Tuesday, January 01, 2019

A Grand-er Loop

Welp, mid-May 2018 put a run on the Grand Loop in the books for ED and myself.  Here's how it all went down:

As usual, the winter winds and snow turned my mind to wide open spaces, remoteness, solitude, heat and a few days of living on the bike.  It had been awhile.  I was certainly anxious.  Per my previous intents, taking another shot at the loop to include Red Canyon, the Koski Traverse and the new reroute near Nucla was in the works.  On paper: ~375 miles, ~45k' of climbing, one resupply, scarce water.  It didn't take much to convince ED of giving it a go.

E: 'So how much walking is there?'
J: 'Eh?  A few miles or so, give or take.'

Low snow pack on the upper reaches of the Tabegauche in early May sealed the deal.  Plus, ED was hot to trot.  The timing was perfect.

Day 1:

Staged out of the Super-8 in GJ, we rolled the city streets to the Tabegauche trailhead en route to the Kokopelli trailhead in Loma.  The Kokopelli ran smooth until crazy winds and rain in the afternoon had us hunkered for a spell under the Cisco bridge.  We pushed on into the dust storm once the rain let up and eventually the skies cleared by the time we hit McGraw Bottom.  The sting of Yellowjacket was certainly offset by the sunset dancing off the canyon walls.  We rolled into Dewey just as it was getting dark and spread out the bivys.

Starting the ride back to the car, taking the scenic route.

Finally on route at the Lunch Loops TH.

Rolling I-70 to Loma.  Getting a bit of boost from the semis.

Colorado River from Kokopelli singlegrack.

First sight of the La Sals on the horizon.

Crazy wind, dust and rain storms in the distance.

Riding into the storms, winds blowing us sideways off the road.

La Sals getting closer, super sunset on deck.

Gonna be climbing up and all around those tomorrow.

Entrada sandstone bluffs.

Day 2:

Day two had us breaking pack and we would each ride alone for the remainder of the time on course.  Eric was certainly riding faster and I was saving a bit for the final push.  Rolling up the shandies, through Fisher Valley and high into the Manti-La Sal via North Beaver Mesa was served up for brunch, with a short breaks at Hideout and Fisher Creek. Turning onto the Paradox trail to cruise the back roads of Taylor Flat into Buckeye Reservoir set the tone for the afternoon/evening.  Lots of climbing.  Cool and cloudy, the rain held and provided good weather for skirting the La Sals after being baked out from the desert.  Another full day of riding had me pulling into the Buckeye campground in the waning light under storm imposed skies.

The Shandies.  Breakfast BBQ.  ED's tracks.

Typical 'trail' on the Grand Loop.

Consistent rubble, the La Sals getting closer.

Cruising Fisher Valley on the smooth sandy roads.

Looking down Fisher Valley from the creek.

Finally turning on the Paradox, ~137 miles in.

Skirting the La Sals on well graded county roads.

Storms over the Uncompahgre.

Nearing Buckeye, crossing back into Colorado.

Day 3:

Red Canyon, the Koski Traverse and a new Paradox singletrack reroute going a cats whisker close to Nucla- that stretch, along with the come and go rain, hail, thunder, lightning and cold winds, was some tough sleddin' on some special trail.  Rain jacket on, rain jacket off.  Huddle under a shrub in the freezing rain for a spell, drag on when it clears.  It took  ~15 hours to go ~68 miles on this section and I hit Nucla about 11:30 p.m. where I bivy'd on the back stoop of the courthouse and waited for the mercantile to open in the morning.

San Juans in the distance.

Wide open views of Paradox Valley.  The Delores River splitting the far side, the 'paradox'.

La Sal side.

San Juan side.

Looking down Red Canyon.

Red Canyon is a rough drop of track.

The old West, not much left anymore 'cept a few crumblin' buildings, dusty mementos, legends...

All fun on the Koski Traverse headed to Bull Draw.

The lush and green of a harsh desert land.

Adobe mud- locked up wheels and platform shoes.  Boogie fever it is not.

Red Canyon drop off in the distance.
Road out of Tabagauche Creek.

Storms all around, ED is getting hammered on somewhere out there.

Looking back, typical Paradox two-track.

Finishing out the day putting tread down on some freshly constructed singletrack heading into Nucla.

Day 4:

Climbing up to the Uncompahgre Plateau to finish off the Paradox and start the Tabagauche were on the plate, starting with a ~6700' grunt of climbing in ~32 miles straight out of town to the top of the plateau.  More new singletrack, Glencoe Bench, Pool Creek singletrack and on into the heart of the Rooby.  All day blue sunny skies and good temps.  It doesn't get much better than this.  Hill and dale over the lumpy bumpy, I rode until the sun had set and temps had cooled considerably, finally laying out the bivy at the Rooby / Traver Trail junction.

New signage, new trail.

San Juans getting closer.

Munition of yore.

Still in the desert, the Uncompaghre stands at 10k'.

Glencoe Bench, still climbing.  No water, no cows, no pulverized trails.

Climbing higher, lower vegetation, bigger views.

Almost topped out in a sea of aspens.

Turning onto the Tabegauche from the powerline.

Still some snow in the shade.

Paradox/Tabegauche intersection proper.  Good dry singletrack, no hiking in the snow!

More expansive views dropping down the side of the plateau.

Lined up to ride Roubideau rollercoaster.

Day 5:

Waking up to ice in my water bottles and frost on everything else, I hung my gear out to unfreeze and dry in the morning sun as I awaited my coffee.  Yep, my cookset is my comfort item and I enjoyed a hot breakfast of mashed potatoes and some Nucla lunch meat and cheese from a sub.  Today was the crux of it- 282 miles in at the start of the day, only 108 miles to the Lunch Loops trailhead where we started.  Finishing out the Rooby, ascending the Unc again and traversing hill and dale over the top before dropping down to Whitewater was an all day-light adventure.  I took a short food break at Whitewater, put on my lights, more clothing and steeled myself for the final push of ~22 miles.

Another clear morning, expansive views.

Potter Canyon, it's a gnarly drop and climb on the moto'd out trail.  One of my favorites.

Typical Rooby, up and down.

Flat singletrack cruising.

Climbing back up to the top of the Unc via Love Mesa.

Divide Road snaking the plateau.

Divide  Road view of the La Sals.

Mesa County is big.  As the crow flies, this point is 40 miles from Grand Junction.  Grand Loop doesn't do crow miles.

Newly graded gravelly soul sucking roadbed.

Big Dominguez Creek.

Looking towards Grand Junction.

Dominguez Canyon.

Finally dropping off the side of the plateau and back into the desert.

Grand Junction in the distance.

So close, yet so far.


From Whitewater to the Lunch Loops took 7 hours and 20 minutes.  Oofah.  Another total collapse at the corner gas station where I spent about 45 minutes flopping around inside on the floor thawing out and unbonking with a pastry roll of some sort.  It was certainly surreal cruising back to the motel in the same early morning light as when we left five days earlier.

Obsession complete.

In the aftermath, ED ended up bailing at Whitewater with some serious digestive/dehydration issues. Not knowing the reasonables for the final stretch of nothingness, it was only prudent for him to pull the plug or risk being a shriveled up mess in nowhereville.  Our debriefing had us reminiscing about not being out there anytime soon.  However, we've not gone clockwise yet?


397 Miles, 44,226' of elevation, 4 days, 21 hours, 57 minutes