Race Report: Sam Vickery’s Whiskey 50

Written by Sam Vickery (@slam_vick)

Spring has sprung and the race season is here! Over the next few months, I will be sharing with you some of my bike related adventures as well as giving my view into some racing that I am doing this season.

It has been a crazy spring both in my personal life and otherwise. Durango had a massive winter this year, making for great skiing but made preparation for the season a challenge. Between the commutes to and from Sedona and Moab, spending some time with one of my friends in Tucson, plus committing to some variety while at home (running and XC skiing) I am feeling amazing on the bike.

_MG_3425Speaking of the Bike, this year Eric set me up on what I would consider the perfect XC race bike. The bike has a long front center, Short stays, a slack head tube and 120mm of travel in the fork yet my position on the bike is low and racey ready to smash. Between the geometry, sliding dropouts for single speed and a build out I could have only dreamed of, it seriously does not get better for me.

Here’s some deets:
Frame: Myth Cycles Ti proto (#TiTrailSlayer)
Fork: Fox Factory 34SC touched up by Diaz Suspension Designs here in Durango.
Drivetrain: Sram XX1 Eagle OR Endless Bike Company SS Cog (usually 36×22)
Cranks: Rotor REX In/Power 36t
Brakes: Sram Level TLM
Wheels: Mismatched Rear-Stans Crest MK3- I seem to be rough on rear wheels especially so aluminum is a great choice for me. Front-Ridefast Racing Hotwire Carbon
Tires: Maxxis IKON 2.35 TR EXO front and rear
Seatpost: Fox Transfer 125mm
Saddle: Fabric Line race ti
Bars: Whiskey No9 flat 760mm wide, random Giant brand grips that I really like.


The first race of the year for me was the infamous Epic Rides Whiskey 50 in Prescott Arizona. One of the hallmark races of the year known for the heinous Skull Valley Climb and great single track, it is an amazing way to kick off a race season. This event was my first XC race back in 2016 and the beginning of reconnecting with all my bike friends from other corners of the US. To me, race weekends feel like vacation and a bike race just happens to be going on at the same time. It was great to catch up with everyone over some beer or food. Just another reason why this sport is the best.

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The first race of the year is always a toss up as far as where your fitness is at compared to others and re-entering the depths of the “pain cave” can be a shock to the system. I headed to the start line on Saturday morning with a couple of goals in mind-Finish the race, take care of myself and ride 100% whatever that may be on that day and of course that bitch Skull Valley was in the back of my mind. From my first pedal stroke of the day I could tell it was going to be a good one. The first 5 minutes of every ride I “check in” with my body, ask myself how I am feeling mentally and physically. Mentally I was motivated, excited and confident. Physically I felt rested, loose, comfortable and my standard pre-race tummy trouble decided to take the day off.

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Whiskey caters well to the single speeds since it starts up hill and gives us 1 gears something to push against to keep up with the rest of the field heading into the single track. Overall position is important in these races as you don’t want to end up losing time behind a big group trying to push your gear up a climb, So the start is always pretty all out to try and stay in the mix. I hit the first section of single track around 10 th overall with 1 other single speed in front of me (Ben Torvik from Boulder, CO). The race is made interesting early on by giving riders a fork with 2 options to get up the first single track climb. I just did what Ben did-the shorter but steeper and more technical option. While I did clean the climb, I would say I burned a match here in order to hang on to a good position. By the time we hit the top, the group I was with knew we had made the right choice and had a gap on the rest of the field.

5657_20190426_145210_152379058_originalThe course then heads downhill for the first big descent, I closed the gap to Ben and was able to make the pass for the single speed lead. We then headed back up a jeep road for about 10-15minutes and at this point it was just 4 of us off the front-3 open category racers and me. The next big section was the anticipated crux of the course, Skull Valley. The way down is a chance to take a deep breath before the 8-mile grunt back up the road. After the turnaround, you can see your time back to other riders coming down. I had a good gap and the legs were feeling great plus the plan was that my crew would greet me at the top with a couple of fresh bottles this kept me motivated to the top. The Open guys rode a good pace for the majority of the climb but with gear I was running, had to grind it out for the second half and ended up leading overall at the top. In my mind I was like “hell yeah my friends are going to be stoked that I’m leading overall at the top” …Not so. Car Traffic from the 30-mile race had stopped them from getting up the road in time to meet me and I was out of water…Sure, I could have stopped and filled up at the aid station on my own time but there was no way. I was leading and feeling good and I was determined to ride it out if I could. Luckily there was a spare water bottle for me later on. Side note-I have been doing a lot of Hot Yoga lately and I think this helped a lot with heat management for the period of time I was completely out of water.

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While I would have loved to throw things on cruise control all the way to the finish line, a little after the ½ way point is where the 50- and 30-mile courses merge and it was total chaos. It took all of my mental capacity to stay collected through the traffic and I did eventually end up getting caught by the open leaders dropping me back to 5 th overall where I would eventually finish. The final true challenge this course throws at you nicknamed “cramp hill” is a short but sharp climb sure to fire up the legs late in the race. There was a lovely group of hecklers appropriately waiting at the top with whiskey shots and bacon. I took the whiskey hand up and my body said, “hell nah” and it immediately came right back out. Hard to live that one down.

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Shortly after, I crossed the finish line in a total time of 3hrs 44min to take the single speed win by 9 minutes and 5th overall. One of my best bike friends and the most real single speed racer on the earth, Dax Massey, turned on the afterburners for 2nd and Ben Torvik in 3rd to round out a Coloradan top 3 sweep. All of us on titanium bikes as well (Myth, Roca Roja and Eriksen).

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I spent the rest of the weekend slinging water bottles for my friends in the pro race and drinking more than a few beers to celebrate. I am stoked with everything right now. I am riding better than ever and just happy as hell to ride my bike. The next event I am headed to is the 12 Hours Of Mesa Verde to take on my first solo 12 hour effort. It is sure to be a doozy.

Sam Vickery is a (the) team racer for Myth Cycles
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Norway: part 2

The second part of our Norway trip began by stepping into unknown territory. In planning this trip, we could find almost no information about bikepacking in Norway. I saw this as a huge opportunity, but of course it was hard to know where to start. The way we packed for this trip was almost entirely with bikepacking bags. We figured we would treat our bikes like suitcases and just unload them for day rides. It was always in the plan to do some camping off the bikes.

After mulling over all our options, and factoring in the weather that was predicted for the next few days, we decided on a route that would more or less take us straight to Voss, where our next AirBnB was. We used http://www.norgeskart.no/ which is an awesome site with astonishingly detailed topo maps of Norway. A word of caution though, the trails shown on the maps vary from well established trails to bushwhacking. And there’s no real way to tell which they are until you’re there.

So we chose to go North from a small town called Øystese, and take trails as far as we could to get to Voss. We said goodbye to Klara and Nora, and Will was kind enough to drive us down the road to Øystese where we began our ride.

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A paved road took us up the first 300 meters of elevation from Fjord level to a lake called Fitjadalsvatnet. At the end of the road, we found the trailhead, and began our ascent. The valley climbed steeply up towards the platau that was our goal, and we discovered what kind of trail it was that we had chosen.

The trail basically followed what appeared to be old scree covered in moss. I could go into great detail here, but the short story is that we carried our bikes to the top.

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The next day we made it up to the plateau we had been aiming for and suddenly, without warning, the trails were completely and totally ridable. We explored this area, and went a couple different out-and-backs just to see what the trails were like. Hayley has a knee injury that’s been on and off for a couple years, and the entire day of carrying a loaded bike took it’s toll. We decided to head towards the road and into Voss the next day. The trail we took down to the lake was unbelievably cool.

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We spent the next few days in Voss, riding some of the local trails (which were really awesome) and soaking up some sunny days. We had been going pretty non-stop since we got to Norway, so we took some time to just relax and feel like we were on vacation. We also had to decide what to do with the next few days, as we hadn’t planned them yet. The weather wasn’t looking especially promising, so the idea of camping was looking less appealing. In the end we decided to go to Bergen, and do touristy stuff around the city since we figured that might be the least hindered by wet weather.

We headed to Bergen on the train from Voss, and one short, scenic (imagine that) ride later we were in Bergen getting soaked in a storm. Bergen was an awesome city to hang out in, and it’s not a very large, so it was easy to get a lot of places by bike or walking. We walked up a long stone stair that took us up above the city, rode the tram down, saw cool parts of the old town, and went to an island called Fedje via a really awesome ferry route.

On the way home the airline lost our bikes again, but we weren’t surprised.

Summary:

Norway was an amazing country to visit. It was the first time I’d visited a country nicer than the United States. The Norwegians we interacted with were very nice and almost all of them knew English. The landscape was unbelievable. Between the Fjords, the mountains, the trails, and the fact that we saw almost no people in the backcountry, it made for a really cool wilderness experience. The weather certainly was wet. I think if we go back, I’d like to see some other parts of Norway that are known for being a little more dry. Overall, we came home feeling so lucky for everything we got to do and experience over there.

The little bikepacking we did was a mixed bag. We got half totally awesome singletrack and half carrying our bikes uphill through boulders. I think for anyone looking to do bikepacking there, local knowledge and the willingness to try lots of different trails is going to be your recipe for success. If bikepacking ever catches on there, the locals will be the ones to turn to for advice for sure.

The riding we did with Any Excuse to Ride Norway was awesome. We really enjoyed the relative luxury of an all-inclusive holiday. They really took care of us when our bikes didn’t show up. I really hope to see Will and Klara and Nora again someday, they really helped make our Norway trip special.

Norway: part 1

Some of you may have noticed I disappeared for the last 3 weeks, both from Durango and social media. Well, Hayley and I went to Norway for 3 weeks of mountain biking and bike camping.

The whole thing started when we saw an offer for a fully catered mountain biking holiday from Any Excuse to Ride Norway on Instagram. Hayley and I have never done anything like this before, but the pictures of the riding looked so incredibly stellar that we just had to try it out. Just the idea of cycling in Norway was pretty much enough for me.

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So last winter we booked it and plane tickets for 3 weeks in Norway. The catered mountain biking holiday was just for the first week, and then we planned to go off on our own, camping or air-bnb-ing depending on weather.

We got into Bergen after 4 flights and about 36 hours of traveling. We had checked our bikes with the airline, and of course, they were lost. Not caring about much else at that time, we checked into our hotel and slept. The next day, our friends Brianne and Peter showed up after flying with a different airline. Luckily, their bikes did show up. Any Excuse to Ride Norway is a guiding service out of Kvanndal, a tiny village about 2 hours drive from Bergen. It consists of Will, Klara and Nora, the trail dog. Will picked us up in his van from Bergen, and still pretty jet lagged, and with only two bikes and 4 people, we headed to their farmhouse in Kvanndal.

The drive from Bergen to Kvanndal is utterly superb. This part of Norway is unlike any place I’ve ever been. Bergen is known as the gateway to the fjords, and is completely surrounded by fjord country. Kvanndal is situated along Hardangerfjord, the second longest fjord in Norway, and honestly, I just couldn’t get enough of staring out of the van at the country we were going to ride it.

It became apparent after the second day without so much as a word from the airline, that we were going to have to rent bikes. Will had some connections in the close by city of Voss, and we were able to get some full suspension rentals for the next few days. Unfortunately, most of the riding we did the first week was on rentals, but we had a blast anyway.

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The Riding

But what about the riding? Ho-lee-chit it was awesome. The first thing we learned about riding if fjord country, is a reality of the landscape. It is really steep. The walls of the fjords consist of mostly steep gneiss cliffs that were formed by glaciers around 80,000 years ago. This made for trails that started from altitudes of up to 1200m and went to sea level in only a few miles. However, not everything we rode was insanely steep, and we got the hang of it after a couple days. The main challenge for us desert dwellers was comically enough: water. It is fucking everywhere. It’s not news that it rains in Norway. A hint should be that 98% of the country’s power comes from hydroelectric stations. And it did rain while we were there. We just simply don’t ride in the rain in Southwest Colorado, mostly because it destroys the trails. So riding in the wet was something we had to embrace, and I think by the end of our first week, we were getting the hang of it.

We rode quite a variety of trails from steep singletrack to old tractor roads. The terrain they took us through was so beautiful, and the rain made for some incredible low clouds that would open up a little at the middle of the day.

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Our bikes showed up the second to last day of our time with Will and Klara, and we finally got to ride our own bikes on some sweet trails. Overall, it was a really awesome experience with them, and we were really glad to have guides to show us the riding and show us a little bit of the country. I don’t think there’s any way we could have gotten as much riding in without their help. The fully catered bit took a little getting used to for us, but once we did it was really nice to just relax and be on vacation.

If you’re interested in taking a trip like we did, check out the @_any_excuse_to_ride instagram, and I’m more than happy to provide contact email for them.

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The Paradox Trail

Last week, some friends and I went on a bikepacking trip on the Paradox trail. The Paradox, along with the Kokopelli and the Tabeguache trails, is part of the Grand Loop, a much longer bikepacking route spanning Western Colorado and Eastern Utah. The Paradox winds its way through country that has a haunting Uranium mining history, which likely provided many of the “roads” that the Paradox uses. Although it’s an established bike route, we saw no one else traversing it in the 4 days we were there.

DSC02254We started on the East end, on the Uncompagre Plateau. From there, the route descends for many miles down onto Pinto mesa, with incredible views of the San Juan mountains and Lone Cone. From Pinto Mesa, the Paradox continues to descend to the town of Nucla. The once bustling town of Nucla does have a small market, open every day of the year except Christmas. We swung in for some last minute supplies, and also found some water before leaving town.

We headed North of town, back the way we’d come, to get to the new Paradox trailhead, also the start of a new, small singletrack trail system above the gun range. From there, the route winds through awesome high desert that goes up to the foot of the Uncompagre plateau, going through several drainages and over many ridges. It eventually drops you into Blue Canyon, and down to the Dolores River. After a couple fast highway miles, it crosses the river at Biscuit rock, and begins to head up Red Canyon.

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Red Canyon is an incredible experience, and you’re also climbing like crazy straight to the top of Paradox ridge. From here, the route follows Paradox ridge directly towards the La Sal mountains and eventually becomes Carpenter ridge, ascending the whole time. A good thing to note is that Buckeye reservoir is the last camping for many miles at this point. After Buckeye, you pass through private land until just past the high point of the route, near Deep Creek.

DSC02413Now in proper high country terrain, we looked back at the Uncompagre plateau, and all the terrain we crossed to get here. The La Sals still had quite a bit of snow on them, right above us on the peaks. After winding around the East side of the mountains, the road quite good at this point, it spit us out right onto the Kokopelli trail. I remembered this intersection quite well from when I did the Kokopelli, as I’d looked down the road and wondered where it went. Now I was coming from that road, and heading the same way, towards Moab.

I was also excited to take my Myth Chimera on it’s first bikepacking trip. I really believe that fat bikes are the perfect desert bikepacking rig (maybe the best bikepacking rig period), and I’ve been excited to get the Chimera out and get some dust on it. It absolutely shined on this trip, and I can’t wait to get it out for more desert miles and many trips to come.DSC02348.jpg

All in all, the Paradox is a fantastic route. One of my favorites I’ve ever done, and a truly wild and remote part of the world. I’d recommend it to anyone interested in a not overly difficult bikepacking trip, as it’s both easier and has more natural water than the Kokopelli.

Trail Info

  • The Paradox can probably be ridden from about May until the first snows in the La Sals, perhaps October?
  • The route probably goes well at 3 days ride time, but 4 was great for us.
  • The most up to date route info is probably on the West End Trails Alliance website. Under the “Trails” section are 5 maps whose titles begin with “PT” for Paradox trail. Of particular interest is the Pinto Mesa to Tabeguache Creek map, as it’s the updated route, and different than what is found on MTB Project. Paper maps can also be acquired from WETA, which were very useful to us on this trip.
  • Expect a few steep but short hike-a-bike sections. The rest is ridable doubletrack and dirt roads.
  • Much of the route has great wild camping spots, excluding the section between Buckeye reservoir and Deep Creek, which is private property. Follow all leave no trace rules when camping in these areas.
  • Water. We found water at the following points along the trail, at the end of April: Tabeguache Creek, Spring creek (just puddles), Big Atkinson creek, Blue Canyon, Dolores River, Buckeye Reservoir, and at many points after Buckeye from snow melting off the La Sals. Your mileage may vary.

Spring has arrived

Last weekend Hayley and I got out to the desert for a quick overnight trip. We packed up the tandem and explored an area we’d never been before. Bikepacking on the tandem is a completely different experience. This trip was perfect for it. It was a blast! From time to time it still hits me just how lucky we are to have this so near to where I live. I love it here.