Dave Batten

Dave Batten rides at Plagueground. 

Americans celebrate Independence Day and the freedoms we enjoy in a variety of different ways. Fellow columnist, Joel Evans, extolls the freedom to go fishing. One of the many freedoms I enjoy is mountain biking. Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness takes center stage in our forefather’s declaration. Exercising the freedom to mountain bike fits into the “pursuit of happiness” category.

This past Independence Day found me, as the reader might expect, riding my mountain bike. Riding buddies, Dave Batten and Fred Simon joined me for some “RATical” riding.

RAT – Ridgway Area Trails is a 22-mile trail system just east of Ridgway State Park. It is on land managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). The BLM land abuts the state park, so there is still the potential to expand the system into the park, connecting with the existing trail system. Crossing highway 550 is an obstacle, but certainly surmountable.

Fred, Dave and I opted to begin our ride from the access gate across the highway from the Dutch Charlie entrance to the park. There’s a graveled parking area just off the highway. We looked at the map of the trail system and plotted out our route. An attractive characteristic of RAT is it’s interconnectedness. It allows for a variety of ways to ride it.

After a short warm up on a two-track road, we rode out on the Plagueground. It gradually climbs through a forest of Pinyon trees and follows the contours before reaching Upper Double Crosser. We continue to climb on Rat Trap to the 4 Corners. 4 Corners is a throwback to where early-day two tracks converged at a high point above the gravel pit. Those two tracks have been replaced with miles and miles of quality singletrack.

The view from 4 Corners, the high point of our ride, is beautiful; to the south the snow-capped San Juans dominate the horizon, to the north the blue waters of Ridgway Reservoir can be seen. The reservoir sure looked a lot fuller than it did last July. We could pick out lots of folks in kayaks and paddleboards exercising their freedom to enjoy the reservoir’s cool waters.

From 4 Corners we headed down Rattus Maximus. When we reached the power lines, we took a left, back onto Rat Trap. From this point the trail zigzags down a series of flowy drops and climbs that are fashioned to take full advantage of gravity.

Feathering the brakes and trusting your bike-handling skills pays off with some fantastic descents. I can’t help but giggle every time I go down that trail. The trail isn’t designated one way but trying to climb those drops would be an exercise in futility.

Rat Trap ends way too soon. We connect with Rattus Maximus for a moderate climb back to Double Crosser. The trail then passes through a massive thicket of mountain shrubs, just wide enough to let the rider’s shoulders pass without touching. The varied contour of the hillside provides an ever-changing pathway for fat tire fun.

We reconnect with Plagueground, then finish off the ride on a section of Karni Mata. This trail was the last trail built in the RAT system. It offers a steady climb through an old-growth forest of Pinyon and Juniper followed by some techy turns and drops.

After any RAT ride my truck inexplicably heads for Taco Del Gnar, and the Independence Day ride was no exception. The line was out the door, but worth the wait.

I get asked regularly what my favorite trail is. Beyond the stock answer of “the next one I ride,” I must rate the RAT system as my favorite. Yeah, there’s a lot from which to choose in western Colorado, but for all the reasons stated above, the RAT is the best.

If you go: Go online to copmoba.org, click on chapters, then Ridgway Area Trails to access a trail map.

Bill Harris is a long-time resident of western Colorado and author of “Bicycling the Uncompahgre Plateau.”

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