Twin Buttes a Real Butte, indeed

Shaun Stanley/Durango Herald

It went from chilly to hot and sunny to hail, lightning and freezing rain at the Durango Trails Festival on Saturday as mountain bikers and trail runners took on about 10 miles of new trails in the Twin Buttes complex – “another jewel in the crown of Durango’s trail system,” cyclist Joe Burtoni said.

By Jim Sojourner Herald staff writer

Durango’s mountain bikers and trail runners alike got to work out at a veritable Four Seasons on Saturday.

At 8 a.m., when the endurance bike race start kicked off the first Durango Trails Festival at the new Twin Buttes trail complex, the sun had just begun to warm the chilled, autumn-like air.

The 8:30 a.m. 30-kilometer trail run start came and went before the chill melted into a stifling and humid summer day in time for the 10K run and two-lap bike race.

Spring-like showers in the early afternoon mellowed trails that went from soft and a little muddy to dry and a little dusty by noon.

But the sprinkles quickly gave way to an all-out downpour punctuated by rolling thunder that morphed into a barrage of hail and winter’s own freezing rain, which cut short the 60-mile, 6-hour race with only a lap to go and left riders slipping, sliding, falling and scrambling through muddy streams and over the course’s last few rollers.

“Freezing rain, hail and lighting never killed anybody in the mountains,” mountain biker Carl Taube said with a dash of sarcasm.

But with just a lap of the 10-mile course to go on his singlespeed bike, the mud might have.

“Greasy,” Taube said of the wet trail after the race organizers decided to stop mud-splattered racers at the It’s A Real Butte’s start/finish line. “That’s for sure.”

It was as close to a negative comment as anyone had to say about the 10 miles of newly constructed Twin Buttes trails at what Taube called the trail network’s “trail-warming party.”

Two weeks ago, Joe Burtoni was helping Trails 2000 put the finishing touches on the newest sections, which loops around the Twin Buttes and runs through meadows behind Hogsback before running through the shadow of Perin’s Peak. Saturday, he got to work on it with his bike.

“It’s another jewel in the crown of the Durango trail system,” Burtoni said.

Although the trail system doesn’t officially open until its ribbon-cutting ceremony Sept. 22, Twin Buttes developer Eric Flores said Saturday’s festival was intended as a “really big thank you” fundraiser for Trails 2000’s 1,600 hours of volunteer work building the trails, which eventually will connect with Overend Mountain Park and mark the first new addition to Durango’s world-class mountain biking trails since Overend park’s renovation in 2009.

It also gave the community a chance to test out the new trails – which are open for riding – that provide a welcome if much-different venue for Durango’s outdoor enthusiasts.

With many of the local trails marked by punchy climbs, quick turns and rocky, technical descents, “a lot of people come here, and the trails are too hard – and the locals are like, ‘What!?’” said Chad Cheeney, who rode in the two-lap race Saturday.

The answer, Burtoni said, is the “big sprocket, high-speed rollers” punctuated by a long climb and a flowy decent.

And that’s just how Trail 2000 president and trail designer Daryl Crites wanted it.

“Vision was to have a fun system that is good for all users,” Crites said.

“I love it, but I’m prejudiced.”

The almost 150 unprejudiced competitors loved it, too, from the trail features to the scenery, starting with the backside decent.

“That downhill is crazy fun,” said Eric Pinkerton, who competed on one of the three-person teams that tackled the six-lap race. “It swoops everywhere, all over the place.”

“There’s a whole bunch of big whoop-de-doos,” race manager Matt Nimetz said.

Anne Carine, who competed on another team, described the Twin Butte trails as “fluid and smooth,” a good place to go to not work too hard – the same reasons Thomas Lindsey decided to compete in his first-ever bike race.

“That’s why I did the race. I love the trail,” said Lindsey, who then added it’s just long enough for a solid ride.

But where Lindsey’s ride was interrupted by a broken chain and a painful, bike-tossing dance with a wasp that flew down his shirt mid-race, Cheeney nearly found himself stung to stillness by the view from the meadow behind Hogsback – a favorite among the racers.

“The new view of Perin’s; I wanted to stop,” Cheeney said.

Tom Westwater gave in.

After riding parts of the trail network in June, Westwater got his first look at the new section Saturday. It was a doozy.

“I thought, ‘I don’t care if I’m racing, I’m going to stop,’” he said of his better look.

Bettina Mills, who won the women’s field in the 30K run in 2 hours, 38 minutes, 41 seconds, ran past the views but heard plenty about them.

“The view’s great,” said Mills, a bit sheepish. Then she came clean.

“I didn’t see it; I was looking at the dirt.”

She liked the dirt, too, with its ups and downs that gave the distance runners plenty of time to recover and keep staring at their feet.

Still, even with the “like-a-roller coaster” terrain, the runners didn’t quite have the same experience as the cyclists.

“Well, there’s not a whole lot of fun in running,” said men’s 30K winner Scott Simmons, who prefers to mountain bike but runs to train for winter ski mountaineering, said.

“You don’t find one of those little whoops and go ‘woo!’” while running, he said after finishing in 2:16.01. “It’s a different kind of fun.”

Gregory LeBlanc won the 10k race in 46 minutes, 12 seconds, and Kara Hellige won the women’s field in 54.20.

Whoop-de-doos or not, by mile 50, Taube and the rest of the six-lap solo riders didn’t looking like they were enjoying themselves much, either. And that was before the rain.

Only nine men and one woman competed in the six-lap race, a handful of them dropping out before the end of the grueling test.

Taube’s secret to keep going on his singlespeed bike?

“To tell you the truth, I just shut off,” said Taube, who finished five laps in 5:55.31.

“Left foot, right foot, left foot, right foot; it’s the easiest thing in the world.”

With each lap taking at least 50 minutes, when the sky opened up at about 1:30 p.m., none of them were finished and only Ted Compton was on his final lap. Compton was the only rider to finish all six laps, crossing the finish in 6:28.26.

Rebecca Kauffman made it the farthest for the women – four laps in 5:29.51 – and Jill Behlen won the two lap in 2:13.18.

Taube was one of the first riders pulled off the course when the race organizers decided to take five-lap times and call it a day with the mud making the course nigh unrideable.

By today, though, summer sun will have dried the Twin Buttes trails, adding even more gravelly webs for Durango’s riders, hikers and runners to explore – whatever kind of fun they’re looking for. Saturday’s competitors said that’s nothing but a plus for this town.

Carine’s teammate Rich Parker said the new trails will further disperse Durango’s crowds, allowing everyone to have more trail space to themselves.

Fort Lewis College cyclist Lauren Catlin, who competed with a team in the six-lap race, said it’s nice to have some fresh turf after getting intimately familiar with everything else over the years.

Mountain Bike Hall of Famer Travis Brown, who won the men’s two-lap solo race in 1:40.47, said Durango undoubtedly will put the new trails to good and heavy use, something that ultimately contributes to the health of the community both physically and mentally and makes for a better community in general.

Pinkerton has been a part of that Durango community for about two years – just enough time to make his own observation about its trails, one that mimics the Colorado weather.

“Man, trails just pop out of nowhere here,” Pinkerton said. “It’s fantastic.”

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