It’s almost 3000 miles from San Francisco to Washington DC. For a journey of this length, most travelers would be keeping an eye out for a decent motel, a quiet place to put their feet up, or a good beer. While all great things, we built this trip around ride opportunities. Thankfully, within those thousands of miles, there are stretches of the country rich with fantastic riding opportunities, neatly spaced a few hours apart and within easy access from the highway. From I-80 you can find Tahoe and Park City. After a short detour southeast from the Wasatch Front to pick up I-70, you’ll soon discover the trails continue through Colorado with Fruita, Eagle, Frisco, then Golden, and Boulder, and eventually Denver. Our first major stop on the tour was the first of these Colorado towns that boasts a vast network of some of the very best riding in the country: Grand Junction.
Roughly 15 hours from the Pacific, the aptly named Grand Junction is a hub for incredible riding from three nearby launching points: Fruita (18 Road trails), Loma (the legendary Kokopelli Mountain bike Trail), and Grand Junction itself (with the Lunch Loops). Following in the footsteps of Epic Rides‘ wildly successful Whiskey Off-Road in Prescott, the inaugural Grand Junction Off-Road (now part of the same race series) takes advantage of these amazing trails, and coincided perfectly with our travel plans as we passed through Colorado. Naturally, with an event that combined Epic’s signature Fat Tire Criterium, endurance racing, and great live music across an entire weekend, we couldn’t help but tag along.
All of the local trails used in the event are maintained by the Colorado Plateau Mountain Bike Trail Association (or COPMOBA), whose membership ensures events like the Off-Road are staffed with volunteers and trail maintenance crews. With this kind of a support network already in place, the event promoters at Epic Rides have an easy job: throw an awesome race weekend.
While Grand Junction openly doesn’t consider itself quite as outgoing as the Front Range, the town still came out in costumed droves to party for the Clunker Crit — the silly, all-ages prelude to the pro Men’s and Women’s Fat Tire Criterium races. The citizens’ race started off jovially enough, but things quickly escalated to skinsuits, bald 1.5″ tires, and cash primes that increased as the pro Men and Women’s fields ticked away lap after lap.
Day two of the Off Road was the main event for the weekend’s casual competitors (the Pro race wouldn’t take place until Sunday), and not to be taken as lightly as the evening before. The lollipop-shaped course would send racers away from the downtown across 40 miles of undulating desert terrain on the area’s marquee Lunch Loops trail system. Given the sheer technicality of the singletrack on the route and the late-summer heat, these were not destined to be fast miles. Many riders spent upwards of five hours on-course, before looping back to Main Street for a beer and a cool-down at the fountain.
It’s amazing to see a community so wholeheartedly embrace the arrival of mountain biking’s traveling circus. Every local newspaper through the weekend featured headlines hailing everything from the economic impact of the event, to who had the best costume for the crit. While you might be passing through during the next GJ Off-Road, if you’re crossing Colorado with a bike in the back of your vehicle (even if not, rent from Over the Edge in downtown Fruita), you’d be completely remiss for not sampling the local delicacies — of which there are many. We left Colorado with a smile, pushing on towards the vast expanse of Kansas where our IMBA Epic story was destined to continue.
You can learn more about COPMOBA’s mission on the Colorado Plateau here, and find plenty more of our photographs from the Off-Road on our Flickr page here. The Sprinter has many more miles of travel ahead, so make sure to stay in the loop by following us on Twitter or liking us on Facebook. We’ll see you down the road. [zp]
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