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The Pearl Pass Tour-A Crested Butte Original

1980 Pearl Pass Tour on You Tube

Part One

Part Two

The First Pearl Pass Tour 1976

from September 17, 1976 Crested Butte Pilot

Since the Crested Butte Klunker Tour to Aspen over Pearl Pass last weekend was the first event of its kind on the western slope and possibly in all of Colorado, the Pilot wishes to bring you a blow by blow account of the trip. Our thanks for the following tale of the trail to Bob Starr and Rick Verplank.

Fifteen klunker riders (perhaps we should explain that a klunker is a no-speed bicycle comprised of only the essentials – fat tires, handlebars, pedals and a chain) left the Grubstake with a cheer Friday morning at 9. I heard them because I live next door and didn’t make it out of bed to take a going away photo.

Everyone began dropping like flies up the Brush Creek Road, but seven hardy riders made it to base camp located three miles below the pass summit. The seven included Bob Starr, Rick Verplank, Walter Keith, Long Beach, Patty Ann Gifford, Patty Christie and Duane Reading.

They were soon joined by the support vehicles driven by Doug the Bump, Ed Bliss, Abe, and Cotton Harris containing the drop-outs and the Klunker groupies, including Chris Whitsell, president of the Groupie Club.

The group and groupies made camp, enjoyed a steak fry and consumed one keg of beer, three bottles Schnapps, 2 gallons of wine, and 3 bottles of champagne. Mechanical assistance was rendered by Steve Baker, head engineer.

Then, according to Starr, everyone got drunk and passed out on the pass. Saturday morning dawned under gray skies and a drizzle. The tour members sprung up bright and early only to find someone had raided the donut stash during the night. Everyone was checked for donut breath. No luck, the culprit remained at large.

Verplank and Starr then began pushing their klunkers to the top and over the pass, outracing the support vehicles. Richard Ullery became at that point the first man in history to cross Pearl Pass in a bathtub. The historical tub may be viewed in the back of Ed Bliss’ truck (minus Ullery)

“The decent was nothing but horrifying, rough and rocky.” Said Starr. “The original drop-outs jumped out of support vehicles at the tip and all 15 rode their klunkers down the pass until just before the pavement at Ashcroft where the brakes were smoking and rear ends were seizing up.”

“The conservative tortoise types cruised past the burning up hares, as it were.” Said Starr, and “we trickled in one by one, met at the Jerome Hotel and had a party all over Aspen.”

It should be emphasized that Verplank and Starr were actually the only ones of the original 15 who officially made the Tour. They never once rode in a support vehicle.

Verplank expressed his gratitude to several Aspen ladies, plus Ken Oakes, at whose house the keg was finished off. “Everyone had a really good time and we expect three times as many bikes next year,” he said.

Added Starr, “We’re trying to get a grant from the National Geographic Society to go over to the Andes.”

A Race Is Nice, But a Tour Has Spice

Pearl Pass, Colorado, elevation 12,700 feet, September 1978. Wende Cragg photo

From left, Wende Cragg, Neil Murdoch (Richard Bannister) Richard Nilsen, who wrote the article about these bikes for the Co-Evolution Quarterly, Charlie Kelly, Joe Breeze, Jim Cloud, Bob Starr, Richard Ullery, Gary Fisher, Archie Archuleta, Chris Carroll, Albert Maunz, and Mike Castelli, who took the photos for the Co-Evolution Quarterly article. Courtesy of Charlie Kelly
Crested Butte 3rd Annual Klunker Tour
September 29, 1978
Crested Butte Pilot


For the first time in history out-of-town riders compete in the annual Crested Butte to Aspen via Pearl Pass Klunker Tour.

In addition to eight Crested Butte Klunker enthusiasts, five riders from Marin County, California, one from Hotchkiss, Colorado and one from Denver assembled at the starting line at 10 A.M. on Friday.

As usual, the tour began in front of the Grubstake Bar and Grill on historic Elk Avenue in Crested Butte. After some early delay and a flurry of photographs, the tour departed over an hour late.

Shortly after the tour departure, the first mishap occurred: a flat rear tire on Dick “Archie” Archuletta’s klunker. The California boys immediately jackknifed into action. Tools selected after years of experience glimmered in the sunlight as the intrepid Californians removed the wheel, replaced the tube, tuned the spokes, remounted the wheel, slacked the cones a tad, adjusted the chain and had Arch’s bike back on the road in 35 second s flat.

If there was any doubt before, the local rider’s here-after realized that they were not dealing with amateurs.

In fact, the Californians sported some of the finest Klunkers to be found anywhere in the world.

Their bikes are-- in a word – sophisticated: hand-brazed, thin-wall, chrome-moly tubing which is plated, not painted. “Paint chips, you know,” commented one California rider.

The Californian machines are equipped with a 12-speed, thumb-change gearing and fore and aft centerpull brakes. This superior equipment allowed the California contingent to ride almost all the way up the pass. The Crested Butte riders, on the other hand, spent most of the climb pushing their first –generation, one-speed Schwinn Klunkers the ten miles up the pass to camp, which was at the base of the switchbacks at Pearl Pass.

Duane Reeding, who piloted the supply truck to camp, provided the exhausted, famished riders with dinner. Liquid refreshment, one keg of cold Coors beer, was provided by Ms. Judy Naumburg, proprietess of the Grubstake.

Refreshed by a good night’s sleep and a delicious breakfast, the riders made their way swiftly to the top of the pass---12, 705 feet above sea level.

Under a gray, cloudy sky and with a brisk, cold autumn wind at their backs, the riders exchanged toasts of water (that’s the wonderful beverage that makes the brewing of beer possible) and gathered for the traditional top-of-the-pass photographs.

The ride down the pass is of course the essence of the tour.

The descent through paths of rocks, varying in size from softballs to washtubs, is punishing on both bodies and equipment.

Once again, the California machines led the way down the steep pass.

One Crested Butte rider, Richard Allery, riding a typical Crested Butte Klunker (your basic Schwinn with Bendix coaster brakes designed to stop a 60-pound newsboy on a level city street), experienced a brake failure one-fourth of the way down the pass. Undaunted, Allery continued the descent, jamming his foot between the frame and front wheel to slow his bike. When this became unfeasible, Richard began driving his Klunker against cliffs to control his descent. Finally forced to walk his bike, Allery said, “I felt gypped by the tour”. However, Allery did admit to “taking the bumps” in fine style before his Klunker failed him. He says that he will be back next year with “different brakes and maybe some gears.”

Near the historic town of Ashcroft, pavement welcomes the weary rider on the last phase of the tour. The road ahead into Aspen is one of easy-going and high speeds. Top speed on a Klunker is about 35 miles an hour.

The tour made one last stop several miles outside Aspen to afix balloons to their Klunkers before the last sprint to the Pub in Aspen, where they celebrated the tour’s end.

The riders were transported back to Crested Butte courtesy of Bruce “the face” Newman, who loaned his truck and Kirk Jones, who piloted the vehicle.

This years tour organizer, Bob Starr, was generally pleased with the tour, although he admits that some early confusion in the tour would probably be frowned up by R.A. Verplank—from whose crazed mind sprung the idea of the tour three years ago. Starr said the California riders would be back in force next year.

Among those participants in this tour from Crested Butte were: Bob Starr, Albert Maunz, James Loud, Archie Archuletta, Richard Ullery, Neil Murdock, Chris Carroll, and Susan Hussemann.

We understand from a reliable source that Gary Fisher, associate editor of Bicycling Magazine, flew in from New York for the tour. Fisher’s appearance, coupled with the Marin County, California participants, made this years tour a coast-to-coast event.

Also notable in this years running of the tour was the presence of a young lady from California named Wendy at the finish line. Although there have been six women entrants in Klunker tours before, this marks the first time in history that a lady finished the grueling tour.
1979 Pearl Pass Tour

A year after the above Pearl Pass photo was taken, the crowd has grown. Charlie Kelly's on the cover of Bicycling along with a lot of other people in this photograph from the top of Pearl Pass in 1979, wearing a blue sweater and yellow hat fourth from the left. Next to me is Wende Cragg, then Chris McManus and Joe Breeze. Gary Fisher is fifth from the right and Alan Bonds is on the extreme right.

Courtesy of Charlie Kelly

Read About the Pearl Pass Tour and much more from Charlie Kelly's Perspective: www.sonic.net/~ckelly/Seekay/crested_butte.htm
By 1980 the top of Pearl Pass was becoming distinctly crowded. Charlie's in the left half, wearing a Velo Club Tam jersey.

Courtesy of Charlie Kelly