In the saddle: Monarch Crest Trail bliss |

In the saddle: Monarch Crest Trail bliss

PONCHA SPRINGS, Colo. – I intend to get out on many more hikes and bike rides this year but I think I’ve already racked up the highlight of the summer.

A friend and I rode the Monarch Crest Trail last Saturday – and we found Shangri-La. We caught a shuttle out of Poncha Springs, putted up Monarch Pass and were dumped at the summit with roughly 50 other cyclists.

After climbing some forest roads we were soon on single track above tree line, gazing at jagged peaks, rounded domes and lush, grassy parks in all directions.

The only dilemma was whether or not to feed our adrenaline buzz by zipping along the single track or stopping every now and then to absorb the magnificent views. We compromised – cranking it out for healthy bursts, but taking time to sit and gaze at particularly pretty points.

Although we encountered a lot of other riders from the shuttles at the start, the terrain soon separates people out. Lord knows there is plenty of space, so there’s no reason to be crowded.

As the trail plunged back below tree line we encountered all conditions imaginable – tough, technical climbs, blazing downhills, bone-rattling rock scree and buffed-out traverses. (I blew out a sidewall on my rear tire and had to deal with two exploded tubes, but not even that interfered with my bliss.)

The Monarch Crest Trail is actually only 11 miles long, but it hooks into a much longer network of single-track trails and short sections of forest roads. The best of the rest is the Rainbow Trail.

All-told, we covered about 35 miles – 11 on the Monarch Crest, 19 miles on the Rainbow and 5 miles on Highway 285 on a cruise back to our car in Poncha Springs. Forest roads provide opportunities for riders to bail out for shorter rides – but why?

The most enduring memory will be the undulations of the Rainbow Trail, which traverses a mountainside but constantly plunges into drainages, then requires short, tough bursts to climb out.

The route features 6,000 glorious vertical feet of descent but also 2,300 vertical feet of climbing.

One good source of information for virgins is Absolute Bikes in Salida, at Unless you are with a pack of riders with two or more vehicles, make your life easy and arrange to take the shuttle out of Poncha Springs. It’s worth the $20. Do yourself a favor and find time to do this ride.

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