Some races just get it right. The vibe, the atmosphere, the friendly but serious competition lining up in the centre of a town. The nervous but steady neutral role out through said town and out into the high desert sage brush of Gunnison county, Colorado.
The Gunnison Growler sold out in 8 minutes back in February. I missed the entry, but decided to head down with my teammate Bryan on Saturday morning on the off chance that I could get an entry. It paid off: this race isn’t like other races. People at registration were smiling, and talking to each other, officials in uniforms weren’t running the show, but local bike riders volunteering for a good cause. I tracked down the big boss himself (Mr. Dave Weins), and after a friendly chat I had my entry. 64 miles for 64 dollars seems like a good ratio to me.
With a start time of 7am, I was glad to have a warm floor space reserved in a friendly mountain house the night before. Copious quantities of pasta (Bryan and I managed to eat a pound of spaghetti between us!), too much talk about ultra endurance racing, and a cup of tea was followed by an early night and some sound sleep. Waking up at 4am is worth it when you can look outside and see the first morning light sparkling over the Maroon Bells wilderness north of Crested Butte.
The Growler is a race like no other. I suggest that anyone reading this who can ride a bike makes an effort to go do this event at some point. Nothing I can write here will adequately describe the smooth dusty singletrack, the slickrock drops, the technical punchy rocky climbs, or the 8000 feet elevation. Or the fact that it takes five and a half hours to complete.
For what its worth, I raced well. I never felt fantastic or punchy, but I was happy my first long race went smoothly; I didn’t cramp and I didn’t bonk. I went out way too hard of the first lap, but managed to hold on to a few wheels on the second lap and claw my to a respectable 8th place finish.
The short ride back into town from the finish was taken at a steady pace, and we were greeted in the centre of Gunnison with free beer, free food and free live music (although, I would have paid for the band to stop playing!). The whole race was in aid of Dave Wein’s pet project: Gunnison Trails. I don’t know how some races can justify charging upwards of $60 for an XC race with no prize money or other incentives to race, when the growler can be put on by volunteers and include all those other things which are needed to make a race a good one. This is by far the best organised and hardest race I’ve competed in, and I would love to come back for a second time next year.
(all photos stolen off the interweb – I was too busy enjoying my weekend to get the camera out)