Sunday, May 6, 2012

Buckhorn fun fest

Big Buckhorn fun fest

Just to be perfectly clear – this route is AWESOME! It’s the most challenging, varied, fun, and beautiful route I’ve done. I can’t recommend this highly enough. It has MUP (multiuse path), road, gravel, B-road and degraded double track. So sit back, relax and get ready for a long read/ride.

Beginning MUPpets
I started on the East side of Fort Collins (FTC) at the convergence of two major MUPs. There’s free parking and its pretty close to I-25. Starting here gave me the opportunity to check out the path situation in FTC and have a mellow warm up before tha major climbing began – oh yes, there will be hills.

The Spring Creek trail was pretty much what you’d expect of a MUP – it rolls and winds it’s way through residential FTC along a creek. Of course this also meant there were tons of little flying buggers I kept catching in my teeth. The scenery was easily worth it though. Starting at 7 there were folks out, but not a ton. Mostly some dedicated runners and a few folks setting up the beginning and aid stations for some race that appeared to have a later start, and of course folks walking their pets.

With Spring Creek behind me I began the ascent around the South end of Horsetooth Reservoir into Masonville where I would pick up Buckhorn Road. The temps had very quickly risen and I had already downed ½ a bottle. Fortunately this rest stop allowed me to drink a bit more and refill. I had my Skratch for the day and a few extras, so making it tasty was no problem.

The Horsetooth above the Res

There were quite a few cyclists out on the roads up to Masonville, but they all disappeared as soon as I turned off onto Buckhorn road. It’s a pity too, because Buckhorn is where the real riding starts. The first several  miles of Buckhorn are still paved (up to mile 29 by my ride) but the traffic drops dramatically, and you’re out in a much more rural and scenic valley. There’s a point where this paved road narrows and winds through a great canyon lined with rock walls.

Ok enough of this pavement
XX miles up Buckhorn road the pave road continues as Stove Prairie while Buckhorn turns West and turns immediately to gravel. This is a near continuous climb and looked heinous on the elevation profile. In reality the grade is fairly consistent and pretty gentle. Since the climb is well over 10 miles to the ranger station at the summit, you’ll have plenty of chance to soak up the scenery. Many of the Aspens has their summer coat of lush green quaking leaves. The aspens early lush growth and Columbines made the verdant climb easy on the eyes.

Just past the Buckhorn Ranger Station I turned right onto Monument Gulch Road. There is an immediate gate stating that this road is closed – to cars. It’s still open to bikes all year though. This is less than a B road since it’s falling into complete decay. While it’s mostly decayed double track, there are parts where it’s more of a clear path through the woods than an road at all. The beginning ¼ of Monument Gulch is over 8000 feet, it’s not overly steep but it is uphill and I’ll admit it was kicking my ass. It’ would certainly be a bit easier to climb on a MTB. Once you pass the initial uphill however it turned into an HUGE payoff. This thing was just pure unrefined fun! The fact that it’s a lesser road and a bit rocky meant I had to go slower on my bike than on a MTB, but honestly it was probably more fun because I had to pay attention more. On a MTB it would be fun but pretty mellow. There are a couple of different options near the top of Buckhorn road, but this is in the NOT TO BE MISSED category. It’s SO MUCH FUN!

The end of Monument gulch connects to Pingree Park Rd (CR 63E). This looks to be a steep drop to the Poudre River, but appearances can be deceiving. As big drops on gravel roads go, it’s damn near perfect. The roads are wide enough to accomodaye traffic, it’s mostly well packed, there are plenty of long open sections where you can open er up and enjoy the downhill speed, and where you encounter switchbacks and sharp turns they’re well signed allowing you to scrub speed. It doesn’t hurt that the scenery along here is pretty amazing too. Yeah I know I’m gushing here, but there were so many times on this road I was just in awe of how great this was. I’d say perfect compared to any of the super steep, loose, twisty descents I’ve done outside Boulder where you’re on the brakes almost constantly.

Down at the Poudre River it was uphill on a gentle paved road for 5 miles. Fortunately this goes pretty quick as there’s little shoulder and plenty of traffic on a gorgeous weekend.

The Climb - Part Deux
The turn onto Manhattan begins the second major climb into Red Feather Lakes. By this time you’re near 5000 feet of gain already and about to get a few thousand more. Unlike the climb up Buckhorn, the climb here did NOT feel like a gentle grade – it’s steep. I’m sure the prior fatigue had something to do with this, but the grade is steeper. There isn’t much I can say about this other than that it was a heads down, panting suffer fest. My legs had began feeling tired/sore around mile 25 and I had no idea how the day would go with an ominous beginning like that. Now after climbing 7000 feet in 62 miles I was feeling pretty toasted.

Red Feather Lakes
There is a flat-ish rolling section near the top as you roll into Red Feather Lakes. This was the ½ way point for me and the opportunity for a rest and water refill. The Trading Post is to the East as you roll in, and the General Store shown on the map is to the West. However since the General Store was closed for business I went trading. The toughest decision here was weather to grab an ice cream or small bag o chips – I went for the salt.

I took Hiawatha to Creedmore lakes Road out of Red Feather Lakes. Passing along the lakes is a nice ramble through residential areas and craggy rocky hills. There is a point (I believe where Creedmore turns right instead of straight and becoming Huron Rd) where Creedmore turns into more of a B road and begins a long descent. This was the second highlight of the trip. This is another super fun fast downhill section. It’s nowhere near as rugged as Monument Gulch, but it’s still incredibly fun. This is not a smooth maintained gravel, but semi-packed double track and roughly follows Bull Creek downhill. I spooked a Moose somewhere in here as I speed down through Aspen and Pine past rocky meadows and on toward my destination.

A change in scenery
There’s an option to continue downhill on 82E or tun north on CR179 (Prairie Divide) an connect with Cherokee Park Rd. I took the latter option. This pretty quickly becomes an wide open prairie. This option trades the craggy rocky tree lined views for sweeping vistas and glimpses of the peaks in RMNP.  Farther East the alpine prairie changes to provide views of craggy cliffs as you get closer to the prairies. A few rolling hills and open plains later and you briefly connect with 287 near Livermore. Rather than going into Livermore I rode out on the plains rolling the incredibly smooth red dirt of CR80 towards an unnamed reservoir. Early in this section there was a gorgeous large Rattler sunning itself on the road. Since I was past the century mark, getting really tired and I already had a snake picture I took earlier on Monument Gulch, I passed.

Back on pavement
The first glimpse of pavement comes at Buckeye where I turned South. This doesn’t last long (one block really) as most of the Buckeye Lateral was dirt. However, The pavement comes again when you pick up 287 into FTC. I was a really getting tired at this point and mostly cranking hard in an effort to finish. However I was surprised to find that I was able to average well over 20 mph on this section of the route. Sure it was slightly  downhill, but I felt fried and food was getting harder and harder to eat.

9  hrs
That seems to be the mark for me right now. Nine hours is where it starts to get hard to eat. The gummies which were easy to swallow start to taste horrid, and even the solids are hard to eat. As it happened in the AntiEpic I had to really begin forcing myself to eat. I still had ~25 miles to go and knew I would need the energy. I’m not sure why this happens, but I hope it’s something I get past as my body gets used to working this hard for this long. I know my performance diminishes when I’m eating less, but really EVERYTHING starts to taste awful, I lose my appetite and really do have to force myself to eat.
I did have one minor issue which didn’t help – I forgot my rice bars. I took part of Friday to make a fresh new batch and made sure to not burn the bacon this time. After cooking, slicing and wrapping the bars I even placed a post it note on the front door to grab 8 bars. Clearly I need larger neon writing as in my 5 am stupor I missed the note and only realized my mistake 25 minutes away from my house. I had my waffles  though and a quick stop at a gas station in FTC supplied me with some wildly over priced Cliff and Power Bars. I really could tell a difference on the ride. They simply do not digest as easily as the rice bars. They’re fine for climbing, hiking, or other lower intensity activities but on the bike I need something different – something less engineered.

Home stretch
The paved roads for 10 miles connect to the end of the Poudre River MUP in Laporte, CO. I didn’t realize on the route that I was to pass through Bellvue, CO (or even that it existed) till I was there. The one outstanding this about this tiny community was the bright yellow café and coffee shop. It is the one place I was seriously tempted to stop and if I’m ever in this area again (of course) I’m making that a destination. The Poudre River MUP was again as expected but if anything faster than the Spring Creek. There was an interesting highlight as I rolled over a bridged section for a couple hundred yards. I was really ready to be done at this point though. It didn’t help that the ominous clouds I had seen earlier had made things seriously blustery.  I don’t know what direction they were coming from, but I can say that for the last 20 miles the wind was not in my favor. In general the wind had been quite mild with only some minor headwinds down the canyons – nothing to really mention though. In general the wind had been still all day until the weather arrived. 

Earning it
Back at the car I was pleasantly surprised to arrive 2 miles before the Garmin thought I would (where did  it think I parked?). Whenever I go to FTC I have a hard time resisting Rasta Pasta and their signature dish. This was no different. I had planned up to 12 hours and finished in under 11 so I certainly earned it this time. I had, if truth be told, been craving that spicy jerk chicken pasta goodness for the past three hours. When I could barely choke down a waffle it might partly be because I was fixated in a spicy pasta.

I’ll end as I began – this is a FANTASTIC route! If you’re not into the MUP then change the beginning (I probably wouldn’t do that a second time). However, if you love the scenery around rural mountainous Colorado than the Buckhorn/Monument Gulch/Creedmore Lakes elements are not to be missed.  

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