Outdoor Adventures: Mineral Belt Mayhem

Mineral Belt Mayhem Mass start at dusk.

In 2020, I took a trip to Leadville, Colorado, for the Crystal Carnival and Skijoring weekend. While there, we noticed a big, nighttime fat bike ride called the Mineral Belt Mayhem. I was intrigued and thought it would be cool to participate in the race eventually. I added it to my bucket list of something I wanted to accomplish.

This goal led me to purchase a fat bike. In addition to my personal goal, many other people I knew had also gotten into fat biking, so it seemed logical to buy a fat bike. I picked up a relatively inexpensive fat bike from a well-known online distributor. The bike wasn’t fancy. It had a rigid fork, a middling drive train, and probably the cheapest rims imaginable. However, it gave me the tools to complete the Mineral Belt Mayhem. Eventually.

Since I purchased my fat bike in 2020, I’ve only ridden it half a dozen times on the snow. Believe it or not, I have significantly more miles on the bike during the summer. Although I thought I would be more likely to ride in the snow in the winter, I still chose to hibernate on those cold and snowy days. However, all that changed when one of my friends convinced me to sign up for the 2024 Mineral Belt Mayhem.

Mineral Belt Mayhem Bike Race

The Mineral Belt Mayhem is a fat bike race held annually in Leadville, Colorado. It is part of the Leadville Winter Mountain Bike Series, organized by the Cloud City Wheelers. The Mineral Belt Mayhem is the third race in the series and one of two nighttime races. Although I’ve ridden my bikes at night, I have not ridden them anywhere near the 11.5 miles, which is the mileage listed in the race description on the website when I signed up for the race. But we’ll come back to the distance later.

Lights are a necessity to participate in this race. The course is marked to help participants stay on track. However, even with the right equipment, navigating at night can be tricky. Luckily, I had a friend to help us find our way to the finish line.

Preparing for the Race

This is the part where I admit I’ve never participated in a bike race. I think the last race I remember doing happened during track season in my freshman year of high school. Yes, the first bike race I signed up for happened to be a winter ride in the snow, in the dark, on a night when heavy snow was expected. What was I thinking? I suppose you have to start somewhere, and it seems a bit hardcore.

I must credit my friend Missy, who was the catalyst for joining the bike race. Initially, we had planned to hang out in Leadville, watch some skijoring, and maybe take a fat bike ride around the well-kept trail system during the day. When we started talking about riding, I mentioned the Mineral Belt Mayhem, and she immediately wanted to sign up. She is possibly the most optimistic and enthusiastic person I know, starkly contrasting my somewhat pessimistic personality. It should be noted that I don’t believe I am a pessimist. I prefer to call myself a realist.

We signed up for the Mineral Belt Mayhem two weeks before the event, so we didn’t put in much training time to help us prepare. However, I took four rides in the two weeks leading up to the race, on top of my 2-mile commute to and from work, so I did try to commit some time to preparing myself. My biggest concern coming into the weekend was how I would handle the elevation.

Colorado Springs sits at an elevation of roughly 6,000 feet above sea level. Although that is significant for many visitors to our state, and frankly, it took a long time for me to adjust to the elevation after moving to Colorado, it is nothing compared to Leadville’s elevation. Leadville, Colorado, sits at 10,500 feet above sea level. It boasts that it is the highest incorporated town in the U.S. I lost my breath walking up the stairs in our hotel with our bags. How on earth was I supposed to finish a bike race?

Mineral Belt Mayhem Race Day

On race day, I woke up dehydrated. The elevation, or maybe the three cocktails I had the night before, was already becoming an issue. I spent most of my morning drinking water to prepare myself for the day. We ate breakfast at the Golden Burro and spent a couple of hours enjoying the skijoring races before returning to the hotel to prep for the race.

As the day wore on, it became very windy and very cloudy. There was a significant amount of snow in the forecast, but we were hopeful we could participate in the race before the heaviest snow moved in. The changing weather conditions made it somewhat challenging to choose the right amount of layers to stay warm without overheating.

A few hours before the Mineral Belt Mayhem, I took a 30-minute nap to ensure I was ready. I wasn’t sure how long it would take to complete the 13.5-mile race. The longest I’d ridden to prepare was about 13 miles. I didn’t even finish the 13 miles in one leg. We took a lunch break in the middle of the ride to refuel. That probably isn’t the best strategy when preparing for a continuous race. However, it should be noted that the information I received when I signed up indicated the race was about 11.5 miles. It wasn’t until I checked the race email on Friday night that I realized the mileage would be on the plus side of 13.

Needless to say, as I was packing my backpack and getting ready to leave the hotel, I was met with some anxiety. But that was nothing a splash of whiskey couldn’t resolve.

The Anticipation of the Mineral Belt Mayhem

We arrived in town at about 5:45, giving us time to pick up our race numbers and prepare. During that time, I realized I was warm despite standing around and waiting, so I started dumping some of my layers to prevent myself from overheating. We also had to check out the competition and were able to quickly identify the real competitors and those who were out for a pleasant nighttime ride. Recognizing that most of the people there were out to have a good time helped to diminish my anxiety.

After several rounds of hype from Missy’s husband and a few reminders not to die from Alie, one of the race organizers called out a five-minute warning, which meant it was time for us to line up and get ready to race. We heard a few shouts and lots of cheering. Eventually, the line of bikes started to move as we made our way down Harrison Avenue, along the skijoring race course, to the Mineral Belt Trail.

Mineral Belt Mayhem Race

There were sections of the race course that were not firmly packed. Instead, it was more like soft and chunky mashed potatoes. It was challenging for many riders, myself included, to keep themselves upright at the beginning of the course. This added an unexpected challenge since I hadn’t prepared to dodge other riders as they fell off their bikes. Luckily, I made it through this section without wiping out. I felt very confident in my skills.

My confidence would quickly be erased as we entered the Mineral Belt Trail, and I hit a soft patch of snow and went down with my bike. My friend attempted to stop to help me, but she took out two other bikers in the process. Although I was unscathed, minus the embarrassment of wiping out and questioning my decision to wear a bright pink shell, making me very recognizable, we discussed how to handle future wipeouts. I think I only wrecked about six or seven times during the ride. Missy wrecked three times, the first of which was the first time she had ever fallen off her bike.

Despite the numerous falls, I remained relatively unscathed. During one fall, I hit my thigh with my handlebar, blurting out that it was going to leave a mark. It wasn’t until Monday that I noticed the pain and massive bruise. Somehow, I managed to twist my ankle. However, it was another minor injury.

Last Place

At a point in the race, we had to cross a road to continue down the trail. As we approached this junction, I could see the lights ahead from many of the competitors. I felt like we were making good time and keeping a good pace compared to the other riders. Shortly after crossing the trail, Missy and I found ourselves very alone. We could no longer see anyone ahead, as many people appeared much faster on the downhill. We also didn’t see any light behind us, which made me wonder if we’d missed a turn somewhere.

I wanted to ensure we were still on the right track, so I pulled my phone to check one of my mountain biking apps to see if I could locate our position along the trail. Even if we’d missed the race course, I wanted to ensure we were still headed back to town. While I had my phone out, two riders approached us. One lady stopped to make sure we were ok. She informed us that she was the sweeper and we were officially in last place.

We stayed in last for the next couple of miles. I’d told Alie I would text her at some point to inform her of our location, but I couldn’t get far enough ahead of the sweeper to stop and text. During this stretch, as I was about to pass the man who’d previously been in last place, I found a patch of very soft snow and was pulled off the trail into the snow bank. The snow was deep, and I needed assistance to escape the hole I created during my fall. After getting out, I’d accepted that we might finish in last place, but at least I knew we would finish.

The Home Stretch

Considering it was the first time I’d ridden the Mineral Belt Trail, I wasn’t sure I’d reached the home stretch until we returned to the road. However, there were some signs along the way. After riding in next to last place, with only my friend behind me, we started gaining on others still on the race course. As we caught up to the elderly man, Missy told me to keep going.

Shortly after overtaking the man, who I would have guessed to be in his mid-60s, I caught up to several other riders. It was clear one of them was having shifting issues with their bike. I continued past this group and began up a long and steep incline. I committed myself to keep pedaling. It became apparent that we were getting close to town because I started hearing cheers and cowbells. When someone yelled, “You got this,” from a nearby home, I responded with a woo. I appreciated their support because I was pretty gassed.

As I continued to climb, I realized I was about to catch a pack of at least half a dozen riders. I could hardly believe that there were still people on the trail. However, did I mention the last climb was steep and, based on my poor estimates after the fact, around a mile long? As I approached the top of the hills, I opted to stop and text Alie to let her know I was pretty close to finishing. That allowed many people in front of me to increase the gap.

We made a turn and had one more section of the hill to climb. As I reached the top, I realized I was looking down Harrison Avenue and could see the skijoring course. The finish line was within sight. I let my bike loose down the hill, slowing my roll enough not to wipe out when I reentered the snow.

Crossing the Finish Line

There were a handful of people out on the skijoring course, which was the last 1/4 mile of my ride. One shouted out, “Hit the jump,” which I happily obliged by going up the ramp by a few feet and getting 2″ of air off the side of the ramp. I honestly couldn’t generate the power for much more. It was the classic. I feel like I got a ton of air, but am I sure my back tire left the snow?

Although I’d caught up with a few riders, the snow along the skijoring track was very soft, and it was difficult to avoid being pulled off course. I opted to sit back and enjoy the ride, taking in all the people checking out the snow, taking pictures, and generally enjoying their evening.

I rolled across the finish line to a few congratulations from those who hadn’t gone inside to avoid the snow, which had picked up in volume and intensity. As I was selecting a spot to place my bike and figuring out where to go next, one of the race timers indicated five people, including the sweeper, were still on the course. That means I finished 5th to last in about 2 hours and 10 minutes.

I then started looking for Missy to come down the track. I saw a lone rider coming down the course within a few minutes. I pulled out my phone to capture the moment. Missy finished one place behind me with a massive smile on her face.

I found out later that Missy nearly got disqualified on the race’s final stretch. She had been looking for the path of least resistance and tried multiple times to take a left turn down a level road rather than climbing the last hill. Fortunately for her, there was a woman in all purple who told her not to make her have to drag her across the finish line. Besides helping Missy stay on track, it gave us a good laugh at the thought of a small woman trying to pull 6’3″ Missy across the finish.

Post-Race Festivities

After finishing the Mineral Belt Mayhem, we decided to drop in Cycles of Life for the awards and raffle. I was there because I was promised free beer. Little did I know there was also a prize raffle. We were amazed as the announcer rattled off the winners and their finish times. We laughed as we realized we had been dusted by several kids by over an hour. Although we didn’t win anything in the raffle, we enjoyed the post-race atmosphere and sense of accomplishment. I enjoyed chatting with one of the costumed riders, who shared that he dresses up and participates in the ride every year.

Closing Thoughts

Participating in my first mountain bike race changed my perceptions about racing. I used to be part of a mountain bike club, but I ended my membership several years ago. One big reason I left was the ultra-competitiveness of some of the riders. Even during “fun” group rides, I was often left in the dust of the other riders who were typically attempting to use the group ride as a training session. I was a “tweener” who wasn’t fast enough to ride with the experts but was too good for the intermediate group because of my downhill speed.

Missy is 100% committed to trying the Mineral Belt Mayhem again next year, hoping to finish better than she did this year. I’ll probably tag along for the ride, but I’ll spend more than two weeks preparing next time. Until then, I’ll stick with bike commuting.

Happy Exploring!


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1 Comment

  1. Your writing is so eloquent and engaging You have a gift for connecting with your readers and making us feel understood

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