COVID-19 Couldn't Stop the Longest Running MTB Enduro in North America
By Kurt Gensheimer — 2020 was the year of busted plans, particularly if you are in the events business. But there's one event that didn't get shut down, the longest-running mountain bike Enduro in North America, Fears, Tears and Beers (FTB) in Ely, Nevada, founded in 2004. Without mass starts, instead featuring individual timed segments, Enduro as an event format is far more COVID compliant. Also, with a cap of only 150 riders, FTB was able to spread those riders out over courses ranging from 20 to 45 miles in length. FTB co-founder and course designer Kent Robertson remarked that the event could have easily topped 150 riders, thanks to a wait list that would have pushed the event well over 200 riders.
Instead of canceling the event all together, FTB organizers rescheduled it from its usual early June date to September 26 in the hopes of buying time and better understanding how they could pull off a safe and socially distanced event. Thanks to the organizers, county officials and members of the Great Basin Trails Alliance – a beneficiary of the event – FTB had a COVID-19 plan approved by White Pine County and the event happened, seemingly without issue and with everyone donning proper protective gear.
“It felt good to provide folks with some much-needed event energy in a year with almost no events,” said Kyle Horvath, tourism director for White Pine County. “The Ely community was incredibly supportive of putting on FTB, and community leaders came together to put an effective COVID-19 operating plan in place. I was also happy to see that riders were respectful of our safety requests and acted responsibly.”
Aside from not being able to do the signature rollout through both Jailhouse and Nevada Hotel casinos, not having a banquet dinner at the end of the event and requesting that all participants and spectators wear masks and space six feet apart when gathering at Broadbent Park, this year's FTB seemed to feel somewhat normal in a very abnormal world. The only thing that wasn't familiar was the course – most definitely a good thing – as for the first time in its 15-year history, FTB featured new courses for each category.
“The silver lining this year was that because of new safety guidelines and a 150-rider limit, we were able to try things like new segments, transfers and staggered starts,” said Horvath. “We got some great feedback, and it will help us make the event even better next year.”
Thanks to the diligent work of the Great Basin Trails Alliance, Ely has been growing its singletrack mileage over the last three years. Just to the southwest of town, Ward Mountain boasts nearly a dozen miles of new trail, including the new Powderberry trail, a descent of approximately five miles and 2,000 vertical feet, a featured segment in FTB that pushed the legs and lungs as well as tire grip, given conditions on event day were incredibly dry and dusty. Powderberry trail is a worthy addition to the network, delivering a good mix of flow and technical, rocky descending through tight corners; a hand-built trail that took Kent Robertson five years to construct.
Also new for the Pro class was a trail called Rob's Knob just to the north of town off the shoulder of Squaw Peak near the notorious Whorehouse Hill trail (Ely isn't quite up to date yet on politically correct nomenclature). Rob's Knob is an incredibly steep and technical downhill track featuring numerous rock slab drops and moments of bike surfing over sandy, loose soil. The views from the top of downtown Ely and Ward Mountain to the south are as commanding as the attention required to ride Rob's Knob without going wheels up.
After 45 miles, more than 7,000 vertical feet of climbing and a full eight-hour day spent riding the Pro course, your faithful correspondent was quite worn out crossing the finish line, collapsing face down on the nicely manicured lawn of Broadbent Park. Thankfully, a cheering section dubbed “Party Mountain” got me over the hump, twice, motivating riders back up the formidable climb from Ward Mountain campground to the top of Iceplant Trail, one of Ely's best descents; a screamer of a downhill singletrack with high-speed corners, whoops and a few optional rock drops peppered in.
Although the face coverings at the finish in Broadbent Park couldn't reveal otherwise, there were far many more smiles than there were fears or tears in this year's FTB. What about beers? There were still plenty of those enjoyed after the ride, but this year they were more of the bring-your-own kind, consumed while waiting for a lucky winning ticket in the post-event raffle.
“Thanks to the support of Cannondale and Salt Cycles, as well as everyone who bought tickets for the raffle, Great Basin Trails Alliance was able to raise a lot of money for new trails,” said Horvath. “Even though most mountain bikers have never heard of Ely, we've been supporting the mountain bike community for decades, and it's great to see people finally recognizing that Ely isn't a newcomer in the mountain bike game. We've been here and will continue to be here.”
In the year of busted plans, FTB successfully navigated the treacherous pandemic waters, bringing a moment of positivity in a world recently overrun with disappointment.