Thursday, September 9, 2010

Day 3 – The trek to Hut 1….

Day 3 dawned mostly sunny and after loading up the bikes for the first long day on the trail we turned in the key to the condo and headed out for what had become our morning ritual…the search for breakfast and coffee.

We rode down through town eventually finding a nice little diner where we enjoyed the last tastes of civilization for the next 7 days. After filling ourselves with food and coffee, and a little water just to prevent dehydration, we set out in search of the San Miguel Valley bank. This bank, which was robbed by Butch Cassidy in Telluride before he fled towards Utah following much of the route we were to take, was to be our official starting point. Unable to figure out which one was the exact building, we just chose what appeared to be the main bank in town and used that as our starting point.

The evening before, as we headed up the mountain in the tram, it dawned on me that the entire town of Telluride is surrounded by mountains. This makes for a very scenic town but also means that the first part of any ride starting in town was destined to go up….

The weather had cooled a bit since we first rolled out and the dark clouds off to the west had us a little concerned, but with no other option and hoping for the best, we headed out of town. The San Juan Hut company provides you with a really well planned packet that includes not only a map, but turn by turn directions with distances between waypoints outlined nicely.

As we left the bike path, crossed the highway and headed up the first climb of the day, the grey skies began to leak on us. The further up the road we went, the more the leaking turned to actual rain and soon enough we were pulling over to don our jackets and ponchos.

The climb, although on a paved road, was moderately steep and since we had started at 8700ft and were going up my lungs began to complain almost immediately. Click, click, click went the gears as I continued to downshift hoping to find a comfortable pace before I ran out of gears. At one point early in the planning stages I had considered bringing the Jabber with her rigid fork and only one gear but was talked out of it by people with more sense than I have and right now, I was glad I listened to them.

Soon enough the paved road continued straight and our path turned onto the dirt. As we rode on into the damp mountains past ranches and homes the scenery although grey in the drizzle and rain, was amazing in its vastness and beauty. Every turn in the road or opening in the trees displayed yet another amazing vista.

As we pedaled on though the mountains and aspen groves we occasionally caught glimpses of blue sky and sunlight in the distance. Teasing us ever onward, we pedaled through the rain with the soundtrack of thunder playing in our ears and God’s light show flashing in the distance.

Eventually, the rain stops and the skies clear as we climb. Ever onward, ever upward each vista more beautiful than the last…

At one point in the trail, we came across three women and a couple of dogs walking towards us. Turns out the rain was heavier up above and the road so muddy they had decided to abandon their vehicle and walk out planning to come back later and retrieve it after things dried a bit. They were amazed we were riding up and warned us we’d be walking at some point not much further up the trail.

With their warning echoing in our ears, we continued on. Surprisingly, the road was in pretty good condition and while we did have to skirt a couple of large puddles, didn’t see anything that would cause someone to abandon their car.

Soon enough we hit the part in the route guide they referred to as the switchbacks…and the trail got steeper still….by now we had to be at or above 10,000 ft and as much as I wanted to keep pedaling, there was just no way. It wasn’t due to the steepness of the road so much as I couldn’t go more than 20 yards before I was out of breath listening to my heart pounding in my ears. So we walked and we pushed our fully loaded bikes up roads that we should have been riding….if only we could breathe…

It was on one of these sections that we came across a land cruiser parked on the side of the steep road, rocks wedged in front of its wheels, long deep slide marks carved into the now dried mud showing just why the women felt better walking than driving…

As we came to the bottom of the last switchback, the incline eased to the point that we could ride and breathe at the same time and after a short break in the shade to drink from our bottles, we remounted our bikes and began to pedal. Shortly after, we came to a junction in trails and saw three guys having a picnic. After chatting with them briefly and consulting our route guide we found the right trail that should take us to the hut.

And it was steep. So steep in fact that it was tough to navigate, even walking. We soon developed a rhythm push the bike, grab the brake, step up, push the bike, grab the brake, step up….this continued for maybe a couple hundred yards although it felt like much longer, until we rounded a corner and finally saw the end of the first day’s ride, the first hut.

We really had no idea what to expect with the huts, but to say we were pleasantly surprised is an understatement. The huts were pretty basic, but very nice. It was neat, clean, and very well stocked. We celebrated the first day with grilled spam and cheese sandwiches and beer. In addition to tons of canned goods, it was stocked with cheese, bacon, bread, fruit and more.

After lunch, the thunderstorms started to roll back into the valley and as we retreated inside to either nap or read, the skies opened up. Thunder, lighting, rain and even a decent period of hail serenaded us as we lay on our bunks, warm, dry and tired from our first day.

Later, after the storm passed I was able to experience first hand San Juan Hut’s revolutionary new compost toilets. Now, I don’t normally talk about bodily functions or even water closets for that matter, but these things really were a sight to behold….speaking of sites to behold, this is the view from our front porch after the storm blew through.

After my tour of the “facilities” so to speak, we got the wood burning stove going to warm things up, fired up the gas range and made dinner. We had burritos made with canned chicken, diced tomatoes, fresh red onions and cheddar cheese. (Yep, we’re roughing it for sure) and beer.

Later as Jerry and I relaxed Chris, who had become the official navigation officer on this pleasure cruise, worked over the maps so we knew where to go the next day.


Bob said...

It is too bad it rained on the ride out of Telluride. When I did this ride several years ago, the weather was perfect and the scenery was spectacular. Your photos, especially of the last stretch, brings back great memories of pushing the bike and being out of breath.

Bob Sakai

OldNSlo said...

the rain actually wasn't that bad and kind opf added to the adventure. Of course it cleared up and got warm as soon as the road got steep....
Then once we had gotten to the hut and finished lunch the storm moved back in...we actually lcked out on the timing..