Sunday, July 5, 2015

Colorado Trail

From the first moment I got Ashke, I've dreamt about riding on the Colorado Trail. The Colorado Trail starts at Waterton Canyon and runs all the way to Durango, through the mountains. It is 478 miles long. I've been talking about riding it with J on Coyote when T goes off to college. Maybe not the whole thing, but at least parts of it. (Some parts are closed to bikes, with a ride around, which makes those parts less feasible to do together.) It sounded like a great adventure.

Way back in 1998, J and I decided to hike a couple of sections. We started up by Buena Vista and had our trail marked out. We would hike out, camp, then hike back to where the car was. J, who had done this type of thing in Wisconsin, planned out what we needed to carry. We bought a small camp stove, a water filter, dry packaged food, and a small backpacking tent. Full of energy and excitement, we drove the two hours to the trail head (why, when the Colorado trail starts in Denver, did we travel two and a half hours away). We got out, got our packs on and started to hike.

I should have been concerned when we reached the bottom of a very tall hill with the path switchbacking up the rise and J said, very indignant, "this wasn't on the map". Come to find out it was on the map, but she had never hiked in an area with shit that goes straight up and didn't recognize the small dot with multiple concentric circles around it as being the mountain we were staring up at. We pressed on.

Have I mentioned that I really hate hiking?

I didn't tell J, because this is what she loved to do way back then. We made it up that mountain and down the other side, hiking through terrain that mirrored what we expected. It was dry and barren and the three streams we had marked on the map to replenish our water were non-existent and had been for some time, by the signs. This was not good news. We made camp in the middle of an open plain, ate dried food stuffs (beef strogonoff and some kind of stew) made with the water we had been carrying and crawled into bed. J surprised me by offering me a warm Dr Pepper with dinner that she had hidden in her pack. She wanted me to like what we were doing. I think we may have hiked five miles that first day (late start).

Our next day was planned to reach a major creek and camp there. It wasn't a bad hike, until coming down the last hill, J stepped wrong and twisted her knee. Her knees really weren't up to the vertical challenge of what we were hiking. By the time we reached the campground, her knee was very swollen. We talked and I opted to go back for the car. By following the road where I could, I made it back to the car in under two hours. I drove back and picked up J, who had camp set up but by that point I wanted to go home and shower.

That was our only attempt at backcountry travel.

I've had daydreams about getting a couple of pack horses, loading packs and setting off. Ashke would be happy and comfortable with the group and would follow J with pleasure. We would camp and sleep in hammocks, eat good food and travel together for miles on end.

That dream may have died yesterday.

J, K and I decided to head to Buffalo Creek rec area again on the 4th. J and I had to be at the barn by 8:30 to meet the farrier (I absolutely love her work) and then planned on loading up and heading out. I had loaded my gear the night before after a brief ride on Friday night so all we needed to do was hitch up and load Ashke. The farrier finished her trim, and confirmed that there were still two spots of sulcus thrush in his heels on the left side that I need to continue treating. She is hopeful that as his hooves grow out, the pockets of white line disease at the heels with remedy themselves. (We believe this was caused by not addressing the flares Ashke had for a couple of trim cycles.) Once we were finished, Ashke walked on the trailer and we headed to pick up K and Eddy.

I have to give a shout out to Eddy. He now just walks on the trailer without any hesitation. He seems to love trail riding and he will go all day long (as yesterday proved). There are still some areas where he needs support, but they are getting fewer and fewer. K couldn't be happier and Eddy was great yesterday, even though it had been a couple of weeks since his last ride.

The drive to the trail head seemed shorter and it was easier knowing where we were going. The parking lot was parked up and we snagged one of the last open spaces for a horse trailer. I had to get out and wave off a guy that was trying to drive up around us and take the space. Because of my willingness to throw my body in front of a speeding car, J was able to position the truck and trailer so we could just pull forward to leave. Sometimes that's the hardest part of parking a truck and trailer - making sure you can't be parked in. Once out, we got the horses saddled and sprayed down well with fly spray.

The flies up there will drive you bonkers. The fly spray lasts five minutes tops. Even Pyrahna. There are deer flies, horse flies, and some kind of evil orange and black flies that you must combat. I will say, spraying the flies directly results in their death, but not much else deters them. J said at one point, the two of us looked like Pigpen in the Peanuts comic strip, followed by a black cloud of flies. I killed nine horse flies and multiple deer flies during the day yesterday.

We got on trail at 11:30 and rode up the fire road toward Wellington Lake.

 It was sprinkling just a little as we set out.
The theme of the day was rain that moved around where ever we were, giving us cloud cover but no lightning or real rain.

 Ashke and Eddy were moving out pretty good. 

 We trotted a lot.

And added in a couple of short, slow canters.

We covered the first five miles in just under an hour.

 The FS road was really nice, with few challenges. There was a very scary silver culvert peeking out from the dirt that Eddy refused to go over. We went back and I grabbed his lead rope and ponied him over it. That worked really well.

 We rode up into the burn area of Buffalo Creek. The forest fire happened 20 years ago and although there is ground cover, there is not a lot of regrowth. K speculated that the fire was so hot the vegetation was struggling to come back.

 The landscape was amazing. And the temps were decent, not too hot.

J hanging at the stream looking sexy.
(This was before she started hating me.)

 At the end of the FS road was a regular dirt road that cut into the mountains. We turned to the right and followed it to the nearest campground. I thought that the trail led through the campground and out to the lake. K thought we needed to travel down the road to get to the lake. We stopped when the trail began to climb into the trees and took a brief break while we assessed our options. 

Have you all caught yet, that I hate an out and back trail? We had already ridden the FS road twice and I really wanted some new terrain to ride on. And we had crossed the Colorado Trail a quarter mile back from where we stopped. None of us wanted to ride down the road to the lake, so I suggested the Colorado Trail. I knew that it connected to the Shingle Mill and Morrison Creek trails and suggested we ride until we met those two connector trails that would take us back to the FS road. I had read on my MTB project (an app with Mountain Bike trails all over the US) that the description of the Colorado trail was a fun, swoopy ride considered easy to moderate (I'm also convinced that Mountain Bike riders are freaking insane). K and J agreed and we set off.

 The trail started off swoopy, with some slight uphills and some downhills.
J really doesn't mind a loop but she would rather ride uphill on the way out and downhill on the way back.

 The trail was incredible.
So were the freaking flies.

We were all absolutely in awe of the scenery. It was spectacular.
We went down some.

 And then we began to climb.

 And climb.

 And climb.

This was the point that J started hating me.

 Don't get me wrong, the trail was beautiful. However, J was not happy about going up in both directions. She was tired and we didn't have enough food.

 We probably should have turned back, but it seemed like we had gone to far to do that.

 There were parts where J had to push her bike.

Still going up.

 K and Eddy lead for some parts of the trail. There was a spot with water that I ponied Eddy across, but he went willingly with Ashke next to him and most importantly, didn't jump.

 Still more up.

 I calculate it was at least two miles of up.
Very slow up.

The view at the top was spectacular.
Both K and J were getting grumpy at me.

 J was too busy breathing to take a lot of pictures.
We did go down some, though.

 J was in no mood to enjoy the downhill after all of the uphill.

 K had started to feel sore, so she got off and walked a mile or so.

 Still sexy as hell, but also pissed as hell.

Even with the down, there was up.

 The rain had rolled in and it was dark and gloomy.
Similar to J's mood.

 The trail went on forever.

We got to the point where we could see the road. The same road that led to the lake. I knew the Colorado trail came to the road, as did Shingle Mill. The damn Colorado trail was weaving and rolling like a drunk sailor, so I called it and we cut through the scrub to hit the road. We rode east for a half mile or so, then caught the Shingle Mill trail back toward the FS road.

 Shingle Mill,
By this time, even Ashke was annoyed.

When we reached the cut off point, we took the Morrison Creek trail. It was shorter overall, but it dumped us on the FS road further from the trailer. It was better that we went that way though, since it was one of the only places along the FS road that the horses could safely reach the water. Ashke drank for ten minutes. Then he grazed while we ate some trail mix and drank warm water. Then he went back and drank some more.

We knew we were four miles or so from the truck. At that point I just wanted to throw caution to the wind and trot the entire way back. Slow trot, to be sure, but a trot. We made it about half way and K had done as much as she could. She dismounted and started to walk. About a half mile from camp she could no longer walk, so J put her on Coyote and I ponied Eddy and K headed back. It took us two hours to do the last four miles.

They were both hating me quite a bit by that point.

When we reached the trailer, Ashke had another deep drink, then I offered him mash and he turned his nose up at it. Instead, he walked over and shoved the trailer door, then stood there and waited for me to load him. I got every thing squared away and loaded him on the trailer. Eddy walked right on behind him and we headed home. 

It was seven by that time.

We had been on trail for seven hours. We had covered just under 20 miles according to K's app, but J thinks it was longer. We were all very tired and very sore. And none of us are interested in riding that trail again. Ever. I can imagine in great detail how incredibly brutal the 50 mile endurance ride they run on this trail is.

Ashke did really well. He rode that trail completely barefoot and didn't show any signs of tenderness until right at the end. He kept walking on the verge of the road instead of on the rocks. I don't know if he was doing that because he was a little sore, or if he liked the willow branches scraping his face and neck where the damn flies had bit him. He stepped off the trailer sound and offered a bit of a trot across the gravel lot when we unloaded. Today, when I checked on him, his butt was a touch sore and he had a little puff in his legs from stocking up. The puff resolved itself in the round pen and then with the cold hosing he got while I washed him clean. He was tucked back in his stall with plenty of shavings and a dose of bute in his bucket. I will ride him lightly tomorrow night, to see how he is feeling.

Going forward, J and I need to do a better job of food choices and amounts when on trail. We did not plan on a seven hour ride and I think J would have done better with more food. She got an altitude headache that still hasn't really resolved itself yet. 

We are also not interested in riding from that location again. It's over an hour haul in both directions, there is no cell service available from half an hour away, and the FS road would get really boring, really quick. That is the only trail we feel comfortable with, based on our experience level. 

And the flies. Oh Lordy, the flies would drive you batty.


  1. I snorted when I read about Ashke pushing open the trailer door. "Get me the heck out of here woman. I want to go home!"

  2. Well hot damn. Yes, MTBers are CRAZY. Agree in full. I don't know why I'm even pursuing the sport, haha. Trail looks beautiful! I'd love all the ups and downs and twists and turns.

    Great news on Ashke's feet, too! Sounds like he's really in a great place with them these days.

    1. He's doing really awesome foot wise and with his joints (stifles and hocks). He didn't feel sore at all on the ride and he was very strong in the hind end.

  3. I was laughing through this post. Sounds like our kind of trail too! How awesome that Ashke rocked it like he did, even if he did want to just go home after! ;) I hope J wasn't too sore the next day!

    1. Her neck and shoulders and wrists were sore. And she was still fighting the headache. The front of my thighs and my neck and shoulders were sore.

      Should be healed up by next weekend.

    2. Just in time for your next adventure! ;D

  4. Wow, those trails are so lovely! But if you're with others who are not having fun, it just won't work. J is a rock star for doing all those hills on the bike, that is so much work! Running out of food is hard though, I wasn't sure how you did with water but one great thing I love is my water bottle with a filtration unit, I can drink out of any creek safely, so carrying lots of water isn't so hard.

    Sounds like a very long day, but I say don't give up your dream yet, you might just have to change it and find another trail riding friend who'd be willing to take the challenge. I have different friends for different types of rides and camping, it has let me explore more areas than I would have alone, or with my SO along. It works for me, your mileage may vary!

    1. I need to remind J to pack our water filter for these type of adventures. We have one we have in our camping gear that it wouldn't hurt to carry along.

      As far as doing it with someone else, . . . I'm not interested. I love riding with her and would rather do that with just the two of us, then to ride with anyone else. And I'm the one calling it quits on this trail. The trail for Ashke was not bad and I think J could get strong enough to do it, but the flies were horrible. The worse I have ever seen. Ashke was covered on his mane, tail, legs, shoulders and flanks with fly speck. And that was after I had used almost an entire bottle of Pirahna fly spray on him. It's just not worth it.

  5. I agree that it was a tough ride, but not something I wouldn't do again. I loved it until I got so sore and that is undoubtedly cured with more exposure to the ups and downs on shorter trips. If we had taken that Tramway Trail back down, the trip would have ended up much shorter, but would have been more on the Forest Service Road, so not what you wanted. I totally understand the desire for not doing out and back; I'm the same way! I also think that going back to the road in order to get to Wellington Lake might have been uphill, but still easier terrain, but if you don't want to do that road, so be it. I thought both horses were pretty good with traffic and so wasn't too worried about it, but it was also a holiday, so probably worse than usual.
    The biting insects are increased everywhere in the state, I suspect, due to the much wetter year we are having, so we'll just have to see how that pans out in other years. I didn't realize it at the time, so it didn't bother me so much, but I did end up getting bit quite a lot and itch like crazy, but I wasn't wearing any protection at all. They were certainly extremely annoying to the horses.
    I think some extremely careful planning and research is warranted at this point to find new rides that will challenge and prepare us, but not too much. And rides that stay on the flatlands to enjoy as well since the goal is to have fun! I love our rides together and certainly don't hate you for that ride; it wasn't your fault. I also understand the need to have cell service, so that will be another challenge for mountain riding.
    Don't worry, we'll manage to find places to ride that keep things interesting and maybe provide new challenges for us to work on. I'm with you as long as you'll have me!

    1. I just felt bad about you and J. I was also very tired and sore by the time we finished. The trail was just too challenging for where we all were at the time. Maybe in a year . . . .