Story & Photos by Madeleine Ahlborn | firstname.lastname@example.org
IF you are not familiar with the OHV (Off-Highway Vehicles) San Juan trails, let’s just say they are filled with mud holes, rocks, boulders and some serious technical climbs. Motorcyclists from all over the country showed up at the annual Shady Burro Enduro in South Fork the first weekend in August to test their abilities as part of the Rocky Mountain Enduro Circuit sanctioned by the American Motorcyclist Association.
Here’s how the two-day race went:
Saturday | Day 1
This 2 day race is not for fair-weather riders or the faint of heart. On day one riders made their way through 14 different checkpoints, six tests, and on average, spent five to seven hours on their dirt bikes across 90 miles of linked trails. Luckily, the EMS crew on site only had a few bumps and scrapes to attend to the first day out.
In order to compete, each rider must present an AMA (American Motorcyclist Association) membership, Colorado OHV permit and a USFS Spark Arrestor. Each bike had to go through a technical inspection before registration.
After a meeting at 6:30 a.m., competitors left the start tent alongside Highway 149, departing in rows of three separated by minute intervals to help space out riders on the terrain. Series of USFS roads, also known as transfers, led riders to the timed “tests.” Those are timed sections of tight singletrack trail riding, which is tallied at the end of the day to determine the fastest riders. Each rider wore a LiveLap RFID helmet transponder to record their time through the tests. These devices were synced with cellphones at each checkpoint, and there was a volunteer writing each rider number and time on a spreadsheet, so information was recorded three ways.
At the start tent
I linked up with other “pit crews” to drive the hour-and-a-half dirt road from South Fork to the upper meadow north of Cathedral Rock where riders would re-fuel dirt bikes and themselves.
Let me clarify the “pits.” The first day of this race was roughly 95 miles of trail riding. Many bikes with larger gas tanks can go about 45 miles; therefore two stops are needed for riders to complete the course and make it back to camp in the town of South Fork. It’s unique and not normally seen stateside to start a race from the host town. In European races competitors commonly leave from the host town to embark on trails, such as in the ISDE (International Six-Days of Enduro) an enlite enduro race, in which both Britney Gallegos and Nicole Bradford have competed (noted later in the article – keep reading!).
Gas cans are lined up with rider numbers so they are easy to find.
As I waited for riders to come through the checkpoints, I met Eric, a volunteer from Evergreen, who had initially planned to compete but was still recovering from a knee injury. He decided to come down and experience the race as a volunteer. Eric plans on participating next year, fingers crossed he stays clear of injuries.
Two other volunteers working the checkpoint were a retired couple from Arizona. They have been visiting some friends in Colorado and heard about the race so they decided to spend the weekend in the mountains learning about the sport.
A few others I met along the way:
- 19-year-old Quincy Drees, from the Denver area, is in his second year of racing though he has been riding a dirt bike since he was about five years old. His mom, Tamara, told me they made a deal that he could start racing when he was 18, to help with the expense of this sport. He was hooked and so thrilled to participate in the 2022 enduro and plans to race again next year.
- Zachary Hatton, a local rider, refuels in the pits on day one with the support of his dad, Daniel Hatton. I also saw Daniel helping a pit crew who got their truck stuck in a mud wash. He is an all-around guy who loves – and I mean LOVES – this sport.
- Chris Griffith, a ranger at Carson National Forest, is currently on a 120-day detail in the area and was on site as a representative of the Forest Service. I also met J. Gentle (also with the Forest Service) who was there to be sure everyone was following regulations.
Quincy Drees, left, Zachary and Daniel Hatton, and Chris Griffith and J. Gentle.
Though the forecast called for thunderstorms in the afternoon, riders managed to stay mostly dry in the passing rain and were able to complete all six timed tests and make it back to town later that afternoon.
The racers’ camp in South Fork
Sunday | Day 2
THE day started off as planned. Riders began at the same start tent in their rows and off they went into the woods, a bit closer to town on the trails north of the Alder Guard Station, where the pits were parked. A large section of the course would be taken out due to conditions, Griffith said, “to help maintain resources.”
I spoke with a few riders about the decision and everyone was understanding because they want the event to continue in the years to come.
Around 11:30 I talked with Mike and JoAnn, parents of rider Rachel Stout, as we waited for her row to come through. We learned there was a serious injury that stopped the race. As EMS made their way to assess and extract the injured rider, the line was held for over an hour, extending their time in the “test” that eventually was eliminated from the course due to the delay.
With the delay in coming to the pits, there was a long start line for the next test.
Volunteers at this test checkpoint stayed calm and moved riders through as quickly as they could.
Marvin Hatton, a Forest Service employee, was on trail over the weekend with his brother Daniel Hatton of Boothill Motorcycle Club, a local non-profit OHV trail maintenance crew. They helped with assessment of trails during the race. Marvin and Chris were in light discussion of how the day was panning out.
So, instead of six tests on the second day, riders completed 4 due to the canceled section and delayed section, which removed over 20 miles of trail. This is just part of the nature of the event! Every year is a little different, but you can see on their faces, it was a good year to be in the Shady Burro Enduro.
I met a number of talented riders over the weekend, all ages and all skill levels. There was a surprising number of female athletes from all walks of life. Of the 300 entries, more than 20 female participants took on the challenge of this gnarly terrain competing with no holds barred, reconnecting, and making new friendships along the way.
Rachel Stout competes in the National Hare and Hound Championship Series and West Hare Scramble Series farther west of the Rockies. She received an invitation from friend and competitor Britney Gallegos to ride the single track together.
AC: What was your Shady Burro experience like over the two days of riding?
RS: I traveled from Utah to race the Shady Burro Enduro after being invited by Britney Gallegos and it definitely did not disappoint! The course consisted of lots of rocks and tight single track trails which were so much fun. My favorite day of the weekend was day two just because the trails were a little less technical and more like trails I grew up riding in Utah.
Day one held two tests that gave me a run for my money. The fourth test was character-building, to say the least. It was a super steep downhill test with lots of boulders, tree roots, and mud holes. I really struggled to find a flow and kept ending up on the ground. Tired after picking my bike up multiple times I was relieved when I finally made it to the end of the test. Super gnarly technical trails have always been a struggle for me, and while I definitely didn’t have the fastest time I was reminded I could do hard things which is a very rewarding feeling.
My favorite moment from the weekend was on one of the last transfers of day one. We were up on the top of the mountain after just finishing the hardest test and I had a huge smile plastered to my face. I was so stoked to be able to be in such a beautiful place, racing my dirtbike with some of my closest friends.
photo courtesy Nicole Bradford
TALENTED and seasoned rider Nicole Bradford of Gypsum has a résumé on two wheels that is extensive and impressive. Just to list a few: seven-time ISDE competitor and a member of the first USA Women’s World Trophy Team to win gold, two-time XGames Athlete, and once on the Scottish Six-Days Trial. She is a badass.
AC: How many years have you participated in Shady Burro and what makes this event so special?
NB: I am not sure how many I have competed in, maybe all six, but it is one of my favorite races so I try to participate or work at them all! (I do too many races to keep track of them all). What makes the Burro special is the promoter had competed in an ISDE and he wanted to have a race that had a similar feel. That being said, he wanted us to start the race in a town, ride from town to the first special test, have long hard sections in between tests, and then ride back to town. This is something you see in Europe often but not in the U.S. I have competed in seven ISDEs and I love this format. However, it can be hard for a lot of the riders, especially if it’s their first time.
AC: Over the years how have you seen the trail/terrain/landscape shift as a connecting race course? Can you talk about the importance of this decision?
NB: Each year the course is a little different, but in general, it seems to use all of the popular trails in the area. The promoter might change the direction we run a trail/test as well as the transfers but for the most part, everything is long and challenging, including the transfer sections. Over the six years, I believe the trails have held up well considering they are running 300 racers on them. It also has a lot to do with the promoter working alongside the Forest Service after the race to do trail maintenance.
AC: What is your favorite aspect this race offers and what advice would you share to another rider who wants to get better at single track?
NB: This race is very rocky and technical, which is my favorite part. Riders can often go fast when a course is smooth but you add rocks, mud, trees, roots, creek crossing, and lack of oxygen and you have to approach each test more thoughtfully! For example, you need good technique to weight and unweight your pegs to get over and through the obstacles. You also need to be skilled at looking ahead to select good lines. If you are going uphill and get offline it can be difficult to reset and get going again. This can affect your overall time and score in a test section. I also like that the race is long and requires the riders to have good endurance. My advice for each rider that is new to this race is to take their time and be patient on the first one. Don’t set your expectations too high because it can be hard to finish, let alone race fast. The second time always seems to get easier because you know what to expect.
MONTE Vista local Britney Gallegos is an ISDE competitor and two-time National Hare and Hound Champion.
AC: Since you grew up in the San Luis Valley and have been playing in the mountains your whole life, what does the Shady Burro Enduro event mean to you being right there in your back yard? Did you see any local or familiar faces during the race or in camp?
BG: For me, the Shady Burro Enduro feels like a chance to go trail riding with 300 of my closest friends, most I didn’t even know I had. It doesn’t feel like a normal race where everyone is trying to edge each other out. I think racers of the Shady Burro tend to be more focused on having a good time doing what we all love and really show a ton of support for each other. I did see a few local faces but mostly everyone who races the event is traveling from out of the Valley. It’s refreshing to meet so many new people who aren’t familiar with our mountains but yet have so much respect for the trails and what our landscape has to offer.
AC: Nicole Bradford mentioned the Shady Burro Enduro is a similar format to that of European races such as ISDE. Last year you traveled to Italy with the USA Women’s Trophy Team to compete. Can you speak to the similarities of the enduros and why do you think the format of races in the U.S. is so different?
BG: I believe road restrictions are a large reason why so many races in the states struggle to follow the format of the European style, where racers ride directly from town to the trail system, and transfer through paved and dirt roads from test to test. We are very fortunate the town of South Fork and the Forest Service has allowed us to ride directly from our staging/pit area in town. Leaving from town adds a unique feel to the race. You get in a full day of seat time, that’s for sure. And what better way to see the scenery of South Fork and the mountains surrounding than on your favorite set of two wheels.
AC: With the promoters and US Forest Service coming to a compromise on land use, what steps do you think participants/riders of the Shady Burro Enduro could take to help insure the race continues in the future?
BG: Stay on the trail and respect the mountain. Most riders who race this event are very aware of themselves and their actions and appreciate the opportunities we have at hand to ride such great terrain. If there’s a trail maintenance day and you can make it out, that’s always a huge help. These trails don’t maintain themselves and everybody obviously loves to ride them. So, I’d say just do your part, leave no trace, stay on the trail and off the grass, and if ya get stuck please try not to dig too big of a hole getting out.
THOUGH the weekend event is over and many competitors have left camp, the work does not stop. As I mentioned earlier, there is a tight partnership with the USFS in the continued maintenance of these OHV trail systems. The following Monday I returned to South Fork to listen in on the informal meeting before the two-wheeled teams (eight volunteers and four USFS employees) rode the racecourse to inspect and assess damaged areas. Jud Barlow of JTB Racing Promotion LLC said, “Over the next few months, before winter, we will be coming back to the area to help.”
Barlow and George Pennington, another seasoned Colorado racer and supporter of the enduro, speak to the importance of this event, not only for individual riders, but as an inclusive opportunity for families to enjoy the outdoors together. The event also supports the South Fork economy with visitors fueling up and eating at local restaurants, not to mention washing dirt bikes at the local car wash.
Though the riders in this event are competing on an individual level, it is a HUGE group effort to get the green light to make it happen. In my second year as a pit volunteer and first year sharing the story through my lens, I look forward to the following months with trail clean up days and of course what 2023 Shady Burro Enduro has in store.
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