Flash back to Sept. 8, 2012.
The Tsalteshi Trails Association and the now-defunct Kenai Peninsula Cycle and Ski Club are teaming up to host a “PsychoCross” mountain bike race at Tsalteshi Trails, the first mountain bike race that has been held in the area in quite some time.
Only 10 racers show up. Since Tsalteshi had nothing besides standard ski trails to offer, organizers had to make creative use of the grounds up to and including powerline clearances. In the words of racer Jamie Nelson, “I have been all over Tsalteshi, but I saw some trails I had never seen before.”
Now fast forward through the creation of the Salmon Cycle Series in 2013, which would eventually become the Tsalteshi Cycle Series before settling on the Soldotna Cycle Series two years ago.
Fast forward through a group of volunteers battling mosquitoes to hack singletrack trails on the lower trail system that really got rolling in 2014, to a professionally done singletrack on the upper trail system done in 2016.
Fast forward through the fat bike craze, through full-suspension bikes going up in quality and down in price.
Fast forward to the sixth race of the nine-race Soldotna Cycle Series on Thursday at Tsalteshi Trails, with 45 racers showing up on hot equipment to take on all the varied and fun terrain Tsalteshi has to offer — no powerline trails needed.
The series is up five to 10 riders per race over last season, but even more impressively unique riders have doubled from last year to almost 100.
“Word has gotten out,” said Nelson, still racing in 2017. “There’s so many more riders. And the riders have all upgraded their equipment so much it’s very competitive.”
And that’s not all. The Soldotna Cycle Series started on the last Thursday in June. By the time that series is done, PsychoCross is held, the five-race cyclocross series takes place, and the Polar Vortez race finishes whirring, it will be October.
“I’ve thought of that and it’s a third of my year that I spend organizing races,” said Mark Beeson, who puts together all the bike races. “But it’s pretty fun and nobody else said they wanted to do it.”
While the five-run Salmon Run Series, also held at Tsalteshi, is notable for starting strong in the summer of 2012 and sustaining that momentum, mountain bike racing at Tsalteshi has amazing evolution as its trademark.
Brian Beeson, who is Mark’s brother, started racing the Salmon Cycle Series in 2013. Through the years, he says he has missed less than 10 of the races.
“When we started, we’d just use the Salmon Run Series course,” Beeson said of the way the riders would get 10K merely by turning two laps on the 5K run course. “We’d take the flags down after we did it.”
Beeson said the field was usually 15 or 20 riders, and it wasn’t uncommon for a high-schooler to show up just for fun and win.
“I was one of the only ones on a full-suspension bike,” Beeson said. “Things have gotten a lot more serious.”
Riders have not only grown in numbers, but also competitiveness. Nathan Kincaid has been riding in the series for just three years and has noticed the change.
“Three years ago, the first few guys were really pushing hard to win it,” he said. “Now, the top 15 or 20 are really getting after it.”
But Jennifer Tabor, who has been riding the series since 2013, is quick to point out that the increase of numbers has meant more than competition for the top spot.
“It’s so much more fun because there’s so many more people,” Tabor said. “I’m old and slow so I used to ride in the back, and there was nobody around me.
“Now, I’m riding with a group of people and I can be competitive with those in my time zone.”
This year, a kids race, held before the adults race, has drawn even more attention to the series.
Nelson, who rode Thursday’s kids race with his son Nathan, said he was seeing more family involvement in the series before the kids races started, and the new race for youngsters has only cemented the trend.
And the kids race has, in turn, helped the adults race because parents show up and see singletrack means nothing like a BMX ramp.
“I’ve seen people of all abilities do these courses,” Nelson said. “If there’s a part that’s a little scary, you can take all the time you need.”
Mark Beeson said, since taking over the series two years ago from Mike Crawford, he has made a special effort to gradually ramp up the difficulty of the courses so riders can improve each week.
“I was a little more cavalier in sending people to their demise,” said Crawford, who now races in the series and has won every race this season. “Mark is a little more circumspect in sending people out on the trails.”
But Beeson has an advantage as a course designer, and that’s all the singletrack that has been put in, particularly the professionally done stuff on the top part of the trails system last year.
And there’s more singletrack to come. Beeson, who is also on the board of the Tsalteshi Trails Association, said the plan is to finish up singletrack in the main area of Tsalteshi Trails this fall.
At that point, there will be about as many trails packed into that area as possible, so the focus shifts to the area just south of the trails system, to what is called the Slikok trails for now.
Beeson said the first order of business there is to provide an area for summer activities that can’t be done on Tsalteshi’s ski trails once skiing starts — like walking, skijoring and fat biking.
Then comes construction of singletrack on Slikok’s rolling terrain that has experienced bikers like Kincaid and Crawford drooling.
“In the winter, Tsalteshi is already world class,” Kincaid said. “I’m looking for it to be world class in the summer, too.
“I’m hoping there’s a lot of new trails that help more people get out and play.”
And all of it will be done on bikes getting less expensive, plus better at climbing and rolling over rough stuff at the same time.
“Every year, it just gets better,” said John Tabor, who also has rode the series since 2013. “There’s better racers involved, the trails are better every year and the singletrack is better.
“The quality of the bikes has improved a lot in the last few years.”
At the original PsychoCross race in 2012, organizers said they were going to try and build momentum by putting together a race series the following year.
Fast forward to 2022. What does that look like?
Soldotna Cycle Series Race 6
Thursday at Tsalteshi Trails
1. Mike Crawford – 27 minutes, 11 seconds; 2. Brian Beeson – 28:08; 3. Eric Willets – 29:30; 4. Matthew Dura – 29:45; 5. Nathan Kincaid – 29:46; 6. Jordan Chilson – 32:14; 7. Mike Tallent – 33:09; 8. Jamie Nelson 33:27; 9. Noah Mery – 33:39; 10. Dan Balmer – 35:47; 11. Jen Showalter – 35:52 (1st place women’s); 12. Tom Kobylarz – 36:00; 13. Ryan Nelson – 36:15; 14. Ashley Tonione – 36:33 (2nd place women’s); 15. Morgan Aldridge – 36:47 (3rd place women’s); 16. John Pothast – 36:55; 17. Carl Kincaid – 37:26; 18. Peter DiCarlo – 37:35; 19. Jon Iannaccone – 38:01; 20. Landen Showalter – 38:03 (1st place youth); 21. John Tabor – 38:11; 22. Mary Simondsen 38:55; 23. Jen Tabor – 40:32; 24. Jeff McDonald – 40:48; 25. Dustin Dederick – 41:20.
26. Jim Hall – 41:50; 27. Tyle Owens – 42:01; 28. Jodi Dura 42:42; 29. Kelly Sederholm 43:19; 30. Tor Dahl – 43:20; 31. Stephanie Kobylarz – 47:15; 32. Will Smith – 50:18 (2nd place youth); 33. Madison McDonald – 50:28 (3rd place youth); 34. Ollie Dahl – 51:16; 35. Jo Shaw – 51:17; 36. *Trina Dederick – 51:50; 37. Tanner Penrod – 55:4; 38. Dana McDonald – 38:03; 39. Chris Walden – 21:41 (1 Lap); 40. Angie Sulley – 22:24 (1 Lap); 41. Rory Nelson – 24:30 (1 Lap); 42. Audrey McDonald – 37:50 (1 Lap); 43. Mark Forbes – DNF; 44. Dave Edwards-Smith – DNF; 45. Danny Romman – DNF.