By: Jeff Watrobka
Originally published: http://2wheelbrews.weebly.com/blog/montana-enduro-series-bozenduro
The town of Bozeman, Montana will always hold a special place in my heart. I spent my early twenties attending Montana State University focusing on my six and a half year undergraduate degree. In reality, I spent the majority of my time skiing Bridger Bowl and the surrounding backcountry in the winter and paddling the rivers in the spring and summer. I did find time to ride mountain bikes but definitely not as much as I do now. Mountain biking around Bozeman, when I was a resident, was mainly finding trail in the National Forest and riding for a few hours. Most of my exploring was on a hard tail bike with a 100 mm elastomer fork. The trails were not built for biking and in fact were not maintained at all. Some of the trails may only see foot traffic during hunting season or from eager backpackers. This is where I learned the phrase, “it isn’t biking unless you’re hiking”.
Fast forward 13 years. I was planning my races for the summer riding season and came across the Montana Enduro Series. My wife (#1 supporter) and I were planning on going to Bozeman to celebrate our 10 year anniversary. She encouraged me to register for the Bozenduro and we planned our trip to be in Bozeman for the race.
For the few weeks before the race, I tried to collect as much trail beta as I could. As it turns out, there are not very many posted mountain bike specific trails around Bozeman. When the course map was released, I was stoked to see the race would be held in the Bridgers! I was pretty familiar with the with the range mainly from backcountry skiing. This obviously doesn’t translate well to riding trails on a mountain bike. Really the only thing I knew was the start of Stage 1 was above tree line on the saddle below Sacagawea (the highest peak in the Bridgers) and finished in the trees on Stage 4.
I arrived in Bozeman early afternoon on Friday. This was the scheduled pre-ride day. By the time I ate and got settled in the hotel, I decided it was too late in the day to pre-ride. Instead. my wife and I decided to visit some of the local breweries (Bridger Brewing and Bozeman Brewing Company). I also stopped by the pre-race party at Alter Cycles to try to gain some course info. The information I came away with was steep and exposed. Tasty!
I arrived at the Bridger Bowl parking lot at 8:30 for registration and the rider meeting. Again the words steep and exposed were tossed around the parking lot in conversation. For me, I was still deciding on my Urge Endur-O-Matic or my full face. In the end I opted for the full face due to my failure to pre-ride. At 9:30 we loaded our bikes onto the shuttle trailers and loaded the buses for the trip up to the Fairly Lake trailhead. Upon my arrival, I glance up to the clouds the engulfed the upper mountain. I grabbed my bike and started on the trail up. All of the stages were self-paced meaning that it is the rider’s responsibility to give the rider in front enough of a time cushion. My goal was to be in the front of the start line to avoid any potential nasty weather that may come later. The transition to Stage 1 was a tough hike-a-bike up 2000 feet to the saddle below Sacagewea. As with most alpine environments, the weather is cold and windy on top. This was very true for the start of the race. I put on my wind jacket and waited in line for the first rider to drop. I was about 30th in line.
Looking down from the saddle to the hike-a-bike.
Dropping into the switchbacks on Stage 1
As the first 5 riders dropped, I was able to view the first 150 yards of Stage 1 before they crested the ridge and dropped into the other side out of view. In the valley below the clouds began to thicken and move up the mountain. The visibility decreased to 20 yards and I got cold. As I rolled up to the start line I was shivering and trying to regain some of my body heat. I’m sure I looked pretty silly jumping around and shaking my arms out trying to generate heat. Times up…time to drop. 3…2…1…and I was off. Cold hands, nerves, and low visibility and I was bouncing off rocks, and slipping pedals. By the time I reached the ridge, I had settled down and was finding my flow. As I crested the ridge I finally saw the “steep” the everyone had been talking about. The trail dropped away into a series of steep, moon dust switchbacks. The first two switchbacks went smoothly but the third was a steep left-hander that seemed to switchback at 190 degrees. I came in too hot, twisted up my bars, and did everything I could not to go over the bars and sliding face first down the mountain. Luckily I found myself still with my bike and pointing in the correct direction. At this point, with several switchbacks to go, I was in catch-up mode. I had to be clean and smooth for the rest of the stage. Fortunately, I was able to pull everything together and finish the stage with the best time in my class.
Stage 2 was the exposed portion of the race with a trail that traversed a steep mountainside. This was the hardest stage mentally for me. I think I would have been alright if I didn’t listen to all of the conversation around exposure and the potential to clip a pedal on the uphill side; though everything that was discussed was true. Dropping into Stage 2 I knew that there were very few spots to pedal because, like people said, pedaling would result in hitting your inside pedal on the steep uphill slope. I tried to pump the terrain, let the bike flow, and play it safe. Unfortunately, I think I played it too safe and didn’t ride as well as I wanted to finishing 4th in the stage.
This was the longest stage of the race and for me the most fun! Stage 3 began just below treeline and followed a short ridge before dropping into the trees. I felt really good at the start of the stage and my confidence continued to build as the trail swooped through the thick trees and brush. I felt that I could carry my speed through each turn and let the bike drift through the corners. This was a good change from the focused and intense first and second stages. I was having so much fun it was hard to slam on the brakes for the end of the stage.
The last stage was another fast and fun stage that flowed through the trees and grasses for the lower hillside. The trail was tight but had plenty of fun places to pop off of. There were a couple of hidden pedal catcher rocks in the grass that caught me a couple of times. Fortunately, I stayed on the bike. As I was going down the trail, I could feel the rear of the bike getting squirrely. I couldn’t tell if I burped my tire or if it was going flat. I chose to ride it out and hope for the best. Just before the finish line, the trail dropped into the trees. I didn’t expect the trail to drop directly into a switch back and I found myself off the trail in into a pile of logs. I was quick to get the bike heading in the right direction but definitely lost some time. However, I still finished the stage in 1st place.
The Montana Enduro Series organizers did a fantastic job at putting on a challenging race that highlighted spectacular riding around Bozeman. They kept the race professional but extremely fun and social. I know I will definitely be returning in the future and encourage anyone to participate in the series.