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 https://www.relive.cc/view/1106114158 to see a 3-D satellite motion graphic of Drew's GPS track for the day.