Zen On Dirt

CDT Day 25 – Platoro and an Elwood adventure

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I think what I love most about trips like these are all the micro adventures that are contained in the macro adventure. Sure, we’re doing something big with the entirety of the trip, but what really makes it memorable are all the little adventures that occur during each day. Sometimes, the micro adventure is bigger than other times. Today was one of those days.

After two full zero days lazing around Lucky Acres, we determined that we could make it to Pagosa Springs in time for Scott to track the Baja 500. We wanted to be able to ride the Platoro section of the Divide route because it’s beautiful. I wanted to eat at the Platoro Lodge because I missed it during the race. We wanted to see how snowy the CDT really was up at Elwood Pass. Neither of us particularly wanted to stay still for a full week.

Dave gave us a ride back to the top of Cumbres Pass after a quick stop at the post office to mail our bounce box. 12 miles of uphill pavement saved, thanks Dave!!


It was easy miles and a relatively easy climb to the top of La Manga Pass before a screaming descent to Horca (pronounced Orca). Two years ago, I stopped at the store to find the restaurant closed and the store lacking. I had Chef Boyardee noodles and a tin of sardines for lunch. Now, under new ownership, it’s packed to the gills with goodies. Even though we didn’t really need more trail food, we bought some anyhow.

Then 23 miles to Platoro. The road is definitely better uphill than downhill.


Burgers. Fries. We were ready to tackle the brunt of the day – Stunner Pass, Elwood Pass, and the subsequent snow and river crossing we knew we’d encounter.


We were told of miles of snow on the far side of Elwood, Rick had reported some snowdrifts between Stunner and Elwood, but none terrible, and the crux of it, two river crossings which all sources had told us would be impassable. The Forest Service said something about them being under 4 feet of water. Dave’s friend said that he’d moto’d up there and the water was running far too high to cross.


But it was only half a mile between the two crossings, (the road crossed it, paralleled it, and then crossed back over) what if we just stayed on one side of the river and bushwacked? It was worth a try as all of our other options sucked.

The snow drifts were there as Rick described, though melting fast. Getting up to Elwood was a breeze. On the way down, it was muddy, it was snowy. We crossed a tributary of the river we’d have to cross at the bottom. It was nearly at my limit of moving water that I’d cross.


As we descended out of the snow, we crossed more and more feeders to the river. Clearly, crossing the east fork of the San Juan wasn’t going to happen. We rode all the way down to the crossing and looked at it.


“I’m not going across,” I declared.

The river to our left, the terrain to the right was steep. We opted to try to take the highroad through the trees and over the embankment instead of the low road. Whether or not this was the correct life decision or not, I’m not sure, but it was the life decision that we made.


What happened for the next half mile is commonly referred to as “stumble-fucking”. Up a steep slope, through downfall, crashing through bushes, trying not to twist and ankle over rocks. Eventually, we made our way back down to the low road and continued the dance. We traversed loose, rocky slopes above the raging river, we dragged bikes through endless brush. Nearly and hour later, Scott called back, “Uh oh, I think we’re being funneled into the river.” It was our worst nightmare, to not be able to go up or forward.


“No, wait. It’s the road!”

This crossing looked worse than the one farther up. “I wouldn’t have crossed that one either.”

We high-fived. We made it! Yeah, it sucked, but it sure sucked less than our other alternatives (dropping out on Wolf Creek Pass on the east side and having to ride up and over, or dropping into Del Norte and trying to figure out a different way to Durango, or slogging through endless snow on the CDT)

The now relatively smooth and obstacle free road dropped quickly into the valley. No snow to be seen. No mud to be found.

We gambled. We won. We knew that the other person was just as committed to the route and to making it through. And there’s something special about being able to trust in a partner like that, especially when you’re cursing your bike for getting stuck on yet another branch.


We found ourselves a little campsite on top of a mini ridge, hoping that it’ll be just a few degrees warmer than the macro valley that we’re in. Tacos with Dubliner cheese, avocado from the Horca store, salami, and a layer of BBQ potato chips was dinner. Tomorrow, Pagosa Springs. The big obstacle of the route behind us, we’ll sleep well next to the roaring river.


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