I wrote this piece a few years back, and I think it still stands for anyone who is interested in hitting one of the most prestigious gravel bike event in North America. This is the real McCoy, so enjoy.

Crusher in the Tushar Gravel Bike ride in Beaver, Utah

Best suited for either a gravel bike, cyclocross bike, or lightweight mountain bike, the Crusher route is roughly 40 percent pavement, and 60 percent dirt and gravel roads. Wide range gearing and durable tires are a must for the “roughly” parts. No matter which bike you choose, at some point you will wish you were riding something else. Here’s how you do it on your own:

Park just about anywhere near the center of Beaver, such as Beaver High School, or Main Street Park. Find your way to East 200 North which turns into Highway 153 — same route that gets you to Eagle Point Ski Resort. This is the traditional staging area for the event on race day.

Crusher in the Tushar ride route.

Right turn off the pavement, it’s party time.

From here, follow the smooth meandering pavement exactly 10 miles to a right hand turn to Kent’s Lake. This is FR 137, which will climb another mile on pavement, then take you the next 21 miles uphill on dirt roads deep into the Fishlake National Forest. The road surface can range from loose and rocky to tacky and muddy, depending on the time of year. You are mostly in the shade for this part of the ride, until you top out at 10,000 feet above sea level and start descending to Bentonson Flat — a decision point in your ride: complete the Crusher, or settle for the half? That depends. Before you continue, it’s worth looking at how the ride began.

Genesis of the Crusher

Twenty years ago, while on a training ride with my good friend and former professional road cyclist Burke Swindlehurst, he told me about an idea for the ultimate race that was too much dirt to handle on a road bike, and too much road to be any fun on a mountain bike. He said if anyone could even finish it, they would be absolutely crushed.

Burke grew up in the small town of Beaver at the foot of the Tushar Mountains. If he wasn’t on his road bike putting in the miles that laid the foundation for his racing career and reputation as one of the most gifted “climbers” in the cycling community, then he was up in those Tushar mountains exploring the dirt and gravel roads that he would later string together to make the Crusher route — 69 miles, over 10,500 vertical feet of climbing, and one of the most scenic rides on two wheels.

They say your first Crusher is the hardest, and then they just keep getting harder after that. And it’s true, I’ve done it six times (editor’s note: the author will be lining up for number 9 in 2019).

The Full Crusher

And that context brings us back to to Bentonson Flat at the intersection of FR 137 and SR 153. You are slightly less than halfway at this point, so if you are already cooked or pressed for time, turn left here and be content with a Half Crusher. Full Crushers continue straight ahead and plunge down the infamous descent of the Col de Crush into the town of Junction.

Descending Col D'Crush. Men's open. Groups is back together Levi caught Cooke, Wren, Driscoll, Louder, Blaugren, and other caught on at the start of the descent. Levi flatted 1/3 way down. Photo by Chris See.

Descending Col de Crush. Men’s open. Group is all back together after Levi caught Cooke, then Wren, Driscoll, Louder, Blaugren, and 1 other caught on at the start of the descent. Levi flatted 1/3 way down. Photo by Chris See.

From here, follow Old Highway 89 south to Circleville, then take a farm road that runs into Doc Springs Road, a dirt doubletrack road that is deceivingly uphill, rutted, and at times, loose and sandy. The Doc Springs section is often a time of reckoning, because it brings you to the foot of the Col de Crush, which you must climb back up.

After the climb, you will be back at Bentonson Flat intersection. Take SR 153 towards Puffer Lake. There will be many times you will think it must be all downhill from here, only to find yourself riding up the short steep hills that lead to Big Flat. As if names couldn’t be more cruel, Big Flat also has a big hill.

Once you descend to Puffer Lake, you will climb yet another hill, but this time on pavement. You are now almost home free. As you start to descend on SR 153 towards Beaver and where you started, you can turn right to the Eagle Point Ski Resort access road that leads to the Summit Lodge at roughly 10,500 feet. Or, if you just can’t climb one more hill, stay straight and ride the 20 plus miles back to Beaver. It is, in fact, mostly downhill from here.

Planning Tools

Just like the Crusher in the Tushar annual race, held every July since 2011, you are on your own in terms of mechanical support. If you think you might need it, make sure you bring it. We’re talking about extra tubes, pocket tools, pump or CO2 cartridges. It’s also not a bad idea to consider the climate. On the first climb alone, you will climb almost 5,000 feet, so it’s likely to be chilly up there. Bring a vest or a lightweight packable jacket for the descents and to ward off mountain sprinkles.

Unlike the race which has manned aid stations for water and food, you will need to pack what you need, or else bring cash or plastic for a refueling stop in the small towns of Circleville or Junction. During the event, there are five different aid stations for refueling and taking bottles along the course, but if you are scouting this full loop, you will need to plan accordingly.

The race has been tackled by some of the best climbers on two wheels, from riders with multiple Tour de France finishes under their belts, to former mountain bike Olympians. Several riders have posted under four and a quarter hours ride times, but so far, no rider has gone under four hours race time. Yet.

Additional planning resources including maps of the route and even gps files can be found at http://tusharcrusher.com

 

I wrote this piece awhile back as a guest blogger when Connie Marshall was still running the big show up at Alta. It was published on their blog at this link http://www.alta.com/blog/a-brief-and-colorful-history-of-alta-ski-area-and-the-bright-future-ahead but for some reason the full story doesn’t load.

Honestly, I am just reposting it here because occasionally people ask for writing samples, and this was one of my pieces that I don’t hate so much. Enjoy:

Keepers of the Frozen Flame

Alta is for skiers. Let’s not debate this. The definition of what it means to be a skier in the purest form has nothing to do with how many boards you are standing on and how wide they are. It has even less to do with spa treatments, sushi, or swanky accommodations. In the purest form, It involves a passion for a sport that depends greatly on a frozen fire that burns deep in the soul, respect for the mountains that were meant to be skied by skiers, a reverence for the snow that fills those mountains up with its bounty, and appreciation for the stewards of the resources required to preserve this tradition and pass it down to the next generation.

Alta is for skiers, and back in 1935, it was a skier of all skiers who helped make the case to the Forest Service that the mountains surrounding the mining town of Alta, Utah had the potential to be a magical place for people to ski. A pioneer of powder, Alf Engen hiked and toured and arced through the precious weightless commodity that was piled up above the surface of the earth, unlike the riches that were once sought deep down below. A few years later, in 1939, the first single chair lift ferried skiers up into the clouds in search of those same goods.

Alta is for skiers, and if you ask some of the folks have have been working and skiing there their entire careers and lives, they would say there are a few reasons why the owners and staff have been able to stay focused on their simple brand promise and the overdelivery of the pure skiing experience. At the top of the list of qualities is independence. Somehow managing to remain independent and privately owned in an industry where speculation, boom-to-bust master planning, foreclosures, corporate acquisitions, litigation, in essence all of the rocky and treacherous things that seem to make up the business that lies lurking beneath the blankets of untracked powder and ready to rip the edges off your skis, has allowed Alta to focus on just the skiing. Because Alta has never really been through the all too common cycle of new owners bringing in new people to replace the old people, you won’t find a lot of change-for-change sake here, and longevity has become a very powerful lever for those committed to keeping Alta true to its heritage and tradition.

Alta is for skiers, and occasionally some feathers can get ruffled. Let’s have a conversation about this. Not long ago, a grown-up group of snowboarders with law degrees decided they had a strong case to go after Alta on grounds that by not allowing snowboarders, they were discriminating against a group and preventing them from using public lands. Let us remember back in the mid to late 1930’s, when the Quinneys and the Laughlins got together with the Forest Service people, and invested the time, money, and passion to establish the first Alta Ski Lifts, their efforts were pure and simple: to provide a way to move skiers up the mountain so that in return, by skiing down, they could truly be moved. This was the only promise made to anybody back then. There was no exclusivity clause back then, and there is none today. Perhaps during this costly and time consuming modern day discussion, some may have thought the Alta tradition was at risk, but when traditions are strong and pure they seem to endure.

Alta is for skiers, and even among those who call themselves skiers who are not convinced by the science behind the notion that our planet is getting warmer (the 3 of you should get together for a few beers in the Sitzmark after a day of skiing laps on High Rustler and discuss this, while you still have a chance of being convinced otherwise), it is hard to imagine the prospects that the thrill of sliding down plastic mats is anywhere near the thrill of chewing on a mouthful of blower pow shooting at you in the face from the tips of your Super 7s. The management team and staff at Alta believes in being accountable and responsible and doing everything they can to give their tradition a snowball’s chance in hell that it will last beyond the century mark, and they quietly have invested in some noteworthy efforts. For example, you wouldn’t think a resort based in its own microclimate that consistently receives over 500 inches of the lightest and driest snow needs to augment itself by pumping and spraying compressed air and water all over the place, but improving their snowmaking infrastructure and coverage in an ecologically responsible way has proven to be less of a hedge against impending doom, and more of an improvement that skiers over the past few years have noticed and appreciated. Sustainability in Alta’s corporate culture is a practice, not a preaching, and you will more likely find people doing things, rather than talking about them. The Alta Environmental Center founded in 2008 is an example of how a passionate group of people can combine the job of running a profitable business while also finding new ways to help ensure that business is viable for future generations.

Alta is for skiers, and while many other ski resorts busy themselves trying to get the word out about what’s new and how many millions of dollars are being spent in the annual arms race to attract market share, Alta knows you can’t ski on dollar bills, nor would you want to. Most of the capital improvements on the mountain have come over time, and only when the management deems them necessary to improve upon the skier experience. “The owners and management team here have been historically conservative when it comes to capital improvements,” says Connie Marshall, Director of Marketing and PR. “We’ve never really built anything we couldn’t afford.” Not beholden to creditors and financiers, the only debts are to the loyalists who keep coming back. There are always small improvements on offer, like a recent upgrade to RFID tickets and passes, modernizing lifts when the time is right, and introducing new ski school programs.

Alta is for skiers, and in no way should this be interpreted as intimidating or cautionary or meant to scare you away if you are questioning or searching for strands of the skier’s DNA in your genetic code. It’s not about how skilled or accomplished you are, but if you consider yourself skilled and accomplished, you will be tested. Alta’s trademark steep terrain stands proud and tall with the best the Wasatch has to offer, but in fact over two thirds of the skiable terrain is rated intermediate and beginner. Alta is and has always been family-centric, and a high percentage of loyal Alta skiers will have to dig deep into the well of childhood memories if you ask them to recall the first time they skied here. This means the fire burned before, and the fire still burns today, and there is a good chance the fire will burn again tomorrow. And that bodes well, because Alta will always be for skiers.

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I originally wrote this piece as a recap of my one and only attempt at the Wild Horse Gravel Race in Utah’s Cedar Mountains, at the request of the promoter Chris Magerl, who was going to submit it to Cycling Utah, or whatever they call themselves these days. I don’t think it ever got published*, so I thought I might as well post it here, in case anyone is looking for beta on that ride. Here goes:

May 8, 2018:

Although this was my first Wild Horse, it had always been on my radar as a ride I wanted to do. I would say it delivered on my expectations of being bumpy, sandy, windy, and at times lonely, which means it was a perfect gravel experience! The views on the backside were pretty spectacular, and I had good company in my riding partner, Mark Currie, as we made our way around the Cedar Mountains. Ironically, we rode together for almost 4 hours, but probably only chatted for a total of 4 minutes. The pace we were riding wasn’t a real chatty pace.

As far as how the race unfolded, the first few miles seemed a little nervous in the group, as everyone was bouncing around looking for the smoothest line. This is often the challenge in gravel racing; wanting to be near the front but not on the front. It’s a trade between the road racing mentality of being glued to someone else’s wheel to catch a draft, versus not being able to see the sharp rocks that might quickly end the day. After a few miles, it seemed like riding side by side with Mark at the front was the best deal, and we half wheeled each other into a pretty big gap at the base of the first climb. That was the last time I saw another rider until we started catching some of the Little Wild Horse riders on the way back.

Our riding styles complemented each other fairly well. I drifted ahead on the climbs, mistakenly thinking I was going hard enough to challenge for the KOM (turns out I didn’t go quite hard enough). Mark was much better on the downhill and turny segments, the net result was a pace that kept us in front. We made a really quick stop at the 2nd feed, barely enough time to slam back a half of a Coke and fill a water bottle. Both of us had hydration packs, so we didn’t linger more than a minute before we were back on course. As confident as I was on the climbs, the last climb at about mile 65 was where the lights went out for me. I went from having a small lead that I thought I could stretch out to the finish to getting passed by Mark’s steady pace all the way to the top, and then watching him recede into the horizon while it seemed I was going backwards. The last 3 miles for me seemed like a bad dream as I hemorrhaged time and motivation and the only thing that kept me going was the old mantra of “the slower you go, the longer it takes.”

As far as equipment goes, I rode the same rig I rode in last year’s Dirty Kanza 200 (206, actually), Crusher, and RPI: an Open UPPER with a single front chainring. A little bird who raced last year, who may or may not be named Jamey Driscoll told me to run my 650b wheels with fat tires, which was good advice that I ignored. Instead, I rode Gravel King 700c x 43c tires with waaaaay too much pressure. I should have stopped to let some out, but I doubt the winner would have waited for me!

*Correction: apparently it did get published, but I still can’t find the link!

Thomas Cooke riding an OPEN U.P.P.P.E.R. during the 2018 Wild Horse gravel bike race in Utah's West Desert.

Photo by Pete Vordenberg, who was the only person standing at the top of KOM 1.

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