Crossing the Divide

My great ideas sometimes look brilliant on the map, but not so brilliant in reality. With a planned six-seven hour day looming, I spent plenty of time studying the Salida map, plotting out the ride. Nick wanted to do Canyon Creek - which he said would take about 3.5 hours total. That left three more hours of pedaling to find. Thinking a few years in the future, I decided that we would add a few more mountain passes and check out a chunk of the Vapor Trail course. On the map, it looked good. Start out like we were riding just Canyon Creek, - up Tomichi pass road. But instead of turning just below the summit for the Canyon Creek singletrack, we would continue climbing up to the pass. Then down the other side to Hancock Pass road and take a right to ascend Hancock Pass. A short downhill, then we would join the Vapor Trail course at the Alpine Tunnel Trailhead. From there, up and over the divide above the alpine tunnel, down the road back to Tomichi Pass. Another climb up Tomichi, then finally onto Canyon Creek. Like I said - it looked great on the map, a fun ride with new trails and some road.

From the top of Tomichi Pass - with Hancock Pass in the center of the photo. It's a steep as it looks
Well, it was a fun ride - the trails we rode were fun, but there was a lot more road then I had anticipated. We didn't get as early a start as I wanted because of rain the night before and finally rolled out of Snowblind about 9:30. There were plenty of other riders on the road heading up Tomichi pass. With a long day planned, I kept the HR down and the effort reasonable on the flatter section. There was plenty of time to be burning matches later in the day. The gradual climb quickly steepened as we crisscrossed Tomichi creek. I could see the road above us, meandering through the trees and reaching for the sky. Yikes. Lots of feet left to climb. The road kicked up in a few spots with steep and rocky terrain. I kept my wits about me, with even pedaling and power. Ride smart and smooth - find the best lines on the road. I was constantly getting distracted by the views. Huge mountains on either side, frames by bluebird skies. We climbed higher towards tree line, the road becoming clearer without the trees. After passing the turn to Canyon Creek, we kept climbing to the top of Tomichi Pass.

Nick getting ready to head downhill for a bit - at the top of Tomichi Pass

Pushing the bike up Hancock Pass Road

Still pushing, looking up at the top! It's a long ways to go!

At the top, we were greeted with a brisk wind and expansive views. I could see our next pass across the valley - and the road looked scary. We had to climb up that? Without the benefit of a motor like all the other trail users? Yikes! And speaking of motors, I was amazed at the number of atvs, motos and jeeps. I hadn't anticipated that when studying the map. As we changed into rain jackets for the descent one of the jeeps came chugging up the pass. They parked, got out and did the usual "you rode your bikes up here?" then stared as we rolled away down the way they had come.The road was loose and rocky - I was already not looking forward to the climb back up in a few hours! As we descended back into the trees, we hit a group of ATVs and followed them through some deep mud puddles. Well, they went through, we went around! A little hike-a-bike to get warmed up for the next climb. Then we were at the base of Hancock Pass. Time to take a right and start pushing. I rode as much as I could, but was off and walking the really steep start of the road. After a few minutes, the grade leveled out and I was able to starting riding again. The road was pretty busy, so it was heads up, pay attention to the tourists on rented atvs the whole time. A few of them looked way out of thier element driving down the pass! A few more switchbacks and the summit was in sight. Just had to get around the jeeps, the motos and another group of ATVs... All of the motorized riders were really polite to us all day. I think they were in awe of us riding our bike, without motors up there. We didn't take long at the top of Hancock Pass. There was still plenty of riding left to be done and I wanted to keep moving. A fast descent down to Hancock townsite and the Alpine tunnel trailhead, then it was onto the Vapor course proper.

Those jeeps were pretty nice - Tomichi Pass road is on the left of the picture

Almost at the top! Hancock Pass
Alpine tunnel trail
Alpine Tunnel Trail was a gentle grade, a reclaimed railroad bed. More expansive views greeted us as we started climbing again. No motors this time, but plenty of hikers - ranging from annoyed we were there to super excited to talk about riding. I once again tried to ride steady and keep the effort level where I thought I could sustain for the entire ride, but with the building fatigue and the altitude, it was getting harder. At the collapsed tunnel, we stopped for a few minutes to purify water. That was our only long break of the day. While Nick was dealing with the water, I read the placard about the tunnel and the historic railroad. I'll be honest, I never realized there was a railroad behind Mount Princeton and above St Elmo! Makes me wonder what other bits of Colorado history I'm missing. Then more hike-a-bike as we pushed our bikes for the first section of singletrack. The descent down to the west portal of the Alpine tunnel was tight - the trail was very lightly used and the tundra was overgrowing it in spots. It was also a perfect place to make use of the new dropper post. And use it I did, to much success with my descending.
Another view from Alpine Tunnel Trail - huge views on this ride

The turn table on the west side of the tunnel

Nick on the tracks leading to the turn table. The collapsed tunnel is behind him
One more stretch of road descending and then the climb back up to Tomichi pass. I found the smooth line, my easiest gear and just pedaled. Focusing on spinning, keeping the effort steady and just riding. I tried not to look up, to keep my eyes on where I was and stay in that moment in time. It wasn't as bad a climb as I thought it was going to be, but I also knew there was more coming. Canyon Creek. Before the descent, which Nick had promised would be about 90 minutes of fun, there was 45 minutes of hiking. As we were talking to some Moto riders at the top of Tomichi, I saw the silhouette of riders pushing their bikes on the ridge of the mountain above us. Holy shit. We were going up there, pushing our bikes all the way up that!?! Yep. That's where we were headed. Time for some solid hiking. I did some pushing, some carrying of my bike. But kept moving forward, focused on one foot in front of the other, deliberate steps to avoid twisting an ankle on the loose, rocky trail. Each switchback took us higher into the sky, closer to the summit. I was actually having a good time, feeling pretty solid with the hiking. Just another reason to add some more running to my schedule, I think! We didn't stop for very long at the top - there was another group up there and they started scrambling to get ready when they saw me. Didn't want to get chicked on the downhill, I think! Too bad for them. Nick gave me some pointers - eyes on the trail, focus on the lines and don't look around. It's deceptively steep and dizzying up there. Then we were off.

Carrying my bike up Canyon Creek!

More pushing and hike-a-bike. Gotta earn the fun!

Ahh. The Canyon Creek Descent. I took Nick's advice and took my time on the initial alpine descent. The mountain edge felt like it was dropping away from the side of the trail, plummeting down into valleys 1000s of feet below. Keep my eyes on the trail. Nick stopped and waited in a few spots, but never let me catch my breath. I had the dropper post slammed and was so happy it was on my bike. But at the same time, there was a learning curve for the new mechanics of moving my bike. That was hard. Finally, into the trees and Nick took off. I was at my limit trying to keep up with him - so much to think about. Shifting, what gear am I in. Spotting a trail I'd never ridden before - what's coming up around that next corner? And add in the seat post - where is my seat post, do I need it higher or lower? Brain overload! I was working so hard on that descent I honestly don't even remember much. There was alpine riding, then we dropped into the trees. The trail was smooth but loose in places from the motos, and super fast. I know we crossed a river about halfway down, then the trail became more rolling. And I was having more brain overload issues. It wasn't just downhill anymore - I really had to think and focus on what I was doing. Nick kept pushing me, forcing the pace and keeping me going. The trail had really good flow, but it was so much more then I was used to. I was physically tired and mental exhausted by the time we returned to the campsite. But looking forward to more long rides and another chance to try my dropper post!


  1. Great job out there! Nice seeing you explore new terrain and keep pushing after the river, that was not all downhill and took some serious power--You Rock!


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