As promised in my previous thread, here's a writeup about the riding I did last Thursday on my new little bike. Inspired by several great mtbr ride reports from this summer (in particular these from anthonys and schnauzers), I had been really hoping my new bike would arrive in time to check out the Two Elk trail in Vail before ski season arrived. Well, I got my wish as Thursday turned out to be a spectacularly sunny and warm October day.
So we hopped in the car and headed out I-70 toward Vail. Entering the Eisenhower Tunnel, a little snow was visible on the upper slopes of the Loveland Ski Area above the tunnel:
I had intended for Debbie to drop me off at the Rest Area at Vail Pass and I'd ride up the dirt road over Shrine Pass to the start of the Bowman's Shortcut singletrack. But that road turned out to be easily navigable even in my low-riding sports car, so I just rode in the car all the way to the junction with Lime Creek Road. I almost always do these things solo, so having a shuttle was quite a luxury, which worked out particularly well today as you'll see later. So here I am at the start, comfortable in shorts and t-shirt at 10,000+ feet in October. Told you it was a nice day!
Debbie drove on down the dirt road to Red Cliff and on to Minturn and did some sightseeing, while I started with a gentle spin up Lime Creek Road for about half a mile to the trailhead for the Bowman's Shortcut singletrack climb:
This so-called shortcut has a reputation for being steep, which I can now confirm. A couple of the switchbacks were particularly tough and I pushed up a couple of short stretches, but the climb wasn't really all that bad and I was able to churn my way up most of it. There were quite a few stretches I would surely have walked on my old bike, so it was fun and satisfying to be able to pedal the new one (even if only at 3 mph!):
Of course, there were plenty of excuses to stop and take in the views (and catch some breath!) along the way. Off to the east, a lone snow-covered ski run glistened brightly in the morning sun, I think, at Copper Mountain. I don't know if they've joined the snowmaking battle with A Basin and Loveland to be the first to open or what, but that one run looked skiiable now, despite the total lack of snow on the others around it. Really odd thing to see:
Finally a little downhill, with a looming mountain range beyond:
A gorgeous high meadow with dazzling scenery to the south:
A bit more climbing on tight alpine singletrack eventually led the high point on Bowman's at around 11,700:
It's all downhill from here!!! Well, maybe not quite literally true, but close enough. The NFS pages for these trails show Bowman's as having 1,230 feet of net climbing, and 1,097 feet of net descending. From there, Two Elk trail drops 3,066 more feet over its 9 mile course to Minturn. That adds up to exactly 4,163 feet of downhill delight:
The delight takes many forms too: from gentle 6-inch wide buff, to rooty bits like below, to get-yer-butt-behind-the-seat steeps (not shown):
I stopped several times to "play" with my suspension settings, wanting to get a feel for how different pressures and damping settings felt. I eventually settled at the low end of the PSI range on both ends, with rebound damping at about half on both, but this will be an ongoing experiment for a while to get things optimized. I will say that it is fascinating to watch that German A trapezoid work its magic over bumps in the front:
I had an unexpected bit of confusion leaving the Two Elk Pass intersection. The trail to the left petered out into nothingness after a few hundred yards, so I turned around and tried the "straight" option instead. That was supposed to go up to Vail Mountain, but instead it swooped down through the Back Bowls just as described, so I just stayed with it. There was another intersection a little ways down from the pass that headed up and to the right, so I'm guessing there's just been a little re-routing of this area snice the maps were drawn. In any case, the views in the bowls were amazing, and the skinny luge track of a trail was a total hoot to zip down:
Some color left in the trees here, though not quite like Kenosha last weekend:
Eventually the trail crossed under some ski lifts and I had a snack while checking out the maps of the Back Bowls and the Even Further Back Bowls. Conclusion: Vail is ridiculously huge:
At this point, about halfway down, the character of Two Elk changes dramatically, as the trail gets even narrower and follows a creek the rest of the way down, cut into the slope 20 or 30 feet above the water. Between the exposure and the rocky surface, this section really keeps your full attention:
I picked my way through many of the rocky V-cuts, christened my bashring nicely against a few boulders, and walked a few spots too, like this one which looked destined to send me headlong into the creek if/when I screwed up. Gotta know when to hold 'em, and know when to fold 'em (so to speak):
I don't know if this was a beaver dam, or just a regular dam, but it certainly made for an interesting crossing. My bike has what turns out to be a really convenient carrying handle as part of the frame, so I held it in my right hand and sort-of counterbalanced myself on the branches to the left as I gingerly stepped on the tangle of sticks and made it across without tipping over or falling though. Hooray for dry shoes!
Nice view of a row of Aspens atop the canyon wall high above:
After about 4 miles of rocky challenges beside the creek, this bridge signalled we're almost at the end of the line:
And sure enough, after a fast smooth section, the official trailhead appeared:
Debbie was waiting for me down the road a bit, past the open-air rifle range area, next to the cemetery, happily reading a magazine. It was 2:00 and I had (somewhat uncharacteristically) arrived right on time. Bowman's to Two Elk had been a fantastic, beautiful, and highly varied ride. It had most of the elements of an epic ride, but was a bit short. Which got me to thinking... might there be time to pick up that section of Colorado Trail I had skipped last year coming down from Georgia Pass to Breckenridge when I got caught in that afternoon storm? Oh yeah, I'll eat in the car, let's drive!
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