Hike-a-Bike Diaries: North Rainbow Trail Loop FKT Report
If you read my previous entry about mourning the loss of the Tour Divide race, you’ll understand the “need” for some of us to take on grueling physical feats. Lots of people are having a hard time mentally coping with both loss of personal goals as well as a general global sense of grief, and I’m no exception. This ride stripped my mental state down to just me and the trail. It temporarily took me to a place where I couldn’t feel the anxiety of daily life, which, as physically painful as it was, gave me the mental break I’ve needed for a very long time.
I had originally planned to do this ride in early June. However, the heat has arrived to the area early this year, and I’m not good with heat. I also needed an unplanned break from training earlier this month (May) that put me in an earlier taper than originally planned. So, I watched weather, and when a pretty reliable-looking weather system appeared for Sunday the 24th, I made my plans to go on the 25th. Not only would some moisture (hopefully) fall, the temperature was also forecasted to be in the low 60s, rather than the upper 70s-80s that were already happening daily. Unfortunately, the rain that moved through on Sunday didn’t touch the trail. So, the trail conditions for this ride were as bad (tread-wise) as they could possibly be. The unconsolidated dirt and gravel out there can be absolutely demoralizing, because it makes even the slightest grade very difficult to climb, and gives you no physical or mental break on the descents.
I started from the Turkey Rock BLM area at about 7:40am. It was cold- somewhere in the low 40s, and I was freezing until a started the climb up Hayden Pass Road. I zoned out for a while and made it to the trail at about 1 hour and 8 minutes into the day. The trail climbs from about 7600ft to 9300ft from there to the next intersection of the Bushnell Lakes Trail (accessible from the Hamilton Baldy trailhead of Kerr Gulch). It gets more difficult as it goes up, and I ended up hiking some spots I’d normally ride just to conserve energy for the rest of the day.
I can’t really describe the next four hours, because they were a blur of riding and pushing through the aforementioned unconsolidated gravel-powder to the high point before the drop in to Bear Creek. The slow progress there was nearly enough to break me. I ran into some really friendly moto riders along the way, which is always helpful when you’re having a tough go.
The descent to Bear Creek is super rowdy fun, and the 10–15 minute break at the trailhead to filter water recharged my legs a little. Luckily, from there until Poncha Mountain, the miles tick off slightly easier than the previous section, which gave me a nice mental boost. The trail rolls though the 2019 Decker Fire burn scar, which is surreal shades of black and green right now.
When I got to the base of the Poncha Mountain climb, I met a nice couple who offered to take my picture.
Poncha Mountain, in its most loose and blown-out form, is about an hour and ten minutes of hike-a-bike. In perfect conditions, it has enough rideable spots to cut it down to about 50 minutes of riding/hiking (for me… your results may vary). This is a solid representation of how much faster the entire trail rides if you catch the magical amount of moisture out there.
Despite the dry and difficult conditions, I was very thankful for my choice to ride that day- on the most open and exposed parts of the push to the top, the temperature still hovered in the low 60’s. I met another couple of friendly moto riders who warned me of oncoming hiker and mountain bike traffic that I’d encounter on the descent. I knocked out the hike-a-bike in just over an hour and stopped for a snack (my typical eating strategy is to take in extra calories at the top of a long descent because I get some extra lower heart rate digestion time). The aspen grove at the top is one of the best places to stop and reflect before bombing down to highway 285.
As expected, there were a lot of people out on the 285 side- a large group of people on mountain bikes and several hikers as well as a man hiking with his kid on a mountain bike. I told the kid that they’re the toughest kid in Salida right now (the climb they were on is one that many seasoned adult riders won’t take on).
Something about technical descending nine hours into a ride speaks to my soul. Between slowing to greet other people on the trail, I was bombing faster than I’ve ever gone. I stopped for a quick picture at the highway- my photo-taking was getting tired at that point.
I’m just gonna go ahead and say it ahead of time- the section of Rainbow Trail between Highway 285 and the end at Silver Creek is more fun going the other direction. Despite plenty of food and water, I was somewhat spacey and a little delirious at that point in the ride. I just sort of blanked out and tried not to look at the mileage too much. I made it, though…
My time on trail (not counting riding to/from) was a few seconds past nine hours and 20 minutes. I took my photos, ran out of GoPro battery, and headed down Silver Creek road a few hundred yards to refill my bottles at a spot where water flows across the road. The descent down to Poncha Springs goes by quickly. In true Andrea-ride fashion, once I was in the valley, there was a headwind all the way back to the car where there’s normally a tailwind. I’m usually happy to pedal my ass off into a headwind, and my legs actually felt up for it, but my asthma was bothering me pretty hard, so it was a tough go. I made it back to the car at just a hair under 13 hours, though.
Strava Link to the ride: https://www.strava.com/activities/3514117409
Link to the route and info: http://www.brickhouseracing.com/?p=9813
I inevitably get questions about equipment I’ve used for big days like this, so here’s a little info about what made a difference for me-
My coach- Lynda Wallenfels is an amazing endurance coach. She offers everything from affordable pre-made plans (which I’m using right now because things are finacially tight) to personalized, one-on-one programs where you can get her guidance every step of the way.
Bike- Spot Mayhem 29. This is a 130mm travel trail bike, and it’s perfect for the combination of hard climbing and descending on the Rainbow Trail. I’m using a SRAM Eagle 12 speed drivetrain with a 30t chainring. I would have used a 28t chainring if one existed for A)Eagle and B)a 104bcd Quarq. I used a Bontrager XR4 front tire and WTB Ranger light/fast rear tire and had no flats with Orange Seal sealant. I use Ergon GS series grips on all of my bikes.
Food- I took two gel flasks full of Gu Roctane gel. I ate that every 40 minutes-1hr and interspersed Stroopwaffles, Clif Shot Blocks, and Clif Cubes along the way. Roctane gel has been my go-to for hard training and racing since it came out. It’s excellent stuff, and will give you a subtle boost when you’re getting fatigued. I filtered water along the route with an MSR Trailshot filter and had an 86oz capacity- 2x32oz bottles in the handlebar bags and one 22oz bottle in the frame.
Clothing- I recently discovered Velocio clothing, and wore their Luxe bib shorts and their SE Jersey. Velocio not only makes stuff that’s way more comfortable and nicer fitting/feeling than anything else out there, they started as a high end women’s brand that added men’s clothing later (the opposite of the usual M.O. where women’s clothing is an afterthought). I had no shorts-related discomfort until about hour 12, when I was pedaling hard on the road and thought… I’d use chamois cream now if I had it. I had no next day chafing or soreness, though. For an all-day effort, zero next-day skin damage is a first for me in the 14 years I’ve ridden bikes. The jersey is equally as amazing- despite being super-fitted, I was still able to carry my jacket (Gore Shakedry), knee/arm warmers, SPOT Tracker, and water filter in the rear pockets without any sag (I know the intention of their small zippered rear pocket wasn’t to carry a SPOT tracker, but it’s PERFECT for that). Their clothing is worth every penny they charge for it, and I’m never purchasing any other brand as long as Velocio is in business.
Navigation- I’m extremely familiar with the route, so I didn’t need a computer for wayfinding. However, the Wahoo Roam I used to record is great for that, and the battery life is excellent. I carried a Spot Gen 3 for safety & as a second “proof” of route completion.