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Mountain bikes, clubs, trails and races

Pagosa, sometimes, I feel I hardly know ya’.

You’ve changed so much since we moved here 26 years ago. I’ve an uneasy feeling the change is just going to accelerate from here into the future. Many of us are involved in one way or another to help control and direct that change. I wish us luck! There are still some wonderful small towns out west. There are also some sad stories of devastation.

The Wolf Creek Wheel Club has been in existence for many years. This is a large and growing group of local road and mountain bikers. They have quietly worked behind the scenes to advocate on behalf of bicycle safety and non-motorized trails with different local, regional and state agencies. They have also actively worked on maintaining area trails that are used by mountain bikers.

The Pagosa Springs area greatly lags behind many other mountain communities with its development and promotion of non-motorized trail networks. The economic impact of such trail networks is now having huge economic development effects in such mountain communities as Crested Butte, Durango and Salida. You only have to stand along the highway for a short period to observe tons of vehicles driving through town with bicycles strapped all over them. It doesn’t take an MBA to recognize the economic potential of being able to offer these folks a good mountain biking experience in this area. The Wolf Creek Wheel Club will continue working as an active partner in the promotion and development of a trail network.

The Wolf Creek Wheel Club also sees a need to continue to educate drivers, bicycle riders and other trail users on the sport of riding bicycles. As I see more and more of you on your bikes out on the roads and trails with me, doing your daily shopping and getting fresh air and exercise, I become even more aware of the important safety aspect of the sport. Trails that are separate from car lanes is a huge step forward in creating safe spaces for all bicyclists, young and old. There are way too few. As Pagosa grows and changes, let us all work together towards safely sharing the roads and trails.

Mountain biking is a relatively new sport. People keep stretching the envelope of what is considered “doable.” Consider the Colorado Trail Race (CTR). The 2009 CTR started on Sunday, Aug. 2, at 6 a.m. This race consists of 470 miles and 65,000 feet of elevation gain — all?on a mountain bike. It begins in Denver and ends in Durango with elevations ranging from 5,500 feet to a breath-gasping 13,200.? The racers pay no entry fee, receive no support and win no prizes.

And, so, what is needed to do this race? A mountain bike, a bunch of maps, food, sleeping bag and plenty of inner diesel power. CTR has no spectators other than those who follow updates online from individual GPS units on each racer with ongoing updates posted online or from occasional phone messages from racers that are also posted online.

It is hard to argue that CTR is not a very tough bike race. Imagine a Tour de France run on the honor system, out in the Colorado mountains, with no checkpoints, no officials, no drug testing. Now sprinkle the course with bears, mosquitoes, rain, hail, thunder and lightning, not to mention the 65,000 feet of climbing. If you ride your bike from Denver to Durango under these conditions, you have got integrity.

No doubt readers may envision warm snuggly sleep under star-lit skies, soaks in cold mountain streams, the heavenly aroma of campfire coffee, but that is ridiculous — the stuff of camping vacations. The CTR is a race. You use every candle of dusk to make miles; then strap on a headlamp. When you cannot turn the chain rings any longer, it is time to lay the bike down and crawl into your bag with the mosquitoes for a couple hours of sleep. You have to be tough, very tough. Otherwise, this genuine-article western journey is not for you. These folks do not want to ride in circles in a 24-hour race, endurance cycling’s “Tour de Hamster.” In the CTR, a bike is more than a recreational toy: it is the voyager’s vessel.

Consider another race of similar challenge, but longer: The Great Divide Race. The rules are simple. Start pedaling at the Canadian border, follow a set route of single-track and jeep roads along the continental divide, and the first fat tire to hit Mexico wins. This involves 2,500 miles of blowouts, goat-head thorns, UFOs and misery — for the few lucky ones that finish, that is.

Ethan Passant, son of Jack and Sue Passant of Pagosa Springs, recently completed his third CTR.? In 2007 he finished third and in 2008 was first to cross the finish line and set a course record of 5 days, 2 hours and 26 minutes. This year, Ethan, due to a number of strategic errors, one of which was choosing to carry the bulk of the weight on his back instead of in panniers on the bike, lost a whole bunch of time and placed either fifth or sixth (uncertain as of this writing). You can be certain that he’ll be back for more … real soon, in fact. Like this weekend: Ethan will compete in the Leadville 100 mile mountain bike race. Good luck to Ethan and the other racers. Go Ethan! Go Lance Armstrong!

The following Saturday, our own Morgan Murri who recently ran across Death Valley, will run the Leadville 100 mile ultra trail marathon. Last year, in his typical superhuman fashion, Morgan did the Leadville 100 bike race and the Leadville 100 run back to back. Morgan is indefatigable.

PLPOA meeting

Tonight, PLPOA board of directors will hold their monthly meeting at 7 p.m., in the Pagosa Lakes Clubhouse. PLPOA members are encouraged to attend, to bring to the board their concerns and suggestions and, in general, support this group of volunteers who have chosen to donate their time, talents and put themselves on the line to lead this association.