Up hardscrabble road – exploring Eagle’s singletrack

The GoPro games XC race was on Saturday afternoon. It took just one hour and twenty seven minutes to drain weeks of preparation into a hastily produced PDF sheet of results, with my name printed neatly on the 9th row. That hour and half of effort left me in restless tiredness all evening. Luckily I had a companion in pain: Dustin had switched his waxed planks for knobbly tyres, and done the sport race. We both sat on the porch at the Ghent household on Saturday afternoon, beers in hand, wondering what it is that makes people pay money for such treatment.

It also left us with a Sunday free from racing, and a family ready to do some adventuring. Brad was going in for some reasonably major back surgery (which went just fine in the end), which meant he would be out of bike riding action for the rest of the summer. We had an adventure to plan.

The Eagle Valley is dominated by two things. Firstly, Vail ski resort. It takes the majority of attention, so much so that most people from Colorado couldn’t tell you where in the valley the rest of the towns sit. The second thing is I-70. The monstrosity of a highway carves down the centre of the valley, a beeline from Vail pass at 11,000 feet to Dotsero, at the entrance of Glenwood Canyon on the west. The first couple of years of being in Colorado, that was all I saw of Eagle county, too. But then I started dating Christa, and then met the parents. And that meant spending a lot more time in the valley. It was an eye opener. There’s so much to explore away from the highway.

Eagle is one town down from Edwards (or about 45 minutes drive from Vail, if you’re still using that reference point). Leaving the highway, you first pass through the old town, then the new town, then the newest town, before getting to the edge of the trails. We were riding on the slopes of Hardscrabble mountain, south of town. First off we pedalled through Eagle Ranch, where the Firebird 40ish was held a couple of weeks ago, and then took a turn onto third gulch. The livelihood in the hills in obvious here; cows grazing the sparse grass between fragrant sagebrush. We rode through the pastures, getting ever closer to the Aspen lined mesa above. We then dove into a small trail paralleling an old water conduit, called the pipeline. This took us through Gambel Oak, Boxelder and Aspens before we popped out onto Hardscrabble road. This road is a well maintain dirt track leading almost all the way to the top of Hardscrabble mountain. We pedaled slowly on the red dirt as the clouds lowered a little around us. The first drops of rain released the loose fragrance from the sagebrush interspersed among the Aspens. Soon we turned off the road, heading along Firebox trail. This narrow single track traversed through open grassy meadows at 9000 feet, before popping onto a dirt road, and circling us back towards Eagle. Now a little bit south, and a couple thousand feet above the town, we descended fast jeep roads to the top of Abrahams Ridge, and then jumped onto flowing trails.

At this point the rain had started in earnest. The red dirt was starting to clump under our tyres, and we pedaled on with cold hands, hoping to avoid a prolonged soaking in the dropping temperatures. The red dirt turned brown, then white, as we rode through the chalky hills. The final turns had been tamped down by the rain to make perfect dirt. The motivation of more rain moving in had us barely stopping in 30 minutes of downhill.

For Brad’s last ride of the summer, it was a great one. It took in all the strata of vegetation from the valley floor to the high alpine. We had rain and sun in equal measures, and we finished it off with some perfect descending.