By Bella Butler EDITOR-IN-CHIEF
BIG SKY – Completing a 60-mile mountain bike race in the mountains of southwestern Montana is cause for celebration under any circumstance, but there’s something particularly triumphant about the way cyclist Syd Schulz crosses the line. Big Sky Biggie finish line on Saturday.
It’s around 3:30 p.m., seven and a half hours since Schulz started pedaling. Both Schultz and his bike are covered in mud, his toothy smile vibrating against a dirty face.
“That last hour was like a jungle there,” said Shulz, 31, of Los Alamos, Texas.
She goes on to tell stories of hail, lightning and rain that she and the other 60-mile Biggie runners endured as they crawled to the finish line at Town Center. One of 55 athletes to complete Biggie’s longest run, Schulz looks beaten and battered, but she wears her mud and exhaustion like war paint.
In its fourth year, the Big Sky Biggie brought a record 408 mountain bikers to the start line on August 27 to ride 15, 30 and 60 mile courses that spanned all of Big Sky, from downtown to the slopes of Grand Station. seaside. Founded on the intent to build community and expand mountain biking trails and events in southwestern Montana, the Biggie cemented itself this year as a tradition now deeply rooted in both the culture of Big Sky and in mountain biking itself.
“It appeals to everyone from the professional or semi-professional to the young athlete to the beginner who maybe just wants a challenge or something to train for,” said Natalie Osborne, co-founder of the Biggie. “…It’s definitely the culture I want to promote at this event. It’s not just for the elite athlete. It’s for everyone.
Part of expanding the race to different runners, Osborne said, was adding the 15-mile race this year in response to community requests for a short course. The 112 runners in this race ranged from seasoned athletes to beginners and novices, and a number of junior runners brought gear home. All of the women on the 15-mile race podium were juniors.
Bozeman’s Clara Makoutz took fifth place in the 15-mile race, a special way to celebrate her 12e birthday. Following in the footsteps of her parents, Scott and Heidi Makoutz, who enjoyed great success at the Biggie since her freshman year in 2018, Clara accepted her award on stage alongside the other five top women in the race, all from Bozeman.
Scott, who placed eighth in the men’s 30-mile race this year, said the Biggie was like a “benchmark” for their family. One of their favorite family photos, Heidi added, shows Heidi atop the podium in Biggie’s first year with their youngest daughter, Juniper, a baby on her back.
Now 7, Juniper competed in her first-ever bike race this year in the Biggie Kid’s Race for riders ages 4-10. Juniper and Clara’s sister, Frances, 10, also took part in the children’s race this year and is looking forward to trying the 15-mile race next year.
“Natalie just did an amazing job with her whole team to create this environment where it’s a family event,” said Heidi, who placed first in the women’s 30-mile event.
“It’s really gratifying for me as a father to see [my kids] love riding bikes and find success in it,” Scott added.
Clara said one of her highlights of the race was reaching the top of the road climb, the maximum altitude of the 15-mile course. “You might just feel a sense of conquest…or something!” she says.
Such a sense was demonstrated by bikers of all courses as they crossed the finish line throughout the day, some wearing sequins and denim shorts and others wearing lycra racing suits. .
The oldest runner to complete the 60-mile course was 60-year-old John Shull of Chicago. Shull crossed the finish line just under eight and a half hours after the start, covered in mud. Shull said he entered the race at the request of his daughter, Liz Shull, who lives in Montana. Liz did the 30 mile race. The Biggie was something of a reunion for the father-daughter duo. Liz said she grew up with her dad, but hasn’t raced with him since 2012.
“There was so much hail the trail was covered in snow,” John said, describing the Yellow Mule section, one of the farthest legs of the route. “It was hitting my arm so hard at one point that I was like ‘Can I take this?’ And I was like, ‘I can handle this,'” he said bravely. “After the race, I felt good, like I could do it again,” he added.
Not just a mountain bike race, the Biggie is a fundraiser for local organizations that support Big Sky’s trails. This year, the event raised a record $6,000 each for the community organization Big Sky and the Big Sky Chapter of the Southwest Montana Mountain Bike Association.
Osborne said a byproduct of the Biggie also connected land managers, owners and organizations to seek solutions to further connect Big Sky’s extensive but largely disjointed trail network.
“The goal is to be able to have a family park at the start of a trail and ride for hours on different trail skill levels and currently it doesn’t work that way,” Osborne said.
An example of recent work that has moved the needle toward this goal is Adam and Tele’s Connector, a 0.6-mile trail that connects the Uplands and Hummocks trails near downtown to join two formerly independent lollipop loops. Part of the Biggie course this year, the connector was completed by BSCO with support from landowner, Lone Mountain Land Company.
As the race continues to impact the Big Sky community, the growing event attracts runners from across the country, a hot air balloon family joined by a network of trails, a love for the sport and on behalf of the Biggie.