We were driving to The Dyke Trail on a crystal clear mountain day. Not a cloud was in the sky. The air had been scrubbed clean by the previous days’ thunderstorms. Little did we know … how interesting this day would turn out.
It was when we were driving up toward Keebler pass that we passed a woman mountain biker “also riding out of town”, except this girl was on her mountain bike. I didn’t think Cindy had paid much attention to her, but I did. When we arrived at the dirt road leading to Lake Irwin I immediately pulled the car over, stopped, and began to get out.
“What are you doing,” she asked as I started to grab all my gear. “I am going to start the ride right here,” I answered. “Why? … why don’t you just start at the trailhead up by the lake?” she asked. I responded with a lame, “I want to ride the whole loop” then added, “and don’t bother picking me up here after my ride … I will just ride back into town.” “Okay”, she replied, “you noticed that girl pumping up the pass I take it.” (After 37 years, Cindy knows me better than I know me). Slightly embarrassed, I confessed “Yeah, I bet she is also riding to the Dyke Trail and here I am driving there in a car … that is embarrassing!” Then Cindy said, “Well, I want to see what Lake Irwin looks like, so I guess I’ll see you up there.”
She made sure I had all my stuff and drove up the road, leaving me in the dust. It was a hot and dirty ride to the lake, especially when campers zoomed past in a hurry to get … home? Seems like everyone is in a hurry these days.
Cindy was leaving the lake just as I arrived. She stopped and told me the lake was nice and that she was heading to Crested Butte Mountain. She was going to ride to the top of the ski lift, then hike the remaining part to the peak. I told her I would call her after I finished The Dyke Trail and rode back to Crested Butte.
Lake Irwin was especially beautiful on that crystal clear morning. It was also quite serene. Amazingly, not all of the camp spots were taken. The campers were quietly going about the business of eating or cleaning up after breakfast. Nothing beats the smell of all those campground breakfasts mingling together. I knew I was better off with my Great Grains cereal, banana, and milk, but that didn’t keep my mouth from watering.
When I got to the base of the mountain I took the road that went left (the right branch just led to a house). A couple hundred yards later I could see this trail was going to a mining project up the side of the mountain so I headed back.
INTERACTIVE MAP FOR FRANKLIN HILLS
- Click Tracks or Icons for More Specific Information.
The Dyke Trail begins with almost three miles of tight single track. Like the 401 trail and many others in the area, the trail threads its way through fields of wildflowers that turn into patches of aspen forest when you near a stream bed, only to be followed by more flowers. The trail was even more impressive as it “glowed” due to the golden morning sunlight.
Two different sets of horseback riders were very pleasant as I stood aside and waited for them to pass. One fellow, noticing the video camera mounted on my helmet, asked if I was currently filming. He stopped his horse and started to sing when I told him he was live. We all laughed as they proceeded up the trail.
The bottom of the single track marks the end of the fun. I stood looking up a steep, steep trail and knew I had reached the “Dyke” part of the Dyke Trail. It was while I was preparing to hike this stretch that a fellow mountain biker came sliding down the hill … back wheel locked. He came to rest right next to me. I said good morning and asked him how he was doing. He told me this was the second time he had ridden the Dyke Trail today (it was only 10 am).
He said he was training for the 100 mile race in Leadville the next weekend. I told him I would have liked to do that, but I was 54 years old … too old to be doing something like that. He said he had ridden Leadville last year at the age of fifty-one. “You’ve got to be kidding me … you are 52 years old,” I asked. He responded with, “Yeah, and this year I am going to get my belt buckle.”
I thought I looked relatively good for my age, but this guy made me feel like a feeble old man! After saying our goodbyes I stood aside and watched him ride off, then began pushing my way up The Dyke.
It was when I reached the summit of the Dyke Trail that I noticed the sky was starting to get darker. I could see some thunder clouds off to the west that looked a little ominous. The ride was great as I headed through a little valley that led to a trail junction. I knew from my trail guidebook I would be turning left there.
As I approached I noticed two real old gentlemen (80’s maybe) sitting on a log, each with a small backpack. They had obviously hiked to this point. “Looks like we’re going to get a little bit of rain,” one said. I looked upward and ignorantly stated, “These clouds don’t seem that dark, and they seem pretty scattered. Then other old fellow perked up an added, “You had better get down that trail if you don’t want to get wet.” I let out a small chuckle, then made that left turn heading for Horse Ranch Park, a mile-and-a-half ahead.
I had just begun a rocky and root-studded descent through a thick grove of aspens when the sky let loose. I sidled up to the trunk of a tree and pulled on my long sleeved riding shirt (sun-proof but not water-proof), then rode/slid as fast as was safe to the bottom of the hill hoping to find somewhere to hole-up. It was then that I realized Horse Ranch Park was a couple of motor homes and a pit toilet.
The rain was heavy but the wind was the worst part. I made a dash for the toilet, which had an overhang only large enough to cover me as I opened the door. I quickly parked my bike in the overhang and went inside. This was the type of toilet with a large metal tube coming out of the concrete on top of which the seat is mounted. I was shivering badly but still managed to pull off all my clothes except my riding shorts. I found the toilet to be warm. I don’t know if that was due to the concrete absorbing heat earlier in the day or due to the chemical reactions taking place in the pit below. I hung all my clothes on the handicap rails surrounding the head, and started to read my trail guide.
Ten minutes later I heard someone walking across the gravel … and next thing I knew an older gentleman was slowly opening my door. “Do you mind if I use the toilet,” he asked nicely. I said “sure,” then traded places with him. He did his business quickly then let me resume my reading inside.
Right after that a car pull up outside and a young lady came over and asked if she could come in. I went out under the overhang while she went in to do her business. When she emerged she asked, “Can we give you a ride somewhere?” I considered taking her up on the offer … but then looked closely at their car. It was a brand new Honda Civic, no bike rack and it looked real clean inside. “No, I think I will just wait it out, but thanks anyway.” I went back in for another 20 minutes or so before I decided I was bored and the wind had let up some. I put back on my “drier” clothes and climbed back on my bike to head back to town.
It took a half-mile or so to work the stiffness out of my muscles and joints thanks to the Dyke Trail and the pit toilet hideout. It was 4.5 miles to the top of Keebler Pass, then 8 more down to Crested Butte … all in the rain. About three miles from town I heard my cell phone ring and managed to get it out of my pack in time to answer it. Cindy said she was waiting for me down the road a little in a large pull-off area. I met her there. She rolled down the window and asked if I wanted a ride. I figured I had just ridden 10 miles in the rain, why not do two more?
Cindy followed me into town where she pulled over. I loaded the bike onto the rack and then stripped down to my riding shorts again. Riding back to Gunnison we shared our experiences for the day, each trying to top the other … The Dyke Trail versus Crested Butte Mountain.
Cindy had been near the top of Crested Butte Mountain when they ordered everyone off due to lightning. She and all the others had to hike to the top of the ski lifts, where they could wait to be shuttled down in some Suburbans … or they could hike back down in the wind and rain and lightning. Of course she chose the shuttle. My, what an exciting day we’d had!
To view all videos go to my YouTube channel at MountainBikeDiaries.