The cow's eye glazed over as it dropped its head and came
straight at me. Standing on that trail decked out in my bright
helmet and gaudy cycling clothes, I felt like a doomed rodeo clown.
Several Hollywood-style "Yaahhs" did nothing to redirect that ton
of USDA prime or the 20 other bovines behind it. Instead, I was on
the verge of becoming Durango's "Hereford squashes editor near
Hermosa Creek See page 8." At the last minute, I dug deep and found
some matador hiding in my back pocket.
Lifting my bike onto its back wheel and letting off an
earsplitting "Yaaahh," the crashing wave of hair, hooves and heavy
breathing broke around me. As the small herd passed on its way to
summer pasture, the picture became clear. There behind them, a
local rancher rode up the Dutch Creek Trail on a different breed of
steed, and he was driving the herd home at high speed. Rather than
tossing a casual nod of the hat my way, he offered only an icy
For weeks, a group of us had been planning that loop of Jones
Creek, Pinkerton and Dutch Creek. Rewarding us with buff trails,
fields of lupine in full bloom and 360 degree views of the San
Juans, it had more than met expectations. But ending the ride with
that glare and a spin through hoof-prints and debris broke the
charm. To make matters worse, my front tire managed to throw a
nice-sized, cow patty goatee onto my chin. (Over the next two days,
I heard about other cow patty beards on similar rides. I'd been
lucky as it turns out. Two friends had also taken their face shots
home and been rewarded with fresh cases of giardia. Ah, the perils
of bicycling in Colorado.)
As I washed off my chin, the great ride drifted further away,
and I started feeling soured physically and emotionally. I was sure
that driving his herd through a pack of ungrateful gearheads soured
that cattleman as well. In fact, I was the guy on that horse once
upon a time. My stint as a hand on a working cattle ranch predated
widespread mountain biking. But I remember the chaos that hunters
stirred up when they came onto "our" national forest leases. It was
a tale of open gates and downed fences. One year, the worst case
hit when someone thought it would be amusing to put a bullet into a
piece of our livelihood.
Consequently, I'd thy for nearly everyone in the business of
agriculture, in the front of my mind. Over the years, I always
staunchly defended cows up Hermosa Creek, cows on the Dry Fork,
cows up Jones Creek and cows on Missionary Ridge.
After nearly tasting cows on Dutch Creek, I started to rethink
my position. I was beginning to think that multiple use can
actually be a real pain for everyone involved. Who really benefits
from all this
sharing of the land, I asked myself.
But in true American fashion, I buried the dilemma down deep,
carried it into a week of work and eventually back out to Dutch
Creek for another ride.
Dusk was falling as I left the Hermosa Creek trailhead for a
relatively quick out-and-back, and things immediately shaped up
nicely. The lupine were still in bloom and there wasn't a slick of
fresh manure for miles. As the sun continued to drop, I spun out to
the Dutch Creek junction, climbed the trail up to the creek, spun
around and made for home. Back on Hermosa Creek, and a few miles
from coming full circle, déjà vu hit three ranchers
on horseback ambled slowly down the trail in single-file. I slowed
my rig to a crawl and got their attention only after I accidentally
spooked one of the horses.
"Grandpa, there's a biker behind us," the surprised rider called
out to the lead horse.
The lead rancher turned over his right shoulder, pointed to the
steep incline and narrow trail and said, "We've got a bit of a
predicament here. We'll let you by as soon as the trail gets
The trail didn't widen for at least another mile. And to keep
the horses calm and satisfy some curiosity, that lead rider struck
up a conversation. We started with all the standards, asking where
each other lived and discussing the weather and the lack of
Then we moved on into uncharted territory. Struck by the notion
that I'd ridden my bike out to Dutch Creek, he asked if I rode
every day. He wanted to know how much the machine cost and if it
broke down that often. I wanted to know which stretches of fence
they had just mended and how many head they turned out in the
drainage each summer. I was also curious how long their family had
explored these valleys.
When we eventually came to that wide section on the trail, they
pulled their horses to the side, and I slowly pedaled past. Then in
a split-second, we solved the riddle of multiple use and put an end
to that dilemma once and for all. Ranchers representing three
generations of a local family nodded their heads, tipped their hats
and thanked me for my patience. I put my hand to my garish helmet,
nodded and thanked them for the conversation and for letting me
pass. And with the sun almost down, all four of us pointed our
steeds toward home.