Mountain Biking - The Zone - Pearl Pass to Crested Butte
PEARL PASS TOUR FROM CRESTED BUTTE TO ASPEN CONTINUES OLD TRADITION
By Gary Sprung
About 40 riders celebrated the world's oldest organized mountain bicycling event on September 14 when they rode over 12,705-foot Pearl Pass from Crested Butte to Aspen, Colorado. Now in it's 20th year, the Pearl Pass Tour continues to challenge and delight serious mountain bikers with spectacular scenery, rugged terrain, and personal rewards. The ride once attracted hundreds of people, but now continues as a low-key get together with neither sponsors nor fees.
The Pearl Pass Tour began in 1976 when a small group of Crested Beauties wanted to one-up some Aspen motorcyclists. The motor guys had bragged in a CB bar about their great feat, so the cyclists rode their one-speed klunkers over to a similar bar in the silver city. Two years later, the cool, technologically advanced mountain bikers from Marin County, California, joined the ride and a solid tradition evolved. The Californians continued to return for many years.
In those early days it was quite remarkable to ride over the pass, and for the first ten years the riders took it in two days, with a group campout and party halfway up. But as fitness and technology evolved, riders were able to cross the 35 miles in one day. Now most people ride back to Crested Butte the following day using nearby Taylor Pass, which is less rugged and includes supreme singletrack on the downhill.
At least twice, the tourers have faced blizzards and snow at the top. Such conditions return the Tour to its epic origin, a demonstration of major accomplishment. Drastic weather is hardly desired and this year, blustery skies in the morning threatened another struggle. So riders at the top cast thanks to the winds for the absence of precipitation. It rained hard that night in Aspen and tourers again awoke with trepidation. Sunshine broke out briefly and the encouraged group set out for the long return. By late Sunday in Crested Butte, a satisfied band of cyclists lounged in the warm sunshine of a totally clear sky.
The simplicity of the Pearl Pass Tour is a great asset. The event has no fees, no registration forms, no insurance, and no directors. Local organizers merely set a date and hire a single pickup truck to carry overnight gear to Aspen. Then everybody congregates at the appointed hour and they're off. Each person must take full responsibility for safety. There is no promise of support, repair or sweep.
With such informality, commraderie shines. Some people compete to make it quickly to the top. Everyone must push their bike at least a little on the intensely rocky final climbs. Pearl Pass itself provides quite enough challenge, so many take a leisurely pace. Most folks stay overnight at the Little Red Skihouse, one of Aspen's least expensive hotels, with a charming, European ambiance.
Crested Beauties feel proud to host this classic old event of a new sport and intend to continue its tradition for many more years. Visitors are welcome and it's easy to join. Just show up on the second or third weekend of September. Be fully prepared and ready to enjoy a difficult, wonderful, and meaningful ride in the heart of mountain biking country.