Heavy Pedal Tour 2014 – The Breck Epic

Barely surviving one of the world's toughest races

Editor’s Note: This is the seventh installment of an eight-part series, documenting the travels of Galen O’Moore and Hurl Everstone, as they zig-zag through Colorado, Montana, North Dakota and Utah. They will be filming their adventure with Action Cam by Sony, and posting their adventures and the faces they meet on Instagram. Follow along: @bikemag, #heavypedaltour and #actioncam.

Words by Hurl Everstone

Leaving Medora, Galen and I were uncertain of what was next, other than searching for singletrack. We found it at the Breck Epic Stage Race, in Breckenridge, Colorado. Mike McCormack and his crack crüe of stalwart volunteers serve up some real down-home mountain biking, offering six big stages, covering 210 miles, 32,000 feet of climbing and memories that will be seared into your psyche for a lifetime. There are no governing bodies at the Breck Epic, nor rulebooks. There are, however, just three rules that McCormack adheres to:

1. Don’t be a dick. (This really covers a lot of ground.)
2. Wear your helmet.
3. Don’t litter in our beautiful backcountry. Seriously.

We found a spot in the parking lot for our TC Teardrop trailer, our home for the next week, and settled in for the upcoming adventure.

Just one of the many hike-a-bike climbs.
Sometimes the early morning hysteria has to take a back seat to the realities of mid-pack stage racing.

Stage 1 – Pennsylvania Creek
Climbing out of town on a two-mile paved section, my pal Greg Johnson looks over and asks, “Hey Hurl, can you breathe?”

“No!” I gasp.

“Me neither,” he says. “And my mouth is dry.”

I instantly had a very real panic attack. Breckenridge sits at 9,500 feet and we’re only going up from there. I’m a goddamn lowlander and have no right being up here. I don’t know these trails; I’m riding with mostly complete strangers. I’m convinced that death is certain. Not until we crest onto the first singletrack section of Aspen Alley Trail do I begin to calm down, largely because I’m firmly ensconced in a bottleneck of riders going nowhere fast. From here on out it’s rolling aspens, non-stop climbing and descending on trails with names like True Romance, Nightmare on Baldy, and lots of trails with the word “Gulch” in them. We finish with techy singletrack, ending at Carter Park amidst a soccer tournament. Portraits are taken of each rider at the finish. My time is 4:27, which puts me in 70th in the geezer 40+ class. 36 miles covered, 5,500-feet ascended. I reward myself with the Elevated Legs compression boots.

Hurl recovering in the digital compressor.
Hurl found a new friend in Duker, as he tests the sophisticated recovery attributes of Elevated Legs compression boots after stage 2.

Stage 2 – Colorado Trail
The beauty of the Breck Epic is that all stages start within a mile of downtown Breckenridge. Galen and I roll to the start on French Gulch Road, where Dan of Grimpeur Bros. coffee is set up to slake our caffeine jones. I grab a quick picture with 2014 Japan National Champ “TK” Kyosuke Takei and head to the start grid. 38 miles and 5,300 feet of climbing await me.

After some classic singletrack, appropriately named Fall Classic Singletrack, we tackle Heinous Hill, a lurching grinder of a chute, that some people (not me) actually clear. More big climbs, breathtaking views and bombastic descents follow.

Pal Greg catches and passes me on Blair Witch trail. Spooky hobgoblin trees rise up as sadistic singletrack taunts the tread of my Bontrager tires to maintain their grip. Back onto the Colorado Trail to Horseshoe Gulch before hitting aid station 2 at mile 30.8. Only 8 miles to go, then. Easy, right? Wrong. Climb Tiger Road to Highlands to Gold Run Road to Blue Sky Trail to Prospect Hill Road to Sidedoor to X10U8 and finish at the Bomber trailhead. Never have I been so eager to wolf down two Cokes and a peanut butter & jelly sandwich, before rolling the two miles back to camp. TK, the Japanese champ would crash out of this stage with a dislocated shoulder, yet still take the start on stage 3.

Up, up and more up.
Stage 3 of the Breck Epic on Lower French Pass offered just a taste of the high-alpine singeltrack to come.

Stage 3 – Mt. Guyot
It’s worth noting that after the first stage I left my hydration pack at home because each stage has at least two, if not three aid stations. Fully stocked with fruit, energy drinks, gels, water and good vibes, these negate the need to lug around that extra weight on your lumbar region. And every bit helps because today we get to climb up Mt. Guyot and over the Continental Divide, not once, but twice. That’s 37 miles with roughly 6,500 vertical, Mothertrucker!

Highlights include Little French Flume trail and perhaps the most insane, technical, rocky singletrack I have ever ridden, as well as the most ultra-flowy descent I’ve ever held onto the bars for. All of this brought us up and over and down the Colorado Trail to Georgia Gulch. Hard not to whoop an’ holler on this one. Coke and PB&J again offer sustenance as I supplicate the singletrack lord at the finish line.

Stage 4 – Aqueduct
Some folks were feeling frisky by stage 4. I was not one of them. The temps were soaring today and we would be covering 40ish miles with nearly 7,000 feet of gain, starting up French Gulch Road, then traversing trails with names like Prospect Gulch, Dry Gulch, Tiger Run and Vomit Hill. By aid station number 2 we were at Keystone Gulch trailhead with stunning views of the namesake ski area—that is if you could raise your head from your stem.

More zingers awaited along West Ridge Trail, Colorado Trail and eventually, Rock Island Trail. The finish was very similar to stage 3 with the same tall, swooping berms along Sidedoor and Minnie Mine trail. We could hear the announcer’s booming voice escalating up from the B&B trailhead just like yesterday, but in a devious twist, we crossed French Gulch Road to tackle two more miles of twisting singletrack and climbed along Turk’s trail before crossing the finish line.

Galen’s pronouncement at the finish: “I threw up in my mouth a little bit.”

Galen shotguns a well-deserved beer.
Galen shotguns a well-deserved beer.

Stage 5 – Wheeler
Ladies and gentlemen, by now the euphoria and fatigue has set in. We’re real close to completing this monster known as the Breck Epic, but today’s stage? Boy, howdy. At 30 miles, not the longest by any stretch, but there’s Wheeler Pass standing tall between you and the finish line. Topping out at 12,500 feet, this promised to be a lurching hike-a-bike, even for the fittest of competitors.

The start line at Beaver Run parking lot necessitated starting in waves, due to an almost immediate bottleneck onto the Burro Trail. While most queued up to enter the singletrack, I mobbed through the creek and got around many folks, including Greg Johnson, who was my nemesis all week. A surging gang of riders made their way up Spruce Creek Road to Aqueduct road.

The first aid station arrived at a startlingly abrupt seven miles, yet it became readily apparent why. A short grind up Crystal Lakes Road led to Wheeler Trail and the foot race was on. A conga line of bike pushers extended up and over the pass. Jonathan Davis of Elevated Legs and his assorted partners in crime made the trek worthwhile with the trifecta hand-up of whiskey, bacon and skittles at the crest.

Descending off Wheeler was a broadside rush of full-open shock settings and wide bars—wide fuckin’ open, over wet rocks and sluice covered dirt. The only place I laid it down all week. But no damage done, and it’s onto the Ten Mile Canyon Bike Path, a popular paved trail starting in Frisco.

Of the six stages, race organizers were most worried about this section of this stage due to potential interaction with other trail users. As it turned out, the only conflict was when a longboarder took out a racer! Beyond that, everything went swimmingly and gave riders a brief chance at recovery. Aid station number 3 was an oasis before starting the arduous ascent of Miner’s Creek road. This never-ending grind just would not plateau until very near the top when it connected to the Colorado Trail.

A Coors summit.
The top of Wheeler’s Pass at over 12,000 feet offered the best hand-ups imaginable: Beer, Bacon, and a bit of confectionary rainbow tasting.

Some fast dicey singletrack along the Peaks trail made staying focused mandatory, before the stage finish at Ski Hill road at the base of the Breckenridge Ski Area. Smiles, or more accurately, upturned grimaces were featured on riders’ faces as the customary icy Cokes, watermelon and PB&J offered finish line recovery.

Stage 6. –The Gold Dust Trail
This is it. The last stage of a very long week. Folks are freakin’, and Galen and I let our freak flags fly, wearing denim vests over our kits. People on the start line are loose, a little less race-face, a little more party power. But there’s still 31 miles and 3,500 feet of climbing to attain, so let’s get on with it, shall we?

Today’s ride is essentially a figure 8. Out of the chute we settle in for a pavement climb up to some of the delicious singletrack we sampled earlier in the week, including Nightmare on Baldy and Nightmare Transfer, before starting the ascent of Boreas Pass road to the first aid station at mile 12 and the Gold Dust trail. A ripping descent off Gold Dust had us flowing through sweeping berms evoking Ewok Forest, before looping us around and eventually climbing Boreas Pass in reverse, coming through the aid station from the opposite direction. Once again, the Elevated Legs crüe were there with crucial beer and bacon and high-fives.

Blasting down Boreas to the Indian Creek doubletrack you knew you were in the homestretch and after a high-speed paved road descent, it was on to Blue River Trail and then Little Mountain trail. We finished with a flourish of swooping singletrack and before I knew it, I was ripping down the finishing chute and the listening to booming speakers roar.

I reached into my back pocket, –with a bit of difficulty, I might add– for a Coor’s Light I had stashed at the aid station and rolled across the line. And just like that, the 2014 Breck Epic, in the books! Six stages, 210.5 miles, 31,069 feet of climbing.

Such a high-class event, and so many great people to thank, from race promoter Mike McCormack and his crüe, to TK for the inspiration of the entire field. He won the final stage, even with the dislocated shoulder, but he was ineligible for the official victory, as he hadn’t finished stage 2. I must also thank the riders I met and rode with every day, especially Jorge from Chile, Craig and Linda from Ontario, and the community of Breckenridge.

The 2015 early bird registration is now open, so why not sign up?

Stage 7.
Stage 7.

Stage 7 – The Gold Pan Saloon
What’s a proper stage race without a good old fashioned hoe-down at the end?

The Breck Epic crüe loves a good party, so as they say, “Bring your drinkin’ hat, your dancin’ shoes … and personal sanitizer” to the Gold Pan—a Breckenridge tradition since 1879. The DJ’s were thumpin’ and someone in the crowd was pumpin’ some bad gas, but it didn’t stop us from re-hydrating into the wee hours, before rambling off to the Castelli condo, where I was the last one standing, watching Mad Max at 4 a.m.

Galen showed up not long after, with stories of crashing a wedding party, but I was too tired to care.

Previous Heavy Pedal Tour 2014 installments:

Heavy Pedal Tour 2014 – You can’t go home again

Heavy Pedal Tour 2014 – The trails, free shuttles and beer of Helena, Montana

Heavy Pedal Tour 2014 – Recovering from the Butte 100

Heavy Pedal Tour 2014 – The Butte 100

Heavy Pedal Tour 2014 – Evel Knievel Days