Ah, Monday August 6th, the first real day of riding. The last 3 riders had made it in so we had the whole group ready to go tear up the back country of Colorado. We got a little bit of a late start but figured we would be fine since Austin knew the trails and said we had plenty of time to go out and get back to the truck before dark. This would not be the case but more on that later. We were heading up to Hahn's Peak about an hour north of town. Once you are within half an hour the mountain takes over your view. Its striking with its rock covered peak. I ask if that is Hahn's Peak and Austin says "Yeah, we are going to ride to the top." Now, from our point of view one the south side of the mountain I see no possible way to get a dirt bike up it because of the steepness so I sit back in silence and disagree with him. At the top there is a speck, its a fire watch tower from the early 1900s and I realize if a person was standing up there you couldn't make them out. So this peak is up there. I posted pictures ta the end to give you a sense of how climbing this thing would be.
If you have never ridden a 500cc two stroke dirt bike then I suggest you do that as soon as possible. Beg someone to let you ride theirs if you have to. I thought my 2017 Kato 450 was a monster... nah! The 1991 KTM 500MX that Austin had bought and got running was a real monster. We had just made gaskets for the top end and got the cooling system sealed up the night before to this would be our first day on the bike. It screams, the front end has no desire to stay on the ground. The geometry sucks, the suspension is not up to par, but the fun is real. Your legs don't naturally go to the thinnest part of the bike when standing, and the handlebars are too close to your body so its a real art to ride it fast. Once those of us brave enough to ride it got a turn we loaded it back in the trailer and got back to getting ready to actually go out for the day.
We had driven around to the north side of the mountain which doesn't look nearly as crazy to get up so I started to have a glimmer of hope abut reaching the summit. We mostly took double track forest roads to the trail up to the summit. Started in Clark County Road 413 to 414 to 418 which are all just hard pack and dusty with some rocks and wash breaks thrown in. Good fast riding to get the blood flowing and enough dust to choke down an elephant. It didn't take long to ride the 2 and a half miles to the trail that we would take up the mountain. I would like to note that when riding in a group a 8 riders ranging from A level racers to absolute beginners it is important to stop and make sure everyone takes the correct forks in the road. The new guys don't always know to look for tracks and signs of tire tracks. The dust also made us run pretty wide distances between riders. So we had to turn around at one point and go get the last 3 riders in the group. We got back to the trail head, wish I could remember the name of it. The first 50 to 75 yards of the trail was like someone just dumped a load of rocks on it and was pretty tough to maintain any speed but after that it was smooth sailing up to about 10k feet. The trail just zig zagged up the mountain and was pretty straightforward, same dusty hard pack with switchbacks just single track instead of double. We encountered more hikers and they were totally rude and wanted nothing to do with pleasantries even though we slowed to a respectful pace to pass them. One by one we reached a plateau on the north side. The last 2 guys never showed up but we decided to try for the summit anyhow. We would later find them at the trail head because they never made it through the first rocky section. Remember though, one is green and the other doesn't ride very often and was on a new to him 250 two stroke that's down on power.
I had ridden my 450 up the trail and knew I'd never get to the top on it with MX gearing, stiff suspension and OEM clutch. Chase finally caught up on my 300 and didn't feel comfortable taking it up to the peak so the challenge was about to get going. My 300 has a rekluse and obviously is set up for off-road so I had no fears with it. The top 500-750 feet of elevation on Hahn's Peak is covered in loose igneous rock usually about a feet deep. They are big chunks, around the size of a slice of pie and just slide down when you walk or ride on them. It was hard to get traction walking up this thing much less riding. Its steep enough that if you ever do get traction the bike just wants to come over backwards on you. There is a defined path up top that hikers use but with the conditions it switches back and forth too much to make for a useful bike trail. You start at the plateau and just hit it wide open and go ahead and use your momentum to launch you up as far as you can go and then the real work starts. If you ever stop it gets bad. Everyone stops. We tried over and over to go straight up hitting it full speed and it just wasn't working so we all dug in for the fight to come. Austin made it up first because he is an insane Graham Jarvis type rider. He's done it so many times that his technique is great. I probably made it halfway up before my momentum stalled. I stopped and got going again very slowly just creeping up trying not to fall. I made it to another semi flat spot and took a rest. The thin air was getting that much worse and I was breathing as hard as I could to get oxygen in. I start up again and get stuck on the slope up to this little straight piece of trail I want to use to run up the next steep spot. The method that works best is to dig the rear tire through the rocks to real soil and rock the bike back then launch forward up out of the hole, thus moving you up about 15 feet and if you're lucky you keep a little momentum on up. After another stop I made it onto this straight piece of trail and was able to use speed to blast my way up further and then managed to stall momentum again. The next however long, minutes or hours, I'm not sure how long it took to get up, were the most excruciating moments of my life and I brought it all upon myself. It was a cycle of digging the rear tire down and rocking the bike up out of the hole and stopping 20 feet later. The elevation was taking its toll on me and the bike. I was so determined though, stopping crossed my mind but I knew I would hate myself later if I didn't get up this thing. There is just no traction up there and I dropped the bike over so picking it up about suffocated me. Finally I made it to another stopping point and there were 3 obvious routes up and 2 looked straight but steep the 3rd looked like if you screw up you're down the mountain but not quite as steep. I took the 3rd way and by some miracle didn't stall and hopped right up on the ridge line of the peak.
I have never been so excited about accomplishing something in my life. I was ecstatic, jubilant, going out of my mind at what I just did. Once on the ridge line its flat enough that the traction doesn't matter and you just cruise to the fire watch tower. I yelled all the way too the tower, revved the shit out of my bike a few times and was taking in the view. You never notice the view going up so it is beyond rewarding when you get up there and stop to stare. I just can't put into words how happy I was in that moment and I'm still proud of that and forever will be, my first mountain on a dirt bike. Chase and James had already hiked to the top and had cheered me on and given me encouragement on the way up. They were just as excited to see me get up there. Austin had gone back down to help Noah and his brother Chris finish the climb. It was also remarkable that I beat both of those guys up because they are much better riders than I am.
As I reflect on it he experience now, its all amazing that it came to be. 2 years prior to this trip I had never owned a dirt bike and only ridden a friends 1986 Honda XR200 briefly at his grandfather's ranch in Montana. 2 years prior I knew only one of these young men because we went to high school together and I never thought we'd be riding dirt bikes together in Colorado. Even after I got a bike I never thought I would get to ride one out west. Even after I met these guys I thought they'd never like me enough and I'd never be skilled enough as a rider to make the trip out and ride with them. Just 1 year ago when they went out to ride I still thought it would be impossible for me to ever do that. but in this last year of riding I have come so far. I've really gained a treasure trove of experience from just going and riding when I get the chance. In the 2 years I've been riding I have logged a conservative 350 hours of ride time on my bikes. All this to say that anyone can do this stuff, I'm just a regular guy from Alabama with a new found passion for the sport. If I can do this, you can too. It just took meeting few people in the riding community and off I went on this journey that I hope never ends. Anyhow, I should get back to the day.
Eventually the other 3 of us that gave it a shot made it to the top and had a beer for good measure standing up on the fire watch tower. We got the token summit pictures sitting on the bikes. And then I realized the only real fear I had felt on the trip. Going back down this thing. Man was it steep and those ricks just slide when you sue the brakes so I fell a couple times but mostly made it down uneventfully to the trail that we had used to get up to the first plateau. We all hopped on our bikes and headed back down. It was slow going for me because I was now worn out from that climb and Professional Down Hill Cyclist Chase blew by me. That kid got fast on a dirt bike real quick. We came back to the double track road to find our 2 stragglers. One with a a welded clutch in his CR from trying to get through the rocks but after it cooled it was fine. We took off further down the double track until we cam to a trail head diving off in some dense woods. That was the most flowing trail I have ever ridden, the bike just floated along and weaved back and forth so easily. I could ride it for hours on a loop if I had the time. The soil was perfectly moist and dark. The trees were so green in here and there was green undergrowth. It was such a beautiful trail. The 450 rode it great. not much elevation change with lots of bermed up turns. That trail spit us out on the paved highway where we crossed over to County Road 486. Here I switched bikes with Chase to get on my 300 because we were about to dive into some long trails and I wanted to be smooth because I was feeling that climb from earlier.
This set of trails would take us all the way around nipple peak and back to the trucks. Its six miles from peak to peak between Hahn's and Nipple so this resulted in about a 20 mile loop for us. This trail started in woods and was rocky and dusty again but then it opened up into beautiful meadows and a bit thinner trees. Through the meadows the trail is literally about 2 tire widths and it is surprisingly hard to stay in that little groove. Once I got the hang of it though I was flying. Then it would hit me again where I am and what it took to get here and I would slow down and take it all in. I loved riding through these fields, you could see so much and the sun had begun to get low so there was a beautiful glow on everything. I had just ridden through a field and the trail made a wide 180 so you could see back a ways and I saw James coming up the trail and absolutely eat it by a tree, like a bad wash out. He just laid there so I started yelling and I'm sure he couldn't here me but Chase rode up on him and I saw him begin to get up. The last thing we need is an injury on the first big day. We all met up at a rode crossing and made sure everyone was making it fine and continued onward. We ran out of fields and the trees got pretty thick. The trail got rougher and started to go up and down and we had some crazy off camber spots where if you dump it down hill you're going a long way down.
We came to another trail head about 2 miles south of Nipple Peak and 2 of our riders decided they were too worn out to make the rest of the journey so they took the county road back to the truck as we moved on. Chris hadn't really slept and the climb up Hahn's drained him, and Josh is just so new to riding that it saps all of his energy pretty quickly. We were in dense woods for a very long time. Lots of twisting through the trees and avoiding dead falls. We had to make our own path a few times around fallen trees. This ride was probably the most challenging because we were all just tired form lack of sleep and hitting the big mountain right out of the gate. By the tie we got around to the west side of Nipple Peak we all stopped on a little ridge with a valley falling down below. Patrick was complaining about the lack of power on his bike and of spooge running from the top of the cylinder. After a bit of investigation it was determined that his spark plug had worked loose and was causing his problems. We got the seat and the tank off the bike and tightened the plug back down by hitting each side of it at the same time with wrenches and rock chunks because we didn't have a wrench big enough to fit it. It was a pretty decent trail fix and the bike really came to life. At this point the sun is getting pretty darn low so we don't waste time getting going again.
The ride back to the truck from the back side of the mountain felt like it took forever. It was the roughest trail we rode. Rocks, boulders, roots, washed out sections. There was one very fast section that offered some relief. Got a little air conditioning going and let you relax and just cruise for about a mile. Then the trail ducked back into tight trees and I rode up on the faster riders at the front stopped and staring off the trail. They had just ridden up on a bull moose that did not have any fear of dirt bikes, apparently. He was about 20 yards off the trail and turning back towards us. I quickly suggested we get going before he decided he wanted to take a joy ride. Moose are cool from a distance but they are massive creatures, bigger than most horses and much much wilder. Not to mention that giant set of antlers they are wielding. Needless to say, I was scared to be that close to him. About the time we took off the slower 2 riders caught up and put a hop in their step too, so to speak. Not much farther past the moose encounter we popped out on another county road and all stopped to game plan. The sun had gotten very low, behind all the trees and it was getting dim; this is another reason I was a bit more afraid of the moose than normal maybe. We talked about just following the big road out to the truck but Austin assured us that the end of the trail was only 2 miles away and we had just enough light to make it. So we all skeptically started down the trail again.
By this point I am beyond tired of being on the bike. That mountain climb to start the day just took it all out of me. I had no riding form, was pretty much done standing to ride and was all over the place. I had no desire to be out there anymore and just wanted a beer. So it is worth nothing that I am the only rider with a working headlight on my bike out of the 6 of us that are still on the trail. I am also the only guy with a trailtech and a watch and a GPS. I knew I could get out of there in the dark but could I even find all the other guys once we got spread out again. It was only 2 miles though right? WRONG, Austin is such a fast rider that he has a bad sense of distance. I look down when I think it should've been 2 miles and its been nearly 3 and we are still int he thick of it. It is dark. A little worry hits me but I just pull off and shut the bike down. Can't hear anyone so I pull out my phone and find myself on the map, still a few miles out but not too far from the truck, but we are well past any big roads. There are 2 guys in front of me and 3 behind. No one ever caught me while I was stopped, but I started moving again. The headlight is ony doing so much and I can't really see what my front tire is hitting just where the trail goes. So I had slowed a lot. The next time I look down I see 5 miles on the tach. I eventually rode up on one of the guys in front of me and he had gotten worried about leaving us all. We waited for a minute and never heard anyone and decided it would be best t go back to the truck and regroup with the guys that stopped earlier in the afternoon and the other rider that was leading the group out. No sense in use turning back and getting lost looking for the last 3 guys. Besides Austin had hung back with them. So we kept going. I started leading him with my light and now I'm seeing things because I hate being in the forest in an unknown place in the dark. Finally, after 8 miles from where Austin said we had 2 to go we came out of the county road right beside the lot where our trucks were parked. Thank the Lord we had made it out of there.
Once back at the truck we decided to wait 20 minutes before heading out to look for the last 3 riders, and luckily they showed up before we had to go back out there. That was such a relief and capped a really great day right up until the ending there. Sp let this be a lesson to you. No, nothing bad happened, but it easily could have. There were sections where running off the trail meant tumbling down a 20 foot slope and everyone would've ridden right by. You'd never get the bike out alone in the dark. What if you got hurt? It just gave me a greater sense of mortality that we riders forget sometimes. I asked Austin where would be headed the next few days and that night I studied satellite imagery of the areas, trail maps, and topo maps so that I would be clued in to where we were and how to get out just in case. I saved several maps to my phone and relied on my good memory of routes and landscapes. Always have a game plan where riding off in the unknown like that. At least 2 people in the group should be familiar with the area and have means of leading everyone out. You always hear the horror stories and think it cant happen to you, and most likely it wont but I'll be prepared for anything from now on.
None-the-less, it was an awesome day of riding. We ended up doing 29 miles that day. It was some of the roughest terrain of the trip and I can't wait to go back and do it again. I would highly recommend the Hahn's Peak and Nipple Peak areas. They are close to Steamboat so its an easy treck to the trails. You get to see some amazing scenery and ride some of the best mountain trails around.