When you arrive at the Rocky Mountain Outdoor Center — RMOC to those in the know — it feels like you’ve just come home. Located on six acres adjacent to the Arkansas River just outside of Buena Vista, Colorado, RMOC is the outdoor enthusiasts’ mecca. Paddling, rock climbing, rafting, mountain biking, fly fishing, camping. Oh, and a wilderness rescue course in session during my stay had some frightening scenarios playing out in the river in front of my camp that reminded me why I don’t whitewater kayak.
RMOC truly has something for everyone, and at all levels of ability. With a membership model in addition to your basic sign-up or drop-in, one guest on our half-day ride was a local whom the owner, Brandon Slate said was “just in it for the free beer at the end.” Chatting with said guest pre-ride, he off-handedly mentioned that yeah, sure, he loves riding bikes, but really, “I’m just here for the free beer at the end.” Well, the man has his priorities. We three guests and one owner/guide masked up for a quick drive to the trailhead at the Collegiate Peaks overlook to ride the Midland Trail System, a.k.a. “Spaghetti Western.”
The trails here were just right for our small but mixed level group of riders. A, B, and sometimes C lines were always available, and the grippy granite rocks and swoopy lines designed by and for mountain bikers were artfully executed and duly appreciated. The various lines and options all in one place also made this a family-friendly trail system and it was a delight to see shreddy parents out with little kids. And it seems to me that trail names nationwide are becoming more and more creative and fun, bringing spunk and spark to our already joyful pastime. Here in Spaghetti Western we rode Fistful of Dollars, Sausage Link, Bacon Bits, Unchained, and Django.
I asked what impacts Covid had wrought on the business, and Brandon referenced operational changes like 50% capacity in vehicles, masks in vehicles and windows down, pre check-in available online, payments and waivers can be signed ahead of time, outside check-in, daily temp checks, and screenings for all staff.
“Overall it was a great season. We were super busy, and folks were stoked to be outside and having fun. In some ways we were more of a mental/physical health provider than an adventure outfitter.” Hallelujah to that. Trail systems across the nation are seeing orders of magnitude increases in users since the pandemic upended our lives nearly eight months ago. One guest on our ride was in the midst of a divorce and had hit the road in a van. He had availed himself of RMOC’s therapies in various forms–rock climbing, rafting, and now mountain biking.
After post-ride beers, I set up my campsite on a beautiful terrace overlooking the river and had a peaceful evening with blazing stars and the song of flowing water. (Brown’s Canyon Brewing was not quite up and running at the time of my visit, but their liquor license has since been secured. The plan is to start brewing in November and serving by spring break.)
The next day’s ride was down the road a piece in Salida, and again featured a trail system built by and for mountain bikers. As a recent transplant from Marin County, California, I’ve learned to hold my tongue re-calling it “the birthplace of mountain biking” in these parts–touchy subject with the Crested Butte crowd. Back in California the us-vs-them angst remains high, but here several small but important details signal ‘welcome, we’re glad you’re here.’ For example, signage. Like many other trail systems in Colorado, the Salida Mountain trails are incredibly well-marked, complete with level-of-difficulty notes and recommended direction of travel.
Put all of this warmth and welcome together with the spectacular backdrop of a string of Colorado’s famous snow-capped 14ers and any outdoor addict will feel they’re experiencing a sort of homecoming.