Big Fat Tire: Back on the trail again in Canon City while Summit dries out
May 28, 2016
Hard to believe, but I'm back. The Summit Daily has actually asked me to write this column again. Once again, I get the chance to rant, pontificate, rave and ramble about mountain biking. A public soapbox can be a dangerous thing for a guy like me. I get a weekly opportunity to stick my Sedi Dominators in my mouth. We'll see if I take advantage of the opportunity or not.
Once again, I'll try to offer information that might be helpful and advice on places to ride, nag us mountain bikers about trail etiquette (the soapbox part), help newbies with equipment recommendations and generally try to inject a little insight and humor into the "mountain bike life."
This is actually pretty difficult. There are a lot of different ways to calibrate the fun meter on bicycling in the woods, and I probably won't do a good job of speaking to them all, but I'll give it my best shot.
Looking out the window right now, it doesn't feel much like mountain bike season here in the High Country. In fact, it looks a lot like ski season. I peer right over Peak 8, and I think you could ski from the summit to the base without too much difficulty (snowcats pushing snow into monster piles aside). It's going to be a great June for spring skiing.
Although I'm a little under the weather with nasty chest inflammation right now, I've been riding a fair amount since mid-March, with trips to Canon City, Pueblo, Salida, Eagle, Buff Creek and, of course, Fruita and Moab. As much as I love spring backcountry skiing, I get the bug to be on the bike and feel dirt under my tires. (Snow biking is a bug that hasn't nibbled on me, but that's another column.)
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From a mountain biking perspective, Summit County's elevation is its biggest drawback. We have a short season. Right now, even though some trails are starting to open up, there is still a crazy amount of snow and melting snow (aka water) out there. Pretty much everything above 10,000 feet still has snow and mud, and the snow line on northerly aspect slopes is even lower.
By this time of year, the town of Breck's open space department starts posting trail conditions on its website. There are also a couple Facebook pages — the Summit Fat Tire Society and Summit County trail conditions — that usually have chatter about trails. Just take some of that chatter with a grain of salt: It's not unusual for everyone to have a different interpretation of what "a little muddy" and "good to go" are. Always be ready and willing to turn around if the trail is soggy with running water, and don't ride off the trail to go around bogs and puddles. (Fair warning: Early-season riding ethics polemic to come next week.)
Head to the Pen and Canon City
Since it looks like the melt-out is a couple weeks behind average — there's no such thing as "normal" here, and it drives me crazy when I read anyone writing about "normal" weather — what can a mountain biker do? Not that there's anything wrong with Oro Grande, Frisco Peninsula or the lower, south-facing trails in French Gulch, but you can only gerbil them so many times.
There's always the road bike, of course. I've never really understood why so many mountain bikers sneer at road biking, especially here in Summit, where we have so many options that are separated from traffic. It's a good out-the-door way to stay in shape for when more off-road options become available.
Last year, one of my columns was about lower-elevation MTB trail systems in the area. One that I didn't mention (mostly because I had never been there) is Canyon City to the south. The Lower Arkansas Mountain Bike Association is in that stage that a lot of MTB organizations go through when things are happening fast. There's a lot of energy there, and new trails are coming on line quickly in places where there weren't trails before.
In mid-March, I went out to the Oil Well Flats trail system east of town. There is something like 17 to 18 miles of trails, and it's a great mix of ledge/chunk/tech (not too scary), with some smooth, fast, flowy trails, as well. The vertical relief is fairly modest, so none of the climbing is very long. The area is fairly typical desert landscape, with sharp and prickly vegetation at calf level. It's about two and a half hours from Breck, which for me is on the edge of day-trip distance, but it's close to year-round riding, which, as we all know, doesn't exist here in Summit.
Thanks for reading my return! Have fun, respect the trails and the people you share them with and keep the rubber side down.
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