Friday, July 14, 2017

Wyoming-Colorado Traverse

Me and the husboy love to travel with peeps who like to explore backcountry trails and have a good time. We like to check out places first before bringing others so this trip included some new locations that our wheels hadn't been as well as some ol' faithful tracks that always deliver.

We started our trip with a planned stop in Steamboat Springs, Co. before making our way to Summit County to race the Firecracker 50 in Breckenridge. Instead of taking the usual westward route across Colorado, we decided to take the fork that lead us to Wyoming, specifically to Curt Gowdy State Park in Chyenne, where they boast some 40+ miles of single track around a reservoir. Sounded horrible. ;)

The plan was to drive part way Thursday night and see what Lake McConaughy was all about. We've been to Ogallala numerous times on our way West but never long enough to check out Big Mac and I have to say, go there now if you like camping on white sand beaches. Seriously ON the beach, next to the water. Though we pulled in late and just parked in a gravel lot, at sun rise I was up and walking the beach in utter awe. Though it was lined with big RVs, nobody was up yet and made for a nice, quiet walk among the water, sand and sky. As we pulled out to seek coffee and Jesus burritos, I vowed to return and actually camp on the beach.

The drive to Wyoming is similar to that of South Dakota, only more desert-ish. Rolling hills of ranch land spanned for miles. Then big rock formations started to appear and that's when we knew we were getting close.

We pulled into Curt Gowdy State Park and got the traditional van shot and then hit up the very new and nice visitor's center, complete with an exhibit about the area and come to find out, showers and flushing toilets for guests. As we were leaving, an officer struck up a conversation with Ryan in the parking lot. Come to find out he was also a trail marshal, and as part of his job, he gets to ride the area's trails. So he had lots of intel about the area and was excited to share it with us. He said to tell our friends that we can come up year-round and ride the trails there. Good to know.

Being it was July 4 weekend, all the camping spots by the water were booked so our only option was a group spot on a hill, without shade but luckily the temps were pretty nice. And we had a little visitor the whole time. A bird house was built on a light post a few yards from our parking spot and one of the birds landed on the side mirror and must have seen its reflection in the window because it would fly into and peck at the window over and over, even waking us up the next morning. Seriously, some nerve! Don't they know campground edicate? Sheesh.

Soon after we settled into our spot, it was time to find out about the bike trails. The plan was to ride for a couple of hours. We had our trusty map but the trails were marked very very well. We really didn't need it. I had my Super Fly and Ryan had his Remedy and both were perfect for the terrain. The trails were mostly XC friendly but with pockets of slow rock riding that had me wishing for my dropper post at least. Ryan was boosting off everything and not really cursing the punchy climbs. We rode for a couple hours and then took a break to refuel but Ryan wanted to ride more and why not? It's not like we had anything else to do. The other half of the system were much more mellow however, I did end up ass over tea kettle when my tire slipped off a gravel benched trail, sending me sideways and down. I naturally stepped out of my pedal to break my fall and hyper-extended my right knee (old injury) so had to take it easy the rest of the ride and then ice it the rest of the day. The tread is pretty gravely so I can see why this area would be rideable in winter. We ended our ride, after 4 hours, and not covering all of the trails. There was another 10 or so miles of flow trail through some grassy hillsides that would have taken us to and around another lake but we opted to skip it. 

I would definitely recommend taking the fam there to hang out. Aside from camping it has cool coves to hike in and out of where the lake sneaks around rock formations. I think you can rent paddle boats and SUP boards too. There is also a camper that sells food, ice and other essentials that you may have left at home. You don't see that usually. All in all, very accommodating park and kept very clean. I didn't see where one could swim so not sure about that. We were told of another bike park with more technical riding about 1.5 hours north at a place called Glendo State Park. Might need to make another trip.

The evening was spent enjoying the campfire and the views. 

That's WY. Love their tourism slogan!

The next morning we hit the road south to Colorado. Always up for seeing something new, this part of Colorado, though mostly low mountains for ranching, is pretty and vast. Not much in the way of towns and a long way from civilization, which I always prefer.

We arrived in Steamboat in the early afternoon. Looking back, Steamboat was just another bustling mountain town but full of holiday trespassers ;). The timing was probably not the best if one's looking for serenity: combination rodeo, concert and Independence Day celebrations made for a hot and crowded town. Attitudes were short in the LBS so we bought a map and headed out on our own intuition. 

We hit up the 25 mile local old school Steamboat Stinger XC course that was right in town starting at the ski resort where we hit pay dirt with free parking. Our ride was nothing but up for the first hour. Up steep, fall line service roads that left no air in my lungs. Many riders coming at us on the way up made me feel like we were doing something wrong but I think we were just getting a late start on a hot for the mountains type day. 

Once in the trees the steepness leveled out but we were still climbing. Classic Colorado trail system for the most part on the way up; on the way down was another story. Tall grass, weeds and branches made for slim to no sight lines. Either this trail didn't get used much or it's just an afterthought to the resort. Their annual race isn't until late July so maybe they'll do more to get it ready? At the bottom of the first big descent (and it was pretty long I have to say) we followed a dirt road for a while, passing folks along the way. Then it was up up up again too soon. No choice but to put our heads down and get it over with. (Glad I had the XC bike for sure and could fully lock it out). It was brutal but we got back to the top of the climb and still had a whole mountain to get back down. My nerves and fork were not playing nice together. The terrain was rough and made rougher due to the fork not using it's full range. I knew of the issue going into this trip but thought I'd just deal with it. Well, I found the limit of my dealing with it and finally had to just walk down some rough and steep rocky stuff. Unhappy and exhausted, Ryan suggested we take the dirt road back down instead. Though I don't like to give in, this was the point where I had to or risk getting injured. We coasted down to town and back to the van. As we crossed over the river that ran through town, there was a tubing regatta going on with tons of folks floating downstream in inner tubes, kayaks and the like. At that point all we could think about was getting into our swimsuits and into that cold Rocky Mountain run off! Afterwards, to celebrate the day, we hit up a local Mexican place for happy hour with what seemed like the entire town even though it was only 4:30. But the drinks made up for the "ambiance" and we had a bad-ass waitress who treated us quite well. Their el pastor was some of the best I've had (sorry taco-truck guy). 

Once we had our fill of food and humanity, we got the F out of that town and headed for the high country. After trying to seek out a secluded camping spot and getting chased out by the mosquitos who were just hatching after a long winter, we ended up in a large parking area off the highway behind a wooded shelterbelt. It had a bathroom and we were able to make a fire, so all ended well! 

Day 2 at high altitude was just what the flatlander ordered and then some. We found a 4x road that led us to single track but as we were warned about at the LBS, the trails weren't open yet. Snow and mud was still on the trail in spots and we could see downed trees and this particular trail was heading down fast and away from the van so we opted for a trail that was south facing and much drier. Though it was short, it was still fun. We did walk across a few snow lumps and over some down trees but not to big of a deal. 

Then instead of calling it a day, we opted to ride up to Rabbit Ears, a more popular route for the hiking community. Though we were able to ride pretty high up the road to the top out, the last few hundred feet were some of the steepest hike a bike I've done. I got a little crabby since I wasn't even going to be able to ride my bike down it so why the hell was I carrying that thing up there?! And though it was an accomplishment, it was more of a meh and I was ready to bomb down the friggen road! I never thought I'd have to say on your left so many times in the backcountry!

View from Rabbit Ear Monument

We finished the ride lakeside once again to cool off and rinse off. The plan was to have a nice lunch at the lake but the mosquitos had the same plan so we opted for protein bars and Cokes and headed down the road towards Summit County. The drive down HWY 40 to Kremmling (moose sighting capital of the US) was relaxing. Hilly ranch land as far as the eye could see allowed my mind to wander, daydreaming of life in below such big skies without desks and computer screens. Recalling a video of a Swiss woman who came to the US to break wild horses, saving them from slaughter; "Just give me a barn and a stable. I don't need anything else". Substitute RV for barn and bike for stable and I'm right there with ya, sister. 

After stopping at a legit coffee shop, Big Shooter, in Kremmling, we headed down HWY 9 where at some point we saw a plume of smoke off the highway. Later we'd find out it was the start of a pretty big fire that would cast a smoky haze over Summit County the entire time we were there. 

A big surprise to us was the Green Mountain Reservoir that was maybe 20 minutes north of Silverthorn. It was quite long with boaters and jet skiers enjoying the warm day. All this time coming out to Colorado and never knowing this was here. We'll be back to check out that lake a little closer for sure!

Ryan and I know a great couple, Lauren & Andy, who live in Dillon, transplants from the East, who we met through mountain biking. They live in The Cove, a neighborhood in Dillon. We were crashing a party they were hosting so we brought guac and whiskey to contribute to the spread. Lauren was on the grill when we arrived, stacking it high with thick grass-fed pork steaks and other meat snacks. It was great to catch up and meet their friends. We took them up on a real shower and a bed inside to rest up from many days and nights on the road. I had already decided to skip the Firecracker 50 race and instead focus on fixing my fork so I could enjoy the rest of the trip with arms intact.

The next morning we slept in a bit and headed straight for The Cove bike shop, which was conveniently located in Andy's garage. Before Andy headed off to work, he and Ryan had my fork apart and on it's way back together. By noon, we were in Breck with Lauren, having talked her into riding the race's short course, the Sparkler, with us. We had two vehicles so instead of riding up Boreas Pass road, we parked the van at the ice rink and drove Lauren's SUV up to Boreas Pass trailhead, bypassing all of the steeper riding and traffic. The 30 minute climb up to Baker's Tank was familiar and easy going. We told stories of our races and adventures in the area. Finally on single track it was time to test out the fork. I had to make some adjustments but all seemed to be working well. The course was marked so all we needed to do was pedal and enjoy the day. We had some painful climbs up what is normally a down-hill run but most of it was good times. At one of our rest stops, a rider came up that Ryan recognized as a local Colorado Pro who has done Enduro races to train for road races, if that makes any sense. He gave us some great advice on some big rides and I could see the corners of Ryan's mouth curl up in anticipation of mapping out a big ride for us the next day. Oh boy!

That night we ate out at a local brewery. Lauren's quite knowledgeable of proper beer so we took her advice and went to the Dam Brewery. It was damn good! 

That night we headed back towards Breck, camping up Tiger Road so we could be on bikes early in the morning for our hella ride to Georgia Pass, close to 12,000 feet and the Continental Divide.  

We parked at a trailhead and started what would be a 30 mile day on a flattish gravel road that took us past our camping spot and a facility that trains sled dogs and later by a shelled-out house that heeded warnings to all who passed.

Our day took us almost to the top of that peak in the distance, Mt Guyot

All of the ride up was on this 4x road. We saw a few jeeps, quads and dirt bikes as we pounded out the miles. The trail became ever steeper as we approached the summit. The photos never tell the story of the steepness but I had to defer to my feet to get me to the top.

Upon our arrival was a wide open display of wilderness. It was a popular pass aided by a car-friendly gravel road that came up from the other side but who would want to do that? As we crested the hill at the top, a woman heading down on a quad said there were baby goats. What? Baby goats? OMG, we were so excited. We rode around like a couple of excited toddlers. Goats, goats, where are the goats? Then I saw one through some trees. We bee-lined for them, across some grass and onto a road. We came around a grove of trees and there they were, a herd of about a dozen or so white mountain goats. Yes there were babies but mostly there were young adults and a two big males keeping everyone together. A couple of people were camping on top of their truck and when we approached the goats had surrounded their truck. We got off our bikes and laid them down ever so slowly and quietly. Then we sat down on the side of the road and didn't say anything. Just observed. The goats were just having lunch, it seemed. One got curious a couple of times and walked within a few yards of us but I guess we weren't very interesting or he didn't like what was on our lunch menu. The whole thing was magical and we were so glad we chose to do this instead of the race!

Reluctantly, we had to say goodbye to the goats. We headed out on the Colorado Trail that would take us back down the mountain. And since we were up there, we took a detour and rode to the tippy top of the Continental Divide and looked over to the other side, where consequently, we had ridden up from Kenosha Pass exactly two years prior. 

The descent was long, sometimes rough, sometimes gnarly but mostly fun. I definitely hit my limit on the Super Fly. Maybe if I had a dropper I would've ridden some of the boulder sections but always live to ride another day is better than risking things in the backcountry. With Ryan's superb mapping skills, we hooked up with the Breck 100 course and took a quick rest break in some shade next to a meadow. 

The next hours would be our toughest. A bit tired and in the heat of the day, we had some long single track climbing to tackle but knowing where we were helped with the mental game. And what we were climbing to was a super fun descent with drops and switchbacks and speed! After hours of pressure killing pedaling, the sound of wind in my ears was actually welcoming!

We got to a spot where if we were totally cooked, we could bail to the car but it was only a few miles more to complete the entire route so we kept on. Good thing b/c we had some great views of not only the western slope of Breck but also a great look-back view of how far we'd actually come.

Mount Guyot is where my finger is. Just below that is where we saw the goats.

All said and done, we put in 30+ miles and peaked out at almost 12K feet after starting somewhere at 9000 ft. 

Click this link to see our route in 3D:

My Trek Superfly did great and my Rockshox World Cup, once re-bled, was good as new. We finished the ride down some precarious switchbacks that even a mountain goat would wince at, and finally were back on paved earth and back to the van where Ryan proclaimed how much he loved his Trek Remedy. It climbs pretty well and descends like...f'get about it. I joked with Ryan that I smiled every time I came around a corner only to see a plume of dust where he'd been reminding me of a Calvin & Hobbes cartoon:Kwa-Ping!

There was one thing left to do after a big ride like that. Put food in face! We recommend a legit hole in the wall BBQ joint in Frisco call Q4U. Off the main strip and away from humanity!

As it was July 4, fireworks were on tap for the evening. Our local friends knew of a secret stash place where we had an alpine view of Lake Dillon and even better out of the way of massive traffic. It was absolutely perfect! 

Smoke from the Kremmling fire still hanging in the air.

Our last day in Summit County was like an encore to our already great ride the day before. Andy didn't have to go into work so he took us on a "locals ride" right from his place where we climbed up the back of Keystone Resort. 

We stopped in a large valley owned by the resort that was set up for weddings. Word had it that cars were not permitted so if you had a wedding there, everyone had to be brought in by horse drawn wagon! Cha-ching! 

Imagine this is your lunch ride view. 

Speaking of lunch, it was well past that when we finally got back to town. After we showered up we packed up the van and hit up our favorite burrito joint in Summit County: Chimayo Grill. Huge 'rittos and they pile it on. Unfortunately while sitting outside and eating, we were seeing the beginnings of what would become a pretty large fire that started between Breck and Frisco. Evacuations were eminent but it was contained within a day.

We originally planned on heading east and get a good chunk of driving in before finding somewhere to park and sleep. But the mountains called and we decided to check out Mt. Evans area and so glad we did. Though we didn't go all the way to the top, the view we had 5 miles below was still just as spectacular. We had our campground all to ourselves and the trees. 

There is a silence only the trees know. 

When the humans disappear and the wind doesn't blow. 

Where the river can't reach thousands of feet below. 

It's a silence that only the high mountains know. 

(I made that up on our last evening listening to the silence).

We ate the last of our food and the drank the last of our whiskey on the last night after watching a beautiful sunset melt behind the horizon.

We left nothing but our sweat and souls behind.

The end.

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