As the October sun dropped behind the mountains at 7pm, I knew I was in for a long night.
That morning at 04:45, I stumbled out of the van and started my individual time trial of the Durango Dirty Century course. 92 miles, 12K vertical gain, 70% singletrack.
I finished just before midnight: 18 hours, 45 minutes. That included 45 minutes of mechanical shenanigans and maybe 20 minutes of cattle herding. The starting temperature in town was 33 degrees, with a forecasted high of 50 and sunny.
The course starts with six miles of flat pavement and then a thousand-foot climb up a gravel road to the Hermosa Creek Trail. From there, it’s a gentle twenty miles of singletrack ascent. I felt pretty good doing most of that in the dark — night riding makes the climbing seem to go faster.
It was pretty cold at elevation. I was expecting to generate more body heat on the singletrack climb, but it was surprisingly mellow. I was wearing softshell pants, a longsleeve, balaclava, and wool mittens. My next layer up (rain jacket or down jacket) would’ve resulted in too much sweat, so I rode cold for a while.
Things were going pretty well, but then I ran into a uniquely Western-Slope kind of a delay. Forty cows were blocking the trail, with a cliff on one side and the creek on the other. I started hollering the lyrics to “Rawhide” and they headed up the trail … at all of five miles an hour.
After the first chorus, the novelty wore off and I started verbally abusing the beasts, using my best Robert Downey Jr. from Tropic Thunder impersonation. In response, they sullied the trail with about six metric tons of steaming bovine excrement.
Traction was difficult for the next four miles. I have never seen so much crap come from one animal’s rump, let alone a forty-head. What are they feeding these guys? (Oh that’s right, primo National Forest lands). Every now and then, I was able to pass a couple and inch my way up in the herd. When I finally passed the lead cow, I yelled “See you for dinner!” and resumed a race pace.
Eventually I hit the sun and an aerobic climb up to Bolam Pass. Dirt roads are a bit of a mental block for me, but I threw on some 90’s hip-hop and spun away in 30:42. Along the way I passed a couple of riders on full-squish bikes who had just started their loop.
Finally, I hit Bolam Pass where the route joins the Colorado Trail. As I was filtering water, a truck roared up and dropped off the two bikers. “We cheated!” they proclaimed, a bit bashfully. No worries, sometimes you’ve got to aid the crux. We started the singletrack together, but I immediately tore a sidewall and wasted a lot of time patching it, trying to reseat the tire, and then eventually throwing in a tube. My legs got pretty stiff during the break, but at least it was sunny and not too cold.
Back in the saddle. Fun singletrack led to more fun singletrack. This is some of the best riding on the entire CT, perhaps only tied with the Collegiate Peaks segments.
The hike up Blackhawk Pass (~11,900′) was a bit of a grunt. My two shuttle-biking friends cheered me on from the top. Not going to lie, I was really motivated to catch them.
Dropping down off Blackhawk was vindicating — I had very vivid memories of hiking a loaded bike up that trail, dripping with envy at all the southbounders who got to ride down it. It was just as fast and fun as I imagined then. (I also caught up with the other two and their utterly righteous mountain mutt just as they were turning off the CT and heading for Stagecoach).
The next section featured incredibly enjoyable, low-gain riding along Indian Trail Ridge. The flow eventually gave way to chunky hike-a-bike on the Highline Trail, which is where the sun finally abandoned me.
I grabbed some more water at Taylor Lake, mostly just so I could get the calorie boost from the last of my Tailwind powder. I was down to Cheezit crumbs and a nasty old mint chocolate health bar that I keep in the bottom of my frame bag for times of extreme caloric duress.
I turned on my headlamp and bar light at Kennebec pass and braced myself for six thousand feet of descent in eighteen miles. There were some moments of Type 1 Fun — it’s a killer (almost) pure downhill ride — but after a while it just hurt.
I nearly wept with joy at the sight of Gudy’s Rest, which signified that I only had fifteen hundred more feet to drop, then three miles back to the trailhead.
At quarter til midnight, I reached the van and a very excited Irish wolfhound. I drank a bowl of split pea soup, slipped on some luxurious non-spandex pajamas, curled up next to my wife and drew the curtains on a punishing but rewarding day in the San Juans.