10.15.2016

Chuska Challenge

A few of my friends participated in the Cove Classic up on the Navajo Reservation a few months ago and raved about it. The race was put on by NavajoYES, a group empowering Navajo youth to get out & be active. Another event was approaching, the Chuska Challenge, and I was eager to check it out. I had never really spent any time on the Navajo Reservation other than driving through on my way to the Four Corners region like most people.

What I found, was the Chuska Mountains are anything but a barren, rock strewn landscape that so many envision when they hear the words Navajo Reservation. I had seen these mountains before, but never knew the name. They are clearly visible from the Four Corners Monument, sitting almost due south. I had always wondered if the mountains I was looking at were in Arizona or New Mexico. Both, actually, but mostly in Arizona.
Cool logo greeting riders to the camping area at the start/finish.
I left the Valley early on Friday knowing it was a good 6 hour drive to the venue. The close-up view of the Chuska's was eye popping. A huge near vertical upheaval of slickrock at the base of the mountain giving way to pine trees. The road up was no joke, well constructed, but steep and loaded with the tightest switchbacks I'd ever driven on. It didn't take long to gain elevation!!
Slickrock fortress guarding the mountain.
No. 2, I was the second person to pick up their race packet!
Found a nice place tucked in between the huge trees.


People began to fill in Friday evening and my buddies, Neil & Ryan also made the drive. Neil has been very active in the communities up this way helping them develop & build new trails. Mountain biking is really catching on up here.

The brochure stated there would be food available from a vendor Friday night. What they meant was a full table spread of local fare for a donation. Excellent!!

On race day there were two options for riders. They could do the race or ride on a self-paced supported tour of the area. I really wanted to do both, so I signed up for the race with the idea of eating lunch afterwards, then going out for a bit of a tour. Sounded good to me.

At the starting line it was made known that a pro rider from Durango had made the trek over. So, about 5 minutes before we started, they changed up the course!! Talk about grassroots racing!! Originally, we were going to ride one outer loop of about 6 miles, then a series of short inner loops totaling 12-13 miles. Instead, we were now going to do 3 outer loops. No biggie, it's only 18 miles.
Almost the full field of racers!! Neil is all business on the left!!
It was a good mix of riders from Arizona, New Mexico and Durango areas. I think there were a couple from So. Cal too.

The camp area sits at 9,000' and the course pretty much goes up from there. I thought I was ready for that. Guess not. The easy 1/2 mile rollout on pavement had me breathing hard leading into the first climb. The good news was it spread everyone out really quick.
The loop was all 2-track except the bit of pavement near the start/finish.
 The first climb was a bit rugged, but all rideable. I really didn't mind that the course was all 2-track. Some of it felt like singletrack and these roads didn't get used a whole bunch.
The leaves were passed their peak color, but some still hung around.
Impressive view to the west towards Monument Valley.


I leapfrogged a couple of guys the entire first lap, but eventually stayed ahead. The lap ended up being over 7 1/2 miles, not a huge deal, but when sucking wind and expecting 6 it was a wakeup call. Each lap had about 1200' of gain as well and my legs were feeling it.

I half contemplated calling it quits and finishing the day on the tour route, but I came to my senses and started to feel decent on lap 2. At the end of the second lap I stopped for a quick snack at the start/finish line. Just as I was getting set to tackle lap 3, the pro rider from Durango finished his race!! I took off and thanked him for not lapping me, Neil rolled in a few minutes later to claim 2nd overall. Dude is super strong!!
Around the backside of the course it felt like we were riding through someone's compound.
Hogan under construction.
Bare aspens near the high point of the route.


I had to get off and push for two short bits before starting a long downhill back to the pavement. The upper portion of the descent was a jeep road typical of southern Arizona, rocky, loose and chunky!! I went a bit above my comfort level on speed the first lap, being a tad more cautious on the next two.
Chunkalicious fun!!
It must've looked incredible up here a few weeks ago.
That's Sleeping Ute Mtn. in Colorado in the distance. Cool!!
Striations of color through the trees.


I relaxed on lap 3, took all my pics on the final circuit. I had a feeling I wasn't going to catch anyone or get passed either. I was holding out hope I'd qualify for one of the sweet trophies since they had a bunch of categories and not a ton of riders.
Correction: There was a bit of singletrack, about 100 yards freshly made for the event!!
By freshly made, I mean the racers created it by following the flags!!
The final approach into the finish.
A bit faster and/or older and I could've snagged one of these!! I finished 7th overall out of 23.


I was pretty worked over when I finished. Neil was hanging out too and neither of us had a huge desire to ride the first 2/3rd of the race course again to get to the Tour turnoff. It was a nice afternoon and there was plenty of entertainment scheduled. First of which was a heavy metal band from Kayenta!! Commence the head bangin'. They rocked it. Sounded solid and they remarked how this was the coolest venue they ever played.
Ethnic De Generation
There were a few locals performing traditional Navajo songs, very cool.
Golden Hour set in and the wind ramped up again.
I relocated my car to help block the wind, but sometime during the night the tent practically caved in on me!! That's never happened. It made things a bit interesting during the night, but I managed a sound couple hours of snooze time.

I was stirring early on Sunday, packed up and began the long drive home. Sure was some beautiful country to see. I'll be looking forward to the events next year to explore more around the Four Corners region.
Heading down the mountain I stopped at Buffalo Pass to take a peek.
Plenty of mountains & landmarks to pick out.
Quite the view too.


A huge Thank You to those involved from NavajoYES for putting on these events and getting the local community and beyond involved. It may be time to check out the new bikepacking route up there, hmmm.
Until next year.


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