On Sept. 25, cyclists will be seen dotting the roads and trails surrounding Durango, all in the name of supporting the Fort Lewis College Cycling Team.
The Durango Fall Blaze is back this year with six different route options, ranging from road cycling in the Animas Valley to mountain biking in Horse Gulch. The team is encouraging bike riders of all abilities to join the festivities, which include a post-ride party with food, local beer and live music.
“We'd really like to tell anyone and everyone who owns a bike, this event is for them,” said FLC Cycling director, Dave Hagen. “It's not a race. It's supported with aid stations. It's a good fun time for a good cause.”
The Fall Blaze is the cycling program’s annual fundraiser, where 100% of the proceeds support athlete scholarships as well as other operating costs of the national championship-winning program.
In previous years, the Blaze was only a road cycling event, but this year the event has expanded to offer rides for gravel cyclists and mountain bikers. Hagen says that the aim is to attract more riders from the Durango community to partake in the new routes.
“Road is limiting our segment to the (road) biking population of Durango,” he said. “Guaranteed, there are 100 times more mountain bikes in this town than there are road bikes.”
There will be six rides to choose from, all leaving from the clock tower at Fort Lewis College that morning.
The short course for road cyclists is about 37 miles with minimal climbing. The route heads north on U.S. Highway 550 until the top of Shalona Hill. There, cyclists head back to Durango on County Road 250. The 75-mile long-course will follow the same loop but then head out Florida Road to the Vallecito Dam and back.
The cycling team is capitalizing on the popularity of gravel cycling this year, where cyclists use specialized bikes similar to road bikes to tackle dirt roads and even singletrack trails. The Durango area features a variety of quiet yet challenging gravel roads for riders to use, many of which were used for the Iron Horse Bicycle Classic’s gravel event in May.
The 41-mile gravel route will begin by climbing Horse Gulch Road (County Road 237) over to County Road 234. The route will then tour a circuit of dirt roads that are all north of U.S. Highway 160, before heading back to campus via Horse Gulch Road again.
The 82-mile-long gravel ride is the longest event of this year’s Fall Blaze. It will also start and end on Horse Gulch Road, but one of the highlights of the route will be circling Vallecito Reservoir.
“I got permission to open the gate on the backside of Vallecito that day, so riders can get through,” Hagen said. “The fall colors should just be off the hook for that ride out there that day, the way things are going.”
The long route will also feature two infamous uphill sections: the Glockenspiel on County Road 502 and the Texas Creek climb on County Road 245, which will both test riders legs and lungs.
Two mountain bike rides will complement Durango’s legacy as a mountain biking town and FLC’s legacy of being a collegiate mountain bike powerhouse.
The 17-mile long mountain bike ride will head into Horse Gulch and take riders along the Meadow, Stacey’s, Mike’s, and Cuchillo trails. Then, a big climb up Sugar trail will reward riders with a panoramic view of Durango at the top before descending Skyline trail and heading back to campus along Powerline trail.
A 31-mile mountain bike route will essentially tour the majority of the Horse Gulch and Grandview Ridge trail systems. After pedaling off the FLC campus, riders will climb the infamous Telegraph trail and make their way all the way around South Rim trail and up Crite’s Connect. After descending the steep and rocky Anasazi trail, the route follows the short-course route along Cuchillo and up and over Sugar trail back to campus.
All of the routes will be marked with navigation signs, but there are also GPX files available for riders who want to navigate with a GPS computer. Each of the routes will also have aid stations with food and water available to riders. The roads and trails being used are open to normal traffic, so riders must follow proper rules and etiquette.
Once riders arrive back to the FLC clock tower from their respective routes, there will be a taco bar as well as local beverages and live music. For those that aren’t riding, food and drinks are available for purchase.
As with any large-scale event, volunteers are always needed as well, Hagen says, and many of the people running the event are FLC athletes themselves.
“A bunch of the volunteers who are taking care of business for the Blaze are the cycling team,” he said. “They know it's their event to put on because it supports them.”
While professional cyclists and FLC alumni such as Sarah Sturm and Cole Paton will be in attendance, Hagen stresses that the Fall Blaze is not a race. It’s designed for riders of all abilities to ride together and interact, he says.
“The goal of this whole thing is just trying to get people here and riding and having a good time as a community,” he said.
Bikers interested in participating can register at https://durangofallblaze.enmotive.com/events/register/2021-durango-fall-blaze