As a mountain biker in Colorado, one tends to develop a sense of urgency once the end of September rolls around. Winter in the high-country could arrive any day! To me, it always seemed like a challenge – how many rides could I get in before the snow flies? I remember one year where we had at least a dozen ‘Last Nederland ride of the year’ rides before a Thanksgiving storm finally shut down the trails in the mountains above Boulder.
Scott and I knew that once the high trails got shut down, we’d point pretty directly towards Utah and then south to Arizona, but we were determined to make the most of the days we had left of the perfect fall weather. We decided to spend the time in our favorite place in the state – Salida, of course.
The leaves were far past their prime, but leaves off the trees means leaves on the ground. Our first stop in the Arkansas Valley was a quick out-and-back on one of the best sections of Colorado Trail north of Princeton Hot Springs.
This section of trail never gets old.
We rode until the trail started its descent to Cottonwood Canyon and flipped it, enjoying the smooth curves and fast trail all the way back to the car.
One of the reasons we’d chosen to ride the section of trail was due to a rumor of a hippy hot spring ‘just off the CT’. Thru-Hiker rumors are often based in some amount of truth, and we were curious to investigate. Sure enough, with a little bit of poking around, we found hot water gushing out of the side of the hill filling a little pool. We had to do some digging out and wall building, but eventually, the pool held both of us fairly comfortably.
Then on to our traditional Salida campsite to watch the sunset.
One of our motivations to get to Salida was to see the participants of the Monarch Crest EnDarno. J-Bake was coming up from Tucson, and bike races in general are a good place to see people who I wouldn’t normally run into, all converged into one place. People were stoked, it was fun to hang out even as a non-participant.
We managed to convince J-Bake to to come do a lap of North Backbone with us after racing was done but many hours had to pass before he headed back to Denver to catch his flight back home. It was the fastest I’ve ever ridden the trail…that’s for sure.
Fast enough that I couldn’t get the camera out for a single trail picture…which was probably a good thing as we got back not long before it got dark. These darn short fall days…
My new uber-zoom #birdnerd camera finally showed up in the mail, so morning drives into town turned into hawk-watching missions. A group of red tails and northern harriers loved to soar in the hills just outside of town, and the 10 minute drive often turned into a 45+ minute affair.
We headed out for another North Backbone ride with the intention of letting me work on a couple of tricky parts that I goofed up when cross-eyed trying to keep up with the Scott and J-Bake train earlier. Except this time, we ran into Shawn and Ryan. I think we may have ridden even faster than when we rode with J-Bake…and again, no pictures were taken but lots of fun was had.
Boys. Gotta love riding with them. It sort of make me look forward to potentially riding fast again in the future.
One of the goals for the week was to get up Shavano. We’d been camping at the base of it for far too many nights to not climb it.
We opted to ride from our campsite to the trailhead at Blanks Cabin. Neither Scott nor I had ever ridden the road at a relaxed pace, as normally it’s the first part of the Vapor Trail 125 and it hasn’t yet occurred to racers that hammering up the first climb maybe isn’t the best idea in an all night/all day race.
We ditched the bikes at first dab on the trail and started hiking. ‘You hauled your bike up this?’ was my repeated question to Scott as we gained elevation. Yes indeed. He’s a funny one.
We had a lovely lunch at the top, decided we didn’t need to wander over to Tabagauche, and headed down the many thousand feet to our bikes hidden in the woods.
We did get to see a three-toed woodpecker on the way down. I only mention this because it was the first Class 2 bird we’ve managed to find. Every time we see a new bird, we think maybe it’s more rare than the normal Class 1 birds (as classified by the American Birding Association). It was exciting to finally find a 2. #birdnerd
We watched the sunset, asking, ‘Think we’ll be sore tomorrow?’
So instead of resting, we decided to go for a recovery spin up Bear Creek/Rainbow/Little Rainbow/Race Track. It always amazes me how Scott and I can delude ourselves into anything. In no way was this an easy ride…and my level of complaining up the first main climb was indicative of my general state of being.
But once on single track, not a peep of complaint was uttered.
By the time we’d made it back to town, Chad and Kendall had shown up for their quickie-trip to Colorado from the still hot Tucson. Wanting to show them the best of Salida, we took them to Amica’s for dinner. Then up to our campsite, home for the weekend.
‘Show us the fall colors’ they said.
‘Sure thing!’ we said, and promptly planned a hike where we saw exactly two aspen trees with only a handful of leaves hanging off them.
But, we did show them the beauty of Colorado fall ridgewalking, hiking up to Waterdog lake, scrambling up to the CDT, and then walking over to Bald Mountain. (Due to a charging snafu, I had no camera, so all pictures from this hike are borrowed from Scott)
Somehow, we were able to convince the entirely unacclimatized duo that if we looped the trail with more CDT down to the highway, it wouldn’t take that much longer to do than if we backtracked as planning. That is, if Chad was willing to run the mile and a half along the highway to retrieve the car for us.
Apparently we’re pretty good at talking people into questionable ideas.
Like going swimming in an alpine lake, in the middle of October, at 12,000 feet. It was glorious.
And really freakin’ cold!
We toodled back to the highway and basked in the sun while Chad put his running background to use and literally ran the shuttle for us.
Good work, team!
We ended the day at Elevations Brewing and Poco’s Burrito food cart in Poncha Springs. No colors were seen, but no one seemed to be complaining.
The next morning, we made good on our promise to show them fall colors. With a rental Jeep Cherokee, we had no problem driving to Blanks Cabin where we knew there’d be trees with leaves of the yellow variety.
As yes. Those.
We hiked to the meadow and laid down for a nap, watching gusts of wind send leaves spiraling to the ground. Fall was still holding on.
Chad and Kendall had to aim for the airport after dropping Scott and I off at the campsite. We watched them drive away and asked, ‘Now what?’ We’d planned our trip to Salida to be bookended by visits from friends, and now we had an open slate with four more days of good weather.
I had one more adventure on my Colorado list that I’d been wanting to do for years. It was time to get on it.