In the saddle: A new perspective
In a decade-plus of living in Aspen, I never got farther down the Rio Grande Trail than Woody Creek.
There, I either made a right turn and road my bike up toward Lenado, or took a left, lured by the prospect of a cold beer on the comfortable patio of the Woody Creek Tavern.
The trail itself grew longer, eventually linking Aspen to Basalt and then beyond, but my front wheel always changed course in Woody Creek, and with good reason – it’s an uphill ride on the return trip if one starts out heading down the valley, unlike the downhill cruise that rewards bicyclists who head up the pass, Maroon Creek Road or virtually any other route out of Aspen, via road or trail.
Now, as a denizen of the midvalley, I not only have new route possibilities to explore but also a new, well-deserved appreciation for the Rio Grande Trail. Sure, part of it is called by other names – the Basalt/Old Snowmass Trail in one section, but it’s all following the old railroad corridor that connects one end of the valley to the other.
I was thrilled to discover I can get from my home in El Jebel to Basalt without taking my life in my handlebars on Highway 82. A cruise through Willits links up with a paved bike path at Hooks Bridge for a ride to Basalt, replete with a gravel-strewn underpass at Emma to duck beneath the highway. Then it’s a short jaunt through Basalt to grab the trail again and head toward Snowmass Canyon.
The elevation gain surprised me. Sure, it was no ride up Independence Pass, but the climb through Holland Hills left me gasping. Call it early-season fatigue (to be known as late-season fatigue a few months from now).
But the real surprise was my first glimpse at the valley from a new perspective. I headed upvalley on Saturday, intent on a ride of unscripted length on a perfect spring day. I wound up reluctant to turn around, wondering what I might miss around the next bend in the pavement.
It’s the same valley I see twice a day via a bus ride, though I would not have guessed it, but for the look of the ridges that denote Snowmass Canyon. The vantage point of the trail offered countless views of the landscape that I had never seen before.
The trail follows the Roaring Fork River upvalley of Basalt just as the highway does but on the opposite side of the river. In fact, I was mostly unaware that the highway was even there. Beyond Holland Hills, the trail enters a rural stretch, where swaths of meadows and pastures caught my eye instead of the starter castles that were surely there as well. There were ancient fences, old railroad signs and rusted tracks where the trail criss-crosses the railbed – glimpses of what the valley once was in sufficient quantity to leave me pleasantly awed. How did I not travel this way until now?
By end upper end of Snowmass Canyon, I was 15 miles from home and figuring 30 miles roundtrip was a good first day on the trail.
Now, I’m setting my sights on my usual destination – Woody Creek; I’m just approaching it from a new direction. My front tire will undoubtedly veer toward the tavern for libation. But here’s the best part: It will all be downhill from there.
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