The build up to this day was incredible. It all started back during the cold winter months when I first heard about a five-day enduro race in Crested Butte. I knew I just had to check it out, and that longing led me into an entire summer of enduro racing with Big Mountain Enduro. But finally, at the beginning of September, I was on my way to race in the ultimate event: the five-day-long Crested Butte Ultra Enduro!
Going into the race I knew that I wasn’t able to prepare like I wanted to. Nagging physical issues, travel commitments, and other work had kept me from logging the volume of riding in back-to-back days that I would have liked to do in order to prepare for five days of punishment in the steep mountains surrounding Crested Butte. But prepared or not, I was signed up, so I showed up with more than a little trepidation, but ready to give it my best shot.
While I had put down some reasonable mid-pack race times over the course of the summer, especially considering the caliber of riders competing in the “amateur” class, I knew that I wasn’t going to win anything in Crested Butte. And with my lack of preparation, my main goal for the week was simply to finish every single stage, and to try to have fun doing it.
A 6:30am shuttle time forced me to set my alarm for 5:15, giving me enough time to sort of wake up, get my gear together, drive down from the campsite, and stuff my face with some food during the bus ride over to the starting line at Deadman’s Trailhead. The first three days of the race promised to be the stiffest, and the early shuttle start times didn’t help my morale any.
From Deadman’s Trailhead, where we started for each of the first three days, we climbed up the road and eventually turned off to continue climbing the Crystal Peak Trail. Crystal Peak quickly devolved from pedaling to a steep hike-a-bike climb. We pushed our bikes until we reached a gorgeous saddle, rode a little bit, and then pushed some more before finally topping out at about 12,300 feet at the top of Starr Pass… and the beginning of Stage 1.
As with every enduro race, we had quite a wait before racers started dropping Stage 1, but I couldn’t think of a more beautiful place to spend a morning. The views from Starr Pass were absolutely breathtaking, with jagged, rocky mountains surrounding us on all sides!
The descent down Stage 1 on the Brush Creek Trail began with big moto whoops up top above treeline, eventually dropping into the forest and a rocky, fast, wide singletrack descent. Shortly after hitting the trees, I sucked my chain horribly and, despite yanking the pedals every which way, I couldn’t get the chain to straighten itself. I had to pull over, and it was sucked so badly that I spent about 5-7 minutes straightening it out and putting it back in place.
It probably serves me right for running a largely-untried bike in a 5-day race, but thanks to a blown rear shock on my Force, my only choice was to run the Cannondale Trigger 27.5 I had in for review. Spoiler alert: it turned out to be a great race rig, but I should have added a chain guide to it before I started the race, instead of after day 1. A clutch-style derailleur on a 2×10 drivetrain just isn’t enough to prevent chain suck.
Spending over 5 minutes in the middle of a timed stage trying to untangle my chain was, from a racing standpoint, the worst possible way to start the race. With final times at the end of 5 days of racing separated by mere seconds at the top of the field, I knew that this one relatively minor but time-draining mechanical had quickly eliminated any competitive aspirations I may have had. And while that was a bit disheartening, it also freed me up to focus on what I’d already decided to do: finish all of the stages, and have a good time exploring new trails.
After finishing Stage 1, we transitioned through some 4×4 roads and began the climb to Teocalli Ridge. This was one of the only trails of the week, aside from one or two runs in the bike park, that I had ever ridden before, so by the time I reached the top of the stage I was ready to send it. I dropped into the top of the trail and ripped it a new one as I finished the stage fast and clean. For more on Teocalli Ridge, be sure to check out my write up from earlier this summer.
After 31.5 miles of riding, 5,594 feet of climbing, and even more feet of descending, I was pretty cooked after day 1… and I had 4 more days to go…