After that Monarch Crest ride -- my fourth consecutive day in the saddle -- I was sure my body would be begging for a break. But to my surprise I woke up in the morning feeling refreshed .. & unsurprisingly, also very hungry. JP had already headed back home, so it would be just me & The Prof on my last ride & last full day in Colorado. He had a route in mind, one which was, according to some of the hard locals, rated high for aesthetics & low on "radness" .. which sounded right up my alley. I'd be just fine with the radness achieved by taking down another giant breakfast burrito -- smothered -- plus a cinnamon roll .. & then a leisurely pedal in the Sawatch Range near Buena Vista to check out some old mining ghost town remnants & the yellowing aspens set against bluebird skies. Starting just downstream of the old mining hamlet of St. Elmo, up the spectacular Chalk Creek Canyon, we started our climb on a FS road, before gaining a rail-trail .. all the while gaining elevation almost imperceptibly.
We missed a turn somewhere, or else we simply started out the wrong way, because after a while we ended up on some rugged-ass singletrack that was more like a game trail, & which eventually came to an end in an upland swamp. Backtrack. Then a wee little hike-a-bike up to the wheezy lungs zone.
Once we had gained the ridgeline we were able to get our bearings a bit better. We came up the wrong valley, NBD though, we were here in this awesome spot with more miles ahead of us. The trail continued to climb (c'mon legs, you got this!) up to Tunnel Lake, into insane alpine scenery .. & continued on up to a pass from where you can look westward down into the Tincup / Taylor Park area. We took quite a few breaks up here just to take in the expansive views. Trails coursed the landscape in every direction. With The Prof riding his "fat bike" setup -- which is ideally suited for self-support bike-packing / touring in this sort of terrain -- it was easy to daydream about spending a full week up here in the alpine on a setup like that.
Like pretty much every ride I'd done since getting to CO, this one ended up going on a lot longer than anticipated. It felt like we had gotten ourselves in pretty deep at this point & we found ourselves doing a little bit of route-finding. It all resolved pretty quickly as we bombed down off the alpine & into a million switchbacks through an old-growth forest. It was another spectacular bit of CO singletrack.
We connected with another FS road, as planned, & before we knew it, were in "downtown" St Elmo admiring the Victorian-era architecture .. & even digging thru a rando stack of old records in the general store (nothin' worthy).
We each inhaled a couple pounds of chips & salsa, & a half a beer apiece, before heading our separate ways. I wanted to make it to a recommended meal/hostel situation all the way over in Ridgway before the kitchen closed, lest I end up reduced to the rural gas station gourmet meal that sometimes must suffice on trips like this. It all worked out & in the morning i was up early & headed up Red Mountain Pass with my second cup of coffee in hand .. & with a plan built roughly around procuring some freshly roasted green chiles from a roadside vendor, somewhere .. & then making it to somewhere near Zion National Park by nightfall. It would prove to be a big day.
I pushed onward, past Cortez, past Ship Rock, into the Ute rez & the Navajo rez where the colors all went from orange to red to pink to purple to indigo .. past Page, AZ, where i flipped the bird to the Glen Canyon Dam .. & finally came to a stop way back on a BLM road just shy of Kanab, UT. At the time i was delirious & wasn't at all sure that the road I turned onto was actually BLM. I took it until it ended in a big pile of red dirt, took that as a sign that my day's journey was over, then set up camp right in the middle of the road & under a million desert stars. Sat & drank a beer & listened to the coyotes cackling all around me in the distance .. & thought about how amazing it was that i could have started my day in the rugged alpine environment on Red Mt Pass -- so incredibly different & differently beautiful -- than where i came to rest that night in the soft red sand in the middle of that middle-of-nowhere road.