Cottonwood...

We opted for a campground Monday night. It seemed like a good base camp for the final day of freedom - both for running and riding. I got up early and decided to run before the ride. Should be an easy run, I figured - about six miles by looking at the map. Just run down the road from the campground to the CT, a short little jaunt on the CT and then back up the road. I told Nick my planned route and how long I figured it would take. Another good test of my Rev 1.5 - this time with a long sleeved shirt due to the pre-sunrise chill. I still need to trim the straps on the two chest bands, but want to make sure I have the fit dialed before I do that. About a mile into the run, I passed Cottonwood Lake. With the stillness in the air and the sun rising, it was too pretty not to stop and get some photos.

Looking towards the sunrise from Cottonwood Lake
And then the road tipped downward. I knew I'd have run back up, but wasn't worried. It shouldn't be to much of a climb back - just a mile or so. But when I was over three miles and just approaching the CT, I realized that my six mile estimation was going to be a little off. I could have turned around then and kept the run short. But no - I didn't want to miss out on my exploring. So I kept going. The section of CT was right along the creek and so peaceful with no one else around. I was on trail and having fun. Then came the climb back to the campground. It was a little steeper then I'd anticipated, even after running down! I was also going to be later then my "return to van" time is given Nick. That was a good incentive to run a little faster and a little more on the hill then I would have otherwise. Of course, when I got back to the campground, and was at 8.75 miles, I needed to get that extra quarter of a mile. Classic runner - I'm late to the van, but can't have awkward numbers! Good thing Nick was still sleeping when I got back - just a little late...

The stillness of the morning on the return from my solo run
And then came the ride. Poplar Gulch Trail. It climbed from Cottonwood across a saddle between two 13,000 foot peaks and then dropped into St Elmo to the south. We had ridden part of the south side of the trail a few years ago - but hand made it all the way to the saddle. I'd had a rebellion midway up - being tired, hungry and cranky from an already long ride on the Tunnel Lakes and CDT. But this time there were no excuses. We would make it to saddle at the very least. I wasn't sure if Nick planned on riding over to St Elmo or not - I had a feeling not since that would mean a lot of climbing and a little bigger day then we wanted. But it would depend on trail conditions. The south side was pretty rideable - a steep climb but a well used trail. The north side? Not was well used and twice as steep! There was as much hiking as there was riding as we climbed almost straight up the mountain side. I alternated with riding - forcing myself to ride as much as I could - pushing my bike and carrying my bike. Good training for sure! It was only three miles to the saddle, but we gained 2200 feet in those three miles - from just over 10k to over 12,200 at the saddle. It took us nearly 90 minutes for that climb. After that, we were both happy to enjoy the views all around and then make the plunge back down.
Nick nearing the high point of the trail - in the saddle between two 13,000 foot peaks.

The view to the south - Hancock Lake just barely noticeable. In two weeks, we will be riding that expanse in the darkness of night.
With no one else on the trail, we could ride as fast as we wanted! It was with the climb up - chunky alpine riding as we started, then dropping into the trees and picking lines through and over the roots. My hands were aching from holding to the bars and my arms tired tossing my bike around through the roots and rocks. We were both grinning at the end - our kind or descent. A fun, fast and technical ride that challenged technique and line choice - not just the ability to go fast. A fine end to a fun weekend. 

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