Under a banner of thunderheads, Endo and I hitched our wagon to a post outside Absolute Bikes in Salida, Colorado. our drive from Crested Butte had just taken us up and over a menacingly-dark Monarch Pass–the type of summertime moodiness that can turn frighteningly surreal given a proper mix of rain, wind, and lightning. Luckily, we had been spared these dangers, but this was definitely the Colorado I had been dreaming of for weeks prior to leaving my home base just outside Los Angeles, mere moments (16 1/2 hours of butt-numbing driving moments, to be exact) after summertime-in-SoCal malaise had set in. We typically see a pattern of 10-day triple-digit heat waves and nary a drop of rain for months on end. Suffice it to say, this moodiness provided soul-cleansing therapeutic benefit, indeed.
Having briefly stopped at Tomichi Cycles in Gunnison earlier in the day, I was finally armed with a new Twinloc bolt, after the Snodgrass trail had swallowed it whole whilst riding my Spark somewhere atop a tight, lung-searing climb–a climb whose steepness had me rapidly throttling between mid to locked shock positions. With my Pivlocks steamed and trying to acclimate my breathing at over 9,000ft, I had given darted glances to my closest surroundings but never managed to actually get off my bike to properly inspect where this small, seemingly-insignificant piece of hardware had landed. naturally, I just shrugged it off surmising that, later, I’d find a replacement bolt from one of the shops in town.
Three days and three magnificent (albeit open-shock) CB rides later I was now acutely aware of Scott’s metric threading and the difficulties inherent to replacing an esoteric part while venturing coast to coast on a mountain biking road trip. Having placed emails to Scott reps and stubbornly adding hours of downtime trying to allow local shops to provide a solution, Susan Teal’s “let me check if I can just give this to you” kindness in Gunnison felt like what I can only imagine is like finding water amidst the depths of the sahara.
As I popped my sidearm open and tugged my bike from the rack onto the sidewalk outside Absolute Bikes, a fierce and road-weary cyclist pulled up with an older, somewhat grizzled riding companion. By the looks of their panniers and roll-top handlebars, it was readily apparent that these gentlemen were Tour Divide riders–a more perfect addition to the stormy summertime Salida ambiance there never was. These men looked knackered, if knackered meant owning half-asleep thousand-yard stares, and being caked to the bone with a hearty mixture of western American grime. These men were harder than I, and respect coursed my veins like the heavy runoff ripping downstream from each surrounding 14er.
Absolute Bikes lived up to its rich reputation, as they not only fixed up the Scott in no time, but also shared a few ride options for the next afternoon. I spoke with Ryan, who helped to give me a sense of Salida’s trails. Much like in Crested Butte, the upper elevation stuff was drifted with snow, so riding Monarch Crest (as with 401 in CB) was not suggested, lest I was looking to obtain a similar stare to those participating in the Tour Divide. After sizing up my riding abilities and intentions, Ryan suggested Silver Creek/Rainbow Trail as popularized on the shop’s website. We also discussed the option to continue on the Silver Creek Trail until it ends about a mile below the Divide, then rip back down to Rainbow Trail, essentially giving me a taste of a small portion (or perhaps the best part) of the descent from Monarch. I was warned of trail conditions being dry and dusty and that he, Ryan, had actually broken a collarbone on this ride, so vigilance was key.
The next morning I woke up, grabbed some breakfast in town, then took Endo (my four-year-old shepherd lab mix) for a swim in the mighty waters of Arkansas River. Having just run wild all over Mt. Crested Butte, Endo recovered well and spent over an hour navigating rapids, rocks, and eddies en route to a podium finish in The Hour of Power: Race To The Stick (something conceived in his head, not mine).
Having a perfectly tuckered out dog, who would no doubt be asleep before his head hit his bolstered bed pillow, it was now my turn to get out and get some.
After a brief and interesting convo with Ira at the Mountain Motel, who stood outside and helped size up the height of the cumulus clouds towering above us, or more accurately, whether they would lay down (as hoped), I headed out towards Poncha Springs under mostly non-threatening skies. Having ridden a mountain bike alone almost exclusively since entering the sport nearly a decade ago, a brutally-stiff (and chilly) wind berating Highway 285 where I parked, suddenly my usual lone wolf status left me feeling rather isolated and undignified. The wind seemed to mock me. Suddenly, my new-found surroundings felt like big country as compared to the familiarity of the Angeles Front Range or even Backcountry Angeles. I found myself looking back at the car once or twice before peeling off onto road 200 to slaughter some truck trail and leave those pre-ride jitters behind me.
Within about five minutes, getting into a rhythm rolling up the contours of what eventually turns into Silver Creek Road, all worries faded away as I took in the scenery of dusty roadside ranch properties fit for storybook illustrations, with gently-rolling streams and ponds, surrounded by long wooden fences and horses milling about. The magic continued as I neared the turnoff for Rainbow Trail, but instead heeded the roar of Silver Creek and headed up the Silver Creek Trail for the out-and-back section, as previously discussed with Ryan back at Absolute.
After fording a few creek crossings, the SC trail continues upward in a field of broken, busted rock along cramped, steep pitches. After stomping out these rockier sections, the trail dips in and out of aspen groves before opening into a grassy, pine-framed corridor of beauty so immense it nearly took my breath away… or was that the increasing elevation? Either way, it was rad.
Eventually I hit the end of the singletrack section, where the only option was to continue upward via doubletrack to Monarch Crest. it was at this point that I decided to chill for a few minutes prior to heading back down towards Rainbow Trail.
Launching downward on the SC trail was far more fun than climbing up, although it’s a climb I would do again in a heartbeat. The trail is mostly made up of loose rock, which was layered enough for tires to sink into like snow. Therefore, I found floating this section with speed while riding “within myself” was crucial, as the trail had a v-shaped ridge to it and a bucked motion left or right could lead to hurty-type unpleasantry. It was right about this time where I dipped back into the rooted aspen section, bouncing along beneath a gorgeous green and white canopy, I found it nearly impossible not to let the bike set sail at full song. Just as I was hopping the bike left to right through a switchback, crossed by a wet spring, I pointed the bike square at a large taproot crossing the trail. Before I could do anything about it I was tits up on the side of the trail, milliseconds after barreling sideways with freshly-slicked tread over the taproot.
We’ve all been there: glasses tilted, helmet smacked, bars wrapped, stem misaligned, new nick in the frame’s paint, and all I can ever think is, “naaaaaaaaaw, c’mon!!”
I had been having such an inspired ride, both technically and visually, that I quickly pulled myself together and hopped back on the bike, perhaps a little battered and bloodied, but not worse for wear.
After straightening my bike, I continued on towards the trailhead for Rainbow Trail and at this point I feel I must offer some advice to you, dear reader: If you find yourself alone in unfamiliar territory, a little bloodied up from a crash on your bicycle, and by the grace of God you have an option to just head back to your vehicle (or home) the way you came, thus mitigating further risk to yourself: do it!
Perhaps you’ve watched the Tour De France enough times to know that one’s chances of a second crash increases exponentially after the first? You may even think this entry ends with me following my own advice, heading for home:
I shot out onto long, flowy whoops along Rainbow, with the trail disappearing beneath me as my blood-dried right knee snapped into shape and a huge smile returned to my face. Things continued like this for many miles, even when the trail turned sharply downward only to return sharply upward, with short (sometimes severely steep) burst climbs that taxed my energy. I continued along smoothly for quite some time, though I definitely started to take note of the trail conditions I had been warned about.
Having twitched through a few front tire bobbles along long off-camber ribbons of trail, which were most-often squeezed in along steep hillsides amidst tree cover, I was suddenly very much doubting my tire selection. Prior to leaving LA for a nearly 7,000 mile journey, I made the decision to run two of the same low rolling resistance XC tires front and rear, as portions of my trip would see non-technical terrain. In hindsight, this was a ridiculous notion: simply running a wider tire with a sturdier tread up front would have no doubt saved me from crashing, which I did moments later in epic fashion.
Again, my front tire tracked poorly through a very loose, dry section, and the best I can figure I clumsily grabbed for some brake(s) to help scrub speed, which was enough to turn my right grip into the embankment hugging the trail. This hillside was pure rock, rubble, and roots; much bleeding ensued. I stood up, with white light-style pain searing through me as I attempted to brush off and start walking around the best I could.
Miraculously, nothing was broken, save for my ego. My right leg was sliced in about ten different places, all badly. I rifled through my Osprey pack, trying to locate something to wrap it with, but to no avail; I simply rubbed dirt into the blood, which coagulated like concrete until I was able to properly wash my leg in a stream crossing miles later.
Perhaps you can relate, but it’s in these dejected moments that you find out what type of mountain biker and, perhaps to a larger extent, what kind of person you’ve become. I tend to let a lot of life’s little annoyances bother me in day-to-day life, but when the cards are folded and I find myself in an alarming and unpredictable scenario, I’m always fascinated by the power of human resilience. Not to put any heroic spin on what was simply finishing a large portion of trail completely injured and alone, but that’s what happened and I learned a lot from it.
For instance, there was no reason not to have phoned Ryan at Absolute, to let him know which route I had selected and when I planned to hit the trail. Further still, I could have informed Ira, back at the Mountain Motel that if I was late returning, my buddy Endo would need food, water, and to be let out. Not sure about you, but the stronger rider I’ve become, the less I familiarize others with my whereabouts.
Regardless of how my ride ended, my time in Salida and the Silver Creek area remains intensely etched in my mind as one of my best rides to date. This is a very popular ride and I certainly could have managed to ride unscathed, if I had simply not pushed my bike harder than necessary. It can be exciting to be in a new place, with rip-roaring terrain, and I learned a valuable life lesson about getting a little too swept up in that. Next time I head back, I’ll either ride with friends or simply take things a little easier… oh, and I’ll be sure to grab a few bandages to take along just in case.
Nathan Preston is a mountain biker and entrepreneur who lives in Glendale, California with his girlfriend of six years and his dog, Endo. In addition to riding many of the trails there in Southern California, he likes to try and fit in a handful of races each year, generally in the cross-country and cross-country marathon disciplines.