Matthew Comden prepares

Matthew Comden prepares for the start of the  2020 Hi Low Gravel Grinder with daughters Eleanor, left, and Ethelynn. Below, Amy Fredericks rides in the event that was held on Saturday, Sept. 19.

A strong headwind battered 43 cyclists competing in the Branson Hi-Lo Gravel Grinder on Saturday, Sept 19.

A cool, smoke hazed blue sky set the scene for the Branson 2020 Hi-Lo Gravel Grinder that takes riders through the picturesque scenery surrounding Branson, Colorado. The ride goes over the rugged mesas of Trinchera Pass and into the deep Dry Cimarron Canyon in a loop that runs through Folsom, New Mexico, and back to Branson.

Friday night saw the arrival of many riders. The earliest to arrive spent the night in Branson’s limited two rental houses, while many others pitched tents at the school. Campers enjoyed the wide-open plains framed by the surrounding mesas. Event coordinators Jeff Dilda and Christine Louden along with several volunteers worked through the afternoon into the night in preparation for Saturday’s race.

“The support that we had from residents of Branson and Trinidad was pivotal,” said event organizer Christine Louden.

Preparation started much before Friday night for Louden who said preparation began back in March. Louden prepared advertising, logos and secured funding that made the event possible.

“This is the second year that we have had strong support from the city of Trinidad tourism board, which is the only way we can afford to advertise along the greater Front Range. We are really grateful for their support, which has helped us get the word out about the ride,” said Louden

This is the Gravel Grinders third consecutive year, with only three riders participating in the first event in 2018. This year’s race saw 43 riders, some locals out of Trinidad and Branson while others drove from Albuquerque, New Mexico, Breckenridge, Colorado and Syracuse, Kansas.

At 9 a.m. Saturday all 43 riders prepped with helmets on and waters full to start the race. It was a moderate 65 degrees and smoke shaded sun, which made for a beautiful day of biking. Yet a strong southwesterly wind fought riders all day.  

“You hit those hills going south, and it will just slam you in the chest,” said Ernie Battin a rider from Kansas.

Battin like other riders who took part in the 62-mile race, faced some of the roughest country that the Branson-Trinchera region had to offer. The route covered 2,587 feet of elevation gain, and riders went over a rough 20 miles of Trinchera pass into a 30 mph headwind.

“It was definitely 20-plus (mph) out of the Southwest all day… It really took its toll in the last hour and a half,” said 100-mile rider Jake Aisenbrey.

Aisenbrey, a professional rider for the Rodeo Labs gravel team out of Denver, was the first rider to finish the 100-mile race. Last month, Aisenbrey competed in the Pony Xpress Gravel Grinder in Trinidad and finished fourth in that 100-mile race.

It was over a five-hour battle against the elements, including brutal hills in the last 10 miles of the race, for both Battin and Aisenbrey. Their reward? Four folding tables of home cooked food.

“If this year is any indication of the success of this event in years to come, it is very positive. Last year, there were 25 riders and to date, there are (over) 40! I am also happy with the local participation. I like the fact that there is a ride for every level of rider and there is good representation in all three events,” said Louden.

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