July 25, 2016
My experience has mainly been with touring, but I recently bought a mountain bike and took it out to Lake Glendo for a camping trip. I started from the Two Moon trailhead and had a little trouble finding my way because of the lack of signage. Once across the road on "Reflector Loop" I knew right away that this was not what I had been expecting and that I was in for a difficult time. Don't get me wrong, I understand that there are some skilled MTB riders who seek out thrills like this, but in my opinion a fun bicycle ride involves being able to appreciate the scenery as well, and this was not really possible for the majority of the corridors I took. I somehow missed the turnoff for the "91 Gigawatt" trail (even though I saw the neighboring one for "Buffalo Run") and thus had to take the infamous "Root Canal." Now the adjective you will see in most of these reviews for the trails marked in red is "technical": this however is a euphemism for "threatening to life and limb"! Although most of the scattered rock had been brushed aside, there is almost continuous jutting surface rock (and some tree roots and stumps): These are often sharp and could easily cause damage to a tire or a rim (or a bone)! The way is frequently crooked and narrow, with tree branches at your elbow and cacti at your feet! I repeatedly needed to put my foot down quickly, but even this was dangerous on that irregular and tapering terrain. I suppose this is all part of the challenge for some riders, but I like to ENJOY a bicycle excursion also. It has always been my routine to rest and stretch my legs on the straight-aways and down-hills, but I had to rapidly train myself out of this habit and adopt the new practice of keeping both pedals at "half-mast"; for whenever I left a pedal at the bottom of its stroke it would get caught on a protruding rock, and it is only by the Grace of God that I was never thrown off balance by this, or by the loose sand of the several hairpin turns bordering upon the precipitous slopes of that very difficult descent. I could not afford to take my eyes off the ground for even a second lest I should find myself tumbling head over heels, and there was no soft place to land! Sometimes the trail itself became so steep that I had to be very careful not to use the front brake (or squeeze it too hard) or I might well have been thrown headlong or spilled over my own handlebars! I finally got to a ranger station at the base of the trail, next to a river, where there were restrooms, but no drinkable water. I rode along the "Wetlands" trail for a bit, and this was (for me) the only agreeable part of the course: It was paved with white gravel, and I was able to observe the foliage and fauna while relaxing for a spell (I saw some lovely purple and yellow flowers previously). After the land bridge which took me across the lagoon, I accidentally got onto the "Thunder" trail, where even the most experienced mountain biker would have to hoist his vehicle up the uneven rocks a time or two. In fact, I could just recommend this track (or others like it) to good hikers, but consider it unfit (or grueling) for cyclers. Call me a p*ssy, but I just want to help people, who might think this is going to be like the "Mickelson," get an idea of what they're truly in for. Changing gears is a split-second affair; you'll be suddenly spinning your crankshaft on an unexpected drop, or find yourself in too high a gear for an abrupt incline. It would be madness to take your eyes from the immediate obstacles of the path, but equally foolish not to examine the upcoming treachery as well. Tired of carrying it everywhere, I determined to ride my bike up a number of these sharp rises where I was in real danger of falling over backwards (just as I was earlier of flipping over forwards). Again, I missed a sign and ended up on "Barrel Roll," which took me back down to "Wetlands Trail"! It is frustrating indeed to risk your life along a perilous "mountain bike" track, only to lose all your elevation and wind up back where you started. As it turns out, the sign - a little fenced-in cairn with a post in the middle - was completely obscured by a tree on my original route, and I went right past it. These numbered path markers (with directional signs) are helpful in that they'll show you where you are on the map, but a serious problem with the map itself is that all of the junctions and intersections are completely covered and blocked by these huge squares with the numbers in them! We need to be able to see how the trails meet and traverse one another if we're going to successfully navigate! Sometimes these absurdly placed labels conceal a suspected connection between roads, which is not actually there, or else they hide one which is. Another incidental issue is that the map - particularly the ones posted along the trails themselves - is divided into two parts, and it just so happens that the division occurs at one of the most complex and convoluted path-finding areas of the park (i.e., right beside the dam); so you're lost, and you're having to piece together two critical sections of the map like Indiana Jones in the jungle! After retracing my weary treadmarks on "Barrel Roll" I managed to find "Twenty 15" and rode the ridge out to Glendo Dam, but I was pretty low on water and had to abandon my plan to take "Narrows Bluff" to Sandy Beach (I took the main road instead). Honestly, I don't regret it though, because by then I had had enough rocky footpaths, hazardous switchbacks, frightening cliffs, projecting boulders, ruthless frame-rattling, and shadeless sand to last me quite a while. I'm 51 years old, and in fairly good shape, but I would not advise traveling this route alone if you can avoid it. Except for the folks I met at the waterless rest area, there was not a soul on this trail but me, and I repeat, it was only by God's providence that I escaped unscathed! The Park Service people were very friendly and afforded me some personal attention (answering questions beforehand, etc...). What they cannot do is alter the topography, which is what it is whether one likes it or not. Maybe the terrain north of the dam is nicer, but I wouldn't count on it. As for me, I shall stick to the less "technical" trails and the "road more traveled by."
Daniel R. Friedman