Monday, July 31, 2017

San Juan Huts Durango to Moab Day 1: the adventure begins

The first in this series of posts, which explains why and who entered into this adventure, is here.

Day 1: Molas Pass to Bolam Hut via Rolling Mountain section of the Colorado Trail

July 22
5:30 am: Rally Drew and Lucy from the Holiday Inn Express for our last hot shower and non-self-cooked breakfast.
7 am: Meet up downtown Moab with the crew. We hired Red Rock Shuttle to take us and our bikes to the drop off spot.

Drive to Durango. Stop at a bike shop to put more sealant in Kenny's tire. Drop off at Molas Pass.
Fresh and full of nerves at Molas Pass Colorado Trail trailhead. L to R Kenny, Heather, Karl, Sally, Lucy, Drew.
12:30 pm begin riding.
12:31 end of tracking the time and beginning of adventure

We opted for the singletrack option on day 1.  The standard route took mostly gravel or dirt U.S. Forest Service roads, which are much, much faster and easier. The singletrack option promised 22 miles, 3750 feet of climbing, amazing scenery, and what every mountain biker lives for - skinny mountain singletrack.  Even with our late start, we decided the high-elevation singletrack would be worth it.  I'll let you see from the pictures, it was!

Shoulder-high wildflowers for miles

Above tree line. Lots of water everywhere as this was only a few weeks after the trail opened from snowpack.

Not without issue

Day 1 scenery was unsurpassed. Day 1 accidents, mechanicals, and weather were also unsurpassed. 

Karl tumbled 40 feet down the mountainside partially connected to his bike. Incredibly, he brushed himself off and rode on with only small abrasions on his arm and bike to show for his brush with a trip-ending tumble.

Getting back to the trail. The rocks in the foreground were the culprit.
The first of Karl's three flat tires. Miraculously, these three were the only flats of the entire trip. That's nearly 1400 combined miles on rocky trail and rural gravel roads with three flats.  Hooray for tubeless.

And there was that bit of hail and thunder.  My fingers were too cold and my courage too diminished to take the time to snap a picture of the intense 15 minutes of hail and hour of thunder and rain that we waited out and then rode in, respectively.  It would be the coldest I would be on the trip, and the episode put the fear of the monsoon season into all of us.


But by late afternoon, the rain mostly stopped and we continued to climb over the high peaks of the San Juan Mountains through fields of wildflowers, ...

past active groundwater features, ...

A big spring gushing from the rocks under that snowbank. There were also karst features and smaller springs on bedding planes.
in marmot territory,...
Two big fat marmots, center, warned us to pass on by with their squeaks.

and around herds of sheep.

The trail went on forever.

Still snow on July 22

We crested the last pass, still with a long way to go, but it was through another unbelievably beautiful basin.  

Mountain biker on singletrack, black dot in center, for scale. The very smooth orange mountainsides in the top center of the picture I think are pretty recent landslides.  I thought they might be mine dumps as we were near the old Graysill mine, but my mining geologist friend Ken doesn't think they look mine-dump-ish. Plus, according to a Google search, the Graysill mine produced a small amount of uranium, not enough activity to make those big dumps, and a big surprise since I assumed a mine here would be for a sulfide mineral seeing the massive oxidation and acid rock drainage visible in this landscape.

Skinny singletrack of the Rolling Mountain portion of the Colorado Trail

This creek was whitish and smelled of sulfur, as it contained runoff from oxidizing sulfide mineralization.  Quite a few of the smaller creeks we crossed on Day 1 had the same characteristics.  I know there is natural acid rock drainage in this area but I wonder of some of this is enhanced by old mine workings.  The rust-color on the peaks and scree slopes in today's pictures indicate loads of iron-sulfide mineralization in this region, which, when exposed to the atmosphere, releases acid, sulfur, and metals.

There was a fair share of hike a bike

The scenery went on for days.

Destination Bolam Hut

Finally, with dark closing in, after 7 hours on the trail having stopped only for storms, catching breath, retrieving people off mountainsides, and flat tires, we arrived at Bolam Hut at 7:30 pm. We had spent the entire day between 10,900 feet and 12,500 feet elevation, alternately riding and pushing our bikes up and down 3750 feet of vertical through some of the best scenery I've ever seen. Click here to see a 3-D satellite motion graphic of Drew's GPS track for the day. It's really cool.

The hut was a very welcome site. Kenny quickly started a fire to dry us out and Karl started a pot of super-oregano pasta and creamy mushroom soup (the kind I don't eat anymore due to partially hydrogenated oils but gladly chowed this night). The only thing that could have made this day more epic was a cooler full of microbrews at the hut, and there it was!

 We toasted the day and crashed out in our cozy, smelly, muddy hut.

San Juan Huts Durango to Moab Prelude: How not to prep

July 22-29, 2017. 7 days and 6 nights mountain biking from Molas Pass near Durango, Colorado to Moab, Utah staying in remote mountain huts. Human-powered adventure for 3 couples, 5 full suspension bikes, and 1 hard tail. Total 240 miles, 26,000 feet of climbing. Many sore bodies and many, many smiles.

This is the account of a 47-year old female ex-endurance mountain bike racer experiencing the the San Juan Huts (SJH) Durango to Moab hut-to-hut mountain bike adventure.

Prelude - How This Trip Came To Be

After BreckEpic last year, I was done racing mountain bikes. D.O.N.E.  But I still like to ride and Drew and I have so many great times, and great triumphs, on mountain bike trips. This trip had been on our radar for years, but racing always took priority. Not so in 2017!!  Somehow (Drew), we  (Drew) steered us to the San Juan Huts most-difficult hut-to-hut adventure, the 218 mile Durango to Moab route. We just needed to find some more people to fill the hut so we wouldn't be bunking with random stinky testosterone boys. Enter thrill-seekers Karl and Sally and adventurers Kenny and Heather.  We booked it last October. Plenty of time to get in shape, buy gear, and research.

That get in shape part started about the beginning of July for me. My "training" consisted of about a half dozen 3-4 hour, 20-30 mile rides with a small Camelbac.

The gear buying entailed buying a $10 handlebar bag on Amazon. The night before we departed SLC, I realized the rack and trunk bag I had used on the Mt. Hood hut to hut wouldn't fit my current bike, and therefore, my Camelbac wasn't big enough. I threw together a hiking day pack and some other bike bags we had and jettisoned most of the warm clothes I was planning to take. (Not a good plan.)

The research was reading the directions and maps on the drive to Moab. My prep and planning was good to go! 

En route to Moab I became highly concerned that I had no warm clothes. (Note to self: do not second guess packing warm clothes.) It is safe to say I was wigged out. We got to Moab at 8 pm so I began shopping. GearHeads wanted $259 for a down puffy. Moab Gear Trader had a used men's small down jacket for $40. Score. Potentially life-saving decision. I also picked up a fresh bottle of Aleve. Another important purchase.

Last supper at Zax all you can eat pizza buffet.

I love not cooking.

Tomorrow we would begin this THING.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Ireland day 2: Northern Ireland's Giant Fun.

I wrote this post on the plane coming back from Ireland last month to replace the quicky post I put up while there.  But what the heck, I'll leave that one up too.  This post goes into the details of the places we saw on Day 2.

Our hotel in Drogheda offered a big delicious “full Irish” breakfast, which I gather means with meat and eggs. Of course I had to try the mysterious sounding black pudding, which was very flavorful, especially before I found out it was made with cow blood. I skipped the white pudding, made with intestines.


Our plan for the day was to drive the big freeway, or motorway as they call them here, to Belfast, have lunch, then explore the northern side of Northern Ireland's coast, and finally beeline for our first bed and breakfast SW of Derry. An ambitious day. Luckily, I was feeling no jet lag, so behind the wheel I climbed, on the right hand side of the manual transmission car!

Team driving.

Belfast was too soon for our full bellies, so we blasted on through. My only impression of Belfast is: only 3 exits? I thought it would be much bigger. I wish we could have stopped for a coffee or something, but adventure was calling so we motored on.

We lunched in Bally-blah-blah.  Every other town (or as they say here, every second one) is named Bally-something-or-other, which is the English translation “village of…” from Gaelic.  


Someone had said the Carrick-a-rede swinging rope bridge was cool, so that's where we headed. They were right!
A 1 km hike on a nice path along the gorgeous sea cliffs

with views to Rathlin Island and all the way clear to Scotland (the land to the right of island with dark top and white cliffs at the water line in the picture above) because we are visiting in the new global-warming-induced dry season,
  leads to a gated bridge with attendants on each side. (I imagine this is the place delinquent high school kids try to sneak out to after hours.)
The bridge walk, contrary to what the guidebook says, is not very scary; I've been on way worse. But it is wonderfully high and has smashing waves and darting sea birds below.

not my picture

not my picture but gives you an idea of the height

The reason for the installation of the bridge in the first place is not, as it seems today, to extract dollars from tourists, but rather for fishermen to access the salmon fishing grounds from this little island.
In addition to fishing in the immediate vicinity of the little island, historically, black diabase (they call it dolerite) was mined just above the entrance to the car park and shipped from this point to Scotland and the rest of northern Europe.  Diabase is a volcanic rock, part of the roots of the volcano whose flows created the resistant  rock that forms the little island. According to the knowledgeable and good humored attendant to the car park, this stone was extremely popular as cobblestones and building stones in northern Europe during the Victorian age.
 The attendant gave us more geologically important information: the remains of the concrete and stone buildings on the coast below us were part of a cement manufacturing operation.  The limestone for the cement came from continental crust, not the much younger volcanic rock.
That was a very worthwhile stop!


A few 10s of km down the road was the day's main attraction: Giant's Causeway.

So yeah, we have friends to visit in this country, and yeah, the country is beautiful, and yeah, it's where some of my ancestors were born, but I will admit, Giants Causeway  was a significant reason I wanted to visit Ireland.  I mean, columnar jointing as the main attraction for a national park? That means they’ve got their priorities straight, and also just screams “Lucy must see!!”
I was not disappointed, and I'll go out on a ledge (pun!) here and say my travel companions were not either. The Giants Causeway is truly spectacular, especially on a glorious sunny day.

Columnar jointing forms in basalt lava flows as they cool and contract.

The North Channel between Ireland and Scotland has eroded the thick basalt flows and left a peninsula of spectacular columns to play on.There is a matching exposure of columnar jointing in Scotland called Fingals Cave. (next trip?)

Drew and I did the a little longer hike out to where the trail was closed due to landslide activity while Jim and Shelly headed onward to check into our B&B.

I loved this part of the hike almost as much as the causeway. Cool giant basalt columns, hydrothermal alteration patterns, chilled flow margins, and more spectacular coastline.

I should mention the forklore behind the name Giants Causeway. Something about a giant on a causeway. I guess I'm more into the science.

I lingered on the columns as long as I could before we hit the road past very stinky field applications of manure to the B&B. 

After checking in, we met Jim and Shelly at The Fishermans Inn, the one and only local pub in Carrigans, for the best fish and chips I've ever had, no joke! Jim liked the mushy peas, too.

The fish was mild and the batter was salty and flavorful. A Smithwicks or two to round out the meal put the end to busy and beautiful day.