Christa and I have an adventure planned for later in the year; we want to hike the highest mountain in the Gore Range. The Mountains encircle the north western edge of Eagle county, forming the boundary with Summit county on the east. They are forgotten about; lacking the magical 14,000 foot peak, tourists attention is drawn elsewhere in the state. As such, they sit quietly in the distance, admired from the groomed slopes of Vail and Beaver Creek ski resorts instead. Rarely are they admired from within, but that’s what we want to do. Mt Powell sitting at a lowly 13,566 feet (4,135 metres), is the target for later in the season.
Christa and I had a mini “work from home” holiday last week. As Christa’s dad was getting a new spine put in, and therefore was forbidden from doing pretty much everything, we stayed up in Edwards to be house servants for a week. Among the standard cooking, a little bit of cleaning, and plenty of researching the paper I’m about to starting writing (“How to regulate new drugs for the treatment of depression”), I managed to squeeze in a lot of bike riding.
Our week was one too early – the Elk Rut, the annual calving for the herds that live in the White River national forest about the Eagle Valley, meant that most of the trails up into the hills were closed until the 15th of June. After one oblivious ride up Meadow Mountain, to be greeted with a sign at the top stating we couldn’t go any further, I then had to search carefully to find some more singletrack to ride.
Berry Creek is situated on the north side of the valley, on the other side of the highway from Edwards. From the road, the first roll of hills gives the impression of a dry, sagebrush covered mountain. Riding up the dirt road next to the creek reveals some big old Cottonwoods, and then a couple of switchbacks on the undulating sandy road brings you eye level with the Aspen Groves that extend in the finger like valleys to the top of Red and White Mountain another 1000 feet above.
Whoever built the dirt roads heading towards the top of the hill, didn’t do so with mountain bikes in mind. The impatient straight lines of dirt cutting tangentally to the contour lines suggest that these roads were built when mules did the heavy lifting. Now, they strain at the muscles of the Mountain Biker, in an unrelenting couple of miles straight up. The toil is worth it, though. As you put your lungs back in their slots, the view south opens up in front of you. Now, Arrowhead ski area can be seen carved out of the trees. The wide runs turning green as mud season ends and the wild flowers begin. The distance is framed by the New York Mountains, a short chain in the Holy Cross Wilderness that forms a barrier to the Eagle Valley from the South.
And finally, after the work, and the view, comes the reward. Slotted neatly between the uniform trunks of symmetrical Aspen trees, a trail dives down into the valley. The leaf litter forming the bed of the trail belies the seasons; few people have taken this path since the snow disappeared just a month ago. The ride is prolonged by imagination alone. Loosing vertical feet so many times faster than they were gained means your brain strives to find each detail in the trees and the tall grass rubbing against your tyres.
It’s over really quickly. Back into the sagebrush hills that will take you back to the valley below. The proximity of amazing trails is, I think, pretty unknown. I don’t know whether the Edwards locals will be very happy that I’m shouting about their trails. Everyone likes their local secrets. But Edwards has some great short rides that complement the excellent trails further down the valley in Eagle, and the high country that will open up at the snow melt allows it to do so.
Thank you, Elk, for keeping the high country to yourself and making me search a little harder the gems on my (temporary) doorstep.
Settle: The word sometimes comes with negative connotations, especially in the competitive circles I associate with, but settling isn’t always a bad thing. Settling can be good. Settling is happening all over the Rockies at the moment; leaves are falling in more of a stampede than a flutter. The change of colours happened so fast this year.
The weather broke briefly at the beginning of September, but the hiatus of 90 degree days was so short that perhaps only the trees noticed it. They responded though, in all their magnificence. Just 12 months ago I enjoyed ten full days of progressive brilliance in southwest Colorado with Frank and Vicky. This year the viewing window decreased to a week at most. I’m glad I got the opportunity to go high enough to find the Gold.
The leaves are certainly more settled than I am at the moment. Living as an immigrant in a country which really does not like immigrants is one problem. Determining the long term is a whole other problem, but the solutions are intertwined, so I’m just focusing my energy on deciding what I want, and hoping the where comes along later. Anyway, this autumn is going to be all about long rides in beautiful places.
fresh air = fresh mind.
Within three days of moving to Colorado, I was made aware of Kenosha Pass. For a while, it held a magical place in my mind; only ever mentioned with the most amazing of cycling experiences. Each person that had been fortunate to have ridden its hallowed dirt came back with stories of above treeline wonder and 360 degree beauty, coupled with a mountain biking experience to live and die for.
Each opportunity that presented itself to ride the Colorado trail from Kenosha pass had, until Sunday, been missed for reasons probably not worthy enough. Finally, there was a perfect Sunday with no barrier to trail heaven.
I had company. Jamie, through no fault of his own, suffers from a debilitating condition called boulder-bike-delusion. Its a simple but agonising condition with a geographic restriction to those residing inside the bubble. Its cause is known, but no treatment is yet to be found. Quite simply, the sufferer socialises almost solely with pro athletes, or other exercise maniacs. They are strong riders, but they will always suffer from a stunning sense of self-depreciation due to the tilted spectrum of fitness that resides in Boulder.
Knowing Jamie’s’ disability, I had enthusiastically invited him to ride with me. On the drive up, the symptoms were apparent. “I hope I don’t hold you up” and “I haven’t mountain bikes for a while” were spouted. I ignored his delusions.
We arrived at the car park and kitted up in record time. We were both excited and eager to get riding. With a holiday weekend, we were certain the trail would be a zoo of people and bikes, but less than 10 cars had beaten us to the start. We snaked in through the first Aspen trees, sensing the beginning of their colour change from green to orange.
Jamie took to the front, after a little encouraging. And this is where the symptoms of his delusion began to show. The pace was high; he cranked down on the pedals, over the rocks and the roots. My legs strained. My lungs complained at the lack of oxygen found above 3000 metres. His worry that he would hold me up led to a blistering pace for the first couple miles. My respite came when his enthusiasm threw him off the end of a switchback. I took to the front and tempered the pace, caught my breathe and we began our climb through some of the most amazing scenery in the state.
Our timing, the first weekend in September, was impeccable. The lower Aspens had the merest glint of yellow among their foliage. As we climbed, the hues slowly shifted towards ochre and bronze. The trail bed had a rough scattering of leaves that picked up as you pedalled over them and danced around your ankles before settling again for the next rider. We were in heaven. The reputation held; this trail is amazing.
On the lower slopes of the real climb up to Georgia pass, I finally managed to cure Jamie of his condition. We caught rush hour. We passed perhaps 25 people in the space of 15 minutes. Bodies and bikes strewn across the single-track, grinding noises emanated from the machines being un-gently thrust up the climbs underneath sweating and heaving masses of tired human. We shouted ‘on your left’ and were greeted with friendly smiles; riders finally finding an excuse to stop and take a breather. Our momentum was high, I turned the pace up a couple notches, and Jamie just kept on following.
We stopped and caught our own breathe after a particularly steep section. We had passed all those people who started before us, and were on the boundary of treeline. I knew I didn’t have to say anything; he knew, suddenly, that when you’re not in Boulder, your relative fitness jumps through the roof. Suddenly you’re the fittest and fastest and most able.
Cresting Georgia pass under the broken sunshine and clouds, we had the most magnificent view. Sat in front of us were the mighty slopes of Mt. Guyot (Guy-ot, or guy-oh??), and in the distance was the entirety of the ten mile range stretching its way towards Frisco in the North. The backside of Keystone ski area, and the rougher sections of Arapahoe basin were also in view.
We took a short break at the top, but really we both were just in a hurry to get on and get back down the trail we’d earned on the way up.
I’m really happy to put a tick in the box next to Kenosha pass, and do it at the perfect time of year as well.
Life at a slower pace. Two wheels come at a price; a price I am happy to pay over and over again on any day of the week, but sometimes an enforced break is the exact remedy you didn’t know you were looking for.
The fee for riding bikes is missing out on the little things that move slowly. The things that need to be admired rather than just glanced at. Spending some time admiring and moving at the pace of the trees and the birds brings rewards beyond any singletrack buzz. I won’t be hanging up the freewheel just yet, but a change in pace has to be savoured when you get the chance.
I’m not a horticulturist, so these descriptions will vary from ‘abstract’ to ‘crude’, but at least they’ll be flowery.
These little white delicacies were growing everywhere the trees weren’t, and everywhere water was. Snuggled beside baltic lakes completely exposed to the wind, I’m sure that stem has weather many a storm to gain its modest height.
Aspens and sunlight are a perfect pair. Add in a gentle evening breeze and the trees come alive with shimmering leaves. The high altitude combined with early summer means these Aspens were only just completing their transition from silver to green. This spring colour change is normally overlooked in favour of the autumnal majesty of orange, but its subtly is what makes it most special.
I don’t know what you are, but your blue trumpets poking just above the shrubs are magnificent. Anything which grows at 12,000 feet is magnificent.
14 years since the pine beetle epidemic hit the Rocky Mountains. Its devastating fury leaving swathes of hillside devoid of life. this isolated pine sitting in a bowl out of the wind seemed to be flaunting its deathly colour to great effect. It may be dead, but it made me take notice. don’t avert your eyes when you see those decimated trees. Look further and think of a solution.
This bough was reaching its way out over the lake. Its stretching tentacles begging for the nutrients just out of its reach. At sunset, the trees own life paled in comparison to the screeching and squawking life of everything contained within its canopy.
You’ll probably never go to Saratoga, WY. Why would you? Its not on the road to anywhere you’ll go either. But this little diner takes precedence over main street, and also prides itself it appearance too.
When you dont have stature on your side, go for colour instead. This is atop Union Pass, a slight dip in the run of mountains slicing their way across North West Wyoming.