Yesterday we left Santa Fe and drove to beautiful Durango, CO.
The city lies along a beautiful river, the Animas, and after we checked into our Motel, we took the bikes out just after sunset and headed towards downtown Durango. We ended up cutting through a dog park and found a trail that followed the river quite a ways. As we rode back towards the city, we stumbled upon a large "skate park" that had ramps and jumps for skateboarders as well as what looked like big round dried out swimming pools for BMX-type bike tricks, full of bikers and skaters of course. Then along the river there was a big slalom course set up for white water kayaking. Everybody in town seems very earthy and outdoorsy... most are dressed in some kind of outdoor gear by brands like Mountain Hardware.
Durango has a very cool historic downtown, which looks like a typical mountain town you'd find anywhere out west.
But the city seems very large now and there is a lot of development on the fringes of the town with plenty of strip malls and big warehouse stores like Home Depot and Super Wal*Mart.
Today's ride was down the famous (to bikers) "Hermosa Creek Trail". The fun way to do the ride is to get a shuttle up to the ski resort, and then just bomb down the trail. We decided that in order to get the best training possible, we had better ride up the trail ourselves. [OK, I admit it, the shuttle service wasn't running.] We stopped in one of the local bike shops yesterday, which is the best way to get advice on local trails, and the guy there told us about a loop that includes part of the Hermosa Creek Trail, but is called the Jones-Pinkerton-Dutch Creek-Hermosa Creek Loop. He said it was better than riding the Hermosa Creek trail out-and-back as we were planning, so we took his advice. But we had no idea what we were in for!
We started out our ride at about 11am. As we were getting ready by the car, another biker rode by us and Rou asked him if he was finishing or just starting out. He said he was just starting out, and in typical biker fashion we started talking about the trail and others in the area and he ended up joining up with us for the ride. Craig was from Dekalb, Illinois, and had just quit his job and was thinking about moving out this way so was driving around the Southwest checking out different towns and biking everywhere he could. He started out with the disclaimer that he was on his 7th straight day of riding so he was pretty tired and would be riding slow. Of course, this was our 7th day straight of riding too. Little did we know at that point that he was actually a competitive cross-country racer who races in the Comp (just below pro) category. He was a very strong, we found out. Mostly because we spent a lot of time looking at his back during the ride.
As we started up the trail I said, "Well, the guy at the shop said to expect 3,000-3,500 feet of climbing, and I think it's mostly in the beginning, so let's take it easy. We have a lot of climbing up ahead!" I remember at one point being very hot, sweating very profusely, and breathing heavily on the high mountain air (we started at 7,750 feet elevation). I looked down at my computer and we had done only 800 feet of climbing! This was a very tough climb. It was a narrow singletrack and it was rocky. So you couldn't just sit back and spin the crank. You had to work. And as you avoid a rock with your front tire your back tire hits it and slows you down. We finally hit a nice downhill section at mile 1, but the right back up we went. Then at mile 2, down, and then back up. Then at mile 5, 6, 7, 7.5, 8, 8.5... etc etc... we went up and down no more than 12 times before we really hit any extended downhill section. We were all hot and tired, and not knowing what was ahead made it all that much more difficult.
Each time we started down, once of us would say, "I think that was the last climb." We literally said that throughout the ENTIRE ride. As you can see from the elevation chart,
it was up and down the whole way. The hardest part was that most of the uphill was actually unrideable. It's called hike-a-bike and let me tell you it's no fun. Most of the section between mile 2 and 5 was this way.
It was tough going, steep and rocky. To me, the trail just looked like it was overused. This is in a National Forest, and its a multi-use trail, which means that hikers, bikers, motocross motorcycles, ATV's, horses, and cows are all using the trails. Yes, we actually had to chase cattle off the trail on two occasions! But the result was a deeply rutted trail that has high berms on both sides, causing water runoff to flow down exacerbating the erosion.
I remember looking at my computer at 3 hours 42 minutes and we had NOT reached mile 9 of this 20-mile ride. I started to get a bit worried that we may have started out too late. But the good news was that according to the GPS and the topo map we had stopped to check, we were at the top and heading down! Then the downhill started. We started on our bikes and all ended up hiking DOWN! That's how steep, rocky, and rutted many sections of the trail were. We rode some of them, but at that point were so tired and frustrated that we just didn't want to risk a crash or injury this far into the trail. Rou actually ended up flying over his handlebars twice and got a bit banged up. Fortunately, the trail spared Craig and I from the same fate.
Luckily after a couple of miles it turned to rideable terrain once again and we even hit some really nice sections of everybody's favorite: fast, smooth winding singletrack. But even that was intermixed with really technical sections that required slowing down, sitting waaay back on your saddle and holding on tight. We even had a few stream crossings, which are always fun. But after this nice downhill came the up and down, once again, which lasted all the way to the end of the ride. As we neared the trailhead, we passed a number of real-life Colorado cowboys who were riding horses down the trail in cowboy hats, chaps, and all. Behind them the had a chain of 5 or 6 horses with saddlebags carrying gear. They told us they were 'hiking' in to camp and to go Elk hunting. At that point I decided that it was good that I have a bright orange bike! At this point all three of us had completely finished the water in our camelbaks, and we were not sure how much longer we had to go. The cowboys told us it was only 15-20 minutes farther to the campground, so up and down we went right up to the very end. In the end, we rode for 5 hours 20 minutes (4 hours of it actually moving), climbed 4,332 feet, our highest elevation was 10,320 feet, and we traveled only 19.89 miles!
Sore and tired, the three of us sat by the campsite we parked at, talked bikes and racing and munched on the fresh fruit we had in the car. Tomorrow we are going out early to ride the Colorado Trail here in Durango, then back to the motel for quick showers before checkout time and we're heading to Fruita and Grand Junction, CO, hopefully before dark so we can find a campsite.