The Salida Circuit

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Salida makes the list of exceptional small towns with happy people and healthy economies.  A loose association of places that I may someday like to live, these towns all claim something special aside from jobs and homes.  Salida claims world-class singletrack and one of the most popular paddling spots in the US, the Upper Arkansas River.  What it doesn’t have, is a thriving ski industry.  That’s why it looks and feels like a real place.  Marquette, MI has Lake Superior, rail-trails and nearby forests.  Ithaca, NY is Gorges, if a little less happy.  State College, PA has access to amazing local forests and trails, but an overwhelming college culture.  San Luis Obisco, CA is great, but about 12 miles too far from the beach.  I hear Ashville, NC is nice.  And Flagstaff, AZ.  Leadville is a dream, although living at 10,200ft has both costs and benefits.  The more I travel, the more selective I become.  I may never settle down.

Salida warrants a week.  We found a ride to Interbike with a local shop owner, so we had a week to spare.  We waited out some weather, commuted to town every day on singletrack, and went for an epic overnight trip.  For a week, we were residents of Salida, doing all the normal things that people do, except working.

The greatest warmshowers host has a home in Salida, but lives in Texas.  Imagine the luxury of a house on a hill out of town after three months in a tent.  Of course, the outdoor hot tub overlooks the valley and several 14,000ft peaks.  Every morning, Lael practiced yoga as I wrote and drank coffee.  In the afternoon we would commute to town on singletrack– North Backbone to Lil Rattler, and then the Front Side Trail to downtown Salida.  We finished the day making conversation at one of three local bike shops– all amazing– before stopping at the grocery store and riding home at dusk.  Every evening, we prepared a feast.

Waiting out some weather, and snow in the mountains.

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Commuting to town is fun, until someone gets hurt.

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Riding home.

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Enraptured in the routine of city life, another commute to town.

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Crying makes it better.

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Front Side descends right into town, right onto Main Street.

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Route planning in town.

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Salida, 7083ft.  West on County Rte 140, cross Highway 50 to 220, a dirt road.  Then a few miles up towards Monarch Pass on Hwy 50 to Fooses Creek.  Back on dirt, connect to the Colorado Trail and climb another 3000ft to the Monarch Crest Trail, and the Continental Divide Trail.  Push the last 1000ft up to 11,920ft.  Finally, almost 5000ft above Salida.  Rest.

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Five miles along the Monarch Crest Trail at almost 12,000ft towards Marshall Pass.  As you ride over passes, they are the highest topographic point.  When riding ridges, the passes are the lowest.  Four more miles to Silver Creek, the last drainage that will route us back to town.  Further, the Colorado Trail leads over the Continental Divide towards Sargents Mesa.  For now, we want to return to the east side of the Divide, to Salida.

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Beyond Marshall Pass, toward the SIlver Creek drainage.

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Silver Creek, as the sun falls.

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…until someone gets hurt, and a crank is bent.  Could be worse.  At least it clears the chain stay.  Fading light, pedal on.

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Final light.

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Finishing up by headlight.  As soon as the sun falls, my dynamo lighting becomes visible in the thick wooded singletrack.  At the junction of FS 201, the road to Bonanza, and the Rainbow Trail, we select the Rainbow Trail.  We were here a year ago and have already ridden down the FS road.  Time for something new, in the dark.

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The final descent to Hwy 285.  High fives and a fast paved downhill to town.

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Love. Salida.

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Many thanks to Anton from Salida Bike Company for the ride to Interbike in Las Vegas.  And many more thanks for the escape from hundred degree heat and slot machines.  For now, we’re back in Colorado.

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Sleeping in teepee(s)

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There is warmshowers.org, and strangers randomly arise to help or host; and then there are those that spend 14 hours a day cooking in a diner in Sargents (barely a town) and at the end of the day, manage to help a trio of weary, but well-fed cyclists.

“Where y’all camping?”

We point, “over there”, which means we know there is some legally habitable property– BLM land, we think– but nothing more to invite us away from the warm diner we are about to exit.

She thinks, remarking that the gully or gulch we must be referring to is real nice. “You’ll have to unlatch the barbed-wire gate. It’s for the cattle.”

She warns us of the expected temperatures in the night– colder than we expected, by a few degrees. A little colder than cold, sounds like.

Twelve degrees will be fine.

She follows us outside to lock the door, is surprised at our bikes (riding them, that is) and immediately offers us the teepee. “The teepee?”

By the creek. The diner is also a gas station and a gift shop and an RV park; and a single teepee, with a propane stove modeled like a campfire, with three cots.

We’ve experiencing a string of hospitality, aside from the teepee, in La Garita and Del Norte. Gary and Patti Blakely are those platinum-level hosts that welcome dozens of cyclists a season; remembering names and bike models, culminating in a panoramic landscape of Divide riders for the season, year after year. This year: the race, without Matthew; Jay’s solo TT, Greg and Sadie from Duluth and homemade bags, lots of Trolls, three Fargos (or more); and our crew, the last of the season.

Probably only one High Sierra. Trivial, but proud.

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Any bike, anywhere; Lael’s Big Day

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From Monarch Pass to Marshall Pass, the Monarch Crest Trail (MCT) winds its way atop the Continental Divide. The Great Divide Mountain Bike Route glimpses the actual watershed divide on many ocassions; the MCT, and the Continental Divide National Scenic Trail which follows these same twelve miles, actually walk that line. For two hours, we were on either side of a ridge– up and over 12,000 ft– channelled through beautifully maintained singletrack, passing even more beautiful high alpine scenery. For two hours: we pushed our bikes through recent snowfall, hidden from the sun; crested the CD ridge to views over fifty miles in yet another direction; and for a few moments, enjoyed some quite rideable, “flowy” singletrack atop mountains. This, finally, is mountain biking.

From Marshall Pass, several more miles of the Continental Divide/Colorado Trail continue along the ridge before dropping into the Silver Creek Drainage at a rapid rate; descending switchbacks and talus fields, through streambeds and over deadfall. A few smooth sections of trail balance the technical rocky descents, which heat the rims enough to make you wonder, “what’s on fire?”. It’s dried mud and brake compound, with trail detritus, all served on overheated rims. Mmmm.

Yesterday was Lael’s first singletrack experience– loaded. Monarch Crest marks a second day of singletrack– this time unloaded– in which she proved her prowess in technical terrain, on a fat-tired touring bike, technically. There isn’t much traffic on the Crest this time of year, but we still turned a few heads with a pair of each: Rohloffs, full-sized Porcelain Rocket framebags, Tubus racks and drop bars. Much like the freewheeling, early history of mountain biking; enjoying the mountains on a bike is not limited to an industry standard full-suspension rig, but is open to anything your legs can pedal.

“Any bike, anywhere”, is the call of the American Rough Riders association, whose ideals are classically delineated, in Chris Kostman’s essay by the same name. Rather, Chris sets the cyclist and the bike, free.

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Three Trolls

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At last count there were two, but now, there are three Surly Trolls in our Divide caravan. The Troll, especially for American riders, is quickly becoming the dirt touring bike of choice for rides like the Divide, and travel abroad. No need to squeeze mountain bike tires into an LHT, or import Thorn frames from the UK; for $400+ dollars Surly gives you (almost) everything you could want.

Lael’s back, on a whim– another wild hair (or hare). We are: an LHT, three Trolls, and a high-performance High Sierra. Keep laughing– we are.

Salida is a haven of good living and a mecca of mountain biking– there’s nothing not to like about this place. Mid-October days in the mid-seventies, unpretentious town bikes of all shapes and sizes, singletrack that begins a few blocks from Main Street; and real nice people– there’s nothing not to like.

Greg, Lael and I loaded up yesterday, fully intending to leave town and resume our Divide adventures. We selected to ride several miles of singletrack toward town– the Backbone Trail. Two hours later we were exhausted and elated as we descended from the hills into the heart of Salida, panting beneath the willows that shade both the boulevard and the Arkansas River. It was late afternoon by that time, and we were– quite naturally– tired, and staying another day.

We depart this morning for the Monarch Crest Trail, a locally famous bit of singletrack that crests the Continental Divide– following the CDT and the Colorado Trail along it’s length– above treeline for 12 glorious miles, before descending over three thousand feet on one of several return routes to Salida. This should be, in unconventional terms, “epic”. At least, I have a good reason to eat a big breakfast

It’s been a while: Ute Pass, Breckenridge, Boreas Pass at 11,482 ft, and some beautiful riding weather to Salida. We are all thrilled to have company– Lael, Nancy, Greg, Cass, and myself. 20111016-105245.jpg20111016-105305.jpg20111016-105329.jpg20111016-105600.jpg20111016-105817.jpg20111016-105947.jpg20111016-110113.jpg20111016-110241.jpg20111016-110637.jpg20111016-110921.jpg20111016-110943.jpg

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