David Attenborough should have been doing the voice-over.
“Although he appears to be motionless, time-lapse photography shows that the Stevenson is in fact moving slowly up this climb, at perhaps the speed of a glacier on tranquilisers. Very big tranquilisers.”
I was toiling against winter lack of fitness, altitude, lack of fitness, jet lag and lack of fitness. Normally I absolutely hate feeling like this. I curse and swear at myself for having let my body turn into a blob of lard and get very miserable and grumpy.
Not this time though, because however rubbish I was feeling one simple thing pulled my mood way back up.
I was in the Rockies.
Riding a mountain bike.
Nothing could bring me back down from that.
MBUK's Steve Worland aboard Gary Fisher's Roscoe (Photo: Geoff Waugh)
It was the last day of the 2009 Gary Fisher/Trek press junket, er, product launch and I was climbing the middle section of the Hermosa Creek Trail outside Durango, Colorado, aboard the latest incarnation of Trek’s Top Fuel EX trail bike.
Before the upwards gradient turned me into human inchworm, we’d descended the amazing first section of the trail, flowing down the creek valley through summer woodlands and meadows, splashing through cool mountain streams and drinking in the sharp, sweet mountain air.
Hermosa Creek Trail (Photo: Sterling Lorence)
We regrouped at a stream crossing and someone with a GPS (bike computers are passé, dahling) mentioned we’d just covered seven miles. Trek’s women’s product manager Heather Halverson expressed amazement that we’d come so far – that’s what a 45-minute long flow experience will do to you. I heard Monty Python incredulity: “That was never five minutes just then”.
Time vanishes. There’s just you, the bike, the trail and the person in front of you. You play the game of not getting too close so they can’t impede your own flow if they stuff up, but wanting to stay right on their wheel for that thrill of 20 mph follow-my-leader.
It was a perfect moment in one of the best places in the world to ride mountain bikes.
Why’s Durango special?
(Photo: Geoff Waugh)
Durango town is at a fairly sane 6,500ft (a shade under 2000m in new money) but the hills around it whoomp up to over 13,000ft. The summit of Durango Mountain Resort – venue of the 1990 mountain bike world’s – is at 11,000ft. The Hermosa Creek Trail starts at 9,000ft and finishes at about 7,500ft.
This is big mountain country, and that’s what’s so glorious about it.
The man Stevenson actually manages to get to a photographer before he packs up and goes home (Photo: Sterling Lorence)
The riding itself is fairly straightforward. The trails are well-maintained thanks the to the huge number of volunteers who work on them, and there’s no deliberate hard stuff added for fun. Hurt yourself badly out here and it’s an expensive helicopter ride home.
The sheer isolation is magnificent. There’s no urban trail background hum. Even when you’re accompanied by 40 of your closest friends and colleagues and you know there’s a van waiting at the lower trailhead to get you back to base, you feel like you’re surrounded by thousands of acres of bugger all.
There's more to life than riding bikes (Photo: Geoff Waugh)
And you are. Something like 90 percent of Colorado is public land, managed by the USA’s Bureau of Land Management and the Forest Service. It’s reckoned that about two-thirds of the USA’s land about 5,000ft is in Colorado.
And there are trails. My god, there are trails.
Just outside the town, literally a ten minute ride from the main street, there’s a network of fun loops through the semi-desert scrub off the Telegraph Trail.
At the other end of the scale there’s the Colorado Trail, which winds its way 470 miles to Denver. Not really a day trip, that one.
It’s spectacular, though. The first big ride of the Fisher/Trek launch took us along section of the Colorado Trail over Kennebec pass, up a horror of a climb and down into the outskirts of Durango on Dry Fork trail.
In between there’s every type of trail you could want from dead easy riverside pootles to more big mountain epics.
(Photo: Sterling Lorence)
Gnarly adrenaline junkies with body armour and downhill sleds might find it a bit dull (though there’s always the chairlift at Durango Mountain Resort) but if you get your mountain biking thrills from being surrounded by real mountains, Durango deserves its legendary status.
I last came to Durango in 1990 for the first ever UCI mountain bike world championships. I got to watch local heroes Greg Herbold and Ned Overend claim the first ever downhill and cross-country gold medals, alongside Cindy Devine and Juli Furtado.
That was a special, memorable week, but I didn’t get to do much riding aside from tooling round the race course.
I vowed then that I’d be back, but I didn’t expect it to take me 18 years. Next time, it’ll be much sooner. The mountains are calling.
(Photo: Sterling Lorence)