biking hard

Riding the Uncompahgre Plateau. (Special to the Montrose Press/Bill Harris)

Stoking a June trail affair

By Bill Harris

A good many Coloradoans, when asked what month their favorite is, will answer “September”. The dog days of summer are replaced with temperate bluebird days and the fall colors in the high country are a sight to behold. I do like September, but my favorite month is June.

The wind and rain of April and May give way to long sunny days. The high country begins to open up and some of my favorite trails become accessible again. For more years than I want to admit that means regular visits to the Uncompahgre Plateau, my favorite Colorado backcountry haunt.

My love affair with the Uncompahgre Plateau goes back to the mid-1970s when I was a student at Colorado Mesa University (nee Mesa College). Weekend hunting trips and campouts with Bruce Bauerle’s Outdoor Survival class set the stage for many future trips exploring the Uncompahgre Plateau.

Last weekend I joined a bunch of mountain bikers on 25 Mesa for a few days of trail work and mountain biking. Except for three years, I have met other mountain bikers every summer somewhere on the Uncompahgre Plateau to put in some sweat equity to keep the trails we love to ride in good shape. The event is sponsored by the Colorado Plateau Mountain Bike Trail Association (COPMOBA) and has taken on the moniker, Uncompahgre Trail Bash.

This year 19 volunteers showed up and we worked on the 25 Mesa singletrack of the Tabeguache Trail, and the South Bear Pen Gulch Trail. The deep snows of winter that recently melted impacted both trails, and the new growth brought on by the plentiful precipitation had already begun to obscure the trails. One of the benefits of the precipitation was the profusion of wildflowers.

I was the crew leader for a group of 6 volunteers – some of them were new to trail work, but others knew the drill. It was a nice blend of veteran experience and the energy of new recruits. Laurie Brandt, a veteran crew leader in her own right, was in my group.

We each took 2 crew members and staked out sections of the trail. Laurie teamed up with her daughter, Abby and Anna Burdick. I worked with Dave and Kirsten Armbruster. I demonstrated several trail work techniques, then we got busy.

The day was warm and sunny, so we paced ourselves, stopping for a breather and a drink of water regularly. After lunch, we completed our section of the trail, then joined Ace Brown’s crew to help them finish their trail section. All in all, we rehabilitated almost 2 miles of singletrack. Weary, but pleased we had had a productive day, we hiked back to the trailhead.

That evening we feasted on smoked brisket tastefully prepared by Jim Johnston, Nucla’s master outdoor chef. The conversation around the campfire that evening was filled with stories of past Bash’s and adventuresome rides on the Plateau, courtesy of Dan Antonelli and Paul Koski. Dan and Paul are veterans of Uncompahgre Plateau and West End mountain biking.

Sunny skies greeted us the next morning. After a hearty breakfast, we organized a ride on the trail we had worked on the previous day. The group rode out together, but once we reached Monitor Mesa split into a fast and half-fast group. I joined the half-fast crew. I don’t/can’t do fast anymore. Ace, Willa, Daze and I ended our ride with a nice shuttle back to camp.

The Plateau’s backcountry roads and trails are always a challenge; what I call a “no buffed zone”. The spectacular views of the surrounding mountains and mesas make up for the Plateau’s rough demeanor. If you are looking to avoid the trail crowds, the Uncompahgre Plateau is for you — just go prepared.

If you go: Check out copmoba.org on the internet. There’s plenty of trail information about western Colorado mountain biking.

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