The more stages I race, the more I realize what enduro racing is all about: versatility, of both the rider and the bike. The massive variance in the trail types featured in the respective stages over the course of a single race–not to mention the series as a whole–forces the rider to choose a bike that is capable of climbing over 4,000 vertical feet in a day, as I did on stage 1, and shredding through sections of trail so chundery that a rider on a full-blown DH bike might have issues.
But anyone can buy a nice bike if they have a fat wallet… the real key is being able to ride fast in every circumstance imaginable, and often without knowing what the trail has to offer until you look through the next corner. Snowmass highlighted this fact, but Day 2 of the Durango race would as well.
Stage 1: Raider Ridge and Snake Charmer
After about an hour of wandering through the expansive maze that is the Telegraph Trail System, located on the southeastern edge of the town of Durango, I finally made it to the top of Stage 1 just in time to wait in line for another hour. But really, I can’t complain too much: we had almost no lines during Day 1, which was a massive improvement over Snowmass!
Even though it was only just after 10am, the Southwestern sun was beating down harshly on our backs, with racers gathering in the little circles of cast by the scraggly pines which had made a hard-fought home in this desert landscape. After the high-alpine vistas, snowdrifts, lush undergrowth, and towering trees of the previous day, the change in scenery in such a short geographical distance was astounding. At least, it felt astounding at the time, but as I think back I realize that Durango isn’t so different from Salida. However, sitting at a lower elevation of 6,500 feet, and located further south and west, Durango felt quite a bit hotter!
After chatting with some locals at Snowmass, Raider Ridge was the one stage that I had really wanted to preride. However, a busy week at work saw us arriving in Durango later on Friday than I’d anticipated, and a flat tire on the truck right after pulling into campground sucked up any remaining free time that I might have had. So, I prepared to drop into Raider Ridge blind.
However, if there’s any mountain biking skill that I count as a personal strength, it’s going fast through uber technical rock gardens. So, as I sat at the starting gate and prepared to pin it through an unknown sea of boulders, I exhaled, and just went for it.
The folks I had spoken with weren’t lying: Raider Ridge was highly technical, with relentless rock gardens, chundery sections, drops, and slabs of slickrock. While there were one or two big features that made me pause and would have flowed much smoother had I had a chance to scout them earlier, instinct and the practice of years took over as I railed down the course.
As I dropped into a lower section of steep, slabby slickrock that instantly reminded me of Moab and Captain Ahab, I passed by a group of hecklers, shouting and clanging cowbells. Shouts of, “you’ve got him! You’ve got him!” and “nice beard,” reached my ears, and I saw the rider who’d started in front of me just ahead. That only made me dig deeper, and I sprinted out of the next turn, catching him about three turns later!
Now, while I had caught plenty of riders on the long stages the day before, passing someone who had a 30 second head start on such a short segment was pretty exhilarating! I pinned it through the final rock garden, dropping my chain just before I skidded across the finish line. Despite the chain drop at the end, I was all in one piece, and absolutely stoked to have ridden such a truly gnarly segment of trail blind!
Stage 2: Crites Connect and Carbon Junction
After finishing Raider Ridge, it was back to grinding in the sun. Thankfully there was an aid station setup at a key junction, and I was able to refill my mostly-empty hydration pack. Now middle of the day, the sun was beating straight down on us, and there was nowhere to hide in the sea of scrub brush. I pushed through to Stage 2 as quickly as possible so I could get down and be done for the weekend.
Stage 2 down Crites Connect and Carbon Junction had a few rocks, but was much smoother and more pedally than Raider Ridge… though most trails are! But this was easily the most athletic stage of the day, with a few riser climbs and plenty of sharp switchbacks to brake into and sprint out of.
About the middle of the stage, my attention wandered just a bit and I caught the soft, torn up dirt on the edge of the trail, sliding out and hitting the ground. I untangled myself from the bike and got up and going as fast as possible, and thanks to my pads I was none the worse for wear. It was my first crash of the weekend, but at least it wasn’t serious.
Unfortunately, just a few minutes later, I dropped my chain off of my narrow wide chain ring while pinning through a rough section of trail. That took time to untangle as well, and as I reached the bottom of the stage, I knew that it definitely wasn’t my best time of the weekend.
Still, as I sat reflecting at the final finish line, I realized that overall I had enjoyed a pretty rad weekend: brutal climbs, gorgeous views, endless alpine descents, challenging desert gnar, scorching sun, and last but not least: delicious Oskar Blues beer!
I managed a mid-pack time for my division, which I was more than happy with due to the top guys in my class clocking times which would have put them mid-pack in the Pros division. But really, I wasn’t out here to kill myself in order to get as fast of a time as possible: I was out here to ride bikes and enjoy myself. And at the end of the weekend, I realized that once again, I’d accomplished my mission!