Big Fat Tire: It’s wet and wildflowers on Colorado mountain biking trails
Special to the Daily
I have quite a few friends who ooh-and-ahh over High Country flowers, but the most flower-obsessed is Ellen. We all have many different reasons to ride our bikes. While for most of us it’s the complete package of many things, we all have priorities in our fun meters. For some, it’s speed; others like to suffer on long climbs; for some, it’s the journey, just traveling through our beautiful forests. Ellen’s main priority is flowers, and Ellen has been impressed this year.
All the late season snow and rain has made for some pretty spectacular flower gardens. One of the really great things about the trails in Summit is they pass through numerous ecosystem zones, depending on elevation. From below 8,500’ in the lower Blue with sagebrush meadows to high-alpine tundra above 14,000’ and everything in between, the flora has been very happy this year. From Green Mountain Reservoir to the top of Quandary Peak, it has been a riot of color and lushness we don’t see often in this part of the world. No matter how you prefer to get out and enjoy the outdoors, do get out — nature is putting on a gorgeous show.
Actually, I’m trying to put a good face on after repeatedly getting rained on. Yes, it’s been wet, and our friend El Niño has been at work warming the southern Pacific off the coast of South America and sending copious amounts of water vapor to Colorado. As such, I want to talk about a couple different aspects of a wet summer — preparedness and trail etiquette.
Trail etiquette: I know not everyone wants to read my rants about trail etiquette, and I get that — it does get tiresome, but, since this is my column, I get to write about whatever I want (So far, at least; I haven’t pushed the boundaries. Maybe that will change toward the end of the season, and I’m running out of safe subject matter). So, we all know riding wet trails can cause lasting damage. Mostly, we talk about trail damage in the spring during runoff. In the summer, on average, we don’t get enough rain to totally saturate the soil like we get in the spring. Usually, the rain soaks in and, on better constructed trails, sheets off without running down the tread. So far, most of the trails I’ve been riding have been faring fairly well; in fact, they’ve been really nice and tacky.
With most long-range forecasts for the rest of the summer predicting above-average precipitation, that might change from tacky to sloppy. Already, I’ve been seeing some areas where ground water is causing heaving in roads and trails. So far, those areas are fairly isolated, but, if the heavens keep weeping, we’ll see more and more of that. This means, follow normal wet-weather protocol. Ride through, not around puddles to keep our singletrack single. If it’s been really wet, plan to ride trails that drain well; many of our trails are well-constructed and/or have soil that drains well.
Preparedness: If you’ve lived here for any length of time, you know that we don’t have nice, refreshing, warm showers. When it rains, it’s almost always going to be cold; hail and even snow especially in the high alpine is not uncommon. When riding in Summit, I always carry a good rain jacket, arm and leg warmers and full-finger gloves. You don’t want to mess around with clothing in Summit. Hypothermia isn’t fun or healthy — that’s something I’ve learned through experience.
The other weather issue that bears mention is lightning. Lightning scares me; I have a healthy respect for it. Few things are more frightening than being in the wrong place during a lightning storm. During monsoon season, which is now till September, the rule is to be off exposed ridges before noon. I love riding in the high alpine above tree line, but you should always plan your ride — or hike — to be in more sheltered areas before the storms build. Keep an eye on the sky, and don’t wait till the storms are overhead.
Trail news: Summit Huts Association received final approval on its Weber Gulch Hut. Construction is a year or two off, but a side benefit to trail users is a new nonmotorized trail that will be open to the public, constructed on Baldy. It will extend the Nightmare on Baldy trail up the hill about 200 vertical feet then hook into the Gold Belle road. This will give an extra singletrack option for climbing or descending Baldy. The plan is to have it done some time next summer.
There are numerous upcoming trail projects. Go to http://www.summitfattire.org to find a project that suits you. Trails don’t build or maintain themselves. Plan on giving at least one day; it’s good for your soul!
Mike Zobbe is the president of the Summit County Fat Tire Society.
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