Friday, April 17, 2009

Lessons. Mostly in geometry.

A few days ago Moobs was looking for a reason to NOT go to AZ to race, and I had a short gap in the wheelbuild queue. Great, let's go bikepacking! But where?

Given the short notice and impending doom forecast for weather, I suggested staying close to home. How close? Riding right out the door, west into the Dolores Triangle.

I'm embarrassed to admit that in a decade of living in this valley I'd never been out to the Dolores. Sure, I've drooled over it on real and online maps many times, but never quite pulled the trigger. I guess it's one of those places that's destined to be overlooked because it's just out of the way enough, or not on the way to somewhere else.

The day arrived and Moobs showed up at the agreed upon time. The lad has been riding heaps, and as such has lost the excess adipose that earned him the nickname. For now, I have no choice but to rename him The Artist Formerly Known as Moobs, hereafter abbreviated as "#".

We tied up last minute minutia (for # this included polishing off an entire Hot 'N Ready pie from Little Sleazers) then rolled out. How cool is it to go exploring and camping, on your bike, right from your back door?!

To get to the Triangle there is no choice but to climb, first on pavement, then a short bit of singletrack.

A brief diversion to check in on an overlook:

Then back to pavement. Somewhere west of the Glade Park Store we could sense that we'd punched through the elastic and left 'town' and traffic behind. And yes, that's a big part of the point...

Among the critters (or tracks, or sign, or poop) sighted while out there were mule deer, elk, hawks, vultures, ravens, coyotes, foxes, and I-swear-to-god fresh muddy imprints left by a big, lone lobo.

Somewhere near the Utah border the GPS insisted that we leave pavement indefinitely. Twist my arm! Not much later I managed to nick a sidewall while manualing across a rut, and although I did my best to fix it without sticking in a tube, I wasn't properly prepared.

What can I say--it was my first dirt tour of the year and I missed a few critical details. Among them: Not enough GPS/camera/headlamp batts and *no* super glue in the repair kit.

I fiddled and fought with the sidewall for at least half an hour (using New Skin--same as Super Glue, right??!?) while # enjoyed poking fun at me and my preference for tubeless tires. He pointed out, accurately, that whenever we ride together I seem to have issues with them. Point taken, but also worth noting that we've only ridden together ~4 times in the last year. How many flats have I had in that span? 6 or 7, and 2 or 3 of them were tubed.


Fiddling complete and tools stashed, we rolled NW towards an idea of a campsite, enjoying the play of light on cloud as it danced before our eyes.

We both found a bit of joy in the small details that are part and parcel of any camping trip, like finding and filtering water, sussing out a good campsite (factoring in current and potential wind and precip, potential fuel sources for the campfire, and paying special attention to the lighting of that fire), arriving at a bomber tarp setup, and adding just the right amount of hot water to your freeze dried glop before inhaling it regardless of taste or consistency.

In other words, we enjoyed all that the evening brought.

And then we slept the sleep of the just. The 'just plain tired'...

Morning brought clear skies and warm temps, both of which we enjoyed while leisurely packing up and readying for the day.

A 30 second hike from camp brought us a unique vista of some familiar places. Neat to see Westwater Mesa and Bitter Creek Overlook from the other side of the river.

We climbed away from camp and headed for the main track. Huge views through here, mostly of Pinon Mesa to the S and the La Sals to the SW.

# was on his single speed, but didn't seem to notice.

We got a real friendly vibe from these signs, placed every 1/4 mile on both sides of the track. Some people's kids...

The terrain changed from thick pinon/juniper subalpine to red rock desert in the span of 6 heartbeats, right as we began descending to the Dolores.

We filtered water from Coates Creek, then roller coastered up and over to Granite Creek. A long look at the GPS revealed a sustained climb of 2000' plus coming up. Time to get to work...

A sign of how cool the spring has been thus far: We flat roasted on a *perfect* ~75 degree spring day, loving every minute of it.

Climb on.

The GPS led us onto a lesser used track. It got *very* steep for a few.

The climb was cleanable, just not by us on that day.

We sprawled at the top and savored the panorama while snacking on whatever fell to hand. # killed me with a well-timed ode to his fantasy mistress:

"Ooooooo Ooooooo Oooooooooooo Little Debbie! I don't know *how* you do it, only that you never let me down...!"

With mucho 'sploring left to do, we saddled back up and headed across Steamboat Mesa. La Sals right in our faces, plus stunning views of North Beaver Mesa, Polar Mesa, the Entrada Bluffs, Fisher Valley and Fisher Mesa, and yes, right underfoot.

And then, this.

Words failed then, as they do now.

We gawked, and napped, and regawked. Snacks were consumed, guesses were made about the watercourses visible below, then slackjawed gawking would resume.

Eventually we saddled back up to investigate the rest of the Mesa.

Pretty nice. If you're into that...

We were. In fact, we were so 'into that' that we decided to push our luck with low water supply and just crash up there for the night. The most compelling reason (for me) to do this was simple: I live down in a valley, and don't get to spend nearly enough time up high! Waking to thirst seemed a small price to pay to spend a sunset and sunrise up here.

# agreed, so it was settled.

We found a somewhat sheltered from wind spot and went about collecting wood for an extended stargazing session, as well as setting up tarps and heating water for hoosh.

Then we ate. And gazed.

And it was good.

# crashed out after 10 and I followed around 11.

By 12 the wind was ripping and the tarps were flapping--making just enough racket and requiring just enough attention that sleep would be fitful to non-existent the rest of the night. At ~3 I fought off a wave of internal panic, brought on by a pattering of raindrops and a realization of how little food and water we had, as well as how much clay was in the soil, and how far we were from *any* pavement. At ~5:30 the moon vanished behind ever thickening scud and I couldn't take it any longer. I jacketed and shod myself, trod over to #'s tarp and explained why I thought it was time to beat feet for home. Somewhat reluctantly he agreed (I think he was *actually* sleeping!) and within minutes we'd stowed and were on our way.

Chased by wind, rain, and snow, we didn't dawdle much on the return trip.

The bulk of the day was spent grinding out one climb after another, then glancing back to see how much the storm had gained.

Breaks were brief and to the point: Filter a liter of water, snarf a handful of junk, lube and drag a chain. Then, back in motion.

We were lucky, in many ways. The storm held off, buffeting us with constant wind but never more than a light spray of rain. The wind was often behind us, a fact we appreciated as we climbed dirt at 10+ mph. Stretches into a headwind were brief, the temps were comfy for climbing, and once back onto pavement we slowly relaxed and wound down the last few miles to home.

But first:

# would hear of nothing but that we make a short detour. I tried to rally him into 'real' ice cream, but the words "Haagen Dazs" or "Ben & Jerry" fazed the lad not one iota. So DQ it was. I'm an ice cream snob of the first order, but that didn't stop me from licking the cup clean minutes later...

I love having my eyes opened to new places, even more when they're right under my nose. This trip was a great initiation into what lies just outside of town, easily accessed for a single overnight or a long weekend. I've already scoped alternate routes into and out of the Triangle, and now I watch as the snowline creeps upwards to allow those routes to open.

Thanks for reading.



  1. I love the amazing photos you post on your blog. Thank you for sharing!

  2. Lucky! That looks like an awesome trip. Down Home exploring is sometimes the most rewarding.

  3. Wow, Mike! Awesome photos and terrific, engaging story. I live vicariously through you and "#."

  4. good to see that the adipose has subsided. They really do look smaller.

  5. WOW. Your pictures always amaze me. Thank you for doing what you do.