2011 Adventure-Touring Expedition – Day 6

August 28, 2011
Bart Madson
By Bart Madson
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Bashing away at the MotoUSA keyboard for nine years now, Madson lends his scribbling and editorial input on everything from bike reviews to industry analysis and motorcycle racing reports.

Motorcycle USA’s 2011 Adventure-Touring expedition passed the halfway marker today at Big Sky, Montana. We spent the day out of the saddle, soaking up the sun watching the Big Sky XC. The race inspired our AT shootout plans, and it didn’t disappoint.

The Big Sky XC is three hours long  unless riders get past the finish line before the three hour mark and get to run another exhausting lap.
How close can spectators get to the action at Big Sky  How about chatting with the competitors during the race. This fellow spoke things over during a breather on the rock climb.
The Big Sky XC breaks out the checkered flag at the three-hour mark. The course was brutal and exhausting.The Big Sky event lets fans get to see the action up close.

Where to start with the XC? How about the start itself! Riders shot straight up from the bottom of a large ski run, with a wide right-hand turn just over a hill. Standing behind some pine trees on the hill we saw David Kamo snag the holeshot in the Pro class (right before he crashed out). The leading riders took conventional lines on the holeshot turn, but trailing riders took wider lines to avoid the dust and baseball-sized rocks being roosted out by the front runners. Many spectators, including myself, were dodging out of the way to make room, with one unlucky fan pelted hard enough by the roost to require medical assistance.

Being a Big Sky XC spectator isn’t a passive experience. In fact, it was thrill to be actively engaged on the slopes. Smelling the two-stroke smoke and hacking out brown spit from the dust, the action can be literally inches away. How different from a Grand Prix, which treats its fans like microbes to be quarantined from the VIP crowd.

Getting to the action was part of the fun. Diehard fans hiked up Lone Peak to check out the gnarlier sections of the course (the chair lift unfortunately closed for maintenance). Having filmed the Pro class start, MotoUSA dirt editor JC Hilderbrand and I hitched a ride up to the top of the course with the ski patrol.

Cutting down the mountain, we found the best seat in the house – sitting at the top of the daunting rock climb. It was entertaining, exhilarating and a bit worrying watching riders charge up through the scree and boulders that make up the rock climb. We saw both amateurs and top-level pros get humbled by the terrain. We also saw the occasional error-free ascent, which would bring cheers from the spectators.

Amazingly, not one person quit on the ascent. It’s a tough race, one of the toughest in the nation. It was a hoot seeing the riders facing their challenges head on. The crowd would also root for those who kept picking up their bikes in obvious exhaustion.

Most of the spectators seem to be related in some way to the participants. It’s a shame that more people don’t come out to watch an exhibition like this. I can honestly say I’ve never had more fun as a spectator/journalist than covering the Big Sky XC.

The Big Sky Resort was hopping, not just from the motorcycle event as riders of a different sort were taking advantage of the many mountain bike trails. JC and I took one expert bike run on foot. The wooden ramps and steep drops were imposing for hikers, much less mountain bikers. But the Adventure on our Adventure-Touring expedition cranked up to 11 after we came across a black bear on our mountain descent. At least we think it was a black bear, a small one. We didn’t stick around to see if Momma Bear was around.

Making it to an access road un-mauled, we jogged down to catch the finish. We arrived in time to see the final lap of the three-hour race. Endurocross competitor Rory Sullivan took the Pro victory.

It was a great race and fantastic day out of the saddle during our AT tour. Big thanks to the Big Sky Resort staff for putting together such a great event. I got a feeling MotoUSA might see the Big Sky slopes again in the future…