The governor’s race: Two-time presidential candidate Gary Johnson rides in Breck Epic

Antonio Olivero
Summit Daily News
Former Governor of New Mexico and 2012 and 2016 U.S. presidential candidate Gary Johnson takes off with other Breck Epic participants on the fifth day of racing on Thursday, at the start line near Beaver Run Resort and Conference Center in Breckenridge.
Hugh Carey /

While waiting for his mountain bike to be cleaned at the Beaver Run Resort on Wednesday, Aug. 8, former New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson offered a glimpse into the competitive streak that’s at the center of his being.

Whether he’s jostling for a position in an American political arena he described as “nasty” or blowing by younger riders at the Breck Epic multiday mountain bike race he lauded for its “camaraderie,” the nonconformist Johnson isn’t just along for the ride.

The 2012 and 2016 Libertarian presidential candidate has lived quite the sporting life. It spans from his earliest childhood memories learning from his 14-time, collegiate-letter-winning father Earl; and it’s evolved since, from those bygone days playing youth league quarterback more than half-a-century ago, to completing the Ironman Kona 140.6-mile World Championship Triathlon four different times, to tackling the world’s most grueling mountain bike races.

“And this is as hard as it gets,” Johnson said of the Breck Epic.

On Wednesday, while relaxing in the shade of the big white tent at Beaver Run Resort, Johnson was able to take a breather after pedaling the 41-mile, 8,100-foot elevation gain circumnavigation of Mount Guyot. He accomplished it in five hours, 30 minutes and 59 seconds — good enough for fourth place in the eight-person men’s 60 and over category.

Support Local Journalism

‘Oldest guy here’

In the wake of that effort, while chatting in the tent’s shade on Wednesday, it took Johnson fewer than two minutes to bring up the one fact that has fueled him through the week’s most grueling stages.

“I believe I’m the oldest guy here,” Johnson said. “I think that’s kind of cool.”

Not only does the 65-year-old Johnson think it’s kind of cool. He was forthright with the notion that the specific fact of his age relative to the other 400-plus riders motivated him to keep on pedaling harder and harder and harder.

The casual American voter may be unaware of Johnson’s athletic achievements. They include, most recently, his successful 2,745-mile bikepack from Banff National Park in Canada down to his beloved New Mexico.

Johnson has a self-confidence that radiates whether he’s shooting the breeze about setting records for hiking and skiing at his hometown ski resort, Taos Valley’s Kachina Peak, or mentioning how he, as a Republican, won the governorship in a blue-shaded state.

Whatever you’re chatting about with Johnson, though, there is one takeaway: He’s tenacious. So much so that as he nears the age of 70 he’s seriously considering running for a U.S. Senate seat out of New Mexico.

“If you look at the standings,” Johnson said of the Breck Epic, “I’m going to guess I’m right in the middle of the pack for everybody. And I’m proud of that. I really am. I get a lot of, ‘Oh, s–t. You’re for real.’ And I revel in it.”

Two summers after he curtailed his sleep schedule each night to just a couple of hours for his presidential campaign, Johnson is fully back at the kind of competitive grind he relishes more than politicking. Representing the people? It’s great and Johnson feels he’s darn good at it. But it’s on mountain bike trails and ski slopes where the native North Dakotan has the most fun.

Still, when reflecting on the grind that was the 2016 campaign, the contemporary face of the Libertarian Party doesn’t shudder to compare and contrast the competitive elements of political pursuits versus athletic endeavors.

They both have their stress. They both mandate stamina. Either way, Johnson believes he lives a healthy and balanced enough life to prove his mettle at either.

“Nobody is going to be able to stay up longer than me, and I know that,” Johnson said. “Nobody is going to outlast me when it comes to endurance. The campaign is an endurance event. So I’m the last one standing in the campaign. And I was the last one standing as governor too. And I got a real kick out of being governor. Because everywhere I went, somebody was there to kick my a–. And it never really turned out that way.”

Though Johnson relishes proving himself in competition, he doesn’t mind omitting that “me versus you” element of politics when possible.

“Politics is nasty, and this isn’t nasty,” Johnson said of the Breck Epic. “There is a camaraderie here that — it’s terrific. Everybody looks out for everybody else.”

Johnson returned for this year’s Epic after competing last year. In 2017, he also — on a sudden request from event founder Mike McCormack — stood up to speak to the rest of the assembled mountain bikers. For an hour, about 100 of them stuck around to pick Johnson’s brain on myriad philosophical and political topics. They ranged from the divisiveness in the 2016 campaign, to breaking down how President Donald Trump got elected to campaign fundraising.

“Everything from A-to-Z,” Johnson said.

“He talked about civility in politics and the landscape,” McCormack said. “And he’s like an insider. It was really cool. He’s authentically profane, very smart and engaging.”

One of the variables of the Breck Epic McCormack is most proud of is that he feels it’s a convergence point, as he put it, “for a lot of interesting people.”

Johnson is undoubtedly one of them. When putting the exclamation point on what he’s most proud of in his time in politics and athletics, it all really comes down to one thing: Having the guts to show up at the start line.

“You can’t finish it if you’re not there,” Johnson said. “This event here, you can’t do it if you don’t sign up and do it. And running for office, you’re never going to be successful running for office if you don’t try.”

Support Local Journalism