The memorial day weekend pilgrimage to Durango has become part of my summer. A reason to get to Durango is always needed; the town is just too far from everything else to make the trip on a whim. Coming to race mountain bikes provides the perfect excuses to travel this far, and having a friendly family to stay at makes in all the better – Katie O’Blocks parent’s put us up once again, making it way nicer than staying in a motel.
The Iron Horse Classic MTB race, scheduled for Sunday, was cancelled due to bike eating mud. From arriving in Durango on Friday until the race at 8:30am on Sunday, low clouds hung over the valley. Occasional glimpses of the high country revealed a fresh sprinkle of white on the peaks. Bryan and I warmed up in the drizzling rain on Sunday morning, the clouds refused to part. Our reluctance to stop warming up could be explained by our 5:00am wake up time. The multiple cups of coffee consumed. The hearty breakfast eaten in preparation. As we cruised up to the start line, the general chaos belied the decision about to be announced. A stressed looking Dave Hagen, the man in charge, had his phone glued to his head. His shoes were clumped with pounds of red clay mud; his early course reconnaissance obviously didn’t go as planned. As Dave lowered his mobile from his ear, he drew a slow cutthroat sign across his neck. The race was done. As with most Colorado towns, the trails are a public facility. Tax money has been turned into winding and sinuous singletrack routes around town. In the short term, the rain is much needed to keep the trails in good condition, but as guests to the town, a race in the mud would do a year’s worth of damage in a day. The cancellation was the only solution.
This is where friends come in. The seven hour drive to Durango wasn’t all for the race. Certainly, it was an excuse, a motivator. A reason to get in the car and drive. But we’d gone to the southwest of Colorado to get away from Boulder for a long weekend; to spend time with friends, enjoying Durango’s network of paths and trails in the red hills spiraling away from town. When the race was cancelled, it didn’t make to a wasted trip, it just lead to a reason to find trails that stood up to the rain; to play around on the higher trails that were armoured with a thick and crunchy covering of pine needles.
On Sunday we ended up messing around town for almost five hours; trails, roads, rain, and eventually the sun came out. We wondered downtown to spectate the poorly attended criterium, then drink a beer at Old Tymers on Main Street. Never a day wasted; just repurposed to make the most of the situation.
The Memorial Day weekend gave us an extra day to play before getting on the road back to Boulder. We pedalled out of town in the direction of Junction Creek. The Colorado trail is a 535 mile route from Denver to Durango, ending its journey among the huge cottonwoods in Junction Creek, just five miles from town. We rode up the first section, pedalling up the tacky dirt under the canopy in the bottom of the valley.
We then picked our way up the tight switchbacks though the healthy, old growth pine forests onto the top of the ridge at Gudy’s rest. From here we could look south towards the town. Just at the very edge of the expansive wilderness that spreads for hundreds of miles, we already felt out there in the middle of nowhere. The size of the untouched forests are like nothing found in the UK or Europe.
There’s places, I like to believe, that no-one has ever been. Perhaps there are just places so beautiful, quiet and isolated that the people who have found them will never share their secrets, in order to protect them for the people who will search them out themselves.
I’ve pondered what it would be like to live in Durango. When I go there, the opportunity and time to explore is almost endless. Would living there be the same? Would all the amazing things about Durango make up for it being six hours from the outside world? It’s isolation is what makes it special. For the time being, I’ll just enjoy the small chunks of time I get to spend in Colorado’s southwest.