Day Three – Alpine Loop [1st Day of Riding]

The temperature in Ouray was below normal which provided some comfortable sleeping.  We had the heater on in our cabin and it was quite comfortable.  We started early and walked down the river trail to the Café at the Timber Ridge campground for breakfast.  After a breakfast burrito I could hardly finish, we began walking back to the bikes.  Along the trail back we heard a thunderous clap and caught a glimpse of a huge rock slide on the other side of the river.  Just below the rock slide and the steep cliffs sit a number of homes that are seemingly quite often in harm's way.  There didn't seem to be any damage and we continued back to our cabin and geared up for the day's ride.  We began by riding south on US550, the 'Million Dollar Highway' through town and into the set of curves we have all ridden many times and that I enjoy so much.  Once through town the road rises quickly offering nice curves and in between great views of the town.  Once on top the road follows the narrow shelf cut through the canyon.  It almost takes ones breath away as you look over the edge of the road that is without guard rails and drops off hundreds of feet.  Finally, we got to the entrance of the loop and exited the highway and briefly stopped before we all continued on driven by a healthy dose of adrenaline and anticipation.  There is no evidence of any other bikers ahead of us as the staging area at the trail head was vacant, but this won't be the case when we return.  We blasted up the loop trail getting a feel for our bikes.  Mike and Steve had ridden theirs in the past but I was borrowing Steve's and it was the first time I had thrown my leg over the saddle.  It felt pretty good it seemed very familiar to me as I rode up the trail.  In what would become a recurring theme for the rest trip the trail brought back memories of our first trip on the loop in 1999.  It seemed like deja vu all over again.  We stopped for a brief moment to catch our breath at the Poughkeepsie Gulch turn off.  Starting on Engineer Pass is a fairly aggressive way to start.  It's not really all that challenging but the loose rocks force us to stand up and really work on our balance.  No problems were encountered; we reached Engineer Pass with ease.  Up on Engineer Pass we goofed around a little with snow that remained on the ground.  We stopped at another spot on the way down where we had been in the past.  It was still cool and we all had several layers of riding gear on and were quite comfortable.  We reached the bottom of the pass and stopped on Henson Creek near Capitol City and was still before noon.  Next we decided to hit another old favorite; Nellie Creek trail.  We blasted up the trail stopping to relish in each of three major water crossings.  None were very deep but a couple of them challenged us.  Of course, if one touches with their feet - you lose!  Back onto the loop we continued toward Lake City where we ran into a brief but heavy rain storm (imagine that).  We stopped for a bite eat on the front porch of the Cannibal Grill.  After the rain we continued back on the southern portion of the loop.  The loop follows the northern shore of Lake San Cristobal, along the lake fork of the Gunnison River, and the base of Whitecross Mountain (elevation 13,542').  We went up and over Cinnamon Pass which is probably my favorite pass of the trip.  On the backside was the old ghost town of Animas Forks.  Lots of history in this town that was founded on 1873 by miners building cabins near their claims.  We continued up Denver Hill and because we still had plenty of daylight left we took a detour up Mineral Point Gulch.  This road was not challenging but had some nice views of Tuttle and Engineer Mountains.  Back down the gulch we quickly came back to where we started the day.  Dinner at Timber Ridge, and we were set for the night.