Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Swiss miss-ive

A few weeks ago Adam and I attempted to do the Switzerland Trail (see Swiss Recon). We got stopped by snow, so I took a second go at doing the entire route as an opportunity to test some gear and work out a recent knee issue I had developed. The Switzerland trail can be divided into four segments that look something like a backwards "L". Three of these run north/South and the last cuts West to connect with the Peak to Peak Highway.

After rolling by Spruce Confections to fuel up on espresso, I headed to Boulder Canyon and up Four Mile Road. Instead of continuing to Sunset, as Adam and I did, I hooked left on Logan Mill Road to do the three main portions of the Switzerland Trail. Logan mill eventually connects to Sugarloaf Rd, via the Escape Route. There are a couple of unmarked turns on this road, so I was happy to spin a few miles with another rider who knew the way. Chris was from Boulder and planned a slightly different route. After I told him my plan Chris had mentioned that the northermost portion of the Switzerland Trail, wasn't really CX bike territory given that he had turned back on this full suspension rig. This was the potion under snow when Adam and I ventured up here last, so I didn't know what to expect. However, I was out for an adventure so I thought I would take my chances and turn back if need be.

The first leg of the trail was all downhill into Sunset. On a mountain bike you could probably bomb down this thing pretty fast, but the rough road, many rocks and CX tires meant I had to keep things pretty slow and pick a good path if I didn't want to completely wreck my wheels. As it was there were more than a few times I would have pinch flatted if I wasn't tubeless.

Leg two runs from Sunset to Gold Hill Road, and is the segment I had ridden previously. I ran into no snow and no other riders on this gorgeous sunny day. What I did see were more than a few motorbike folks and people walking their dogs.

Leg three runs North from Gold Hill Rd almost to the town of Ward, CO. It's the part that Chris had warned me about. Surprisingly, the first couple miles of this leg were the smoothest part of the trail I had yet encountered. This didn't last though. There is a fork at one point where a sign indicates the main road dead ends. It was here I saw the moto folks coming back - I suppose it did end for them. After 1/2 mile or so on this section I came to some reasonably long stretches of talus that you need to ride over or walk. I'd certainly prefer my fatter 29er tires, but I didn't have 'em and made do. No flats, nothing too scary, and I made it just fine with the 35c tires. What's "too difficult" is pretty relative. There are plenty of places I'll get off and walk, where other folks feel fine to ride.

There is, however, a very brief segment at the end of the trail (perhaps 75 yards) where you will have to dismount any bike. This little connector trail hooks up with Sawmill Road for a brief stint before you pick up pavement into Ward. This was my first time in Ward and it was nice to see that the general store seemed to be a haven for cyclists. Several were leaving, and several others were lounging on the veranda. Of course, all were on svelte road bikes. From Ward I picked up the Peak to Peak Highway heading South to find Gold Hill Road. I headed on the rolling road - crossing my previous path on the Switzerland Trail - into Gold Hill for a stop at the general store. This was my 1/2 way point at 50 miles and I added water to my bottles and  a tiny bag of malt vinegar and sea salt chips to my belly.

Back in the saddle I continued downhill on Gold Run Road to reconnect with Four Mile. The steep descent meant it was quickly time to turn back up and begin what seemed like the longest climb of the day. I climbed  up to Sunset and hooked left to retrace my steps on Leg 1 of the Switzerland trail so that I could finish the last segment that goes West to the Peak to Peak. This entire stretch is uphill and seemed to go on forever. It wasn't so much the elevation or the distance as the slow going on the trail. Of course the payoff included some great views.

The Peak to Peak took me through Nederland and on to Magnolia Rd where I planned to head off the hill. The toughest part was deciding whether to stop in Ned for a little Caffeine fix. I might have helped, but I decided to pass and just continue on. I had been looking forward to the downhill into town on Magnolia, but  I didn't know was that it's still rolling hills for a while. Only after this do you get a screaming descent for the last 4.5 miles. Fortunately those miles are paved as you build up speed quickly and there are quite a few sharp turns. There are also some sandy patches which can put an end to a day quickly if you're not careful. The many curves meant I had to stay on the brakes a lot and couldn't open it up and fly.

The remainder of the route down Boulder Creek and following bike paths home was inconsequential and familiar. I was sad to see that my elevation was so close to 10,000 ft (9971 by my Garmin) but there are no hills anywhere on the way back to my casa. (Strava robbed me of another few feet and only shows 9921 - bastards!) Something about climbing 10k seems like a magic threshold that is more than the missing 29ft.

Overall a good day and a great route. If you're in the area and looking for a century with some big hills and rugged miles check this one out - just find another 50ft hill somewhere to make it an even 10k.

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