(Last Updated On: October 11, 2010)
The Crested Butte Classic has been an annual event for 7 years. What is the Classic? It’s a 100-mile race that consists of three main loops. Much like a clover, each loop ends up back in town. What makes this event unusual and classically “Buttian” is it’s unofficial status. The Classic is a race that’s not really a race. There are no official sponsors or sponsored athletes paid to race. There are no race fees or prizes awarded. Technically, there are no real racers- it’s just a bunch of riders who are all out on the same 100-mile route together, with a clock that happens to be timing them. With it’s official unofficial status, no fees, reasonable numbers, good single track, and fun atmosphere, the CB Classic is the anti of the famed Leadville 100 – a race that has both a waiting list, a $275 entry fee, and little single track for a so-called mountain bike race. The Crested Butte Classic is just that- a classy classic.
I’ve pondered doing a 100 mile mountain bike race for several years now. But, knowing the junkshow that the Leadville 100 is, I didn’t really want to be a part of that. A few years ago, I set my sights on the CB Classic when I saw a slew of riders heading down the highway into town after finishing their Deer Creek lap. “Someday I’ll do that,” I said. I thought that someday was going to be last year. After a torn ACL ended my ski season early in February 2009, I found myself riding more than I had in the spring in the three years prior. I had the perfect riding partner, Heather McDowell, who had the same surgery just five days after me. Not allowed to ride single track until September (doctor’s orders), we rode for hours on dirt road after dirt road. We joked often that our doctor probably would not approve of most of the dirt roads we found ourselves on. But, hey, it was a dirt road. She didn’t specify which kind of dirt road we could ride. We just couldn’t ride single track 🙂
Mid-summer, Heather said to me, “I’m thinking about doing the CB Classic.” Knowing that the Classic was at the end of September, and we would be able to ride single track at the beginning of September, the timing seemed perfect. “I’ll do it too,” I said. I was psyched. I had a goal. I had something to ride for, other than to help my knee heal.
But, all my efforts were thwarted when I discovered I needed to have thyroid surgery in Aug 2009. With a trip to Spain scheduled shortly after, I knew that I would have 3-4 weeks off the bike in August. This simply would not mesh with a 100 mile race the following month. So, I put my goals on hold.
This spring, I skied as much as I could and didn’t really start riding my bike until mid-June. But, when I did, I announced early my intentions to ride the CB Classic. Frank was all for it. He helped me by dragging me on long ride after long ride. Some of them were so long, I even cried from exhaustion. But, these rides toughened me. I became hardened, physically and mentally. Afterall, a 100 mile mountain bike race is as much mental as it is physical.
I woke at 4:30 the Saturday morning of the race. After only 4 hours of sleep, I was tired. And I was nervous. I didn’t know if I could actually do this. I wanted to bail. I should crawl back into bed until the sun is shining. Who really wants to begin a bike race in the dark when it is 27 degrees outside? I didn’t. The bed seemed like a luxury and the race seemed like a curse. But, I got up, and drove into town with my bike in my car and my puffy jacket over my body. As I arrived at the 4-way parking lot, I was thrown into the mass chaos. Confusion created by the darkness, cold, and early hour. It’s all a blur now. Crap. There’s no bathrooms open. That’s my main memory of the hour.
Then, suddenly, the race started. It was cold. Downright frigid. Still half-dark. I remember wishing I had brought my warmer gloves. My hands were so cold I couldn’t tell if I was actually holding onto the bars on my bike. A woman I spoke with said she had hand warmers in her gloves. I’m so cold. So cold. I was worried about frostbite. Just ride faster. You’ll get warm soon.
And I did get warm. It happened on Strand. The first loop leaves from town, goes up Brush Creek, then up the Canal trail to Strand. From there, riders continue up Brush Creek, then on to West Brush, and then to the Deer Creek trail. I rode hard, I rode fast. But, I was not in front. The hike-a-bike on Deer Creek killed me. I’m simply just not fast at hike-a-bike in my bike shoes. But, my friend Michael kept me company. He shot this photo of me as we began riding after the hike-a-bike.
I hate this trail. I hate this trail. You go up and up, but never go down. I don’t want to traverse. I want to go down. I went up so I could go down. But, there is no down. Deer Creek was a mental challenge for me. With no real downhill breaks, I was constantly pedaling. I was happy to hit the road in Gothic, knowing from there I would climb up to actually go down.
I rolled into the parking lot around 10:30, less than 4 hours after the start of the race at 6:40. Frank and his friend Mark were there waiting for me. They were joining me on the next lap. “I feel good. I feel tired but good,” I said to Frank and Mark. I think I can really do this.
The second lap began on Lower Loop, then riders headed up the Slate River Road switchbacks, then turned on to Washington Gulch to the 403 trailhead. From there, riders took 403 over to Gothic Road, headed from there up to Schofield Pass, on to 401, then back onto Gothic Road and down to town.
The 403 descent was fantastic. Knowing the trail well was a huge benefit, as I passed several riders along the way. But, this burst of confidence was crushed by the ride up Gothic to Schofield. On the verge of bonking and cramping, it was a struggle the whole way. This was the hardest part of the race for me. Just get up to 401. You’ll be fine from there. My pace slowed. People passed me. But I passed almost all of them back and then some on the 401 ascent.
Mark, Frank, and I arrived back to the parking lot around 4:30. The second lap had taken a crushing 6 hours. But, I knew I could finish. The question was, could I finish while it was still light? We parted with Mark, and after a nearly 20 minute break, Frank and I headed out for the last lap, equipped with lights.
The last lap is thankfully the shortest lap. Riders head up Kebler Pass from town, ascending using the Wagon trail. At the Y, riders follow the road toward Lake Irwin and the Dyke Trail. Then, riders take the Dyke trail back to Kebler Pass, ascend back up and over the Kebler Pass road, descending the road back into town. The Wagon Trail.
We rolled into Horseranch Park at 6:40, and I knew I was going to have to hustle to try to finish in the light. Dark was quickly approaching. At 7:30 we would need lights. It was a 45 minute climb back to the top of Kebler Pass. We arrived there at 7:25. Knowing there was only a quick downhill remaining, I wanted to cry. I’d done it. Well, almost. I still had a descent on a road, with cars, with impending darkness. There was no time to dilly-dally. We rode fast.
I rode into the Brick just after the last bit of light had vanished. I heard a guy whom we’d passed back and forth several times saying,”The three of us just finished.” “Just the three of you…” “No, me too. Brittany Walker. I just finished.” I turned around and found myself surrounded by friends. Sydney, Rob, Mark, Frank, Michael… all congratulating me on a job well-done.
I finished last of seven women. And I finished very close to last for all finishers. Still, I was happy. I set out with the goal of finishing, no matter how long it took, and I accomplished that goal. My accomplishment seemed even sweeter when I learned that my friends had done well too- Heather had won, and Sydney had placed third.
57 riders finished the Classic this year, and about 20 dropped out. Finishing is simply a challenge. I’m happy to have lived up to that challenge. I’m happy I found the moxie in me that day to finish 3 big loops, each of which could be considered a solid and tiring ride. Most of all, I’m happy to be done 🙂