A grand route aboard the Pinhoti SL, with good friends, and thin air.
There's something so readily freeing about heading out for an adventure ride that speaks to the innate positive relationship between human and self propelled motion on the back of a bicycle.
I had the pleasure of photographing the 2016 Arizona Trail Race this year in April. An 800 mile bike-packing race from the Mexican border to the Utah border, through the vast and diverse terrain of the Grand Canyon State. My good friend and fellow mountain runner Joe Grant set out on his second bike race ever. Having completed the Colorado Trail Race (500) the July before, he was hopeful and more experienced this time around. Yet, there was still an abundance of wonder and a copious amount of unknown that filled the blanks spaces around what Joe and I both thought entailed the AZTR 800.
After seven days of shooting I was left inspired and aghast at the mental and physical prowess required to compete at these races. Front riders slept forty minutes to and hour a night for six to nine days, while pedaling and hiking their bike on average of one hundred plus miles a day through the rugged single track that comprises the Arizona Trail. Coming from an ultra mountain running background I was impressed with the perseverance through tremendous pain and suffering it took the many men and women that finished this event. After picking Joe up from his second place finish at the Utah border seven days after I left him near the barbered-wire fence at the Mexican border, I had no doubt that I would dip my feet into the world of adventure biking and racing.
Fast forward to this July. I had been living and training in Silverton, Colorado in anticipation for the 2016 The HardRock Hundred Endurance Run. A hundred mile alpine foot race through the San Juan mountain range that attracts some of the worlds top mountain runners. It is also a week when good friends and fellow ultra runners from around the nation and world congregate to embrace the HardRock community, train, volunteer, pace, and enjoy the grandness of the San Juans.
Among these runners were two good friends of mine, Paul Hamilton and Anna Mae Mercier Flynn, both professional mountain ultra runners and recently trying their hands at adventure riding. Paul, Anna, and I met up on the Tuesday before the start of the HardRock 100, where Paul and I were scheduled to pace 40+ miles at the end of the race for both of the runners we were crewing. The three of us decided we'd go on a little bike adventure from Silverton to Ophir to Telluride, then finishing in Ouray. We did a minuscule amount of route recon and figured we'd just sort of wing it and enjoy the experience. What followed was one of the most fun and vertically challenging routes I have ever biked.
It was my first real ride atop the Litespeed Pinhoti SL (more on the bike's performance throughout the ride later). We started in Silverton and headed out on five miles of pristine semi-technical single track on the recently renovated Rainbow Trail that links the town of Silverton to Ophir Pass road. This trail is phenomenal. Smooth in sections, yet rocky and exposed in others. The Rainbow Trail dropped us out on highway 550 just across the road from the entrance to Ophir Pass road. Here we began a long three thousand foot climb from around 9,000 feet of base elevation to the top of Ophir Pass that sits just shy of 12,000 feet.
From Ophir Pass we descending into the town of Ophir and then made our way up to Alta Lakes before descending to the town of Telluride via the Prospector Loop Trail. Once in the town of Telluride the three of us stopped at a local joint to eat and grab some beverages before heading out during the middle of the day to climb Imogene pass out of Telluride and over to Ouray. This is the largest climb of the ride and around 4k of elevation gain from Telluride to the top of Imogene Pass (13,114ft).
The climb to the top of the pass was amazing. A narrow and winding jeep track that grazed the edges of sheer cliffs as we ascended. Water falls burst out of holes in the weathered rock wall to our left as we road. This provided ample opportunity to cool off and drench our clothes and cycling caps in ice cold alpine runoff.
When we all arrived at the top of the climb there was a sense of relief. We embraced the sharp San Juan air as it howled over the ridge line. Looking forward to our five thousand foot descent into the breathtaking town of Ouray, we clipped back in and took off down the famous Camp Bird road.
When we arrived in Ouray we were greeted with a visit to the town famous shake and malt shop. Along with a handful of breakfast burritos (for dinner), we consumed an almost unquantifiable amount of calories as we sat there blissfully smiling about the amazing ride.
Riding this route reminded me of the Ken Kesey, Jack Kerouac, and Allen Ginsberg beat freedom days. It was a poetic ride, truly. No concern was paid to pace or time. Although, between the three of us fit mountain runners the pace was more than adequate. Instead, we marveled at the spectacle of the San Juan range. The giant peaks still speckled with snow, gracefully waiting in the distance for the next wave of storms to arrive.
The Pinhoti SL was equipped with 27.5+ tires at 2.8 width. This made the bike climb over loose bumbled jeep road like a champ and descend steep, loose, and technical terrain gracefully. The extra cushion was extremely nice on the longer ride. These chunky tires paired with the smooth as butter and responsive Litespeed titanium frame made things feel effortless. The SRAM XX1 1x11 provided all the gearing I needed for the epic alpine ride.
As with anything done in nature, the experience is everything. This ride with two great friends was a phenomenal way to break in the new Litespeed Pinhoti and experience 50 beautiful miles of the iconic San Juan mountain range.
Have bike, will adventure...To the mountains we go...