Walsenburg, CO to Salida, CO – 194.0 miles
The morning was beautiful with clear skies and temperatures that had warmed up from the day before. We got on the road late because Naomi took some extra time to set up an appointment with our bikes and a mechanic in Moab. The blind date was set for Monday and I think the bikes will be happy to get serviced.
We got on the trail and rode through arid canyons with sandy floors. The dry grass crunched under foot and cactus replaced the wildflowers that lined the roads a few miles back. We were surrounded by mountains on all sides and got excited knowing we’d soon be climbing those rocky cliffs. As we rode around a curve on the canyon floor, we came across an old church that was falling apart. We stopped to check it out and when we looked inside noticed the confession booth was still intact with an inviting door open. I considered climbing through the window to take advantage of the opportunity, but didn’t want to risk a falling rafter or stray lighting bolt.
We entered the San Isabel National Forest and began our climb into the mountains on gravel roads. The forest roads were amazing with one particularly fun rocky path we followed at a steep angle avoiding boulders and loose stones. The elevation quickly hit 9,000 feet and my bike began to sputter. I babied it up to 11,200 feet with it choking the whole way. Naomi then had the genius idea to take the side panel off and give the bike more oxygen in the thin air. It worked like a charm and we descended through evergreen valleys into Westcliffe for a very late lunch…which turned into an early dinner.
After our meal we decided to push a little further to the next town on the trail. We were getting a late start and knew we had just under three hours of daylight left, but had confidence we could make it before sunset. We had to cross the next peak to get to Salida and thought the shortcut a red line option provided would be a fun route. Research showed the first mile of Rainbow Trail was the hardest part and then eased off from there. Sounded good to us.
So, it wouldn’t be a proper vacation without one super sketchy or near death experience and this trip did not disappoint. It took us at least an hour to reach and find the trail head. By that point the sun was very low in the sky. We should have taken the hint and opted for blue instead of red, but our stubborn streaks got the best of us. We pointed our tires to the trail and twisted throttles onto the narrow single track. To say the least, it was more difficult than expected with rocks ranging in size from baby head to full on adult boulder. The trail was lined with fallen trees leaving just enough room for our handlebars to pass through, was rutted where water drains down the path, and had multiple water crossings. We quickly became exhausted from the demands of the trail and picking up our overworked rides multiple times. As the last rays of light left us, so did our final reserves of energy. With several miles of Rainbow Trail to go including more climbing and tight switchbacks, we weighed our options. The decision was made to turn the bikes around. We pulled the tires by hand to get them facing the way we came and started back in complete darkness. We bounced and smashed through the baby heads and tree limbs, emerging from the trail about an hour later. Soaked in sweat, we shivered our way to Salida on paved roads and snatched up the last hotel room in town for a staggering price.
Today’s lesson: Sometimes it’s best to leave the pot of gold for the next adventurer.