The heat broke overnight and we were treated to a calm and slightly cool morning at elevation as we woke, ate, and broke camp. Not in any hurry today with the van nearby, we started tossing out some plans. I proposed we ride the remaining segment 3 of the trail and then return via the fire road the sheriff had pointed out last night. My quick guesstimate put us at 3ish hours of ride time. Shoot, we'd be back at the van in time for lunch. Then we could drive to Breckenridge and still have time to get a nice afternoon ride in there as well. I believe this is when I lost all credibility on my ability to plan rides.
Not giving in to the notion of being completely untrue to our original plans, I suggested we still roll with our full load of gear even though dropping it at the van would have made a considerably lighter load. In hindsight, this was both a blessing and a curse.
We rolled off into the Buffalo Creek area of the trail. Beta from friends who had ridden this area earlier in the year had this pegged as a great section of trail with a lot of flowing trail and not many steep climbs. As we launched headlong into the trail, we were definitely treated with much more flow and fun than the previous day. Our gear didn't seem to be as much a hindrance now that we were able to actually ride the trail versus pushing. We even found some spots to stop and session little pieces of challenging trail.
Again, we were treated to some spectacular views. And then the bottom dropped out. As we rolled along the trail, the day's weather started to move in on us. We went from a comfortable and sunny upper 60's to overcast and dropping temperatures. As we passed the next fire road at Buffalo Creek, there was a sign pointing to Wellington lake fire road being the next crossing. I suggested we keep going and then turn at that point vaguely remembering that's where we'd be able to turn back and would also be the end of our segment of trail. This particular section hit hard though. It was a nearly continuous grade gaining just over 900' in the next 4.5 miles. The weather continued to deteriorate with the temps dropping further, the wind picking up, and a nice heavy sprinkle starting to work on us. An hour later and we were descending to the fire road in a nice steady rain and pretty much chilled and wet through to the core.
Rain rolling down the hillside:
Back to the fire road, we still had a decent amount of miles to get back to the van. It was late enough now that lunch and waiting out the rain seemed like a good idea. As we all rummaged through our gear to grab jackets and whatever else we could find to keep warm, the hail started coming down. At one point it was enough to start showing up as white patches on the ground, but then it would stop for a bit and restart later. The temperature bottom out at 53 degrees with the rain and hail. Nothing like a 50 degree turn from the day before. We killed an hour hiding under whatever dry patches we could find and hoping the rain would finally slack off a bit. Finally, we decided the rain was a light as it was going to get, so we struck out in what we hoped was the right direction on the fire road.
This is fun, right?
I'd been studying the trailhead map and looking at my garmin trying to ascertain whether we needed to go up the hill or down. I opted for us to go down given that most of the traffic we'd seen came from that direction, it looked to be the right way, and it was down the hill. Well, I screwed that choice. Looking at the map after we got back, about 1/2 mile up the hill was the road we were looking for. By heading down the hill, we added at least a couple miles and probably a bit of climbing as well. We ended up rolling down to Wellington lake and stopping to ask directions at the campground as the road split just after their entrance. We were pointed in the right direction finally, but still weren't completely sure how far we had to go.
Just after we left the lake, we were treated to a fast and fun downhill. Just after we started, who did we run into again, but our friend the sheriff. I believe Taylor was begging him to put him out of his misery once again and we were all laughing at the absurdity of it all. Additionally, we were following a SUV down the hill that we succeeded in making sufficiently nervous enough that he pulled over to let us rip the rest of the downhill. He would later pass us again as the road flattened out, but that didn't stop me from giving chase for a bit until he finally hit the gas leaving me behind.
The rain had turned the fire road to a mixed surface. We'd have hardpack in some areas and alternately hit areas of sand where we'd sponge an inch or two into the surface. We only had 6 miles back to the van, but still had almost 1000' of climbing in between. The climbing on this road definitely broke our spirit for riding any more the rest of the day. Somehow the climbs here seemed nearly as tough and interminable as the singletrack climbing we'd done the day before. Just over 5 hours after we left, we finally made it back to the van.
It was like that:
Once we changed and loaded everything back into the van, we pointed ourselves towards Breckenridge in search of food. During the ride, we all agreed that if we could find cheap lodging for the night, we'd take the opportunity to grab it, get cleaned up, do laundry, and hopefully scrub some of the last two days of riding off of us. In an attempt to redeem myself from the ride decision, I was able to secure some cheap lodging thanks to the wonders of the internet. We hit Backcountry Brewery for burgers the size of your head and a killer view of the mountains.
Mmm, burgers and beer:
Dinner and a view:
Being back in familiar territory and with a good nights rest laying in wait, we planned out something really challenging for the next day. I'll give you a hint, last time I did this route, I ended up losing a good amount of skin and hiking shoeless back to Breckenridge.