It has been three months since we rallied at Stoney Pass. Despite being one of those all time days not much has been written about it. Documenting our adventures is at the core of what we do around here, but documenting takes time. Time is always against us as cyclists. Time is in short supply. We all have real lives. We all have work, friends, families, significant others, other passions, and the like.
Cycling will take all the time you can give it and even then it is quite happy to take more. Adventure too takes time. It may be possible to condense an adventure into an hour but I’m going to go out on a limb and say that real adventure can’t be rushed. At the Stoney Rally we only covered 45 miles in 7 hours. We spread the adventure out quite nicely.
The truth is that we had no idea what we were getting into on that Saturday. Or maybe it was a Sunday? Details are fuzzy.
We had a grand plan to go out and thread together some glorious Colorado singletrack trails with a few miles of pavement with a few dozen miles of gorgeous gravel and then a dozen or so more miles of singletrack. The idea with this rally was to keep the fun factor high but keep the suffering relatively low. It was December and we had all done enough suffering in 2015, so why not just have some fun?
The problem began with the fact that it was December and sometimes snow happens in December. As luck would have it, a lot of snow happened the week before our rally and very little of it melted in the days leading up to the ride. We scoured local trail reports for conditions in the area.
We found the following descriptors:
- “Waist Deep”
- “Packed Snow”
- “Death Ice”
- “Grould Blizzards”
Generally speaking this is where you cancel the ride but we are a stubborn lot. Nobody wanted to be the guy who suggested we cancel, so we didn’t. Deep in our minds we all probably knew that conditions would be less than ideal but the temperature forecast said 50 degrees F, so the plan was just to go up and see how far we could get.
We got about three miles before we turned around. The double track gravel road started off in excellent condition and continued that way for quite a while. The singletrack trails that we had planned on were unpassable but the road had been plowed and was in excellent condition right up to the point where the snow plow stopped. That was mile three.
Still stubborn we tried to continue on but it was obvious that we weren’t going to make significant headway.
We reluctantly turned around, but not before deciding to head back down to the paved road and take the back way out to Stoney Pass via the Hayman Burn area. We reasoned that we could probably get a good 20 miles before the deeper snow on the pass itself would probably force us to turn back.
We bombed down to the entrance of Hayman. We were a ridiculous looking group on a ridiculous array of bikes. We had everything from 29″ MTBs on 2.4″ treads to the Protodonkey on 35mm knobbies to Peder and his Vanilla touring bike on Clement file treads. Nobody can ever accuse Rodeo of being homogenized, that much is for sure.
At the turnoff to the Hayman burn our fortunes improved dramatically. The sun exposure had melted most of the snow and we were greeted with hero dirt roads through expansive and beautiful vistas. Spirits skyrocketed. We patted ourselves on the back for not giving up. The rally wasn’t over!
This continued for a half dozen miles until a wrong turn left us at another dead end. We realized that we had missed the turn up towards Stoney Pass and we also realized that the only turn we had seen was a road once again entirely covered by snow. Perhaps this out and back would be heading back sooner than usual?
If you ever find yourself in doubt about how to motivate a group into doing something questionable just try to find at least one person in the group who is willing to say “I’m going go for it”. If you find that one person and they speak up then the chances are good that the rest of the group will get a strong case of the Fear Of Missing Out and join in on the questionable activity. In our case the questionable activity was to turn up the snowy road towards Stoney. I’m not sure who it was who decided to keep going and it doesn’t matter. What matters is that nobody turned back.
The road towards Stoney Pass quickly deteriorated. For a while it was a somewhat passable mix of sandstone gravel and snow, but as we crested one ridge in particular the snow suddenly became a foot or so deep and it was fresh, fluffy windblown snow.
This is exactly the point were all jokes were off and deep down we all knew that we should probably turn around. The first and second decisions to continue earlier in the ride were adventurous but manageable. But this third decision was one that obviously led us in to quickly deteriorating conditions and had us gaining altitude over a mountain pass. Ominous clouds were building over the pass in the distance. We all looked around. I think I gave a small speech about everyone needing to be a big boy and decide for themselves what they wanted to do.
I for one would continue. Turning around feels utterly horrible to me. I don’t know what the psychology of that is but I hate retracing my steps and I would rather contunue into the unknown than re-cover ground that has already had it’s mystery removed from it.
By my measure we would have about six miles of questionable snowy roads ahead of us but in my mind if we made it over the pass even on foot we would eventually meet up with a plowed road at Wellington lake which would lead us another 10 miles back to the cars. Walking pace is about 4 miles per hour so we might have two hours of walking before being free to pedal again.
Every one of us except for one extremely intelligent guy continued on. To our surprise the roads improved a bit for a few miles. Soon it began to snow and at that exact time the climb over the pass also began. The intensity of the snow built quickly. At first it was novel and fantastic. We laughed.
“Look at us crossing a small mountain pass in December in a snow storm!”
Then it began to thunder snow.
We all paused a bit. Thunder + snow is a fairly rare phenomenon and it is indeed awesome to behold. At the same time it made everything feel more dangerous. If falling snow up high in the Rockies is a sure way of nature warning you to be careful then thunder snow might be telling you “Go home, you’re pushing it”
Not coincidentally the snow started piling up quite fast and we were soon pushing our bikes through two to six inches of freshies over the pass.
Spirits dipped. Up until now we’d been flirting with danger and discomfort but we hadn’t really paid the price for our actions. Finally it was time to pony up and pay the consequences of one too many questionable choices.
The next hour was spent mostly pushing our bikes. Sometimes we rode for a hundred feet. Sometimes we endoed. Repeatedly the sound of shoes banging against pedals were heard as we tried to free our cleats from enclosures of packed ice.
The rally turned into a slog. There really wasn’t any choice but to press on. It was now further to turn back than it was to continue and the promise of a plowed road at Wellington propelled us forward.
Roughly an hour later we arrived at Wellington. The road was not plowed.
I feel like stepping back a bit here and asking why we do any of this. Why is it that so many rallies turn into total slogs? Shouldn’t bike riding be fun? At some point gratuitous suffering isn’t cool, it is just dumb gratuitous suffering. At best it is arbitrary and self inflicted and it at its worst it seems like some sort of desperate plead for attention through spectacle.
I’ll be the first to agree with that. I think generally all of us were more or less asking ourselves what we were doing out there on skinny bikes with skinny tires and frozen limbs on that Sunday (I went back and looked, it was Sunday). Nobody expected that would be our outcome when they hopped in the car at the crack of dawn that day.
Moods were foul. I think some of us were genuinely sort of pissed off to have found ourselves in that situation. Maybe people were pissed at me too since I was some sort of ringleader on this particular outing.
None of that really mattered though. That wasn’t the point of why were were all out there. I think I can speak for the group when I say that we were out there because we all accepted the fact that something difficult might happen in the pursuit of something awesome happening. The Stoney Ralley was a wager. We wagered comfort, warmth, and even fun against the possibility that we would see or experience something exceptional. When we go on Rallies we are hoping for something exceptional to happen. Adventure doesn’t happen within the confines of normal, comfortable, routine actions. Adventure happens on the other side of the unknown. Adventure is a wager and sometimes you lose the wager.
Our name is, in fact, Rodeo Adventure Labs. Rodeo simply means being rowdy. Adventure is to experience something wild and exceptional, and Labs puts everyone on notice that we’re experimenting at every step of the way. Some experiences are a success, and some are less than successful but never total failures.
Peder’s file tread touring bike in 4″ of snow? I’d call that an Adventure Lab experiment. Guess what? He made it but he suffered. He actually did really really well for 90% of the ride, but on the deep snowy downhills back from Wellington Lake his brakes became a bit troublesome and he had to tripod-bobsled his way down every descent back to the cars. Peder owns a proper mountain bike. He could have ridden that and been a lot more comfortable but he actually loaned the mountain bike to me so that I could loan my Traildonkey to Jered. So maybe Peder’s discomfort was self inflicted and arbitrary, or maybe he was just being generous and inclusive and sharing his toys so that one more person could rally with us. Peder is a selfless badass, not a someone who suffers for arbitrary spectacle.
Stoney Rally started out with the intent of riding some buff trails through 50 degree weather with friends. An easy, fun, and beautiful day.
Stoney Rally ended up as a day were we did ride some beautiful roads and trails with friends, but we also hiked a lot, experienced thunder snow, froze our faces off, and each pushed through some pretty dark personal pain caves.
In the cold of the moment that day was pretty difficult and unpleasant, but as is often true the immediacy of the discomfort wears off and when it does only the good memories remain.
Everyone will remember the day differently. I have a LOT of good memories from Dec 21st. I loved it and would do it again. Others probably didn’t and wouldn’t. I loved the fine line we walked between risk and reward. I loved the things that we saw and the jokes that we made. We laughed and wowed a lot out there in between shivers. I love that I’ve located a tribe of somewhat nutty people do do things like this with, and I love that we all made it through just fine and can now share the adventure with our friends, team mates, and beyond.