This year’s Fossil Ultimate was amazing. Not sure if the planets were aligned or what, but everything went so well. The most riders in the three years of this event showed up, the most women lined up, and everyone finished. Not only that but many riders expressed so much joy and stoke after what is got to be one of the hardest 60 miles of bike riding. We have a new men’s and women’s FKT of the course as well as a new single speed FKT. It was also so beautiful out there, the recent rains have made the flowers pop, the grass so tall, and the trails tacky and dust free. So many thanks to this year’s crew, what a bunch of bad asses, I am proud of you all!
I have to admit I was nervous about this event and the other events I have a hand in. This year’s Tour Divide was a mess and I am honestly worried about the state and future of these amazing underground races. Not to point fingers or place blame, but I wonder if the glory of suffering on the bike has eclipsed the reality of actually being out there getting your ass kicked. Seems like there are a lot of folks inspired to experience the magic of being out there on your own, experiencing the highs and lows of the mountains and deserts. That is a great thing, the more folks getting out there and loving the natural world the better, the issue is when folks without much experience skip a few steps and take on the “hardest” races.
There are a few races, like the TD, the CTR, the AZT, that exist only because they are “underground” events. These can not continue if they become problematic, or a burdensome on the places and communities they pass through. If rescues, poor behavior, and increased impacts become part of these unsanctioned, un-permitted, underground rides, they will cease to exist. Land Managers will take notice of more impacts and Group Starts, that almost everyone wants to be a part of, will be a thing of the past. It happened with one of the OG underground races, the Kokopelli Trail Race, it got too big, got noticed by the powers that be and is now more or less ITT only.
As a “Race Director” I am very cognizant of this careful balance. (It is not an easy job and RD’s of underground races do not get paid to deal with all this stress.) And to answer the question, making these races official and permitted would be next to impossible and not what the spirit of all this is about. These routes, these challenges or races were created to give folks a chance to get away from the standard race format. It is a chance to really test one’s own abilities, outside of team/industry support. Sure the rider with an industry sponsor might still have a nicer bike, but within the ethos of underground racing, once the clock starts, they are as much on their own as anyone else. The rider with the ability to adapt to conditions, the rider with the most grit and determination is the stronger racer indeed.
The bottom line is these special events need the participants to be fully on board with what makes them possible, and that is keeping it as underground as possible. That means taking responsibility for yourselves, being prepared, having good risk management in place, being capable of 100% doing-it-yourself, minimizing our impacts, and being nice out there! These are absolutely key to the future of self-supported, un-sanctioned bike racing. These events are amazing opportunities to learn, grow and explore, but if we are not all on board the Group Starts will be a thing of the past. Riding self supported is a great experience and really does minimize impacts and the knowledge and skills translate into all parts of life.
Yesterday the Fossil Ultimate was a great example, folks got to have an amazing experience without it costing a dime and they all took great care of themselves out there. It made me think that maybe the CTR needs to have qualifiers? I am considering such a thing. I am not looking to create barriers to folks expanding their experiences, but one should be ready and tested before taking on the Colorado Trail. For now I am trusting that riders are vetting themselves, that they are committed to being capable. The Group Start is limited to 74 riders and there will be more than that many folks looking to be there, so if you are taking one of those slots please be sure you are prepared and committed to the ethos of this ride.