Sunday, August 2, 2015

Still Discovering the San Juans

It seems to have become customary for me to spend time in the San Juan mountains of southwest Colorado each summer as I have repeatedly found myself hiking, riding, sipping, running, watching Hardrockers, and eating Scrap Cookies from Mouse's. Why not? That stunning, rugged, and truly wild collection of peaks has a calming allure that an outdoor enthusiast like myself cannot overcome easily. I was fortunate enough to make two visits this year. As usual, this far-from-home Hoosier filled that precious time with life enhancing activities.

First, I'll confess that the mountains draw me in to torture my muscles and to nurture my soul, but the small cities provide sufficient sustenance in the form of outstanding coffee, smooth beer, and well, does one really need anything more? I wonder sometimes. Seriously, though, the beverages are delivered in some of the finest coffee shops and breweries that I've come across. And the conversations I've had in those establishments, with people from all over the Earth about a wide range of topics, have been rewarding on many levels. I spent most of my "city time" in Durango (ride the train), Ouray, and Silverton (ride the train:) this year, so I'll focus on that during this post while holding onto fond memories of visits to Lake City and Creede.

A visit to the Durango Coffee Company is a treat for a coffee (or tea) lover regardless of whether that person is the get-a-fix junkie or a true connoisseur. Even the snobs can recognize and appreciate the quality of the coffee at DCC. The Steaming Bean is a block up on Main. There you will find a menu consisting of many healthy options - and tasty baked goods. I do ask them to tone down the sugar in my mocha, but the ambiance is good for reading and writing. Come to think of it, I'd say that my experience shows that arithmetic flows easily at the Bean also. Hey, I'm a data nerd. Another excellent coffee choice on Durango's Main Street is 81301 Coffee House and Roasters. The latte art at 81301, which compliments their high quality beans, is unsurpassed in my experiences.

Durango also offers several micro breweries that create full lineups of desirable beers. Somehow, wouldn't you know it, I've managed to sip at all of them in an afternoon over the years. Ska, Carver, Animas, Steamworks, Brew Pub, and Durango brewing companies all make great beer. Whether your taste preference leans toward hoppy, fruity, malty, or seasonals you will find beer in Durango to satiate your buds. I drink all types of beer, but lean toward stouts and wheats/hefes. Ska's Estival Cream Stout is the well-bodied sweet stout that is aged in - orange peels! Durango's Wheat Beer is a light, low IBU (12) American style wheat that would make a great sessions beer if the alcohol were lower than 5.3%.  Steamworks' Ginger Ninja Summer Lager convinced me that I need to brew a ginger beer.

Telluride and Ouray also have breweries. Silverton has a new pizzeria that will have brews available in August. For great beer and dramatic scenery, visit the Ouray Brewery and sit on the upper deck. And if your visit coincides with inclimate weather just pick a swing at the bar for a relaxing experience!

For those whose taste buds occasionally long for a decadant sweet, buttery, chocolatey life promoting/shortening treat, try a Scrap Cookie at Mouse's Chocolates and Coffee in Ouray. Should anyone heed my advice, you can thank me by sending one my way. Finish off the cookie while looking across the street at the lucky people on the upper deck of the brewery. And, of course, while looking up at the monolithic San Juan walls that hover over the city.

And then there are the mountains that yielded the prized elements to the minors who founded these cities. They are a treat for eyes, a challenge to grit, a treasure for mankind, and a fortifier for souls. One visit is all it takes for an addiction to take control. I've met and spoken at length with a number of people who visit frequently or who simply could not overcome the pull of the roots established in their first visit. There is no exaggeration in those words. The San Juan Mountains are remarkably beautiful to the point of making life elsewhere seem inadequate.

It is easy to reach the high country since the few paved roads offer direct or nearly direct access to trails. Life in the alpine high country is abundant as both flora and fauna present magnificent color and grace with every bend of the trail. And even in the high country, on a trail at 12,000 ft, a hiker/runner/biker can look beyond the millions of wildflowers to see large jagged stone peaks in any direction. Aesthetic beauty abounds to the point that no quantity or quality of words can adequately describe it. The place must be experienced, over and over, to understand what wonders are offered.

Hope, my Kestrel 4000 time trial bike, was with me throughout 9000 miles of traveling. Together we fulfilled several of the goals/desires on my Life Goals List. One of those desires was to ride the major passes of the San Juan Mountains. Over a five day period I rode over and back across the three high passes: Red Mountain (11,018 ft), Monarch (11,312 ft), and Wolf Creek (10,857 ft). That amounted to 143 total miles of riding (twice my average weekly total), 18,240 ft of ascending (and descending), 3 rain storms, 1 hail storm, and zero close calls with vehicles. That last stat was the most notable and valuable of all.
Red Mountain Pass Ride Data - A tale of two halves: No wind and headwind.
Given that Hope is geared for southern Indiana hills, with 42/53 rings and an 11-21 freewheel, the ascents were massive challenges in the thin air. In fact, I was dizzy enough to stop briefly at each summit to clear my head a little before the wild descents that reached as high as 57 mph. (Could have been faster, but those snail-like vehicles got in the way too often:) The toughest aspect of the rides, though, was the cold rain I experienced on Red Mountain and Monarch. The numbing cold left my hands, which have poor circulation, barely able to work the brakes and gears. I was relying on higher powers to keep the rubber on the road, especially during the descent into Ouray along the "death at every turn" Million Dollar Highway. Because I'm an adrenaline junkie I must admit "What a rush!"

The numerous hikes I took, ranging from minutes to hours, included jaunts along the Hardrock 100 course, flower hunts, and summiting 14,150 ft Mt. Sneffels. Each experience was uniquely valuable and rewarding. I especially enjoyed once again meeting up with the fatigued runners completing the Hardrock 100, which is one of the toughest races on the planet, as they met the challenges of the rugged landscape and formidable weather.

Below are some of the photos I took in the San Juans. Again, they do not and cannot reveal the extensive aura of the experience, so plan a visit of your own. Enjoy! ST


Continental Divide Trail hike number three
Storms were plentiful as is common during July in the San Juans

Countless flowers of various colors dotting every meadow
Treasure Falls east of Pagosa Springs

More of the CDT

Red Mountain Pass
Rolling Photo Shoot

Moving toward the big switchback
Top side of the switchback - looks like
a wet descent!
Looking down from top of switchback
No guardrails, so eyes forward . . .
Rode up to and topped out with this up and coming east coast stud, LJW
His youth (or my fear) allowed him to move a few hundred
meters ahead during the winding wet descent
Enjoying a Scrap Cookie while eying the Ouray Brewery
No, I did not imbibe. I was too cold and dizzy for a brew.
Scrap Cookie Happy face!
First switchback above Ouray. What a setting!
Rolling along the Million Dollar Highway
The Million Dollar Highway offers stunning views,
but "eyes forward" even on a slow bike.
Stopped for this one to show how the dramatic landscape
starts at the edge of the asphalt.
Gasping for barely existent oxygen while
unaware of that loose chin strap
Another storm develops up near the pass

Ah, the top is finally in view,
which means the second set of switchbacks is near
Switchbacks nearing Red Mountain
Looking back from the pass while my fuzzy mind clears
Storms ahead, jacket and gloves on, and Ziploc ready for the iPhone 
Hardrock 100

Killian moving leisurely through the Ouray aid station
He started with cheese pizza and Mountain Dew.
Mike Foote only 20 minutes behind Killian at Ouray
looking relaxed and fresh
Anna Frost fresh and jovial at Ouray
Frost seemed cold after her record finish
Killian got up from a cot to greet Foote
Darci Piceu kisses the rock after an exciting
back and forth race with Frost
Friends Kari and Chris (pacer) after she finished 5th woman
in her first HRH attempt. Much respect!
Bogie!! His painful and fierce lunge for the rock
resulted in a 47:59:59 official finish
The last marker at the end of the trail for the Hardrock 100
Mountains of sand loom on the horizon . . .

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