Colorado Trail MTB Bike Tour
Day 21 - Kennebec Pass to the End
August 10, 2006. It was to be our last day. A little sad, a little tired, but very motivated, we were up and breaking down camp about 6:00 a.m. It hadn't rained last night, and there was a cloudless sky, with a golden glow in the east as the sun rose above the pine forests at Sig Creek campground. It was a little different this morning, as we were literally packing up camp, not just breaking it down. There was a sense of urgency, as well as a sense of reluctance. This was it. We were loaded, packed, and heading down the road by 7:45 a.m.
Logistically, our plan had run into a bit of a snafu this morning. Yesterday we'd ridden just the segment planned, and Phil had a 90 minute drive to pick us up. We were faced with doing that 90 minute drive, then climbing over 2,000' vertical up a 2.3 mile jeep road to get back to the trailhead of Segment 28. The guidebook described a detour that was a "2WD" dirt road, that crossed Segment 28 about 2 miles in. This, according to the guidebook, would be much shorter drive and therefore allow us more time on the trail.
Again, we were led somewhat astray by the guidebook. The dirt road was 17 miles long, and rough in many places. It took us 2 hours to reach what we thought would be the Colorado trail crossing. Following the directions in the guidebook, we ended up at the Clear Creek trailhead, which is supposed to be a great mountain bike trail in it's own right, but was not the Colorado Trail. We decided to park there, as we could tell from the GPS waypoints that the trail was less than a mile away, and the road we were on seemed to be paralleling it. It was nearly 11:00 a.m. when we rode off, leaving Phil to drive back down the dirt road and prepare his touring bike for his big adventure.
We back-tracked down the road from the Clear Creek trailhead and headed down Road 171N, which was not even listed or named on the guidebook map. We followed this out for a good 3/4 of a mile, and found the trail crossing the road. In order to do the Kennebec pass, we'd have to climb about 1300' in elevation in 2 miles or so, up a steep and narrow single track. It was late, we were feeling the distance so we decided to head down the trail instead of up. We essentially missed 2 miles of the Colorado trail. That said, we still had 19 or more miles of trail to ride to the end of the Colorado Trail.
In retrospect, we'd have been better off riding the first few miles of Segment 28 down to where it crosses the 171N, and either riding the fire road down to camp, or having Phil meet us there. This would have worked really well if we'd packed up and moved camp from Sig Creek to Junction Creek the night before. Hindsight is 20/20, as they say.
We headed down the trail. Narrow, smooth, fast single track snaking it's way down forested valleys and crossing creeks. It was a pleasure to ride, especially after some of our adventures over the past few weeks.
We were barely a half mile in when Hans had his first mechanical. The cable for his rear derailleur had jumped out of the groove that routes and aligns the cable with the correct pull direction on the rear derailleur. The little track had cracked and broken in his run in with the rock yesterday. He tried putting it back in the track, but it jumped right out again.
A little more inspection and we found that the cable was frayed at the upper end of the last piece of cable housing, and was not sliding through the housing at all. We changed the cable. His XO shifter had been smashed on the rack while driving on the rough dirt road, and the adjusting barrel was broken so there was no way to adjust it. He broke out the remaining pieces of plastic from the shifter so that the new cable could be passed through the hole and routed correctly. We got the new cable in, and zip-tied it to the guide channel on the derailleur. It seemed to be shifting OK, so we left it as is.
We rode on for several more miles of fantastic downhill. Swooping down through the forest, with wildflowers and plant life bashing our shins and hands as we rode through the tight growth. There were a few rocky sections and tight switchbacks, but for the most part, the trail was just plain fast and fun.
At one point the trail switchbacked below a waterfall. We stopped for a few minutes taking it in.
At times the trail was only a few tire-widths wide, with thick growth either side. As we descended from over 10,500' downwards, the air became noticably drier and warmer. At times the trail looked like the back side of Strawberry peak after a good rain; firm pine-needled dirt with a few rocks that required one to pick a good line. At other times it became rocky and loose. Ed had a nice slow-motion OTB a split second after the photo below was taken.
We were having a great time. While there weren't the panoramic views and incredible scenery that we'd seen on some sections, this was a great trail, a great downhill, and the focus was on the riding and the reward for what we'd put ourselves through over the past three weeks.
We passed a couple of hikers with their dog. They recognized us from two days ago up near Blackhawk pass. They too had been on the trail for three weeks, but had only done half of it while hiking.
The trail wound its way down to where it joined and followed alongside a creek. There were a few creek crossings, and a well-constructed bridge.
Hans was ahead, and Ed was stopped on the bridge getting ready to take a photo of Steve coming across. There was a loud crunch of breaking branches, a yell, and a bell ring. Hans had taken a pretty good uphill crash on the other side of the bridge and fell about 8 feet down below the trail into the rocks and brush below. He'd broken his bell, and banged up his ankle in the process.
Steve was first on the crash scene and taking photos as he asked if Hans was OK. When he said no, Steve kept taking photos while Ed helped get his bike back up on the trail.
This was the start of a 1,000' climb. Hans' bike wasn't shifting again, as the cable tension had eased a little. He found a creative solution to tension the cable, since his adjustment barrel was broken. He put a stick between the cable and the top tube. The problem was finding the right sized stick.
This climb went on quite steadily for a good 4 miles, with a one-mile reprieve in between. It climbed about 800', so the grade was fairly gentle. There was nothing that couldn't be ridden, if one was fresh, and hadn't just ridden 435 miles.... so we walked a few sections. But for the most part it was a good climb.
We finally reached the top of the climb and stopped for a break. We'd completed the last significant climb on the Colorado trail, and it was good cause to celebrate. We shot a few photos, and jumped for joy!
When Hans landed from his jump for joy, he landed on the valve stem of his back wheel and broke it off. It was an instant Pffffsssshhhh and it was flat. It was his first flat on the trip! On inspecting the wheel, we also found a broken spoke. That took a few minutes to replace, then we headed downhill for the next 9 miles.
The trail here rolled on fairly level with a slight downhill grade. It was fast and fun. We cruised down into the heat and drier air.
There were also lots of water diversions which made perfect jumps to keep it interesting. Ed was definitely feeling better today than he had two days ago.
At one point the trail became a jumble of jagged rocks. Steve bottomed out his suspension, which hadn't been adjusted since we were at 11,000'. He recalibrated and added a few pounds of pressure and all was good. Hans had lost his derailleur adjustment stick, and was having trouble finding one the right size. Ed adjusted his brakes, and we were on our way again.
Steve led the way, but soon realized there was nobody behind him. A few minutes later, Hans showed up, his face covered in dirt. He'd taken a good OTB face-first into the dirt, then Ed had run over his bike. The dirt sample remained on his face for later testing... and tasting. It was pretty obvious Hans was feeling the fatigue of the past three weeks, and his bike was also showing some severe signs of abuse. Worse yet, some of his mechanicals (jumping on the valve stem, breaking his shifter on the rack) had happened while he wasn't even on the bike. For example, his nice, straight derailleur.
For the last few miles we cruised at a steady, but not breakneck pace. It was not worth coming this far to get an injury. And besides, as we approached the end, we didn't want it to end. We stopped at Gudy's Rest, an overlook with a bench seat dedicated to one of the Colorado Trail pioneers, a woman named Gudy.
The trail was seeming more familiar (drier, dustier, wider, bigger drops and cliff side exposure) as we dropped down to 7,200' elevation at the end of the trail.
We cruised out the end of the trail and found Phil with his touring bike loaded and ready to take off, the truck sitting in the Colorado Trail parking lot, waiting for us. This was our first day in the last 19 without rain, and the temperature was in the upper 80's. It was hot, compared to what we'd become used to.
We had ridden 19 miles for the day, with 1800' of ascent and 4700' of descent. It was only our second day without rain. We'd ridden for 2:30, with a total time of four hours. This was our easiest day, going by the numbers, but in some ways it was our most difficult.
Reaching the end of the trail was a milestone, of sorts. We'd come through about 440 miles of trail, about 390 of which had been single track. The Colorado trail is 469 miles long, but since we had shuttled around the wilderness areas, and added some extra credit in other areas, we'd pushed the total up a bit, and had felt pretty darn good about it.
We loaded up the truck and got ready to head out and back to California.
It was the end of our adventure, but the start of Phil's He planned to ride back to California on his touring bike, taking his time and heading back up north, across Montana and eventually to Oregon and down the coast. We wish him well, and hope he keeps us updated on his progress.
It's tough to pick a favorite part of the trail. While some parts stand out for their scenery, some for the riding, some for the gruelling adversity and the conditions, it is the trail as a whole that can't be taken away. Riding the Colorado trail is an experience that we'll have with us for the rest of our lives. To do one part or one section might make for an absolutely incredible ride, nothing will match doing the whole trail.
All we can say is that we long for the day when we can actually do the whole trail, wilderness areas included, on our vehicles of choice: mountain bikes.
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