The Highest Mountain Biker in Colorado

Fall. According to my social media feed, it’s everyone’s favorite season. I’m not into it. It means the end of summer and now that I live in the mountains, means that all the trails will be covered in bullshit snow soon. While all the tourons are walking around in a daze looking at leaves like suburban soccer moms at a yard sale, I’m in a goddamn hurry. There is an extra sense of urgency to cram more stuff into every day.

I was chilling at the Vail Outlier Festival on a Friday afternoon, doing some bike park laps and hanging with some good people. When I got the call from my buddy Liz. She is nomadic, living in a van, and her compass was pointing her towards me in western CO.

Liz: “We should meet up and do something dumb”

Dirty: “Seems reasonable. You ever climb a 14er with your bike? We should go up Mt Elbert”

Liz: “Nope, haven’t done that yet. I’m in. Drop me a pin when you get to camp. I’m probably five hours behind you”

Just like that. I knew what I was doing the next day. So I went home, grabbed the singlespeed (favorite and lightest bike for bad ideas), some camp gear and headed towards Leadville. I was really looking forward to this. I have been hearing so many great things about all the trail work that had been done there all summer long. It has been getting rave reviews from some very creditable sources. Might as well go have a look.

Liz met me at camp just as predicted. About five hours and a few beers behind me. We both agree that we are not in the “alpine start” mood. I teach her the term “Arizona Alpine Start” which is where you try real hard to get rolling before noon and pack lights. We proceed to stay up way too late catching up, howling back at the coyotes and staring at the camp fire. We set off the next morning at the crack of 10. I leave a little before Liz, since she is one of those athletes and on a geared bike and I am neither of those things. I head uphill right out of camp and it would be that way for most of the afternoon.

The view from camp. Not too shabby.

Mt Elbert is Colorado’s highest mountain at 14,440ft. Named after Samuel Hitt Elbert, the Governor of what was then known as the Territory of Colorado back in 1874. I love the history of the American west and shit like this make my imagination wander. I wonder if he was a good guy or just another scumbag politician. He was a republican and used to hang out with Ulysses S. Grant. What did they talk about? Winters must have really been shitty up here without puffy jackets. This is the type of shit runs through my head as I stomp on the pedals, wheezing up the hill and trying to embrace the suck. Things change the moment I turn off the dirt road and on to the trail. The trail was absolutely beautiful and covered in yellow leaves. There was no more suck, just work to go further up this mountain and see what I can see.

A couple miles of this goodness…

Liz caught up with me just below tree line. We spent the next couple of hours chatting away and stopping for lots of snack breaks. There was some riding, but once we were up high it was mostly hike-a-bike. It was a beautiful day and I didn’t mind leaning on my bike and going for a walk.

Birds like burritos too…

 Somewhere around 13,000ft, Liz dropped me like a bad habit. It was nice of her to humor me for so long. I expected this to happen a lot sooner. At least she waited until the trail turned steeper and got considerably more rocky. Alone on the side of this beautiful mountain, I would stop often and make sure to look behind me. Hot damn, this is going to be so fun to ride down! I paused around 14,000ft to snap a photo of my bike laying on a perfect little piece of singletrack. I had a moment where I just laughed to myself. This is the stuff little mountain bike dreams are made of. Sixteen year old me would be really stoked on what 40-something me is doing right now. 

“Alright. Enough emo bullshit. Let’s get this over with, my hands are freezing.” I say to myself as I look up and see Liz almost to the summit. I put my head down and march on. A half hour later, I push on up to the summit ridge to see Liz shivering behind a rock trying to get out of the wind. “I didn’t want to go to the summit without you. Let’s go”. Yes, ma’am. That was awful nice of her. We got to the actual summit and for some reason, the wind that was biting cold 100 yards earlier, was nonexistent. Pictures were taken. Summit beers were had. At one point, I jumped up on the tallest stack of rocks on the tallest mountain in the Rockies, did my best outdoorsy Instagram influencer pose and declared myself the highest mountain biker in Colorado!   

Time to cash in all those feet of climbing and get the hell off this hill. We took exactly one photo of the descent because there was no need to stop having so much fun. I won’t even describe the downhill because I wouldn’t do it justice and you should go do it yourself some day.

We got back to camp, packed up and high tailed it into town. No activity in the greater Leadville, CO area is complete without a stop at High Mountain Pies for pizza and beer recovery snacks. Go there.

Riding and hiking at a casual pace, it took us about 6 hours to get to the summit and about 45 minutes to get down. That is a pretty good ratio, in my opinion. Especially for getting to the top of something so goddamn cool. This isn’t something ground breaking. Many have done it before and many more will do it after. But it is one badass weekend warrior objective and I would encourage any mountain biker who likes huge views and beautiful singletrack to give it a shot. I (We) owe that local trail crew a whole bunch of beers and high-5s for all the great work they have done. I hope I run into them next season. I can’t wait for all this stupid snow to melt so I can go up there and do it again.

Fall Off The Cliff

I use the term “falling off a cliff” to describe partying a lot. It’s that moment when things go from fun and games, to fucked up in a hurry. Like when you are drinking beer and decide to switch to whiskey or tequila and you just fall right off the cliff of drunk. You know, when all you want to do is sing pop songs and fight inanimate object. Or when you are having yourself some edibles and you are all like “Man, I don’t think it’s working” so you have some more. Then the next thing you know you are shirtless, sitting in the refrigerator dipping cheese slices in a jar of mayonnaise. You fell off the cliff.

I’ve spent a lot of my life around actual cliffs too. From a past life as a rock climber, to all the sketchy trails I have ridden around the world. I have prided myself on never actually falling off one. Well, I can’t really say that anymore.

Life has been pretty hectic lately and I was looking forward to an actual vacation. I travel a bit for work and some for play, but in the past year I have rarely just checked out for an extended amount of time to simply ride my bike and party. That is where Singlespeed World Championships comes into play. This year’s meeting of the minds was in Slovenia and it would be my escape. Honestly, it is some place that I never thought I would go to ride a bike. But over the years I have made some friends from the region who have raved about the riding and I trust their judgement. So I bought the ticket and went for a ride. I will tell more of the event later, because SSWC 2019 has made singlespeeding punk rock again.

The friend family descended from all different corners of the world to the little mountain town of Kobarid, Slovenia. Some folks didn’t want to ride right away and decided to have a fancy dinner with some TV chef. But goddammit, I didn’t sit on an airplane for 9 hours not to ride. Gimmie a beer, a sandwich, point me to the trail head and I’m good. The ride was described at “EPIC” by our local hosts. OK, buddy… I’m listening, tell me more. “A two hour climb and then you will descend 2000 meters into Italy to get gelato and an Aperol spritz”. Well now you are just talking dirty to me. Let’s go.

We climbed for fucking ever. Up and over a mountain to a little stone hut with an Italian flag on it. Damn, I love crossing some imaginary lines on my bike. It was an amazing group of friends new and old. The vibe was full of stoke even for the folks who might have been in a little over their head. It was an ass kicker of a climb by any standards and not a single derailer in sight.

Up we go.

We reach the summit and it was absolutely stunning. Craggy mountains behind us and the Adriatic Sea way off in the distance in front of us. We snacked, made photos and waited for everyone to regroup. This is mountain biking, my friends. You know this moment. Tired but happy, sweaty and getting cold. Putting on your jacket that you thankfully remembered to pack and eating those snacks that always taste better on the tops of mountains. We made the group photo then it was time to drop in. I was smiling like a kid on Christmas.

Trail snacks. Slovenia Style

We had a local showing us the way and he went first, then I dropped in behind Prosauce and Steph. Two Americans that I know pretty well, and after the ride we did the day before, I knew I wanted to ride with them today. We were hauling ass and having ourselves a hell of a time. Brakes heating up and my hands were starting to cramp. This is what I fucking came here for! I can’t tell you how long we descended for, but it was a really long time. At one point our local guide said we were only about half way down and it blew my mind.

Pro Sauce dropping in
Yeah, that’s the ocean out there.
Good vibes or warning?
That way.

Then he mentioned there was a mandatory hike-a-bike coming up soon. I wasn’t too mad to hear that because my old hands could really use a break. We got to this awkward little boulder field on an old bench cut trail, started to hike and chat among ourselves . At one point, I was looking right at Prosauce saying something witty, I’m sure. When all of the sudden my feet sipped out from under me and I started falling. Down the hill I went, ass first and bouncing off a couple trees. Once it registered that I was falling, I saw some roots sticking out of the hillside and grabbed them. It wasn’t the smartest idea, because this dislodged a cobblestone sized rock that bounced off the front of my helmet and my cheek. I got knocked silly from that and don’t remember much else, other than seeing my bike bounce past me. I eventually came to a stop and I took such a knock to the head that I was quite dazed.

It’s funny to me now, but I distinctly remember thinking “Why did somebody punch me in the face? It feels like somebody punched me square in the face. Everyone seems so cool. What did I do to piss them off?”. Our local guide was there in a flash. “Dirty are you OK?!” Yeah, man. Just give me a minute to get my head straight. I have felt this before and I’ll be good in a minute or two. Please stop asking me if I am OK. I did a little self assessment. The helmet took most of the rock and my arm is bleeding a little but doesn’t look like stitches are necessary. Where the hell is my bike? Then I see this dude from Belgium, who I’ve only known for a few hours, charging back up the hill with my bike over his shoulder. That badass went a couple hundred feet further down this gulch just to get my bike. Damn, thanks. I stood and looked back up to where the trail was, it was a ways up there and it was steep as hell. Everyone was visibly worried about me but I assured them that I was alright. I laughed to myself a little as I started to scramble up to them. I just fell of a goddamn cliff!

The tumble ripped my seat off the rails but the rest of my bike was perfectly fine. Not even a scratch on the grips. A little duct tape and ingenuity and we were back on our way. Luckily it was all downhill because I felt like dog shit. The trail popped out in this beautiful little village in Italy and, as promised, I got my gelato and cocktail. What a crazy ride.