Posted June 13, 2004
Downcountry ride:
South St. Vrain and Sourdough trails

I hereby propose a new style of riding: "downcountry."

Downcountry riding mixes the best of downhill and cross country. You ride normal, legal trails, but a van does most of the climbing. You run a trail bike and cross country helmet, which don't terrify trail users as much as big bikes and full-face helmets. Best of all, you ride lots of quality miles, but without all that pesky pedaling.

The route
Yesterday we drove from Boulder up Left Hand Canyon through Ward to Brainard Lake. We rode north from the Sourdough trailhead to the South St. Vrain Trail and took that to Highway 72. From there we drove back to the top and did it again. On the third run, we took the Sourdough Trail south to the research station on CO 116.

Note: This map will give you a general idea. If you hit these trails, bring a real map.

South St. Vrain Trail From the road, northern Sourdough flits through the woods for a twisty, rocky warmup. We cruised along, getting used to the terrain and the 10,000-foot elevation. After we crossed St. Vrain Creek and joined South St. Vrain Trail, things got more serious.

Long, jumbly rock sections tested our suspensions and timing. We handled them like BMX rhythms: roll this, manual that, jump those. The trail has a funny rhythm; you hammer through rough woods -- BAP BAP BAP! -- then you roll through a perfect little meadow -- la, la, la -- then you dive back into the woods -- BAP BAP BAP!!! This trail has is all: speed, tightness, flow and violence.

Bobbi Watt looks for a good line.

Jon drops the hammer across some flattish stones.

Jon manuals rocks the way he manuals rollers in pro BMX mains.

Typical section of South St. Vrain being ridden by an atypical rider.

Wiley Robinson broke the downcountry rules with his DH bike, but at least he was pimping the big lines.

Rock Dropper Bobbi: eyes forward and all business

Jon is digging his new GT Ruckus. Six inches front and rear plus a full Saint group.

Me, a-fixin' to hop them there rocks.

Near the end, the canyon funnels and the trail scrapes along the canyon wall. We flew relatively straight, interrupting our projectilism only to jump over or jive around randomly placed outcroppings. This section reminded me of Butcher Ranch in Downieville: Totally fast and predictable, then WHOA!

What a fun run. The weather was clear, the dirt was tacky and the rocks were dry. On the drive back up we were like, "Ha! We're so glad we're not riding slippery rocks in West Virginia!" Well, let's not forget this is Colorado, and the weather changes more often than the street lights. While we prepared for our second run, lighting flashed, thunder crackled and the skies let loose with a cold combo of rain, hail and snow.

So much for perfect conditions. The dirt stayed tacky, but the roots and rocks soon got slick. We changed to safer lines that either smacked the rocks head-on or went around them. We when hit rocks at angles, our bikes went for little side trips. Oh well, new challenges for everyone!

With lots of stops for photos and group togetherness, each run took about 40 minutes. I'd consider this an advanced downcountry ride.

Look, soil! Bobbi grooves one of the few smooth sections.

This was rad. You jumped this big rock, skated over a bunch of smaller rocks then threaded to the left of that skinny tree.

Wiley rocks out.

Bobbi gets back onto the ground, BMX style.

Jon nails one of the trail's tightest turns. The rain made everything feel so ... fertile.

I swear this is steeper than it looks. Wiley makes it look flat.

This was pretty darn treacherous. Jon negotiates with the wet rocks, roots and such.

The previous section funneled into this sweet left.

South Sourdough Trail
Jon Watt screwed around on this drop from the road to the trail. While we were getting ready, some poor guy attempted the drop, crashed and broke his bars. He was OK, though.
After some peanut butter and jelly sandwiches we wrung our our wet clothes and saddled up again. The sky was brilliant blue. A few hundred vertical feet of technical climbing warmed us up and told us which muscles were tired. As we traversed across Niwot Mountain, the trees opened up and mountain after mountain marched to the east. After all the tight woods riding, the immense scale reminded me this wasn't Santa Cruz. It's Colorado, baby!

Sourdough descends about six miles and 1,000 feet over tiny loose rocks, fist-sized loose rocks, football-sized loose rocks and TV-sized embedded rocks. In short, lots of rocks. It resembles Heil Ranch, only gnarlier, but not nearly as intense as South St. Vrain. There's lots of pumping and a fair bit of pedaling. Many of the turns, especially near the fast bottom, are sketchy. I'd consider this an intermediate downcountry ride.

Shuttle props
Mark Camineti volunteered to drive while his sprained wrist heals. Super cool. Thanks, man. By the way, he didn't hurt his wrist jumping; he did it on the road.

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