Words by Joey Schusler
Photos by Nick Ontiveros
Things changed a bit today. For the majority of racers it went from being just another day of racing to a gigantic day of just trying to survive. As I rolled out of bed at 6:30 this morning, I couldn’t help but feel the effects from the previous day’s efforts. We had in fact ridden 30-plus miles, climbed over 6,000 feet, raced flat-out, lung-burning stages for almost 30 minutes, and battled with the altitude and sun.
Today’s shuttle took us to the same place as yesterday. The only difference is that once we unloaded we began a very abrupt and steep climb up Dead Man’s Gulch, instead of the more mellow Cement Creek option. We climbed up and up for what seemed like forever, up switch back after switch back. I was climbing with the same group of guys I had been with the day before; a mix of both pros and experts. We chatted the entire way and shared our stories from the wild race stages we had already encountered. As we neared to top of the transfer stage, we burst out into a huge meadow. This trail was so far off the beaten path that not many people ride it aside from motorcycles. I couldn’t help but take in the beauty that surrounded us. The mountains spanned as far as the eye could see. The Elk range is pretty spectacular, and you could almost pick out Aspen in the distance.
The speed on these trails is incredible–something you don’t find in many other places. Immediately after dropping into the first stage of the day I was spun out and going full speed. I remained this way for the majority of the stage, minus one really steep, punchy climb that made me quite dizzy and anaerobic. After the climb, I rode one of the best section of trail I have ever ridden. One perfectly arced loamy turn linked into another for what seemed like minutes, all the while in a massive Aspen patch. I couldn’t help but think how cool that section of trail will be in a few weeks, when the fall colors hit it full force.
After stage one, we had a somewhat soul crushing 17-mile climb. But it was all worth it, every last mile of it. Stage two was down a trail named Doctors Park, which after all my years of riding around the state of Colorado is still my all time favorite trail. It starts in an alpine meadow before dropping into 10 minutes of high speed, smooth windy singletrack through Aspens. For those ten minutes everything else in my life faded away as I blitzed through the forest. Throw in a punchy climb for good measure, and then wind down another 6 minutes of trail and I was at the end of one burly day!
The rain has set in now, and slight traces of snow have already dusted the high peaks above us. Things will certainly get interesting tomorrow and it seems as if people are either dreading carrying on or just can’t get enough of it! I guess it all just comes down to how hard you like to push your limits and your sense of adventure.