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Day 38: The Worst Descent of My Life

Updated: Aug 31, 2022

I got going pretty early the next morning, having packed everything up the night before. At 7:00 AM, I was leaving the rental house of Zephyr's family and rode down to Moon Frog Café where I spent a lot of my time throughout my week+ in Winter Park. I said goodbye to the owner, Andreus, and from there took Bill's suggested route up over Corona Pass. Going over that pass would also be taking me over the continental divide for the forth and final time. One time over Monarch Pass, once on the Colorado Trail leaving Breckenridge, once biking from Idaho Springs (Mt. Evans) to Winter Park, and now finally back over the divide from Winter Park to Boulder. According to my GPS, today's ride would only be 50 miles, which at this point was a rest day for me, so I went into the day with high expectations for an awesome pass and then a day of relaxation tubing on the river with my host!

The first snags happened during my climb up. I'll have to find a better way to do this in the future or a better application or something because I would go on lots of routes thanks to my GPS that I should never have been on. Soon, I was off the gravel road that cars would take up to the pass and instead had hopped a fence and started biking on what used to be a road and now seemed to be a very overgrown hiking trail. Soon, that trail disappeared entirely and I was left just biking through grassy fields and pushing my bike up steep sections just trying to stay where my GPS said the trail was supposed to be. Unfortunately, my GPS wasn't the most accurate device, and I would have to make significant errant progress for it to give me an actual indication of whether I was going the right way. I had pushed my bike up this big hill and carried it over a couple fallen trees only for me to realize I had gone the wrong direction and I was not on the trail I was supposed to be on. Back over the two trees I went. After a particularly difficult to navigate field, I was about to cut my losses and turn around, but I finally found what looked like was once a trail.

That trail was nice for all of 5 minutes before it started going uphill steeply. Often, it was too steep for me to ride, not that I was riding much anyways because of all the treefall. Bill had also mentioned to me that there was a ton of downed trees due to wind storms. They were a concern for everyone in Winter Park because of the fire danger they posed. As I picked my bike up over tree after tree after tree, I could easily see the cause for concern. At this point, I had given up on the trail and decided I was just going to stay somewhat near it and carry my bike around or over the trees in the general direction of the trail. I cannot express how many trees were directly blocking the trail. I've never seen so many and it was now making a lot more sense why the trail that was once here, was clearly not used anymore. I think at one point it may have been a downhill mountain bike trail or a hiking trail, but you wouldn't be able to do either anymore with all the trees. Yet, here I was hiking my bike and gear up the trail...

I would eventually find the road again, and at the top of the trail I would find lots of "trail closed" signs. They didn't have those signs at the bottom... I assume because no one would normally go up that trail and they didn't think it was necessary... Now, I was back on the road I was on before, but close to the first especially interesting part of the climb. Just up the hill was this old bridge for trains. Far from use these days, it was fun to walk across the rotting boards, and several smarter people, with cars, were also up there to check it out. I took a break from the climb to fly my drone around the bridge and even through it.

From the bridge, the rest of the ascent was fire road, but even then it wasn't easy. There were a ton of large rocks and I was keeping pace with or even passing the cars on the road as they picked their way up over the 11,660 foot pass. Though, in plenty of sections, I was off my bike again and pushing.

Nearing the top of the pass, I would see lakes on both sides being fed by snowfields.

Some guys with ski boots cheered me over the top of the pass. Keep in mind, it's July 10th when I am climbing up Corona Pass and these guys were out here skiing the little snow left! They said they would hike out to that snow field on the upper right of the picture below to ski. Needless to say, I was impressed with their dedication.

There was another road closed sign, and this one indicated that the road was impassable down the pass. Hoping it meant just for cars, I continued on over the pass to what Bill had shown me pictures of before, the old train trestles. There were a series of these trestles attached to the mountain side and many of them were partially buried in rock from rockslides. It was very apparent why trains no longer used this route.

But they made for a truly epic ride!

And luckily, I learned from a cyclist coming the other direction that the only truly impassible part was a tunnel, which I could hike my bike over. I had been having to hike my bike over several rockfalls already, so it was a relief that one of these bridges hadn't been taken out or something. Before too long, I was at the tunnel. Talking to Bill the previous day, he said when he came up here, he would usually peel off to the left at the tunnel which takes you down a trail to a ski resort and then down to Nederland, the first real town. However, he said it was more of a mountain bike trail than a gravel bike trail and suggested I stick to the fire roads instead. While I'm sure the other trail would have been pretty tough, there was absolutely no way Bill's route would have been worse than the "road".

Following my GPS, the initial part of the fire road was difficult with lots of loose chunky rocks that made it difficult to go downhill with any speed for fear of crashing or flatting my bike. Eventually, I would reach a split in the road and my GPS said to go left. This would prove to be a terrible mistake. I'm really sad I don't have any photos from this "road," but at the time I was recording my GoPro footage and was incredibly frustrated (bordering on anger) due to how tough it was, and I forgot to take photos. I would include a screen shot from my video, but for the last few months, all my footage has been at the house of a friend and I don't have access to it immediately. We should be getting some work done on it soon though! Anyways, this was less a road and more of a boulder field that lasted for miles. I had gone down enough of it that it would have been difficult going back up and when I went to see if I could bushwhack over to the other split in the road off to my right, it looked impossible because it was all dense forest and the road had forked at a stream that looked tough to cross. I would cross a couple streams this day anyways, but for now I was stuck on the boulder field. Part way down, I encounter some trials motorcycle riders coming up the road and I talked to them briefly. They said that this was the most difficult 4X4 road they knew of anywhere they had been (hence riding trials bikes on it) and that I still had a good ways to go before I would be out of the tough part.

At this point, I was already over this road and I really didn't like hearing I had several more miles of it left. Because of how tough it was to go down, I was actually making better time when I was climbing up the pass than when I was going downhill the other side. I would end up crossing a fairly sizable stream as well and almost made it across before losing traction on a rock and having to put my foot down in the stream. While I didn't get a photo of that, the whole section following it would prove to be very wet and muddy and I do have a picture of that.

When I got to the next junction, my route had me going left uphill to the ski resort Bill would usually ride through, but entering from a lower section than Bill. A sign at the junction said the road ended to the left (where I was supposed to go) and made me very worried about whether I would be able to make to the resort. I mean, if the picture above was the "road" then what did no road mean? I decided I would try anyways.

At this point, I was very far behind schedule, and unfortunately I missed the window where I would have been able to go tubing with my host. But, I just wanted to get off this road, even if I didn't get to tube. Luckily, at the end of the road there was a single track trail that, while difficult, was nowhere near as difficult as the road itself. I climbed out of the canyon and eventually into the ski resort successfully. At last I was on an actual road again after riding down through the barren resort. From there I went to Nederland, and after asking some locals, I learned there was a restaurant inside of an old train that served donuts and whipped cream. So I had to get some of course.

I also visited the other bakery in town and got a blueberry bar. All well deserved.

From Nederland, I had talked to my host in Boulder and she had recommended I try to find an alternative route to Boulder Canyon road since that was heavily trafficked with no shoulder. I had settled on Magnolia road, but after a little ways it turned to dirt and I was so done with dirt for the day, and so behind schedule, I turned around and went right back to Boulder Canyon. Not before one of my panniers broke off my bike though, and now I was worried about my pannier coming off as I ride down this narrow road at high speeds.

Boulder Canyon follows the river from the dam at the top and if it had shoulders it would be an awesome ride. Despite there being a big event in Nederland the day I was up there, and cars backed up all throughout the town, I made it down the canyon alright and got to see some pretty serious rock climbing going on just off the road. That's one of the best parts of Colorado, everyone seems to be doing something outdoors, at least in summer.

Finally, at the end of the canyon, I reach Boulder and I ride along the river until I get a call from my host who says they're getting done tubing soon, and they'll meet me at their house. They say I should go make myself at home in the meantime. Earlier, before we knew how late I was going to be, Sarah even offered to let me use her car to go meet up with them for tubing. Keep in mind, she had never met me before. One of her texts had a sparkle emoji in it though, so I knew I was going to have a fun time with her as my host. I made it to her house and showered while I waited for her to get back. She had left me a note and I got to play with her cat until she got home. Sarah had also let me ship a bunch of SD cards to her place since I was running low on storage space for my drone and GoPro.

When she got back I got to meet her and her house?mate. Jessie. Jessie was not truly a housemate as he lived in his van in the driveway. It was a super nice van that he was converting to turn into something to live in. I've always wanted to do a project like that, but hearing Jessie talk about how much the project was costing, I almost wonder if it's not just worth buying a house. But both Sarah and Jessie were great and super friendly. Sarah insisted I could have her bed and that she would take the couch. But first we all went out to one of Sarah's friends' housewarming party. I almost couldn't believe that I was being taken to a party of her friend's when she had known me for all of one hour, but Sarah is a big ball of positivity and it was definitely rubbing off on me after a much more frustrating day of riding than I was expecting. At the party, I enjoyed some delicious vegan mousse with an avocado base and talked with a bunch of Sarah's friends. It was a great time before we returned home. Sarah invited me to stay one more day and how could I say no?

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