Moderate Trail Ride in Breckenridge the Firecracker 50

It took me a decade to ride the 25-mile Firecracker 50 loop, here’s why

It took me nearly a decade to finally ride the 25-mile Firecracker 50 loop, here’s why.

I’ve no grandiose delusions about my ability to climb Little French on my mountain bike. Little French is a legendary trail that, when seen in photos, looks relatively benign. Still, in reality, it’s a constant ascent with waves of steep, rocky, lung-burning terrain that has humbled its share of pros and amateurs, like me, for decades. It’s the main event of the famed Firecracker 50 course and not soon forgotten by any rider with clueless or stubborn ambition.

This year, 2020, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the 4th of July in Breckenridge is canceled. Which means no Firecracker 50 for the first time in 20 years. This cancelation is impactful on my life not because I’m a devoted racer, but because it will be the first 4th of July in nearly a decade that I’m not on-course taking photos for my partner who happens to be the Race Director for the Firecracker 50. This year, we have the day off!

Despite my partner’s mixed emotions about the day, our incredible neighbors recognized the ironic opportunity and pushed to ride the 25-mile loop as a pseudo-independence day celebration.  We are fortunate to have great neighbors who are enthusiastic about getting us out for big rides at least once a summer. We agreed and set out early for the big ride.

The start of The Firecracker 50, 2016

Starting in Carter Park and riding the Sunbeam Trail to Boreas Pass Road is pretty easy. For the next three miles, we take turns chatting about current events and pick up other riders along the way. At one point, we are passed by an older gentleman with little effort. Is he on an e-bike? We get to the trailhead parking for Bakers Tank Trail and Boreas Pass Rd. It’s full! The dirt portion of Boreas Pass Rd. is a fan favorite. It’s flat and a bit of a grunt to Bakers Tank and Mount Pride Trail, but we marvel at the incredible views of Blue River and Quandary Mountain.

The Neighbors (Leslie, Caren & Bill)  and Jeff enjoying the Boreas Pass Rd views.

The initial access to the Mount Pride Trail is loose and rocky, but just beyond that section, it turns into a semi-smooth and winding tree-covered enjoyable trail. We spin-off at Pinball Alley, which is as advertised. Narrow, fast, and fun. Be aware of a couple of tight tree sections that require a squeeze-move. From Pinball, we hit Crossing Route to True Romance and then one of my favorites downhills, Nightmare on Baldy to Sallie Barber. Nightmare on Baldy seems much longer as a descent than it does going up.

Looking back, I realize that this course gets more laborious and more technical the deeper you get into it. By the time you get to the bottom of Sallie Barber Road to French Gulch Road, you are a good-hour into the ride and need a snack. We stopped near the Wire Patch mine to admire the incredible view of Mt. Guyot, a quick bite, and to psyche ourselves up for Little French.

Taking a break in French Gulch near Wire Patch Mine with Mt. Guyot in the background.

Little French is about a mile east of the Sallie Barber Trailhead. It’s a steep and rocky climb along an old mining road, passing a small cabin to your left near the top. A clear creek with patches of wildflowers along the shores winds its way down the valley. It’s lovely, but your focus won’t be on your surroundings, it will take most of your energy to get to the creek-crossing at the top.

Creek Crossing in Little French

I’ve been here many times before, but not on my bike. As the event photographer, I would ride my bike as far as I possibly could and then ditch it in the woods. I’d haul my backpack full of equipment to the different vantage points for racer photographs. My goal was to get good shots of the racers with the incredible mountain scenery in the background.

The pros were fast and too focused to acknowledge the camera, but as you get further into the field of athletes you would get some smiles, a few smirks and smart remarks (mostly because they didn’t want their photo taken while walking) and others were just too tired to even lookup. I’ve always had a deep respect for anyone who rides the Firecracker 50 and more so even now! Hell, there’s no shame in walking your bike up Little French, that is a feat in and of itself.

Jeff just past the cabin in Little French

I’ll admit it; I walked all but 200 yards of Little French. When I finally reached the top, I was ready for lunch! But, as luck would have it, the rain started.

We scrabbled to get our rain jackets on before we were soaked and started down Little French Flume. Narrow and exposed, but you can see for miles. It feels like you are on top of the world. Just pay attention and do your best to avoid clipping one of many downed trees.

Little French Flume view

We are all soaked and cold by now. I was shivering when we turned left on to Prospect Hill Road. The area has been clear-cut, and there is evidence of significant truck traffic. Three of us decided to bail out and head home via the Side Door trail. Jeff continued on to finish the entire loop.  Side Door, recently realigned, with added switchbacks, berms, and gap features. Everything was a little slick with all the rain, but the neighbors were having a great time on the jumps. We finished the ride on Lower Side Door to Prospect trail and down to French Gulch Road.

22.37 miles, no mechanicals, injuries, or significant crashes, mostly great weather, and a fantastic crew. Nearly ten years in the making and brought on only by a pandemic. I guess, the silver lining of a somewhat challenging situation. So now you know why it took me a decade to finally ride the 25-mile Firecracker 50 loop. Maybe it’s the start of a new Independence Day tradition, we shall see.

Enjoy the Climb.