In the saddle: The Pilgrimage to Monarch Crest
SALIDA, Colo. – It’s become known simply as The Pilgrimage.
For the last few years a buddy and I have made sure we work in a trip or two to Salida to ride the Monarch Crest trail, one of the best mountain biking routes in Colorado. This year’s trip didn’t disappoint – excellent riding, perfect weather, good food and grog in Salida and beautiful nights under the stars.
We usually go to the Salida area for a couple of days of riding but this time we turned our attention the first day up Chalk Creek canyon, where the summer stronghold of St. Elmo is located. We wanted to ride up Tincup Pass just to do something new.
I generally figure a person shouldn’t complain if they know what an area is like and choose to return. I knew St. Elmo is a center of the universe for off-road vehicles. I just didn’t know how many there would be on the last Saturday in July.
We camped on Friday night just a short distance outside of St. Elmo. We slept under the stars so we wouldn’t waste time packing up tents the next morning. We were on our bikes by 8:30 a.m., climbed about 2,500 vertical feet in 6 miles on a high clearance road that sometimes deteriorated into a four-wheel-drive route.
We encountered only a few all-terrain vehicles and SUVs. We all were courteous and shared the road. We reached the summit at about 10 a.m., hung out for a while at the top then headed down. It seems if you get rolling outdoors before 10 a.m. you beat 75 percent of the crowd (excluding hikes up 14ers).
While we descended Tincup Pass, we encountered multitudes coming up. There were families on a leisurely drive on their ATVs, dirt bikers cranking away and a parade of Jeeps on tour. Like I said, I knew what to expect in that neck of the woods so I took it in stride. The only fellow travelers I held in disdain were the drivers of three dune buggies. They were going so fast that sharing the road wasn’t even a theoretical possibility. The lead driver was blaring hip-hop so loud in his open cockpit vehicle that he was clearly in a “look-at-me” moment. It was disgusting display by a national forest visitor – and I’m sure several motorized visitors shared my sentiments.
In contrast, the Monarch Crest ride on Sunday was an exercise in tranquility, albeit one with multiple tough climbs, technical rock gardens and thrilling descents over four hours. We leap-frogged with other cyclists but didn’t hear an engine for 29 glorious miles.
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