R&R Outside has taken groups to far away places to play bikes in the woods but this year’s trip to race the Gunnison Growler was by far the largest. After a couple of late cancellations, the group was 17 adults and one toddler. And no, I’m not talking about Ryan. (Hehe). What was even more special about this trip were the many new travelers. So the pressure was on to make it memorable and fun. I think we succeeded in both departments.
Behind the MTB WAGN was a caravan of three vehicles. Four more would arrive in Gunnison at varying times. We left after work on Thursday to make some headway to our Colorado destination some 12 hours away.
That’s when the “fun” began.
After gassing up in North Platte, the battery light came on the dash. Ryan opens up his on-board diagnostic app on his phone and watches the voltage settings like an expectant father. The number was supposed to be above 14 but it was hovering around 13.7. Then, it went 12.7, then 11.7 and that’s where it stayed until we got to Ogallala and our hotel. By the time we arrived, it was just after 10pm. Ryan being Ryan, grabbed a few people for a trip to Walmart to get a new battery in case the van was dead in the morning. He spent the rest of the evening watching videos about replacing an alternator.
We woke early so he could make sure the van would start. It did, as normal. Volts were where they should be. All was well. We loaded up and headed for the famed stop for Jesus burritos. On the way, the voltage started to creep back down. It was time for Plan B.
As we ate our burritos, Ryan went over to the local Auto Zone. Between him, Sully and the auto parts store, they figured they could replace it in the parking lot. Half hour tops (which as we all know means 3 hours in real time). But the lady in the store couldn’t guarantee which one would work. But she knew a repair guy in the area (it’s 7am in the morning, btw) who would know. She gave Ryan directions on a piece of paper to Steve’s Tow and Repair in Julesburg, Co, just across the border. “This is the beginning of a horror movie,” exclaims EOB, fearing we were all heading towards the home of a serial killer who would stick us all in a pit in the ground. More likely we were all thinking “what podunk farmer’s garage are we being sent to?” As we rounded the a bend in the highway, a stone monument sign notified us we had arrived. Up the long gravel driveway was the most beautiful repair compound! It was clean, there were no guard dogs and it had at least 6 bays and every tool necessary. And the owner was a Ford tech. We couldn’t have been more lucky. Well, except he was actually there and they were open for business and nobody was in line. So one hour later at the most, we were back on the road, heading west towards the mountains.
The plan was to get to the house and eat the brisket I brought for lunch but since we were behind schedule, we decided at our stop in FairPlay, Co to eat roadside. When I opened the tin trays of meat, my heart sank. The meat wasn’t shredded but instead in large cold chunks. WHO DOES THAT? We didn’t have any utensils to cut it up and it was windy and loud with traffic and everyone was about ready to kill me. But to our luck there was a taco truck parked in the lot and everyone lined up for lunch. With Mark’s wife’s enchiladas on the menu for dinner, a theme had developed for the day’s food. Oh well, everyone dealt with it and we were beck on the road.
We arrived at the rental cabin/ranch around 3pm. After a quick tour and getting people to their rooms, we kitted up and headed to the trail for some recon and to get registered. It was a beautiful day to ride bikes and show the newbies the infamous Kill Hill. Not exactly the easiest thing to do with 4 hour car legs! After the ride we stopped at registration and finally back to the cabin where Sully and Jenni slaved over a stove and and microwave trying to heat up partially frozen enchiladas before anyone started to revolt. It didn’t help the microwave quit in the middle of the process. And heating up anything at altitude when you’re starving always takes 3x as long. But everyone got fed and the rest of the night was spent getting gear ready.
Alarm goes off at 5:15 but I’ve been awake since, oh, the day before. I always sleep like crap the first night at altitude and/or before a race. I don’t even know how I race with no sleep. So I popped out of bed and got the coffee going. Everyone must have been awake, b/c suddenly 10 people are in the kitchen trying to find food and walking into each other. Ryan made a large pot of steel cut oats so breakfast was easy for all. I fried a couple of eggs for some extra protein. Everyone seemed to be in good spirits and with the chilly night, had slept well. By 7am we were on the road to the venue and to score our close parking spot.
The sky was clear and the air was chilly. PERFECT! I started my warm ups pretty early so I could work up to some hard openers when I found a hill to power up.
Around 8:45 I lined up. Dawning the Stars & Bars jersey, I felt like I had a cape on in a way. I did get some funny looks and one woman lined up next to me and said “this must be a good spot next to the Stars and Stripes jersey.” I was proud but embarrassed. I’m not one who likes to draw attention but I received a lot of encouragement from my peeps to wear it. I felt like I was representing the Midwest ! I did get called Katie Compton, even going so far as having a guy ride up next to me and ask, “Ms. Compton?” where I regrettably had to burst his balloon with my reply, “Nope. I’m from the Midwest.” I can’t say that people reacted differently around “the jersey” but I’m sure it was a target. For the most part my experience from others was very positive and full of mad props and excitement. Very fulfilling and humbling.
The gun went off at 9 and the group was off. I was upper 3rd in the start but was probably mid pack by the time we got to Kill Hill. I just kept it steady, staying all the way to the left as it seemed to be the smoothest on the pre-ride. 9 minutes of climbing and it was over. I could see Ryan up ahead and that was a good indicator for me . He always starts strong. At the first drop into single track there was a tandem couple that had crashed. The section was a series of moto whoops that we were warned about by the promoter and I can only imagine what their suspension was doing as the whoops were pretty close together. I asked if they were ok and they waved me on but the woman was getting up pretty slow. Mad props to them!
I continued on and stayed the course. I did hit a few snags here and there where I had to dab. Got yelled at a time or two for being in the way (very rare that this happens) but I didn’t let the first two times bother me. The third time was different. Just about half-way into the race, I was in a group and trying to get down, in my skill level, a non-rideable section. As I was walking down with others a guy runs past us on the right and yells out “You people are killing me!” So as I caught up to him on the trail I said “sorry we’re not as pro as you” then when the track went up and got really steep he was off the bike. As I rode by I said, “Dude, you’re killing me”. He snickered and said something funny about not being able to climb so was bummed that we were in his way earlier. It didn’t matter. I left him behind and climbed up the road. Abbey was on her way down and was smiling and looking good. It was great to see her so soon in the race! I didn’t stop at the station like I did last year. I only took 3 bottles with the plan to fill up one of them at the next station to minimize the stops.
The race as a whole was pretty straight forward. A small mountain storm blew in and I thought I was going to regret not having an extra layer. The wind kicked up (luckily I was not on the edge of some cliff) and we could see the storm clouds building. The sleet came down for maybe a minute and that was all she wrote. The sun came back out and it was back to sweating. Welcome to Colorado.
At the last climb (which is a doozy) I was passed by a couple ladies. I caught one and held her off but ended up they weren’t in my category. I finished 5th in my age group with a time around 3:47.
Ryan was already in when I arrived and soon after came Sully, Ramsey, Stewart, Shane, Adam and Paul. Lots of smiles but there were a couple deer in headlights. This type of terrain is no joke. You’re either on the gas or off with lots of areas to challenge any rider. We waited a while for the rest of the group but had to eventually head back as the wind and hunger pains were becoming increasingly un-ignorable. Per usual, upon arrival we got our Andrew Jackson and a choice of swag. I was more interested in the bathroom and the patch of shady grass next to the van, to be honest.
Soon the rest of the group come in one by one. Nobody bloody (not too bad, anyway), all bikes intact and nobody wanting to kills us for bringing them here. I was very glad to see April. Talk about rock star. She had to work on Friday so she flew to Denver and Todd drove to pick her up. They got to the house around 11pm and there she was lining up with everyone else. Mad props!
Abbey ended up getting 2nd in junior women. AWESOME. She's been getting stronger and stronger.
After getting her award we headed back to the house to clean up and chill. We devoured the smoked brisket after I figured out how to shred it. No food was safe around 15 hungry mountain bikers who just burned 2000 calories. It was liken to a pack of wolves taking down a water buffalo.
Abbey ended up getting 2nd in junior women. AWESOME. She's been getting stronger and stronger.
Sunday was a fun day. B-Rad and his crew from Iowa were racing so they were up and at 'em before dawn. Some of the group went up to kill hill to watch the carnage. Brad was top 10 going up the hill and that's where he remained for the race. Amazing result for first timer from the Midwest.
The rest of us eventually got up. Metabolism was still running on high so some protein was on the menu in the way of scrambled eggs and bacon. It didn't take long before we were all kit'd up and on the road to Salida for a day of riding in the high desert trails around S mountain. Some new trails had been built up higher and we had enough vehicles that we could shuttle all the people and bikes up the the trail head and leave one at the bottom to take the drivers back up to get them. Nobody was opposed to that plan! We had blue-bird skies and dry trails and all was good. We broke up into fast group chill group and I swept the chill group, which I like doing b/c after a day of racing, I'm in no mood to hammer. Plus I also get to take pictures and cheer on friends like Jenni who has taken our MTB School and watch her put her skills to work. The bravery to take on terrain that couldn't be more different than her home trails gets me every time. She probably doesn't believe me but I'm one of her biggest fans.
The trail was a blast. Some power climbs here and there but it was mostly a descent. From bench cut single track, to rocky spring beds, to machine-built flow trail at the end, it was a baller of a ride. I'd pay to be taken up that a few times for sure but that day, one run was about all we had in us. When we got down, I was on bike watch duty as some went for beers while the others went to get the cars. There was a blue grass festival happening so lots of folks strolling about enjoying the day.
As mountain bikers do, food was on the brain. Pizza and beer was the desire of the day so Adam, Jenni and April scoped out the pizza shop in town. There was a wait so they put in for a couple of tables. By the time the retrievers returned, it was time to sit and eat all the food once again. A few pitchers were ordered, a few breadsticks and a bunch of pizza. Though most of the time these folks wouldn't pound this much carb (except for maybe Adam) they found themselves lapping it up like it was their last meal. We rolled our food babies out to the sidewalk. We strolled over to Absolute Bikes before heading back. Always a good time stopping in and sharing the stoke with those guys. No matter if you're riding a cruiser or a full-on long travel machine, they celebrate all that is two wheels.
As the sun was getting lower in the west, we followed it back to the cabin. We moved from car to deck where we spent the last of the daylight listening to the river flow right along with the stories of trips and bikes gone by. After several bags of chips and guac devoured and beer swallowed, Ryan and I got a pit fire started. No wind and just enough chill in the air made for perfect conditions. Plus being so far from town, the stars are crystal clear. Aside from some locals firing shot guns and automatic rifles, it was otherwise a very perfect ending to the weekend.
With so much turmoil in the world and the stress it puts on us, taking friends to beautiful places quiets the mind, shuts out the noise and allows us to experience basic human connection that we often forget about in our fast-paced daily lives. We get to laugh and support each other and be reminded of our bravery when the trail challenges us. Above all, taking trips with these like-minded people reminds each of us how lucky we truly are to have each other.