We stayed our full 14-day limit at our Twin Peaks campsite. Which was fine, I’d gotten nearly everything that I wanted to do in the area done, with enough left to provide incentive to return in the future.
We’d been a little hesitant to move down valley because of a large forest fire burning south east of Salida. Some mornings, the smoke would come up valley but then clear out by the afternoon, but we could see a heavy haze sitting over the Salida area many days. Still, without a better idea at the time, we headed down to an area known for dispersed camping between Buena Vista and Salida.
Of course, it was just off the Colorado Trail, so I set out for a quick run to check out the new backyard digs. This general section of trail is slightly less enticing for riding (for me), but the running on it is spectacular.
We woke up to what we’d expected. Smoke. Made for a pretty/creepy sunrise and was seeming to stay just to the east of us. It killed our solar power production as well until it cleared out later in the morning.
The weather forecast looked reasonable for the afternoon, so after a semi-lazy morning, I headed up the trail. The master plan was to run up Browns Creek, take the Nolan’s 14 route to the top of Tabaguache, head over to Shavano, down the main trail, and back on the Colorado Trail.
Everything was straighforward to Browns Lake, amazing rock formations lining the narrow valley on all sides. Standing at the far end of the lake, I took one look at the Nolan’s route up and decided, No Thanks. Nolans’s scouting is for friend-adventures.
Luckily, there was a plenty awesome consolation prize of hiking Antero, another 14er, and then heading down Little Browns Creek. I figured it would be an equally amazing day, with a slightly lower fear factor.
Tab and Shav in the rearview. Someday.
The weatherman had said minimal chance of showers for the afternoon, but as I made my way over the jeep roads towards Antero, I started to doubt the forecast. It was good motivation to keep a move on as the clouds built. My late start combined with taking the long way to the peak allowed me to have a 14er summit to myself, on a Saturday. Based on the storms brewing in the distance, the masses were probably smarter than I was. I made haste to get down the scree pile of the top and across the little ridge. Then it was smooth sailing down the road switchbacks.
In the distance, I saw an orange helmet pop up over the saddle that led to Little Browns. I knew Scott was making noise about wanting to ride the loop (without Antero), but could I have gotten that lucky with the timing?
I hollered and saw him stop in the distance. More than anything, I wanted him to show me the way to Little Browns, as I really didn’t know exactly where I was going.
The figure in the distance started moving again. I hollered again. It stopped.
And stayed. I cut straight down the mountain, beelining to the other end of the valley.
With the clouds building for real and thunder rumbling in the distance, we minimized the chatter and made our way towards tree line.
How we made it back to camp without getting soaked is beyond me. Trying to chase Scott definitely had me running downhill faster than I would have otherwise, and I closed the 20 mile loop in six hours. It was definitely the hardest day I’d done since the Big Ditch R2R2R back in April.
Tired, we opted for a town day the following day. A town day that involved all of the necessities (laundry, water fill-up, groceries) and of course, a little bike ride in S-Mountain.
The weatherman had forecasted rain in the mountains. He wasn’t kidding.
Luckily, the bananabelt-ed-ness of Salida kept us dry and there was even some soaking in the river involved when we got back down.
Feeling refreshed, I offered to run a Monarch Crest shuttle for Scott. He’d just put together a brand new bike and was itching to try it out for real. Me? I was itching to run, so I had Scott drop me off at the base of Fooses Creek on the Colorado Trail just off Hwy 50. I’d run up, he’d ride down, we’d meet our friend Tom in Salida for lunch.
I knew that some old friends were bikepacking the CT and head camped just a few miles up Fooses the night before, so I was motivated to try to catch them. I thought that if they got a late start, I had the potential to run them down.
The trail was amazingly runnable, which I guess is no surprise as it’s a good climb on a bike as well. At least until the switchbacks. Then it’s game-off for both riding and proper running.
I reached the top without catching my ghost bikepackers. I’d looked for wet tire tracks at every creek crossing, but never saw any recent signs from them. A thru-hiker eventually told me that they’d seen them pedaling at 7am. Who knew a quartet of 20-something boys could get up and get moving that early.
Still, it was a great excuse for a faster run up a hill. From there, it was a mellow and mostly downhill five miles back to Monarch Pass where the van was patiently waiting.
I ended up having to pick Scott up from the end of his ride, and we were still late to a delayed lunch, but it was worth it. It was an absolutely glorious way to spend a morning. My legs were tired, my soul was full.
And I was blissfully ignorant that within 24 hours, I’d find myself signed up for a massive running race just a few days in the future.