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SufferFest: 48 Hours of Neophyte Journalism

caribou-classic_1The starting line at the Caribou Classic on Saturday morning. More photos from the ride below. Photos by Gavin Gibson

For most people, Friday is the best workday of the week. A day to leave the office early or spend most of the day skirting around work and talk about the upcoming weekend. For an editorial intern at Mountain magazine, Friday is basically a crapshoot. I arrive to work at 8:15 a.m. groggy from some heavy testing of Breckenridge Distillery’s bourbon. Conclusion? It works. It tastes even better. I begin my morning ritual of sending out emails and making phone calls before someone points out that my sunglasses are still on.

“I see you’re working on your model attitude.

It turns out those emails about me modeling all week are true. Skipping lunch crosses my mind so I don’t look fat. The witching hour rolls around and I leave the office feeling like I’m headed towards the gallows. Luckily for me the photo shoot is at Larry’s Boot Fitting. Larry and I worked at the same ski shop in Montana, and I feel some camaraderie in a room full of diet soda drinkers.

Then this happens:

gavin_1It’s not easy being an intern. Photo by John Johnston

I was a bit confused about why they needed pictures of me in base layers. When the real photographer wasn’t shooting and everyone’s phone was out, I caught on. I suppose it’s my job to get abused at some point. Hopefully my mom is still proud.

I walk away from the photo shoot with only a minor limp in my pride. The Caribou Classic is in the morning and I have no time to dwell on minor hazing. The Boulder Mountainbike Alliance and the owners of Caribou Ranch came together to transform the BMA’s annual SufferFest into the Caribou Classic.

The Caribou Classic is a 38- or 50-mile ride that starts and ends from the historic ranch just outside of Nederland, Colorado. I’m doing it with a 30-pound backpack full of camera equipment that’s worth more than I make in a year.

The bonus is Rob Hudson, Moutain‘s VP of Sales, is letting me use his extra bike, which has two front chainrings instead of just one like my bike. I did my first XC ride of the year a month ago. I’m not in shape. While I’m installing wider bars on my borrowed gun, Hudson is debating on whether or not to wear a visor on his helmet. He’s also muttering about removing the carbon water bottle cages from his bike to shave grams. I shake my head and go to bed early.

On Saturday, I wake up at 5 a.m. and realize I haven’t packed. Stuff some clothes in a bag, fall asleep in the shower, forget breakfast, and I’m on the road 50 minutes later to pick up Olivia Dwyer, our Associate Editor. After some wonderful gas station coffee and an early morning unintentional detour we arrive at the Caribou Ranch. It’s the first time the ranch has been opened to mountain bikers, so anticipation is high around the starting line. I grab my number plate and start snapping photos. As everyone gathers at the start line, I heave my backpack on and the realization that I’m about to make a bad choice sets in.

The ride starts and I’m in a frenzy to pass enough people to get some photos. It’s not a race, so I’m getting a lot of raised eyebrows. I get to the first photo op—riders are passing by the same recording studio where bands like Chicago, Elton John, Al Green, and over a hundred other artists recorded. Albums produced there have won 18 Grammys, and framed gold records still hang on the walls and fill storerooms. I blow the shot because I’m not ahead of enough people.

Back on the bike. Pedal. As I pass people for the second time I start to hear trash talk from people who don’t realize I was the one holding the camera only moments ago. I repeat the leapfrog process for an hour before I come to the first aid station. I have no choice but to keep moving, though my legs are spent already. Only 28 miles left, I keep telling myself.

The next portion of trail is amazing single track. I tell myself the light is too patchy for photos so I can make an excuse to keep my momentum going. Nederland’s trails rock. A couple of hours later and I’ve largely spent the day shooting and riding by myself. The stoic mentality I develop doesn’t make it easy to form logical sentences. My quads are on fire. The ride finally leads me to a hellish section forest road known as “The Five-Oh-Five.” I start taking more pictures because I don’t even want to look at my bike seat. Strangely the other riders are still smiling.

Two thirds of the way up 505 I connect with a group enjoying Dale’s Pale Ale. They sympathize with my labored breathing and I conclude that SufferFest is a battle best fought as a team. On the up hills I push my bike as they pedal. We’re going the same speed. The 505 is that steep and rocky.

Slowly we get to the point where the biking goes back downhill. Freedom. In the end, I don’t even go through the finish line but straight to the Oskar Blues tent. There is music playing, more barbecue from Oskar Blues than we can eat, and cooler upon cooler of Dale’s Pale Ale and Old Chub. Nobody looks like they’ve suffered too much. 

The party moves a few miles away to an old abandoned football field where nearly 50 people gather to revel over the day. There’s even another bin of beer that doesn’t get finished. I’m stuffed with burgers, listening to elk bugle, and surrounded by new friends. I’m totally happy, or maybe I just had too much Dale’s. Either way I’d do it again. Well, maybe not the modeling. —Gavin Gibson

If you didn’t make it this year, stay tuned for the 2012 ride, when the Caribou Classic will return even bigger and better. Thanks to Boulder Mountainbike Alliance, Oskar Blues, the Guercio family, Honey Stinger, and Acli-Mate for their support in making such a great event. Check out more photos from this year’s ride here.

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