Sounds impressive, right? But for non-Coloradans, it’s not THAT far. It does, however, require a lot of climbing; those damn mountain passes just get in the way. Mark and I had been considering a trip like this for a while. It was with a self-guided tour with a company out of Durango. You do the riding and they schlep your stuff from place to place.
Mark and I happened to be the only two people signed up for our dates, which was really nice because it meant we had everything to ourselves, including our driver/guide.
It was a great trip, with a little unintended adventure thrown in for good measure.
Day 1: Thursday
Brian (our driver/guide) picks us up around 7:30 in Durango. We load up the trailer with our stuff. There is plenty of room, since the tour can handle up to 14 people. Apparently we didn’t have to worry about packing so light. The drive to our starting point near Telluride is nearly 3 hours; Brian is great, and it goes by quickly. We finally reach our starting point, the Deep Creek trailhead. Mark and I don’t pay all that much attention because we have mapped everything out beforehand from the itinerary (which was admittedly not very detailed). We have the route on Mark’s watch, we have multiple maps and apps. We are not worried about route finding.
Brian asks us if we want to go over the route for the day and we assure him we are good to go. His last-minute tip: “remember, don’t go left at the turn about a half mile up” goes straight over our heads. We know exactly where we are going.
The trail is tough from the start, but we expected a long climb. Then it gets tougher. Pretty soon, we are hiking much of it – it’s even too steep and technical for Mark to ride in many spots. By the time we reach the top of the climb, I am trying really hard to remind myself to stay positive. It’s taken us about an hour and a half to do 3 miles. The lovely description for today’s ride does not match what we just climbed. I am a little disheartened and seriously wondering if I will make it through this trip.
The next 4 miles of Deep Creek are not terrible. It’s rolling, pretty technical in spots but not nearly as bad as the climb. We finally finish the descent: 3+ hours of riding and we’ve only done ¼ of the day’s miles. Mark’s watch has been telling us we are on route the whole time, so we are unconcerned. But things seem a little confusing. We know what we are supposed to be seeing, but it doesn’t seem to match with what we ARE seeing. We reach a trailhead, which has a map. We look at the map and both of our reactions is “how rude that they put YOU ARE HERE in the wrong spot on the official map”. It takes 2 apps and another map check to confirm that they aren’t jerks; we are idiots. You see, there are TWO Deep Creek trailheads. And we have just reached the one that we thought we started at. We weren’t actually supposed to ride that hellish trail.
I turn on my phone and find a text from Brian – sent about an hour into our ride – asking how we are doing. It is clear from his wording that he means “where the hell are you, you should be passing through Telluride by now”. I call him, laughing now, and explain what we have done. His reaction is a simple “you rode Deep Creek??”. We arrange an extraction – he picks us up and takes us into Telluride where we can get a coffee and continue on the actual route for the day. I am feeling my legs from the Deep Creek climb and the 26 miles I ran only 5 days before. I am increasingly concerned about my ability to complete the rest of the trip.
After coffee and food in Telluride, Mark and I continue on. We have about 16 miles to go and over 1700 feet of elevation gain, but it will be much more gradual. By the time we reach our first campground I am knackered. It’s after 6pm, so it’s definitely time for beer as we set up the tent and cook dinner. This campground has a shower, so I take advantage of it; this will be my last shower until Sunday night.
I sleep like a baby on my new Helinox cot. I bought the cot after suffering through too many nights on squishy sleeping pads. After this trip, I am a cot convert.
Day 2: Friday
I’m up early as usual. There’s not much to do but drink coffee and wait for the sun to come up. I spend some time in the bathroom with the hand dryer blowing on me to keep my hands and feet warm.
The day dawns with a beautiful blue sky and my spirits are lifted. We make sure to go through today’s route in detail with Brian this time. We are a little gun-shy!
After an easy 5-mile climb to the top of Lizard Head pass, we start up the East Fork trail for the real climb of the day. There are a few sections of hike a bike, but for the most part it is rideable. I am riding so much better on Stella than I ever have before. My legs are feeling pretty torched today; but I know the second day is usually the worst. We take our time and stop to enjoy the scenery and eat food. Still we are at our second camp – Celebration Lake – in a little over 3 hours.
It’s not a big lake, more like a pond, and 2 of the 3 campsites are taken. The one left is right by the lake and out in the open. To be friendly, we ask the guy in the one campsite if it will bother him if we camp there. His response “well, it will be a little annoying if you have a ton of people and are noisy. Oh, and we have kids. Oh, and we will be using the lake… etc.”. At this point, I decide we need to find a campsite away from the lake. We all hope that some big rowdy group will show up and camp right next to this guy.
Just up the hill there is a perfect spot. It even has its own mini pond. We set up camp, much more relaxed today. The weather continues to be amazing. We have a group of deer who hang out near our camp, clearly unconcerned about us. We even have a fire tonight, which is a real treat!
Day 3: Saturday
Today we will ride the Colorado trail and climb up and over Blackhawk Pass. These sections of the Colorado Trail are truly spectacular and in great shape. We make good time to the bottom of Blackhawk Pass and take a quick break. I’m feeling much better today.
The climb up Blackhawk is steep and fairly technical. Early on, I gamble on a rocky section and lose; Stella and I fall hard down the slope. I don’t hit my head on a rock (bonus!) but I do manage to torque my shoulder and bend my saddle. I’m a little shaken, but both Stella and I appear to be in one piece. Mark muscles my saddle back into position, more or less, and we head on.
Now I’m hiking quite a bit, my confidence is shaken. Thankfully it is not a super long climb. We reach the top and it is clear that bad weather is moving in quickly. I snap a few pictures and we bail off the top of the mountain before the lightning starts. It’s a great descent even for me. After descending, we have some more rolling and climbing to reach our camp. About 3 miles from camp, lightning strikes so close that I almost fall off my bike. It is followed by hail and rain. Mark and I shelter under a tree until the lightning is further away and the rain has almost stopped. We make it to camp without further incident.
Not long after we reach camp, the skies open up on us. Now THIS is a rain storm. There is another group with the same company camped next to us. They are still out there, having done a much bigger ride today. We are all hoping they aren’t on the top of a pass. The rain just keeps coming. Around 6pm, as Mark and I are taking advantage of a break in the rain to set up our tent, I hear someone call my name. I look up and it is my friend Sydney from Crested Butte, covered in mud but smiling as always! It turns out the group is a bachelor party (with Sydney being the one girl) for a guy from Crested Butte, and I know several of them. They straggle in – it’s been a hell of a day for them, but they are all strong riders and in remarkably good spirits. Beer helps.
The rain continues, torrential at times. We are all a little worried about our ride the next day, and I’m starting to think it may be a ride in a van.
Day 4: Sunday
The rain stops sometime in the night and the morning is bright and sunny. It’s pretty muddy out but we decide to stick with our plan. Because of the recent fires, we can’t actually ride to Durango (that trail is closed), so we have a modified route that will drop us out about 30 miles from Durango.
We head down the Colorado Trail to the Salt Creek trail, which everyone has raved about as an epic descent. Can I just say that I think I need a trigger warning anytime people start raving about EPIC mountain bike descents? EPIC DESCENT is not really what I look for in a ride!
We reach Salt Creek and I surprise myself – and Mark – by riding the first really (really) steep section. I’m pretty stoked. I do still have to walk some technical sections, but I ride a good portion of the whole EPIC DESCENT. YEAH STELLA!!!!
After descending nearly 6 miles, we have to climb right back up. Fortunately, the climb is up a jeep road, with a more reasonable grade. There are some steep sections that test my ability to stay upright while barely moving, but we ride the whole thing and make it to the top in good time.
We just happen to run into the other group’s guide, Glen, at the top (we’ve basically done a big loop back to near where we started). He convinces us to ride another black diamond trail down instead of taking the road. I’m glad we do – it’s a lot of fun and I’m feeling pretty happy with my riding. We ford the creek at the bottom and ride one mile up an easy trail to our meeting point.
Brian shuttles us back to our cars, we load up, grab coffee and head back home (me to Crested Butte and Mark to Fraser).
I make it to CB around 7:00 and pick up Puck, who has had a fun slumber party with Bandit and family. Carrie’s two little girls have really bonded with him, to the point that Bandit is getting jealous and is ready for him to go back to his own home.
I leave all the cleaning for the next day. I’m exhausted. Thankfully Puck is too.
It was a great trip! I’m thankful my legs held up.
Now it’s time for a week of recovery before I run 40 miles on Saturday.
Don’t ask me what I was thinking!