Specters in the Mist
Sunday. The girls day on the trail out in Salida. After the guys had their fun on the Crest and surrounding trails under bluebird skies, Kathy (Blaine's wife) and were hoping for similarly perfect conditions. We knew we'd have to get up early to avoid fellow trail lovers - when I'd dropped the guys off Saturday, there was a herd of cyclists getting ready to ride. But that was planning for sunny skies. When we woke up Sunday, after a night of intermittent rain, clouds covered the mountains. We were in a spot of sunshine in downtown Salida, but the mountains to the west, north and south were draped in white blankets. It made for a pretty morning, but we were all questioning the weather conditions at the top of the pass. Regardless, we were still riding, so Nick and I loaded our bikes into Blaine's RV and we headed for the clouds. We we treated to a rainbow across the Pass from the rising sun as we drove westward. Then into the mist. There was no visibility at all, with the clouds growing thicker the higher we went. Finally, we reached the summit. There weren't too many other riders gathering amid the fog, so we knew the trails would be quiet. When the shuttle arrived, there were only half the numbers from yesterday. Blaine wished us safe riding and took off - he was in charge of the kids for the day.
Middle of July and we set off on the Monarch Crest in rain coats, arm warmers and knee warmers. There was a brisk west wind chilling the air every time we broke clear of the trees. The miles of views that made the trail famous were blanketed in heavy mist. But the trail conditions were almost perfect - tight and tacky. The rocks required more finesse because of the moisture and there were plenty of puddles to splash thru. In and out of the tree, traversing the fog covered tundra, climbing higher into the clouds. The only sounds were the wind, our breathing and the tires crunching on the trail. Absolutely alone - hidden from the world and reality. Just me, Nick and Kathy. In places the clouds thinned, opening up brief glimpses of the surrounding mountains. But it was so different then the last time I'd ridden the Crest. Then it had been perfect weather and so crowded on the trails.
But even under such adverse conditions, it was beautiful. The trail was a thin brown line in the tundra, with mist coated foliage reaching up on either side. Everything was clean and bright, the colors popping despite the dull skies. The fields were filled with daisies and lupine, the yellows and purples gleaming up close. The trees loomed tight to the trail, a medley of greens and rich browns. The vibrant colors of our rain jackets vanished into the mist, swallowed by clouds. Trees in the distance had a ghostly specter to them - what could be lurking behind the next bend, over the next hill? And then the trail plunged into the trees, the mist dissipated and we were transported from the Colorado High country to another world. The Pacific Northwest perhaps, or even the swamps of Dagobah. We stayed in the thick mists until the drop down to Marshal Pass Road, then the clouds opened slightly with a hint of sunshine. At that point, we caught the only other group on the trail. It happened to be another COS rider, Kervin and some of his friends. Three became six for a brief time as we traversed the Colorado trail between Marshal Pass and Silver Creek.
Then it was time for the descent down Silver Creek. We left Kervin and his group behind as the clouds again closed in. The trail was tricky in the rain, every rock slippery and treacherous. I tried to follow Nick's lines down the singletrack, but needed to ride within my limits. That meant letting Nick go and picking my own track down the slopes. There were a few berms I launched, some rocks I jumped, but mostly it was about staying smart and having fun. I felt comfortable and confident on my Era, steering the bike as smoothly as I could through the tunnels of trees and rocks. Despite the wet roots and rain soaked trails, I was grinning and laughing the entire time. Just not grinning too wide - I didn't want any of that mud splattering into my mouth! We reached the bottom of Silver Creek, waded through the river and re-grouped at the start of Rainbow Trail. There would be no more Rainbows as the clouds opened up and the downpour began again. We quickly pulled out our rain jackets and bundled up for the final push across to 285. It was fun but slimy riding through deep pine forest, down and up steep gulleys. Every few minutes the trail opened up into sparkling green sage fields, the pungent smell filling the air. There might have been clouds and rain, but the scenery and smells of the trail were more vibrant then ever. Worth the soaked toes and mud covered bikes. The mud wasn't an issue at all until that final descent to 285 - the sun came out (finally) and the trail was just dry enough to become slimy clay. I slithered around and finally almost face planted! Mud is good for the skin... Then we were done. All that was left was the blacktop push back to Salida. A wet and gloomy day turned into the perfect chance to escape from the world and experience Colorado trails under a different light.
|Mist meant empty trails and quiet riding - just our tire tracks on the trail|
|Kathy riding away into the fog|
|Nick got to ride with the ladies - how lucky for him!|
|Another view of the mist shrouded trees and the bright colors that kept us visible|
|Silver Creek overlook - the sun was trying to come out!|
|Focused - dropping down Silver Creek|
|Stopping to take in the view|
|Kathy coming down Silver Creek|
|Muddy bikes meant big smiles when we were finished!|