A collapsing mine house above St. Elmo
Joel making repairs on Hancock Pass
Sasha and the ranchland on 114KK
Ronnie coming around a bend on Cinnamon Pass
Saturday AM we showed up at the City Park for the riders' meeting. About 40 of us, and a few others. Greg Frasier told us what to expect and handed out our packets. He had already determined who would be on the A and B rides, but there was nothing keeping us from doing whichever ride we wanted. There was an A+ option the first day, but not having much experience in the mountains I opted to stay with the regular A group, and formed a group with some of the folks from the night before (Dale, Tim, and Ronnie) plus Sasha Pave from the GS list and Joel (the lone R80; the rest of us were on R100s). After wasting far too much time at the park, we took off for St. Elmo and Hancock Pass.
The bottom of Hancock was just a dirt road; a bit rough in spots but nothing difficult. We were flying along, dodging rocks and having a good time. As we got to the treeline, the terrain got a lot harder and just before the summit Joel's R80 started to run out of steam in a major way. To the point that he couldn't ride any further, actually, and after checking a number of things he decided to turn back and try to make some repairs. We took some photos at the top and then took off down the other side, catching air on some whoops before the trail got more technical.
As we were approaching the top we had met up with a group of other riders who waited for a while with us at the top before heading down ahead of us. Heading down now, at one point the trail got really narrow and uneven and a hiker casually told us that all three BMWs that had just came through had dumped here. Luckily, we all got through unscathed and proceded down towards Pitkin.
On the way, though, we made a wrong turn and headed up towards the Alpine Tunnel. What a great detour!! The surface was fine and took up back up above the treeline on some fairly exposed ledges with awesome views of the surrounding mountains. If you want to see the Rockies from these passes without dealing with grapefruit-sized rock, go to Pitkin and then take the road up towards the Alpine Tunnel. You'll be glad you did.
On the way down we had our only real mishap of the trip. Tim was hustling along the road to Pitkin and when a car appeared around a bend he lost the front end under braking and plowed into the ditch. Bike damage was limited to a broken turn signal stalk, a bent crash bar and some scrapes, but Tim whacked his leg a bit and felt it for the rest of the ride. But we got over that and headed through Pitkin and along some great back roads to US50, then across onto 114 and then NN14 and KK14, which were basically wide-open, flat-out gravel roads through ranchland.
At the town of Cathedral our group had become separated a bit and the three other riders (who we'd caught up to on the way) took off while I waited for the others. We didn't ride together again which was fine with me; our group of 5 was well-matched in skill and style, and was about as large a group as you want for this terrain anyway. When we reached 149 at Slumgullion Pass we zoomed down the switchbacks to Lake City for lunch, then decided that Stony Pass (the next pass on the A route) was too far away so we headed west for Cinnamon Pass and Engineer Mountain.
Cinnamon pass wasn't terribly difficult, and it was probably the prettiest pass that we crossed all day. There are great views across alpine meadows and from outcroppings where the road winds around the mountains. At the top, we staged the bikes in a row for a photo, and wound our way downinto the valley to the west to the town of Animas Forks. Tim and Dale headed back to the motel via 550 while Ronnie, Sasha and I took the long way (Engineer Trail) which went up again towards Engineer Pass (where Sasha and I zoomed to the top, just because it was there) and then a long, long, really great trail down to 550 just south of Ouray. Once there, we went north on that great road (the Million Dollar Highway) to the motel in Ridgway where we'd be for the next two nights.
Next: Big Dog, Day 2.