Words by Joey Schusler
Photos by Nick Ontiveros
It wasn't until after the riders meeting that the reality of what we were about to attempt had set in. I had the same feeling that I get leading into any big adventure. It's a rare feeling that only one or two MTB races have ever given me; a feeling usually reserved for climbing sketchy routes up massive mountains or riding wild, remote trails in foreign countries. I was excited, yet there was an undeniable note of apprehension in my excitement.
After much anticipation over the past few months we were finally gathered here in the high-country Colorado town of Crested Butte, all 130 of us – pros and amateurs alike. The adventure had been laid out before us: five days of riding around the burly mountains surrounding Crested Butte is no easy task. Throw in racing stages, going absolutely flat-out on top of that, and you have one tall order.
All the racers met up in the downtown square between 6 a.m. and 8 a.m. where the shuttle trucks were loading up. A 45-minute drive up the Cement Creek Basin gave us a good head start to stage one, but we were still left to our own devices to pedal the next nine miles. As we climbed up the dusty singletrack we left behind the lush green aspens and underbrush. The higher we got, in became more evident that fall was slowly creeping into the Colorado high country. The air was crisp and had a little bite to it, and the underbrush had turned to a distinct burnt orange.
I found it interesting that just about half of the field had attempted practicing the stages beforehand. There is no doubt that seeing a stage beforehand is a huge advantage, but with the race already being 5 days, not everyone has the free time to suss out all the trails beforehand, myself included. It was absolutely exhilarating dropping in on both stages of the day completely blind, with no idea of what was around the next corner. It added a nice element of surprise and kept you on your toes.
Stage two was a lot similar to stage one. Awesome. 10-plus minutes of all out charging and just about everyone had a massive smile on their face at the end. There is something about racing on trails like this that makes you ride in a way that you normally wouldn't if you were just out for a spin with your friends. Your level of riding and what you are capable of rises significantly, and in turn so does the rush you get at the bottom of the trail. The liaison stages were perfect for slowing down a bit and taking in the beautiful scenery, and the race was all about getting your heart throbbing and smashing down the trail as fast as possible. It makes for a great mix of adventure and action throughout the day.
With nine more stages spanning four more days, riders are starting to realize that this race isn't for the faint of heart. Often times after a day of racing you see people hanging about the pits, enjoying a few beers, and lingering for hours on end. Today, it was funny to see the pits clear out relatively quick. It was a big day in the saddle, and I think everyone was due for some well deserved rest.