Riding the inaugural Stetina’s Paydirt gravel cycling event in Carson City
By Kurt Gensheimer
The last two years have not been kind to event promoters. Finding a way to stay afloat financially while not being able to put on events has been a challenge that’s tested the mettle of promoters everywhere. Some have chosen to fold up the tent so to speak, while others like Bike Monkey, based in Santa Rosa, CA, have gotten creative and persevered.
For professional cyclist Peter Stetina, the dream of creating what he considers his “best day of gravel bikes” and what it should look like came together on May 21 in Carson City, NV at the inaugural Stetina’s Paydirt gravel cycling event, providing a portion of proceeds to the High Fives Foundation. Although Stetina and Bike Monkey founder/owner, Carlos Perez, organized a small VIP ride in Fall 2019 as a proof of concept for the event, Paydirt didn’t happen in 2020 or 2021.
“After three years of planning and two years of false starts, I asked myself ‘what’s the point?’ and was about to just give up on the idea,” said Perez. “If it weren’t for Peter, I totally would have given up, but his persistence and encouragement kept me motivated to make the event happen.”
People who know Perez know he’s not one to give up easily. Stetina’s Paydirt marks Bike Monkey’s fifth successful event already in 2022; a time when most promoters are only getting back on their feet with a single event. From a participant’s perspective, it seemed like Paydirt ran like a well-oiled machine, especially for an inaugural event, as if Bike Monkey had never even been forced to stop putting on events.
Offering 63-mile (4,700-foot elevation gain) and 50-mile (3,100-foot elevation gain) course options, Stetina’s Paydirt featured two timed segments for the long course and one timed segment for the short course, enabling participants to get out their competitive urges while still being able to relax, take in the beautiful Carson Valley scenery, socialize and enjoy the ride.
The route featured a mix of gravel, rugged, rocky jeep road, deep sand and pavement, requiring participants to choose their bike wisely, ranging from road bikes and gravel bikes to light, fast full-suspension mountain bikes. Wider tires with knobbies were definitely a good call, as the sand was rather deep in several sections. Both courses started and finished at Fuji Park on the south side of Carson City, leaving town to the east, along the Carson River on Mexican Ditch trail, then into the Pine Nut Mountains, on a rocky and sandy climb through large stands of pinyon and juniper trees along Brunswick Canyon.
The first timed segment for both routes was 18 miles, starting on Sedge Road with a short climb and descent into Brunswick Canyon, followed by a gradual longer climb south out of Brunswick Canyon, peppered with loose rocks and sections of sand, definitely a grind for those with skinny tires. Once out of the canyon, commanding views of the eastern Sierra Nevada opened up, followed by a long, smooth and very fast dirt descent in the biggest gear you had on Sunrise Pass Road headed west towards Johnson Lane.
After wolfing down some aid station hot dogs at the end of the first timed segment, riders got a break from the sandy, loose and rocky dirt, transferring to 19 miles of casual pavement through the Carson Valley. Passing through Nevada’s oldest settlement, Genoa, at the foot of the towering eastern Sierra Nevada, the Paydirt course turned north on Jacks Valley Road towards Clear Creek Trail, but not before some riders decided to stop for refreshments at the oldest continuously operating saloon in Nevada, the Genoa Bar.
Clear Creek Trail is where the long and short course separated, with the short course going back to Fuji Park, and the long course climbing Clear Creek Trail seven miles in the second timed segment. Although mostly a singletrack climb, Clear Creek Trail is gradual, featuring short sections of downhill and fast uphill corners, making it feel like less of a climb than it actually is. The final mile of Clear Creek jumps out onto the old Highway 50 alignment, with high-speed downhill sections of asphalt mixed with dirt and sand before a short, steep climb to the finish. Despite how fast the climb felt, the scenery of snowcapped Jobs Peak standing 5,000 vertical feet above the Carson Valley made riders want to stop for a moment and appreciate its majesty.
Once heartrates descended from the stratosphere of the second timed segment, riders descended back to Fuji Park to the finish on the shoulder of Highway 50; the only unfortunate part of the day. Stetina and Perez were hoping to use the old, decommissioned Highway 50 alignment running straight back into Fuji Park in the scenic, traffic-free Clear Creek canyon, but a homeowner’s association at the bottom of the road recently constructed a gate where the old highway crosses through the neighborhood, denying event access. It’s a shame, because allowing access for this important new event showcasing Carson City and the Carson Valley would make the event better, and most importantly, safer for all participants.
Regardless of the highway, Stetina’s Paydirt was a high quality event characteristic of all Bike Monkey events, featuring a terrific route rich with scenery, varied terrain and a supportive community; especially those along Golden Eagle Lane on the east side of Carson City, who permitted through access on their private road to the Mexican Ditch Trail, cheering on riders as they passed.
“I wanted to show folks both sides of the Carson Valley,” said Stetina. “Riding in the Pine Nut Mountains and the eastern Sierra Nevada are two very different experiences, and I’m hoping Paydirt will encourage people to explore and ride in new places they haven’t ridden before.”
Relaxing in Fuji Park after a glorious day on the bike felt good, as for this reporter it had been almost two years since doing an organized event. It also felt good to see people gathering together again, laughing and kicking back under the shade of a tree with a cold one in hand. It was also quite entertaining to watch riders try and hang onto a mechanical bull for time bonuses. I asked Perez what the mood has been with event participants since COVID restrictions have eased.
“People seem to be a lot more appreciative and understanding these days,” said Perez. “We’ve all been through a lot over the last two years, and I think folks are just really happy to be back together doing what they love to do.”
A quality course in a beautiful place put on by an experienced crew; I was thankful to participate in the very first Stetina’s Paydirt. The mix of timed and untimed segments really let riders get the full experience of a good day on the bike, and the varied terrain kept things interesting from a bike choice perspective. And unlike some inaugural events with issues or loose ends, Paydirt felt like a seasoned production; an event I would highly recommend checking out in 2023.
“The extra time we had helped make Paydirt better than it would have been otherwise,” said Perez. “The three years of planning and waiting has definitely paid off, and we’re happy to see so many local Carson City volunteers and participants from all over California and Nevada show up in support.”
MAIN IMAGE: Riders get their first taste of dirt heading east on Golden Eagle Lane towards the Pine Nut Mountains