Freewheeling: Drinking In The Original Growler

Race Coverage

The race leaders charge through Hartman Rocks. Photo By Matt Burt/

Editor’s Note: Freewheeling is the ongoing column of features editor Jason Sumner. Once a week (usually), he’ll use this space to prattle on about all things cycling, be them interesting, innovative, inane or in this case, awesome. If you have a comment or question, or just want to sound off, drop a note in the comments section below.

Mountain bike races are kind of like good beer. Each has its own unique flavor, style, appearance, and of course alcohol content, which in fat-tire terms translates to difficulty.

Using this analogy, Gunnison, Colorado’s Original Growler (which was in fact named after a beer container) is a strong, dark ale with great flavor, lots of body and plenty of kick. Drink (or ride) too much, though, and things can get a little fuzzy – and maybe a little dangerous, too. (Race results HERE.)

Stay focused or suffer the consequences. Photo By Matt Burt/

At least that was the case in my case. I ambled around the Hartman Rocks course for 7.5 hours on the way to a distinctly un-distinctive mid-pack finish at last Sunday’s 64-mile Full Growler. (That was preceded by Saturday’s 32-mile Half Growler, which was won by Jay Henry in a blistering 2:31:42 and Amy Beisel in 2:56:52. Results HERE.)

Fortunately, nothing bad actually befelled me on Sunday. Aside from a first lap rear flat, there were just a few near misses when bad lines netted stuffed tires, which nearly equaled to handlebar gymnastics. Luckily no front flips were attempted. (Thank you, Specialized Camber Pro 29er.)

But as any endurance sports junkie (or boozehound) knows, things like coordination and judgment go south when you get deep into the proverbial – or literal – Growler. And that is just the thing that makes this event such a gem. Not only does it raise a ton of cash for the local trail advocacy organization and inject a needed shot of tourism traffic into the Gunnison community, it challenges even the most competent mountain bikers with a steady pour of tricky lifts, pucker-inducing drops, and more tight twists and turns than a Tarrantino flick. Thankfully for most, things didn’t get quite so bloody.

That might not be the case, though, if the registration form didn’t include the slightly ominous warning that reads something along the lines of, if you’re not an experienced mountain biker, best find another Memorial Day weekend activity.

“There are so many things that are great about this event,” said my friend Lauren Bock, who finished 10th in the women’s 30-39 class after spending 7 hours, 34 minutes in the saddle. “The weather was great, the people helping out on the course were awesome, and the course is a true mountain biker’s course. There are lots of cool, tricky technical sections. It’s not just road riding on dirt.”

Smile, you are mountain biking. Photo By Matt Burt/

About the author: Jason Sumner

An avid cyclist, Jason Sumner has been writing about two-wheeled pursuits of all kinds since 1999. He’s covered the Olympics, Tour de France, MTB world champs, and dozens of other international cycling events. He also likes to throw himself into the fray, penning first-person accounts of cycling adventures all over the globe. Sumner has also done extensive gear testing and is the author of the cycling guide book "75 Classic Rides: Colorado." When not writing or riding, the native Coloradoan can be found enjoying life with his wife Lisa and kids Cora and Tommy in and around their home in the MTB Mecca of Crested Butte.

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