Riding the Colorado Trail: Days 12 and 13

Video

Day 12 Map

Want more detail or the GPX version of this map?  Click here.

Day 12 – Riding in the Dark

Despite breaking my camera in a fall and losing Andy’s GoPro to water damage over the last week, both Andy and I left Silverton feeling pretty good.  We had slept well at the hostel; we were feeling strong and ready for the last two days of riding; and we had heard that the singletrack out of Silverton was some of the best along the CT.

Out of Silverton, we climbed 7 miles up the road to Molas Pass Trailhead, and were greeted with exactly what we had been dreaming of over the last few days of hiking with our bikes: pristine and RIDEABLE singletrack with alpine views all around us.  The trail was heavily trafficked, but even that was a pleasant change, as we had been riding in isolated wilderness for the past week and seen very few people.

The first 10 miles of riding were great, even though it started to drizzle.  But once out of the congestion of the first few miles, Andy got a flat tire and things went downhill from there.  After getting a tube thrown into his tire (he was riding tubeless but didn’t have enough sealant in his tire for the hole to seal), the drizzle turned into a steady rain and didn’t let up until 6:30pm.  But worse than the perma-rain was the slow deterioration of the trail.  The rain definitely didn’t help, but beyond the sloppiness of the trail, it became an all-too-familiar rocky mess that required walking, our old and faithful nemesis over the last four days.

We both settled into what we would be our most formidable verbal pessimism of the trip, talking about how the trail wasn’t at all what we’d expected, how it was a hiking trail that allowed bikes, not a biking trail, etc., and while these things were true, they weren’t what defined the trip for us – we were just in a bad head space, being 12 days into a 13 day trip with hard rain and unrideable trails.

We grumbled our way over a pass south of Rolling Mountain, soaked to the core and watching the miles tick away at a snail’s pace.  But the sour attitude was not characteristic of either of us, and we were both able to shake it once we started climbing our final major pass of the day, Blackhawk Pass.  From the top of Blackawk, we were rewarded with some absolutely incredible descending, and stopped at what the guidebook said was our last water source for 22 miles: Straight Creek.  At this point, it was almost 8pm, and we were both mentally exhausted.

We continued our descent until we found a campsite a couple miles from Straight Creek, scarfed the last of the warm food – our trusty Knorr packets – and then passed out for what would be our last night of sleeping on the CT.  In total, we rode 38 miles and climbed around 6,600 feet of elevation.

Day 13 Map

Want more detail or the GPX version of this map?  Click here.

Day 13 – Homecoming

Because we knew that there was a lot of riding to get done on our last day, we got up once again at 5am to get an early start.  After quickly descending the last of the Blackhawk Pass descent, we started segment 27, Indian Trail Ridge.  This was some of the most beautiful and enjoyable singletrack we experienced on the entire trip.  The trail follows a ridge for miles, and although we were ascending most of the morning, it was a rideable and gradual ascent, with short sections of downhill that forced even the most weary and trail-beaten riders to crack smiles, i.e. us.

The miles kept ticking away, and we eventually summited our last peak of the trip, Sharktooth Peak, at 12,310 feet with the sounds of lightning crackling directly overhead.  At the top we met two northbound bikepackers just starting their trip who wanted to chat it up with us and receive affirmation that they should continue riding despite the building storm overhead.  While we did not give them said affirmation, we did receive personal affirmation that this was indeed our last major climb, and began our treacherous descent of Sharktooth Peak grinning from ear to ear, despite the massive hailstorm and thunder crashes that caused the trail to look and sound like a war zone.

We made it to Kennebec Trailhead around early afternoon, and this was where the real fun began.  Here is where the trail officially starts its miles-long descent towards Durango, and while we still had over 20 miles to go, Andy and I could smell victory on the horizon.  We began the descent with gusto, so much gusto in fact that Andy went hurtling off a ravine in a particularly technical section of trail.  Fortunately, the trail’s last attempts at humbling us failed and, after taking stock that all of Andy’s limbs were still in place, barreled on through the descent.

After climbing up and over what was to officially be our last sustained climb, we met another set of bikepackers just starting their trip.  These three had a lot of questions for us, and Andy and I officially felt like we had accomplished something after sharing our ‘expertise’ on what lay ahead for these riders over the next couple days (pain, in case you were wondering).

We continued our enjoyable descent and saw our first bear of the trip, a cub actually, which was a bit disconcerting.  This completed the hoped for animal trifecta: cougar, moose, and bear.  I’d wanted to see all of these animals while out on the trail, so mission success.

We finally made it to Junction Creek Trailhead around 4:30pm and stopped to soak in our accomplishment and reflect a bit before heading south to our house rental in Durango.  Coasting through Durango for the last 5 miles, our spirits light and our stoke-factor at breaking point, Andy and I took stock of our last 13 days of riding.

On the day we rode 43 miles, plus an additional 5 on pavement to our rental, and climbed 4,400+ feet of elevation, but overall we’d ridden over 530 miles and climbed 70,000 feet of elevation.  The trail had been kind to us for the first 250 miles to Buena Vista, and then challenged us almost the entire way to Durango, but despite this, we’d made it together.

Broken cameras, hard falls, food and water shortages, late nights, early mornings, highs, lows, unforgettable views, unforgettable people, and 2 weeks of miscellaneous indescribable experiences led us to Durango, where we got to our rental, drank water from the tap, took our first showers in 6 days, and turned on an air conditioner and tv.  Happy to have experienced the Colorado Trail, Andy and I were now ready to slowly gain back the pounds we had lost and soak in the luxuries of domesticated life with our wives for a week of fun and relaxation in Durango.

Mission accomplished.