Eugene Buchanan: Hail to the new trail
August 25, 2014
Steamboat Springs — Call it pressing glass for pedalers.
That was the buzz last weekend — while the town's more cardio-oriented raced over Emerald Mountain in the Steamboat Stinger, those with mortal lungs were milking freshies on the 4.25-mile Morning Gloria, Steamboat Springs’ newest mountain bike trail.
It's a lot like the old rope drop on the mountain. You know the goods are there, but you have to wait for them. After much earth-moving ado, that chance came Aug. 15.
For mountain bikers, riding a new trail is like skiers and snowboarders hitting a new mountain, river runners navigating a new canyon, or fishermen casting a new waterway. And when it happens in your backyard, it's even more droolful.
The opportunity doesn't come often. Most trails around here have been here since rigid tails. Aside from the mountain's new downhill trails and random shorter spurs, the last new cross-country trail of this magnitude was the Beall Trail in 2010.
For those who ride regularly, riding a new trail usually means hitting some remote hike-a-bike or driving elsewhere, where it's one-and-done, and you're back to your usual singletrack suspects back home.
This one's right out of downtown and here to stay, just like those of us who have set our roots in the Yampa Valley. That it was built so quickly — two months, to be exact — owes itself to the ability of Routt Country Riders’ new $100,000 trail-building machine to eat through roots and rocks on the trail.
And while many of town's new trails were built more secretively, the veil was pulled early for this one, thanks largely to the recent accommodations tax vote. All this is what amped up anticipation among local riders.
Apart from trail workers assessing their handiwork and errant poachers (you know who you are), the jury is out on who "officially" rode it first. Hard-working father figure that I am, my chance didn't come until Aug. 19, four days after its ribbon cutting. As far as bragging rights go, that's like hitting the gondo at noon on a powder day.
But it doesn't matter. Unlike fresh powder, it's not going anywhere. I might not have gotten first tracks, but they were first for me.
And I headed out not only on a new trail, but demoing a new bike — a 2013 Specialized dual-suspension 29er, a far cry from my rattly Santa Cruz giving local mechanics conniptions. My eyes widened like the trail's disabled-accommodating width as I veered off Lupine over the ridge and into terra incognito, a veritable Livingstone exploring the Nile.
Each crank of the pedal brought something new, from arching scrub oak caverns to platoons of pine trees and fern-filled aspen groves marred by bear claws.
Because I knew no one else had, I bestowed certain sections with such monikers as Beetle Kill Trees, Goblin Forest, Valley View Turn, Tree Coin Stack Straight-Away, Twisted Aspen, Nose Blow Corner and Elk Track Narrows. The names might not stick, but that's moot (Moots?); it was all new to me, and mine for the naming.
Around one corner I came upon hard-working trail builders Marc and Gretchen Sehler still at it, putting a few finishing touches on a turn. I was the first to clean it, they said, since their afternoon's shovel work.
I ran into several other locals out doing the same thing on their lunch break, all with similar expressions of exploring wonderment. We were all kids in a riding version of Rocket Fizz.
An interesting tidbit: the trail has 35 switchbacks, or one for every 0.12 miles (yes, head down and huffing, I counted). That's far more than the six you count going up Blackmer Drive, the four up Quarry Mountain or the big fat zero up the Lane of Pain. But they maintain a quad-friendly gradient that makes it the easiest way up to the top. Stairway to Heaven, get ready for cobwebs.
Up top at the junction of Quarry Mountain and Root Canal, flag planted on the summit, I turned around and schussed back, exploring it this time with the help of gravity. It rides down just as well, from a wide girth for diplomatic yielding to banks that stay etched in your memory bank long after.
Soon I was back in the office, my excuse to blow out of work fluttering in the dust. You only get one chance at a first impression and Morning Gloria's was…glorious.
But sitting back in my cubicle, I have to think…was it actually 35 switchbacks? I might have to go back for a little more due diligence.