BRECKENRIDGE — If the Breck Epic had a spirit animal, there’s a fair chance it would be Dean Cahow, a 62-year-old mountain biking junkie with long, bushy sideburns and a mop of blonde curls down to his shoulders. Cahow is the only man to enter all 11 editions of the race, and in many ways, he personifies the vibe that defines it.
A retired businessman from Evergreen, Cahow had ridden in Breckenridge before he signed up for the inaugural edition.
“But it wasn’t until I came to that first event that I realized how incredible these trails really are,” he said.
Cahow’s streak almost came to an end two years ago. In March 2017, he shattered his tibula-fibula and much of his lower left leg in a crash while training for the Epic. An initial surgery stabilized his limb with an external fixator. Then a week later, he had another surgery. The carrot of racing the Epic motivated him to rehab his atrophied muscles while the bones healed.
A few days before he left for Breckenridge that August, against his wife’s wishes, (“She was totally pissed that I came to do this race,” he said.) Cahow’s physical therapist told him something wasn’t right with his leg. The limb was still “all swollen and weird looking,” Cahow said. He entered anyway, struggling through the first two stages with times one to two hours longer than he normally took. During the third stage, a circumnavigation of 13,370-foot Mount Guyot, he needed seven hours to finish what was normally a 4 1/2 hour day.
“I came down the far side of Guyot more or less walking. I had one hand on the saddle and one hand on the handlebars, and I was using my bike as a crutch,” he said. “Now that I look back, it was totally ridiculous. But the denial was huge. I kept telling myself, ‘I can do this. Maybe I can just do one more day.’”
The next morning, he relented and withdrew from the race in tears.
“It was the lowest I’ve felt,” he said. “I was so disappointed that I wasn’t going to be able to finish.”
Cahow went in for reconstructive surgery 10 days later, during which doctors learned his leg was infected. He had a fourth operation in October. When he came back to race the Epic in 2018, he had a rod the length of his femur and a plate the length of his tibia under his skin.
He’s fully healthy now and finished on the podium in the singlespeed and geared divisions.
“I don’t know where else I would go and find six days of riding that is handed to me on a silver platter like here,” he said. “There’s the individual aspect, of course, but by the end of the week, you’re almost riding as one organism of people with the same mindset.”