I’m up at 3 am this morning and never fall back asleep. It’s become common that I only sleep 4-6 hours the night before a race even when I consciously feel calm and without angst about the race. The subconscious knows.
The CTR is less of a race where you’re nervous about the start, how you place, and how you’re going to feel that day and more of a tour of duty where the mission is to follow the course while obeying a certain code of conduct, but that mission is a gigantic, daunting task. Finishers complete a rite of passage and become part of a select group of the highest caliber sufferers on a mountain bike.
So really nothing to be nervous about I tell myself, but the subconscious knows.
Driving to the trailhead in my sister’s car I’m reminded of my fatigue as I already don’t feel 100% behind the wheel of a car. I know day 1 and maybe the second day are no problem but I’m worried how I’ll react to several days of little sleep and all day riding in a row. A mile from the trailhead I spot 4 riders getting in some extra mileage on the way to the trailhead. Be careful. Don’t hit them. I’m tired!
I assemble my bike and attach the homemade packs. There’s some worry that the rear bag might not hold up. Everything is first version and first time sewing, so I’d brought a needle and floss for when I find my belongings strewed across the trail.
I look around and see people with far less gear. Some have just a pack while others have fit everything but a camelback on their bike. I’ve had this insecurity for a few days, ever since I started asking how much weight others were carrying. I pared mine down to less than 15 lbs but then added a spot, cell phone, and batteries and assume I’m back up in the 15-16 lb range.
After a small talk, mainly concerning the code of conduct, (rules) we’re off on the dirt road. Months of planning is finally coming to fruition. No more anticipation. No more short one hour test runs on boring trails. And no more time inbetween for anything to go wrong. With the camera at my side I snap a few photos that years down the road will hopefully jog my memory.
It doesn’t take long for me to feel the weight of my pack and the pace a little too hard. That’s confirmed as soon as the climbing begins. A group of 10 makes its way easily past me and I can hear them chatting breathlessly several switchbacks ahead. It’s a group that includes all the favorites – bad ass riders that push what’s humanly possible in suffering and bicycle travel – but also people I’ve raced against and know I’ve got the speed to keep up with. I take a hand off the handlebars and lift the backpack. Is this what’s stopping me or have I slowed after months of hammering it? Either way it’s time to resign to the fact that plenty of fun cool people will be going my pace and it’s going to be what it’s going to be and I can only do what I can do.
Although I think I know the trail between Waterton Canyon and 285 in actuality I’ve maybe ridden just 5 miles of it. There’s a mix of riding through treeless open areas either natural or burn and moist woody trail that was far less sandy.
The GPS screen would repeatedly stare at me every minute or so reminding me of the time and mileage. Trying not to feel like I needed to get somewhere, I had set some checkpoint goals, the first being making it to Bailey by 12. I also wanted to get out of the heat and up to higher elevations.
I made it to Bailey by 12 and was not feeling good. Mostly I was lethargic, but my legs felt heavy most likely from my nutrition not matching the demands I was putting on my body. Even pedaling easy seemed to be too hard.
From here I rode with Max and Kurt up until Kenosha pass doing that leap frog sort of thing. It rains and everyone puts on their gear and then the sun returns and you reverse the process although everyone picks a different time to do it. Kurt was riding the triple crown of bikepacking events this year and after the tour divide his legs and energy never really recovered so he couldn’t really be worried with what anyone else was doing and was riding his own pace. Max had attempted this event at least once before but last year pulled out after forgetting batteries in BV and missing some other essential gear. This year his plan was to ride to BV without sleep and pick up his bivy there. At the time that plan seemed suicide. But after being exposed to the rituals of the leaders, it now seems like a viable option. They pushed my idea of what is possible so much further.
Riding sleepily and now with some knee pain through the aspen forest right after Kenosha I ran into Jefe and Todd. They were on the side of the trail taking a break and looked like they just got caught doing something illegal. I made a joke about smoking weed but maybe that’s what they were doing. Later I realized this was the point where Todd dropped out so maybe it was just pep talk. As much as Jefe was trying to keep moving I realized he stops and chats with people who seem like they’re hurting, making sure no one is too out of it to keep going, getting all around good guy points in my book.
Rain threatens on the way up to Georgia Pass but nothing falls but a sprinkle. There’s thunder all around but it seems safe to move higher. The trail switchbacks and climbs a gentle grade but this is where I fall a couple times and hit my handlebars on a tree. I just feel drunk with drowsiness. At treeline the storms have seemed to clear. I snap some shots and eat slowly. Jefe catches me and moves right over the pass.
The descent is one of the most consistently rooty and rough descents of the trip and claims two riders frames. My hands and wrists are killing me and my fork isn’t doing its job.
I’ve decided my RS Reba is really a low altitude fair weather fork, working well in warm and dry temperatures. Once the temps are in the 50s or lower it sticks and moves as if it’s locked out. But working in the bike industry for a year I gather consumers will soon view their choices in the same manner we elect politicians. Quality is going down everywhere. You’ll pick from the best of a couple of choices but both are failing you. Whether it is Fox or Rockshox, Shimano or Sram, expect to service and replace often.
I ride my pace and stay on my bike almost all the way on the next large climb. I’ve recently ridden this stretch on the other side of Tiger Road twice in the last month but the descent is worth doing 100 times. It’s there I make contact with Jefe again.
He’s being more deliberate than me in protecting his sidewalls but I’ve got a secret weapon not just in the form of glitter and all kinds of garbage I’ll hope coagulates around any hole in my tire but actually a spare tire in my bag. While the chances are very good I won’t need it, I can’t allow the possibility of a sidewall cut ending my ride. I hadn’t yet tested the Maxxis Ikon tires enough to know their durability but they end up being the heroes of the trip. 200 miles on them going into this trip, 500 on the trip, and the front and rear look barely different. Not bad for a 580 gram tire with beefy knobs.
There are plenty of spots to take photos so rather than trying to pass, I just stop and snap, then catch up again. At the bottom, 3-4 miles from highway 9 we run into Dan on a singlespeed. Right now he’s in the phase of being slow and tired but throughout the trip I’d watch him snap back and ride at XC race speed, putting an hour on me in an hour!
The goal for the evening is to make it to Copper by 12 but that isn’t set in stone. I know getting over the 10 mile range has some hike a bike but some sections I truly struggled to get my bike over. Any upper body muscle I gained this spring had all but dissolved over the 1000s of miles since then. It’s also about this time that I begin the feel nauseous. Given the slow pace I’ve settled into for 15 hours I figured I could eat almost anything but that proves to be a mistake. For starters, corn chips and gas station coffee cake will be left off any further bikepacking race diet. I’m not the only one to have stomach problems. I catch Jeff on the climb and he’s crawling up towards the pass. He’s thrown up and it might have been the sodas or cakes he ate earlier despite how good they felt at the moment.
There’s a lightning storm to the south of us. It’s close enough to illuminate the hillside but far away enough that it seems safe to climb to 12,400. This is one of the moments I’d looked forward too –climbing the 10 mile range at night. I look back and see Jeff and Jefe’s lights and look ahead and have no idea where I’m going, making out just shadows against the sky.
Once on top it’s not just downhill but a bit of a traverse. It’s technical so the cautious side of me thinks it would be good to walk sections but on the other hand I’m confident in my descending abilities, even at night.
It’s around 11 when I make it down the trail to copper. I wash up in the creek (still civil at the end of day one), set up my tent, and try to sleep but nausea, hunger, and excitement keep me up. Before I sleep I hear Jeff, Jefe, and Max come through, probably pushing on farther.