Editor’s Note: The 39th annual (yes, 39th) Pearl Pass Tour is set to roll out of Crested Butte, Colorado, on September 12th — or September 11th if you prefer to do it on a klunker. If you happen to be in town and want to join in, meet at the Crested Butte Mountain Heritage Museum at 8:30 a.m. The Tour leaves at 9 a.m. sharp. You can find more information at www.cbklunkers.com and on the event’s Facebook Page. For a primer on this historic event, check out the author’s first-person account from a few years back.
When riding the Pearl Pass Tour it’s important to remind yourself why you are there, but right now I seem to have forgotten that mantra. Instead of focusing on the historical significance of this truly classic event, or soaking in the amazing natural beauty around me, brain and body are wondering why the hell I’m pushing my bike across a large boulder field that doubles as part of Pearl Pass Road, the rough and rocky 4×4 jeep route that bridges the mountainous 37-mile gap between the Colorado mountain towns of Crested Butte and Aspen.
Not only is a good chunk of Pearl Pass unrideable, much of it is exceedingly tough to walk. Imagine a road paved with cantaloupe-sized boulders and you get the idea. Other obstacles faced during our journey included several knee-deep creek crossings, slushy snow, slippery mud, and the painful lack of oxygen that comes from ascending a route that tops out at 12,705 feet.
Throw in the fact that while the route includes almost no singletrack, both the Crested Butte and Aspen areas are chock full of world class mountain biking trails, and you wonder why anyone would ever ride — or walk — a bike over Pearl Pass? The answer to that question has evolved over the years, but its core remains the same: Because you can.
To better understand this reasoning a quick mountain biking history lesson is in order. The way the story goes, the first Pearl Pass Tour came together in 1976 after a rowdy band of motorcyclists from Aspen rode over the rock-strewn road and descended into Crested Butte. The details are a little fuzzy, but according to lore the Aspen gang showed up with chests puffed out and heads held high, then proceeded to spend a lot of money (people from Aspen are rich, the stereotype goes) and flirt with the local women, bragging all the while about their prodigious feat.