There is no room for Jeffrey’s clothes in our bedroom closet. Instead, there is a bookshelf filled with guidebooks. On top of that are four large crates stacked to the ceiling all packed with maps, each covering a certain region. One is the desert southwest, much of that being Utah. Another is the rest of the West and Canada. The third are all my 7.5 topos for Colorado, the Sierras and the Tetons – mostly used for skiing and backpacking. The bottom crate, the one I use the least, has road maps for exotic places like Europe and New Zealand.
Yes, I’m a bit obsessed. I stock up on guidebooks for places we might never visit. I buy maps even if I don’t really need one because a friend is showing us the way or I know the route. But if I bring the map, there is always the possibility of plotting another adventure for another day. My newest purchases spend their first few weeks next to my bed, and as I sit here typing, I count four Colorado topos scattered on my desk.
That is why, ten miles into our mountain bike ride from St. Elmo, at our first questionable junction, I panicked. I had done the unthinkable. I had forgotten the map.
This was not good. I never, ever forget the map. And this was the kind of ride where I really could use one. Today wasn’t a simple out and back journey, sticking to one trail. What I could remember, from my brief study session of the route the night before, was that there were quite a few junctions. But at this point, turning around to go get it wasn’t worthy since we were already a third of the way along and weather was coming in.
To continue on, map-less, was so unlike me, but I was looking forward to this adventure. After a rough week at the home front, I needed a high alpine fix – I start to feel anxious and claustrophobic when I spend too much time riding in dark woods. The fun singletrack portion was still ahead and it traveled through my favorite terrain, the subalpine wildflowers and on up across the tundra for seven plus miles, some of it following an old railroad bed and some on the Continental Divide Trail near St. Elmo.
“Well, if it gets confusing we can always turn around and go back the way we came, but I think I might remember the way.” I told Jeffrey, whose silent response said it all. I knew exactly what was on his mind….he didn’t want to hike with his bike which is what happens when we get lost. The pressure was on.
One thing I’ve learned about orienteering, mostly from skiing, is to not rely on where the roads and trails are highlighted, and where to turn left or right, but instead make a point of also examining what never changes – the topo lines, or the lay of the land, or see if we head north to south, east to west. In the winter, you don’t necessarily follow trails and so you learn to use terrain features as your guideline. Should we parallel a creek or gain the ridge? Are we climbing steeply? How close do we pass under that mountain? Are we going from one drainage to the next, or are there a few in between?
Of course, despite all that, the night before I had gotten sucked into studying the lines of the roads and the trails and didn’t spend nearly enough time looking at the terrain features. Often roads appear on our outings which are not on the map, or vice versa – roads are on the map but not on the ride, and this makes counting your lefts and rights a bit risky.
Take the Trails Illustrated Salida/St. Elmo Map with you. A great description can be found in the guidebook “Salida Singletrack” by Nathan Ward. He calls it Saint Elmo to Tin Cup Pass.
Cruisy start up a dirt road for six miles and then six or seven miles of sweet tundra technical singletrack with some hike-a-bike ending with fast descent down Tin Cup Road.
We couldn’t find much dispersed car camping before St. Elmo so we camped closer to Buena Vista on the Raspberry Gulch Road. (see Trails Illustrated Buena Vista map).