Gunnison Valley riders open race season in the mud

Mother Nature wreaks havoc on Mesa Verde

by Than Acuff

Every year the racing season for the legions of Gunnison Valley bikers opens with the 12 Hours of Mesa Verde just outside of Cortez, Colo. It’s a bit of baptism by fire for most of the local crew, since they just barely started riding at Hartman Rocks, Fruita and/or Salida when they put on the bib and line-up, but the weather and the course venue makes it all worthwhile.

In addition, the area is rich in history, with the Mesa Verde cliff dwellings nearby. The area features numerous ruins of homes and villages built by the Ancestral Puebloans. There are more than 4,000 archaeological sites and 600 cliff dwellings at the site.

The Puebloans inhabited Mesa Verde between 600 to 1300, though there is evidence they left before the start of the 15th century. By the year 750 A.D. the people were building mesa-top villages made of adobe. In the late 1190s they began to build the cliff dwellings for which Mesa Verde is famous.

Speaking of A.D., anyone else hooked on that Sunday television series, A.D. The Bible Continues? I know I am. And it’s just mindless enough to go back and forth between the show and an intense game of Disney Go Fish with my daughter. Although the combination does have its distractions, leading to theological discussions on the living room floor.

“Dad, do you have the Ariel card?”

“No, go fish,”

“Dad, who is that man hanging from a cross?”

“That’s Jesus Christ.”

“He’s bleeding.”

“Yep… do you have the Snow White card?”

“No, go fish. Why is he bleeding?”

“Well, he’s hanging by his hands and feet.”


“Well… that’s how they did things back then, and they wanted to make an example of Jesus Christ because the Romans thought that Jesus claimed he was the Messiah, which was against Roman law. So they hung him by his hands and feet. The Romans felt threatened by him as did the Jewish leaders of the time, who were in cahoots with the Romans.”

“What does cahoots mean?”

“It means cooperates. You know, like when you cooperate and eat your dinner, you get ice cream. When you don’t cooperate, you get nothing. So the Jewish leaders at the time felt if they would cooperate with the Roman leaders, they would get ice cream. If they didn’t, they would probably get killed. And since the Romans didn’t necessarily like Jesus Christ, neither did some of the Jewish leaders.”

“I cooperated and ate my dinner, can I have some ice cream?”

“No, I ate it all.”

“That’s not fair.”

“I know, neither was the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. Your turn.”

Back to Mesa Verde. The climate is semi-arid, though on Saturday it was anything but “semi-arid.” As it turned out, the race lasted about as long as it took me to research the Mesa Verde cliff dwellings and watch an episode of A.D. The Bible Continues because 30 minutes into the race, the skies unleashed on them. Blizzard conditions blew EZ Up tents, gear and riders across the high desert.

“Epic conditions, three gO tents picked up and blew away and were trashed, and they were weighted. No Tubes’ tent took flight, attached/weighted with two pony kegs,” describes Team gO rider Dave Ochs. “Lucky I got the first lap in and was further up there, didn’t get it too bad. The next lap was mayhem. Bikes, people, egos, spirits—all broken! They canned it.”

“It turned out to be a mud fest,” adds Rock-N-Roll Sports rider Mike McAuley.

The 12 Hours of Mesa Verde turned into the 1.5 Hours of Mesa Verde. Nevertheless, there were awards handed out as riders were recognized for the effort they did put out during the maelstrom and, as always, a number of Gunnison Valley riders brought home some hardware.

McAuley had the best result of the local bunch, taking first place in the men’s solo class, getting in just two laps before they called the race.

“The first lap wasn’t too bad and I was psyched because I’m pretty decent in muddy conditions,” says McAuley. “But the second lap got real muddy. People couldn’t even ride. I was pretty bummed because I was ready for a big one.”

Team Griggs Orthopedics (Team gO) was in full effect with athletes thrown into five different categories. The four-man team of Ochs, Bryan Dillon, Jon Brown and Brian Smith, of which only Ochs and Dillon were able to ride, placed second. Other notable results came from Team gO riders Tina Kempin, Kaitlyn Archambault and Mia Phillips, who finished fourth, as did the Team gO coed single speed team of Jefe Branham, Beth Shaner, Neil Beltchenko and Rachel Alter.

Team Brick Oven, fueled by Avery (Team BOFA), was led on the results sheet by Heather McDowell, who pushed through the slop to take first place in the women’s solo singlespeed class, while Jordan Williford placed fourth in the men’s solo class and Jafar Tabaian, Dodson Harper and Logan Jones placed fifth among men’s teams.

“This was the one time it was worth going out too fast and blowing up as I prefer to, unfortunately bike mechanicals kept me from my M.O.,” says Team BOFA rider Ben Preston.

All fueled up with nowhere to ride, Team BOFA then took their talents elsewhere once the race was cancelled, and hit the Cortez bowling lanes for four hours.

The local contingent of bike racers remains in the valley for their next race when they line up May 23 and May 24 for the Growler at Hartman Rocks. Some will continue racing through June before saddling up again in their own backyard for the Chainless World Championships and the Fat Tire 40 during Crested Butte Bike Week, June 25-28.

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