Singletrack Salida, by Nathan Ward

Review by Columbine Quillen

Recreation – July 2004 – Colorado Central Magazine

Salida Singletrack: Mountain Biking in Colorado’s Upper Arkansas Valley
by Nathan Ward
Published in 2004 by Ice Mountain Publishing
ISBN 0-9748814-06

SALIDA SINGLETRACK, gives detailed directions to thirty-eight rides in the Salida, Buena Vista, and Leadville areas. The rides vary in difficulty from the Salida Trail ride, which offers a short, scenic cruise on fairly flat white concrete with a bit of asphalt, to Kerr Gulch on Bear Creek, which requires a strenuous climb and many technical moves on rolling singletrack.

The book starts with some general information about mountain biking, including hazards and trail etiquette. Even though most people who mountain bike — or who spend much time in the woods — know how to behave and what to bring, it never hurts to go over it again. Singletrack reminds you of the dangers, a good thing, because we all tend to get lazy, especially when we haven’t been in an emergency situation for a while.

AUTHOR NATHAN WARD also emphasizes staying on the trails and not causing any more erosion than necessary, which is also a good reminder, because it’s sure easier to ride around mud bogs, but it’s not the right thing to do if you want these trails to stay in good condition. The book also includes the phone number for the Ranger District so readers can report off-trail riding, including mountain bikes, motorcycles, and ATVs.

Before every trail description is a chart that tells you where it is; the distance; the riding time without stopping; the type of road (i.e. paved, double track, or singletrack); the aerobic level; technical difficulty; and elevation from the lowest to the highest points; along with what type of land the trail goes through, (i.e. BLM, USFS, or private); and a list of maps you might want to check out.

I thought it was great that the book separated aerobic level from technical difficulty, because you can be one hell of a climber but still really inept on steep loose downhill rides. So it was good to have that differentiation.

After a short, general description of the trail, Ward tells you how to get to the trailhead, which is usually Absolute Bike Shop in downtown Salida for the Salida rides. For the other rides, he gives detailed directions for finding the trailhead by using both mileage and road characteristics.

I especially appreciated Ward’s directions to get to the Agate Creek trailhead, because he mentioned that you’d gone too far if you got to the turnoff for the campground. Nothing is worse than looking for a trailhead that’s behind you.

After getting you to the trailhead, each description includes a detailed mileage log. Unlike hikers, most riders have cyclometers on their bikes, so this log is a relatively easy way for a rider to know where he is in comparison to the trail description. And this particular log is especially nice, because you don’t have to read every single mileage entry. When you get to a fork, you can check to make sure your mileage is right while you look to see whether to turn right or left.

But Ward also includes some interesting facts with these mileage notes, so when you’re not in a hurry, it’s a good idea to read the whole log so you can catch highlights which you might otherwise miss. For example:

2.0 On right side is the “Can,” a water tank where kids park and spray paint their lover’s name on the can. Billy loves Jane. The second part of the tradition is returning to cross it off when they break up. It happened to me.

Trail information also includes an elevation profile chart, which provides a quick way to see how steep a ride is — and whether it’s primarily up or down, or repeatedly up and down.

There’s also a map, which is terrific because it shows whether you can take a different way home, or make a loop out of your trip.

I USED THE BOOK to ride to the crater, which sits in the Ark Hills near Salida. Ward states, “Everyone talks about the crater, but no one ever knows how to get there.” And that is so true; I was there once as a child and I’ve never been able to figure out how to get back. But Ward’s directions were concise and easy to use. At every single junction, there was a note in the book about the mileage and which way to go, and the riding time was very accurate.

Although there are several guidebooks for Colorado mountain bike trails, this guidebook to the trails around Salida, Buena Vista, and Leadville is the most comprehensive available for our region. Linda Gong and Gregg Bromka’s book, Mountain Biking Colorado, for example, only includes three rides in our area.

And unlike Gong and Bromka’s book, which puts all of its descriptions in paragraph form, Ward’s book is very easy to use. Ward’s mileage log is fabulous, because the last thing you want to do when you’re tired and sweaty is mull over a ton of text to figure out where the heck you are and how in Tophet you’re supposed to get home.

Ward’s maps are legible and user-friendly. And best of all, this book is not written for people who live on the Front Range. Although they can certainly use it, this guide doesn’t keep telling you where places are in comparison to Denver, or how little the trails are used here, or about how you had better be super careful because your cell phone might not work if you get a flat.

IF YOU LIVE IN SALIDA, you probably know most off these rides, but there are a few gems, like the Crater Ride. You’ll also want this book because you’ll no doubt see some of your friends in its striking black-and-white and colored pictures. But mountain bikers visiting our area will also enjoy the variety and the ease of using this book.

The only problem with my copy is that it fell apart easily. But Ward is aware of the problem and has gone through his inventory and removed bad books and shipped them back to the printer, so that may not be true of your copy. But to minimize wear, I recommend making a copy of the trail description you need and leaving the rest of the book at home.

My book also had two page 11’s, but since there were no pages missing, I really couldn’t complain.

Also, in at least some copies, the table of contents is backwards — so that it goes from page 55 to 130 on the first page, and page 1 to 53 on the second. Once you realize that the first page isn’t missing, it’s usable, but it would be nicer done right.

And that’s a pretty good summary of this book. Salida Singletrack has some quirks that the author is trying to work out before the second printing, but Ward’s directions, charts, and maps make this guidebook eminently usable, and his choice of trails offers an impressive range of rides, from easy to thrilling (and some of them can be ridden all year long).

Salida Singletrack is very attractive. The book’s directions are clear, its descriptions are comprehensive, and the photos are really wonderful.