Dave Schlabowske
Bike Czar

Ride Durango the Wisconsin Way

Four days of biking in Durango, CO, were filled with Wisconsin connections.

By , Bike Federation of Wisconsin - Jul 21st, 2016 05:00 pm
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OK, these mountains are still in Colorado, but there are so many Wisconsin connections in Durango that it felt like old home week when we visited last week. I was able to reconnect with old friends that I raced with in the first year of the Alterra Mountain Bike Team. I got to drink beer from brewing kettles that used to be in Milwaukee’s first craft brewery. And former Trek Pro Travis Brown led us around the choice segments of the Durango area MTB trails, which are maintained by Trails 2000, a group run by his wife, Mary Monroe-Brown, also a former Wisconsinite and Trek employee! If it weren’t for the lack of oxygen and the Whistle Pigs, I might have forgotten I was in Colorado!

Travis Brown leading us over the saddle past Engineer Mountain. He made it all look so easy.

Travis Brown leading us over the saddle past Engineer Mountain. He made it all look so easy.

This trip was auctioned off in the month of June, 2016 and has helped us raise money.  Our hope is turn this into an annual trip, and offer it as a fundraiser at our Saris Gala on November 4th, 2016.

Because I have friends out in Durango, I have ridden there a number of times, but it has been about eight years since I was last there so I needed a refresher to help me piece together a fabulous week of mountain biking. So I emailed Mary Monroe-Brown and asked if she, one of the Trails 2000 volunteers, or her former-Olympian husband Travis could meet us over a coffee or dinner and give us some tips on where to ride. Mary was with their daughter at their family cottage Up North in Boulder Junction when I emailed. She did get back to me right away, though, and copied Travis who did us one better. He said he would be happy to lead us around the trails for a couple days! How is that for an offer you can’t refuse?

My Milwaukee Bicycle Company 29er on the Skyline Trail over Durango. Look for a full review of the bike in the next issue of our magazine.

My Milwaukee Bicycle Company 29er on the Skyline Trail over Durango. Look for a full review of the bike in the next issue of our magazine.

I was particularly excited because on my previous trips I had ridden my rigid Waterford all-rounder with 26-inch wheels, mustache bars and cantilever brakes. For this trip I would be bringing my new Milwaukee Bicycle Company Feral 29er, decked out with a Manitou Marvel Pro fork, Answer Carbon SL cockpit and Made-in-the-USA Industry Nine Torch Ultralite wheels! This is the first new mountain bike I have purchased since the days of the old NORBA circuit and Bobke’s Prayer Stix. I was seriously hoping the 24 lb rocket ship would be enough to carry my older, no-longer-in-race shape, 15 lbs heavier body up above the tree line.

So the Bike Fed’s resident dirt tester Matt Gissibl and I twisted the arms of my friends Todd and Casey to get them to join us, loaded up the Sprinter van with mountain bikes and headed West to do some recon so we could put together an awesome trip for some lucky auction winners. After 22 hours behind the wheel, 15 crossings of the Platte River and a stop in Omaha to grab some African food, we made it to within 14 miles of Durango when we hit a traffic jam in the San Juan Mountains.

Beep, Beep! Baah, Baah!

Beep, Beep! Baah, Baah!

No matter how much you toot your horn, you can only make a sheep go so fast. Oh well. Despite being surrounded by 500 sheep convinced the grass was greener down the road, we were only delayed about 20 minutes. When we saw our final destination as we drove up the steep gravel road outside Durango, our jaws dropped.  Even before we stepped across the threshold, we know these were going to be nice digs and they didn’t disappoint.

Lots of shepherds, but I only saw one dog and it was a Pyrenees, not a pure herding dog like a Border Collie or Cattle Dog.

Lots of shepherds, but I only saw one dog and it was a Pyrenees, not a pure herding dog like a Border Collie or Cattle Dog.

The house, lent to us by two Bike Fed members, is a recently constructed four bedroom with two baths, a killer kitchen and priceless views. Two of the guest bedrooms have double beds, and the upstairs loft has two futons, so the house can comfortably accommodate up to six guests if four don’t mind sharing a bed. We are thinking this would be a great vacation for couples who like to mountain bike. Of course the house has all the expected amenities, including laundry, so you don’t need to bring a ton of stuff. We did laundry half-way through our trip.

Yes, the house is as cool as it looks.

Yes, the house is as cool as it looks.

The house is about 20-25 minutes outside Durango, so it doesn’t take long to get into town. I love Durango. It is a real town despite having major tourist attractions like Purgatory Ski Hill, the narrow gauge Iron Horse Railroad, river rafting and of course world-class mountain biking The 17,557 or so residents who live there need things like real grocery stores, farmers market, auto dealers, etc. But it does cater well to visitors with great restaurants (killer Tibetan food), wonderful galleries, a first class bookstore (featuring many great local authors), coffee shops, four microbreweries, a local distillery and four-plus bike shops.

A Main Street regular.

A Main Street regular.

After a decent night’s sleep in a real bed, Casey, Matt, Todd and I headed into Durango Coffee to get a jump on our morning, watch the end of the Tour de France stage and then meet Travis Brown at his house for a tour of the town trails. Durango is located in a valley that is surrounded by amazing mountain bike trails locals can access within a five-minute ride from their door.

Our adventure started that day at Overend Mountain Bike Park, named after five-time world champion and local legend Ned Overend. The last time I was in Durango I ran into Ned at a photo gallery after my face had met the dirt due to a misjudged jump. We were standing next to each other when he looked at my reflection in the glass of the photograph we were admiring and he said “mountain biker?”  ”Uh, sort of” I replied. He grinned and moved on to another photo.

That is one of the cool things about Durango; it is filled with professional racers. I once asked Bob Roll what was the difference between the group rides in California where he lives now compared to the group rides in Durango where he lived when I first met him. He broke into his big Bobke and said “Well they are a heck of a lot slower. There aren’t five former world champions on every ride!” The Durango Wheel Club’s infamous “Tuesday Night World Championships” group ride isn’t a misnomer! There are A, B and C groups, though, so if you bid on this trip and want to ride shoulder to shoulder with the pros, we can bring road bikes along too for a change of pace.

Lots of tourists come to Durango to ride the train to Silverton and back.

Lots of tourists come to Durango to ride the train to Silverton and back.

Back to the trails though. You could probably ride the trails around town for days and never cover your tracks twice. After Overend Park, we headed up to Horse Gulch, did the Skyline Trail for the view, dropped down to Telegraph and then headed over to Twin Buttes. Temperatures were in the mid 90s so we called it a day after that, even though Travis wanted to lead us around Animas City Mountain, Dalla Mountain ParkFalls Creek and the newish Flow Trail. I guess we will just have to save those for another trip!

After the ride we ate great food at Steamworks Brewery, downed a couple great craft brews (killer Flemish Red) and then headed down the hill to Carvers to fill up a couple growlers to take back to the house. Carver Brewing was the first brew pub in Durango and was started by Bill and Jim Carver, originally of Whitefish Bay. They were back visiting family in 1988 when Century Hall, Milwaukee’s first craft brewery and a great early alternative rock venue, burned down. Bill Carver purchased the brewing equipment, took it back to his restaurant and bakery in Durango and started their first brew pub. It has been making great beer and delicious food ever since.

Me and my MBC 29er taking a break on the Skyline Trail

Me and my MBC 29er taking a break on the Skyline Trail

Old telegraph poles mark the trail.

Old telegraph poles mark the trail.

Post-ride hydrotherapy in the cool Animas River brings down inflammation in the legs.

Post-ride hydrotherapy in the cool Animas River brings down inflammation in the legs.

The climbs were killing Todd because he brought his Gary Fisher Rig single speed. Plenty of people ride single speeds in the mountains, but the gearing is way different than what Todd brought. After the ride Travis offered one of our favorite quotes from the trip: “You don’t bring your Chequamegon gearing to Durango.” From a veteran of the Fat Tire 40 and a Durango native, this was sage advice! To save his legs, Casey offered to let Todd ride his fully-geared carbon Superfly, to which Todd did not say no. I think it was somewhere on the aptly named Star Wars Trail where Todd forgot to use the force and broke a spoke on Casey’s bike. We made it back OK, but too late to get the wheel fixed at a shop, so Travis said Casey could ride his prototype Fuel EX. Umm, sure Travis, thanks!

The next day, after watching the Tour stage, we planned to hit the high stuff with a ride over Engineer Mountain Trail from Coal Bank Pass as shown in the opening photo. We packed lunches because our ride would be nearly six hours long. Travis brought a filter pump in case we ran out of water, but with the cooler temperatures at altitude, we were fine for hydration. I should have brought an oxygen tank in my third water bottle mount on the MBC Feral since our our ride began at 10,600 feet and climbed to just above 12,000 feet. Although the ride was decidedly short on air, it was long on beauty. We hit peak time for wild flowers and at our lunch sat next to a waterfall surrounded by wild Columbine, Orchids, Primrose, Geraniums, and Coneflowers.

Durango

Durango

After lunch we continued up, passing snow, mountain lakes and the towering 13,000 ft Engineer Mountain. On other trips I have stopped at the base of Engineer to scramble up to the ledge just a couple hundred feet from the top to have my lunch. This trip I was moving so slow, Travis was worried we might not make it back before dark, so we skipped the scramble. The final reward for our efforts was a 2,500 descent back to where Travis parked his truck in the morning (and pedaled up to meet us at Coal Bank BTW). My hands were so tired from braking I could hardly squeeze my water bottle, but what a gorgeous ride through the Aspens to the bottom.

The iconic Hermosa Creek Trail. I have to ride this one every time I am in Durango.

The iconic Hermosa Creek Trail. I have to ride this one every time I am in Durango.

After the ride we stopped back at Travis and Mary’s home for a beer and so Travis could draw the routes we had ridden the last couple  days on our Latitude 40 trail maps. He even let us keep his bike for another day so we could go ride the iconic Hermosa Creek Trail on our last full day in town. Beyond being incredibly nice and generous, he is an amazing tour guide filled with detailed information about the area and bicycle technology. I don’t think we asked Travis one question he couldn’t answer. As a long-time contract project manager for Trek, Travis was a wealth of information about bicycle suspension, bike production and mountain bike history. I have never had a tour guide as good outside the docents at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C.

Hey, that is big air for me! Phil’s World is out close to the Mesa Verde National Park and it would be easy to make a day or riding in the morning when it is cool and hiking to the ancestral pueblos in the afternoon.

Hey, that is big air for me! Phil’s World is out close to the Mesa Verde National Park and it would be easy to make a day or riding in the morning when it is cool and hiking to the ancestral pueblos in the afternoon.

Todd and Casey ripping the flow on Rib Cage at Phil’s World.

Todd and Casey ripping the flow on Rib Cage at Phil’s World.

Our first day riding we were blown away by the quality of the trail right in town. Our second day we were challenged by altitude and rewarded with alpine beauty. Our third full day riding the trail along Hermosa Creek was shaded, beautiful, but had a couple pretty challenging climbs near the finish. Our last ride in the desert at Phil’s World was characterized by ear-to-ear grins pretty much the entire time and a “let’s do that again” chorus as soon as we finished Rib Cage (as recommended by my former Alterra Teammate and current Durango resident Kevin Hall). Phil’s World is like a giant buffed out pump track on steroids! Holy smokes was that fun!

There is so much more to tell about the fun we packed into this four-day stay in Durango, but I think I will save some of that and the other photos for a story in the September issue of the Bike Fed magazine. Meanwhile, if you are interested in joining us on this trip when we do it again next year, email me or call to get some more details.

This article was originally published by the Bicycle Federation of Wisconsin.

Categories: Bike Czar

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