Walker Ranch kicked my butt


I was feeling fairly cocky after the last few years of regular road-biking, and wanted to try something ambitious while I was here in Boulder. Climbing 2000 feet up Flagstaff Road and then taking the Walker Ranch Loop sounded like a good way of stretching myself. I didn’t count on quite how stretched I’d be by the end.

I got a 9:15am start, a bit later than I’d planned, but still not too hot. The ride up Flagstaff was tough, but I took it slow and drank plenty of water, since I knew I had a long way to go after that. The steepest section was the first half, before the auditorium turnoff, but it was a relentless grade all 7 miles to the top of the ridge. After catching my breath, I headed down the other side to find the Walker Ranch trailhead, and was a bit worried by how far I had dropped by the time I got there.

The entrance to the property was signed, but I ended up taking a wrong turn and getting scolded by a genuine cowboy at the historic homestead site for taking my bike in a no-bike zone. After being pointed in the right direction, I found the parking lot, and set off left to do the loop clockwise. The first mile or two was rocky single-track, which climbed a little before plunging down to Boulder Creek. As I was headed further and further down, I realized it would be a tough climb back out of the valley. Once I hit the creek, there was a bridge and I got to rest and enjoy the white water crashing down the canyon.


After the bridge, there was a really steep cliff climb of a few hundred feet. I had to carry my bike up steps for most of it, and that took its toll. Then there was a crawl up to another ridge, before heading back down again and crossing the creek again. By this point, I realized I was getting irritable for no good reason, a possible warning sign of dehydration, so I stopped again in the shade and made sure I drank plenty.

I was less than 2 miles from the trailhead, but a long way below. It was getting into the high 90’s by this point, and I walked a fair part of the final climb, taking plenty of breaks in the shade and getting through more water. When I finally made the parking lot, I crashed out under a tree for 20 minutes, and thought about my next move. I’m used to biking in the California summer, so I had brought a lot of water, but I finished off the last of it there. I only had a couple of miles of road-riding to make it to the ridge on Flagstaff and then I’d be able to coast back to Boulder, but I knew I without water my margin of safety was shrinking. In the end I decided to take it very easy up the road, with lots of breaks, and keep an eye on myself for signs of heat exhaustion or dehydration. In the worst case, it was a well-travelled route with houses nearby, and I might have to ask for help.

That last climb was just as tough as I’d feared, but taking it slow I was able to make it to the top of Flagstaff. That was such a great feeling, I shot back down to Boulder in less than half an hour. I returned my rented bike, and by an act of god there was a Coldstone Creamery next door. I don’t know if ice-cream is the best thing for dehydration, but I’ve never tasted anything so good.

What should have been a 4 hour ride turned into 6, and I made some rookie mistakes; failing to take into account the difference the altitude would make, not checking the weather forecast, bringing too little water for the conditions. If you’re looking for a tough ride out of Boulder, it has some amazing views and great technical single-track on the loop, but be smarter than me and make sure you’re prepared!

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