Big Fat Tire: Race day wisdom
June 29, 2017
I ran into Jeff Westcott while hanging out in the alley behind our new home talking with my neighbors. He and Patrick were stopping into Courtney's house for some errand. It was obvious they had a lot to do and were on a mission so our conversation was brief but he did mention somewhat cryptically that "Frenchie got a haircut." It didn't immediately register what he meant. Was Patrick's new nickname "Frenchie"? Or was he talking about my painting contractor (and human lung) Yves who was painting our house? I was a bit slow on the uptake and since they were in a hurry Jeff gave me the answer to the riddle: They had just returned from cutting out blowdown trees from Little French Gulch. It must be time for the Firecracker 50.
The Firecracker is the biggest bike event in Summit in terms of single day entry. Jeff capped the entry at 750 several years ago because it could have easily grown into an unmanageable 1,000+ riders. It had a stint as the U.S. marathon national championship, which was pretty cool; seeing people awarded stars and stripes jerseys in Breckenridge.
About five weeks or so before the first Firecracker, I got a phone call from either Jeff, or his partner at the time Mike McCormick (currently of Breck Epic Fame). He told me that they had an idea for a 50-mile race on the Fourth of July and wanted to know if I had any ideas for a course. (I had been the race director of the Fall Classic which to that time was the biggest race in the county so I had some experience designing mountain bike race courses). At the time the only parameter was they wanted to start the race on Main Street in Breck to kick off the Fourth of July parade which I thought sounded pretty cool but I had no idea that it would turn into the amazing spectacle that it has.
We tossed around whether we wanted a 50-mile point-to-point, and I came up with some ideas for that — one big 50-mile loop appealed to my aesthetic sense, but it was determined that it would be logistically difficult so we settled on two 25-mile loops. Not only would the logistics of marking and staffing be easier, it would give folks who weren't up for 50 miles the ability to team up with another racer and break the course into a more manageable 25-mile effort.
Starting on Main Street narrowed down the options and Mike and Jeff (Mike especially) were convinced that the race would grow exponentially so we needed plenty of road in the first few miles to allow the field to spread out before they hit singletrack which made Boreas Pass road the obvious choice for the first few miles. Since there was still snow on the ground I had to go on memory for mileage of segments of the loop, but I had put together so many variants of the Fall Classic XC race that I had a pretty good idea and when we finally got a chance to actually ride the loop as a whole it turned out to be almost exactly 25 miles.
I was pretty proud of myself on that….
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So the race has grown and changed over the years. New trails like Barny Ford, and V3 have made the course work easier, but I think it still has that flavor and the climb up little French Gulch is still a kick in the gut and the climb up Boreas Pass Road to Bakers Tank with a couple hundred of your best buddies is one of those meditations on camaraderie that you can only get with a mass sufferfest. I think people just love to be a part of a happening, a gathering of the tribe, and the Firecracker has become one of those events that if you've ever wanted to truly test yourself, you need to give it a shot.
As anyone who has read these columns or read any of my social media posts probably knows, I'm a bit of an old school curmudgeon. I prefer simplicity to complexity as much as possible. Of course, it's always a balance between cost and benefit and everybody places their personal preference thumb on one side of the scale or another. That's not to say after evaluation and observation of the trials and tribulations of new offerings, I've not embraced new technology when I think it's useful and maintains what is for me the essence of the sport. There have been a lot of great advances, but looking back disk brakes are the only thing that really made me say to myself, "How did I live without these?"
I'm not ashamed at all to say I like light. Maybe if I was a gravity rider and rode lifts I would feel differently but I like riding uphill (even though I've never been particularly gifted at it) as much as I like riding downhill. It's all an equal part of the experience. Ride a really light bike or a bike with a light stiff set of wheels (love my carbon wheels, quite likely the best bicycle investment I've ever made). Light seems to be falling out of favor in the gotta have the latest, social media manufacturers world. My fiancé who hasn't been on an MTB quickly noted how really big the tires were. Is that a great improvement or unneeded bulk and weight? Once again, that depends on where you place your personal preference thumb on the scale, but for me there is a sweet spot between DH rugged and run over everything plush and all-around efficiency both uphill and down. To each their own — as long as I can still find the gear that fits my own thumb.
Thanks to all the folks who participated in and volunteered for Breck Bike Week and most of all the Carvers, Summit Fat Tire Society Poker ride. Events like these and the Firecracker and all the trail projects (volunteer just one day, those trails don't just happen by themselves) are what make our amazing mountain bike community.