It might be unfair to call this ride heinously awful, but parts of it were. It might be an exaggeration to call this ride ecstatic, but parts of it were. It was Colorado foothills winter riding under mild conditions, and it was a little of each.
This was my first ride on snow since I started mountain biking in the summer of 2010. I thought conditions might be drier, but didn't know, and didn't really care. I figured I'd deal with whatever was out there.
For example, a few sheets of ice where water flowed over the road:
The lower part of the road was well-packed cold snow, but it grew increasingly loose as I progressed towards Forest Road 550. This was round one of the slog-fest.
I could power through some of it like you would power through snow in a two-wheel drive car, but the rate of bogging down increased steadily. I walked stuff like this, as I could not get any traction on hills and my bike would gradually drift sideways:
At the end of the Buffalo Creek road, I took a right on FR 550 (solid, packed snow), then another right at the sign to Gashouse Gulch, and straight ahead past the trailhead parking. Thus began slog-fest phase two:
This is the "D" (difficult) section on Gashouse Gulch:
Above this, the trail meanders endlessly as it acquires the ridge, and I was riding and walking alternately in 100-foot stretches. This was where I started cursing out loud.
I was hoping the top would be more clear.
The final kick in the crotch was Miller Gulch Road, which was occasionally ridable on the west end, but became a really long stretch of rolling road with Sno-Cone-weight snow, which I jogged with my bike at my side. Even on the ridable parts, I would sometimes need to stabilize and push my bike along with one leg. It was pretty tiring, and my mood was not at its peak here.
Meanwhile the sun had set, and dusk settled in.
Finally I was clear of the forest, and the trails were dry again for the descent. Thank goodness. I cranked along this, yet my rear derailleur began impulsively shifting at inopportune times. Swearing at the derailleur now.
It was snowing on the next ridge over, and flakes drifted over to where I was. I was on familiar (dry) ground, with a known descent ahead, and I took a few moments to take in the still beauty of the evening. Half-hidden mountains, twisted bare trees, flakes passing through the light of my headlamp.
The ride down was fantastic, in spite of concerns about the waning daylight. I know this trail well enough now that I could just relax and flow through the turns, even in darkness. It was great. Fluid, easy, twisting and descending through boulders and forest.
As you can see, 650 lumens cuts a good distance through the gloom:
I still could have used a light on my helmet, which was readily apparent on short, twisting turns in the woods.
And I would not recommend doing this loop right now without wide winter tires. Sandy Wash (the fun part at the end) was pretty dry, so it would work to ride it to the top, then take it back down, but I imagine there's a good bit of downhill traffic on it, so maybe that's not ideal.
Distance was 15.84 miles, time 3:11 (moving 2:36), elevation gain/loss 1,559 feet, avg. speed 5.0 mph, and max speed 16.4 mph. This was an extra 45 minutes to an hour due to walking the bike in snow.