Big Fat Tire: Days of Breck Epics past on the eve of the 2017 MTB stage race Aug. 13-18 |

Big Fat Tire: Days of Breck Epics past on the eve of the 2017 MTB stage race Aug. 13-18

Racers ride on the Wheeler Trail during Stage 5 of the Breck Epic Thursday, Aug. 18, 2016.
Louie Traub / Special to the Daily |

It was late. It was dark. It was cold. I didn’t have a warm jacket. I was driving a loaned vehicle that I was probably only semi-qualified to operate and the trail intersection — one that I’ve passed and turned onto dozens, no, probably hundreds of times before — didn’t seem to look quite right.

I drove the six-wheel ATV up and down the road, which became progressively steeper with deeper and deeper ruts, loose babyheads, and free-hanging roots until I was thinking, “This can’t be right…” I knew a big storm hammered the road earlier in the year, but this didn’t seem familiar at all. It was something that only a few people would be skilled enough (or dumb enough) to ride. Radio conversations with Westy didn’t help, as I wasn’t able to rely good information:

“Are you sure you turned at the tree with the triple fork on the left-hand side that has a bunch of dead needles on it?”

“Well no… but you know the small mine pit with the small tailing on it? I went past that.”

Even though I knew it wasn’t what I had in mind, I marked it for the next day’s stage of the Breck Epic anyway (did I mention it was dark and cold and late?) and posted a double down-arrow at the top. Danger, Will Robinson!!

It was past 10 p.m. when I got home and I had to be up at 5:30 a.m. the next morning to check some other parts of the day’s stage. Early the next morning, as dawn broke and we could see again, my error became apparent: I had directed the race down the wrong route, but it luckily met up with the correct route at the bottom and it was too late to change it anyway (face palm-slap).

After the stage was over, it became apparent that the racers didn’t know the difference, except for the locals who knew the trails and were surprised by the change in direction:

“Where the hell did you send us?”

“I didn’t even know that was there.”

“That s**t was nasty!”

Everyone took it in stride. I was worried that there would be wholesale carnage, but race director Mike Mac did a good job of forewarning everyone, and after all, there were two down-pointing arrows at the top. Danger Will Robinson!!

That was one of the early — maybe one of the very first — Breck Epics. In the first couple years, I was almost a one-man course-marking crew. That early mistake wasn’t the only unplanned deviation from the course I made, so sorry about the trouble with the Forest Service, Mike — it was raining and I had no cell service. Westy helped me out and timed the race — the guy’s a pro — and then we had volunteers, but that first year or two it was, well, epic.

Another year, another Epic

Since then, the Breck Epic has become far less seat-of-the-pants. Mike quickly added a staff of top-notch people and I’m not needed anymore, which is a good thing because my employment situation no longer allows me to take a week (or more) off to pedal and drive arrows, stakes, staplers, hammers and miles of pink ribbon tied to clothes pins all over 220-plus miles of trail.

I miss it, but not that much, I must admit. It helps that the race is in good hands.

The 2017 Breck Epic starts this Sunday and runs through Friday (Aug. 13-18). It will be six days of big loops with big climbs, lots of pushing-slash-carrying bikes above tree line and lots of suffering. The riders range from top pros in mountain bike racing to people just trying to finish the stages, and everyone in between.

If all this sounds (to use one of the most overused words in marketing) epic, it actually is, but not just because of the racing and riding. It’s the whole effort of a community of racers, course markers, course sweepers, aid station workers, timing and scoring crew, and folks who take care of the administrative end of keeping it all on track. (That’s not to mention the folks handing out skittles and bacon at the top of alpine passes).

Years ago, after I came to the conclusion that I wasn’t a very good bike racer, I got involved on the other side of the start line and came to see what it takes to put on a race, and it takes a village — a village of nuts and characters, but hey, who’s judging? I write all this in hopes that anyone who goes to the line for the Epic, or any of the other great bike races around here, appreciates the effort and planning that go into a race. “Epic” may be overused, but it applies to the work a race crew puts in. Just don’t be surprised by unscheduled double down-arrows. Danger, Will Robinson!!

Season of the trail volunteer

While working on the soon-to-be-officially-opened Mineral Hill trail, the Breck open space folks, as well as Friends of Dillon Ranger District, reported that turnout for trail projects this year has been great. The Summit Fat Tire Society evening trail projects have also had good turnout. This is why we have such a great trail system here in Summit — folks kicking in their time and energy. There’s nothing like the satisfaction of riding a trail that you’ve helped build, when you can think, “That’s MY section!” I’ve long said that if everyone who rides mountain bikes in Summit gave just one day a year to trail work, our trail system would be even better, so if you haven’t volunteered yet, do. You’ll be glad you did.

Speaking of the Mineral Hill trail, it’s going to be a great addition to the trail system around Breck for those who like technical trails. It will provide a connection from Lincoln Park (the meadow in the Golden Horseshoe, not the new subdivision) to the Minnie Mine trail. While I wouldn’t call it a gravity trail — you have to pedal your damn bike — it has rock and chunk aplenty, with a few spots where falling over would be, shall we say, bad. Folks have been asking for more technical trails and this trail provides plenty of that.

Re-up your rain gear

It’s been a wet month or so, wetter than anything in recent memory, and fire danger is back down to “low.” (It seems like just yesterday I was watching the Peak 2 fire blow up.) I’m guessing the local outdoor shops have had a run on quality rain gear. Nothing exposes the weakness in your rain gear like a cold, steady downpour when you’re miles from home. I bought a new jacket last fall, and while it hasn’t made getting caught out in cold, steady downpours pleasant exactly, it has kept me from hypothermia.

Stay dry. Ride responsibly. Have fun.

Mike Zobbe is lifelong gearhead and longtime mountain biker originally from Indianapolis. He serves as vice president of the Summit Fat Tire Society, a nonprofit advocacy group dedicated to access, maintenance and stewardship on local trails.

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