Downhill Action at Keystone, CO
As an old school cross-country mountain biker, I hold a strong belief that you don't deserve the downhill until you've tackled the uphill. It's just the way I was raised—can’t help it. Of course I've ridden downhill runs at Vail a couple times, and earlier on this Expedition Cody and I rode trails at Big Sky. Each time, however, involved riding an XC bike to the summit before bombing down the mountain. Ride a chair lift? No way, Jose! That's cheating!
On the flip side, I also consider myself progressive and open to new ideas. In the sport of mountain biking the newest movement is Freeride, which involves lots of downhilling and big jumps. The bikes have really long-travel suspension and the riders wear body armor. Not only does Freeride look really cool, but it also screams of fun.
So when the folks at Yeti Cycles offered to hook up the Expedition4am Crew with demo Downhill bikes and comp passes to Keystone Resort... I was all for it. After all, cool toys and they're free! HOW COULD WE SAY NO?
The Crew and I were back in the Denver area for a day. While Cody arranged Kayaks, I made a quick run to Yeti, in Golden, Colorado. After meeting Chad, the Demo/Promotion Coordinator, and getting the 50 cent tour of their operations, he surrendered four ASX Freeride bikes to me. These are some really cool mountain bikes capable of withstanding huge air and serious abuse. I couldn't wait to thrash down a hill on them.
Now here's the thing that surprised me... I didn't have to show ID. I didn't have to leave a deposit. I didn't have to sign anything stating that I received these bikes and would ever bring them back. Four bikes, each retailing for roughly 3 grand-- That's 12 thousand dollars worth of bike! And he didn't just let me stroll out of the factory with them, he helped load them in my truck.
What a perfect scam!
Unfortunately, Chad was a really cool guy and I couldn't bring myself to pull one over on him.
Think about it for a moment -- Cops and lawyers would get involved. Most definitely, Chad would be suspected of conspiring with the low-life who took the bikes. He would then lose his job and probably have to pay for the stolen merchandise. But with that sort of thing on his record, there's no way anyone would offer him a new job. So with a huge debt and no income, his kids (assuming he has kids) would go hungry. Eventually, his wife would get fed up and divorce him, take the kids and move out of state. Chad would then wander the streets jobless, penniless and hopeless. For a while he might get by, but at some point he would turn to drugs and crime. It would be small at first, but slowly build to bolder crimes and stronger narcotics. Then one day, while blitzed on crank and paint thinner, he would bump off a liquor store, killing the clerk in the process. For the jury it would a no-brainer, and they would only deliberate over his fate for an hour and a half. Chad would then be incarcerated at the state pen doing 40 to life with no chance at early parole. After months of spending nights as Bubba's personal boy-toy, Chad would take his own life by throwing himself into one of the industrial laundry machines he works during the day.
Can you believe all of that Tomfoolery? And for what... a few bikes?
I came to the conclusion it simply wasn't worth it. So before I left, I promised Chad (mostly for his sake) I would return the bikes. And I meant it!
Riding the lift to the summit, I couldn't help but think how nothing looked familiar. I had skied Keystone countless times, but here in the middle of summer, without any snow on the mountain, I didn't even recognize the runs. It was uncharted territory.
Rom, Adam and I met at the top for the first run of the day. Meanwhile Cody was complaining of a sore shoulder and chose to sit it out. "Perhaps later," he said.
Rom has had the worst luck on mountain bikes during our trip, having fallen the most during this expedition. The idea of gravity poisoning again or leaving more skin on the trail did not sit well with him. A few days ago Adam took his fair share of falls in Fruita, so he was of the same mindset. I was eager to go nuts, but these down hill bikes were big and heavy and completely different in design than bikes we were used to riding. So unanimously, we all decided to do a beginner run named Girl Scouts for our first ride. How gay was that?
We put on lipstick and got to the business of downhilling.
Well, you can expect how easy Girl Scouts was. The trail actually weaved back and forth across the mountain so much that it required 1 part uphill to every 2 parts downhill. It was almost like the trail was afraid to descend. Even Girl Scouts themselves were more bold than this.
Although it was good to get used to the bikes, half way down I was ready for something more challenging. Girl Scouts trail had sweeping turns and a few rutted areas, but would have been as easily ridden on my XC bike. Or a beach cruiser for that matter. Before the end of this first run I switched over to a black diamond expert trail to find some crazy shit.
Girl Scouts did allow me to dial in the suspension and get used to the handling. Likewise, Rom did stellar. With amplified confidence he blurted out, "Dude, this kicks ass" while we were stopped mid-way down the mountain. Adam was far from thrilled. He hated the feeling of not being clipped into the pedals and the fact that he was downhilling rather than getting a work out. At the end of the run he bailed on the rest of the day.
Back at the Truckster, Cody was infected by how enthusiastic Rom and I were. He said, screw the sore shoulder and suited up to join Rom and I on run number 2.
Meanwhile, a storm moved in. As we got off the lift at the summit, the operator said they were shutting it down. Thunderstorms-- another difference between a ski area in the summer and in the winter.
Once again all three of us discussed possible runs down the mountain, and once again we were in agreement... but this time it was Expert Trails or nothing.
We dropped onto a trail named "Cowboy Up," a single track that screams straight down a steep slope and into the trees. The first section sports three foot drops, banked turns, and log jumps. This was the kind of gnarly stuff these downhill bikes were designed for, and they sucked it all up.
We blasted out of the forest, across a run, and entered a 150ft downhill rock field. Hazards here were big drops and large, angled rocks. One miscalculation and I guarantee you were gonna feel it. I made a mental note that the "right line" was the best line. The lifts may not open up before the end of the day, but if they did I wanted to hit this trail again-- faster if possible.
I don't know where we lost Cody, but I suspect it was at the fork of two trails.
Rom and I met up on a black diamond trail, named Paid-in-Full, where we stopped frequently to take pictures. There were sections of North Shore Style ramps through the trees, and even some wicked-cool banked turns. Later we hooked up a trail called Wild Thing, a single track chock-full of big drops and technical sections that would eventually lead us down to the base of the ski area.
Eventually, we met up with Cody near the base. He had finished the run, then rode half way up the mountain because the lift was closed.
And the lift was still closed, so riders were filling the time by playing in the terrain park. Some of the attractions were beyond our respective skill levels, but we monkied around on the stuff that was. Somehow we failed to get pics of the terrain park. Just pics of me doing a sweet jump:
Shortly after 3pm the threat of thunderstorms had dissipated and they reopened the lift. Cody had left to ride up the mountain once again, and Rom didn't want to press his luck any further. So I hopped on the lift for a solo run.
Dropping Cowboy Up again, I put my legs into it and cranked. This was my third run and I felt comfortable with the bike and my abilities. At the end of Cowboy Up, I planned to try another expert trail named T.N.T.. However, there would be a slight delay in my plans...
As I bombed down the rock field, fully prepared to take the right line with a bit of speed, I let my thoughts get ahead of me. Before I could get to the line, it was necessary to tackle a series of staircase drops over huge rocks. Thinking ahead, rather than focusing on the here and now, I went off the second rock and grabbed me a handful of front brake!
Unfortunately, I've been there before. So like instinct, deep in the recesses of my brain, in some remote synapse, the phrase "This is gonna suck" flashed through my mind.
And surely enough... it did.
Over the bars I flew in a whip-like endo. Together, the bike and I cartwheeled twice, kicking up rocks and dirt along the way. For the record, these weren't graceful cartwheel maneuvers like you might see in a performance of Cirque du Soleil. Nosirree! These cartwheels resembled some of that out-of-control Evel Knievel shit.
When the bike and I finished our revolutions, we split apart and bounced to a stop. Noises of clanging metal slowly dissipated and a dust cloud rose around me. Nearby, a chipmunk chattered frantically. Or laughed. It was hard to tell.
It had been a long time since I took a quality header and I instantly recognized this payback time. Since I wasn't wearing leg armor, both knees took a beating and my left shin had a healthy gash in it. Still laying on the ground I looked closer -- there was white meat with a couple deep gouges through the white meat. The pedal probably took a bite.
A couple other riders happened upon me, during the damage assessment. One of them moved my bike and helped me to my feet. Both knees hurt, but it was obvious there were no broken bones. Cool that!
"Be careful, man." the guy advised, "Maybe slow down a bit on the crazy stuff."
Hey, great advice! A little bit late.. not to mention it probably would have been ignored... but still great advice.
It took a few minutes to clear the bats from the belfry and walk off the pain. Then, advice be damned, I climbed back on my sliver steed, threw caution to the wind, and continued downward at the same pace. After all, this was the last run of the day. You gotta go nuts!
Fortunately, the rest of the run was awesome with no more gravity checks.
What an excellent day of riding!