June 20, 2022

CO: Penitente Canyon

 The stormy weather was holding off for a bit, so Justin and I stuck with our original plan to ride the trails at Penitente Canyon before making our separate ways home. I poked around on Trailforks and found a race route that looked promising. It was from the 12 Hours of Penitence event. It had to be good if they were racing on it, right?

We made the short drive to the trailhead from Del Norte to start the 16 mile clockwise loop. I had ridden the area once before, but had mostly winged it and I know I didn't pick the right trails based on other pics I had seen of the area. I was hoping this route would show the way.

High desert singletrack right from the start.

The first few miles were fast & flowy.

As we wound around the rocks began to make a presence.

Rock crawling type of riding, so rad!! It had a very Gooseberry Mesa feel to it.

Plenty of slickrock slabs too.

There were a couple of fast dirt road connectors added in, great for a race environment.

Back on singletrack before the main climb of the route.

The next few miles were a hoot, lots to play on while climbing.

We both marveled at the trail routing through & over the boulders.

The reward for climbing through the boulders? Descending back through them!!

Great views in the distance. PeakFinder app.

Did we mention the little bit of dirt that was there, was hero dirt? Indeed.

Boulders & slabs.

Nearing the end of the loop.

No, I didn't try to line up the sign with the horizon, I noticed it after I saw the pic. Ha!
So glad we opted to do this ride. Such a great way to end our abbreviated trip to the high country. Upon returning to the car there was a group of three riders who had also wrapped up their ride. We were chatting with them about the Tour Divide and the racers about to come through the area. When we mentioned we had attempted the ride in 2019 they laughed and said we were some of those nutty riders. Haha. One lady commented on my AZ license plate noting that she and her husband had lived in Tempe for a few years. Then she asked me if I had heard about the AZTR controversy over the FKT attempt. Uh, yeah. Justin laughed and continued packing his stuff while the lady was giving me some thoughts about it. After a short bit I let her know I was the RD of the event and their reaction was priceless. They began apologizing, but it was just funny. Small world, eh? 

If you are in the area and have some time, definitely check this area out. It's just technical enough and there are a ton of B-lines to choose from on the bigger rocks.


June 19, 2022

Tour Divide '22: Del Norte to Cumbres Pass

 Third time's the charm, right? We thought so, right up until a couple weeks prior to heading back to Del Norte, CO. That's when New Mexico closed all its National Forests. What was Plan D??

Here's the recap for those unaware. Back in 2019 I attempted the Tour Divide and made it as far as Salida, CO where I was taken out by a staph infection above my right knee. One fella I met during that ride, Justin Heckman, made it as far as Del Norte that year. We made plans to finish the route together in 2020. 2020 was a wash, then Justin tweaked his knee early in 2021. I then made plans to ride the section between Salida and Del Norte that June with an old riding buddy from back east. 2022 rolled around and Justin and I were all set to resume our ride in Del Norte when the threat of forest fires closed the National Forests in New Mexico. The current Tour Divide instituted a bunch of paved re-routes, but we had no interest in riding those as we intend to finish our ride on the full route using as much dirt as possible. So, Plan D was to ride from Del Norte to the New Mexico border and finish the rest in 2023.

Here is a full Tour Divide Index from each day on the route.

The Tour Divide sets off annually on the second Friday in June from Banff, AB. We had plans to begin our ride the following Saturday in hopes of seeing the fast riders somewhere in New Mexico. That wasn't going to happen now as we only had 84 total miles to ride and planned to split that over two relatively easy days or so we thought.

Justin was driving in from Iowa and spent a couple days around Leadville getting acclimated to the area. I would be driving north on Friday and spending the night in Santa Fe with a couple of friends who used to live in the Phoenix area. I arrived in the late afternoon and we headed out for dinner which was then followed by a free outdoor concert by Calexico at the Santa Fe Railyard. It was a great show and perfect way to get the weekend going.

Calexico jamming.
Earlier in the week I broke by Pixel 6 Pro phone, a replacement was shipped overnight and naturally was a day late. It arrived the afternoon the day before I hit the road. I was able to get it mostly setup before the trip. The only reason I mention this is, when I woke on Saturday to drive up to Cumbres Pass to meet Justin, I had set the alarm for 5a with the intention of being on the road by 5:30a. As soon as I began the drive north from Santa Fe I noticed the clock in the car was reading 5:30a. I checked my phone: 5:30a. The problem? It was actually 6:30a and the stupid phone didn't adjust for the timezone change even though the settings were correct. Grrr. I sent Justin a text letting him know I'd be an hour late, but doubted he'd have cell coverage.

I arrived closer to 9a and he was cool about it as expected, but I still felt bad. We loaded up my car for the drive down the mountain pass to Del Norte to begin our ride. It was sometime around 11:30a when we finally got to pedaling!! So much for an early-ish start.
Our planned 2 day route. Nice little 20+ mile, 4,000' climb to get things started.

We're on our way!!

First we cruise through downtown Del Norte.

The first 12 miles or so were paved and relatively quick while slightly gaining elevation.

The mountains grow near as we convert to dirt riding. Not pictured: the uptick in grade.

Entering the Rio Grande Nat'l Forest.
We had heard that the climb up to Indiana Pass, the high point on the entire Tour Divide route at 11,910', had some modest pitches. I expected to walk a bit, but so far the grades weren't too bad and not long before they'd relent for a bit. Of course this is all said with a set of fresh legs not 20+ days and 1900+ miles into a massive effort!!

Above 8,000' in Aspen country.
We made a plan to stop every few miles for a short break as neither Justin or I were sure how we'd respond to the elevation acclimation. So far, so good. At one such break, a random spot on the side of the road. I noticed a peculiar looking tree... 

Someone's initials or from the 2017 Tour Divide?? Hmmm. Funny, yet I never understand the need to carve up trees in this manner.
The weather was ominous at best with a high percentage chance of showers both days. So far, we had enjoyed good weather on the climb. We were now six hours into our ride when we finally topped out over Indiana Pass!! Woohoo!! Another Tour Divide checkbox ticked. Much to our surprise, no hike-a-biking!!

Justin crests the high point or thereabouts since there isn't a sign indicating the top.
Indiana Pass is kind of odd as it isn't really a pass per se, just a high point of the road along the side of a mountain. I had been warned that there wasn't an immediate downhill, rather a series of undulating climbs before dropping down.

Looking north from Indiana Pass.

Down & up.

Unlike the northern section of the route, this was all the snow we saw.

Storm clouds building...
We dropped down a short bit then climbed a small rise near Summitville where a lot of mining activity has taken place. The winds picked up immensely and the rain/hail began pelting us. This was the first of many times donning our rain gear.

I knew there was a bigger climb coming before finally making our descent, yet I still blew by the turn!! Gah!! Thankfully, I realized my error quickly while Justin waited at the turn. The miles were ticking by slowly as early evening set in, we were still above 11,000' and Justin didn't bring lights. It was only a 42 mile day on the Divide, how long could that take?? Haha.

Beer hand-ups from these fellas from Oklahoma, thanks!!

Leaving with our free beer.

Still a bit more uphill as daylight begins to fade.
The rain came once again, lost count at how many times we switched in/out of rain gear, but the roads were in good condition nonetheless. We had been hovering over 11,000' for over 14 miles and were ready for the main descent. We originally thought we'd make it to Platoro, but upon further investigation is was after another climb. Darkness fell as we finally began dropping in elevation. I rode slightly behind Justin off to the side while my K-Lite dynamo light flooded the roadway. It actually worked quite well.

It was bit after 9p when we reached the Stunner CG and decided to call it a night, saving the next up & over to Platoro for the morning. We found an open campsite next to what appeared to be an abandoned tent as it looked to be in disarray while rain steadily fell.

It's always fun setting up camp in the rain, go quick in hopes of keeping everything relatively dry!! I was moderately successful and enjoyed my convenience store burrito and free beer. I had a difficult time falling asleep for some reason, so I just closed my eyes and listened to the rain pitter patter against my tent for hours. By 3a it was still raining and I needed a pee break, but would the rain let up just enough? It sure did and I made a beeline out of the tent. As soon as I settled back inside, I heard Justin get up. No sooner than 5 minutes after he returned to his tent the rain resumed until well after daybreak!! Hilarious.

I think I finally dozed off sometime around 3:30a and did manage a couple hours of shuteye. I could hear Justin stirring in the early light, but the rain was still coming down. I waited about a half hour or so, then it relented. Time to get moving. Ahh, the joys of packing a wet, soggy campsite.
Soggy campsite.

What's wrong with people?? Really hope this wasn't abandoned and trash left behind, but it sure looks that way.

Not a bad view to wake up to.

Turned out to be a great place to stop, almost exactly the halfway point of our ride.

Had we noticed the Stunner cabin the night before, we probably would have slept inside as the floor was completely dry.

Crossing the Alamosa River.

Rain intensifying. Gloomy, yet breathtaking morning.

Overcast & rain seemed to be the name of the game today.

Crossed paths with this guy, Jabba, who had started hiking the CDT north, but opted to head home to Denver to get a bike. He was riding the Divide northbound - day 11, first ever bike ride, then planned to hike the CDT south upon completion. Best of luck. It's amazing what some folks set out to do.

The clouds lifted enough to give a proper view.

Platoro way down in the valley. Breakfast was calling.

The cafe was easy to find.
We arrived soaking wet and cold as it was in the low 40's. Breakfast was still being served as were the hot chocolates!! It was exactly what we needed. The place was relatively quiet except for another group who arrived around the same time we did. They leashed their dog on the front patio, more on that later.

Nice collection inside.

The northbound riders signing the board, soon to be filled by the southbound crowd.
We took our time, relaxing, getting warmed up and ready for the upcoming 20+ mile downhill towards Horca. While getting ready to head back out in the now dry-ish conditions a commotion was brewing. The group who arrived with us were now being kicked out!! Apparently their dog was causing a ruckus affecting the front desk from hearing folks on the phone and when asked to relocate the dog, they claimed it wasn't theirs?? Well, if you arrived with it, it's yours. It turned into a bit of a tirade and an awkward situation as Justin and I just looked at each other in amazement. Eventually they all got in their vehicles, which were all stuck in the mud earlier, and left. I think the owners were a bit stunned by the event as well.

The rain stopped for a moment, but the wind was kickin'!! Looks like a tailwind though!!

The next few hours led us down this river valley next to the Conejos River. Absolutely beautiful.

Fresh views around every turn.

One small up & over through the aspens.

Such a pleasant ride even in the rain.

If this were Canada or Montana, I'd be on the lookout for Grizzlies!!

Looks like heavier weather is imminent.

Initially, we thought this was the town of Horca, but no. Seems to be unnamed.

We stopped at the Rocky Mtn. Lodge for a cold drink while chatting with a few tourists who were heading out to do some fishing.

Is the sun trying to come out?

Giant horse ranch, living the good life here.

This is Horca and the end of the dirt riding.

Looking back up the valley we came from we joked about getting out of there just in time...

Then this happened as we began the climb to La Manga Pass. Holy downpour Batman!! Mixed with hail too.
We took semi-shelter in the trees on three separate instances due to the heavy rain and pelting hail. The thunder was booming and there were a couple of close lightning strikes.

The clouds made for great photos though. The grade of the climb was fairly steady and quite the workout. Thankfully, there was a relatively flat-ish section near the middle of the climb.

5 1/2 miles to reach here.
I could barely feel my hands when I reached the summit and now came a fast, cold descent in driving rain. We knew the car was only a few miles away and by now we opted to finish our ride at the car and not ride the final 3 miles to the New Mexico border as it was on dirt roads that had the look of death mud. We wanted no part in that and besides, when we come back next year, we'll have to start from this location anyway.

It was around 5:30p when we finished. Soaked to the bone, cold and hands not able to do much after the final cold miles to the car. We agreed, we got a small sampling of what the riders have been enduring in the 2022 edition of the Tour Divide. Massive kudos to everyone out there this year. This ride now puts us at mile 2044 complete, only 700 or so remaining to Antelope Wells.

Instead of camping out again, we opted to grab a room in Del Norte at the Mellow Moon Lodge. The forecast for the upcoming week was calling for stormy conditions to continue throughout. We decided to end the trip the following day, no sense in doing more rides in soggy, cold conditions. The Divide is one thing, but I'd rather enjoy good weather for the other stuff. We planned to ride Penitente Canyon the following morning before hitting the road home.

It was so great to get back together with Justin for more Divide miles. Hard to believe three years had flown by so fast, but it has. Can't wait to knock out New Mexico next year.