Saturday, December 30, 2017

San Juan Huts day 5: a mountain biking paradox

This is the 6th post in a series about 3 couples riding the San Juan Huts' Durango to Moab Mountain Bike Hut to Hut. The first post starts here.

Day 5: July 26, 2017

In the groove

By Day 5, we had a morning routine: Coffee drinking, breakfast making, gear packing, bike ready-ing, hut cleaning, and finally group picture taking. 
Breakfast today was super yummy eggs and pancakes.

Hopefully a daily trip to the "reading room" fit into each morning sequence. This hut had a particularly nice view for the occupant.

Clear skies on the morning of Day 5 at Wedding Bell Hut
But sooner or later the real business of the day would begin. We got an earlier start than normal to try to beat the heat we knew we would find as we descended to Paradox Valley.   There were some rolling ups and downs as we passed a lot of mining ruins and made our way through the still-muddy double track. Mostly, we were glad for the rains of yesterday as they made sandy sections of the road pleasantly ridable. Eventually, we found our way to the top of Davis Mesa.
Leaving Wedding Bell hut (center of picture) and the Dolores River on a fine clear morning July 26, 2017.

On the edge of Davis Mesa looking down into long Paradox Valley

A 30 second geology lesson

Paradox Valley is so named because the Dolores River flows, paradoxically, perpendicular to the strike of the valley. It does so because the valley was not carved by the river. Instead, Paradox Valley, and several other large valleys in SW CO and SE UT are salt anticline collapse valleys. Unlike most sedimentary rocks, salt flows when compressed. The salt in the Paradox Formation squished up toward the surface after it was buried, groundwater dissolved the salt, and the overlying strata collapsed down into the space created by dissolution of the salt .All this took place after the Dolores River was flowing in approximately its present direction, so while the salt moved and the strata collapsed, the river was able to erode its existing course, which just happens to be perpendicular to the direction of the anticline.
Super generalized steps to creating a salt collapse valley

Looking into Paradox Valley. Still intact, once horizontal sedimentary rocks tilt up toward the center of the anticline (shown by the left-most yellow line), but sections of the strata are collapsed in toward the center of the valley (the other two lines). 

Back to the ride

For some reason, I had in my head that Day 5 would be somewhat easy, and I guess it was after yesterday's dangerous thunderstorm mud fest. However, the miles were respectable (32.3 miles) and the elevation gain (3100 ft of climbing) was "not nothing" after four big days on a bike. It took us 3 hours and 45 minutes moving time, which included about 45 minutes of hike-a-bike down the Catch 'em Up trail off of Davis Mesa to the town of Bedrock.

Kenny (circled) rode parts of Catch 'em Up trail. Crazy!

Heather took a much more sane approach to descending Catch 'em Up
After 5 long days in the saddle, we were eagerly approaching the Dolores River on the valley floor, where we had every intention of dunking ourselves and our bikes in the river. What we had not figured out was that the river would be as brown as chocolate milk from the sediment carried to it by the massive rains over the past week.  A bath would not have done us any good.

The sediment-laden Dolores River was not fit for bathing when we crossed it.

I wish I could live in a town called Bedrock.
But, in a fabulous stroke of good fortune, the Bedrock Store, so named because it is built directly on bedrock, had reopened after being closed for several years just this very week!

The store, which was featured in the movie Thelma and Louise, carried such wonderful treats as  ICED COFFEE DRINKS, ICE COLD BUBBLY SODAS, and a large selection of ICE CREAM BARS AND TREATS.  

The Bedrock Store - a true oasis of civilization after 5 days of hut living.
Probably more important, the store had an exterior garden hose. We paid the new owners some money to let us wash, and promptly took bike and people pseudo-baths along side the store.   Heather and Sally even washed their hair and Karl shaved.  This unexpected reprieve from dirt was a sign that trail karma was back on our side.

After another round of treats, we saddled up and pedaled another 10 easy flat miles to the lowest elevation and thus the warmest hut: Paradox Hut.

Paradox Hut was the most exposed and warmest hut.

An Unexpected Evening

It just so happened that Marty, co-proprietor of Paradox Produce Company, was stocking the hut with fresh vegetables.  She enticed us to come to the Paradox Store, just a short pick-up ride away, with hibiscus iced tea, shade, and a laundry and shower wash station.  It wasn't a hard sell.

The welcome sign was out at the Paradox Store

Washer ladies getting most of the stink and dirt out of our rancid bike clothes.

A good long rest and chat in the shade after our baths.

We enjoyed a thorough tour of the organic produce operation Marty and Greg have going in Paradox. They sell at local farmers markets and take produce to Moab.

After we were rested and refreshed, we were delivered back to the hut for some individual dinners. Marty had given Karl and me hamburger. After a week of mostly vegetarian food supplemented by canned salmon and chicken, the fresh hamburger tasted like something from a 5 star restaurant.

Some of us played horseshoes, others just enjoyed the warm evening. Sleeping in the hut was pretty hot at first, but the temperature eventually cooled off so we could all get some rest for what we expected would be the toughest day yet - the climb up to the La Sals.

All told, Day 5, with its two bonus jolts of commerce at the Bedrock Store and Paradox Produce Co., turned out to be the paradox of back-country hut-to-hut living, and actually, a pretty good day.

Here is Drew's motion graphic 3-D video of the day's ride.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

San Juan Huts Day 4: they warned us about the mud.

This is the 5th post in a series about 3 couples experiencing the San Juan Huts Durango to Moab mountain bike adventure. The first post starts here

I think all six hut sleepers at the Dry Creek hut slept fairly lightly on night 3.   The rain alternately pitter-pattered and angrily pounded on the hut's metal roof all night long.  If we had scheduled a helicopter pick up for the next morning, we might all have found the rain's voice a lovely sound, but instead, we rested fitfully knowing we might have very tough going with knobby tires on mud instead of rotor blades on air.

Less than 10 feet from the hut and already mud slicked shoes.

So we started out from the dry creek hut by carrying our bikes the quarter mile from the hut to the improved gravel road. After just that short distance, we had to spend 20 minutes cleaning our shoes and bikes to be able to ride.  But the skies were clear and the forecast was for just a chance of afternoon thunderstorms, so we began another day of pedaling.

As a matter of principal, mountain bikers normally stay far away from pavement. But when our route description gave us two choices: 1) more pavement leading to some singletrack on a rocky ridge, or 2) faster flat dirt roads through the heart of the Dry Creek basin with potential for serious tire-stopping mud, we had to choose option 1. We had tasted what Dry Creek basin mud could be, and wanted no more of it.

Option 1 meant a good 7 miles of mileage-eating pace line. None of us “mountain bikers” showed the least bit of disdain for our roadie environment. Especially because that pavement took us to a pretty fun section of singletrack up a rocky ridge and down the other side.

Fun descent

But we soon abandoned the longer singletrack option to rejoin the dirt road route as we raced the rain clouds.  We did not want to find out why the hut directors had given us directions and instructions for bailing out of the hut system here and getting a hotel for the night in the nearby town.

Impending doom.

But despite our best pedaling efforts, we got caught out in a thunder storm, ...  on a ridge, ... with no cover, .... and with knobby tires.  A very bad situation.  The previously smooth, fast dirt road turned into a trap.  Riding was out of the question - the tires became so clogged with mud that the wheels would not turn. We also risked damaging our bikes' drive trains many miles from a bike shop.

Although we were only a few miles from the hut, we were in a bad situation. We were at the highest elevation around with lightning not far away.  We tried to carry our bikes, but with our backpacks and 20+ pounds of mud on each bike, it was slow going. At one point, somebody suggested abandoning the bikes, hiking to the hut, and coming back for the bikes later.  Clearly, we were desperate and delusional.

After some low, helpless moments, the storm moved off. We half carried, half-dragged the bikes to the top of the final hill and scraped enough mud from the tires that we could coast downhill a mile to the Wedding Bell hut. We were never so happy to be safe and off the trail.

We spent the next hour cleaning bikes and recovering from our ordeal.

It was way worse than this looks.

But the hut master in the sky must have thought we had proved our hut worthiness because we were rewarded with a fantastic view and the most beautiful sunset I've ever seen!!!!

Dolores River from the Wedding Bell Hut

There were some old mining ruins and associated trash next to the hut.

This half sunset was representative of the dark moments of the day contrasting with the joy of being in the wilderness to experience such a sight.

We soaked in every last ray of that incredible view before a dinner of spicy vegetable soup.  Tomorrow we would face the Catch'em Up trail, but for tonight, we rested in friendship.

Click to see a 3-D satellite motion graphic of Drew's GPS track for the day.

Monday, August 14, 2017

San Juan Huts Durango to Moab Day 3: downhill to rainbow colored clouds

This is the 4th post in a series about 3 couples experiencing the San Juan Huts Durango to Moab mountain bike adventure. The first post starts here.

Days 1 and 2 were amazing. Amazing scenery, amazingly variable weather, amazingly long days in the saddle, amazingly compatible people. Day 3 was smooth sailing downhill on easy roads to a cozy hut with a lucky break or two.

Black Mesa hut specifics

Before I tell of our lovely ride on day 3, I wanted to give you a few details about the hut we stayed in on night 2.

Black Mesa Hut nestled in the big pines.

Can you think of a more peaceful setting for a composting toilet?

Perhaps my readers do not care to see the inside of the composting toilet shack, but as I am one for details, here you go. The procedure for doing your business was: 1) do your business, 2) deposit your used toilet tissue and NOTHING ELSE (many signs warning about the horrible consequences for someone if garbage is added to the toilet), and 3) add half a scoop of wood shavings from the large garbage can.  Their was surprisingly little smell and no flies that I remember.  I didn't spend a whole lot of time in the shack though. 

Downhill to the desert

The route today had one small single track option, that, frankly, didn't sound very appealing. (Overgrown, difficult trail that would add a couple of hours.) We decided to take the FS roads and county roads all the way to the hut instead, as we needed a "rest day". This turned out to be a good decision, as you will learn later.  On the agenda was 2061 feet of climbing (is that a rest day?) and 54547 feet of descending (oh yeah!) over 35.2 miles. 

The crew ready to depart Black Mesa Hut, Day3
We rode on well-maintained roads almost the entire day, through conifer forest for the first 15 miles or so.  The scenery was not as spectacular as our first couple of days, but still nice and the smell of fresh pine forest was intoxicating. I wanted to inhale 100% of the time.  

Our directions said this was "Navajo Mountain and Groundhog Reservoir". Is that really the name? There must be a story there.

Our last good view of high country from near the border between the Uncompahgre and San Juan National Forests and the San Miguel and Dolores Counties. The mountains in the distance are on the Uncompahgre Plateau. I wanted to stop and take more pictures, but the group seemed to be in a rush.  This is often the story of my vacations.

Side note: this picture shows the size of my pack pretty well.  Without water, I was carrying 18 pounds of gear and packs. Pretty lean for a 7 day trip at elevation. It also show my hair poking through my helmet, which Drew thought was picture worthy.

This is as "singletrack" as we got on Day 3. 
The climbing was mellow, the descending was even mellower. It was so mellow I could take pictures while riding looking back at some of the group.

And then we came to Miramonte Reservoir.  Beautifully quiet, refreshingly cool, surprisingly clean Miramonte Reservoir at 7750 feet elevation. My lunch of cherry pie Lara bar in honor of Pie n Beer day was made infinitely better by watching Karl ride his dirty bike into the water.

The reservoir was also a great place to clean bikes and bodies.

It was getting into afternoon, and Heather, who seems to have an internal barometer warning her of impending rain, urged us to get back on those moderately clean but still uncomfortable bikes and head for the hut before we got doused with an afternoon thunderstorm.

We pounded out another 6 miles of easy gravel road to arrive at Dry Creek Hut, perched on the edge of a beautiful valley.  Here is the Relive 3D graphic of our ride.
Day 3 recap video link

The date today was July 24, which is Pioneer Day, a Utah state holiday commemorating the day in 1847 that the Mormons came to Salt Lake Valley and decided "this is the place", thus giving us Pioneer Day and the largest parade in the United States.  Us gentiles celebrate Pie 'n' Beer day instead.

No horse and wagon delivering fresh kegs and hot apple pie, but we did have Kenny and Heather, who carried Hostess fruit pies for all of us for the past 3 days without smashing them. Who needs covered wagons when you have friends like this.

And then, as we sat enjoying the epitome of after trail deliciousness, the puffy white clouds decided to play chameleon and treat us to the most unusual blast of color.
A spectacular rainbow cloud, or, as we called it, the amazing rain-blob. More precisely, this is cloud iridescence, but none of us had seen such a colorful cloud surrounded by regular clouds. The coincidence of us all sitting at the edge of of the basin, enjoying the post-ride glow and snacks instead of this cloud happening half an hour earlier or later when we would have been riding or getting busy with tasks made us feel like the most special bikers on earth at that particular moment.

Our luck manifested itself minutes later when the sprinkles started. Then full fledged rain that lasted all... night... long.  If we had loitered at the reservoir for another half hour or took more pictures and breaks throughout the day, we would have been caught out in the famous mud of Dry Creek Basin. As it was, we just hunkered down, spacing our trips to the toilet as far apart as we each could because going meant a hazardous slip-slide-y walk in which you chanced falling face-first into tan slime and a mandatory 5-minute shoe-cleaning session upon your return.

Massive Mud Foot. photo by Karl

First we napped in the hut (or if you are me and think it is too stuffy in the hut, just took shelter under the hut in a sling chair), then ate yummy spaghetti and garlic toast, and, for the evening's main event, painted tiny acrylic renditions of our favorite scenes from the last three days.  Yes, that's right, we had a Paint Night Party at the hut. Karl had carried 5x7 canvases for each of us, plus 4 or 5 tubes of acrylic paints with him for the last three days. First pies, now art. I have generous friends.

Thanks to Karl: Paint night - Hut edition.
photo by Karl

Our masterpieces.  We left them at the hut to brighten it up.
 We closed out the night feeling lucky for our experiences and good friends, but trepidation that the all night rain would kill our ride tomorrow.

Drew's favorite food-cabinet item.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

San Juan Huts Day 2: We like to keep our singletrack options open

This is the 3rd in a series of posts about 6 friends riding San Juan Huts Durango to Moab Hut to Hut Mountian Bike Adventure. The first post begins with this link,

Day 2 had options. Standard route on 100% Forest Service roads, 29 miles and 3722 feet ascending OR an alternate single track of 32 miles, an unknown amount of climbing, and with a description that read "This is a fun single track and well worth doing and is almost all downhill."  What do 6 physically exhausted but newly infatuated by San Juan mountains back-country scenery mountain bikers do? Why, chose the singletrack, of course.  After all, it was "almost all downhill".

The huts

One of the things I really appreciated about this hut system was the excellent variety of food stocks.  San Juan Huts restocks the food cabinet, the fresh food cooler, and the beer after every 14 riders.  The canned and dry goods was especially impressive. Really, any type of food you typically think of as camp food was there, plus a nice selection of lunch snacks, including dried mangoes, jerky, Lara bars, Kind bars, nuts, other dried fruits, peanut butter and almond butter with a couple of types of jelly, and lots of drink mixes.  I think Karl fried up some bacon this morning to take as his lunch. Good thing we didn't run into any bears on the trail.

photo by Heather

The big fresh food cooler had bacon, eggs, butter, and tortillas. The beer cooler had cans of local microbrews. The high elevation huts included wood stoves. The "kitchen" counter had a two burner propane stove, propane lanterns, and everything you need to cook and clean a proper camp meal.  Water was provided in 5-gallon jugs. We heated water to wash dishes in the plastic tubs.

Hut 1 all buttoned up upon leaving.

 Day 2 Riding

I was pretty excited about the "almost all downhill fun singletrack" and the prospect of more jaw-dropping scenery when we started the day.

 My enthusiasm waned when we I almost lost my camera on the rough doubletrack leading away from the hut (Yay for Drew for picking it up so I didn't have to ride way back up!) and also when we took a wrong turn in the first hour of riding. But once we got on the real singletrack, it was pretty fun. 

The numerous high creek crossings with unavoidable foot dunks were not my favorite, nor the numerous rocky technical trail sections that forced us to push bikes up muddy hills ("almost all downhill?"). And, to be honest, the scenery was not spell-binding, but there were some very pretty parts, the weather was holding, we were riding Colorado mountain singletrack with a group of fun friends, and we were making pretty good time. That was the first 10 miles or so. But, we had 22 to go and clouds were building.

So, none of us complained when we hit the paved state road and had to take it down canyon 3 miles to connect to the standard route. Smooth asphalt is my friend.

As we began to navigate the gravel and dirt Forest Service roads, the thunder that had been threatening made good on its rumbles and we rode through light rain for most of the rest of the day.  Light rain we can handle just fine when the alternative is monsoonal downpour.

The miles ticked off quickly, with steady climbs followed by glorious easy road descents.

At the bottom of the last big climb.

 We found the Black Mesa hut at about 6 pm. We had been in the saddle for 6 hours 20 minutes with 5 hours moving time, rode 34.8 miles, and climbed 3900 feet. That's a heck of a day 2 for riders already tired from day 1.

Here is Drew's Day 2 recap 3D motion graphic link

Our relatively early arrival at the hut allowed for Karl to create a super spicy curry stir fry and still leave time for the disaffected tender-mouths of the group to cook bland-enough mac n cheese. There was also time for other camp activities. 
Washer women attempt to clean some muddy, smelly ride clothes.

A lovely yoga patio and chillin' pad was just a short walk out of the forest near the hut.

A camper's clothes drying racks.

Back inside the hut, Kenny broke out his ukulele (yes he brought an actual full-sized ukulele and a song book to go with it!) and we had a game of charades where the most popular category was not Movies, or Songs, or TV shows, but Trail Names. It was actually much easier for our bike-tuned brains that way.

Lights out on our tired bodies by 9 pm. Day 2 was a perfect addition to our adventure. Day 3 promised to be easier.