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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A midwinter night’s dream

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Of open roads, calloused hands and dusty ankles; tires worn threadbare and the last thousand miles of use in a pair of brake pads. Cook some coffee, like a cowboy, and mend a strap on your bag– it’s still a long way to Silver City. Spoonfuls of peanut butter and handfuls of raisins are a delicacy in a diet of lentils and rice and oats and water and salt, but it doesn’t actually get any better than this, and raisins have never been more delicious. A taste of monasticism on the road affords a lot of good living. Get strong, feel happy, eat a lot but not too much, sleep well, write home every once in a while, and meet some people. That’s it. Ride.20120317-090135.jpg

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Thanks to Greg for these images. For several weeks, Greg, Lael and I traveled the Divide from Como, CO to Taos, NM. These photos are all from a late-summer spell of great weather in early October, on the road from Hartsel to Salida, and further south toward Del Norte. Greg recently built a Surly Cross-Check, disguised as a Raleigh Superbe, for an upcoming trip to Italy.

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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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