Sunday, October 16, 2022

GWO Tour 2022 - San Juan Huts Day 5 & 6: My Breaking Point

“Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming ‘Wow! What a Ride!’ ”
Hunter S. Thompson

The trip, by this point, had met all expectations: scenic, remote, dry weather, all the bikes were cooperating and everyone was healthy. However, remember the black cat I saw on the first day? Well, read on...

Day 5 - Breaking into Gateway
Total Mileage:31mi. Starting Elevation: 8700' Ending Elevation: 4500'

The group was more than ready to leave the goats behind, but even more so because the rowdy Ute Creek trail was on tap. For those with the wider tires, flat pedals and longer travel, this was a day they'd been waiting for.

I don't recall exactly how it went down, but at one point it was only going to be a few of us doing the single track and the others were going to continue on gravel. Some people were feeling the fifth day and wanted to keep it chill but by the time we actually all arrived at the trailhead, all of us were going to ride it! Woohoo! We'll sleep when we're dead!

Ryan and Andy took off, just like cartoon action figures --KWA-PING!-- leaving a small dust cloud in their wake. The rest of us picked our way down. Well, I should clarify: I was picking because the track was rough and steep and I just didn't have the confidence to ride it with all my gear on the front end of the bike. The Ute Creek trail sees way more uphill dirt bike traffic than downhill mountain bike, so upon looking back, my apprehension, though self induced, seems justified. We met back up with Ryan and Andy and again, but they disappeared in an instant. The track was narrow, below stands of aspens. It seemed more like a drainage be as how it was less contoured to the hill. I remounted and was able to ride a bit better and faster but still grabbing a bunch of break. I dropped my front wheel over a moderate rooty ledge, my butt rubbing the back tire. After passing it, I heard someone call out the drop and then I heard a loud crash and someone yelling and then a bunch of F-bombs. I immediately stopped, propped the bike and ran up the trail. Brian had gone over the handlebars on the root drop, landing on his bad shoulder and putting a pretty good gash in his shin. His helmet had markings that indicated he'd hit his head but he was on his feet and cussing like a sailor, so I assumed he hadn't lost consciousness. His wife, Sara, the nurse, was trying to calm him down and assess him at the same time. These were seasoned outdoors professionals, who have been in this situation with the public at large, so they knew what to do. It was assumed that when Brian's wheel hit the rock at the bottom of the drop it turned severely and quickly, the heavy weight from his backpack assisting in sending him down hard, onto another rock. His shoulder was in working condition, but the mental demon had settled in. So, we all walked. Eventually I met up with Ryan and Andy who were walking up the trail, worried something was up since we hadn't arrived when we should have. I told them what had happened and continued on until I reached the spot where they had left their bikes and waited until everyone was back together.

By then, we were past the steepest part of the trail, which quickly opened up and we could see the walls of the valley. It sorta reminded me of riding up the back side of Hazard Trail in Moab. The trail was benched into the side of the hill covered in dense brush. It was narrow but rideable with little punches across and down slick rock (look, cool rocks!) and boulders. 

At some point, I found Ryan and Andy, again below a stair step of rocks, waiting to take our pictures. Nothing as steep as what we had started on but it still took some finesse. I felt pretty solid, despite the weight on the bike. It actually kept the front end from bouncing around. It was like driving a tractor. 

With everyone safely down the descent, we were once again a posse out on a grand adventure, riding in the most remote section on the whole trip. We were away from roads, goats and humanity, on a Thursday afternoon. Life was good.

And then it wasn't.

The single track eventually became wide double track though was still rugged and demanded our attention. Lauren and I were riding together, Sara and Brian were close behind. Every so often we'd catch back up to Ryan and Andy. At one of those such times, I was riding close behind them as they ate up a rough section of a punchy climb. Seeing this, I ratcheted up my effort out of the saddle. After a couple pedal strokes, my back wheel lost traction over the baby-head rocks and I began to tilt. Thinking nothing of it, I put out my left hand. I wasn't going fast since I was climbing but as soon as my hand hit the ground, I heard a crunch. There wasn't much pain but I knew in my mind that something was broken. I stepped off the bike and was immediately very pissed off. Brian and Lauren stopped to ask if I was okay. I wasn't sure. Not far ahead, Ryan, Andy and Sara stopped to rest in the shade of a juniper tree and I walked up to Ryan and told him I crashed and that there was something wrong with my left wrist. Sara came over to look at it. She wasn't sure how bad it was or she wasn't telling me, but regardless, she wrapped it as best she could using gauze from her kit. Though we had started at the most remote segment of the route, by this point we were about 10 miles out from the only civilized stop, the town of Gateway, Colorado. From the Bike Bible, we knew there was a gas station where we could stop and assess.

The group had all stopped to take a break but Ryan, understanding that I'd be slow going, decided we should continue onto Gateway. I was able to hold on to my handlebars with both hands but only if the terrain wasn't too rough or steep. As long as I could stay seated, I could ride, unlike the last time I was in a similar situation. (It's been at least ten years now but a month before we were to go on the SJH Durango to Moab route, I fell during a race in Kansas City and managed to fracture the radius on my right wrist). 

But this was not that. In fact, though it was already starting to swell and bruise, I could rotate my wrist without pain and all my fingers could move. What I couldn't do was bend it or flex it. Ryan rode a ways ahead to scout the trail for me. There was only one section I had to walk before finally reaching a dirt road that would take us down a thousand feet in just a few miles. It was difficult riding. Ryan flew like nothing while I smoked my brakes, trying hard to stay in control on the loose road. The view was amazing. At one point I just had to stop, not only to cool the brakes but to look around. We were on a pretty precarious ledge that looked down into Unaweep Canyon. According to an online article in Colorado Magazine,
'“Unaweep” means “parting of the waters” or “canyon with two mouths,” depending on who you ask. But long ago, the Utes realized the important point, that Unaweep Canyon is the only known canyon in the world with a divide that drains water out each end. West Creek flows out one end and East Creek out the other. It’s not a radical divide visually, and if you blink, you might even miss it.'
The two creeks cut through the Uncompahgre Plateau where elk and cattle graze. From our vantage point we could see all the way to the horizon. The sky-scraping Precambrian walls, colored many shades of salmon, against the true blue sky never gets old. I've been coming to western slope of Colorado since the early aughts and its grandness humbles me. I'm in awe of it every time. Even then, when I was in pain, it brought me wondrous joy. 

Ryan snapped me out of my vision quest state quickly enough. We had to keep moving so we could get out of this blast furnace. The road turned into a sandy wash at the bottom, which was certainly not ideal when one's bike has a bag the weight of a newborn on its handlebars, making steering nearly impossible. But soon we were on pavement, cruising down the Unaweep/Tabeguache Scenic and Historic Byway. Hugging the right edge, I dropped the seat, tucked and pedaled as hard as I could, surprised that I still had the legs. The baking wind off the asphalt did little to cool us as we dropped down to just over 5K, to the canyon's bottom, near the Delores River. 

Just passed the town sign we rolled into an equally steaming black-topped parking lot of a newly-built gas station. We leaned the bikes against the wall and went inside. The rush of air conditioning was shocking and rejuvenating. My pours opened. The brightly lit cold cases containing bottles of every type of thirst- quenching beverage called to me and I wanted all of them. With my helmet still on, I opened one of the doors and just stood there, letting the air envelope me in a rapturous cloud. I grabbed a gatorade and a tube of Pringles and a Snickers bar. I think Ryan grabbed a coke and a beer. After paying, we sat at one of the two bar-stools and inhaled our snacks. While waiting for the rest of the group, I took a Zip-Loc bag out of my pack, and using the pop machine, filled it with ice for my hand. While loitering, we used our phones to check in with the world. I texted my mom and then my youngest brother who was tasked to relay my whereabouts to my dad. It was useless to say anything about my wrist, as it would have only lead to unnecessary worry. The tug of social media was intense, as I had to much to say, but in all honesty the last thing I wanted to do was rub my phone. Instead, I decided to send a bag of local coffee beans, on display at the end of the aisle, to our good friend Larry. (For the past few years, whenever Ryan and I come upon an interesting place selling roasted coffee beans, we buy a bag and send it to Larry, who lives in Harlan, Iowa, about 45 minutes east of Omaha. He shares our affinity for coffee and he can't ride bikes with us anymore due to a hip issue, so we remind him that we wish he was with us by sending him coffee). It just so happened that right next to the gas station was a postoffice that I'd seen when we pulled in so as Larry would say, it was a no brainer. I wrote him a quick note about my wrist and that we were in the town of Gateway, population about 80. There wasn't much to it in the way of development, but it was pretty spectacular if you took the time to look up. 

Eventually the posse arrived. The hut was a few more pedal strokes from the station and it seemed that's where the group was headed, so we ran out to the parking lot to wave them down. If the other huts were any indication, this one was going to be a sauna so there wasn't any hurry. As the group shuffled in and took over the tables, we chatted about what to do next. Brian was in good spirits but his nurse wife wasn't as positive. We had some decisions to make. There was a local, listed in the Biker's Bible, who shuttled riders back to Telluride if their ride ended there. He also shuttled riders to the Utah boarder skipping the near 2k of hike-a-bike out of the canyon. Lauren had already decided she was going to shuttle up the border and said I should go with and split the $100 shuttle fee. I thought the idea was good so Lauren called the shuttle driver and luckily he had an open spot for two that next morning but he had to be back by the afternoon to take the next group behind us back to Telluride. Ryan talked Andy into riding to the next hut and would meet us there. Brian and Sara weren't sure what they were going to do and needed to discuss it but not at the hut. Instead, they were going to get a room at the posh Gateway Resort we'd read about. Owned by the former CEO and founder of Discovery Channel, it's a luxury base camp designed for the well-off adventure set. Ryan thought it seemed like a place where the Hollywood elite went to detox! We bid a good night to Sara and Brian as we loaded up to leave our convenient store oasis. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't jealous that they'd be getting a shower and good night sleep, in an air controlled room, under crisp white sheets.

The four of us cruised down a dusty dirt road to our hot box, which ended up being on another private ranch. No goats this time but there were lamas and horses in a lush pasture, near the river's edge. The hut itself was in a somewhat forgotten section of the ranch, with a broken fence, dead cottonwood trees and most notably, minimal shade. It was painted a pale pink instead of the dark green like the others. Same went for the toilet. We opened the hut and it was like walking into a dark shed, hotter inside than outside. And since there was no breeze, being inside was not an option. We all got out of our riding gear to wash them and hang them up to dry. We spent the next hour or so sitting on a picnic table drinking beer, recapping the rest of the ride after we'd last split up on the top of the canyon. The relentless sun really began to wilt our spirits, despite our best efforts. Ryan tried fishing on the nearby river with his Tankara rod but the water was just too muddy and difficult to get to. By late afternoon, we'd had enough and decided to crash the restaurant at the resort. 

The Gateway Canyon Resort sits close to the highway, beside lush green landscaping. Designed in classic Spanish stucco, the maze of buildings making up the oasis blended in perfectly with the canyon walls beyond its property. None of us had cleaned up much but we didn't care and to our relief, neither did the hostess nor waitress. We were greeted warmly, as if we had just came off the back nine instead of the back country. Our waitress was a transplant from another town, who lived on the resort's property, with roommates, whom together were all in this nowhere town in order to scratch out a living just so they could climb the ancient canyons. Ah, to be young and free! She kept us in margaritas and mules all through our meal. The food was five-star but then again, we had been eating canned meat for the last few days. 

While waiting for dessert, Sara and Brian arrived, all clean and looking fresh, but still uncertain to their plan come morning. All would hinge on how Brian was feeling. Our plan, however, was set: Ryan and Andy would be leaving around 6:00 a.m. while Lauren and I would take the shuttle a bit later. We left the resort buzzed and happy. But by the time we returned to the hut, we were no longer as happy (although Lauren would argue that the farm cat made her very happy). The hope for the air to cool at sundown was a lost cause. The overnight forecast was to be in the mid 70s, some twenty degrees warmer than what I expected, having always traveled to the desert in the spring or fall. We stayed outside as long as we could but one's ass can take so much sitting on a wood picnic bench or stoop. 

The night was tortuous. Worse than trying to sleep on an overnight flight. Worse than trying to sleep in a moving car. I got up twice to go to the bathroom, just to get some reprieve from the stagnate air trapped in hut. At least the hut had a screen door to assist with air movement, had their been any. Even in my sports bra and shorts, on top of my sleeping bag, next to a window, I was miserable. I even tried putting a blue ice pack from the hut's cooler on my chest but even that wasn't enough. My mind was too busy worrying about the lack of sleep and the condition of my throbbing wrist. Alas, despite my efforts, sleep would not come for me.

Day 6 - The Rescue
Total Mileage for Andy & Lauren: 11 Starting Elevation: 7400' Ending Elevation: 8300'

It was still dark when I heard Ryan's phone alarm, and soon thereafter the sounds of boiling water for oats and coffee. As soon as there was enough light to see, I was up, wanting to have a look at my wrist. And it wasn't good. The swelling had increased and all my fingers were turning three shades of purple. My hand looked like a rubber glove filled with air. I could still use my all my digits but my wrist was extremely sore. I was starting to rethink my decision to ride to the hut because it meant riding down to Moab yet the next day. I told this to Ryan even as he was all kitted up and ready to ride. He asked me if I'd rather have him stay to help me figure out what to do next. I reluctantly said yes. This sudden change of plans meant Andy would need to know if he was going to ride by himself or with the others, so he and Ryan rode over to the resort to discuss things with Brian and Sara. Brian came out to meet them to say they'd rather take the shuttle and then ride the rest of the way to Moab. 

The hut group arrived at the gas station around 7:30. Brian and Sara rolled up soon after. The shuttle was scheduled to leave at 8 a.m. There were a couple tables outside the closed gas station where we waited for our rescuer, further discussing our options. It was then that Brian and Sara realized that the shuttle didn't go all the way to the hut but just to the Utah border. If they were to continue to Moab on highways, that would require them to ride a minimum of five hours. Not impossible but it would be during the hottest part of the day. Now we had yet to discuss any of this with our shuttle driver. We knew he had room for four bikes. We also knew he had an afternoon shuttle scheduled to Telluride. We weren't even sure he could take us to Moab, our thinking being that at the very least he may know someone else who could or maybe take us another day. As we waited, a few cars stopped to fill up with gas but none came over to us. Then a small hatchback turned into the lot, with a bike rack on back for two and two racks on top. Surely, that couldn't be our shuttle? The car stopped in front of all six of us and our bikes. An older gentleman, wearing a sun hat and dirty jeans got out of the car, an earring glistened in the morning sun. 

"Good Morning, I'm John Stewart." He had the easy going demeanor of an old time surfer. "I thought I was picking up two riders and taking them to the border?" 

Then Ryan told John the situation--we had two injured riders that wanted to get to Moab. The other two needed to get to the border. 

"Well, this is a conundrum", said John, in his small town drawl, reminding us that he had an afternoon shuttle to Telluride.

"But, I do have a friend who helps me sometimes. Do you want me to see if he can help?" 

As if he needed to ask. We all nodded in agreement. 

"Jacob lives right over there. Has a glamping operation and I sometimes hire him when I need him. Let me go see if he's up". 

And with that, John got back in his car, crossed the wide parking lot and disappeared across the highway. About ten minutes later, we saw his car again, this time with another person with him. A young guy greeted us with a big smile in that very adventure guide sorta way. I felt a bit of relief because for a while I thought this person was going to be very upset that he was being called on last minute. But that was not the case at all. This dude seemed happy-go-lucky and ready for whatever. 

"How much will this cost?" Ryan asked.

John touched Ryan's shoulder in that very grandpa-like way. "Since I need to pay for my friend's time here, how about $400? 

"Done. But, none of us have that kind of cash. Okay if we pay in Moab?" 

"Yep. You'll just need to stop at an ATM. I trust ya."

So with the gentleman's agreement, the plan was in motion. But first John and his buddy had to go get another vehicle. John had a truck that could fit the two bikes for shuttling up to the border. The small car would take the four of us. "Better on gas", John said, giving his waste band a tug as he began into a diatribe of his adventures as a shuttle driver in the middle of nowhere. He was also a rider, on an e-bike of course, and just enjoys helping people. Finally he got around to the business of getting the truck. Once both vehicles were there, it was time to load up. The car had a pretty solid rear rack, which took Brian and Sarah's bikes. My bike and Ryan's went on top, using a tetris of bungie chords and rags to tether them in place. 

"Haven't lost one yet" said Jacob. Dude! Knock on something, I thought.

Once all the bikes were loaded, it was close to 9am. It was a bittersweet departure. Brian, Sara, Ryan and I along with Jacob headed south first, bound for Moab. Andy and Lauren with John, took a dirt canyon road up to the border. It was an ending nobody wanted nor could have imagined happening. But considering where we were, we got pretty lucky that we found a helping hand.

The drive to Moab was stunning. We stopped once at a look-out point near Paradox so Jacob could check bikes, but it was also a place he liked to show newcomers. There we could see a section of a gold mining operation from the 1800's called the Hanging Flumes. As their only way to move water at the adequate grade, unskilled minors built about ten miles straight into the towering cliffs. I stared at the decrepit architecture in complete awe, admitting out loud to Ryan that we are wimps compared to what these people endured. Today, it's considered an engineering marvel. 

Credit Atlas Obscura
The remaining two hours was spent telling tales of adventure. Jacob and his wife owned Gateway Glamping. They just loved to camp and they loved the desert so they bought some land in Gateway as it was cheaper than anywhere else. And business was good, thanks to the internet.  

"First time I've had to shuttle anyone all the way to Moab." Yeah, Jacob, we're glad we could oblige. 

When we arrived in Moab, we stopped first at a gas station to use the ATM. On the way, Brian told us that his debit card had expired and asked if we could spot them the cash. The problem was, Ryan had only one card and it had a $200 limit. I think he had about $100 on him and I had some but it was in the van. We convinced Jacob, which wasn't hard, to drive us to the MTBCRIB where we could get the rest of the cash. Once there, I jumped out of the car to locate my wallet and luckily there was enough cash to pay Jacob and give him a tip. I walked around the van to give him the money when suddenly out of nowhere our friend's college-aged daughter, Abbey, was standing in front of me yelling surprise and giggling! Ryan came around the corner of the van and I was like, look who's here! There were hugs and laughter and what the hells and we learned that she was traveling with a friend in the area. When she saw our van she thought it would be funny to take a picture next to it and send it to us and that's when she saw me. It was a funny, surprising encounter. We said our goodbyes too soon as we needed to get to the Urgent Care when they opened at 11am. But first Ryan bought a case of beer for the bike shop's manager to say thanks for the parking spot. She wasn't in but the girl at the front took the beer saying she had been worried about us. She didn't know that we had made an agreement to park there, and she thought we were a couple of mountain bikers from Florida, lying dead somewhere in the desert. Glad we didn't get towed! Bike shops--they are all the same.

We got everything loaded up and headed for the hospital. We thought we'd see Brian and Sara but they never showed up. (We found out later, they chose to go home and see their local doctor--he was fine, actually). I was first in line though the Urgent Care wasn't officially open. By the time I was lead back, there were half a dozen people there for a myriad of ailments. The x-ray confirmed a fracture, a minor one below the wrist. The tech made me a fiberglass sheath that molded to my hand and wrapped my entire forearm in Ace bandage. After the doctor came back to inspect his work, he said to keep it on for about ten days and then buy a spica brace to support the thumb and wrist, and wear it for 6-8 weeks. 

I was bummed. There went the rest of my Colorado GWO tour. I wasn't going to be healed in time for the Dakota Five-0 either. My only saving grace was that my fingers still worked so I still would be able to volunteer for the Breck Epic, which OMG we needed to get the heck back to Breckenridge because the race was starting in two days! Originally, had the trip gone as planned, we were going to arrive back in Breck as soon as possible on Saturday night, then grab the PA system and be ready to get after it on Sunday. Now we had a day to play with and it all worked out with flying colors. (Even with my broken wing I was able to contribute to the recovery of many, many racers).

Before leaving Moab, we stopped at the hotel where Andy and Lauren's car was parked. We left them a thank you note with the wish that they made it back and that we'd celebrate the adventure later that month. Soon after, taking the scenic route through Monument Valley, we looked off in the distance to the La Sal mountains, where we hoped Andy and Lauren were safe and sound because there was a nasty black cloud over the top and we could see lightening strikes. Our whole trip, we hadn't seen one drop of rain, and now on the last night, it looked like a deluge. I took a picture and sent them a prayer. (They actually had made it just before the rain hit. They also reported better dirt conditions the next day). 

Adventure in the GWO is always unpredictable. That's the draw for us and this trip was no exception. Riding multiple days in a row in the backcountry has its risks. It takes planning. It takes preparation. And it takes a lot of perseverance. Our final tally was around 150-ish miles. Had it not been cut short, it would have been closer to 205. We rode 5 of the seven days, averaging about 4-5 hours each day. With nothing on the agenda but pedal into the Great Wide Open, I don't have anything to complain about. I find that any time away from comfort and digital distractions galvanizes me to my true self, and doing hard things with other people adds depth and color to the story as well as to my own life. We are forever bound by the experience. Yes, it was a bummer I was injured but had it not happened, never would we have met John nor Jacob, nor learned more about Gateway, Colorado; a place where most people don't consider visiting. A place that takes effort to get there but are rewarded when they do. And you better believe it, we are already figuring out how to get back and finish what we started.

Total Mileage for Andy & Lauren:31 Starting Elevation: 7700' Ending Elevation: 4200

As we woke up in Breckenridge, Lauren and Andy were finishing the rest of the route strong, riding into Moab on service roads, skipping Porcupine Rim, which was the other option. They want to try the Durango Route. 

Thursday, September 29, 2022

GWO Tour: San Juan Huts Days 2-4: Goats & Gravel

The next three days were a blast. Each day was different, be it because of the trails, critters, or views--all the reasons we were out there!

Day 2 - Racing the Heat

The second day of the trip was a scorcher. There wasn't much in the way of views as we were just cruising through high desert ranch land so once clear of the others, we opted to just book it to the next hut. We stopped once to admire a small heard of sheep but that was about it. Three hours later we arrived at the hut, tucked nicely away in a grove of aspens, with the added bonus of a horse shoe pit. (I guess that's one form of entertainment that's theft-proof). The posse arrived a short time later.

After resting and eating, I was a bit fidgety. We had read there was a single track route near the hut and feeling like I had some more energy to burn, we kitted back up to take a look-see. We went back out on the road and then took a turn onto what looked like another dirt road. As we got closer to the trees, we could see a camper and a truck and I thought we were in a remote campsite. That was until we heard the savage barking of a dog. Thank the Lord it was chained up because it acted as if all it wanted in life was to chomp on my leg. I started to slow down but Ryan kept going. This is someone's property, I thought. Just then more dogs appeared, and lucky for us they were puppies and they just wanted to play. I kept looking around for a person, ready to ask for forgiveness for trespassing. I followed Ryan passed the truck along a footpath that paralleled a barbed wire fence. Soon it petered out and though Ryan protested that his GPS said we were on the trail, I knew we were not. I suggested getting back on the road we came in on, which meant bushwhacking through a field so we could recalibrate. I could tell Ryan didn't like the idea as much as the puppies, who were all following us, one behind the other, like we were their parents (sorry, no photos). When we got to the road, we put on the gas. The puppies chased for a while, their long ears flopping and tongues hanging out. Once we rode past the turn to their "home" they started to slow, but as soon as we turned at the next corner, they came running through the field. We sped up again and soon enough they quit the chase. We charged hard to get out of sight of them as well as the guard dog, who was again, announcing his intent.

The fourteen mile trail was multi-use, probably mostly by dirt bikes and ATVs. And though it was clear and maintained, it was pretty rough, with a lot of punchy, technical climbing--not something I wanted to be doing in the hottest part of the day, and especially not after already riding 30 miles that morning. It didn't take long for me to start feeling uncomfortable and cranky. Though we had a plan to ride to a look-out, I opted for the bail out at the half-way point. Out in the sun, the heat was worse but luckily most of it was downhill.

Back at the hut, we snacked on a charcuterie of cheese and butter crisp crackers. I think Sarah & Brian adopted one of the Thai recipes for dinner. As the sun started to fade, we walked out to the road to see if there were any sunset views. We turned west and walked a bit until the distinct sound of coyotes made us think otherwise. We returned to hut and drifted off to the best night sleep of the week!

Hard to see, but there's a flock of sheep out yonder.

The Whole Uncolada (we were in the Uncompahgre national forest)

DAY 3 - The Alt Route

Though the extra mileage the day before turned out to be a soul crusher, I was glad we did it. Day three had a single track option that wasn't going to add much to the overall mileage nor to the overall climbing. However, had we started in the spot where we rode the day before, it would have been a lot of work for not a lot of reward so we started out on gravel, taking advantage of the shade the hugged edge of the road.

Ryan and I eventually pulled ahead. We found the next segment of single track and left a marker for the group so they'd know which way we went. The track was rough with deep sand and loose rocks but eventually it became a pretty fun trail. Riding it was work, so we kept the power in check, or the heat of the day would remind us. We didn't stop too much, except at trail forks, so that I could leave a marker, "6F" and an arrow, for our friends (which they never saw b/c they didn't do all the single track). 

Late in the ride, the trail opened up to a treeless and wide double track. After leaving another directional marker, I took the trail to the main gravel road. I didn't see Ryan. Should I continue across or do I get on the gravel? Ryan always stops at intersections. I yelled for him. He was actually
 hiding from the sun in some tall scrub. He's like, "I'm right here". :)

We continued along the single track, as there wasn't much left. To our surprise after we rounded a corner we came upon the rest of our group! It was a fun reunion. So though they didn't see any of my markers, the time spent doing them made for perfect timing of meeting back up with them. 

We pushed on and again Ryan and I were on our own. We weren't sure how far back the others were so we hurried to open the hut and because I'd been thinking about a grilled cheese sandwich all day, I decided to make them for everyone. When I opened the cabinet, we found a bag of Fritos which gave Ryan the idea of doing hand ups for the rest of the crew. The window above the counter looked out onto the entrance to the hut area so at first sign of their arrival, Ryan rushed out the door with Fritos and beers in hand. I yelled out the window, "Grilled cheese sammies for everyone coming up!" I got a loud applause. Brian was stoked about the Fritos. All said and done it was a hard day, but for us, one of the most rewarding because we were able to ride rad new single track. 

The remainder of the afternoon was spent playing cards and a game called Pass the Pigs, outside on the picnic table. We took a walk in the evening and found some slick rock by way of suggestions from the hut manual that said to "find cool rocks take the trail to the right of the hut". So from that day on, if we saw similar slick rock along the way, we'd call out "Hey, cool rocks!" It was another great day of riding with friends, eating with friends and being away with friends. 

DAY 4 - Invasion of the Goats

That morning we were starting to feel it: the legs were stiffer, the butt more tender and the low back more cranky. Single track riding definitely incorporates more muscles and that morning, it was easy to know which ones. With the additional weight on our bikes, it's no wonder we were sore. There would be no single track option on this day, just miles and miles of rolling gravel, starting at just above 10K ending between 8K-9K. 


Riding the 402 so we had to stop for a photo.

Along the way we regrouped a few times. At one particular stop, we finally got a payoff with an awe inspiring view to the west, and our first look at the La Sal mountains, where we'd be in a couple days. 

From that spot we descended down a few hundred feet and the feeling was glorious. It was pretty amazing to be so far out and not see a human soul. There were plenty of free range cows along the way, as much of the area is a patchwork of arid ranch land. But it still was surprising to discover, after riding down a road marked "private", that our next hut was indeed on a private ranch. We had to go through a latched gate and close it behind us. The hut was situated up on a slight hill, as was the outhouse. The SJH manual informed us that there was going to be a shower here but it wasn't clear where it was located. We could see a house and a bunch of fence-lined pastures, another building of some sort and a small historic cabin opposite the hut. Ryan and I were not far ahead of the others, so we quickly parked our bikes and opened the hut to start lunch prep. Immediately I could smell urine and I feared something had gotten into the hut and made itself at home. I couldn't see anything to support my theory but it definitely reeked. I opened the windows in hopes to air it out. 

While making tuna sandwiches, I heard the others pulling up and not long after Ryan yelled at me to come out. GOATS! There were three goats, one white and two black. The white one seemed to be in charge. Everyone was petting them but not for long because quickly it was clear that all they cared about was eating not food, a.k.a our clothes, our bike bags or anything we set on the picnic table. And they wouldn't take no for an answer. They would not leave us be. Not for a minute. We had to park our bikes further away and then go inside the hut with our gear on. We couldn't even eat lunch outside as one had climbed up the steps to the door and was butting it with its head. Eventually they did get bored of us and wandered off to play with the other farm animals. Finally we could relax and hang out outside. 

I explored the historical cabin, which looked like it was still being used as such, as it had modern mattresses on the bunks and some pots and pans. I did also manage to locate the shower house, which was a cement block building with one side for the resident and the other for us dirt bags. It had a sink and a shower area with two heads, legit towels and soap. I immediately went back to the hut to grab a change of clothes so I could enjoy the lap of luxury. I had to hobble together some shampoo from a few half-opened bottles but I felt like a new person after that shower! 

Back at the hut, we sat around on camp chairs and eventually the goats returned. Brian, who's quite tall, managed to scare them by yelling and screaming like a wild man. When Ryan tried the same tactic, they just stood there looking at him like, "Yo, that was lame as shit" so Brian chased them again until they retreated under the hut. Aha, that's why the hut smelled like urine! It was sitting atop the area where they went not only to keep cool and sleep but to do their potty business. 

Lauren found a new friend.

Naughty goats!

After they came back out from hiding, attempting to munch on our stuff, somebody had the idea of putting their bikes on the deck-side of the hut. Once all the bikes were placed, I built a barrier around the perimeter with tree stumps that had been under the trailer in hopes it would deter the goats from jumping up there. 

Finally, after a long day on the bike and fending off goats, and after everyone was showered and fed, we turned in for the night. The next day's ride would either be the most fun or the most painful. Or both.