Full Circle on the Grand Loop: Part IV – A New Record, 12 Years in the Making

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Full Circle on the Grand Loop: Part IV – A New Record, 12 Years in the Making

This is the fourth and final part of an ongoing series:
Full Circle on the Grand Loop: Part III – A Cyclocross Specialist Turned Ultra Racer
Full Circle on the Grand Loop: Part II – The First Modern Bikepacking Race
Full Circle on the Grand Loop: Part I – Trail Visions Ahead of Their Time

2020, the year that virtually nothing has panned out as expected, delivered an unexpected opportunity for me to return to the Grand Loop. I flew home to Arizona in late March after an aborted tour across Alaska as the Covid-19 pandemic worsened. My body was exhausted from winning a 4-day-long Iditarod Trail Invitational – conditions were challenging enough that the race took twice as long as it does in “good” years. After the race, I continued touring farther along the trail for another 250 miles before Native villages began closing to visitors. When I returned home, my body was worn out. The next month was devoted to recovery as I watched in awe as the world as we knew it ground to a halt amid the worsening pandemic.

Full Circle on the Grand Loop: Part III – A Cyclocross Specialist Turned Ultra Racer

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Full Circle on the Grand Loop: Part III – A Cyclocross Specialist Turned Ultra Racer

This is the third part of an ongoing series:
Full Circle on the Grand Loop: Part II – The First Modern Bikepacking Race
Full Circle on the Grand Loop: Part I – Trail Visions Ahead of Their Time

Back in the late 2000s, I was a geology Ph.D. student at the University of Colorado and a devoted cyclocross racer. I got up early and did intervals in the dark before class and I raced around in little circles every weekend from September to December, chasing other skinsuit-clad guys hopping on and off their bikes for rather contrived reasons. I flew around the country to some of the biggest race weekends, chasing UCI points and top-20 finishes. I was infatuated with the sport until I rather abruptly became bored of those little circles.

Full Circle on the Grand Loop: Part II – The First Modern Bikepacking Race

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Full Circle on the Grand Loop: Part II – The First Modern Bikepacking Race

Read part I here:  Full Circle on the Grand Loop: Part I – Trail Visions Ahead of Their Time

With the ambitious origins of the Grand Loop being shared in Part I of this series, let us now dive into the impact the route had on the evolution of bikepacking, and more specifically, bikepacking races. After all, the Grand Loop Race (GLR) was arguably the first of the modern bikepacking events and is responsible for creation and evolution of some of the most popular and longest-running mountain bike ultras in the United States – the Colorado Trail Race and the Arizona Trail 300. The Grand Loop was also the first long and particularly difficult off-road route to become a notable draw for bikepackers.

Full Circle on the Grand Loop: Part I – Trail Visions Ahead of Their Time

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Full Circle on the Grand Loop: Part I – Trail Visions Ahead of Their Time

“It took 18 miles of new trail to get around that 800 feet,” Paul Koski explained to me, shaking his head incredulously. “18 miles for 800 feet! I couldn’t believe it. It took years to make that happen, but I really think it was actually a huge improvement for the Paradox Trail.”

I stood leaning against a table saw in Koski’s woodworking shop in a massive quonset hut in the tiny town of Nucla, Colorado. He was sharing stories spanning several decades of history related to the Grand Loop and the Paradox Trail. Folks like Koski rarely receive the recognition they deserve for years upon years of dedication to mountain bike advocacy. The afternoon before, I had finished riding for 53 hours straight to set a new record on the Grand Loop, and although my mind was still a bit foggy from the effort, I was excited to finally have the chance to meet Koski. Whether he realized it or not, his efforts and those of others like him in the area had literally changed the trajectory of my own life years before.

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The Grand Loop in New Zealand

The top of the South Island of New Zealand has rapidly become a destination for backcountry cyclists. Like all good ideas, this one, to ride the Old Ghost Road and Heaphy Track in one grand loop, was thrown about over a few beers in a bike shop in Richmond, Nelson. Two riders, Damian Stones and Erik Hall completed this 6-day adventure in mid-winter on gravel bikes. Recent snowfalls and a first bike packing trip for Erik, made this journey all the more challenging.

The Kids Are Alright: Eric’s Tour of the North Loop on the Dangerbird

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The Kids Are Alright: Eric’s Tour of the North Loop on the Dangerbird

My roommate, Austin, and I are discussing Ryan Van Duzer’s YouTube channel over coffee when there’s a knock at the front door. It’s my dad and my sister Paulina—they just made it back from dropping off her Subaru in Hatch, NM. I’ve been trying to get Austin into bike touring but he’s racing enduro today, leaving the rest of us Burnsides to rush out of here and join in on the Dangerbird. For the uninitiated, the Dangerbird is a desert celebration that takes place on the Monumental Loop, a 245-mile figure-eight track that tags all the desert peaks surrounding Las Cruces, New Mexico. The event draws in bikers and ultrarunners from all over, with the figure eight starting and ending in the city’s downtown square.

Wind, Chile, Chonk, and the Monumental Loop: the 2021 Dangerbird in Las Cruces

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Wind, Chile, Chonk, and the Monumental Loop: the 2021 Dangerbird in Las Cruces

Washboard roads, rocky doubletrack, creosote, cacti, centipedes, tarantulas, and vistas for miles. The Monumental Loop provides it all in a healthy mix, featuring the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument, BLM, and state lands surrounding the town of Las Cruces, New Mexico. With the mighty Organ Mountains looming in the background, it’s hard to imagine a better touring or bikepacking route in Southern New Mexico. When you add in the delicious food on the route, you’ve got yourself a winning combination. To help celebrate this monumental achievement (tee hee), Matt Mason, co-founder of the Loop, throws a grand depart each year dubbed the Dangerbird which took a brief hiatus last year due to the Pandemic. With Covid protocols in place and our numbers remaining slightly elevated in New Mexico, Matt made sure the entire weekend’s events took place outdoors, so I felt safe to head down to experience this gem of the Chihuahuan Desert…

Scenes from the 2021 New Mexico Bikepacking Summit and the Dangerbird Grand Depart Rider and Bike Portaits

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Scenes from the 2021 New Mexico Bikepacking Summit and the Dangerbird Grand Depart Rider and Bike Portaits

New Mexico has a lot of really amazing bicycle touring routes, from the mountainous aspen forests to the southern deserts. One such route is the Monumental Loop, which is based out of the Southern New Mexico city of Las Cruces, co-founded by Matt Mason. The Monumental Loop is a passion project for Matt but this year, he wanted to do something special to celebrate the cycling community in New Mexico. Part of that includes the first-ever New Mexico Bikepacking Summit. The weekend’s events included a Makers’ Mart at Outdoor Adventures, a local bike shop, and a grand depart for the Dangerbird, Matt’s nickname for the Monumental Loop. As you can imagine, after photographing the weekend’s events and touring the northern loop, I’m super zonked, so let’s get to it!

The Monumental Loop 2.0: A Father and Daughter Bikepack

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The Monumental Loop 2.0: A Father and Daughter Bikepack

This is Melina’s first bikepacking trip. She’s been on a couple of road tours and knows how to turn a set of cranks. That said, off-road has never been her thing. In fact she can’t remember the last time she threw her leg over a mountain bike. She’s headed off to graduate school soon, and I want her to be hooked on bikepacking before she leaves. So this needs to be awesome. Naturally, I’ve turned to southern New Mexico and the venerable Monumental Loop.

Bikepacking Roots: A Look at the Bears Ears Loops Bikepacking Route Network

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Bikepacking Roots: A Look at the Bears Ears Loops Bikepacking Route Network

Bikepacking Roots is releasing the long-awaited Bears Ears Loops bikepacking route network – 700 miles of riding options through the high deserts and subalpine wilds of central and southeastern Utah. Their goal with these routes are to empower riders to confidently and safely immerse themselves in the remarkable but intimidating landscape, develop an informed sense of place, and experience some of all that is at risk to be lost if the Bears Ears region is not protected.

Dramatic Seasons on the Paradise Loop in Bozeman

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Dramatic Seasons on the Paradise Loop in Bozeman

The seasons are dramatic in Montana. Long dark days of winter stand in stark contrast to the euphoric long and pleasant days of summer. As I near a decade of living in this place that once felt so quiet and remote, I sometimes wonder how life would be different if I lived in a more moderate place. Would I get used to it and only ride on the most perfect days? Or would I get out every day like I do when the weather finally turns in Montana, working myself to a point where snowed-in trails are almost welcome after five months of manic riding? Whatever the answer, it is hard to explain the motivation that comes after a 6-month long winter. The dreaming, planning, and longing for those special Montana Summer days just might be worth the wait.

iMiNUSD Grand Opening Party Trick Jam

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iMiNUSD Grand Opening Party Trick Jam

iMiNUSD Grand Opening | Quantum Trick Comp from iMiNUSD on Vimeo.

Here’s a little edit from the iMiNUSD grand opening party.

“He broke a spoke” “Are you serious?”

I love the wall-endos on the Family Life Chiropractic building. Is that a bit of irony or foreshadowing? One thing’s for sure, Slaylor is gettin’ it the whole time! His 180 to slider 720 double taps are ill as is the 3tap rockwalk bench endo line. Looks like a good time!

12 hours – 36 bottles – 2 kegs – 10 trays – 30 pizzas – 6 cases of H20 – 13 winners – 260+ attendance.

Previously:
iMiNUSD Grand Opening

Stefan Griebel and the Origin of the Colorado Trail Race – CTR

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Stefan Griebel and the Origin of the Colorado Trail Race – CTR

When I first heard about the Colorado Trail Race I was in fact riding part of the route, albeit one of the least engaging stretches. It was just ten days after I’d raced my bike for 200mi in Kansas and I’d been overly optimistic about my recovery when I’d agreed to a four-day tour from my home in Boulder through the South Platte (and on through Summit County) with my partner Tony.

A Long-Term Review of the 1UP USA Recon 5 Bike Rack and RakAttach 2.0

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A Long-Term Review of the 1UP USA Recon 5 Bike Rack and RakAttach 2.0

In early 2022, Wisconsin-based bike rack manufacturer 1UP USA purchased Recon Racks and began offering the Recon 5 and Recon 6 for, you guessed it, carrying five and six bikes respectively on a single vehicle. With attractive features such as no frame/fork contact with the rack, off-road rating, Smooth Pivot recline, and accommodation for a variety of tire and bike sizes, our interest was piqued. Josh has been testing a Recon 5 for the better part of a year, taking it everywhere from Arizona’s remote forest roads to local shuttle runs and cross-country road trips. 1UP also recently redesigned their RakAttach swing-out adapter, which Josh has been using in tandem with the Recon. Continue reading below for a full rundown on these new offerings from 1UP…

Cape Town Steel Safari: A Shop Visit to Mercer Bikes

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Cape Town Steel Safari: A Shop Visit to Mercer Bikes

Growing up in a small South African town in the late 80s and early 90s meant David Mercer was largely shielded from the travesties of the apartheid era. But in 1994, in a coincidental coming-of-age historical convergence, the status quo was cracked open, not just for Mercer but for the whole country. The same year he turned 16, South Africa officially ended apartheid as the country held its first democratic elections. At this point, Mercer was well enmeshed in his love affair with bikes, having grown up a young BMX ripper but becoming fully infatuated with mountain biking as a teen. Many youthful afternoons spent pouring over bicycle magazines like MB UK and Mountain Bike Action led him to develop a fast fascination with steel-wielding magicians like Dave Yates and Chas Roberts and were responsible for his own framebuilding aspirations. However, the end of apartheid brought a wave of foreign frames as longtime sanctions were finally lifted. This swift influx quickly decimated the local steel bicycle manufacturing industry and a deflated Mercer went on to become a veterinarian. The dream of bikes was always there, simmering in the background, but it would be nearly a decade-and-a-half before he’d pick up a torch himself.