Colorado Trail, Desert Southwest (CO,AZ,UT,NM), Trip Reports » CT/C.A.R. tour volume 1by Scott Morris
Last year’s fun on the CT:
Time for Chapter 2, Volume 1.
This year I reside in Manitou Springs, not Golden. We decided that rather than shuttle a car to Denver, we’d ride right from my house in Manitou. The CT is not far, but a question remained – where exactly to connect?
That decision wasn’t made until literally 20 minutes before we left the door. I had mapped out 3 different options, all ready to be loaded into our GPS units. In the end we decided we didn’t really want to start our tour of Colorado with hike-a-bike, so we chose option 3, the easiest and longest.
It started out superbly. We coasted through downtown Manitou Springs and rolled into Red Rock Canyon. Red Rock was the perfect way to start a tour — singletrack and climbs so subtle you hardly notice them.
We climbed through Quarry Pass, up Roundup, then out the top of the park to connect to Section 16. Mike had to stop 4 or 5 times to add pressure to his brand new, untested, tubeless wheels. When he finally stopped to put a tube in, I officially granted him “that guy” status for the day. Lucky for him, this was the shortest day of the trip.
After more fun trail on Section 16, we popped out on Gold Camp Road to begin the long climb into “the Mountains.” You’ve got to get out of the plains somehow, and this was as good a way as any. To our left was Kansas. In front of us, the Rockies. Time to climb.
It was a pleasant evening. No traffic, gentle railroad grade, evening light. We made it to 10,000 feet before switching on our headlamps to search for a camp site.
Amazing — camping with Mike Curiak, and it wasn’t raining (YET). (See the links above for descriptions of all the thunder and rain that seem to follow Mike around)
My bivy bag was on standby, but I never used it. It was a good night.
We continued on the route, eventually retracing some of my Ring the Peak route, backwards. We then went in search of singletrack at Dome Rock and Mueller Park. My map was only a couple years old, but sadly it was out of date. “No mountain bikes beyond this sign.” (a park ranger later told me that the bighorn sheep were getting scared of bikes)
Shut out of singletrack, we reluctantly left the trailhead to ride YET MORE dirt roads. This was a major blow to our morale, and really killed this route, in my mind. We made one last attempt to find good riding by climbing up into Mueller Park via the park road. We gained a nice view, but little in terms of good riding. Apparently all the narrow singletrack in the park was getting scared by bikes too — only old double tracks were open to us.
Still, there are worse things than having to ride dirt roads all day, and that’s what this day turned into. We stopped briefly in Divide, where Mike ate his first of four ice cream treats (there would be many, throughout the day). Divide led to Lake George, where I made a few on-sight route changes (based only on connecting roads I saw on the GPS). I was just trying to keep things a tad interesting.
It kinda worked, and soon we were on the Tarryall detour of the Colorado Trail, which features… even more dirt roads! Still, I was curious to see what it was like, and it wasn’t bad at all. Fast roads, broken pavement, minimal climbs, and nice scenery. But mountain biking it was not.
It was along the Tarryall that Mike confessed his misspent youth — on nintendo games. He admitted to taking down Mike Tyson himself (no easy task), winning Metroid (bikini ending), and winning money (!!) in dorm wide Ice Hockey tournaments. I could barely keep my bike upright, I was laughing so hard (I was also a nintendo junkie in my youth, but I freely admit it!).
That’s what long rides on boring dirt roads will do to you — make you admit your darkest secrets.
As we neared the actual CT I noticed vague connecting roads on the GPS that I seemed to have missed in the initial drawing of the route. One way was a graded, vehicle infested road, another a quiet double track. We took the double track.
Let’s just say it didn’t turn out quite as I planned. We did some hike-a-bike (with no trail), chin scratching, and in the end burned quite a bit of time. But we did get on the CT a little bit earlier.
At last, we were on singletrack. And the singletrack was good.
But the weather was not. We stopped to ascertain direction of movement, but it’s rather academic when storm clouds surround you.
We made it to Kenosha Pass without incident, but the occasional views into South Park revealed our time was limited. With 100 miles on today’s clock so far, we decided to hole up in the campground to see if the storm(s) would pass by.
They didn’t. I spent about an hour under the overhang outside the bathroom before realizing it was going to be a long, wet night. I walked over to chat with the ever-so-friendly camp host (who seemed to be the antithesis of last year’s Kenosha camp host). When I asked about motels in Jefferson, he responded there was now a motel in Grant, 8 miles, downhill from where we stood. Easy choice.
We donned full rain gear and readied ourselves for a unpleasant 1500 foot drop. We survived, and soon were inhaling second hand smoke in the living room slash motel office. It was good to be indoors since it ended up raining most of the night.
The early morning climb back to Kenosha Pass was a small price to pay, and not a bad way to warmup worked legs. We were soon back on the CT, ready for a day of awesome singletrack.
It was exactly that.
My legs had strength; the climbs did not intimidate, they did invigorate. Refreshing change from last year.
Trees disappear. Views and flowers present themselves. Is it the rarified air or the qualities of the place itself that makes it seem so other-worldly?
I think Mike put it best, “we don’t spend nearly enough time in places like this.”
Fortunately, we had the luxury of time. Last year we were chased from the pass by electricity. This year we took photos, sat down and spent some time up there.
The descent to the Swan River seemed about 7.5 times more fun this year. Not worrying about the weather was great, but so was the Lenz Leviathan. No doubt in my mind — this was the bike for this trip.
We crossed the road and onto new-to-me Colorado Trail (we missed the ‘Tiger Loop’ section last year due to pounding rain). The climb was great, but thoroughly overshadowed by the descent. I proclaimed to Mike at some point, “whoever designed this trail deserves an award!”. The downhill flowed endlessly, always at high speed. I remember a lot of coasting, smiling and laughing.
We ran into a couple hiking the CT, with dog. They said he’s a happy dog as long as he gets ice cream in every town. That pretty much describes Mike’s outlook on the Colorado Trail (and life in general). I chuckled and told them I had the same situation with my CT buddy.
As we descended to “Breck” we could see Black Doom approaching from the south. We pedaled the bike path into Frisco, got a room, and called it a day at 3pm.
“Now this is touring,” says Mike. By the time I got out of the shower, it was pouring, and we were both laughing.
Early AM, easy pedaling on the Tenmile bike path. At Copper Mtn it was time to climb out of the trees again. The trail was just as I remember it – very rideable and absolutely a blast. The climb to Searle Pass could have been twice as long, for all I cared. It was a blast from start to finish.
Mike offered me dinner if I made it to Searle with 2 or less dabs. May as well make it interesting.
It looks like Mike’s going to make it here, but he didn’t, and neither did I. Dab 1.
Dabs 2,3 and 4 came soon enough, finally giving up and walking the final pitch. Great challenge, and awesome trail.
More good trail vibes continued on the lovely section between Searle and Kokomo. Then it was time to descend, and none too soon. The storms had moved in already. Neither he nor I could stop taking pictures, so it was a slow descent. But a memorable one.
As we neared Camp Hale the skies let loose. The cowardly bikers scurried into old bunkers to attempt to “wait it out.” This storm would not be waited out, so we eventually struck out and returned to the trail. It was interesting to see how poorly the trail up to Tennessee Pass drains. Water was running right down the trail, not off it. Yet, it wasn’t all that rutted and wasn’t all that bad to ride.
We crawled towards the pass, stopping at times, then finally committed to it. It wasn’t raining at the pass, nor on the Leadville side. We blasted down the highway, headed for PBville.
Lee Blackwell was waiting for us, and his Leviathan was prepped and ready to ride, including his homebrew titanium rack. We ate a good meal and got some quality sleep before setting off towards Mt. Elbert in the morning……
Tune in next time as our heroes ride the Elbert Trail and deviate from the Colorado Trail in search of alpine bliss. Independence Pass, Aspen and Crested Butte await!
Volume 2 is here: