Stage 12: Trail 401

We woke bright and early to be sure we didn’t miss breakfast provided by our gracious hosts at the Elk Mountain Lodge. We filled our bellies with quiche, bagels, granola, yogurt, and plenty of fruit and coffee, then returned to the room to pack our gear and get ready to hit the trail. We packed tubes, tools, pump, 4 energy bars, 4 packs of shot bloks, 2 energy gels, and about 170 ounces of water between my Camelbak and 3 water bottles. This was going to be a long ride. Before we even got anywhere close to singletrack we had to endure a 15 mile climb out of town on Gothic Road, up through Mt. Crested Butte, out to where to road turns from pavement to dirt, steeper and narrower at it climbs up, through the tiny town of Gothic, and ever upward, clinging to the hillsides in tight, potholed switchbacks covered in moondust and loose rock. Almost too steep to climb seated, nearly too loose to climb standing. If it weren’t for the absolutely stunning scenery all around...

and the mythical singletrack to come, it would have seemed like pointless suffering. It was only a sense of pride that kept me from pushing my bike up some of the steeper sections. This brutal leg-smasher of a climb would take us from downtown Crested Butte at about 8,800 feet all the way up to Schofield Pass at about 10,100 feet.

We paused at the top for snacks and water, and chatted with a group of sightseers who had driven their truck to the top. While we rested, another group of riders rolled to the top of the pass, a crew of about eight from someplace in the Midwest, many of who were gearing up for the Leadville 100 on Saturday.

If you’re not familiar with Leadville, it’s a small town in Colorado that hosts an annual 100 mile mountain bike race with a something like 12,000 feet of climbing. It’s a brutal endurance event dominated by Dave Weins, a former pro mountain bike racer who is “retired” from racing, but has won Leadville for the last 6 years running. Floyd Landis tried to beat him and failed. Lance Armstrong tried to beat him and failed. Weins sets the bar ridiculously high, but the race is open to anybody crazy enough to register and fast enough to finish under the time cutoff.

Basically, these guys from the Midwest who just hit the top of Schofield pass with us were some grade-A mountain bike maniacs. We let them go ahead to start up the first section of trail, figuring that they would be much faster than us up the final climb to the very top of the 401. We started up not long after, and found that we had some sadistically steep singletrack to climb before the real reward for our efforts. I didn’t have much juice left in the legs to climb with anyway, but any chance I would have had to clear some of the steeper sections was foiled by the stragglers off the back of the Midwestern group. It’s pretty much impossible to stay on the bike when you’ve only got one gear and you’re stuck behind someone spinning up the steep stuff in the granny. I’m not saying I would have been able to ride all the way to the top, but it would have been nice to have a shot at it. Oh well, maybe on another trip… After a little over a mile of climbing, we finally topped out at the high point of the 401. Our Midwestern friends were stopping here to eat lunch, and we were still pretty well fueled from our stop at the top of the pass, so we downed a little water, posed for a picture,

and started down the swooping lines of dirt laid out across the hillsides. What a ride! There were a couple of tricky technical sections, some tight switchbacks and steep drop-offs to the side, but most of the next 5 miles was fast, smooth, rip-roaring trail through the wildflower-covered mountainsides.

I had to stop every now and then just to take in the view, since trying to admire the mountains all around while trying to keep my tires on this foot-wide sliver of dirt proved to be impossible.

We finally hit the low point of the 401 at a small creek where we paused for a breather. We splashed the dust off our faces with the icy cold water; a welcome relief from the unfiltered mountain sun and thin, dry air and headed back down the trail.

We wound around creek level for a while, then began a series of short ups-and-downs to get us around the corner of the mountain and back to the road. We were both already nearing the point of exhaustion, and had little left in the tank for climbing. Pride and determination were simply not enough to keep me on the bike for some of these climbs. It was then that I realized that my bike has two speeds: riding speed and walking speed. Walking speed turns out to be about the same as granny-gear speed, but without the pride and sense of accomplishment of being able to ride up the steepest sections of trail. As much as I love my Ol’ Burly Surly, a bike with about 5 inches of suspension travel and a whole bunch of gears might be in my future… We survived the final sections of trail and found our way back to Gothic Road and our final descent back into town. Just before we hit the ski town of Mount Crested Butte, we caught back up with our Midwestern friends who had passed us on the final uphill sections of trail. Most of them were going down the Snodgrass trail to add another few miles of singletrack. With almost 30 miles of riding already behind us, we thought that pizza and beer sounded like a better plan, so off down the road we went. On the way back into town on the bike path, I noticed some smaller bumps off to the side of the city dirt-jump park and decided to investigate. We found a nicely packed pump track of tight berms and 12-18 inch high rollers, almost like a concrete skatepark for mountain bikes. I pumped the humps for a few minutes, but didn’t have much energy left for playing. Maybe tomorrow…

We got back to the room thoroughly whipped, showered our tired bodies off, and made for the umbrella-shaded patio of the Brick Oven pizzeria. With pints and slices in our bellies, we were feeling pretty good. We wandered around downtown for a while, watched the people go by on their cruisers and marveled at the wonder and greatness of this place, this tiny mountain town that might just be the best place in the world if you love to ride trails. Before long, we shuffled back to the room to rest our tired bodies for a while before turning in for the night.

No comments:

Post a Comment