2021 Durango Gathering
Regardless of the route chosen, to be in the mountains with people you don’t necessarily know but share common ground with is what the Gathering is about.Marty - The Voice of Talk Yeti to Me
As we drove through the San Juan’s into the nook of Ouray, the bright Colorado day with its pursuant sun gave way to a dark, charcoal sky. Clouds rolled in quickly as we approached Purgatory, unleashing hail and rain with a fury Coloradoan’s know ever so well. The peaks of Snowdon to the east and Engineer to the west pushed against the storm with red rock sides absolute and standing their ground. Our windshield clattered with hail, the windshield wiper swishing furiously from side to side and losing the battle. And as suddenly as the storm was upon us, it retreated, changing its mind. These are the San Juan’s. Massive, unpredictable, beautiful and the perfectly epic place to hold the Yeti Gathering.
The storm left its mark in large muddy puddles and a paused chairlift, but after 2020 was cancelled, there was no amount of soggy ground that would dampen spirits. People emerged from cover to socialize, plan a ride, and share obligatory beers. Lines of vans and trucks and tents made order of the Purgatory parking lot — hundreds of Yeti loyalists all there to feed on the hype and energy of a common love.
People had come from everywhere to gather once again. Canada, Texas, California, Tennessee, Montana, and others had all shown up to ride, banter, reconnect and revisit. Years of Yeti variants laid casually on trees next to tents, suspended on racks behind vehicles, and peeking out from behind open van doors creating a visual road map of Yeti history.
Dreams of riding that afternoon were dampened with more rain and extinguished with the ongoing crackle of lightening. No one seemed to mind too much — it just provided more time to socialize and drink beer. Seasoned Gathering vets met newcomers and you could overhear stories being told of Gatherings from year’s past. Generations of bikers were visible with kids riding their own bikes through muddy puddles — many of whom had been to multiple Gatherings in their short lifetimes.
As we settled down to dinner in the big tent the two rides were summarized — an intermediate track and a big ride, both formidable no matter the title. The “intermediate” ride would be down the classic Hermosa Creek trail, flowing along beautiful single track that follows the creek the whole way. With the trail being lower in elevation, Gatherers rode amidst handle bar high vegetation, meandering through forests of previously burned lodgepoles with swaths of purple, pink and yellow wildflowers lining the sides of the trail.
The big ride was 36 crusher miles starting at the top of Purgatory and making its way to the backcountry to peak out at 12,000 feet. A lung snatcher even for the fittest of freaks. Setting trail through the alpine, riders would have stunning views of the rusty San Juan’s, fast, dry trail and Type-4-Fun climbs. Aid stations on the big ride featured watermelon, bacon and some fun hydration options.
Ride day Saturday was beautiful. As most Colorado days do, blue skies and sunshine greeted us in the morning. The ground was still very wet from the night before — everyone could expect a muddy bike by the end of the day — but the sun held strong and did what it could to dry out the trails. With breakfast served, coffee drank and bikes prepped, people picked their poison and started their ride up the lift to the top of the resort. Some veered off to tackle the Hermosa trail, while the more ambitious started the 36-mile journey to and through the high country.
The happiness and energy were palpable at this one of a kind, once a year reunion. Regardless of the route chosen, to be in the mountains with people you don’t necessarily know but share common ground with is what the Gathering is about. The commiserating on the trail during a mean hike-a-bike. The whoops from the person in front of you on a blistering fast, video-game descent. The snack breaks, the chats, the sharing of water and calories. The kindly donation of a C02 when the hiss of a hole interrupts the fun. This is what we all missed. The bikes are great. But the RIDE is the magic.
Early afternoon arrived met by the first riders making it back into camp. More and more returned as the day moved on, always smiling, yet reluctantly admitting the 36 miles of breathless elevation changes had clobbered them in the ring, round after round. As camp slowly refilled to its prior capacity, the fading light and 5:00PM seemed to be the silent start bell for the infamous Hoog-a-Ritas, a magical potion of tequila and lime that revives the bonked and returns the dead. The age-old Yeti games commenced, Foot Down, Bike Toss, Drag Race, Bunny Hop and Bike Limbo — 19-year-old traditions that were born in Durango and here to stay.
Laughing and cheering, competitors were surrounded by the spectators, receiving slaps on the shoulder with the winners growing their Yeti swag collection. Meanwhile, the Hoog-a-Ritas did the trick, and as the games continued a big white Yeti could be seen dancing on the roof of a Yeti van. Across the lot, Danny was slinging sushi, as he does and probably will, every year. Occasionally, you’d hear the sushi tent groupies break out into song or announce that it’s “time for a shot”, to be followed by the clink of glasses, giddy laughter, and back-thumping camaraderie. Camp was busy and bright despite the rain and sore muscles, and the Yeti Gathering was what it always had been.
Durango is the birthplace of Yeti, so it’s fitting that the resurrection and return of the event should be in Durango as well. The spirit of the San Juan’s, built by the gold rush and maintained by an ongoing optimism and love for the outdoors, keeps Durango special. It’s the perfect spot for us Yeti Freaks to gather, find common ground and remind each other that the brand is about the people, not just the bikes.
Until next year fellow freaks. Keep sending.
- Marty & Kate