Bike tuned the morning of the race, check. Moderately offensive Bitch logoed booty shorts, check. XL blue Melanzana Cookie Monster “costume,” check. Super-duper secret “highdration” drink formula, check. The Imperial Challenge must be upon us

All great ski movies have some sort of legendary culminating event at the end of the season, an epic event embraced by all. Hot Dog has the Chinese Downhill and Ski Ballet, Aspen Extreme the Powder 8s, Out Cold the King of the Mountain. Better off Dead, The k12.  If Breck had a ski movie the Imperial Challenge would be our showcase event, and the protagonist would prevail victorious and get the girl! 

For the first seven years living here I would always go watch the Imperial Challenge. Fearful of entering, I cheered (and envied) the participants, the most hardcore people Summit County has to offer. The competitors, all seemed to have more accomplishment, ambition, and awesomeness than I ever could. Feeling like the starry-eyed tourist in great ski films, I gaped with amazement!

As an uber-competitive person, the thought of entering a race which I could finish dead last was not a result twenty-something me could handle. Silly, I know. Because I make a better pot of chili than anyone in that race.  3 years ago, I decided on a whim to enter the Challenge; really wanting to push myself and see if I could accomplish this lofty goal, and really just be cool.  

2015 Challenge
My first challenge (2015), was filled with fear and hesitation. What if I look like an idiot? What if I don’t make the cut off? What if I break my ankle, going way too fast down Claimjumper 500 meters before the finish line? Well, I always look like an idiot, and I DID break my ankle. I made the cutoff (finished in 2:42) and really nailed that whole wipeout just before the finish line thing. Sure, I finished, but I felt awful and wound up on crutches! I was embarrassed, humbled, but still felt pretty awesome. It wasn’t pretty, but I did it! As I crossed the Finish line Westy lovingly announced, “Here is Drew Mikita, HE LOOKS ROUGH! Get that man a beer and a couch!” While in great pain with the ankle, I felt alive!

2016 Challenge
2016 brought a slightly different mindset, post major TBI, I knew that time didn’t matter, but safety did. Running the Everest Marathon a month later, I had to be healthy. Signing up in the open men’s division instead of rec-heavy-metal, I watched as everyone in full La Sportiva kits, gear that weighs as much as one of my poles, and bikes worth more than my car, all flew out of the gates. I felt out of place and discouraged. I survived, but really didn’t have fun as I was so far in the back of the pack, basically a solo skin up peak 8.

2017 Imperial Challenge
This year was about three things: Having fun, being safe, and supporting my fellow ICers. Once discouraged by the amount of people who would be passing me on T-Bar now, encouraged and excited that there are so many people being awesome. Many of whom I am lucky enough to call friends.

As I get passed by people that I have a 45 minute head start on, I could be demoralized and realize my inferiority. Instead, support, encouragement and gratitude for these bad asses is the route I went. I am on my journey, they’re on theirs. And they are all awesome.

All of the following occurred at some point as friends picked me off one by one! And what elites forget is we back of the packers have to be on the course a lot longer so occupying our time with distraction is crucial. Enjoy my inner monologue as I climb to the top of Breck.

As a pastel tutu and soulful smile skin up to me, kind words are bellowed at me, it must be Terrin Frey! We reminisce about our past Challenges, the beauty of the day, and how blessed we both are. I honestly don’t think I have seen Terrin not in a tutu, that is probably the coolest thing in the world. I am grateful for people that represent us with passion, love, and enthusiasm, like Terrin.

Here comes, Joe Howdyshell, “GO JOE! YOU KICK ASS! KEEP IT UP!” Thru his drool and ridiculous assertion of energy he manages to give me a smile and nod. I wonder, does Joe have one pair of jean shorts that he always rocks? Multiple styles? Maybe a race day pair of jorts? I don’t know which is awesomer race day jorts or a large selection of jorts. I am grateful for Joe and his determination, drive, and desire to encourage others.

Oh look Jaime Brede. “HELLS YEAH JAIMS! GET SOME! YOU ROCK!” Always good to see a friend that I have known for a decade. She scurries by with a smile and a “Thanks, Drew!  You too!” As she skis up T-bar lift line, I ponder, Do you think Jaime has each one of ripped ab muscles named individually? Cause I would if I had that six pack (let’s be honest 8 pack). I am grateful that we have so many bad assess like Jaime in our town.

Well-well-well! Here comes Nikki LaRochelle. Nikki is the skiing form of a soul satisfying hug and smile. “GET IT NIKKI! YOU ARE A STUD!” As she blows by I am blinded by her super sweet Barney-the-dinosaur-purple-suit. You think Brad ever rocks that thing? Maybe that is Brad’s? I am grateful for Nikki and Brad and the positive and beautiful people they both are.

I am always looking for reasons to stop while skinning (see the ferocity of my competitive side?), Oooh, somebody dropped a Flylow work glove on T-bar line, yes! I get to pick that up and take a breather, this could belong to 80% of racers as we all have those gloves.  Even better, some trash to pick up! Someone needs some food, let’s snack my friend. Need a picture? I got you dog.

Mark Koob flies on by. Damn those painted-jean-tights are super dope. We discuss how the only thing lacking is a painted on butt crack. If I was rocking those you wouldn’t need to paint it on, if you know what I saying? I am grateful for costumes and fun people at races.

As I am about to Summit Peak 8, Eriksen Van Etten makes his way to the top. An Ohioian, like me, that I haven’t seen in almost a decade. Happy to see him pass by we high five and embrace the ridiculousness that we would meet at such a location, in such an amazing event. He takes off down the hill and I snap some photos for strangers and talk to ski patrol before dropping down with wobbly legs and a big smile. I am grateful for chance encounters with friends.

Something people don’t realize about being in the back of the pack is that some skiers will pass you on T-Bar lift line, several times for some of us.The T-bar riders lovingly calling me by name on my shorts, Bitch is endearing (at least I tell myself that). This has the possibility to be discouraging. But doesn’t have to be! I got to see Katie Schroeder a bunch of times, and every time she made smile, as Katie always does. I am grateful for the teachers we have in our community.

After finishing (and really having no idea what my time was, nor caring), I was greeted with cheers from those bad-asses who had been passing me for the last few hours. Hugs and high fives. Only encouragement and support, no one looking down on what was likely an hour and half slower time. Just optimism and encouragement! I love this event.

Here are some tips to survive as a back of the packer at this race.

Be grateful. Do you know how amazing it is that something like this exists? The beauty of the world, challenge of the event, snow, Maverick Sports, other racers, the fact you are physically able to do this, the pride you will feel, be grateful, and count your blessings.

Costumes help. Make it light weight, easy to maneuver in, super radical.

It is your race. For the first time I made it to top of the bike ride without stopping for air. While that may not seem like a big deal, it encouraged and motivated me. Trying to keep up with others will lead to burnout and broken ankles, trust me. Pace yourself.

One Moment at a time You can make it, don’t be intimidated, take it one pedal, step, and turn at a time. It is ok for us BOPers to stop, breathe, eat, drink, rest, and smile.

Setting Goals is good, but… Setting time goals is awesome and a great motivator. But have some other goals as well, like to finish, have fun, smile, thank the volunteers, be grateful, feel pride, etc. Just finishing is an outstanding accomplishment! And honestly, whatever your time is, people will be impressed that you did the IC.

Take a moment and reflect. Look around you, look what you are doing. People travel from all over the world to Breckenridge for the hills we play on everyday. And on a random April Saturday, we, as a community have this amazing, ski-movie worthy event. Be stoked on that!

Have fun! However you have the most fun while competing do it! Have fun while being awesome. A forced, exhausted, discouraged smile is still a smile.

Encourage others. Every time I said something positive a friend or stranger passing me by, I felt better, and more positive. Talking positive leads to feeling positive for everyone.

At the finish line, Eriksen asked me if I hit my mark? He was insinuating my time, which I had no goal of and no idea my time, so yes? Looking back on what my mark truly was: fun, safe, and encouraging, I think I nailed it. Sure, I will never end up on a podium at the Challenge, however, when Molly showed me the picture that Court took and what Westy said on the internet and the, “Drew Mikita had the best attitude,” I realized, I nailed my mark and should be stoked.

I am grateful to be a part of the best event in Colorado. The view from the back of the pack isn’t so bad, everyone in this county has great butts, smiles on their faces, and a kind word as they passed me by. I would rather be in the back of the pack at Imperial Challenge then the leader of any other race.