The 10th annual running of the Fears, Tears, and Beers (FTB) race recently went down, and it’s a race you should know about—as far as anyone can tell, FTB was the first Enduro format race in North America.
This year’s race was hot (89F in the shade, yo!), it was dry, it was loose, and it was one of the best rides I have done.
There were awesome people on both sides of the tape, great trails, and a super fun little town.
Ely, Nevada, really is a funny little town, pretty literally in the middle of nowhere—Ely is the midpoint on the “Loneliest Highway in America.”
The primary industries in town are the State Penitentiary and a strip mine, and well it’s Nevada, so … casinos.
The funky nature of the town is well represented in the race, where riders begin by rolling through—actually rolling through—a few of the casinos downtown:
The course then heads straight up a fairly demanding 1800 foot vertical climb to the first timed stage.
While Ely is fairly remote, the quality of the riding and the quality of the event attract a great crew of bikers from Tahoe, Salt Lake, Las Vegas, Arizona, and Southern California.
FTB just completed its 10th running, which is quite a feat for this type of homegrown event.
Again, Fears, Tears, and Beers was probably the first Enduro format race in North America. It is hosted by the Great Basin Trails Alliance, and almost all of the work to put this thing on is done by Kent Robertson and Kelly Ernest (major kudos to these two) and a great crew of volunteers who man each start and finish line, stoked to cheer riders on all day while standing in the sun. (All the riders are so incredibly thankful to y’all).
The general consensus among the racers was that the long course versions of FTB are some of the most physically demanding Enduro format single day bike races out there. And that the event as a whole is also the best organized.
Timing is low tech: synched kitchen clocks and start and finish times are recorded in sharpie on your number plate, but the system is super effective and provides instantaneous results.
Once you finish the race, local sponsor (and preferred lodging provider) Jailhouse Casino and Hotel throws a solid party with great food and yes, lots of beer.
The event has a few options, with riders timed on 2, 3, 4, 6, or 7 stages. The stages break down like this:
- Stage 1: nice fast XC style loop. Lots of flat turns and pedaling.
- Stage 2: high speed trail dotted with a few punchy climbs, ending on a blown out fire road.
- Stage 3: great trail, winding through scrub trees.
- Stage 4: starts out fast and fun, and becomes very physical, sprinting through the flats back to town.
- Stage 5: flat fire road with short little ups and downs.
- Stage 6: steep, loose, and rowdy trail, affectionately known as “Whorehouse Hill” … since the trail ends at a whorehouse.
- Stage 7: after a shuttle and a quick climb, you get on an epic ride that’s both physically demanding and mentally taxing, especially this late in the day. But at its heart, its simply fast riding on great singletrack.
Just getting to the start of the second timed stage on the Sport/Expert/Pro course requires 3000 vertical feet of climbing over 18 miles, but you can participate in several different combinations of stages:
- Fun Run: 12 miles, 1700 ft vert, 2 timed sections (Stages 3 & 4 above)
- Beginner: 17.5miles, 2300ft vert, 3 timed sections (Stages 2, 3 & 4)
- Sport: 26.6 miles, 3500ft vert, 4 timed sections (Stages 1 through 4)
- Expert: 33.3 miles, 5400ft vert, 6 times sections (Stages 1 through 6)
- Pro: 40 miles, 6000ft vert climbing, 7000 vert descending, 7 timed sections.
2014 was the first time I attempted FTB, and my mindset coming in was to race super hard and go for the glory in the Expert category.
Sadly, that didn’t work out.
I arrived late in the evening the night before the race, so I was riding blind. It was fun, certainly, but on the first stage I missed a turn and took a small expedition down a dirt road in the wrong direction. Adding insult to injury, I broke a chain on the second stage, and got a flat tire which led to a long walk down the penultimate Stage 6 (Whorehouse Hill).
But because I had a great time in Ely and appreciated the quality and raw nature of the trails there, I knew I wanted to come back, but with a different mindset.
For 2015, I really wanted to ride the full, Pro, 7-stage-long course. (Avoiding the wrong turns and broken bike parts of the previous year would be swell, too.) My mantra this FTB became riding fast and enjoying the ride, rather than just racing fast.
With that goal, the experience exceeded my expectations. Feeling strong and fit on the climbs, and riding pretty clean on all the timed stages was super fun, and great for my confidence. Despite some cramping on stages 6 and 7, I felt really good, and was stoked at the end of the race rather than completely fried.
For me, this type of race is not really about winning, it’s about riding fast on a closed course in a way you simply can’t on normal multi-use trails. This level of focus you can settle into when not worrying about whether there is a person around every corner is really what keeps me coming back to races.
Sure, high-fiving your buddy after they have a great run—or talking a little smack when you do—is part of it, too. On this day, I was happy to take up the cheerleading role for a crew of buddies who all put up some solid times, with me consistently 10 seconds off the pace on each stage.
Who Should Consider FTB?
For those who are serious about bike racing but have not yet experienced Fears, Tears and Beers, Go.
For those who’d like to try a bike race sometime—but don’t want to feel / deal with all the pressure, Go.
And for those who just like to ride super fun trails, I would strongly recommend Fears, Tears, and Beers.
It’s an awesome event, full of really nice people at all levels—from local parents riding with their kids, to legit national-level pros.
And beyond that, It is very well put on, and a great experience in all aspects.
The easiest way to learn more about the event is to follow FTB on Facebook, and register late spring for a typically-mid-June event.
All I can say is do it. You will not be disappointed. Look for me there again in 2016, and this time, I’m going to try to blend my mindset in 2014 with a more focused approach from 2015, and hope to post some competitive times overall!
(Photos by John Shafer)