rider.  But with some manipulation by Lisa (our guide) and some grit from the patient, Dave was able to "relocate" his own shoulder and finish the ride to the bottom of the hill.

Approaching Geyser Pass
and still smiling
This was to be the last night of the trip, so after dinner we parked ourselves around the campfire at Warner Lake and got started on a fresh bottle of Sheep Dip blended scotch. Being the rennaisance men that we were (and are), we did not stoop to merely passing the bottle.  Instead we engaged in high-brow drinking games like "new names for interesting body parts", "new names for interesting body functions", and the always classic "Angelina Jolie game."    We wrapped around midnight with the Taj team absorbing the brunt of the punishment (and the scotch).  Long live Glenn Armstrong and Claus Van Troubt.

At the top of UPS
Breakfast: Starbucks coffee, OJ, EggsMcHermosa, yogurt, granola, fresh fruit
Distance: 25 mi
Descent: 6,200 ft
Max altitude: 9,520 ft
Pedaling time: 2.5 hrs
Crashes: 1
Mechanicals: 2 flats
After four days of climbing, we would finish the trip with a full day descending some of the best single track anywhere. We started with a very short (and the only) climb from camp to the Hazard Country Trails.  This was wicked fast swooping singltrack through meadows, scrub forest, and the occasional rock garden. This was a lesson in gravity, as releasing the brakes for just a second or two could accelerate you instantly to crazy-stupid speeds. These trails alone were worth the trip, but after a short spin on the Kokopelli trail (double track) we picked up UPS (Upper Porcupine Singletrack).

On top of the world, but not
getting too close to the edge...
While Hazard County was a rocket sled ride, UPS was relatively slow but technical single track over slick rock and finely packed red sand.  It dodged and weaved along the canyon edge, occasionally swooping within a could of feet of the edge to ensure we kept focused.  The slick rock has amazing gripping qualities, enabling us to ride some mind-bending stuff, one of them an impossibly steep 45° descent down a 40' stretch of slick rock. Into a cactus patch.  Adrenaline pumping now!

Lunch with a view
Next was LPS (Lower Porcupine Singletrack) which again was completely different from the previous stretch of trail.  LPS was large slabs of slickrock protruding from the ground, with tire swallowing gaps and large drops (inches to feet) between slabs.  While UPS was all about flow, LPS was all about balance and picking a careful line through this maze which continued for miles.

Overlooking the Colorado River
Eventually, LPS emptied out into Porcupine Trail proper where we took a minute to collect ourselves.  Glenn advised us to pay attention on this last stretch.  Glenn is a master of giving very good advice in a very subtle fashion. When asked about level of difficulty for Porcupine Trail he said "well on a scale of 1 to 10, you've ridden some 4s and 5s.  We'll see some 6s and 7s.  And a few places where if you're not careful 'someone will get your stuff.'"  We must have looked puzzled.  Glenn said "you know, like your family...because you won't need it anymore."  Message received.  Time to pay attention.  And he was not kidding. This lower section which ended at the Colorado River was some of the most scenic trail we had ridden yet, and with a serious pucker factor as parts of the trail passed within INCHES (not feet) of the edge.  The kind of edge where if you catch a pedal, "someone will get your stuff."  I doubt I will ever again regain the focused zen-like state I experienced when riding, dabbing, or walking some of these sections.
It's good to be alive
We finished at the bottom of the canyon next to the mighty Colorado River, exhausted by five days of hard riding, an adrenaline laced last day, and the knowledge that together we had all pushed ourselves far beyond our perceived physical and mental limits. And had fun doing it.

The trip of a lifetime.

"If you're lucky enough to be in the mountains, you're lucky enough."
  -- unknown

Click HERE for all the MO7S blogposts regarding this adventure.


  1. Wow Chris it seems like you had a blast. Thanks for sharing the journey.
    Doug Gruber

  2. WOW!!! I'm breathless. Glad to read about it after rather than see it during. Bravo to all.

  3. @Mom - spoken like a true Mom! You would have loved the flora but probably not so much the pedaling or the snow...or the "someone gets your stuff" parts!

  4. Wow, I hope to experience a trip like this one day! Chris, how will riding around here again ever be satisfying? Did all the riding prior to this trip actually help? Sounds like you needed every ounce of whatever you had to complete this trip! Well done, and great write up as usual!
    -Tom Peszek

  5. @Tom - very perceptive question, trails like Hazard County, UPS, LPS, and Porcupine Rim will be the new benchmark for sure. That's the price of riding world class trails. I do think the training helped, would have been a mess without it.

  6. Wow, Wow, Wow! Really spectacular - You guys had your own Tour de France. I'd like to just come eat with you guys!
    See you in August Chris.

  7. @Julie - food WAS great, and the hard days work and eating outside was a huge multiplier. Can't wait to see you guys in a few weeks...