Thursday, October 11, 2007

Chutes & Ladders and Mary's Loop, Fruita, CO

We woke up this morning and after a quick breakfast hit the trail right away. We rode to the north trailhead and this time took Chutes & Ladders. In the photo it is the red loop on the right.

Chutes & Ladders started out with some fairly tough but short climbs (some you had to walk up) with fun narrow, steep, swoopy downhills with sudden sharp short uphills (hence the name). The terrain was a combo of hardpack and slickrock with desert shrubs. After coming out of the rolling hills, we descended into a vast flat plain with nothing but dried grasses and small cactus. The trail was a super fast, slightly downhill winding ribbon of singletrack that seemed to go on forever between the prairie dog mounds and skeletal remains of lost bovine creatures. As we careened along at full speed, I suddenly noticed something out of the ordinary… a deep ditch in across the trail which was uncrossable. I slammed on my brakes and came to a stop with my front tire teetering over the edge. As I thought about how this was definitely a collar bone-breaker, I heard Rou’s back tire skidding to a sliding stop, also just inches from the precipice. It was so close that his rear tire actually skimmed the heel of my left shoe as slid past me. We hooked back into Prime Cut trail, which wound us up and to the north back to the main trailhead. Along the way I experienced the unfortunate but all-too-familiar chainsuck, which not only "sucked" my chain up between my frame and front chainrings, but also managed to unfixably bend one of my chain links. I removed my chain, removed the bent link, and reconnected the chain during a short 15-minute trailside bike shop session.

At the top of the trailhead, we decided we hadn’t had enough yet, so we rode Kessel’s Run in the downhill North-South direction which was a rollercoaster-like 20 minutes of tight singletrack that wound up and down between the desert scrub brush. We took the gravel road back up to the campsite and called it quits…. until we went out for our second ride!

We ate a quick lunch at camp, then drove into downtown Fruita and gave our bikes a bath at the SingleTracks bike shop

while the amiable and attentive owner Chris added a new link to my chain to replace the one I had taken out on the trail. We were still hungry, so we had a 2nd lunch at Aspen Street coffee shop. From there we drove to the Kokopelli Trailhead in Loma, just west of Fruita on I-70. From the trailhead we rode Mary’s Loop in a clockwise direction.

This was definitely some of the most dramatic scenery we’ve seen so far on this trip. The trail wound around the rim of a canyon and we were surrounded by deep red slickrock outcroppings with sheer dropoffs to the valley below.

This is the view from Mary's Loop looking down on part of the Horsetheif Bench Loop trail.

The trail turned into a slickrock staircase that we rode up before winding down and around the valley to the cattleguard marking the entrance to the Horsetheif Bench trail.

The entrance to Horsetheif is a seemingly impossible to traverse field of boulders, although it is rumored that some bikers have made the descent (though none without having to put a foot down). So naturally, we walked.

Once we got to the rideable trail, we rode in a counter clockwise direction around the loop that takes you right back to the boulders guarding the trailhead. This was one trail that everybody we met had told us we had to ride. And it was well worth traversing the field of boulders for. It was a swoopy and intermittently technical ride that took about 45 minutes and included a bit of everything from slickrock, dried streambeds, hardpack, and technical descents and climbs to canyon views of the Colorado River below. Here's a video that Rou shot wearing the helmet-cam:

It was the type of trail that was mostly if not all rideable, and called for the occasional “mulligan”, which is when you get stuck on a fun section, back up 100 feet, and try again until you successfully navigate the obstacle. You know you’re having fun when you have to unclip from your pedals and you yell, “Wait! I can do that! Do over!” before going back and attempting it again. At one point we were doing a technical ascent up a sheer face of slickrock that I couldn’t get up and I tried it again and again until I finally made it up on the 4th try.

While we rode Horsetheif we met two riders from Golden and Boulder, CO who joined us for the rest of the ride. They were on a similar type of trip except that they were doing both Motocross and mountain biking.

They were pretty inspiring to ride with because despite their being 49 years old, they were very fast and good technical riders. In fact, they made such an impression that Rou and I made a pact at the end of the ride that shortly before my 50th birthday (I’m 34 and he’s 33) we’d come out and ride this trail again and hopefully be able to keep up with a couple of young bucks 15 years our junior.

The rest of the ride had a bit climbing but was dominated by fast descending and moderately technical double track that gave us the opportunity to get a few jumps in down the short rock ledges that protruded occasionally from the trail. I’m amazed at how much my technical riding has improved with my new bike. The bike really makes things like short bunny-hop drops off 1-2 foot ledges a breeze. We hit an intersection in the trail where we could choose between taking a fire road about two miles back to the trailhead, or a singletrack trail called Moore Fun that wound along the ridge before dropping down to the trailhead. Naturally we choose Moore Fun, but after about 20 minutes of a very technical climb that included a lot of walking, we decided that we might run out of light before getting off the singletrack.

As my brother’s wife can attest, it’s no fun to be stuck hiking out of a trail on singletrack at night with me. So I spared everyone and suggested we turn back. The trail was slightly more rideable in the downhill direction, but at that point we were so exhausted that anything mildly technical was getting increasingly difficult. So we took it easy on the way down, then rode the gravel road back to the trailhead, arriving just as the sky began to get dark. We grabbed a quick dinner at Fiesta Guadalajara, the only restaurant in town that’s open past 9pm, and went back to the campsite at 18 Roads.

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