The 2002 Big Dog Ride, Day 2

Top of Black Bear Pass

Going down Black Bear; Telluride below

Dale taking a breather on the stairs

Mine structure at treeline on Imogene

Bikes at top of Imogene

Water crossings were low this year.  Here is another picture.

No more knobbies. :(
California Pass

Thursday morning we got a slightly earlier start, and headed down 550 through Ouray and up the valley on the far side, where we turned onto a local road that would take us to California Pass.  Joel's bike had again started to misbehave; we spent some time there investigating and then headed up California.  This was another great scenic road; it was a logging road at lower elevations and then ran along the edge of the mountain above treeline.  From the top  of the pass, we were close to the top of California Mountain so Dale and I zoomed up a bit further.  On the north side of the pass we could descend to Animas Forks (the baseof Cinnamon and Engineer) or go east and then south to Silverton.  We meant to do the former and ended up doing the latter.  However, we weren't the only ones because I saw definite "Oh shit!" Big-Dog skid marks on the road before one blind turn!  From Silverton we got back on 550 and headed north to get the eastern side of Black Bear Pass.

The approach to Black Bear was very alpine, I guess.  Greener than some of the places we'd been, with rocky (but not too difficult) switchbacks.  At one point there was a bulldozer at work "improving" the road, which meant we got to go thruogh DEEP, LOOSE dirt at that point...  not hard, it turned out, but unnerving when we were so used to riding on rocks. Fortunately, it was rocky the rest of the way. :)  Close to the top there were some ledges in our way; we could have made it over them I'm sure, judging from the stuff we did later on but we opted to go around them.

From the top of Black Bear, we had spectacular views west to the town of Telluride, a few thousand feet below us in the valley.  Getting there meant going down an increasingly steep one-way trail.  This trail was fun!!!  For the first time since Hancock, we really felt challenged by the terrain.  I got tired just from steering over the rocks on that steep downhill, with so much of the weight of the bike on the front wheel.  and when that part was over, we got to The Stairs.  This is a narrow, VERY steep part of the trail which has rock 'steps' on the inside and smoother rock on the outside (next to the drop-off).  You can choose your route...  we all chose the steps and went REALLY slowly.  Wendell says one should be able to just ride down them, though, with feet on the pegs...  gotta try that next year.

Ronnie heading up Imogene

After that, it was basically a nice smooth ride down the switchbacks (lots of switchbacks) to Telluride for lunch.  Tim's bike had begun to leak oil, probably as a result of the spill the day before, so that was dealt with (a loose banjo bolt) and then we were heading north up Imogene Pass.

Imogene is a real tourist attraction.  Jeep tours leaving Telluride clogged the trails on the way up, sometimes blocking us at those times when we really needed to carry speed.  In general, though, we could get around the Jeeps and most of them were decent enough to let us by pretty quickly.  Others...  well, we got by anyway.  And Imogene was yet another really gorgeous trail, with expansive views in all directions above treeline and lots of variety.  The middle, where there was a steep loose section near an old mining camp, was tricky but Dale showed us how to tackle it at full-tilt boogie, zooming between other GSes with millimeters to spare on each side.  After some more rough stuff, we got to the final stretch of the ascent where the road was just a sandy trail stuck on the side of the scree.  At the top, Jeeps maneuvered back and forth trying to get out of each other's way.  When several tried to leave, they were blocked by still more Jeeps coming up.  After a few photos, we decided to leave them to sort this out and took off down the back side towards Ouray.

Ronnie at the top

Once we got past the first 1/4 mile, there was basically no traffic again.  We had a great time, zooming down the winding route with the sun in mid-afternoon position.  Below treeline, we had a few water crossings and then some wooded roads where we were mercifully rock-free for a while.  It was here that I found out how comfortable I was 'pushing' this bike.  On a few deep ditches in the road I took the steepest route just to see if the bike would negotiate it.  No problem.  So then I started riding up some rock ledges in the road - no problem.  Right about that time Sasha did a great 'berm shot' catching rear-wheel air off a mound of dirt along the trail, reminding me that I wasn't pushing THAT hard yet. So when I came upon a 4x4 creeping to the right to get over a pretty substantial ledge, I passed on his left on the steeper part (way steeper than what I had done before).  No problem, although moments later I realized that he hadn't gone over there to let me by and was now turning left to cut me off, so I turned left with him, halfway up the ledge and banked off it doing a berm-shot of my own, and completing the pass at the same time.

Sasha's big drop at
Yankee Boy

No problem.  What a great bike.  In fact, I was so pumped up at that point that I didn't want to head back yet (Imogene was the last pass on the A ride, but it was way too early to quit) so most of us headed away from Ouray, up the valley to Yankee Boy Basin.  This started off as a nice rough road and turned suddenly difficult about 3/4 to the top.  In fact, one part was damned near impassable and most of us called it a day.  A new member of our group on an R80, who had joined us on Black Bear Pass, had gone ahead of us and was further up the basin.  Sasha and Dale made valiant eforts to get up but had gotten thwarted. After a bit of reflection, Ronnie and I eventually scrambled up to join the R80, and the three of us continued to the top of the basin which was about 13,000 feet.  The others decided to call it a day and headed back to join Tim, who had deferred to the needs of his hurt leg and not joined us for the detour to Yankee Boy.

Getting to the top of that was the high point of the trip for me.  I had been feeling a bit wimpy since we had traded a difficult pass (Stony) for some easier ones (Cinnamon and Engineer) the day before, due to time constraints.  However, this made up for it and more.  It was a difficult stretch, and enough of an addition to the route that I felt that we had made up our lost ground. :)

Dale going back from Yankee Boy

After that, it was a straightforward return to Ouray.  Well, exept for the fact that I suffered the first bike-drop of the trip while descending the loose rocks that had caused up so much grief on the way up.  It's hard to compare the trails we were on, since they were all so beautiful and varied, but that one was one of the best.  After a longer-than-expected ride back down the valley, we got to Ouray and headed back to the motel.

There, we had beers, I changed back to the Distanzia tires, and we settled in to a steak dinner.

Info on the Big Dog Ride can be found at  Also check out Dale's article, and Ray's article and pictures.

The Stairs, on Black Bear

"You call this a road?"

"Go down WHAT?!?!"


Yankee Boy Basin

Ronnie takes a running start...

... but gets stopped...

...then claws his way up.

Next: Return.