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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Calgary gives; gearing up, again

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I have ridden a bit over 3000 miles since Maryland; maybe more, but my method of calculation is a bit vague and misunderstood (by me). The last push to Calgary included an evening scramble for a campsite and an early morning start to get to town before noon. From the outside looking in, Calgary is sprawling uncontrollably, reflecting a booming oil industry despite general recession. From the inside, the city feels properly dense, and centralized; people seem happy and healthy, although my bias includes spending the day outdoors of the Bow Valley cycle path, swimming in the milky-green glacial Bow River, and some shopping at MEC (Mountain Equipment Co-op, think REI). With sunny summer weather, bronzed bodies, and plentiful cottonwoods, this could Denver. Early August seems a nice time to visit Calgary. A very livable city with exceptional cycle facilities in town, and a real river. Floating the river seems a popular pastime.

Coming into town I happened upon a farm of Saskatoonberries; much
like a serviceberry, I asked for permission to load a handful into my oats and cottage cheese. Once I beat my way through the outer layer of construction, housing, and industry, an inner zone of urban bliss unfolded, beginning with a generous farmer’s market boasting BC’s plenty. Everything looked amazing, and everything was from BC. I spent twenty dollars and loaded food I didn’t know how to prepare into a bag already full with gear. I thank Carradice for the development of the Longflap models. And I ate.

MEC is well stocked and should have made life simple. Rather, I shopped for hours, mostly exercising my ability not to purchase. I tested well and only bought essential items such as a chain, lube, and some dry bags. I tried on some slick outdoorsy duds that are supposed to be for climbers, but opted for tattered used goods that are molded to the shape and stench of my body (like a Brooks, of course). A few weeks away from these temptations makes you think you’ve earned it. I didn’t, and it doesn’t work that way. Mostly, I don’t have room for more stuff, and that’s a blessing.

Warmshowers granted a roof and a meal; it keeps on giving. My host works nearby at Canada’s largest bike shop– Bow Cycle– and was able to hook-up some employee pricing on a basic cyclocomputer, some bottle cages, sunglasses, and a very sub-par lock– exactly the kind I like.

Finally, the hardware store netted some teflon tape to repair my stove’s seal; the cheapest liter of stove fuel I have seen in North America ($3.80), and some hose clamps to mount bottle cages to my fork blades. I went there. I have decided that I will most likely not carry a water pump or dedicated purification system, but by adding a few ounces to the bike I have nearly doubled my capacity. I may cook with untreated water and will carry a back-up chemical treatment such as iodine, bleach, or some commercial product. None of this is absolutely final. Free popcorn fueled my parking lot repairs.

So, I spent a bunch of money; have too
much– thankfully– good food; and nothing feels different. It shouldn’t, but what did I benefit from the offerings of the big city? Not much. The city, more likely, benefit from me.

The score: I spent $120+/-, added two liters water capacity, improved my stove and refueled; acquired new chain and lube, lots of fruits and vegetables, and a few other items which I can’t recall and can’t be that important. Finally, with no more to “do” in town and nowhere to stay, I reluctantly leave late in the afternoon toward Banff.

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