OT: Mountain biking in southwestern Colorado

The Thoughts on Translation household just returned from two glorious, computer-free weeks of vacation which we spent mountain biking in southwestern Colorado. If you have zero interest in mountain biking or the Colorado mountains, it’s OK to stop reading here, and be assured that the discussion will return to translation as of my next post!

We spent the first week in Crested Butte, where we enjoyed some of our favorite, classic trails such as Strand Hill, Snodgrass/Lupine and the 401, and added a new favorite classic, Teocalli Ridge. We then headed off on a true Western adventure, riding a six-day loop (four days of riding and two rest days) through the San Juan mountains, from Lake City to Silverton to Telluride to Ouray to Lake City. Other than the route we chose for the first day, I would highly recommend this loop if you’re into beautiful dirt road and singletrack riding in an alpine environment. We carried all of our own stuff and stayed in hotels/condos to minimize the load. This worked out really well (other than the fact that I can no longer keep up with my almost-teenage daughter…) and we were really lucky with the weather, as it rained only on our rest days.

On day 1, we made the (in hindsight, questionable) decision to ride section 23 of the Colorado Trail rather than riding from Lake City to Silverton on the dirt road over Cinnamon Pass. “We’ve already done that! The Colorado Trail looks so wild and gorgeous!”…shoot me with a tranquilizer dart if I ever say that again, as the ride that we thought would take about six hours took almost 12. Granted, it was gorgeous. If it had taken six hours, or if we had had camping gear and thus could have stopped when we wanted to, it would have been on my A list of not-to-be-missed rides. But when the ride stops being fun at about 1:00 and you’re not off your bike until 6:30, the beauty and novelty of the trail is somewhat (or maybe completely) outweighed by exhaustion and the ever-fading supply of Reese’s peanut butter cups. Still, it was stunning; but unless you’re really, really fast and strong or you’re into 12-hour rides, I would highly recommend skipping this section in favor of riding over Cinnamon Pass.

Day two: Silverton to Telluride, over Ophir Pass. We had done this stage before and it’s relatively mellow. Well, compared to day one, the Iditarod would probably feel mellow, but day two was a steady but doable climb up to Ophir Pass, a fast descent down the other side, and then a fun spin up the Galloping Goose singletrack trail into Telluride. This took about five hours total, so probably about four hours of actual riding. Then we rested and ate (and ate and ate) in Telluride for a day: no sightings of Oprah or any Kardashians.

Day three: Telluride to Ouray, over Last Dollar Pass. This was a relatively long day, with about seven hours of riding, and the section on the road (from the Dallas Divide to Ridgway) isn’t super pleasant, although it’s downhill and there’s a big shoulder. Blessedly, there’s a fabulous ice cream place right at the turnoff to the dirt road from Ridgway to Ouray, which a) allows for a root beer float recharge and b) avoids having to ride on the main road from Ridgway to Ouray. Then we rested and ate (see above) in Ouray for a day.

Day four: Ouray to Lake City over Engineer Pass. We rode this on the Alpine Loop, a popular Jeep and ATV route through the San Juans. It was surprisingly beautiful, winding up a narrow canyon past some old mines and very beautiful valleys. The climb took about six hours at a fairly moderate pace; the summit is 12,800 feet (read: no air) so my daughter and I walked the last mile or so while my husband cranked it out on his bike. We had a totally clear blue-sky day, and the downhill into Lake City is pretty smooth and fast, so by 3:00 we were (wait for it…) drinking root beer floats at the San Juan Soda Fountain.

The Tour de San Juans is a really fun and challenging loop if you like high-altitude riding, you have good weather, you’re into gorgeous alpine scenery and you’re either in very, very good shape or willing to do some hike-a-bike. We decided that the flexibility of camping wasn’t worth the extra weight and hassle of carrying camping gear and food, and in the end (despite the marathon first day) we were very happy with the decision to stay in hotels and condos instead. Definitely a true mountain adventure for those who want something off the beaten path!

4 Responses to “OT: Mountain biking in southwestern Colorado”
  1. L. Carney August 17, 2015
  2. Paula Arturo August 18, 2015
  3. Martin Kays August 18, 2015
  4. Promise August 20, 2015

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