Tom Ross: Just 'Show me the Cookie'

All-night mountain bikers aren't in it for the dough

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One moment, Jamie Morgan was pushing the pace down the banked switchbacks of the Yoo Hoo trail. The next moment, he was somersaulting over his handlebars into the scrub oak.

"Yoo Hoo has some road base on it, so it was holding up pretty well. And those turns are bermed, so you can pretty much rail 'em," Morgan said. "But I came into the next-to-last berm really hot, and it was completely mush. My front wheel went out, and I went over the handlebars. I tucked my head, landed on my arm and did a somersault."

Morgan is a member of a team of mountain bikers that calls itself "Show Me the Cookie." They were taking part in the Rio 24 Hours of Steamboat on Sunday morning. Morgan's mishap came just before 11 a.m. as he neared the last lap of a treacherously muddy loop, up and down the trails of the Steamboat Ski Area.

The past week in Steamboat Springs had been sufficiently rainy (and snowy) that race organizers announced Friday they would wait until just before the start at noon on Saturday to declare the race a "go." On Saturday morning, the weather was as nice as it had been all week, and the teams of four and five riders, as well as a few solo acts, set out to see whether they could take turns riding all day and all night.

Derrick Felt, of Steamboat's "Caped Crusaders" said the course was in great shape when the sun went down Saturday evening. It was a blast of rain that swept in off Blacktail Mountain after daylight Sunday that turned the trails into pure mud, or was that spuds?

"The course was in good shape all night," Felt said . "It was wet, but it was nice and tacky my last trip up. But the last hour, it was mashed potatoes. It was getting dangerous."

Of course, danger is my middle name. So I set out to climb part of the way up the course Saturday night and experiment with the new digital camera. I was envisioning perching above one of the switchbacks on the Sitz trail and catching a rider with the lights of Steamboat in the background. With luck, there might even be a sunset.

My plan was to remain in my photo position until well after dark, then descend the gentle slopes of Bashor Bowl by the light of my headlamp and anything the quarter moon could throw my way. What I didn't plan on was a pair of dangerous animals hogging Bashor for the night. I was getting some fun photos just after dusk when I noticed two moose emerging from the trees a couple hundred yards below me. They worked their way from Voo Doo to the crest of Vogue then headed over to Bashor, where they appeared to be browsing on the small serviceberry bushes that dot the slope. It was a magical night, with storm clouds building over the Flat Tops. Cheers from the baseball diamonds carried up the mountain, and the brave mountain bikers swooped down the slope from above, their tail lights twinkling red as they rattled by in the night.

When it came time for me to shut it down for the night, I had a distinct sense that it might be unhealthy to head for Bashor. The last thing I wanted was to get caught between two mangy moose on a black night. Instead, I took the direct route and headed down See Me. Thanks to a pair of hiking poles, I was making good time descending the steep trail when my feet suddenly slid out from under me and I went down like I'd been kicked by a bull moose. It was nothing like the tumble Morgan took the next morning.

He got up from that somersault and scrambled up the embankment. Hopping back on his bike, he finished his lap about 11 a.m. Reflecting on the riding conditions between pulls from a mud-encrusted water bottle, Morgan said the course reminded him of the Green Mountain State. "It's like Vermont up there," Morgan said. "It looks like Mount Snow. The mud's about 2 inches deep, and all the roots and rocks that used to be covered are exposed now."

Adding to the riders' woes was the fact that their brakes and derailleurs were covered in thick goo, making the bicycles difficult to control. Morgan was philosophical about the trying conditions.

"Mountain biking is all about surprises," he said with a grin.

Morgan has got it figured out -- what would life be without a few surprises?

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