Bike racing is about the easiest excuse to pack up the car and go explore cool places. Missoula was the destination of my first ProXCT of the year (the ProXCT is the national XC MTB series), so Christa and I made a trip out of it, enjoying our time in Montana, and also stopping off in Idaho and Wyoming on the way home.
Driving in Missoula is no easy feat. The map shows a wiggly but generally northern route through Wyoming, and a time stamp of somewhere in the region of 14 hours. In the UK, I’m very used to taking GPS times with a pinch of salt – knowing the roads can shave time from journeys with ease. But in the highways of the great western US, there really isn’t anywhere to gain time. Instead, you seemingly lose time in petrol stops, food finding missions and ‘bathroom breaks’. We chugged north all the way to Bozeman, where we finally broke free of the drive for a quick, if soaking spin on the roads outside of town. I’m been through Bozeman a fee times now, only ever long enough each time to wish that I could see more of the place. At some point it will need to be a destination in its own right.
Christa and I camped at Marshall Mountain on Friday night before the race. The resort is a defunct ski area with one pink chairlift hanging quietly on the side of the hill, about 15 minutes from Missoula. We slept well, and woke up late to see the junior races already getting started. The car park filled up with parents and riders, and the morning was dominated by young riders from Boulder Junior Cycling, Summit Bike Club (park city), Front Rangers Cycling (Colorado Springs) and Rad Racing (North West). The racing was inspiring and fast, and from our lovely camp spot with a view of the start and finish, we got to see young mountain bikers do their thing, mostly with big smiles on their face. This story won’t get told by any other rider, and USA Cycling and the promotor probably won’t be placed to tell the American mountain bike community about how cool the junior racing was. But it was great. It made the day. With no phone service at the mountain, the pro races also did not get the coverage that many people have come to expect. Without the “US Cup” franchise in attendance, there was no live feed, no regularly updated hashtag, and almost no communication to the outside world of what was going on. This was a good thing for me.
So the weekend? Missoula has a small and engaged cycling community that cares about racing. The event was really well supported by local companies (zillastate.com being the main one) and had BIG crowds for the pro races. The best thing, though, was the number of juniors racing. I rave often about Epic Rides events (the whiskey offroad etc), because they’re doing good things for pro riders, but they don’t cater for the juniors. With the highschool mountain bike league becoming huge, and young racers fitting much better into the USAC model of mountain biking, these kinds of races are still the place to go to see development. In terms of the lack of internet coverage? It didn’t change the racing, and perhaps it made it better. It was actually noticeable that people standing around the start weren’t glued to screens. People were engaged. Crazy idea.
After the race, I was an absolute wreck. Totally ruined. Without Christa around to help me out, I would have been even worse. We packed up our campsite early on Sunday morning and went in search of trails. Rattlesnake Gulch lies just north of town, and we pulled up to see an absolutely packed trailhead. I was worried, thinking of the ant-line queues of people that spread out on Boulder’s trails. But we shouldn’t have been worried. The trail network was big enough that we found space quickly, and rode our way uphill on tight and narrow flower lined trails. We were in search of “the overlook”, the fabled destination that didn’t exist on maps. The trail got steeper, and eventually we were off our bikes and hiking. Ughh. It was worth it though, and after taking a little rest on the side of the trail, the singletrack leveled off and we ended up riding amazing trails to the overlook. Another quick stop, and then it was downhill all the way back to the car park. A great early morning spin, and just enough to make life seem normal again.
Back in the car, and we soon realised how vast Montana and Idaho are. Planning on driving half way to Boulder, we aimed for Teton Pass as our evening’s destination. It was a long way. From Missoula we drove south on I-15, through huge and empty valley’s seemingly untouched by crops or cows, and then steadily the road dipped down as we got towards Idaho. It felt like we were in the middle of nowhere. Cross winds picked up as we found ourselves in between two ranges of mountains. Eventually the Tetons came into view, and we drove straight towards them. The distinct Grand Teton poking out above everything else.
We stopped in Victor, Idaho for a fantastic burger, and then pushed on over Teton Pass in search of a campsite. We passed a couple that didn’t fit our stringent criteria, and ended up descending down into Wyoming to find a beautiful spot at the base of the pass. Huge open grassy fields, aspen groves and a milky sunset over the hills. Another amazing place to sleep.
Waking up to a Monday morning in the mountains is a special treat. With work to do (via laptops and phone calls) Christa and I set out for a short ride in the hills. We climbed back up the pass on the old road, now a quiet bike path, and then jumped on some singletrack. We accidentally chose the ‘jump’ trail, and had great fun riding a short loop with the most amazing view.
Although only a long weekend, our trip north was so much more than a bike race.