The sounds of the John Cowan Band reverberated off the canyon walls, but we weren’t bouncing along with the Festivarians in the midday heat. Instead, we were slogging up Tomboy Road — the bluegrass a twangy soundtrack for our ill-fated trail run.
In May 2011, Runner’s World Magazine (defunct link removed 2015) featured Tomboy Road in Telluride, CO as one of its “Rave Runs,” a designation that seems to require little more than a spectacular view that photographs well. RW wrote of Tomboy Road: “At points, the 2,600-foot descent into Telluride can be rugged, but the views make the run worthwhile.” What strikes me as odd about this barebones assessment (no one would claim that RW’s Rave Runs are a go-to for trail route selection) is that it ignores a fundamental Colorado trail running principle: what goes down, must first go up. The only way to get to the 2,600 foot descent is to first ascend those 2,600 feet — a fact RW conveniently overlooks.
In Telluride for the annual Bluegrass Festival, it was impossible not to explore some trails with my running shoes. Tomboy Road is a section of Jeep trail that begins in Telluride (a right turn off North Oak Street) and eventually crests Imogene Pass under a different name at 13,114 feet. Our destination was the ruins of Tomboy, a mining camp overlooking Savage Basin that once produced gold ore. Tomboy sits at roughly 11,400 feet about five miles from the town of Telluride. Continuing on from Tomboy will eventually take you over the pass to the town of Ouray.
It would have been my folly to rely on RW alone for intell, so I consulted other sources, like the Telluride town website and some trusty Google searches. I just didn’t pick up on any of the signs. Which leads me to the second principle of trail running (anywhere): do your homework.
The simple context clues (and good sense) I missed included that Tomboy Road is a Jeep trail, popular with local touring companies and big tire enthusiasts. Without a gas pedal and a roof (or for some that passed us on the road, A/C) the road is relentlessly uphill and painfully exposed to the similarly relentless Colorado sun.
A popular Jeep trail also means, surprisingly, that there will be cars. In this dry summer, cars mean dust. After an hour-and-a-half trying to stay cool and keep my lungs from collecting a thin layer of grime, I couldn’t shake the feeling that on this day, I hadn’t done Telluride justice with my choice of ‘trail’ run. I will say though that RW was spot on about those views. Until next time, Telluride.
If you’d like to give Tomboy Road a better shot than I did, I’d recommend the following: start early, preferably before the sun has climbed up over the canyon walls, and bring plenty of fluids. Try to pick a time when traffic from the touring companies and other vehicles will be lighter (at least one touring company doesn’t leave until 8:30 a.m. and ends its last tour of Imogene at 5:00 p.m.).
(WildSnow.com guest blogger Jess Portmess currently lives in Boulder, Colorado. Having grown up in New York and Vermont, she’s now chasing snow covered peaks, endless trails, and a legal career in the West.)