Gunnison Valley and its peripheral mountains are home to the highest concentration of singletrack mountain biking trails in North America—and until recently, no one had ridden all 750 miles of them. At least not until Brittany Konsella made that her personal goal.
The Crested Butte local became the first confirmed person to pedal the entire trail network in mid-September, after spending less than two years tackling all of the area’s bike paths. Imagine a non-uniform spiderweb, in which segments need to be backtracked or completed more than once in order to explore never-before-reached sections: Konsella rode more than 3,600 miles—on singletrack and un-drivable approaches via rugged roads—to complete each unique trail. The accomplishment took 120 days and more than 450 hours in the saddle.
“I’m a goal-driven person and when I have athletic goals to pursue, it filters into my other areas of life. It makes me balanced and more efficient at work,” Brittany says.
But her journey actually began two years ago with the 2017 launch of TrailQuest. The friendly competition was spearheaded by John Norton, the executive director of the Gunnison-Crested Butte Tourism Association (GCBTA), which tracks riders’ mileage and challenges them to complete mountain-biking missions. The ultimate goal of TrailQuest is to encourage riders to take on every trail in the system. The prize pool? Bragging rights.
To date, the leaderboard lists close to 300 riders—both locals and out-of-towners—who have begun tracking miles (recorded on Strava) toward the contest via the CBGTrails app, a multi-user trail map app developed for the Gunnison Valley.
“John was inspired to spearhead the movement after encountering a tourist in area who was trying to ride every trail in the valley. Why not ride all of the 750 miles of trails that we have?” Konsella says. She and her husband, Frank Konsella, have lived in Crested Butte for 11 and 25 years, respectively, and were surprised at how much ground they discovered for the first time in their backyard through this challenge. “Frank is one of the guys who had supposedly ridden everything around here,” she says. But, after she and her husband dove into TrailQuest, their perspective changed. “We realized, when we started the challenge, that there were a lot trails we hadn’t ridden!” says Brittany.
There’s fair reason for delay: To date, the region’s two-wheel tracks aren’t all easily accessible, maintained, or well-trodden. In a grassroots effort, locals began hand-building bike lines throughout the Gunnison National Forest in 1983, when the Crested Butte Mountain Bike Association (CBMBA), the oldest mountain bike club in the world, was founded, according to the GCBTA.
“There’s not published information on a handful of the most remote trails, so there’s a factor of ‘unknown.’ Many of the trailheads are far away from the town of Crested Butte: It might take 1.5 hours to drive to (and on) dirt roads to access some of the trails, so you need a whole day to ride rather than an evening after work,” Konsella says. The goal inherently redistributes riders and reduces environmental impact on the most popular trails. “There are also many sections of trails that I had to ride more than once, because some trails share the same starting point,” she explains.
The collection of mountain bike passages weaves around Crested Butte, Gunnison, Crawford, and Paonia, and in finishing every one, Brittany ascended a total of 275,000 vertical feet—the equivalent of climbing to the summit of Mount Everest from basecamp 24 times. Among the 3,600 miles that she pedaled, Konsella tallied close to 2,000 miles on the approaches alone, which consist of rough dirt roads to reach certain circuits. Close to 1,600 miles of riding were completed on cut MTB track.
For anyone who works a 9-to-5 job—Konsella is a property manager at High Altitude Property Management— a multi-year timeline is realistic to complete this far-reaching goal. As the second woman to ski all of Colorado’s 14,000-foot peaks (and co-author of the 2017 Backcountry Ski & Snowboard Routes: Colorado) Konsella thrives on these types of long-term endurance challenges.
But Konsella’s TrailQuest achievement is especially impressive given the circumstances: In November 2016, she had two back-to-back surgeries on her knee and was in recovery mode until the following spring, when the competition kicked off. At first, her TrailQuest momentum was slow and she lacked training.
“I wasn’t sure what I could handle physically. I wasn’t even allowed to ride my clipless pedals. I had to ride flats until mid-August 2017,” says Brittany, which slowed down her progress even more.
Two months later, Brittany’s knee stabilized and she started to rack up miles. Mid-work week, she rode an average of 10 miles per day to complete the portions in closer proximity to town. Her days off—Tuesday and Saturday—were full of long, single-day rides during which she was clocking 8 to 11 hours in the saddle. And that didn’t include travel time. Some of the trailheads were a 3- to 6-hour drive away, one-way, given their isolated, high mountain locations. Others could only be accessed by narrow dirt roads via overgrown brush.
“Every trail had something unique about it and if it was not magnificent riding, it was magnificent scenery,” says Brittany, who, several days after completing the challenge, said she was still sore from her achievement (she broke her tailbone and pinky toe during the endeavor. But despite the pain, she isn’t showing any signs of slowing down. Brittany accompanied her husband on wheels as he finished up the remaining miles of his own quest: Two weeks ago, he secured second place.
“This goal was perfect for my husband and I. We wouldn’t profess to be fast riders or skiers, but we like to venture into the unknown and tackle things that haven’t been done before,” Brittany says. “This goal is a great opportunity for people to go out and explore.”