By Montana Miller
Stage 4 — Aqueduct Loop — 41 miles
I’m hiking up the same hill that I’ve walked up a few times earlier this week. It’s not getting any easier. Across the top, then down a super fast descent that’s covered in baby heads. I get off the front brake and bounce down the trail.
At the bottom, I catch my friend the Bradley the Birdman of Charleston. I cup my hand over my mouth and fire the customary greeting birdcall at him. “Kah-Kaw!”
“Dude, I’m gonna have to quit. My knee,” he says, rubbing his boney leg. He pulls into the first aid station and stops. Bummer. I keep riding.
On to the Colorado Trail. It’s a beautiful piece of dirt. Winding through the pines, short rises, buff corners. After a few miles, I turn on the Aqueduct Trail. It’s as hardpacked as concrete, with a gentle grade down. I tuck in behind a few geared guys and draft.
The first guy slams on his brakes and slides sideways. Then the second. They skid out of the way and reveal a corrugated metal pipe running at a weird angle across the trial. I tap the pipe with my front tire then hop over. Damn. That was close.
Ride across a wobbly log bridge, then through the second aid station. I’m on the big eight-mile climb out of Keystone Resort now. Two years ago, this thing crushed me. But I’m mentally ready for it this time. It’s a nice smooth climb the whole way up. Just settle in.
Pedal up three miles of smooth fireroad. There’s an arrow. I turn and splash through a stream. Shit. The course switches to a loose, rocky Jeep track. Totally forgot about that part.
Thirty minutes later, I’m still climbing. The end has to be around this switchback. No. Then it has to be the next one. I’m level with the top of the mountain beside me. No. Maybe the next turn. No. It’s endless.
The Jeep trail ends. And the climb keeps going, on single track now. Damn this is a long climb.
I finally hit flat ground. I look around. No land higher than me. The top. I relieve myself real quick, then jump back on my bike.
The single track drops steeply. I’m flying through the trees, lifting a thin trail of dust with my tires. Brake cables clank softly against my frame. Around a tight corner, through a sharp rock garden. Down and down. Pop over a root, land, push through another turn. This makes all the climbing worth it.
The single track ends on a dirt road. Such a rad descent. My dad is helping at the last aid station. “Seven miles to the end, all uphill?” I ask. He nods.
And it is all uphill. Steeper than anything else we’ve gone up. I’m leaned so far forward pushing my bike, I feel like I could lick the ground.
After the top, I drop down a steep single track descent and pass an abandoned snowmobile. I can hear the loudspeaker at the finish. But the arrows turn me away. Damnit. Another few miles of bonus trail. I don’t really enjoy it. I just want to be done.
Then I’m headed back to the finish. My tires skip down a rocky patch, then roll across the line. I order a peanut butter and marshmallow fluff sandwich from the guy working the snack table. Two more days.
Stage 5 – Wheeler Pass — 27 miles
I’ve had mediocre finishes in the single speed class all week – ninth or tenth out of 20. I haven’t been able to breathe enough to actually race. Today is a shorter stage. Doesn’t matter if I blow up. I just want to land a top five.
We’re staged by class. The Open Men’s class sprints away. We move up to the line.
“One minute!” says the announcer. I try to convince myself that I have some energy.
“Go!” he says. I sprint up the hill behind the guy in third. We start passing geared guys immediately. The trail is super rocky, and pitches up steeply. I beat through the rocks. I’m moving fast to be in a good position for the hike on top of the pass.
On to fire road. One guy passes me. Fifth now. That’s fine. Just keep him in sight. Twenty minutes later, I jump off my bike and start the hike. We’re above treeline. There’s no air. I’m pushing my bike as fast as I can, gasping. There’s a big string of riders in front of me going over the pass. The fastest guys are just little dots of color on the huge mountainside.
“Montahnah!” my friend Don Powers yells. His voice echoes through the mountains. I don’t even have to look back to know who’s yelling. Bastard.
Hit the first saddle on the pass. Breckenridge is on the right, looking like a little doll village. I look back. Powers is a few seconds back. Stupid caveman walks so fast. I jump on my bike.
It’s hard to ride up here. I don’t know if it’s the wide-open space, or the lack of air, but I can’t keep my bike going in a straight line. I hit a rock. My tire hisses. Son of a bitch. It goes flat.
Powers passes me. This is the worst thing ever. I throw my Co2 inflator in frustration, put the tube in, and look for my inflator. I can’t find it, because I just threw the damn thing in the grass. Such an idiot move. I curse loudly. The wind blows across the desolate pass.
I finally find the inflator and blow up the tire. Hike across the top. Somebody is cooking bacon. Awesome. I grab a strip, and start down.
Big loose rocks. A ditch. Thousand foot drop to the left. I blink and see stars. Dry bacon taste in my mouth. So dizzy. I bounce and skid down the mountain. My head is spinning. Back to tree line. The rocks are bigger, with ledges and roots. Just don’t crash. The rocks pound my bike.
My hands start to lock up. Can’t do much more. Then I hit the bottom. And onto a paved bike trail. I tuck and coast, passing roller bladders, a woman with a stroller, and a guy towing a trailer.
Back into chattery single track. It climbs slowly back to Breck. I’m pretty toasted. Trying to go fast, but I can’t. I don’t catch Powers. He smiles smugly at the finish line.
“Congratulations meatbag, you finally beat me,” I say. I hate loosing to that guy. I need to go back to the condo and drown myself in the hot tub.
Stage 6 – Boreas Pass – The Leisure Ride
Back at the condo after Stage 5, we’re sitting in the living room. There’s one day of racing left.
“So who wants to go on a leisure ride tomorrow?” someone asks. Everybody in the room raises their hand. Except one.
“No way. I’m racing tomorrow,” says Don Powers.
“Why? For what reason?” I demand. He’s behind me in the overall, and I’m barely in the top ten.
“To beat you Montana, I’ll make myself hurt to make your day miserable,” he says.
That dick. I immediately start trying to think of ways to make his day miserable. There’s a jar of maple syrup in front of me. I could fill his shoes with maple syrup. Cover his saddle in maple syrup. Fill his gloves with maple syrup. No, forget the syrup.
There’s an hour long climb over Boreas Pass tomorrow. It’s so gradual that you can’t stand up to climb it on a single speed with a low gear. I’ll lower his saddle an inch. That’ll make his knees explode.
The next morning, I go out to the garage and lower Don’s saddle. I let a touch of air out of his fork, so that it sucks down when he sits on his bike. I fill one bottle with 114 proof bourbon, and the other bottle with powdered donuts.
Photo by Brad Schmalzer
When he needs some water after that whiskey, he’ll get a spray of powdered sugar in the face. We’ll see who’s miserable today.
We leave the house to ride to the start. When he hits the first bump, Don’s fork sucks down. He stops his bike and looks at it sadly. I ride away.
Fifteen minutes later, he rolls into the start line with a fork pump.
“Well, I guess I can’t race today. My forks blown up,” he says.
“Oh man, that’s a bummer,” I say sympathetically. “Did you bring a pump down?”
He hands me the shock pump. I start fiddling with his fork. There are only a few minutes until the start. I hurriedly pump up one side, then the other.
“Here, see if this works,” I say. He cycles the fork.
“Great. Thanks. Well, I guess since you’ve been so nice I can’t screw with you today,” Don says.
“Yeah Don, Montana is such a good friend,” says another guy who knew about my sabotage.
The announcer talks into the mic, then we start up the road.
“Dammit, did you fuck with my saddle?” says Don. I start laughing. “This is gonna make my knees blow up,” he stops to fix it, and we ride away.
Climb up some single track, up some Jeep road, then up more single track. We have a couple backpacks full of beer, and stop to take a lot of pictures. Only two of the single speeders from the West are riding with our east side group.
When Don takes a drink, he’s actually excited to have the disgusting whiskey-Gu Roctain mix.
We cross the top of the pass, hang out at the un-official beer stop for a while. Don enthusiastically dumps more whiskey into his bottle. We ride onto the Gold Dust Trail.
Photo by Rob Lochner
It’s an awesome trail. Almost all flat, winding single track in a big shoulder height ditch. Every turn is banked, every decent has a rollers to pump.
Back up the other side of Boreas Pass. It’s a long climb back to the aid station. Don finally gets tired of drinking booze, and reaches for his other bottle. He squeezes it. The powdered donuts get crushed.
“Dammit! You emptied my other bottle too! I hate you!” he says.
“No man, it’s full,” I say.
“What’s in there? And I wish I had some water you dick,” he says. I decline to tell him. I’m having a fun day. Looks like I won the misery contest.
At the aid station, he opens the bottle, and whips the donuts at me. We hang out at the beer stop for a few more minutes, then start the last descent of the Breck Epic.
The Birdman and I sprint down the mountain, launch over big rock piles, and whip around tight corners. He cuts me off to pass on a switchback before the finish, but I surge around him at the line.
He grabs a can of coke, and sprays everybody with it as they finish the race. We stand around for a while with big smiles. That was a great week of riding. Then we head back to the condo to get clean for the after party.