Thursday, August 19, 2010

Safe shmafe

We drove all day to get to the east end of Black Bear Road. By the time we set up camp it was well past end the end of sunshine. Andrew and I set up our tent in the cool Colorado darkness.

It was 1997 and it was time for our 2nd annual late summer mountain bike adventure. We hadn’t gotten killed the year before so this year we upped the ante. The course we laid out looked epic even on paper.

Oh to be 24 and reckless again.

When the sun came up in the morning we were greeted with the most awesome and spectacular view ever. We had camped at about 9000 feet on the side of a mountain. The view was simply breathtaking.

By 8am we had eaten, loaded up our packs and saddled our bikes. Adventure (and peril) awaited us in the unpredictable Colorado mountains.

10 miles to the west sat Telluride. Between us our goal was Black Bear Road; many miles of unforgiving switchbacks and uphill mayhem. Awesome.

We took our time setting out. We had lots of time and the road we had chosen didn’t look that far in the Colorado Atlas and Gazetteer. It looked so easy we didn’t even bring the map. It was just a big book anyway. I wasn’t going to carry that thing…

We explored some old mines, ghost town-ish buildings and even a couple of wrong turns. All we good. We were two young fit dudes on mountain bikes. What could possibly go wrong?

Then the flat tires came.

Between the two of us I think we got 8 flats on the way up the pass. After the first 4 or 5 we got a little annoyed. What the heck though. This was an adventure.

We finally reached the top of the pass. What time was it anyway? Doesn’t matter. We were young fit guys….

The descent down Black Bear Pass is legendary. Words cannot describe how cool that thing was. We flew down with only a couple of stops to take pictures and pick the grit out of our teeth.

We found Telluride and there was a big ol’ party going on. Fabulous! It was hot and so were the girls!! Wahoo! We hung out for a while and even took a little nap in the town center.

The temperature was 90 on the bank sign we saw as we entered the local bike shop.

The next leg of the journey was to ride up Imogene Pass. This trip was about 4000 vertical feet. How hard could that be? The guy at the shop said that it takes strong guys about 2.5 hours. “Hey! I’m a strong guy!”

It took about 45 minutes of riding before I had to walk my bike and we weren’t anywhere near half way to the top. The air sure is thin at 10,000 feet. It’s even thinner when you know you have to go to 13,000 feet and the route is questionable from there.

It looked simple on the map. A hiking trail from the top of Imogene Pass led over to Black Bear Road and back to our campsite. Not a problem. If we followed Imogene Pass Road to Ouray (the “safe” route, HA!) then we would have a 3000 vertical feet road climb back to the camp.

Safe shmafe.

Wow. Are those thunderclouds? Is that rain? Is that hail?

Sure would be nice if there was, oh, I don’t know, SHELTER at 11,000 feet. At 5pm we were still pushing our bikes up towards the pass.

What time does it get dark?

We found 13,000 feet and the top of the pass at about 7:30pm. Didn’t have a thermometer but it was freakin’ cold. At what temperature does an your body start to shiver? It was colder than that.

OK, safe way (with the massive climb, BTW) or sketchy way that looked good on the “atlas”?

You know we went the sketchy way.

Took about 3 minutes till we lost the trail. We soldiered on anyway because we were young and STUPID like that. We expected to see the road up ahead at any time. Nope.

Must be after this ridge. Nope.

Next one. Nope. Nope and nope. Finally we found a river. River leads to the valley. Hiking at 13,000 feet in mountain bike shoes pushing a mountain bike was just an utter travesty.

We decided that down was the best way to go. We abandoned our plans of finding the road. Besides it was getting….


Fortunately we had a light. One light was better than no light.

We didn’t need a light to find the waterfall.

Hike up to a ridge to get around the waterfall and find the river again. At least we were going down stream. On and on we hiked. The last remnants of daytime had long since evaporated. We had been at this biking thing for countless hours. We had climbed over 7000 vertical feet on our bikes; yet we had to go on.

Andrew suggested bivouacking. Are you out of your mind? No way. We kept going. Fortunately the directness of the river and steepness of the terrain brought us to a road. We saw a car drive by.

We were going to make it out; yeah, after trudging through a hip deep swamp.


It was close to 11pm when we got back to the tent. I ate a banana and fell fast asleep without even changing my cloths.

The next couple of days featured some driving but, ironically, no biking. The hikes we did were short and within view of the car.

I’ll never forget that epic adventure. Note to self: Don’t try to ride Black Bear and Imogene Pass on the same day and no there is no hiking trail that connects the two!

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