If you ever have the chance to be in Durango, Colorado for Memorial Day Weekend – DO IT. The Iron Horse Classic Bike Festival has to be one of the best venues for bike shenanigans on the planet. The already bike friendly, beer friendly, quaint Colorado town fills up with tan lines and spandex, as Main St. is overtaken by pedal pushers of every type. The story of how the race was conceived by two brothers, and how it started is very interesting – read about it here. Since it humbly began in 1972 with 36 riders, it’s become a full-fledged bucket list item for many.
Although the mountain bike race course doesn’t race a narrow-gauge steam locomotive up and over a volcano and into the caldera to Silverton – it does head up into the mountains around Durango, and offers up some amazing views. It then heads back into downtown, through a bunch of man-made obstacles, and the pros actually go right through the middle of Steamworks Brewery. As a spectator, this is one of the best spots ever!! People offering beer hand-ups to the riders, cowbells, hoots and hollers echoing off the walls as great beer gets poured. I raced at 10:30am and the pros started around 2pm… so I had enough time to go back to the motel room, take a shower, and get back to the bar to meet Manny and Jill, order a T.I.P.A. (Steamworks Third-Eye Pale Ale 9.1%) and a buffalo burger before the race began. Yahoo!!!
Anyhoo, the course was a blast. Utilizes a bunch of trails around Fort Lewis College. I rode like crap (which I knew I would), but it was so much fun. Two big “switchbacky” climbs up the Nature Trail lead into fast flowy descents, mellow singletrack and great views. The man-made obstacles are a ton of fun… a couple rock gardens, water pits, teeter totters and bridges. A guy crashed out on the obstacles right in front of me and I almost smacked him, but just avoided him and snuck around him. Crowds are lining this area and the energy was super intense as they cheered him up – LOVED IT!! I wound up getting 11th place – I was hoping for top 10, but oh well… very strong riders out there in CO, forcing my out of shape body to endure more torture than normal. Made the post-race beer and burger taste oh so good though!!
Other than the race, there are tons of trails around the area, that I’m jonsing to devour next time I stop in Durango – and I plan on getting back there soon (on our road trip back to Mammoth after we wrap Longmire in early August). I did take the wife and daughter on The Animas River Trail was such a delight. This trail is paved, and goes 7 miles, all through the town of Durango without ever using a traffic light. It’s made for bike commuters and there’s a zillion in/out points so you can pick it up anywhere in town. It follows the Animas River, and crosses over it several times… I think there’s like 8 bridges. There’s also a bunch of parks on the route. I’ve never been on a more enjoyable “townie ride” anywhere. Angela is now 6 months prego, and she put Lucy on the tag along – and we all had a blast… stopping at the swing sets every mile or two.
Anyhoo, if you do make it to Durango – we have some recommendations. Stay at one of the cheap motels on Main Ave. near the “downtown center”. It’s worth it to be close to the “action”. Steamworks Brewery has great food and of course, great beer. We stayed at Adobe Inn – cheap, has a nice jacuzzi, great location, decent room, but CRAPPY BEDS – probably would stay somewhere else if available… but we got one of the last rooms in town. You can jump right on the Animas River Trail and are less than 1 mile from center of town – so that was good. We liked Fired Up Pizzeria – great wood-oven pizzas. Also liked Top That Frozen Yogurt on Main. My brother in law took his family on the Durango-Silverton Train, and said it was amazing. I’ve heard this from many others, and will definitely do it next time I’m there – but it’s a big time commitment… Might also have to try the actual Iron Horse route on my ss mtb… hhhmmmm…
So there you have it – a newbie’s take on the Iron Horse Bike Classic and Durango, CO. Living the dream. Hoot!!