Grab five of your closest friends and drive 27,789 miles together throughout the United States – that’s exactly what we did in 2017 and we can’t wait to do it again.
After spending the winter backcountry skiing the greatest snow on earth, I get a call from my teammate and he tells me he’s headed to Florida for a winter block of training. Within a minute I’m looking at my work calendar and booking a flight – time to get this year started! Make another call to another teammate, and he in turn does the exact same thing – now we have a group! As much as I enjoy the snow, I was excited to exchange the cold for some fun in the sun.
The adventure began before we even rode our bikes. It turned out the simple apartment rental we had in South Beach, Miami was directly above a nightclub – not the best conditions for the cyclist who’s meeting at 5:30am for the group ride. Luckily Martin could get a different rental that was further away from the noise. We borrow my friend’s convertible and load up. Yes, we drove like this over the MacArther Causeway at about 10pm at night. The week was off to a perfect start!
Later that winter, Ian flew out for a week of riding Moab with our friend Josh Tostado. We had the opportunity to camp out, visit Arches National Park, and ride 4-6 hours each day. Josh amazed us each day with his incredible riding skills and we had a blast getting a true VIP tour of Moab.
March 2017 marked our first NUE team race, True Grit Epic, in St. George, Utah. The crew flew into Salt Lake City and unbeknownst to us, Salt Lake City would become our 2017 racing hub of the west. We packed the Subaru down, loaded all 4 bikes on the rack, and hit the open road. This was our first time doing the True Grit Epic and visiting St. George, Utah – wow, what an incredible area. The team had a blast, shared far too many laughs, and agreed this was one tough course! Considering this was a race weekend, we all ended up riding a lot between pre-riding, the race itself, and catching up with some friends for a post-Sunday race around Hurricane, UT.
We all arrived back to Salt Lake City and quickly realized we all had one exciting year ahead of us! Everyone flew back to the East Coast while I was planning another exciting road trip. After the group left, I decided to make the 2,000-mile drive (each way) in late-April to Ducktown, TN for Cohutta and to support teammate Dylan Johnson at USAC Marathon Nationals in Arkadelphia, AR.
On the way home from Marathon Nationals, I stopped by Wilson State Park in just outside of Wilson, Kansas to ride the Switchgrass IMBA Epic Trails. Wow, was I surprised! If you are ever driving across the country through Kansas with your mountain bike, stop at this park! Easily accessible off I-70, has camping options, and you’ll be blown away that you’re in Kansas. I rode for well over three hours and could have ridden more – easily.
Back in Salt Lake City the snow was starting to clear from the high altitudes and it was time to get serious about training for the rest of the year. I spent a considerable amount of timing riding all over Park City and it’s easy to see why Outside Magazine named it The Best Town in America in 2013. Every single day riding here is almost unreal and continuously amazes me. Park City’s trail network has everything to keep everyone satisfied, whether you are brand new to mountain biking or you’re an expert downhill rider. You’ll run into the nicest people who are also out exploring all over the beautiful mountain range. You may even run into a moose!
Flash forward a few hundred hours of training, countless calories, endless smiles, and the team is back out for a mid-summer stint of racing – Tatanka, High Cascades, Breck 100, and Pierre’s Hole all within a month of each other! Oh, and all within an eight-hour radius.
Load up the car again and it’s off the legendary Sturgis, South Dakota – the city of riders – for the Tatanka Epic. We leave Salt Lake City a little behind schedule, so Matt ended up arriving a little early to the house rental and quickly finds out there is a problem – it was the wrong house! I sent him the address of a different house that we didn’t have a reservation for – so Matt’s in the house getting unloaded and unpacking his bike when he gets a frantic call from me telling him to “Get out of there!” We lucked out because we were just about to hit a stretch of no cell service for a few hours while driving through rural Wyoming – whew! The start of the Tatanka Epic has to be one of the most iconic starts in the NUE Mountain Bike Series. The race is point-to-point which means you are literally dropped off at the start and ride home. But unlike any other start, this was Mount Rushmore – drop us off and we race back to Sturgis through the beautiful and rural Black Hills Forest network.
Matt and Martin few home from South Dakota leaving Dylan and I to drive back to Salt Lake City – the halfway point – before hitting the road and heading to Bend, OR for High Cascades. Dylan and I had no clue that the craziness of road travel would continue.
A few days after getting back from South Dakota, Dylan and I load the Subaru our bikes, and our backup bike, for another long drive to Bend, OR. The drive from Salt Lake City to Bend is beautiful, very rural, and has limited cell and service station service. About three hours away from Bend, OR the Subaru’s AT Fluid Check light comes on, which triggers the Check Engine light to go off and a series of other dash lights to illuminate. So, we are in the middle of nowhere with no service and an instrument cluster going off like a disco. We were about an hour away from the closest small town and decide to drive the car to a dealership. Meanwhile I’m worried that we’re doing long-term damage to car, but also realizing we really don’t have a choice but to drive it.
The dealership gets the car and drives it into their workshop to read off the diagnostic codes to see what may be going on. Since they were not a Subaru dealer, they were only able to give me the codes but mentioned they could not work on my car. While in their shop, the technician accidently backed the car into a box truck, destroying a 5-Star RKT build, bending the 4-tray hitch rack, and denting the trunk of the car! Our problem just got a lot worse! The only good news was the destroyed bike was our back up, so we could still race! The shop may have not believed me when I told them there were about $18,000 worth of bikes on the back of that car – but they did the right thing and resolved everything very smoothly.
We leave the shop still with transmission issues and now with even more problems! Somehow, the car makes it to Bend and we get it to a Subaru shop to get its proper service done. For our stay in Oregon we just had our bikes, and the broken bike, for transportation – which ended up being a fascinating way to explore and enjoy the beautiful city. In the end, the car got repaired, we raced, had a blast, and made it back to Salt Lake City.
Four NUE races down and two more to go on the year. It’s mid-July and I decide to make the drive to Crested Butte, CO to prepare for the notoriously difficult, high-altitude, Breck 100. I spent two weeks working, riding, and relaxing in Crested Butte – a city that amazes me every year when I visit. I spent time riding all over the mountain ranges and even enjoyed a hike up and down Mt. Crested Butte – well worth the views!
Ended up breaking a rear hub shell around mile 45 of the Breck 100 which was both a letdown and a blessing in disguise. Ask anyone who raced the Breck 100 how the conditions were this year and you’re likely to hear stories of hypothermia and misery. I really enjoyed my extended few weeks in the high-altitude towns of Colorado, despite the race ending earlier than I had anticipated. I camped every single night during the two weeks in Crested Butte and the following week in Breckenridge. Camping in these areas is cost-effective, accessible, and simple – plus, you get wonderful views every single day.
A week after Breck 100, Matt and Martin flew out, once again to Salt Lake City, for Pierre’s Hole Epic in Alta, Wyoming. Matt arrived a few days early and we got the chance to hike and explore what Salt Lake City has to offer. We had time to relax before hitting the road and even squeezed in a hike overlooking the valley. Pierre’s Hole was located at the Grand Targhee Resort in Wyoming – a hidden gem to for anyone who has not visited that part of the country. The resort is almost hidden away but still has beautiful views of the Grand Tetons.
Six NUE races down – we’re back in Salt Lake City – Matt and Martin fly home and I start to reflect on how good the season was and how it’s just about over. Or is it?
I get a call from Dylan and he tells me he’s coming out west in September to ride and race the NUE Finale in Big Bear Lake, CA. Well, I guess I have one NUE left in me, right? So, six NUE’s down, and now one to go! I spent the month of August getting ready for Dylan’s arrival. I knew if we were going to be riding together, then I better get in the best shape I possibly can! Most of August was full of intensive training, sport climbing, and a quick detour to Grand Teton National Park for the Solar Eclipse. There are not many better places to catch the path of totality than above 13,000ft.
Dylan arrives early September and we spend the first week and a half in Moab. While most decide to shuttle up the legendary whole enchilada, we ride the entire climb which consists of 7,073 feet of ascent and takes at least 2.5 hours. A few shuttle vans with loads of bikes passed us while giving us a big thumb’s up! The brave who complete the entire climb are rewarded with well over 2 hours of downhill and 6,615 feet of descent. Talk about fun! Two days later and we’re already in Fort Collins to visit our friends at Niner Bikes.
Niner Bikes invited us out after catching word that we were once again traveling the west. After arriving at the corporate office, we get a tour of the facility which ended up being very interesting. We saw all of Niner’s top secret projects – sike – we were not allowed in that area! But we did get to tour the showroom, photo studio, engineering lab, mechanics area, along with the employee offices. Dylan and I both met far too many Niner employees to count and each one of them was passionate about bikes and hearing about our journey. We all exchanged riding stories and commented on what a great office environment they have. The icing on the cake was getting to meet CEO Chris Sugai – my only regret was not getting a picture with him! After finishing up the Niner tour, we slowly make our way back to Utah.
Back in Salt Lake City, Dylan and I put our final training preparations together for the NUE Series Finale in Big Bear Lake, CA. Utah is perfect training grounds for racing out west. Outside our door we have hours’ worth of continuous climbs, high altitudes, and single track for years. Temperatures dropped unusually low during the month and we ended up battling snow for our last week of training.
We load the car for our final trip of the year and make our way to California. We spent a few days in Big Bear Lake prior to the race and had the chance to pre-ride a majority of the course – we were both impressed! A few locals heard we were in town and reached out to us to meet – one of which was the legendary Derek Hermon who owns Bear Valley Bikes. Derek was nice enough to invite us over to his house – we spent hours talking about bikes, racing, life, and inventions – it turns out Derek is quite the inventor. He has an entire line of high-end, niche, bike parts for the serious cyclist. We both really enjoyed our time with Derek and quickly realized that we would be back to this cycling town sooner rather than later. The San Bernardino Forest not only has an extensive mountain bike network, but there are camping options, sport climbing routes, and day hikes all around with fantastic views – all within a few hours of the Los Angeles coast.
Race day went smooth for both Dylan and myself – Dylan ended up taking the 2017 NUE Series Championship for his second consecutive year. Whew, what a year of racing! During our drive back to Salt Lake City, we reflect on what an incredible year we had. But why was it incredible? Sure, our entire team had our best race results ever, but there was something more that made it special. The journey. The journey can be more exciting than the racing, but you need the racing to experience the journey.