Saturday, March 29, 2008

Bobcat Ridge

On March 29 I took the Niner to Bobcat Ridge near Fort Collins. A new section of trail opened there in November 2007 which I have not ridden before (I have not ridden Bobcat Ridge regardless). The weather was sunny and forecast for the low 60's, but there was a bit of a chill in the morning air. I rode without arm or knee warmers but I had them with me. It was about right to wear double jerseys.

For a bit of a warm up I decided to ride the Valley Loop Trail ccw. I was just guessing on how to begin. At first it was looking like this was going to be utterly disappointing. The trail is accessible, which is great, but if it had continued on like that it would not have been much fun to ride. As the trail looped around from north to westbound it gained some elevation and started to look like a trail instead of a crushed rock pathway. The warm up proved to be a good one in this direction because it offers the longer part of the Valley Loop before arriving at the Ginny Trail.

When I started heading west on the Ginny Trail I could tell it was going to be excellent. It is interesting as a landscape to begin with because this is the site of the Bobcat Gulch fire in 2000. (I remember seeing the sun through the smoke of this fire back then. It was a hellish red, almost unreal.) There were piles of burned logs and some charred remains of still standing trees. The first part of the trail goes up a little valley. Because the only vegetation is grasses and flowers it is very exposed all along the Ginny Trail. This would be one to avoid at hot o'clock in the summer, but for this time of year all would be well. The one caveat to Saturday's ride was the wind that started picking up in this first valley; due to the exposure there was nothing holding the wind back. It rushed right down in bursts that were significantly more chilly than the air temperature, but so far not enough to warrant throwing on the warmers.

All along this trail there are some good little technical challenges. This is rocky terrain, and some of the problems would offer a rider quite a bit to work on over the course of time they ride there. I wasn't doing terribly, but there were definitely some sections I couldn't do. I was really impressed with the technical challenge of this trail. So often new trails are built for the lowest common denominator and offer little to no incentive to return. This is the kind of trail I could keep coming to and improving on. As I got higher up on the trail I had to stop and pull on the arm and knee warmers. I thought I could avoid it, but the wind was just getting too cold. As I continued to rise the wind gusted ever harder. It wasn't long before the wind was blowing me completely off the trail. Not only was I trying to hold a line through some tight rocky sections that were hard to navigate, I was also trying to hold my wheel from spinning completely off line. I was all over the place near the top. There were some riders coming down and they warned of strong winds. One guy told me, "It's really windy on top. Like, can't-stand-up windy.".

As I came to the top of the hill it was nearly treeless; a gentle curve went from one side of the mountain to the other and the wind blew up one side and down the other. I don't know where the wind was coming from. There were some clouds several miles away that socked in the distant mountain range (the Mummy Range or the Medicine Bow mountains I think). The wind had nothing holding it back as far as vegetation or terrain. I got to the sign warning downhill riders to yield to uphill riders and I had to hold onto it to keep from blowing off the mountain. I haven't experienced wind like that for a long, long time, if ever. It wasn't just gusting, it was a continuous blast of fast rushing cold air like I was on the prow of the fastest moving ship ever. I started laughing because I couldn't believe how ridiculously windy it was and that somehow I was riding my bike in it. This was the type of wind you could lean into and probably remain standing at a 45 degree angle.

I continued along this trail on the top of the mountain until it dropped into Mahoney Park. The only exit from this area by bike is the Ginny Trail, so I turned around and rode back on it. This was at about an hour and 35 minutes into my ride. The wind gusts were still a challenge, both for muscling through and for technical navigation. The descent proved much more tolerable though, and I was able to ride over some sections that were a mild triumph for my technical ability at this point in the season. Again, this is some excellent terrain.

To cool down I rode the Eden Valley Spur. That's about what the trail is good for; it is short and rolling with some berms and jumps to goof around on, but it is mild terrain and an out-and-back, so not much to it. Following this there was a short section of the Valley Loop Trail that took me back to the trailhead.

If I still lived in Fort Collins I would come back often. As it is I have a 45 minute drive to get here which means I will come infrequently. But I would say it is right up there with the best terrain in the northern Front Range. It is good that hikers, bikers and horses all have portions of this trail system to use. There are other trails in Larimer County that find a way to have horses and bikers on the same trails. I have never had a problem. People on their various modes of transportation can be very friendly and courteous, especially when you offer the same in return. (Boulder County could learn something from the mixed use trails in Larimer County, with the understanding that there are probably fewer users in Larimer and possibly fewer problems because of it). The only way Bobcat Ridge could be improved is if there was one more technical ascent/descent like the Ginny Trail that connected to Mahoney Park. That would offer the most variety and the best possible exploration of trails without too much repetition.

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