This past April, I set out to ride 150+ miles on my bike. That was a fairly ambitious monthly total for someone with a full-time job living in a climate that often delivers a wintry mix throughout the month of April. It was even more ambitious because I didn’t want to skip any of my normal workouts at the gym and I was coming off many, many months of not riding my bike due to a broken shoulder (clavicle AND scapula) last September.
Where did that goal come from? It was a combination of my attendance at the IMBA Uprising in Bentonvillle in March plus my desire to do the Fat Tire 40 in late June. That grueling race involves 42 miles and about 6000 feet of climbing and I had a minor surgery scheduled for May 4 that would keep me off the bike for a few weeks. If I had a chance of being able to do the 40, I needed to get a solid base of miles in before my surgery. I didn’t really think about the fact that to hit 150+ miles, I’d need to average 5 miles per day for the month to reach that goal. Luckily the weather cooperated.
Even though we had an early spring in the north end of the Valley, hitting my goal required a lot of time spent at Hartman Rocks. I’ve always liked Hartman’s just fine. It is a beautiful, somewhat alien landscape. The trails are fun and the variety, from smooth to arguably the most technical trails in the Valley, is hard to beat. But, I’ve also been a little bit scared of most of the technical trails. I’ve never demonstrated much technical finesse on my bike. “Point it and pray” has been my motto since day 1, often to my detriment (see fractured clavicle and scapula mentioned above…).
This April, I got over a lot of that. Sure, there are moves I still haven’t figured out. But, I also learned a lot about how to push up and over rock obstacles and how subtle weight shifts can allow your bike to do magical things, in part thanks to my friend Syd. She’s a guide with Colorado Backcountry and Chasing Epic and she coached me through a ride on the Ridge Trail. I’d only ridden it once before and had decided once was enough for me. It’s exposed and technical and therefore terrifying for me since I am pretty afraid of heights. I had a great time riding with her and a big crew of friends, doing a giant technical loop on a weekend day. She showed that “point it and pray” works better if you actually think about where you’re going to point it first. I also had a great time squeezing in 6- or 7-mile lunch rides whenever I could. Hartman Rocks allowed me to put together a 20+ mile multi-hour adventure ride or just hammer out a quick 5-8 miles when the opportunity struck.
Then, May and June rolled around. After my surgery, giant days with big miles and tons of climbing became the focus. I didn’t have time to make the 60-mile round trip down to Hartman Rocks and the riding down there didn’t offer enough sustained climbing for me to prep for my race. It got hot and work got busy. I hadn’t been to Hartman’s in ages.
I had been really struggling to breathe on rides in Crested Butte as we saw a lot of smoke from wildfires all over the west. For about a month starting in late July, within minutes of getting on any ride with any sort of steep incline, I would start wheezing. If I tried to push through, it would get worse and after 5 minutes I’d have to bail and head home to wait out the inevitable chest pain that followed. I started to wonder if I’d lose every bit of fitness I worked so hard to gain this spring as I waited out the weeks and weeks of smoky days. Thankfully, we appear to largely be on the other side of that.
But, while waiting for the smoky days to pass, I got my first two rides in at Hartman Rocks since May. I was reminded why I fell in love with that place and my bike all over again. Climbing up Jack’s from the base area, I started sucking wind, but I didn’t wheeze. I popped on over to climb Becks and then just had time to head to the high point of Rocky Ridge before turning around and hitting Becks-Notch-Collarbone and heading back to the office. It felt so good to be back on the bike.
A few days later, I was back again and had my best ever climb up Top of the World. It wasn’t my fastest, but I nailed every single rock move on the climb on my first try. I’ve never done that before and it felt fantastic. It’s just so darn rewarding out there. No, I didn’t clean every bit of my loop, but I got moves I’d never managed. That feeling explains the source of my love of mountain biking—there’s nothing like mastering a move you’ve never gotten in years of trying. I think Hartman Rocks offers more of that than anywhere else in the Gunnison Valley. It’s the perfect practice ground of technical riding on progressively harder trails so there is always a new challenge to master. In fact, I spent the rest of my ride considering the value proposition of selling our house in CB South to move to Gunnison so that Hartman Rocks was literally my backyard. At this point, my first love is still skiing so I think we’ll stay put for now.
We should still have at least 6 weeks of good alpine riding left up here in Crested Butte. Maybe even two months. But, I’ll be making trips down to Gunnison to get my rides at Hartman Rocks in, especially since I just set another social media goal to try to hit 75 days on the mountain bike this summer and I’ve got almost 30 to go. Hartman Rocks offers pure, magical fun.