Steel Stout Test

Steel Stout Test, originally uploaded by loosenutswheels.

Chris has been grinding a lot of ledges on his big-wheeled fixed gear murder machine. I sure do miss t-shirts and dry ground in the wintertime...


Cross Season Winds Down; Ramps up for National Favorites

Cyclocross season is drawing to a close. For all but the handful of hardcores competing at the National Championships this weekend in Bend, it's time to settle in for the winter, put on an extra layer of insulting body fat and take some time off the bike to catch up on reading, relaxing, and sleep.
Overall, our first Cross Crusade campaign was pretty successful. India wrapped up the series win for the Beginner women and scored a much-coveted Crusader's Cross to wear about her neck as well as a bountiful prize pack that included a race bag with waterbottle carrier and all, some S-Works road tires for the training miles, some water bottles, Hammer bars, and a cool little multi-tool. I finally got myself into the points with a 17th place finish at the last race of the season and wound up 35th on the Mens B leaderboard. Not too shabby for a poor mechanic on a beat-up old singlespeed. A little sidenote: the season opener at Alpenrose dairy saw 1,483 racers, making it the biggest single cyclocross race in the WORLD, EVER. Wow.
But, with the end of our little regional series comes the beginning of the big national races. The USGP of Cyclocross had its final stop in Portland last weekend. We missed Saturday's racing, but made it up to the Portland International Raceway to watch the best cyclocrossers in America race in the unseasonably dry and chilly conditions. The women's race was inspiring, with Katerina Nash coming back from an early crash to solo in for the win ahead of Meredith Miller and Amy Dombroski. Portland local and regular 'Cross Crusader Sue Butler took a respectable seventh.
The men's race played out like a dogfight, with Todd Wells going off like a rocket from the gun. The only two riders who could get on his wheel were the duo of Tim Johnson and Jeremy Powers of the Cannondale team. Hometown hero and Cross Crusade sandbagger Ryan Trebon was gapped from the start and gave a good chase, but the speeds at the front were too high for the lanky speedster to gain much ground. Wells pushed the pace the hardest, despite the repeated attacks of the Cannondale teammates. In the final two laps, punches were flying from all sides in a melee of attacks, but the three stayed together until the last few tight, hardpacked corners before the paved finishing straight, when Powers swooped to the inside line to edge Wells from the lead. He surged, gained a small lead and took the win over a hard-charging Wells and teammate Johnson. Mountain bike strongman and Bend, OR native Adam Craig fought his way from the back of the field to a fourth-place finish ahead of Trebon and fellow fat-tire pro Geoff Kabush in sixth. Trebon managed to snatch enough points to cement his USGP championship.
All in all, this race was an exciting prelude to 'cross nationals next weekend in Bend. With the exception of Jonathan Page who was racing in Europe, all of the big names of American cyclocross were accounted for in Portland. Trebon, Powers, Wells, Page and Johnson will all be gunning for the coveted Stars and Stripes jersey, along with dark horses like Adam Craig to keep things interesting. Always one to root for the underdog, I'm hoping for a good finish by Bend local and mountain bike shredder, Craig. He's got a laid-back attitude but some serious fitness and bike handling skills that should serve him well on what will probably be a snowy and slushy course at the Deschutes Brewery in Bend. Does he shave his legs? Maybe. But we can't hold that against him, can we? Can he hold off the Cannondale power trio of Powers, Johnson and Driscoll? Can he stay outside the spidery reach of his long-legged fellow Oregonian, Trebon? Will Jonathan Page return from Europe with all the fire and tenacity of a thousand Belgian cyclocross fans? All these questions and more will be answered this Sunday in Bend at the Cyclocross National Championships. See you there.



Singlespeed Cyclocross World Championships were held this past Sunday in the pit of mud, blood and beer that was the Portland International Raceway. Here are some quick news flashes:
MUD! Lots of it. Everywhere. In every consistency and depth, at every angle and incline.
BEER! Lots of it. Mostly cheap, in red, white and blue cans. Pabst was also an event sponsor and served up only-slightly-overpriced pints.
THUNDERDOME! Craziest thing I ever rode through. S&M freakazoids and undead zombie people swinging from the rafters throwing beer and marshmallows.
BACON! Bacon handups should happen at every race!
JACKALOPE! In a nod to Jerry, the great and glorious Loose Nuts Jackalope, I felt it appropriate to don my best Jackalope attire for the festivities. Some spectators knew who I was, some were a little confused. "Go... Deer with ears guy!," "Go Bullwinkle!," and, "Holy shit it's the Easter Bunny!" were only some of the cheers I recieved.
Did I mention that it was muddy? I still don't know who won but I'm pretty sure it wasn't me. There was also some kind of race-within-the-race between Seattle and San Francisco to decide which city will host the SSCXWC next year. Either way, I'm going to do my damndest to make it next year too. Might have been the most fun I've ever had racing my bike. There was intermittent rain all afternoon, so we didn't get any photos of the actual race. A couple of post-race shots are up on the Loose Nuts flickr page and I'll be scouring the buckets of photos sure to be dumped out on the interweb for pictures of me in the heat of battle, goring other racers with my noble antlers. The PDXCross guys have some great "dirty pictures" as always, BikePortland has a pretty good gallery up on their flickr page with some good pictures of the Thunderdome and scary MadMax racer people.


Cyclocross Crusade!

It's been so long since my last post, so much has happened that it's impossible to really catch up. Our internet situation has been sketchy at best and often nonexistant. But, cyclocross season is in full swing and Sunday has quickly become the one day of the week that makes the other 6 livable. It's the hardest and the easiest day of the week all at once. Physically, it's brutal. I could never put my body through anything close to the stress and trauma of a 'cross race on any other day or in any other place. Mentally, it's incredibly easy. There is absolutely nothing to think about. No work, no money, no rent or bills, no loneliness or frustration, depression or confusion. Any physical or mental processes that don't make the bike go faster get turned off. I'm not hungry, I don't need to pee, I don't care if the snot runs down my lip. All mental energy is directed towards straightforward tasks like choosing lines through corners, timing passes, dismounting and remounting and hammering the pedals with everything that I am and everything that I want to be. Mistakes in judgement are obvious when your wheels slide out from under you and there's no time to stop and deliberate in a 45-minute race. You keep going, you persevere, no matter what happens. Anybody who DNFs in a 'cross race has some serious explaining to do.
The Cross Crusade is a very different beast than the Georgia Cross. I suppose that's so obvious that it should go without saying, but here are some of the unique features of the Crusade:
HUGE fields!
Seriously, it's crazy! My field of Mens B and Singlespeed riders has averaged around 200. I think the biggest field I raced in all last year was about 80, less than half the size of the smallest field we had this year. The first lap is a totally insane cluster-coitus where anything resembling a curve or narrowing of the course causes an 1-285 style pileup, and by the 2nd or 3rd lap when the slowest riders start to get caught by the eventual winners, there are no gaps anywhere on the course. I could fight my way from the very back of the group and catch the leaders last year, but even with an extra 15 minutes added to my race, by the time I make it through the scrum, the lead group that took the holeshot from the start is long gone. I've yet to see the front of a race. The first race of the season had a total participation upwards of 1,400 riders including everyone from the elites all the way down to unicyclists and kiddie crossers. Tons of women too! According to my eyeballed estimate, the women's field at that first race (one single race) outnumbered the cumulative number of women who raced over the entire 8-race series of Georgia Cross.
No Podiums or Prizes for the Victors.
This one really threw us for a loop when India finished second (cough! sandbagchough!ger)in the Rainier High School race. We hadn't seen any podiums or award ceremonies or anything, but maybe we just hadn't stuck around long enough... I asked one of the officials if there were podiums or single-race prizes or anything and she told me, "nope, but there's a big party at the end of the season." Hmm. We were disappointed at first. If I had worked my butt off to pass people and work my way up to finish one of these highly competitive races in the top three spots, I’d want some damn glory please! A small token would be nice also. An inexpensive medal or even one of the little ribbons they give to the kiddie-crossers would be fine, thanks. I’d like something to show for my efforts, similar to a bruised hip or swollen elbow after a hard crash, something to take home and hang up to remind myself that I managed something special on that particular day, something to take to the shop on Monday to show my boss, coworkers and customers that I can ride as well as I can wrench, something that I could show to friends or family that proves that all this time I spend riding, building, fixing, and suffering over bikes is worthwhile, something to prove to people who know or care nothing about bicycles or bike racing that I’m good at what I do. But, there are no podiums, prizes, primes, medals or other material rewards for a good showing in a Cross Crusade race. The race organizers certainly try to discourage sandbagging, so perhaps this is part of that plan. It's not a series for the glory hound that stays in the lower categories so they can feel like a big shot. That's not to say that the series isn't competitive. Even in the lower categories, riders fight tooth and nail for every position, whether its first or forty-first. I guess having a good ride and doing your best is its own reward.
Really FREEKING Fast!
This may have more to do with my category upgrade than the geographic location we're racing, but I was blown away by the speeds in my first couple of Mens B races. I was hauling ass through bumpy, loose, dusty, rough-as-all-hell sections of course, way outside my comfort zone just trying not to get passed and stay in contact with the riders ahead of me. I've started to get used to the speeds and realized that I'm much better at carrying speed around corners than a lot of the guys I'm racing against. That might be a skill carried over from riding a singlespeed mountain bike on long trail rides where any momentum lost requires a ton of energy to regain. I'm not the most powerful rider, but I've gained some quickness out of the corners that helps me get the jump on some of my competition. What worries me is the speeds that the guys out front are hitting. My best finish so far still keeps me out of the series points and I've yet to see the front of one of these races. That's no surprise, but has taken some adjustment after soloing off the front to a handful of wins last season. Right now, I'd just be stoked to finish within sight of the leaders, maybe get myself in the top 18 and earn some points.
Anyway, if you want to get a feel for the races and a taste of the energy that surrounds these races, check out pdxcross.com. They have a ton of awesome black-and-white photographs that seem to capture the spirit of these events.
The halloween-themed race is being held in Astoria this weekend, so expect to see some spooky and bizarre costumes. We'll do our best to get some good photos, especially since we managed to forget the camera altogether at the super-fun mud fest that was the Hillsboro Fairgrounds race last weekend. I did manage to poach a couple of photos of us from happy hunting grounds that are the interwebs, so check them out on Facebook. More photos too on the Loose Nuts flickr page, so check those out. Can't wait to get those race kits!


The Ride to Work

I'm one of the fortunate people who is able to ride their bike to work every day. Every morning and afternoon I get to enjoy the best part of my day from the saddle of my bike. A few days ago I took the camera along, so prepare yourself for a barrage of photos. This was also the first morning riding with my new, super-badass Camelbak H.O.S.S. I'm not sure what that is supposed to stand for, but it's got tons of space, a rolltop dry-bag type main compartment, and rad little pockets for wallet, phone, tools, etc. Thanks for hooking it up Jimmy! Today I'm also bringing some tapes up to the shop to try to stave off FM radio overload.
So, bag packed, tires topped off, I roll out on the trusty Steamroller, headed North up Mississippi Street. I take a left on Killingsworth to head West.
Killingsworth takes me all the way to land's end where I'll take a left on Willamette Boulevard, an appropriately named road that runs above the Willamette River and the associated industrial and shipping centers on the north side of Portland.
It's a fun, curvy road with lots of nice views and very little traffic. Speaking of curvy, I'm field-testing a new handlebar setup today:
We have tons of old steel flat bars laying around the shop from old crappy mountain bikes, so Robby (the owner/bossman) thought it would be a good idea to bend this one into a fun, sweepy shape. It's pretty comfy, but I'd need a really long stem to not be sitting super-upright on my bike. Maybe for a laid-back neighborhood cruiser. Here's the obligatory on-bike self portrait:
Flattering, no? Here are some pretty flowers:
And lest you forget that bicycle commuting is no game and that every street is not a flower-lined boulevard but a blood-smeared battlefield, allow me to give you some insight into the intense level of competition you find between cyclists on the mean streets of North Portland. I approached another rider from the rear and was instantly convinced that this guy was looking for a fight, what with his battle flag, hiked-up socks in leiu of combat boots (clearly a savvy gram-counter), and ordinance-carrying rack. However, I had the element of surprise on my side, and with my stealthy-silent fixed gear drivetrain and sniperlike breath control I was able to sneak up within inches of his wheel and linger in the draft for a single pedal stroke before rising out of the saddle and leaping to his left to put the hammer down and totally school this namby-pamby urban warrior wannabe:
Slightly winded from my effort but assured a glorious victory, I settled into a comfortable pace for the rest of the ride along Willamette. The road eventually veers back in a Northeasterly direction and drops me into downtown St. John's, a little city of its own way out on the peninsula between the Willamette and Columbia rivers in North Portland.
Almost directly across the street from this sign lies the storefront of our competition:
Here's the main drag, Lombard street:
Across the street from our shop, shaded by a purple awning and adorned with lovely hanging baskets we have Plew's Market, purveyors of fine snacks, candy, soda pop and other delectables to keep us going through a hard day:
And here is our little storefront - still very much a work in progress - but with some bikes in the window:
Whew, made it. Another foe bested, another ride to work completed. Time to unlock the doors, stop sweating, wash my face, pull on a fresh t-shirt, pour a cup of coffee from the thermos and get crackin!


India's Podium!

blam_sprints_145.jpg Originally uploaded by stacy schrag
Here she is on the podium, eyes closed as usual.

Backyard Blam!

blam_sprints_018.jpg Originally uploaded by stacy schrag
Found this photo on flickr tonight, so I thought I'd share. Here I am shredding the pump track during my 3-lap time trial at the Backyard Blam Bicycle Jam, held last Sunday here in Portland. I might have finished in the top ten. Check out the other photos on this girl's flickr and pdxfixed to get a sense of the action. They also had a quick stop contest for the fixster kids, a trick competition on the pump track/dirt jumps, and goldsprints. India won 3rd in the ladies goldsprints and took home a cool bag from Crumpler, some purple BMX grips, playing cards from Chrome with pictures of famous bike messengers on them(?), and a Knog cycling cap that I get to wear because it's too big for her. Hehe.


Flashback to the Future!

Okay, so anyone who has been following our little travelogue knows that I have fallen woefully behind and have little hope of catching up to the present day. We've been here in Portland for about a month, and the blog still shows us somewhere in Colorado. There is still so much to tell from our journey, but so much happening here in Portland that our reading public (small as it may be) is missing out on because of my chronologically-induced writer's block.
There is no perfect solution to this dilemma, but after much debate and deliberation I have decided to flash-forward to the present, attempt to keep our readers updated on the current happenings here in Portland, and occasionally flash back to cover the last few days of our trip. We've already covered the majority of truly epic adventures. Crested Butte was both the literal and figurative high point of the journey for both of us and once we left that mountaintop haven we just wanted to get to Portland, move into our new apartment, and have a home again.
Speaking of home, our little apartment has really come together. Here's what it looked like the day we arrived:
Simon (our faithful '94 Camry) was happy to have the load off his back and ready for a much-deserved rest after handling the 4,000 mile trip like a champion. Every time we passed a U-Haul, especially a U-haul trailering another car, we pitied the poor souls inside and thanked our lucky stars that we weren't doing the same thing.
The next day, our cube full of stuff arrived.
Where to put it all?
Just stuff it in there! Use your whole hand!
We managed to unload the entire thing in one afternoon, and began the long process of setting up, organizing, and putting things in their places. But of course, any moving experience wouldn't be complete without at least one trip to the Swedish embassy, IKEA!
We rode our bikes to the MAX station at the Rose Quarter, locked 'em up, and took the train to Ikea, right nextdoor to the Portland airport. We picked up a silverware organizer, a dish drainer, a recycling bin, some tupperware, a can opener, and some other goodies. We eyeballed couches and shelves, but saved those for another trip. We eventually went back with Simon to carry home a set of galvanized steel shelves for all our bike stuff and a super-cool blue couch that folds out into a really comfy bed for anyone interested in making the journey to visit.
We also hit up Crate and Barrel to cash in the gift certificates we were gifted as wedding presents. We scored a french press, a pair of cool cups and saucers,
a pizza stone, a colander, and a wine bottle stopper. Thanks gift-certificaters!
So, our little spot in North Portland is starting to feel like home. The breeze blows through nicely up here on the second floor, and we're right next to a big tree that we can watch the birds and squirrels in.
Our street is pretty calm and quiet, but we're right around the corner from the historic Mississippi Avenue district, home of Mississippi Studios, a music venue once graced by the talents of Dent May and his merry band of musicmakers, including none other than the illustrious Carr Chadwick and Jesse Thompson, currently on a summer tour in Europe. This little stretch of town is also home to some great restaurants, most of which we have yet to sample from. However, the Mississippi Pizza Pub is certainly a highlight. We were worried about finding a good spot for pints and pies to fill the gaping void in our lives left by Athens favorite, Transmetropolitan, but the MPP is a good start. They've got pre-made slices on the cheap, whole pies and delicious brew on tap. Not too shabby. They also offer gluten-free pizza (MEGS! Come to Portland!) and host a spelling bee every Monday night. Right next to the pizza pub is the Por Que No?! Taqueria, a teeny little spot with amazing tacos that give Taqueria Del Sol a run for its money. We didn't sample the margaritas, so I don't know how they compare to Del Sol (which may be the best I've ever had), but I know they can't match the friendly service of Mr. Jake "Treetop" Jackson. And by the way, just to give you an idea about the amazing variety of locally-brewed beers, the IPAs we had in lieu of margaritas were from Amnesia Brewing, whose restaurant and brewery are about another 200 yards up the street. Awesome. Every neighborhood seems to have at least one bike shop, one brewery, and at least 3 coffee shops or cafes.
Anyway, things are rolling along here so I'll try to update once or twice a week to stay current. I'm starting to settle into my new job, India is keeping up and working diligently to stay on top of school, and we're gearing up for the Cross Crusade cyclocross series, which starts October 4th, the day before my 25th birthday. I'm also trying to sample as many of the nearby concrete skateparks as possible before the rainy season starts and the mud starts to fly on the 'cross courses. More on all of those subjects and more to come...


Stage 15: 18 Road Trails

The trails in Fruita have a big reputation. Zippety Do Dah might just be the crown jewel of the 18 Road trail network. It lies a few miles past the last farms surrounding the little town of Fruita, out where the rolling desert meets the steep slopes of the Book Cliffs, and was chosen as one of the three trails with the best “flow” in North America by Bike Magazine. For those of you unfamiliar with the concept of “flow” in a trail, think of a wild mountain stream running along the valley floor. It makes graceful, smooth turns and S-bends, humps up and over undulations in the terrain, and keeps its speed and momentum going over or around whatever obstacles lie in its path. The concept is the same for a trail, a skatepark, a winding road, a racetrack, or a set of dirt jumps. As long as you are able to tap into it as a rider, flowing trails like this one have the capacity to put you in touch with a higher power. Call it enlightenment, awakening, Buddha-consciousness, salvation, or whatever you like. This kind of trail can inspire the sense of interconnectedness and oneness with the universe that yogis, gurus and spiritual teachers have sought throughout the ages. But I don’t think Buddha, Jesus, Krishna, Mohammed or the Virgin Mary have ever ridden this particular trail.

Like any journey to glimpse enlightenment, this ride would not be easy. But we didn’t know that yet. Zippety-Do-Dah is a relatively short section of trail - only about 6 miles - so we thought that we’d add another section called Chutes and Ladders to stretch the ride out a bit. We climbed the gravel 18 Road up to the top of Chutes and Ladders, hooked a right, and got ready for what we thought would be a nice little descent. Most of what we received was super-technical descending on steep sidecuts and down rutted ridgesides all the way to the wash at the bottom,

Then back up on loose, abrupt climbs that had both of us pushing our bikes.

After we got down from the steeper slopes right at the foot of the cliffs, we got into some fun, smooth, rolling desert terrain with swooping lines of nicely hardpacked trail that we could really whiz down.

We made it back to the trailhead mostly unscathed, with lactic acid already eating our legs, and slightly humbled by the difficulty of the trail we just finished. But, we had come for Zippety-do-dah, and we weren’t done yet.

To get to the top of the trail, we had to climb back up to the high point of the trail area in order to descend back down Zippety. With our legs already tenderized by the viciously steep uphills on Chutes, we decided to take the “easy” way up and climb the doubletrack on the western edge of the trail area rather than climb up a section of windy singletrack. The climb wasn’t too painful, and we made the traverse across to the top of Zippety-do-dah, where we were greeted by a small wooden sign staked into the sandy ground with two black diamonds on it. “Advanced Experts ONLY,” read the warning printed on the sign. A little antsy, we rolled in. We soon found ourselves on the edge of the knife, on the top of a ridgeline so narrow that there was barely room for the trail, with sides so steep and loose that there was no way for even the most tenacious scrubby plant to cling to the slope.

The trail tread itself was fairly smooth with only the occasional loose rock, but the consequences of any misstep would be dire. After this point, there is no photographic record of the trail. I was in survival mode. Making sure my tires stayed on track was more important than snapping pictures. “Don’t look at it, look at the trail, look where you want to go,” I told myself. I had to keep reminding myself not to look off into the distance at the expanse of desert while riding the humped ridgetops, but all distractions were wiped away when the trail pointed downward. Holy crap, is it too steep? Just a straight shot, you’ve got it. No turning back now, way too fast to stop, are my brake pads going to melt? Oh god, BUMP! Phew, made it. Lean back, here comes the bottom…” The speed and steepness of the drop-ins left my heart in my throat and it landed with a thud in my gut on the tight transitions at the bottom.

My arms were shaking with adrenaline and fatigue as I rolled the last few giant piles of desert to the trailhead. India navigated some of the trail, but the steep descents were a little too much and she was forced to walk her bike, which she later admitted may have been harder than actually riding on slopes that steep. She trooped on, held it together and made it back to the trailhead with no major hurts. In hindsight, she was probably the smart one. There were at least three times during the course of those six miles where I really thought that if I screwed up, lost focus for even a second, my life would have been on the line. It was awesome. I'm not sure if I glimpsed enlightenment or not, but I wouldn’t recommend it to just anyone, but an experience mountain biker with some nerve and confidence on steep slopes would love this trail.

We made it back to the trailhead and up the gravel road to our car and campsite and made dinner.

We were also treated to a beautiful double desert rainbow after a few sprinkles of rain.

I had never seen a rainbow inside a rainbow before and we sat and watched as its colors faded in and out of focus. The sun set soon after, and we crawled into our tent for a good night’s sleep.


Stage 14: Crested Butte, CO - Fruita, CO

Sadly, our time in the mountain paradise of Crested Butte had to end. I could have stayed all summer but, lest we forget, we set out on this journey with bigger goals than spending the month of August riding mountain bikes and sipping pints of delicious brew. We had to be in Portland by the 17th, and still had a lot of country to cover before we could move into our new apartment and sleep in our own bed once again. We rolled out of town and headed northwest toward Fruita, a sleepy farming town near the Colorado border with Utah. Most people would have never heard of this quiet little town, but the fat-tire faithful know Fruita for her miles upon miles of widely heralded desert singletrack. The drive wasn’t too long, and put us into town around 2:00, with plenty of afternoon left for riding. We had heard tell (from our helpful friend who helped us solve our roof rack issues at REI, among other people) of a trail called Zippety-do-dah in the foothills of the Book Cliffs outside Fruita. It sounded like great fun, a roller-coaster ride of smooth desert trail, so we thought we’d seek it out. We found our way to SingleTracks bike shop in downtown Fruita, and weren’t even sure if there was anyone working in the store. We wandered around, found the trail maps, which also had clear directions to the trailhead, and only then saw someone who appeared to be an employee fiddling with the front wheel of some kid’s Wal-Mart BMX bike. He didn’t look up as we walked through, so we made our circular tour of the shop, eyeing the fancy bikes hanging from the walls and ceiling, and back out the front door. I think everyone feels condescension from snobbish bike shop employees from time to time, but at least those rude people recognize your presence for long enough to make a jab at your apparent ignorance. I’ve never been totally ignored in a bike shop. Not one this small, anyway. Whatever, I didn’t really have the money to buy anything, the trail map was free and now I didn’t feel obligated to buy anything.

So, off down the 18 Road and to the trailhead we went. We found the place without any trouble, out in the desert past the edge of town where the roads turned to dirt. There was plenty of camping right at the trailhead, so we parked the car, pulled the bikes off the roof, laid our plans for the ride, ate a quick bite and made ready to hit the trail.

Stage 13: Strand Hill Trails

We woke for another delicious breakfast at the Elk Mountain Lodge and fueled up for another day of riding. Still achy from the 401, we decided to do a shorter loop that wouldn’t require as much climbing, and decided to ride the Strand Hill trails, just west of downtown. There were several shorter trails that we could connect to make a ride however long we wanted. Also, the Strand Hill Trail itself was reputed to have one of the best descents in Crested Butte. We headed out of town...

and picked up the singletrack paralleling hwy 135, then picked up Brush Creek road. The road soon turned to dirt, but didn’t climb to the sky as steeply as Gothic had yesterday. We followed this road all the way up the side of Strand Hill until it turned into a jeep trail,

then split off on a steep, downhill piece of singletrack to a creek crossing. We shouldered our bikes and forded the shin-deep, freezing cold water to reach the trail on the other side.

We descended the Strand Hill Bonus trail for about 3 miles, through a tricky little rock section,

And down to the bottom of the Strand Hill trail itself. The hilltop at the crest of this trail was supposed to have a nice view of the surrounding mountains, and we would have climbed straight up it. Fortunately, we ran into a fellow rider at the bottom who advised us to continue on the Bonus trail and take a left on a forest doubletrack rather than ride up Strand. We heeded his advice, and even though the doubletrack turned out to be a mile-long slog over baseball-sized rolling rocks that my beat-to-death legs just couldn’t handle, the descent of Strand Hill was one of the best downhills I have ever ridden and was worth every second of suffering on the climb. Strand was fast, smooth, with naturally bermed corners formed of perfect hardpack, punctuated with occasional rooty sections or rock drops to keep you on your toes. The trail tightened up near the bottom, threw in a couple of quick switchbacks in between pump bumps and point-and-shoot rock sections where all you could do was point it straight, feather the brakes and hope for the best. Great fun. From the bottom of Strand Hill, we cruised ever downward on the Canal trail, a smooth, easy section that humped up and down over the hillside rollers on the way back down to the dirt road, and home. This ride was a good 2 hours shorter than our 5-hour day on 401, but didn’t allow for much of a recovery.

Back in Crested Butte, we were ready for another late lunch/early dinner and walked to Teocalli Tamale for Mexican food and Margaritas. After a pitcher of margs, an enchilada plate for India and some delicious fish tacos for me, we cruised the strip in search of postcards, and found some good ones at the Crested Butte Mountain Museum and Mountain Bike Hall of Fame. We decided to save the $3 entry fee into the museum for another trip, but came away with some good postcards. We walked down to the dirt jumps to see if anyone was riding. I really wanted to see someone airing out the big doubles on their BMX or mountain bike. The jumps were empty, but we had a good chunk of daylight left so we trekked back across town to the hotel and grabbed our bikes and lowered our saddles for a little session on the pump track. It didn’t take too long before our legs and lungs were howling for mercy, and by then the sun was starting to set. I aired out the jumps one last time for the crew of local kids that showed up, then we rolled back to the hotel for some well-deserved rest before our drive the next morning.


Stage 12: Trail 401

We woke bright and early to be sure we didn’t miss breakfast provided by our gracious hosts at the Elk Mountain Lodge. We filled our bellies with quiche, bagels, granola, yogurt, and plenty of fruit and coffee, then returned to the room to pack our gear and get ready to hit the trail. We packed tubes, tools, pump, 4 energy bars, 4 packs of shot bloks, 2 energy gels, and about 170 ounces of water between my Camelbak and 3 water bottles. This was going to be a long ride. Before we even got anywhere close to singletrack we had to endure a 15 mile climb out of town on Gothic Road, up through Mt. Crested Butte, out to where to road turns from pavement to dirt, steeper and narrower at it climbs up, through the tiny town of Gothic, and ever upward, clinging to the hillsides in tight, potholed switchbacks covered in moondust and loose rock. Almost too steep to climb seated, nearly too loose to climb standing. If it weren’t for the absolutely stunning scenery all around...

and the mythical singletrack to come, it would have seemed like pointless suffering. It was only a sense of pride that kept me from pushing my bike up some of the steeper sections. This brutal leg-smasher of a climb would take us from downtown Crested Butte at about 8,800 feet all the way up to Schofield Pass at about 10,100 feet.

We paused at the top for snacks and water, and chatted with a group of sightseers who had driven their truck to the top. While we rested, another group of riders rolled to the top of the pass, a crew of about eight from someplace in the Midwest, many of who were gearing up for the Leadville 100 on Saturday.

If you’re not familiar with Leadville, it’s a small town in Colorado that hosts an annual 100 mile mountain bike race with a something like 12,000 feet of climbing. It’s a brutal endurance event dominated by Dave Weins, a former pro mountain bike racer who is “retired” from racing, but has won Leadville for the last 6 years running. Floyd Landis tried to beat him and failed. Lance Armstrong tried to beat him and failed. Weins sets the bar ridiculously high, but the race is open to anybody crazy enough to register and fast enough to finish under the time cutoff.

Basically, these guys from the Midwest who just hit the top of Schofield pass with us were some grade-A mountain bike maniacs. We let them go ahead to start up the first section of trail, figuring that they would be much faster than us up the final climb to the very top of the 401. We started up not long after, and found that we had some sadistically steep singletrack to climb before the real reward for our efforts. I didn’t have much juice left in the legs to climb with anyway, but any chance I would have had to clear some of the steeper sections was foiled by the stragglers off the back of the Midwestern group. It’s pretty much impossible to stay on the bike when you’ve only got one gear and you’re stuck behind someone spinning up the steep stuff in the granny. I’m not saying I would have been able to ride all the way to the top, but it would have been nice to have a shot at it. Oh well, maybe on another trip… After a little over a mile of climbing, we finally topped out at the high point of the 401. Our Midwestern friends were stopping here to eat lunch, and we were still pretty well fueled from our stop at the top of the pass, so we downed a little water, posed for a picture,

and started down the swooping lines of dirt laid out across the hillsides. What a ride! There were a couple of tricky technical sections, some tight switchbacks and steep drop-offs to the side, but most of the next 5 miles was fast, smooth, rip-roaring trail through the wildflower-covered mountainsides.

I had to stop every now and then just to take in the view, since trying to admire the mountains all around while trying to keep my tires on this foot-wide sliver of dirt proved to be impossible.

We finally hit the low point of the 401 at a small creek where we paused for a breather. We splashed the dust off our faces with the icy cold water; a welcome relief from the unfiltered mountain sun and thin, dry air and headed back down the trail.

We wound around creek level for a while, then began a series of short ups-and-downs to get us around the corner of the mountain and back to the road. We were both already nearing the point of exhaustion, and had little left in the tank for climbing. Pride and determination were simply not enough to keep me on the bike for some of these climbs. It was then that I realized that my bike has two speeds: riding speed and walking speed. Walking speed turns out to be about the same as granny-gear speed, but without the pride and sense of accomplishment of being able to ride up the steepest sections of trail. As much as I love my Ol’ Burly Surly, a bike with about 5 inches of suspension travel and a whole bunch of gears might be in my future… We survived the final sections of trail and found our way back to Gothic Road and our final descent back into town. Just before we hit the ski town of Mount Crested Butte, we caught back up with our Midwestern friends who had passed us on the final uphill sections of trail. Most of them were going down the Snodgrass trail to add another few miles of singletrack. With almost 30 miles of riding already behind us, we thought that pizza and beer sounded like a better plan, so off down the road we went. On the way back into town on the bike path, I noticed some smaller bumps off to the side of the city dirt-jump park and decided to investigate. We found a nicely packed pump track of tight berms and 12-18 inch high rollers, almost like a concrete skatepark for mountain bikes. I pumped the humps for a few minutes, but didn’t have much energy left for playing. Maybe tomorrow…

We got back to the room thoroughly whipped, showered our tired bodies off, and made for the umbrella-shaded patio of the Brick Oven pizzeria. With pints and slices in our bellies, we were feeling pretty good. We wandered around downtown for a while, watched the people go by on their cruisers and marveled at the wonder and greatness of this place, this tiny mountain town that might just be the best place in the world if you love to ride trails. Before long, we shuffled back to the room to rest our tired bodies for a while before turning in for the night.